The Judge: Blu-ray
As is the case with marathon runs, where finishing is reward enough for making the effort to compete, movies that require viewers to break through an imaginary “wall” at the two-hour barrier ought to offer something more gratifying than a cliché ending or the opportunity to find the name of a friend or relative in the closing credits. Like distance runners, theater and cinema audiences have their limits. Timing in at a less-than-brisk 141 minutes, David Dobkin’s The Judge could easily have lost 21 minutes of extra baggage and still left us with fond memories of watching old pros Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall deliver the goods in an otherwise engaging legal/family drama. Downey, who, lest we forget is pushing 50, plays an ethically challenged Chicago lawyer willing only to sacrifice about 48 hours of his precious time to travel to southern Indiana for his mother’s funeral. It’s Hank Palmer’s first trip home in nearly two decades and he’s dreading every minute of it. Although he loved his mother, Hank didn’t at all enjoy being batted around emotionally by his father, the right honorable Judge Joseph Palmer. Picking Duvall to play the hidebound character probably was the easiest decision Dobkin had to make throughout the entire production process. (The only question surrounding the casting of Downey pertained to his nearly decade-long absence from films that weren’t targeted directly at the action crowd.) We immediately suspect that the old man’s prickly relationship to his son probably drove Hank to become a prominent big-city defense attorney, but there’s very little love lost between them during the mourning period. Among other things, Palmer blames Hank’s reckless behavior as a teenager for extinguishing any chance his brother, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), might have had to play in the Major Leagues. (A much-younger brother, Dale, is developmentally disabled, but not lacking in certain skill sets.) Hank’s plan to quickly pay his respects and split back to Chicago, where his marriage is collapsing and he’s in the middle of a big trial, is stymied when his father is charged with murder in a fatal automobile accident.
Because the judge had a well-known history with the victim and they were seen together immediately before the accident in a store selling booze, it looked like an open-and-shut case for the prosecution. Given the distance between them, it isn’t surprising that Hank and his father would both resist compromising on how to handle the defense. Dax Shepard plays the buffoonish homegrown lawyer the judge chooses to defend him. Once Hank sees him in action, however, he cancels his return flight and insists on giving the his dad a fighting chance for acquittal, even if it means exploiting loopholes and challenging the competency of local law-enforcement officials. It’s the kind of defense his father probably wouldn’t have tolerated in his courtroom and his wet-behind-the-ears co-counsel certainly couldn’t pull off on his own. The prosecutor played by Billy Bob Thornton would have eaten him for breakfast and still have an appetite for humiliating Judge Palmer. His formidable presence not only guarantees a battle royal in the courtroom, but it also lessens the likelihood of a cut-and-dried Hollywood ending. (Ken Howard is good as a no-nonsense judge from northern Indiana imported to keep the lawyers from hitting below the belt.) As if anticipating the necessity for some rom-com relief, Vera Farmiga and Leighton Meester are introduced to the story as Hank’s jilted high-school sweetheart and her hot-to-trot 20ish-year-old daughter, who, guess what, wants to become a lawyer. As much as I like Farmiga, the sordid possibilities inherent in such a storyline detract mightily from everything else happening in the picture. Downey and Duvall may only be dredging up ghosts of characters they’ve played in countless previous movies, but that’s enough to recommend The Judge to their fans and courtroom drama buffs. Anyone else who tags along for the ride – and pleasant scenery – shouldn’t be too disappointed, either. The fine Blu-ray presentation adds Dobkin’s commentary and a pair of featurettes, “Inside ‘The Judge’” and “Getting Deep With Dax Shepard.”
