A Perfect Day: Blu-ray
I don’t know if Joseph Heller’s great wartime satire “Catch-22” was translated into Serbo-Croatian, then passed around by a future generation of filmmakers in former Yugoslavia under Tito’s nose. It seems that it was, since so much of Heller wrote about the futility of dictating the terms of waging war would be repeated in movie after movie in the wake of the thoroughly illogical Bosnian conflagration. They would include such absurdist depictions of the conflict as Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land, Pjer Žalica’s Fuse and Srdan Dragojevic’s Pretty Village, Pretty Flame. (Michael Winterbottom’s Welcome to Sarajevo told a similar story, but from the perspective of several battle-hardened journalists.) In his theatrical films and documentaries, Spanish writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa directly addresses issues – unemployment, prostitution, shattered dreams, refugees, solidary deaths – usually reserved for low-budget indies here. He’s been nominated for some of the top awards the cinematic world has to offer, but has yet to make a dent in Hollywood. His Balkans-set black comedy, A Perfect Day, is based on a novel by Paula Fariasa, a writer and doctor who’s worked for Doctors Without Borders and witnessed the horrors of war firsthand. It should have been León de Aranoa’s ticket to acclaim beyond the Spanish-speaking world, but, after making the nearly year-round circuit of festivals, A Perfect Day opened in a handful of U.S. theaters to almost no business. This, despite a cast that includes Benicio del Toro, Tim Robbins, Melanie Thierry, Olga Kurylenko – all working at the top of their game – and several actors known primarily in eastern and southern Europe. The setting is 1995, presumably in Bosnia-Herzegovina, over the course of 24 hours. A truce has been called, but no one on the need-to-know list – the combatants – is prepared to honor it. Knowing that cease-fires can be as dangerous as periods of full-out war, an international team of relief workers makes its appointed rounds with an eye out for such potential hazards as the carcass of a booby-trapped cow in the middle of a road and insurgents who were more interested in settling scores than laying down their guns.
The picture opens with veteran aid workers Mambrú (Del Toro) and B (Robbins) riding in separate vehicles to the site of a possibly poisoned well, on a desolate mountain top location in a still-contested territory. In their radio exchanges, the two men engage in the type of gallows humor usually reserved for crime scenes, executions and natural disasters. Here, it’s also employed to test the mettle of newcomer Sophie (Thierry), whose specialties include water systems and sanitation. They are joined by a savvy Bosnian interpreter Damir, (Fedja Štukan), and, later, Mambrú’s former girlfriend Katya, a war correspondent. The team is responding to a report of a dead body found in a well. Its presence could very soon contaminate the water supply for everyone living in the area, no matter their nationality. Just as the body is about to be extracted from the well, the rope bringing it to the surface breaks. Nobody in the immediate vicinity is willing give the aid workers a hand by offering them even a worn stretch of rope or admitting that such a thing is available anywhere in the area. The belligerent proprietor of a general store, located several arduous miles away, refuse to admit that they have rope to sell, even as several coils are pointed out to him. Rope will become available soon enough, but under circumstances any sane person would have avoided. By this time, the team has been joined by a boy, Nikola, that Mambrú saves from bullies who’ve stolen his soccer ball. Upon their return, the team is greeted by peacekeeping forces who forbid them from using the rope to recover the body. The corpse, they explain, may carry a bomb and, if so, it would have to be defused first by a completely different set of experts, who would need to be dispatched by a higher-ranking team of UN officials. In any case, aid workers aren’t allowed to touch dead bodies.
