Ken Burns' new documentary about Jackie Robinson is on DVD this week
Posted April 18, 2016
If you missed Ken Burns’ in-depth PBS documentary about Jackie Robinson, you’ll be happy to know it’s now on DVD.
“Jackie Robinson” (PBS, 2016, two discs, two episodes, deleted scenes, featurettes). Ken Burns is a national treasure, a filmmaker who does more than simply choose engaging topics and prod talking heads to relate interesting anecdotes. Burns is a storyteller of the first rank, and despite the overlength of many of his works, they are never dull. This is a prime example of his talent as he takes a central figure from his 1994 documentary, “Baseball,” and dives deep to help us better understand someone we may feel that we already know pretty well.
Jackie Robinson has been the subject of several earlier documentaries and dramatic films (including one in which Robinson starred as himself) telling the story of the baseball player as an icon who broke the color barrier. But he was also instrumental in paving the path to civil rights, protesting before there were formal protests, an impatient man who preached patience — and who often suffered for it.
Burns’ film was produced in cooperation with Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow — an impressive 93-year-old woman who is a key figure among the interviewees. The film reveals a lot of Jackie Robinson’s backstory — his birth into a family of tenant farmers in rural Georgia; his youth in Pasadena, California, where he stood up for himself in segregated circumstances; a stint in the Army that led to its own difficulties; and his eventual signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
But it doesn’t stop there. The bulk of the second half of this four-hour documentary concentrates on Robinson’s life after baseball as he used his celebrity to continue his efforts in the civil rights movement, even as many younger activists complained he was too tolerant and that things were moving too slow as they began to turn to more militant sports heroes such as Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown.
What results is a fascinating, never hurried, fact-filled and disarming overview of a remarkable man who found himself in the right place at the right time and made the most of it. (Keith David narrates, and Jamie Foxx reads quotes from Robinson.)
“Heroes Reborn: Event Series” (NBC/Universal, 2015-16, three-disc Blu-ray/four-disc DVD, 13 episodes, deleted scenes, featurettes). “Heroes” was a show that debuted a decade ago, about ordinary people with superpowers. Initially a big hit, the program lost steam in subsequent seasons. This is a reboot/sequel, billed as a miniseries, though it is clearly a sort of elongated pilot. However, it was not renewed for a second season.
“Prisoners Wives: Complete Collection” (Acorn, 2012-13, four discs, 10 episodes). A unique viewpoint enlivens this melodramatic British series about women, both young and middle-aged, who try to cope and get on with their lives when loved ones go to prison: husbands, a boyfriend, a son, a father, all ranging from career criminals to one who may be innocent. It is well-acted, with Polly Walker, Emma Rigby and Pippa Haywood leading the cast. (It contains violence, coarse language, nudity and sex.)
“Grace and Frankie: Season One” (Lionsgate, 2015, three discs, 13 episodes, audio commentaries, featurette, bloopers). This Netflix half-hour comedy-drama — a sort of distaff “Odd Couple” — has star power to spare and a unique 21st-century premise. Sophisticated Grace (Jane Fonda) and hippie Frankie (Lily Tomlin) have nothing in common except that their husbands (Martin Sheen, Sam Waterston) are law partners. But when the men abruptly announce they are gay and plan to marry each other, the women are forced to move in together and start over. Fonda and Tomlin, together for the first time since 1980’s “Nine to Five,” still have comic chemistry. (The second season begins May 6.)
“A Tale of Two Cities” (Shout!, 1980). This lavishly produced, effectively realized British adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic crams a lot of the book into three hours. Chris Sarandon stars as both the French aristocrat and the London lawyer who are in love with the same woman (Alice Krige) during the French Revolution. And one will, of course, make the ultimate sacrifice. Fine supporting cast includes Peter Cushing, Kenneth More, Barry Morse, Flora Robson and David Suchet.
“The Bible Stories: Samson and Delilah” (Shout!, 1996).
“The Bible Stories: David” (Shout!, 1997). These three-hour, based-on-the-Bible TV movies pad out the stories with fictional characters and subplots, of course, since there’s hardly enough material in the biblical accounts to fill out the running time here. But they are earnest and rewarding for undemanding viewers. Stars include Eric Thal, Elizabeth Hurley, Diana Rigg and Dennis Hopper in the first film, and Jonathan Pryce, Leonard Nimoy, Sheryl Lee and Franco Nero in the second.
“Finding Your Roots: Season 3” (PBS, 2016, three discs, 10 episodes). Henry Louis Gates Jr. helps celebrities learn about their ancestors in this popular genealogy series. Among the 28 guests this season are Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear, Maya Rudolph, Shonda Rhimes, Kennen Ivory Wayans, Gloria Steinem, Neil Patrick Harris, Mia Farrow and Dustin Hoffman.
“Arlo Guthrie: Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary Concert” (PBS, 2015, featurette). “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” is a hilarious, iconic 18-minute song/monologue based on a real-life incident when 18-year-old Guthrie was involved in unintentional littering, which led to his being rejected by the military. This concert film, gleaned from Guthrie’s 50th anniversary tour (which is ongoing), also features many other tunes, including “The Motorcycle Song,” “City of New Orleans” and his father Woody’s “This Land is Your Land.”
“Zydeco Crossroads: A Tale of Two Cities” (MVD, 2016, short film: “Rosie’s in the House Tonight”).
“The Kingdom of Zydeco” (MVD, 1994, short film: “Iguanas in the House”). These two musical documentary/concert films by Robert Mugge are real toe-tappers as they embrace the singular and infectious zydeco sound that is distinctive to Louisiana’s Creole culture. “Zydeco Crossroads” is the result of last year’s Zydeco Crossroads Project and features C.J. Chenier, Rosie Ledet, Buckwheat Zydeco, etc., along with a shorter film that places Ledet front and center. “Kingdom of Zydeco” takes a semi-comic approach as it explores the genre and its founding fathers, with a shorter film featuring a band called the Iguanas. It's great stuff for music fans.
“Power Rangers Wild Force: The Complete Series” (Shout!, 2002, five discs, 40 episodes). This series is the 10th season of the “Power Rangers” franchise and tells of five young humans becoming Rangers, aided by an army of beasts from the floating island of Animarium, to battle an ancient evil that has awakened.
“Power Rangers Dino Charge: Resurgence” (Lionsgate, 2015, four episodes). This is the latest series, marking the 22nd season of the Power Rangers franchise, and included here are episodes five through eight: “Breaking Black,” “The Tooth Hurts,” “Let Sleeping Zords Lie” and “Double Ranger, Double Ranger.”
“Pound Puppies: Showstopping Pups” (Shout! Kids, 2012-13, five episodes). This animated kids show is about pups from Shelter 17 using their song-and-dance skills to solve a mystery, to become superheroes and to encourage a faded TV star to make a comeback.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.