God’s Pocket: Blu-ray
Anyone who may have wondered what was lost with the untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman – last February, at 46, to a drug overdose – shouldn’t have to look very far to study his impressive body of work. Once a prince of the indie realm, Hoffman more recently balanced his schedule with key supporting roles in such studio blockbusters as Mission:Impossible III and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, as well as dramatic turns on Broadway. Never someone who could be mistaken for a classic Hollywood leading man, Hoffman’s presence was felt in every scene in which he appeared. In the almost-unseen God’s Pocket, which debuted at Sundance 2014, he plays small-time crook and mob-sanctioned truck driver Mickey Scarpato, who delivers hot meat to Philadelphia butchers. Mickey’s been blessed with a gorgeous wife, Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), but cursed to live in her low-end God’s Pocket neighborhood with a ne’er-do-well stepson, Leon, and shrewish sisters-in-law. As described by journalist-novelist-screenwriter Pete Dexter (Paris Trout), the Pocket is the kind of big-city neighborhood populated by poor white trash who’ve always taken their lowly place in life for granted and reject any helping hand that reaches out to them. Teenage boys settle for lives of crime, while teenage girls brace themselves for marriages filled with verbal and physical abuse. Adults of both genders can generally be found in the corner tavern, blowing their unemployment and disability checks pickling their livers and preying their lottery tickets pay off. The same uninviting neighborhoods can be found in Dennis Lehane’s Boston-set novels and the Hell’s Kitchen of State of Grace. God’s Pocket chronicles the four days leading up to the funeral of Mickey’s stepson, who was killed at work in what police describe as an industrial accident, but we know to be justifiable homicide. Jeanie and her sisters order Mickey to investigate the young punk’s death, even though he assumes, like everyone else, that Leon probably had only himself to blame for his violent demise. For Mickey, the timing couldn’t be worse. His truck is loaded with stolen meat that no one is willing to buy and his pockets are filled with IOUs. Meanwhile, the Pocket’s resident undertaker, Smilin’ Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan), is pressuring Mickey to waste money he doesn’t have on the first-class funeral Jeanie demands of him.
It’s at this point, that Jeanie convinces a washed-up, if still respected newspaper columnist to enter the fray. Like Jimmy Breslin, Mike Royko and Dexter, himself, Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins) has committed his career to giving a voice to the hard-working, blue-collar residents of a city that only pretends to care about them. That, however, was before he devoted most of his waking hours to the pursuit of cirrhosis of the liver. Once he puts his eyes on the angelic Jeanie, however, he dedicates himself to wooing her away from her husband, who’s busy coming up with the dough to pay Smilin’ Jack’s ransom. If they make an odd couple, it’s only because they’re both looking for redemption on a dead-end street. Everyone in the Pocket, it seems, owes money to someone else, more often than not a bartender, bookie, shylock or Smilin’ Jack. As depressing as this scenario might sound, first-time feature director and co-writer John Slattery (“Mad Men”) relieves the blues with some inky-black comedy, frequently provided by Mickey’s best friend and partner-in-crime, Arthur “Bird” Capezio (John Turturro). God’s Pocket doesn’t always work as designed, but fans of such gritty urban dramedies shouldn’t mind the out-of-balance moments. More to the point, the acting is so uniformly outstanding that it begs to be seen by anyone who appreciates watching actors cut loose and take chances. The Blu-ray adds commentary and deleted scenes.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Blu-ray
I’m not remotely qualified to say whether the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is true to its comic-book roots or plays fast-and-loose with the established mythology. From where I sit, however, Captain America: The Winter Soldier feels substantially more cohesive and evolved than most other films in the canon. There’s more than enough over-the-top fights, exciting chases and explosions to satisfy action nerds, but they’re there to support the story, rather than the other way around. The appearance of ancillary superhero characters – Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) – advances previous storylines, while anticipating future adventures. I wasn’t overly impressed with the protagonist’s 2011 re-introduction in Captain America: The First Avenger. In my opinion, it didn’t add anything to what was accomplished in the 1990 Captain America, which didn’t even enjoy the benefits of CGI or an obscenely large budget. Here, Captain America (Chris Evans) is required to deal with threats and dangers unimaginable when he entered an icy state of suspended animation in World War II. SHIELD has been subverted by fascists — led by Robert Redford, of all people — and his former running mate, Bucky, has returned as the amnesiac super-villain, Winter Soldier. I wonder what television-sitcom veterans and co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo (“Community,” “Up All Night”) thought when they were handed $170 million and a franchise that didn’t do particularly well at the worldwide box office in its first iteration. To their great credit, the Russos’ efforts more than doubled the take from The First Avenger, here and abroad. Keeping the action at a human scale, while maintaining a real sense of narrative drama, might have been their greatest accomplishment. The Russos discuss their strategies and intentions on the Blu-ray’s excellent commentary track, with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The rest of the making-of and background featurettes, deleted scenes and gag reel are pretty routine, however. There’s a 3D edition, but I don’t know what it adds, if anything to the experience.
