By Harley Lond - 04/02/13 at 12:38 AM CT
THIS WEEK'S TOP RELEASES:
"American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked" (2013) is a fascinating film that explores the life of the Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning novelist, one of the greatest living American writers. The tenor for the 90-minute documentary is set by the 80-year-old Roth at the outset: "In the coming years I have two great calamities to face: death and a biography. Let's hope the first comes first." Roth first began writing fiction in 1958 and burst onto the literary scene with 1959's "Goodbye, Columbus" -- and he's never looked back, authoring some 30 books in his more than five decades of writing. The documentary revolves around candid interviews with the at-times wisecracking and cynical Roth as he discusses intimate aspects of his life and art: his unliterary upbringing in Newark, N.J., his writing process, the inspiration behind his most famous novels, and the many controversies he stirred throughout his career ("Shame isn't for writers," he asserts). Much of Roth's stories reflect his life; he draws upon and transforms what has happened to him in his everyday world -- a kind of journalistic side to writing novels -- to create his characters and situations. Roth writes to rouse the reader, to provoke, to deal with ideas and politics, history, human misunderstandings and emotions. "Philip Roth: Unmasked" is a far-reaching and important audio-visual (auto)biography. It's rare that we're so privileged to enter into the life of a great writer as we do in this endeavor. On DVD from PBS Distribution.
"The Sweeney" (2013), starring Ray Winstone, Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell and Ben Drew and based on the popular 1970s U.K. television show of the same name, was a smash at the U.K. boxoffice but lasted only two weeks in the states. The story revolves around the Sweeney Flying Squad, London's elite crime-fighting force -- a branch of the Metropolitan Police specializing in tackling armed robbery and violent crime. Led by legendary Detective Jack Regan (Ray Winstone), the group is not afraid to use old school, bare-knuckle tactics to bring down the modern underworld -- offending both the police higher-ups and the public in their use of outrageous violence. Here the squad goes after a master criminal who not only pulls off a major bank heist but flummoxes the police and embarrasses Regan to boot -- the robbery is highlighted by an incredible shoot-out in London's Trafalgar Square (which also is the highlight of the film). Sadly, the proceedings are old hat by now and there's little excitement in the hunt for the criminals; there's an improbable love affair between Regan and one of his female detectives; there's too many predictable plot twists; and an overabundance of swear words that gets tiresome after awhile. Disappointing and hackneyed, even if it's kinda fun to see the now-rotund Winstone throw his weight around. On DVD and Blu-ray from Entertainment One.
As part of their 90th Anniversary celebration, Warner Bros. will release another new DVD box set containing the studio's prize jewels. "The Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Romance" features some of the best melodramas and comedies the studio has released. The collection is divided into three chapters on 22 discs: Timeless Love (1938-1942); Unforgettable Affairs (1950-1965); and Modern Romance (1973-2008). Some of the titles: "Jezebel" (1938), "Gone With the Wind" (1939), "The Philadelphia Story" (1940), "Casablanca" (1942), "Now, Voyager" (1942) and "Doctor Zhivago" (1965). Check out the complete list of films here. On DVD from Warner Home Video, $98.92.
Buzzin' the 'B's:
In "John Dies At The End" (2012), directed by cult helmer Don Coscarelli and starring Rob Mayes, Chase Williamson, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman and Doug Jones, a new street drug (dubbed Soy Sauce) that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return as no longer human. Can two college dropouts save humankind from this silent, otherworldly invasion? On DVD and Blu-ray from Magnolia Home Entertainment ... Years after a cruel kids prank during a birthday party for 8-year-old Tommy left hired clown Richard "Stitches" Grindle dead on the kitchen floor, the childhood friends gather to plan a birthday bash to end all bashes. But they haven't counted on the degenerate jester rising from the grave to seek vengeance on the children who mocked him and caused his grisly, untimely end in "Stitches" (2012), starring Tommy Knight, Ross Noble, Gemma-Leah Devereux and Valerie Spelman. On DVD and Blu-ray from MPI/Dark Sky Films ... "Paranormal Movie" (2013), starring Kevin P. Farley, Carly Craig, Eric Roberts, Maria Menounos and William Katt, is a parody that takes potshots at the "Paranormal" franchise. A man, long haunted by the paranormal, captures on camera the horror and hilarity he and his beautiful girlfriend encounter after moving into a new home -- which is infested with freaky clowns, weed-smoking demons and uninvited celebrities. From RLJ Entertainment/Image Entertainment ... A young woman and her brother are tormented by a nightmare world of visions, highlighted by large rabbits and an amusement park gone crazy in Takashi Shimizu's ("The Grudge") "Tormented" (2011 -- Japan), starring Hikari Mitsushima, Takeru Shibuya, Tamaki Ogawa and Nao Omori. On DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA ... After dense matter from an imploded white hole hits Earth, a magnetospheric nightmare threatens the planet's rotation in "Earth's Final Hours" (2012), starring Hamza Adams, Julia Benson, Cameron Bright and Sage Brocklebank. From Anchor Bay ... The son of a prominent family of taekwondo masters must save them from a gang of ruthless thieves and criminals in "The Kick" (2011 -- Thailand/South Korea). starring Petchtai Wongkamlao, JeeJa Yanin and Jamruen Somboon. From Lionsgate ... Six FBI recruits are sent to a remote island for training but unbeknownst to everyone, the site was formerly used as an illegal biological testing ground for life-term criminals who were left for dead, and the zombie criminal convicts begin systematically hunting down the trainees in "13 Eerie" (2013), from Entertainment One.
