Twins of Evil: Blu-ray
It says a lot about this week’s slim pickings that the lead review is of a 40-year horror flick, “Twins of Evil,” from the Rank Organization and Hammer Film Productions. The 1970s were lean years for Hammer, but a few titles stand out from the pack. This is one of those. As the title suggests, the gimmick attraction was the casting of identical Maltese twins, Mary and Madeleine Collinson, as the vampire-bait siblings, Maria and Frieda. Having recently posed for the centerfold pictorial of Playboy magazine and being cast in a short stag film, Halfway Inn, they were pretty marketable. After 40 years, however, “Twins of Evil” can stand on its own merits… not that Collinsons don’t retain their allure. As the movie opens, we’re introduced to a fanatical Puritan leader (Peter Cushing) who spends his nights leading witch hunts against women whose primary sin appears to be that they have blond hair. This humorless old fart, Gustav, believes that the only way these women’s souls can be saved is through the purification that comes with being burned at the stake.
Into this hellish milieu arrive Gustav’s twin nieces, one of whom takes an instant shine to the mysterious count, who lives in the castle on the hill. The other is far more demure. Local gossips insist that the count is involved in such devilish delights as nude parties, witchcraft, conjuring and out-of-wedlock sex. Not satisfied merely to enjoy such forbidden fruit, the count actively courts Satan, as well. After a beautiful blond vampire, Countless Mircalla, returns from her 200-year sleep to turn him into a vampire, Count Karnstein takes dead aim on the friskier twin. This leads to the inevitable showdown between Gustav, the count and a liberal scholar who’s studied the whimsies of the undead and has his eyes set on the good twin. When the Puritan horde closes in on the count, he pulls the old switcheroo on them by substituting one twin for the other.
As goofy and clichéd as all this might sound to fans of “Twilight” and “True Blood,” it works remarkably well under the direction of John Hough (“Dirty Mary Crazy Larry”). “Twins of Evil” also holds up really well visually and audibly on Blu-ray. What distinguishes this package from others are the featurettes, which go to great lengths to place “Twins of Evil” in the context not only of Hammer films, but also vampire movies with lesbian subtexts. They also discuss the Hammer method of creating genre films and the people who made them. There’s a deleted scene, a motion still gallery and original movie trailer and TV ads. – Gary Dretzka
The best reason to check out the direct-to-DVD psycho-drama, “Black Limousine” (a.k.a., “The Land of the Astronauts”) is David Arquette’s empathetic portrayal of struggling Hollywood composer undergoing a nervous breakdown. Jack MacKenzie is a mess. A recovering alcoholic and divorced father of a precocious tween, Jack is trying to get back in the game he left after being involved in a fatal accident. He insists that he wasn’t at fault in the tragedy that ultimately cost him his marriage, family and career, and we’re given no reason to doubt his word. The problem is that his ex-wife and her prick husband refuse to cut him any slack or credit him for being a loyal “friend of Bill W.” Broke, but actively working on a new score – a spacy sample of the Chieftains’ “Love Theme,” from “Barry Lyndon” – he takes a new job as a chauffeur, which puts him in direct contact with Hollywood movers and shakers. One of his passengers is a hotshot actor, who rats him out when Jack makes the mistake of believing the guy really wants to listen to his test disc and read a screenplay passed along to him by another client. Fact is, the only thing most passengers want to do in a stretch limo is cop some free drinks, sleep or screw their co-stars. This deception triggers Jack’s breakdown and leaves everything that happens thereafter suspect. “Black Limousine” has several other good things going for it, including a loopy performance by Bijou Phillips, as a fellow AA member who doesn’t believe in total abstinence between friends; a Hollywood apartment complex that takes diversity to its illogical conclusion; and a palpable sense of intergalactic dread throughout. Unfortunately, co-writer/director Carl Colpaert too often confuses incomprehensible for enigmatic, leaving viewers to wonder why in hell the characters act the way they do. – Gary Dretzka
Kassim: The Dream
