The Ballad of Lefty Brown: Blu-ray
Hell or High Water: Blu-ray, 4K UHD
Set in the desolate plains of Montana, before the arrival of the railroad,
The Ballad of Lefty Brown is an ode to the traditional revenge Western. When famed frontier lawman and Montana’s first elected senator Eddie Johnson (Peter Fonda) is brutally murdered – assassinated, to be precise — his longtime sidekick and friend, Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman), vows to avenge his death. The trouble is, Lefty is more than a tad over the hill and he’s outgunned by some ornery desperadoes. Along the way, he joins company with a boy (Diego Josef) infatuated with dime novels and ready to come of age as a man. As written, directed and produced by Jared Moshe (
Dead Man’s Burden),
The Ballad of Lefty Brown gets bogged down by too many diversions and lofty references to classic Western tropes. On balance, though, there’s more good reasons to pick up a copy of the Montana-set movie than wait until it turns on cable. They include David McFarland’s emotive wide-screen cinematography; Jonny Pray’s dead-on period costumes; Eve McCarney’s well-researched production design; and excellent supporting performances by Kathy Baker, Tommy Flanagan, Jim Caviezel and Joe Anderson. The best reason, though, is to watch Pullman, one of the most versatile and consistently interesting actors of his generation. In the last three weeks, alone, I’ve watched him play very different roles in
Battle of the Sexes,
Walking Out and
LBJ, in which he played Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough. Two years ago, he played a President in
Independence Day: Resurgence and will portray former New York Governor and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, in the upcoming Dick Cheney biopic,
Backseat. What next, Pope?
It would difficult to find two less interchangeable terrains than those that provide the settings for
The Ballad of Lefty Brown and
Hell or High Water, and still be part of the same American west. The former takes place on the eastern edge of the northern Rockies, with rolling hills, blossoming clouds, spectacular vistas and badlands best traversed on horseback. The latter unspools several hundred miles due south, on land flat as a table top, with crystal blue skies and lonesome roads fit for high-speed getaways from bank robberies. The one thing both these fine Westerns – one traditional, the other modern — share is cowboy boots and hats, and looking great in hi-def. Now, David Mackenzie’s
Hell or High Water – one of the surprise hits of 2016 – has become available in 4K UHD, with Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range (HDR). It only makes a good thing great. A pair of brothers, one recently released from prison, goes on a spree, robbing banks for two completely different reasons. On their tail are the irresistibly cranky Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), and his laconic Native American partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who, in a few weeks, will no longer be required to put up with the old man’s race-baiting and teasing. “HorHW” was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and Globe, as was Bridges and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. The nominations could just as well have gone to co-stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster. And, it’s well worth a second or third look in the new format. It accentuates Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography, which finds the beauty in a part of Texas – eastern New Mexico, to be precise — that it isn’t known for its scenery. The combo package adds special features, “Enemies Forever: The Characters of
Hell or High Water,” “Visualizing the Heart of America” and “Damaged Heroes: The Performances of
Hell or High Water,” footage from its red-carpet premiere and filmmaker Q&A.
Based on a best-selling novel of the same title,
Wonder is the kind of heart-tugging drama that Hollywood does best, except when the geniuses decide that the source material can’t stand on its own merits and requires a bit more mawkish sentimentality to jerk audience tears. This is especially true of movies featuring children with birth defects, cancer or learning disabilities. Because
Wonder’s central character, Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), has a congenital facial deformity so pronounced that he fears leaving home schooling behind and entering a regular middle school, it immediately recalls two movies that also got it right: David Lynch’s
The Elephant Man (1980) and Peter Bogdanovich’s
Mask (1985). Although Auggie’s disfigurement isn’t nearly as pronounced as the ones affecting the protagonists of those two movies, and probably wouldn’t have triggered the kind of bullying the boy endures at the prep school here, it makes the intended point. Auggie may be painfully shy – he wears an astronaut’s helmet whenever possible — but he’s also an excellent student, kind, generous and blessed with a wonderfully glib sense of humor. If, as Principal Tuchman (Mandy Patinkin) asserts, Beecher has a no-tolerance policy toward bullying, Auggie’s nemeses would have been expelled after the fateful post-Halloween hazing. Instead, it continues throughout the school year.
Co-writer/director Stephen Chbosky does a nice job maintaining an even keel here. The bullying never overwhelms the humanity built into the script and Tremblay isn’t required to play to the cheap seats to wring superfluous tears. There’s also plenty of room for Auggie’s parents and sister– Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic — to deal with their own issues, without injecting cheap melodrama into the mix. Most of the time, it doesn’t even look as if they’re acting. The PG-rating shouldn’t be perceived as an excuse for adults to avoid watching
Wonder with their kids of middle-school age, and older. There’s nothing saccharine or soggy about it. As is generally the case whenever Hollywood tackles subjects that concern special-interest groups,
Wonder took a bit of heat from activists for not casting an actor with a craniofacial disorder and neglecting to emphasize the fact that more harassment derives from social-media trolls and strangers than people in daily contact with the target. OK, but that’s not the point of the book and what’s in the movie, as made, beats the alternative, which is for Hollywood to ignore such issues, entirely. (When the outcry over blaxploitation grew too loud, the studios stopped making movies for African-American audiences and, by extension, hiring actors of color.) The Blu-ray adds a very good five-part making-of documentary; commentary with Chbosky and Palacio; two background featurettes; and a ”Brand New Eyes” music video.
Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield: Blu-ray
Blade of the Immortal: Blu-ray
As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t consider myself to be an expert on martial arts, Samurai and wuxia movies from the Pacific Rim nations, which is why I defer to experts as often as I do. Still, after watching dozens of genre pictures from the region in the last 10 years, I know what I like and am perfectly willing to learn from critics who specialize in them. That’s the case with Lu Yang’s
Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield. Most of the reviews I’ve read not only are wildly positive, but favorably compare the prequel to the original, as well. That must have come as a relief to everyone involved in “Blades II,” because a sequel to the original is said to already be on the drawing board. The trilogy would be patterned after the
Infernal Affairs series. It starts in 1619, in the blood-soaked aftermath of a battle between united Manchurians tribes and the troops of the Ming dynasty. Shen Lian (Chang Chen) is one of the few survivors, and he saves the life of Lu Wenzhao (Zhang Yi), who is about to be beheaded. Eight years later, a few months before the events of the first film, Shen is now a captain of the elite imperial guards known as the Jinyiwei, and Lu is his friend and superior officer, spending much of his time groveling to the all-powerful eunuch, Wei (Chin Shih Chieh), for a promotion. When a government official is murdered, Shen is forbidden from investigating the crime. Instead, he is sent to assassinate dissident Bei Zhai (Yang Mi), an artist whose work he has been collecting. It doesn’t take long for him to uncover a conspiracy, for which, if successful, he will be blamed. Like any true warrior caught in a trap, Chen knows to trust his sword and fighting skills above anyone or anything else. Not surprisingly, the artist holds keys to the door leading to the truth. The story allows for much exciting swordplay, a compelling romance and intrigue. It benefits, as well, from beautiful locations and set design.
In 1991, Japanese auteur Takashi Miike saw the release of his first two features, both on video. If they’ve ever seen the light of day in the U.S., no one bothered to mention it to anyone at Amazon. That’s probably the case with most of the movies he’s directed in the ensuing 16 years. Based on the manga of the same title,
Blade of the Immortal could hardly be a more appropriate way to turn the corner on his 100th credit. I wouldn’t say that it makes Sam Peckinpah, Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino look like pussycats, but we haven’t seen body counts like this since
Flags of Our Fathers. We’re back in Japan’s shogunate period, when a samurai named Manji (Takuya Kimura) is severely wounded in a battle in which he’s the only man left alive. A disheveled crone comes from out of nowhere to salve his severed hand with Sacred Bloodworms of the Holy Lama. Not only do the worms serve their purpose by re-attaching the limb, but they make him immortal. It is, of course, both a blessing and a curse. Although wounds by swords, axes and arrows cannot kill him, Manji is forced to live with his past sins and continues to be tortured by the death of his little sister, Machi (Hana Sugisaki).
Fifty years later, Manji crosses paths with another young girl, Rin (also Sugisaki), who is a dead-ringer for Machi. (The character reminded some critics of 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, in
True Grit.) He agrees to teach Rin some tricks of the trade, so she can help him avenge her family’s death at the hands of master swordsmen Anotsu (Sôta Fukushi) and his band of killers, the Itto-ryu. There are plenty of other samurai looking for Anotsu, including another immortal and a kick-ass woman warrior (Chiaki Kuriyama), who favors brightly colored silk robes and platform shoes. The final showdown involves dozens, if not hundreds of samurai, with all sorts of exotic cutlery at their disposal. In short,
Blade of the Immortal is a hoot. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette and interviews. The bonus package includes the “Manji vs. 300” featurette, a Takuya Kimura interview, cast interviews and poster gallery.
For decades, most of the great movies we’ve seen about World War II have focused on great battles, individual heroism and group sacrifice, primarily from the American and British point of view. Except for Adolph Hitler and the Nazi officers and functionaries introduced to us at the Nuremburg Trials, the soldiers, pilots and U-boat crews were compliant drones, easily manipulated by Der Fuhrer’s bombast and revenge for perceived injustices in the Versailles Treaty. The Japanese were even more faceless. Unlike their Axis partners, Japanese were depicted as being so loyal to their emperor that the did things westerners considered to be completely nuts, such as flying fighter planes armed with torpedoes into American ships and remain in hiding in caves until Hirohito personally alerted them to the war’s end. It was OK with the Pentagon, CIA and White House if Hollywood was limited in what filmmakers could show and tell audiences about how wars are fought and what American boys looked like after being fatally wounded or severely wounded. Images from the liberated death camps were widely distributed and horrific, of course, but thousands more were held back by military censors. In 1981,
Das Boot broke new ground by forcing European and American audiences to stare at the faces of ordinary German sailors struggling with the likelihood of death. We sympathized with them, fully knowing Nazi wolf packs had killed thousands of Allied sailors. Even so, Lothar-Günther Buchheim, author of the 1973 anti-war novel upon which Wolfgang Peterson’s film was based, dismissed it as “another re-glorification and re-mystification” of the World War II U-boat war, German heroism and nationalism. He called the film a cross between a “cheap, shallow American action flick” and a “contemporary German propaganda newsreel from World War II.” Steven Spielberg’s
Saving Private Ryan was almost universally praised for its unflinching depiction of the hellish violence that greeted Allied forces on D-Day. Some groups were appalled by the graphic violence and sight of American boys lying on the beach in pieces or drowning from the weight of their backpacks. It forever changed the way filmmakers would depicts scenes of war and improvised triage units. For better or worse, the Internet has opened the floodgates on photographs and films long hidden from public view in archives, museums and private collections.
That’s a long way of saying that movies now arriving from Eastern Europe, especially, mostly forgo re-enactments of combat and, instead, tell highly personal stories of survival, resistance, cowardice and despair. Hardly a month goes by when my pile of DVDs to review doesn’t contain a half-dozen, of so, movies and documentaries about WWII.