For No Good Reason: Blu-ray
If there’s ever been an artist whose work is so unmistakably his own that no one even bothers to attempt copying it, it’s the uniquely blotchy and undeniably disturbing portraits of madmen and fools created by Ralph Steadman. Renowned for his “gonzo” contributions to the hallucinatory ramblings of Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and other essays, the British cartoonist and illustrator we meet in For No Good Reason truly is a nonpareil. The rare person who could match Thompson in the consumption of inebriants and anti-social behavior, Steadman’s work was equally fueled by a lifelong commitment to “change the world” and show no mercy to oppressors, crooked politicians and greed-mongers. First-time documentarian Charlie Paul deserves kudos for giving the Thompson/Steadman collaboration its due, but not ignoring the artist’s similarly impressive stand-alone projects, including “Treasure Island,” Withnail and I, “I, Leonardo,” “Animal Farm,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “America,” “Sigmund Freud,” “The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary”; illustrated books on dogs, cats, wine, extinct “boids” and whisky; and experiments with Polaroid photographs. Johnny Depp, who played Thompson in the film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, is our guide through Steadman’s admittedly twisted mind. Much of the time they spend together is in the artist’s studio, where, among other things, he demonstrates how easy it is for him to paint while being interviewed. Besides his sometimes rocky relationship with Thompson, Steadman opens up on his artistic methodology and such inspirations as Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Picasso and Francis Bacon. Among those testifying in his defense are Terry Gilliam, Jann Wenner, Richard E. Grant, Tim Robbins, Bruce Robinson and Hal Willner. The musical accompaniment is supplied by Slash, All American Rejects, Jason Mraz, James Blake, Ed Harcourt and Crystal Castles. The Blu-ray presentation enhances the animated material and painting, while also offering commentary with director Charlie Paul and producer Lucy Paul; a panel discussion from last year’s Toronto Film Festival with Paul and Steadman; a reading of “Cherrywood Cannon,” accompanied by animation; extended interviews; and some very worthwhile deleted scenes.
Born to Race: Fast Track: Blu-ray
As developed by racing enthusiasts Steve Sarno, Ali Afshar and director Alex Ranarivelo, the Born to Race franchise is intended to be a corrective to the high-octane films in the Fast & Furious series. Afshar is the founder and president of a racing team and has driven for Subaru. A street racer as a kid, Ranarivelo had collaborated with Sarno on a short film partly based on his experiences. Together, the trio expressly wanted to make a racing movie featuring real machines performing actual feats of precision driving, but Hollywood wasn’t buying. It took them eight years to find the money to finance, film and release the original Born to Race (a.k.a., “Born 2 Race”) into the straight-to-DVD marketplace. It borrowed the evergreen theme of a new kid in school having to prove himself to the in crowd, this time as a drag racer. The boy, Danny Krueger, had gotten in trouble for illegal street racing and was transferred to the small-town high school to learn how to cool his jets. To prove himself to his fellow students and estranged father, Danny decided to enter the completely legitimate NHRA High School Drags. That movie did well enough in the secondary market to encourage its producers to risk a sequel, whose gestation period was a mere three years. Born to Race: Fast Track tweaks the original to the point where Danny (Brett Davern) has graduated from the quarter-mile straightaway to a school for wannabe road-course drivers. Once again, he’s required to prove himself to a bunch of hotshots, all of whom believe they know everything there is to know about racing and have only enrolled in the school to win a place on a sponsored team. Needless to say, the young men and women drive their instructors nuts with their oversized egos and reckless behavior. The fevered competition adds a must-needed edge to a story that has been rated PG, even with an extremely tame shower scene. Besides some flashy racing and dangerous stunts, Fast Track is a testament to teamwork and absorbing the wisdom of one’s mentors. If that makes the movie sound namby-pamby, potential viewers should know that the racing is fun to watch and the rivalries feel legitimate. Fans of MTV will recognize Davern and Beau Mirchoff from “Awkward” and Tiffany Dupont from ABC Family’s “Greek.” Their parents might still recognize Corbin Bernsen (“L.A. Law”), Grant Show (“Devious Maids”) and Sharon Lawrence (“NYPD Blue”). The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette.
