The ballet has served as a compelling setting for all matter of drama and tortured romance, including Michael Powell’s “The Red Shoes” and Herbert Ross’ “The Turning Point.” Add the inherently “over the top” stories behind the classic dances, themselves, and you have quite a package. Holding an audience’s interest for three or four hours was no easy trick, even in the days before the electric, home-based media.
As conceived by the ever-inventive Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan” extends the psychodrama of “Swan Lake,” by creating a parallel universe in which the dancers imitate the movements, motivations and emotional trials of the characters. It would have been difficult to trump any work of art in which lovely young women are cursed to live as birds, a handsome prince confuses his beloved for an evil imposter and the star-crossed lovers are accorded a stairway to heaven, but Aronofsky succeeds in dialing up the horror and tragedy of fairytale life. Behind their grace, poise and beauty, ballerinas conceal many grotesque character flaws. Denied nutrition and driven by an overreaching stage mom, prima ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) provides fertile ground for paranoia, blind ambition, delusional behavior and bouts of self-loathing. Her mother (Barbara Hershey), herself a former dancer, pushes Nina in one direction, while her company director (Vincent Cassel) demands she exhibit a passion the waif she isn’t mature enough to grasp. If she’s to excel in the twin roles of white and black swan, Nina will have to confront her attraction/revulsion to creative rival, Lily (Mila Kunis). The mystery and tension build to a fever pitch, even as the ballet becomes a maelstrom of feathery activity. (In hindsight, Nina’s breakdown mirrors that of Ellen Burstyn’s Sara Goldfarb, in “Requiem for a Dream.”) Seemingly at odds with itself, “Black Swan” is neither a glorification of the dancer’s art nor much of a cautionary tale for aspiring ballerinas. It is a psychosexual nightmare, pure and simple, and a very good one, at that.
It should be emphasized that all of the actors involved – including Winona Ryder, as a newly dethroned diva – deliver their performances with great passion and credibility. (If, as one dance-double now claims, Portman didn’t do most of the ballet credited to her, it’s a hell of a charade.) Aronofsky’s camera nicely captures both the intense beauty of “Swan Lake” and mad swirl of activity that drives Princess Odette toward her inevitable, tragic end. Needless to say, Peter Tchaikovsky’s music isn’t bad, either. The Blu-ray package adds an interesting making-of featurette, “Black Swan Metamorphosis,” which is 50 minutes long and quite comprehensive; shorter pieces on the production design, Portman’s prep work, Aronofsky’s history with the story and the dance sequences; “in character” studies with Portman, Ryder, Hershey and Aronofsky; and support for the Pocket BLU smartphone app, which turns the device into a remote control and with access to other special features. – Gary Dretzka
Made in Dagenham
Now that the Republican Party has declared war on unions and the benefits workers earned when times were good for everyone, it’s important to remember a time when such quaint concepts as “equal pay for equal work” weren’t the law of the land. “Made in Dagenham” chronicles a strike called by women sewing-machine operators at Ford’s plant in Dagenham, England, in 1968. At the time, unequal pay for all women – no matter how appalling the working conditions – was standard operating procedure for many large corporations and businesses. Truth be told, it probably still is. Although the Dagenham strikers represented less than 1 percent of the total workforce, Ford’s American owners fought the demand as if the women were asking for the company to move its headquarters from Detroit to Moscow.
To narrow the focus of their highly appealing David-vs.-Goliath clash, director Nigel Cole and screenwriter William Ivory invented the character of would-be working-class heroine Rita O’Grady. In Sally Hawkins’ capable hands, O’Grady evolves rapidly from being just another machinist – she reserves her feistiness for confrontations with her kids’ abusive teachers — to firebrand spokeswoman for the cause of organized labor. Yes, she’s Norma Rae with an Essex accent. Like most of her fellow female unionists, O’Grady had supported her husband during previous walkouts and, at first, the men followed suit.
Instead of settling with the women or negotiating in good faith, however, Ford attempts to drive a wedge between the workers by locking the men out of their jobs. Without an income or a settlement in sight, the men fall for the trap by treating the women’s equal-pay demand as frivolous and self-defeating. To the women’s great delight and almost everyone else’s astonishment, the ruling Labour Party’s Secretary of State for Employment, Barbara Castle, takes the equal-pay demand to heart, forcing Ford to agree to a negotiated settlement. Two years later, equal pay for equal work would be mandated by law.
