Don’t let the familiarity of the illustration on the cover of “Escape” discourage you from taking a chance on this surprisingly exciting period adventure from Norway. If it consciously echoes the marketing material for “The Hunger Games,” you should know that almost nothing else resembles that blockbuster, except the courage and spunk of the lead character, Signe, and the occasional bow and arrow. “Escape” is set in the 14th Century, shortly after the Black Death raged through Norway, killing half its population, and superstition ruled the land. Signe has been captured by outlaws determined to avenge the death of their leader’s young daughter and slaughter anyone who gets in their way. There’s no prize awaiting Signe if she survives her ordeal and no Norwegian equivalent for such silly names as Katniss, Primrose, Seneca, Effie and Peeta. What it does share with “Hunger Games,” however, is wall-to-wall action, primitive weaponry and a couple of alpha females. Signe is captured by the renegades after watching her father, mother and brother are viciously slain on their way to a new life in the big city. She’s spared temporarily by the exceedingly Nordic-looking warlord, Dagmar, who either wants Signe to serve as a friend to her pre-teen “daughter,” Frigg, or be offered up as sacrifice for the daughter killed by villagers who suspect they’re responsible for spreading the plague. The men in the gang aren’t nearly as complicated. They simply want to rape and kill Signe, and, if she doesn’t behave, Dagmar might grant them the opportunity. Frigg feels an immediate kinship to the captive, leading us to believe that Dagmar may have kidnaped her, as well. Sensing danger, Frigg helps her new friend escape, then joins her when her own safety is threatened. Their flight plays out against a backdrop of some spectacular Norwegian high-country scenery and there’s no certainty either one of them will succeed.
Director Roar Uthaug and writer Thomas Moldestad previously collaborated on “Cold Prey,” a neat little horror/thriller that reminded me favorably of “The Shining,” minus the ghosts and an ax-wielding Jack Nicholson. It was followed by “Cold Prey 2,” also written by Moldestad, which is set immediately after the events of the first movie in a nearly snowbound rural hospital. Anyone looking for the Next Big Thing from Scandinavia – post-Nicolas Winding Refn, of “Drive” and “Pusher” – need look no further than Uthaug and Moldestad. Their pictures honor genre conventions, while avoiding clichés and easy exploitation. “Escape” is being released unrated, but, if I had a vote, it would be a tossup between PG-13 and R. There’s plenty of violence throughout the picture – of the medieval persuasion — but very little real gore or bloodshed. The Blu-ray looks good and includes some deleted scenes that easily could have extended the movie’s length past 79 minutes and not damaged its pace; bloopers; and a making-of featurette that focuses on the visual effects. – Gary Dretzka
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III: Blu-ray
If you can suspend your disbelief long enough to buy Charlie Sheen as a stand-in for Marcello Mastroianni in Roman Coppola’s re-imagining of “8½,” there’s a fighting chance you’ll enjoy “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III.” Agreed, that’s a big “if,” but the son of Francis Ford Coppola, brother of Sofia, grandson of Carmine, nephew of Talia Shire and cousin of Jonathan Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage has already proven himself capable of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. As the writer of “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Darjeeling Limited” and “CQ,” which he also directed, he’s revealed an imagination uniquely suited to offbeat storytelling. Even so, filtering Sheen through a prism borrowed from Federico Fellini is a conceit that would test the limits of his more famous relatives. Set in the commercial afterglow of the psychedelic ’60s, in a highly stylized Los Angeles, “Charles Swan” reminded me of the fantasy Las Vegas conjured by Francis Ford Coppola in “One From the Heart.” The protagonist is an accomplished graphic designer, inspired by airbrush artist Charles White III, who’s been blocked creatively since the departure of his girlfriend, Ivana (Katheryn Winnick). Her primary gripe is that Swan isn’t terribly interested in living in the present, refusing to surrender souvenirs from previous conquests and abandon habits likely to kill him.
