Zoolander No. 2: The Magnum Edition: Blu-ray
In the opening moments of Zoolander 2, Justin Bieber is machine-gunned to death in an international conspiracy to rid the world of beautiful celebrities, a crime to which the self-absorbed and ridiculously coddled Canadian pop singer could only plead guilty. With his last dying breath, the Bieb summons the strength to post an Instagram picture of himself sucking in his cheeks and puckering his lips in a Blue Steel pout fans of the first Zoolander might recognize. With approximately 100 minutes to go, co-writer-director-star Ben Stiller will be required to recycle gags from the original, coordinate the many cameo appearances of well-known stars and fashionistas, preen in character for the camera and hope that viewers have forgotten that Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter did a far better job skewering the industry seven years before Z1 was unleashed in 2001. Both Zoolanders satirize a multibillion-dollar business that’s beyond shame or any ability to contextualize itself within real-world problems and achievements. True, at the retail level, the industry contributes to the economies of some of the world’s poorest and most depressed countries, but only because subcontractors are allowed to hire cutters and seamstresses at sweatshop wages. The very real problem is alluded to here, but only as a convoluted plot device involving Zoolander’s ridiculous antagonist Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell). Never mind. Here, supermodels Derek Zoolander and Hansel are lured out of self-imposed exile by Billy Zane, a courier for the marble-mouthed body-care gargoyle Alexanya Atoz, wonderfully portrayed by an unrecognizable Kristen Wiig. Derek is still despondent over losing his wife and custody of their son in a devastating fire at his highly flammable academy at the Port of New York. Interpol fashion division chief Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz) identifies Bieber’s farewell pout as one of Zoolander’s classic looks, linking the death to a serial killer. She helps him locate Derek Jr. in an orphanage, but the boy’s plus-size physique disappoints him. Mugatu has other plans for Junior and his precious DNA. Admirers of Zoolander should enjoy the occasionally funny moment, if only to count the number of celebrities they recognize in cameos. Everyone else, I think, will wonder what all the fuss was about, in the first place. The Blu-ray’s special features include “The Zoolander Legacy,” “Go Big or Go Rome,” “Drake Sather: The Man Who Created Zoolander” and “Youth Milk.”
Is it possible that this is James Franco’s world and the rest of us are merely being allowed to purchase tickets to live in it? How many actors have the money, interest and opportunity to continually shift gears in pursuit of a meaningful and interesting career? Bill Murray’s upward trajectory almost didn’t survive the tailspin caused by his decision to go dramatic in The Razor’s Edge. If it weren’t for his acerbically comic turns in Analyze This and Meet the Parents, as well as David O. Russell’s spot-on casting in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and Joy, Robert De Niro might not be remembered for anything he’s done since 1997’s Wag the Dog and Jackie Brown. At 38, Franco’s career highlights include an Oscar nomination for 127 Hours, an Emmy nomination for “James Dean” and Independent Spirit trophies for Milk and 127 Hours. I suspect that he values the nomination he received for the 2013 Un Certain Regard Award, for his adaptation of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying — a fine movie that went virtually unseen in the U.S. — as much or more than any of those honors. He would return to Mississippi for The Sound and the Fury a year later and, once again, for the upcoming Mississippi Requiem collection of four Faulkner-inspired short films. He’s played poets CK Williams, Hart Crane and Allen Ginsberg, as well as publisher Hugh Hefner and journalistic imposter Christian Longo. Moreover, Franco’s comedic chops were established in “Freaks and Geeks,” Pineapple Express, Date Night, Your Highness, This Is the End, The Night Before and Spring Break, in which he was scary and funny in equal measure. Without missing too many beats, he re-entered UCLA in 2006 to continue his search for a degree that was interrupted in the mid-1990s. Franco has two MFA degrees, both in writing, from Columbia and Brooklyn College, and a third, in film, from New York University. He paints, teaches, lectures, sings, blogs, writes and has a recurring role on the soap opera, “General Hospital.” It would be logical to think that anyone who divides his time so thinly would someday have to fail miserably or burn out, but, even in the face of much commercial indifference, Franco has shown no interest in slowing down. He’ll sleep when he’s dead.
