Any religion that allows itself to be shanghaied by criminals, thugs or perverts probably ought to think about making its core beliefs more specific and membership requirements more rigid. If a faith’s most sacred texts can be so easily misinterpreted that co-religionists can’t even agree on its position on murder in the name of God, it will take something more powerful than assault rifles to open the gates of heaven to them. Or, maybe the priests, rabbis and mullahs entrusted with interpreting scripture are too personally invested in conflict to come together for the sake of peace. Bob Dylan probably could have written a dozen more verses to “With God on Our Side” and still not captured the insanity that began with Cain and Abel and continues today. This terrible reality was all I could think about while watching Abderrahmane Sissako’s extraordinary depiction of life at the crossroads of sanity and madness, Timbuktu. Islam was introduced to West Africa in the 11th Century and, since then, it has been the predominant religion of Mali, of which Timbuktu remains a regional capital. Mali’s been down on its luck economically for a long time, thanks, in large part, to a lingering drought, severe heat and uncertain political leadership. At one time, though, Timbuktu was a crossroads trading center, as well as a magnet for Islamic scholars and repository for religious texts and manuscripts. Despite its multiethnic population, religion wasn’t a divisive force in the region until recently. Sissako’s Oscar-nominated film depicts the relatively brief period when jihadists affiliated with Al Qaeda (and/or ISIS) were able to take advantage of a split between Tuareg secessionists and Islamic radicals to take control of Timbuktu from the fractured Malian military. Among the first things they did was impose Sharia law and destroy libraries containing centuries-old religious texts, including cherished editions of the Koran.
Timbuktu puts a tight focus on Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) a cattle herder; his wife, Satima (Toulou Kiki); his pre-pubescent daughter, Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed); and Issan (Mehdi AG Mohamed), a shepherd boy, who is like their own son in the shrinking tent community outside Timbuktu. Their lifestyle is as uncluttered and traditional as the Bedouin, who once crisscrossed the southern Sahara. Kidane shares the waters of a nearby lake with a fisherman from a different ethnic background, but also living in the dunes. One day, a cow breaks away from the herd, destroying a section of the fisherman’s nets. He retaliates by immediately killing the cow — Issan’s favorite – and cursing the boy. When Kidane confronts the belligerent fisherman, the pistol he’s carrying to intimidate the man accidentally discharges, killing him. This sets off a series of events that puts Kidane in direct contact with the jihadists and their alternately severe and absurd interpretations of Sharia law. It outlaws music, dance, laughter, cigarettes and, even, the bare hands of women selling messy products in the market, while authorizing stoning adulterers to death, lashing outlawed musicians and accepting bribes and granting favors. Kidane’s biggest problem is his inability to come up with the compensation – 40 cows – ordered by the court, which includes a man who’s itching to steal the herdsman’s wife. If this was all Sissako gave us to ponder in Timbuktu, it would be an unbearable experience. Instead, he lightens the overall tone by demonstrating the determination of residents to get around the rules, even under the watchful eyes of the fanatics. After soccer balls are banned, for example, kids make do by staging realistic games, albeit with an imaginary ball. At the same time, bored jihadists are shown killing time by discussing the stars of European soccer leagues and their favorite teams. There are other amusing examples of resistance, but they’re far outweighed by the cruelty of the Sharia jurists, especially to women. Timbuktu benefits greatly from the wonderfully evocative cinematography of Sofian El Fani (Blue Is the Warmest Color), which shifts nimbly from the sunbaked dunes and courtyards at high noon, to the velvety-black sky that shrouds the desert at night. The Blu-ray adds thought-provoking interviews with the filmmaker.
Stop the Pounding Heart
As difficult as it may be for liberals to believe that the Republican presidential candidates actually believe the outrageous crap they spew everywhere they go on the campaign trail, it’s just that easy to believe that Democrats have never gone very far out of their way to understand what makes so many voters buy into the button-pushing rhetoric of Tea Party-approved politicians. Considering that Texas is ground zero for the lunatic fringe of the GOP, along with Florida, it might be enlightening for supporters of Hillary and Bernie to pay a visit to territory claimed by Ted Cruz and Rick Perry. Or, they could start by watching the engrossing docu-drama Stop the Pounding Heart, which constitutes the third chapter in Italian filmmaker Roberto Minervini’s “Texas Trilogy,” along with The Passage and Low Tide. In it, we’re introduced to the Carlsons, a large family living on a goat farm in East Texas according to precepts set down in the bible. While their faith is grounded on fundamentalist beliefs, they appear to have formed their own opinions on what’s important in life, based on personal experience … good and bad. While the Carlsons don’t seem to be particularly interested in what’s going in Washington, they’re exactly the kind of people Cruz and Perry claim to represent.