Like Joe Gideon in “All That Jazz,” Swann is self-absorbed, self-destructive, extremely talented and incapable of moderation in his choice of toxins and women whose beauty flatters him. If we weren’t already overly familiar and thoroughly exhausted with this side of Sheen, Coppola might have been able to find a reason for us to empathize with Swan. Sheen gives it his all here, but it’s impossible to separate the actor and character from their press clippings. All that said, there are some wonderful things in “Charles Swan” and it’s always nice to see Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette and Aubrey Plaza in key supporting roles. The set and art design, cinematography, bright soundtrack, period art and tchotchkes all add tantalizing eye candy to the striking visual presentation and are vividly replicated in hi-def here. Coppola seems to have fallen in love with his ideas and couldn’t bear to part with any of them. If only he could have given us a better reason to care about Charles Swan III, other than that he’s an endangered artist worth protecting, the movie would be easier to endorse. The Blu-ray arrives with featurettes “A Glimpse Behind the Glimpse: Making the Mind of Charles Swan III” and “A Glimpse Into the Mind of Charles White III” and Coppola’s commentary. – Gary Dretzka
Back to 1942: Blu-ray
Throughout much of the 20th Century, and through no fault of its own, China’s Henan province was one of the worst places on Earth to live. In 1942, it was right up there with Stalingrad, which was being pounded without mercy by German troops commanded by Hitler to take the city. In that battle, at least, the defenders of Stalingrad knew precisely who they were fighting and why and felt confident that Mother Russia wasn’t going to abandon or betray them. As we learn in Feng Xiaogang’s epic “Back to 1942” — adapted by Liu Zhenyun from his 1990 novel — the 3 million people who died in great famine of 1942 were used as pawns by the Kuomintang government, even as the province was surrounded by Japanese troops. Refugees fleeing their barren homelands were bombed by Japanese planes targeting the soldiers among them and then machine-gunned by Chinese troops to keep them from advancing on other cities. Only the American journalist Theodore White and British photographer Harrison Forman cared enough about the peasants to alert the Allies of this terrible disaster through their dispatches. Chiang Kai-shek censored the reports in China and, until 1990, the events depicted in “Back to 1942,” including cannibalism, child and wife selling and murder, went largely forgotten or ignored. (Famine is nothing new in Chinese history and an even greater human tragedy would occur during Mao Zedong’s reign, less than two decades later.) As damning as the movie is, however, one of the root causes of the famine and subsequent locust invasion goes unmentioned: three years earlier, in an attempt to slow the Japanese advance, the nationalist government decided to breach a large dam and flood the region. A drought would ensure that the devastation continued through the war years, finally displacing 10 million people. The Japanese would take advantage of the situation by refusing to invade the ravaged province and pretending to show more humanitarian concern for the peasants than their own leaders.
“Back to 1942” is a tremendously sad and occasionally difficult movie to watch. It’s significant that the current Chinese government approved its production and studios made an estimated $34 million available to make it. The Communist government probably wouldn’t have been so willing to advance the project if the Japanese and Kuomintang weren’t so obviously to blame for the disaster. Certainly, it will be a long time before the Great Famine of Mao, which may have claimed as many as 30 million Chinese, is dramatized on film. Coincidentally, Feng’s last movie was “Aftershock,” a searing drama based on events that followed the devastating 1976 Tangshan earthquake. His ability to re-create the indescribable pain and epic scope of such disasters borders on the uncanny. He gets great support from an A-list cast of Chinese actors – including Zhang Guoli, Xu Fan, Zhang Hanyu, Le Xuejiang, Zhang Mo and Chen Daoming — in addition to fine work from Adrien Brody as White and Tim Robbins as an Irish priest modeled after Thomas Megan, bishop of the Loyang Catholic Mission. If “Back to 1942” had a hero of the stature of Oskar Schindler, it might have left a larger footprint in its limited theatrical run here, as well. Historically minded audiences should find much in the film to admire. (It’s worth noting that, back home, Time correspondent White would be rewarded for his principled stance by being blacklisted and partially blamed for the “loss of China” to the communists.) – Gary Dretzka