Like Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto and Gabrielle Demeestere’s Yosemite, Nina Ljeti and Vladimir de Fontenay’s observant teen drama Memoria is the third film based on Franco’s short stories “Palo Alto Stories” and events recalled in “A California Childhood.” It’s where he grew up and, last year, taught an eight-part film class to students at Palo Alto High School. By all outward appearances, kids who grow up in the shadow of Stanford University should be living the digital dream and some of them do. The problem, of course, is that the kids who can afford to accept invitations to attend school at Stanford aren’t the same ones who are educated in tax-supported high schools in and around the Silicon Valley. The ones we meet in Memoria smoke, drink, exaggerate their sexual prowess and skate their boards until the cows come home. They’re also largely oblivious to the damage they’re doing to Ivan (Sam Dillon), a socially awkward 17-year-old whose stepfather is a bully and mother is preoccupied with her own problems. At home, he retreats to a realm of military combat within the confines of his bedroom, struggling to carve a niche in the world and dreaming of the father who left before he was born. A bit gawky in appearance, Ivan is exactly the kind of kid who could find refuge at school or, failing that, use automatic weapons to relief his frustrations. Franco plays Mr. Wyckoff (James Franco), the English teacher who sees a spark of life beyond Ivan’s pain and chronic tardiness. He encourages him to deal with his demons directly, through prose. At a shade under 70 minutes, Memoria leaves little time to waste on other high school hijinks and salvation strategies. The filmmakers hint at Ivan’s only real options through his strained attempts at writing and foggy views of the Golden Gate Bridge’s most likely spots for suicide leaps. A hunting rifle is injected into the narrative early on, as well, but for entirely different reasons. De Fontenay and Ljeti are solely credited with writing Memoria, although it wouldn’t exist without Franco’s source material. I sense that they also were inspired by Richard Linklater’s Boyhood – in which Dillon appeared — and other of his portrayals of teenage wastelands.
The Finest Hours: Blu-ray
I wouldn’t so far as to describe the Coast Guard as the Rodney Dangerfield of U.S. military branches, but it’s rarely seen on film unless its services are needed to mop up a drug bust on the high seas or keep a makeshift raft full of Haitians from dropping off its human cargo on the beaches of southern Florida. Before Disney committed Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman’s “The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue” to film, the most prominent were The Guardian (2006), with Kevin Costner as Ashton Kutcher; The Perfect Storm (2000); The White Squall (1996); Onionhead, Andy Griffith’s follow-up to No Time for Sergeants; Sea of Lost Ships (1953), with John Derek; The Woman on the Beach (1947), with Rex Ryan, Charles Bickford and Joan Bennet; Dog of the Seven Seas (1946), Coast Guard canine Sinbad; the RKO serial and subsequent feature, SOS Coast Guard (1942); Sea Devils (1937) with Preston Foster, Victor McLaglen and Ida Lupino; Border Flight (1936), filmed at the Coast Guard Air Base in San Diego; and, yes, John Wayne in The Sea Spoilers (1936), during which he’s pitted against Alaskan smugglers and seal poachers. Numerous cameo appearances as participants in sea and air-borne rescues should also be noted. The Finest Hours may be the most triumphant of them all, as it describes a feat still considered to be the greatest small-boat rescue in history. Filmed largely on location at Station Chatham, Massachusetts, where the event took place on February 18, 1952, it describes the heroism of two seamen: Petty Officer Bernard C. Webber (Chris Pine) and tanker captain Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck). Fate, in the form of a powerful nor’easter, would bring the two men together in a way neither could have predicted, even after years of training for just such a potential tragedy. The oil tanker SS Pendleton had broken in two off Cape Cod, leaving only the stern section and 33 crewman struggling to stay afloat. After much rancorous debate, Sybert decides that the only way to survive is to allow the stern to drift toward shore, where it could get hung up on a sand bar or shoal and wait out the storm. Or, it could continue to be pummeled by 70-foot waves and sink.
At the Coast Guard station, where another rescue mission is being coordinated, several older guardsmen treat any attempt to find and make contact with the Pendleton as a suicide mission and advise against taking any unnecessary chances. Instead, Webber and his crew of three steer the motorized lifeboat according to the currents and wind conditions to an unlikely rendezvous, nearly being capsized by the same huge waves. Even though, the title of the book gives away the likely end to the saga, director Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm) commands our attention throughout the film with an orgy of CGI tumult. Neither was it a given that the 36-foot Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat CG 36500 designed to carry seven passengers safely – now berthed at Rock Harbor in Orleans, Massachusetts — could handle 32, plus the three guardsmen. Despite its many exciting moments and excellent acting, The Finest Hours didn’t do very well at the box office, even as exhibited in Disney Digital 3-D, RealD 3D and IMAX 3D. In fact, Disney CEO Robert Iger recently told investors the company expects to take a loss of $75 million on it. This was acknowledged before the movie was sent out in Blu-ray/DVD/VOD. If I had to guess, I’d say that the narrative bounced too frequently between the drama of the rescue mission and a melodramatic love angle, involving Webber and his newly announced fiancé, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), a switchboard operator who made herself a pest at the Coast Guard station. Miriam’s persistence pays off at the end of the movie, adding a heart-tugging coda to an already emotionally charged climax. The bonus package includes: “Against All Odds: The Bernie Webber Story,” which includes a visit the quaint and close-knit town of Chatham and residents who recall the rescue; deleted scenes; and several short backgrounders.
