The ‘Five Days at Memorial’ miniseries on AppleTV+ accurately captures the daily horror at Baptist Memorial Hospital during the maelstrom of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The levees broke and flooded the city. Everyone at the hospital was suddenly left with 2 ways out – by boat or chopper via the roof’s helipad that was last used during the Carter Administration. Neither boats or choppers were forthcoming. Power was down. No AC. or lights. No refrigeration. Patients ranged from premature infants to the comatose. There were 350-pound bed-bound patients on oxygen. On the 5th day, help arrived by announcing the hospital had to be evacuated by 5 PM that afternoon – one nurse compared it to the desperation she saw watching the fall of Saigon. In the aftermath 45 bodies were found. They were patients who could not be transported; 23 were autopsied as having died via morphine injection. A year after Katrina, homicide charges were brought against one of the city’s most distinguished doctors, Dr. Anna Pou, a cancer specialist who had volunteered to be there. What followed over several years were arguments about who was to be held responsible exactly when the 1) city, 2) state, 3) Feds did virtually nothing, offered no leadership. Vera Farmiga stars as Pou and Cherry Jones as Memorial director Susan Mulderick in the 8-part series adapted from Sheri Fink’s National Book Award winning ‘Five Days at Memorial.’ A Zoom interview with Jones and Farmiga was done for The Boston Herald: these are excerpts.
Q: Cherry, what did you know about ‘Five Days at Memorial’ before you began?
CHERRY JONES: I had watched every bit of [Hurricane Katrina] footage in 2005 during that terrible period and was relieved with New Orleans when the hurricane passed and all seemed relatively well. Even though there was a lot of damage it was intact and it could all be repaired. And then the levees breaking! After days of that horrendous, horrendous heat and people on the rooftop day after day after day. And then the Superdome and all. Was it 2 or 3 weeks later I remember an article in The New York Times on the front page. it was about the bodies that had been found at Memorial.
I remember having such compassion for those who had lost their lives and whose family members were in mourning. But I also had such sympathy and compassion for the poor doctors and nurses who are now having to answer these questions about the care of their patients. It was the first time during all of those weeks where I started thinking about like, God, what was going on in those hospitals in New Orleans? How did they survive? And how did they get out? Then suddenly, all my questions were answered by sharing this extraordinary work that John Ridley and Carlton Cuse have dramatized. I hope people in Orleans won’t be cross with us. When you have trauma, catastrophe, you don’t always want to share it. But I do think that this was a catastrophe for this country and there’s so many things that are resonant in this story that now pertain to what we’re dealing with as a country. I hope it will have some true worth out there in the canon of American television.
Q: So you didn’t get to meet Susan?
CJ: No, no. We’re not doing them per se because [she smiles] they never said anything that John Ridley or Carlton Cuse wrote. We’re not doing them; we’re doing characters based on events.
Q: My sister read the book, crying continually. She said, ‘How can people want to watch that?’ She was so upset with the book and so sympathetic to, I guess, everybody
CJ: That’s a good question. We’ll see. I think people are curious about events that shaped a period of time in this country that they know nothing about. So many young journalists we’ve spoken to today knew nothing about it — and it blew their minds! They said even as they were watching, they would be Googling and looking up stuff, saying, ‘That couldn’t have happened. Oh my God, it did!’ You know. So, if nothing else, it’s a damn good history lesson. And at a time when our health care workers need to be treated on an equal footing with our military — they are our frontline soldiers now every single day and we’re losing them in droves. I don’t know who’s going to watch it. But I think people who do, hopefully many of them will start asking questions and thinking about things in a new way.
PACINO. DE NIRO. Writer-director Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital Code, 20th Century Studios, R) is revered for its first-ever teaming of two Italian-American cinematic icons of the ‘70s: Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Yes, they were both in ‘The Godfather Part II’ but they had no scenes together. Here they have just one in what’s now billed as the ‘Director’s Definitive Edition’ and the ‘Ultimate Collector’s Edition.’ Mann’s mastery is evident. Pacino, a detective who’s like the dog that will never let go of a bone, relentlessly chases De Niro’s ruthless thief. The standout support includes: Jon Voight, Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, the always amazing Tom Sizemore and Val Kilmer. Bonus Extras: Mann’s audio commentary, Q&As with Mann and Christopher Nolan, deleted scenes and a 3-part doc on the Making Of.
