THIS WEEK’S TOP RELEASES:
Writer-director Brian Helgeland has had a mixed career (writing “L.A. Confidential,” “A Knight’s Tale,” “The Postman” and “Mystic River,” and winning both an Oscar and a Razzie award in 1998 for Best Screenplay for “L.A. Confidential” and Worst Screenplay for “The Postman.” His best-known directorial outing previously was Mel Gibson’s “Payback” in 1999; with “42,” however, he has finally hit his stride. The film, a dramatization of the monumental events that surrounded the breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier by Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey and baseball great Jackie Robinson, is an almost perfect stylistic outing. In 1946, Rickey (Harrison Ford, here submerging himself into his role with an Oscar-worthy performance) put himself at the forefront of history when he signed Negro Leagues ballplayer Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to the team, putting both Robinson and Rickey in the firing line of the public, the press and other players. Facing unabashed racism from every side, Robinson was forced to demonstrate tremendous courage and restraint, knowing that any incident could destroy his and Rickey’s hopes to desegregate the game. Rickey’s decision was based on a combination of idealism and astute business sense: it made sense to hire the best ball players to win games and make money for the team, and the best players could be black or white (or later, Afro-Hispanic, such as Roberto Clemente). The story follows Rickey’s decision in 1945 to hire a black player, through the drafting of Robinson in ’46 for the Dodger’s farm team, and then his appearance on the Dodgers in ’47, which lead to a National League pennant win. “42,” which was Robinson’s number (and the only number retired by all MLB teams), is the story of a changing sport and a changing world. It’s an almost perfect film; the scenario, the dialogue, the editing, the framing — everything is pitch perfect. There’s never a dull inning, never a seventh-inning stretch. Yes, it’s predictable (first off, we know how it’s going to end; second off, we know that Jackie will stand up to the taunts as to his color by turning the other cheek); yes, some of the characters are stereotypical and archetypical, but heck, who cares. It’s fun and absorbing and, for a generation born way, way past the breaking of segregation in sports (or elsewhere, for that matter), it’s educational. It’s a textbook example of how to make a movie, one that can be studied in any film school. And one that made a lot of money. Extras include two informative behind-the-scenes featurettes, “Stepping into History” and “Full-Contact Baseball” (the latter on the effort to make the film as historically accurate as possible, given that many of the locales in the story are no longer in existence) and a feature on “The Legacy of the Number 42.” From Warner Home Video.
Want to get scared silly? Want to be repulsed by what you see on the big screen? Want guts and gore and blood and mess? Then the reimagined “Evil Dead” is for you. Five twentysomething friends turn a remote cabin in the woods into a blood-soaked chamber of horrors after one of them finds the mysterious and fiercely powerful Book of the Dead and awakens an ancient demon that goes on a blood-thirsty quest to possess them all. If you’re familiar with the original (1981), then you’ll be wise to this one, which, however, amps up the horror but tamps down the humor. There’s a lot more brutality here, and a switch in heroes, with a female, Mia, becoming the story’s sole survivor (with rumors afloat of a remake of “Army of Darkness” as well as another “Evil Dead,” with Mia meeting up with the original’s Ash). The film is produced by the original’s Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell (Ash), and even has a an homage to Campbell during the closing credits. Extras include several behind-the-scenes featurettes and commentary. From Sony.
The other main release this week is the buddy flick “Bullet to the Head,” a by-the-book actioner starring Sylvester Stallone as a not-quite-over-the-hill hit-man who gets involved with corrupt cops, politicians and real estate investors when a hit on a bad cop goes wrong and his partner is executed by a mercenary killer (Jason Momoa). When a New York City cop (Sung Kang) comes down to New Orleans to investigate the cop’s murder, Stallone forms an alliance with him to bring down the killer and the bad guys. Based on Alexis Nolent’s French graphic novel, “Du Plomb Dans La Tete.” Director Walter Hill (“The Warriors,” “48 Hours”) is back in form with stylistic fast-paced shoot-outs, car chases and story line twists. It’s a fun, if not memorable, outing. Extras include a short behind-the-scenes featurette. From Warner.
“Bert Stern: Original Mad Man” is the definitive look at the life and work of one of the greatest American photographers of all time — shot by his current wife and lover, Shannah Laumeister. An original Madison Avenue “mad man” (and close friend of Stanley Kubrick, who helped his early career), Stern’s images helped create modern advertising by putting concepts into the message, not just drawings or images of products; his ground-breaking campaign for Smirnoff in 1955 (a glass of vodka in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, with the pyramid reflected in the liquid, advertising the driest of dry martinis) forever changed the industry. In the next decade he photographed some of the greatest stars and celebrities of the day, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Audrey Hepburn, Bridget Bardot, Shirley MacLaine, Sophia Loren and Twiggy, among many, many others. He created the iconic and infamous Lolita image from Kubrick’s film and, along with other photographic greats such as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, became a celebrity in his own right. And he’ll forever be remembered as the photographer for Marilyn Monroe’s “last sitting”: In the summer of 1962, before her death, Stern took more than 2,500 photographs of Monroe over three sessions held in a Los Angeles hotel. But despite his success, Stern was a prisoner of his own pictures and of the life he had created as a celebrity; he became dependent on drugs and his career faltered; he moved to Spain in the 1970s to recover. He returned to the U.S. and for thy next three decades continued to photograph the famous and infamous alike (Kylie Minogue, Drew Barrymore, Lindsay Lohan). This documentary is a candid, first-person account of a man who loved two things in his life “women and photography.” Stern died June 26 of this year at 83. From First Run Features.
