Welcome to New York: Blu-ray
The ancient Greeks had a word for the willingness of some men to risk everything for the momentary pleasure that comes with testing the limits of their influence: hubris. Today, the same condition is usually attributed to powerful men in far less literary terms. When Bill Clinton tempted fate by allowing himself to be fellated by an intern in the Oval Office, then lied about it in a statement read to the American public, he tarnished his reputation, ruined that of a short-sighted young woman, helped George W. Bush defeat Al Gore and, likewise, may have ruined any chance for his wife to succeed him in the White House. If that’s a staggering price to pay for momentary release, there still are few Democrats around who believe that Clinton was set up by a right-wing temptress and merely acted as any man would in similar circumstances. Men born with the hubris gene, maybe. The same blindness toward foreseeable consequences certainly applied to former IMF chief and presumptive French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn when he was arrested in the sexual assault of a maid in a pricy Manhattan hotel. Although the case would be dismissed for lack of credible evidence, the man labeled “le grand séducteur” by a Gallic newspaper would resign from his post, lose his wealthy and influential wife to divorce, and be accused of rape and “aggravated pimping” in unrelated investigations. In what might be considered a happy ending by some observers, the chambermaid, Nafissatou Diallo, agreed to a nearly $1.5 million settlement in the case. She used it to open an African-cuisine restaurant in the Bronx, while the so-called “Metternich with a BlackBerry” returned to corporate banking, advising countries on financial strategies and appearing on TV as an expert on various subjects. He may never become president of France, but neither is he reluctant to appear in public with his latest conquest in tow.
One thing DSK almost certainly won’t be able to live down is the damning portrayal of his behavior in Abel Ferrara’s caustic dramatization of the same sad event, Welcome to New York. Although the character’s name has been changed simply to Devereaux, there’s no mistaking who Gérard Depardieu is channeling. The great French actor and onetime Oscar nominee (Cyrano de Bergerac) has come under heavy criticism of late for renouncing his citizenship and cozying up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Still, there’s no denying the sheer audacity of his performance here. DSK may never be mistaken for Arnold Schwarzenegger, another politician who couldn’t control his impulses, but even he must have been embarrassed by the sight of an actor who looks as if he’d been mainlining foie gras and guzzling Big Gulps to bring up his weight. My first thought, upon seeing Devereaux naked among a bevy of clearly expensive prostitutes, is that Depardieu had modeled the character after Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now or a sumo wrestler, one. The scene begs the question as to how much money a beautiful woman – any woman – might require to pull back the rolls of fat hiding his penis and servicing him to the best of her ability. Clearly, a lot. It’s also possible that such a man might resort to overpowering a woman who refused to warm to his advances, especially if she was in no position to defend herself physically or legally. (DSK admits only to have pleasured himself, allegedly with the maid’s approval, and leaving semen on her uniform.) We’ll never the truth, even if Welcome to New York makes a logical case for a forced attack having taken place that day.
Jacqueline Bisset is excellent as Simone, an elegant, long-suffering wife clearly modeled after French journalist and heiress Anne Sinclair. Her tolerance of DSK’s dalliances is explained by her now-dashed expectation of becoming the First Lady of France. It’s a wonderful supporting performance that shouldn’t be forgotten in the year-end awards voting. Also worth noting is Ferrara’s attention to the trappings both of great wealth and the humiliation that derives from a vain man having to share a holding cell with less fortunate souls at Rikers Island. Ferrara has always had a firm handle on stories set in New York and “Welcome” is no different. Here, though, we see the city through a prism of unlimited wealth, privilege and pro-rated justice. It isn’t any prettier than the one we visited in Bad Lieutenant, Ms. 45 and King of New York, just substantially slicker.
