The Croods: Blu-ray
Ahead of the release of DreamWorks’ prehistoric comedy “The Croods,” executives at the animation division were said to be staring into the void of possible bankruptcy. Production costs had reached the stratosphere and the domestic market for 2D and 3D features was being sliced far too thin to ensure profits for one-off projects. It would be easy to blame the doldrums on the glut of new family-oriented features, sequels and DVD originals. But, it’s also true that consumer resistance to advances in display platforms has limited, for the time being, at least, the financial upside of Blu-ray 2D/3D. DVD presented such a clear and affordable alternative to VHS that it literally exploded onto the marketplace. As long as top-end flat-screen and HDTV hardware remains prohibitively expensive for the mass audience that embraced CDs and DVD – technologies that don’t suffer from prolonged use – even more costly 3D-ready sets and software are going to lag behind the curve. It’s caused something resembling gridlock in both the consumer-electronics industry and the business of projecting revenues for feature films, however worthy, into their post-theatrical afterlife. The estimated production budget for “The Croods” was $135 million, meaning it would cost anywhere between $20-50 million to market. That’s a lot of weight to put on the back of a franchise waiting to happen. Conveniently, as has been demonstrated repeatedly in the action/fantasy/superhero marketplace, audiences around the world would ride to rescue of DreamWorks, pushing the total box-office take from $187 million in domestic revenues to a far more attractive $585 million overseas. By comparison, DreamWorks’ even more expensive “Rise of the Guardians” could only muster $103.4 million at the domestic box office and another $200 million overseas. The seemingly rock-solid “Panda 2” brought in only $15 million more than its estimated $150 million production cost here, while adding a whopping $500 million worldwide. Given the diminishing clout of mainstream critics, it’s impossible to ascertain with any degree of accuracy how much the middling reviews for “Guardians” worked against it and how the excellent notices for “Croods” and “Panda 2” might have impacted their revenues. None of this would matter to rank-and-file ticket-buyers, if it weren’t also true that international sales now can determine the fate of a franchise. “Croods 2” and a possible TV series already are in the works, as are “Panda 3,” two “How to Train Your Dragon” sequels and a “Madagascar” spinoff, in addition to the usual array of video games and DVD-original to follow in their wake. Don’t expect any sequels to “Guardians” and its literary cousin, “Epic,” in the near- to mid-future.
What counts here, however, is what makes it to the screen and, in that regard, “Croods” deserves to prosper in the after-market. If a genealogist were to trace the Flintstone family’s DNA, it probably would lead him back to the Croods. When we meet them, their existence as the last cave-dwelling clan is being threatened by natural disasters, giant critters and Dad’s isolationism. While Grug (Nicolas Cage) would prefer to wait out the various storms, daughter Eep (Emma Stone) is anxious to discover a land more suitable to their growth as a family. To do so, she intends to follow a light shining in the far distance. Eep runs into a like-minded and extremely clever caveboy, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), but her father, Grug, drags her pack home. A devastating earthquake forces the family to seek greener pastures and Grug admits that Guy is the right guy to help them get there. Along the way, the Croods find other endangered clans and creatures of both the predatory and helpful persuasion. The landscapes reflect the trajectory of the Croods’ progress – the backdrops in the early scenes were inspired by Utah’s Zion National Park — while the slapstick comedy and humorous dialogue carry the rest of the load. Other voice actors include Cloris Leachman, as Gran; Catherine Keener, as mom Ugga; and Clark Duke, as son Thunk. The Blu-ray 2D/3D packages add “The Croodaceous Creatures of Croods!”; “Be an Artist!”; “The Croods” coloring and storybook-builder app; “Belt’s Cave Journal,” in which Guy and his pet sloth rescue a Jackrobat; and music videos from other DreamWorks Animation feature films. – Gary Dretzka
The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition: Blu-ray 2D/Blu-ray 3D/ DVD
The Wizard of Oz: 75th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray 2D/Blu-ray 3D/UltraViolet
No matter how many times “The Little Mermaid” and “The Wizard of Oz” are re-released into new formats, with more freshly discovered memorabilia, the fact remains that they continue define the mangled term, “family entertainment.” As long as parents, grandparents and kids sit down together to watch a movie, that will never change. What’s curious, though, is the inclination of some fans, at least, to purchase a title of which they already own several copies. (My weaknesses include “The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Chinatown”). I think it’s because we’re desperately attempting to re-create the ultimate theatrical experience in our own home. Alas, unless one’s home theater is the size of Rockefeller Center or Mann’s Chinese, or you have access to a studio screening room, that simply isn’t going to happen. Even lousy pictures look better on the large screen and on projected 35mm film, after all, and “The Little Mermaid” and “The Wizard of Oz” will never be mistaken for anything less than brilliant. It’s interesting that so many major titles are being sent out now in HD3D editions, instead of waiting for a critical mass to be achieved. As long as the expense associated with such a purchase – special glasses, playback equipment and cables – remains prohibitive, too many Blu-ray 3D discs will go unplayed. Consumers are likely to be even more resistant to the “Ultra HD” television format – forwarded at January’s Consumer Electronics Show – which promises resolution four times greater than is currently available in HD sets. Talk about sticker shock, LG just announced that it would introduce two “less-expensive” versions of its Ultra TVs in time for holiday sales: a 55-inch set for $3,499 and a 65-inch TV for $4,999 (additional 3D equipment not included).
