DURHAM - There was music in the air at this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. So many documentaries were based on musicians, songwriters, studios and Napster that we’re splitting our coverage into two columns. Next column will be about all the non-musical films. Now let’s focus on the songs that made the truths flow from the screen.
The festival opened with the sad news of Roger Ebert’s passing. He wasn’t merely a film critic, but the screenwriter of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. This was one of the greatest musical movies with the joyful pop sound of the Carrie Nations. Ebert’s passing was marked by a freakish sleet storm.
Good Ol’ Freda finally lets Freda Kelly talk about her time at the center of Beatlemania. Barely out of secretarial school, she got the greatest job of the Sixties as the secretary for George, Paul, John and Ringo. She originally used to see the Beatles when they would play lunch time concerts at the Cavern Club. Freda went from fan to employee right before their first single. She managed the fan mail and put together the fan magazine. If you wrote the Beatles for an autograph, it was up to Freda to get the Mop Tops to sign away. If you received scraps of hair in the mail, Freda insured it was real. She fired a girl for sending out fake Beatles hair. She worked the gig until a year after the Band broke up. What’s amazing is that this is the first time Freda has told her story. The movie should delight Beatlemaniacs who wondered about that hair that was sent back from Liverpool.
Downloaded is a very insightful look at Napster from the inside and outside courtesy of director Alex Winter. That’s right, the star of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure was able to distill the cyber hurricane that devastated record labels in 1999. The movie uses plenty of video shot inside the Napster machine that shows off exactly how small this operation was. You will be shocked to discover that Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning aren’t the same person. Neither of them looks like Justine Timberlake. While Napster is notorious for being a music file sharing program, Winter points out that there was a great functionality to the site as a social gathering space. Aspects of the Napster program have yet to be reproduced even after 14 years. All sides of the Napster battle gets covered. Lars from Metallica still looks like a jerk for going after his fans and collecting a million bucks. The end of Napster is a portrait of cyber punishment. The true villain that kills the soul of Napster turns out not to be the RIAA, but the outside investors who wanted to tame the free-wheeling rebel programmers. The documentary is produced by VH1 so you’ll be seeing this in a theater in a few months. Alex Winter took a little time to sit down with the Party Favors to discuss the movie and if I should still worry about the RIAA suing me for having that MP3 of Pac-Man Fever on my trashed Mac G-5.
The movie playing behind us is Good Ol’ Freda so I had to ask about his fan mail and a special letter he should have received after Lost Boys was released.
Downloaded doesn’t just report on the facts, but sucks us into the context that made Shawn Fanning and his band of pirates such a potent force. In an extremely short time, they changed the nature of the entertainment industry that wasn’t ready for the future. Alex Winter and his own crew have made a film that you’ll be able to see in the near future. Don’t download Downloaded.
Muscle Shoals is as rich view of the tiny Alabama town that gave the radio major hits for decades. Rick Hall opened up his FAME studios off the beaten track and anyone that wanted a hit, found their ways to his door. They all wanted to record with his house band, the Swampers. Greg Allman invented Southern rock in his studio when he and Wilson Pickett wailed on “Hey Jude.” The movie isn’t merely a “wasn’t it all so great” nostalgia act. There’s a massive schism when Jerry Wexler pays for the Swampers to open up their own Muscles Shoals Sound studio. This is the one that the Stones visited in Gimme Shelter. The process of making the documentary allows Rick Hall and The Swampers to mend their relationship. The film isn’t just all music talk. Director Greg “Freddy” Camalier and his gang delve in the land and history of the area. How for all the racial tension, the band that had the most trouble with the locals wasn’t black.
AKA Doc Pomus covers the life of the hall of fame songwriter. He wrote “Viva Las Vegas,” “This Magic Moment” and “Save the Last Dance For Me.” The strangest fact right off the bat is that Doc’s real name is Jerome Felder and his brother is famous divorce lawyer Raoul Felder. Just think that while Doc was writing “Teenager In Love,” Raoul profited off Middle Aged Ex-husband who fell out of love. Raoul represented the ex-wife of Martin Scorsese. Doc had a rather rough life. His parents feared he’d catch polio staying in New York City so they sent him upstate to a camp. He promptly caught polo while swimming at the camp’s pool. This didn’t stop his dream of being a singer and song writer. His condition also didn’t stop him from being a lover to the ladies. The death of Elvis saved Doc from destitution. The film goes beyond a Behind the Music episode with plenty of rare photos and footage from his long career. There’s a lot of good stories and tall tales from a man who created “Lonely Avenue” for Ray Charles.