Using logic that might have made Heller wince, the soldiers reject Sophie’s argument that, by the time such authorization could come, the well would be forever contaminated. And, so it goes. A simple act of humanitarian aid becomes so snarled in bureaucratic gobbledy-goop that it’s possible nothing good ever will come from the volunteers’ best intentions. Even so, León de Aranoa really does a nice job keeping the narrative from bogging down in bureaucratic banter and despair. In the hours that follow the confrontation, he’s able to round off the drama with a similarly surreal negotiation between the boy and his antagonists and a night’s-long standoff with another possibly mined cow on a lonely mountain road. The restless natives are keenly rendered by the supporting characters and extras, who look as if they might have lived through the same war being depicted. Alex Catalán’s frequently spectacular cinematography captures the starkly majestic mountain terrain, which, apart from its beauty, shouldn’t have been worth the loss of a single life. The final irony comes in knowing that in war, especially, no good deed goes unpunished. The Blu-ray adds some worthwhile making-of material and interviews.
The Daughter of Dawn: Blu-ray
Last year, Milestone Films released on Blu-ray Edward S. Curtis’ remarkable 100-year-old drama, In the Land of the Head Hunters, the first feature-length film created with and starring members of the Kwakiutl tribe of British Columbia. (Still, one of a small handful of movies so produced.) Its story, set before Europeans arrived on the North Pacific Coast, described a warrior’s spiritual journey of love won and lost, and of a battle between tribes to save his bride. Considering that the film was largely unknown outside academia and film-restoration community, its unveiling was considered to be quite an event. Seventeen months later, Milestone has pulled a second rabbit out of its hat, this time with the feature-length Western, The Daughter of Dawn, a rediscovered 1920 film shot in Oklahoma entirely with members of the Comanche and Kiowa tribes. It was lovingly restored at UCLA’s film lab for the Oklahoma Historical Society, which negotiated for years with a private detective who had accepted it in return for services rendered and finally settled for a few thousand dollars and a substantial tax break. In addition to the visual facelift, a new score was composed and recorded by the student orchestra at the Oklahoma City University School of Music. Unlike most Westerns, which focus on the interests, history and crimes of white settlers and outlaws, The Daughter of Dawn, features an all-Native American cast of 300 Kiowas and Comanches. Set in the surprisingly scenic Wichita Mountains of southwest Oklahoma, it showcases a romantic rivalry for the hand of the title character (Esther LeBarre, in her first and only role), a buffalo hunt, hand-to-hand combat, horsemanship, dances, deceit, courageous acts and scenes from everyday life. The Native American actors, who in 1920 had been living on reservations for less than fifty years, brought with them their own tipis, horses, clothing and memories. The story was directed by a young director, Norbert Myles and written by Richard E. Banks, who had spent 25 years living with various tribes and may have been influenced by an actual incident concerning the daughter of a great chief, whose hand in marriage was coveted and fought over by the greatest warriors of two tribes. The Blu-ray package includes interviews with restorers, historians and Native American women who recall aspects of the shoot. There also are featurettes on the music composed for the restoration.
Every so often, the American media will glom onto a subject like teen suicide and milk from it as much misery, dubious meaning and genuine compassion as they can, before moving on to the next headline-making tragedy. The teen-suicide epidemic of recent years has been blamed on bullying, especially on Internet networks, and such things as peer pressure, social rejection, drugs, body shaming and abusive parents. Celebrities have been enlisted for public-service announcements and awareness campaigns targeted specifically at at-risk teenagers and bullying has been condemned in numerous movies and TV shows. In the May 14, 2012, edition of People magazine, a couple of dozen photos of young suicide victims accompanied the article, “A Tragedy in Wales: A Small Town Mystery.” It would be followed a year later by John Michael Williams’ little-seen documentary, Bridgend, and, two years later, Jeppe Rønde’s hair-raising dramatization of the same title. For his first fictional work, Rønde spent six years traveling between Denmark and South Wales, where, by February, 2012, 79 people between the ages of 13 and 41 had committed suicide by hanging. The UK press didn’t wait for People magazine to declare the suicide cluster a disaster of unforeseen magnitude. Indeed, the parents of one of the dead teens accused the media of “glamorizing ways of taking one’s life to young people,” while MP Madeleine Moon said that the media were “now part of the problem.” Any way you look at it, the Bridgend suicides made for a hell of a story. That, and the fact that no one could figure out why so many kids and young adults were killing themselves in a serene borough with a population of just over 100,000. Rønde’s Bridgent describes what happens when teenage Sara (Hannah Murray) arrives in the town with her policeman dad, Dave (Steven Waddington), who’s been sent there to investigate the situation. At first, Sara has as much trouble adjusting to the small-town environment as her father finds gaining the confidence of the locals. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Sara finds comfort in a defiant young tough who introduces her to the ritual outdoor wakes that follow each new hanging. The more Dave tries to keep Sara from seeing the young man, the more entwined she becomes with the kids in the creepy cult. Rønde appears to be more interested in atmosphere than answers in Bridgent and, to this end, it succeeds as drama and speculative fiction. Hannah Murray, who fans of “Skins” will remember as Cassie, steals the show as the impressionable Sara. (Murray has also been good in “Game of Thrones” and the underseen musical drama, God Help the Girl.)