Frankie Go Boom: Blu-ray
Typically, in such anarchic ensemble comedies as “Frankie Go Boom,” a completely sane, if troubled character is surrounded by people whose quirks range from endearing to intolerable. The movies tend to play well before festival audiences, but sail above the heads of less adventuresome audiences in the real world. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Metacritic reviews for “Frankie Go Boom” ranged from a perfect-100 – awarded by the New York Times’ Jeannette Catsoulis — to three in the 30s, from the New York Post, NPR and Hollywood Reporter. (Some critics, I think, routinely give lower grades to any movie in which a pot-belly pig plays a prominent role.) Let’s see if I can synopsize what happens here. Frank (Charlie Hunnam) is the more-or-less normal brother of Bruce (Chris O’Dowd), a ne’er-do-well, who, when we meet him, is participating in a final AA meeting before being released from prison. For years, Bruce has gone out of his way to make his younger brother miserable. He is an aspiring filmmaker and not at all reluctant to share embarrassing home movies with strangers. No sooner is Bruce set free than he decides it might be fun to surreptitiously film Frankie making love to a woman, Lassie (Lizzy Caplan), who nearly ran him over on her bicycle and sent it out on the Internet. Lassie wears a bra made of candy, red bloomers, a garter belt and black stockings. In spite of Bruce’s inability to sustain an erection, the movie goes viral, humiliating both parties.
The rest of “Frankie Goes Boom” is consumed with Frankie’s efforts to remove the movie from the Internet and convince Lassie he isn’t a total jerk. Attempting to eliminate anything from circulation is a fool’s errand, though, as it already has been linked to and copied tens of thousands of times. It does provide writer/director Jordan Roberts an opportunity to introduce us to Phyllis, a transsexual computer hacker, played hilariously by Ron Perelman, and nudge the narrative from farce to romance. Conspiring against that urge are other kooky supporting characters, including Chris Noth, as Lassie’s dad and Bruce’s wildly paranoid, gun-toting prison buddy; Whitney Cumming, as Bruce’s horny girlfriend; Nora Dunn as the boys’ overly permissive mother; and Sam Anderson as their passive-aggressive father. After establishing their relationship, Frankie and Lassie barely get a word in edgewise. If any of that mishigas sounds appealing, “Frankie Go Boom” could prove to be the right ticket for you. The Blu-ray adds deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes piece and dissection of the pig’s big scene. – Gary Dretzka
By sheer coincidence, I watched Hisako Matsui and David Wiener’s elegantly mounted biopic of educator, editor, journalist and supermom Leonie Gilmour on Mother’s Day. “Leonie” not only lays out the particulars of her own remarkable life story, but it also describes her singular influence on her highly talented children, Japanese-American artist and architect Isamu Noguchi and dancer Ailes Gilmour. The native New Yorker would be an ideal subject for a movie, even if her children had enjoyed only moderately successful careers. As depicted by Emily Mortimer, Gilmour’s story is nothing short of inspirational. After leaving Bryn Mawr College without a degree, in 1896, Gilmour supported herself by teaching and editing. Five years later, she would answer a newspaper ad for an editor, placed by Japanese writer Yone Noguchi. He had been living in the U.S. for several years, publishing two books of poetry, but still needed help with his English prose. With Gilmour’s help, Nogushi was able to finish “The American Diary of a Japanese Girl” and publish it to some acclaim. A year later, they would enter into a short-lived romantic relationship and faux marriage, whose end-product would be their son, Isamu. In 1907, Gilmour joined Nogushi in Japan, unaware that he had married a Japanese woman in the interim.
