Venus in Fur
Say what you will about Roman Polanski–now 81, believe it or not–the man still knows how to make a movie. Even if Venus in Fur may never be confused with Chinatown or Rosemary’s Baby, it’s an entirely satisfying adaptation of David Ives’ Tony-nominated play-within-a-play, which, itself, is based on the 1870 novel “Venus in Furs,” by the Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The Velvet Underground’s song of the same title is referenced in the movie, but, sad to report, isn’t included in the soundtrack. That honor belongs to the French composer, Alexandre Desplat, who, last year, added the diametrically opposed Grand Budapest Hotel and Godzilla to his resume. Set in a nearly empty theater, Venus in Fur opens with playwright/director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) on the phone with his fiancé, bemoaning the lack of talent on display during the day’s auditions. Just as he’s about to hit the road, an extremely tardy Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) arrives, begging for a chance to impress him. Although Vanda is dressed to impress in black leather, whip and silk hose, Thomas is able to resist her pleading … for about three minutes. There’s something about her rather transparent dumb-blond routine that attracts the woman to him. As the audition continues, it’s clear that Vanda’s not only done her homework on the script, but also on Thomas and Sacher-Masoch’s enchanting dominatrix, Wanda von Dunajew. By convincing him to read the part of Severin von Kusiemski opposite her, she’s already begun the process of trapping him in her web. And, that is what makes Venus in Fur so much fun. Thomas may be a celebrated writer, but he’s less sure of his footing as a director. Vanda may come across as a ditz, but, in Seigner’s hands, she’s able to seduce Thomas and viewers in equal measure. By reversing the balance of power in her favor, she freed the character from the restraints of the stage. People familiar with the play might be concerned that Seigner and Amalric are noticeably older than the off-Broadway and Broadway stars Nina Arianda and Wes Bentley/Hugh Dancy. They needn’t worry, though. As interesting as it might have been to see how Polanski would have directed the rising superstar, Arianda, he really dials it up for two of France’s great performers, one of whom happens to be his wife. Incidentally, Venus in Fur is Polanski’s first non-English-language feature in 51 years. The DVD adds interviews with the director and his stars.
Witching & Bitching
Álex de la Iglesia’s latest exercise in surrealistic fantasy, Witching & Bitching, opens in one genre and crosses at least two other thematic boundaries before settling on something that might have been concocted over drinks with John Landis, Terry Gilliam and the creators of Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. While easily qualifying as horror, it’s balanced with heavy doses of dark humor, slapstick and car chases. Based simply on the evidence provided in Witching & Bitching, I’d love to see what De la Iglesia could do with a remake of Disney’s scary-funny Darby O’Gill & the Little People. Witching & Bitching opens with the comically botched holdup of a gold exchange in the town of Zugarramurdi, which is to northern Spain what Salem is to Massachusetts. To blend in with the holiday crowd of tourists, the robbers are dressed like the costumed characters who hustle tourists on Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square. Incredibly, the one who’s impersonating Jesus Christ on his forced march to Golgotha decided to bring his precocious 8-year-old son along for the fun. Before the alarm sounds, the robbers are able to grab a bag full of gold rings that might otherwise be destined for the smelter. Unfortunately, their getaway car is snatched by the girlfriend of one of the crooks, who has an extra set of keys and doesn’t want to wait for a bus. Left to their own devices, they hijack an occupied cab and order the driver engage in a wild chase with police. After shaking the cops, they make a beeline for the French border, but not before making a stop at an inn owned and operated by a coven of witches and warlocks. Before the day is over, they will be offered for sacrifice during the annual gathering of witches at La Cuevas de las Brujas. Just for kicks, De la Iglesia (The Last Circus) also enlists the boy’s crazed mother, a pair of very determined detectives, a loose-cannon warlock imprisoned under the hole in the tavern’s squat toilet and a S&M witch who develops a crush for the boy’s father. Co-written by Jorge Guerricaechevarría (Live Flesh, Cell 211), Witching & Bitching is in constant danger of bursting apart at the seams with crazy notions. That it hangs together as well as it does is nearly miraculous … and hilarious. This would be my first-choice recommendation to anyone looking for a pre-Halloween diversion. The DVD includes background and making-of featurettes.