By all of the usual consumer standards, “The Little Mermaid” and “The Wizard of Oz” have benefitted from every new tech upgrade, especially Blu-ray up. Because neither movie was made with 3D in mind, not even the Blu-ray 3D can attain perfection … close, but no cigar. There’s other, less obvious evidence of the format’s potential, though. In its infinite wisdom, the MPAA ratings board recently decided to revise the “G” given “The Wizard of Oz,” in one of its theatrical re-releases, to PG13 for last month’s special IMAX/3D showings. This begs such questions as: are the flying monkeys and wicked witches that much scarier in 3D, or did they find something offensive that’s only visible in the large-screen, high-resolution presentation? The most likely explanation is that a previous MPAA panel simply gave MGM the same pass it’s given to Disney, with potentially traumatic “Bambi” and other cherished children’s movies with terrifying moments.
If you already own a HDTV capable of showing 3D, there’s really no good reason not to purchase the 3D versions of these and other pictures. It adds something different to the experience and, if you’re still not impressed, the Blu-ray 2D copy is included in the same package. In addition to the basic double-disc set, a five-disc “75th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” also is newly available. It offers both Blu-ray formats, DVD and UltraViolet versions of “The Wizard of Oz,”; “The Making of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,’” with contributions from historians John Fricke and Sam Wasson, composers Stephen Schwartz and Marc Shaiman, critics Leonard Maltin, Michael Sragow and Bert Lahr’s son, John; revealing interview clips with Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Buddy Ebsen, Margaret Hamilton and Mervyn LeRoy; such memorabilia as a 75th-anniversary journal, a Ruby Slippers water globe, a 3-piece Noble Collection enamel pin set, a map of Oz, and a 48-page hardcover book; and all previously released bonus content.
The impact of “The Little Mermaid” on all-things-Disney already has been well chronicled. Under the supervision of Jeffrey Katzenberg, the studio’s moribund animation department got a huge lift from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which, in 1988, combined live action and animation to create a movie that arguably was enjoyed more by adults than children. A year later, the studio re-embraced the tradition of adapting classic fairy tales for kiddie audiences, without completely diluting their scarier and more cautionary moments. The idea of animating Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” wasn’t new. Disney illustrators had begun work on “Silly Symphony” take on the tale in the late 1930s, before it was shelved for another Andersen story “The Ugly Duckling.” A half-century later, sketches made by Kay Nielsen inspired animators on Katzenberg’s project. Among other things, “The Littlest Mermaid” would represent the last Disney animated feature to use hand-painted cels and an analog camera and film. Although it doesn’t distract viewers, I think that the traditional technique is easy to discern in Blu-ray. In addition to seven previously shown bonus features, the Blu-ray adds “@DisneyAnimation,” with directors John Musker and Ron Clements, as well as old- and new-school animators who discuss their inspirations, motivations and early forays into animation; “Under the Scene,” explains how animators benefit from observing real-world elements, actors and reference footage; “Howard’s Lecture,” a profile of the late Howard Ashman, a writer and lyricist who died in 1991 of complications from AIDS; an introduction to deleted character, Harold the Merman; “Part of Her World,” during which Ariel’s voice actor, Jodi Benson, takes her children to Walt Disney World and Ariel’s Grotto in New Fantasyland; a “Crab-E-Oke Sing Along”; a music video in which Carly Rae Jepsen performs “Part of Your World.” – Gary Dretzka
Gift Guide preview: Any of the aforementioned packages easily qualify as being “giftable,” if such a word exists. I’ll be wrapping up the season’s best boxed-set titles in separate columns, between now and whichever holiday it is your family celebrates. Warner Home Video has already unleashed “The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition” and, next week, releases the 40th anniversary of “The Exorcist,” both in Blu-ray. From Star Vista/Time Life comes, for the first in DVD, “Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection.”
The Big Parade: Blu-ray
In the movies, declarations of war have generally been greeted with palpable waves of patriotism, to be promptly followed by sad farewells to concerned family members and girlfriends who promise to remain faithful for as long the fighting continues. Like the recruits we’ve been encouraged to ignore the fact that some, if not most of these rifle-toting volunteers might come home in a box. Shit happens, we know that much, at least. After we watch the soldiers march off the screen, we’re usually taken to a barracks, where the bonding process begins, and rigorous training camps. It was until Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” that we were introduced to process through which boys are turned into men and men are turned into “killers.” Privates Will Stockdale and Gomer Pyle were nowhere to be found in “Full Metal Jacket” and wounds were limited by the primitive special makeup effects of the 1950s. Combatants on both sides died in war movies past, but far less graphically than in Steve Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.” Studio executives, newspaper editors and Pentagon censors simply wouldn’t allow the Americans who cheered their boys off to war see the results of their flag-waving, even if those conflagrations sometimes were justifiable. The popular success of “Saving Private Ryan” hasn’t lessened the Pentagon’s desire to keep the less glamorous aspects of combat from American eyes. It wasn’t until February, 2009, after all, that the government’s ban on taking pictures of flag-draped coffins in a hangar at the Dover Air Force base was lifted. Many photographs taken in 20th- and 21st-Century war zones can only be found in the National Archives and Library of Congress, if at all. The impact of Mathew Brady’s horrific photographs of soldiers killed at the Battle of Antietam wasn’t lost on image-conscious military leaders.
Way back in 1925, King Vidor made a movie that left no doubt as to the terrible things men do to each other in war, especially the unprecedented butchery experienced by soldiers on both sides of the trenches during World War I. Just as Brady’s photojournalism drew crowds, when it was exhibited in New York, Vidor’s “The Big Parade” would become the most profitable silent movie ever made. Gross receipts are estimated to be $22 million, against a production budget of $382,000. In New York, it ran for more than a year in one theater. Its success would allow Lewis Milestone the luxury of a $1.25-million budget for “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930) and possibly inspire Kubrick to make “Paths of Glory” (1957), which addresses the futility of war and complicity of misguided officers and strategists in the deaths of anonymous soldiers.
