The Hill. color. 60 min. Lisa Molomot, dist. by Cinema Guild, www.cinemaguild.com. 2013. DVD ISBN 9780781514446. $99.95; acad. libs. $210 (Rental: $125). Public performance. SOC SCI
Updating the nation’s urban infrastructure is unquestionably a pressing need, but what happens when this priority clashes with the needs of citizens, particularly those involving affordable housing? Such was the conflict in the Upper Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT, where 94 homes occupied by mostly minority, elderly, and disabled residents were slated for demolition to build a new school, a project of questionable necessity and promoted for debatable reasons. The residents’ battle to fight this aggressive eminent domain initiative and take on city hall is now chronicled in this engaging documentary. Through the determined efforts of homeowners, neighborhood organizers, and a committed civil rights attorney, the disenfranchised had their day in court, providing an inspiring example of what community action can accomplish, one that could prove valuable to other localities faced with comparable struggles. VERDICT In an age when individual rights are seemingly trampled upon with impunity, this film illustrates how it’s possible for even the common man to have his say and to fight back.
Soul Food Junkies: A Film About Family, Food, & Tradition. color. 64 min. Byron Hurt, dist. by Media Education Fdn., 800-897-0089; www.mediaed.org. 2013. DVD ISBN 9781932869736. $34.95; acad. libs. $275. Public performance; SDH subtitles. COOKING
With Americans continuing to embrace their culinary heritage, soul food has gained both widespread popularity and notoriety for its fat content. Documentarian Hurt (Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes) explores the origins of the cuisine, particularly its significance to the African American community. The documentary is simultaneously celebratory and cautionary. Hurt uses his family’s enjoyment of soul food to frame the film and contrasts scenes of cooking with his mother and sister against flashbacks showing his father’s progressive weight gain that was ultimately linked to his early death. Beyond his personal story, Hurt highlights such things as a soul food cook-off in Oklahoma and a Jackson, MS, diner that played a part in the civil rights movement. He also interviews health experts and individuals with varying perspectives on what soul food can and should be. Ultimately, Hurt demonstrates that there is a balance to be struck between appreciation for this vital cuisine and the need to ensure that healthy eating and soul food are compatible. VERDICT This film is sure to appeal to a broad audience beyond foodies.
Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of . color. 87+ min. Laurent Malaquais, BronyDoc, LLC, www.bronydoc.com. 2013. Blu-ray/DVD ISBN 9780988849600. $28.99. TV/POP CULTURE
Bronies features an international cross section of male fans of the latest My Little Pony animated series as they pursue their passion for the show, culminating in visits to fan conventions in the United States and Europe. Viewers will learn about the fans’ creative and charitable efforts and the acceptance and support offered by the Brony community, which, yes, does include women. Series creator Lauren Faust and actors Tara Strong and John de Lancie (aka Q from Star Trek) talk of their involvement with the show. Experts discuss the Bronies’ demographic makeup and the psychological needs that their fandom fulfills but not the problematic aspects of what they call a “flight” and a “retreat” from an uncertain world nor of the show’s extensive merchandising. Extras include extended interviews and additional convention footage but vary among physical editions (all of which provide the film on both Blu-ray and DVD). VERDICT Bronies is a modest, openhearted look at a misunderstood subculture. Recommended for general audiences and MLP fans.
To log in to your account, click here. To view the new subscription options, Get Started With Book Verdict Pro Today.
Don't know if you have an account with us? It's easy to check and verify your email, or create a new account.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.
