42 (PG-13, 2013, Warner Bros.)
“42’s” biggest problem might be the perception that the story of Jackie Robinson, arguably history’s most celebrated baseball player, has already been told, retold and ingrained. But most of those stories focus on Robinson’s hustle and bravery, stopping short for whatever reason when it comes to illustrating the bullheaded bravado that made him great and established him as the perfect force of nature to blow the doors off baseball’s color barrier. “42,” to its credit, does not. In fact, it gets down to the business of Robinson’s (Chadwick Boseman) belly fire straight away, it does so with bravado of its own, and then does it again roughly one scene later. With an opener like that, the stage is set for a biopic that lays its heart on the table and strives, first and foremost, to thrill — which, to its debatable detriment, is what happens. “42” celebrates not only the ballplayer who changed the game, but the wonderfully crotchety owner (Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey) who took a chance on him and the teammates who eventually fought for him when the virtues of winning baseball put the tradition of prejudice to shame. But “42” also smooths over the considerable ugliness of the era and ignores the fights for integration that preceded Rickey’s move and followed Robinson’s debut. (Larry Doby, who debuted for the Indians three months after Robinson’s debut, is invisible.) This version of Robinson’s story stops short in its own slightly Disneyfied way, settling down as a gorgeously shot, terrifically entertaining starter story that hopefully will galvanize some to seek out the rest of saga. Those other details would have sapped this film of its purity as a feel-good summertime sports movie, but that doesn’t make them any less essential to their place in history.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features.
— Also: “Letters From Jackie: The Private Thoughts of Jackie Robinson” (NR, 2011, MLB): “Letters From Jackie” strives to document not only Robinson’s playing career, but also his life after baseball, and it uses Robinson’s own words — via letters written both to his wife and a young fan he befriended and corresponded with across both eras — as its narrative backbone. But the 45-minute runtime provides little room for “Letters” to explore either period in truly fascinating detail even when some surprising developments make it clear those details are out there. No extras.
Rick Springfield: An Affair of the Heart (NR, 2012, Breaking Glass Pictures)
After charting 17 hit singles by the end of the 1980s, Rick Springfield dropped off the face of the musical earth for more than a decade. Then, with a newfound mission to connect with the fans who connected with his music, he reemerged and embarked on a second act that’s smaller in profile but more extraordinary by perhaps every other metric. “An Affair of the Heart” is the still-in-progress story of that second act, and while Springfield obviously is the star of it, his reemergence is such a communal experience that this is nowhere near his story alone. “Heart” finds some of those fans who found Rick at the height of his fame and found him all over again when he returned, and it doesn’t have to look hard, because where he goes, they often go as well. If that sounds like stalking, it’s worth noting that it’s stalking of the sanctioned variety — part of an improbable two-way relationship between a star and his fans, but often also the culmination of some incredible life stories that beautifully bridge the gap between fame and humanity. The details of that connection make “Heart” considerably more gratifying than your typical music documentary. But if you’re here for something more than gratification alone, worry not. Between the jealous husband/wannabe rock star awkwardly voicing his jealousy to his groupie wife and the Springfield-themed cruise that shares its voyage with more than a thousand passengers who aren’t there for Rick and think his fanbase is slightly insane, “Heart” isn’t afraid to crash its own feel-good story with some delightfully wince-worthy entertainment.
Extras: Extended scenes, bonus interviews, footage from the film’s premiere.
Damages: The Final Season (NR, 2012, Sony Pictures)
By way of a custody battle over her granddaughter, attorney Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) finally gets her inevitable day in court against the prodigy (Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons) she once groomed to be the next her. And as highly as it values twists and misdirection as the cornerstones of its design, “Damages” has provided little doubt that it could end any other way than this. Perhaps predictably, season five quickly postpones the custody battle in favor of a case that not only is customarily topical — classified information, the hackers (Ryan Phillippe) who leak it, the public that celebrates and condemns the leakers, and the casualties their actions leave behind — but also gives Patty and Ellen a chance to face off as attorneys instead of witness and defendant. The logistics that set the stage for that showdown are a little implausible, and the mind games that immediately follow have a familiar, borderline fatigued feel to them that suggests this saga is wrapping up at about the right time. But it’s about then that “Damages” plays its calling card, wherein it spoils major events from the finale but does so just cloudily enough to keep their full meaning a mystery. Seasoned viewers might see this season’s reveal coming, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bombshell (it is) or that witnessing the domino fall that takes us from here to there isn’t totally gratifying (it is), albeit polarizing with regard to where it ends up (probably). Even with her methods showing some age, Patty is such a potent mix of terrifying and refined that it’s hard to stop watching — primarily because it’s enthralling entertainment, but also because bad things tend to happen to those who take their eyes off of her. “Damages” is the world made in her image, and the bang that ends her world is, while bittersweet, entirely appropriate.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus deleted scenes and outtakes.