The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170: Julius Cavero
If the graffiti artists of the 1970s had been content to reserve their statements for the sides of subway cars, their work would be little more than a passing eyesore for detractors. Because the scribblers elected, instead, to deface everything from garage doors, bridges and trucks to unattended baby carriages, the art-vs.-vandalism debate escalated to a national controversy. Sadly, the ratio of artists-to-taggers back then was heavily weighted toward wannabe gangbangers who simply loved seeing their name everywhere they went. It stopped being amusing when police and vigilantes took it upon themselves to eliminate the problem, one tagger at a time, and turf battles erupted between rivals. Carly Starr Brullo Niles’ splashy documentary, The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170: Julius Cavero, profiles one of the most prolific subway artists of all time. The Peruvian/Puerto Rican Caverro began his tagging career as King 13 in the Bronx, using it to announce that he’d won one kind of challenge or another, including performing daredevil tricks on swings in local parks. He would be forced to join a local gang to prevent being beaten up for tagging the wrong wall in the wrong neighborhood. With an ego the size of the Big Apple, itself, Cavero finally succumbed to the twin perils of urban life: addiction and arrest. Unless one lives in New York or Philadelphia, the artist’s braggadocio might sound as appealing as Donald Trump with a bullhorn. Those so inclined, however, will enjoy watching the nearly 30 years’ worth of archived footage and home movies collected in The Nasty Terrible, including footage shot in train yards of the Bronx.
On the cover of his first feature, writer-director Michael Maney appears to promise viewers one genre cliché – the cabin-in-the-woods thriller – when he actually has something far more original in mind. Some horror buffs may find the approach to be too clever by half, but originality in the pursuit of a fresh twist is no vice. I think Barry Goldwater said that. Maney demands that we think outside the box by setting things up with a spooky encounter on a dark, lonely road between the protagonist and a ghostly specter and his misbehaving car. After things get back to normal, recently wed John Whitmore (John McGlothlin) rushes home to describe the incident to his seemingly perfect wife, Anne (Juliana Harkavy), who’s too tired to listen. When he wakes up the next morning, Anne is nowhere to found. Instead, John discovers a mysterious tape recorder on the kitchen counter, with a taped message demanding cash for her safe return. Naturally, he’s warned against calling the police or trying anything “reckless.” Because the kidnaper knows the precise location of a safe in the house and the amount of cash it contains, it’s reasonable to assume it’s some kind of inside job and he may be taken for ride. Anne seems nice enough, but her over-protective father might very well be using the abduction as a test to see if his yuppie son-in-law is capable of protecting his daughter. Too afraid to consider such a cynical ploy, John is instructed to await a visit by a possibly dangerous man, David (Ford D’Aprix), who will drive them to the cabin in the woods, where, presumably, Anne awaits her knight in shining armor. Along the way, though, John once again begins experiencing flashbacks and visions, none of which would appear to connect to a straight kidnap-for-ransom job. Beyond this point, though, lies spoilers. Some viewers might able to put the puzzle together, but Maney is stingy with legitimate clues. If Dusk clearly could have benefitted from a larger budget, the largely unknown cast deserves credit for leaving most of the second-guessing until the final credits begin.
