Michael Bergeron
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Blu-ray/DVD slight return: Spring training edition

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79304-1For the April showers edition of Blu-ray slight return we examine some foreign releases, a doc from an 1980 series about a lost war, and keeping in time with the season a couple of baseball films.

First up to bat is Knuckleball (MPI, 4/2). It may interest you to know that the art of the knuckleball is relegated to another era, and the final two pitchers currently in the game (Tim Wakefield, who retired in 2012, and R. A. Dickey, currently with the Toronto Blue Jays) are the main subjects. It’s a lost art, at least that’s the way it sounds to hear the participants and talking heads that include Charlie Hough, Jim Bouton, and Phil Niekro, among others, tell the story. Directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, whose docs include The Devil Comes on Horseback, find the passion and respect for the game that gives the story a real boost. Also a treat are the lengthy extras that include a great primer of the physics of the knuckleball, as well as extended interviews with the participants and batters recalling their anxiety at the plate when facing the uncanny nature of the pitch.Knuckleball

Another baseball doc that compels interest is Jackie Robinson: My Story (Shout! Factory, 4/2). There’s two parts to this disc, the latter a recap doc called Jackie Robinson: An American Hero that embellishes the story with additional archival images and info. When Jacking Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947 it had literally been 60 years since baseball owners had colluded to keep blacks of the game. The film proper recounts Robinson’s career in the style of a one-man play with Stephen Hill, who captures Robinson to a T, narrating to the audience from a clubhouse set, again embellished with news clips, photos and interviews with former teammates. If anything this is a comprehensive portrait of Robinson including his highs and tragedies and his post-baseball life. Just FYI: the current film 42 only covers two years of Robinson’s life; also Robinson himself starred in his own biopic in 1950.

film_review__the_big_picture__4e1ff06014A duo of foreign films out on disc that should be on your radar: The Big Picture (MPI, Blu-ray, 3/19) a French film about a man who kill’s his wife’s lover and then assumes the dead man’s identity. Romain Duris stars and the film takes some Ripley (compare Patricia Highsmith) type turns before an astounding third act that takes place on the high seas. Easy Money a.k.a. Snabba Cash (Anchor Bay, 3/26), a 2010 Swedish export that also spawned a sequel, was the movie that launched the Hollywood career of Daniel Espinoza (Safe House). Tight action sequences and a gritty crime atmosphere dominate.

Snabba-CashThe war they didn’t teach me in school, the Vietnam War gets a thorough examination in the 26 episode, 4 DVD set Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War (Time Life, 4/9). I attended grade school in the 1960s, during the height of the Vietnam War and basically our history books ended at WWII, no mention of Korea (which seems to be going strong nowadays) and certainly no mention of Southeast Asia.

This series that was produced by Canadian television, written by Peter Arnett (and narrated by Richard Basehart) and broadcast in 1980, paints a comprehensive picture of Vietnam from 1945 through 1975. The series covers the French and subsequent American involvement and frankly leaves few stones unturned. There’s a lot of information on display and much of it sublimated by time so that it reemerges fresh with this viewing. Who can forget that the President of South Vietnam was assassinated less than a month from the date of JFK’s assassination?

050516-M-3509K-001The sight of million dollar helicopters being tossed into the ocean because the evacuation vessels didn’t have room for both them and the survivors who’d escaped Saigon when the North took over are unforgettable. And that’s just a couple of minutes from two of the many episodes. Some of the footage you’ve seen as found footage in practically every Vietnam doc or narrative feature to come down the pike. But that’s matched by testimonial talking heads giving first hand accounts of their personal involvement in the whole Vietnam conflict, which you may’ve seen or maybe not - but they are etched subliminally into your mind only to be revealed in their electronic reality as this series unrolls. History is not pretty, but at least Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War doesn’t gloss over the less patriotic notes.

— Michael Bergeron