Complicating matters further, Nogushi reverted to cultural traditions that would have required Gilmour to play a subservient, even invisible role as his companion. She stayed on in Japan, even after their relationship ended and she gave birth to Ailes, whose father remained anonymous. Isamu traveled to the United States to attend school and re-discover the American half of his identity. Gilmour would return home in 1920, as well. She steered Isamu away from his pursuit of a degree in medicine, to a career in sculpture and architecture. She died in 1933, at 60. Co-writer/director Matsui focuses here on Gilmour’s experiences in Japan, where, apart from Noguchi, she initially knew no one and spoke very little Japanese. She would adapt to the foreign culture relatively quickly, however, and find work teaching in Yokohama. Mortimer does a wonderful job portraying Gilmour, especially as someone who became as one with the beauty of the cherry blossoms and lush gardens, and prospered as a modern woman in an ancient, hidebound culture. Matsui does a nice job re-creating the period setting and finding interesting places to stage the story. The DVD comes with making-of and background material, as well as an interview with the director. – Gary Dretzka
In 1981, after unexpectedly hitting the bulls-eye with “The Evil Dead,” longtime friends Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Robert Tapert thought Hollywood executives would recognize their limitless potential and beat a path to their door in the wilds of suburban Detroit. Instead, they pushed their luck by making an extremely goofy and far-too-dark comedy that nearly ended their careers before they began. Campbell recalls the experience in a funny interview conducted for the Blu-ray and DVD release from Shout!Factory. If all three of the men hadn’t rebounded quickly with “Evil Dead II” and a long string of hits, his story wouldn’t be nearly amusing as it is, in hindsight. Long story short, after investors got their hands on the script and rushes for “Crimewave,” they flipped completely out and not in a good way. The film went virtually unseen in the U.S., until several years after its VHS release, when Raimi’s name also was associated with “Darkman” and “Army of Darkness.” Today, while not exactly a cult hit, “Crimewave” can be viewed without prejudice as the live-action cartoon it is. It gets points, as well, for being the second film co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen.
Being a big fan of the Three Stooges, Raimi invested years’ worth of nyuk-nyuk-nyuk humor into the portrayals of a pair of moronic pest exterminators, who drive around Detroit in a van with a rat attached to its roof and moonlight as hitmen. They’ve taken it upon themselves to kill the head of a security-systems company who stiffed them, and, while they’re at it, take out his annoying wife (Louise Lasser). In doing so, they successfully frame a nebbishy security guard, Vic (Reed Birney), who fancies himself a super-hero in the Peter Parker tradition. Vic fools himself into believing that a gorgeous blond moll (Sheree J. Wilson) might be within his romantic grasp, simply because he saved her from being run over by a car. He endeavors to rescue her from her cad boyfriend (Campbell) and the exterminators, one of whom apparently took his acting cues from Bluto. (The other resembles Ron Jeremy on a bad-hair day.) The wild chase that ensues could be seen as a parody of every Hollywood car chase since the days of the Keystone Kops. That’s a lot of weight for a very slight comedy to carry, and it stumbles more often than succeeds. Still, the scenes in which Raimi is able to show off his wild imagination and cinematic instincts – a segment set inside a 1940s nightclub is extremely well done – easily qualify “Crimewave” as a guilty pleasure. – Gary Dretzka
Face 2 Face