“The Big Parade” opens with the announcement of the U.S.’s long-delayed entrance into the European war and displays of patriotism that followed it. John Gilbert plays a wealthy lay-about who uncharacteristically volunteers to join New York’s Rainbow Division. Among Jim Apperson’s fellow doughboys are a gangly iron worker, Slim Jenkins (Karl Dane), and a stout bartender, “Bull” O’Hara (Tom O’Brien). Once in Europe, they spend a lot of time performing such mundane tasks a digging holes, shoveling manure and doing their own laundry in a creek. Even though Jim had a girl waiting for him back home, he becomes enchanted with a French commoner, Melisande (Renee Adoree). She lives in a village that will change hands four times during the course of the war. The doughboys’ introduction to combat arrives when a German biplane sneaks up on a long column of Americans, almost blithely marching along a French road to the front. As the bullets rained down on the soldiers from above, German machine-gunners targeted them from their flank. It was a cruel awakening, but things would get much worse in the trenches. The absurdity of war would play out before Jim, Slim and Bull’s eyes, claiming one of the men’s lives and leaving another with an empty pants leg. (The combat scenes were directed by George W. Hill). Although a bona-fide hero, Jim would be stunned upon his return home by the reaction of his family and wife-to-be. Vidor gave audiences a positive ending, but the scenes of carnage were far more difficult to erase. The excellently restored Blu-ray edition adds learned commentary by historian Jeffrey Vance, with excerpts from an archived interview with Vidor; the promotional “1925 Studio Tour”; the documentary, “The Men Who Made the Movies: King Vidor” and 64-page “digibook,” containing notes by historian Kevin Brownlow, original art, photos and advertising materials. – Gary Dretzka
Going Underground: Paul McCartney, the Beatles and the UK Counterculture
Put the name of a Beatle on the cover of a DVD and you’re sure to capture someone’s attention. In this case, it’s “the cute one” whose name provides the operative words in the title, “Going Underground: Paul McCartney, the Beatles and the UK Counterculture.” Here, anyway, the devise is legitimate, as even dyed-in-the-wool Beatlemaniacs will discover interesting new things about their fave. I won’t pretend that most people under the age of, say, 40, are as interested in the 1960s as their Boomer parents, a handful of musicians and the few journalists whose memories stretch back that far. McCartney, though, is still alive and kicking out the jams.The MVD release explores a period of pop-cultural history that’s been eclipsed by equivalent movements in the U.S. and the sheer volume of music, movies, hair styles and other trendy stuff that’s found its way to these shores in the various British invasions. At approximately the same time as the Beatles and Rolling Stones were solidifying their hold on international audiences, less identifiable Brits were laying the foundation for a youthquake that could be measured on a Richter scale. This documentary argues that it can be traced to an underground publication, the International Times. The bi-weekly paper was produced in the basement of the Indica Bookshop, which had become a landmark destination for the “Swingin’ London” crowd, along with the UFO Club. Similar things were beginning to happen in the United States, so coverage of the underground scene in London was not a priority for American journalists. It’s possible, if not entirely probably that Jan Wenner was influenced by the IT while preparing the launch of Rolling Stone magazine. Most of the people interviewed in “Going Underground” are associated with the IT, Indica or UFO, in one way or another, and can still recall how things looked from a more radical point of view than could be found at a recording studio.
McCartney became an early backer of the Indica Bookshop and Indica Gallery. They were introduced to him by Peter Asher, the brother of his “bird,” Jane Asher, who hadn’t grown up in Liverpool and was more tuned in to the London cultural scene. Through other people there, Paul was invited to sample the library of audio effects and sonic experimentation at the BBC. McCartney and producer George Martin would incorporate things they heard there into the albums most fans interpreted as being solely inspired by LSD trips and Moroccan hashish. Meanwhile, at the UFO Club such then-underground groups as Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, AMM, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Procol Harum and the Move were sharing ideas and performing. In addition to the many first-person sources, “Going Underground” is informed by more than the usual number of music videos, movie clips and other archival material. Anyone who aspires to being a musicologist or is a diehard Beatles fans owes it to themselves to check out this DVD. – Gary Dretzka
100 Bloody Acres
Fright Night 2: New Blood: Blu-ray
House of Wax 3D: Blu-ray
The Amityville Horror Trilogy: Blu-ray 2D/3D
Eyes of the Woods
Strange things happen in rural Australia, day and night, from the Outback to Bondi Beach. That much, at least, is obvious from the growing number of no-holds-barred genre titles from Down Under. Like the Ozploitation flicks of yore, today’s horror and slasher titles take advantage of the great distances that separate civilization from the Wild West. People get killed in ways that practically defy description and the perpetrators may be gun-crazier than their criminal brethren in the U.S. The Cairnes brothers’ alternately stomach-churning and hilarious “100 Bloody Acres” probably could have been set in Appalachia or Bayou Country, but somehow it wouldn’t have the same hair-raising effect. Siblings Reg and Lindsay Morgan run an organic fertilizer business on the edge of the wilderness. It’s doing very well, even though the brothers’ radio commercials sound as if they’re audio outtakes from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” There’s a secret ingredient that makes the Morgan Brothers’ Blood and Bone fertilizer so much better than anyone else’s product and, if you haven’t already guessed what that ingredient is, you need to watch more horror movies. As such, “100 Bloody Acres” is not the right place to begin an exploration of contemporary fright films. Younger brother, Reg (Damon Herriman, of “Justified”), scours the Adelaide countryside for roadkill, including kangaroos and deceased motorists. Before the bodies get really ripe, Reg hands them over to his brother, Lindsay (Angus Sampson), who resembles a sociopathic Mennonite. The corpses are hung from a pulley, drained of blood, lowered into a grinder and mixed with manure or whatever else goes into fertilizer these days. With roadkill at a premium lately, Reg decides to add a fresh-killed flavor to the product by picking up three young adults, stranded along his route. Let’s just say that his plan goes wildly haywire and the Morgans are required to take extreme – extremer? – measures to keep their formula secret. You can tell from the interviews with cast, crew and the Cairnes that everyone had a jolly good time making “100 Bloody Acres.” Of course, they were in on the gags from the get-go. Amateurs may want to watch the revealing making-of featurette before leaping headfirst into the gore.