Pumpkinhead: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
A Clown’s Recovery
Makeup effects pioneer Stan Winston must not have enjoyed the experience of directing Pumpkinhead, because he would only sit at the helm of one more movie before returning to the shop where all the magic is created. I’ve seen a lot worse pictures than Pumpkinhead, by directors who should have quit when they were ahead as DPs, ADs or writers. Winston was fortunate in that he had something more important to contribute to the cinematic world than shouting “action” and “cut,” every so often. Winston’s talent was creating monsters that looked as if they could be real. There was nothing cheap or cheesy about them. In Pumpkinhead, a group of insensitive city slickers seal their doom by accidentally killing the son of the owner of a country store. Instead of sticking around to comfort the boy or calling for an ambulance, the careless motorcycle driver splits the scene, hoping to avoid triggering a probation violation. Lance Henriksen plays Ed Harley, the dead boy’s distraught father and generally a nice guy. Here, though, he visits the widow Haggis, a woman with a direct psychic link to the netherworld. Unable to bring the boy back from the dead, Haggis beckons the skeletal beast Pumpkinhead from its grave and sics him on the interlopers. By the time Harley realizes what his desire for revenge has wrought, however, he attempts to clear his conscience by neutralizing the creature. Sadly, having let the genie out of the bottle, there is nothing he can do to stop the slaughter. It’s a pretty basic story, really, and, once the monster is revealed, Winston’s options were limited considerably. If the jumps-scares don’t work so well, though, the creepy backwoods atmosphere and portentous lighting schemes do. The Blu-ray does a nice job capturing the mood changes, eerie mountain fog and the interior of Haggis’ fire-lit cabin. Pumpkinhead, itself, stops being scary after its fourth or fifth appearance. Also included are Scream Factory’s fine hour-long featurette, “Pumpkinhead Unearthed”; 50-minute “Remembering the Monster Kid: A Tribute to Stan Winston,” with new interviews with actors Lance Henriksen and Brian Bremer, special effects artists Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. and Shannon Shea; commentary by co-screenwriter Gary Gerani and Creature & FX Creators Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis; and other behind-the-scenes material.
Among the existential questions that have arisen since the onslaught of movies about the zombie apocalypse is the one that demands we speculate on whether suicide would be a smarter way to die than being bitten by an undead assailant and resurrected as a monster. If survival requires engaging in non-stop war against an ever-growing army of shuffling ghouls, what’s the point of delaying the inevitable? Most of the unaffected people we meet in zombie movies prefer to “rage against the dying of the light,” refusing to “go gentle into that good night,” as Dylan Thomas demanded of his gravely ill father. Why bother? The question is raised once again in Ben Wagner’s claustrophobic thriller, Dead Within, which opens in the happy hours before an unanticipated calamity occurs, but quickly leaps forward to a period six months later when nearly all hope for survival is lost. When disaster struck, Mike (Dean Chekvala) and Kim (Amy Cale Peterson) were enjoying a weekend visit to a secluded cabin, where they’ve been joined by a pair of friends and their newborn baby. A voice on the radio advises them of an impending disaster and cautions listeners about engaging with strangers displaying symptoms of infection. Somewhere along the way, the other couple and their child are killed off, but what we know of their demise is transmitted mostly through Kim’s fever dreams. Her paranoia is increased by Mike’s insistence that she never leave the cabin, even to join him on his forays to replenish their stock of food staples and batteries for the radio. As such, Kim can only guess at the shape, size and ferocity of the monsters waiting to break into the cabin. With no food left to eat and her only contact with the outside world the disembodied voice of an increasingly perverted “Ranger Mark,” however, Kim’s paranoia leads her to believe that Mike has been infected and needs to be destroyed. Dead Within tests our resolve by refusing to leave the confines of the cabin and demanding of the actors that they improvise their lines. Somehow, though, Peterson and Chekvala manage to rivet our attention for most of the film’s 91 minutes without the assistance of other actors or visible tormenters. The DVD adds some deleted scenes.