Leeanne and Tim Carlson have decided that their 12 children will be sheltered from the world in which they grew up through home-schooling and strict interpretations of scripture. The central focus of Minervini’s no-frills film is Sara, an intentionally plain teenager who has only recently begun to doubt her mother’s daily testimonials to chastity, devotion to God and subservience to the man in her life. Sara’s closest male friend, Colby, is an aspiring rodeo rider who appears to have divided most of his formative years falling off mechanical bulls and getting tattooed. His father found religion after succumbing to hard drugs and, like the Carlsons, has retreated from the world at large to protect his family from the same fate. Through Colby, we’re also introduced to Texas gun culture, which is as much a part of growing up in the Big Thicket as, well, falling off mechanical bulls and getting tattooed. Watching Colby’s very pregnant sister taking target practice may be unnerving for some viewers, but she appears to be having a lot more fun on the firing range than she will be a couple weeks later delivering her baby in the living room of her home. Minervini’s presence doesn’t appear to have unnerved his subjects, although you never know how things actually went down off-screen. We’re aren’t encouraged to draw conclusions, one way or the other, besides those that arise naturally from witnessing the quality of Sara’s homeschooling, whose curriculum appears to include milking the goats and cows. It’s also possible to wonder how she’ll find an appropriate life partner when she isn’t allowed to date or mingle with infidels. In some way, Stop the Pounding Heart is the antithesis of such redneck reality shows as “Duck Dynasty” and the one with Honey Boo-Boo. As unfamiliar as the Carlsons may be to those of us who live in Blue State America, in the rural South they’re as common as kudzu, if far less insidious. Their faith is in a God who speaks to them in mysterious ways, not the Republican Party.
The Bridge: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Along with the hellish images collected from World War II death camps, some of the most penetrating photographs sent back to America in 1945 were of the German boys and elderly POW’s captured as the Allies began their final drive to Berlin. These weren’t the faces of heroes or battle-hardened soldiers. These were the victims of Adolph Hitler’s refusal to end the madness and save Europe from further carnage. Many of the raw recruits – the youngest ones, especially — were so brainwashed by Nazi propaganda they actually believed their participation could turn the tide, bringing about the final victory promised them since the invasion of Poland. Bernhard Wicki’s remarkable anti-war drama, The Bridge, was based on Gregor Dorfmeister’s autobiographical novel, published in 1959 under a pseudonym. Dorfmeister was one of several high school buddies drafted into the Wehrmacht and, days later, assigned to defend a bridge over a river near their homes. It was of almost no strategic value – except to facilitate the desertion of veteran officers and escape of wounded troops – but their lack of adequate training caused one of their more realistic superiors to place them as far out of harm’s way as possible. What the officer didn’t take into account, however, was the boys’ faith in Der Fuhrer evolved from their participation in Hitler Youth programs that promoted devotion to the Fatherland as much as physical strength and stamina. What their elders saw as lost cause, the boys assumed was a path to glory. Wicki gives viewers plenty of time to get to know them as everyday teenagers, preoccupied with their studies, girlfriends, causing mischief and performing chores for their families, many of which were missing an adult male authority figure. Each is allowed individual character traits and dreams of a productive future in Third Reich. Roughly halfway through the 103-minute film, they are sent to the bridge and ordered to dig in and hold the position. A flyover by P-51 Mustang provided the first hard evidence that Hitler hadn’t levelled with them.