Hawkins displays the same kind of spunk that propelled Sally Field to a Best Actress Oscar, for her performance as the textile worker and union leader, Norma Rae. She gets terrific support from Bob Hoskins, as one of the only male union leaders who actively supported the strike; Rosamund Pike, as a Ford executive’s unappreciated wife; Miranda Richardson, as Castle; and Jaime Winstone, Andrea Riseborough and Geraldine James as O’Grady’s loudest supporters. Cole’s evocation of working-class Essex in the 1960s also adds to the enjoyment of “Made in Dagenham.” The Blu-ray adds commentary with Cole, a making-of featurette, outtakes and the recollections and photos of women who lived through the strike. – Gary Dretzka
The Ten Commandments: Two-Disc Special Edition: Blu-ray
For at least one generation of American moviegoers, probably more, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 adaptation of the Book of Exodus provided all the education one needed about the Old Testament and support for Jewish claims on the state of Israel. The real stories were a bit more complicated – just as they continue to be – but, for us Boomer kids, watching the Red Sea part was as close to a religious experience as we were likely to have before being introduced to LSD. If Moses and DeMille agreed that a wrathful God chose the Israelites for special treatment, well, so be it. (Now, however, we’re being asked to consider the possibility that the Red Sea’s parting had less to do with Moses than the ebb and flow of a tsunami, caused by the same powerful earthquake that might also have destroyed Minoan culture.)
Even if additional hi-def resolution unlocks some of the secrets of mid-century special-effects work, “The Ten Commandments” looks and sounds terrific on Blu-ray. Judged from a distance of 55 years, much the dialogue is laughable, as well. It occasionally sounds as if the Hebrews were being held captive by Egyptians who born in Brooklyn, instead of the Land of the Pharaohs. It’s a flaw shared by nearly every biblical epic made during the same highly religious period in Hollywood. The two-disc Blu-ray set includescommentary by Katherine Orrison, author of “Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, ‘The Ten Commandments’” and newsreel footage of the movie’s gala premiere in New York. It also arrives in a “Limited Edition Gift Set,” with an all-new, hour-long documentary on the making of “The Ten Commandments”; an extensive photo gallery, packed with never-before-seen photos from Cecil B. DeMille’s BYU Archives; a making-of trailer from 1956, as well as theatrical trailers for subsequent re-releases of the film; and hand-tinted footage of the Exodus and Red Sea sequences from the 1923 Silent Film. – Gary Dretzka
I Vinti (The Vanquished)
In the United States, movies about juvenile delinquency started popping up in the mid-1930s, as an adjunct to the gangster genre. “Boys Town” and “Angels With Dirty Faces” attempted to demonstrate how bad boys could be saved from a life of crime and punishment, if only they had someone besides other criminals to emulate. The post-war years brought a different kind of juvenile delinquent to the fore. In 1955, “Blackboard Jungle” and “Rebel Without a Cause” opened the floodgates for hundreds of exploitation pictures in which rock ’n’ roll, hot rods and Brylcreem combined to rattle the foundations of mainstream American society.
Meanwhile, in Europe, a similarly powerful youthquake was about to make itself felt. No less a filmmaker than Michelangelo Antonioni would attempt to make some sense of the phenomenon, using newspaper articles as the basis for a trio of vignettes about murderous youths and their mad desire to stand out from the crowd. Antonioni had labored as a writer and director of documentaries for a half-dozen years, before attempting far more abstract works of fiction, and “I Vinti” looks very much like a transitional effort.
All of the young people we meet are from well-to-do backgrounds, a fact that must have shocked some viewers, at least, and none of the crimes were committed in the heat of passion. One takes place during a day trip to the French countryside, where friends kill a young man for what they mistakenly believe to be a pocketful of cash. The Italian segment involves a young hoodlum who kills a guard while escaping a raid by customs officials on a river outside Rome. The third takes place in London, where an arrogant poet promises to reveal to a newspaper reporter where the body of a murdered woman can be found, but only if he be allowed to write an article about his discovery. In several ways, the setup anticipates key elements in “Blowup.” All three vignettes were faced with censorship battles in the countries represented in the film, with the Italian segment reshot to eliminate the political motivations of the criminal and nature of the act of defiance, itself. The RaroVideo edition allows viewers to see what was cut out, as well as the complete original version of the Italian story.