At 33, Ugandan-born boxer Kassim “The Dream” Ouma already has lived the kind of life a novelist would have difficulty inventing. When he was 6, he was abducted from his boarding school and forced to join the rebel National Resistance Army, for whom he would be forced to kill and torture anyone not in agreement with its leader, Yoweri Museveni. When, in 1986, the NRA captured control of Uganda’s Kampala-based government, Ouma was made a member of the country’s official army. Rather than continue fighting an endless bush war against Museveni’s many tribal and political enemies, Ouma was able to represent his country as a member of the army’s boxing program. After becoming proficient in his sport, he would risk his life and that of his relatives by defecting to the United States. After more training, he eventually climbed the ladder to the Junior Middleweight championship. He hoped not only to provide a better life for his family back home, but also return to Uganda and be pardoned for his desertion. If Ouma’s life story seems tailor-made for the “up close and personal” treatment accorded exceptional athletes in the buildup to major events, you’d only be half right. As we learn in Kief Davidson’s “Kassim: The Dream,” the chronically cocky boxer’s tendency to become easily distracted worked against him in future bouts. Extremely personable, he often disappointed his adopted Irish-American family, fans and journalists by succumbing to the temptations too frequently laid in the path of young men whose sudden emergence from poverty comes without a book of instructions.
Even so, Ouma was able to bring his mother to the United States and be reunited with his oldest son. Impressed that he hadn’t criticized Museveni or encouraged revolt in the still war-torn country, he was invited back to Uganda and pardoned. (His father was murdered after his son’s defection.) What he saw when he visited his hometown, however, were conditions that hadn’t changed much since he left it 27 years earlier. Whether this neglect was mandated by a government still acting on traditional tribal rivalries isn’t made clear. It’s simply treated as a fact of life in Uganda. Finished in 2008, “Kassim” probably could have benefitted from an update featurette, amplifying on his career – he’s still fighting, although less successfully – and various personal issues brought up in the film. Anyone looking for inspirational sports stories in the lead-up to the Summer Olympics ought to consider “Kassim.”
No matter what one thinks of mixed martial arts and other full-contact fighting, the hybrid sport provides young men with yet another opportunity to dream of becoming a champion in something. Unlike boxing, the action is consistently ferocious and decisive blows can be dealt from several different directions, often with stunning speed. Unlike professional wrestling, too, these guys really take a beating. “Fightville” examines the sport from the point of view of participants on the lowest rung of the ladder. If they can’t make it in the arenas, rodeo rings and converted warehouses that comprise the Louisiana circuit, they probably won’t make it anywhere. From that perspective, alone, Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s doc is compelling. Anyone allergic to scenes of bloodletting and bone-crushing fisticuffs could find “Fightville” a bit too much to stomach, however. – Gary Dretzka
Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog
If you’re the kind of person who happily wades through the hundreds of photographs of cute dogs and cats sent to you each day by friends on Facebook, you’ll thank me later for recommending “Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog.” Presented in a fashion that easily could be confused for documentary, Yôichi Sai’s beautifully shot dramedy chronicles the life of a yellow Labrador retriever that’s destined from birth to be a guide dog for the blind. It follows Quill through his demanding training regimen, awkward apprenticeship and, finally, placement with a cranky middle-aged man, who isn’t all that interested in having such a companion. Not surprisingly, then, “Quill” is as much a story about a sightless man coming to grips with his own limitations as it is about a service dog’s remarkable journey through life. The Lab doesn’t possess any of the superpowers or anthropomorphic qualities generally ascribed to the stars of family-friendly dog movies in the U.S. He doesn’t graduate at the head of his class and isn’t required to perform impossibly heroic stunts, a la Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and Scooby Doo. Quill simply is very good at what he does and, when not serving his master, a bit of a ham … which isn’t to say that dog and owner don’t experience some tough times. Society can be just as neglectful of its faithful canine servants as those humans deemed too handicapped to be useful, anymore. By not pulling any punches, Sai has created a movie that is sometimes painfully honest, as well as inspirational and entertaining. It was adapted from Ryohei Akimoto and Kengo Ishiguro’s based-on-true-events novel, “The Life of Quill, the Seeing-Eye Dog.” (Parents should know that the movie’s ending recalls the emotionally draining demise of Disney’s “Old Yeller,” and, therefore, more impressionable youngster might require some guidance.) – Gary Dretzka
