Knight of Cups: Blu-ray
Anyone whose idea of brilliant filmmaking includes Terrence Malick’s Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The New World, but found Emmanuel Lubezki’s typically flawless cinematography no match for the writer-director’s meandering metaphysics in The Tree of Life and To the Wonder, is likely to be disappointed once again by Knight of Cups. Don’t get me wrong: Lubezki’s visual interpretations of Malick’s wispy meditations on one Pilgrim’s Progress through sin, suffering and sensory overload on his way to John Bunyan’s Celestial City are easily worth the price of this technically splendid Blu-ray from Broad Green Pictures. Christian Bale plays a presumably successful screenwriter, Rick, who, after being shaken awake one morning by an earthquake, comes to the realization that all of the pleasures of life aren’t worth a plugged nickel if they don’t contribute to redemption on the way to heaven. (The leading byproduct of strong temblors are epiphanies, at least on the West Side of L.A.) Rick also represents the character in a deck of tarot cards, the titular Knight of Cups, who, while artistic, refined and full of high principles, also is easily bored, desirous of constant stimulation and, when viewed upside-down, unreliable, reckless and delusional. That’s a lot of weight for a Hollywood Everyman to bear, especially one as handsome and prone to debauchery as Rick. Here, the road to his redemption begins in the City of Destruction – or, if you will, the Big Rock Candy Mountain by the Sea — with its ready supply of cocaine, boutique liquors, convertibles and million-dollar views. When Rick isn’t partaking in pillow fights with wannabe starlets in their designer britches, he’s wandering aimlessly through decadent parties; attending mass at strip clubs, where at least some of the dancers have PhD’s in philosophy; taking spontaneous road trips to Las Vegas and Death Valley; and strolling down the beach with someone else’s wife. Rick is allowed the luxury, as well, of commiserating with a half-dozen of the City of Angels’ loveliest diversions: Natalie Portman, Freida Pinto, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Cate Blanchett and Isabel Lucas. More sobering detours take him to Skid Row, the burn unit of a hospital and a hair-raising encounter with his imperious father (Brian Dennehy) and brother (Wes Bentley). With so many options open to him, besides actually writing screenplays, it’s no wonder Rick is so confused. We should all be so confused.
Knight of Cups couldn’t have been made by anyone less contemplative or obsessed with the dialectics of beauty than Malick. Before capturing the attention of the film world with the visually stunning and deeply moving Badlands and Days of Heaven, he apprenticed under some of the industry’s savviest professionals. His stellar education in the humanities would only come to the fore, however, after three individual hiatuses, totaling 32 years. Since his spellbinding historic drama, The New World, was released, in 2005, Malick has completed five films, only three of which have been seen by the public. The metaphysical themes of those three pictures suggest he might have immersed himself in the philosophical and religious teachings to which he was first introduced in college. Still, if he had one eye focused on the heavens during this 40-year period, his other was pinned on the people and things that attract and repulse serious artists to Hollywood in nearly equal measure.Knight of Cups may not fit the dictionary definition of aroman à clef, but it’s close. The most obvious of several Malickian conceits manifested here is the recruitment of dozens of real-life celebrities – actors, writers, agents, producers – who play themselves or cynical representations of themselves during the course of the two-hour story. (The more venal among them should go back and listen to Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain (You Probably Think This Movie’s About You”) Many are easy to recognize, while others are known only to their children, ex-wives, lawyers and maître d’s of the West Side’s toniest restaurants. Typically, Malik required of the primary cast members that they improvise their dialogue, based on character descriptions and outlines. Occasionally, too, Malick would “torpedo” an actor into a scene, just to see how the others reacted. The effect is less than organic.