Line 41 arrive from Film Movement, a distributor that routinely finds and releases such films. The Russian-German co-production
Paradise tells the story of Olga (Yuliya Vysotskaya), a charismatic Russian countess, fashion editor and member of the French Resistance, into whose orbit two different Nazi monsters fall. The first, Jules, is a Vichy collaborator assigned to investigate Olga’s role in harboring Jewish children. She freely offers to trade sex for clemency, but Jules is killed before that can happen, perhaps by the Resistance. Olga is taken to an unnamed concentration camp, where the conditions are every bit as bad as the one in
Son of Saul, but escape routes are non-existent. The newly arrived camp commandant, Helmut (Christian Claus), is an SS golden boy, assigned by Heinrich Himmler (Victor Sukhorukov) to end rampant theft and corruption. Before he became captivated by Hitler’s rhetoric, however, Helmut enjoyed a care-free, bourgeoise lifestyle and was a graduate student in Russian literature. He even met Olga while on vacation in Italy. Upon discovering that she was in the camp, he offers her a job cleaning his headquarters. Sexual favors are implied, but not shown. With the war nearing its end, Helmut knows that the promise of a “German Paradise” to which he was attracted isn’t likely to come to fruition. He could attempt to escape to Switzerland with Olga or avoid interfering in her fate. But
Paradise is Olga’s movie and her future isn’t anyone’s business but her own. While Vysotskaya is clearing the drawing card here, Americans may be more impressed by the presence of co-writer/director Andrey Konchalovskiy on the list of credits. They’ll remember the Moscow native’s name from the English-language
Maria’s Lovers (1984),
Runaway Train (1985),
Duet for One (1986) and
Tango & Cash (1989), if not his Silver Lion Award for
The Postman’s White Nights (2014) and Silver Lion-nominated
House of Fools (2002), in Russian. Aleksandr Simonov’s monochrome cinematography also is worthy of attention. The DVD package adds Luka Popadic’s WWII-set short, “Red Snow” (2013).
Tanja Cummings’ debut documentary
Line 41 serves as virtual companion piece to Marina Willer’s
Red Trees, which was reviewed here a few weeks ago. In it, Willer traces a family’s journey as one of only 12 Jewish families to survive the Nazi occupation of Prague, finally settling in Brazil. She convinces her father that it’s finally time to return to the Czech Republic to help document their life before, during and after the war. In Cumming’s film. Holocaust and Lodz Ghetto survivor Natan Grossmann wasn’t so fortunate. His parents died during their arduous stay in the ghetto and he lost track of his brother, whose fate has haunted him ever since. For 70 years, Grossman repressed his desire to return to Poland to investigate the 1942 disappearance. Cummings follows him around modern-day Lotz, which still contains enough physical reminders of his life there to make
Line 41 a frequently emotional experience. Along the way, Grossman meets people he knew as a boy and Jews who returned there after the war. What makes
Line 41 stand out from other such docs, however, is the inclusion of Jens-Jürgen Ventzki, son of the former Nazi Head Mayor of Lodz and a true villain. Ventzki could hardly be more contrite, candid or helpful, as the investigation into his own family’s dark secrets overlap with Grossman’s efforts.
Federico Fellini’s Orchestra Rehearsal: Special Edition: Blu-ray
To get the most pleasure from
Federico Fellini’s Orchestra Rehearsal, it’s important to put it into historical context. Don’t worry, it won’t take long. Released in 1978, its production followed the massive disappointment and headache that was
Fellini’s Casanova, a movie he didn’t want to make about a character he didn’t like. Ironically, “Casanova” followed in the wake of
Amarcord, a highly personal picture that wasn’t just admired by audiences and critics, it was cherished and still is. It’s important to recall, as well, the political climate of the times, especially in Italy. Any residual glow from the Italy’s Economic Miracle and la dolce vita period disappeared completely with the wave of kidnappings and violence that led to the assassination of Prime Minister Aldo Moro, by left-wing fanatics, and murder of director Pier Paolo Pasolini, either by the Mafia or right-wing homophobes. Anti-intellectualism was rampant, as was labor unrest. The disruptive force of the social and political turmoil informs
Orchestra Rehearsal, as does Fellini’s appreciation of the healing power of music. Although it’s been rarely exhibited since its release,
Orchestra Rehearsal continues to prompt lively debate among critics, academics and buffs. It stems from the belief that the film, which some consider to be a divertissement, represents the first time Fellini delivered a movie that takes an overtly political stand. At 71 minutes,
Orchestra Rehearsal also begs the question as to whether it’s a long short or short feature. It’s supposed to look like a documentary made for television, which is where it was first shown, but the musicians are played by actors, who couldn’t play a lick.
Maybe, though, the best part about
Orchestra Rehearsal is that it can be enjoyed simply for its distinctly Fellini-esque conceits, starting with the cavalcade of bizarre looking characters and faux-historic setting. Some of the musicians are happy to be interviewed, while others bristle after learning they won’t be paid for their input. Besides the general grumpiness on display, the musicians appear to take their work seriously and have strong opinions about the personalities of their instruments. The dialogue simultaneously makes wonderful sense and nonsense. The Conductor (Balduin Baas) is Germanic autocrat – perhaps, modeled after Herbert von Karajian – who berates the musicians every time he hears a false note. The musicians’ union rep is there to make sure they take every second of their allotted breaks, which, of course, further incenses the Conductor. (Fellini wasn’t a fan of union-mandated rules, either.) During lunch, while the Conductor is explaining his passion for music and sadness over the passing of the good old days, the musicians have worked themselves into an anti-authoritarian frenzy. Things get much crazier before the music finally soothes the savage beasts.
Orchestra Rehearsal marks the last collaboration between Fellini and composer Nino Rota, who wrote all the scores for Fellini’s films from 1952 (
The White Sheik) to 1978. Soon after providing Fellini with one of his most beautiful themes, Rota died. The Arrow Films package is enhanced by a 2K restoration from original film elements and a 1.0 mono sound; Richard Dyer’s comments on Rota and the collaborations; “Orchestrating Discord,” a visual essay on the film by Fellini biographer John Baxter; a gallery featuring rare press material on the film from Don Young’s Felliniana collection; a reversible sleeve, featuring two original artwork options; and an illustrated collector s booklet, with new writing by Adrian Martin.
Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years, Volume 1: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
The marketing tagline for this wonderful collection of genre features by Seijun Suzuki, from his tenure at Nikkatsu’s B-movie factory, is: “Youths On The Loose And Rebels Without Causes In The Unruly Seishun Eiga Youth Movies of Japanese Iconoclast Seijun Suzuki.” And, that sums it up pretty well. In a 2016 essay for the Japan Times, Mark Schilling explains why these and other “youth films” found audiences at home but didn’t find outlets in the west. “With only a few exceptions, these films assume a familiarity with the insular world of the Japanese high school … that outlanders are unlikely to possess, with unrequited crushes on indifferent or abusive guys, that don’t translate smoothly to London or Los Angeles.” Or, perhaps, western audiences had already been inundated with what were then known as juvenile-delinquent movies, (By 1961, they were made passé by
West Side Story.) Suzuki must have studied James Dean’s three features, because his ghostly presence is palpable throughout the genre quintet, only now making their home-video debuts outside Japan. Who could have blamed him? Eventually, Suzuki’s reputation would spread beyond Japan with such cult classics as
Tokyo Drifter (1966),
Fighting Elegy (1966) and
Branded to Kill (1967), now available through Criterion.
The films collected in the Arrow package reflect Suzuki’s desire to test Nikkatsu conventions and clichés, as well as Japan’s post-war youthquake. “
The Boy Who Came Back” (1958) marks his first collaboration with Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Akira Kobayashi and Jo Shishido, with Kobayashi cast as the hot-headed hoodlum fresh out of reform school, “who struggles to make a clean break with his tearaway past.”
The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass (1961) is a tale about a student who hooks up with a down-at-heels travelling circus troupe.
Teenage Yakuza (1962) stars Tamio Kawaji as the high-school vigilante protecting his community from underworld extortionists. Based on Toko Kon’s novels about young love,
The Incorrigible (1963) and
Born Under Crossed Stars (1965) represent Suzuki’s first films set in the 1920s era, later celebrated in his highly regarded “Taisho Trilogy.” All of the titles contain plot points that Americans would have found to be incredibly cheesy in the 1960s. A half-century later, however, we’re able to see how they establish a context for scenes comparable to anything in Hollywood and European romances. That’s thanks to performances by Yumiko Nogawa, Midori Tashiro and Masako Izumi that are as affecting as any turned in by Natalie Wood, Tuesday Weld, Ann-Margret or Carol Lynley at the same time. Older actresses, playing geishas, mothers and office workers, also are afforded meaty roles. The Arrow Blu-ray package includes an authoritative introduction to the films by critic Tony Rayns and 60-page illustrated collector’s book, featuring new writing by critic and author Jasper Sharp.
Hellraiser: Judgment: Blu-ray
Drag Me to Hell: Collector’s Edition: Blu Ray
After taking a shot at directing a pair of live-action fairytale features —
Hansel & Gretel (2002),
Jack and the Beanstalk (2009) – longtime Hollywood makeup-affects designer Gary J. Tunnicliffe felt compelled to write and direct
Hellraiser: Judgment. It is the 10th film in the
Hellraiser series to which Tunnicliffe has been attached, one way or another, since
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. And, yes, Pinhead is back, as well. The aptly named antagonist, introduced in Clive Barker’s novella, “The Hellbound Heart” (1986), is a leader of the Cenobites, humans who were transformed into creatures that reside in an extradimensional realm and travel to Earth through a puzzle box called the Lament Configuration, to harvest human souls. An early icon of torture porn, Pinhead has since ventured into other realms of pure evil, even changing his appearance over the years. Paul T. Taylor is the third in a short line of actors to take on one of the most recognizable of all of screen monsters. It’s likely that the producers wanted to re-ground the characters and take the series closer to its roots. At 81 minutes, it feels more transitional than additional, introducing new characters and targets for Cenobitic abuse. The Digital Age has produced so many new avenues for evil that Pinhead is at a loss to keep up with them. He tags behind a trio of police detectives hunting a bible-obsessed serial murderer, as well as his own coterie of acolytes: Auditor (Tunnicliffe), Assessor (John Gulager), Chatterer (Mike J. Reagan), Butcher (Joel Decker) and Surgeon/Stitch Twin (Jillyan Blundell). Things get messy, fast, so newcomers should be prepared for stomach-churning images, created by brilliant makeup-effects work. The Blu-ray adds deleted scenes and outtakes, a gag reel. If there is to be another sequel, fans would be a happier lot if Dimension spent slightly more money on it than it has in the past
In its first theatrical go-round, Sam Raimi’s
Drag Me to Hell had the misfortune of going up against Pixar’s
Up and, in weekend No. 2, the instant comedy classic,
The Hangover. Even so, it ended its 2009 domestic run with a very decent $42.1 million return – against a $30 million production budget – with another $48.7 million in the foreign markets. Typically, home-media numbers remain unreported, but good news travels fast in Hollywood. In its first two weeks, the DVD/Blu-ray combo sold 459,217 copies, generating $7.98 million in sales. That total rose to $13.9 million in domestic sales, alone. It explains why Scream Factory has put together a “Collector’s Edition,” only eight years removed from the first release. In it, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is an up-and-coming loan agent, who’s forced to decide between renewing a mortgage on a home owned by a decrepit gypsy crone or calling it in, to please her greedy boss (David Paymer). Naturally, Christine makes the wrong decision. It results in a curse that demands she appease the satanic spirit that bestowed it in three days or she’ll literally be dragged into the fiery pit of Hades. It threatens to destroy her relationship with her boyfriend (Justin Long), a hard-earned job promotion at the bank and her sanity. Sam and Ivan Raimi’s story is alternately scary, gory, disgusting, hilarious and punctuated with several bombastic jump-scares. If the new edition does well, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a
Drag Me to Hell sequel was in the works. The two-disc package includes the theatrical and director’s-cut versions, which benefit from new HD masters of both versions, from the 2K digital intermediate; several ported-over interviews; fresh featurettes, “To Hell and Back”; an interview with actress Alison Lohman; “Curses!,” an interview with actress Lorna Raver; “Hitting All the Right Notes,” with composer Christopher Young; and a stills gallery.
