Rough and tumble -- Tough guys tackle bad guys, North Pole in new releases

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Kelsey Grammer portrays Chicago Mayor Tom Kane in the Starz original series “Boss.”
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The Sweeney (1/2) Quintessential tough guy Ray Winstone stars in this gritty British crime drama as a London detective who doesn’t mind bending the rules, or breaking them. He heads a unit called the Sweeney, and they always seem to be a step ahead of the bad guys. That is, until a criminal mastermind pulls off several intricate jobs, including a daytime heist in the middle of Trafalgar Square, that leaves the Sweeney embarrassed and floundering.

Nick Love directed from a script co-written by him and Danny Boyle-collaborator John Hodge (Trance, Trainspotting, Shallow Grave).

Rated R, 112 minutes.

The DVD includes commentary, a 26-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette, 15 minutes on the film’s preparation, another segment on the travails of shooting in Trafalgar Square, and more.

A Man Escaped -- In 1956, with his characteristic lack of adornment, Robert Bresson crafted this uncharacteristic white-knuckle thriller. He follows Fontaine (Francois Leterrier), imprisoned and condemned to death by the Nazis in Lyon, France, in 1943.

Fontaine continuously tries to escape. Tediously and with great patience, he loosens the boards on his cell door by using a spoon. He makes a rope from his blanket. But when his partner dies under the noose, Fontaine must decide whether to go alone, all while avoiding prying Nazi eyes.

Bresson ratchets up the tension and keeps it there.

Not rated, 101 minutes.

The new Blu-ray disc from The Criterion Collection offers a bundle of supplements, including a 1965, 68-minute French TV program with Bresson’s first on-camera interview. Plus, the featurettes: the 56-minute “The Road to Bresson,” featuring interviews with Louis Malle, Paul Schrader, and Andrei Tarkovsky. Also, a 46-minute, 2010 documentary on Bresson, including an interview with Leterrier, and a 20-page booklet from film scholar Tony Pipolo.

Knuckleball -- Perfectly timed for a spring release, this breezy documentary by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg about baseball’s baffling knuckle ball examines the pitch and those who throw it, or try to.

The filmmakers follow then-New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey and Boston Red Sox Tim Wakefield as the men struggle to perfect the impossible. They all seek guidance from knuckle ball guru, Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.

Sundberg and Stern provide plenty of archive clips and even flesh out individual ballgames — enough so that the film often feels thinned out. Interviews with various players, sportswriters, and managers testify to the inconsistency of the pitch, while the filmmakers neglect to give much of a description of the pitch itself.

Still, entertaining enough, particularly considering the timing.

Not rated, 94 minutes.

Want more? The DVD holds 20 additions in the form of extended interviews and cut footage.

Into the Cold -- Grab a blanket to watch this documentary on the arduous odyssey of two men to the North Pole.

Sebastian Copeland chronicles his and Keith Heger’s quest as they prepare and train for months before heading north in their attempt to trek to earth’s summit.

The film breaks down into two parts, the preparation and then the trip from base camp to the pole. The terrain varies in its stunning bleakness, its ever present dangers, and its extreme temperatures.

Unfortunately, however, Copeland insists on his own excessive narration, an often purple litany of nature’s grandiosity and the awesomeness of what he is experiencing, something better served by the impressive images.

Not rated, 87 minutes.

The DVD also includes a featurette on global warning, an oft-referenced theme obviously close to Copeland.

13 Eerie -- For an FBI examining test, six aspiring forensic students take a trip to an isolated island where research experimentation on prisoners once took place. There, they will find and then test their skills on corpses set up by their leader.

Unfortunately, the six are unfamiliar with horror film mandates that going to remote islands can only end with blood and more blood, in this case, caused by encounters with zombies of the dead prisoners.

The film takes itself seriously with few laughs, and instead delivers frights with a competent cast and good-for-the-genre elements such as crisp photography and a serious script.

Not rated, 86 minutes.

The disc includes four “making of” featurettes totaling around 22 minutes.

Stitches == In what is undoubtedly the best Irish horror-comedy we have seen this year, among none, a clown (Ross Noble) accidentally dies when performing at a kids’ birthday party. When the youngsters grow a little older and think they have repressed the gruesome death, that pesky old dead clown comes back to haunt them.

Not rated, 86 minutes.

The disc includes a 20-minute “making of” featurette and four minutes of bloopers

Earth’s Final Hours -- The Syfy channel continues turning out decent sci-fi flicks with minimal yet effective special effects.

Here, the earth’s magnetic balance, or something, has been thrown off and chunks of condensed metal, or something, have plummeted to earth and gone all the way through the earth’s core, causing the planet to stop rotating. As the politicians dither (imagine that), a renegade FBI agent (Robert Knepper) and his renegade son (Cameron Bright) spring a disgraced, jailed scientist (Bruce Davison) in hopes of fixing the problem.

We can only hope they are not too late.

Rated PG-13, 91 minutes.

And, finally, from this week’s TV arrivals:

Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War This excellent 26-part documentary spans four discs and supersedes many of the following entries on the same subject for a variety of reasons.

In 1980 and 1981, many of the participants involved in the prolonged Vietnam conflict and its political entanglements were still around. As a result, producer Michael Maclear scored interviews with such well known players as William Westmoreland, Henry Cabot Lodge, Daniel Ellsburg, William Bundy and many other luminaries of the era.

In addition, on-screen contributions come from officials from both the North and South Vietnamese side. Richard Basehart narrates, and former CNN correspondent Peter Arnett wrote many of the episodes.

The series covers U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to its departure in 1975. Individual events receive comprehensive coverage consisting of on-ground footage along with archival news clips and personal recordings.

Not rated, 702 minutes.

Boss: Complete Second Season Kelsey Grammar stars with his surprisingly engaging turn as Chicago Mayor Tom Kane, a controversial figure who suffers from mental instability.

At one point during this sophomore season of 10 episodes, Kane experiences hallucinations, arrests some of his own backers, and even begins revitalizing a housing project.

Connie Nielsen plays the not-so-dutiful wife Meredith.

On three DVD and two Blu-ray discs. Created by Farhad Safinia and co-starring Hannah Ware, Jeff Hephner and Troy Garity.

Not rated, 560 minutes.

The set also includes cast and crew commentary, and the behind-the-scenes featurette “The King and His Court: Boss’s Treacherous Ensemble.”

Also on DVD: Fast Five, Hyde Park on Hudson, One Life and Womb.


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