Chinese Puzzle: Blu-ray
Unlike their counterparts in Hollywood, some French filmmakers still know how to make romantic comedies that don’t insult their audience with one-size-fits-all storylines or Motown sing-alongs in lieu of compelling dialogue. Some may come off as being too, well, French, for American tastes, but, at least, the directors aren’t limited to actors that appeal to a single demographic group or forced to conform to the MPAA’s idea of how lovers can show their appreciation of each other’s bodies and maintain a PG-13 rating. Cedric Klapisch’s sweetly appealing rom-com, Chinese Puzzle, doesn’t require artificial sweeteners to get laughs. Nor, is a working knowledge of the filmmaker’s first two episodes in the trilogy, L’Auberge Espagnole and Russian Dolls, necessary to enjoy the third installment. (In this way, it resembles Richard Linklater’s “Before …” trilogy.) Characters played by Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile De France and Kelly Reilly – Xavier, Martine, Isabelle and Wendy – are reunited here, 12 years older, but not much wiser than they were in that crowded Barcelona apartment in 2002. This time around, the action moves rather quickly from Paris to Lower Manhattan, where Wendy has decided to move with the children she had with Xavier. She’s tired of waiting for him to ask for her hand in marriage and has found an American man who’s quite a bit more rooted than the frequently blocked novelist. Conveniently, Xavier’s lesbian best friend, Isabelle (Cecile de France), is living there, as well, with a beautiful American woman (Sandrine Holt) and, soon, the child for whom Xavier agreed to supply sperm. Things start to get crazy when the writer decides that he can’t live with an ocean separating him from his kids. To remain in the United States, Klapisch contrives an outlandish coincidence that provides Xavier with a green-card bride, the thoroughly assimilated Nancy (Li Jun Li). When Martine shows up in the Apple, as well, for a business meeting with Chinese tea executives, Xavier’s show of support inevitably leads back to his squalid Chinatown apartment. As complicated as all of this sounds, Klapisch isn’t required to create additional problems, where none exist, or force characters to become uncharacteristically nasty, simply so Xavier can look good, by comparison. Teeming Lower Manhattan may come off at its multicultural best, as well, but nothing is added to make New York look better or worse than it already is. We’re left wondering if we’ll ever see these characters again or, like Linklater’s Jesse and Celine, they’ll disappear forever at midnight.
While I believe that Christians are being persecuted in parts of the world where religious tolerance and ethnic diversity aren’t protected by a constitution or traditional philosophical beliefs – and it’s underreported in the U.S. media — I don’t think Daniel Lusko’s paranoid thriller makes a case for the same thing happening here. At a time when the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have souls that need protecting from heathen liberals, and the Christian right continues to bog down the nation’s judiciary with lawsuits based on fundamentalist dogma, the United States is in no danger of embracing atheism as the national religion. And, yet, that’s the hogwash being promulgated in Persecuted, a movie specifically targeted to, if not commercially embraced by the same audience that made God’s Not Dead a surprise hit. In it, the powerful evangelical leader John Luther (James Remar) has refused to endorse a piece of legislation that would assure equal standing under the law for all people of faith and favoritism toward none. While this basic right already is built into the Constitution, Luther stands by the word of God as asserted in the both testaments of the bible. Luther isn’t portrayed as a fire-breathing orator or someone who automatically dismisses anyone hasn’t been washed in the blood of the lamb. He’s cut from the same cloth as the Rev. Billy Graham, not a preacher who believes that Christian theme parks and pay-to-pray televangelists hold the key to heaven. For some reason, this stance has pissed off the President of the United States, a Jimmy Swaggart clone (James R. Higgins); his Machiavellian right-hand man in the Senate (Bruce Davison); and several of Luther’s easily bought-off staffers. To silence him, a team of covert agents is assigned to kidnap Luther, drug him, take photographs of him in compromising photos and frame him in the prostitute’s murder. Can he survive in the wilderness as a desperately wanted fugitive and not lose his grip on the Good Book? Does the Pope poop on the Pampas? By the end of the movie, it’s impossible to discern who’s shooting at whom and for what reason. Made for what I imagine was a tight budget, the production values aren’t bad and Lusko was able to fill out the cast with such recognizable names as Dean Stockwell, Fred Dalton Thompson, David House, “clean comic” Brad Stine and Fox News-blond Gretchen Carlson. The Blu-ray adds interviews, commentary and a featurette.