Rise of the Legend: Blu-ray
If the commercial value of a superhero could be measured against that of a folk hero, I’d love to see how Davy Crockett would fare against
Superman, Spider-Man, Batman and Iron Man. Besides popularizing the coonskin cap as a fashion statement, ABC’s five-part series, “Davy Crockett,” drew millions of kids and adults to the fledgling network’s “Walt Disney’s Disneyland,” in 1954-55. The individual hourlong episodes would be combined and released in a pair of feature films, as well. Its theme song, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” became a huge hit on the Walt Disney label for several different artists, while Crockett-themed bubble-gum cards kept dentists filling cavities for the next decade. The Davy Crockett Arcade and Davy Crockett Frontier Museum were original attractions at Disneyland’s Frontierland. Fess Parker and his co-star Buddy Ebsen toured the United States, Europe and Japan. By the end of 1955, Americans had purchased over $300 million worth of Davy Crockett merchandise, which translated to $2 billion by 2001. The D-ticket Indian War Canoes attraction, which began in 1956, gave way to Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes in 1971. Similarly named rides could be found in Disneyworld, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland. I’d be surprised to learn, however, that Disney got a slice of the Postal Service’s 5-cent commemorative stamp, which debuted in 1967. I only mention this textbook example of corporate synergy to introduce a similarly revered Chinese folk hero, Wong Fei Hung, who, since 1949, has been featured in more than 100 films and television series, including the newly released Rise of the Legend. Hong Kong actor Kwan Tak-hing starred as Wong in over 70 films between the 1940s and 1980s, earning the nickname “Master Wong.” At various times, he’s also been played by Sammo Hung, Jet Li, Vincent Zhao, Gordon Liu and Jackie Chan. Wong’s legacy extends to a hit theme song, a video game and characters in a novel, comic book series and card game. A master of Hung Ga, he introduced a new version of the Tiger Crane Paired Form Fist, which incorporates his Ten Special Fist techniques. Wong is renowned for using the Shadowless Kick and was adept at using such weapons as the staff and southern tiger fork. Like Ip Man, who specialized in the Wing Chun technique, his reputation has grown beyond the borders of China. If that weren’t enough, Wong practiced medicine and acupuncture, as well as the martial arts.
As directed by Roy Hin Yeung Chow and written by his Nightfall collaborator Christine To Chi Long, Rise of the Legend recounts the oft-told tale of how Wong defeated a group of 30 gangsters on the docks of Guangzhou, armed with a staff. It follows Wong as a child learning valuable life lessons from his revered father, Wong Kei Ying (Tony Ka Fai Leung), and being scarred forever by his death in a gang war. Twelve years later, the son (Eddie Peng) embarks on an intricately planned mission of revenge against the gangsters, who, in the late Qing Dynasty control the docks of Guangzhou, run opium dens and brothels, and sell slaves. (The real time frame as to when Wong Kei died may be a bit skewed here.) Wong Fei infiltrates the ruthless Black Tiger gang, led by the still-formidable Lei (Sammo Hung), who’s at war with the North Sea gang for control of the Huangpu Port. After proving his value in a wild knife fight, Lei accepts Wong Fei as a godson and one of his trusted Four Tigers. Meanwhile, a group of childhood friends (Jing Boran, Wang Luodan, Angelbaby, May Wang) have formed a reformist gang, the Orphans, and hope to bring justice back to the Guangzhou. Historically, collaboration between gangsters, corrupt officials and foreign traders would set off the Opium Wars and Boxer Rebellion, leading to the collapse of the last dynasty. Here, though, the emphasis is on action, as directed by Corey Yuen. Because Rise of the Legend is the first film to feature Wong Fei in nearly two decades, there’s plenty of room left to exploit the thoroughly buff character for a new generation. The Blu-ray package adds a making-of package, with featurettes on the characters, Eddie Peng, injuries, cinematography and stunts.