Masterpiece: Downton Abbey Season 5: Blu-ray
With “Downton Abbey” already halfway through its highly anticipated fifth season on PBS, I can find no good reason to spoil any more surprises than those its creator, Julien Fellowes, already has revealed. What I can say, however, is that it would be unwise for anyone disappointed by last season’s events to give up on the entire mini-series. It’s rebounded very well. The fifth-season opener advances the story only about six months past Rose’s “coming out” at Buckingham Palace, in July 1923, and as the election of a new Labor Party government has begun to give commoners some hope of improving their lot in life. His Lordship and the rest of the Crawleys are still attempting to grasp what the transition will mean for their traditional livelihood and lifestyle, but, it would be difficult for the family to avoid change entirely. They need only to listen to the new wireless radio introduced to the household by Rose to learn how quickly things are moving on the political and social fronts. Some members of the service staff, including mousy scullery maid Daisy Robinson, have begun to consider what life might be like independent of the Crawleys. Love, treachery and revolution also are in the air. What I can reveal about the plotlines this year is that they tackle such extremely weighty issues as religious prejudice, the broader implications of the Tsar’s overthrow and sexual liberation, such as it was in the 1920s. Moreover, anyone who considers Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, to be the second coming of Cruella de Ville may be surprised to see her out-bitched by at least three of the other women characters. And, speaking of ghosts, faithful followers of the series already know that the pursuit of Green’s killer has been re-ignited by London police, some of whom appear to have taken up residence at the Downton Abbey. The 93-minute season final is extremely eventful, even by Fellowes’ lofty standards, and beautifully executed by cast and crew. Much of the fun comes during a family outing to spectacular Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland. The Blu-ray represents the original UK version of the series and adds the featurettes, “Behind the Scenes: Day 100,” “Roaring Twenties” and “A Day With Lady Rose.”
My Old Lady: Blu-ray
I’m probably not the only person who thinks of Kevin Kline as a comic actor, first, and, then, as a performer capable of eliciting responses other than laughter on stage and screen. If his career has stalled a bit lately, it’s only because Hollywood screenwriters have stopped making the kind of comedies in which Kline once sparkled. Watching him labor alongside Diane Keaton in the lamentable canine dramedy, Darling Companion, and in the AARP adaptation of The Hangover, Last Resort, was borderline unbearable. (His turn as Errol Flynn in The Last of Robin Hood, which was accorded only a limited release, will arrive on DVD in March.) Israel Horovitz’ adaptation of his stageplay, My Old Lady, wasn’t widely shown here, either, but it contains some of Kline’s best work in years. As it opens, he teases us with a whimsical look at his character’s search through Paris for the home he has just inherited from his estranged father. His character, Mathias Gold, discovers to his chagrin that it is already occupied by an elderly tenant, Mathilde (Maggie Smith), who’s legally entitled to live there as long she lives and isn’t at all ready to die. Until then, she allows Gold to pay her rent for a room that’s cluttered with stuffed animal heads and shotguns. Also living in the spacious house, which surely will be worth a fortune someday, is Mathilde’s middle-age daughter, Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas). She meets Gold in comic fashion when she forgets to lock the door to the only bathroom on the second floor. So far, so good. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the movie is little more than a stage-bound pity party, in which Mathias grows increasingly angrier at his deceased father’s treatment of his American family and, not to be outdone, Chloe finds a few bones to pick with her mother. It should come as no surprise, whatsoever, that Mathilde once figured romantically in the life of Gold’s father, and was deceived by him about key elements of his “other” life. As the story progresses, even more shocking secrets will be revealed, none of which viewers will find particularly amusing. Almost as if on schedule, though, things turn full-circle in the movie equivalent of the third act. If there’s one thing first-time director Horovitz gets right cinematically it is the Paris setting, which avoids the tourist spots and shows us how some of the natives life. The Blu-ray adds a Q&A with the filmmaker and star, conducted after a New York screening.
The Color of Time
Now that James Brown has taken his act to the Pearly Gates Amphitheater, the title of Hardest Working Man in Show Business belongs to James Franco. I can’t think of another A-list actor who’s appeared in a more diverse and challenging array of movies or has portrayed such a bewildering range of characters. Following hot on the heels of The Interview debacle comes another of his explorations into 20th Century American poets, this time Pulitzer Prize-winner C.K. Williams. The Color of Time looks back at Williams’ life and influences through 11 poems written for his magnum opus, “Tar.” This time, however, Franco shares the role of Williams with Henry Hopper, Jordan March and Zachary Unger, representing various stages of the poet’s literary and sexual development. Also playing key roles are Mila Kunis, Jessica Chastain, Zach Braff and Bruce Campbell. More noteworthy, perhaps, are the 12 NYU film students who wrote and directed the biographical vignettes. While Williams’ life story isn’t nearly as compelling as those interpreted previously by Franco in bios of Hart Crane, Allen Ginsberg and James Dean, the student filmmakers make it look special, at least, through Impressionistic cinematography and creative editing. The musical score by Garth Neustadter and Daniel Wohl also adds greatly to the final product.