In the days before the trans-Atlantic telegraphic cable was laid, it must have been hell for State Department employees to keep track of the affairs of European royalty and their plans for mischief. Even the most buzz-worthy court gossip took nearly two weeks to make it from Europe to the United States. By the time a rumor found its way into the New York Times or Washington Post, it may already have been proven false or tarnished the reputation of a highly placed ally. Falling Star (“Stella Cadente”) takes place at about the same time as a second trans-Atlantic cable was approaching the shores of Portugal. The reign in Spain was being contested by various factions and all bets were off as to how long any successor to the crown would be able to hold power. After the abdication of Isabella II, in 1870, the Turin-born Amadeo of Savoy was elected king by the legislative court. No sooner had he been crowned, however, than Amadeo I lost his most powerful backer and, with him, any hope of resolving the problems caused by growing republicanism, Carlist rebellions in the north, the Cuban independence movement, interparty disputes, the interference of fugitive governments and various assassination attempts. Instead of bucking the rising tide of discontent, Amadeo abdicated his position only three years after reluctantly accepting the crown, declaring that the Spanish people were ungovernable. The First Spanish Republic was declared and abandoned in an even shorter period of time.
Luis Miñarro’s Falling Star accomplishes something remarkable by turning three years of one man’s boredom and ineffective rule into a strangely entertaining and borderline surrealistic period dramedy. Although far from being as nutty as the George III described in The Madness of King George, Amadeo I apparently had more than his fair share of idiosyncrasies and unfulfilled desires. Safely ensconced in a bunker-like compound in the countryside (Castel del Monte, in Italy’s Apulia region), he occupies his time with the pursuit of wine, fruit, sex and beauty. Without the distractions afforded by sycophantic courtiers, Amadeo I gets involved in the affairs of his servants. When the Queen Consort finally arrives from Italy, she finds the atmosphere to be even more oppressive than he did. After his abdication, they return to Italy, where he resumed the title of Duke of Acosta and became a footnote in European history. So, how does a filmmaker take three years of futility and mold it into something entertaining, at least for Spanish and Italian audiences? Miñarro patiently paints a portrait of an educated aristocrat imprisoned through an accident of birthright. Once we’re able to accept Amadeo as a human being more interested in music, food, art and education, than power and war, it’s easier to empathize with his peculiar position. The second half of Falling Star is enlivened by the relief that comes with a complete surrender to reality, peacefully erotic interludes and unexpected flashes of surrealistic comedy. Falling Star benefits, as well, from spectacular production values and lush period flourishes, as well as some wonderful work by the relatively unknown Catalonian actor, Àlex Brendemühl. It’s an eccentric movie, to be sure, but it should appeal to adventurous viewers.
The Riot Club
After leaving the Dogme95 movement behind for less structured pastures, Copenhagen native Lone Scherfig took on several well-regarded English-language projects, including Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, An Education, One Day and, her latest, The Riot Club. (The popular romantic dramedy, Italian for Beginners, was made in Denmark, partially according to Dogme guidelines.) Although her name may not be well-known yet in Hollywood circles – she directed a couple of episodes of ABC’s “The Astronaut Wives Club” — Scherfig definitely has a strong grasp on British society. Based on the stage play “Posh,” The Riot Club is a seriocomic indictment of the all-male dining societies at Oxford and other restrictive educational institutions in England. The one dissected by Scherfig and playwright/screenwriter Laura Wade is inspired by Oxford’s Bullingdon Club, which dates back to the late 1700s and is well known for its wealthy membership, raucous traditions and powerful alumni. The faux Riot Club probably bears resemblance to Yale’s Skull and Bones society, but is less secretive and protective of its public image. After informing us of the club’s origins, we are fast-forwarded to the present-day, as classes are about to begin and incoming freshman are scouted for the various clubs and organizations. At first, the Riot Club resembles any number of fraternities that discourage studying when so much fun can be had getting drunk, taking advantage of easily impressed women and flaunting their families’ wealth. Even the hazing of new recruits doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy, at a time when pledges risk their lives drinking to excess and being shackled to trees, naked, in the dead of winter. Most telling is the annual dinner at a local pub where run-of-the-mill debauchery is superseded by the club’s tradition of “posh hooliganism,” sense of entitlement and misogyny.
