MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: Lion King, Sisters of Wilderness, My Son, Martin Guerre, Jirga, Horror Guide Part II, Harmonia, Bunuel’s Susana … More

The Lion King: Blu-ray/4K UHD
By now, I’ve seen so many live-action remakes of classic animated films that I didn’t pay all that much attention to the theatrical release of Disney’s “re-imagining” of The Lion King My memories of the 1994 original and 1997 Broadway musical remain pretty much intact and, while I enjoyed The Jungle Book (2016), Dumbo (2019) and Aladdin (2019), I don’t think the new formats added much to the stories that enchanted previous generations of moviegoers. It’s worth remembering, as well, that Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks, Max Fleischer, Winsor McCay and Walter Lantz all experimented with live-action animation between 1910-30. Hand-drawn cartoon characters interacted with live actors in such high-profile pictures as MGM’s Anchors Away (1945) and Disney’s  The Three Caballeros (1945), Song of the South (1945), Mary Poppins (1964) and Pete’s Dragon (1977). It wasn’t until Disney/Amblin’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit effectively cleared the way for affordable and time-efficient CGI, digital and motion-capture technology. By and large, the feature-length movies that followed were fresh, family friendly and wildly inventive. The door was also opened for straight-to-video sequels and spinoffs, frequently assigned to subsidiary studios that could produce films on tighter budgets and shorter schedules. The quality of Disney’s 1994 sequel to Aladdin (1992), The Return of Jafar (1994), set such a high bar for the new platform that few competing studios bothered to attempt to match it. It also soured Disney’s relationships with loyal exhibitors, who would have liked to have first crack at the sequel. The streaming revolution would further erode those relationships.

The 2019 edition of The Lion King takes the existing technology a giant step further, by nearly eliminating direct interaction between characters and actors and reserving the single live-action shot to the closing credits. The process utilized is referred to as “photorealistic computer-generated animation.” The Jungle Book, also directed by Jon Favreau, is a product of “live-action/CGI/motion-capture,” as is Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin and Tim Burton’s Dumbo, which fell short of expectations, commercially and financially, for reasons not related to the technology. As someone who qualifies as a geezer, my indifferent reaction to such fare is based on a feeling that animated movies and cartoons should deliver different sensory impulses than non-animated comedies and dramas. Hyper-realistic images are fine for video and arcade games – and, of course, in medicine and science – but the animals in The Lion King are so lifelike that it distracted me from the story. I kept looking for seams, zippers and unnatural movements, instead of concentrating on how the animals are reacting to each other … which was predictable, based on the movie’s intended similarity to the original. Even so, I spent almost an equal amount of time watching the bonus material, just to see how the animators applied their magic to such an expensive venture. Or, was it just another example of Goliath flexing his muscles to intimidate the Philistines’ rivals?

As unlikely as it might seem right now, the Goliath that Disney has become could be vulnerable to unforeseeable threats from the Davids of the world. Because production and marketing costs continue to skyrocket, a few missteps in a row could raise red flags on Wall Street. Even though Dumbo earned $352 million in total sales – against a production budget of $170 million and marketing costs that likely topped $50 million – it may not have hit the estimated break-even point of $500 million. Another worldwide depression could affect sale in mature markets and stifle expansion in those still emerging. Considering that 67 percent of The Lion King’s $1.652 billion haul derived from revenues generated overseas, Disney is especially susceptible to political controversies, like the one that prompted the Chinese government to pull back on deals with the NBA, simply because an owner stood up for free speech in Hong Kong and the commissioner backed the owners and players’ right to express their opinions. Disney’s acquisition of Fox, Marvel and Lucasfilm has alienated old partners, has precipitated complaints from loyal partners, who stood behind the company during the lean years. At some point, consumers could begin to wonder if they’re being toyed with, as well. In the two-plus years since the marvelously inventive and completely original Coco was released, only Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time and Paris-based Disneynature’s Expedition China, Ghost of the Mountains, Penguins and the stillborn Blue qualify as original features, even if the docs share time-honored themes, formats and footage (Growing Up Wild). My guess is that the company has been pre-occupied with the November 12 launch of its wildly ambitious streaming  and subscription service, Disney+, which is counting on sharing original content with everyone in the Disney family.

With Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker just around the corner – and Disneyland’s brand-new land, “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge,” awaiting holiday crowds – Disney isn’t likely to let up on its rivals. The beauty of such consolidation and synergy is that the mothership can raise revenues simply by “re-imagining” or sequelizing any one of a dozen of its billion-dollar franchises – Zootopia and The Black Panther are the most likely candidates to satisfy the concerns of investors, who must cringe whenever President Trump uses the word, “tariffs,” in the same sentence with China, Korea, Japan, Brazil of Germany. Back to the subject at hand. The new extension to Disney’s The Lion King follows the same narrative blueprint as the 1994 original. It opens in the Pride Lands of Africa, where King Mufasa (James Earl Jones, one of the few returning voices) and Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) have delivered onto their realm a newborn prince, Simba (Donald Glover). Shortly thereafter, Simba and his playmate, Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter), throw caution to the wind by disobeying Mustafa’s orders and entering forbidden territory. The treacherous and power-obsessed Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to talk them into exploring the forbidden elephants’ graveyard, where they are attacked by a trio of rambunctious spotted hyenas, led by Shenzi, Kamari, and Azizi (Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre). In due time, Scar will make his two biggest problems disappear, and be anointed leader of the pack. He does so by lying to the pride about Simba’s role in the king’s untimely death and his decision to banish the prince to the far reaches of the  savannah. If he expected Simba to die along the way, Scar failed to factor the delightfully paired Pumbaa and Timon (Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner) into the equation. Not only do they nurse him back to health, but the wisecracking warthog and meerkat take him to a mirage-like paradise deep in the jungle. After Simba learns what it takes to be a warrior and leader, he finds his way back to Pride Rock, where the terrifying battle for succession takes place. Guess who wins. The primary differences between the original and “reimagined” versions are reflected in the tweaks made to the characters, which more closely reflect the voicing actors’ personalities of the actors and singers. Some, like the hyenas, are given a more sinister edge, while others are allowed lighter moments. Visually, Favreau admits to being influenced by Julie Taymor’s transcendent  stage adaptation of The Lion King. The straight-to-video remakes could have ended there, as far as I’m concerned. ssThe 4K UHD presentation is worth the price of anyone’s ticket, alone. The bonus material is collected on the Blu-ray disc, included in the package. It includes several making-of featurettes, recording sessions, music videos, a commentary, an introduction by Favreau and easy access to the songs.