Days and Nights
Christian Camargo’s debut as a director and writer, Days and Nights, was inspired directly by Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” Anyone familiar with that widely performed work will easily recognize the Chekhovian elements that inform the film and know that several of the fine actors cast here have performed in plays and movies credited to Russian dramatists. Chekhov’s name may not carry the same weight on a marquee – or DVD box cover – as Shakespeare, for example, but he’s far from an unknown quantity, even in the American hinterlands. And, yet, as far as I can discern, there’s only one reference to Chekhov and “The Seagull” on the jacket and it’s in small type. It’s fair to ask, then, why Camargo would go to the trouble of adapting a play by an internationally renowned writer and risk the possibility that audiences might not be able to put 2 and 2 together. I don’t have an answer to that question, except to speculate that it might pertain to the vagaries of public-domain and copyright statutes. Beyond contemporizing the setting, Days and Nights doesn’t appear to take any serious liberties with the basic story of “The Seagull” and the actors’ passionate feelings toward the play are evident in the interviews contained in the bonus package. The fact is, however, that potential viewers unfamiliar with Chekhov probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Days and Nights and a dozen other movies in which dysfunctional families gather for one last reunion in a vacation home in a spectacular setting. In fact, it was only a month ago that I reviewed Last Weekend, with Patricia Clarkson playing the matriarch of a family about to spend their final summer on the shores of Lake Tahoe.
Here, Allison Janney plays the fading actress who returns to the family dacha on a pristine lake, somewhere a couple of hours north of Manhattan. She’s in the company of her boy-toy, Peter (Carmago), a filmmaker who can’t be counted on to keep his paws off the blond muse (Juliet Rylance) of her suicidal son, Eric (Ben Whishlaw). Clearly fragile, Eric is an avant-garde multi-media artist, whose latest work will be previewed for the family that night in a makeshift outdoor theater. Among the other characters gathered for the weekend are Elizabeth’s nutty older brother (William Hurt), the family doctor (Jean Reno), the estate’s custodian (Russell Means), its careless caretaker (Michael Nyqvist), his flighty wife (Cherry Jones), their temperamental daughter (Katie Holmes) and her ornithologist husband (Mark Rylance). In the role of Chekhov’s titular seagull is a bald eagle, whose nest is being studied at unusually close range by the nerdy naturalist. Ninety-three minutes isn’t nearly enough time to sort out the many ticks and torments of this collection of eccentrics and, finally, only Eric’s troubled soul is mined with any precision. Still, Chekhov completists and fans of the actors might find something to enjoy here. The DVD adds several deleted scenes, interviews and a making-of piece.
Divided roughly into two very different halves, Bird People, is a story about a Silicon Valley engineer and mousy French student, who share nothing except one night under the same roof in an airport-adjacent Paris hotel. He’s waiting to board a plane for Dubai, where he’ll be expected to rescue his company’s French business partners, while she’s working part-time at the generic hotel as a maid. Josh Charles (“The Good Wife”) plays the American husband and father, who, rather abruptly, decides that his job sucks and the future holds nothing but middle-class angst, leading to post-retirement despair. His Gary Newman decides then and there to split the scene, leaving his employer and co-workers fumbling to repair any damage to the project. Neither does he endear himself to us by informing his wife (Radha Mitchell) of his decision via Skype. It might be the first time in movie history that we feel as bad about a corporation being jilted as the feelings of an abandoned wife and child. It’s a dick move, no matter how much we can relate to the events that led to Newman’s hotel-room epiphany. Anaïs Demoustier’s Audrey, on the other hand, is someone with whom we sympathize almost immediately. Any way you cut it, cleaning up after expense-account transients is a shit gig and we really hope she’ll realize her dreams – whatever they might be – before she becomes stuck in the same rut as the man whose room she’s just cleaned. It’s in Audrey’s half of Pascale Ferran and Guillaume Bréaud’s story that Bird People really takes off into something special. Let’s just say that it merges both words in the title, in a magically realistic way, and leave it at that. If the ending doesn’t leave you smiling, you might want to check your pulse.
