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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.
There’s a very good chance I misinterpreted the publicity material that preceded the release of “Something Borrowed.”Am I the only one who expected it to be a romantic comedy? Given a cast that includes Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin, John Krasinski and a way too handsome Colin Egglesfield, Luke Greenfield’s adaptation of Emily Giffin’s bestselling novel appeared to promise laughs and tears in equal measures, and a conclusion that kept the right girls and boys from marrying the wrong ones. Minus the laughs and tears, that’s sort of what happens in “Something Borrowed.” What’s left, however, isn’t much of anything.
Hudson and Goodwin play longtime best friends, Darcy and Rachel, both approaching 30, who’ve always confided their deepest secrets to each other … except the one about Rachel having a crush on Darcy’s fiancé, Dex (Egglesfield). Neither, though, has Dex told his wife-to-be about his feelings for Rachel, who he met in law school but failed to pick up on her vague signs of attraction. Krasinski would appear to be a natural fit for both women, but, as narrator and lifelong friend of both women, he keeps a safe distance from the track wreck he knows will happen before Darcy’s upcoming wedding day.
Normally, directors and screenwriters of American rom-coms make it far too easy to figure out which characters belong together and when exactly they’ll come to their senses. Here, we’re supposed to root for Rachel and Dex to get together, but without hurting Darcy, who seems to be a decent gal throughout most of the picture. So, when Rachel and Dex do take the inevitable roll in the hay, it’s difficult for us to feel good about it. Goodwin, herself, seems to be the opposite of a femme fatale or conniving skank, yet, there her character is, swapping spit with the would-be groom. Despite their guilt feelings, Rachel and Dex decide to keep Darcy in the dark about their tryst. Rachel even accompanies her friend to a store to pick out wedding dresses. By the time Darcy reveals her own true colors, giving us ample cause to despise her, too, there are very few characters worthy of our sympathy, and that includes Krasinski’s increasing smug Ethan. If that doesn’t make “Something Borrowed” sound very appealing, that’s only because it isn’t, particularly. Maybe, Giffin’s book has a better grip on reality.
The Blu-ray edition includes the featurettes, “On Location Tours,” in which author and some of her fans ride around New York in a tour bus, talking about the movie, the book and the characters;“Inside ‘Something Borrowed,’” a making-of pufferoo; “Something Old?,” in which the cast and crew discuss turning 30; “What Is ‘Something Borrowed?,’” during which the cast reflects on the phrase “something borrowed”; one of the male character’s guide to picking up women; deleted scenes; and a gag reel. – Gary Dretzka
Jane Eyre: Blu-ray
Horatio Hornblower: The Further Adventures
The Thomas Hardy Collection
It’s a great week for Brit-lit adaptations, with director Cary Fukunaga’s sterling take on Charlotte Brontë’s classic Victorian romance leading the parade. I don’t know how this promising young director, whose breakthrough film, “Sin Nombre,” could hardly be more different than “Jane Eyre,” landed this plum assignment. It’s 160 years and a million miles removed from the railroad yards of Central America, where “Sin Nombre” was shot and tens of thousands of adolescents risk their lives to pursue the American Dream. “Jane Eyre” is set among the landed gentry and Gothic estates of England, where a very deep moat keeps the upper and lower crusts of society separated. By all cinematic appearances, however, Fukunaga is to the manner born.
“Jane Eyre” has been interpreted dozens of times on film, television and the stage. It has provided countless actors with the opportunity to sink their teeth into characters that not only have stood the test of time, but remain flexible enough to adjust to contemporary norms. This time around, Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland,” “The Kids Are All Right”) plays the self-assured orphan, who remains determined to rise above her station in the face of childhood neglect, abuse and deceit. As Edward Rochester, Michael Fassbender follows in the footsteps of Ciaran Hinds, William Hurt, Timothy Dalton, Charlton Heston and Orson Welles, among other actors. Also along for the ride are Dame Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins, Jamie Bell, Tamzin Merchant and Imogen Poots. The magnificent Derbyshire countryside and several grand old mansions are photographed in ways that accentuate the ominous tone of the story and dark mystery that inhabits Thornfield Hall. Indeed, this “Jane Eyre” oozes atmosphere. The splendid Blu-ray edition includes deleted scenes, commentary by the writer/director and featurettes, “A Look Inside ‘Jane Eyre,’” ”To Score ‘Jane Eyre’: Cary Fukunaga and Dario Marianelli Team Up” and “The Mysterious Light of ‘Jane Eyre,’” on the evocative look of the film and its gothic thriller elements.