On the Indie Front:
An up-and-coming attorney reaches a pivotal point in his life and career when he falls in love with the wife of his boss in "Forbidden Woman" (2013), starring Clifton Powell, Jackee Harry, Marla Gibbs, Keith Robinson and Erica Hubbard. From Entertainment One ... An 11-year-old boy gets a crash course in what it means to be a man when he spends a day with the ex-convict uncle he idolizes in "LUV" (2012), starring Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Meagan Good and Lonette McKee. On DVD and Blu-ray from Indomina.
"Charlie: A Toy Story" (2013), starring Randy Ochoa, Drew Waters and Rheagan Wallace, is a Dove-approved family film about 10-year-old Caden and his best friend, Charlie, a golden retriever, who set out to thwart the evil plans of the bumbling town bullies who are out to break into Caden's dad's toy shop to steal his new one-of-a-kind toy invention. From Entertainment One ... When Sammy and Ray find themselves trapped in The Tank, an underwater aquarium, they must hatch a plan to escape and reunite with their grandkids, Ricky and Ella, and protect them from the dangers of the ocean in "A Turtle's Tale 2: Sammy's Escape From Paradise" (2013), from Studio Canal/Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment.
With baseball season opening, there's two new releases timed to coincide with the opening pitches: "Knuckleball!" (2012) The great baseball batting coach Charley Lau famously said, "There are two theories on hitting the knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them works." This heartfelt, funny and deeply engaging documentary delves into the legendary subculture of the knuckleball -- the most disrespected, mocked and frustrating pitch -- and the brotherhood of men who share the drive, imagination and humility to throw baseball's slowest, most disrespected and most mysterious pitch. Filmed throughout the 2011 season, "Knuckleball" follows 37 year-old all-star R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets and 18-year veteran Tim Wakefield, formerly the oldest player in the major leagues and an icon of the Boston Red Sox. The film details their personal and professional struggles and triumphs while exploring the bond between them and the few living retired knuckleballers, including Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, Jim Bouton, Tom Candiotti and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. From FilmBuf.
"Jackie Robinson: My Story" (2003) "First person docudrama" blends historic footage with a powerful and dramatic portrayal of Robinson by actor Stephen Hill; chronicles the tragedy, triumph, dignity and great courage of a man who changed the course of American history. Features guest appearances by Robinson's Dodger teammates Don Newcombe, Clem Labine and Carl Erskine. From Shout! Factory. (This documentary is timed for the release of Brian Helgeland's "42," an April 12 theatrical release starring Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman).
And, lest you start enjoying yourself watching sports, here's another sobering documentary to jolt you back to reality, one that exposes America's second national pastime: Greed. "Frontline: The Untouchables: Money, Power and Wall Street" (2013) More than four years since the financial crisis, not one senior Wall Street executive has faced criminal prosecution for fraud. Are Wall Street executives "too big to jail?" Frontline investigates why the U.S. Department of Justice has failed to act on credible evidence that Wall Street knowingly packaged and sold toxic mortgage loans to investors, loans that brought the U.S. and world economies to the brink of collapse. From PBS Distribution.
From TV to DVD:
"The Bible" (2013) is the 10-hour History miniseries that features exotic locales and dazzling visual effects to breathe spectacular life into the dramatic tales of faith and courage from Genesis through Revelation. Narrated by Keith David with a score by composer Hans Zimmer. From Fox ... "Dirk Gently" (2010-12) is a four-part dramedy that follows the titular character, a perpetually insolvent yet uncommonly talented holistic detective. Based on the novels by Douglas Adams ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") and starring Stephen Mangan as the quirky but endearing detective. Broadcast on BBC in 2010 and 2012 and available to U.S. audiences for the first time in a two-disc DVD from Acorn Media ... "Hemingway & Gellhorn" (2012) stars Nicole Kidman, Clive Owen, David Strathairn, Rodrigo Santoro, Molly Parker, Parker Posey, Santiago Cabrera, Lars Ulrich, Saverio Guerra, Peter Coyote, Joan Chen and Tony Shalhoub in the HBO drama that recounts one of the greatest romances of the last century -- the passionate love affair and tumultuous marriage of literary master Ernest Hemingway and trailblazing war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, following the adventurous writers through the Spanish Civil War and beyond. On DVD and Blu-ray with such extras as a "Making Hemingway & Gellhorn" behind-the-scenes featurette, a "Behind the Visual Effects" featurette, and commentary with director Philip Kaufman and editor Walter Murch. From HBO ... "Route 66: The Complete Fourth Season" (1963-64) is a five-disc set with all 23 episodes of the final season, $29.93 from Shout! Factory.
Check out other new April 2 -- April 8 DVD releases at OnVideo.