Paramount is pushing the power of Juice. A powerful morality tale steeped in ’90s urban culture, Juice marked the feature directorial debut of Spike Lee’s acclaimed cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson and the first starring roles for Omar Epps and an electrifying Tupac Shakur.
Now, 25 years later, the gritty and influential film continues to be celebrated for its realistic portrayal of Harlem life, the early New York hip hop scene and the fate of four friends in pursuit of the power and respect they call the Juice.
To mark the film’s silver anniversary, Paramount Home Media Distribution has released the film on Blu-ray for the first time ever, and it’s packed with brand new interviews with Dickerson, producer David Heyman, Epps and fellow actors Khalil Kain and Jermaine Hopkins. The cast and crew look back on making the film, share heartfelt stories of working with Shakur and reveal the influence that Juice had on them both personally and professionally. The in-depth featurettes are also loaded with never-before-released footage of the cast on set and vintage interviews with Shakur, Queen Latifah, Cindy Herron of En Vogue, the Shocklee brothers, Eric B, EPMD, Cypress Hill and more. Along with a brand new commentary by the director, fans also will get to see the original ending and hear Dickerson detail the reasons that it was changed prior to the film’s theatrical debut.
Juice has also been released on DVD and on Digital HD.
Ever wonder why Nova, now in its 44nd season, is the most-watched primetime science series on American television, reaching an average of five million viewers weekly? The series remains committed to producing in-depth science programming in the form of hour-long (and occasionally longer) documentaries. Witness another wonder: Nova: Building Chernobyl’s MegaTomb (PBS Distribution).
In 1986, in the heart of the Ukraine, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded, releasing 400 times more radiation than the Hiroshima Bomb. It was the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Thirty workers died. 50,000 people fled the nearest city. And radioactive fallout made an area larger than Long Island a no-go zone. Hastily, a so-called “sarcophagus” was built to contain the radioactive materials that lingered at the site after the explosion. But 30 years later, the sarcophagus is crumbling, and another disaster at Chernobyl looms.
Now, an international team of engineers is racing the clock to assemble one of the most ambitious superstructures ever built … an extraordinary 40,000 ton, 1.5 billion dollar mega dome to entomb the crumbling remains of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Battling arctic winter weather–and lethal radiation–this DVD features the inside story of the epic race to build Chernobyl’s MegaTomb.
Streisand wondered how do you keep the music playing? We wonder what does it take to keep Jazz Age music going strong in the 21st century? Two words: Vince Giordano. He’s a bandleader, musician, historian, scholar and Madhattan institution. For nearly 40 years, Giordano and The Nighthawks have brought the joyful syncopation of the ’20s and ’30s to life with their virtuosity, vintage musical instruments and more than 60,000 period band arrangements.
They take to the stage of Iguana (240 West 54 Street) every Monday and Tuesday evening. Three sets are performed from 8 p.m.-11 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.). There’s a $20 cash cover charge at the door + a $20 food/drink minimum. For reservations, call (212) 765-5454.
Can’t take the A train to NYC? We strongly encourages viewing Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards’’s There’s a Future in the Past (First Run Features), a beautifully-crafted documentary that offers an intimate and energetic portrait of a truly devoted musician and preservationist, taking us behind the scenes of the recording of HBO’s Grammy-winning Boardwalk Empire soundtrack, and alongside Giordano as he shares his passion for hot jazz with a new generation of music and swing-dance fans.
The DVD starts swinging on July 11.
Also swinging that day from FRF: The Penguin Counters. Armed with low-tech gear and high-minded notions that penguin populations hold the key to human survival, Ron Naveen lays bare his 30-year love affair with the world’s most pristine scientific laboratory: Antarctica. The film follows Ron and his ragtag team of field biologists to one of the harshest corners of the planet, where they track the impact of climate change and ocean health by counting penguin populations.
What’s unique about this film is the verité style of filmmaking (by Peter Getzels, Harriet Gordon and Erik Osterholm) on a scientific quest in the Antarctic, skillfully embedding an important environmental message with a good yarn. Special permits allowed unprecedented access to remote penguin colonies–in all their chaos and splendor.
Haunted by the ghosts of fallen explorers and charmed by the eccentricities of feathered bipeds, the penguin counters’ treacherous, heart-warming journey poses the ultimate question in the world’s fastest warming region: What can humans learn from penguins on the frontlines of climate change?
Classics such as Cabaret, The Godfather, Taxi Driver and The Wild Bunch reigned over ’70s cinema. But there are riches found in the overlooked B-movies of the time . . . flicks that were rolled out wherever they might find an audience, perhaps tell an eye-opening story about post-Watergate, post-Vietnam America. Missed them? Catch up with Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s (Bloomsbury, $27), in which acclaimed film critic Charles Taylor revisits the films that don’t make the Academy Award montages and explores what these B-films embody of ’70s America.