Ioan Gruffud plays the title character in A&E’s presentations of stories from C.S. Forester’s “Horatio Hornblower” series. In “The Duchess and the Devil” and “The Wrong War,” both first shown in 1999, our high-seas hero is required to deal with international politics, royal intrigue and the French love of guillotining peasants. Both are exciting and great fun to watch.
Also from A&E are the 1998 mini-series “Tess of the D’urbervilles,” with Justine Waddell, Oliver Milburn and Jason Flemyng, and the 2003 adaptation of “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” with Ciarin Hinds, Juliet Aubrey, James Purefoy, Polly Walker and Jean Marsh. They’re quite entertaining and arrive in handsomely repackaged “slim” editions. As usual, though, students are advised not to use them as substitutes for CliffNotes or, God forbid, reading the novels. –Gary Dretzka
Cul-de-sac: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Long before Roman Polanski moved to America, was nominated for a pair of Academy Awards, lost his wife to a monstrous cabal of evil hippies and set new standards for infamy, he made three hugely promising black-and-white films – two dark thrillers and an inky black comedy – that have stood the test of time. While “Knife in the Water,” “Repulsion” and “Cul-de-Sac” found a home in arthouses, crowd-pleasers “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown” were accepted everywhere. Confined to Europe after jumping bail on his rape conviction, Polanski’s hits and misses have played leapfrog with each other for the next 30 years.
There’s never been a better time to enjoy Polanski’s trio of early triumphs. All are available in classy Criterion Collection editions, with “Cul-de-Sac” and “Repulsion” also available in Blu-ray. The latest, “Cul-de-Sac” is a story of mid-20th Century paranoia and isolation, set in and around an ancient castle on the tidal island of Lindisfarne, on the northeast coast of England. (Polanski would return to the same location for “Macbeth.”) The movie opens with a couple of desperadoes, one of whom is seriously wounded, pulling off a nearly deserted road on what appears to be a coastal wasteland. Nearing darkness, one of the hoodlums (veteran character actor Lionel Stander) decides to hoof it to the nearest telephone booth, where he can call their boss and get rescued. Unbeknownst to either man, the tide is about to roll in, nearly submerging the automobile and temporarily isolating Holy Island, as it’s also known, from civilization. It’s there that Stander’s American gangster, Richard, makes contact with the island’s sole inhabitants, a pair of oddball libertines, played by Francoise Dorleac and Donald Pleasence. Richard may think that his pistol allows him certain liberties at the castle, but, ultimately, the couple’s bizarre behavior and lack of reverence for the gangster’s weapon and gruff demeanor turn the situation upside-down. The appearances of a local playboy and a party of sight-seeing snobs (including Jacqueline Bisset) further complicate Richard’s rescue strategy. It’s nutty as hell, but of a piece with other intellectually testing European exports of the time. The Blu-ray edition has been digitally restored under the supervision of Polanski and includes an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. It adds “Two Gangsters and an Island,” a 2003 short documentary about the making of “Cul-de-sac,” featuring interviews with Polanski, producer Gene Gutowski, and cinematographer Gil Taylor; an intriguing interview with Polanski, circa 1967; theatrical trailers; and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Thompson. – Gary Dretzka
Queen to Play
The against-all-odds premise behind “Queen to Play” may seem overly familiar, but the Corsican setting and compelling relationship at the story’s core make it easy to recommend. Sandrine Bonnaire plays a chambermaid, who works in several different inns and swank households to make ends meet for her family. One of the homes belongs to a successful French-speaking American doctor (Kevin Kline), who’s erudite and clearly battling some kind of respiratory ailment. One day, while cleaning a room in the local luxury hotel, Helene eavesdrops on an American couple engaged in a strangely sensual game of chess. At a time when her husband’s financial problems have made him as much fun to be with as Bobby Fisher, the give and take of the chess match turns her on. She asks the doctor to teach her the finer points of chess, an activity he enjoys and, we assume, will lead to a sexual liaison. Soon, her overtime sessions with the doctor begin to bother her husband and daughter, who don’t trust the rich American. Without giving anything away, what’s foremost on Helene’s mind is succeeding at the game and validating her worth as a human being, not just a working-class woman. The fact that she spruces up for the sessions and gets a sparkle in eyes while sitting opposite the doctor may or may not anticipate something romantic.