I had to skip Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer in order to cover Diana Krall. Those who saw it really enjoyed the coverage of the outlaw Russian performers and their legal battle against Putin.
We Always Lie to Strangers goes to the heart of Branson, Missouri. This sleepy little town on Lake Taneycomo is the entertainment capital of the heartland. There’s around 10,000 residents and 8 million vacationers each year. Sixty theaters do their best to bring in tourists to shows that deal in nostalgia and patriotism. The movie isn’t about the visitors, but the entertainers. Directors David Wilson and A.J. Schnack embed themselves into the action. We get to meet the Presley and Lennon families. The Presleys were one of early musical settlers. Their show features generations on the stage. The Lennons got their start on Lawrence Welk’s show. There’s also time with a stressed out family that’s starting their own show after years being part of the company. Are they ready to step up for solos? The most intriguing lifestory is a singing dancing father of two who now has a boyfriend that’s also a performer. His ex-wife and her new husband create a nasty conflict. There’s also a shocking moment of seeing Andy William’s facelift scar. Andy had a major single when he recorded Doc Poums’ “I Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” The musical documentaries seem to tie into each other. We Always Lie to Strangers is a real life version of Robert Altman’s Nashville. A finely textured portrait of the city that’s so involving that when the credits come up, you’ll try to remember where you parked the R.V. After the movie I had a chance to talk with David Wilson about the film. They shot for five years around Branson to build up the intimacy found in the film. Part of my questioning is wondering if they have enough extra footage to create a mini-series about Branson. Check out the coat he’s wearing. It’s three times as dazzling in person.
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me recounts what happened when the wayward saint Alex Chilton teamed up with the ill-fated Chris Bell. The duo formed Big Star while hanging out at Argent Studio in Memphis. They along with Jody Stephens on drums and Andy Hummel on bass created one of the greatest power pop bands of the early ’70s. You probably have no clue who they are. The movie investigates how such great records could be completely overlooked by the music fans. Turns out they were sort of signed to Stax records during the time when the company was collapsing. Their “#1 Record” couldn’t sell since it wasn’t in records stores thanks to crappy distribution. Things seemed to be getting better when “Radio City” came out, but that got screwed up with Clive Davis got fired at Columbia Records and thus Stax’s distribution deal was dumped. The movie covers the tensions of a band that should have been bigger than Bread and Badfinger. But Big Star does have a secure cult following from when their albums finally came out on CD in the late ’80s. The movie does have a surprising fact that the band photo on the cover of “Radio City” is the guys partying at a happening TGIFridays in Memphis. Has anyone been at a TGIFridays that cool? Dante Harper is listed as a co-producer. Dante and I went to NC State together and must have put up with my rants about Chilton all those years ago. Shame Dante didn’t call me up for my Alex Chilton live at the Cat’s Cradle photos to use in the tail end of the film.
In celebration of the film, North Carolina’s Chris Stamey brought together a few friends to perform Big Star and Chris Bell songs. Stamey has a direct connection and isn’t merely a super fan. He played with Chilton when he finally arrived in Manhattan during the punk era. He also released Chris Bell’s only 45 on his label. I became one of those goofballs that had to record a few of the songs, but only so you can get an idea of the beauty in these songs. Here’s Skylar Gudasz taking the lead on “Thirteen.” Brett Harris and Django Haskins lend on the harmonies.
Now we have Chris Bell’s “You and Your Sister” with Brett Harris on the main microphone.
Finally we get “Septembur Girls” which was covered by the Bangles.
The thirty minute concert could have gone on for 90 minute. After the show I had a chance to chat with Brett and Skylar. Turns out they’ll be all performing the music of Big Star’s “Third” SummerStage in Central on June 30 from 7-10pm. Get the subway out of Brooklyn and soak up the rays of Alex.
