Frances Ha: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
If ever a movie were conceived with a specific person in mind to play the protagonist, it would be “Frances Ha.” Co-written and starring Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach’s slice-of-life dramedy tells us all we need to know about a 27-year-old dancer without a company and a career path that resembles that of the characters in HBO’s “Girls.” In the absence of a better way to describe her not-unfamiliar situation, Frances exists on the border that separates slackers, hipsters, yuppies and aspiring artists. This wouldn’t make her unique in New York or most other large cities and college towns. It’s Frances’ spacy, bordering-on-ditzy personality—combined with her blond hair and freshly scrubbed good looks—that make her stand out in most crowds. As if to encourage comparisons between “Frances Ha” and “Girls,” Baumbach cast Adam Driver as a friend and onetime roommate, cut her off from her parents’ payroll, gave her a Brooklyn address and frequently makes her feel awkward and inferior when meeting people her age who have substantial, if not always satisfying jobs. Ostensibly hetero, the Vassar graduate has enjoyed sharing a Brooklyn apartment with her best friend and soul-mate, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Not only do they finish each other’s sentences and communicate in facial and hand gestures, they could have been the models for Disney’s comedy team of Chip ’n’ Dale.
The closest thing to a plot device here is a disagreement between the two women when Sophie tells Frances that she’s moving to Manhattan and pursuing a relationship with a Goldman Sachs banker from Central Casting. Left to her own devices, Frances isn’t very adept at getting on with her life. Almost completely rudderless, she attempts to form alliances with other people her age, but none of them share her peculiar sense of humor or disorganized outlook on life. She’s given opportunities to sort things out back home, in Sacramento, with her (real) parents; in an impromptu weekend trip to Paris; and a return to her alma mater, where she suffers indignities and triumph.
Baumbach (“Greenberg”) specifically designed “Frances Ha” to emulate such free-spirited French New Wave films as “Jules and Jim,” right down to the black-and-white cinematography. He makes no judgment on Frances and doesn’t demand of us that we read anything into her behavior, other than what appears on the screen. He does, however, allow to see the humor and good-natured camaraderie that informs the lives of these new bohemians, almost all of whom have yet to be caught in the same nets of conformity and routine that eventually trap most of us. “Frances Ha” is in the rare position of being released first in a snazzy Criterion Collection edition The supplemental features on the disc include conversations between Peter Bogdanovich and Baumbach, and Sarah Polley and Gerwig; a techy discussion with Baumbach, director of photography Sam Levy and colorist Pascal Dangin; and an illustrated booklet, featuring Annie Baker’s essay “The Green Girl.” The carefully considered soundtrack includes music from Georges Delerue (“Shoot the Piano Player”), Jean Constantin (“The 400 Blows”) and Antoine Duhamel (“Pierrot le fou”), as well as such pop tunes such as Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1′s a Winner,” David Bowie’s “Modern Love” and the Rolling Stones’ “Rocks Off.”
We’re the Millers: Extended Cut: Blu-ray
Unlike too many other comedies featuring former stars of “Saturday Night Live,” “We’re the Millers” isn’t merely an extension of a five-minute sketch and it isn’t produced by Lorne Michaels. It doesn’t overstay its welcome when the central gag runs out of gas, as do such “SNL” spinoffs as “MacGruber,” “The Ladies Man” and “Superstar.” Jason Sudeikis is front and center as a career pot dealer, David, whose quick wit suggests that he doesn’t waste much time sampling his own product. He lives in an older Denver apartment building in a neighborhood that is populated by homeless people and hoodlums. David is as successful as any street dealer could hope to be, considering that the job might be rendered redundant by the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. He has a steady clientele and reliable supply of high-quality herb. One night, he makes the mistake of getting between a bunch of punks; a scruffy young woman who has something they want; and a teenage boy who rushes to her defense, oblivious to the danger. In wielding his briefcase as a weapon, David accidentally reveals the stash he’s carrying, causing the punks to divert their attention to the treasure he must be hiding in his apartment. Suddenly broke and in debt to his supplier, Brad (Ed Helms)—rich enough to have built an orca tank onto his house—David agrees to drive a supply of marijuana across the border from Mexico. To look as innocent as possible at the customs station, he enlists the endangered blond (Emma Roberts), the teenage boy (Will Poulter) and stripper-next-door (Jennifer Aniston) in the mission, for which he’s been given a motor home capable of holding a small mountain of pot.
The real key to the success of the operation is the stripper, Rose, who is promised $10,000 if things pan out. Just as David is the kind of movie drug dealer who doesn’t consume his own products, Rose is a stripper who’s never required to remove her top, at least to the camera. Aniston must have spent a lot of time in gentlemen’s clubs, mastering the strippers’ craft, because she’s a natural. As Mother Miller, she’s also delightfully maternal. Obviously, things don’t go precisely as planned after they pick up the marijuana at a heavily armed compound in Mexico. In fact, the load belongs to another customer and he has no sense of humor about being ripped off—if inadvertently—by characters out of a gringo sitcom. The rest of the story shall remain unspoiled. Instead, of casting other “SNL” troupers, director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball”) was free to find familiar faces from other shows: Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn and Molly C. Quinn play another family visiting Mexico in an RV; Luis Guzman is a twisted Mexican cop; the always welcome Thomas Lennon; and Ken Marino, as the strip-club owner. Together, they supply exactly the right amount of glue to the narrative to keep it from collapsing or forcing viewers to rely too heavily on Sudeikis, Helms and Aniston for laughs. In fact, 20-year-old Poulter and 22-year-old Roberts steal most of the scenes in which they’re included. The Blu-ray takes full advantage of the New Mexico and North Carolina locations. It also contains an extended cut of the film, which doesn’t seem any raunchier than the theatrical version; outtakes, deleted scenes and cut gags; and several background and making-of featurettes.