To synopsize: if you’ve already seen the 1985 and 1988 editions of “Fright Night” and “Fright Night 2,” you pretty much know what’s going to transpire in both the 2011 remake and its 2013 straight-to-video sequel. The 1985 version and its 2011 reiteration received excellent reviews, where the sequels were completely trashed. Only the original made enough money to justify its existence. Among the actors who didn’t make the trip from “Fright Night” to “Fright Night 2: New Blood” are Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Toni Collette, David Collette, Imogen Poots, David Tennant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Sandra Vergara and Chris Sarandon, who wisely decided to skip both sequels. Another red flag was raised when DreamWorks and Disney, like Columbia in the mid-’80s, took a pass on producing and distributing “New Blood,” as did director Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) and writer Marti Noxon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). The sequel’s director Eduardo Rodriguez (“Stash House”) and writer Matt Venne (“White Night: The Light”) someday may be ready for prime time, but not yet. In their sequel, a group of high school students travel to Romania for immersive studies. One of their teachers, Gerri Dandridge, is possessed of a sexual aura that is downright supernatural. She cuts Charlie, Amy and “Evil Ed” — recurring characters from the original “Fright Night” — from the herd of American students. Gerri, as played by super-hot Jamie Murray (“Dexter”), is modeled after the real-life Elizabeth Bathory, a 17th Century Hungarian countess who drained the blood of virgins and bathed in it. Unlike the Cairnes’ deployment of body fluids, the ritual gives here eternal youth and beauty. It’s up to Charlie and Ed to save Amy from such a depressing demise. The process is the one aspect of the movie that Rodriguez, Venne and production designer Serban Porupca gets right. The Blu-ray adds some interviews, webisodes and commentary.
Those fans of horror movies born after Vincent Price’s death, in 1993, should know that the edition of “House of Wax” now popping up on video-store shelves shouldn’t be mistaken for the 2005 remake, starring Paris Hilton. For one thing, the 1953 version was shown in 3D of the cardboard-glasses variety. Because of this, Price’s presence wasn’t the primary reason horror fans might have had for standing in line to see the movie. That association would come later in his career. Hilton’s appearance, alone, might have pushed the 2005 remake past the $50 million barrier in worldwide revenues. In fact, the 1953 “House of Wax” was itself a remake of Michael Curtiz’ similarly creepy 2D version of “Mystery of the Wax Museum,” released in 1933. Here, Price plays a sculptor, Professor Henry Jarrod, whose passion is creating tableaux of famous historical figures and events out of mannequins and wax. Just as he’s about to become famous for his work, the sculptor learns of his partner’s scheme to burn down the exhibit to collect insurance money. When, sometime later, Jarrod partially recovers from his burns and rebuilds the exhibit, his new characters look even more eerily real than before the blaze. There’s a very good explanation for the verisimilitude of the wax figures, but why spoil the fun? The “60th Anniversary Edition” contains 3D and 2D presentations minted from a 4K scan and restoration; a fascinating discussion of the movie’s place in horror history, led by Martin Scorsese; and the original 1933 film, “Mystery of the Wax Museum.” It might have been fun if a third disc was included in the package, with an anamorphic presentation of “House of Wax,” complete with cheapo stereoscopic glasses. As it is, viewers looking to enjoy the full 3D experience are required to own all of the expensive gizmos necessary to do it right. Perhaps it’s worth noting here that director Andre De Toth was blind in one eye and unable to see in three dimensions.
The same caveat applies to “Amityville 3D,” which is included in Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray collection, “The Amityville Horror Trilogy,” with “The Amityville Horror” and “Amityville II: The Possession.” There are seven other “Amityville” titles extant, but these three are the only ones that count. The documentary, “My Amityville Horror,” with family member Daniel Lutz, adds yet another perspective to the story about a family that moves into a haunted house on Long Island, but is too stupid to abandon until it’s too late. The first installment of the trilogy includes commentary by parapsychologist Hans Holzer; retrospective interviews with James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Oscar-nominated composer Lalo Schifrin. “The Possession” adds interviews with director Damiano Damiani, Tommy Lee Wallace, Rutanya Alda, Diane Franklin, Andrew Prine and Dr. Holzer’s daughter, Alexandra. The 3D installment adds an interview with star Candy Clark.
Made in Alberta and comprised of cast and crew members who failed to make the cut on “Amateur Night in Dixie,” “The Corrupted” feels very much like a film-school exercise in approximating terror while avoiding accidental comedy. At 76 minutes, it seems likely that co-writer/directors John Klappstein and Knighten Richman either ran out of money or ideas before something fresh and interesting came to mind. As it is, “The Corrupted” spends a weekend with a yet another group of college-age students, who apparently haven’t spent their leisure hours watching danger-in-the-woods flicks. All of the clichés show up sooner or later, including a buffoonish ranger who urges them to look out for a bear with botulism. I imagine that the filmmakers will do a better job in their sophomore effort.
