[13 January 2009]
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
Who says nobody knows how to make a Western anymore? Ed Harris does, and he proves it with “Appaloosa” (New Line, 2008, $35.99), which tops the list of Blu-ray titles released this week.
Harris directed, co-wrote and stars in the film, which is based on a novel by Robert B. Parker. The result is a straight-forward Western that excellently revives the good guys-vs.-bad guys theme that has been the successful heart and soul of the genre ever since it began more than 100 years ago.
Then there are the sweeping vistas of the Western landscapes that are beautifully captured on film and look stunning on Blu-ray.
Harris plays Virgil Cole and Viggo Mortenson is his long-time saddle pal, Everett Hitch. For a dozen years, the two have roamed the West as self-proclaimed peacekeepers. If someone or some town needs help dishing out punishment to the lawless, Cole and Hitch are ready to lend a hand - for a price.
Neither of them is flashy or feels a need to brag. They are laid-back men who are comfortable with themselves and confident of their abilities.
When the sheriff of the town of Appaloosa is murdered by the resident evil of the area, rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), the citizens put out a call to the duo. Cole is made town marshal and the shotgun-toting Hitch is his deputy. Part of the appeal of this film is its leisurely pace, which allows us to get to know the characters. Some of the best moments occur when Cole and Hitch are sitting around and reminiscing about their past or just talking about life.
Bragg, of course, does everything possible to thwart the two lawmen’s efforts to bring him to justice. That means several shootouts along the way.
Adding an extra element to the film is the arrival in town of the well-dressed Allison Frence (Renee Zellweger), who claims to be a widow. It’s obvious that Cole is immediately smitten with her. With his help, she gets a job playing piano in the lobby of a hotel. Hitch wonders if she is really what she says she is. He also wonders if her presence might eventually lead to an end to his partnership with Cole.
The Blu-ray includes four featurettes, additional scenes and commentary from Harris and producer Robert Kent. Highly recommended, especially for Western fans.
Other Blu-ray releases:
“Swing Vote” (Touchstone/Disney, 2008, $34.99)
Kevin Costner plays Bud Johnson, a boozer from New Mexico, who finds himself in a unique position. The outcome of the presidential election hinges on his one vote. Also in the cast are Dennis Hopper, Kelsey Grammer, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Lane, George Lopez and Madeline Carroll as Bud’s pre-teen daughter Molly. Well-done and entertaining.
“Mirrors” (20th Century Fox, 2008, $39.99)
Kiefer Sutherland plays ex-cop and one-time alcoholic Ben Carson, who takes a job as nightwatchman in a department store. As he makes his rounds, Carson notices images in the mirrors that are hung throughout the store. After his wife is murdered, he realizes there is something evil about the mirrors. This is one weird film that is difficult to undestand at times but it does have its creepy moments. Topping it off is a “Twilight Zone”-like ending.
“Stargate: The Arc of Truth” (20th Century Fox, 2008, $34.99)
The SG-1 crew hop aboard the Odyssey to search for an ancient artifact that can help defeat the Ori, evil creatures who convince other beings to worship them as if they are gods. Back for this Stargate outing are Michael Shanks as Daniel Jackson, Ben Browder as Ly. Col. Cameron Mitchell, Amanda Tapping as Lt. Col. Samantha Carter and several others. Fans of the TV show will enjoy it.
“Superhero Movie” (Genius, 2008, $29.95)
This parody of superheroes such as “Batman,” “The Fantastic Four” and especially “Spider-Man” has its moments, but not enough of them. Drake Bell plays high school student Rick Riker, who is bitten by a dragonfly and becomes the superhero Dragonfly. There is plenty of lamebrain bathroom humor for those who like that kind of stuff.
“Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling” (Paramount, 2008, $36.99)
Other than the title, this film has little do with the original 2004 “Without a Paddle.” Ben (Oliver James) and Zach (Kristopher Turner), life-long friends, who take off on journey down river to find a girl named Heather (Madison Riley). Low-brow comedy is strictly for the rental trade.