With five home entertainment release days in April this week’s offerings are a little light, especially in comparison to the past few weeks. Still there is a trio of very interesting documentaries as well as a trio of films that strive very hard (maybe even too hard) to be “cult movies,” plus the second season of the American version of The Killing and a solid set of anime offerings.
Theatrical Movies
It’s a sad day in this category when the top three entries are documentaries, but that’s the case this week with a trio of imperfect, but very watchable and very different fact-based films. Baseball fans will definitely want to check out Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg’s Knuckleball (MPI, 85 min., $24.98) a study of the game’s most baffling pitch that follows two superb practitioners of the esoteric craft, Boston’s Tim Wakefield and the New York Mets’ R.A. Dickey through the 2011 baseball season in a film that lots of serious baseball fans will want to own.
Equally fascinating is Hitler’s Children (Film Movement, “Not Rated,” $24.95) Chanoch Ze’evi’s documentary about the descendants of some of the top Nazi leaders, who are dealing with a very special legacy of guilt. Their reactions to this legacy of evil may surprise even the most jaded viewers. Bettina Goring, the grand niece of Hitler’s right hand man, underwent a voluntary sterilization as a sort of personal effort to stamp out the rotund Nazi’s genetic line. While certainly not a perfect film, Hitler’s Children is a fascinating look at the Holocaust from a very different perspective.
Meet the Fokkens (Kino, “Not Rated,” $29.95) operates on a very different level. Rob Schroder and Gabrielle Provass’ documentary about twin 69 year-old Dutch prostitutes, one of whom still plies her trade in Amsterdam’s red light district is kind of a hoot. The critics loved this offbeat documentary, which earned a 93% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While it’s not for everyone, those with a taste for the bizarre and the grotesque could do much worse than this sprightly film that is filled with lively conversation and rib-tickling reminiscences.
The best fictional film of the week is John Dies At the End (Magnolia, “R,” $26.98, BD $29.98), a bizarre adaptation of David Wong’s novel directed by Don Coscarellis (Bubba Ho-Tep, Phantasm). This horror comedy is seriously weird with a narrative pace and style that will appeal to those who think Buckeroo Banzai is right up there with Citizen Kane.
If anything John Dies At the End tries too hard for cult status, but it is a piker in its obvious attempts to embrace the odd when compared with The Baytown Outlaws (Phase 4, “R,” $29.98, BD $29.98), a shameless homage to Southern-fried grindhouse movies that does manage to succeed in proving that Baytown Outlaws director Barry Battles is no Quentin Tarantino. Predictably the critics hated Baytown, which stars Eva Longoria and Billy Bob Thornton, giving it only a 19% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I think that action movie fans might want to take a chance on this one—it is derivative, but it also holds out some fun and even a few surprises for the dedicated genre movie fan.
That is also true of The Sweeney (Entertainment One, “R,” $19.98, BD $24.98), a remake of a 1970s U.K. TV series that depicts the rough-and-tumble, often extra-legal, ways of the London Flying Squad, that deals with armed robberies. Veteran actor Ray Winstone plays Detective Jack Regan in this gritty U.K. crime drama that is very predictable to fans of the genre, but which also manages to deliver the cop movie goods.
This week’s “TV on DVD” bestseller will likely be The Bible: The Epic Miniseries (Fox, 440 min., $59.98, BD $69.98), the History Channel miniseries produced by Mark Burnett (Survivor) and Roma Downey that managed to attract as many as 13.1 million viewers and was the #1 Sunday night show during much of its run. 
Few cable series have gotten off to better starts than The Killing, the American version of the Danish series Forbrydelsen, which mesmerized critics here with its season-long crime saga set in murky Seattle. But Season One wasn’t nearly enough time to actually solve the crime, which spilled over into The Killing: Season Two (Fox, 598 min., $29.99) which was not as well-received by either critics or viewers.  The series was briefly cancelled though AMC eventually ordered a third season that will air in June.  If you want a sign that this series has fallen from favor, look no farther than the fact that Season 2 is being released in the “down-market” DVD-R format, which is not as permanent or universal a format as regular commercial DVDs. It’s an unfair comparison but The Killing’s saga of the death of teenager Rosie Larsen was done more stylishly, and believe or not more succinctly by David Lynch who also chose a Northwest setting for Twin Peaks, his uber-long saga of the death of teenager Laura Palmer.