Sisters of the Wilderness
Dollar-for-dollar, Karin Slater’s third feature-length documentary, Sisters of the Wilderness (2018), comes out ahead of The Lion King as the more impressive production. It was made on a budget of $160,000, versus the estimated $300 million spent on production and marketing The Lion King. And yet, both pictures survey the same savannah, the characters speak the same Zulu language and feature many of the same animals, while telling stories that amount to coming-of-age fables. One is real, while the other only looks lifelike. Here, five young Zulu women gear up and go backpacking for the first time in their lives, in the oldest game reserve in Africa: Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It’s a little slice of heaven, surrounded by a coal-extraction conglomerate, poachers and everyday citizens, whose only access to the reserve is through guides who know it like the backs of their hands … but still carry rifles to protect their clients from the occasional pissed-off crocodile, lion, rhino and elephant. The reserve is the only state-run park in KwaZulu-Natal within which each of the big five game animals can be found. Dozens of other species call it home, as well. Due to conservation efforts implemented in the 1960s – almost too late — by 2008, it had the largest population of white rhinos in the world. And while thousands of European and American tourists spend thousands of dollars each to afford safe and luxurious accommodations, guides, vehicles and photo equipment for safaris, these young women carry their provisions on their backs; hike to wherever they’re going; wade across rivers, alongside hippos and crocs; sleep under the stars, on the ground, serenaded by the wild animals; and study stone relics left behind by Stone Age tribes and the entourages of Zulu royalty. They gather nightly around a cooking fire – fueled by elephant dung – discussing their largely troubled pasts and legitimate hopes for the future in the new South Africa. Interspersed with the scenes of wilderness are discussions about poaching and coal-dust pollution in the lands bordering the humungous mining operation. The group’s journey of self-discovery, growth and healing serves as a reminder of how we all are intimately linked to nature. It’s a tough slog, well covered by a handheld camera that surveys some of the same kinds of territory and animals shown in The Lion King. The DVD won’t be easy to find, but that shouldn’t prevent savvy Internet surfers from making the effort. Although unrated, Sisters of the Wilderness can viewed, without hesitation, by families.

My Son: Blu-ray
The Return of Martin Guerre: Blu-ray
Quartet: Blu-ray
As if parents didn’t have enough things to drive them nuts, there’s the large number of movies in which children are kidnapped for purposes known mostly to the creeps who take them … or, in this, screenwriters. Christian Carion’s My Son (2017) is a tick-tock thriller, set in the French Alps, that resembles the Taken trilogy in several ways, but forgets the part where Liam Neeson’s character was trained by the CIA to track down bad guys and kill them if they refuse to cooperate. He also was able to call in favors from several people still on the job, in Europe. Here, Guillaume Canet’s Julien Perrin is a businessman, whose constant traveling precipitated his divorce to Marie (Mélanie Laurent). As is so often the case, their 7-year-son, Mathys, reacts to their divorce far worse than his parents do, even if Julien has been a neglectful father.  Typically, Julien is alerted to the boy’s disappearance while living away from his family. Because he’s been acting up, Marie’s live-in lover suggests he spend a few days at a winter “wilderness” camp and she’s too frustrated – or ditzy – to reject this form of cruel and unusual punishment. (I’ve camped in sub-zero temps and can attest to how much fun it isn’t.) Distraught, Julien drives directly to the Alpine region, where Marie and the immediately suspicious Grégoire (Olivier de Benoist) are staying and Mathys’ tepee lies empty, if a tad too tidy and free of clues. Of course, Julien and Marie immediately fear the worst: that he was kidnapped by a sexual predator and could already be dead. The police believe that Mathys has been abducted for other reasons and they should wait at home for ransom demands. Over a stiff drink, or two, Grégoire (Olivier de Benoist) bends Julien’s ear over his plans to build Marie her dream house, with plenty of room for a nursery and not much for Mathys. He plans to finance the construction through an inheritance and selling the house Marie once shared with Julien. Naturally, this does not sit well with the half-owner, Grégoire’s almost giddy declaration makes him the primary suspect in the collective mind of the boy’s father, the audience and, probably, the police chief. Julien compounded the problem by roughing the jerk up and dragging him into the station. Because Julien doesn’t have a place to spend the night, he has time to do more amateur sleuthing. He follows his instincts to a neighboring village, where he discovers some articles of Mathys’ clothing and a motorcyclist with knowledge of where he’s been taken. Before the hoodlum can establish an alibi, the father goes medieval on him, just as Neeson has done in the Taken trilogy. The confession takes Julien further up the mountain, to a lodge that’s curiously empty at the start of skiing season. Obviously, whatever is going to happen to Mathys is about to begin happening, forcing Julien to demonstrate just how violent a businessman can be when pushed to the limit. If that description makes My Son sound more than a little bit too contrived, you wouldn’t be alone. Francophiles and fans of Cadet (Tell No One) will need to watch My Son with a greater suspension of disbelief than usually is required of a 84-minute hostage drama. The greater problem with My Son is Carion’s commitment to experimenting with his and co-writer Laure Irrmann’s “scenario,” without the benefit of a 28-day shooting schedule. Among other things, the director decided to keep Canet and Laurent in the dark about all of the story’s details, by disinviting the stars from script readings and forcing them to bunk apart from everyone else. Because crew members were allowed to rehearse their setups during the two-week preparation period film, My Son succeeds more as a character drama or travelogue than the thriller it wants to be. Conditions at the mountain locations look as frigid on film as they reportedly were during the six-day shoot, which can be credited to cinematographer Eric Dumont (At War). Conversely, the extreme cold and early snow sometimes appeared to have had the same impact on the actors as they do on small foreign cars that haven’t been winterized. The actors must have felt as if they were placed behind the eight ball by the director, who was seeking spontaneity and improvisation but, instead, had to settle for confused faces, awkward dialogue and narrative inconsistencies. A 48-minute making-of featurette goes a long way toward explaining Carion’s almost unfathomable strategy. In a much shorter behind-the-scenes piece, Cadet explains his reactions to it.

