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The Road, Walkabout among new DVD reviews 

 

THE ROAD (2009). Zombies seem to be de rigueur in today's strain of post-apocalyptic motion pictures, yet this adaptation of the novel by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) offers nothing quite so fanciful. The undead shambling through this bleak movie's ravished landscapes are, technically speaking, still human, though many have taken to eating human flesh, and all seem to be moving forward as though propelled by a natural instinct to survive at all costs. Among the ragtag survivors are a father-son team identified only as Man (Viggo Mortensen) and Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Solely dedicated to protecting his child, Man does his best to steer clear of all other humans, lest they be what he tags "bad guys" (those with murderous, cannibalistic urges); his paranoia makes him even wary of seemingly harmless strangers, like the elderly man they encounter on the road (Robert Duvall, doing the most with this juicy morsel of a role). Director John Hillcoat, whose Aussie Western The Proposition should be Netflixed posthaste by all who haven't seen it, creates a credible futureworld in which even the "good guys" struggle to retain some semblance of decency, and Mortensen comes through with another haunting performance that mixes the cerebral with the physical.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Hillcoat; seven minutes of deleted and extended scenes; and a 14-minute making-of featurette.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

STAGECOACH (1939). There's no underestimating the importance of director John Ford's Stagecoach when it comes to its standing within the Western canon. Single-handedly, the picture raised the genre from being routinely dismissed as the home of lightweight matinee fodder to the realm of artistic works capable of complex characterizations and potent psychology. It's also the film that turned John Wayne into a genuine movie star: Even his first appearance in the picture is made instantly iconic thanks to cinematographer Bert Glennon's worshipful camera. Wayne plays the Ringo Kid, one of the reluctant passengers on a stagecoach that must wind its way through hostile territory. Among those also along for the ride are a tough 'n' tender prostitute (Claire Trevor, who actually receives top billing over Wayne), a notorious gambler (John Carradine) and a drunken doctor (Thomas Mitchell). Nominated for seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director), this earned Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Mitchell) and Best Music Score.

Stagecoach has already been released on DVD on several occasions, most notably as part of the John Wayne-John Ford Film Collection box set, but Criterion's two-disc edition not only offers a newly restored transfer but also a plethora of extras. These include audio commentary by Western authority and author Jim Kitses; Ford's 1917 silent Western, Bucking Broadway; a 72-minute 1968 interview with Ford; a look at Ford's home movies; and a 10-minute homage to the great stuntman Yakima Canutt.

Movie: ****

Extras: ***1/2

VALENTINE'S DAY (2010). An all-star cast fronts this holiday confection, and with such a wide range of talent on view, It's not surprising that the performances are all over the map almost as much as a screenplay that finds the connecting thread between roughly a dozen stories and then proceeds to tie them all together with one unseemly bow. And as is often the case with anthology-style works, some segments work better than others: I could have used more scenes with Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper (as strangers sitting together on an airplane) or with Anne Hathaway and Topher Grace (as a phone-sex provider and her unsuspecting boyfriend), and less with Jessica Biel (as a lonely woman who hates the holiday) or with Taylors Lautner and Swift (as lovestruck high school kids). Jennifer Garner is fine as a trusting teacher who's being duped by her married lover (Patrick Dempsey), but she unfortunately has to spend ample screen time with Ashton Kutcher (as her best friend), who seems incapable of walking and acting at the same time. Were Valentine's Day not such a tissue-thin confection, its underlying content might be troubling. For example, a kiss between an interracial couple is seen not directly but on a fuzzy television monitor, while a smooch between two homosexuals is presented off-camera. Meanwhile, the only two characters not involved whatsoever in all the lovey-dovey exploits are both overweight women (Kathy Bates and Queen Latifah). With its cast of young and old, veteran and novice, the demographically friendly Valentine's Day boldly asserts that it's a film made for everyone, but look closely and you'll find a center as squishy as that of a melted chocolate caramel nougat.

There are no extras on the standard DVD included in the Blu-ray combo pack (which was sent for review); the stand-alone DVD reportedly includes deleted scenes.

Movie: **

Extras: *

WALKABOUT (1971). Nicolas Roeg's first solo outing as a director – he previously had co-directed Performance, which marked Mick Jagger's acting debut – Walkabout is one of cinema's great mood pieces, a complex, multilayered work that relies as much on its visuals and sound schemes as on plot and characterization. After their disturbed father attempts to murder them before proceeding to commit suicide, a teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Lucien John, aka Roeg's real-life son Luc) find themselves lost in the Australian Outback, where their chances of survival look shaky until they meet a teen aborigine (David Gulpilil, making his film debut as David Gumpilil) who takes them under his wing. Despite the fact that they can't communicate verbally, the aborigine and the boy coexist easily, but the girl's mix of Anglo-Saxon superiority and burgeoning sexuality makes her relationship with the native more complicated. Repeat viewings are essential to fully appreciate and absorb this unique endeavor, which frequently uses startling imagery (animal kingdom savagery, bursts of violence, full-frontal nudity of the teen stars) as well as subtle symbolism to note the differences – and similarities – between the natural and manmade worlds. To declare that Roeg was one of the most interesting (and underrated) directors of the 1970s would be a gross understatement: He followed Walkabout with the superb psychological thriller Don't Look Now and the David Bowie space oddity The Man Who Fell to Earth. The past couple of decades, unfortunately, have seen him reduced to helming made-for-cable movies and Young Indiana Jones adventures.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Nicolas Roeg and Agutter; an hour-long 2002 documentary about Gulpilil; a 20-minute interview with Agutter; and a 20-minute interview with Luc Roeg.

Movie: ****

Extras: ***

ALSO NEW:

CATLOW (1971). Yul Brynner stars in this Western comedy as a jovial outlaw who's forever remaining one step ahead of the sheriff (Richard Crenna) who also happens to be a longtime friend. An unremarkable film that nevertheless offers a measure of entertainment value as it unfolds, this is most memorable for the casting of Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy (minus pointy ears but with the addition of a trim beard) as a hired killer. Released last summer as a stand-alone DVD, Catlow is now available as part of the Louis L'Amour Western Collection, featuring three works adapted from the author's novels. The other films, both made for TV, are 1979's The Sacketts, starring Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott, and 1991's Conagher, with Elliott and Katharine Ross.

The only extra in the collection is the trailer for Catlow.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: *

THE SLAMMIN' SALMON (2009). The Broken Lizard Comedy Troupe, usually about as funny as a broken kneecap, returned to the scene with a movie that barely received a theatrical release last December. The MVP here is Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile), who elicits the majority of the film's laughs as a heavyweight champion-cum-restaurant owner who, to pay off a gambling debt, orders his wait staff (most played by Troupe members) to generate a record amount of income – the winner gets $10,000, the loser gets a set of broken ribs. Some of the situations are amusing, even if the actors are not. Morgan Fairchild appears as herself, while Vivica A. Fox turns up as a customer who proves to be a lousy tipper (does she also frequent Brixx Pizza?).

DVD extras include two separate audio commentaries with Broken Lizard Comedy Troupe members and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: **

Extras: *1/2

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