Opening Wednesday unlocks a forgotten treasury, films that display the honest, almost pleasurable, pessimism of the era, with a staying power that stands in opposition to what Taylor calls the current “infantilization” in Hollywood. Taylor argues that movies today—beginning with the unprecedented success of Star Wars in 1977—have devolved to “spectacle and gimmicks,” with sequels and remakes and spinoffs as the bulk of mainstream moviemaking, while films from the 1970s portray a “connection to the world, and to real-life emotions.”
In the essays of Opening Wednesday, Taylor pays homage to the trucker vigilantes, meat magnate pimps, blaxploitation “angel avengers,” and taciturn factory workers of grungy, unartful films such as Prime Cut, Foxy Brown and Eyes of Laura Mars.
He creates a compelling argument for what matters in moviemaking and brings a pivotal American era vividly to life in all its gritty, melancholy complexity.
Last September marked the 50th anniversary of the debut of the world’s most successful science fiction television series: Star Trek. In The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, the Creator of Star Trek (Aurum Press, $19.99), author Lance Parkin, goes in search of the show’s creator.
This book reveals how an undistinguished writer of cop shows set out to produce “Hornblower in space” and ended up with an optimistic, almost utopian view of humanity’s future that has been watched and loved by hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Along the way Parkin examines some of the great myths and turning points in the franchise’s history, and Roddenberry’s particular contribution to them. He will look at the truth in the view that the early Star Trek advanced a liberal, egalitarian and multi-racial agenda, chart the various attempts to resuscitate the show during its wilderness years in the ’70s, explore Roddenberry’s initial early involvement in the movies and spin-off Star Trek: The Next Generation (as well as his later estrangement from both), and shed light on the colorful personal life, self-mythologizing and strange beliefs of a man who nonetheless gifted popular culture one if its most enduring narratives.
Once again, PBS Distribution has released a documentary that demands viewing . . . and a place in your library. Make note, please: Nova: Holocaust Escape Tunnel, available now on DVD and also available for digital download.
For centuries, the Lithuanian city of Vilna was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, earning the title “Jerusalem of the North,” until the Nazis destroyed it. About 95% of its Jewish population of Vilna, its name in Hebrew and Yiddish, was murdered and its synagogues and institutions were reduced to ruins. The Soviets finished the job, paving over the remnants of Vilna’s famous Great Synagogue, for example, so thoroughly that few today know it ever existed. Now, an international team of archaeologists are trying to recover this lost world. They will excavate the remains of its Great Synagogue and uncover one of Vilna’s greatest secrets: a lost escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site.
Listen up, folks. Let’s stay together.
After filmmaker Robert Mugge produced Black Wax with Gil Scott-Heron for Britain’s Channel 4 Television in 1982, he and Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor for Music Andy Park wanted to collaborate again. Park suggested Mugge create a portrait of African American gospel star Andraé Crouch. But Mugge, a longtime fan of soul and pop singer Al Green, countered that suggestion. Mugge figured that Green’s rejection of soul music to become a Memphis-based preacher and gospel singer perhaps made him a richer potential subject. (Interestingly, Green was kicked out of the family home while in his teens, after his religiously devout father caught him listening to Jackie Wilson).
Park agreed. Mugge needed 13 months to secure Green’s approval, getting his approval only days before the planned Seventh Anniversary Celebration of Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle. That Sunday afternoon church service featured not only Green’s usual church choir and musicians, but also a second choir from Ellington, South Carolina and most of Green’s touring musicians and backup singers. Mugge arranged to document that December 18, 1983 service with three 16mm cameras and a 24-track audio recording truck, making it the first (and reportedly still the only) Al Green church service to be committed to film, Gospel According to Al Green.
While in Memphis, Mugge and his crew went on to film an interview with legendary Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell (who had produced and co-written Green’s commercial hits of the ‘70s), a studio rehearsal featuring Green and his musicians and an extended interview with Green himself. In Green’s interview, he explored his early days in the music business, his creation of such popular hits as “Tired of Being Alone” and “I Can’t Get Next to You”, the traumatic events that led to his abandoning of his successful soul and pop career, the purchase of the Memphis church building which he transformed into a church of his own, and the ways in which his soul and gospel backgrounds had each informed the other.
Perhaps the most emotional part of Green’s interview was his discussion of the so-called “hot grits incident,” wherein spurned girlfriend Mary Woodson White assaulted him in the shower of his Memphis home with a pot of boiling hot grits, then ran to another room of his house where she shot and killed herself. (Although she was already married, White reportedly became upset when Green refused to marry her). This interview, conducted two days after his church service, was the first occasion on which he discussed this experience publicly, and he included facts that even his own band members had never heard.