The Cohen Film Collection also is presenting the French mystery, The Return of Martin Guerre (1982), whose origins date back to southwestern France in the 16th Century. After being accused of stealing grain by his uncle, Guerre (Gerard Depardieu) abandons his wife, Bertrande (Nathalie Baye), and unborn son, and goes off to war. Instead of returning home immediately after leaving the military, Guerre tours the capitals of Europe. As Daniel Vigne’s enticing period drama opens, the man we know as Guerre is approaching the village he left behind nearly a decade earlier. He’s immediately recognized by several of his old friends and other villagers, who lead him to Bertrande and his son. Because of his easy recollection of details in his marriage and life in the village, Guerre is welcomed as a returning hero. By all accounts, the robust young man has matured to point where Bertrande accepts him as a desperately needed husband and father to her son. Naturally, his uncle and cousins are the first to raise doubts about his identity. Then, a group of vagabonds seeking shelter in the village say that the man they knew as Martin Guerre was wounded in the war and had a leg amputated. A local magistrate is called in to rule on the disagreement, but the preponderance of evidence points away from him being an imposter. The uncle persists, however, demanding a trial at the provincial level, where a stunning development turns the tables on everyone. The new director’s cut edition has been accorded a 4K restoration, which enhances the visuals, which are heavily inspired by paintings by Bruegel. It won three Cesar Awards and earned an Oscar nomination for Anne-Marie Marchand’s splendid costume design. A year later, Princeton University historian Natalie Zemon Davis published a non-fiction account of the same historical event. Jon Amiel’s 1993 drama, Sommersby, was a Hollywood remake of the film in English, transposed to the American Civil War and starring Richard Gere and Jodie Foster. Cameron Mackintosh’s West End musical, “Martin Guerre,” shifted the setting to the period of religious turmoil between the Huguenots and the Catholics in 16th Century France. The Blu-ray adds a discussion with Baye, who was 34 at the time the movie was released but looked 17.

Adapted from a Roarin’ Twenties novel by Jean Rhys by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Quartet (1981) could hardly be mistaken as anything but a Merchant-Ivory joint. Formed in 1961 by producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory, with Jhabvala as their most frequent writing partner, the company still specializes in adaptations of classic English-language novels and short stories. Among the novelists favored by the company – which continued in the wake of Merchant’s death in 2005 — are Henry James, E. M. Forster and Jhabvala, herself. In 2015, Cohen Media Group acquired the Merchant-Ivory brand and library — 21 films and 9 documentaries — for worldwide distribution, restoration and rerelease. Ivory has served as creative director on the films’ restoration, re-release and promotion. It would be difficult to conceive of a classier working relationship. As adapted by Ivory and Jhabvala, Rhys’ semi-autobiographical novel from 1928 is less a quartet than a trio. Isabelle Adjani (The Story of Adele H.) plays Marya “Mado” Zelli, a former chorus girl, born in Martinique of creole parents, who’s living in pre-Depression Paris with her prison-bound husband Stephan (Anthony Higgins). With no means to support herself, Marya moves into the plush Montparnasse apartment of customers for Stephan’s purloined treasures: wealthy English art dealer H.J. Heidler (Alan Bates) and his wife, Lois (Maggie Smith), an artist. H.J. has a history of inviting vulnerable young women to move into the “spare room,” only to seduce them, sometimes against their will. Lois permits this arrangement because she wants to keep H.J. from leaving her. Things turn nasty when Marya finally succumbs to H.J.’s advances and her relationship with Lois eventually sours. It coincides with Stephan’s release from prison and deportation order. Typically, the period sets, costumes and acting are impeccable, reflecting the decadent lifestyle of Paris’ international demimonde. The Blu-ray contains “The Making of Quartet: A Conversation with James Ivory”; “A New Conversation With James Ivory and Pierre Lhomme”; the “Viva Cinema” interview with James Ivory; and marketing material.

Jirga: Blu-ray
Australian filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour’s warzone drama, Jirga, would be remarkable, even if it had been shot entirely on location in Jordan, Morocco or Tunisia, instead of Afghanistan, which, I assume, is still an extremely dangerous place for westerners to be. That it was filmed in places that until recently served as staging grounds for bloody confrontations between Allied and Taliban fighters only makes the film that much more credible. In that way, Gilmour appears to have been influenced by Michael Winterbottom, who’s taken a particular interest in the nearly 20-year war in the region. Apart from scenes filmed in Kabul and Jalalabad, the material shot in the unspoiled deserts and mountains between the capital and Ghazi Ghar, in Kandahar Province, speaks volumes about the embattled country, the never-ending war, and movies about such futile conflagrations. The real-life settings are harsh, to the point of being forbidding; practically empty, distressingly arid; and deceptively beautiful … not unlike Death Valley. And, yet, the most striking moments in Jirga come in a village with fewer reasons to exist than the ghost towns left behind when mining operations dried up in places like Nevada, eastern California and Arizona. The most unexpected scene takes place when the protagonist, Mike Wheeler (Sam Smith), and his protective driver (Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad) park their taxi on the edge of the country’s first national park, Lake Band-e-Amir, one of a half-dozen deep-water lakes in the Hindu Kush. That tourism has yet to catch up with the region’s otherworldly beauty probably can be blamed on the landmines that dot the footpaths. It’s where the men rent a flamingo-shaped paddleboat and head out for a cleansing swim. The absence of humans and rental shacks makes the diversion downright surrealistic. Gilmour also takes us inside one of Buddhist caves in the mountains of Tora Bora that is used as a prison and headquarters for insurgents. It’s possible that Osama Bin Laden hid nearby, before escaping into Pakistan. How many Americans know there as reservoirs as large as Lake Mead in the war zone, seemingly perfect for R&R? It took me by surprise.