The days are long past since Harrison Ford could open a movie based on his presence, alone. That “42” did very well at the box office had far more to do with the remarkable story of Jackie Robinson than Ford’s excellent, age-appropriate performance as baseball executive Branch Ricky. Conversely, it wouldn’t be fair to lay any of the blame for the failure of “Ender’s Game” on his shoulders. Author/producer Oscar Scott Card is responsible for that. Certainly, Ford’s many appearances on talk and infotainment shows in support of these and previous films had little impact of the results, one way of the other. (At 71, he should try to remember to take off the “POTC” earring before sitting down to talk.) In “Paranoia,” Ford and Gary Oldman play Jock Goddard and Nicolas Wyatt, rival CEOs at major telecom companies anxious to produce the next iPhone. The stakes are extremely high, of course, because coming in second in such a high-stakes race is as lucrative as coming in last. As the movie opens, a team of hot-shot techies led by Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) stumbles out of the blocks in a pitch meeting before Wyatt’s unimpressed executive team. After Adam’s team is unceremoniously fired, they decide to use a still-active company credit card to boogey away their blues. Once the prank is discovered, Adam is summoned back to Wyatt’s office, where he’s ordered to repay the debt or prove his worthiness as a problem-solver. His assignment is to infiltrate Goddard’s company, which, once again, requires him to pass a test, and collect data on its new breakthrough product. Of course, Adam impresses the shit out of Goddard, on whose team is the mysterious beauty with whom he slept on the night he was fired. If nothing else, Adam can try to use his access to Emma (Amber Heard) to break through the company’s security systems. Because “Paranoia” is only 20 minutes old by this point, we can easily assume their inevitable ride into the sunset, together, will be interrupted by reality at some point in the next 90 minutes.
Robert Luketic (“The Ugly Truth,” “Killers”) adapted “Paranoia” from a novel by thriller specialist Joseph Finder, whose book, “High Crimes,” also was turned into a movie. Having not read either novel, I couldn’t say if they contain as many obvious clues and flimsy narrative tricks as those found in the movie version of “Paranoia.” Never has industrial espionage seemed so simple. Another problem arises when Adam suddenly is struck with pangs of conscience about breaking every ethical, moral and corporate guideline he was taught at Harvard, Wharton, MIT or whatever school it was from which he matriculated. Neither does he want to disappoint his father, a former security guard who sits at home watching TV while his son is busy playing Gordon Gekko. Getting out of his deal with the devil could cost Adam far more than the $500,000 advance he received from Wyatt. By now, however, the filmmakers have cut so many corners and taken enough shortcuts for viewers to easily predict what will happen as the plot gets even thicker. The mere presence of expensive supporting-cast members Embeth Davidtz and Julian McMahon, as aide-de-camps to Goddard and Wyatt, respectively, dulls the suspense at crucial times. Those viewers who aren’t conversant with time-honored thriller tropes should find something to like in “Paranoia,” though. The characters are attractive, the sets are appropriately sleek and not all of the surprises are so broadly telegraphed. What should be troubling to studio execs is how much better television has become producing thrillers—“Damages,” “The Good Wife,” “Homeland,” “The Newsroom” etc. etc.—than the big-money boys in Hollywood. The Blu-ray combo pack adds deleted scenes and the featurettes “Privacy Is Dead,” “The Paranoia Begins” and “The Players.”
The late French director Claude Miller adapted his final film from a novel by the Nobel Prize-winner François Mauriac, who, in turn, was inspired by the real-life 1906 murder trial of Madame Henriette-Blance Canaby. In “Thérèse,” the daughter of a wealthy landowner and Socialist politician, reluctantly accepts the inevitable, by marrying her next-door neighbor, Bernard Desqueyroux (Gilles Lellouche), who enjoys to hunt and pretend he’s important. Their marriage was as much for convenience as it was for love, as bride and groom control much adjoining property and their pairing would make both families more formidable in the region. Well before melding of families, Therese Larroque (Audrey Tautou) probably was more enamored with her future sister-in-law than momma’s-boy Bernard. Anna (Anaïs Demoustier) is a carefree girl, anxious to experience sexual ecstasy before committing to her own marriage. The summer of the wedding, Anna falls in love with an athletic and widely read neighbor, Jean (Stanley Weber), who sails by their houses every day. In the best of all possible worlds, Anne’s romance with a handsome, well-educated and wealthy Portuguese Jew wouldn’t cause a ripple of excitement. In the mind of Anne’s imperious and devoutly Catholic mother, however, it borders on the scandalous. Instead of letting the infatuation run its course, Bernard effectively puts his sister under house arrest. When even this punishment fails to keep them apart, Bernard asks Therese to return home from their extended honeymoon in Switzerland to convince the young man to end the romance with Anna. Although she agrees to intercede, it’s probably because she’s interested in meeting the young man and seeing what makes him tick.
At this point in the drama, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Therese had jumped in the boat with Jean and pulled the sails over their naked bodies. Bernard had already proven himself inadequate in the sack and it’s likely she was already pregnant. If so, this would mean there was no hope of escaping Bernard’s grasp in the near future. Instead, Therese had to settle for listening to Jean wax rhapsodic about his own dreams for the future, which, not too surprisingly, didn’t include marriage to Anne. Even as she grew more obviously present, Bernard’s mother made greater demands on Therese’s time and loyalty. This was especially true when her husband began suffering symptoms of angina and she sat by his bedside taking care of his every whim. For some reason even Therese can’t fully articulate—perhaps, post-partum depression—she begins to administer unsafe levels of arsenic-enhanced medication to Bernard. She even forges prescriptions to secure more of the toxic mixture. With the patient on the verge of death, Bernard’s doctor and pharmacist figure out Therese’s scheme and demand she stay away from him. To avoid scandal, Bernard refuses to press charges or testify against Therese in any trial. Now well, he devices his own form of punishment, which includes only leaving the house for mass and not seeing their daughter. When, finally, Therese and Bernard device an arrangement that wouldn’t make him look bad, she splits for Paris and the kind of life Jean might have imagined for her. As good as the other cast members are, “Therese” is Tatou’s picture. She wears the character’s every mood and malady on her face, aging prematurely through what actually is only an eight-year span. Such aristocratic interpretations of the marriage contract would begin to end after World War II, but on a slower pace outside Paris. Besides making Desqueyroux coupling resemble an elegantly appointed hell, Miller nicely captures the great natural beauty of the Bordeaux, Hourtin, Bonzac and Belin-Beliet in Gironde and Aquitane. The Blu-ray adds a short making-of featurette.
Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus: Blu-ray
Watching Sebastian Silva’s strangely nostalgic, if completely out-of-left-field road movie is like entering a time warp in modern-day Chile and exiting in the Haight-Ashbury, circa 1967. In “Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus,” an extremely annoying American expatriate, Jamie (Michael Cera), becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind the legends surrounding the San Pedro cactus, which, for many centuries, has provided the native Andean population with good vibrations. Today, the popular garden plant is cultivated in South America for its medicinal, spiritual and ornamental properties. When Spanish priests and colonialists swept through the region, its use was suppressed, but far from eliminated. Instead, new converts to Christianity gave the cactus its current name, based on a belief that, just as St. Peter holds the keys to heaven, the mescaline allow users “to reach heaven while still on earth.” True or false, it’s just cause for Jamie to organize an excursion to a village where such vegetation is known to be common. Even though Jamie is no one’s idea of an amiable traveling companion, a trio of Chilean brothers agree to join him on his excellent adventure.
No road trip would be complete without attending a party the night before, of course, and this one is a doozy. At one point, Jamie invites a hippie-dippy American chick, Crystal Fairy—who dances as if she were channeling an entire audience of Deadheads—to join them. In the bright light of day, Jamie would prefer that Crystal had spaced on the trip, but, when she shows up at their designated meeting place, the brothers insist he honor his invitation. Crystal’s so hard-core, she could have served as the model for several of the more trippy characters in “Hair,” right down to shedding her clothes and parading around naked whenever possible. (The boys nickname her Hairy Fairy, for some rather obvious reasons.) Finding the valuable cactus is no problem, as plants can be found in many of the town’s gardens. Strangely, though, the residents refuse their offers to sell a cutting to the visitors. While one elderly woman is distracted, Jamie simply amputates an arm with a kitchen knife.
The rest of “CF&TMC” depicts both the ritual preparation for a psychedelic journey and the outward manifestations of being stewed to the gills. As trite and clichéd as that might sound in 2013, Silva pulls it off with room to spare. In his hands, it’s more rite-of-passage than post-hippie conceit. With “The Maid” and “Magic Magic,” Silva has already demonstrated what he can do with an offbeat notion. (The frightening students-in-distress thriller, “Magic Magic,” also starred Cera.) He never allows the night-long trip to become boring or a parody of a time when thousands of Crystal Fairies roamed the Earth. Neither is it likely any modern-day easy riders will drop everything and travel to Chile on the off-chance they’ll find a specimen to sample and a paradisiacal beach suited for quasi-religious enlightenment. The otherworldly desert scenery, quaint villages and pristine beaches provide a much better reason to buy a one-way ticket to Santiago. Silva also coaxes terrific performances from Cera and Gaby Hoffmann (Maizy, in “Uncle Buck”). The Blu-ray adds a behind-the-scenes featurette.
In Omar Flores Sarabia’s chemically related, “Peyote,” the pilgrims are in pursuit of a considerably smaller, if similarly psychoactive cactus. Unlike the characters in “Crystal Fairy,” Pablo and Marco have traveled to the starkly picturesque Mexican desert mostly on a lark. Having just met and made love for the first time, the timid teenager, Pablo (Joe Diazzi), has more questions than answers about love and sexuality than the older Marco (Carlos Luque). Fortunately, they’ve remembered to bring a video camera along on the trip. It allows Pablo to have a visual record of the changes he’s experiencing while they happen. The question then becomes one of gauging how much Pablo has grown during his psychic journey and how much, if it all, it alters his relationship with Marco. While about 10-15 minutes too short, “Peyote” has much to recommend it. The Breaking Glass DVD adds a behind-the-scenes featurette and a photo gallery.
Hannah Arendt: Blu-ray
Although Hannah Arendt’s treatise on the “banality of evil” is widely recognized, it’s entirely possible that, by now, the context for her observation has long since been forgotten and the universality of its truth ignored. At a time when unmanned drones do the killing and the deaths of innocent bystanders are dismissed as collateral damage, the face of evil has, if anything, gotten even more unrecognizable. In what surely is one of the finest performances this year, Barbara Sukowa breathes new life into the legacy of one of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the last 100 years. And, more than anything else, the primary intention of Margarethe von Trotta’s challenging drama, “Hannah Arendt,” is to make viewers think about and discuss what they’ve just learned about the German-born philosopher, theorist and teacher. In 1961, after Adolf Eichmann was captured by Mossad operatives in Argentina, Arendt was assigned by the New Yorker to cover the trial. He had been the target of an intense 15-year manhunt and stood accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes against the Jewish people and membership in a criminal organization. Instead of finding the “man in the glass booth” to be a monster who exuded evil with every breath and gesture, Arendt decided that, while his “deeds were monstrous, the doer … was quite ordinary, commonplace and neither demonic nor monstrous.” In facilitating the deportation of millions of Jews to almost certain death in concentration camps, Eichmann exhibited “an incapacity for independent critical thought.” Thus, he came to represent the banality of simply doing one’s job, as assigned and absent debate, no matter the evil consequences. At a time when people around the world were still trying to get their heads around the ability of Hitler and his minions to order the deaths of untold millions of Jews, Romani, homosexuals, Slavs, Poles, Soviet POWs, Slovenes Marxists, intellectuals, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and physically and mentally handicapped individuals, it was expected that Arendt and other correspondents would paint a portrait of thinly sublimated depravity and outwardly rabid behavior. That she came back, instead, with what essentially was a portrait of an unthinking bureaucrat—someone expecting to be rewarded for excelling at his job—shocked and angered many of the magazine’s readers, Arendt’s friends, family and fellow faculty members. Administrators who previously treated her as if she was a celebrity turned their backs on her.
Arendt wasn’t attempting to be contrarian, controversial or a provocateur, however. As Sukowa so clearly articulates in her performance, Arendt believed that she had discovered a greater, far more disturbing truth about mankind: that one needn’t be evil to do evil things. Indeed, she agreed that Eichmann deserved to be found guilty and executed. Von Trotta and Pam Katz’ screenplay forces viewers to contemplate such observations and apply them to events in their own lives. Although the movie takes place mostly in the early 1960s, with flashbacks to her romantic relationship to philosopher and Nazi sympathizer Martin Heidegger, the questions it asks could just as well refer to subsequent wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eastern Europe. It has been argued that Henry Kissinger no more deserved the Nobel Peace Prize than Eichmann would have if Germany had won WWII. After all, his advice to President Nixon on the “secret war” in Cambodia led directly to the deaths of thousands of non-combatants and opened the door for Pol Pot to eliminate a quarter of the country’s population. He also engineered the military coup that toppled the duly elected Socialist government in Chile and allowed fascist leaders there and in Argentina to torture and “disappear” tens of thousands of leftists and potential problems for their governments. Kissinger didn’t carry a weapon to his job in the State Department and couldn’t order Americans be sent into battle without convincing Nixon first, but the blood of millions of anonymous people remains on his hands, nonetheless. But, I digress. Von Trotta interweaves footage of the actual trial with flashbacks and dramatizations of Arendt’s personal life in New York and Israel. Many of her most cogent opinions are presented in classroom lectures. “Hannah Arendt” co-stars Alex Milberg as her husband, Heinrich Blucher; Klaus Pohl as Heidegger; Ulrich Noethen as Jewish-German philosopher Hans Jonas; Nicolas Woodeson as New Yorker editor William Shawn; and two-time Oscar nominee Janet McTeer as novelist Mary McCarthy. Deep thinkers all, you can almost see heat waves emanating from their foreheads. And, yes, Arendt’s theories on Eichmann, if not the banality of evil, have been contested by several learned historians.
Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s heartfelt documentary about an ill-fated, monogamous relationship between two men feels strangely anachronistic in the closing weeks of 2013. The Supreme Court’s nullification of the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that narrowed the definition of marriage, along with effectively overturning California’s Proposition 8, forever leveled the playing field on the divisive issue. Since then, several more states have recognized the legality of same-sex marriages. The battle is far from over, of course, but the tragedy described in “Bridegroom” might have been averted if the Supreme Court had acted just a little bit sooner. Mostly, “Bridegroom” chronicles the love affair and virtual marriage of Shane Bitney Crone and Thomas Bridegroom. It does so with the assistance of home movies, photographs, interviews with friends and the occasional text message. Crone and Bridegroom weren’t a matched set of gay men in love, but the differences in age and backgrounds rarely came between them. One afternoon, Tom accidentally stepped off the roof of an apartment building while taking photographs of a friend. The fall killed him. Because the two men weren’t married or protected by a will, Tom’s family was allowed to ban Shane from the funeral and access to the burial site. He was even threatened with great bodily harm if he dared to crash the event. If backers of Proposition 8 hadn’t insisted on delaying the inevitable—they were married before the measure passed—Tom and Shane might have been long married and beyond the bigoted demands of Tom’s parents. On May 7th, 2012, Shane posted a video on YouTube, entitled “It Could Happen to You,” describing their relationship and warning others of such legal roadblocks. The posting received more than 3.2 million hits and inspired over 50,000 e-mails and comments on YouTube and Facebook. Last April, Bloodworth-Thomason’s affecting film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it was introduced by her close friend, former President Bill Clinton. Not lost on audience members was the fact that Clinton had signed the DOMA legislation in 1996 and didn’t feel it necessary to renounce his politically motivated decision until earlier this year.
Women Without Men
Samson & Delilah
It’s no secret that some of the most important films of the last 20-30 years have been made Iranians, almost all of whom have been censored or banished for expressing their opinions about the current regime or exposing injustices, especially toward woman. There’s no question that these filmmakers love their country, while hoping against hope that things will change in their lifetime. “Women Without Men” is set against the backdrop of the 1953 coup, engineered by the CIA and MI6, which deposed the freely elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and eventually would install Mohammad-Rezā Shāh Pahlavi as the ultimate leader of the country. The shah may not play a large role in “Women Without Men,” but it’s clear how things that happened in 1953 would inevitably lead to his overthrow in 1979 and the takeover of the American Embassy by Islamic militants. More specifically, Shirin Neshat’s film is informed by the different ways Iranian women have been treated throughout the 20th Century, not only by Islamic fundamentalists, but also secularists, family members and advocates of various political movements. Employing strategically placed elements of magical realism, Neshat focuses on four very different women whose destinies converge in the orchard of a secluded mansion, where they’re free to interact as if men weren’t in control of their lives. It’s as if the women died and went to heaven or, if not paradise, the Garden of Eden. Adapted from Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel of the same title, “Women Without Men” was awarded the Silver Lion Award at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, and it’s not difficult to see why. Neshat’s eye for color, texture and photographic precision are on full display whether the women are wandering the orchard, cleansing themselves in a public bath, participating in a pro-Mosaddegh protest, hosting a bourgeois dinner party or being chastised by a brother for not being married and not wearing a head scarf. It also reflects the rich and diverse society and culture, which would be reined in by the shah and stifled by the followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini. For its efforts, the U.S. received a quarter-century’s worth of cheap oil and a place to sell expensive military equipment. That honeymoon’s come to an end, however. The DVD includes interviews and much background material.
“Samson & Delilah” is the harrowing story of two Aboriginal 14-year-old kids, living on a garbage strewn patch of land in the middle of the central Australian desert. Their idea of a good time is sniffing gasoline fumes and wheeling around the hard-packed dirt roads on wheelchairs, while a makeshift band strums a blues number in the background. If their situation seems hopeless, that’s because it probably is. The nearly dialogue-free drama accentuates the kinds of things that have been holding back the indigenous population for many decades—substance abuse, alcoholism, poverty, lack of education and jobs—without also presenting such diversions as beautiful desert sunsets and cuddly marsupials. After the teens do something stupid in the village, they retreat to Alice Springs. Once there, things get even worse with the greater variety of intoxicants available to Samson. Their only friend is a completely burned out alcoholic who treats them to booze and the occasional can of spaghetti, in exchange for listening to his rambling discourses. “Samson & Delilah” may be every bit as bleak as it sounds, but it feels extremely real and vital. Director Warwick Thornton based the story on personal experiences of growing up in an Aboriginal community. He even hired his alcoholic brother, Scott, to participate in the project as an actor and adviser, but only after he cleaned up … temporarily, as it turns out. One of the reasons “Samson & Delilah” is largely devoid of dialogue is because so many of the actors speak or read English, and the many Aboriginal dialects defied easy encapsulation. The DVD contains an interview with the director and stars that fills in many of the blanks left behind from the movie.
Momo: The Sam Giancana Story
As the days and minutes tick down to our country’s least celebratory anniversary of them all—the unofficial commemoration of President Kennedy’s assassination—the conspiracy theories have begun to pile up like so many logs on a raging campfire. Most have been debunked several times over, but it’s impossible to keep a good one down for long. Dimitri Logothetis’ feature-length bio-doc “Momo: The Sam Giancana Story” takes its good-natured time getting to point where the promised revelation about the Chicago Outfit’s role in the assassination is revealed. It won’t surprise anyone who knows that Giancana, Kennedy and Frank Sinatra slept with the same women—not simultaneously—twice, at least. The stuff about the mob wanting Kennedy eliminated as punishment for not delivering on promises made in the run-up to the 1960 presidential election is so old it has whiskers. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of juicy material here for mafia buffs to digest, even without smoking-gun evidence in the Dallas affair. “Momo” was written by Logothetis and actor/producer Nicholas Celozzi, grandson of Sam Giancana’s sister. Daughters Bonnie and Francine Giancana provide lots of anecdotes of how great it was growing up in the Giancana home, where Momo rarely displayed the traits for which he was widely feared and envied. They’re also featured in home movies, alongside their father and mother, who, we are led to believe, was a saint. (Aren’t they all?) Evidence of Giancana’s ruthlessness and cunning is provided by historian and archivist John Binder, FBI agent Royden Rice, a couple of professors and some guys whose faces can’t be readily identified. Buffs should find the archival material especially worthwhile. Left unanswered is whether Giancana watched “The Untouchables” and recognized himself in it. He was renowned as a top wheel man, but the only comparable character in the show goes by “Driver” in the four episodes in which he appears.
Blue Collar Boys
You don’t come across many movies like “Blue Collar Boys,” anymore. Overflowing with righteous indignation and vitriol, Mark Nistico’s debut feature describes what happens when a working-class family decides that it’s angry as hell and it’s not going to take it anymore. For years, “Senior” Redkin (Bruce Kirkpatrick) has run a construction company capable of providing for his family, with money left over for a few frills. His adult boys have been groomed to take over the company, but that isn’t likely to happen now that Senior’s been driven to the brink of bankruptcy and a stroke by local sharpies who recognized a fish when they saw one. While continuing to build houses for a local contractor, Senior hopes to develop a small subdivision of his own. Until things unexpectedly went south, brothers Nazo (Kevin Interdonato) and Red (Gabe Fazio) were free to spend their evenings hanging with the homeboys and getting into fights with people who got in their way. Now, however, they’re taking their fight to the contractors and politicians who want to put Senior out of business. The more desperate their father becomes, the closer the brothers and their pals get to engaging in all-out class war. As improbable as such a scenario would be in real life, Nistico allows it to play out as any good low-budget revenge thriller should. It helps mightily that he was able to find actors who look the part of guys who wake up every morning—rain or shine, hot or cold—knowing that their day isn’t going to get much better than it already is. When their dad’s livelihood is threatened, along with their own future, they don’t hesitate to take action. How high the chips are stacked against them, though, doesn’t seem to matter. Made on a reported budget of $75,000, it looks at least $500,000 more expensive.
If an Italian geologist were to dream of going anywhere in his lifetime, it might be Alaska. Italy has plenty of fine mountains to climb and unequaled scenic vistas, but the ancient country is far too civilized and trod-upon to be considered wilderness and that’s Alan needs right now. Unfortunately, his department head isn’t willing to come up with the money to finance the trip. Thomas is the director of a TV show heading nowhere but down in the ratings. Even so, he’s not quite ready to commit to a reality format just yet. “Dreaming Alaska,” then, is about dreams deferred and those not yet doomed by the facts of twenty-first century life. The movie, itself, is a dream finally realized by Emanuele Valla, who performed every task on it, except, perhaps, catering. Sometimes it feels as if Valla threw in every trick he knows, on the odd chance he’d never be asked to make another movie. As such, it easily qualifies as a kooky pleasure. The songs on the soundtrack are there to comment on what’s happening on the screen, including the various trysts and romantic ambitions with which Alan and Thomas are confronted. Finally, after being classroom- and studio-bound, “Dreaming Alaska” delivers on its promise of spectacular scenery and found love. Italian rom-coms take some time getting used to, but there are rewards to be found here.
There’s something to be said about a steamy romance that gets the old pulse racing with only the barest hint of nudity and deferred acts of sexuality. Wong Kar Wai’s incendiary “In the Mood for Love” carries a PG rating, even though it oozes sex from almost every frame. There’s a bit more overt sensuality in Kwon Chil-in’s “Loveholic,” but it could probably pass for PG-13 in a pinch. Even though it isn’t a rom-com, “Loveholic” also is very funny. When Ji Eun (Chu Ja-Hyeon) suddenly loses her job and apartment, her friend and former supervisor Kyung-rin (Han Su-yeon) offers to let her stay with her and her husband. As reserved and tidy as the doctor is, Ji Eun is that much more messy and frayed around the edges. Kyung-rin is very much like her husband, until she’s required to undress—ever so primly—in front of a young radiologist attempting to discover why she can’t get pregnant. It awakens something in her that she doesn’t quite understand, but seems ready to accept. Meanwhile, the doctor strikes a more common chord with his lodger, whose demeanor he’s mostly found annoying. It takes a while for things to proceed in the direction of love and adultery, but the pacing is so gentle and unforced that we’re left hoping the director doesn’t throw a hyper-dramatic monkey wrench into the works. If the blurbs on the jacket suggest something more blatantly erotic going on in “Loveholic,” the failure to deliver on it works in the viewers’ favor.
Co-writer/director/star Thomas Michaels’ paint-by-numbers comedy imagines a situation in which an ambitious young man, Archie Fenton, returns to his hometown with his similarly ambitious wife, targeting the office of mayor for his next job. If the nickname of Michaels’ character, “Skidmarks” suggests anything, it’s that none of his old acquaintances are likely to make life easy for him. That one of his old pals—played by gangly D.J. Qualls—is nicknamed “One Ball” speaks volumes on the level of humor on display here. The complication comes when former best friend, Reg (Paolo Mancini), decides it might be fun to run against Skidmarks, so he throws his mullet in the mayoral ring, too. They aren’t the only ones vying for the job, either. Henry Winkler, who hasn’t turned down many gigs lately, also makes an appearance as an election official. Slapstick ensures. “Running Mates” probably will be of most interest to Canadian completists.
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t spying on you. We’ve learned that much, at least, from the current NSA debacle playing out in newspaper headlines from here to Edward Snowden’s apartment in Moscow. Jamie Meltzer’s “Informant” tells a rather different story about trust and paranoia. In the very broad wake of Hurricane Katrina, a self-described anarchist named Brandon Darby made a name for himself in activist quarters by braving fetid water to save the life of stranded friends. He would then co-found Common Ground, a successful grassroots relief organization. If anyone in the movement could be trusted with secrets, seemingly it was Darby. A view years later, however, he revealed himself to be an informant and, likely, someone who convinced fellow anarchists to purchase bomb-making material. As anyone who lived through the FBI’s COINTELPRO program in the 1960-70s can attest, the agency has never been particularly choosy about the people it enlists as snitches, infiltrators and provocateurs. The crimes they cause to happen frequently are more shocking than those that might have occurred if the radicals were left to their own devices. Darby relates here that he only switched sides—from far left to far right—when he learned what his comrades in the movement were planning for the 2008 Republican National Convention. The information he provided led to indictments against several people, who, even having served prison terms, deny any intention to use Molotov cocktails or hurt people. The evidence against Darby is quite a bit more convincing. In any case, Darby was acutely aware of the direction from which the wind was blowing after Katrina and he’s managed to cash in ever since, first as an activist, then as an informer, Tea Party hero and contributor to the notoriously insane Breitbart.com. Darby isn’t the first such turncoat for hire and he certainly won’t be the last. If the government expects Americans to treat Snowdon as a traitor and threat to democracy, it would be wise to clean up its own house first.
Here’s Edie: The Edie Adams Television Collection
It’s amazing what we remember first when a celebrity dies. In the case of the extremely talented entertainer Edie Adams, who passed in 2008, it was a series of commercials she did for Muriel cigars. Her husband, Ernie Kovacs, was so associated with cigars that it almost seemed natural Adams would add a sparkle of playful sexuality to the spots. Even after Kovacs’ untimely death, in 1962, she continued to tease smokers with the come-ons, “Hey, big spender, spend a little dime with me” and “Why don’t you pick one up and smoke it sometime?” And, yet, as the new DVD collection, “Here’s Edie: The Edie Adams Television Collection,” demonstrates, Adams’ legacy is far more than the sum of her cigar commercials. The four-disc set includes 12 hours of newly transferred material from her variety shows, “Here’s Edie” and “The Edie Adams Show.” Besides the mock-sexy Muriel commercials, the shows showcased such co-stars as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Stan Getz, Andre Previn, Sammy Davis Jr., Bobby Darin, Johnny Mathis, Nancy Wilson, Buddy Hackett, Bob Hope, Dick Shawn, Rowan & Martin, Peter Falk, Spike Jones, Sir Michael Redgrave and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Several of the shows were shot on location in London, Las Vegas, New York and Los Angeles. Adams had a wonderful classically trained voice, which could handle everything from opera to novelty songs, either in costume or a rhinestone-studded cocktail gown. The shows also allowed time for dance routines and comedy bits.
This material includes rarely seen musical numbers from numerous Ernie Kovacs’ shows of the 1950s, with introductions from Kovacs himself; a set of commercial promos by Adams and Sid Caesar; a Muriel Cigars promotional film; and a 16-page booklet packed with rare photos from the family archive, an essay from Edie’s son, Joshua Mills, and a show-by-show rundown from curator and DVD co-producer Ben Model. The era of the variety show is long past, whether it was hosted by a major star or newspaper columnist, as was Ed Sullivan. The format has largely disappeared from late-night talk shows, which prefer to showcase music acts and the occasional comedian. Today, the only place to find the kinds of acts that appeared on the same shows as celebrated singers and comics are Las Vegas and on cruise ships. More than anything else, DVD collections of vintage variety shows remind us we’re missing.
Vivien Leigh Anniversary Collection: Blu-ray
When considering the career of any certified movie star, especially one whose career spanned three decades, it would seem safe to assume that the actor had a list of credits a mile long. In the case of two-time Best Lead Actress-winner Vivien Leigh, that assumption would be wrong. Despite turning in unforgettable performances in “Gone With the Wind” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Leigh appeared in exactly 19 credited roles and one that wasn’t. Neither was she always the lead actress. As such, the titles included in Cohen Media’s “Vivien Leigh Anniversary Collection”—“Dark Journey,” “Fire Over England,” “Sidewalks of London,” “Storm in a Tea Cup”—represent fully 20 percent of her cinematic output. She had several good excuses, though, including a preference for the stage and a manifestations of bipolar disorder. None of the British-made movies will be terribly familiar to American audience, I suspect, but the presence of such co-stars as future husband Laurence Olivier, Flora Robson, Raymond Massey, Conrad Veidt, Rex Harrison (twice), Charles Laughton, Larry Adler, Tyrone Guthrie makes the collection noteworthy, as do the fine high-definition restorations.
Leigh may have a limited role in “Fire Over England,” but it’s of great interest to trivia buffs for being the picture on which Olivier and Leigh officially were recognized as adulterous lovers. Her performance, as lady-in-waiting to Robson’s Queen Elizabeth I, prompted agent Myron Selznick to recommend Leigh to his producer brother, David, as the best bet to play Scarlett O’Hara. They were introduced on the backlot where the burning of the Atlanta Depot scene was being filmed. “Dark Journey” is a romantic espionage thriller, in which Leigh and Veidt are playing for different teams. In the silly romantic comedy, “Storm in a Teacup,” an ambitious reporter (Harrison) falls in love with the daughter of a windbag Scottish politician. The reporter has written a derogatory article about the provost’s absurd stand on the execution of a working-class woman’s dog for her inability to pay license fees. “Sidewalks of London” is what “My Fair Lady” might have looked like if Busby Berkeley had directed it. Laughton shines as a busker who works the streets outside the theater district, while Leigh plays a diamond-in-the-roof dancer. The only supplement added to the package is “Before She Was Scarlett O’Hara: An Interview with Anne Edwards,” one of Leigh’s biographers.
And While We Were Here: Blu-ray
Sigmund Freud couldn’t possibly have been thinking of a character in a 2013 rom-dram when he observed, “The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’” It applies here, however, to the emotionally divided Jane, as played by Kate Bosworth, in Kat Coiro’s “And While We Were Here.” Jane is married to a classical musician in Naples to perform in concert. She’s traveled with him by train and, at first, they seem to be happy and in love. Fissures begin to form, however, almost immediately after her purse is stolen at the rail station. We learn that Jane’s recently suffered some kind of traumatic event, possibly a miscarriage, and she’s attempting to fill the void in her life by writing a book about her British grandmother, who experienced the pain of two world wars … one as a child and the other as an adult. Naturally, on a side trip to an island off the scenic Amalfi coast, she runs into a young man (or old boy). Caleb (Jamie Blackley) is an American vagabond, temporarily hanging out on the island of Ischia, where he pretends to be Italian for the benefit of pretty blond tourists. A free-wheeling and funny extrovert, Caleb is set up to be the temperamental opposite of her husband, Leonard (Iddo Goldberg). Leonard may be a bit withdrawn, but the only reason he’s in Naples is to play the viola and that means rehearsing with the orchestra. He isn’t ignoring Jane’s needs, but she seems to be in desperate need of being engaged at an emotional and intellectual level. Caleb more than makes up for the emptiness she’s feels when she’s in the same room as Leonard. Coiro does a nice job disguising what will happen when it’s time for the couple to return to England and she’s given the choice of being with Leonard or following her new-found passion for something else. The writer/director plays things right down the middle, refusing to tip the scales in favor of Leonard, Caleb or something else. “And When We Were Here” offers little that we haven’t seen in previous such rom-drams, except for the beauty of the Amalfi coast, which provides sufficient cause for sticking with it. It’s interesting that Blu-ray contains both the color version of the film, as well as the black-and-white “director’s version,” which adds a more Italianate flavor to the drama. The music is pretty good, too.
Linda Ronstadt: Love Has No Pride
Gourds: All the Labor: The Story Of The Gourds
Europe: 30th Anniversary Live: Blu-ray
Left unable to sing by Parkinson’s disease, Arizona songbird Linda Ronstadt announced her retirement last August. In a career that already had spanned nearly 50 years and genres ranging from roots rock to opera, Ronstadt released 30 studio albums, 15 compilations or greatest-hits collections; performed on Broadway and at the World Series; graced the covers of Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone (six times), Us and People; interpreted the music of dozens of up-and-coming artists, as well as established artists; won a dozen Grammy Awards, an Emmy and Tony; wrote her autobiography; thrilled the paparazzi by dating the once and future California governor, Jerry Brown; and becoming engaged to George Lucas. Amazingly, the nitwits at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame forced Ronstadt to wait in limbo for two decades before announcing her first nomination. Maybe, they felt sorry for her. The concert DVD, “Linda Ronstadt: Love Has No Pride,” reminds us of what made her so popular at the height of her rock period, in 1976, during a concert tour in Germany. If the visuals aren’t up to current standards, the songs still ring true. Among the 16 selections are the title song, “Hasten Down the Wind,” “Several Threads and Golden Needles,” “Crazy,” “Willin’,” “Love Is a Rose,” “Tracks of My Tears” and “Lo Siento Mi Vida.” The backup band is led by guitar ace and frequent collaborator Waddy Wachtel.
Also new from MVD Visual are concert DVDs, featuring the Austin roots band Gourds and Europe. The Gourds are an amalgam of Texas rock bands that decided to merge in 1994 and focus their energies on the bustling Austin scene. They’ve been chasing fame—or, at least, sustainability—ever since then. From the evidence presented in “All the Labor,” the Gourds may very well be too hip for its own good. As eclectic blend of styles is supplemented by lyrics that have to be heard to be properly appreciated, which is no easy trick, considering the boisterous nature of their fans and acoustics of the venues into which they’re booked. Live performances of fan favorites—including a cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice”—are interwoven with interviews, reflections and observations from the band. Friends and family. The music is all that counts here, though.
If the hype is to be believed, Europe is Scandinavia’s biggest rock sensation, not counting Abba. I’m not especially well-versed in where the band stands in the Pantheon of Heavy Metal, but it looks and sounds the part of a genuine head-banger’s wet dream. If nothing else, Europe filled the stadium at which “Europe: 30th Anniversary Live” was recorded for exhibition in Blu-ray. The event took place at the Sweden Rock Festival last June. Like most rock bands not named the Rolling Stones, the “30th Anniversary” part of the title doesn’t take into account the many years it was on hiatus, but who’s counting? The playlist is generous, as these thing go, and behind-the-scenes material is included in the package.
The Looking Glass
Psychological thrillers don’t get much more psycho than the Irish export, “The Looking Glass.” By drilling deeply and painfully into the psyche of a seemingly normal, but extremely fragile young man, the effect is that of living through someone else’s root canal. When we meet Paul (Patrick O’Donnell), he’s living in a rural house with his pregnant girlfriend, Claire (Natalia Kostrzewa). After his mother-in-law arrives for a long stay, everything in Paul’s small world gets turned inside out. Mommy Dearest begins planting seeds of doubt in both of their heads about his ability to withstand the rigors of parenthood. At the same time, Paul reverts to childhood fears about boogeymen and other things that go bump in the night. Essentially, writer/director Colin Downey has put us into Paul’s head, exposing us to his fears and forcing us to come to grips with his enemies. “The Looking Glass” is one mother-in-law joke that stops being funny very quickly.
Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas
Aeon: The Last Vampyre on Earth
Dead Walkers: Rise of the 4th Reich
All the Devil’s Aliens
Was it Albert Einstein who observed, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” or the Einstein popularly known as “Super Dave” Osborn? Just as Bob Einstein’s hapless stuntman continues to bang his head against walls, simply for the privilege of being in show business, I keep watching do-it-yourself and micro-budget horror movies for the sole purpose of finding good things to say about them. Except for the likelihood of experiencing serious brain damage, it’s a mostly harmless exercise and, yes, it’s possible to find small gems in the piles of gore and excrement. “Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas” is the fifth in a series of horror films featuring goofball half-brothers, played by Dave Campfield and Paul Chomicki. Co-writer/director/star/producer/editor Campfield is the ambitious half of the comedy team, forever hoping that someone from Hollywood will recognize his acting talent—mostly standing in the background or doing the work of an extra—and offer him a one-way paid ticket to Tinseltown. Otto, as played by Chomicki, is as close to worthless as any human being could be, sponging off Caesar and rarely feeling the need to find a job. Campfield has a gift for satirizing genre classics, such as “Silent Night, Deadly Night” and “Sleepaway Camp.” The lads find seasonal employment with Xmas Industries, a company created to destroy the holiday for believers in Santa Claus. It promises to finance Caesar’s next homemade movie in return for performing some odious chores. Meanwhile, someone else wearing a Santa suit is killing people with an ax and setting up Caesar and Otto to take the fall. Meanwhile, too, Otto discovers his childhood sweetheart living in a Yugo, with her two not-very-bright sons. (There’s always a lot of “meanwhiles” in these sorts of movies.) Campfield must have something going for him, because, in addition to Chomicki and co-writer Joe Randazzo, he’s managed to lure such cult-movie icons as Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, Lloyd Kaufman, Joe Estevez, Felissa Rose, Debbie Rochon and Robert Z’dar back to the fold.
Likewise, one never is quite sure what to expect when the most recent package of screeners arrives from Chemical Burn Entertainment, except something completely insane. The primary tip-off comes in the titles, which practically define the term “high concept.” This month’s batch included, “Aeon: The Last Vampyre on Earth,” “Dead Walkers: Rise of the 4th Reich” and “All the Devil’s Aliens.” The funny thing is that amid the blood and guts, there’s something resembling artistry at work here. For example, “The Last Vampyre” looks at humanity on the edge of distinction, by setting up a dialogue between a starving vampire and a woman who’s locked herself inside a tomb, while escaping a “human predator.” If it weren’t a movie, Daniel Falicki could have served it up live on the stage of an experimental theater company.
Assault on Precinct 13: Collector’s Edition: Bluray
Body Bags: Collector’s Edition: BluRay
The Night of the Comet: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Tank Girl: Collector’s Edition: Bluray
Eve of Destruction: Blu-ray
So many titles from Shout!Factory/Scream Factory, so little time. Somebody must be buying the Blu-ray editions of vintage horror, action and sci-fi movies from the companies’ inventory, because they’re being released at a fast-and-furious pace. As usual, John Carpenter is represented with fondly remembered titles: a pair of segments in the “Body Bags” triptych, alongside one by Tobe Hooper, and the quasi-Western “Assault on Precinct 13.” Inspired by Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo,” “Assault” imagines an urban nightmare in which outmanned and outgunned cops and convicts, in a nearly abandoned police station, are surrounded by the Street Thunder gang. George Romero gave himself a break from zombies, vampires and witches with the slightly more grounded, “Knightriders,” in which members of a traveling Renaissance Faire stage jousting contests and other activities on motorcycles, instead of horses. Naturally, things get out of hand when the national media learns about it. Ed Harris leads the cast.
In “Night of the Comet,” two shopaholic Valley Girls are among the very few humans who survive the effects of a comet colliding with Earth. The good news is that they’re still alive, the bad news is that everyone else is a zombie. It stars Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney and Robert Beltran, and was written and directed by Thom Eberhardt. And, speaking of comets, another one turns Earth into a giant water-starved desert in “Tank Girl.” Based on a comic book by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett, it may have been the first movie inspired as much by the “riot grrrl” movement as the source material. Lori Petty plays tank-driving warrior out to wrest control of the water supply from stingy Malcolm McDowell.
In another entirely plausible scenario, “Eve of Destruction,” a heavily armed military robot, Eve VIII—a dead ringer for the beautiful Dutch actor, Renee Soutendijk –runs amok in a large city during its testing phase. The only person standing between Eve VIII and nuclear destruction is the late dancer-turned-actor, Gregory Hines. All of the new Blu-ray collections arrive with newly created bonus material, including commentary, interviews and background pieces.
Created by artist Leiji Matsumoto, with Dan Kobayashi, “Danguard Ace” is a classic of animated Japanese mecha from the late-1970s and originally featured as part of the “Force Five” series broadcast on U.S. television. A new planet, Promete, is on the verge of entering our solar system, but, before it does, the World Space Institute unsuccessfully and disastrously tries to tap its resources. Years later, the next generation of pilots, including Takuma, the son of an astronaut who disappeared during the first mission, begins to train for a new voyage to the mysterious planet. This time, however, they’ll be backed by a transforming robot that Takuma is destined to pilot.
PBS to DVD
Nature: Saving Otter 501
Harvesting the High Plains
How Sherlock Changed the World
Frontline: Egypt in Crisis
NOVA: Ground Zero Skycraper
Craft in America: Forge
Sometimes, it simply isn’t enough to tell someone that a species is endangered or threatened. It’s always better to provide first-hand testimony and images that confirm our greatest fears. Some politicized detractors won’t accept global warming until Manhattan resembles Venice and Venice has disappeared. Almost on a weekly basis, PBS’ “Nature” series provides more than enough evidence of the threats facing the world’s non-human population. It also records the victories. “Saving Otter 501” chronicles the bad-news/good-news/bad-news struggle waged by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to keep sea otters from extinction for the second time in the last 100 years. It does so by following marine biologist Karl Mayer and his staff on their rescue missions along the shores of Monterey Bay and efforts to reintroduce orphans into their natural habitat. The otter we meet here represents the 501st such mission undertaken by the team, which literally has to teach the critter how to dive, hunt, eat and fend for herself in the wild, where survival is a long shot at best.
Portrayals of the Dust Bowl years are produced with some regularity by PBS affiliates in the greater Midwest, sometimes under the auspices of industry and trade interests. Typically, this doesn’t make the reports any less interesting or valuable … just a tad suspect, especially when the sponsors’ identities are revealed only at the end of the show. There’s a bit of FDR bashing in Harvesting the High Plains,” for example, but not enough to dilute the message in the letters read over images of barren fields, windblown resources, locust hordes and frightening dust storms. If another great drought cripples America’s ability to feed itself, let’s hope our politicians and agricultural interests recall the lessons learned in documentaries like Harvesting the High Plains.”
“How Sherlock Changed the World” details the advancements in forensics science that followed their introduction in the books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. At a time when police couldn’t even fall back on fingerprint evidence and botched as many investigations as they advanced, Holmes had already turned to advanced forensic techniques to break cases. Forensic scientists, crime historians and Holmes buffs reveal the astonishing impact the fictional detective had on the development of real-life criminal investigation and forensic techniques.
As the murders, protests and show trials continue in Egypt, reporters for “Frontline” recall the rise and rapid fall of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. With unique access to Brotherhood leadership, “Egypt in Crisis” follows the Islamist movement at a turning point in its existence. Meanwhile, in “Ground Zero Skyscraper,” reporters for PBS’ “Nova” return to the hallowed ground of the destroyed World Trade Center to record the final chapter in a 12-year-old story. The drama comes when construction on the 104-story One World Trade Center is threatened by Hurricane Sandy, as it bore down on New York.
Season Five of “Craft in America” focuses on the men and women who craft metal into practical art. Through their own words, craft artists reveal what makes their work—and the lives they lead—unique. The concerns of preservationists are also addressed.