Their fate is sealed when their commanding officer is attacked in the streets of town by a pair of marauding SS troopers and killed before he can order his charges to surrender in the face of superior fire power. Before the American tanks arrive, the boys kill a couple of hours horsing around on the bridge, as if they were in a pretend war. It doesn’t take long after Mustang strike for the distant rumble of advancing tanks can be discerned in the near distance. Still, armed with grenade launchers and machine guns, they stand their ground. Instead of taking flight, the boys give the advancing patrol all they can handle. At first, this inspires a palpable sense of pride, even the occasional smile after killing a GI. Stunned by the presence of boys in Wehrmacht uniforms, one of the Americans actually pleads with them to surrender. Instead, he’s cut down by a sniper. The resulting firefight eventually separates the boys from the men, leaving only one of them to relate this story of quixotic patriotism to Germans still reluctant to admit their culpability in the war. (The skirmish turned out to be such an insignificant event, it didn’t even rate a footnote in official records or, until the book became a best-seller, a plaque at the bridge.) Based on facts and unsparingly honest in its depiction of war, The Bridge is a powerful drama no matter on which side of the Siegfried Line one sits. According to director Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum), it directly influenced members of the New German Cinema, who grew up watching movies that ignored the Nazis’ culpability in the war and atrocities that no one wanted to admit happened. The Criterion Collection 2K digital restoration makes the black-and-white film feel as if it were made yesterday and includes a remarkable bonus package distinguished by refreshingly candid new interviews with Dorfmeister and Schlondorff; a 1989 television profile of Wicki, who had spent 10 months in a concentration camp; an excerpt from a 2007 documentary by his wife, Elisabeth Wicki-Endriss, featuring test-reel footage from the shoot; and an by critic Terrence Rafferty.
You know that things have changed when three of the top action stars in the world are a former supermodel, a late-blooming Irish thespian and a graduate of the WWE acting academy. Had Liam Neeson and Dwayne Johnson appeared alongside Milla Jovovich in James McTeigue’s tick-tock, cat-and-mouse thriller, Survivor, it’s still conceivable that it would have sunk like a stone at the box office. At least, it would have enjoyed something better than a kiss-off VOD release. As it is, Jovovich is accompanied by such capable actors as Pierce Brosnan, Dylan McDermott, Angela Bassett and Robert Forster, none of whom can be accused of phoning in their performances. No, the blame here falls directly on an incoherent screenplay by freshman scripter Philip Shelby and the quizzically haphazard direction by McTeigue (V for Vendetta). The picture opens in Afghanistan, where two members of an American helicopter crew have been shot down and captured by Taliban insurgents, hoping to trade one of them for a lucrative ransom. The other survivor, who’s black, is summarily executed, ostensibly because he wouldn’t be worth as much money to the kidnapers. Really? Just as quickly as this scenario is introduced, it’s put aside and ignored by McTeigue and Shelby. Flash forward and geographically sideways, to London, where the hunt for terrorists continues apace. Jovovich plays an American Foreign Service Officer, Kate Abbott, working with British security officials to ferret out potential troublemakers employing ever-more-sophisticated techniques to bypass airport checkpoints. As someone who lost several close friends in the 9/11 attacks, Kate is determined to find the terrorists before they get to the U.S. Shockingly, the first person (Roger Rees) who raises a red flag at Heathrow is allowed to pass through a checkpoint by a seemingly jaded U.S. official, Bill Talbot (Forster). What an American is doing at Heathrow, determining who’s allowed into England, is anyone’s guess.
Naturally, the first thing the mad scientist does is hook up with a crazed watchmaker (Moore), who’s considered to be the most notorious mercenary assassin on the planet. The scientist delivers a gaseous weapon of mass destruction to the watchmaker – a sharpshooter – who’s created a delivery system to be tested in London, but activated in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Conveniently, Kate recognizes a criminal conspiracy when she sees one and, after doing a Google search on the scientist, becomes the target of turncoat American agents, British cops and whoever it was who hired Nash, the watchmaker. Instead of eliminating Kate in a restaurant explosion, Nash succeeds in blowing up all of her co-workers. No one at the embassy believes her story, so, when she’s photographed fleeing the scene of Talbot’s accidental killing – shades of North by Northwest – an hour-long chase ensues. It ends, of course, on a tall building overlooking Times Square at its most crowded. At a brisk 96 minutes, Survivor appears to have jettisoned logic and common sense in the service of the Kate’s one-woman crusade to halt an attack designed to kill more innocent Americans than those murdered on 9/11. Viewers shouldn’t be forced to accept such lapses in logic, simply to get through to what promises to be an explosive climax. Nu Image Films decided to cut its losses by opening it in only a handful of theaters, simultaneously with a VOD release on iTunes, On Demand and, for free, via the new Hoopla app, which is supported by public libraries in a way I don’t quite understand. (The same teaser approach was employed with Kristin Wiig’s Welcome to Me.) The Blu-ray arrives with deleted scenes and a short behind-the-scenes featurette.