Bill Morrison: Collected Works: 1996 – 2013
The psychic distance between the multiplex and arthouse once was a great smaller than it is today. It even left enough room for the occasional exhibition of avant-garde or experimental film outside Lower Manhattan and college film societies. Certainly, no one prospered from the creation of films that challenged patience as much as they did the intellect. Andy Warhol might have come the closest to breaking even, at least, but that’s only because they cost so little make and the actors would have paid him for their 15 minutes of fame. Indeed, even today, funding is the one sure way of parsing the difference between the works of experimental filmmakers and those capable of testing the limits of even the most open-minded of indie lovers. The films collected in Bill Morrison: Collected Works: 1996-2013 have been commissioned, supported by foundations and fellowships, or shot in collaboration with artists in other disciplines. They’re screened at festivals, museums, universities and concert halls, where tickets sales go mostly to keep the electricity flowing. But, then, making money or catching the eye of Hollywood producers was never really the point. Most of the films in “Collected Works” fall into the category of “found footage,” although any similarities between the feature-length Decasia and The Blair Witch Project is … well, there aren’t any. Morrison’s ideas are informed by material found, re-discovered, saved or salvaged in exhaustive searches of archives, libraries and estate collections. In fact, the film clips repurposed for Decasia (Decay + Fantasia = Decasia), and accompanied by Michael Gordon’s hauntingly minimalist score — are literally in a state of decomposition. Like thousands of movies made before 1950, the footage had been damaged due to poor storage and neglect or ravaged by time and instability of nitrate stock. In Morrison’s hands, the juxtaposition of ravaged images, evocative music and once-vibrant subject matter is nothing short of symphonic. Decasia is his masterpiece, but the other, lesser-known titles here are noteworthy for reasons of their own. Vintage documentary footage shot during and after the Mississippi River Flood of 1927 play against a free-jazz soundtrack provided by Bill Frisell. Other artists with whom Morrison has collaborated are John Adams, Laurie Anderson, Gavin Bryars, Dave Douglas, Richard Einhorn, Henryk Gorecki, Vijay Iyer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, David Lang, Harry Partch, Steve Reich and Julia Wolfe. If images of decay aren’t your cup of tea, it’s worth noting that the people and places we see behind the scratches, burns and blotches once were as healthy and vibrant as most of us. The point I think Morrison is making is that in film, as in life, things change right before our eyes and, if we look close enough, we can measure the distance between beauty and ruin and appreciate them for what they are.
The cover art for Victim isn’t as much deceptive as it is misleading. Posing in front of a Union Jack is a young black hoodlum wearing a black balaclava and black jacket, showing off a black semi-automatic handgun. So far, so cliché. What the photograph doesn’t convey is the movie’s redemptive subtext, which could be mistaken for the plot of an old “ABC Afterschool Special.” Ashley Chin plays Tyson, a tough East Londoner required to look after his teenage sister after they were abandoned by their worthless parents. Tyson uses the proceeds of crime to pay off their debt to a local shylock and afford the girl’s education at a quality school. His mixed-race crew includes several sexy girlfriends, who troll the nightclubs for rich yuppies who make easy marks for armed break-ins. The robberies are followed by wild parties, fueled by Jamaican weed, mountains of cocaine and expensive champagne. Not long after the first violent heist, the cousin of Tyson’s closest playmate arrives in town to attend college. Tia (Ashley Madekwe) is from a wealthy background, but, like her relative, enjoys the fast life. When she discovers Tyson’s suppressed artistic talent, however, Tia encourages him to quit the thug life and join her at school. After carrying out “one last job,” that’s exactly what Tyson plans to do. Sound familiar? Meanwhile, his sister’s hormones are leading her in the direction of becoming a hoochie-momma. It isn’t until a motivational teacher (Dave Harwood) encourages her to join a citywide poetry contest that she finds an emotional outlet for her frustrations and rage. Needless to say, Tyson’s “one last job” – which is telegraphed early in the story — doesn’t quite work out as planned. Working off of Chin’s semi-autobiographical screenplay, director Alex Pillai nicely captures the dead-end existence for the children of immigrant youths in the projects, as well as the lure of easy money and good times. Victim’s message may be too moralistic for viewers looking purely for action and violence – although there’s plenty of that – but teens may find it inspirational. The Blu-ray adds interviews with the actors, whose enthusiasm is contagious.