“I Vinti” holds up pretty well, considering the passage of time and change in attitudes about what teenagers are capable of doing when bored. The restoration is excellent and the supplementary material informative. Also included is a documentary, “Tentato Suicidio,” taken from the anthology “Love in the City,” in which Antonioni interviews survivors of suicide attempts caused by heartbreak. – Gary Dretzka
Beneath the Dark
In horror movies, as in life, when something looks too good to be true, it almost always is. This is especially true for apartments whose rent seems too low to pass up, but it would be wise to do so, anyway. Such is the case for Juliet, the unfortunate protagonist of “Resident,” a movie from the same Hammer studios that gave us all manner of horror fare in the 1950-60s. If the movie, which was set and shot in Brooklyn, not London, doesn’t much resemble a typical Hammer product, at least the producers saw fit to enlist Christopher Lee for a short, but crucial role.
Two-time Oscar winner Hillary Swank plays Juliet, a recently divorced E.R. doctor who moves into an apartment building being renovated by a handsome lug, Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who we sense immediately is, himself, too good to be true. No sooner is Juliet ensconced in her new, ridiculously affordable digs than she begins to get the heebie-jeebies for no apparent reason. These feelings don’t disappear, even when she begins to see Max in more romantic settings and, soon thereafter, when her ex-husband once again starts insinuating himself into her life, again. Lee’s grandfatherly character provides the link between Max and the building’s inherent creepiness.
That’s pretty much all one needs to know about “Resident,” except that Swank and Morgan do a nice job of turning pretty standard woman-in-jeopardy fare into something entertaining and reasonably fresh. The movie didn’t get much exposure in the U.S., but it isn’t for lack of trying on the part of the actors and set designer.
“Beneath the Dark” is a thriller set in the kind of off-highway motel in which no one who’s seen “Psycho” would ever think of staying, even for a quickie. Nevertheless, a young couple on their way to Los Angeles for a wedding decides to pull in to the joint, after the driver falls asleep at the wheel and nearly crashes their car. Once they’ve settled into their room, Paul and Adrienne (Josh Stewart, Jamie-Lynn Sigler) meet several strangers who seem to have bizarre connections to Paul, especially. One is a black hipster, who fancies himself as Christ and another is the motel’s supervisor, who can’t answer even the simplest of questions about the place, but knows secrets about Paul’s background. “Beneath the Dark” required a bit more patience than I was willing to invest in it, but those who enjoy suspenseful guessing games might want to give it a try.
“Bleading Lady” (a.k.a., “Star Vehicle”) is a blood-soaked affair set in and around the production of a cheapo slasher flick. The protagonist is a wise-ass shuttle driver who thinks he knows more about making horror movies than the director, actors and crew members he transports to and from a rural location. He’s an irritant, even to the scream queen who enjoys listening to him talk trash about the cocky young filmmaker. He also promises to protect her from a stalker known to be on her trail. Finally, when the driver really goes off the deep end, no one is safe from his insane behavior. A more appropriate alternate title for “Bleading Lady” probably would have been, “Revenge of the Fanboy.” – Gary Dretzka
Mesrine: Public Enemy #1: Part 2
Gangland: The Final Season
No single gangster has captured the public’s imagination as convincingly as Al Capone, who ruled Chicago rackets from about 1924 to 1931, when he was indicted for income-tax evasion. That may not have been a long time, as these things go, but Capone’s reign coincided with some of the most brutal crimes ever committed in the Windy City and the public’s desire to forgive most sins, in return for the occasional thimble of outlawed hootch. Capone’s willingness to be seen publically as a modern-day Robin Hood played right into the hands of tenacious reporters and moviegoers who preferred their morality tales to be noisy and overflowing with blood. Produced in 1975 by Roger Corman, under the auspices of 20th Century Fox, “Capone” clearly was intended to bask in the reflected glory of “The Godfather” and anticipation of its sequel. It wasn’t nearly as quick-and-dirty as other exploitation fare from the Corman factory, but the violence and nudity raised eyebrows. Otherwise, the movie was noteworthy for a cast that included Ben Gazzara, as Capone; Sylvester Stallone, as Frank Nitti; John Cassavetes, as New York gang lord Frankie Yale; Susan Blakely, as Capone’s ill-fated moll; and Harry Guardino, as Chicago crime boss Johnny Torrio. In the 35 years since its release, “Capone” may be known best for the casting of a baby-faced Stallone and Blakely’s highly revealing exit from a bed, than anything done by Gazzara. The commentary by director Steve Morgan is especially entertaining.