Apparently, the proud proprietors of the establishments chosen for the ritual trashing are expected to accept sums of money above remuneration for damages, so they won’t call for the prosecution of the students. Here, though, a senior member’s ego is damaged when the chef’s coup de grace – a ten-bird roast – is discovered to contain only nine winged fowls. Insult is added to injury when a local prostitute refuses to service the whole club on the dining table and disrespects them for being mere twits and perverts. Things go bonkers from there for everyone whose parents can’t be counted on to pay for repairs or bribe the local constabulary. It’s an ugly scene, even by the standards established in Animal House, where, at least, the bad boys were caricatures of familiar archetypes and no one got hurt. As such, some American viewers will miss the boys-will-be-boys bravado of homegrown frat-party fare, no matter the cold reality of the rash of hazing accidents. The Riot Club carries with it the queasiness that comes with knowing that privilege is power, especially as it radiates from elite institutions in western democracies. If anything, the ensemble cast too effectively portrays the onerous nature of some exclusive eating and social clubs. And, Wade’s final appraisal of the situation is depressingly ironic, considering that current leaders of Britain were revealed as Bullingdom alums. Actual British aristocracy is served here by the presence of Max Irons, son of Jeremy Irons and Sinéad Cusack; Harry Lloyd, great-great-great-grandson of author Charles Dickens; Freddie Fox, son of Edward Fox and Joanna David; and Ben Schnetzer, Son of actors Stephen Schnetzer and Nancy Snyder.
Inspired, perhaps, by the attention paid to Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Oscar-nominated drama, Leviathan, Zeitgeist Films has re-released the Russian filmmaker’s previous widely lauded, Elena, in Blu-ray. Although the crime at the heart of the story knows no boundaries, Zvyagintsev and his frequent co-writer Oleg Negin found a distinctly Russian way to tell it. The country still hasn’t come to grips with the economic disparity that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, so the characters here seem to be highly credible representatives of the new society. Remarried spouses Vladimir and Elena live in a posh neighborhood in central Moscow. From opposite ends of the economic spectrum, they met when she was hired to nurse him back to health from a heart attack. In or near their 60s, it isn’t clear how Vladimir amassed his money, but it probably isn’t from organized crime or oligarchical corruption. Her son is an unemployed lay-about with a teenage bonehead of his own, a newborn child and another on the way. The family lives in a cramped Soviet-era apartment, surviving largely on leftovers and spare change delivered on a regular basis by Elena. Vladimir not only opposes his wife’s unconditional charity, but he remains estranged from his own daughter for reasons pertaining to her free-wheeling lifestyle. When Vladimir suffers another heart attack, while swimming at his health club, Elena arranges for a father-daughter reunion. To her great surprise, the rapprochement results in her husband deciding to give the young woman the bulk of his estate. Disappointed that she won’t be able to pull her son out of the depths of his unforced despair, Elena decides to act before the die is cast. Again, the crime she plots isn’t particularly Russian in design – no toxic borsht or vodka, for example – but her mindset is born of an economic reality specific to Eastern bloc states. As is made readily apparent in the interviews that accompany Elena and Leviathan, Zvyagintsev is an extremely cerebral filmmaker and no detail is too small for him to take for granted. It gives his movies a distinctly literary tone increasingly absent in similarly designed dramas made in the U.S. The Philip Glass soundtrack and atmospheric cinematography add to the story’s air of impending menace. Besides a 30-minute interview with Zvyagintsev, the Blu-ray package adds a 39-minute making-of featurette; a video on the poster-printing process; and 20-page booklet.
After the Ball
A contemporized amalgam of “Cinderella,” “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Twelfth Night,” the Montreal-set fairy tale, After the Ball, is a not-bad idea that might have been wonderful if it had been appropriated by the folks at the Disney Channel. And, that shouldn’t be taken as a knock on director Sean Garrity (My Awkward Sexual Adventure) or writers Jason Sherman (“The Best Laid Plans”) and Kate Melville (“Degrassi: The Next Generation”), because what’s missing is the verve, musicality and frills that can only be afforded on budgets that make room for them. What distinguishes After the Ball from such Disney products as “High School Musical” and “Descendant,” though, is a willingness to bend gender borders and allow for several openly gay characters, without also calling attention to their presence. Portia Doubleday, who could be Amanda Seyfried’s slightly younger sister, plays the dual role of aspiring designer Kate/Nate. After returning to Canada from fashion school, the daughter of fading fashion magnate Lee Kassell (Chris Noth), she takes him up on his offer to join the family business. Alas, Kate is given the Cinderella treatment by her evil stepmother (Lauren Holly) and sinister stepsisters (Natalie Krill, Anna Hopkins), who have other plans for the business.