What I can reveal should already be obvious, Helene has learned her lessons so well that she not only beats the doctor at his own game, but also does well in the Corsican championship. Unlikely? Sure, but unlikely things happen all the time in the movies, especially those involving athletics and other competitive activities. “Queen to Play” was adapted from Bertina Henrichs’ best-seller by first-timedirector and screenwriter Caroline Bottaro. It’s romantic, sophisticated, unpredictable, and one needn’t be a Grandmaster to follow the chess. The DVD adds a 20-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, featuring interviews with Kline, Bonnaire, Jennifer Beals and Bottaro. – Gary Dretzka
Meet Monica Velour: Blu-ray
On “Sex and the City,” Kim Cattrall played a blond libertine whose money, clothes and connections validated her endless pursuit of younger men and powerful orgasms. In “Meet Monica Velour,” Cattrall’s over-the-hill porn icon could be Samantha Jones’ debauched country cousin. The 49-year-old woman’s dire financial strait has forced her to make one-night stands at dumpy strip clubs for the chump change she needs for booze and the funds to fight her slimy ex-husband for custody of their daughter. Not surprisingly, Monica lives in a trailer park and parties with bikers. Despite her sad state, Monica has retained most of her good looks and jaded sense of humor.
Just as Monica’s life is about to take a turn for the worse, she is visited by her most loyal fan, a geeky teenager whose bedroom is a shrine to the porn star. Because Tobe (Dustin Ingram) only knows Monica from 30-year-old video cassettes and skin mags, she’ll never grow old in his eyes. When he learns that she’ll be appearing at an Indiana dive within a day’s drive of the home he shares with his brusque and burly grandpa (Brian Dennehy), he sets off in a rusty wienermobile that Little Oscar wouldn’t be caught dead driving. On the way, he makes contact with an eccentric collector of Americana (Keith David) willing to pay top dollar for the vehicle. Tobe will use the wad of hundreds to woo Monica, who tries to discourage the lad’s attention. It’s to writer/director Keith Bearden’s credit that the story keeps viewers guessing, pretty much to the end of the movie, as to how Monica and Tobe will resolve his well-financed crush. He is, after all, closer in age to Monica’s child than Tobe is to her mom. As such, Breaden walks a tightrope between offbeat sexual comedy and creepy exploitation.