“Mesrine: Public Enemy #1” is the second half of the filmed saga of Jacques Mesrine, France’s answer to John Dillinger and Clyde Barrow. Jean-Francois Richet’s epic biopic stars Vincent Cassel as the gangster, who, at one time, was deemed most-wanted in France, Canada and the United States. Like his American counterparts, Mesrine was a master of disguise who robbed banks and escaped jails with equal alacrity. The second half documents his downfall, which was hastened by a fatal case of hubris. It’s a lot of fun.
History Channel managed to squeeze seven seasons out of “Gangland,” a reality series that profiled street gangs in American cities large and small. It’s amazing that thug life has managed to infiltrate communities, which, until recently, were notorious more for being boring, than gang-banging. The lure of easy money has a way of turning things topsy-turvy in even the most stable of environments. Each episode contains exclusive interviews, rarely seen news footage and unique interpretations of gang life. The 75th episode, hosted by rappers Ice-T and Snoop Dogg, revisits the most notorious characters in the history of the series. Deleted material also is included in the package. – Gary Dretzka
Father of My Children
Anyone who doubts the difficulty of getting an independent film made, especially in a tight-money climate, ought to take a look at the French import, “Father of My Children.” Not only does it demonstrate how all-consuming a process it can be, but it also examines the toll such an enterprise can exact on a film producer’s psyche and family. Typically, little pity is shown toward the men and women who put the jigsaw pieces together, so a film’s director and cast don’t have to worry about financing, budgets and the intricacies of day-to-day decision-making. While the producer played by Dustin Hoffman in “Wag the Dog” – ego-maniacal, yet starved for attention and appreciation — comes most immediately to mind when one considers producing movies, most toil in anonymity. Like it or not, their’s is the desk upon which the buck generally stops.
In writer/director Mia Hansen-Love’s “Father of My Children,” which won a Special Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing plays a successful and widely respected producer, Gregorie, who is forced to accept the fact that he’s finally bitten off far more debt than the can chew, let alone digest. For years, Gregorie’s been able to juggle several difficult projects simultaneously and make a fine living for his family. When the economy goes south, however, he’s put on a tight leash by investors, who no longer are tolerant of his easy rapport with spendthrift directors. The deeper Gregorie goes into debt, the more he tries to protect those filmmakers, his wife and daughters, all of whom have been sheltered from the truth. At midpoint in “Father of My Children,” Gregorie makes a fateful decision that forces them all to provide answers for themselves. The movie, then, becomes a story of survival and courage in the face of diversity, especially for Gregorie’s wife, Sylvia (Chiara Caselli), who never thought she’d be required to be a producer, as well as wife and mother. Hansen-Love’s drama requires of viewers that they have a passing interest in the filmmaking process, at least, but the real rewards can be found in the depictions of a family under extreme pressure.