Jirga isn’t a travelogue, though. It depicts what happens when a former Australian soldier returns to Afghanistan in search of closure, redemption and even, perhaps, eye-for-an-eye justice for killing an innocent man. It happened during one of those hit-and-run raids in which civilians and enemy combatants are viewed with equal suspicion. Here, however, the Taliban was hard-pressed to find a reason to stay in the village, at least during the day. This particular husband and father wasn’t a belligerent, but the petrified Aussie soldier plugged him, anyway. Now, Wheeler has returned to make amends. No one he meets can believe it. He’s strapped a makeshift belt, filled with neatly folded hundred-dollar bills, around his waist to give to the man’s survivors. Even when he nearly dies of thirst and exposure in the desert, and is captured by an armed tribal militia, he manages to convince the leader that his motives are pure and strictly based on such religious principles as contrition, remorse and redemption. It speaks to their own beliefs. Once inside the village, the man’s widow is allowed to pelt him with shoes and small rocks. Finally, though, he wants to be judged by an assembly of Pashtun elders. At this point, Wheeler’s odds of survival have improved from zero to 60/40 against. Originally, Jirga was intended to be shot next-door, but the Pakistani Secret Service put the kibosh on those plans, citing potential security problems. Producing the film in Afghanistan was the better option, anyway. It even was given permission to cast amateurs in key roles, some of whom once served with the Taliban. Jirga has been submitted for a Best Foreign Language Film nomination. The Blu-ray adds an interview with the filmmaker.

Strange But True: Blu-ray
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Blu-ray/4K UHD
These reasonably spooky films, both rated PG-13, arrived after the deadline for last week’s Halloween Gift Guide passed. Strange But True is a psycho-medical whodunit that’s currently available in all formats, while the haunted-house thriller Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is making its way from VOD/streaming to DVD/Blu-ray/4K UHD. The former involves a young pregnant woman, Melissa (Margaret Qualley), who, five years after the completely avoidable death of her boyfriend, arrives on the doorstep of his family to tell them she is pregnant with his child. Charlene (Amy Ryan) and Richard (Greg Kinnear) accommodate Melissa’s mystifying account of what happened on prom night, five years earlier. They suspect that she’s attempting to milk some money from the child’s “grandparents,” but doesn’t appear to be mercenary. While waiting for her water to break, Melissa is staying in the home of Bill and Gail (Brian Cox, Blythe Danner), who nursed her back to health after the tragic accident. Melissa is willing to swear on a stack of bibles that she hasn’t had sex with another man and artificial insemination isn’t a factor in her current condition. Nonetheless, someone out there would prefer that the mystery goes unsolved. Anything else would require a spoiler or red-herring alert, although a simple DNA test could reveal the truth, within the next few weeks. The classy cast doesn’t shortchange viewers, although their presence raises the question as to how writer/director Rowan Athale (Wasteland) and writer Eric Garcia (“Cassandra French’s Finishing School”) were able to attract them to a project that might have fit better on a TV anthology series. My guess is that teenagers would enjoy Strange But True more than anyone else, if only because so much of it takes places in flashbacks to the protagonist’s high school days. The Blu-ray adds “Grounded in Reality: Making Strange But True.”

Fans of Trollhunter (2010) and The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) might be attracted to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark  simply by the growing reputation of director André Øvredal. Or they might want to see how he and co-writers Dan and Kevin Hageman, interpreted controversial stories by Alvin Schwartz and unsettling illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Other genre fanatics will be drawn to the above-the-title alert, “From the visionary producer Guillermo del Toro,” who also was accorded co-screenwriter and producer credits. Based solely on the making-of material added to the supplemental package, though, Del Toro’s fingerprints are all over Øvredal’s picture. This is a good thing. Informed by different aspects of Schwartz’ stories, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark relies on urban legends to tell the story of what happened, decades earlier, to the family that inhabited the now-abandoned Bellows’ mansion on the outskirts of town. After playing a primo Halloween prank on a school bully (Austin Abrams), the nerdy teenage protagonists – Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn – decide to visit the haunted mansion, around which an elaborate urban myth developed. Sure enough, the cobweb-shrouded house lives up to its reputation as a horror show. Once inside, Colletti’s Stella Nicholls discovers a diary kept by Sarah Bellows, who was locked in the basement when she uncovered the secrets behind her family’s wealth and threatened to reveal them to the press. As Stella will soon discover, the book contains scary stories that have proven to be prophetic. Moreover, the book continues to self-write stories in red ink, predicting horrible things about to happen to the teens. The really scary stuff involves such monsters as Big Toe Corpse, Jangly Man, Harold the Scarecrow and the Pale Lady. It takes police chief Turner (Gill Bellows) a while to realize that the kids aren’t simply inventing excuses to trespass on Halloween night. Indeed, viewers should expect miracles to happen before their eyes. My only problem with the movie is its many overlapping storylines and plot points, many of which appear to have been added to please fans of the book series. In committing to a PG-13, “Stories” frequently feels as if punches were pulled. But, that isn’t a crime, considering  Schwartz’ original audience. The 4K UHD brings out the details in the darkish passages, while adding contrast to the interior shots. The bonus package should satisfy fans of the books and movie.

Earlier this year, Cody Meirick’s dandy documentary, Scary Stories, dissected the continuing brouhaha over the presence of Schwartz and Gammell’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” in libraries and classrooms. It includes contributions from the author’s family, scholars, folklorists, artists, and such children’s book authors as R.L. Stine and Q.L. Pearce.