Knight of Cups reminds me a great deal of Robert Altman’s The Player, which included many high-profile cameos and spoofed the archetypal characters. (Others have compared it to Paolo Sorrentino’s Fellini-esque The Great Beauty.) Rick and Tim Robbins’ aggressively ambitious studio executive could be cousins, working different sides of the same studio lot. Because The Player was framed within the context of a murder mystery, however, it didn’t really matter if viewers recognized any of the celebrities Robbins glad-handed before ordering his first bottle of boutique spring water for the day. In Knight of Cups, the cameos frequently auger mystery and dread. Antonio Banderas’ zany antics during the big party scene last for only a few minutes, but are far more memorable than anything Rick does and says in his voice-over narration. It’s almost as if Banderas is the film’s court jester and everything he surveys is fool’s gold, which, of course, it is. If Malick wants us to view Los Angeles as Bunyan’s City of Destruction, however, Lubezki’s ability to capture its bewildering mélange of architecture, vegetation, natural wonders and light suggests that no one be condemned for mistaking it for heaven … until the bills come due, of course. I’m not sure how Knight of Cups will fare come awards season. The critics were decidedly mixed and the domestic box office bordered on nil. No one should be surprised, however, if Lubeski wins his fourth Oscar in a row – after The Revenant, Birdman and Gravity – for his work here. It’s that amazing. The Blu-ray adds interesting and informative interviews with cast and crew members. Malick, as usual, is a no-show.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2: Blu-ray
In some corners of the Hellenic diaspora, Nia Vardalos’ surprise comedy hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding is regarded in the same light as others see “Roots” … minus, of course, the scourge of racism and slavery. No matter how many times my relatives watch it, they recognize people and situations from their own upbringing, including a patriarch’s insistence that all words somehow derive from ancient Greek or his insistence that there’s no legitimate excuse for not cleaning a grease pit in the family restaurant on a sunny weekend or holiday. Diehard fans have waited 14 years forMy Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which Vardalos insists she couldn’t have written until she experienced parenthood first-hand. (Vardalos and movie husband, John Corbett, shared the screen in 2009’s disappointing I Hate Valentine’s Day, which she co-wrote and directed, but was otherwise unrelated to the MBFGW franchise.) Most of the actors who starred in the original reprise their roles in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. They look 14 years older, but in a perfectly organic way. Toula and Ian’s child, Paris (Elena Kampouris), isn’t old enough to have a big fat wedding of her own, so Vardalos conceived a scenario in which Mom and Dad Portokalos discover they weren’t officially married and they’ll be required to repeat their vows to remain in the church’s good graces. Recognizing that Gus (Michael Constantine) isn’t the same romantic dude she wed decades earlier, Marie (Lainie Kazan) plays hard to get. Meanwhile, the rest of the family is ganging up on the grumpy goth Paris to pick a college close to home and accept their help in the match-making department. Like Grandma Marie, Paris resists the advice of four generations of Portokalos meddlers, but for how long? The sequel didn’t do nearly as well at the box office as the original – how could it? – but it made some money, I think. While critics duly noted the formulaic plotting and the occasional overreaching for laughs, it would be difficult for viewers of any ethnic persuasion not to find things they’ll recognize. After all, that’s what struck the chord that made the original a hit. The Blu-ray adds a cast reunion, gag reel and making-of featurette.
When the 14th Century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio wrote “The Decameron,” he couldn’t have imagined the influence it would have on the next 650 years’ worth of novelists, short-story writers, playwrights, film and television producers. It would have been tough enough to imagine a magic box with tiny electronic people inside it. “The Decameron” and its many derivatives are set against the backdrop of the Black Death epidemic that struck Florence in 1348, forcing a group of 10 well-heeled young men and women to seek refuge in a secluded villa just outside the city. To while away the time, they swap tales of love and courtship … 100 in all. Some had been picked up from travelers and storytellers from all points of the compass and brought to Italy, where Boccaccio made them his own. They, in turn, would form the basis for works by Chaucer, Martin Luther, Shakespeare, Molière, John Keats, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe. There have been several big-screen adaptations, including Pier Paolo Pasolini’s outrageously ribald, The Decameron, which set the bar almost impossibly high. Forty-five years later, though, the esteemed Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (The Night of the Shooting Stars, Padre Padrone) gave it a shot in Wondrous Boccaccio. They needn’t have bothered. The licentious spark that ignited Pasolini’s adaptation is missing and the lovely Tuscan scenery, pretty boys and girls, and splendid period costumes fall just short of compensating for it. On the other hand, this unrated release will be better suited to viewers whose tolerance for perversity kept them from Pasolini’s classic, which, was immediately followed by the kindred Canterbury Tales, Bawdy Tales (as writer) andArabian Nights. The Film Movement package includes a directors’ statement and the animated short film, “Ground Floor,” by Asya Aizen.