Forced out of her rightful spot in her father’s factory, Kate is encouraged by her aunt and partner at their second-hand boutique (Mimy Kuzyk, Carlo Rota) to infiltrate Kassell under the guise of the up-and-coming designer, Nate, and impress the tuxedo slippers off of her dad incognito. Everything works according to plan until the grand ball at which Nate’s fashions are to be showcased and the stepsisters revealed as frauds. Sadly, fate intervenes as it did in “Cinderella.” Enter Prince Charming, in the form of Kassell’s shoe specialist, Daniel (Marc-Andre Grondin), who had fallen for Kate before she disappeared, but now is intrigued by Nate. It’s a mess of Shakespearian proportions, crossed with some Grimms-ian wickedness thrown in for good measure. While After the Ball received a G-rating from the Canadian ratings board, its American distributors elected to release it on DVD unrated. If there’s nothing here a preteen girl isn’t used to seeing every day on cable television, the homophobia of MPAA censors is legendary … so, why take on a chance? The DVD adds a behind-the-scenes featurette that should appeal to teen viewers drawn to the fashion backdrop.
In his debut as writer/director, veteran producer Austin Stark has created a political drama set against a backdrop supplied by the horrific 2010 BP oil spill and informed by several decades’ worth of inventively crooked elected officials in Louisiana. When it comes to corruption and greed, Louisiana politicians make the Chicago Democratic machine look like a toy truck. For all of the time he’s spent in New Orleans, Nicolas Cage was an appropriate choice to play an ambitious U.S. representative from the City That Care Forgot. Corruption is woven into the fabric of city every bit as prominently as threads connecting food, music and voodoo. In the wake of the gulf oil spill, Cage’s Colin Price has become an advocate for the men and women who subsequently lost their jobs, homes or way of life to the disaster. They’ve yet to be made whole again through financial settlements negotiated with the companies responsible for the disaster. When news of his affair with the African-American wife of an out-of-work fisherman is leaked to the press, Price’s reputation and career are thrown into a seemingly irreversible tailspin. Besides threatening his marriage to a beautiful, politically savvy wife (Connie Nielsen), it causes him to cash in his AA chip.
Meanwhile, Price’s famously crooked father (Peter Fonda) is dying a slow painful death before his eyes. Before they became estranged, Rayne Price taught his son everything he needed to know about old-school Louisiana politics and the best places in New Orleans to get blind drunk and avoid the scourge of moralistic reporters. While resisting most of the temptations his father embraced, Colin’s succumbed a few of his own making. Just as his career has begun to circle the bowl, however, the leading Senate candidate is caught on camera doing something even Big Easy voters find more reprehensible than stealing from the kitty or common adultery. While reconsidering his decision to drop out of the race for the Senate seat, Colin enters into another liaison with a married woman, this one a political aide (Sarah Paulson) who is every bit as reckless as he is. Through his now-estranged wife, he’s also presented with an offer from a moneybags lobbyist (Bryan Batt) that could put him back on his feet politically, but make him beholden to Satan’s business interests on Earth. Runner, so named because Price also enjoys jogging, falls just short of capturing the same tantalizing flavors of New Orleans life that informed Jim McBride’s gumbo-infused 1986 crime story, The Big Easy. Moreover, Stark plays the ending with such a straight face, it’s difficult to discern with any precision the degree to which his protagonist has compromised his integrity, or if he’s merely in it for the long con.