Cherry Bomb: Blu-ray
Forty years ago, the United Negro College Fund adopted the slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” and it immediately helped the organization reap the financial benefits of clever marketing. In the world of indie films, a good title is a terrible thing to waste, as well. Frankly, I’m surprised that more movies haven’t been titled “Cherry Bomb.” The Runaways’ punk anthem was released in 1976 and it remains on the playlists of classic-rock radio stations worldwide. In this “Cherry Bomb,” the title character is, of course, a hot stripper who dresses almost exclusively in red and black. Unlike the other dancers in the movie, the Pussy Hut’s super-cute star attraction (played by the single-named scream queen, Julin) isn’t required to show her boobies. Yet, she still manages to haul in piles of dough on stage. One night, Cherry subs for a girl invited to perform in the Champagne Room by a group of ex-frat boys who probably majored in hazing freshmen. With the security guard already paid off, it quickly becomes obvious that their sole intent is brutally raping whichever dancer shows up, without fear of being punished.
From this point on, “Cherry Bomb” is a non-stop revenge thriller, unabashedly inspired by any number of similarly splattertastic vehicles from the 1970s-80s. Cherry’s brother reluctantly comes along for the ride, which also involves an aptly named assassin named, “Bull.” Director Kyle Day’s debut film — written with fellow freshman, Garrett Hargrove — moves briskly from one revenge murder to another without once stopping to embrace narrative logic. One generally allows genre filmmakers a fair amount of latitude in this regard, but Day and Hargrove don’t seem to care if the blunders in “Cherry Bomb” can be spotted from a mile away. For example, how convenient is it that the climatic fight scene happens to occur in the vacant Pussy Hut, at a time it normally would be crawling with drunken Texans – it was shot in Austin – and dancers. Neither have I ever witnessed a gun-toting bad guy being neutralized by confetti and glitter. I suppose this sort of thing is intended as parody, but, if anyone had his tongue implanted firmly in cheek here, I couldn’t find it. If it weren’t for Julin’s perky approach to vengeful payback, “Cherry Bomb” would be a total wash. As it is, it qualifies as a guilty pleasure, although male viewers will tire of waiting for the heroine to take her top off. It also stars porn veteran Nick Manning and John Gabriel Rodriguez. The Blu-ray adds commentary with Day, outtakes, deleted scenes and an alternate ending. – Gary Dretzka
Making Plans for Lena
When, in the early 1970s, Hollywood figured out that feminists had more important things to focus on than burning their bras and not shaving their legs, it naturally created a niche to exploit the women’s liberation movement. In such dramas as “Diary of a Mad Housewife,” “An Unmarried Woman,” “Lovers and Other Strangers,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “Shoot the Moon,” “Blume in Love,” “Loving” and “Quartet,” the female protagonists are required to come to grips with the fact that the men they married have become or always were total dicks. (“9 to 5” would address broader issues in comic form.) More often than not, the guy was caught cheating and the discovery meant she had to reciprocate in kind, dump him and/or book twice-weekly sessions with a psychotherapist. Almost always, children were caught in the middle and the women were portrayed as having far fewer options than their husband (even if the jerks tended to crawl back for forgiveness). Attractive, intelligent and financially vulnerable, the women had a Sisyphean task ahead of them in the two hours of screen time allotted to solve their problems and give viewers a satisfying ending. (The lesbian option wouldn’t be made available to mainstream screenwriters until well after the release of John Sayles’ “Lianna” and Donna Deitch’s “Desert Flower.”)