Dog Soldiers: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Meet Me There
Crypt of the Living Dead/House of the Living Dead: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
In 2002, when Dog Soldiers was first released in England, the werewolf subgenre was experiencing a bit of a resurgence, thanks mostly to the Canadian teen-exploitation flick, Ginger Snaps, which overcame a slow start by building buzz in the VHS, DVD and cable after-markets. Werewolves would resurface once again, thanks to such TV and movie franchises as “True Blood,” “The Twilight Saga,” “Underworld,” “Being Human,” “Teen Wolf” and “Supernatural.” All of these titles owe more to John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London and Joe Dante’s The Howling – both released in 1981 – than any of the Universal horror classics, with the possible exception of Werewolf of London, which inspired a great song by Warren Zevon. Credit is due, as well, to Rick Baker, Rob Bottin and Stan Winston, whose innovations in the creation of special makeup effects allowed for more frightening transformations and sexier monsters. Virtually ignored here on its release, Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers should be must-viewing for those who consider themselves aficionados of modern horror. Being of British persuasion, its closest relative probably is Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, which combined gory effects and smart humor in the service of movie that could be enjoyed as a thriller and/or parody of genre tropes and clichés. If the gags and references in Dog Soldiers are harder for non-buffs to recognize, it’s compensated for by the imaginative deployment of special effects. As was the case with Ginger Snaps, the filmmakers chose not use to rely on CGI effects, preferring prosthetics and makeup for the action sequences. By comparison, the story is simplicity, itself. Members of an elite unit of the British army’s Special Forces is transported by helicopter into a remote corner of the Scottish Highlands. All they are told is that it’s a survival-training assignment and the idea is to avoid detection by other units. When the soldiers come across the gruesome remains of a platoon previously inserted into the area, it becomes abundantly clear that other forces are at work here and their behavior is lycanthropic. Thanks to the well-timed appearance of an animal-behavior expert (Emma Cleasby), the soldiers are able to find shelter in the nearest cottage, which is 50 miles from anywhere else and beyond the reach of cellphone signals. What happens next could very well be taken as a supernatural homage to Assault on Precinct 13. Also along for the ride are Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Liam Cunningham, Thomas Lockyer and Darren Morfitt. The new 2K-scan HD transfer was supervised and approved by Marshall, who also provides commentary. The bonus package includes a new making-of featurette, with cast members, producers, special-effects artist Bob Keen, special effects supervisor/creature designer Dave Bonneywell, production designer Simon Bowles and director of photography Sam McCurdy; a fresh look at the model of the sets created by Bowles; a pair of still galleries; and Marshall’s short film, “Combat.”
Austin-based director Lex Lybrand opens the smart and creepy Meet Me There with a death scene so poetic that it makes you wonder how he’s going to top it over the course of the next 90 minutes or if he’s even going to try. His patience — and our’s — will be rewarded in this regard, but not before we’re introduced to a backwoods community of in-bred characters who make every day seem like Halloween. Hipster-chick Ada (Lisa Friedrich) has been seeing a shrink to make sense of her inability to relate sexually to her boyfriend, Calvin (Micheal Foulk). On her recommendation, they embark on a journey of discovery to her tiny hometown in the middle of Nowhere U.S.A. Ada’s sure that her aunt will give them a place to stay, but it’s the only indication that something resembling rural hospitality exists here. Indeed, once Ada realizes what caused her to leave the town in the first place – blotting out all memories of it – Lybrand kicks the real gothic horror show into gear, finally ending in the same place as it began. Filmed on a budget that probably was close to non-existent, Meet Me There had me on the edge of my seat for most of its run-time. But, then, I’m of the opinion that the true monsters among us don’t telegraph their bloodlust with sharpened teeth, skull tattoos and stormtrooper boots. That’s for amateurs. One look at Preacher – created by Dustin Runnels (WWE’s Goldust) – and you know that God has abandoned his church. Bonus features include interview with Runnels and Jill Thompson (“Scary Godmother”), who plays Aunt Lindsay.
