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Home Entertainment : Baseball Season in Full Swing at Video Stores

August 26, 1994|DENNIS HUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the baseball strike on, hard-core fans are suffering through withdrawal. Watching baseball videos may provide some relief.

That's why many video store owners are showcasing their stock of baseball movies now. Usually they're dragged out at the start of the season, when interest in the sport is being rekindled.

Near the top of the list is "The Natural" (1984), with Robert Redford as baseball hero Roy Hobbs. Its baseball scenes will soothe any starved fan. There are even better sequences in director John Sayles' excellent "Eight Men Out" from 1988, about the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal. This is one of the best movies ever made about the game.

"Field of Dreams," from 1989, is a little hokey but it does radiate an affection for the sport. In this fantasy, Kevin Costner stars as an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball diamond on his land to serve as a playing field for dead players.

If you're looking for a baseball fix, steer clear of "Bull Durham" (1988), which is about minor-league baseball. Not that this comedy is bad. It's just more about the relationships between the characters, played by Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.

The two "Major League" movies are wacky comedies that take a satirical approach to the game.

There also are a handful of choice vintage movies available that convey a very strong sense of baseball as the national pastime--a feeling missing from post-'60s movies.

One is "The Pride of the Yankees," the 1942 biography of Lou Gehrig, starring Gary Cooper--an excellent movie with a terrific baseball flavor. Another is the amusing 1949 comedy "It Happens Every Spring," with Ray Milland as a chemistry professor who becomes a star pitcher by treating baseballs with a wood-repellent he discovers.

Skip the Babe Ruth movies. The 2-year-old "The Babe," with John Goodman in the starring role, is a sentimental, fact-stretching biography that's more devoted to his off-field activities. "The Babe Ruth Story" (1949), featuring William Bendix's horrible performance as Ruth, whitewashes the hero so drastically that it's a turn-off to fans who know the real story.

FoxVideo has repriced last year's "Rookie of the Year," which will be available Tuesday at $20. This and another FoxVideo title, "The Sandlot," are homey family movies that wouldn't interest hard-core fans.

Another way to ride out the strike is watching documentaries about baseball. Orion has a big catalogue of worthwhile titles in the sales market, including "The National Pastime: The History of Major League Baseball," "Baseball's Greatest Pennant Races," "The Official History of Baseball," "The Greatest League Championship Series" and "World Series."

Of course, the monster of all baseball documentaries, Ken Burns' "Baseball," an 18-hour epic selling for $180, is on the way. That's due Sept. 23, in the middle of its run on PBS, which begins Sept. 18.

What's New On Video:

"Schindler's List" (MCA/Universal). Steven Spielberg's grim, gripping, Oscar-winning drama, set in World War II and photographed in black-and-white, tells the story of German industrialist Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who saved the lives of more than 1,000 Jews. Moving and also very educational for those--teens in particular--who are unfamiliar with the Holocaust.

"D2: The Mighty Ducks" (Disney). Emilio Estevez returns as the coach of a children's hockey team, which here is trying to win the Junior Goodwill Games. The kiddies, who thrive on sports-movie cliches, will love this cutesy sequel. Those in their teens or older will most likely find it juvenile and woefully predictable.

"Four Weddings and a Funeral" (PolyGram). The ups-and-downs of the off-again-on-again affair between a carefree British bachelor (Hugh Grant) and an unconventional American (Andie MacDowell). But the real fun of this amiable British comedy is his relationships with his buddies and various girlfriends. Grant's enormous charm drives this movie, which features some hilarious wedding sequences.

"I'll Do Anything" (Columbia TriStar). This film started out as a musical comedy but the musical numbers were cut after negative audience tests. Nick Nolte plays a struggling actor trying to raise a bratty young daughter (Whittni Wright). Writer-director James L. Brooks takes some sharp, on-target digs at the movie industry. Moderately engaging at times, but a generally thin entertainment. Albert Brooks and Julie Kavner co-star.

"The House of Spirits" (LIVE). Don't be fooled by the impressive cast--Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Winona Rider and Jeremy Irons. Set in a South American country, this tale of passion and politics--a big box-office flop--has zero dramatic tension. Flagrant miscasting and a bad script equal a terrible movie.

"Hard Boiled" (Fox Lorber). Director John Woo is the Orson Welles of the low-grade, action-flick genre. Though gruesomely violent, his films are beautifully crafted. Here he turns a routine tale--two Hong Kong cops (Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leong) battling the mob--into something compelling. Geared to men who savor stomach-churning violence.

"Blue Chips" (Paramount). Focuses on the seedy side of college basketball, with Nick Nolte playing a volatile coach who seems to be modeled after Indiana's Bobby Knight. After some losing seasons, the coach is pressured to illegally recruit top players. Featuring basketball players Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee Hardaway, it's engrossing for hoops fanatics, who'll appreciate the gritty game sequences, but also OK for those with just a passing interest in the game.

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