Fans of the rambunctious Internet series, “Angry Video Game Nerd,” will be happy to learn that Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie has begun airing on various VOD outlets. In the crowd-funded adventure, psycho-critic James Rolfe goes in search of the Holy Grail of video games: Atari’s infamous 1982 “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” With all copies extant believed to be buried in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico, the Rolling Rock-swilling Nerd attempts to bring a copy back alive for review. (The actual landfill was located earlier this year and excavation reportedly began shortly thereafter.) Not having seen the bonus features, I’ll review the Blu-ray when it’s released in November.
One never knows what to expect when a package of screeners from Chemical Burn Entertainment arrives in the mail. It’s one of the leading purveyors of extreme exploitation, practically guaranteed to induce nightmares and the occasional case of projectile vomiting. The titles originated in a myriad of countries and tend to reflect prevailing cultural superstitions and themes. Some are better than others, but most contain the germ of an idea, anyway. Among this month’s pile:
I can’t do any better than this CBE description of the truly bizarre Italian export, Monkey Boy, “Once upon a time, a freak was born and then hidden for decades in a lonely cellar, deep within the countryside of rural Italy. The freak had a ‘keeper’ for most of his life; she was a lonely old woman who cared for Monkey Boy even though she herself was a troubled individual. One day, the old lady died and Monkey Boy was forced to explore the world outside … alone. In the span of one night, he learns much about life and finds Agata, an autistic girl who appears to be the only person who Monkey Boy can communicate with and understand. In the darkness of the night, they share an adventure filled with strange discoveries and unhappy creatures called human beings.” It’s all of that and a box of popcorn.
A Clown’s Recovery is a documentary that chronicles the remarkable struggle waged by sword-swallower and sideshow entertainer Jelly Boy the Clown, who, in 2011, was rescued by firefighters in a devastating apartment fire unrelated to his act. Images from the uninsured entertainer’s long and painful recovery were captured daily by Matthew Broomfield, who had directed Jelly Boy in Freakshow Apocalypse: The Unholy Sideshow (also available from CBE). Jelly Boy is a founding partner, with his brother Matterz Squidling, of the Squidling Bros. Circus Sideshow, a troupe of modern sideshow freaks who perform in New York venues, including a Coney Island bar, and tour the world. Not surprisingly, his recovery was eased through the support of his natural and circus families.
In the giallo-influenced Slasher House, a young woman with shockingly red hair awakens in a green-tinged cell, naked and absent any recollection of how she got there. Prodded by post-it notes to wander away from her cell, Red quickly determines that her neighbors in the ancient facility are criminally insane serial killers and she’s being used as bait in someone’s deadly game of tag. Naturally, one of the most notorious inmates is a child-murdering clown, Cleaver. What stands out here, besides British scream queen Eleanor James, is the garish lighting scheme, which changes depending on Red’s location in the prison. For horror/splatter buffs, “Slasher House” is worth the effort of finding.
A Doula Story
Do No Harm
The sad thing about documentaries like Fed Up is knowing that, no matter how well-intended and factual, the only people likely to watch them are those already committed to the cause being espoused. If true, though, what possible use are they to anyone, except fans of Doctor Oz, Oprah or, in this case, Katie Couric. Any high school teacher who dared show a film with such an anti-corporate message to a classroom full of impressionable teens, almost certainly would be run out of town by the local Tea Party cabal. Fed Up explains once again why the food most of us eat is either killing us or turning our kids into blimps, sloths and diabetics. But, we know that already, don’t we? We also know all too well that it’s the right of every American to ignore the research of distinguished scientists and eat whatever we damn well please, no matter how harmful it is to us and how much it will someday cost taxpayers. As presented by producer Laurie David and (An Inconvenient Truth) and director Stephanie Soechtig (Tapped), Fed Up convincingly argues that government warnings about sugar and fat intake and lack of exercise address only part of the problem. It does so by interviewing kids who have attempted to lose weight by strictly following the guidelines, but can’t seem to lose weight. Their parents, too, are stymied. Neither can they figure out why drinking diet beverages and fat-free food doesn’t help shed pounds. In fact, while the food industry pays lip service to such warnings, it also keeps busy finding ways to circumvent them. Meanwhile, its lobbyists hand out bushel baskets full of money to legislators willing to be compromised by special interests. Much is made of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to fix school-lunch menus, which were larded with processed foods and selections artificially sweetened by high fructose corn syrup, in lieu of sugar. Couric explains how food manufacturers gave their support in public, while, behind the scenes, worked to subvert it. Any chance that it would succeed have been reduced, as well, by parents who kowtow to their kids’ whining about the tastelessness of healthy food and the elimination of school kitchens due to budget cuts. There’s much good advice here, but, again, none of it will do any good if parents and educators don’t buy into it and our congressional leaders ignore it. The Blu-ray comes with deleted scenes and a one-year subscription to Eating Well magazine.