In Cross, Daniel Yee Heng Chan Leung (Trilogy) takes a slightly different approach to the Angel of Mercy trope, which typically demands that a sociopathic nurse or doctor play God in determining how long a terminally ill patient should live. Simon Yam (Ip Man) plays a man so traumatized by the suicide of his wife that he decides to provide his lethal services to anyone contemplating taking their own life at the risk of eliminating any chance they’ll go to heaven. To provide such a service, Leonard contracts with people he encounters on a website dedicated to assisting people on suicide watch. He has a plan for the disposition of the money, as well, but it’s too far-fetched to mention. With the death toll mounting to alarming heights in Hong Kong, police psychologist Cheung (Kenny Wong) is assigned to the case, whose trail leads him to the same online web forum. Unlike Leonard, Cheung is less interested in saving eternal souls than closing the loophole he provides them. It’s up to viewers to decide who stands on higher ground.
Vinegar Syndrome is a Bridgeport-based distribution company and film archive dedicated to the preservation, restoration and release of the exploitation titles in its library. It’s one of several such businesses that have kept the DVD/Blu-ray trade from stagnating in recent years. This week’s double-feature is pretty representative of VS’ stated mission. A strictly limited edition of Crypt of the Living Dead and House of the Living Dead takes buffs back to the early 1970s, when such drive-in fare was ignored by teenage lovers and beer-swilling jocks. Made in Spain and shipped to the U.S. as “Hannah, Queen of the Vampires,” Crypt of the Living Dead stars Andrew Prine as a young American engineer who travels to the spooky island where his scientist father was crushed by the crypt of a vampire queen. In investigating the incident, the engineers inadvertently opens the door to the undead beauty’s savage soul. The bonus film, House of the Living Dead, has been shown here as “Curse of the Dead,” “Doctor Maniac” and “Kill, Baby, Kill.” It takes place on a colonial vineyard outside Capetown, South Africa, where a mad scientist plots to steal people’s souls and place them into jars for eternity. The only person standing in his way is buxom blond Shirley Anne Field, who previously had appeared in such fine British films as Peeping Tom, Alfie, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Entertainer and could later be seen in My Beautiful Laundrette and Shag. It’s kind of like discovering Jayne Mansfield in a crowd scene in Citizen Kane. The films have been restored in 2k from 35mm negatives.
Adventures Into the Woods: The Sexy Musical
About 10 years ago, semi-retired porn superstar Veronica Hart directed Misty Beethoven: The Musical!, a XXX feature adapted from one of the most popular adult titles of all time, The Opening of Misty Beethoven. Like the 1976 Radley Metzger (as Henry Paris) original, “MB:TM” was informed by the George Bernard Shaw play “Pygmalion” and Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady.” As conceits go, Hart’s hard-core musical comedy was right up there with turning John Waters’ edgy comedy about sex and race in 1960s Baltimore, “Hairspray,” into a rather tame Broadway musical. Still, it gave actors an opportunity to show off other assets than those best savored in the boudoir. It also produced a soundtrack album. Rolfe Kanefsky’s much softer Adventures Into the Woods: The Sexy Musical contains 12 original songs performed by actors known mostly to late-night viewers of Cinemax. I suspect that Kanefsky originally intended for Adventures Into the Woods to be an extension of the “Emmanuelle” franchise, as he had previously directed and written a half-dozen movies exploiting the classic character.