Tim Blake Nelson’s tightly interwoven drama, Anesthesia,makes a very sound argument for the theory that casting decisions can make the difference between success and failure, commercially and artistically. That’s because almost all of his characters here are disagreeable in one way or another and it’s only the stellar cast that keeps their bitterness from overwhelming what they have to say. Like Paul Haggis’ Crash, with a distinctly New York accent, everything that happens in Anesthesia is a thread in the fabric of a much larger tapestry. Because we’re first introduced to Sam Waterson’s retiring philosophy professor, Walter Zarrow, his storyline is – forgive the mixing of metaphors — the river into which all tributaries flow. All we know about Zarrow as he stops at a street-corner flower stand after work is that he’s on his way to a pre-arranged rendezvous with a woman, Marcia (Glenn Close), we soon will learn is his wife. Within minutes, Zarrow’s either being mugged or having a heart attack on the stoop of an apartment building. With his last ounce of strength, the mild-mannered professor manages to ring the doorbells of everyone inside it. We half-expect a repeat of the Kitty Genovese incident, but, instead, Zarrow is attended to by one of the residents. Before he slips into unconsciousness, he whispers something into his rescuer’s ear, intended only for Marcia. That snippet of wisdom won’t be revealed for another 90 minutes, however, along with the Zarrows’ connection to a self-destructive junky (K. Todd Freeman) and his lawyer brother (Michael Kenneth Williams); a couple (Jessica Hecht, Nelson) experiencing the twin traumas of cancer and sordid revelations about their stoner kids; and a professionally unfulfilled woman (Gretchen Mol), whose husband’s infidelity has driven her to drink. Zarrow is the most compelling character, if only because Nelson has given him the most interesting things to say. He’s retiring after 30-some years of selling the same old baloney to easily impressed students and we’re invited to observe him delivering a fresh load to another graduating class. Then, it’s on to the flower stand. Yul Vazquez plays a shrink who’s seen one too many young men and women trapped in the revolving door of addiction, while Kristen Stewart portrays a suicidal cutter and burner; Lisa Benavides-Nelson plays her shrink; and Mickey Sumner is the lovely young blond about to be dumped by the cheating husband (Corey Stoll). If Nelson ties everything up a bit too neatly at about the 85-minute mark, the actors are well up to the challenge of making it look deceptively easy.
Sometimes, there’s no getting around the fact that there are some things the French make better than anyone. Escargot is certainly one of them, as are certain varieties of wine and cheese. For the purposes of this review, anyway, let’s say that romantic dramas featuring attractive, if inexplicably miserable young people is another. Not so much, French comedies and movie musicals, although the best of them betray a certain charm, as well. Nicole Garcia’s Going Away describes the difficult coming together of two people who are running away from things they’ve given up trying to fix and now require space to regroup before the next wave of punishment. Baptiste Cambière (Pierre Rochefort) is a teacher living in the south of France, where the average length of a school placement is limited to one term. He’s a loner with a troubled past, so we’re never quite sure if a more permanent situation would be more to his liking, Just before summer break, Baptiste is left unwittingly in charge of a young student, Mathias, whose bozo father wants to spend the weekend with his trashy lover and needs to have the boy delivered to his mother. Sandra (Louise Bourgoin) works in beachside restaurant in the resort town of Palavas-les-Flots, near Montpellier. She is drop-dead gorgeous, but has trouble tattooed all over her. She’s accrued serious debts, ranging from Hawaii to the south of France, and it’s only a matter of time before the thugs on her trail catch up to her. Baptiste is reluctant to leave Mathias at her home alone, while she works, so they take advantage of the seaside amenities. More prone to violence than seems possible for a teacher, he rescues Sandra from one predicament after another before taking off for the spectacularly scenic Midi-Pyrénées region. It’s here that we’ll learn Baptiste’s deeply held secrets. Suffice to say that, as the black-sheep son in ahaute bourgeoise family, he was ostracized and driven to extreme measures to find a niche for himself. When we meet the icy family matriarch, Liliane (Dominique Sanda), and the rest of her heartless brood, Baptiste’s past and future come to a head simultaneously. How that knowledge will impact the future his traveling companions is the next question left for Garcia to answer. Bourgoin’s already made a name for herself in such first-rate entertainments as The Girl from Monaco and The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, while Rochefort, the son of actor Jean Rochefort and the director, Garcia, is only now being noticed on his own merits. Sanda’s return after two long layoffs is especially welcome.