Act & Punishment: The Pussy Riot Trials
Everybody remembers the Russian rock group Pussy Riot and its members’ willingness to take on Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church … don’t we? Or, was it just another passing fancy on the part of the media, attracted more to the band’s name than its message? Most of us only have room in our craniums for one rock-’n’-roll scandal at a time and, admit it, that one left our radar screens five minutes after three of the women were sentenced to two years in prison. Yevgeni Mitta’s comprehensive documentary
Act & Punishment: The Pussy Riot Trials takes a different tack from Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin’s
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (2013) to get to relatively the same place. For one thing, the doc opens by putting the actions of the three defendants — and dozen, or so, people who performed non-musical tasks – into the context of a history of Russian feminism and political resistance that goes back to Medieval times, as well as the role of the “holy fool” in art and literature. By 2015, band members looked back on the experience in much the same way as Johnny Rotten recalled the Sex Pistols’ hysteria: Oy! They focus here on their longstanding ideas about art and philosophy, and core belief that changes can made even in a corrupt and phony democracy. The group doesn’t perform regularly, anymore. To its credit, though, Pussy Riot anticipated the two-peas-in-a-pod relationship between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, when it released the song and video, “Make America Great Again,” a month before the presidential election here. The video depicts a dystopian world in which Trump, played by one of the band members, has won the presidency and enforces his values through beatings, shaming and branding of victims by stormtroopers. As the thugs torture their victims, Pussy Riot sings, “Let other people in/ Listen to your women/Stop killing black children/Make America great again.” Somehow, it failed to sway the electorate.
Digital technology and the Internet have pushed to the foreground ideas advanced 80 years ago by German philosopher and social critic Walter Benjamin, in his essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” It hangs over all the interviews collected in Manuel Correa’s short, but provocative documentary,
#artoffline. Like most such intellectual arguments, however, it’s likely to be of little interest to the great unwashed. In Benjamin’s essay, he proposes that fine art was diminished by the ability of publishers to reproduce flat, two-dimensional images of paintings and sculptures that exist in their own three-dimensional world. It allowed anyone with a library card to forgo first-hand observation and still consider themselves to be a connoisseur. This, without taking account texture, contours, shrinkage and expansion of images, and their emotional pull. In a way, Correa argues, Benjamin anticipated the bizarre phenomenon of museums today overrun by tourists taking still and moving pictures of great works of art, sometimes without actually studying them … except, perhaps, when setting up a selfie. Likewise, when people began using their phones to take photographs of everything from sunsets to train wrecks, did it change the nature of photojournalism? Reviews of movies and books in Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon and IMDB create the allusion of criticism, no matter how vapid or disingenuous they may be. While I would tend to agree with that argument, the philosophers, artists and curators assembled for
#artoffline beg to differ with Benjamin. They believe that endless reproduction liberates art from a muddled art market and the undemocratic exhibition circuit. A couple of critics wonder whether the continued prominence of physical art is “nostalgic fetishism.” In the era of the Internet and virtual reality, the demand for authenticity has become irrelevant. There was a time, not so long ago, when museums forbade the use of cameras in galleries, specifically for pictures that required flash units, arguing they could damage the paintings. (Or, maybe, to maintain sales of postcards and art books.) It would be wonderful if museums instituted no-camera days, if only for the sake of art lovers who seek refuge from technological overload.
For more than a year, now, John Carchietta’s sexy cross-genre thriller has been a VOD staple for Netflix. It has been promoted as being suspenseful and steamy, within genres dedicated to dramas, independent dramas and independent movies. In fact,
Teenage Cocktail is likely to disappoint anyone looking underage nudity and barely-legal shenanigans. In fact, it’s more of a cautionary tale for teenage girls and their parents than an exploitation flick. Recent transfer Annie (Nichole Bloom) is having trouble adjusting to the mean girls at her new high school. It isn’t until she befriends the free-spirited Jules (Fabianne Therese) that she begins to feel comfortable. Jules not only guesses correctly that Annie might be interested in some mild girl/girl experimentation, but she also introduces her to the financially lucrative business of Internet voyeurism. Their webcam performances barely attain the level of soft-core titillation, but, as Sly Stone once observed, “different strokes for different folks.” Anxious to leave town after classmates discover their act, the girls raise the stakes by taking on an outcall customer (Pat Healy), who doesn’t appreciate being blackmailed after a night of play. It culminates in an attack foreshadowed in the opening scene.
Teenage Cocktail accurately depicts what most parents fear could happen to their naïve kids when they spend too time on the Internet behind closed doors. Bloom has since become a regular on “Shameless” and “Superstore,” while Therese can be seen in the VOD release “American Pets.”
Richard Turner’s rise to the top ranks of close-up magic and sleight-of-hand would be fascinating, even he didn’t have the one thing that separates him from almost everyone else in the business: being blind. Even more remarkable is his desire for audiences to take his performances at face value, as they would any sighted magician. He feels the same way about people he meets in real life. To this end, Turner has refused to carry a cane, learn Braille or use a service dog, as does his sister, who lost her sight to the same degenerative disease. Neither is he introduced as “The Blind Magician” or promoted as “handicapped.” He didn’t even tell his wife, Kim, about his condition before they were married, fearing she might not go through with it or begin to treat him differently. The irony is that Turner probably wouldn’t have picked up a deck of cards, in the first place, if he hadn’t begun to lose his sight, at 9, and could still read a bit. The tactile routine of shuffling and manipulating the cards was therapeutic and, even today, he’s rarely without a deck in his hand. Turner has been accompanied for most of the last 18 years by his son, Asa Spades Turner, who’s only left his father’s side to attend college. It explains why Luke Korem’s inspirational documentary,
Dealt, focuses less on the mechanics of his art – he doesn’t consider himself to be a magician – than his journey through a life.
Dealt only stops being fun when Korem shows Turner seeking his black belt against sighted opponents, who, as instructed, take no mercy on him, or appearing to denigrate people who choose to use dogs, guidance software and other tools. It isn’t until the very end of the film, when Turner loses Asa’s ever-present support, that he re-evaluates his ironclad position on support tools. It only makes us feel better about him. The deleted scenes are also worth watching, as they further soften Turner’s hard edge, by showing him mentor kids and aspiring magicians; swapping stories with visually impaired magician, Chad Allen, author of “audio comics” and a motivational speaker; chatting with his sister; and, yes, learning to shoot a pistol at a target range. The featurette, “Magicians & Mechanics” is useful, as well.