It’s been more than two years since government intelligence analyst Edward Snowden decided to blow the whistle on the National Security Agency, by stealing reams of classified data, splitting for Hong Kong and handing the documents over to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill. After stories based on the material began to appear in the Guardian, Washington Post, Der Spiegel and the New York Times and his cover was blown, Snowden was charged with espionage by the U.S. Department of Justice. Because he could only find refuge in Moscow, Snowden remains Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of many Americans, including the President of the United States. While it’s possible that just as many people consider his whistle-blowing to be an act of courage and heroism, the debate over the government’s intelligence-gathering procedures has become a campaign issue. So have calls for clemency and demands that Snowden be tried for treason. What we do know is NSA secrets contained in the stolen documents continue to make headlines – AT&T’s cozy deal with the agency — and Oliver Stone’s dramatization of the same events documented in Poitras’ Citizenfour will reignite the controversy in the weeks leading to its Christmas Day release. Citizenfour, which was deservedly honored with an Academy Award as Best Documentary/Feature, arrives in DVD/Blu-ray nearly a year after it debuted at the New York Film Festival and six months after it was shown on HBO. In April, Snowden was grilled by satirist John Oliver, again for HBO. Although Poitras’ tick-tock doc has already proven that the facts could very well be as thrilling as Stone’s dramatization, I wonder how much more of Snowden viewers will pay to see. As spies go, the 32-year-old North Carolina native is less charismatic even than Boris Badenov. What elevates the Blu-ray edition are three deleted scenes; a “TimesTalks” sit-down with Poitras, Greenwald, Snowden (via live video) and media reporter David Carr, who died shortly after the discussion; a Film Society of Lincoln Center Q&A with Poitras and film journalist Dennis Lim; and “The Program,” a short op-ed documentary concerning government spying with former U.S. intelligence officer William Binney.
Clive Barker’s Origins: Salome/The Forbidden
Clive Barker Presents Jojo Baby: Without the Mask
There’s a very good reason why the earliest works of accomplished artists, writers and filmmakers are relegated to garages, attics and storage lockers. Some reveal flashes of genius to come, but, like correspondence, require context, patience and the occasional footnote to understand. Still, obsessive fans rarely object to wading through piles of dross to discover the occasional glint of gold. “Clive Barker’s Origins,” from Seraphim/MVD, offers two interesting samples of the Liverpool-native’s work more than a decade removed from the publication of his 1986 novella, “The Hellbound Heart,” and his 1987 feature adaptation of it, ”Hellraiser.” The 20-minute “Salome” (1973) re-creates the dance performed by the biblical seductress – as interpreted in Oscar Wilde’s play — but in negative black-and-white and with the addition of a naked male. At 36 minutes, “The Forbidden” (1978) far more clearly reveals Barker’s horror roots, including the origins of Pinhead’s frightening facial ornamentation. Indeed, friend and frequent collaborator Doug Bradley appears in both shorts and the Hellraiser series, as Pinhead. Vintage interviews complete the package.
Also on tap this week is Clive Barker Presents: Jojo Baby, a fascinating documentary on the life, lifestyle and work of Chicago outsider artist, costume designer and doll maker, Jojo Baby. Directed by Dana Buning and Mark Danforth, but co-executive produced by Barker, Jojo Baby: Without the Mask introduces us to the veteran Chicago scenester and local gay icon, whose personal story is as emotionally compelling as his art is fun to survey. Jojo’s love for dolls and makeup design began as a child, inspired by his aunt’s collection and eavesdropping on his mother’s Avon parties. This did not play well with his macho father, who made it clear that homosexuals weren’t welcome in his house. His brothers were much kinder and supportive of him. His most direct influence was Greer Lankton, the late transsexual artist who worked in Andy Warhol’s Factory and for Jim Henson and the Muppets, creating Big Bird in the movie Follow That Bird. As it is, Jojo’s creations wouldn’t be out of place in the planned sequel to Beetlejuice, if Tim Burton runs out of ideas. The filmmakers take full advantage of the beyond-cramped apartment that doubles as Jojo’s bedroom, museum and workspace.