“One Week” is another heart-wrenching import, this one from Canada, in which the course of one man’s life is altered overnight, drastically and without warning. Even if he hadn’t been diagnosed with a terminal disease, Ben Tyler (Joshua Jackson) would be a young man on the verge either of a nervous breakdown or a cross-country journey of self-discovery. Once an aspiring novelist, Ben gave up hope when his first novel failed to make the best-seller charts. He turned to teaching, which he doesn’t find terribly rewarding, and has agreed to marry a woman he’s beginning to doubt is the perfect fit for him. The cruel diagnosis gives Ben an excuse to call off the wedding, while a chance encounter with an elderly gentleman selling his prized Norton motorcycle inspires him to split the scene and experience something new, while he still can. A message on a cup of coffee advises him to “go west, young man” – hardly a fresh idea – and that’s what he does. His trek isn’t as eventful as, say, the one in “Easy Rider,” but, by Canadian standards, it’s an eye-opener. (He even has an intimate, possibly curative encounter with Lord Stanley’s Cup in a remote hockey rink.) Besides encountering some wise souls along the way, it’s the sheer majesty of the country’s mountains, forests, prairie and seashore that offers insight into himself and why the struggle to remain alive is worth the effort. – Gary Dretzka
Who’s the Caboose?
If there’s one thing the world doesn’t need right now, it’s another mockumentary or, if you will, fauxumentary. I’m willing to give the rarely seen “Who’s the Caboose?” a pass, however, if only because it pre-dates the original, British version of “The Office” and most of the comedies inspired by the success of “Spinal Tap.” Made in 1997, “Who’s the Caboose?” takes a look at television’s pilot season through the eyes of a group of comedians, struggling to land a key role in a sitcom. Sarah Silverman stars as a brash New York comic, who resigns herself to the fact that the only way she’s likely to make a name for herself in show business is to break up with her needy boyfriend (writer/director/co-star Sam Seder) and move to L.A., where dozens of other stand-ups are attempting to capture the same lightning in a bottle as Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne Barr, Paul Reiser and Tim Allen. That’s easier dreamt than done, of course.
The best reason to watch “Who’s the Caboose?” is to observe now-familiar actors and comedians at exactly the same stage in their careers as the characters they play. Besides Silverman, whose shtick hasn’t changed much in the last dozen years, there’s Andy Dick, Kathy Griffin, David Cross, Laura Kightlinger, Andy Kindler, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Laura Silverman and Jack Plotnick, among several other now-familiar faces. Part of the movie’s charm comes in knowing that pilot season hasn’t changed much in the dozen years since “Who’s the Caboose?” was made. – Gary Dretzka
The Swimsuit Issue
It would be impossible to do a more hilarious parody of synchronized swimming than the one performed by Christopher Guest, Martin Short and Harry Shearer for “Saturday Night Live.” While not lampooning the women devoted to the highly competitive activity, the sketch’s humor derives from trying to imagine what kind of men would willingly don the silly-looking nose plugs and take the sport as seriously as the top women do. The bittersweet Swedish export, “The Swimsuit Issue,” takes a similar, if not nearly as ruthless a tack, when considering male synchronized swimming. In it, a group of middle-age floorball enthusiasts turn to swimming after being edged out of court time by women’s teams. They film a routine to be shown at the wedding of one of the players and, considering that the out-of-shape bozos were pretty wasted at the time, it was the hit of the ceremony. An invitation to perform a similar, if more serious routine at a poolside cocktail doesn’t come off nearly as well, but it convinces the men that they might be able to show the women at the athletic club a thing or two about the sport. When they learn of special all-male events in Sweden and other European countries, they decide to take the competitive plunge.
Not so amusing is a subplot in which an unemployed male swimmer learns his ex-wife is leaving the country and intends to take their daughter with her. The girl treats her dad like a doormat, but agrees to stay with him during a transitional period. After a rocky start, the girl becomes the team’s coach and organizer. It not only brings father and daughter together, but also helps the team bond as something other than a novelty act. “The Swimsuit Issue” probably isn’t as easy for American audiences to digest as such kindred British entertainments as “The Full Monty,” but it grows on you. The DVD comes with making-of featurettes and interviews. – Gary Dretzka
The Mikado: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Topsy-Turvy: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Alan Bennett Collection
Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan, the British theater and musicals, in general, are in luck this week. Not only has Criterion Collection released a Blu-ray edition of Mike Leigh’s wonderful “Topsy-Turvy,” which, in 1999, described the events leading up to the creation of “The Mikado,” but it also has sent out Universal Picture’s 1939 Technicolor adaptation of the tongue-twisting musical. It’s a double-feature conceived in G&S heaven. “Topsy-Turvy” is set at a time in the partnership when critics had begun to doubt their commitment to new work and future collaboration was threatened by Sullivan’s desire to attempt more serious opera. Impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte feels the most threatened by the possibility of a split and works feverishly to avoid such a catastrophe. A visit to a newly opened Japanese exhibition in London – where Gilbert and his wife attend a Kabuki performance – results in the brainstorm that was “The Mikado.” A cast that includes Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner, Lesley Manville, Timothy Spall and Ron Cook demands that we care desperately about the future of G&S and the Savoy Theater. The three-strip Technicolor adaptation of “The Mikado” was the first G&S production committed to the screen and the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company cooperated fully by providing the chorus and two of the company’s biggest stars, Martyn Green and Sidney Granville. Popular American singer Kenny Baker played Nanki-Poo. It’s a delightful experience, even if purists will advise against comparing it too closely to the actual stage production.