Do It Like an Hombre
At 34, Santiago-born Nicolás López (
Aftershock) no longer can be considered the wunderkind of Hispanic genre cinema. He’s been making and writing about films since he was 15 and sold a lot of tickets as a writer, director and producer of horror flicks. Let me preface my remarks on
Hazlo Como Hombre (“Do It Like an Hombre”) by pointing out that the likeable, if dreadfully old-fashioned coming-out romcom last August became the fifth most viewed film in Mexican box-office history. It even made $2.5 million in a very limited domestic run here. The Pantelion/Lionsgate release describes what happens to the longtime friendship of Raúl (Mauricio Ochmann), Eduardo (Humberto Busto) and Santiago (Alfonso Dosal), when one of them confesses to the others that he’s gay. He does so in one of the movie’s many PG shower scenes – each one containing a drop-the-soap gag – causing Raúl to go all Mike Pence on Santiago and threaten to use gay-conversion therapy on him. Eduardo is content being the trio’s hipster metrosexual. Complicating the issue is the fact that Santiago is close to marrying Raúl’s sister, Nati (Aislinn Derbez), who can’t figure out why he isn’t interested in sex, anymore. Her pregnant best friend, Luciana (Ignacia Allamand), is married to Raúl and is caught in the middle. It’s easier to see the commercial appeal in “Do It Like an Hombre” by understanding the popularity of the five extremely cute and funny stars. Imagine the Jonas Brothers as the three male leads, with Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez playing Nati and Luciana, exchanging BJ and anal-sex jokes. No matter how retrograde the setup, the movie would still draw a crowd. The overlong featurette is lamer than anything in the movie. Check out Derbez, especially, who could make the same leap to stardom in the U.S. as Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz. Her two-episode spin on Netflix’s “Easy” was incendiary.
Some movies are based on a foundation so unstable that they’re always in danger of collapsing under pressure of close scrutiny. Antonio James and writer Deborah Capstone’s
Resolution Song is the kind of faith-based drama whose good intentions can’t overcome its one-dimensional characterizations. Veteran tough guy Lester Speight plays Marcus, the self-righteous head of a family that eats together every night and prays before each meal. Even so, Marcus won’t tolerate any form of sass or dissent, however mild, from his wife (Torrei Hart), mother-and-law (Ella Joyce), son (Cedric L. Williams) and daughter (Brittney Ayona Clemons), none of whom deserve his violent outbursts. It doesn’t take long to figure out that something is boiling under the family’s tranquil facade, beyond their fear of Marcus’ outbursts. The son, Levi, is a promising singer-songwriter, whose work in a local church choir causes him to work closely with his white next-door neighbor. Brianna (Kennedy Lea Slocum) is blessed with a heavenly voice and cursed with having to take care of a father (John J. York) who gave up on life after he drove his wife away from home and precipitated the tragedy weighing so heavily on Levi’s family. He doesn’t appear to have a job, subsists on peanut butter and wears a toupee that looks like a mop. The nature of the tragedy becomes clear when Levi invites Brianna to dinner – there’s never any real food at her home — and his mother and father freak out so completely that the kids feel threatened. And, that’s where the fault in
Resolution Song’s foundation lies. How could two families so at odds with each other exist within 15 feet of each other, for so long, without police intervention? Common sense would demand that one of the families move to a place where they wouldn’t be reminded of the tragedy every day, and the teenage children wouldn’t be tempted to hook up, despite their parents’ hang-ups. But, the Lord moves in mysterious ways, especially in faith-based movies in which His son’s teachings only come into play when the shit finally hits the fan. That said, Speight’s portrayal of a father with severe rage issues is dead-on; Joyce’s take on the bible-quoting mother-in-law is a stabilizing force throughout; and the kids earn our empathy. The redemptive power of the music made by the choir validates the title.
That African-American men comprise a disproportionately large percentage of the nation’s prison population isn’t open to question in Rel Dowdell’s hot-button documentary,
Where’s Daddy? In some jurisdictions, at least, the unbalance is compounded by a judicial system that demands that delinquent fathers be jailed if, for whatever reason, they can’t immediately come up with the money owed. The film also examines custody issues, social implications, cultural concerns and the emotional impact of navigating the child-support system as an African-American father. The documentary is set in Philadelphia, which explains the participation of local authorities, including Bishop James D. Robinson, clinical psychologist Dr. Kathleen Walls, Roc-A-Fella platinum-selling rap artist Freeway, Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl receiver Fred Barnett, writer Mister Mann Frisby and comedian J’Vonne. The examples include men thrown in jail after the ex-spouse falsely accuses them of child abuse; ex-wives who use child-support money on their own needs and desires; children poisoned by their mother’s contempt for their father; imbalance of parental responsibilities; and the use of court-ordered visitation rights as negotiating tools for personal gain. I can only assume that the men’s stories were vetted ahead of time and the experts are legit. It isn’t made clear if the problem is specific to Pennsylvania courts or it’s more widespread.
Where’s Daddy? does allow for cases in which the father is a deadbeat, but not beyond the point of redemption. The Breaking Glass DVD adds a Q&A from the film’s premier at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, audience reactions, a deleted interview with barber/stylist Richard Taylor; and musical outtake from Jason Aro.