Bad Turn Worse
Crime-fiction aficionados can quote chapter and verse when it comes to parsing the differences between sub-genres and their tropes, conventions and idiosyncracies. While it’s easy to distinguish between whodunits, procedurals, locked-doors and cozies, the lines separating noir, pulps and hard-boiled fiction are less easily defined. Lately, films based on graphic novels have merged all three elements, often to very entertaining effect. As newcomers to the genre work their way through the literally canon, there’s a point where they’ll be required – based solely on the sheer volume of available titles – to focus on a particular subgenre, theme or character profile. Those who choose the kind of writing that would lead directly to such film noir classics as The Maltese Falcon, The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Big Sleep will necessarily begin their journey with authors who attempted to make a living writing for pulp magazines and paperback originals. Before the heyday of the pulps, of course, the foundation was laid by the penny dreadfuls and dime novels of the 19th Century, but that’s another story. Among the most influential authors who emerged from the pulp boom of the 1920s and ’30s are, of course, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, David Goodis and John D. MacDonald. Before Elmore Leonard became of the bard of late-20th Century crime writing, he and Louis L’Amour dominated the Western subgenre. All of today’s high-tech, mega-budget sci-fi pictures owe a debt of gratitude to authors who produced speculative fiction for magazines, just as today’s generation of superhero flicks couldn’t exist without characters whose bloodlines can be traced to the 1930s.
Although his name doesn’t appear in the credits, Jim Thompson’s fingerprints are all over Dutch Southern’s debut screenplay, Bad Turn Worse (a.k.a., “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”). Moreover, he does the right thing by crediting a key piece of dialogue directly to the author, and that’s something not all screenwriters would bother to do. Had Thompson not been mentioned by name, however, it still would be difficult for viewers not to compare Simon and Zeke Hawkins’ film to such Thompson adaptations as The Grifters, After Dark, My Sweet, The Getaway, This World, Then the Fireworks, Coup de torchon and The Killer Inside Me, or Dennis Hopper’s neat take on Charles Williams’ The Hot Spot. Of all the post-pulp writers, Thompson probably faced the most potholes on the road to something resembling recognition by someone other than critics. These included his longtime addiction to alcohol. His stories are frequently told from the twisted and not always reliable point of view of the book’s antagonist or anti-hero, who frequently is portrayed as a drunk, as well. Unlike noir, the violence in his books isn’t necessarily relegated to the dark corners of a shadowy world. Indeed, true to his roots, it frequently plays out in the sunbaked towns of Texas and Oklahoma, among rough-hewn men and women with no particular code of honor. Bad Turn Worse is set in just such a sleepy town in southeast Texas, where cotton at one time was king and hardly anyone leaves for very long. As the picture opens, a pretty blond mystery enthusiast, Sue (Mackenzie Davis), and her anxious-to-please boyfriend’s best pal, Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) – both of whom are headed for college in the fall – are engaged in a conversation in a local diner.
It’s over biscuits and gravy that Sue anticipates all of the nasty things to follow in the movie, by quoting Thompson to Bobby: “There are 32 ways to write a story, and I’ve used every one, but there is only one plot: things are not what they seem.” She’s about to cut her ties to her not terribly bright boyfriend, B.J. (Logan Huffman), but keeps stringing him along. Even so, B.J. gives them a going-away party on the Gulf Coast with the money he’s just stolen from the safe of his boss, Giff. It would have been one thing if the money had only belonged to Giff (Mark Pellegrino), but the safe contained three stacks of bills being laundered by the region’s leading hoodlum (William Devane). When the trio is made aware of the possible ramifications of B.J.’s larcenous act, he convinces them to join him in a scheme to cover up his blunder. From this point on, nothing goes as planned for anyone involved and several backs are left with knives sticking out of them. If the denouement depends too much on gunplay and an unlikely chase through a cotton gin, Bad Turn Worse already has benefitted greatly from Southern’s hard-edged dialogue and the Hawkins’ unforgiving portrait of a dead-end town. (In this way, at least, comparisons can be drawn to The Last Picture Show.) As anxiously as I await the second season of HBO’s not completely dissimilar “True Detective,” I’m that interested in seeing what these guys will do for an encore.