Horror from all over
Tattoo of Revenge
Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death: Blu-ray
The Killer of Dolls: Blu-ray
Man of a Thousand Faces: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Undertaker: Blu-ray
Watch Me When I Kill: Blu-ray/CD
Paganini Horror: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
This week’s niche selections come from specialty distributors, Breaking Glass, Mondo Macabro, Severin, Synapse and Arrow, all of which have demonstrated a special talent for finding obscure titles – genre and otherwise – that typically have only been seen in their countries of origins or at international film festivals. From Mexico comes Tattoo of Revenge (2018), a stylish revenge thriller informed by the #MeToo movement and punk vigilante Noomi Rapace, the protagonist of Stieg  Larsson’s “Millennium Series.” With her almond-shaped face and tall, lean body, leading lady, Diana Lein (“Fear the Living Dead”) looks as if she might have modelled for Modigliani, Brancusi or Charles Addams in a previous lifetime. She looks great in black leather and oozes sexuality. Her avenging angel, Aida, has committed her energy to meting out street justice on men who’ve raped women and committed other forms of violence that too frequently went unpunished in Mexico City, in the 1990s. If the victims feel powerless, it’s only because they are. Despite her growing reputation, however, Aida shouldn’t be mistaken for Wonder Woman or Batwoman. Before agreeing to intercede in the affairs of the women who come to her for help, Aida insists on knowing as much about the women as possible. She is especially interested in knowing exactly what it was that attracted the men to the victims in the first place and how they reacted to the advances. In addition to ascertaining the man’s guilt, such questioning allows Aida to understand what she’s getting herself into, both mentally and physically. When the time comes for her to act, she’ll be confident in her ability to neutralize the pervs. Typically, she’ll disguise herself, seduce the men, drug them and administer the coup de grâce: a tattoo large enough to remind them of their crimes forever.  assuring they never forget the pain they caused. Because the media and police only know her as “The Avenger,” Aida keeps them off-balance by leaving behind tracks and clue that lead in opposite directions. At the same time, her powerful enemies spare no expense in attempting to ambush the Avenger and keeping Mexico City safe for rapists, sadist and misogynists. She lays a trap of her own with the help of a victim who has nothing else left to lose in her life, but isn’t shy about attracting attention to herself. Director Julián Hernández (I Am Happiness on Earth) and cinematographer Alejandro Cantú (Carmin Tropical) keep audiences guessing, as well, by adding what amounts to dark and grainy scrim to the narrative, making it look a bit like Sin City (2005). I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tattoo of Revenge’s 150-minute length, which is at least a half-hour too long and repetitive. The DVD includes deleted scenes, an interview with Hernández and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery.

Mondo Macabro’s Woman Chasing the Butterfly of Death (1978) takes its audience on a journey deep into the dark mind of uniquely twisted young man. Young-gul is a lonely and rather morbid student in late 1970’s South Korea. Narrowly surviving an inexplicable murder-suicide attempt by a woman wearing a butterfly pendant, Young-gul next finds himself besieged by a seemingly insane panhandler who claims that he possesses a book that’s convinced him he can never die. Even after he kills and cremates the man, he comes back from the dead to taunt Young-gul. As if that weren’t enough, the poor student then is victimized by the 1,000-year-old skeleton of a beautiful young  woman, who, after springing back to life, says she must devour his liver in order to remain in the present. Kim Ki-young (The Housemaid) and writer Lee Mun-woong (You Are My Ecstatic Hell) take us into a world where anything seems possible and dream logic rules. “Butterfly” presents more challenges in 110 minutes than most American studios did throughout the 1970s. The digitally restored edition adds interviews with actress Lee Hwa-si, producer Jeong Jin-woo, cinematographer Koo Jong-mo and translator Darcy Paquet; commentary by Kenneth Brorsson and Paul Quinn of the “What’s Korean Cinema?” podcast; and the ever-hilarious Mondo Macabro previews.

From Spain, Miguel Madrid’s The Killer of Dolls (1975) is a psycho-sexual thriller that only now is being released in the U.S. for the first time. Why the delay, I don’t know. Perhaps, it’s because distributers in the pre-slasher era thought that a serial killer wearing a ceramic doll’s-face mask would be too much of a stretch for American audiences still conditioned to the makeup effects immortalized by Jack P. Pierce, in the 1930-40s, at Universal. Or, John Carpenter had already registered the idea of having the fiendish Michael Myers wear a modified version of a 1975 Captain James T. Kirk mask for his debut in Halloween (1978). It’s also possible that giallo was a long way off from being accepted here. The Killer of Dolls represented a merger of styles that included giallo, Hitchcockian and Noh Theater conceits. In it, David Rocha (That Obscure Object of Desire) plays Paul, a young man thrown out of medical school due to his inability to deal with the sight of blood. He goes home to Montpellier, in France, where his father is gardener on a huge estate belonging to Countess Olivia (Helga Liné). We soon discover that fear of blood is not Paul’s only quirk. He was raised by his mother, as a girl, after his sister died. She forced him to play with dolls, which he beheaded and operated on as if he were a medical examiner. Meanwhile, in the park surrounding the Countess’ home, a number of young women have been found murdered, along with their male lovers when they got in the way. Paul shouldn’t be mistaken for a vampire or werewolf, because the thrill he derives from murder is sociopathic in nature. In doing his worst, he wears a white doll mask and a ludicrous black wig, and speaks with the shrill voice of a Chatty Cathy doll. As the killings multiply around him, Paul sinks ever deeper into a world of hallucinations and nightmares. It isn’t until he’s confronted with the sexual advances of the Countess, who’s twice his age, at least, and experiencing deep feelings for her teenage daughter, that his madness is completely revealed. The settings are wonderfully conceived, and Rocha’s portrayal of Paul is truly creepy. I can’t imagine any fans of European horror not enjoying The Killer of Dolls. It’s enhanced by a new 4k transfer from film negative; interviews with Rocha and expert in European culture and languages, Dr. Antonio Lázaro-Reboll; commentaries from Diabolique magazine editor Kat Ellinger, and Spanish horror experts Robert Monell and Rod Barnett; and, of course, Mondo Macabro previews.