The Perfect Match: Blu-ray
After directing music videos for Britney Spears, Celine Dion, R. Kelly, Tony Braxton and Luther Vandross, Bill Woodruff carved a niche for himself making rom-coms and comedies, including Honey and Beautyshop, targeted at so-called urban audiences. He’s since bounced between TV and theatrical projects, with a second sequel in the “Honey” series scheduled for later this year. What his latest romantic dramedy, The Perfect Match, lacks in originality and logic, it makes up for in a sexy cast of familiar African-American actors. Terrence Jenkins (Think Like a Man) portrays Charlie, a playboy, music agent and Internet photographer (isn’t everyone?), who lives on the beach and has recently discovered that his circle of friends has tightened with every new marriage. He doesn’t see himself as marriage material, so his friends Rick (Donald Faison) and Victor (Robert Christopher Riley) challenge him to date only one woman for the weeks leading up to Victor’s approaching wedding. This doesn’t seem likely, either, until he meets the exotic beauty, Eva (Cassie Ventura), who turns the tables on him by insisting that she’ only interested casual sex. Normally, this would be like Christmas in July for such a world-class playa like Charlie. Because it’s the woman who prefers sex over substance, however, the playboy magically changes his tune about commitment. If it weren’t for the instant analysis provided by Charlie’s shrink sister, Sherry (Paula Patton), his dilemma could have been overshadowed by a series of melodramatic turns staged for his other coupled friends (Dascha Polanco, Lauren London, Brandy Norwood, Kali Hawk) and a business relationship with the real-life rapper French Montana and his boss (Joey Pantoliano). If the characters are so universally young, good-looking and successful here that it defies our ability to suspend disbelief, well, check out the last 30-40 years of Hollywood produced rom-coms. Neither has that’s ever stopped anyone from watching other made-for-Lifetime or -BET movies or reading romance novels. Meanwhile, Woodruff has sufficiently mastered the formula to ensure fans of the subgenre a swell time.
Kill Zone 2: Blu-ray
It isn’t often that a balls-to-the-wall action picture from China, with a stopover in Thailand, wins the widespread applause of mainstream critics. John Woo, Zhang Yimou and Tsui Hark have done pretty well in that regard, as did Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster and Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin, which made numerous year-end Top 10 lists. Unlike Kill Zone 2 (a.k.a., “SPL II: A Time For Consequences”), however, those pictures told actual stories and weren’t required to rely on martial arts to advance them. To impress American critics, even those second-stringers relegated to reviewing genre flicks, the fight scenes really have to rock and that’s exactly what “KZ2” offers. Contrary to what its title suggests, it is related to Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen’s 2005 SPL: Kill Zone strictly by inference and the return of Hong Kong actor Wu Jing (Wolf Warrior), albeit playing a different character. He’s joined on the marquee here with Tony Jaa (Ong-bak), a ferocious multidiscipline fighter from Thailand and son of elephant herders. He plays a principled Thai cop, Chatchai, who moonlights as a prison guard after learning that his daughter needs a bone-marrow transplant. Wu plays an undercover Hong Kong cop and potential marrow donor, Kit, who, after his cover is blown, somehow lands in Chatchai’s facility. After they nearly destroy each other in a jailhouse fight, the two men form an alliance against crime boss Mr. Hung (Louis Koo), who’s running a kidnapping and organ-theft ring. While Chai is determined to keep Kit alive for the sake of his daughter’s health, the warden, Ko (Jin Zhang), wants him dead to ensure the smooth operation of the prison. The facility turns out to be a front for Mr. Hung’s organ-trafficking business, which is run from a building next-door to the prison. The only reason we care about the story at all is the presence of Chatchai’s daughter, who, despite battling leukemia, keeps all of the kids and nurses in the ward smiling. It’s the balletic fighting and stunt work that counts most of all. Credit for that goes to Chung Chi Li (Rush Hour), Ken Lo (The Legend of Drunken Master) and Jack Wai-Leung Wong (Four Assassins). “KZ2” may not always make sense, but it’s all in fun. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.