The Last Supper: Blu-ray
From a strictly western point of view, Lu Chuan’s The Last Supper is just another entry in the growing list of terrifically entertaining historical epics from China. Our Westerns might resemble them, too, if our history stretched millennia, instead of a few centuries. Perhaps, if Native Americans hadn’t relied solely on their oral tradition, true Westerns might not be limited to the karmic damage done to our country’s heritage by mad-dog cavalry officers, robber barons and prospectors. Scratch the surface of The Last Supper a bit and you’ll find a story that borrows a page or two from William Shakespeare’s playbook. Set in the last days of the Qin Dynasty, roughly 2,300 years ago, it employs flashbacks, flash-forwards and dramatic set pieces to tell the story of Liu Bang’s rise from peasant warrior to leader of great armies, to becoming founder and first emperor of the Han dynasty. The Last Supper opens with Liu on his death bed, haunted in his dreams by his two mortal enemies, Han Xia and Xiang Yu. The Emperor may look harmless lying there, but the potential for instigating great strife surrounds him. The flashbacks take us back to Liu’s beginnings as a much-feared fighter and outlaw, with a hunger for deposing the despotic Qin government and replacing it with one more in touch with the common people. The quest for power, itself, turns onetime allies into foes and idealism into paranoid delusions. Such was the background for the famous Hong Gate banquet, where Liu would be tested by fellow warlords and their assassins. By all accounts, Liu was a ruthless fellow who prided himself in being able to become a great leader with no more than a sword at his disposable. As such, anyone hoping to take him on, at any age, would have to be nearly as powerful. Although Lu Chuan’s esteem has grown in and outside of China, censors decided that his portrayal of Liu’s rise to absolute power too closely matched that of Mao Zedong and demanded changes. As usual, the set and costume design, along with the elaborately choreographed battle scenes, are worth the price of a rental, alone.
Raw Force: Blu-ray
With next month’s release of Dumb and Dumber To, we’ll learn, once and for all, if Bobby and Peter Farrelly can suck it up one more time and make people laugh out loud, as they did two decades ago with Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary and the new-to-Blu-ray Kingpin. With Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels once again at the wheel of Lloyd and Harry’s 1984 Sheepdog van, the triquel has a better-than-average shot at succeeding. But, then, there’s no such thing as a sure bet in Hollywood, anywhere. Thanks to Paramount’s excellent hi-def transfer, we’ll always have Kingpin, which did for bowling what The Hustler did for pocket billiards. (It also references Indecent Proposal, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, Witness, The Seven Year Itch, Psycho and a half-dozen other pop-cultural touchstones.) Woody Harrelson is hilarious as the Pennsylvania lad, Roy Munson, who would grow up to become one of the fastest-rising stars in bowling. His career would be put on ice, however, after hooking up with the delightfully duplicitous hustler Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray), who sets up a high-stakes match with some unsuspecting hotshots, but leaves Roy behind to pay the consequences for swindling the locals. Twenty years after having his mangled hand replaced with a rubber prosthetic device, Roy discovers Amish prodigy, Ishmael (Randy Quaid), who needs a quick million dollars to save the farm from being repossessed. Almost the only way to come up with that much money in a hurry – a rich dude played by Chris Elliott does offer them a fortune, if only he can watch them have sex – is to participate in a winner-takes-all showdown at Reno’s National Bowling Stadium. They are joined in their endeavor, which ends in a showdown with McCracken, by a beautiful blond con artist and bowling groupie, Claudia (Vanessa Angel, not to be confused with Vanessa Paradis). Those not easily offended by scatological and other gross-out humor should find Kingpin to be almost as laugh-out-loud crazy as it was upon its release in 1996. Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan were given sole credit for writing honors, but, as we learn in the new commentary and featurette, Murray improvised most, if not all of his dialogue, while the Farrelly stamp can be seen on all of the broader gags and set pieces. Bowlers aren’t widely known for their senses of humor, but there’s no question that Kingpin and The Big Lebowski gave the sport a much needed shot in the arm. Indeed, the rise in popularity of “cosmic bowling” and the Lucky Strike disco/bowling chain among urban hipsters can probably be traced directly to McCracken’s Lucite “Rose Red” ball. The Blu-ray adds 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, both the theatrical and R-Rated versions in hi-def, the Farrelly’s commentary and “Kingpins: Extra Frames With the Farrelly Brothers.”