I was reminded of those movies by the French import, “Making Plans for Lena,” in which a 30ish woman becomes totally discombobulated when she discovers that her husband was unfaithful to her. As hard as she tries to distance herself from him, events and/or family members conspire to bring them together again. Unfortunately for Lena (Chiara Mastroianni), she’s incapable of taking care of their two children and this complicates her relations with everyone from her boss to her nasty sister. They hope she’ll forgive the big lug and write his transaction off as a lapse in judgment. By the end of the movie, I think many, if not most viewers will wish she had taken their advice before things got really crazy. Even when we are led to believe that Lena will find happiness in the arms of a younger man (Louis Garrel), who worships her, she manages to blow it.
Writer-director Christophe Honore and Genevieve Brisac don’t make it easy for us to side with Lena when the going gets tough. Her husband, Nigel (Jean-Marc Barr), doesn’t seem to be such a bad chap, despite the fact he cheated on her, and her parents (Marie-Christine Barrault, Fred Ulysse) aren’t portrayed as being stupid or mean-spirited, either. They want Lena to get on with her life, one way or another. The filmmakers’ decision to include an out-of-nowhere sequence, involving the Breton folk tale of a woman who tests suitors by dancing them to an early grave, doesn’t help much, either. This one is strictly for Fracophiles, I’m afraid. – Gary Dretzka
At first glance, I was a bit taken aback by the almost primitive visual presentation of “Butterfly Sword” (a.k.a., “Butterfly and Sword”), which looked like something we’d left behind with VHS. After checking the film’s vital statistics, however, I’m pretty sure that the reach of Hong Kong genre pictures made in the early 1990s probably was limited to Asian theaters and low-def television screens. I wasn’t given much time to fret over the deficiencies, as the high-flying action kicked in almost immediately after I hit the “play” button. It was magical. “Butterfly Sword” is a prime example of the “fantastical flying swordsman” subgenre of martial-arts pictures popular at the time. It is to Hong Kong wire work what the Ringling Brothers’ circus is to the midway on the Santa Monica Pier. Anything that can be made to fly usually does.
Michael Mak’s imaginatively choreographed fantasy is set during the Ming Dynasty, when allies of the terminally ill Eunuch Tsao are required to drive back from the Happy Forest an invasion of troops controlled by Master Suen (Elvis Tsui), leader of Elite Villa. Among the protagonists are childhood friends (Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung, Donnie Yen) who grew up to become expert fighters, fliers and sword handlers. There’s much behind-the-scenes intrigue and backstabbing, and some romance, none of which is rendered in an easily comprehensible fashion. Never mind, however, because the battles and fights are so entertaining, they transcend everything else. The historical value, alone, is worth the price of admission. – Gary Dretzka
Dark Nemesis: Blu-ray
Here we are, again, trapped in a post-apocalyptic world dominated by feuding warlords and their loyal assassins. “Dark Nemesis” (a.k.a., the already taken “Dark Knight”) is a minor entry in the arena of dystopian adventures. At first, I thought Drew Maxwell’s straight-to-video fantasy might simply be a visualization of a video game. There wasn’t enough bang-bang action, though, to qualify as a game anyone over 10 might be interested in play. The plot kicks in after a group of desperate soldiers hatch a plan to steal a warlord’s treasure and start a new life. The thieves are chased into a desolate patch known only as the Shadowlands by the warlord’s cut-throat soldiers. As if this weren’t sufficiently foreboding, they’re also attacked by six-eyed monsters with a terrifying teeth and bat wings. They find shelter in a most surprising place. – Gary Dretzka
I Kissed a Vampire: The Rock Musical
Step Up: Blu-ray
With the “Glee” and “High School Musical” phenomenon now growing whiskers, composers of such entertainments clearly are struggling to keep fans of those shows from deserting television and defecting to Broadway. “I Kissed a Vampire” and “Freak Dance” are alternative musicals targeted specifically at young people who’ve caught the musical bug and are willing to give the producers of original material some room to breathe. From a geographic point of view, alone, these titles suggest far more of a west-coast sensibility than one associated with Broadway, where the stakes are so high and room for mistakes impossibly small. “I Kissed a Vampire” gives tweens something to enjoy while waiting for the next installment in the “Twilight” saga to arrive. “High School Musical” vets Lucas Grabeel and Drew Seeley play vampires, battling for the soul of blond beauty Sara Lane, who also starred in the Internet version of the three-act musical. The movie features 17 original songs and lots of spirited vamping and energized dancing.