And, speaking of Pierce, imagine the degree of difficulty attached to any actor’s attempt to portray fellow makeup genius Lon Chaney in a biopic. Lon Chaney Jr., sure, but as James Cagney reminds us in Joseph Pevney’s Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), Chaney was recognized more for the characters he played than for his own largely anonymous visage. In the Arrow Blu-ray, Cagney pays homage to the man whose nickname provided the title for the picture, which, unlike his own greatest hits, came in Hollywood’s pre-talkie period. Chaney’s extraordinary make-up skills were second only to those of Pierce and his ability to transform actors into grisly, yet sympathetic and tragic monsters.  Man of a Thousand Faces traces the trajectory of Chaney’s career: from impoverished vaudeville clown to Hollywood stardom, and his early death, at 47, at the dawn of the talkies. It also captures the drama that surrounded his private life. The Arrow Films presentation adds fresh commentary by film scholar Tim Lucas; a newly filmed look at Chaney and his legacy, by critic Kim Newman; an image gallery; the original trailer; reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys; and a fully Illustrated booklet, with a newly commissioned essay by Vic Pratt of the BFI.

I don’t know enough about contemporary Japanese cinema to know if Naoyoshi Kawamatsu’s thrilling zombie drama, Undertaker (2012) qualifies as J-horror, but it does contain several undead teenage girls with long black hair hanging over their eyes. In it, a deadly virus outbreak is turning the people of Japan into flesh-eating zombies. The government intervenes, trying to separate the survivors from the infected. As a young boy, Ryouichi saw his family and friends destroyed by the infestation, barely escaping the plague, himself. As a teenager, he becomes an assistant to an undertaker hired by families to find and kill loved ones who’ve been “turned.” Armed with a modified shovel and a bag, Ryouichi roams the ruins of factories, shopping malls and other places zombies congregate, collecting body parts to prove to grieving families that their loved ones are now at peace. Except for that last bit, Undertaker could be a knock-off of a dozen other genre pictures, released in the last 40 years. What makes it special, however, is Kawamatsu’s willingness to go the extra mile on special makeup effects that are as grotesque, gut-wrenching and frightening as any I’ve witnessed in the same period It helps explain why, until now, the film has been nearly impossible to find in the U.S. That, and the fact that, at 65 minutes, it’s at a distinct disadvantage commercially. Even so, Undertaker is the real deal, folks. The restored Blu-ray adds a very good making-of featurette, “Farewell to the Precious”; an original short film, “On Your Back”; deleted scenes; and a stills gallery.

In the 1977 murder/mystery Watch Me When I Kill (a.k.a., “The Cat with the Jade Eyes,” “The Cat’s Victims”), Antonio Bido manipulates as many giallo conceits as he honors. For example, the mandatory topless shower killing is replaced by the strangulation murder of a skinny old man in a tub; the gorgeous Italian actresses keep their clothes on; gore is kept to a minimum; and its literary plotting overshadows the story’s more pulpy elements. Moreover, Watch Me When I Kill defies the unwritten genre taboo that prevents filmmakers from using the Holocaust as a plot device. In the giallo-tinged opening scene, a striking nightclub dancer, Mara (Paola Tedesco), witnesses a brutal murder and soon finds herself stalked by a di rigueur gloved, razor-toting and faceless killer. She enlists the help of her boyfriend, Lukas (Corrado Pani), who also remains dressed throughout the film, to prevent the tech-savvy fiend from adding her to his hit list. After a couple more killings, the pattern reveals a link to a judge (Giuseppe Addobbati), who presided over a jury trial in which an innocent man was convicted of murder. With a life sentence looming on the horizon, Ferrante (Franco Citti) once again makes himself the prime suspect after escaping from prison. After investigating that theory, Lukas begins to suspect that the clues are too obvious to be true and he discovers something else that links the victims and potential targets. Several close calls and false leads keep things moving in a forwardly direction, but the hunch that matters takes Lukas to Padua, which hasn’t changed much since an Allied raid left parts of the city devastated. The ending, which isn’t terribly contrived, will come as a partial surprise, at least, to most viewers. The special features include a new 4K transfer of the original negative, with color correction performed by Synapse Films; an isolated track with the music of Trans Europa Express; commentary by film historian Nathaniel Thompson; a “defense” of the movie by the UK academic, Mikel Koven; and three entertaining classical-music videos by Bido.

Normally, watching an Italian exploitation flick shouldn’t require a visit to Wikipedia to fully enjoy. Luigi Cozzi’s otherwise mediocre Paganini Horror (1989) is such a bizarre exercise in forced horror that its very existence begs questions about its origins. That’s especially true for people whose knowledge of classical musical music is limited to Beethoven being deaf. The life story of 19th Century Italian violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini has been depicted on film several times, including Stewart Granger’s portrait, in The Magic Bow (1946) and Roxy Roth in A Song to Remember (1945). What remains noteworthy about the musician are comparisons to legendary American bluesman Robert Johnson, who, reputedly, sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads on the Mississippi Delta. The development of Paganini Horror was based on speculation that the film Paganini (a.k.a. “Kinski Paganini”), a pet project of actor Klaus Kinski, not only was imminent, but destined to be successful, as well. Cozzi came up with the title for his film and producer Ugo Valenti hired Enzo Sciotti to illustrate a poster for it. The script was almost an afterthought. In the rush to production, Paganini Horror went from sci-fi, to gore, to fantasy/horror. Cozzi then added co-star Daria Nicolodi – Dario Argento’s muse and Asia’s mother – as part of the writing team. If either film was released in the U.S., it wasn’t recorded in the IMDB.com charts. In Paganini Horror, Nicolodi owns a Venetian villa once occupied by the musician. She rents it to an all-woman rock band that wants to make a video for their new song. That piece was purchased by a friend of the band who bought the transcription from a stranger (Donald Pleasence), who claims it was written, but never published by Paganini. When the band rehearses the piece inside the villa, it awakens the spirit of the deceased composer and unlocks a portal to hell … of course. Paganini’s immortal body closely resembles Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera (1925). The Severin package features a 2K restoration of the film, which still looks pretty beat up; interviews with Cozzi and actor Pietro Genuardi; deleted scenes and an alternate ending; and CD soundtrack.