That honey bees are disappearing from places in which they once thrived has been demonstrated incontrovertibly in several disturbing documentaries. Because only a true fiend would speak ill of bees, it is a crisis we can all agree is worth fixing. David G. Knappe’s doc debut, Bee People, is different in that it offers hope in the form of beekeepers and rescuers who have found ways to replenish the population, even as researchers study the invisible plague’s root cause. Through Gregg “The Bee Guru” McMahan, we meet several men and women with sweet-and-gooey nicknames — Bee Medic, Tony “Bees” Planakis, Bee Mistress, Johnny Bee Good, Beeliever, Beedazzled and Beeatrice – who have taken their campaign to the bees we can find in abundance, including dilapidated barns whose wooden skeletons are dripping with honey. One suggestion encourages average homeowners to add hives to their backyards, patios and rooftops, while another offers compelling reasons to “marry” bees of one hive to those in another and relocate them to place where they might flourish.
Like midwives, doulas have been around almost as long as women have been having babies. Just as the American medical establishment nearly legislated midwives out of existence, the use of doulas fell out of fashion and its practitioners became too expensive for low-income women too afford. A Doula Story documents the efforts of one Chicago woman to help pregnant teens prepare for the delivery of their babies and teach them how to nurture those children as they grow. A doula will stay with the woman during delivery, but not participate in the birthing process. She may also counsel the young women as to the efficacy of breast feeding and ways to deal with baby daddies who need attitude adjustments. The subject of Daniel Alpert’s inspirational documentary, Loretha Weisinger, had her first baby as a teenager and struggle with many of the same issues as the women she mentors. In 2005, when the documentary was made, her unpaid mission was included in a teenage parenting program at Marrillac House, a community center in Chicago’s largely African-American neighborhood of East Garfield Park. Eventually, Weisinger would be accorded a salary of $20,000 a year. Similar Doula programs have since been adopted by hospitals and community centers around the country.
Alpert also executive produced Rebecca Schanberg’s Do No Harm, a film that effectively argues that there’s no such thing as a non-profit hospital. Somewhere, someone is making a lot of money and someone else is getting screwed. In this case, the former is represented by executives of and investors in the Phoebe Putney Hospital of Albany, Ga., while the latter category holds the facility’s uninsured and under-insured patients, many of whose lives were ruined by excessive billing practices. Taxpayers also have been stuck with millions of dollars in doctored fees and exorbitant costs. To make Albany citizens and decision-makers aware of what they considered to be unethical behavior on the southwest Georgia health system, accountant Charles Rehberg and surgeon John Bagnato began to send out anonymous newsletters, Phoebe Factoids, that described the hospital system’s generous executive salary structure, extensive political and business connections, and its financial holdings, which included a Cayman Islands account. The publishers argued that the factoids were intended to expose a hospital system that wasn’t fulfilling its charitable obligations as a tax-exempt entity. Phoebe Putney fought back by hiring former FBI agents to intimidate and threaten the whistle-blowers and filing a civil suit alleging defamation, fraud and racketeering. A sleazy local district attorney fed the company with information that led to indictments and criminal charges of harassment, aggravated assault and burglary, along with a $66-million lawsuit, all of which were later dismissed. Do No Harm recalls the theatrical film, The Informer, in several key ways, including the participation of lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, who had previously represented the state of Mississippi in the tobacco litigation of the 1990s.