Once again, Kanefsky enlists Allie Haze, the prolific star of soft- and hard-core vehicles – including parodies of movies and TV shows — to portray Emmanuelle. During a science experiment, Emmanuelle falls through a wormhole and winds up in a forest not unlike the one Anna Kendrick, Daniel Huttlestone, James Corden, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep traversed in Rob Marshall’s adaptation of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s hit Broadway musical, “Into the Woods.” Apparently, the forest falls within the boundaries of Wonderland and, during Emmanuelle’s journey home, she’ll encounter Alice, the Big Bad Wolf, Humpty Dumpty, Snow White, the Evil Queen, Little Bo Peep, Little Miss Muffett, the Mad Hatter and characters from “The Wizard of Oz,” all played by porn actors and scream queens. Apart from the fact that nothing particularly remarkable occurs during the 100-minute length of Adventures Into the Woods: The Sexy Musical, it strains credulity to think that anyone attracted to “Into the Woods” would make a beeline for “The Sexy Musical.” Adding “Emmanuelle” to the title might have encouraged fans of that franchise to take a chance on something very different in the genre. And, there is plenty of full-frontal, if not particularly gynecological nudity to distract viewers not interested in the songs. The DVD adds extended musical numbers and deleted scenes.
Few regional music scenes have been captured as intimately and with as much passion as the one associated with Manchester, England. Among the groups that emerged from the industrial center in the 1960s were the Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, Freddie and the Dreamers and an early incarnation of the Bee Gees. They would be followed in the 1970-80s by the Smiths, the Buzzcocks, 10cc, the Fall, Joy Division and its successor group New Order, Oasis, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, James and the Stone Roses. In 2002, Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People chronicled the city’s music scene from the now-legendary June 4, 1976, Sex Pistol concert at Lesser Free Trade Hall, to the juncture of post-punk, electronic dance music, Factory Records, the Hacienda nightclub and emergence of ecstasy in the late 1980s. Five years later, Anton Corbijn’s Control dramatized the tortuous rise and tragic fall of Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis. In Spike Island, director Mat Whitecross (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) and writer/co-star Chris Coghill use the occasion of a 1990 Stone Roses’ outdoor concert at Manchester’s Spike Island to tell a coming-of-age story about a group of five aspiring musicians determined to deliver a demo tape to the headliners. The concert has been described as a “Woodstock for the baggy movement” – neo-psychedelia and acid house-influenced guitar music – that attracted most of its 27,000 paid attendees from Manchester. The guys aren’t able to purchase tickets or sneak over a tall fence, but the music can be heard well enough on the lawn behind the barrier, where hundreds more young men and women are holding their own party. The event serves as a watershed moment for the lads, who, almost overnight, will be required to leave high school behind and assume responsibilities associated with adulthood. Who knows, they might yet become pop stars. Besides some petty linguistic and cultural differences, there’s no reason why Spike Island shouldn’t appeal to American audiences. Included in the cast are Elliott Tittensor, Nico Mirallegro, Jordan Murphy, Adam Long, Oliver Heald, Emilia Clarke, Lesley Manville and Matthew McNulty, who might be familiar to fans of BBC America and “Masterpiece Theater.”
Pit Stop: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Looking back through the fog of pop-cultural history, it’s easy to think that California car culture was fairly represented by such music groups as the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, and in movies like American Graffiti, Eat My Dust, Gone In 60 Seconds, Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, The Gumball Rally and, to some extent, Bullitt. Arthur Ripley’s Thunder Road focused on moonshine running and rarely played north of the Mason-Dixon Line, while White Lightning and other high-octane Burt Reynolds’ epics also represented the South. I can’t recall a movie in which demolition derbies played a central role and, until very recently, I hadn’t seen a movie set in the world of Figure-8 racing. It was the kind of roughhouse activity reserved mostly for fairs and ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” In 1969, the erroneously titled “Pit Stop” introduced Figure-8 racing to drive-in audiences around the country, before disappearing for 30-40 years. Made in black-and-white on a budget that even impressed the famously frugal Roger Corman, Jack Hill’s follow-up to Spider Baby and Mondo Keyhole easily qualifies as one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. And, I couldn’t get enough of it.