As we’ve witnessed in Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” “Hell’s Kitchen” and certain other foodie shows, society will forgive all manner of abusive behavior from chefs, as long as the food meets expectations and service is impeccable. Try hurling a frying pan and f-bombs at your co-workers in the office as see if you’re rewarded with a show on Fox Business or CNBC. Erika Frankel’s documentary debut as a director, King Georges, is a portrait of the widely esteemed chef Georges Perrier, longtime owner of Philadelphia’s Le Bec-Fin, one of the country’s premier destination restaurants. Frankel caught up with Perrier around the time he announced he was closing the restaurant for the first time, in 2010. The overwhelmingly negative response to the announcement allowed Perrier to remain in business another couple of years. Frankel spent most her time in the cramped kitchen, overseeing the production of the night’s meals. The rest is spent in the front of the house and in Perrier’s home, where he spent very few hours in a day. Not surprisingly, the dishes are every bit as mouth-watering as one would expect from a chef of Perrier’s reputation. The problem I had is his inability to keep a civil tongue in his mouth when he observes a faux pas made by an assistant. Naturally, the eruption passes quickly, but the effect on viewers doesn’t dissipate until makes nice with staff members or is able to mellow out after the rush. It only when the restaurant closes for good and the equipment and furnishings are put up for sale that Frankel is able to capture a side of Perrier not frequently seen in the film’s first hour. No longer the workaholic or perfectionist, he’s able to dispense his accumulated knowledge to students and occasionally serve as a senior apprentice in the restaurants of friends and former colleagues, including “Top Chef” winner and former protégé, Nicholas Elmi. The film is spiced with archival footage and interviews from world-renowned chefs, such as Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert.
The Black Jacket
At a time when gang-related bloodshed in South Central Los Angeles was rising at an alarming pace, a former Black Panther, community activist and martial-arts aficionado decided to encourage ’bangers and police to consider a strategy based on cooperation, communication and trust. Instead of giving in to the perpetrators of violence or encouraging police to react first and talk later, Aquil Basheer took the initiative in the crisis, by calling on concerned citizens to merge their strengths and adopt intervention and negotiation techniques in first-call situations. As CEO/president of Maximum Force Enterprises, Basheer developed the Crisis Survival Training Institute and its 16-week course, during which volunteers are constantly challenged by those with street-level experience. If they pass their tests, graduates are awarded black windbreakers with the association’s logo on it. By changing the violent mindsets of influential gang members, one person at a time, hundreds fewer murders have been recorded since its implementation. In Los Angeles, 87 neighborhoods once at war with each other now co-exist in something resembling peace, employing cease-fires and widespread communication before tempers boil over. Since its inception, Basheer’s teaching method and course have been adopted by the Los Angeles City and those in other cities throughout the world. My only quibble with director Ryan Simon’s verite-style approach is that viewer spend too much in classrooms and awards ceremonies and not enough in the streets, where the action is.