Katherine Brooks has lived the kind of life – most of it, anyway — that could inspire filmmakers from places other than L.A. and New York to buck the odds and pursue their dream. As her story goes, the Louisiana native ran away from home at 16, with $150 in her pocket, and headed for Hollywood. Once there, Brooks was reduced to sleeping in her car, until she discovered the ladder to fulfillment and began to climb it rung by rung, in front of and behind the camera. Her greatest success has come in the reality-TV arena, with credits that include “Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica,” “The Real World,” “The Osbournes” and “The Spin Crowd.” Her short films led to features, “Surrender,” “Loving Annabelle” and “Waking Madison.” The documentary, “Face 2 Face,” describes a personal journey Brooks took at a time in her life when depression was leading her down a dead-end road. After undergoing surgery and becoming dependent on drugs, she came to the realization that having 5,000 Facebook “friends” didn’t make her feel any less lonely, isolated and un-hugged than if she had never purchased a PC. As a way of reaching for help and companionship, the filmmaker asked her Facebook pals if they might consider welcoming her into their homes, in person. It took her nine minutes to score 50 legitimate invitations and begin planning her 11,000-mile cross-country journey, which would be funded by 846 backers on Kickstarter. Several of the people Brooks met were in even worse straits than she was and it allowed her to open up to them. Others were able to inspire the filmmaker and force her to reassess her priorities. Among them is the former lover, now much older, who inspired the short film, “Dear Emily,” and caused no small amount of heartbreak in her after being jilted. “Face 2 Face” is a powerful document, made even more dramatic by the very real possibility that Brooks could relapse at any moment and finally succumb to the demons encouraging her to commit suicide. I got the feeling that the film might originally have been intended as a reality series, but her producers lost patience along the way. Had it gotten the green light, the title “Real People” would have been every bit as appropriate as “Face 2 Face.” The DVD includes a slideshow and deleted scenes. – Gary Dretzka
The Last Stand: Blu-ray
Tomorrow You’re Gone
Directed by the estimable Jee-woon Kim, in his first foray outside of Korea, “The Land Stand” marks Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring role since “T3,” in 2003. Surprisingly, the years he spent in Sacramento, as the Governator, didn’t dull his edge as an action hero as much as some of us thought they would. Instead of giving him an opportunity to prove his continued value as a marquee talent, though, a large percentage of his former fan base simply decided to give his comeback picture a base. The disappointing box-office notwithstanding, “Last Stand” does a nice job reminding us of what made Arnold an A-list star in the first place. It helps, of course, that writer Arnold Knauer (“Ghost Team One”) knew all of the right action-genre buttons to push, while also throwing in enough off-the-cuff humor to keep things from getting too serious. Here, Arnold plays Ray Owens, a small-town sheriff who is content to do virtually nothing, as long as the natives are safe and quiet. He’s about to be tested by a gang of mercenary thugs attempting to smuggle a convicted Mexican drug kingpin back, across the border, on a bridge designed to transport military vehicles across canyons and rivers. The escapee (Eduardo Noriega) is driving a souped-up Corvette and he knows how to make it do tricks. FBI agents led by Forest Whitaker are trailing the guy, as well, but he’s burdened by the institutional arrogance of the agency and no natural feel for the ruthlessness of Mexican criminals. Having already made his reputation as a take-no-prisoners lawman in L.A., Owens relishes the opportunity to prove that frontier justice is still the best defense against tyranny and really bad hombres. His motley crew of deputies includes Luis Guzman, Johnny Knoxville, Harry Dean Stanton, Zach Gilford, Rodrigo Santoro and Jaime Alexander, and the bad guys are commanded by the comically sinister Peter Stormare. There’s lots of violence in “The Last Stand” and enough blood spray to satisfy Arnold’s old fans. Blessedly, his character isn’t given a love interest 40 years his junior, as well, which an American director might have been tempted to do. The Blu-ray adds several decent making-of featurettes, as well as extended and deleted scenes. Anyone who digs the movie really ought to check out Kim’s “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” “I Saw the Devil,” “A Bittersweet Life” and “A Tale of Two Sisters.” You won’t be disappointed.