Muriel, or The Time of Return: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
There are foreign-film buffs among us who will insist they understand the films of French director Alain Resnais and can tell you exactly what they mean … if you have a few hours or days to spare listening to theories as abstract as the movies themselves. Last Year in Marienbad and Hiroshima, Mon Amour have baffled American audiences and film-school students for more than a half-century with their unconventional narrative techniques and themes addressing consciousness, memory and the imagination. He would tackle more accessible topics in the political drama La guerre est finie, but not before delivering a similarly difficult intellectual exercise in the less widely distributed, Muriel, or the Time of Return, a film that demanded a working knowledge of recent French history, as well as an appreciation for Resnais’ elliptical style. In his review for the New York Times, Bosley Crowther opened by saying, “Perhaps there are those who can follow the scattered clues in the devious mystery that Alain Resnais has thrown together in his new French film. … But, I am not one.” He didn’t dismiss “Muriel” out of hand, or try to convince readers to save their money. Crowley simply advised caution, by waving a white flag. Other critics, though, have admitted to admiring “Muriel” more than Resnais’ more recognized titles. His first film in color, “Muriel” can most easily be described as the story of some emotionally damaged people — former lovers and men who returned home scarred from very different wars — set in a city being rebuilt after being destroyed during World War II. At its heart is a terrific performance by Delphine Seyrig, who also played “the woman” in “Marienbad” and widowed housewife, part-time prostitute in Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. As proprietor of a high-end antiques shop in the seacoast town of Boulogne, Hélène is surrounded by other people’s memories during the day and, at night, those of her own creation. Are they reliable? Maybe, maybe not. Resnais’ style allows for both options. The Criterion package, representing the first upgrade in many years, adds 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray; excerpts from the 1980 documentary “Une approche d’Alain Resnais révolutionnaire discret” and a 1969 interview with Seyrig; 1963 interview with composer Hans Werner Henze; new interview with film scholar François Thomas, author of “L’atelier d’Alain Resnais”; a new English subtitle translation; and an essay by film scholar James Quandt.
COMIX: Beyond the Comic Book Pages
OUTATIME: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine
I can’t think of any major Hollywood figure as generous with his time as pop-cultural pioneer Stan Lee, who, at 93, readily consents to interviews with reporters, while also mentoring aspiring comic-book writers, attending countless conventions and fan events, and making cameo appearances in live-action pictures. Given Hollywood’s current dependency on comic-book characters for box-office fodder, it’s safe to say that his presence will be felt in the entertainment industry long after he’s gone to that big Comic-Con in the sky. For the time being, however, Lee continues to pop up with regularity on the documentaries churned out with regularity on the art of creating, drawing, writing, selling comic books and exploiting superheroes for fun and profit. It wasn’t always such a walk in the park for Lee, as the industry has experienced more than its fair share of upheavals and legal battles, but, right now, he’s sitting on top of his worlds. The documentary Comix: Beyond the Comic Book Pages is Michael Valentine’s first film and, while the subject is overfamiliar, by now, it doesn’t feel derivative or terribly redundant. Besides rounding up the usual gang of artists and writers – easily available at conventions – Valentine consults collectors and other passionate fans, cosplayers and geeks. Bonus features include extended scenes and outtakes and a second disc devoted to hour-long interviews with Lee and Frank Miller.