Peace After Marriage
Born in Jordan, raised in Brooklyn, comedian Ghazi Albuliwi puts a fresh twist on the old green-card marriage ruse in Peace After Marriage by having an Israeli woman and Palestinian-American man enter into a sham relationship, so she can stay in this country and be near here Israeli boyfriend, who’s also gaming this system. Of course, as anyone attempting to pull off the scam already knows, an immigration official will make every effort to confirm the legality of such an arrangement through unannounced home visits and asking personal questions. The parents of Albuliwi’s character, Arafat, have failed miserably – and comically – to arrange a “suitable” marriage for their son. Arafat may not be much of a catch, but his new Israeli wife, Miki (Einat Tubi), would pass anyone’s test … except Arafat’s deeply embarrassed Palestinian parents and their imam. When her boyfriend dumps Miki, after all, she decides to cut Arafat a break by agreeing to go to a Halloween party at the home of one of his slacker friends. To demonstrate his affection for her, he poses as a Hasidic Jew. (It’s one of several gags that push the limits of taste.) Produced in the spirit of ecumenism, Peace After Marriage, approaches the characters’ individual dilemmas with all the grace and dignity of a bulldozer in Gaza. There are plenty of funny moments, but merely having one’s heart in the right place is insufficient cause for celebration. As Arafat’s mother, the great Middle Eastern actress Hiam Abbass so clearly outclasses everyone else here that it’s possible to wonder if she’s related to someone in the production team.
All American Bikini Car Wash
Is there a school where film students are taught that adding the word, “bikini,” to any title ensures untold riches at the box office? The word was coined in 1946, after the atomic bomb was tested at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and the Vatican might have given the two-piece swimsuit its greatest publicity boost when it declared the bikini sinful. At first, Hollywood studios allowed themselves to be buffaloed by the morality police, insisting on one-piece outfits for their female stars. Brian Hyland’s novelty hit “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” along with Ursula Andress’ famously skimpy two-piecer in Dr. No, forced Hollywood to take a stand … at the box office. In Beach Party, Annette Funicello’s briefs were cut so high, they argued against her being born with a navel. (It was revealed for the world to see in Muscle Beach Party.) Even so, the American public ate up these displays of flesh, making them huge hits. Ever since then, movies with the word in the title – even if the tops, at least, are removed quickly after they appear on screen – have a better-than-average chance of landing a late-night spot on Cinemax. This is a long way of pointing out that the latest example is Nimrod “Call Me Rod” Zalmanowitz’ debut feature, All American Bikini Car Wash, merely transfers the conceit to Las Vegas and beats it to death with a flock of silicone-enhanced bimbos willing to shed their tops for tips. In it, a dimwit college student agrees to run his professor’s Las Vegas car wash to avoid flunking out of business school. Naturally, he gets in trouble with local loan sharks and needs to be rescued by one of the shim-sham-chamois girls. With fewer production values on display than in any of the beach-blanket movies, it could find its natural audience among teenage boys, too timid to sample porn. Some pretty hot sports cars are featured in the car-wash scenes, including some top-down convertibles that don’t appear to be any worse for the wear usually associated with being submerged in suds and recycled water.
In his very first motion picture, writer/director/editor/producer Bryan Coley has rendered a movie so thematically incomprehensible that it confuses Christian values with redneck idiocy. (Something it shares with Donald Trump’s evangelical base.) That this self-described Southern fairytale is narrated by Jeff Foxworthy is only likely to attract fans who won’t be able to find a review on the Internet. The product of a broken home, he recognized things in the lead character that applied to him and other victims of disappearing-daddy syndrome. In Crackerjack, Wes Murphy plays Bill “Crackerjack” Bailey IV, a sports junkie who inadvertently commits himself to a men’s softball ministry after learning that his girlfriend (Bethany Anne Lind) is pregnant and expects him to grow up and accept parenthood. Apparently, this isn’t a family value that runs in the DNA of Bailey men. CJ’s redneck credentials are further demonstrated by his residence of choice – a double-wide trailer — and entrepreneurial endeavors that include collecting Dinky Baby Dolls to sell online and collecting quarters and bottling them by state. (His behavior appears to have been influenced by the targets of Foxworthy’s many “You might be a redneck …” jokes.) The closer Sherry comes to her due date, the more likely it becomes that he’ll blow town, even after being tutored by his Christian teammates. The best thing Coley could have done with his script would have been handing it off to someone who might actually have already made a movie and knows what to do when things go sideways. The faith-based community deserves better options than Crackerjack.