And, speaking of teenagers trapped in the forest, there’s the not completely irredeemable, “Eyes of the Woods” (no relation to “The Woods Have Eyes”). The movie opens in bygone days, when pilgrims and other religious fanatics imagined Satan lurking behind every outhouse. One of the possessed pilgrims cuts a deal with the devil, allowing him time to avenge the death of his daughter. The bad news is that he’s required to live in the woods, by himself, for hundreds of years, scaring the crap out of kids with his grotesque new costume. God forbid, if a pair of young lovers does the nasty within the monster’s vicinity, because they’re going to pay the ultimate price for their lust. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen in dozens of other genre specimens. In a real rarity, none of the people credited with directing, writing and starring in “Eyes of the Woods” has more than one credit on IMDB.com. – Gary Dretzka
This excruciating indie drama, starring writer/director Leland Orser and his wife, Jeanne Tripplehorn, deals with the worst thing that can happen to parents and its immediate aftermath. The first time we meet Alice and Mark in “Morning,” they’re engaged in something approximating an act of love. In a few seconds, it will more closely resemble an act of war. In fact, neither of them is capable of doing anything more than grieve the recent loss of someone extremely close to them. When Mark attempts to go to work, Alice demands that he stick around and wallow in the muck of her despair. Mark doesn’t get much further than a block away from their house before he freezes up behind the wheel and begins to stare into the void. Alice pulls up alongside of him, but continues on to the school where she normally would drop off her 5-year-old son. Another mother attempts to comfort the delusional woman, but all she wants to do is check into a hotel and act as if everyone within 20 feet of her deserves to share her pain. Back at home, Mark begins tearing up the house and slowly regressing into a child-like state. Without bothering to explain why his protagonists are acting so insane, Orser seems to think we’ll commiserate with them and wait patiently as they attempt to come to grips with the situation. That, I think, is too much to ask of an audience, without also giving it something tangible to keep us interested. If Laura Linney and Elliott Gould hadn’t shown up in the second half of the movie, there wouldn’t be a single reason to recommend “Morning.” They provide Alice with a distraction that could either provide her with an escape hatch or send her to a loony bin. Mark will prove to be a tougher nut to crack. Orser’s film has been sitting on a shelf for three years, awaiting a distribution deal. There isn’t anything wrong with his or Tripplehorn’s acting, but, until the very end of “Morning,” this a movie only a masochist could love. – Gary Dretzka
The Trade Off: The Uncut Version
You know that you’re getting old when you have to refer to the Urban Slang dictionary to understand what a movie’s title might mean. Unbeknownst to me, there is a 2004 song by Usher and Alicia Keys titled “My Boo,” as well as a 1996 pop hit by Ghost Town DJ’s, in which the term is used as a term of endearment. At Urban Slang, there’s an entirely different meaning and it describes a specific region of a woman’s body. No matter, “my boo” has almost nothing to do with anything in the movie and, anyway, the movie can’t be found on IMDB.com, so it may not actually exist. Ashlee McLemore and Revon Yousif star in the urban thriller about a stalker, Fred, and his longtime heartthrob, Lisa. In a cruel twist of fate, Fred moves into an apartment across the hall from Lisa, thus rekindling feelings held dormant since high school. At first, he finds ways to be in the same place as Lisa and, then, he plants hidden cameras and listening devices in her pad. Once Fred’s ingratiated himself into her circle, he feels as if he’s only one short step away from a lasting relationship. Trouble is, there are other guys in her circle who more closely fit the description of a boyfriend. Fred’s more of a companion and confidante type guy. Being overprotective of his wannabe girlfriend, the young man pulls on his hoodie and attacks the competition. Her friends’ pain opens the door for Fred, who feigns sympathy for everyone in the circle. Her awakening process leads to scary showdown.
Writer/director Sean Weathers reportedly left $200,000 on the table, just so he could star in a picture he also intended to write and direct. The potential backers wanted an actor with a higher profile than the creator of such micro-budgeted films as “Hookers in Revolt” and “House of the Damned.” Based on what I’ve seen in the uncut version of “The Trade Off,” I don’t think Weathers made the right decision. Orson Wells, he’s not. It’s likely the backers would have asked him to tone down the soft-core sex that Weathers’ character, Arthur, engages in whenever possible with women other than his wife. As long as he’s working, Arthur can act the player. Once he loses his job and source of personal entitlement, however, the sex addict finds ways to drag his friends into the hole in which he’d thrown himself. It isn’t a pretty picture, but ego trips really are. – Gary Dretzka
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec: Director’s Cut: BluRay