David Jacobson’s existential crime thriller, “Tomorrow You’re Gone,” follows by eight years the director’s creepy urban-cowboy psycho-drama, “Down in the Valley,” and the surprisingly well-received docu-drama, “Dahmer.” He has a penchant for movies that don’t follow the usual blueprints for the genre and, here, even ventures into David Lynch territory. If it doesn’t always work, at least he’s trying different things. Stephen Dorff plays the emotionally damaged ex-con Charlie Rankin, whose life was saved in prison by an older jailbird (Willem Dafoe) known as Buddha. As soon as Charlie is released on parole he knows that he’ll have to repay the debt owed Buddha by taking out a rival. For his trouble, he’s given a pile of money and a barely functional handgun. Before Charlie can pull the trigger, however, he is introduced to the closest thing to an angel any crook is likely to meet in his lifetime. While riding on a city bus, he’s taken under the wing of a warm and generous beauty, Florence (Michelle Monaghan), who invites him home to watch a porno in which she plays a naughty nun. After his four-year bit, Charles seems more than a little gun-shy around such an aggressive woman and he greets her persistence with a mixture of fear and disdain. We’re left to wonder if she might either be a supernatural trickster or spy for Buddha. When the hit doesn’t go down as planned, Charlie is forced to rethink his concept of honor and obligation to Buddha. Dorf’s trademark angst gets tiresome after a while and it’s difficult to buy Monaghan as an X-rated sister of mercy – in gold sandals, no less – even with her crazy wigs. “Tomorrow You’re Gone” plays far better on DVD than in theaters, so fans of moody crime stories might find something here to like. – Gary Dretzka
History of the Eagles
Mumford & Sons: The Story
Any 40-year-old rock band that thinks it’s OK to sell tickets to its concerts at prices topping out at $895 a piece – covering front-row seating, a parking pass and a pre-concert party – is either the Rolling Stones or comprised of musicians who have sold their souls to Satan’s accountants. As the History of the Eagles tour approaches Chicago, scalpers are hoping to get $2,249 for front-row seats. You can still find seats for between $85 and $200, but most are singles and you’ll be sitting closer to the top of the Sears (a.k.a., Willis) Tower than the stage. Tickets for the Stones’ “50 and Counting” tour are roughly in the same range, but, in some cities, the promoters have had to lower prices to avoid empty seats. I only mention this because the nearly four-hour-long “History of the Eagles: The Story of an American Band” spends as much time chronicling the band’s contract disputes, bitter internecine feuds and battles with record-label executives, including David Geffen, as the music. No matter the compromises made in the 1970s, it can’t be said that the most financially prosperous artists didn’t also produce much unforgettable music. When the classic-rock format began to dominate FM radio stations in the early 1980s, programmers naturally turned to the Eagles, Stones and other bands that could still fill stadiums during reunion tours. The good news here is that, besides giving far too much exposure to the band’s longtime manager, Irving Azoff, Alison Ellwood’s warts-and-all documentary contains much terrific music, a solid recounting of the history of the songs, a sounding board for former members Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner and Don Felder and praise for the contributions of latecomers Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit.
Along with Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Brown, John David Souther, Dan Fogelberg, Rick Nelson and Poco, the Eagles were among the founders of the so-called California sound, which combined elements of country, folk and guitar-heavy rock, with introspective lyrics and a cosmic-cowboy point-of-view on life. The Eagles would emerge from the pack, joining Fleetwood Mac at the top of the pop charts with songs that told stories and captured the quirkiness of love in three- to four-minute bursts. The Eagles, in turn, would influence an entire generation of country-music artists, beginning with Travis Tritt, Clint Black, John Anderson, Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill, Diamond Rio and Suzy Bogguss, all of whom participated in the hugely popular 1993 tribute album, “Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles.” Ellwood also chronicles the solo careers of Don Henley and Glenn Frey and various reunion tours and never-ending squabbles and ego trips. It’s as complete a document as any fan of the group could hope to find, informed by many fresh interviews and archival footage. A separate third disc captures the 1977 Capital Center concert, when the original band members were still talking to each other and the group had yet to hit its creative peak. A special limited-edition package adds a 40-page case-bound book, 10 photographs of the band at various stages of its existence, a lithograph of the band’s desert-bleached-skull logo, a Native American blanket-inspired liner and leather tie fastened with a bone button. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it lists for $299, while the three-disc DVD/Blu-ray can be had for $40, full retail.
