‘The Illusionist,’ ‘Winter Passing’ and ‘Resurrecting the Champ’ Among Star-Studded Films Joining MVD Marquee Collection

The MVD Marquee Collection is adding five films from Yari Film Group to its lineup on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

Due June 25 are Resurrecting the Champ, Winter Passing and The Illusionist.

Resurrecting the Champ, directed by Rod Lurie (The Contender), stars Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett with Alan Alda, Kathryn Morris, Teri Hatcher, David Paymer and Peter Coyote. In the film, sportswriter Erik Kernan (Hartnett) wants nothing more than to discover a story great enough to make headlines. When he meets Champ (Jackson), a former boxing champion living on the streets, he knows he has a shot to save them both. Recording his newfound friend’s tale of triumph and defeat, Kernan gets his story and his fame. But as Champ’s tale falls under more scrutinizing eyes, Kernan learns what truly makes a story great is the quality of the man behind it. Bonus material includes a feature audio commentary from Lurie, a behind-the-scenes featurette, interviews with the cast and crew, and the original theatrical trailer.

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Winter Passing is an offbeat film about homecoming and reconciliation that features Zooey Deschanel, Will Ferrell, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Dallas Roberts, Michael Chernus, Anthony Rapp, Sam Bottoms and Rachel Dratch. When a book editor (Madigan) offers to buy the love letters of Reese Holden’s (Deschanel) parents, she returns home to recover them, only to find her widowed dad (Harris) golfing upstairs, sleeping outside and living with roommates — a pretty grad student (Amelia Warner) and a quirky wannabe musician (Ferrell). Bonus material includes a behind-the-scenes featurette and the original theatrical trailer.

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The Illusionist stars Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton along with Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. In the film, acclaimed illusionist Eisenheim (Norton) has not only captured the imaginations of all of Vienna, but also the interest of the ambitious Crown Prince Leopold (Sewell). But when Leopold’s new fiancée (Biel) rekindles a childhood fascination with Eisenheim, the Prince’s interest evolves into obsession and the city’s chief inspector (Giamatti) finds himself investigating a shocking crime. As the Inspector engages him in a dramatic challenge of wills, Eisenheim prepares for his most impressive illusion yet. Bonus material includes a feature audio commentary from writer/director Neil Burger, “The Making of the Illusionist” featurette, the “Jessica Biel on the Illusionist” featurette and the original theatrical trailer.

Taking 18 years from the start of production to theatrical release, Shortcut to Happiness finally makes its debut on Blu-ray and DVD July 16. Originally titled The Devil and Daniel Webster, the film was to be the directorial debut of Alec Baldwin. With the film plagued by investor problems and rumored creative differences, Baldwin had his director credit removed from the film and replaced with the pseudonym Harry Kirkpatrick. Producer Bob Yari rescued the film from bankruptcy court and finished it without Baldwin’s participation. It received limited theatrical screenings in 2007. Years later, it aired on Showtime and Starz channels. Set in New York’s literary world, Shortcut to Happiness is a contemporary re-telling of the classic short story ”The Devil and Daniel Webster,” starring Baldwin, Dan Aykroyd, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Kim Cattrall, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Poehler and Darrell Hammond. It follows Jabez Stone (Baldwin), a down on his luck writer who sells his soul to the devil (Love-Hewitt) in exchange for fame and fortune. When things don’t turn out as planned, Stone ultimately decides that he wants his old life again and enlists the help of Daniel Webster (Hopkins) in order to win his soul.

Finally, Sept. 17 comes Find Me Guilty from director Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Network, Dog Day Afternoon). Vin Diesel stars with Peter Dinklage, Annabella Sciorra, Alex Rocco, Ron Silver and Linus Roache in this true story. When police arrest 20 members of the Lucchese crime family, the authorities offer Jackie Dee DiNorscio (Diesel) a bargain: a shortened prison term if he’ll testify against his own. But the wisecracking DiNorscio has other ideas. Refusing to cooperate, he decides to defend himself at his own trial and proceeds to turn the courtroom upside-down, culminating in one of the most shocking verdicts in judicial history. Bonus material includes the “A Conversation with Director Sidney Lumet” featurette, the original theatrical trailer and three TV spots.

The Catcher Was a Spy

DVD REVIEW:

Street Date 10/2/18;
Paramount;
Drama;
Box Office $0.7 million;
$22.99 DVD;
Rated ‘R’ for some sexuality, violence and language.
Stars Paul Rudd, Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Jeff Daniels, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson, Connie Nielsen, Shea Whigham.

The Catcher Was a Spy is one of those strange-but-true tales that really drives up the curiosity factor based on its somewhat bizarre premise alone.

The film is based on a book of the same name that relates the true story of a former Major League Baseball catcher who was tasked with assassinating the head of Germany’s atomic bomb program during World War II.

The actual circumstances make a lot more sense when played out in context of course, even if the man at the center of it, the Jewish baseball player-turned-spy Moe Berg, would seem to defy most attempts to classify his character.

Berg, played here by the always affable Paul Rudd, was an avid reader who spoke several languages, demonstrated his smarts on radio quiz shows and was labeled an oddball for his eccentricities by coaches and teammates during an otherwise underwhelming 15-year baseball career.

After being invited to join an all-star team of Major Leaguers touring Japan in 1934, Berg learned from a Japanese friend that a war between the U.S. and Japan was likely inevitable, so he snuck onto the roof of a Tokyo hospital to film footage of the city’s harbor. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Berg gave the footage to U.S. intelligence services and ended up joining the OSS (precursor to the CIA).

Incidentally, while the film doesn’t dwell on the particulars, this was the same 1934 tour touted in Ken Burns’ Baseball in which a 17-year-old Japanese kid named Eiji Sawamura struck out Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in succession. (Sawamura was killed a decade later serving the Japanese navy in WWII.)

Anyway, the OSS eventually assigns Berg to a team looking into the activities of famed German physicist Werner Heisenberg (namesake for Walter White’s alias on “Breaking Bad”), trying to gauge his involvement in helping Germany develop an atomic bomb and assess what progress, if any, he has made on the project. The key moment comes when Berg is sent to stalk Heisenberg (played by Mark Strong) during a lecture in neutral Switzerland and shoot him on the spot if the scientist offers any hint that he is working on an atomic weapon.

Part baseball movie, part spy thriller, The Cather Was a Spy is an intriguing wartime procedural carried primarily by its old-fashioned sensibilities and the likability of its main cast. The screenplay is by Robert Rodat, who is no stranger to WWII movies having penned Saving Private Ryan.

The DVD includes seven deleted scenes that run a total of about nine minutes. Many shed a bit more light on Berg’s character and motivations, and had some of them been kept they might have helped the character study bona fides of a film that runs a svelte hour-and-a-half as it is.