Sometime during the run-up to Universal’s 30th-anniversary salute to its Back to the Future franchise, co-creator/co-writer/co-producer Bob Gale noticed, or was made aware of the fact, that the story’s entire reason for existing was literally gathering dust in the Universal backlot and slowly being stripped of its parts by souvenir scavengers. The original DeLorean Time Machine not only was showing its age, but it also was disappearing before the eyes of fans, executives and backlot security officials. Studios have made a science out of recycling costumes, props, wigs, vehicles and backdrops, but the idea of preserving this singular automobile probably wasn’t on the top of anyone’s mind back in the 1980s and early-1990s. It probably was a hundred times cheaper to fabricate a DeLorean than to invest in restoring one. Steve Concotelli’s OUTATIME: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine chronicles every step in the restoration process, from convincing Universal it would be a cool thing to do as part of the festivities, to hire a crew, sweat out a tight deadline and get Shaw’s thumbs’-up if they meet it. The team compiled by Joe Walser committed itself to restoring the Time Traveler with 100 percent accuracy and attention to detail. Replacing the stolen parts would be the hardest part of the job. As impressive as the yearlong process is, however, there are times when viewers will feel as if they’ve tapped into a cabal of “BTTF” nerds, who nearly pee in their pants with every new discovery and step forward. If that sounds cruel, you’ve probably never been to a Comic-Con, where you’re surrounded by geeks committed to making you to feel out of place for not wearing a costume or taking selfies in front of posters and memorabilia displays. The package adds material from the unveiling of the finished product at the Petersen Automotive Museum, where it currently sits.
Crimes of Passion: Special Edition: Blu-ray
In the 1970-80s, no director’s name was as synonymous with movies that challenged the status quo as Ken Russell. After specializing in documentaries about music and dance for the BBC, he joined the on-going sexual revolution with an erotically charged adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Woman in Love. For the next two decades, he made deliberately provocative films that combined artistic disciplines and could hardly be more visually arresting. He pulled out all the stops for an over-the-top adaptation of the Who’s “Tommy,” with some of the most popular actors and rock singers on the planet, and sandwiched it between eyebrow-raising biopics of Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Gustav Mahler, Franz Liszt and Rudolph Valentino, which merged lurid sexuality with music, art and splendid set and costume designs. I don’t think any of them, except Tommy, were profitable, but some of us enjoyed the spectacle, anyway. The 1980s began with Paddy Chayefsky (Network) being so unhappy with Russell’s treatment of his screenplay for Altered States that he demanded his name be taken off the finished project. The zeitgeist-capturing psycho-thriller played into the period’s obsession with finding keys to self-awareness through pseudo-scientific and quasi-religious treatments, including sensory-deprivation chambers and hallucinogens. Despite the bad vibes, it received some very positive reviews, probably made some money and went on to become something of a cult hit. Next would come Russell’s thinly disguised satire of American sexual mores, Crimes of Passion, in which Kathleen Turner played Joanna, a strait-laced sportswear designer by day and $50-a-trick streetwalker by night. China’s well-known on the stroll for her long blond wig and willingness to entertain the occasional freak, including a demented street preacher played with gusto by Anthony Perkins.