Art = (Love)²
The jacket blurb alerts us to filmmaker’s presumption that Dean and Isabella are the quintessential New York City couple, if only because he’s a promising abstractionist painter who resembles Nick Cave on a bad hair day, while she’s a brilliant, if manic-depressive mathematician who’s given up taking her meds. From the middle distance, both would seem to qualify as the kind of insufferable hipsters who purchase their clothes at vintage clothes stores and save their trust-fund allowances for overpriced cocktails in trendy bars in the Meatpacking District. I jest … Dean and Isabella probably could maintain their chosen personae in any big city with a prominent university and affordable lofts, but New York is as good a setting as any for a hipster murder mystery … or was it suicide? As Mumtaz Hussain’s debut feature opens, Dean (Nate Dushku) is pinned against the wall of his loft, still nearly comatose over the recent death of his girlfriend. Despite being impossibly smart, cute and effervescent, Isabella (Lindsay Goranson) – think Zooey Deschanel, on a much smaller budget – appears to have been driven to suicide by a chemical imbalance in her system. Dean is the only person who doesn’t buy the suicide verdict, insisting that she’d been in unusually good spirits lately, in anticipation of a major breakthrough on a perplexing math equation. Indeed, Isabella would use math equations to keep Dean focused on improving his work. Hence, the unusual title, Art = (Love)². Dean decides to launch his own investigation of her untimely death after receiving what he believes to be artistic math equations from beyond the grave. The clues lead from the Soho gallery district to the ivy-covered walls of Columbia. Actually, Hussain and Monica Mehta’s story isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds and the paintings on display –influenced by slain Pakistani artist Zahoor ul Akhlaq — are more accomplished than the art we see in most movies.
What happens when stereotypes collide? It depends on who’s setting the wheels in motion. In this case, it’s promising Canadian newcomers, director Tricia Lee and her writing partner, Corey Brown (Silent Retreat). In one corner of the quasi-horror cautionary tale, Clean Break, are handsome party animals Cam Dawson (Samy Osman) and his two roommates, Scott and Dan. In the other stands the prim-and-proper Tracy (Tianna Nori), a blond who is immediately remindful of a knife-wielding Amy Schumer. The guys’ love-’em-and-leave-’em approach to dating is anathema to the psycho bitch, who thinks one-night stands criminally exploit women. Tired of playing wingman for his more sexist friends, Cam is happy to hook up with the refreshingly upfront and resolute Tracy. Push comes to shove, however, when Scott and Dan attempt to assert their boorish behavior and chauvinistic guidelines on their new den mother. Having already witnessed Tracy in vigilante action, we are far less surprised by her reaction to her new roommates’ edicts than they’re likely to be, once she starts imposing her will on the boys. Although watching Schumer take them to the woodshed would have been a real treat, Nori is plenty scary.
Caveat emptor: any similarities between Jiyoung Lee’s mumblecore-y Female Pervert and Susan Streitfeld’s aggressively perverse Female Perversions begins and ends with the fact that the protagonists are female. The cover art might suggest otherwise, but it isn’t likely audiences for the two indies could mistake Jennifer Kim’s sexually curious video-game designer, Phoebe, for Tilda Swinton’s almost feral lawyer, Eve Stephens. Phoebe has the unfortunate tendency to date men (OK, nerds) who are easily intimidated by a woman who is several times more adventurous and knowledgeable about sex than they are at this stage in their adulthoods. She seeks the advice of a therapist and joins a Haruki Murakami book club, if only to meet men and women whose IQs are within spitting distance of her own. They are, but, at a time when everyone’s boundaries are blurred to some degree, it’s still difficult finding a guy who won’t be offended by being encouraged to use a dildo to play a solo on her Theremin … or laugh off the occasional fart while giving Phoebe a massage. And, it should be noted, that’s the extent of her perversity, although who knows what could have grown from a simpatico relationship? There’s isn’t any nudity, either. It’s a character study not unlike the one that plays out on “Girls,” or in any movie starring Greta Gerwig, when things get messy and no one is quite sure how to handle it.
