A trio of memorable sports movies — “Field of Dreams” (Universal, 1989, $29.98), “Cinderella Man” (Universal, 2005, $29.98) and “Seabiscuit” (Universal, 2003, $29.98) — lead this week’s lineup of new Blu-ray titles.
Although “Field of Dreams” is a fantasy, it manages to capture the wondrous spirit of the game of baseball and its marvelous ability to bind generations together. Kevin Costner plays Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella who hears a voice while strolling through his massive cornfield. “If you build it, he will come,” whispers the voice. When he hears it again, Ray shares the experience with his wife, Annie (Amy Madigan).
Annie brushes it off at first but soon realizes her husband is taking it seriously. When he feels compelled to plow up part of his corn and build a baseball field on that spot, his neighbors begin to think he has become a wacko. Ray remains committed, however, and soon the field, complete with lights, is finished. Then he waits and waits for something to happen.
One evening a baseball player emerges from the rows of corn and walks onto the field. It is “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, who also happened to be the favorite player of Ray’s long-deceased dad. But the magic has just begun. Other old-time players start showing up.
To find out some answers about what’s happening, Ray seeks out a reclusive author (James Earl Jones) from the 1960s and a small-town doctor (Burt Lancaster) who once appeared in one major league game. Ray’s journey rekindles not only the pleasure of the game, but also the simple joy of a son and father playing catch. One of the film’s many highlights is Jones’ speech about what baseball means to America. It is a speech that will send chills up the spine of any lover of the game.
The Iowa cornfield and its baseball diamond never looked more breathtaking than it does in the Blu-ray high definition format. There are plenty of extras that will make you appreciate the film even more. Highly recommended.
“Cinderella Man” stars Russell Crowe in an outstanding performance as real-life boxer James J. Braddock. Directed by Ron Howard, the film is not only a fine portrait of a fighter but also a vivid look at Depression-era America. Braddock was a successful boxer before a broken hand forced him to retire from the ring.
Now he works on the docks trying to keep his family afloat during the hard times of the 1930s. Still, in the back of his mind, Braddock dreams of boxing again. That seems an unlikely dream until his old manager Joe Gould (the terrific Paul Giamatti) tells him he has a chance to face Max Baer (Craig Bierko) for the heavyweight championship of the world.
Despite being a huge underdog, Braddock takes on the challenge. His wife, Mae (wonderfully played by Renee Zellweger), fears for her husband’s life knowing that Baer already has killed two opponents. The fight sequences will have you on the edge of your set. It’s a heck of a piece of filmmaking by Howard. The result is an exhilarating cinematic experience.
The Blu-ray disc has numerous extras, including a look at the real James Braddock. One doesn’t have to be a boxing fan to appreciate this film.
“Seabiscuit” is another uplifting Depression-era film about three men from varied backgrounds who are brought together by a horse. Tobey McGuire plays Red Pollard, who learned all about horses as a kid and spends most of his time trying to pick up a buck or two from boxing and riding horses.
Chris Cooper portrays Tom Smith, a man down on his luck but who has a way of gaining the trust of even the most rowdy of horses. Jeff Bridges plays Charles Howard, millionaire builder of automobiles, who seems to lose his zest for life after a family tragedy. That gradually changes after he buys Seabiscuit, a horse contented to just laze around all day.
Howard sees potential in the horse and talks Smith into trying to mold him into a race horse. Later, they pick Pollard as the jockey who can handle Seabiscuit on the track. The three men and a horse eventually stun the racing world in a way that had millions cheering during the 1930s. McGuire, Cooper and Bridges are absolutely perfect in their roles. The film is narrated by celebrated author David McCullough, who lent his voice to Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” and PBS’ “The American Experience.”
Other Blu-ray releases:
“Falling Down” (Warner, 1993, $34.99): Michael Douglas plays Bill Foster, a man who finds himself unemployed and with an anger building up inside of him. During a traffic jam, he suddenly snaps. Foster gets out of his car and goes on a rampage, lashing out at just about anyone who gets in his way. In some ways, his actions mirror the frustrations felt by many Americans caught up in the modern world. Robert Duvall plays the veteran cop out to stop Foster. Packaged in Warner’s Blu-ray book format. Recommended.
“Children of Men” (Universal, 2006, $29.98): In the year 2027, most of the world is in ruins thanks to wars and terrorists. The human race is on the verge of extinction because there have been no children born in the past 18 years. Only on the isle of Britain is there some sort of order. There, Theo Faron (Clive Owen) finds himself suddenly taking on a task that could mean the future of mankind. His job is to smuggle a young woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) out of the country to safety. Also in the cast are Julianne Moore and Michael Caine. An engrossing sci-fi film.
“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (Warner, 1991, $28.99): Kevin Costner portrays the bandit of Sherwood Forest in a film that takes the fun and swashbuckling adventure out of the legend. Instead, what we get is a dark, supposedly realistic version that makes you realize just how great Errol Flynn was in the role. The cast includes Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Alan Hickman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.
“New in Town” (Lionsgate, 2009, $39.99): Renee Zellweger plays Lucy Hill, whose job takes her from Miami to oversee a plant in a small and cold Minnesota town. It takes a while, but she and the community eventually begin to feel comfortable with each other. Lucy has a not-so-friendly encounter with one of the plant workers, Ted Mitchell (Harry Connick Jr.) but it’s obvious romance is around the corner.
“Inside Man” (Universal, 2006, $29.98): Spike Lee directed this thriller about a well-planned New York bank robbery pulled off by Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and three others. Russell holds more than 40 people inside and threatens to kill them if his demands are not met. Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is put on the case and his goal is negotiate with Russell. But the deeper Frazier gets into the case, the more he believes things aren’t exactly what they appear to be. Also in the cast are Jodie Foster and Christopher Plummer.
“Spy Game” (Universal, 2001, $29.98): Robert Redford plays Nathan Muir, a CIA boss with a problem. One of his agents, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), has been captured after a failed top-secret mission. Muir learns he has 24 hours to find a way to rescue Bishop or the agent will die. Well-done thriller.
“True Romance” (Warner, 1993, $28.99): Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette) come into the possession of suitcase full of drugs. The two head to Los Angeles where they hope to sell the stuff and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, the drugs belong to mobsters and they want them back. Also in the cast are Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt and Val Kilmer.