God knows, we don’t need to see any more zombies stumble their way across our television screens. As DIY horror goes, however, Brett Mullen and Sky Tilley’s debut feature, Bombshell Bloodbath, is better than most such efforts. If they’ve bitten off more than they can chew, at least they’ve created something that shows they’ve been influenced by something other than Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead. In fact, their greatest inspiration appears to have come from Italian horror masters Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. Even so, the confusion of ideas begins with the title, Bombshell Bloodbath, which, while catchy, lacks precision. Neither does the film stick to any one horror subgenre, as it leapfrogs over a line of scenarios populated with mad scientists, grave-robbers, flesh-eaters and strippers. After the death of his wife, Doctor Carter (Rob Springer) quits his job at the CDC to concoct a serum to bring her back to life. With a scarcity of undead guinea pigs available to him, Carter decides to visit the local cemetery for specimens larger than lab rats. Eventually, Carter develops a serum that appears to work, although the revived corpses have an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the plague’s first appearance outside the doctor’s underground laboratory occurs in a strip club, which sounds more titillating than it actually is. When Carter’s daughter, Cara (Alex Elliott), gets wind of the plan, she attempts to convince the doctor that the potential for disaster is greater than anyone’s need to raise the dead. Meanwhile, he feeds other detractors to the zombies he keeps locked up in a cage. Having avoided one scrape with un-death, Cara is mankind’s only hope against the killer virus. Yeah, it’s a mess, but the special makeup effects are pretty convincing.
The Green Prince: Blu-ray
Most news emanating from the Middle East these days points to a future that is bereft of hope for a lasting peace. The Arab Spring has devolved into an Arab nightmare, while the unending tit-for-tat belligerency along Israel’s borders threatens to suck the rest of the planet into its black hole. For every step forward taken by reasonable people of all religious backgrounds, fanatics and fundamentalists have forced three in the opposite direction. The recent Israeli mini-series, “Prisoners of War” – the model for Showtime’s “Homeland” – found a huge audience willing to ponder what’s real and what’s not in a fictional hostage drama and prisoner trade. The Green Prince tells the real-life story of a young Palestinian man whose personal dilemma rivals that of the Israeli and Arab who purportedly betrayed their countries in “Prisoners of War.” The documentary demonstrates how difficult it is for writers of fiction to trump scenarios based directly on actual events and procedures. As the oldest son of the founder of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, Mosab Hassan Yousef naturally was a person of interest to Israeli security forces. Like his father, Mosab believed deeply in the Palestinian cause and accepted the fiery rhetoric as the truth.
After making the mistake of attempting to smuggle guns into his homeland, Mosab was arrested, imprisoned without trial, interrogated, tortured and left without a clue as to when he may be charged or released. Unbeknownst to Mosab, he also had been identified – based solely on one agent’s intuition — as someone who could be convinced that saving the lives of innocent people was more important than blowing them up for the gratification of terrorist leaders and murderous mullahs. It was a longshot, but one worth taking by an agent for the Israeli equivalent of the FBI. Upon his release, the hostilities would escalate to the point where his father was being forced to get directly involved in the enlisting of suicide bombers. Mosab also sensed that paranoiacs within Hamas would kill his father, rather than allow him to draw the line at one particular terrorist strategy. Indeed, one of Mosab’s demands was that Israeli security forces arrest his father before he could sent out suicide bombers of his own creation. There were other considerations that played into the young man’s decision, including being molested by one of his father’s trusted aides, but Mosab genuinely believed his actions could curb violence on both sides of the Palestinian struggle.