These two pictures share one thing, at least, and it isn’t the quality of the productions. In “Treasure Guards,” Anna Friel plays a fearless archaeologist on the trail of the legendary and, perhaps mythical, Seal of Solomon. During an excavation in the remote Jordanian desert, Victoria Carter discovers a degrading parchment, buried in the ruins of an ancient temple. She doesn’t dare assume the writing holds the key to the ring’s hiding place, but gets an idea of how valuable the parchment is when it’s stolen by a friend, who’s in league with her famous archaeologist father. She finds an allies in a Vatican guard (Raoul Bova) and his reckless brother (Volker Bruch). Pretty soon, all sorts of bad guys come out of the woodwork to kill Victoria, with bullets, wasps and snakes. None of this stands up to close scrutiny, but folks freakishly attracted to female archeologists might get a kick out of it. If it weren’t for a gratuitous topless scene early on, “Treasure Guards” probably could pass for PG-13.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about the PG version of Luc Besson’s “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec,” a highly entertaining adventure in which another intrepid woman (Louise Bourgoin) ventures into an ancient tomb to find something valuable. At the time, I wondered what happened to approximately two minutes of footage that could be found at Mr. Skin but not in the Shout!Factory edition. I was assured by a publicist that the excised material would soon see the light of day in a director’s-cut edition. As is revealed in the newly released Blu-ray, the hubbub involves a scene in which Adele Blanc-Sec disrobes in front of the mummy she’s smuggled out of Egypt. A minute later, she enjoys a smoke in a bathtub, whose water and suds don’t quite cover her nipples. Frankly, I can’t imagine what her breasts have to do with the story of a giant pterodactyl flying loose over Paris, but they’re a welcome sight anyway. The fun comes when Adele re-animates a mummy of a physician, who, she believes, could cure her sister’s paralysis. It’s a lot of fun and easy on the eyes in Blu-ray. – Gary Dretzka
Bob and the Monster: Blu-ray
Tupac Double Feature: Conspiracy/Aftermath
It’s often said about addiction that junkies can’t be cured until they’ve run out of money and friends, and they’ve finally grown tired of bouncing their sore asses along rock bottom. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule, but “Bob and the Monster” isn’t about those people. When he was the frontman for the L.A.-based post-punk band, Thelonious Monster, Bob Forrest was the first pick in every rock-’n’-roll death pool. Blessed with a natural feel for interesting lyrics, as well as solid vocal pipes, Forrest was an unrepentant junkie and self-destructive artist. Until he began his inevitable slide to rock bottom, Forrest was an active participant in and much admired member of Hollywood’s bustling recording and club scene. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, heroin was the drug of choice for scene makers and musicians, and he partied hardier than most of them. In Keirda Bahruth’s compelling documentary, it’s possible to witness Forrest’s determined rise, dramatic collapse and inspirational resurrection as a widely respected addiction counselor, especially in the SoCal creative community. His rise and fall are chronicled in “Bob and the Monster” through archival concert footage, personal accounts and home videos. Bahruth was able to document his return to sobriety as it happened. To this end, she found willing witnesses in Courtney Love, Flea and Anthony Kedis from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, as well as members of Fishbone, Jane’s Addiction and Thelonious Monster. To keep things fresh, Bahruth alternated clips and interviews, with strategically placed collages, quote blocks, voiceovers and stop-motion animation. The Blu-ray adds a pair of commentary tracks and a featurette on the Claymation process.
Among the notorious crimes that may never be solved is the murder of hip-hop star Tupac Shakur, 17 months ago last month, in Las Vegas. There are plenty of theories as to the events that led up to the assassination, identities of the people who pulled the triggers and name of someone sufficiently powerful to have ordered the death of such a valuable commodity. “Tupac: Conspiracy” adds even more speculation to the mystery. Much of the testimony is delivered by former bodyguards Frank Alexander and Michael Moore, both of whom are dead. Above anything else, the film asks why the investigation of the murder has stalled and has all but been abandoned. The Las Vegas police have yet to interview several key witnesses shown here. One reason, of course, is because so many people have a vested interest in the truth not coming out, from label boss Suge Knight and the many police officers who were hired as bodyguards that night. The code of silence also impacts on the lack of progress. A second disc, “Tupac: Aftermath” repeats much of the information in the first DVD, while also digging a bit deeper in the man’s legend. – Gary Dretzka
200 Pounds Beauty
South Korea has become a world leader in producing superlative crime dramas and supernatural thrillers. Comedies, though, not so much. We’re told that “200 Pounds Beauty” not only is the country’s top-grossing comedy, but it also captured Best Film, Director, and Actress honors at Korea’s prestigious Grand Bell Awards. While I can see its populist appeal, “200 Pounds Beauty” reminds of something Tyler Perry, Eddie Murphy or Martin Lawrence might have produced for the cheap-laughs crowd. That’s primarily because of the fat suit star Kim Ah-jung is required to wear throughout most of the first half of the movie. In this variation of the “Ugly Duckling” fairy tale, a grossly overweight young woman is paid to remain backstage and provide the singing voice for the main attraction, who lip-synchs to the screams of her adoring public. In an awkward plot device, Kang also moonlights as a phone-sex performer. It is in this line of work that she blackmails a noted plastic surgeon to perform a head-to-toe makeover, primarily so she can impress the pop star’s manager. Once her body’s been sculpted to within an inch of perfection, Kang is free to take her rightful place on the stage. Or, is there still some work to do? Beauty being only skin deep, Kang has a lot to learn about self-confidence and acting as if you belong in the limelight. “200 Pound Beauty” has some very funny moments and the Hello Kitty crowd should enjoy the music. Anyone expecting it to be the “Oldboy” of Korean comedy is likely to be underwhelmed, however.