As one might expect from a full-length musical parody from the folks at Upright Citizens Brigade, “Freak Dance” borrows liberally from the excesses of “Flashdance,” “Footloose,” “Dirty Dancing,” “West Side Story” and “Saturday Night Fever.” The only reason “Freak Dance” might not appeal to parents of tweens as much as “I Kissed a Vampire” is the barrage of profanity that emerges from the mouth of one of the more troubled characters and some bulges in the tights of the male dancers. The story focuses on a spoiled rich girl, Cocolonia (Megan Heyn), whose socialite mother (Amy Poehler) forbids her from getting down and dirty with the hip-hop dancers on the other side of the tracks. She does, anyway, but must be taught how to work her butt and “activate” other parts of her anatomy. The dancers have had their clubhouse closed by a city official who despises the group as much as Cocolonia’s mom does. To get it re-opened, the dancers are required to win a contest and use the money as a bribe. The competition, as one might suspect, is intense. The competitors are pretty strange, as well. It’s fun, if a bit old-fashioned and obvious as a target of satire. The UCB troupe pours a lot of energy into the project, though, and the music is surprisingly good. The disc comes with commentary by writer/co-director, Matt Besser and co-director, Neal Mahoney; deleted and extended scenes; and “The Dangers of Freak Dancing.”
Among the movies parodied in “Freak Dance” is choreographer Anne Fletcher’s hugely successful directorial debut, “Step Up.” In it, the then-up-and-coming Tatum Channing plays a bad boy who vandalizes an arts high school and is punished by being forced to perform community service there. Naturally, he meets the beautiful dancer (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) who tames his wild streak and brings out his latent artistic side. The dancing is exciting and the music – Yung Joc, Sean Paul, Chris Brown, Kells, Mario, Clara – is impossible to resist. The new Blu-ray edition adds several music videos, bloopers and deleted scenes; commentary with Fletcher, Tatum and Dewan; and a featurette on producing the dance scenes. – Gary Dretzka
Chariots of Fire: Blu-ray
The Horse Whisperer: Blu-ray
There could hardly be a more apropos time for the release of 1981 Best Picture-winner “Chariots of Fire” on Blu-ray. With the opening ceremony of the Summer Games only a shot-put’s toss from reality in London, we’re reminded of one of the UK’s finest Olympics moments. One can only hope that artistic director Danny Boyle manages to squeeze a performance of Vangelis’ unforgettable theme song into the opening ceremonies. The film celebrates the commitment of faith and devotion to their sport on the part of devout Protestant divinity student Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and student Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a Jewish student at Cambridge. Both were forced to clear formidable hurdles in their quest to represent their country at the 1924 Games, in Paris. Hugh Hudson’s debut feature struck a chord well beyond the heated competition on the track. Not the least of them were class prejudice and anti-Semitism.
The DigiBook Blu-ray edition arrives with several deleted scenes, in standard definition; the featurettes “Wings on Their Heels: The Making of ‘Chariots of Fire,’” “’Chariots of Fire’: A Reunion,”“Paris, 1924: Birth of the Modern Games,” “David Puttnam, A Cinematic Champion,” “Sprint Around the Quad,” “Famous Opening Shot” and “Hugh Hudson: Journey to the Gold”; screen tests; Hudson’s commentary; and a CD sampler featuring some of Vangelis’ Oscar-winning score.