As with all Criterion products, the bonus features are as appealing as the movies themselves. Here, they include Leigh’s commentary and a conversation between the director and musical director, Gary Yershon; “A Sense of History,” Leigh’s 1992 short film written by and starring Jim Broadbent; deleted scenes; a making-of featurette from 1999; and a booklet, with an essay by critic Amy Taubin. “The Mikado” arrives with a newly remastered digital transfer and uncompressed monaural soundtrack; interviews with Leigh and “Mikado” scholars Josephine Lee and Ralph MacPhail Jr., tracing the 1939 filmed version of the opera back to its 1885 stage debut; a short silent film promoting the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s 1926 stage performance of “The Mikado” and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien.
Alan Bennett’s contributions to British theater, television and film have been duly noted by audiences and honored accordingly by critics. He’s known to U.S. movies primarily through his scripts for “The Madness of King George” and “The History Boys,” although, in 1963, he won a Special Tony Award, along with his “Beyond the Fringe” co-stars Peter Cook,Jonathan Miller, and Dudley Moore. If there’s a common discernable thread running through the 11 teleplays that comprise “The Alan Bennett Collection” it’s a keen ear for dialogue and great empathy for people who exist on the periphery of most people’s vision. These include the erudite British spy Guy Burgess, living in obscurity in Moscow; a solitary office worker, dying of cancer while keeping a stiff upper lip; Franz Kafka, who, when he wasn’t writing about his nightmares, was an investigator for an insurance man; and Marcel Proust, anticipating the German advance in World War I. Among the actors represented are Alan Bates (twice), James Fox, Daniel Day-Lewis, Coral Browne, Harry Markham, Patricia Routledge and Janet McTeer, as well as directors Stephen Frears and John Schlesinger. The selections collected here are “An Englishman Abroad,” “A Day Out,” “Sunset Across the Bay,” “A Visit From Miss Prothero,” “Our Winnie,” “A Woman of No Importance,” “The Insurance Man,” “Dinner at Noon,” “102 Boulevard Haussman,” “A Question of Attribution” and “Portrait or Bust.” The DVD set adds interviews with the author and introductions to the plays.
A half-century before people named Paris, the Situation and Snooky began to dominate the television landscape, variety shows and special theatrical presentations shared prime-time with sitcoms and dramas. Every Sunday night, from 1950 to 1955, NBC’s “Colgate Comedy Hour” presented live musical-variety shows, featuring the top names in vaudeville, theater, radio and film. Sadly, not much is left from that era except grainy kinescope recordings. Among them is the 1954 production of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” for which Frank Sinatra and Ethel Mermen made their television debuts. The kinescope was found among Merman’s possessions after her death and passed along to the Archive of American Television. Also along for the jazz-age cruise, populated with flappers, gangsters and transcontinental swells, are Bert Lahr and Sheree North. The set includes a lengthy interview with musical arranger Buddy Bregman (producer Jule Styne’s nephew) and 20-page booklet. – Gary Dretzka
The Human Experience
The media have short attention spans. Journalists lose interest in one disaster as soon as another comes along to provide fresh images of human suffering. Don’t believe me? Have you read anything lately about the devastating earthquake in New Zealand? The tragedy in Japan trumped that one in a relative heartbeat. Likewise, the war in Libya has eclipsed the much larger and more expensive conflagration in Afghanistan. The menagerie of influenza strains continues apace, as well.
