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New releases: 'Hemingway & Gellhorn' glimpses literary icons

Also new: 'Knuckleball,' 'The Sweeney' and 'Venus and Serena.'

March 31, 2013|By Noel Murray
  • Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen in the HBO film "Hemingway & Gellhorn."
Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen in the HBO film "Hemingway & Gellhorn." (HBO )

Hemingway & Gellhorn

HBO, $19.97; Blu-ray, $24.99

The cartoonish excesses of writer Ernest Hemingway get blown up to the size of a Roy Lichtenstein painting in this very strange HBO movie. Nicole Kidman plays war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, who romanced and eventually married Hemingway (Clive Owen) after their experiences during the Spanish Civil War. Writers Jerry Stahl and Barbara Turner and director Philip Kaufman trot out one literary figure after another — from John Dos Passos to Max Eastman — and treat them all as though they were ripped from an especially pulpy B-movie. The characters are constantly fighting, drinking and rutting; and though this approach is entertaining in a nutty kind of way, it wears thin over the course of 150 minutes, since at some point the viewer needs to care about these people as people, not icons. The DVD and Blu-ray add a pair of featurettes and a commentary track by Kaufman and editor Walter Murch.


MPI, $24.98

Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg's documentary follows the 2011 seasons of pitchers Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey — the former was about to retire, the latter was emerging as a star (on his way to a Cy Young Award for his 2012 campaign.) Stern and Sundberg over-romanticize their subject at first, making grand statements about America, baseball and the quirkiness of this fluttering little pitch thrown by a fraternity of misfits. "Knuckleball!" gets much stronger when it focuses more specifically on how Wakefield and Dickey have dealt with the ups and downs of careers that were saved by a pitch that also fails them sometimes. The DVD delves even deeper into the philosophy of the knuckler, with two hours of bonus footage.

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The Sweeney

E1/Koch, $19.98; Blu-ray, $24.98

The late '70s British cop show "The Sweeney" broke new ground with its depiction of the police as hard-working but morally compromised. The main problem with writer-director Nick Love's modernized big-screen adaptation is that 30-plus years of two-fisted TV policiers has left this movie feeling less cutting-edge and more hackneyed. The cast is good, though, with the reliable Ray Winstone playing the leader of a special no-holds-barred tactical squad within the London police force and the likes of Steven Mackintosh, Damian Lewis and Hayley Atwell filling in some of the supporting roles. "The Sweeney" is a routine cop flick, but it has snap along with a gruff demeanor that fans of British "lad movies" will appreciate. The DVD and Blu-ray come with a Love commentary track, plus more than an hour of featurettes.

Venus and Serena

Available on VOD beginning Thursday

Given how rich, famous and accomplished tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams have become, it's surprising how little they're scrutinized, at least in comparison to other celebrity athletes. Documentarians Maiken Baird and Michelle Major try to remedy that with "Venus and Serena," a film that combines the familiar details of the sisters' upbringing — how their dad, Richard, pushed them hard on the courts of Compton from an early age, and how their dominance of the predominantly white, conservative tennis community caused some controversy — with fly-on-the-wall footage of the Williamses grinding through a year on the circuit, serving as each other's closest friends. Baird and Major aren't able to get much real dish from Venus or Serena, because both are guarded by nature, but even the slightest insights into these two remarkable women are welcome.


The Bible: The Epic Miniseries

20th Century Fox, $59.98; Blu-ray, $69.99


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