Directed by and starring Robert Redford, “The Horse Whisperer” is a tear-jerking drama women and men, alike, found impossible to resist. Women were attracted to the compassion and dedication of Redford’s character, while men saw in him a contemporary cowboy caught in a vice between traditional values and the hassles of the outside world. It also introduced Scarlett Johansson to mainstream audiences that hadn’t seen her in the terrific coming-of-age story, “Manny & Lo.” She, of course, plays the city girl so damaged in a riding accident — physically and emotionally – that her mother decides to send her west, where she’ll have the time and space to heal her wounds and regain her confidence. Her horse is similarly in need of the gentle therapy offered by Redford’s “horse whisperer.” That mom also found in the cowboy a hero only adds to the intrigue when their time together was running out. The Montana scenery looks splendid in hi-def and even the high-lonesome sounds of silence benefit from the digital makeover. I get the feeling that a lot of self-processed Macho Men were scared off “Horse Whisperer” by reviewers who advised potential viewers to bring along a pocketful of hankies. It’s their loss. The package adds featurettes on the production, Redford and real-life “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman, and a music video.
Besides “The Horse Whisperer” and “Step Up,” Disney’s July package of Blu-ray releases includes the post-Katzenberg-era, pre-Pixar animated features, “Home on the Range” and “Treasure Island”; “Phenomenon,” in which John Travolta experiences tremendous intellectual and emotional growth after being struck by lightning; and “Under the Tuscan Sun,” in which Diane Lane attempts to jump-start her life by buying a decaying villa in Tuscany. The animated features didn’t fare well critically or commercially, but the generous menu of bonus features won’t disappoint younger viewers. All of these selections benefit from digital makeovers. – Gary Dretzka
BBC: The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
BBC: Madame Bovary
BBC: Last of the Summer Wine, Vintage 1992
BBC: Doctor Who: Death to the Daeks/The Krotons
The diaries weren’t the only things kept secret in the fascinating 2010 BBC production, “The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister.” Apart from screenings at a handful of LGBT film festivals, I don’t think the biopic was aired on TV or in theaters here. Somehow, I’m not surprised. The success of “The L Word” notwithstanding, few American media outlets seem willing to tell the stories of real lesbians in the real world, unless they’re comedies or full of steamy girl-girl action. There’s a bit of the latter in “Secret Diaries,” but the focus of the made-for-TV movie is on the wealthy Yorkshire landowner, who, during England’s Regency era, defied conventions by being an out-lesbian and competing directly with men in her mining business. Moreover, Lister kept intricately coded diaries, which weighed in at 4 million words and took more than a century to decipher (and another half-century to publish). More than 175 years before President Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage, Lister (Maxine Peake) and her lover, Ann Walker (Christine Bottomley), found an Anglican priest who would bless their nuptials. “Secret Diaries” covers the period in Lister’s life before she would use her fortune to travel throughout Europe, hiking and climbing mountains. Before settling down with Walker, Lister was involved in tempestuous, longterm relationships with the similarly wealthy Mariana Belcombe Lawton (Anna Madeley) and Isabella “Tib” Norcliffe (Susan Lynch). If the movie suffers a bit from an approach that is more reverential and somber than it probably needed to be, a corrective can be found in Sue Perkins’ “Revealing Anne Lister,” a feature-length bio-doc that is highly detailed and surprisingly entertaining. She has a bit of fun comparing Lister and her lovers to the Regency women introduced by Jane Austen. There’s also a short interview with Peake.
First shown in 2000 on the BBC and PBS stations, director Tim Fywell and writer Heidi Thomas’ 180-minute take on the Gustave Flaubert classic, “Madame Bovary,” is a draining affair. That isn’t to suggest that the adaptation, itself, is deficient in any way, only that the title character is such a difficult person to like and embrace, warts and all. She’s recognizable almost immediately as a tragedy waiting to happen, but not in a good-tragic way. Her wounds are self-administered and not at all pleasant to witness, even if the men in her life are easy on the eye. Then, too, “Madame Bovary” has been adapted so often, and in so many different ways, any new production will struggle with over-familiarity. Frances O’Conner (Mansfield Park) is a shade over 5-foot-8, but she seems much shorter on film and a bit too delicate for her character’s volcanic sexuality. There’s no arguing her ability to demonstrate Bovary’s conflicting desires in her married life, however. Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”) plays her almost impossibly gullible, if warm-hearted husband, Charles, a country doctor who never seems comfortable among the sharks and swells of the city. That he’s a dyed-in-the-wool momma’s boy doesn’t endear him much to Emma, either. As we’ve come to expect from BBC productions, the period details and scenic backgrounds are impeccably rendered, while, as romantic tragedies go, this version of “Madame Bovary” is tough to beat. I don’t, however, recommend attempting to swallow it whole, as I did. An informative profile of Flaubert is included in the package.