Mere words can’t do justice to the depravity on display in Edward D. Murphy’s freshman exploitation mini-epic, Raw Force (a.k.a., “Kung Fu Cannibals”). It has everything one could hope for in a cheesy grindhouse flick, including topless women in bamboo cages; gratuitous sex and mindless violence; a mysterious island inhabited by corrupt monks, their naked slaves and ninja zombies; kick-ass babes; a rusting freighter; a fortune in contraband jade; strippers and go-go dancers; a crossed-eyed Hitler wannabe; dislocated piranha; evil hippies; a freshman writer/director; and Cameron Mitchell and Vic Diaz. Not for nothing, it also was filmed in the Philippines. The plot is almost impossible to synthesize here, except to say that it pits a group of martial-arts students from Burbank against jade smugglers, white slavers and the aforementioned ninja zombies, who are controlled by the madly sinister monks. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the acting is borderline abysmal, the fighting scenes couldn’t be less convincing, the special effects are lousy and the sets flimsy. On the plus side, Raw Force is the rare film that delivers on the promise of being “so bad, it’s good.” At a brisk 86 minutes, it won’t seem as if you’ve wasted much time, at all. I think it’s safe to say that the Vinegar Syndrome 2K restoration had a larger amount of money allotted to it, than Murphy had in his production budget. It looks far better than it has any right to be 32 years after it was first released. The package also includes the featurette, “Destination: Warriors Island (The Making of Raw Force)” and an audio interview with finishing editor Jim Wynorski.
The Equation of Life
Ballin’ at the Graveyard
Unlike the FDA, which is often criticized for delaying the release of drugs already available to patients elsewhere, some federal regulatory agencies are all too anxious to push untested products unto the marketplace. Once there, it’s exceedingly difficult – and wildly expensive – to remove the unsafe ones from the shelves. Through their lobbyists and umbrella organizations, corporations have become proficient in knocking down the arguments of consumer groups and scientific entities, even those simply attempting to add warning labels to packaging or minimum sales requirements. Kevin Kunze’s disturbing documentary, Mobilize, describes how the cellphone industry not only has ignored research that links radiation to brain cancer and infertility, but it uses the chilling effects of lawsuits to curb debate in cities and states where the concern is highest. Even as the data is still being collected, circumstantial evidence seems to warrant the inclusion of a prominent warning on all devices, cautioning against holding a phone against one’s ear or carrying it in a pants pockets or tucked in a bra. The locations of tumors found in people with no other genetic or physical markers tend to correspondent with the places where cellphones are most frequently found. Statistics show, as well, that the further away a phone is held or placed from the ear canal– using headphones, for example – the less likely it is for certain tumors to form. Industry groups and lobbyists have fought against the prominent inclusion of warning labels, simply because they might impact sales. The most troubling case being made in the film is the one lacking the most evidence, one way or the other. Cellphone use among children has evolved from simply being “cute” to its current status as a rite of passage. If, God forbid, the negative data proves accurate, an entire generation of kids could already be doomed to spend their lives thinking that every headache is being caused by tumor. Mobilize isn’t particularly alarmist in its presentation of data and statistics, but it leaves plenty of room for concern.