The musical portion of Full Frame was extremely satisfying. I learned a bit more about performers I knew, strangers I should get to know, legendary studios and illegal internet services that I swear I never used.
In case you have a hankering for NBA highlights to compare with the playoffs? Well for a while you can get the 2013 Basketball Time Machine App for free.
You can download it here. Enjoy the vintage hardcourt action.
You know what James Franco’s secret of doing so much? He’s actually a set of triplets. One goes to school. One acts. The last one directs. Here’s a clip of the third James Franco Triplet filming the second James Franco Triplet on the set of Oz Great and Powerful. “My Journey In Oz By James Franco” is a bonus feature on the upcoming Blu-ray.
GREATEST MOVIE YOU NEVER SAW
The Telephone Book is the greatest X-rated comedy of all time. The movie is revolutionary. It’s mind blowing. It’s completely obscure. Yet The Telephone Book should have changed the face of comedy when it was released in 1971. You haven’t heard of the movie? A lot of people have no clue that it exists since it had a dismal release over four decades ago. I wouldn’t have known about the movie If Cinema Overdrive hadn’t run it as their Valentine’s Day gift two years back. After that screening, my life was changed. I begged home video contacts to consider releasing The Telephone Book since it had never come out on in America on Beta, VHS, Selectavision or DVD. It deserved to be beloved by a cult audience. Little did I know that the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome were not only fans, but going to release it on Blu-ray.
What can the story be that deserves such praise? Alice (Sarah Kennedy) is an adventurous young lady living in New York City. One day her phone rings and she answers it. The mysterious voice turns out to be the world’s greatest obscene phone caller. Instead of hitting star 69 and reporting him to the police, she falls madly in love with the stranger. She wants to find him so they can be together. He gives her his name and promises her that he’s in the telephone book. Thus begins her pursuit around the city to find him. What makes this obscene phone caller so special? Because he’s Norman Rose. At the time of the production Rose was the voice of Ma Bell. The man who was telling you about all the reasons you should call your mother using long distance was now swearing he could seduce the president of the United States. Alice’s journey lets her cross paths with a few familiar faces. She meets Har Poon, a porn star eager to relaunch his career. He’s played by Barry Morse, best known for being Lt. Gerard, the cop out to capture The Fugitive. He was also the science guy on Space: 1999. He’s willing to lose his toupee to expose himself for the role. Roger C. Carmel is a subway pervert who think he can impress Alice. Carmel had recently played Harry Mudd on Star Trek. There’s even William Hickey as a man who needs to call a doctor after four hours. He was in Prizzi’s Honor and Kurt Vonnegut’s Between Time and Timbuktu. Plus there’s Jill Clayburgh (Brides Maids) as Alice’s good friend with odd stuff in her bed. Sarah Kennedy went on to be cast in Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s sixth season. The talent on the screen is better than the normal X-rated movie from 1971. The film is the perfect intersection of a screwball romance, a porn film, an Andy Warhol production and a perverted Disney animation.
This movie deserves to have more of an impact. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a few devoted followers. Steve Martin’s a fan. He hasn’t responded to my tweet if “the new phone book is here” part of The Jerk is an homage to The Telephone Book. But it feels like it.
Writer-director Nelson Lyon should have been viewed as a Manhattan comedy genius. Woody Allen should have been called “The Next Nelson Lyon” when he got into feature films. Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips (Phillip Todd) and Lena Dunham ought to be referred to in Lyon-esque terms. The sad part is that the failure of The Telephone Book made it Lyon’s only movie. He would write for Saturday Night Live, but his career would hit a major iceberg from being blamed for the drug binge that killed John Belushi in 1982. This is a shame. He passed away a year ago which is why only producer Merv Bloch provides the commentary track. He gives away the secret of how cocaine was worked into the budget of films in the ’70s. He points out how this film was the end of the cinematic career of himself, Lyons, the editor and the cinematographer. He gives the complete history of the production and distribution nightmares. He holds little back from his chat. We get told the original ending. Merv has a lot of stuff written out so he doesn’t miss any details.