The Midnight Special
In early 1973, the co-option of rock-’n’-roll by the mass media had yet to become a fait accompli. Evidence of that was provided by two late-night variety shows, during which the most popular top-40 and album-rock artists performed live – as opposed to lip-synching to recorded versions of their hits – in front of an audience of enthusiastic fans. The acts played for scale and the labels were, at first, were reluctant to provide their talent, not sure they’d remember to show up at all “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” competed with Burt Sugarman’s “The Midnight Special” for the eyes and ears of record buyers long before the invention of VCRs, MTV and YouTube, sometimes simultaneously on weekend nights. “Rock Concert” may be best remembered for Kirshner’s tone-deaf introductions to performances, famously parodied by band leader Paul Schaffer on “Saturday Night Live.” Both shows were recorded in stereophonic sound and simulcast over FM Stereo radio stations and early Cable TV. Even if the selections only scratched the surface of an artist’s repertoire, it was fun to put a face to the music and watch as they re-created their in-concert routines. The list of individual performances is too long to repeat here, except to say they ranged from Ted Nugent to Helen Reddy, Joan Baez to KC and the Sunshine Band. Among the things that separated the shows were the introductions provided by the truly legendary disc jockey, Wolfman Jack, on “Midnight Special,” alongside a rotation of celebrity hosts. Nothing good lasted forever in the 1970s and “Midnight Special,” at least, began gearing down when disco and middle-of-the-road radio began calling the tunes. Artists were required to lip-synch their songs and Wolfman Jack’s beloved shtick was reduced to hucksterism. Nevertheless, this six-disc retail DVD set from StarVista/Time Life – not to be confused with the nine-disc direct-response “Collector’s Edition” or single-disc set – is great fun to watch, if only for the fashions, hairstyles and then-wrinkle-free faces of the artists. For that reason, easily humiliated Boomers may want to avoid watching “Midnight Special” with their kids and grandkids. It includes fresh interviews and tributes.
ABC: The Goldbergs: The Complete First Season
BBC: Doctor Who: Deep Breath
Showtime: Years of Living Dangerously: The Complete Showtime Series
Cartoon Network: Regular Show: Rigby Pack
Nickelodeon: Let’s Learn: Patterns & Shapes
After learning that ABC green-lit a series titled “The Goldbergs,” I wondered how much it might resemble the original “Goldbergs,” which starred Gertrude Berg and was a staple of the American entertainment scene, on and off, from 1929 to 1956. Berg defined what it meant to be a Jewish mother for a generation of Gentiles, although she shared many of the same characteristics as mothers who were immigrant Irish, Greek, Pakistani, Chinese or Indian. The ABC sitcom, going into its second season, carries the Goldberg name because the show’s creator, Adam F. Goldberg, based it on his experiences growing up in a suburb of Philadelphia. Jeff Garlin’s character is modeled after Goldberg’s own father, Murray, who apparently had a hair-trigger temper and routinely referred to his kids as “morons,” because that’s how Sitcom Murray acts in the show. Goldberg’s pre-teen alter ego, Adam Goldberg, walks around the house with a camcorder affixed to his hand, just as Producer Adam did when he was a wee tadpole. (Clips from actual home movies are scattered throughout the show.) The way we know the family is Jewish, besides the title, are occasional references to tushes “like two scoops of ice cream,” shiksas and a smothering mom (Wendi McLendon-Covey) known far and wide for her match-making skills. Otherwise, “The Goldbergs” might as well be entitled, “That ’80s Show,” “The Wonder Years II” or “The O’Briens.” The family is supplemented by smarty-pants sister Erica (Hayley Orrantia), horndog brother Barry (Troy Gentile) and randy grandfather Albert “Pops” Solomon (George Segal), who imparts useless dating advice to Barry and Adam when he isn’t hitting on girls their age. All of that said, “The Goldbergs” is elevated by the high quality of acting on display, its clever writing, several non-cliché storylines and recognizable characters. My guess is that the Goldbergs will be freed from assimilation prison sometime in its second or third seasons, as Adam approaches his bar mitzvah deadline or Barry is forced to choose between playing basketball at Villanova or Brandeis universities.