Cattrall is quite good as Monica Velour, a role that requires her to look several degrees less appealing than she ever was in “SATC.” I don’t think Breaden needed to make Tobe as hopelessly nerdy as Jon Heder’s Napoleon Dynamite or Ari Gold’s air-drummer extraordinaire in “Adventures of Power.” Sexual frustration certainly isn’t limited to full-blown dweebs and pimply faced teenagers. The disparity between Monica and Tobe would have been just has great – and, perhaps, even more compelling — if he’d been played by Zac Efron or any of the Jonas brothers. (If I’m not mistaken, the only nudity is provided by Jamie Tisdale, who plays the young Monica Velour in fantasy sequences.) Cattrall reminds us here that she had a decent career, before “SATC,” and needn’t be stereotyped in the future as a socialite or a slut. Special features include commentary and deleted scenes. – Gary Dretzka
The Best and the Brightest
This modest comedy pre-supposes that audience members have heard the stories told by upper-middle-class and wealthy New Yorkers about the horror of getting their kids enrolled in the “best” private schools. Poor and working-class parents encounter even higher hurdles, but they aren’t quoted in magazine articles or offered a seat on TV talk shows. Neither can they afford the cost of bribing school administrators, hiring consultants or contributing to fund-raising events, even before their child is able to walk. In fact, it’s taken as gospel in some Manhattan zip codes that children not already registered at a prestigious school before they’re born are destined to be learn their ABC’s at a public hellhole or boarding school. That’s the premise of “The Best and the Brightest,” in which parents played by Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville move from Delaware to Manhattan, with their bright 5-year-old daughter in tow.
At each and every school Jeff and Jennifer visit, the administrators laugh in their faces when asked if the girl can be enrolled there for the fall semester. If the consultant (Amy Sedaris) they hire to guide them through the process is no more optimistic, at least she relishes the challenge. It involves convincing an officious administrator that Jeff is a soon-to-be-published poet and Jennifer is a woman of stature in the social scene. The only thing they really have going for them is a rich college buddy, whose sexual rants Jeff borrows to prove that he’s actually a poet. Fortuitously, the administrator is a closeted S&M freak and the school’s benefactors frequent some of the same haunts as J&J’s sex-fiend friend. All’s fair in love and private schools, so things really get out of control before the little girl is allowed to apply for kindergarten. Too often, though, the farcical elements overwhelm the natural flow of the story.
Harris, Somerville and Sedaris do a nice job, with what they’re given. The game supporting cast includes Christopher McDonald, Kate Mulgrew, Bridget Regan, John Hodgman and Peter Serafinowicz, all of whom are given plenty of opportunity to chew the scenery. Obviously, parents of young children and newlyweds of all genders will find more to enjoy in “The Best and the Brightest” than viewers who couldn’t give a crap about the problems of rich people in New York. The bonus features include commentary with the director/ co-writer Josh Shelov; audition footage; cast interviews; deleted scenes; and Q&A’s with the cast and crew. – Gary Dretzka
The Bang Bang Club: Blu-ray
Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff
When Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed chronicling the war in Libya, the world was reminded once again of how dangerous a job being a photographer and documentary can be. Hetherington’s death drew more than the usual amount of media coverage, because he had co-directed, produced and shot “Restrepo,” a film about a team of American soldiers perched on a ledge overlooking a contested valley in Afghanistan. The civil war in Libya required a somewhat different skill set, but the armaments probed to be just as deadly.
“The Bang Bang Club” describes how a group of South African photojournalists captured the horror of a bloody internecine war between ANC supporters and Zulu partisans in the period immediately preceding the election that would put Nelson Mandela in control of the country. While the rest of the world and most of South Africa were trying to forget apartheid ever existed, Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe), Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch), Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach) and João Silva (Neels Van Jaarsveld) put themselves directly in harm’s way to remind readers that the struggle continued. The adrenaline rush that fueled the men’s courage under fire is palpable throughout Steven Silver’s documentary, whether they are competing for shots in the townships or trying to numb their pain at the local pub. (One of the Bang Bang Club shooters took the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a vulture stalking a starving child in the Sudan. He committed suicide after being brow-beaten in the media for not attempting to save the child, instead.)
Silver re-created the deadly confrontations in the same township streets where the blood flowed a mere 20 years ago. Residents who survived the madness, back then, were recruited to appear in “Bang Bang Club” as extras and faces in the crowd. They also share their memories, along with those of the surviving photographers, who served as consultants on the movie. Other bonus features include a very good making-of doc; commentary with Silver, deleted scenes and a short film by Kgosi Mongake.