Mehsampur
Just as a little bit of knowledge about Niccolò Paganini goes a long way toward enjoying Paganini Horror, anyone unaware of the impact of Amar Singh Chamkila and wife, Amarjot, on Punjabi culture in 1980s, isn’t going to take away much from Mehsampur. That, I suspect, would include most Americans of non-Indian heritage. Kabir Singh Chowdhry and Akshay Singh’s very bizarre docudrama on the couple, assassinated in 1988, doesn’t help that much, either. The subject required yet another visit to Wikipedia, which was helpful. Still, I came away from the movie – also considered to be a mockumentary of documentary – with questions I didn’t know how to ask. In 1988, along with two members of their band, the artists were assassinated by a gang of armed youths, perhaps on motorbikes. Chamkila, who sometimes was referred to as the Elvis of Punjab, was heavily influenced by observations of village life while growing up. He wrote songs about extra-marital relationships, coming of age, drinking, drug use and the hot tempers of Punjabi men. He earned a controversial reputation, with detractors calling his music obscene and supporters describing it as truthful commentary on Punjabi culture and society. If that makes their material sound more like the work of Frank Zappa than Elvis Presley, well, that’s probably because the King is as iconic on the subcontinent and he is here. In Mehsampur, named after the city in which the killings took place, Devrath (Devrath Joshi) arrives in Punjab to make a film on the popular duo, but precious few people will admit to even having heard of them. It’s still a touchy topic, apparently. Devrath does manage to interview some of Chamkila’s past associates, including his manager, a one-time singing partner and a fading drummer. Lal, who survived the as yet unsolved assassination. More than a dozen suspects, motivations and conspiracy theories have been cited, but no arrests. Along with Lal and an actress, whose bedroom “audition” with Devrath she feels went too far, the trios heads for Mehsampur. Even after watching the DVD, the film made very little sense to me. The flashbacks, psychedelic effects, extreme closeups and other gimmicks simply overwhelmed my senses. Adventurous viewers may see it differently, but I’m fairly adventurous, myself. I wish the producers had added some live shots of the performers and background material, but nooooo.

Harmonia
An Israeli Love Story
A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed the unconventional Israeli horror/drama, Family, from IndiePix. Last week, Film Movement sent over a couple more Israeli films that demonstrate the elasticity of an industry that, at one time, seemed limited to more explosive issues … or, at least, as indicated by its exports. Others have included Sara Stein: Shalom Berlin, Shalom Tel Aviv (2019), The Wedding Plan (2016), In Between (2016), Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014) and Fill the Void (2012). Typically, the only venues for exhibition here have been ethnic film festivals and streaming outlets. Ori Sivan’s Harmonia (2016) contemporizes the fundamental biblical saga of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, and their sons, Ismail and Isaac. Sarah, a featured harpist of the Jerusalem Philharmonic Orchestra, is married to its insufferably arrogant conductor, Abraham. When Hagar, a young Palestinian horn player of limited skills joins the orchestra and is embraced by Sarah  – the notes only describe her as being from East Jerusalem — the thin balance in their family is shaken. In addition to becoming close friends and confidantes, Hagar proposes a solution to Sarah’s inability to bear children. Nine months later, just after Ben (a.k.a., Ismail) enters the world, the surrogate leaves Jerusalem for a journey into what passes for the wilderness, these days. She’ll return to the city and orchestra 12 years later, after Sarah has delivered a child of her own, Isaac. Ismail has developed into the kind of chronically despondent child, who knows that something important is missing in his life but can’t fathom what it is. He’s resisted Abraham’s insistence that he study the violin – he mastered the piano, instead — and has begun refusing Sarah’s every command. By contrast, Isaac is a sweet, obedient and well-groomed, boy who has learned the violin, but is too shy and withdrawn to perform in public. They’re as different as two brothers can be and still live under the same roof. Eventually, Ismail will leave his father’s home and learn his own lessons in life. As sweet as Isaac is, he’s tormented by his parents’ refusal to explain how he and Ismael are related – anyone with eyes can see the older boy’s Palestine or Sephardic pedigree – and why he left home. When Hagar returns to Jerusalem and rejoins the orchestra, Ismail is naturally to drawn to her. If Harmonia’s drama has gotten pretty heart-wrenching by now, its ending is emotionally and musically satisfying … far-fetched, but satisfying. Might I recommend a refresher course in Genesis for those who are as biblically deficient as I am.

Dan Wolman’s romantic drama An Israeli Love Story opens in 1947, a year before the British Mandate in Palestine ended and Israel declared independence, precipitating the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Eighteen-year old Margalit, from a village in northern Israel, lives a comfortable life and harbors dreams of becoming an actress. One day, on a bus, she meets and immediately falls in love with the strikingly handsome Eli, a  24-year old kibbutznik. At first, Eli resists her advances, but she wears him down. Forsaking her budding acting career, Margalit moves in with Eli at the kibbutz – which is run as if it were the Politburo, by hard-core leftists – and comes to understand that the geopolitical differences between Arabs and Jews won’t be settled before blood is shed on both sides. She’s also forced to accept Eli’s deeply rooted devotion to the land and the Palmach, Israel’s pre-state underground army. For a while, though, they’re free to enjoy the uneasy peace and the warm glow of love. No sooner do they set a date for their wedding than all hell breaks loose. Inevitably, the harsh reality of life in post-WWII Israel will alter the plans for the lovebirds. An Israeli Love Story is based on the true story of the love affair between theater director Pnina Gary and Eli Ben-Zvi, the son of Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (anointed by the first Knesset, in 1952, as “Father of the State of Israel”). It was adapted from the solo autobiographical play, written by Gary.

Susana
I doubt that fans of sultry melodramas are bothered all that much by age discrepancies in the actors who play much younger characters. A lot of other people get upset, even after learning that body doubles are used in the sex scenes and props are deployed to avoid the naughty bits from making contact. (They, however, tend to get riled up by anything that will get them TV time.) Carroll Baker was 25 when Baby Doll (1956) was released, but her portrayal of the 19-year-old minx nearly gave the Legion of Decency a collective heart attack. Six years later, Stanley Kubrick called upon 16-year-old Sue Lyon to play the 14-year-old Lolita Haze, who, in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel was 12. Adrienne Lyne’s Lolita (1997) was tortured because he cast 15-year-old Dominque Swain for the sane role. William Shakespeare bedeviled generations of casting directors to come, by making Juliet 14, an age that’s inched upwards since the original mounting of the romantic tragedy. In “Hamlet,” the bard neglected to give Ophelia a fixed age — probably in her mid-teens — so her portrayals haven’t raised the same eyebrows as Juliet.