As his mission got increasingly more dangerous and the chances of being discovered increased, Mosab’s Shin Bet handler Gonen Ben Yitzhak became steadily more willing to protect this lonely and justifiably frightened teenager from going off the deep end and blowing his cover. After Gonen was unceremoniously dropped from his job at Shin Bet, Mosab refused to work with any other agent, fearing he would be hung out to dry for any number of reasons. He asked to be given the wherewithal to move to the United States, where he could put his personal shame and horror behind him. After converting to Christianity here, Mosab wrote an autobiographical book, in which he laid out his role in the charade and how his actions ultimately saved the lives of many people in Israel, including Palestinians who might simply have been on the wrong bus on the wrong time. Despite all of this, he was blacklisted by our Homeland Security Agency and ordered to be deported to somewhere he couldn’t be protected. It was at this point that Gonen decided to repay his country’s debt of gratitude to Mosab, by outing himself as a former security official and openly defending his friend’s decision to seek sanctuary in the U.S. Even though the The Green Prince is a documentary, it plays like a television drama. For both Mosab and Gonen, the ramifications of their actions guarantee that their story will only end when they die or are assassinated. The bonus material includes extended interviews and news coverage of Mosab’s coming-out.
Jean De Florette/Manon of the Spring: Blu-ray
Henry V: Blu-ray
Distilled to its essence, Claude Berri’s Jean De Florette and Manon of the Spring form an epic family drama that, like all great mini-series and prime-time soaps, is driven by compelling characters, memorable settings and such motivational factors as greed, survival, revenge and fate. The presence of Yves Montand, Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil and Emmanuelle Béart, along with a record-high budget for a French film, assured viewers that the virtual double-feature would be first-class all the way. Shot back-to-back in 1985, over a period of seven months, the four-hour-long experience captivated audiences around the world and turned Provence into a prime tourist destination for years to come. The story itself, however, isn’t nearly as easy to reduce to a few sentences. It opens in the immediate aftermath of World War I, when a soldier returns to the mountainous region and convinces his uncle to go into a business that requires a steady supply of fresh water. When their neighbor refuses to sell his property to them, an argument ensues that ultimately will cause the death of the neighbor and a mystery surrounding the life-giving spring on his property. When “the hunchback” Jean Cadoret (Depardieu) inherits the property from his mother, Florette, he becomes the unwitting target of a plot by Cesar Soubeyran (Montand), who will stop at nothing to gain the seemingly “worthless” land. Manon of the Spring picks up a decade after the calamitous events at the end of Jean De Florette. Jean’s daughter, Manon (Beart), has grown into a stunningly beautiful young woman, who could have posed as the poster child for flower power 40 years ahead of the Haight-Ashbury. She seems content to shepherd her goats around the property, until she discovers the truth behind her father’s demise and the conspiracy to steal her property. She also takes an interest in a teacher (Hippolyte Girardot) she discovers wandering around her property and who treats her as a something other than a simple peasant. It almost goes without saying that Manon will find a way to avenge the damage done to her family by the neighbors and superstitious townsfolk. Don’t worry, there are several more secrets to be revealed in these splendidly acted and photographed films.
Also from Shout Factory comes Kenneth Branagh’s directorial debut, William Shakespeare’s Henry V, in which he simultaneously delivers a bravura performance as the titular King of England. The famously undisciplined prince now wears the crown and will be given the opportunity to prove his competence in combat, as a motivator of men and as head of state. Branagh seems to be enjoying himself here, leading his countrymen into bloody battle against France and as a director called upon to open up the historical drama as a vehicle for entertainment. The cast includes Robbie Coltrane, Paul Scofield, Judi Dench, Geraldine McEwan, Ian Holm, Derek Jacobi, Simon Shepherd, Emma Thompson and a very young Christian Bale. None of these three titles offer bonus features, besides the requisite trailers.