As one of the greatest cinematographers in the history of the movies, Jack Cardiff also placed his camera between warring parties. In his case, however, the blood spilled was made of syrup and food coloring. In “Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff,” we’re reminded of his contributions to the filmmakers’ art, especially his pioneering work in the Technicolor medium. Among the classic titles listed on his resume are “The African Queen,” “The Red Shoes,” “Barefoot Contessa” and “Black Narcissus.” He’s also shot such popcorn pics as “Conan the Destroyer,” “Rambo: First Blood,” “Death on the Nile” and “The Vikings.” With a career spanning nearly 80 years, Cardiff’s contributions cannot be overstated. The Strand DVD adds an interview with director Craig McCall, by Ian Christie; Cardiff’s actress portraits and behind-the-scenes movies; and featurettes on the-cinematographer/director relationship and working with three-strip Technicolor. – Gary Dretzka
Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil
Weinstein Company realized a decent return on its investment in “Hoodwinked!,” a reasonably budgeted animated feature in which Little Red Riding Hood goes from wolf bait to superhero. The sequel, “Hoodwinked Too!,” cost twice as much money to make, but took in a measly $10 million at the box office. Somewhere in those figures is a lesson waiting to be learned and it has nothing to do with Hayden Panattiere replacing Anne Hathaway, as Red. She’s more the up to the task. Most of the rest of the voicing cast has returned, including Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton, David Ogden Stiers and Andy Dick. As “Hood vs. Evil” opens, Boingo the Evil Bunny has been vanquished and Red is away from the forest, training with a mysterious covert group called the Sisters of the Hood. While there, she gets an urgent call from Nicky Flippers (Stiers), head of the Happily Ever After Agency, informing her of the abduction of Hansel (Bill Hader) and Gretel (Amy Poehler) by the wicked witch Verushka (Joan Cusack). That’s pretty far afield from the Grimm Brothers’ original vision, which was plenty scary and not at all hokey. By tricking out Red as an unlikely superhero, the producers have turned her into just another 21st Century cartoon character. The Blu-ray arrives with three music videos, interviews with the actors, storybook sequences, production art and teasers for “Hoodwinked!” video games … natch. – Gary Dretzka
After being found guilty in the “Red Riding Hood” murders of 15 young girls, the evil antagonist of “Medium Raw” was committed to a facility for the criminally insane. Although police nicknamed him “The Wolf,” there are no other similarities between “Medium Raw” and “Hoodwinked!” … or the original Grimm Brothers’ fairytale. Although the prisoner has continually denied his guilt, experts have declared him to be a danger to society and himself. His neighbors in the medieval dungeon have earned ironic nicknames of their own and are every bit as frightening. After a computer malfunction, the doors to the maximum-security cages open and the prisoners are left to their own devious devices. Not only is hospital staff put in harm’s way, but also the police officers who arrested the Wolf and a psychiatrist who was escorting her mom and daughter through the cell block. A battle royal ensues, pitting the freaks against each other and the poor souls trapped in the dark, dank corridors. Meanwhile, the real “Wolf” lurks in the shadows, stalking the pretty little girl. “Medium Raw” may be a completely insane exercise in horror, but it should satisfy the curiosity and blood lust of its intended audience. The cast includes John Rhys-Davies, writer/director Andrew Cymek), William B. Davis, Mercedes McNab, Brigitte Kingsleyand WWE superstars Jason “Christian” Reso and Andrew “Test” Martin.
I love the premise of “Priest,” a post-apocalyptic thriller that combines the conventions of other dystopian nightmares – ruined cities, desperate survivors and fiendish predators – with clichés and archetypes from 100 years of westerns. Try to imagine “The Searchers,” if Natalie Wood had been abducted by vampires, instead of Indians, and John Wayne had laser weapons in his arsenal and a souped-up motorcycle in his stable. “Priest” was adapted from a graphic novel by Min-Woo Hyung and a characteristically ominous atmosphere prevails throughout the film. Unfortunately, screenwriter Cory Goodman and director Scott Charles Stewart (“Legion”) appear to have been more interested in vampire violence than story-telling and their good idea begins losing steam halfway through the picture. Paul Bettany plays the title character, a priest who defies his unholy superiors – apparently, in cahoots with the vampires reduced to living on reservations in the wastelands — by embarking on his righteous quest. He’s joined by Cam Gigandet and Maggie Q. Christopher Plummer plays a corrupt monsignor.