Technically, The Equation of Life isn’t a documentary. It might as well be, though. Its release timed to coincide with National Bullying Prevention Month, Gerry Orz’s film is sandwiches a short anti-bullying film, shown on YouTube, within a slightly longer short film about the need for victims to speak out and parents and school administrators to listen. Anyone who doesn’t believe that bullying (a.k.a., hazing and taunting) has reached epidemic status in the U.S. simply isn’t paying attention. Horrifying incidents no longer are limited to fraternity initiation ceremonies. They have found their way into a mass culture that takes its cues from gross-out movies and parents who consider bullying to be a natural part of growing up, mostly because they were bullies or survived it largely intact. Equation of Life is unique in that it was made by a boy, now 12, who was bullied and wanted to bring the plague to the attention of legislators. Here, a new boy in school becomes the punching bag for an older boy, who, himself, is being bullied at home by his harridan mother. His depression leads him to berate the younger boy, Adam, who’s small for his age, for having two “moms” and, by extension, being a “fag.” If Adam’s moms weren’t having problems of their, he might take his sister’s advice and reveal why his grades are bad and he’s unhappy. Instead, he takes matters into his own hands and pays the price. It’s not the most elegant of productions, but, hey, what did you accomplish at 12? Also included in the package are pieces shot at the California statehouse, where he successfully lobbied for an awareness campaign and anti-bullying initiatives.
Documentaries about the breast-augmentation process and the women who undergo such procedures are a staple of reality shows on cable television. The various housewives of Orange County, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Atlanta and Miami appear to undergo cosmetic surgery before and, sometimes, during every new season and don’t look any more appealing than they did when we met them. Segments of some shows are dedicated to the Top 10 worst makeovers. Boobs doesn’t reveal anything new, except the ambitions of one Precious Muir, a British-born model of Jamaican and Portuguese background. Precious, whose mother encouraged her daughter in this area, made a face for herself as a child model. As she grew into adulthood, she decided that her breasts simply weren’t adequate for procuring work in the today’s world of high and low fashion. Indeed, no sooner did Precious endure the painful process of breast-augmentation than she hired a photographer to take pictures of her new boobs and sent them off to Playboy. To this end, she won a contest that brought her to Los Angeles and a gig as hostess of a Playboy-sponsored golf tournament. She also attended a party at the mansion, but nothing Hefner-related since then. The problem with the subject of the documentary is that she, herself, is no prize. She insults everyone in her surgeon’s office and treats her soon-to-be husband – now, ex-spouse – like a lapdog. The surgery is suitably graphic to make women considering such work think twice about the procedure and, I suppose, that’s a good thing.
Ballin’ at the Graveyard may be a bit too far on the do-it-yourself side to find wide distribution in theaters and TV, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t gain an audience among sports lovers, especially those who retain fond memories of Hoop Dreams. Set in Albany, N.Y., Basil Anastassiou and Paul Kentoffio’s labor of love describes a weekly game of pickup basketball at a park that once was used as a graveyard for the city’s African-American population. It’s a wonder that none of the participants have died, themselves, from bumps and bruises sustained during the rough-and-tumble gathering of old-school ballers. Some of the guys played college and semi-pro ball, while others found other pursuits after high school. The filmmakers would like us to believe that the game is a ritualistic experience unique to Albany, I think. I’d be surprised if it were. What Ballin’ at the Graveyard does nicely, though, is show how basketball has affected the men’s lives and continues to do so. Off the court, they hold positions that wouldn’t tolerate the kind of behavior on exhibit at the Graveyard. As such, the game offers them an opportunity to be themselves, within a community of their own choosing. Nothing they do at work can compare to the intensity and camaraderie required each week on the court.