For as long as movies have been made, male directors have always found room for actresses with freakishly large breasts. The more extreme the bosom, the dumber the roles the women have been asked to play. For a long time, Mae West was the exception that proved the rule, but every succeeding generation, it seems, has produced a bra-buster to call its own. In time,
Deep Throat raised the ante on such soft-core auteurs as Russ Meyer (
Up!) and Andy Sidaris (
Malibu Express) to the point where they had to retire or sell their wares to premium-cable outfits, like Cinemax. Their stars, including Kitten Natividad, were forced to choose between hard-core porn or accepting gag roles in mainstream comedies, like
Airplane! Lately, the pendulum of porn has begun to swing back to women with natural breasts of small to average sizes. Still, it isn’t likely that large breasts will ever go away, on stage or in the movies. Dre-YS’ extremely lame
Codename: Diablo! is the latest boobs-ploitation DVD to come my way – from who knows where – and, no matter how many comparisons to Meyer’s oeuvre are made on the jacket, it doesn’t even come close to matching the entertainment value of
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The cartoonishly endowed Lilly 4K, Mary Madison Love, LRA and Martina Big play superspies fending off a small army of enemy agents wearing scuba gear, from their fins to the snorkel on their masks. Most of it takes place on a small yacht and the ladies’ breasts are kept in place by bras seemingly made of duct tape. It’s as ludicrous as it sounds. It’s in the bonus package that Dre-YS gets to the heart of the fetish, showing the gals on a shooting range, firing semi-automatic weapons … in high heels and bikinis. There’s also outtakes from a mud fight and shower scene, in which they wear wetsuits to maintain their dignity. Some trash is too weird to ignore.
Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie
Having once encountered a hedgehog in the wilds of my sister’s backyard, in France, I can attest to fact that they’re cute little critters, whose spines aren’t nearly as dangerous to humans as those belonging to porcupines, to whom they’re unrelated. Neither are they, by any stretch of the imagination, hogs. They’re protected in some parts of the world and considered a nuisance in others. The Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of Groundhog Day can be traced to Roman times, when February 2 was celebrated as Hedgehog Day. (It also serves as Badger Day.) The closest most North Americans have come to a hedgehog is Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggywinkle and Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog game. It they’re able to predict meteorological trends, it isn’t apparent in Lionsgate’s new animated feature,
Hedgehogs. Released in its native China in July 2016, as “Bobby the Hedgehog” and “Spiny Life,” Huang Jianming’s
Hedgehogs follows Bobby (Anthony Padilla), a reckless hedgehog that lives in an idyllic community, where all the hedgehogs consume a “yummy fruit” that keeps them happy and full. In a food fight with a badger (Ian Hecox) over the treat, Bobby is hurt and ends up in the big city, suffering from memory loss so severe he doesn’t even know he’s a hedgehog anymore. Bobby meets Hubert (Jon Heder), a large, friendly pigeon who declares him a feather-less, flight-challenged bird. Hubert creates wings for Bobby to fasten to his body, but learns the genetic truth from the badger, who advises him to beware the encroachment on his kind’s habitat by human exterminators. ThinkMan (Chevy Chase) believes they carry disease and has ordered their elimination. So on, and so forth. The bright and lively animation should keep younger viewers entertained, if not their parents. Anyone seeking zoological accuracy should visit a zoo, instead.
It may seem odd for a feature-length continuation of Nickelodeon’s groundbreaking cartoon series, “
Hey Arnold!,” which ran from October 7, 1996, to June 8, 2004, to reappear on November 24, 2017. Apparently, Craig Bartlett intended “The Journal” to be made and shown shortly after the show’s final regular episode. Because a 2002 theatrical feature underperformed at the box office, however, the poo-bahs at Nickelodeon decided against giving Bartlett the closure he desired. Social media junkies decided the time was right and demanded the re-boot. It’s newly available on DVD.
PBS: Queen Elizabeth’s Secret Agents: The Rise of the First Secret Service
PBS: American Experience: The Bombing of Wall Street
Comedy Central: Broad City: Season 4
PBS: NOVA: Extreme Animal Weapons
PBS: Nature: The Cheetah Children
PBS: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
PBS: Garfield: Nine Lives
PBS Kids: Ocean Adventures/Outer Space Adventures
Nickelodeon: Blaze and the Monster Machines: Heroes of Axle City
On many PBS stations, the three-part mini-series, “
Queen Elizabeth’s Secret Agents: The Rise of the First Secret Service,” is being packaged with second-season episodes of “Victoria.” For those PBS subscribers keeping score at home, Elizabeth (a.k.a., the Virgin Queen, Gloriana and Good Queen Bess) was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife, who was executed two years after the future queen’s birth. Afterwards, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate, so as to allow for the accession of her half-brother, Edward VI; his cousin Lady Jane Grey (“The Nine-Day Queen”); his half-sister, Mary; and, finally, Elizabeth, the last Tudor monarch. It’s said that Elizabeth was only able to rule for 45 years because of the foresight of her spymasters, William Cecil, his son, Robert, and Sir Francis Walsingham. The queen inherited a lot of enemies, including the Pope, militant priests, Spanish royalty and her half-sister, Mary. She would make new ones of her own, including the Duke of Norfolk, on the way to 14 separate assassination attempts. Leeds historian Dan Jones co-wrote and co-presents the series, with Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb. They’re joined by several other historians and academics, brought in to amplify on the dramatizations. It also combines paintings of the historical figures in question and exquisitely preserved archival material. Among the locations are Gwydir Castle and Caernarfon Castle, in Wales, and Chichester, West Sussex. Anyone who watched
V for Vendetta and wants to know more about Guy Fawkes, the Gunpowder Plot and the sinister mask favored by contemporary anarchists will want to check out Chapter Three.
This played out centuries before the ascendency of FBI publicity hog J. Edger Hoover and post-WWII establishment of the CIA. Before that, America’s spy networks went largely unsung. AMC’s terrific mini-series, “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” related the story of the Culper Ring essential to victory in the Revolutionary War. Before Allan Pinkerton used the detective agency that bears his name to bust labor unions and step on the civil rights of left-wing and labor activists, he served as head of the Union Intelligence Service, credited with foiling a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln, who later hired Pinkerton agents for his personal security during the Civil War. His decisive role has been depicted in Steven Spielberg’s
Lincoln, PBS’ “Mercy Street” and Comedy Central’s “Drunk History.” The “
American Experience” presentation, “
The Bombing of Wall Street,” re-examines an incident in American history that, if it happened today, would have sent the media into a feeding frenzy. Instead, it’s barely recalled. That’s largely because the killers were never specifically identified, caught and prosecuted/framed – an Italian anarchist group is still suspected of pulling off the massacre – as was the case of the Haymarket and Los Angeles Times bombings. The Wall Street bombing occurred at 12:01 pm on September 16, 1920, in the Financial District of New York City. The blast killed 38 and injured hundreds of passersby, most having nothing to do with stocks and bonds. It helped launch Hoover’s career initiatives, while sparking a bitter national debate about how far the government should go to protect the nation from acts of political violence. It continues today, of course. The doc is based on Beverly Gage’s “The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in Its First Age of Terror.”