If you barely trust me, you will buy a copy of The Telephone Book and watch it. Oddly enough the print that Vinegar Syndrome is the one that ran at Cinema Overdrive. You are sharing the experience that we had at the theater. They’ve done an amazing job fixing the color section so the whites have returned from the pinkish frames. They located the trailers including the failed attempt to release it as Hot Number. There’s stills and the radio ad. The Telephone Book is the cinema rediscovery of the year. Pick up the phone and be seduced by the world’s greatest obscene phone caller.
Drive-In Collection: The Dungeon of Harrow & Death By Invitation are a double feature of low budget period piece shockers. The Dungeon of Harrow attempts to cash in on the Roger Corman-Vincent Price- Edgar Allen Poe films that AIP was putting out around 1962. Amazingly enough, the movie does have a budget although certain special effects look like they were made by a junior high student. After a fierce storm, Aaron Fallon (Russ Harvey) wrecks his dad’s boat on an unchartered island. The nearby castle might not be a safe haven since it’s the residence of Count de Sade (William McNulty). Around the time Aaron knocks on the door, the Count is having visions of a supernatural man. He’s losing it fast. The only thing that keeps him semi-sane is a black servant with bleached hair. This is where Sisqo got his look. Is Aaron going to get off the island? Director Pat Boyette and crew do a fine job with the magical and scary moments in a low budget universe. Death By Invitation starts off looking like The Wicker Man with a colonial crowd marching through the town in order to get rid of a witch. Centuries later the family that led the lynching ends up meeting an ancestor of the witch. Lise (Shelby Leverington) has plans for revenge. She starts with son Roger who falls under her spell. He’s such under her spell, he sits through her tale of cannibal women. The story ends with her bleeding him out. The family is not sure what happened to the son. Lise is ready to work the family down until it’s time to take out the patriarch of the Vroot family. The question crops up is Lisa is committing revenge in the name of her ancestor or has she risen from the grave. What’s it going to take to stop her snipping off the Vroot family tree? Death was shot around Staten Island in the early ’70s. Check out the red leather chairs in the family room. There’s weird comic moments like when characters have to shout over the Muzak in an office building. The Hysteria Continues provides a commentary track giving the scant details on the production. They reveal that Denver John Collins is singer Judy Collins’ brother.
True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season brings back the joy that’s Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare). The former King of Mississippi escapes his concrete grave to enliven the series with his charm, wit and blood frenzy. He was missed. “Turn! Turn! Turn!” opens the season with Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) getting taken away by the Vampire Authority for their killing in season 4. They get unexpected help to escape. Tara’s near dead with most of her skull missing. Sookie (Anna Paquin) makes a deal to bring her friend back from the dead by turning her into a vampire. While Tara does recover, her brain injuries makes her a whole new creature. Rev. Steve Newlin returns to the show, but he’s really changes. He’s no longer a Holy roller. He’s a gay vampire wanting to suck on Jason Stackhouse’s neck and other parts. The season breaks down into a conflict between the Vampire authority about whether they really should be friendly with humans or just feast on them. Seems to be plenty of the children of the night who don’t like drinking the fake stuff to be good citizens. Sookie getting in touch with her fairy nature and the vampire that sucked dry her parents. Tara dealing with the undead lifestyle. Local kids going around and killing the supernatural citizens. But what really matters as a viewer is Russell Edington is back. He’s just gold whenever he bares his fangs or a sweet Southern smile. He means as much to the screen as Joe Manganiello’s werewolf chest. Even when Russell has to battle Christopher Meloni (Oz) as head of the Vampire Authority, it’s not a fair fight. If you have to get bit by one vampire, let Russell Edington be your maker. The Blu-ray boxset is loaded not only with extras, but other ways to watch. There are DVDs and a digital copy you can get from iTunes. The 12 episodes won’t be far from your eyeballs. Bonus features include Authority Confessions that get you to understand when they do at the Vampire Authority. There’s also biographies, vampire histories and backstories to the episodes. Episode six “Autopsy” gets picked apart by cast and crew in a visual master class. There are five episodes with commentary tracks and Denis O’Hare contributes so he can explain the charisma of Russell. Drink this up before the new season of HBO’s True Blood starts on June 16.