“Ashamed” (a.k.a., “Life Is Peachy”) is reputed to be the first Korean mainstream feature to accentuate lesbian erotica. There have been a few mainstream movies in which gay men figure prominently, but there’s a different set of standards for women and nudity. While “Ashamed” is definitely steamy, by most western standards it isn’t especially graphic and far from gratuitous. An art professor/filmmaker in need of a nude model travels to the coast with two of her students. Along the way, she relates a story about one of her affairs. This introduction to the joys of girl-girl action finds a ready audience with the younger women, who decide to take their friendship to a new level. Director Kim Soo-hyun mixes things up a bit by giving several of the characters the same name and interweaving storylines. – Gary Dretzka
Turtle Hill, Brooklyn
Equal parts “Boys in the Band” and “The Anniversary Party,” Ryan Gielen’s “Turtle Hill, Brooklyn” is the kind of movie one doesn’t expect to see in 2013. The protagonists deal with issues that wouldn’t seem to be pertinent, anymore, except in a sitcom or soap opera. The movie opens auspiciously on the morning of Will’s 30th birthday, when his homophobic sister drops in unexpectedly. Will had convinced his lover, Mateo, that he’d clued family members as to his being gay. Thus, he’s surprised to see her face drop to the floor when he steps out of the bathroom dressed only in a kilt. The sister, who must not have been paying attention for the last couple of decades, offers to help “cure” Will, but, of course, he isn’t buying into her prejudices. By the time guests begin arriving, things are on an even keel between the two men. Things get rocky again when former lovers show up and feelings are hurt. Worse, one of the guests is a Log Cabin Republican, who attempts to defend his political beliefs and gets an off-screen punch in the nose for his efforts. It’s a pretty mixed group of men and women and, in true indie fashion, none of them looks as if they just stepped out of a fashion magazine. Small secrets are revealed, but the larger question is whether Matt and Will can survive the angst and live to love again. And, that’s about the size of it. – Gary Dretzka
TV to DVD
New Girl: The Complete Second Season
Glee: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray
How I Met Your Mother: The Complete Season 8
Teen Mom: The Complete First Season
The China Beach: Season 1
On TV, as in life, it pays dividends to be cute and Zooey Deschanel has cutes to spare. Her intensely perky and bubbliciously bubbly Jess isn’t the only reason viewers turn to “New Girl,” Tuesdays on Fox, but it’s easily the best one. An easy description of the show would be: a chick who travels to the beat of a different drum moves into a loft apartment with three guys she’s met only on the Internet … laughter ensures. A more complex synopsis might read: the kids from “Freaks and Geeks” have somehow survived college and, after a decade in the wilderness, are still most comfortable with freaks and geeks just like them … laughter ensues.” In fact, the characters are only freaky when compared to their peers on other sitcoms. They experience more than anyone’s fair share of nerdy moments, but, in fact, are noticeably less geeky than the lads on “The Big Bang Theory.” On most days in L.A., you’d be hard pressed to differentiate the freaks and geeks from the hipsters. It is possible, however, to be too cute and, being 30ish, Jess comes dangerously close to that invisible barrier. Suffice it to say, however, most viewers in the same age group would prefer to enjoy these roommates on TV than be set up on a blind date with any of them. As the show’s second season evolves, Jess has been laid off from her teaching job and takes a gig setting up shots at the bar. She engages in a booty-call relationship with a customer, Sam (David Walton). The second half of the season is dominated by the lead-up to Cece’s wedding and, of course, “the kiss.” The DVD comes with deleted scenes, a gag reel, commentary and an extended, uncensored version of the episode, “Virgins.” Among the guest stars are Jamie Lee Curtis, Rob Reiner and the late Dennis Farina.
To borrow a baseball term, Season 4 of “Glee” was a “rebuilding” year for the show. The previous three seasons’ seniors have gone on to bigger, if not necessarily better things, and the New Directions was forced to rely on a core group of seven students. Rachel and Kurt are in New York; the club decides to stage “Grease,” with the help of some of the grads; the Warblers steal ND’s trophy from the Nationals; Kurt gets lots of visitors; Finn becomes the target of Sue’s wrath; Emma’s getting married; ND unplugs; Kurt gets bad news, followed by good news; and Regionals beckon. Such guests as Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Hudson and Whoopi Goldberg also make appearances. The Blu-ray adds “Glee Music Jukebox,” “Glee Premiere Party,” deleted scenes, “Movin’ On Up: Glee in NYC,” “Girls (and Boys) On Film,” “Glee on Film” and “The Road to 500.”
In Season Eight of “How I Met Your Mother,” the arrival of baby Marvin causes Marshall and Lily to experience all of the usual things that happen when sitcom parents have kids. It’s also bookended with weddings involving Barney and Robin, only one of which plays out in fast-forward fashion. In between, the characters wring every drop of humor from the same kind of emotional turmoil they’ve experienced over the eight-year course of the show. Does it ever get old? Apparently, not. Look for such guests as Paul Shaffer, Ralph Macchio and Kyle MacLachlan. The DVD adds deleted scenes, a tight focus on the “P.S., I Love You” episode, two episode commentaries, a gag reel and set tour with Josh Radnor.
In the realm of previously released DVDs, “Teen Mom: The Complete First Season” moves from DVD-R arena to DVD, but only at Walmart, where they know a thing or two about teen moms. Follow Farrah, Maci, Amber, and Catelynn as they face the challenges of their first year of motherhood.
Also, Season One of “China Beach” arrives for the first time unattached to the epic Time Life complete-series package. The three-disc set includes the two-hour pilot and all original episodes of the show that gave us a woman’s ground-level perspective on the Vietnam War; classic songs, as they were played in the original broadcast; highlights from the 25th-anniversary cast reunion; pilot episode commentary by series co-creator & executive producer John Sacret Young and director/producer Rod Holcomb; exclusive interviews with Dana Delany and Chloe Webb and the featurette “China Beach: How It All Began.” – Gary Dretzka
PBS: Latino Americans
Frontline: Life and Death in Assisted Living
Based solely on the evidence assembled for PBS’ exhaustive six-hour series “Latino Americans,” it’s a wonder any Mexican would risk incarceration, deportation and death by sneaking into such hostile territory as the U.S. has proven to be for most of the last 500 years. As long as jobs in Mexico pay less than the worst jobs in the U.S., however, they’ll keep on crossing the border illegally. It’s one of those games that never end. That Native Americans were treated even more shabbily by Spanish soldiers, Catholic missionaries and wealthy Mexicans awarded land grants after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo doesn’t go unnoted in the series. Although much of “Latino Americans” presents an overwhelming indictment of racism and the disenfranchisement of Americans of Spanish heritage, it chronicles the victories and advances made in government, education, electoral politics and workers’ rights, as well. Also chronicled are the contributions to our military forces by Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans and other groups that fall under the Latino or Hispanic umbrellas. Again, it is duly noted that, while African-Americans weren’t allowed to fight alongside Anglo soldiers and marines in World War II, Latino volunteers could struggle and die next to their white comrades. Once back home, of course, they’d face the same barriers as blacks in segregated America.