There are so many things wrong with “Double Crossed,” there’s almost no good reason to review it. Some movies simply defy criticism. As pure “grindhouse” entertainment, however, “Double Crossed” does have a few things going for it. They include rival gangs of assassins, comprised of former prostitutes and drug dealers, crossing the border between San Diego and Tijuana at will. When one of the male gangsters reneges on a poker debt of $3 million, the women are sicced on the slimeball who welshed on the bet. Tipped to the attack, the drug kingpin ambushes the women, holding one of them as ransom until they extract $3 million from their boss. Meanwhile, the Chinatown mob is awaiting shipment of a fortune in heroin. If none of that makes sense, I don’t think “Double Crossed” is supposed to provide anything except cheap thrills. – Gary Dretzka.
Lavell Crawford: Can a Brother Get Some Love?
It must be Obese Comedians Month at Comedy Central, because two of this select group’s finest practitioners are appearing there – and on extended DVDs – throughout August. Unlike John Pinette, Lavell Crawford’s material is clearly meant to be enjoyed by adult audiences. I’d add “urban” to that description, if Crawford’s appeal was limited to fans of the African-American persuasion, but it isn’t. White folks will laugh their heads off, too, as was the case in Crawford’s pursuit of the “Last Comic Standing” title, for which he came in second. “Can a Brother Get Some Love?” covers a myriad of funny subjects, without focusing primarily on food, as Pinette’s set does. That’s a relief. This DVD adds “Pre-Concert St. Louis Sightseeing Tour.” – Gary Dretzka
The Big Lebowski: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
For all the attention paid to “The Big Lebowski” since it became a cult sensation, you’d think it would have been among the first movies to be released on Blu-ray. You’d only be half-wrong, though. Universal sent it out in 2007 on HD-DVD and, a year later, a 10th Anniversary Edition DVD. Therefore, fans are advised to check out the special features included in the Blu-ray, before diving headfirst into the “Limited Edition.” Totally Dude-centric, the bonus package is heavy on information, interviews and interactive activities folks new to “The Big Lebowski” might find excessive. I dug the whole thing, but especially the casual interviews with the actors and light-hearted discussions with the Coen Brothers. I was also impressed by the Blu-ray presentation, which easily handles the contrasts in color scheme, as Dude moves from home to the bowling alley, the other Lebowski’s Pasadena mansion, Maude’s fantasy factory, Jackie Treehorn’s Malibu pad and other nighttime antics.
Among the many extras are a 28-page booklet, with a Jeff Bridges interview, his on-set photography, a film timeline and trivia. The U-Control feature allows viewers to enjoy behind-the-scenes material, while also watching the main attraction; keep track of the “F-bombs,” “Dudes” and Lebowski-isms during the film; and create a playlist of the songs in the movie. Featurettes include, the interactive game, “Worthy Adversaries: What’s My Line Trivia”; a biography of the Dude; “The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later”; a making-of doc; a history of the Lebowski Fest phenomenon; “Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams,” which focuses on the film’s nutty dream sequences; an interactive map; a droll introduction to the movie; and BD-Live Functionality. – Gary Dretzka
Cuba: Island of Music
Why, in God’s name, hasn’t President Obama lifted all restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba? He certainly doesn’t owe anything to the relative handful of exiles in Miami still desperately trying to outlive Fidel Castro. Indeed, the only people being hurt by the 50-year-old sanctions are poor and working-class Cubans, American farmers and cruise-ship operators. El Jefe certainly isn’t suffering and neither are the millionaires hoping to live long enough to sail their ships into Havana harbor, guns blazing. I’m reminded of this moronic policy every time I see a documentary on the music of Cuba.