Falcón. 2 discs. color. 179+ min. Pete Travis & Gabriel Range, ITV Global, Mammoth Screen Ltd., dist. by Acorn Media, 888-870-8047; www.acornonline.com. 2013. DVD ISBN 9781598289794. $39.99. SDH subtitles. F
arts & humanities
Bert Stern: Original Mad Man. color & b/w. 89+ min. Shannah Laumeister, Magic Film Prods., dist. by First Run Features, 800-229-8575; www.firstrunfeatures.com. 2013. DVD UPC 720229915519. $27.95. Closed-captioned. FASHION/BIOG
Journey to the Sea of Cortez: Retracing the Steinbeck/Ricketts Expedition of 1940. color & b/w. 60 min. Thomas Lucas, Thomas Lucas Prods., dist. by Janson Media, www.janson.com. 2013. DVD ISBN 9781568394500. $24.95. LIT/SCI
The Exorcist in the 21st Century. color. 80+ min. In English & Spanish w/English subtitles. Fredrik Horn Akselsen, Gammaglimt As Prod., dist. by Disinformation Co. c/o Entertainment One, www.eonedistribution.com. 2013. DVD ISBN 9781934708972. $19.98. REL
The Typewriter (in the 21st Century). color & b/w. 60 min. Christopher Lockett, dist. by Janson Media, www.janson.com. 2013. DVD ISBN 9781568394565. $24.95. COMM
Bill Moyers Beyond Hate. color. 87+ min. Athena Learning, 888-870-8047; www.acornonline.com . 2013. DVD ISBN 9781598289244. $34.99. SDH subtitles. SOC SCI
BE A SPORT
Branca’s Pitch. color & b/w. 87+ min. Andrew J. Muscato, Makuhari Media LLC, dist. by Strand Releasing, www.strandreleasing.com. 2013. DVD UPC 712267331529. $19.99. Closed-captioned. SPORTS/BIOG
This film is so much more than a biography of Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca (b. 1926), who gave up the playoff-winning home run (the “shot heard ’round the world”) pitch to the New York Giants’ Bobby Thompson on October 3, 1951. It is also deeply involved with the authoring of Branca’s autobiography, A Moment in Time, written with David Ritz (Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye; coauthor, Lady Sings the Blues), and the sign stealing by the Giants that let Thompson know which pitch Branca would throw. The cheating was exposed by journalist Joshua Prager in a 2001 Wall Street Journal article, later expanded and published as The Echoing Green. Filmmaker Muscato (producer, Ballplayer: Pelotero) weaves interviews with Branca, Ritz, Scribner editor Brant Rumble, and Prager with vintage film, TV footage, and still photographs to create a fascinating and quite moving exploration of truth and memory, autobiography and mythology, and the pitcher himself. VERDICT This sports biography is very highly recommended.
Hitting the Cycle. color. 103 min. J. Richey Nash & Darin Anthony, Tall Tales Prods., dist. by Monarch Home Entertainment, monarchhomeent.com; Amazon.com. 2013. DVD UPC 723952078902. $24.95. Closed-captioned. F/SPORTS
Ex-minor leaguer–turned–actor Nash wrote, directed, and stars in this earnest, heartwarming drama about a thirtysomething ex-baseball phenom who reluctantly leaves his team and returns home to confront his now dying estranged father (Oscar nominee Bruce Dern, in a brief but powerful cameo). Filmed in Nash’s hometown of Lexington, KY, on what appears to be a shoestring budget, Hitting the Cycle is a surprisingly compelling film, full of plenty of well-shot baseball scenes and brimming with believable characters, not just the likable but deeply troubled “Rip” Ripley, with problems and inner demons of their own. That Rip is an aging ballplayer on the cusp of retirement is an important plot point, but the real focus here is on his complex relationships with his father, brother, former high school principal, and an old schoolmate he clumsily tries to romance. This uplifting story of forgiveness and second chances avoids being maudlin or preachy, thanks to Nash’s realistic, nonformulaic script and the mostly no-name cast’s convincing performances. VERDICT One doesn’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate and enjoy what could be the start of a successful filmmaking career.
Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story. color. 90+ min. Andy Mikita, Anderson Merchandisers, dist. by Baker & Taylor. 2013. DVD UPC 796019803137. $20.99; 2-disc Blu-ray $44.99. SPORTS/BIOG
Although subtitled “The Gordie Howe Story,” this program covers just a few years in the long life and career of the hockey great (b. 1928), beginning with his 1971 retirement from the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings and ending with his triumphant first season with the World Hockey Association’s Houston Aeros in 1974. It is the predictably uplifting tale of an aging sports legend (played by Michael Shanks) who realizes that even after 25 NHL seasons he’d retired too soon and returns to the rink to play alongside his two young sons. But much of the drama occurs off-ice, as Gordie’s wife, Colleen (Kathleen Robertson), copes with building a new life with a new team in a new city, and sons Mark and Marty deal with having their father as a teammate. The lessons on toughness and perseverance are blatantly obvious. Though there are no surprises for viewers familiar with the feel-good sports-movie formula, the acting, period details, and Mikita’s direction are convincing. VERDICT This family-friendly film is a fine choice for hockey fans of all ages who enjoyed recent true-story hockey flicks The Rocket and Miracle.