DVD reviews
February 2009

 

 


All reviews by Loey Lockerby


Appaloosa

Ed Harris directs and stars in this adaptation of the Robert B. Parker novel, a sort of anti-revisionist western that pits straight-up good guys against straight-up bad guys in the dusty title town. Harris and Viggo Mortensen play Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, longtime friends who make a living restoring peace to remote, beleaguered communities like Appaloosa. This time, they’re fighting a vicious rancher (Jeremy Irons) and his lackeys, a challenge that tests their ability to impose law and order. Another test comes in the form of Renee Zellweger, as a mysterious woman who pushes the men into a love triangle they can hardly afford.

Harris and Mortensen make a terrific team, exhibiting the kind of easy camaraderie and unspoken understanding that normally takes years to develop. They should definitely work together again, preferably playing these characters. Zellweger has a tougher time since her character has no real back-story — nothing she does makes any sense. Appaloosa works when it sticks to its roots, offering an old-fashioned tale of laconic cowboys and sneering villains.

Extras: A commentary by Harris and screenwriter Robert Knott; features on the film’s production, historical accuracy, set design and cinematography; deleted scenes. (R) Rating: 3.5


The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
2-Disc Deluxe Edition

They’re not even trying anymore. The first two Mummy movies were entertaining, if ridiculous, moved along by vivid action scenes and the chemistry between leads Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. Weisz has relinquished her role to Maria Bello, a fine actress who is simply and completely wrong for the part.

If that were the only problem, it could be ignored. Sadly, it’s just the beginning. The plot — involving a Chinese emperor (Jet Li) and his army of computer-generated terra cotta warriors — is so convoluted, it’s not worth trying to describe. Even that would be tolerable if director Rob Cohen handled the action scenes with some finesse. Instead, they’re as incomprehensible as the story, enlivened only by a couple of solid battle scenes.

Fraser is just going through the motions by now, Bello seems bewildered, and Li barely even shows up. John Hannah returns to provide comic relief, to the degree that any intentional comedy can be found in this script. The annoying kid comes back, too, in the form of now-grown Luke Ford, who looks several years too old to be Fraser and Bello’s kid. As it all comes crashing to a deafening halt, the only thing to do is sit back and try to enjoy the CGI eye candy. Oh, and ignore the fact that there isn’t actually a mummy anywhere in this film.

Extras: Disc 1 contains a commentary by Cohen and some deleted and extended scenes; Disc 2 has over an hour of behind-the-scenes material with an unsurprising focus on the visuals. (PG-13) Rating: 2


RocknRolla

With his affection for self-aware lowlifes and their antics, director Guy Ritchie is sometimes called the “British Tarantino." The comparison isn’t entirely fair, however. Despite the similar subject matter, Ritchie’s style is very much his own, and his latest may be his best example yet.

Set in a vibrantly corrupt, diverse modern London, RocknRolla centers on the dealings of old-school mob boss Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) with various flunkies and shady business types. Frustrated with all the foreigners encroaching on his turf, Lenny reluctantly agrees to deal with them out of necessity, leading to a violent caper involving stolen money, a "lucky" painting and the whereabouts of a druggie rock star.

This is another film with a storyline that's really impossible to explain, but it works because Ritchie has so much control over the seeming anarchy. Everything eventually ties together, although it wouldn't matter if it did. The characters (played by the likes of Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton and Idris Elba) are so funny and vivid, they'd be a blast to watch in anything. Ritchie may not quite have Tarantino's whacked-out genius, but he knows how to show an audience a bloody good time.

Extras: A commentary by Ritchie and actor Mark Strong (who plays one of Wilkinson's henchmen); a Ritchie-centric tour of London; a deleted scene. (R) Rating: 4


Burn After Reading

Joel and Ethan Coen specialize in creating dumb characters that get involved in activities that require intelligence. Even their Oscar-winning adaptation of No Country for Old Men was propelled by the actions of people who should have just stayed home.

The Coens have lightened things up a bit with Burn After Reading although even their comedies have a brutally dark edge. Gym employees Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad (Brad Pitt) stumble upon a disc that seems to contain important government secrets. It's really the bland memoirs and bank statements of a CIA analyst (John Malkovich) but they're convinced they can get money out of it, either through blackmail or selling it to the Russians.

Of course, it's not worth much of anything, but Chad and Linda are still dealing with some nasty characters, including the analyst's icy wife (Tilda Swinton) and her lover (George Clooney). It doesn't take long for deadly comedic chaos to ensue.

This type of humor is an acquired taste, and there's a misanthropic tone to Burn After Reading that isn't balanced by the presence of a smart, sympathetic character like Marge in Fargo or Tommy Lee Jones' sheriff in No Country. Everyone is very funny, especially Pitt, who has a spectacular dorky side — but the laughter leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Extras: Barely a half hour's worth of production featurettes. If any movie cried out for a gag reel or cast commentary, this is it, but they are nowhere to be found. (R) Rating: 3


Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.


              
              
                 

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