Dick: The Documentary
I don’t know if it’s accurate to say that most men have a love-hate relationship with their penis, but, generally speaking, it’s not something we’re comfortable discussing either in public or private. It is what it is and the word, itself, can discourage meaningful conversation. It helps explain why there are so many euphemisms, nicknames and slang descriptions associated with the appendage, which, as we are asked to observe in Dick: The Documentary, come in a multitude of sizes, shapes and colors and frequently are bent, folded and mutilated for purposes other than pro-creation of the species and elimination of liquid toxins from the body. In 2008, filmmaker Brian Fender posted an ad on Craigslist to solicit volunteers willing to strip down and reveal themselves physically and emotionally through personal stories about their penis. The result is a cross-section of American manhood from monks to transsexuals, ex-marines to artists, cut and uncut, gay and straight, all ranging from 21 to 80 and with one thing in common, at least. Nothing here is especially revelatory and, once viewers get over their uneasiness with staring at the naked torso of so many headless bodies, what’s learned is pretty mundane. If nothing else, though, the witnesses prove that men have nothing to fear in revealing long-withheld opinions on their gender-distinguishing member and childhood taboos should be checked at the door of puberty. It’s also clear, however, that ancient Greek sculptors knew where to draw the line on depictions of male nudity. Not all dicks are a work of art, and most of our bodies don’t lend themselves to subjective contemplation. Still, there’s nothing down there about which anyone should be embarrassed or ashamed to reveal. That includes masturbation, an act of physical gratification that isn’t limited to teenage boys or actors in porn flicks. In fact, its commonality might come as a surprise to some men. Remember the Dylan line about how “even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked”? If Fender wanted to do us all a great service, Fender could make a sequel in which all of world’s male leaders agree to pull down their pants and discuss what their penis means to them. I can’t think of a better way to put all of them on an equal footing.
Cartoon Network: Regular Show: Mordecai Pack
PBS: Arthur’s Fountain Abbey
PBS: Suze Orman’s Financial Solutions for You
Mama’s Family: Mama’s Favorites
Not being well-versed in the intricacies of the animation dodge, I’m not sure what to make of this factoid concerning the production of Cartoon Network’s “Regular Show.” Apparently, each new 11-minute episode of the consistently popular and inventive series takes about nine months to complete … nine months. This, despite a creative team of three dozen people and a cast of characters that could fit into a VW mini-van. For the uninitiated, J.G. Quintel’s brainstorm revolves around two 23-year-old friends, Mordecai and Rigby –a blue jay and raccoon, respectively – who are employed as groundskeepers at a park, but expend most of their energy coming up with schemes to simultaneously avoid work and relieve boredom. One of their bosses, Benson, is a gumball machine, while the other, Pops, is a human lollipop. Their co-workers include a yeti; an overweight green man, Muscle Man; and Hi-Five Ghost. It’s a far cry from “Tom & Jerry” and “Popeye the Sailor Man,” but, upon its arrival in 2010 alongside “Adventure Time,” it fit neatly within the cartoon zeitgeist of the still-new century. What isn’t nearly as easy to explain is the sporadic release pattern of its DVDs and Blu-rays. Now in its sixth season on the cable network, only three complete-season sets have been made available. Instead, there are seven themed “packs” – here, “Regular Show: Mordecai Pack” – comprised of 12-16 individual episodes. Somehow, there are “nine seasons” of already aired shows available on PPV. The set adds audio commentaries and deleted scenes.
The American/Canadian co-production, “Arthur,” is based on the best-selling children’s books by Marc Brown. It follows the adventures of an anthropomorphic 8-year-old aardvark, Arthur Read, who lives with his family and friends in the suburb, Elwood City. It’s family friendly, but in a much more traditional way than “Regular Show.” In “Arthur’s Fountain Abbey,” the characters follow the roots of their family trees to some surprising revelations. Other episodes include “Arthur Calls It,” “Feeling Flush” and “Family Fortune,” all of which feature several teachable moments.
The latest DVD from the nearly ubiquitous author, financial advisor, motivational speaker and television host Suze Orman focuses on helping individual viewers “feel secure” about their investments, thereby avoiding the stressful repercussions of impersonal planning. The Chicago native and onetime restaurateur takes an expansive view of personal economics in “Suze Orman’s Financial Solutions for You.” Her advice is based not just on numbers, but on a “critical understanding of ourselves and our emotional needs.” It fits neatly within the sphere dominated by other self-help and motivational speakers on PBS and late-night infomercials. I’m pretty sure, however, that making sound business decisions requires something more than a television.
The parade of DVD packages excised from Time Life Entertainment’s recently released “Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection” continues apace with “Mama’s Family: Mama’s Favorites – Season 4” and “Mama’s Family: The Complete Sixth Season” (February 10). The a la carte approach doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s an affordable alternative to ordering the whole enchilada at a list of price of $199.98. The product speaks for itself.