NORRIS TIMES 3 Oklahoma native Chuck Norris was a martial arts black belt who went from instructing stars to becoming a star, thanks to the support of Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen. The 1978 ‘Good Guys Wear Black,’ now in a new 2K master, has Chuck a Vietnam vet targeted by the CIA. ‘Good Guys’ was Norris’ 2nd starring feature and first blockbuster. A year later ‘A Force of One,’ also in a new 2K master, saw Norris’ martial arts champ answering a call to solve the riddle of ‘Who is killing a squad of undercover narcs?’ The 1980 ‘The Octagon’ (all Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics and PG except for R-rated ‘Octagon’) teamed Norris with the movies’ definitive bad guy Lee Van Cleef, only here they are a dynamic duo on a mission to destroy the terrorist training camp known as, yes, the Octagon. All 3 films offer audio commentaries, Making Of segments and theatrical trailers and TV spots. Chuck, by the way, is still kicking at 82.
KUBRICK’S HELL ON EARTH Now recognized as one of cinema’s greatest anti-war films, Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 ‘Paths of Glory’ (4K Ultra HD, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) is an unforgettably scalding indictment. Kirk Douglas is the lawyer turned WWI French soldier in this brutal fact-based examination of the absurdity of war. Douglas’ Col. Dax is a French commander who refuses to lead his men on what is clearly a suicide mission. His commanding general, indignant, orders that Dax take 3 (innocent) men before a firing squad – a true story. Douglas’ presence as then one of the movies’ biggest stars made ‘Glory’ possible. Obsessive Kubrick, who would do 28 takes of a scene, had to make it for a million dollars – one third went to Douglas’ salary. Interestingly it was the star, not the filmmaker, who insisted on the historically realistic rather than the ‘happy’ ending that Kubrick was willing to film. A few years later when Douglas as producer and star of ‘Spartacus’ fired his original director just 2 weeks into production, he called Kubrick to say, in effect, ‘You owe me one,’ giving the demanding auteur his first global blockbuster — and the subsequent ability to make whatever movies he desired. Critic Tim Lucas offers the ‘Paths of Glory’ commentary.
CELEBRITY SEX TAPE #1 Britain’s Lily James is nothing less than phenomenal in her uncanny transformation into ‘Baywatch’ star Pamela Anderson to tell the story of the world’s first celebrity sex tape in ‘Pam & Tommy: The Greatest Love Story Ever Sold’ (DVD, 2 discs, Lionsgate, Not Rated). A timely reassessment of what exactly happened to the ‘private’ sex tape Anderson made with rock star boyfriend Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) and how an overwhelmingly sexist media should, today, be ashamed in how they covered the spectacle. In 8 episodes ‘Pam & Tommy’ charts a late ‘90s era when the internet was being born and how personal pique and celebrity arrogance created an indelible – and sexist — tabloid scandal.
SULLAVAN TIMES 2 Luminous Margaret Sullavan always seemed a slightly reluctant 1930s-40s Hollywood star. ‘Little Man, What Now?’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated), a pre-Code drama from 1934, ranks among her very best, directed as it is by that maestro of romantic longing Frank Borzage (‘A Farewell to Arms’ with Helen Hayes & Gary Cooper and, later, again with Sullavan ‘The Mortal Storm’). Sullavan’s Emma ends up in Nazi-nurturing, post-WWI Berlin with her out of work husband. Life at the poverty level is more than tough. The 1936 ‘Next Time We Love’ (also Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) teams Sullavan for the 1st time (of 4) opposite James Stewart. It’s a cautionary tale about the stresses of their marriage with competing careers. He gallivants around the world as a correspondent and she’s homebound as a stage star. The audio commentary has film historian and costume historian Elissa Rose.
CONTROVERSIAL HORROR Alex Garland scored a bullseye with his debut, the intriguing A.I. thriller ‘Ex Machina.’ With ‘Men’ (Blu-ray + Digital Copy, A24 & Lionsgate, R) he is even more audacious with an ambitious horror tale that is meant to shock, stun and disturb. Ireland’s Jessie Buckley (Oscar nominated this year as Best Supporting Actress for ‘The Lost Daughter’) is a recent divorcee – her controlling husband killed himself in front of her – who books a spectacular country mansion as a lonely getaway from her trauma. Instead of peace and comfort she finds that ALL the men she meets have an (intentional) resemblance to each other and terrorize her. That’s because whether it’s a bartender, vicar, naked man, boy or the cop, they’re all played by Rory Kinnear. While critics were mostly favorable, its Cinemascore from moviegoers was a rare D+ (on an A+ to F scale). Bonus: Making Of.