Dexter: The Seventh Season wasn’t supposed to be the penultimate season until a few weeks ago when Showtime admitted that the upcoming eighth season will be the last. This move makes sense since how long can Dexter Morgan (Ravenscroft graduate Michael C. Hall) keep up his double life as serial killer and Miami Police’s main blood splatter guy? This is the season his subterfuge unravels. He gets sloppy as he claims his victim at the end of season 7. Not only does his sister (Jennifer Carpenter) witness him killing Tom Hank’s son Colin, but in the aftermath of cleaning up his kill space, he loses one of his precious slides. LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) finds the slide and uses it to try to prove her old lover wasn’t the real Bay Harbor Butcher. Dexter screws up when he kills a Russian mobster who killed a member of Dexter’s homicide department. Turns out that besides being connected, the victim is tagged. His mobster boss (Rome’s Ray Stevenson) gets a sense of his final trip to a watery grave. He’s coming after Dexter for revenge. He proves to be a worthy opponent. But Dexter’s got a bigger issue when he tangles up with Yvonne Stahovski (Chuck). Years before she’d gone on a cross country kill spree with a homicidal maniac. Dexter believes that she was not an innocent waif dragged into the crime scenes. She’s secretly a co-killer. But can he really put her on his table? Dexter’s sister Deb has her own issues when she gets a major promotion that she’s not really ready to handle. It’s hard to be bigwig in the police force when you know your brother has killed hundreds of people in Miami. There’s also a serial killer who imagines himself as the Minotaur to make things weird. What’s amazing is that three major directors from the ’90s called the shots on the episodes including John Dahl (Red Rock West), Michael Lehmann (Heathers) and Ernest Dickerson (Juice). The Blu-ray brings out the dazzling blood work. The final season of Dexter starts June 30 on Showtime. Watching these dozen episodes and be prepared for the big wrap up. The bonus feature is a chance to watch a stream of the upcoming Ray Donavan series.
Frankie Go Boom is a hilarious uncomfortable comedy featuring a few folks who need a laugh in their day job. Frankie (Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam) lives in the middle of the desert away from humanity. Why? Because his brother Bruce (Chris O’Dowd) turned him into a Youtube sensation. He comes back home when Bruce gets released from rehab, but the two siblings aren’t ready to mend their rift. Bruce wants to flip his fame as a director of viral videos into a major (or even minor) Hollywood filmmaker. He’s hooked up with a whacked out Chris Noth (Sex and the City). Charlie unwittingly helps his brother’s career. He picks up Lizzy Caplan (Party Down and Mean Girls) in a nice gesture that turns into a desperate sexual situation. Their unfulfilling night of passion gets videotaped by Bruce and turns into his next hit. Frankie contemplates living in a cave. His only hope is Ron Pearlman (also Sons of Anarchy) in a shocking role. Fans of SAM CRO will have their jaws drop when Jax and Clay reunite outside the clubhouse. O’Dowd has the proper level of irritation when he gets around the shellshocked Hunnam. Writer-Director Jordan Roberts knows how to pour on the low brow weirdness in a world where internet hits are the new measure of fame and infamy. Here’s a clip featuring my ex-wife from an alternate reality Lizzy Caplan with Charlie.
Crimewave brought together Sam Raimi with the Coen Brothers. The trio came up with a slapstick crime flick involving an upset business ower hiring a pair of killers to take care of his partner. Victor Ajax (Reed Birney) is about to be executed for being a killer. He swears he’s innocent and while going to the electric chair, relates how he got blamed for so many bodies. Once he was merely a sap working for Trend-Odegard Security installing cameras around town. One night Mr. Trend (producer Edward. R Pressman) got wind that Mr. Odegard was selling the business to the slick Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice). Instead of cashing out, Mr. Trend hired two exterminators to kill an extra large rat. Brion James (Blade Runner) and Paul L. Smith (Bluto in Popeye) get a little extra zealous in their work. The only real witness is Trend’s wife (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman’s Louise Lasser). This all leads to Ajax getting dragged into the mayhem. Many of Raimi and the Coen Brothers trademarks end up on the screen. The Coens would tone down the exterminators for Fargo. Oddly enough the trio’s first co-venture was beyond a box office bomb. Why did such a fun wacky film with an amazing pedigree get so obscure? The interview with Bruce Campbell hat explains what the hell went wrong with the film’s production and release. This was Sam’s first time working with a semi-major film studio (Avco Embassy). Things went downhill when the studio refused to let Bruce Campbell play Ajax. The filmmakers kept clashing with the studio over edits. The pathetic theatrical release got it on HBO. The home video release didn’t seem to get much play at mom and pop video shops even as Evil Dead and Blood Simple kept renting. Crimewave finally gets a proper Blu-ray release thanks to Shout! Factory. The film isn’t a massive disaster. In fact, it is hilarious when viewed as an over the top comedy with its mix of the modern and film noir elements. The bonus features include a commentary track with Bruce Campell, a theatrical trailer and video interviews with Campbell, Pressman and Birney. This is best enjoyed when you feel Crimewave is Coen, Raimi and Coen trying to outdo Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker.