I wonder if Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson spent a lot time watching “Laverne & Shirley” growing up, because, apart from the Milwaukee setting, the same comic dynamic is at play in “
Broad City.” While guy pals played by Hannibal Buress, Arturo Castro and John Gemberling easily recall Lenny, Squiggy and the Big Ragoo, Ilana Wexler and Abbi Abram’s single-Jewish-gals-and-the-city lifestyle would get them arrested in Brewtown, then and today. Their off-color language and crude sexual imagery, alone, would make their co-workers at the Shotz Brewery blush. In Season Four of “Broad City,” New York becomes a full partner to Ilana and Abbi in storylines that reflect the city far more than in previous seasons. (“L&S” and “Happy Days” were tapped 2,000 miles away from Wisconsin,) Even when the girls take a road trip to Florida to help Ilana’s mom (Susan Essman) and aunt (Fran Drescher) clean out deceased Grandma Esther’s apartment, they can’t leave New York behind, for long. The season opens with a kooky homage to Peter Howitt’s 1998 urban fantasy,
Sliding Doors, taking viewers back to the day the characters serendipitously met. It ends with a nod to
Rear Window, as the girls witness what they perceive to be a murder, through binoculars, on top of the Empire State Building, and investigate it in the same slapstick way Lucy and Ethel might have, back in the day. In other episodes, they encounter bedbugs, Shania Twain, Sandra Bernhard, Ru Paul, Wanda Sykes, Steve Buscemi and Jane Curtin, and take a vividly animated stroll through the city, tripping on ’shrooms. The two-disc package adds deleted/extended scenes and backgrounders.
From “NOVA” comes “
Extreme Animal Weapons,” which questions why some species carry build-in armaments and defenses that no longer are commiserate with the dangers they face in the wild. It investigates why bull elks continue to be burdened with giant 40-pound antler racks and how tiny rhinoceros beetles are similarly hindered by horns bigger than their body. Tusks, horns and claws that once served legitimate purposes now can slow an animal down and even impair its health and nutrition. Why isn’t the same evolutionary process that continues to provide protection for lobsters, dogs, bees and snakes re-adapting to serve the needs of other creatures who’ve outlived their natural enemies. As usual, after “NOVA” producers investigate the riddle, they come up with theories of their own. In creatures as varied as dung beetles and saber-toothed tigers, shrimp and elephants, the same hidden factors trigger an arms race, which, once launched, unfold in exactly the same pattern. Join scientists as they crack the secret biological code that underlies nature’s battleground.
I know that producers of wildlife documentaries sometimes recycle their best footage and outtakes to give subsequent films a fresh look, without spending the amount of money it takes to re-capture the same material. As thrilling as it is, I wonder how many more times I’ll have to watch the same great white shark juggle and devour a seal, while airborne, several feet above the surface of the waters off Cape Town. One ocean looks about the same as the others … ditto savannahs, mountain ranges and jungles, so who’s to know? I only bring this up because the “
Nature” presentation, “
Cheetah Children” recalls at least two other documentaries I’ve seen on the same subject. For nearly two years, wildlife cameraman Kim Wolhuter shadowed a cheetah family on foot through the forested hills of Zimbabwe, where they capture the cubs’ remarkable journey from infancy to adulthood, and their mother’s dedication to raising them. The cubs are incredibly cute and a riot to watch, right up to the moment that mom drags a freshly killed beast to their den and they forget their table manners, or become targets for larger predators. I doubt that cheetahs would get the same kick watching human babies experience the same rites of passage.
PBS has picked up the distribution rights to Channel 4’s animated adaptation of Michael Rosen and illustrator Helen Oxenbury’s hugely popular 1989 children’s book, “
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” It follows siblings Stan, Katie, Rosie, Max, Baby and Rufus the dog, all of whom decide one day to go on an adventure through whirling snowstorms, oozing mud and dark forests in search of bears. And, of course, they find one. Along the way, young audiences will enjoy the onomatopoeic poetics (“swishy swashy,” “squelch squerch”) and Oxenbury’s lovely water-color images. Apparently, the producers needed to stretch the material to fill a half-hour viewing window and chose to add a gloomy bit about their grandfather’s unexpected passing. It’s still charming enough to recommend, however.
PBS is also re-releasing “
Garfield: Nine Lives,” a made-for-television adaptation of Jim Davis’ book of illustrated short stories, showcasing the “nine lives” of the beloved comic strip character Garfield. The first airing was in 1988 and it’s been available in all sorts of formats and platforms ever since. The 10-segment anthology begins with “Cave Cat” and ends in outer space, with Garfield playing an astronaut in a jam. Meanwhile, PBS is sending out a pair of collections, “
Ocean Adventures” and “
Outer Space Adventures,” comprised of episodes cherry-picked from various PBS Kids titles. Some have appeared in previous collections, so be sure to check out the menus, first.
Blaze and the Monster Machines” is a CGI-animated series that focuses on learning and having fun through the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematic) curriculum. “
Heroes of Axle City” contains four high-speed tales, including the double-length episode, “Race to the Top of the World.” The others are “Tow Truck Tough,” “Light Riders” and “Rocket Ski Rescue.” Nickelodeon currently has nearly a dozen shows for pre-schoolers in production, with six new series set to debut through 2018.
Source : http://moviecitynews.com/2018/02/the-dvd-wrapup-ballad-of-lefty-brown-wonder-blades-seijun-suzuki-fellini-hellraiser-paradise-dealt-queens-secret-service-more/