- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2017

Three recent Blu-ray releases offer films based on real-life legends and events.

The Founder (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 115 minutes, 2.40:1 aspect ratio, $39.99) — Director John Lee Hancock and writer Robert Siegel’s real-life story about the men who built fast-food empire McDonald’s offers a fascinating evening for fans of the Big Mac.

Michael Keaton energizes the biopic with his frantic performance as the legendary Ray Kroc, a man of questionable business practices who teams up with the McDonald brothers, Mac and Dick (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman), to make his dreams of restaurant franchising domination come true.

It’s worth noting that Kroc comes across as not only a risk-taking, persistent entrepreneur, but equally often as a ruthless jerk for his manipulation of the brothers and their innovative concepts.

Now, the film is a bit incomplete for the McDonald’s purists. It only covers the critical years of 1954 to 1970, and we never learn about the origins of such fast-food fodder as the Filet-O-Fish, McRib or Happy Meal, or the creation of such icons as Ronald McDonald and the Hamburgler.

Still, it’s a potent expose of the invention of the fast-food business and packed with exceptional performances.

Best extras: I’d start with the 38-minute press conference offering informative interviews with the key production and cast members, including producers Don Handfield, Aaron Ryder and Jeremy Renner; Dick McDonald’s grandson Jason French; Mr. Siegel; Lara Dern (Kroc’s first wife Ethel); Mr. Lee Hancock; Mr. Offerman; Mr. Carroll Lynch; and Mr. Keaton.

Next, five featurettes (almost 20 minutes total) are a bit too promotional for my taste, but offer a short look at the real McDonald brothers and a look at designing one of the restaurants.

A League of Their Own: 25th Anniversary Edition (Sony Pictures Entertainment, rated PG, 128 minutes, 2.40:1 aspect ratio, $19.99) — One of the greatest baseball movies ever made returns to once again celebrate the days when women dominated the fields of America’s favorite pastime.

Specifically, director Penny Marshall highlighted the real-life AAGPBL (All-American Girls Professional Baseball League) and its genesis after World War II broke out after many of the famed Major League Baseball players were called into service.

The result was a group of all-female teams such as the Rockville Peaches and Racine Belles who travelled the country to entertain fans through some slightly exploitive practices by the male owners (short skirts and impeccable make-up) but mainly through competitive action on the field.

The ensemble cast hits a home run through humor and heartbreak and features Geena Davis as catcher Dorothy “Dottie” Hinson, Madonna as center fielder Mae “All the Way” Mordabito, Lori Petty as pitcher Kit Keller (Dottie’s sister), Rosie O’Donnell as third baseman Doris Murphy, Megan Cavanagh as slugging second baseman Marla Hooch and a hilarious Tom Hanks as manager Jimmy Dugan.

And remember future ball players, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

Best extras: Fans who already own the 20th anniversary release on Blu-ray will not want to double dip. The new release only offers a new 12-minute retrospective on the film and a code to access the classic digitally on the Ultraviolet cloud storage system.

The measly featurette does offer interviews with Miss Davis, Miss Cavenaugh, Freddie Simpson, Tracy Reiner (relief pitcher Betty “Spaghetti” Horn) and Anne Ramsey, but ends up more as a plug for Miss Davis’ Gender in Media organization.

However, those looking to affordably add the movie to their Blu-ray library get the best version of the release with not only the new stuff but all of the extras culled from previously mentioned 1992 release.

They are plentiful and include an 11-part, 53-minute exhaustingly informative documentary, looking visually ripe for its age, as well as over 30 minutes of deleted scenes culled from a 4-hour cut of the movie (zoinks!), with most of the scenes introduced by Miss Marshall.

Also, an entertaining optional commentary track offers Miss Marshall, Miss Petty, Miss Cavanagh and Miss Reiner.

The director dominates throughout, acting a bit like a mom with her kids, but she has many details to offer, leading to a very conversational session with plenty of educational moments on filmmaking, even covering some tricks of the trade.

Gold (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment, rated R, 120 minutes, 2.40:1 aspect ratio, $39.99) — A potentially exciting thrill ride into the cut-throat world of precious metals prospecting from director Stephen Gaghan never panned out at the box office last year, but it hopes to strike gold (I couldn’t resist) with home theater viewers.

Loosely based on the real-life story of the Bre-X mining scandal of 1993, the opus finds Matthew McConaughey offering a frantic performance as the balding, pot-bellied schmuck Kenny Wells (a character adapted from the real gold digger David Walsh).

His new venture with geologist Michael Acosta (actor Edgar Ramírez, based on the real Michael de Guzman) to tap into an Indonesian gold mine turned into a misguided business opportunity that ultimately fleeced investors.

Despite strong performances by Mr. McConaughey, supported by Bryce Dallas Howard as his long-suffering girlfriend Kay and Mr. Ramírez, the movie sputters and lumbers along for over two hours with a plodding script. The film never attains the intrigue or delightful scheming of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Big Short” or “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

The digital transfer does keep the eyes wide open to focus on Academy Award-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit’s expansive river shots and lush forested landscapes that provide plenty of visual splendor.

Best extras: OK, I get it, after watching 12 minutes of featurettes, I am now convinced by the cast and crew that Mr. McConaughey is an acting god.

Now, here’s a new spin for this reviewer. I suggest watching the movie with Mr. Gaghan’s optional commentary track first to understand the director’s vision, which was often muddled in the final product.

If you survive, go back and watch the movie again for a much more satisfying and knowledgeable experience.

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