K-9: The Complete Series brings back the world’s favorite time travelling robo-dog. The dog has had a rather busy career since he quit accompanying Dr. Who (Tom Baker era) in 1981. He popped up on for a few episodes on Queer As Folk. After years of lurking about, the recent Dr. Who revival finally got him a solo gig, but he had to go down under for his break in 2009. “Regeneration” has the original version of K-9 appear from a space-time portal to rescue humans from Jixen warriors that also popped out of the portal. He battles away until his only way to win is a self-destruction. But fear not that this series would only last as long as 1981’s one shot K-9 and Company. The robo-dog regenerates himself into a shape that can easily be converted into a CGI format. This allows him to fly without issues. The battles over the 26 episodes involve the Jixen along with a fascist government agency called The Department that enjoys hauling aliens off to prison. The humans he’s protected get in major trouble from both sides. The poor dog can’t refer to his adventures with Dr. Who since his memory is messed up. The series is exciting with plenty of action to make up for the lack of a Dr. Who character. The 26 episodes prove he’s able to hold his own leash and walk with the big dogs. Bonus features include a making of special that visits the Australian studio. There’s also a cute interview with K-9.
Have Gun Will Travel: The Final Season, Volume 1 & Volume 2 wraps up the greatest hired gunslinger in the West. Richard Boone had gotten worn out from the massive production schedule of nearly 40 episodes a season. He was ready to finally turn down a gig. So they knew this would be the last year Paladin would be accepting gigs. He would host the anthology The Richard Boone Show to show he could do more than cowboy work. The last 32 episodes are spread over two volumes. “Genesis” reflects on what got him into the game. It involved William Conrad (Cannon) and a major debt. “The Fifth Bullet” gets Paladin in trouble since he promised a guy a fair trial and he was screwed. Ben Johnson (The Wild Bunch) is part of the proceedings. “Place for Abel Hix” has him face off with Robert Blake. That’s a dangerous situation. “Shootout at Hogstooth” features Doodles Weaver. How is that not a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race? Duane Eddy shows up for “Be Not Forgetful of Strangers.” He has a guitar and will travel. “The Treasure” is filled with Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) and DeForest Kelley (Star Trek). “Brotherhood” pits Paladin against Charles Bronson. That’s a reason to pick up this set. “The Burning Tree” lets America’s TV Princess, Elinor Donahue (Father Knows Best) plot against a murdering husband. “Cage at McNaab” scares us with Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man) behind prison bars. Kind of a shame that the series had to end, but how many bullets could have left after 225 episodes?