Metamorphosis/Beyond Darkness: Blu-ray
Easy Money/Men at Work: Blu-ray
At first glance, the only tissue connecting this double-feature from Scream Factory is that belonging to Gene Lebrock, an actor who, from a distance of 25 years, could pass for Tom Cruise, Christian Bale or Peter Facinelli. His film career may not have been long or particularly distinguished, but he’ll always have this upgraded Blu-ray package to remind him of his glory days. At second and third glance, however, horror buffs will realize that these seemingly American products are the work of Italians in American clothing and some of the cheesier giallo traits apply. On the plus side, soft-core sex symbol Laura M. Gemser appears in distinctly different capacities in both pictures. In George Eastman/Luigi Montefiori’s Metamorphosis Lebrock plays a mad geneticist whose search for anti-aging serum goes completely haywire. After becoming a target for ridicule by his tenured peers, the scientist turns on them in the most peculiar way. Some viewers will find the highlight of Metamorphosis to be the skin-tastic presence of redheaded beauty Catherine Baranov — in her first and only film role – and Gemser’s turn as a prostitute. In a surprise turn, she is awarded credit for being costume designer in both Metamorphosis and the markedly more coherent thriller, Beyond Darkness. In Clyde Anderson/Claudio Fragasso’s portal-to-hell freak-out, Lebrock (as LeBrock) plays Father Peter, a priest who can’t seem to decide whether he’s Roman Catholic or Episcopalian. If Catholic, Father Peter is the rare priest who has a family and chooses not to live among his peers in a rectory. The house to which his family is drawn is inconveniently situated on an off-ramp from the highway to hell, assuring that they won’t get a moment’s peace until an exorcism is completed. Maybe Father Peter wasn’t paying attention when his real-estate agent was laying out the pluses and minuses of home ownership. Anyway, it’s probably worth noting that Fragasso, as Drake Floyd this time, wrote and directed Troll 2.
This week’s other double-feature package from Shout Factory combines two gimmicky comedies that demand very little from viewers, except about 95 minutes of their time. Released three years after Rodney Dangerfield’s unforgettable feature debut in Caddyshack, Easy Money imagines the constantly disrespected comedian as a baby photographer addicted to most of the vices available to a middle-age schlub in the early 1980s. When his mother-in-law (Geraldine Fitzgerald) passes away, Monty stands to inherit several million dollars, but only if can refrain from his bad habits for a year. Naturally, temptation looms around every corner. The stellar supporting cast includes Joe Pesci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan, Taylor Negron and Jeffrey Jones. The gag behind Men at Work is the casting of Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez as slacker garbage collectors with more on their minds than sanitation engineering. The discovery of a familiar-looking corpse on their route has them scrambling for their lives. Estevez wrote and directed the movie. Also on hand are Leslie Hope and Keith David.
The Walking Dead: The Complete Fifth Season: Blu-ray
Gene Autry Collection 11
PBS: American Masters: Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women
PBS: Operation Wild
CW: Teen Titans Go! Season Two Part Two
Nickelodeon Favorites: Puppy Palooza
Apparently there’s no shortage of zombies these days, because, in addition to the debut of “Fear the Living Dead,” the second season of “From Dusk till Dawn: The Series” begins this week on Robert Rodriguez’ El Rey network, and the “Maron” episode, “Talking Dead,” was shown Sunday night of FX. The CW’s “iZombie,” is between seasons, but in reruns. And, if that abundance of riches weren’t sufficient cause for undead joy, BBC America counterprogrammed with Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later. There’s probably more, but who’s counting … right? I am, I guess. So, let’s not forget the release of “The Walking Dead: The Complete Fifth Season” on Blu-ray/DVD, ahead of its season debut, October 11, on AMC. Fans of the series who haven’t already copied the episodes for further perusal probably await these expanded seasonal recaps as much for their convenience as the generous menu of bonus material. Audio commentaries on select episodes appear on four of the five discs, with the fifth one adding featurettes and deleted scenes. Among those participating in the discussions are executive producers Scott M. Gimple, Gale Anne Hurd, Greg Nicotero and Tom Luse,; actors Melissa McBride, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Michael Cudlitz, Norman Redus, Sonequa Martin-Green, Danai Gurira, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos and Alanna Masterson; and director Julius Ramsay. “Inside ‘The Walking Dead’” is comprised of detailed plot recaps and character explorations for each episode, while “The Making of ‘The Walking Dead’” offers a more technical look at the making of each episode. “The Making of Alexandria” provides a closer look at building the location and its purpose in the season. There are “Journey” sketches for Beth, Bob, Noah and Tyrese, and “Day in the Life” segments on Michael Cudlit and Josh McDermitt; “Rotters in the Flesh” examines some of the nastiest practical effects seen in season five; several deleted scenes; and UV digital capability.