Private dick Bobby Grady (John Laughlin) is hired by Joanna’s employer to investigate whether she’s selling designs to a competitor, but all he turns up is a desire to sleep with China. After 12 years of marriage to a woman (Annie Potts) who’s lost her interest in sex, Bobby’s ready to try something new. It turns out that China/Joanna is, as well, but Perkins’ Rev. Peter Shayne wants to redeem her soul before she meets her maker. It’s absurd, made worse by the studio’s insistence that Crimes of Passion be edited to support a R-rating. (You can find some of the deleted material in Arrow Film’s bonus package.) Most interesting to me, however, is composer Rick Wakeman’s soundtrack, which is based entirely on Antonín Dvorák’s “From the New World” Symphony and takes repeated liberties with its familiar refrains. It would be a long time between plum assignments from there on in for the director, although his completely freaky The Lair of the White Worm, based on a Bram Stoker story, also became a bona-fide cult classic. In 1991, he revisited street-level prostitution in L.A. with Whore, starring Theresa Russell (Black Widow). Some believe that he made it in response to Pretty Woman, a modern fairytale about a struggling Beverly Hills working girl for which the studio demanded a happy ending. The crisp Crimes of Passion Blu-ray has been accorded a new 2K restoration, which benefits Russell’s sometimes garish color scheme, and commentary with the director and producer-screenwriter Barry Sandler; seven deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary by Sandler; a new interview with Sandler, recorded especially for this release; home-movie footage of Russell visiting Florida for a retrospective screening at the 2009 Orlando Film Festival; reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Twins of Evil; and an illustrated booklet containing new writing by Russell’s biographer, Paul Sutton, correspondence between Russell and Kathleen Turner, and an on-set interview with Russell. The package contains, as well, high-definition and standard-definition presentations of the director’s cut and unrated versions of the film.
Bad Moon: Blu-ray
While watching the Scream Factory re-release of Eric Red’s werewolf thriller, Bad Moon, I thought that it was a pretty good example of a mid-1980s monster-as-slasher picture. If it weren’t for a scene with partial nudity and some gory lupine attack footage, it seemed consistent with a lot of PG-13 pictures in the genre. It wasn’t until later, watching the bonus material, that I figured out that Bad Moon actually was released in 1996 – well after the start of the CGI revolution — and cuts were made to prevent it from being branded NC-17. A few more trims probably would have brought the R down to PG-13, but, what would be the point? The distributor wasn’t going to spend much money on promoting the release, anyway, and extended displays of boobies and blood played well in the cassette after-market. And, as sometimes happens, Bad Moon actually did find new life in VHS and DVD. The Blu-ray goes one better by restoring the cuts made for the original release, while offering even longer versions of the same scenes presented separately in footage that looks as if it might have been copied from material that’s sat on a shelf too long. Of course, a copy of the original theatrical edition also is included in hi-def, in addition to the director’s cut. The offending scene takes place early, when photojournalist Ted Harrison (Michael Pare) is shown taking a break from his work, making out with his girlfriend in a canvas tent. We’re made aware of the presence of an evil being when the horses begin to freak out and natives get restless. Soon enough, a werewolf slashes its way into the tent, assaulting the topless babe (Johanna Marlowe Lebovitz) with grievous intent. The monster is shot by one of the less fearful guides, but not before the woman is killed and the photographer is infected with the monster’s saliva. Flash forward a couple of years and Ted is back in the U.S.A., camped alongside a pristine lake in Oregon taking pictures. Someone had just been murdered in the vicinity, but he invites his sister (Mariel Hemmingway), her young son (Mason Gamble) and the family German shepherd to visit him, anyway. In anticipation of a full moon, Ted takes the precaution of chaining himself to a redwood. It doesn’t fool the family dog, upon whom the sight of a helpless monster leaves a lasting impression. Timing in at a brisk 80 minutes, Bad Moon adds one or two neat twists before leaving room for a sequel at the end, if it had done any business … which it didn’t. The 35-minute making-of featurette, “Nature of the Beast: Making of Bad Moon,” offers new interviews with Red, Pare, Gamble and special effects wiz, Steve Johnson; a couple of commentary tracks; the unrated opening scene from the Red’s first cut, sourced from VHS; and three storyboard sequences.
Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise
Ruben Blades: The Return of Ruben Blades: Blu-ray
For those who think reggae became an irrelevant musical genre after the death Bob Marley, and weren’t willing to sample the work of his talented children and grandchildren, Volker Schaner’s head-bobbing documentary, Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise, will come as a revelation. Loyal fans already aware of reggae and dub’s continued vitality should have a ball becoming reacquainted with Perry, one of the singular and influential forces in the history of popular music. Schaner has spent the last 13 years attempting to get a handle on the eccentric 80-year-old’s philosophies, theories, beliefs, art, politics and music. It took the filmmaker not only to Kingston, the fire-scarred Black Ark studio and his ancient mother’s country home, but also stopovers in England (a.k.a., Babylon), Switzerland and Ethiopia, where Perry traces the roots of the Rastafarian religion and explains his ongoing battle to rid the world of Satanic influences. Here and there, Schaner illustrates Perry’s testimony with cartoonish depictions of the devil, animated interstitials and short films possibly inspired by Yellow Submarine. Jamaica, from the mountains to coast, looks great and Perry’s religious art is fascinating. (It could be dismissed as wonderfully fanciful if the artist wasn’t there to explain its significance and meaning to those who believe that the world can be saved through music and the sacramental use of ganja.) Casual fans of reggae and Jamaican culture will almost certainly find much of “Vision of Paradise” to be several million miles too far out for their tastes. Others will think it makes perfect sense, especially when accompanied by the music. Also sprinkled throughout the film are interviews with musicians and fellow producers, black and white, who attest to Perry’s non-mystical talents. It would be interesting to discover what happens when Perry and Sun Ra meet in heaven … or some other celestial body. The DVD arrives inside a 24-page book, with a 30-minute making-of documentary, director’s comments and over two hours of additional unseen scenes.
Just as salsa and other Afro-Cuban music goes in and out of style with fickle non-Latin audiences here, interest in the whereabouts of singer/musician/actor/activist/politician Rubén Blades tends to rise or fade depending on how visible he is in the mainstream media. Until the nearly concurrent releases of the Grammy-winning “Buscando América” and Leon Ichaso’s indie hit, Crossover Dreams, Blades was known primarily for his work with the New York-based salsa ensemble, Fania All-Stars. Robert Mugge’s music-filled documentary, The Return of Ruben Blades, also shot in 1985, followed the baby-faced 36-year-old home, after earning a master’s degree in international law from Harvard Law School. His dance card would be filled with assignments from Hollywood, recording and touring for most of the next 30 years. In 2015, Blades’ album “Tangos” won a Grammy award for Best Latin Pop Album and he’s currently a cast member of “Fear the Walking Dead.” Like most of Mugge’s other films, “The Return” is equal parts history, biography and performance. An aspiring politician, Blades also used the film to discuss politics and Yankee cultural imperialism, without taking any direct shots at General Manuel Noriega’s corrupt regime. (He would also be profiled on “60 Minutes,” by Morley Safer.) The soundtrack is heavy on songs from “Buscando América” and includes a discussion of the origins of “Pedro Navaja,” inspired by “Mack the Knife,” his socially conscious song about the life and death of a murderous street hustler.
The Bible Stories: Jacob
The Bible Stories: Joseph
The latest installments in Shout! Factory’s reintroduction of executive producer Gerald Rafshoon’s “The Bible Stories” series are “Jacob” and “Joseph.” Once again, the productions benefit from attention to period details, decent budgets, big-name actors and Saharan locations. In the Book of Genesis story of family treachery and reconciliation, “Jacob,” directed by Peter Hall, the cast includes Matthew Modine, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sean Bean, Irene Papas, Christoph Waltz, Giancarlo Giannini and Joss Ackland. The musical score was composed by Ennio Morricone and Marco Frisina. Academy Award winners Ben Kingsley and Martin Landau top the cast of “Joseph,” with support from Paul Mercurio, Lesley Ann Warren, Dominique Sanda, Alice Krige and Monica Bellucci.