The TV movie is now almost entirely a “cable” affair, and it’s hard to argue that the greater freedom (and budgets) that cable affords have improved the genre, which had fallen on hard times in the Network TV arena. But in spite of the efforts of director Philip Kaufman as well as stars Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, HBO’s Hemingway and Gelhorn (HBO, 154 min., $19.97, BD $24.99) has to rank as a misfire, in part because of the difficulties in presenting Hemingway’s larger-than-life personality, which always teetered on the verge of self-parody anyway.
All the other releases this week are vintage TV series including the 1990s Showtime offering Dead Man’s Gun: The Complete Season 1 (TGG, 900 min., $24.95) and Dead Man’s Gun: The Complete Season 2 (TGG, 975 min., $24.95), which together include all 44 episodes of the anthology western series narrated by Kris Kristofferson that followed a gun, with life-altering powers, that passed from hand-to-hand in the old West.
A better series (of much older vintage) is Route 66: Season 4 (Shout Factory, 1560 min., $29.93), one of the first TV shows that was actually shot on locations all over the U.S., and which captured the adventurous feel of the 1960s, when the U.S. still seemed like the land of opportunity where two young dudes could travel the country in a corvette searching for themselves as they flitted from temporary job to job. 
Even more ancient is Tombstone Territory: Season One (Shout Factory, 975 min., $29.93), which starred Pat Conway as Sheriff Clay Hollister and aired on ABC in 1957.
It would probably be a good thing if TGG Direct’s Flipper: Season Two, Flipper: Season Three, and Flipper: Season 3 (all TGG, 975 min., $24.95) went under their real title The New Adventures of Flipper, since they are from the 1990’s syndicated series, not the fondly-remembered1960s NBC series.
This week’s offerings include Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan Set 1(Viz Media, “13+,” 300 min., $44.87, BD $54.97), which contains the first 13 episodes of the 26-episode 2010 Studio Deen series based on the action adventure fantasy manga by Hiroshi Shiibashi. This series, which focuses on a teen, who is human by day and a yokai at night, premiered on Viz Media’s online Neon Alley network last October. Both the BD and DVD versions include a dubbed English track as well as the Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles.
Also due this week is Pokemon Movie 15: Kyurem vs. The Sword of Justice (Viz Media, “All Ages,” 70 min., $19.97), and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (Maiden Japan, “14+,” 325 min., $59.98, BD $69.98), an 11-episode 2009 series from Bones and Kinema Citrus that won the “Excellence in Animation” Prize at Japan’s Media Arts Festival in 2009. 
This week’s only re-release is Emma: A Victorian Romance Season 2 Collection (Right Stuf, “7+,” 325 min., $39.99), which includes all 12 episodes of the second act (season) of the superb series about an upstairs/downstairs romance in staid Victorian England, plus a one-episode re-cap of the first season that served as an introduction to the second.
Classics on Blu-ray
Luis Bunuel’s 1970 classic Tristana (Cohen, “PG,” $24.98) was a French-Spanish-Italian co-production and starred Catharine Deneuve (at the height of her considerable beauty), Franco Nero, and Fernando Rey. The Cohen Media Group, which did a great job with its first Blu-ray (Douglas Fairbanks’ Thief of Baghdad), has released another excellent looking hi-def transfer, though it appears that Tristana was no easy film to restore, and some of the scenes do appear darker than in previous versions. Also, the French dialog version would have been nice, since both Deneuve and Nero were dubbed for the Spanish language version that is presented (with English subtitles) on the new Cohen disc. Still it is great to see this film restored to its former visual glory.

Tom Flinn

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.