Remember Rick Springfield? “Jessie’s Girl”? If not, you’re in good company, for the 1980s rock ‘n’ roller and heartthrob star of the soap “General Hospital” disappeared from the scene in the mid-nineties. But there’s millions of fans that still love Springfield, who returned to touring and recording after more than a decade of silence. He’s been under the radar — until now. “An Affair of the Heart,” which aired on May 15 on Epix, is a heart-felt documentary named for one of Springfield’s classic songs that follows the singer’s unique relationship with seven super
fans who put their lives on hold to follow him on tour and on one of the many cruises that he headlines. In pop media, its a cliche to say that the music (or the movie or the book) changed one’s life; for some of the fans of Springfield, that’s a reality. Springfield — who, by the way, at 63, can still rock with the best of them — connects with his fans like no other musician I’m aware of. He’s always accessible to them at concerts and gatherings; he’s made friends with hundreds of them, personally calling them up during times of need. He tours everywhere (not just gigantic venues) to be near them; this guy really loves his fans and brings joy to people; he’s genuinely human. His music has changed people’s lives and helped them: there’s a woman with congenital heart disease and a female minister who was gang raped who both turned to Springfield (and got) spiritual support. Some fans have overcome deep trauma by connecting with his music, for others he’s served as a catalyst for life-long friendships. And we did say he can rock. At the 2010 Sweden Rock Festival, Springfield was on the bill with some heavy metal bands and the crowd was dubious of his “lightweight” credentials. But once he began to rock, he won over the critical Swedes. The film follows Springfield on tours and book signings and is peppered with intimate interviews with fans and their families. As Springfield says about the film, “It was a real laugh/cry kind of thing. As a person, I am kind of peripheral. It is about their connection, what they view and how they interpreted who I was, and the right times that music that they liked came along to help them to get through difficult stuff.” The title of this film says it all. On Blu-ray and DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures.
Other goodies this week:
“Doctor Who — The Doctors Revisited: One-Four.” This year marks the 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who,” the longest running science fiction show in television history. To celebrate, BBC Home Entertainment is releasing a curated selection of the best of each of this storied program’s 11 Doctors. The first release showcases “Doctor Who’s” first four doctors, including William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, spanning the years 1963-1981. Includes a profile of each Doctor and one classic program for each: “The Aztecs,” “Tomb of the Cyberman,” “Spearhead from Space” and “Pyramid of Mars.” In a four-disc DVD, $39.98 from BBC Home Entertainment … “Lord of the Flies” (1963): In the hands of the renowned experimental theater director Peter Brook, William Golding’s legendary novel on the primitivism lurking beneath civilization becomes a film as raw and ragged as the lost boys at its center. Taking an innovative documentary-like approach, Brook shot “Lord of the Flies” with an off-the-cuff naturalism, seeming to record a spontaneous eruption of its characters’ ids. The result is a rattling masterpiece, as provocative as its source material. New, restored 4K digital film transfer, supervised by cameraman and editor Gerald Feil, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition. Extras include commentary featuring director Peter Brook; audio recordings of William Golding reading from his novel, accompanied by the corresponding scenes from the film; a collection of behind-the-scenes material, featuring home movies, screen tests, outtakes, and stills; more. From The Criterion Collection.
New to Blu-ray this week is “Heavy Traffic” (1973), Ralph Bakshi’s animated masterpiece about an underground cartoonist who contends with life in the inner city, where various unsavory characters serve as inspiration for his artwork, from Shout! Factory; and “The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (Director’s Cut)” (2009) for fans of the 2000 crime picture renowned for the unique story of the fast rise and fall of its egomaniacal filmmaker, Troy Duffy (who was a bartender in Los Angeles when his script was produced). This sequel about the MacManus brothers’ return to Boston features 27 minutes of never-before-seen footage, including a longer opening sequence, a lengthened fantasy sequence and an extended elevator sequence leading up to the Prudential shoot-out. Stars Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, Billy Connolly, Clifton Collins Jr., Julie Benz, Peter Fonda and Judd Nelson. The two-disc set includes the theatrical and director’s cut versions. From Sony.