Daniel Boone: Collector’s Edition: Season One
Bitten: The Final Season
Secrets of the Dead: Teotihuacan’s Lost Kings
America’s Test Kitchen: Season 16
Caillou: Caillou Goes for the Gold
Collected episodes from the long-running NBC series, “Daniel Boone,” have appeared in DVD previously, but weren’t nearly as easy to find and enjoy as TMG/Shout’s upgraded release, “Daniel Boone: Collector’s Edition: Season One,” which includes all 29 episodes in glorious black-and-white. (The second and subsequent seasons were shot in color.) By this time, Fess Parker had earned the right to wear a coonskin cap wherever and whenever he wanted by playing Davy Crockett in the eponymous 1950s’ Disney mini-series. Parker would once again don the racoon-skin chapeau for the NBC series, which ran from September 24, 1964, to September 10, 1970, accumulating 165 total episodes. Shot in Kanab, Utah, and several different California locations, “Daniel Boone” portrayed the Kentucky frontiersman as a family man, first, and only then a surveyor, farmer, trapper, statesman and militia leader. Season One takes places in the years before the Revolutionary War, when British officers negotiated with Native American tribes to take sides against the colonials. Ed Ames famously played Mingo — Boone’s half-Cherokee Oxford-educated friend and ally – who could fling a tomahawk as well as he could sing opera (except on the “Tonight” show). Boone’s wife, Rebecca (Patricia Blair), son Israel (Darby Hinton) and daughter Jemima (Veronica Cartwright), often were asked to behave as if they were modern-day sitcom characters, helping dad welcome visitors to Boonesborough and fretting when he didn’t come home on time for dinner. Despite the absence of Indians in most roles, the storylines tried to do some justice to Native American history and customs, even if they couldn’t stand up to close scrutiny. Antiquated as it is, “Daniel Boone” remains reasonably entertaining and, for kids, an introduction to early American pseudo-history.
The third and final season of the Canadian-made werewolf drama, “Bitten,” took the storyline into very strange places, indeed. To keep the narrative moving forwardly, Elena, the world’s only female werewolf, was introduced to a father and half-siblings she never knew existed. While consumed with investigating the veracity of their claims, Elena and her pack were forced to deal with a merciless pack of Russian werewolves, anxious to do what their forebears couldn’t accomplish during the Cold War. As such, Season Three deviated from the direction taken in the first two stanzas, by adapting a duty-vs.-family, Alpha-vs.-Alpha theme. “Bitten” was based on the “Women of the Otherworld” series of books, by author Kelley Armstrong. It was produced as an original series for the Space network and picked up here by Syfy. The extras include the featurette, “A Look at the Final Season,” as well as deleted and extended scenes.
PBS’ “Secrets of the Dead” always takes viewers to places they didn’t know they wanted go, like catacombs, tombs and ancient burial grounds. In “Teotihuacan’s Lost Kings,” the producers address a mystery that’s bugged archeologists for a long time: the location of the final resting place for the greatest of Aztec kings. The show follows a team of international scientists documenting their exploration of royal tombs far beneath the surface of the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacán. When archeologists discover evidence of a sacrificial chamber beneath the famous Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, they find the clues that may finally reveal a secret society of executioners.
PBS’ “The Great Polar Bear Feast” provides an extraordinary example of neighborly cooperation, as well as more alarming evidence of the effects of global warming on two endangered populations. Every year, normally solitary polar bears gather in large numbers of 80 or more at Kaktovic, Alaska. The polar bears are waiting for the feast left for them by Inupiat residents who’ve just bagged one of the three bowhead whales they’re entitled to harvest each year. After they pick the carcass clean of edible meat, the residents haul the skeleton to a pile of weathered bones on the shore, where the bears and their cubs will feast on the leftovers. It’s quite a sight.
Caillou, the PBS Kids’ series by way of Canada’s Treehouse TV, is based on the books by Hélène Desputeaux. It centers on a 4-year-old boy who is fascinated by the world around him. In “Caillou: Caillou Goes for the Gold,” Caillou and his friends appear to be getting a head start on the Olympics, as they participate in such activities as soccer, running, karate, baseball and swimming. With patience and practice, Caillou becomes more confident as he gets better and stronger.