A Married Woman: Blu-ray
Typically, movies about marriage and extracurricular romance have one character, at least, with whom the audience can relate in a positive way. One person cheats, the other doesn’t. Another character might push his or her lover to make a choice that would change their lives forever and cause their partner a great deal of pain. If there’s no guarantee of happiness, tragedy is the more common result of deceit. In Jean-Luc Godard’s relatively obscure relationship drama, A Married Woman, viewers aren’t given the luxury of an easy choice. It arrived in 1964, a period when Godard had yet to commit to making overtly political films, employing non-traditional techniques and aggressive dialogue. It is of a piece with other films in which bourgeois women make dramatic changes in their lives, sometimes based on whims or urges prompted consumerist longings. In a role that might have been originally intended for Anna Karina, Godard chose the little known Macha Méril, an actress whose lineage could be traced to Russian and Ukrainian nobility. In A Married Woman, though, she plays a decidedly middle-class Parisian of the later post-war period, whose fashion choices are dictated by women’s magazines and world view is limited to her immediate horizons. Conventionally beautiful and up to date, Charlotte is more interested in the pursuit of the perfect bust than anything dealing with current politics. We’re willing to forgive this shortcoming, but only because Raoul Coutard’s almost voyeuristic camera demands we focus more on her body than her mind. Indeed, once we discover that Charlotte is cheating on her cocky pilot husband with an actor, Robert (Bernard Noël), we assume that she’s the aggrieved party. Robert would like her to leave Pierre (Philippe Leroy), but she hesitates in fear that he might be acting the part of her lover. Things will get extremely complicated when Charlotte learns she’s pregnant, not knowing who the father might be or if he’s the man she would choose to raise her child. We’d care more, too, if Godard hadn’t played a trick on us earlier, revealing just how vapid Charlotte really is. Because it derives from a joke inspired by the ongoing Frankfurt-Auschwitz war crimes trial, of which she’s blissfully unaware, and not, say, her thoughts on France’s hopes in the World Cup, Godard radically alters our perspective on her. He demands we question whether Charlotte’s interested in anything but what she sees in Vogue Paris and, more subtly, prompts us to wonder what, if anything is wrong with Pierre and what’s right about Robert. Pierre had her followed a few months before the current crisis, but Charlotte has become adept at dodging tails, real or imagined. Throw in the stereotypical perception of all French men being capable of juggling wives and lovers and we’re left with almost no reason to care what happens to anyone here. Such ambivalence for one’s own creations was jarring for mid-1960s audiences. It still is. That, however, was part of what made Godard and other New Wave directors interesting. The Cohen Media Group’s pristine restoration from the original negative adds interviews conducted in 2010 with French fashion designer and film producer agnès b., Godard scholar Antoine de Baecque and Méril.
Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia: Blu-ray
When I think of killer dames, my mind doesn’t turn immediately to Italy and the giallo boom of the early 1970s. I’m not even sure there’s a direct correlation between “dames” of noir tradition to something resembling the femme fatales we meet in Emilio P. Miraglia’s The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. The cherchez la femme principle still applies, however. In giallo, men are more obsessed with prurient assumptions to notice whether a beautiful woman is pulling the wool over their eyes. Unlike Barbara Stanwyck, in Double Indemnity, women in the genre often fall victim to fetishistic violence and extreme cruelty in decidedly non-noir colors. The films collected in Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia, along with a treasure trove of interviews, analysis and commentary, are gothic giallo murder-mysteries, packed to the gills with twisted sexuality, ample bosoms, peek-a-boo nightgowns and lurid visuals. Miraglia’s name doesn’t pop immediately to mind when one considers the genre. Only two of the six films he directed fit the definition, while the others fall under the general heading of “spaghetti” action. In my mind, though, they’re as representative of the genre as the films of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci or Mario Bava.
In The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) is haunted by the memory of his wife, Evelyn. He channels the trauma of his late spouse’s past affair by picking up red-headed prostitutes, driving them to his decaying castle and subjecting them to vicious acts of torture. (One, at least, makes the mistake of thinking his whip is intended for fun.) The count’s friends and doctor recommend that he remarry, if only to recapture his fading sanity, and avoid redheads. When he does arrive home with a doe-eyed blond, Gladys (Marina Malfatti), however, it spawns a different series of sinister events, not the least of which is the disappearance of Evelyn’s corpse from the family crypt. The highlight of the bonus package is an interview with Erika Blanc, whose character might have been dismissed as just another sexy victim, if it weren’t for an opening striptease that begins in a casket and ends at the castle. It’s a classic.
The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is based on a legend about a Black Queen and bloodthirsty Red Queen, who turn up every hundred years and claims seven fresh victims in a small German town. The story of sisterly hatred and revenge is conveyed to two girls by their grandfather, as if it were equal parts Grimm Brothers’ fable and cautionary tale. Years later, after the old man’s death, the girls would inherit both their family’s castle and curse. They would have to wait a year before assuming ownership, though. Plenty of things can happen in a year and, as befits a giallo, the almost startlingly gorgeous siblings, Kitty and Franziska (Barbara Bouchet, Malfatti), are involved in businesses that provide plenty of excuses for ritual violence and debauchery. When a few of Kitty’s co-workers at the fashion house turn up dead, she starts to believe that the curse might be real, after all. There are some incredibly freakish scenes here, involving rats, leaches and rape. None, I think, are gratuitous within the context of the genre. A 20-year-old Sybil Danning appears as a model in the movie and is the subject of an entertaining interview in the generous bonus package.