For more than 30 years, writer Roy Clarke and the senior delinquents of “Last of the Summer Wine” held sway on BBC One. The 1992 season on display here is brewed from the same recipe as the one used in the show’s previous 13 vintages. Typically, each week, Clegg, Compo and Foggy – Yorkshire’s own Three Stooges – come up with new pranks, disguises and inventions to keep themselves amused and warm the hearts of the Holmfirth ladies, who have no trouble playing hard to get. Just knowing that Queen Elizabeth once allowed that “LOTSW” is her favorite television series should be enough to explain the nature of the show’s humor. It’s so well done, however, that Boomers probably will find plenty to enjoy, now that they’re approaching the age of the characters. The DVD adds the 1992 special, “Stop That Castle.”
The latest entries in the “Doctor Who” DVD collection are “Death to the Daleks” and “The Krotons,” representing the John Pertwee Years, 1970-74, and Patrick Troughton years, 1966-69, respectively. In the former, a power failure in the TARDIS draws it off course, leaving the doctor and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) stranded on the planet Exxilon. They soon encounter teams of Daleks and the human Marine Space Corps, which are embroiled in a standoff over the mineral, Parrinium. The threat to humanity from the plague-carrying mineral is dire, as is the need to replenish the TARDIS’ energy cells.
When the TARDIS arrives on the planet of the Gonds, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe discover a world ruled and enslaved by the Krotons. The brightest Gonds are always chosen to serve as “companions” of the less intelligent, highly mysterious and largely unseen Krotons. The system works fine for the Krotons, who’ve polluted the planet and have a seemingly endless supply of slaves, but the TARDIS team decides to upset the apple cart by leading a rebellion, which could easily backfire on everyone. As usual, the DVDs arrive with lots of fresh and warehoused bonus features. – Gary Dretzka
Frontline: Money, Power & Wall Street
PBS: Hidden India: The Kerala Spicelands
PBS: Mexico: The Royal Tour
The Glades: The Complete Second Season
Adventure Time: The Complete First Season
iCarly: The Complete 4th Season
The parade of films documenting and decrying the collapse of the U.S. economy continues apace. Even if each new title adds only one new piece to the puzzle, it’s probably a good thing that they keep coming. The problem, of course, is that the only people listening to what’s being said are the ones who’ve already been reamed by the system and tune in to see if anyone’s doing anything to prevent future debacles. If what’s happening in Europe is any indication, the answer to that question is, “duh, no.” The folks who labor in the executive suites and trenches of Wall Street have no intention of pulling in their bullish horns or bearish claws in order to save our economy, at the expense of their financial well-being. They’ve already survived presidents Bush and Obama and the Tea Party, and fully expect to call in their IOUs from Mitt Romney, when and if he’s elected. As persuasive as the four-hour “Money, Power & Wall Street” is, no one is going to benefit from the reporters’ hard work if the powers-that-be don’t come to their senses and start cracking down on Wall Street. In France, the new government capped the salaries of CEOs in charge of companies co-owned by the government. Here, the ousted CEO of Duke Energy stands to make $44 million in a severance package for the three or four hours he held the title. In other developments this week, banks that own credit card companies have raised interest rates to another record rate and restrictions governing pension contributions by corporations have been eased. So, while I encourage voters and investors to watch the “Frontline” special, I also suggest that they consider what might happen if another anti-regulation administration is allowed to take office.