What differentiates Tomasz Wasilewski’s Floating Skyscrapers from the many other LGBT dramas in circulation through such outlets as TLA Releasing, Film Movement and Wolfe Video is its country of origin, Poland. That it was released nearly simultaneously there last year with In the Name Of was a big enough deal to have been mentioned in several of the reviews I read from its theatrical and festival release. I don’t know if the shortage of such titles has something to do with the influence of the country’s powerful Roman Catholic hierarchy or if the doors to the closet are stickier in Eastern Europe than elsewhere. It explains, at least, why Floating Skyscrapers and other gay films I’ve seen lately are more angst-ridden than similar material here. Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) is a handsome competitive swimmer, who lives with his slightly overbearing mother and devoted girlfriend. It doesn’t seem to matter to him much that the reason he’s too tuckered to satisfy the pretty blond Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz) is that he’s already exhausted from the hummers he gets in the shower room at the swimming club. It’s a conflict, but one with which he can live. It isn’t until Kuba meets and falls head-over-heels with the far more outgoing Michael (Bartosz Gelner) that things get complicated for him and Slywia, who he keeps around like a spare tire. The first manifestation comes when he loses interest in training for meets he normally would be anxious to win. The movie ends in a way that doesn’t require Kuba to make any hard-and-fast decisions on his sexuality, but likely will disappoint American viewers.
Courage the Cowardly Dog: Season 2
2 Broke Girls: The Complete Third Season
Created by John R. Dilworth in 1999, “Courage the Cowardly Dog” was the sixth series to fall under the Cartoon Network and Hanna-Barbera’s Cartoon Cartoons label, which also spawned “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Johnny Bravo,” “Cow and Chicken,” “The Powerpuff Girls,” “Sheep in the Big City” and other wacky shows. The series was inspired by the Oscar-nominated animated short, “The Chicken from Outer Space.” The titular protagonist is an anthropomorphic dog, Courage, who lives in Nowhere, Kansas, with his owners, the kind and ditzy Muriel and the cranky tightwad farmer, Eustace Bagge. If things weren’t sufficiently nutty in the Bagge residence, their lives are routinely turned upside-down by the regular visits from monsters, aliens, demons, mad scientists, zombies and other supernatural perils. Normally, it takes more than a 15-year-old cartoon to make me laugh out loud, but I’ll admit to doing so while watching the “Season 2” collection. In addition to being funny, however, “Courage the Cowardly Dog” is hip, smart, surreal and just a wee bit old-fashioned. Previous entries in CN’s “Hall of Fame” series are “Johnny Bravo,” “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Ed, Edd n Eddy.”
Co-written by former “Sex and the City” show-runner Michael Patrick King and raunchy comedian Whitney Cummings, “2 Broke Girls” could just as accurately been titled, “2 Broke Sluts.” The sitcom describes how two seemingly penniless waitresses are able to survive in Brooklyn on the tips they earn at a diner populated with zany characters and even wackier drop-ins. The Mutt & Jeff pairing of Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs extends to their characters’ backgrounds and personalities. Max Black is a short and buxom brunette, raised by her mother and no stranger to working hard. Long, lean and blond, Caroline comes from a wealthy family that was devastated financially by the imprisonment of the father in a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi scheme. Their shared dream is to open a bakery that specializes in cupcakes. That’s not an unusual setup for a sitcom, but they also share a penchant for sexually leading double-entendres (followed by burst of recorded laughter) and thoughts the Roman Catholic catechism would describe as “impure.” I’m assuming that most of the naughty dialogue is written by Cummings, who may be best known for hurling smutty insults at celebrities on the Comedy Central “Roasts” and appearances on “Chelsea Lately.” The Third Season of “2 Broke Girls” is noteworthy primarily for the addition of several new characters and more scenes outside the restaurant. Anyone allergic to dopey ethnic jokes and horndog dialogue may want to give this show a pass. Judging from the fact that “2 Broke Girls” has just entered its fourth season, however, you’d probably be in the minority.
It’s easy for me to tell when the holiday season has begun, because the rumble of the annual avalanche of stocking-stuffer cartoon collections can be heard whenever the mail deliverer arrives at my front door. Already, I’ve received Tickety Toc: Christmas Present Time, Chuggington: Chuggineers Ready to Build, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Daniel Tiger’s Happy Holidays, Paw Patrol: Winter Rescues and When Santa Fell to Earth. All are appropriate for very young video enthusiasts. Older kids, especially those who’ve followed the extensive “Dragon Ball Z” series of Japanimanga titles, once shown on Cartoon Network. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods is a feature-length edition that is also available in Blu-ray. Here, Goku is humanity’s last hope to ascend to the level of a legendary Super Saiyan God and stop Beerus from destroying Earth.