Remember the buzz associated with reports of a mysterious mass slaughter of honey bees a while back? The mystery deepened, but news of birds falling from the sky in Arkansas and fish floating to the surface in other states took precedence. Then, those disasters disappeared, too.
“Colony” puts a human face on Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that threatens nothing less than the health of America’s agricultural system and food supply. If crops aren’t pollinated, they suffer, just like the families who raise the colonies and transport hives from field to field each spring. Here, we are introduced to veteran beekeepers, young people hoping to maintain the family business, researchers and representatives of pesticide producers. No one has come up with a definitive answer – there could be a hundred different reasons, including an increase in radio and cellphone transmissions – but one thing is certain: the only honey American politicians care much about is the kind that drips from the hives of corporate lobbyists.
Another new agri-doc, “Ingredients,” asks us to consider alternatives to food products grown with the help of pesticides and other chemical stimuli. It does so by chronicling the efforts of chefs, farmers and activists to create a pipeline of locally grown produce and other healthy alternatives. It has grown from a movement driven by the tastes of idealistic hippies to something resembling a popular revolt. Among those interviewed are chefs Alice Waters and Greg Higgins, and growers in Oregon, Harlem and Ohio. It is narrated by Bebe Neuwirth. The DVD of Robert Bates’s film also arrives with an extended interview with Waters; “Slow Food vs. Fast Food”; and a quartet of seasonal stories.
“Cool It” offers yet another alternate theory to the global-warming debate stirred up by Al Gore, in “An Inconvenient Truth.” This one focuses on Danish scientist Bjørn Lomborg, who doesn’t so much challenge Gore’s allegations as offer more “cost-effective” means to combat warming’s most problematic symptoms. They make sense, but, by turning Gore into a lightning rod for dissent, the doc’s producers sometimes make the issue seem more black and white than it is.
The spiritually uplifting documentary, “The Human Experience,” goes to great lengths – literally and figuratively – to demonstrate how relatively small acts of kindness can produce impressive results. It follows a group of young men as they attempt to make a difference in the lives of homeless people, orphans and, even, Ghanaian lepers. Also testifying to the limitless strength of the human spirit are such spiritual leaders and philosophers as Anna Halpine, Dr. William Hurlbut, Rabbi Simon Jacobson, Dr. Alveda King and Rev. Richard Neuhaus. The filmmakers also provide commentary. – Gary Dretzka
Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs: Blu-ray 3D
Ultimate G’s: Zac’s Flying Dream: Blu-ray 3D
As noted here earlier this month, the IMAX archives are being drained of vintage titles, probably in anticipation of the popularization of HD3D television platforms. For the time being, at least, it’s the closest any owner of a home-theater set up is going to come to replicating the large-format experience. “Secrets of the Pharoahs” attempts to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the construction of Egypt’s necropolises and the preservation of human corpses. Modern forensic science allows for greater scrutiny than ever before attempted.
In “Ultimate G’s,” 11-year-old Zac (Michael Cera) tells the story of childhood friends whose dream of flight is realized separately, as adults. Reunited after 16 years, they combine their mechanical skills and daredevil attitudes in a duel with an airborne rival. The sequence is staged over the Grand Canyon, in an Extra 300 aerobatic monoplane. “IMAX: Hubble” has yet to be translated into Blu-ray 3D, but, even in the standard format, the amazing visuals captured by the space telescope are something to behold. The material was shot during a 2009 servicing mission, although other archival material has been added. – Gary Dretzka
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Gary Dretzka has covered the entertainment industry and digital technology for such publications as the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco and Seattle Times. He also is a weekly columnist for the Internet’s Movie City News, for whom he writes about current movies; advances in DVD, Blu-ray and 3D technology; and other show-business interests. Besides being a survivor of the great Cassette vs. Eight-Track and Beta vs, VHS wars of the early 1970s and ’80s, Dretzka attended the press conference at which DVD technology was first unveiled in the U.S., in 1997. He was raised among the cheeseheads, in Wisconsin, but currently lives in Los Angeles.
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