Less dispiriting are PBS’ travel shows, which tend to accentuate the colorful and exotic, while also encouraging their reporters to take the roads less traveled to their destination. “Hidden India: The Kerala Spicelands” carries viewers to the far southwest corner of India, where people from several different faiths and cultures have co-existed for centuries and benefitted from the area’s fertile soil. Columbus may have “discovered” America, but it was Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gamma who tapped into the teeming spice marketplace he was seeking when he set out in a westerly direction from Spain. Host Bruce Kraig guides viewers to markets, spice plantations, rice paddies, elephant parades, traditional dances and boat races.
In “Mexico: The Royal Tour,” President Felipe Calderon and host Peter Greenberg visit the Mexico that, before the recent escalation of the drug wars there, annually attracted hundreds of thousands of gringo tourists. Calderon doesn’t ignore the horror being perpetrated by gangs of smugglers, but his mission here is to remind viewers that most of what makes Mexico a great destination remains safe and open for business. If that boast still is open to question, to some degree, it’s nice to be reminded of the treasures of the country’s Mayan and Aztec past; the amazing mountains and rain forest; and access to whales and other seasonal visitors to the Gulf of California.
Based in the hellish resort communities of southeast Florida, “The Glades” enjoys the status of being A&E’s highest-rated original series. It is a contemporary police-procedural series, with some forensics expertise on display, as well, so we know to expect freakishly attractive crimefighters and gory murders. In it, a former Chicago homicide detective (Matt Passmore) relocates to Palm Glade after being shot in the butt by one of his bosses, who believes he was having an affair with his wife. Naturally, he assumes that his new gig will be less stressful than what he faced every day in the streets of the Windy City. If he were a fan of “Miami Vice” or “CSI: Miami,” he would have known the truth about crime in SoFla. Of all the women in the state he might have hit on, he picks one (Kiele Sanchez) whose husband is doing time in prison and is raising a 13-year-old, while also attending medical and working as a nurse. The rest of the cast is filled with the usual array of oddball characters we see on TV these days. Season 2 requires the main characters to deal with the return of felonious husbands and old girlfriends, as well as homicides. The DVD set adds commentary; deleted scenes and a gag reel; an extended version of the “Family Matters” episode; and featurettes.
If Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time” may not be new to the DVD arena, its presence has been limited to themed collections from its nearly four-year run and, of course, downloads. “The Complete First Season” package is a welcome arrival, both for longtime fans and newcomers. There’s definitely something positive to be said for continuity, after all. Pendleton Ward’s creation is the rare animated series that’s struck a chord with children and adults, alike. It’s a difficult balancing act, to be sure, if only because being too cool for school or insufficiently hip can fragment an audience within 15 minutes of the show’s pilot episode. The series stars a 12-year-old boy, Finn, and his size-shifting adopted brother, a dog named Jake. Their adventures take them throughout the land of Ooo, which is populated by all sorts of bizarre and occasionally evil characters, including the Ice King, snarky lumps, a heart chiropractor, frozen businessmen zombies, tiny yellow elephants, vampire rockers, weepy mountains, tadpole wizards and rainbow unicorns. The DVD adds commentaries, animatronics, a music video and featurettes.
I don’t suppose it’s any coincidence that Miranda Cosgrove’s decision to enter USC this fall coincides with the announcement that the current season of “iCarly” will be its last … or, maybe, just the last one set in high school. It’s always difficult to tell precisely when one season of a cable series ends and another begins, as they tend to be divided arbitrarily, and the episodes on DVDs often don’t appear in calendar order. Here, the last show of Season 4, “iLost My Mind,” is the second entry on the “Complete 4th Season” package, while the last episode is “iBloop 2: Electric Bloopaloo,” which aired toward the end of Season 5. Technically, then, the Season 6 opener came two months after the previous season closer, “iToe Fat Cakes,” which is the second to the last episode in the DVD collection. Got that? Never mind. The highlight of the set has to be “iMeet the First Lady,” in which Michelle Obama helps the gang get out of scrape. The set adds five bonus episodes of “How to Rock.” – Gary Dretzka