The Crush: Blu-ray
Three years before Alicia Silverstone set box offices on fire in Amy Heckerling’s wonderfully au currant Jane Austen-inspired, Clueless, she played a 14-year-old Lolita act-alike in her feature debut, The Crush. Although Adrian’s failed seduction of her parents’ back-yard tenant, Nick (Cary Elwes), progresses a bit too hastily, Silverstone’s overnight evolution from adorable teen to femme fatale is pretty scary. Not only is she able to come within a false eyelash of leading Nick into statutory-rape beef, but she also nearly eliminates her competition, an all-grown-up photographer (Jennifer Rubin) with whom he works at a gossip magazine. Just for kicks, Adrian’s dad (Kurtwood Smith) has even rebuilt a carnival merry-go-round in the attic. And, yes, it figures into the creepy climax of The Crush. Special Blu-ray features include commentary with writer/director Alan Shapiro; “The Doting Father” interview with Kurtwood Smith; and “Stung by Love,” an interview with Jennifer Rubin.
No Way Out: Blu-ray
Roger Donaldson’s still thrilling remake of the 1948 noir classic, The Big Clock, is noteworthy for several reasons. Foremost, No Way Out confirmed the as-yet-untested theory that Kevin Costner was a triple-threat leading man, who could handle complex action roles, melt women’s hearts and deploy his natural charisma to prompt laughs and tears. Although he had already broken through in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, as Treasury agent Elliot Ness, Costner fought for screen time with Robert De Niro and Sean Connery. Here, he plays Navy intelligence officer Tom Farrell, who’s been assigned to investigate the murder of a call girl, whose affections he shared with a powerful Washington politician (Gene Hackman). If Tom isn’t guilty of one serious crime, however, the secret he’s hiding from police might implicate in something equally as bad. No Way Out also marked the emergence of Sean Young as a bona fide Hollywood sex symbol. Besides being entirely credible as a high-priced escort, Young possessed a sense of humor, passion for sex and openly flirtatious appeal that most big-screen prostitutes either were denied or were required to act out in code. Tom and Susan’s early love scene, which includes a striptease in the back of a moving limousine, would only be eclipsed by Sharon Stone’s white-hot sexuality in Basic Instinct, five years later. Then, too, Donaldson made full use of its Washington setting, visually and as a backdrop for intrigue, corruption and lust for power. The wheelchair-bound computer geek played by George Dzundza and Will Patton’s closeted aide-de-camp are terrific, as well, as opposite sides of the same bureaucratic coin. No Way Out may not have won any awards in 1987, but its success changed the way things were done in the thriller genre for years to come. It was released into Blu-ray last February, but somehow only reached my mailbox last week, making it fair game.