Gunsmoke: The Eighth Season, Volume 1 & Volume 2 is another installment from the hour long black and white era of the show. While Bonanza had been shot in color for several seasons, Marshal Dillon was denied hues because CBS didn’t think it was necessary. Dodge City remains a grey zone for gamblers, outlaws, settlers and the law in 38 episodes. “The Search” puts Matt (James Arness) when he crosses dangerous territory on foot. Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) guest stars. “Quin Asper Comes Home” is a milestone episode since it marks the arrival of Burt Reynolds as Quint. Matt wants to calm down the half-Comanche and make him a part of the town. Quint is where Tarantino’s name came from. Another Star Trek moment comes with James Doohan in the frame. “Root Down” once more gets Chester (Dennis Weaver) caught in a marriage scheme. “Jenny” has a bank robber show up in town and use his ill-gotten gains as his gambling money. Is he going to rob the casino if he loses? “The Trappers” get into trouble and one races off to save his own life. The other guy survives and is out for revenge. Strother Martin (The Wild Bunch) is part of the feud. “The Hunger” involves human slavery with Joe Flynn (McHale’s Navy) and Hampton Fancher (Minus Man). “Abe Blocker” is Chill Wills. What a great name for a pool player. “The Way It Is” brings back Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo). Is he trying to seduce Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake)? In another milestone episode “Us Haggens” has the arrival of Festus (Ken Curtis)! This is not Curtis’ first time on the show, but his first as Festus. He’d become a regular when Weaver spit the range. But for now he’s just part of the Haggen family that includes Denver Pyle (The Dukes of Hazzard). “Old Comrade” unleashes the charms of Frank Sutton (Gomer Pyle). “Ash” changes a man’s personality with a blow to the head. Adam West (Batman) takes part in the bonk identity issue. “I Call Him Wonder” brings back Leonard Nimoy in a different role. “Quint-Cident” gives Burt Reynolds a psycho wannabe lover. She’s out for revenge when he doesn’t fall in love with her. Ben Johnson (The Wild Bunch) gets tied into the non-lover’s tryst. The introduction of Quint to Dodge City adds a little youth to a show that had already racked up 267 episodes. What’s even more significant is that Gunsmoke introduced Burt Reynolds to the show’s stuntman Hal Needham. Years later, the duo would collaborate on the greatest movie ever made: Smokey and the Bandit. Bonus features include sponsors spots and vintage episode previews.
The Exorcist in the 21st Century follows a real priest who expels demons from the possessed. Father Jose Antonio Fortea is sanctioned by Vatican City to do the job. His territory covers Spain. He’s not merely a fan of The Exorcist. The soft spoken priest doesn’t quite look the Hollywood star who battles Satan for the souls of the innocent. But he has the conviction to free those that swear they’re entrapped from the inside. The film isn’t merely an interview. We follow Father Jose as he attempts to exorcise a demon from a girl. For all those people who pack the theaters whenever an exorcist themed movie hits the screen, this is must viewing to get a real account of the process. Filmmaker Fredrik Horn Akselsen and crew get intimate in the ritual. The bonus features include a longer interview with Father Jose and the Vatican’s head Exorcist. There’s also a nearly hour long complete exorcism ritual. You can use this footage to grade the reality of all future showbiz exorcisms.
Doctors of the Dark Side explores the role of medical professionals in torture situations. It is one of those topics that seemed to be skipped over by the major news agencies when discussing waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.” How much sway did doctors working for the military and intelligence agencies hold over the tone and length of the sessions. Were they like boxing referees that signal when a fighter is incapable of going on? Or did they control the pain inflection so it could continue. Is a doctor providing such a service go completely against their Hippocratic Oath and the Geneva Convention? This isn’t merely about foreign nationals being tortured with the assistance of doctors. U.S. Navy Petty Officer Daniel King was accused of espionage after blowing a polygraph test in 1999. The cryptologist was mentally roughed up. Things got worse when he asked for a psychologist. Turns out the shrink was also working as a military interrogator. After two years in prison, King was released because he wasn’t a spy. Instead of being used as a warning, King’s treatment became a template in the post-9/11 era. The psychologist went on to work in Gitmo. The filmmakers recreate many of the torture techniques to supplement the disturbing photos that were taken at the Abu Ghraib prison. Can a doctor really “help” in these circumstances without appearing like characters in an Eli Roth movie? A bonus feature has director Martha Davis explain why she couldn’t get any real images of the doctors described in the documentary.
Witness: A World In Conflict Through A Lens follows photojournalists that capture images from dangerous locations. Not every place they report back from is considered a warzone, but a dangerous place with massive body counts. None of them are safe as members of the press. Eros Hoagland gets deep into Juarez< Mexico and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This is dangerous turf with drug related gang violence making the turf a daily killing field. Even more dangerous is Michael Christopher Brown's time in Libya. Veronique de Viguerie follows the hunt for Kony in South Sudan. This does a much better job at relating the horrors Kony has done in Africa better than that Kony 2012 campaign that went off the rails. It is interesting to notice the difference in this job in a digital age. No longer do they need to rush back to the dark room to see what they truly captured. With the proper set up, their images can be broadcast from the center of the conflict. The four part documentary miniseries produced by Michael Mann ran on HBO.