One of the interesting sidebars to the chronological unfolding of “Latino Americans” is the crucial role played by President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As was the case with African-Americans engaged in the battle for civil rights, President John F. Kennedy was quick to ask for their votes, but exceedingly slow in delivering on promises made to them. Johnson, a Texan, bore the brunt of his party’s hostility toward the bill’s passage and too much as the weight of the Vietnam War left over from JFK’s best and brightest. It crushed his hopes of becoming a two-term president. Kennedy loyalists continue to downplay LBJ’s role in forwarding the act, while blaming him for the escalation of the war. Johnson’s Tejas roots and familiarity with the state’s engrained hostility toward Hispanics contributed to the act’s passage. Among the many witnesses assembled for the documentary series are entertainers Rita Moreno and Gloria Estefan, labor leader and 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Dolores Huerta, author and commentator Linda Chávez and dozens of educators, war veterans, historians and descendants of noteworthy Latinos.
In the PBS presentation, “Life and Death in Assisted Living,” reporters and producers of “Frontline” and ProPublica consider the implications of the corporatization of facilities created to allow senior citizens to face their undefined futures with dignity, comfort and the best medical care afforded them. It’s a natural extension of the reporting that followed, if belatedly, on the expansion of HMO’s and cost-obsessed insurers. Here, the primary target is Emeritus Senior Living, which operates more than 400 assisted-living facilities across the country. It also explains why the loosely regulated, multibillion-dollar industry is slow to act on complaints on questions about fatal lapses in care, understaffing and the ultimate quest for profits. – Gary Dretzka
Wild Style: 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
Anyone who lived or worked in New York City in the early 1980s can remember when every subway car, bus, bridge and billboard was considered to be fair game for graffiti “artists,” writers and taggers. Likewise, no stroll through a park was complete without being hustled for spare change by rappers and break-dancers. It was so prevalent that everyone from critics to subway strap-holders was encouraged to hold a firm position on the question of whether graffiti was art or vandalism. City officials came down firmly on the side of preventing taggers from spray-painting their pseudonyms and post-psychedelic drawings on the sides of trains parked in the maintenance yards. At the same time, gallery owners were attempting to monetize such stylized art, without also having to cut the aluminum canvases off the cars. Collectors and music producers would, of course, find a way to co-op the largely organic outburst of creativity that sprang from Bronx tenements and eventually found its way to the galleries in the East Village and nightclubs around the world. Shot in documentary style, Charles Ahearn’s digitally re-mastered film captures the excitement of the artistic movement, as well as the intelligence of several of its leading practitioners. “Wild Style” also demonstrates how graffiti artists complemented the street-level work of dancers, rappers and MCs. It does so by appearing to follow maverick taggers Zoro and Lady Rose (graffiti legends Lee Quinones and Sandra Fabara) as they make their way around the boroughs, looking for likely targets. An East Village art fancier (Patti Astor) commissions Zoro to paint the stage for a rapper’s convention. He disappears for long periods of time to make room for performances by such rap pioneers as Grandmaster Flash, Busy Bee, Fab Five Freddy, Rock Steady Crew and Cold Crush Brothers, It’s pretty wild. The DVD comes with a 48-page booklet, commentary by Ahearn and Fab 5 Freddy, featurettes and interviews. The only thing in “Wild Style” that might require some parental guidance is the use of the n-word, but, in context, it’s justified. – Gary Dretzka
Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey/Pursuit of the Dragon
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Ultimate Showdown
Following directly in the wake of Shout!Factory’s Bruce Lee Blu-ray collection comes MVD’s double feature presentation of “A Warrior’s Journey” and “Pursuit of the Dragon,” a pair of documentaries released several decades after his death by Lee specialist John Little. The highlight of the 97-minute “A Warrior’s Journey” is 33 minutes of continuous action footage that was shot for “The Game of Death” but had been “lost.” It also includes interviews (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and behind-the-scenes footage. Made in 2009, “In Pursuit of the Dragon” revisits locations used in Lee’s four films — “The Big Boss,” “Fist of Fury,” “The Way of the Dragon” and “Enter the Dragon” – in Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau and Rome. As such, it’s as much a travelogue as a documentary about Lee.
Is it possible that the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” phenomenon might not have happened if it weren’t for Lee’s introduction of Asian-style martial arts to American audiences? We’ll never know, but it might have taken a decidedly different form. The episodes collected in “TMNT: Ultimate Showdown” are from the recent Nickelodeon iteration, the third animated television series. The turtles face off against new and old enemies, including the Rat King, Cockroach, Baxter Stockman and, ultimately, Kraang and the Shredder. The special features include four shorts, “The Mutation of a Scene” and animated comic books, “Tales From the Lair, Parts 3-6.” — Gary Dretzka
Nick Jr.: Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!: Best Of Collection
Although Nick Jr. stopped airing fresh episodes of Bob Boyle’s animated children’s series, “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!,” four years ago, new collections continue to be released on DVD. Since the show is best enjoyed by pre-schoolers, there’s always a fresh audience for the 45 episodes that were created. Any TV series that refuses to grow old deserves some kind of respect. “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!” describes the wacky adventures of an oddly shaped character, Wubbzy, and his friends Widget, a builder and fix-it whiz; Walden, who specializes in science and art; and Daizy, the sweet girly-girl next door. This collection contains 28 episodes – 280 minutes – of singing, dancing, coloring and activity sheets. – Gary Dretzka