If Western gunslingers measured success by the notches on the handles of their guns, singing cowboys tend to be gauged by the number of stars they have on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Gene Autry is the only entertainer with stars representing all five categories honored by the presenters. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans have five between them, with Dick Foran, Rex Allen, Ken Maynard, Tex Ritter, the Sons of the Pioneers, one each. John Wayne, who began his career as Singin’ Sandy Saunders, is included, but not in the musician’s category. (It should be noted that these stars were bestowed before every Tom, Dick and Mary could afford to buy one, which is how it’s currently done.) I mention this because it’s time for “Gene Autry Collection 11,” from Shout! Factory/Timeless Media, to be released. As the star of 89 feature films, Gene brought music, comedy and action to each of his roles. All of the movies in the collections have been fully restored, uncut, from Autry’s personal archives. The new additions are “The Singing Cowboy” (1936), “Guns and Guitars” (1936), “Round-Up Time in Texas” (1937) and “Springtime in the Rockies” (1937). Special features include excerpts from “The Gene Autry Melody Ranch Radio Show”; a photo gallery, with publicity stills, poster art and lobby cards; trivia and movie facts; and, my favorite, interstitial chats between Gene Autry and Pat Buttram, at the Melody Ranch Theater.
PBS is re-releasing its DVD of the popular “American Masters” chapter, “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women,” which originally was shown on PBS affiliates in 2009. As the first film biography of the beloved author of what have been widely dismissed as children’s novels, it surprised many viewers with its forthright account of a life and career that was far more multi-faceted than could be surmised by her public image as a New England spinster. Director Nancy Porter worked off a script based on Harriet Reisen’s acclaimed biography of the same title. In large part, it was crafted from quotes found in the writings of Alcott and others. The author is played by Elizabeth Marvel (“House of Cards”) and Emily Sarah Stikeman, and Jane Alexander also appears.
Besides demonstrating how some large animals are accorded better health care than most human beings under similar circumstances, the three-part PBS series “Operation Wild” describes the heroic efforts made by veterinary teams as they undertake groundbreaking medical rescues around the globe. We already know how newspapers and local TV news shows salivate over dental procedures performed on zoo animals with cavities or in need of a root canal, but these procedures are far more complex and extraordinary. Among other operations shown here are the application of a prosthetic tail on a dolphin, a new technique to deter poachers from attacking rhinos, brain surgery on a moon bear, restoration of the eyesight of a blind orangutan and giving an X-ray to a wounded elephant.
For the kids, new DVD packages include, the second part of the second season of The CW’s “Teen Titans Go! House Pests,” during which our “hyperactive heroes are back for another round of mischief, mayhem and messy food adventures.” Robin, Cyborg, Raven, Starfire and Beast Boy save the world without disrupting their pizza eating, videogame playing and watching TV. The latest compilation of themed entertainment from “Nickelodeon Favorites” is “Puppy Palooza.” The canine-centric selections are from “PAW Patrol,” “Bubble Guppies,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Team Umizoomi,” “Blue’s Clues” and
“Mutt & Stuff.” The third volume of fables from “The Beginner’s Bible” series is enhanced by full animation, original songs and a theme song by Kathie Lee Gifford. The non-denominational stories this time are “The Story of Jesus and His Miracles,” “The Story of the Good Samaritan” and “The Story of the Prodigal Son.”