Great American Frontier Double Feature: Grayeagle/Winterhawk: Blu-ray
Credit Shout! Factory for resurrecting two of the most compelling, if hugely underappreciated Westerns in recent Hollywood history: Grayeagle (1977) and Winterhawk(1975). Like the more expensive Little Big Man, before them, the gorgeously shot pictures gave the rare fair shake to Native Americans in the movies, without also portraying white settlers and trappers in a completely negative light. Arriving at a time when Westerns were losing their appeal at the box office, however, they were butchered by AIP editors hoping to cut them for release in TV packages and PG ratings. The damage appears to have been repaired in this Blu-ray double feature, which also restores James W. Roberson’s elegiac cinematography. Grayeagle plays like a poor man’s version of John Ford’s The Searchers, only from the Cheyenne point of view. The great cowboy actor Ben Johnson plays trapper John Coulter, whose life is thrown into upheaval when his daughter, Beth (Lana Wood), is kidnapped by the seemingly invincible warrior Grayeagle (Alex Cord). Coulter sets out on the plains with his friend Standing Bear (Iron Eyes Cody) to rescue Beth, who is coveted for reasons not readily apparent to viewers, with an assist from Jack Elam. (Lana’s sister, Natalie, played a similar role in The Searchers.) In Winterhawk, Blackfoot chief Winterhawk (Michael Dante) is double-crossed in a trade for much-needed medicine for his tribe. They were given smallpox-infected blankets from U.S. soldiers, but were denied treatment. After the chief’s companion is killed by trappers, he kidnaps a white woman (Dawn Wells, of “Gilligan’s Island” fame), sparking a range war. Besides some spectacular scenic vistas, enjoy the performances of Western veterans Leif Erickson, Elisha Cook Jr., Woody Strode, L.Q. Jones, Arthur Hunnicutt, and Denver Pyle.Sacheen Littlefeather, Hollywood’s most famous Native American for 15 minutes, after refusing Marlin Brando’s Oscar for The Godfather, also has a prominent role. Writer/director Charles B. Pierce is noteworthy as a director, screenwriter, producer, set decorator, cinematographer, actor and one of the first modern independent filmmakers. His reputation will be partially restored with the release of these upgraded Westerns, but his primary claims to fame are his cult hits The Legend of Boggy Creek (1973), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) and suggesting the phrase, “Go ahead, make my day,” to Clint Eastwood in Sudden Impact.
Fox: The X-Files: The Event Series: Blu-ray
Comedy Central: Workaholics: Season Six
Baa Baa Black Sheep: Black Sheep Squadron: The Final Season
Discovery Family: Transformers Rescue Bots: Heroes of Tech
ABC Kids: Power Rangers Ninja Storm: The Complete Series
PBS Kids: Super WHY!: Goldilocks and The Three Bears and Other Fairytale Adventures
Not having been a devoted follower of “The X-Files” in its original television incarnation, I’ve always faced the prospect of reviewing full-season packages – some originally in cassette form — and the hyphen-less stand-alone features, The X Files: Fight the Future and The X Files: I Want to Believe, with no small degree of trepidation. The complexity of the myriad storylines and menagerie of finely drawn characters required footnotes I didn’t possess. And, frankly, binging has never seemed to be a viable option. The 1998 movie felt forced and overly reliant on special effects to me. It underperformed at the domestic box office, while doing very well globally. The second edition underperformed everywhere. The 2001 spin-off series, “The Lone Gunmen,” opened big, before quickly losing steam and being canceled. The final season of “X-Files” in its original run may have been overshadowed by the very real events of 9/11, which couldn’t be blamed on aliens or the other usual suspects. It went out with a whimper. Even so, even mediocre “X-Files” episodes would prove to be infinitely more interesting than most of the other non-animated content on Fox, in the ensuing 13 years. “The X-Files: The Event Series,” newly packaged in a bonus-laden Blu-ray set, opened on January 24, 2016, to numbers that recalled ratings for the eighth-season episode “This Is Not Happening.” When DVR and streaming figures were taken into account, the Season 10 opener, “My Struggle” was seen by 21.4 million viewers, scoring a 7.1 Nielsen rating. The season ended six weeks later with “My Struggle II,” which was viewed by 7.60 million viewers. In total, the season was viewed by an average of 13.6 million viewers, making it the seventh most-watched television series of the 2015-16 year. As difficult as it would seem to top the cataclysmic events and frightening revelations in the mini-series, the desperation of broadcast executives suggests that nothing is impossible. Everything that happens in the “event series” qualifies as a spoiler, so let’s just say that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are back, as agents Mulder and Scully, whose personal relationship dissolved in the interim, but retain fondness for each other. Once again, the X-Files detail has been disbanded, leaving Mulder with only one place to go with new evidence that alien abductions have been faked. Or, have they? Mitch Pileggi also returns as FBI assistant director Walter Skinner, while new blood is represented by agents Einstein (Lauren Ambrose) and Miller (Robbie Amell), who might as well be clones of the protagonists. What really recommends the new Blu-ray set is the bounty of bonus features, including three commentaries; deleted and extended scenes; the mandatory gag reel; lengthy making-of and background pieces; interviews; Karen Nielsen’s short film, “Grace”; a gag reel; and “Monsters of the Week,” a recap of the wildest and scariest antagonists from the original series. I’m sure that longtime fans will be pleased.