When the accomplished Scottish character actor Peter Capaldi was announced as the 12th Doctor in the 51-year history of “Doctor Who,” his picture graced the cover of every newspaper in London. The media anticipation leading to the season opener has been palpable, as well. There are so many things to keep in mind when considering every new Doctor, sidekick, threat and story arc that covering the show in newspapers, magazines and blogs has practically has become an industry in its own right. As befits the attention paid to last year’s regeneration episodes, golden anniversary hoopla and 3D holiday presentation, the producers decided to showcase the first episode of the eighth season, “Deep Breath,” in theaters, accompanied by the same special featurettes included in the new Blu-ray edition. It opens in Victorian London, where a really huge tyrannosaurus rex seems as out-of-place as the Tardis. (There’s a very good reason for the timing of its arrival.) The city is also being plagued by spontaneous combustions and clockwork robots. Capaldi adds an abrasive edge to the character, as well as a thick brogue and significant acting chops. Jenna Coleman, who returns as the Doctor’s intrepid companion, Clara, remains as cute as a button, but wary of the changes imposed on her. Like viewers, it takes a cameo appearance by a former Doctor for Clara to warm to Capaldi. The transition is likewise facilitated by Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her wife Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and their trusty butler, the squat Sontaran warrior Strax (Dan Starkey). From the point-of-view of this relative newcomer to the franchise, “Deep Breath” seemed an appropriate way to kick off a new series and decidedly different protagonist. Technically, too, it looked a bit more cinematic than usual. The featurettes include a prequel scene introduced by Strax; a behind-the-scenes piece shown only in theaters; “Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor,” the television special in which Capaldi was revealed as Matt Smith’s successor; and the episode of “The Real History of Science Fiction” that focuses on time travel. There’s also a tease to this season’s second episode, “Into the Dalek.”
Showtime’s Emmy-winning nine-part documentary series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” approaches the divisive debate over climate change by giving in to the hideous reality that Americans won’t take a scientific or medical issue seriously unless a celebrity is attached to it in one way or another … the more, the better. Of the 24 executive/associate/co-/supervising/senior producers named in the list of credits, the only ones who seemed to matter in the marketing buildup were James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The celebrity hosts and interviewers include Harrison Ford, Matt Damon, Ian Somerhalder, Jessica Alba, Don Cheadle, America Ferrera, Michael C. Hall, Olivia Munn and Schwarzenegger. Lesley Stahl and Thomas Friedman are among the superstar journalists. President Obama is interviewed by Friedman in the series’ final episode. Normally, such a lineup would cause my cynicism meter to register off the charts. This time, however, the celebrity presence almost certainly pushed ratings to a level that could be measured by the folks at the Nielsen Corporation. As it is, once viewers figured out that “Years of Living Dangerously” wasn’t a companion piece to “Homeland” or “Masters of Sex,” what ratings it was accorded for Sunday-evening airings took a nose dive. (It also could be accessed on-demand, YouTube and ancillary Showtime outlets.) None of this should detract from the importance and high production values associated with the series. The presentations are anything but dry and the celebrities’ roles aren’t limited to reading Teleprompters or standing in front of melting glaciers.
As is its custom, Cartoon Network has released its newest installment of cartoons in the “The Regular Show” in a themed DVD package. The “Rigby Pack” features 16 raccoon-centric episodes, handpicked by show creator J.G. Quintel. The running time is 176 minutes.
Included in Nickelodeon’s latest DVD collection, “Let’s Learn: Patterns and Shapes,” are the edu-cartoons “Team Umizoomi: Team Umizoomi vs. the Shape Bandit,” “Dora the Explorer: Catch the Shape Train!,” “Ni Hao Kai-lan: The Dinosaur Balloon,” “Blue’s Clues: Shape Searchers” and “Blue’s Room: Shape Detectives.”
Children Without a Shadow
I Was There in Color
Jews of Iran
Fringes: New Adventures in Jewish Living
Who Killed Walter Benjamin
Eyes Wide Open
It’s been a couple of months since we checked in with SISU Home Entertainment/Kol Ami and, in the meantime, a bunch of titles documenting the Jewish/Israeli experience have been released on DVD. Some of them are so obscure, they’ve yet to register on IMDB.com: A quick roundup is in order:
Bernard Balteau’s 2009 Holocaust documentary, Children Without a Shadow, is a “story of the resilience of the spirit” of Belgian Jews, as recalled by Shaul Harel, one of the “hidden children” protected from the Nazis by Mademoiselle Andrée Geulen. … I Was There in Color is comprised of rare color footage of events shot at the “birth of Israel” by Fred Monosson, a Jewish-American businessman who left the treasure trove behind when he died in 1972. … Although Jewish roots run deep throughout the history Persia/Iran, it’s difficult to imagine what life might be like for those who still call it home. Ramin Farahani’s Jews of Iran describes their support system and respose to a painful espionage case against a Jewish community there.