Regular Show: The Complete First & Second Seasons (NR, 2010, Cartoon Network)
The name is so mundane as to be funny in its own right, but “Regular Show” has a point: If Mordecai wasn’t a blue jay and Rigby wasn’t a raccoon — and if their neighbors and co-workers didn’t include a yeti, a Frankenstein’s monster and a short-tempered anthropomorphic gumball machine — this would be just another show about two lazy 23-year-old groundskeepers who hold onto their jobs despite constantly abandoning them to embark on crazy adventures. Yep. Past the fact that those adventures take the gang to the moon, into the multiverse, on the back of a flying duck and inside a 1980s cell phone, it’s just another show about slackers getting by. “Regular Show” is, like its Cartoon Network sibling “Adventure Time,” wonderfully good at finding and mining the vast middle ground between a cartoon suitable for Saturday mornings and the unscrupulous ball of terror only Adult Swim can safely contain. Traces of stoner comedies are everywhere, but the exterior is so charming and the adventures so grade school juvenile that “Show” (which, it should be noted, is also legitimately funny) is that rare show that has true all-ages appeal.
Contents: 40 episodes (all with commentary), plus the unaired pilot, student short “The Naive Man from Lolliland,” creator interview, mystery karaoke, music video, animatics/pencil tests/CG tests and promotional material.
Bullet to the Head (R, 2013, Warner Bros.)
It’s a long and messy story, but the upshot is that a hit man with a ridiculously itchy trigger finger (Sylvester Stallone as James) and a cop who wants to arrest him but can’t (Sung Kang as Taylor) are accidental partners on a job that finds kingpins and clients alike hunting both of them down. Albeit clumsily, and with the help of a brooding Stallone narration track that may as well be a Vin Diesel narration parody everyone just decided to treat seriously, “Bullet to the Head” does passably explain what turns James and Taylor into bedfellows. What it cannot convey, though, is why anyone should possibly care. “Head” ostensibly is a callback to the leaner days of 1980s action movies, prioritizing no-nonsense action and stripping away the cheap stunts and effects only expensive computers make possible. But what’s the excuse for stripping away personality as well? James has next to none, Taylor is never even given a chance to demonstrate if he has one, and outside of a sparingly-used cartoon character (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the bad guys are every bit as bland. With combatants like this, it’s hard to care about what they’re fighting over, and if “Head’s” storytelling is just an elaborate excuse to get to the action, that action — mostly consisting of James killing people with almost unintentionally funny disregard for consequence — doesn’t exactly justify the stalling.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
Evil Dead (R, 2013, Sony Pictures)
This, this right here, is it. For anyone positing an argument about how technology alone doesn’t make movies better and sometimes just makes them worse, “Evil Dead” is the new Exhibit A. The new “Dead” follows the same general plot of the 1983 original, and Director Fede Alvarez has proudly proclaimed that no CG was used to simulate the film’s gore. But while that may be true, and while that is technically impressive, it doesn’t make that gore — and there is a ton of it, and yes, that seems to be the draw — any less out of step with the crazy B-movie stop-motion effects that made the original “Dead” such an special blend of charming and dark. Nothing about this “Dead’s” dull cast of characters is charming, nor does its darkness conjure any sensations that dozens of other horror movies haven’t already run into the ground in the last few years alone. And the gore? It’s gross, sure, but it also looks bored — an almost obligatory reach from yet another movie with lots of blood to shed but no concept of how to turn that into actual scares instead of momentary groans and winces to prop up the lifeless storytelling that’s patching it all together. The gore is, by process of elimination, the only fathomable reason why someone had to take a cult classic and remake it in modern horror’s calculated image. But its only real contribution goes toward the validation of the written word’s ability to frighten audiences in ways a bunch of aimless blood and guts cannot even fathom.
Extras: Cast/filmmaker commentary, five behind-the-scenes features.