Imagine arriving at work on what promises to be another typically boring day at your telemarketing-company office, only to discover that your boss has filled three open positions with young men, who appear to be the useless offspring of the Three Stooges or the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. That, essentially is the concept behind Comedy Central’s “Workaholics,” a thoroughly goofy workplace sitcom whose sixth season is now available on DVD. Co-creators/co-writers/co-stars Adam Devine, Blake Anderson, Anders Holm and Kyle Newacheck emerged from a YouTube Channel entity, “Mail Order Comedy,” and mini-web-series “5th Year.” The protagonists, who share a cubicle at work and are roommates at home, met in college. They dropped out or were asked to leave, primarily over lack of interest and partying way too hardy. After scoring the jobs, their first test obviously was passing the drug test. It’s a cliché, by now, but some actors do it better than others. Also good are Maribeth Monroe’s no-nonsense boss and Jillian Bell’s obsessive cat lover and fellow office drone. They all have extensive backgrounds in improv comedy and it shows.
One of the first shows created and executive-produced by the hyper-prolific Stephen J. Cannell, “Black Sheep Squadron” was loosely based on a portion of the real-life military career of USMC aviator Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, commanding officer of a group of fighter pilots based in the Solomon Islands during World War II. The squadron was so named because its pilots formed “a collection of misfits and screwballs who became the terrors of the South Pacific.” Like almost every such unit in a wartime fighting unit, the crazy stuff ended when the first bullets began to fly. The NBC series ran from 1976-78, for a total of 36 episodes, only 13 of which comprised the second season. Arriving in the immediate wake of the Vietnam debacle, it’s likely that American audiences weren’t in the mood for an old-fashioned action dramedy. Competition from the more timely Korean War comedy, “M*A*S*H,” didn’t do the show any favors. Even so, Robert Conrad’s manly man presence assured NBC that audiences would tune in, if only to see what attracted him to the role. It also benefitted from the casting of such up-and-comers as John Larroquette, Dirk Blocker, Larry Manetti, Robert Ginty, Joey Aresco and James Whitmore Jr., as well as the occasional hot nurse. For the moment, at least, “Baa Baa Black Sheep: Black Sheep Squadron: The Final Season” is a Walmart exclusive.
“Transformers: Rescue Bots: Heroes of Tech” follows Chase, Heatwave, Blades, Boulder and a family of first responders as they do whatever it takes to protect both their home and the world. They learn that new technology can assist them in wondrous ways, but it can also have consequences if misused. Among other things, experimental technology turns Cody into an adult, a space elevator strands Doc and Graham in orbit and a new invention causes the entire town to sing, instead of talk.
Shout!’s “Power Rangers Ninja Storm: The Complete Series” is a compilation of 38 episodes from the mother ship’s 11th season. It was the first to air on ABC in its entirety and be filmed in New Zealand. In it, Tori, Shane and Dustin lead typical teenage lives in Blue Bay Harbor, while also studying at a secret ninja school under the teachings of a wise sensei. Their world changes when Lothor, a ninja master banished to space for his evil deeds, returns to Earth bent on revenge. Sensei gives Wind Morphers to the three kids that will transform them into Power Rangers to compete in this ultimate battle.
The two-hour PBS Kids’ package, “Super WHY!: Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Other Fairytale Adventures” opens with a “Super WHY!” take on the classic fairy tale. Whyatt finds himself in big trouble when he accidentally messes up the room belonging to his older brother, Jack. When the Super Readers visit Goldilocks, they encounter a similarly messy situation, caused by the inconsiderate bears. Together they figure out how to solve Goldilocks’ problem and Whyatt learns how to make a clean sweep of his mess, too.