That aside doesn’t have a lot to do with Luis Bunuel’s Susana (1951) which was made during in his Mexican period. His decision to cast 26-year-old Rosita Quintana as wild-child Susana, did take me out of the picture for a few minutes, however. In the opening scene, the title character uses the lightning and thunder of a powerful storm to miraculously escape from a reformatory for “wayward girls.” As good an actor as Quintana probably was, she looks as if she might have driven the family car and purchased the booze for her own Quinceañera. After running away from the reformatory, the completely soaked escapee  heads for a nearby rancho, populated by horny men in wide-brimmed sombreros and sporting outfits that would make a mariachi singer proud, and proper Christian women who only see a damsel in distress. Only a female servant is able to detect how much damage such an uninvited guest might do in bourgeoise household guided by the principles of machismo.  If Susana is disturbed by that kind of attention, Bunuel doesn’t let the character show it. She toys with the seriously mustached males like the sex kitten she is, without fear or favor. Considering that Susana was made in 1951, in a staunchly Roman Catholic country, it’s likely that Bunuel was concerned over the possibility that the censors wouldn’t allow him to film scenes that would make audiences squirm over the age differences between the girl and the men. Thus, the sensuality is restricted to a revolving bedroom door, bare shouldered blouses and lecherous glances. Susana looks like the kind of sexually charged melodrama – and loosely disguised criticism of the bourgeoise — that would be made in Mexico, on a tight budget, in the early 1950s. So, I’m pretty sure that viewers unfamiliar with Bunuel’s full body of work would find much to get excited about in Susana. Completists should get a kick out of it, though.

Drive Me Home
All Male, All Nude: Johnsons
Breaking Glass Pictures has been a leading distributor of LGBTQ titles – before it was cool, as they say – along with its solid catalog of genre, niche and foreign pictures. This pair of new releases accentuate the “G” in the acronym, although in completely different ways. Simone Catania’s first feature, Drive Me Home (2018), is a rarity, in that it’s a road/buddy picture set in central Europe. The gay component is introduced with such subtlety that some viewers may be as blind to it as is one of the buddies. Antonio (Vinicio Marchioni) and Agostino (Marco D’Amore) grew up as friends and playmates in the kind of small Sicilian town that loses its best and brightest young people, as soon as they can find work in the north or move to the U.S. to open a pizzeria. Now in their 30s, they live far from Sicily, but not so distant that they can’t run into each other at a truck stop in Belgium. Although such encounters beg credulity, Catania makes it look unforced and natural. While Antonio has been living the life of a vagabond, Agostino has become an over-the-road trucker, whose itinerary and loads change with every new load. One of them looks as if he’d be comfortable hitchhiking anywhere in the U.S. and sleeping by the side of the road. The other sports a completely incongruous Van Dyke beard and Dennis Wilson beach-bum hairdo, Agostino agrees to give his friend a lift to northern Italy, where Antonio will begin to thumb has way to south, to Sicily. Along the way, he’ll attempt to scavenge the money he needs to save the family farm from a tax sale. During the many lulls in conversation, Catania fills the screen with scenic shots of the mountains and forests that separate Germany from Italy. We’re led to believe that Antonio doesn’t know that Agostino is gay, at least until a warmly lit soak in a hot tub in a roadside brothel that caters to travelers of both genders. In an unexpected twist, Antonio takes his friend’s revelation in stride and absent shocked histrionics. In fact, Catania adds a flashback that should have given Antonio a clue long before their reunion.  The disc adds deleted scenes and an on-site interview for Sky TV.

When, in the final third of the last century, traditional striptease and burlesque gave way to lap-, table- and pole-dancing, Hollywood beat a path to the doors of so-called gentlemen’s clubs, especially those found in Manhattan, Hollywood, Atlanta and Dallas. These high-end joints featured topless dancers, topless servers, steep cover charges and drinks, and, more frequently than not, performers who could pass for cheerleaders auditioning for jobs as NFL and NBA pep squads. The clubs provided perfect settings for criminal wheeling-and-dealing, police stakeouts, sports watching and setups for women-in-jeopardy pictures, especially on late-night cable TV. Gay strip clubs faced greater restrictions as to what the dancers could reveal, and what happened in the V.I.P. rooms. If gentlemen’s clubs provided reliable fodder for theatrical and TV movies stories set in gay dance clubs lagged behind, if only because of concerns over a renewed surge in the spread of HIV/AIDS. In 2017, Gerald McCullouch took his camera and tape recorder to  the only gay strip club in Atlanta and most of the South, Swinging Richards, for the documentary, All Male, All Nude. The men he interviewed worked for the club as dancers, managers and bartenders. Compared to Stripped to Kill (1987), Showgirls (1995), Striptease  (1996) and Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000), the fully nude male dancers at Swinging Richards resembled jocks, off-duty cops and firefighters. Their dance moves are decidedly non-balletic. In the sequel, All Male, All Nude: Johnsons – the names of the clubs are intentionally punny – McCullouch follows the same pattern of getting to know some of employees and letting them tell their own stories, with some hunky, almost nude dancers gyrating on the stage. Johnsons is small strip club, located in Wilton Manors, Florida, “America’s second gayest city, per capita.” Matt Colunga, an award-winning bodybuilder who has been in the adult entertainment industry for 23 years, returns as the creator and owner of Johnsons, which is divided into a neighborhood bad and showroom. The men have has many reasons for working at the club, as the characters in “Blue Iguana.” Just as some female strippers are clandestine lesbians, feminists and moonlighting professionals, and others pad their incomes by turning tricks, a number of the men we meet here are married, fathers and known to turn the occasional trick. If McCullouch’s docs overlap a bit, they should be of interest to amateur sociologists and job seekers

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon