Facebook has become such an unavoidable force in our culture that the mere threat of being “unfriended” by a fellow user now carries the same stigma as a church member being shunned for breaking a commandment. The act of eliminating a relative or acquaintance from one’s list of “friends” is not undertaken lightly. The finality, alone, can be deeply traumatic. With that in mind, it’s worth knowing that Levan Gabriadze’s clever thriller, Unfriended, originally was titled “Cybernatural,” which isn’t nearly as to-the-point. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram represent different things to different people, especially teens trying to out-hip their computer-savvy parents. Beyond the hundreds of millions of cutesy-poo photographs of children, cats and dogs that clog social media are the occasional attacks on individuals deemed worthy of being harassed by pinhead bullies. And, as we’ve learned to our collective shame, with bullying comes the occasional suicide. If the chatroom and webcam users in Unfriended belong to a more generic Internet community than Facebook, there are more similarities here than differences. In it, a typical group of young computer-literate pals is interacting in a chatroom, when their conversation is interrupted by the supernatural presence of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), who committed suicide after being cyber-bullied. No one knows how or why their chat is being disrupted or who else might have something to gain from taunting the others. Before long, however, dark secrets are revealed and actual friendships are being pushed to the breaking point. But Unfriended isn’t for the casual users of the Internet. The multi-image presentation, which is extremely sophisticated, requires far more work on the part of the viewer than the typical narrative feature. The more experience one has in the world of cyber-communication, the scarier Unfriended will be.
The Water Diviner: Blu-ray
No fan of historically based movies needs to be reminded of the debates that typically follow the first screenings of films that dare play fast-and-loose with the facts. Typically, a very good story is capable of overcoming the negative effects of creative license, but not always. What solid narratives and good intentions can’t do, however, is make survivors of wartime tragedies ignore the reality of battles fought in vain. Neither can they appease viewers whose contrarian interpretations of historical events are dismissed as irrelevant to the story. Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner is precisely the kind of film that opened itself up to criticism for reasons other than its ability to entertain. As formulated by veteran Aussie television writer/producer Andrew Knight and scholar Andrew Anastasios, the movie basically picks up where Peter Weir’s 1981 Gallipoli ended, with the Ottoman defenders celebrating the retreat of Anzac troops after eight months of carnage. Flash back a bit to pre-war Australia, where hard-scrabble farmer Joshua Conner (Crowe) has divined the presence of water below the surface of an arid patch of unpromising land. The discovery allows Conner and his wife, Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie), to carve a successful living from an unlikely corner of the country, while raising three rough-and-tumble sons. When the lads hear the call of duty from war-torn Europe, they, in concert with thousands of other young Aussie and Kiwi males, volunteer to assist the Brits in eliminating Johnny Turk and his German friends from the equation. Their ill-advised mission was to take the beach at Gallipoli and advance on the ridges above, where the Ottomans could survey their every move. The Anzac troops fought valiantly, but, as we’re reminded in the movie by an enemy officer, would come up just short of victory. What they didn’t know was the defenders had been reduced to bayonets and had been ordered to die, rather than surrender or fall back from their trenches. One more thrust might have sealed the deal for the allies.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. When the smoke cleared at Lone Pine, all three of Connor and Eliza’s inseparable sons would be declared missing and presumed dead. In all, more than 10,000 in the Anzac units, 56,000-68,000 Turks and 43,000 British and French troops were slaughtered. Tens of thousands more men, on both sides, would succumb to disease. Back on the farm, four years later, Eliza dealt with her grief by committing suicide. Conner vowed to honor her wish that the boys’ remains be returned home to lie beside her on consecrated ground. He’s convinced himself that his skills as a diviner will be welcomed by the British forces attempting to find and identify the long-buried corpses, so they can be laid in a common grave. After the armistice, Turkish officers were required to join the effort by pointing out the exact positions where the fighting took place. It’s at this point where fact forms an uneasy alliance with fiction. In Anastasios’ research of the Imperial War Graves unit, he came upon this brief notation in a soldier’s diary, “One old chap managed to get here from Australia, looking for his son’s grave. We did what we could for him and sent him on his way.” Unable to trace the background of the “old chap,” the co-writers based Crowe’s farmer on a relative with a talent for divining. From there, they added a friendship based on mutual respect between Connor and the Turkish Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan) and, after he returns to Istanbul, a complicated relationship between a beautiful Turkish war widow, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), and her precocious pre-teen son. Connor’s friendship with the Turk officer leads to him joining Hasan in the burgeoning nationalist movement and adventures fighting Greek insurgents. An even more unlikely, if emotionally compelling scenario develops when Connor’s “visions” lead him to a Sufi monastery that once had served as POW facility. Sure, it sounds preposterous, but no more so than a hundred other wartime dramas we’ve all seen.
What the filmmakers failed to take into account, however, is historical context and the unfortunate timing of the U.S. and European release on April 24, 2015. Apart from insinuating that Greek guerrilla fighters are little more than a fictional hybrid of the Taliban and the James-Younger Gang – instead of longtime victims of Ottoman repression and brutality – there’s the omission of any mention of the Armenian Genocide. While it can be argued the systematic murder of 1.5 million people had next to nothing to do with Gallipoli – except for some Turks’ specious assertion that Armenians spied for the allies — there’s no ignoring the fact that the centennial of the failed invasion coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. By extension, it’s possible to believe that some of the same nationalist characters befriended by Connor participated in the slaughter. Worse, the arrival of The Water Diviner coincided, as well, with well-attended demonstrations across the country, marking that anniversary. Activists didn’t waste any time making the connection for anyone unaware of the significance of the date for Armenians, Australians and New Zealanders, alike, as well as those countries forced to fight for their independence from the Ottoman Empire. The Water Diviner was condemned for “whitewashing” Turkey’s role in this horrifying series of events, but I see it more as an oversight typical of a commercial imperative that doesn’t allow for details that get in the way of narrative flow. If only the histories of wars and genocide were sufficiently elastic to accommodate ignorance and lack of foresight. In its favor, The Water Diviner recently won three Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Erdogan) and Best Costume Design. It had received five additional nominations, for Best Lead Actor (Crowe), Best Supporting Actress (McKenzie), Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design and Best Editing. Featurettes include “The Making of ‘The Water Diviner’” and “The Battle of Gallipoli.”
House on the Hill
The first thing to know about Joram Lürsen’s claustrophobic Dutch thriller, Reckless, is that it is nearly a direct remake of the well-received 2009 British export, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, which was given a limited release in the U.S. before finding its natural audience on DVD. The second thing to know is that both are worth the effort of finding. Like J Blakeson’s original, Reckless describes what happens when the adult daughter of a rich industrialist is kidnapped and held for ransom in a sound-insulated room in a high-rise apartment whose only amenity is a new bed and mattress. Thrown on the bed and forcibly stripped naked, before being given new coveralls, Laura Temming (Sarah Chronis) is blindfolded, handcuffed to the frame and required to relieve herself in plastic bottles in her captors’ presence. It’s nasty, alright, but secrets lie behind the men’s ski masks that separate this kidnapping from the one chronicled recently in the not completely dissimilar Kidnapping Mr. Heineken and The Heineken Kidnapping.
By contrast, Jeff Frentzen’s directorial debut, House on the Hill, amounts to nothing more than a series of re-creations of kidnappings, robberies, rapes, mutilations and murders that were recorded in northern California in the early-1980s. Ex-Marines Leonard Lake and Charles Ng were responsible for the deaths of between 11 to 25 men, women and children in a non-descript cottage and unattached torture chamber in the Sierra Nevada foothills. While Lake was able to avoid prosecution by ingesting cyanide pills after being arrested on an unrelated charge, in 1985, Ng has remained on Death Row at San Quentin since 1999. Because House on the Hill offers little in the way of new information on this case or serial killers in general – except, perhaps, maddening video clips of Lake explaining his motivations – it is nothing more than torture porn in docu-drama disguise.
The Color Out of Space: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
First released in Europe in 2010, Huan Vu’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s popular 1927 short story, “The Color Out of Space” is finally being made available to sci-fi/horror enthusiasts here in Blu-ray/DVD. Previously interpreted as Die, Monster, Die! (1965) and The Curse (1987), the German-language The Color Out of Space benefits from being shot in ominous shades of black, white, gray and, finally, lavender. The story involves an American man’s search for his father, 30 years after he disappeared in the Swabian-Franconian Forest in immediate aftermath of World War II. Before the war, a meteorite had crashed near the remote farm of the Gärtener family. Scientists came and went, stymied by the rock’s ability to retain intense heat while also shrinking. No sooner was a specimen collected than it disappeared. The first manifestation of something weird occurring at the farm came in the form of larger-than-normal fruit – tasteless to the point of being inedible – and gigantic flying insects. Then, individual members of the Gärtener family began to go mad or decompose prematurely. With nothing left to study, the scientists disappeared, leaving behind a mystery and a legend that endured after the war and to the 1970s, when the flooding of the valley began behind the creation of a dam. It is at this point in the narrative that Jonathan Davis (Ingo Heise) begins gathering the clues that could lead to discovering the fate of his father (Patrick Pierce). Although only one of the locals is particularly interested in helping Jonathan, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. A possible answer blossoms before our eyes. The Blu-ray adds a variety of Lovecraft audiobooks, limited-edition newspaper reproduction, a “lost” scene” and three featurettes.
3 Hearts: Blu-ray
Among the more timeless properties in the Hollywood repertoire is Leo McCarey’s Love Affair, which, since its debut in 1939, has been translated in full or in part into McCarey’s own re-do, An Affair to Remember (1957), Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Glenn Gordon Caron’s Love Affair (1994), the Bollywood remake, Mann (1999), a pair of “Lux Radio Theater” broadcasts, with Irene Dunne, and last year’s melancholic French twist, 3 Hearts. In the Gallic version, director/co-writer Benoît Jacquot (Farewell, My Queen) adds a new player to the game, stretching the time-lapse romance to form a triangle. In a town outside Lyons, Marc (Benoît Poelvoorde) misses his train back to Paris, allowing a chance meeting with a fellow chain-smoker, Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). It’s one of those chance encounters we all wish would happen to us on a rainy night in a strange town. The next morning, Marc and Sylvie make plans to meet a week later at the Tuileries Gardens. Naturally, fate intervenes … this time in the form of an anxiety attack disguised as a stroke. Lacking the foresight to have exchanged e-mails, our star-crossed lovers miss what could be their last opportunity for eternal bliss. But, wait, there’s more. A couple of years later, Marc meets and falls in love with Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni), who, unbeknownst to him, is Sylvie’s needy sister. At this point in the story, it’s only logical to foresee an awkward reunion at Marc and Sophie’s nuptials, but Jacquot finds convenient ways to postpone the inevitable. Even then, Jacquot manages to keep us guessing, if not laughing. His ace in the hole is Catherine Deneuve, who, as usual, shines in the role of Sophie and Sylvie’s nurturing mother, adding something warm and wonderful to every scene in which she appears.
And, while we’re on the subject of star-crossed lovers, fans of rom/dram/coms might consider Justin Long and Emmy Rossum’s affair to remember in Comet. They meet while waiting in line for the gates of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to open in anticipation of a late-night viewing of a meteor shower. (It’s actually a popular spot for Angelenos to gather for open-air screenings of classic movies.) Long’s character, Sam, takes the opportunity to hit on Rossum’s Kimberley, even though she’s in the company of a hunky guy capable of snapping him in two with his thighs. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, Esmail flashes backwards and forward several times to show difficult it will be for Sam and Kimberley to maintain anything resembling a meaningful longterm relationship. The only problem that viewers familiar with Long and Rossum’s work are likely to have with Comet is a script that fails to add punctuation marks to Sam’s endless self-absorbed chatter. Otherwise, it’s cute enough to sustain the interest of romantically inclined renters.
Ghost Town: Blu-ray
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau: Blu-ray
Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXXIII
More an example of what can happen when genres collide than a movie that can stand on its own merits after a 25-year absence, Ghost Town begs the question as to how John Wayne might have fared in a horror movie directed by John Ford or Sergio Leone. This isn’t to suggest that the low-budget Empire Pictures production has anything in common with those giants than a southwestern setting, only that it made me wonder how they would have prevented the zombie apocalypse. Here, a beautiful blond bride (Catherine Hickland) avoids lifelong commitment by escaping into the desert in her convertible and disappearing into a cloud of dust. When hunky Deputy Sheriff Langley (Franc Luz) follows her tracks into the desert, he encounters a phantom horseman (Jimmie F. Skaggs) who lures him into a ghost town, populated by real ghosts. It’s an idea, like so many others, that would have fit more appropriately in an hour-long episode of “The Twilight Zone,” but, at 85 minutes, is stretched to its breaking point. Nonetheless, genre completists and Empire buffs should be able to find something here to justify their interest.
Not to be outdone by tales of the Himalayan Yeti, North American Sasquatch, Scotland’s Nessie and Mexican Chupacabra, Australia’s Aboriginals came up with a famously elusive cryptid of their own, naming it Yowie. It is this hairy beast that in Travis Bain’s Throwback attacks separate pairs of treasure hunters, a couple hundred years apart, when they drift into its densely forested habitat in far northern Queensland. And, as if Yowie weren’t a sufficiently ominous predator, the writer/director has added a park ranger named Rhiannon (Melanie Serafin) and a wild-eyed ex-homicide detective, McNab, played by action veteran Vernon Wells (The Road Warrior). Reportedly made on a budget of only $200,000, Throwback easily earns its Ozploitation stripes.
Richard Griffin, who’s given us such unforgettable horror films as Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead, Accidental Incest and The Disco Exorcist, enters the world of post-apocalyptic sci-fi with Future Justice. It is a movie that borrows from Escape From New York, The Chronicles of Riddick and a half-dozen cheapo exploitation flicks from the 1980s. Here, intergalactic super-villain Python Diamond is being transported to Earth from Saturn’s prison moon, Titan, under the watch of an inept quintet of police escorts. What the flight crew doesn’t learn until it’s too late is that Earth has been decimated by a cataclysmic nuclear war. Conveniently, not everyone on Earth has been killed. Their search for survivors leads to a group of scientists hiding in a warehouse and several gangs of marauding thugs, fully capable of wreaking havoc over the provisions contained in the bunker. Also troublesome is the faceless monster lurking in the shadows. It’s pretty goofy, but in a fun, bargain-basement, DIY sort of way. The DVD adds a commentary track and the short film, “Mutants of the Apocalypse.”
Once upon a time in Hollywood, an overoptimistic studio executive gave the green light to yet another adaptation of H.G. Wells’ visionary novel “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” which used vivisection as a launching pad for a condemnation of unchecked scientific experimentation and cruelty to animals. Advances in special makeup effects would allow for hybrid beasts more closely resembling those envisioned by Wells and the production wouldn’t be limited to a soundstage. In South African writer/director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil), New Line executives felt as if they had the right man in place to create a wildly imaginative picture and bring it in on budget, even with the participation of such notoriously difficult actors as Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer in tow. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Everything that could go wrong with the movie actually did go wrong, and it was going wrong half a world away from southern California. Released 20 years after the fact, David Gregory’s Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau makes Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse look like a behind-the-scenes featurette for HBO. The often inadvertently hilarious documentary features never-before-seen footage, new interviews with actors Fairuza Balk and Rob Morrow, studio executives, crew members and recollections of the famously reclusive and roundly vilified Stanley. Gregory also takes a film crew and survivor of the production to the location, which has nearly returned to its original rain-forest roots.
The latest compilation of cinematic atrocities from the annals of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” – numero XXXIII – is comprised of Daddy-O (1958), with future gangster auteur Dick Contino; Bert I. Gordon’s creature-feature Earth vs. the Spider (1958); the juvenile-delinquent non-epic Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955); and Agent for H.A.R.M., with the odd couple of Wendell Corey and international sex star Barbara Bouchet. Beyond the informed commentary of the Satellite of Love crew, the set includes the featurettes “Beatnick Blues: Investigating Daddy-O,” “This Movie Has Legs: Looking Back at ‘Earth vs. the Spider’,” “Film It Again, Sam: The Katzman Chronicles,” “Tommy Cook: From Jungle Boy to Teenage Jungle” and “Peter Mark Richman: In H.A.R.M.’s Way”; MST Hour Wraps; theatrical trailers; and four mini-posters by Steve Vance.
Aftermass: Bicycling in a Post-Critical Mass Portland
Built on Narrow Land
Our Daily Poison
Anyone familiar with the archetypal weirdos created by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein for their dead-on IFC satire, “Portlandia,” will recognize all of the people we meet in Aftermass: Bicycling in a Post-Critical Mass Portland, except the neo-fascist cops who equate riding bicycles to promoting Bolshevism. An exaggeration? Not according to the evidence presented in Joe Biel’s curious documentary, which chronicles the rise of “bicycle culture” from the early 1970s to the late 1990s and resistance to it by the right-wing police department. I remember visiting Portland during this period and enjoying the overriding sense of liberation and personal freedom I experienced there. The city reflected through Biel’s lens more closely resembles East Berlin or Warsaw, during the Cold War. “Aftermass” is described as being the first feature documentary to explore the events, people, politics and social changes that led to Portland becoming the first major bicycle city in the United States. It accomplishes this by putting a tight focus on the then-grassroots movement Critical Mass, whose membership does, indeed, resemble the characters in “Portlandia,” right down to a bike-riding mayor and annoying anarchists. The organization was the subject of illegal spying by the police Red Squad and citations registered against its members ranged from expensive traffic citations to busted heads and confiscated equipment. Once the number of dedicated bicyclists actually did reach critical mass, however, they were able to take control of the ballot box and force city officials – many of whom rode bicycles to work or for recreation – to stop kowtowing to the ridiculously powerful police hierarchy. Today, Portland is a bikers’ paradise, with hundreds of miles of paths and roadways dedicated to commuters and other enthusiasts. Bonus features include 21 additional short bicycle films, 18 deleted scenes, 1,000 legal documents to peruse and a downloadable soundtrack.
I doubt that many Americans would mind terribly if Cape Cod were to be cleared of its semi-permanent residents and their land was returned to its original inhabitants, the Wampanoag Indians. In exchange for helping the Pilgrims, whose arrival pre-dated that of the Kennedys by roughly 300 years, the Native American tribe was given a steady diet of small pox and other diseases, enslavement and expulsion, anti-colonial wars and crappy land deals. Today, it’s known primarily as a playground for the rich and famous and mecca for Jaws fanatics. Malachi Connolly’s debut documentary, Built on Narrow Land, is a film that looks at a moment in Cape Cod history when the spirit of European modern architecture inspired a group of bohemian designers — professionals and amateurs both–to build houses that married principles of the Bauhaus to the centuries-old local architecture of seaside New England. As long as eastern Cape Cod was largely free of tourists and developers, the homes existed as fully functional seasonal dwellings that confused Modernist ideas with those of trailer-park designers. Not all of the homes held up in the punishing Cape Cod winters, but others have supported tourism and semi-permanent residency until today. In 1961, President Kennedy signed legislation establishing the Cape Cod National Seashore, which gave National Park Service jurisdiction over the fate of the remaining landmark houses. Besides offering a fascinating discussion on the history and cultural importance of the homes, Connolly interviews relatives of the Bauhaus crowd, temporary residents of the homes and people who understand the politics and peccadilloes of Cape Code’s permanent residents. The musical score is provided by Josephine Wiggs, of the Breeders.
Released tentatively into theaters and festivals in 2007, Nice Bombs offers a slightly dated, but still relevant look at post-invasion Baghdad, this time through the eyes of men, women and children who lived through the violent overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the Baathist Party. Chicago-based filmmaker and newly naturalized American citizen Usama Alshaibi (Profane, American Arab) used the occasion of the newly elected government to return to Iraq with his father and American wife. The family had left the country after his educator father refused to join the Baathist party and his mother settled in Iowa. They had plenty of relatives left in the capital, so an open-arms welcome was guaranteed. What wasn’t known ahead of time was how they would be greeted by folks in the street, who, by now, had gotten tired of the continued American presence and resultant insurgency. Alshaibi borrowed the title from something his cousin said after hearing an explosion outside the home. “It’s a bomb. A ‘nice bomb,’” he enigmatically explains. In 2003, any bomb or missile that didn’t hit one’s own home could be considered to be a “nice bomb.” Not surprisingly, perhaps, the people we meet here are the ones caught between the occupation forces and the insurgents, who aren’t clearly identified. One relative complains that an American patrol wouldn’t allow him to return home, even though he was standing 30 meters from his front door. At the same time, Alshaibi also reminds us of the toll paid by innocent victims of the mosque and market bombings. We meet relatives, friends and American contractors, all of whom have weapons secreted in their homes, and children with firm opinions on who’s to blame for their continued misery. By the time Alshaibi has returned to Iraq’s border with Jordan, we’ve been introduced to enough perfectly hospitable, if completely disillusioned Iraqis to wince when an American border guard asks the filmmaker why the citizenry isn’t more appreciative of this country’s sacrifices and continuing occupation. (Someone was buying the Cheney-Bush propaganda, anyway.) The DVD adds several deleted scenes, three of Alshaibi’s shorts and commentary.
Our Daily Poison is a cautionary documentary about food sourcing that would be far more alarming if we hadn’t heard it all before now. Produced by the French investigative documentarian Marie-Monique Robin, it describes how several already notorious multinational agricultural interests have been allowed to “poison” the European food chain in the name of increased production and higher profits. To make her case, Robin points to World Health Organization data that shows the incidence of cancer in developed countries has doubled over the last 30 years, with the increase in leukemia and brain tumors in children up around 2 percent per year. Similar trends for neurological diseases, auto-immune disorders and reproduction dysfunctions have also been recorded. Robin has scoured the archives of the United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority, and talked her way into secret meetings, to show how little oversight is provided by the agencies assigned to regulate abusers of our trust. Indeed, she argues, some 100,000 chemical molecules have invaded our environment, primarily our food, since the end of the Second World War.
PBS: Life on the Reef: Blu-ray
Syfy: Helix: Season 2: Blu-ray
Justice League: Gods and Monsters: Blu-ray
Mama’s Family: Mama’s Favorites: Season 6
Currently playing on PBS affiliates, the Blu-ray iteration of “Life on the Reef” examines life on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef over the course of a year. Where previous documentaries have focused on environmental issues and sharks, the three hours allotted “Life on the Reef” allows for a comprehensive study of the ebb and flow of events that impact life on and around Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, a rigidly protected region east of Queensland. A year on the reef covers myriad reproduction cycles, migrations, meteorological events and prime scientific opportunities. Also covered are the impact of shipping routes on the reef, poaching and interaction between human residents and sea life. Not surprisingly, the Blu-ray presentation is consistently spectacular.
The Syfy series “Helix” lasted all of two seasons, which, in hindsight, is a year longer than most new shows are accorded, even on cable. A stylish hybrid of The Thing and any number of rampant-virus thrillers, it probably did well enough for first-timer Cameron Porsandeh to expect another assignment in the near future. Season One kept the CDC crew in “Thing” territory for all 13 episodes, so a thaw was in order. This time around, Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell) and his team travel to the mysterious and remote wooded island of St. Germain, where a deadly new virus presents a different sort of threat, as do members of a well-entrenched religious community. When Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) travels to the same island, she is captured by a stranger who repeatedly asks her, “Do you know the way to San Jose?” Later it is revealed that Julia is on St. Germain 30 years in the future, and she is shown Farragut’s grave near the ruins of the base. The Blu-ray adds several deleted scenes and outtakes.
Released as a direct-to-video and digital-download project from Warner Home Video, Justice League: Gods and Monsters is an animated superhero film that appears to have been influenced greatly by the popularity of DC Comics’ occasional Bizarro World storylines. Here, though, Superman is the son of Zod, not Jor-El; Batman is Kirk Langstrom, a genetically altered vampire-like creature with super strength and a thirst for blood; Wonder Woman is scorned Princess Bekka, granddaughter of New God Highfather; and the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter are nowhere to be found. Justice League fans should appreciate the break from form and bright animation.
The new Star Vista/Time collection, “Mama’s Family: Mama’s Favorites: Season 6,” includes such episodes such as “Mama Fights Back,” as she chews out K-Ray radio’s consumer watchdog on the air and promptly gets hired as his replacement. In “The Big Nap,” after watching TV detective movies for a week, Mama dreams she’s a film-noir private eye. In “Pinup Mama,” Bubba creates a flier for a senior mixer using a photo of mama’s head on a young model’s bikini-clad body. In the series finale, “Bye Bye Baby,” Vint and Naomi move from Mama’s basement with their new addition.
Sleazy Stags, American Style
The difference between a stag film and a loop, as pertains to the underground porn industry pre-“Deep Throat,” was largely a function of exhibition opportunities. Generally speaking, loops were single-reel productions that could be appreciated by patrons of adult bookstores and peep shows on a pay-per-minute basis, one movie per booth. Once they were purchased under-the-counter or through mail-order sources, the films could be shown on 8mm projectors – typically reserved for home movies of the period – or commercial 16mm machines at “smokers,” stag and bachelor parties, garages and basements. By the 1970s, the “stags” no longer featured men in masks giving lonely women what they wanted sexually, but dared not admit desiring. Male actors no longer kept their socks on during sex, although garter belts and stocking were optional for women. With the advent of home-video players and late-night “skinemax” offerings on cable TV, the stags and loops became obsolete and were discarded, put into storage or lost. Sleazy Stags, American Style, from After Hours Cinema, contains more than three hours of these films – which make the Bettie Page fetish flicks look like Boogie Nights — many available for the first time on home video. They’ve been restored as well as possible, but are of mostly historical interest to collectors. There aren’t as many still-familiar actors anonymously participating in these films, either, as has been the case with loop collections from Impulse Pictures. Still, the mostly generic faces of hippies in need of fast cash weren’t the drawing card, anyway. The trailer reel is almost as good as the stags, themselves.