By marked contrast, “Mumford & Sons: The Story” is an unauthorized biography that runs all of 42 minutes, contains about 20 seconds of music and is comprised of interviews that are widely available on the Internet. Fans who aren’t already aware of the information dispensed in the material here really have no right to consider themselves to be fans. This being the year that the folky London quartet broke through, some folks may leap at anything with the lads’ names on it. I can’t imagine anyone being satisfied with “The Story.” – Gary Dretzka
Of Two Minds
Frontline: Raising Adam Lanza
PBS: 10 Buildings That Changed America
When, in the 1990s, “bipolar disorder” became the widely accepted alternative to “manic-depression,” I assumed that the change was a function of scientifically correct linguistics. If anything, the difference essentially was a matter of degree, the highs being higher and the lows lower. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the eccentricities of unruly students were blamed on “ants in their pants” and the frequent drifting off of other classmates was a function of daydreaming. Today, of course, those same inattentive kids have been diagnosed as having ADD – and, later, ADHD – and, for chronically spaced-out children, a form of dissociation. In some less-enlightened cultures, I suppose, extreme examples of these same maladies still are blamed on demonic possession and cures are sought in church-sanctioned exorcisms. Too often, though, people with bipolar disorder and other new-fangled psychiatric ailments see the ultimate cure in suicide. Indeed, social networks on the Internet now serve as early-warning systems for teenagers who have been bullied, tormented or marginalized to the point where they think going out in a blaze of infamy might give voice to their pain. “Of Two Minds” introduces us to a few of the estimated 5 million Americans living with bipolar disorder and the surviving relatives of those who decided that the condition was too great obstacle to overcome. Co-director Douglas Blush has edited many of the most decorated documentaries of the last decade, including “Wordplay,” “These Amazing Shadows,” “The Invisible War,” “Freakonomics” and “Outrage.” If, like ADHD, bipolarity seems to have evolved from little-known malady to epidemic, it’s because the media now pays greater attention to any illness that affects people in their key readership base or viewer demographic. And, of course, awareness breeds contagion. Moreover, people being treated for mental-health issues no longer accept second-class citizenry or stigmatization and have formed affinity groups to break down the walls of ignorance, indifference and silence. It’s only been within the lifetimes of most Baby Boomers that the idea of seeking psychiatric guidance — if only to attain such perceived curatives as Ritalin, Zoloft, Xanax, Prozac, Wellbutrin and lithium – has evolved from being a social stigma or sign of weakness, to something that’s as common as going to any other medical specialist. “Of Two Minds” takes a straight-forward approach to the subject, allowing the patients to speak for themselves about their own experiences and decisions concerning medication, and for therapists to offer their perspectives. The DVD adds the short film, “The Mad Parade”; more interviews with experts and advocates; and extended interviews with people we meet in the film.
In the wake of the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I was prompted to consider how horrifying crimes and their perpetrators distinguish and sometimes define great cities for decades to come. Chicago is known far and wide as the site of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, while Dallas and Memphis will forever be stigmatized by the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Until Hurricane Sandy, Tony Soprano was as representative of New Jersey as Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. Our urban centers have other worthwhile attractions and dignitaries, however. Recently, the names of certain American suburbs have become as notorious as the Texas School Book Depository, Los Angeles’ now-demolished Ambassador Hotel, where Bobby Kennedy was killed, and Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Such previously anonymous locales as Littleton, Aurora, Newtown, Clackamas, Oak Creek, Brookfield, Binghampton, Virginia Tech, Lancaster and even Fort Hood have become synonymous with mass slayings that occurred there. In some cases, the names have become red-flag warnings for proponents of stronger gun-control statutes and, for others, proof that all teachers, students and janitors should be armed and considered deputized. While the “Frontline” documentary “Raising Adam Lanza” leaves more questions unanswered than most such films, it also offers a balanced portrait of a town whose citizens were forced to deal with issues no suburbanite anticipated confronting when escaping the clamor and crime of big cities. The give-and-take that followed the shootings at Sandy Hook wasn’t nearly as rancorous as some debates over gun control, but it revealed a chasm that isn’t likely to be bridged as long as politicians can be bought by lobbyists and the words, “well-regulated militia,” are twisted to fit opposing points of view. The documentary was produced in collaboration with the Hartford Courant newspaper, in whose circulation area the shootings occurred. That Adam Lanza was a walking time bomb is treated as a given. What made him so dangerous and how his gun-toting mother’s malfeasance may have contributed to the massacre remain questions that may remain unanswered forever.