James A. Michener’s Texas brings another of his massive books to the TV screen. The miniseries covers how American citizens built up ranches on Mexican property and then decided to no longer wanted to be part of Mexico. Thus violence breaks out and we’re not allowed to forget the Alamo. You know this is an important special since Charlton Heston narrates it. All the legendary figures of the Texas independence work their way into the story including Stephen Austin (Patrick Duffy of Dallas), Sam Houston (Mike Hammer’s Stacy Keach), Jim Bowie (David “I’m not Keith David” Keith) and Davy Crockett (Dukes of Hazzard’s John Schneider). We even get a dose of acting from trouble country star Randy Travis. And who represents the Mexican side of the struggle? How about Benjamin Bratt and Maria Conchita Alonso. Why would anyone want leave a country with that duo in charge of the narrative? An interesting fact about this miniseries is that it came out on VHS before it aired on TV so that the producers could get their money back faster. Now you can enjoy this Texas-sized story about Texas on DVD. It’s more enjoyable than Michener’s novel.
Flashpoint: The Fifth Season is one of the few shows that airs in America that’s made in Canada and is about Canadians. Enrico Colantoni doesn’t have to fake being America like he did all those years as the photographer on Just Shoot Me. This is about their version of S.W.A.T. Except in Canada they are called Strategic Response Unit thus playing down the Weapons element of the South of the Border teams. Team One is the unit at the middle of the series. Canadian viewers might be confused since the American fifth season consists of the last part of the Great White North’s fourth season. Turns out that in the middle of these episodes, the series went from CBS to Ion in America. Thus we have a whole new season in America. Canadian viewers shouldn’t be shocked that this isn’t their fifth season which turns out to be the last series of the series. “Grounded” has the team tackle terrorists on a grounded airplane. “The War Within” has a kid seek extreme revenge when a classmate posts an embarrassing video online. “The Cost of Doing Business” introduces the concept of “express kidnapping.” “A New Life” ruins a wedding thanks to suspected mobsters. “Day Game” has a hostage situation that might be a set up. “Team Player” exposes someone who took the fall on a criminal charge in order be accepted by the wrong crowd. “Slow Burn” wraps up the season with a killer who wants to take out firefighters. While this might sound sacrilegious, Flashpoint is a better TV series than S.W.A.T.
ID:A is an amnesia film from the producers of Meloncholia. The very alluring Tuva Novotny wakes up in a river without a clue as to how she got there or who she really is. The only good part about her situation is she does have a couple million Euros. She also has a gun just in case someone wants her money. She figures out enough of her past to know she belongs in Copenhagen. Off she goes. But is someone following her? The mystery of her past start to be revealed and it’s a big shocker that involves international intrigue.
Priest of Evil just sounds badass enough. Peter Frazen is cop with issues after his daughter dies. He attempts to lose himself in his work. He picks a case that should overwhelm his focus. Turns out there’s been mysterious deaths near bus stops in Helsinki. Frazen determines that this is the work of a serial killer. Can he go after the killer without getting tangled in his own personal issues? This is a very stylish feature as the chase hits the streets of Helsinki. It’s always good to know that serial killers don’t always roam the backlots of Los Angeles or the streets of Toronto posing as Manhattan. I’m not going to give away the title, but you better confess quick.
Fraggle Rock: Meet The Fraggles brings back the Jim Henson series to celebrate its 30th anniversary from airing on HBO. This compilation DVD has six episodes starting with the pilot “Beginnings.” Doc moves into his workshop and discovers the hole that leads to the world of Fraggle Rock. The old guy doesn’t get down there, but Travelling Uncle Matt hits the Earth. “We Love Your Wembley” makes the little guy do way too much for others. “Boober’s Dreams” lets him dream of a Fraggle named Sidebottom. Is this character for real? “Red’s Club” is her protest against what Gobo wants to do. “Mokey and the Minstrels” and “Gobo’s Discovery” wrap up the overview of the singing critters that wish to dance their cares away. For those who want even more: Fraggle Rock: 30th Anniversary Collection has all five seasons, the animated series, a graphic novel and a Red keychain.
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