Arrow Video’s “2-Disc Director Approved Authorized Special Edition” clearly belongs to a period of time when the price of a gallon a gas was about the same as that for a gallon of Coca-Cola. There were enough pre-WWII cars still around to turn into hot rods and any decent mechanic could spend an afternoon in a junk yard and leave with everything he needs to make a serviceable stock car. In the interviews included in the sterling Blu-ray package, Hill says that he intended to make “an arthouse movie about stock-car racing.” If it doesn’t quite reach that pinnacle, at least it’s supremely entertaining. Richard Davalos plays street racer Rick Bowman, who, after getting in trouble with the law, is challenged by a local promoter (Brian Donlevy) to become a champion Figure-8 racer. At first, he considers the sport to be too crazy even for his low-brow tastes. When the region’s top driver (Sid Haig) disses him in front of a crowd of gearheads that he takes the bait and, by the way, his girlfriend (Beverly Washburn). Eventually, their rivalry will take them to an oval racetrack, but not before Hill takes us to the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area for a bit of dune-buggy racing. The real topper, though, is watching Ellen Burstyn playing a red-hot grease monkey. Two years later, she would be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress in The Last Picture Show. The Blu-ray arrives with an original trailer; commentary with Hill; interview with Corman and Haig; a restoration demonstration; and a collector’s booklet, featuring new writing on the film by critic Glenn Kenny and musicologist and writer Gray Newell on the film’s soundtrack.
BBC America: Ripper Street: Season Three: Blu-ray
Comedy Central: Workaholics: Season Five: Blu-ray
PBS: Caring for Mom and Dad
It’s interesting how things work on television these days. Take the terrific period crime series, “Ripper Street,” for example. Filmed in Dublin and set in post-Jack the Ripper London, the show’s first two seasons aired on the BBC and BBC America. When the BBC decided to stop funding it, 40,000 fans signed an online petition to bring it back for a third stanza. The production company cut a deal with Amazon UK to stream “Ripper Street,” beginning last November. Those same episodes, give or take a trim for commercials or occasional nudity, were shown here on BBC America. Its third-season run ended last week. The really good news is that Amazon UK has renewed the series for a fourth and fifth season. Creator and lead writer Richard Warlow said he has plans to follow Whitechapel’s H Division “right through to the end of the Victorian age itself,” while star Matthew Macfadyen, responded to the news by saying that he’s looking forward to “embarking on another dose of ‘Ripper Street’: blood and guts, pocket watches and Victorian head-gear, wonderfully dark, moving and mysterious story lines.” The eight-episode third season picks up in 1894, with a train accident in Whitechapel that kills 55 civilians. An investigation reveals that the derailment was initiated by Long Susan and her attorney as part of a scheme to access bearer bonds to finance the gentrification of Whitechapel. Detective Inspector Edmund Reid also learns that his long-lost daughter, Matilda, is alive and not a drowning victim.
Back in April, 2011, the odds against the protagonists of Comedy Central’s “Workaholics” holding any job for five years were prohibitive, against. The same probably could be said about the show, in which slacker best friends and roommates Anders Holmvik, Adam DeMamp and Blake Henderson – Anders Holm, Adam DeVine, Blake Anderson, respectively — try their level best to keep their jobs while avoiding work. It’s a conceit that can get old pretty fast on television, especially as it deals with individuals no one would want to count on at work or date your daughter. It also requires great patience and better timing from the actors playing opposite the stars. I don’t know how much the series’ creators owe to Mike Judge, but the easiest way to describe “Workaholics” is to call it a hybrid of his “Office Space” and “Beavis and Butt-Head,” if those two wonderful characters ever got it together long enough to find a job. The fifth-season Blu-ray adds bloopers, deleted and expanded scenes, a Season Five “trailer” and a few other short featurettes.
With Obamacare surviving another challenge in the Supreme Court and Republican politicians still pledging to kill it, without having a backup plan of their own, PBS’ one-hour special report, “Caring for Mom and Dad,” couldn’t be more topical. According to narrator Meryl Streep, 75 million baby boomers are entering their retirement years at a rate of 10,000 a day. The question then becomes, who will care for this aging population when they can no longer care for themselves? The easy answer would be the children of the baby boomers, but there’s no assurance they’ll have enough money to handle the load, either. No one in Washington appears ready to deal with the loss of jobs by middle-age, middle-class Americans, either. Because much of the information shared in “Caring for Mom and Dad” is anecdotal, the show poses more questions than it answers. Maybe Streep could be asked to moderate one of the presidential debates and attempt to get solid responses from candidates, who, thanks to their government sponsored benefits package, will never be required to face the same health-care dilemmas as their constituents.