In Fringes: New Adventures in Jewish Living, Paula Weiman-Kelman visits Secular Yeshiva in Jerusalem, the Ghetto Shul in Montreal and Stony Lonesome Organic Farm in Virginia, where “cutting-edge Judaism” is being taught and put into practice. … The death of a prominent German-Jewish intellectual in the immediate aftermath of the Nazi takeover of France is the subject of David Mauas’ Who Killed Walter Benjamin …, a documentary that challenges the common wisdom on what long has been accepted as a suicide to escape capture by German sympathizers in Spain. … In the intimate bio-doc, My Herzl, two brothers-in-law explore the legacy of Theodor Herzl, an early proponent of the Jewish state of Israel. ‘s life and career. … In Eyes Wide Open, Paula Weiman-Kelman uses the slogan, “Once you visit Israel, everything looks different,” as a stepping-off point for a discussion of what the country and its politics mean to American Jews in Israel for the first time.
Getting Go: The Go Doc Project
Man at Bath
Love or Whatever
In Tennessee Queer, Jason Potts is summoned back to his conservative hometown from New York for an intervention, ostensibly to save his brother from demon rum. Instead, it’s to cure him of his homosexuality. Somehow, it doesn’t surprise him that they would try something so lame. While in Smyth, Jason is bullied by the same homophobes who tormented him in high school and stymied by the stupidity of classmates now in control of the town. Knowing that conditions haven’t improved for today’s LGBT kids, Jason agrees to put together a gay-pride parade to smooth the road for a stroll out of the closet. To pull it off, however, he’ll need some help from the gay community of Memphis, Nashville and beyond. Almost everything in Tennessee Queer is predictable, but in a perfectly harmless and occasionally quite funny way.
For his directorial debut, screenwriter Cory Krueckeberg (Mariachi Gringo) conjured a title with a built-in redundancy and a premise that is more than a little bit contrived. If the actors playing Doc and Go weren’t so proficient, Getting Go: The Go Doc Project may have been required to add a couple more steamy sex scenes and go for the porn crowd. Tanner Cohen (Were The World Mine) plays Doc, a Columbia student who has yet to acknowledge the obvious fact that he’s gay, but is sufficiently attracted to an Internet stud, Go (Matthew Camp), that he conjures an elaborate scheme to meet him. Doc has convinced himself that Go’s dance card is so full that he won’t get close enough to him to test his own sexuality. Instead, the bar dancer agrees not only to allow a camera to follow him on his daily rounds, but also to demonstrate that buff guys aren’t just sexual playthings. This isn’t to say that the sex isn’t hot, just that it’s integrated organically into the story. Krueckeberg’s directorial skills may not be on a par with his writing chops, yet, but Getting Go shows promise for the future.
Apart from the estimable presence of a frequently nude Lindsay Lohan, the most noteworthy thing about The Canyons was the casting of porn superstar James Deen in a more-or-less commercial picture. The quality of his performance didn’t matter as much as his ability to attract attention to the movie. Still, he wasn’t bad. Despite taking prominent roles in Saw VI and L.A. Zombie, the muscular French gay-porn star François Sagat proves in Man at Bath that he can handle something more than genre fare. While cast according to type as a gay hustler in the sexual melodrama by director Christophe Honoré (Ma Mère, Love Songs), Sagat can be proud of his performance in a film intended for arthouse audiences. After a quarrel between Emmanuel (Sagat) and his lover, Omar (Omar Ben Sellem), the brokenhearted hunk is left to his own devices in the streets of Gennevilliers, a suburb of Paris. Meanwhile, Omar is off to New York, where the filmmaker will attend a festival with the real-life actress, Chiara Mastroianni, playing herself. The only question remaining is what will happen when Omar gets to Paris.
Love or Whatever is a romantic comedy in which the partner of a guy who seems to have it all reacts to the possibility of getting married by cheating on him with a woman, who also happens to be his soon-to-be ex-lover’s client. One way to tell it’s a comedy is the presence of a lesbian sister who gets the best lines.
Steven Vasquez’ Eroddity(s) is an anthology comprised of four stories in which 10 gay youths straddle the border between the erotic, the supernatural and the merely odd. In this way, it serves two genre constituencies.