If anyone was a perfect fit to direct the film adaptation of Lenny Schwartz’ off-Broadway play, “Accidental Incest : Someone for Everyone,” it was veteran schlockmeister Richard Griffin. They had already collaborated had on Scorpio Films’ Murder University and Normal and, of curse. Mike Nichols was no longer available. That Griffin could turn Accidental Incest around for $20,000, or thereabouts, also might have been a contributing factor. With a resume that includes Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead, Disco Exorcist, Creature From the Hillbilly Lagoon and Nun of That, Griffin wouldn’t have much problem mustering his fan base to sample his next gem, so any loss would be small and any gain enormous. First, though, the title. Apparently, incidences of accidental incest aren’t all that uncommon, anymore. Spiraling divorce rates have decreased the odds against separated children running into a sibling and falling in love, simply by chance, as do artificial insemination clinics that turn a blind eye toward serial contributors. Ken Scott’s Starbuck and Delivery Man described a situation in which a man, who, 20 years earlier, had sold his sperm to an unscrupulous clinic, was now being sued by hundreds of his progeny who wanted more information on their biological roots. Not surprisingly, Accidental Incest is exponentially more sordid. It also offers musical interludes, not unlike those in Rocky Horror Picture Show. In it, twisted neighbors Milton and Kendra (Johnny Sederquist, Elyssa Baldassarri) meet and fall in love after surviving near-death experiences. Their guardian angels comfort them by prophesizing they would meet someone who could alleviate their loneliness and that their child would be special. (God makes a cameo, as well.) Things begin to get sticky when word of their love gets back to their respective biological parents, who, naturally, try to sabotage Milton and Kendra’s relationship. Bonus features include commentary with cast and crew members and a deleted scene.
If you’ve ever tried to come up with the name of the British punk band co-founded by Captain Sensible and drummer Rat Scabies, or the first UK punk ensemble to release a single and an album and tour the United States, where it may even have inspired the first wave of West Coast hardcore punk, The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead is the documentary for you. Despite all of these distinctions and having nine singles that charted on the UK Top 40, the Damned pretty much squandered its advantage over the Sex Pistols, Clash and other punk bands by pissing on the notion of commercial success. The individual Sex Pistols may have scorned capitalism, but their manager, Malcolm McLaren, handled that end of the business. Nevertheless, as we learn in Wes Orshoski’s exhaustively researched film, the Damned would continue to make music intermittently and in numerous generic and personnel variations for most of the last 40 years. The documentary charts the history of the band against a backdrop of interviews and tour footage from 2011 to 2014, and was edited together “rough” to make the film feel more like the Damned’s uncompromising first album. It includes appearances from Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones, Lemmy and members of Pink Floyd, Black Flag, Depeche Mode, Sex Pistols, Blondie and Buzzcocks. In the bonus features, Captain Sensible takes viewers on a tour of Croydon, the south London town that gave rise to the Damned, and he busks on the streets of Hollywood with actor/musician/comedian Fred Armisen, who pops up in these docs with alarming regularity. Orchovski’s previous work includes the biopic Lemmy and Shuggie Otis: Live in Williamsburg.
Manhunter: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Bad Influence: Blu-ray
Among the things heard after the 2002 release of Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, which starred Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton and Ralph Fiennes, were comparisons between it and Michael Mann’s Manhunter, both based on the same novel by Thomas Harris. Released in 1986 to positive reviews, but lackluster public support, Mann’s typically stylish thriller has grown in popularity since Hopkins assumed the role of the playfully sadistic Dr. Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs. In chronological fact, FBI profiler Will Graham had captured Lector beore Harris’ series began and would be forced to come out of retirement to confront the man who haunted his dreams in Manhunter, just as Clarise Starling would become hooked in “Silence.” “Red Dragon” would be revisited once again in the second season of the NBC series, “Hannibal,” with Hugh Dancy playing Graham. Relative newcomer William Petersen, a mainstay of Chicago’s off-Loop theater circuit, certainly wasn’t the obvious choice to play the emotionally fragile profiler, but he’d impressed Mann in William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. and might have landed a key role in Thief, if Jim Belushi hadn’t been available. His Graham is a throbbing bundle of nerves tortured by images of murdered innocents and afraid to lose his family to broken promises. Brian Cox, as a slicked-back “Lecktor,” was cooling his heels in a federal prison that was porous enough to allow the occasional coded letter from an admirer to slip past the guards and censors. In return for a peek at the case files pertaining to the “Tooth Fairy” murders, Lector gives Graham an idea of the kind of criminal with whom he’s dealt and, inadvertently, clues as to where the murderous Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan) might be lurking as the next full moon nears. At 6-foot-6, Noonan was a frightening presence on the big screen, yet gentle enough to allow a blind co-worker (Joan Allen) to share his love for animals, including a sedated tiger she’s invited to pet. The decision to lay Iron Butterfly’s dark hippie anthem “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” over the violent confrontation at the film’s climax continues to raise goosebumps. The Blu-ray “Collector’s Edition” comes with a director’s cut that adds four minutes to the film’s two-hour length, if not much revelatory material; the original cut in SD; lengthy interviews, both fresh and archival; vintage commentary with Mann; and a stills gallery.