Like the ancient American automobiles held to together with duct tape and chewing gum, it borders on the hideous to watch some of the finest musicians in the world playing instruments in worse shape than the ones handed out each year to American kids in middle school. It’s also depressing to watch samba dancers wearing costumes that would have been out of date when Desi Arnaz last visited the island.
Documentarian Gary Keys, who specializes in films about jazz, went to Cuba a dozen years ago, primarily to check out the health of Afro-Cuban music at the source. It doesn’t appear to have been inspired by the success of “Buena Vista Social Club,” but who knows? Keys has captured a far grittier side of the Havana music scene, from the makeshift clubs, street musicians and voodoo practitioners, to the country’s specially designated college for the arts and big-band stages. Along the way, Keys proves to be an observant chronicler of the decaying architecture, cigar factories and natural beauty. Back home, he also discusses Cuba’s musical legacy with Billy Taylor, Candido Camero and Chico O’Farrill. – Gary Dretzka
The Grace Card
The latest wave of faith-based movies share three prominent themes: grace, redemption and forgiveness. These are admirable subjects to investigate, but, after a while, the solutions to the characters’ moral, ethical and personal dilemmas are far too pat and convenient. On the plus side, the movies themselves are increasingly well made and interested in things other than saving souls ahead of the End Times, as was the case only a few years ago. In “The Grace Card,” a cop is required to deal with his deep-seeded racism, especially as it affects his relationship with his African-American partner, who’s also a part-time minister. The devil finds an opening when the black cop is promoted ahead of his partner and bitter feelings affect both men’s personal lives. Can they learn to live together in peace and harmony? Stay tuned. – Gary Dretzka
Outcasts: Season One: Blu-ray
Fanboy & Chum Chum: Brain Freeze
The good news about the release on DVD and Blu-ray of the new BBC sci-fi drama, “Outcasts,” is that it’s in the Saturday-night tradition of “Dr. Who,” “Torchwood,” “Primeval” and “Survivors.” It stars Beeb regulars Hermione Norris, Liam Cunningham, Amy Manson and Daniel Mays. The bad news is that the show, which took some getting used to, was limited to eight episodes.
“Outcasts” was required to distinguish itself from a billion other series and movies set in the wake of a catastrophic event on Earth in the foreseeable future. Here, a group of colonists is required to establish a new society in a sometimes hostile environment. It was shot in South Africa, which is to the BBC what Vancouver once was to Hollywood. The settings look fresh and the story doesn’t rely on exaggerated special effects for its appeal. The set comes with a making-of featurette.
The always-reliable Molly Parker plays the woman-in-distress in the new Lifetime original thriller “Gone.” She plays a nurse and divorced mother of a girl who’s been kidnapped from school. During the course of the investigation the nurse, herself the victim of sexual abuse, is told by the kidnapers that she must kill a patient under police guard or suffer the consequences. The target is an investigative reporter with knowledge of a major medical conspiracy. As the plot thickens, the nurse is required to draw upon inner resources she didn’t know she possessed. If that synopsis makes “Gone” sound like a couple dozen other Lifetime movies, Parker’s appearance elevates it above the generic specimen.
The latest compilation of “Fan Boy & Chum Chum” episodes is dedicated to the enjoyment of Frosty Freezy Freeze, a confection to which the boys are addicted. The title, “Brain Freeze,” describes what happens when they attempt to consume as much of their favorite flavor, Berry Pink, before it’s discontinued. The chilling condition results in a blackout and the disappearance of their trademark underwear. Six other episodes also find the Nickelodeon characters – voiced by Nika Futterman and David Hornsby – concerned with the future of the franchise. – Gary Dretzka
Marley & Me: The Puppy Years
Available only at Walmart – for the time being, anyway – this straight-to-video prequel to “Marley & Me” bears a closer resemblance to Disney’s “Buddies” and “Air Bud” series than the original theatrical release, a marital melodrama that starred Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. “The Puppy Years” anticipates the oafish dog’s inability to behave itself, while also warming the hearts of those around him. This one’s strictly for the kids. – Gary Dretzka
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