Two new DVD documentaries released this week look at baseball from very different perspectives, the historic racial breakthrough of Jackie Robinson and the subculture of knuckleball pitchers.
“Jackie Robinson: My Story” (Shout!, 2012, $14.97, featurette). Robinson was, of course, the baseball player who made history when he became first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, thereby single-handedly breaking down the color barrier that had kept black players out of the big leagues.
As something of a warm-up for the biographical theatrical movie “42” about Robinson that opens in a couple of weeks, this hourlong film is a sort of one-man show and documentary mix featuring actor Stephen Hill as Robinson, wearing his Dodgers uniform at his locker and speaking to the camera. Hill-as-Robinson relates his story in first-person, accompanied by newsreel footage, photographs, etc., and there are interviews with teammates Don Newcombe, Clem Labine and Carl Erskine.
Instead of being distracting, however, this storytelling device nicely brings the audience into the events of Robinson’s life on a personal level and the result is an engaging and at times quite fascinating portrait. (There is also a new half-hour featurette on Robinson as an extra.)
“Knuckleball!” (FilmBuff, 2012, not rated, $24.98, featurettes). Baseball fans will also enjoy this easygoing, engaging documentary that focuses on two pitchers who throw with a fingertip grip that gives the ball an erratic trajectory, R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets and Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox during the 2011 season, as well as several retirees who also used the method.
“Dirk Gently” (Acorn, 2010-12, two discs, $39.99, four episodes). Adapted from the books by Douglas Adams (“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”), this short-lived TV series stars Stephen Mangan as a brilliant but detached con artist who opens a “holistic” detective agency and solves crimes that are interlinked with other events. The stories are interesting and some of the humor works but the title character is so self-absorbed and manipulative that you may find it difficult to warm up to him.
“Luv” (Vivendi, 2013; R for violence, language, drugs; $19.97, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer). This straight-to-DVD movie stars hip-hop artist/actor Common as the charismatic ex-con uncle of a young boy (Michael Rainey Jr.) he takes along on a day of crime-laden events that supposedly make the kid a “man.” Great cast (Danny Glover, Dennis Haysbert, Charles S. Dutton, Lonette McKee) helps.
“The Sweeney” (eOne/Blu-ray, 2013; R for violence, language, sex; two discs, $24.98, Blu-ray and DVD versions, audio commentary, featurettes, storyboards). Stop me if you’ve heard this one: An elite British police squad takes down the bad guys any way it can, and now these rough-and-tumble cops have to go off the books and defy their bosses to get the job done. Ray Winstone is great in the lead but we’ve seen it all a few too many times and it’s very over-the-top violent and profane. (Also on DVD, $19.98)
“Hemingway & Gellhorn” (HBO/Blu-ray, 2012, two discs, $24.99, Blu-ray and DVD versions, audio commentary, featurettes). Nicole Kidman is war correspondent Martha Gellhorn covering the Spanish Civil War when she has an affair with Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen), whom she would eventually marry. Superficial HBO cable movie laced with harsh language and graphic sex. Also here are David Strathairn, Joan Chen, Tony Shalhoub, and, briefly, Peter Coyote and unbilled Robert Duvall. (Also on DVD, $19.97)
“Charlie: A Toy Story” (eOne, 2013, not rated, $14.98). Children’s comedy about a 10-year-old boy who, with his best friend Charlie, a golden retriever, tries to keep town bullies from breaking into his father’s toyshop and stealing a new invention.
“The Kick” (Lionsgate, 2013, PG-13, $26.98, in Korean with English subtitles, trailers). South Korean/Thai martial arts action picture has a taekwondo expert thwarting a theft, which puts his family in the line of fire for revenge from a criminal gang.
“Tormented” (Well Go, 2011, not rated, $24.98, in Japanese with English subtitles). Japanese horror movie from the director of “The Grudge” has a giant rabbit terrorizing a young boy, although it may not be real. Think “Harvey” as a horror film. (Also on Blu-ray, $29.98)
“Deadball” (Well Go, 2011, not rated, $24.98, in Japanese with English subtitles, featurettes, trailers). Grimy “splatter” comedy about a baseball prodigy/criminal in a juvenile reformatory that is run by the granddaughter of a Nazi collaborator. Hey, you can’t make this stuff up. (Also on Blu-ray, $29.98)
“13 Eerie” (eOne, 2013, not rated, $19.98, audio commentary, featurettes, photo gallery). Six forensic undergrads vying for an FBI trainee position face off against zombies on a remote island that was used for illegal biological testing.