On its glossy surface, Bad Influence remains a reasonably exciting, if slightly dated re-imagining of Patricia Highsmith’s “Strangers on a Train” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” novels that had already served Alfred Hitchcock and Rene Clement very well. What’s most interesting today, though, is the lasting effect it would have on co-stars James Spader, who was coming off a career-altering performance in Sex, Lies and Videotape, and former Brat Pack member Rob Lowe; writer David Koepp, whose future would include credits for Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible and Spider-Man; and director Curtis Hanson, future Oscar winner, for L.A. Confidential. Bad Influence might have done significantly better at the box office if it weren’t for the lingering effects of a sex-tape involving Lowe and a 16-year-old girl at the 1988 Democratic Convention. The leaked tape also featured Lowe and a friend in a ménage-a-trois with an American model, this time in Paris. It would be another two decades before Kim Kardashian’s leaked sex tape would help enhance her career, such as it is, rather than destroy it. In any case, here, Lowe plays an enigmatic sociopath, Alex, who insinuates himself into the sweet yuppie life and burgeoning career of Spader’s mousy financial analyst, Michael. The timing couldn’t be better, when it comes to building Michael’s self-confidence and willingness to stand up to bullies at work, at least, or worse, considering the false sense of invulnerability that Alex instills in him. Like Michael, we sort of like Alex. It isn’t until we recognize the strands of the web he and his sexy companion, Claire (Lisa Zane), are weaving around the poor chump. Marcia Cross plays Michael’s fiancé, the wealthy daughter of a business tycoon. The question becomes one of deciding whether there’s a method to Alex and Claire’s madness or they’re sadists who enjoy torturing their prey before going for the jugular. The Blu-ray adds the featurette, “Under the Influence With David Koepp,” an interview with the writer.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume II
This is the Shout! Factory edition of a MST3K DVD package distributed by Rhino more than a decade ago. I’m not exactly sure why it’s being re-released in an edition that only varies somewhat from the original, but I’ll hazard a guess. Cherry editions of the original 2003 package are going for a small fortune and that’s without now-standard closed captioning and hour wraps for Cave Dwellers and Pod People, movies so bad they defy easy verbal assault by the crew. The set also includes the completely baffling Angels Revenge – a.k.a., “Angels’ Brigade” and “Seven from Heaven” – apparently made in 1979 to exploit the already-cooling “Charlie’s Angels” craze. Sadly, unless there’s a European-cut extant, there’s no more T&A on this version than there was on the hit TV show. Angels Revenge focuses on seven women who decide to fight the local drug cartel after the brother of a Las Vegas pop singer, is found severely beaten. When taken to the hospital, the young man is found to have been on illegal drugs. The Angels hatch a plan to destroy the local drug processing plant. If onetime Playboy POTM Susan Kiger (January, 1977) is the only semi-recognizable female cast member, the male team is so loaded with over-the-hill actors it could constitute an AA meeting. They include Peter Lawford and Jack Palance as leaders of a drug cartel, and Jim Backus, Alan Hale Jr., Pat Buttram and Arthur Godfrey in smaller roles. A fourth disc is comprised vintage shorts: “The Home Economics Story,” “Junior Rodeo Daredevils,” “Body Care & Grooming,” “Cheating a Date With Your Family,” “Why Study Industrial Arts?” and “Chicken of Tomorrow.” All of them appear to have been made with the intention of preserving the status quo and middle-class value in post-war America.