In February of 1984, Mugge also filmed Green and his band in concert at the Officers Club of Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., this time utilizing four 16mm cameras and the same Nashville-based 24-track recording truck he had hired to record the Memphis church service. It should be noted that, at that point in Rev. Green’s career, he had embraced the Southern fundamentalist notion that blues, rhythm ‘n’ blues, and rock n’ roll were “music of the Devil,” and that, therefore, he should now perform only gospel music.
However, among the numbers Green performed at the D.C. concert was Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which exists somewhere between soul and gospel. In addition, during the staged rehearsal in Memphis, Green agreed to perform “Let’s Stay Together,” which had been one of his biggest commercial successes and now represented a recurring theme in the film. Along with fragments of a few more hits he performed during his interview, these songs helped to depict “Al Green the pop star” who had preceded “Al Green the pastor.”
Among the top Memphis musicians who appear in this film are, number one, Lawrence H. “Larry” Lee, Jr., who was best known for touring with Green and for performing at Woodstock and elsewhere with Jimi Hendrix’s Gypsy Sun and Rainbows; and number two, Mabon Lewis “Teenie” Hodges, who co-wrote Green’s hits “Take Me to the River” and “Love and Happiness” and toured and recorded widely as a guitarist with the Hi Records Rhythm Section. Lee can be seen performing in the church service and rehearsal sequences of the film, and Hodges can be heard, and briefly seen, playing incidental guitar behind Green during much of his interview. Sadly, both men are now deceased.
The resulting 96-minute film, Gospel According to Al Green, had its world premiere presentation in the summer of 1984 at Filmfest Munchen (a film festival in Munich, Germany), its television premiere over Britain’s Channel 4 later that fall, and its U.S. theatrical premiere at Coolidge Corner outside Boston a year later. After each of the two opening night screenings on October 25, 1985, Green sat on the Coolidge Corner stage and, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, freely offered the commercial hits that he had mostly refused to perform during the making of Mugge’s film, thereby demonstrating his storied unpredictability. Naturally, audience members at both shows were enchanted by his presentation, and since these and other premiere screenings, the film has been in constant release around the world.
As to Rev. Green—now Bishop Green—this past December, he and his congregation celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his Full Gospel Tabernacle church. For MVD Visual’s new worldwide Blu-ray and DVD releases, director Mugge has overseen 4K remastering of the film and created a new 17-minute video titled Soul and Spirit: Robert Mugge on the Making of Gospel According to Al Green. Other bonus features include audio of Green’s entire 1983 interview, audio of the climactic final hour of Green’s seventh anniversary church service, an extended film version of a key song from the church service, and the personal telephone answering machine message Green recorded for Mugge in the mid-’80s.
First Run Features continues to live up to its name. What else were you expecting?
FRF offers the Los Angeles theatrical premiere of As Good As You on June 9 at Laemmle’s Music Hall. The lesbian drama/comedy—named winner of Best LGBT Film by Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival—marks the feature film debut of Heather de Michele. The screenplay is by Gretchen M. Michelfeld, executive produced by Michelfeld and produced by Reena Dutt. Another reason to celebrate Pride Week.
Laura Heisler leads an outstanding cast in this poignant and witty film about a bereaved woman searching for meaning and purpose in the aftermath of her wife’s death. Jo (Heisler) enlists her brother-in-law Jamie (Bryan Dechart) as a sperm donor in an effort to salvage her dream of raising a family. Along the way she leans a bit too heavily on her two best friends, a lesbian punk photographer named Lisa (Anna Fitzwater) and a straight male barfly named Nate (Raoul Bhaneja).
The film also features Peter Maloney, Karis Campbell, Elizabeth Herring and Annie Potts. The story is consistently tender in its portrayal of grief, even as the film becomes a kind of willful, triumphant comedy. Director de Michele navigates the tonal shifts with good timing, taste and craftsmanship.
Director Heather de Michele is a co-founder of the NY comedy troupe Lesbian Pulporama, which included playwright Michelfeld and her late partner. The film is inspired by Michelfeld’s own story and partly a tribute to her partner, also a performer in the troop who died in 2012, made by close personal friends. It is the first feature for both director and writer. In fact, de Michele’s partner plays Lisa in the film.
“Lesbian pregnancy, infertility, hormone shots, artificial insemination–these were subjects I hadn’t seen explored in film yet,” de Michele explains. “I told Gretchen she should get on that; then her partner got sick and it all stopped. Once she passed, too shortly thereafter, Gretchen dove back into her work. She needed to write. We were all grieving madly. The story of As Good As You became a hybrid of all of these experiences. It’s deeply personal for both of us. ”