That the entirety of America’s architectural history can be boiled down to 10 building seems laughable, at first glance, anyway. By eliminating the influence of gas stations, theme parks and fast-food restaurants, however, a case can be made that the evolution of office and government buildings, churches, factories and shopping centers all begin with certain seminal concepts. They can still be seen and experienced first-hand, although a couple of them have greatly outlived their usefulness, as intended. The PBS presentation,”10 Buildings That Changed America,” takes us on cross-country tour of America and introduces to such visionaries thinkers as Thomas Jefferson, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry and Robert Venturi. It also explains how the ideas developed from Old World traditions, shifting cultural currents and decisions based strictly on increasing profits. Among the places visited are the Virginia State Capitol, Boston’s Trinity Church, Chicago’s Loop and suburbs, Henry Ford’s first Model T assembly line and the Disney Concert Hall, in downtown Los Angeles. At an hour, such a program could only serve as a sampler, but it makes for a painless lesson on American architecture. – Gary Dretzka
PBS: The Bletchley Circle: Cracking a Killer’s Code: Blu-ray
TeenNick: Dance Academy: Season 1
Just as the key role played by Navajo code talkers in World War II remained classified until well into the Vietnam War, the details of the unlocking of Germany’s Enigma machines and their ciphers were kept secret by British authorities for several decades. It wasn’t until the 1979 release of the Polish film, “Sekret Enigmy,” that anyone was made aware of the Polish Cipher Bureau’s cracking of the Enigma code in 1933 and the transference of two machines to France and Britain before the country was invaded by the Nazis. The mansion at Bletchley Park became the nerve center of code-breaking activity during the war, providing intelligence that would prove useful in the North African campaign and other war zones. British filmmakers have since used Bletchley Park as a setting for intrigue, romance and melodrama. “The Bletchley Circle: Cracking a Killer’s Code” uses the wartime experiences of four women code breakers as a stepping-off point for their investigation, eight years later, into a series of murders involving young women in southern England. Like many other women who served their countries in WWII and gave up their jobs to returning soldiers, these four have found civilian life to be a tad dreary. By happenstance, information gleaned from newspaper reports on the killings makes one of the women believe that they could only have been perpetrated by someone from the intelligence community. She convinces her three friends to join her in an investigation that is dismissed by police and frowned upon by their spouses. Because amateur sleuths are nearly as common in the mystery genre as thick-skulled cops, there’s a distinct air of familiarity to the three-part mini-series. Even so, the clichés don’t interfere with the realistic period feel and patient unfolding of clues and evidence. The Blu-ray arrives with cast and crew interviews.
Imported to Nickelodeon from Australia, “Dance Academy” is an ensemble drama targeted at American teens who don’t necessary fit the mold of the glitzy socialites on “Gossip Girl” or football-crazy kids of “Friday Night Lights.” It’s been positioned alongside the network’s long-running “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” which is produced in Canada. The show is set at Sydney’s National Academy of Dance, where survival as an artist supersedes maintaining one’s social status. The diverse cast of characters frequently finds time for other teen pursuits, but the first-year students, especially, are required to condition themselves to being away from home for the first time and/or accepting the supervision of adults. Among the key players is Tara Webster (Xenia Goodwin), who was raised on a sheep farm and fears she may be hopelessly outclassed by the boys and girls from more pedigreed backgrounds. The first-season packages arrive in separate volumes, each representing 13 episodes. They also contain photo galleries. – Gary Dretzka
Bink & Gollie and More Stories About Friendship
The latest compilation of read-along stories from Scholastic Storybook Treasures is headlined by the Mutt & Jeff of kid-lit, “Bink and Gollie.” The precocious girls — one tiny, the other tall – find it difficult to agree on almost anything, but, unlike our elected representatives, understand the value of compromise. The Geisel-winning series is written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile and narrated by Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome. Other stories included here are “A Sick Day for Amos McGee,” by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead and narrated by David de Vries; “The Other Side,” by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, narrated by Toshi Widoff-Woodson; and “Cat and Canary,” written and illustrated by Michael Foreman. The special features add interviews with illustrator Fucile, the Steads and Woodson. And, yes, the stories promote friendship, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. – Gary Dretzka