PBS: 1916: The Irish Rebellion
PBS: American Experience: Space Men
Nova: Creatures of Light
Nickelodeon: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Beyond the Known Universe
PBS: Kate and Mim-Mim: Balloon Buddies
On Easter Monday 1916, a smaller-than-anticipated group of 1,200 Irish rebels — poets, teachers, actors and workers, among them — mustered at several strategic locations in central Dublin, determined to disrupt business as usual in their wee corner of the British Empire. A unit was dispatched to the General Post Office, on Dublin’s main thoroughfare, with orders to occupy the building and hoist two republican flags outside it. That accomplished, Commander-in-Chief Patrick Pearse stood outside the building and read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to pedestrians and office workers who barely took notice of him. The British were caught off-guard, at first, but it didn’t take long before an overwhelming force of troops from the mainland were put on ships and sent to Dublin to restore order. After some bitter street fighting the rebels were routed and their leaders jailed and shot. The Easter Rising may only have resulted in a moral victory, but it would inspire the creation of an independent Irish state and contribute to the eventual disintegration of the empire. The impressive three-hour PBS co-production, “1916: The Irish Rebellion,” examines the political history of Ireland that led to previous failed uprisings, while also examining the conditions of the day and signing of an Armistice that inevitably would lead to a bloody civil war and divided Ireland. The documentary doesn’t whitewash the mistakes made by rebel leadership, but there’s no way it could ignore the murderous intentions of a government that historically has refused to relinquish an inch of territory before first attempting to destroy anyone who dared demand freedom. Liam Neeson, who played the titular revolutionary leader in Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins, does his usual fine job as narrator.
We may never know how many primates and canines were sacrificed in the race to plant a flag on the moon. One would be too many, but science demands that we test the feasibility of space flight before sending a human being into orbit. I may be mistaken, but it’s possible that more screen time in The Right Stuff was devoted to our chimp astronauts than the heroic fliers we meet in the “American Experience” presentation, “Space Men,” which tells the little-known story of the men whose scientific experiments laid critical groundwork for NASA’s manned space program. A decade before President Kennedy committed the nation to sending a man to the moon, balloonists were the first to venture into the frozen near-vacuum on the edge of our world, exploring the very limits of human physiology and human ingenuity in this lethal realm. Among the people we meet are U.S. Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger, who set a world record for the highest parachute jump (102,200 feet) and longest parachute freefall (84,700 feet) while testing high-altitude parachute escape systems in Project Excelsior. The record stood until October 14, 2012. If his balloon had a patio chair attached to it, people would still be talking about Kittinger.
It’s said that we know more about what’s happening on Saturn than the fish and invertebrates that exist in the deepest parts of our oceans. The PBS series “Nova” routinely introduces viewers too things we couldn’t possibly have learned if it weren’t the constant evolution of technology. “Creatures of Light” may be the most colorful and enlightening such presentation yet. As familiar as most of us are with fireflies and electric eels, the light show that takes place constantly in the oceans’ depths is unmatched by anything outside Las Vegas. Until recently, for example, marine biologists were unaware of the staggering number of creatures capable of creating light, even in places where the sun’s presence is a rumor. In the dark depths of the oceans, nearly 90 percent of all species shine from within. Whether it’s to scare off predators, fish for prey or lure a mate, the language of light is everywhere in the ocean depths. “Nova” and National Geographic take a dazzling dive to this hidden undersea world where most creatures flash, sparkle, shimmer, or simply glow. Biologists are interested in learning if we might be able to harness nature’s light to track cancer cells, detect pollution, illuminate cities and the inner workings of our brains.
OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve completely lost track of the various “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series, the networks on which they’re shown and what in God’s name would possess anyone to live in a sewer. The new collection, “Beyond the Known Universe,” contains the first 12 episodes of Season Four. It picks up where the third-season finale left off, with the Triceratons’ successful destruction of the Earth with a Black Hole Generator. Thanks to the help of Professor Zayton Honeycutt, April O’Neil and Casey Jones are teleported back in time six months prior to the Earth’s destruction and travel throughout the galaxy to retrieve the three fragments of the generator and destroy them. What they couldn’t have anticipated are new enemies, such as the sinister Lord Dregg, the wacky Wyrm, the Jaws of outer space, Armaggon, and the entire Triceraton Empire. They also encounter such new allies as Sal Commander & Mona Lisa, the ancient Aeons, the Daagon, the Utrom Council and even their 1980s counterparts.
Three stories from PBS’ popular kids’ series “Kate and Mim-Mim” are collected in “Balloon Buddies.” Kate is making a balloon buddy for Mim-Mim, the rabbit, and needs a big balloon. In Mimiloo, they find a balloon tree, but all its fruit is flat and droopy. They must find a way to re-inflate the balloons for the Big Balloon Parade, where Kate has a big surprise for Mim-Mim. And, that’s just for starters.