OH OSCAR! Peter Finch was the Best Actor ‘Network’ Oscar winner who memorably declared ‘I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.’ In the 1960 historically accurate ‘The Trials of Oscar Wilde’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, PG), he’s splendid as the celebrated Irish poet, dandy, playwright and novelist who remains famous for his homosexuality and disgraced final days. Wilde’s downfall began when he sued the father of his young lover for slander – only to end up on trial for gross indecency and sodomy. ‘Trials’ in color was raced into production to offset a rival ‘Oscar Wilde’ starring Robert Morley [‘The African Queen’]. They opened a week apart. ‘Trials’ is much the more sympathetic portrait. Co-starring James Mason (‘Lolita,’ ’20,000 Leagues under the Sea’) as Wilde’s lawyer. Also known as ‘The Man with the Green Carnation.’ Finch won a Best Actor BAFTA Award while the film won the Golden Globe as Best English Language Foreign Film.
ALL-AMERICAN SAMSON It’s hardly a surprise to know that Gordon Scott, an Adonis come to life in Southwest America, was ‘discovered’ working as the lifeguard at the Las Vegas Sahara Hotel pool. With his 6 foot 3 frame and sizable physique, Scott roared as Tarzan in 6 successful ‘50s movies. His 1st, the 1955 ‘Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle’ co-starred Vera Miles (Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’) whom he married. But Scott, worried that he might be typecast (and he was right), left Tarzan to go to Italy to make sword & sandals epics popularized by the global success of bodybuilder Steve Reeves as ‘Hercules.’ The 1961 Gordon Scott ‘Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) bears no relation to the Biblical strongman Samson whom Cecil B. DeMille memorialized in his classic ‘Samson and Delilah.’ ‘7 Miracles’ is set in China where Mongol hordes enslave the peasants and attempt to assassinate the princess (Yoko Tani). That ain’t about to happen once Samson shows up. Not only is there an audio commentary, both versions of the film – the 76-minute American cut with a musical score by bandleader Lex Baxter and the expanded 98-minute international release – are included.
MACABRE COMEDY? What happens when 2 teen assassins graduate from killing school and need to get a job, an honest to God job, as cover? And though they don’t like each other they are ordered to be roommates?? The Japanese ‘Baby Assassins’ (Blu-ray, Well Go USA, Not Rated) tells that story. Buoyed by action sequences, a game cast and writer-director Hugo Sakamoto’s ability to maintain an airy cartoon-influenced tone, this ‘Baby’ knows how to kill it. In Japanese with English subtitles.
TWISTY GRAHAM GREENE Based on one of Graham Greene’s favorite novels (he reportedly preferred it to his classic, internationally famous ‘The Third Man’) ‘The Tenth Man’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, Not Rated) is a 1988 TV movie with Anthony Hopkins, Kristen Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi. Like much of Greene, it’s a twisted tale of redemption. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, men were rounded up off the street, divided into groups of 10 and ordered to vote who among them would be the 1 the Nazis will kill. Chavel, Hopkins’ wealthy lawyer, is chosen but buys his life by promising a penniless, dying man his entire estate. Freed, Chavel tries to help the dead man’s family, falling in love with his sister (Thomas). Then things get most odd: a stranger arrives (Jacobi) calling himself ‘Chavel’ – he turns out to be a Nazi collaborator and murderer. Jacobi won an Emmy as Best Supporting Actor. Bonus: Available in both the square box TV version and the rectangular film projection.
IRONIC & SCARY Another unsettling picture that asks how well do you really know ‘The Good Neighbor’ (DVD, Screen Media, R) who lives next door? Especially when he’s portrayed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers who can suggest under-the-skin malevolent turmoil with merely a shrug. Meyers’ Robert is a take-charge kind of guy, very helpful to the new neighbor David (Cincinnati’s Luke Kleintank). Until they accidentally hit and kill a female biker, then speedily drive away. Robert has no remorse but David, who has (naturally! most normal!!) fallen in love with the dead woman’s sister, needs absolution. This, as you might expect with a title like ‘The Good Neighbor,’ is not high on Robert’s idea of how things should go.