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3:10 to Yuma (Blu-Ray)

Lionsgate
Movie A-
Special Features A-
DVD Geek Factor 8.5 (out of 10)

Last year was fantastic for Westerns. This one was the best true Western in years until The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford came out and took that title away. Still, Russell Crowe is a bona fide badass here, and Christian Bale is truly excellent as the flawed protagonist who must escort Crowe's bad man to the train in the title.

Director James Mangold's remake of the 1957 Glenn Ford picture of the same name is exciting. Crowe plays Ben Wade, a notorious outlaw who is captured after a deadly stagecoach robbery witnessed by Dan Evans (Bale) and his sons. When it's determined that Wade will be transported to Bisbee and then shipped by train to the Yuma prison, Dan volunteers to go along for the ride. That ride and the final confrontation provide some of the better action filmmaking that 2007 had to offer.

The dynamic between the Crowe and Bale characters is unpredictable and fun to watch. Crowe makes every one of his character's swings from bad to good convincing. Bale's Evans, whose foot was shot off during the Civil War, is touching as he struggles to impress his boys and his tired wife (Gretchen Mol).

Ben Foster has some chilling moments as Wade accomplice Charlie Prince, although I wish Foster would tone down his performances a bit. The guy is always "acting," and he can often appear mighty affected in his work. I would like to see him play a normal guy for a change. Logan Lerman does good work as William, Evans' oldest son, while Peter Fonda does his best work in years as a crusty old bounty hunter who gets on Wade's bad side.

Special Features: The 5.1 surround sound is incredible. When the Yuma train crossed my screen, it seemed like it was exiting my second bedroom and heading for the kitchen. Mangold offers a good commentary in which he reveals that, despite the star power and his own success with Walk the Line, he initially couldn't get a studio to finance the film due to the stigma that Westerns carried. Deleted scenes make the Crowe character seem a lot meaner, and there are many behind-the-scenes segments. Overall, this is a great disc for a very good movie.


Once

Fox Searchlight
Movie A-
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová were already performing music together when Hansard's friend John Carney got the idea for a simple boy-meets-girl musical. Filmed with a handheld camera for a pittance, Once is ingenious.

The music comes from real situations the characters occupy, yet also works as a narrative for the love story between Hansard and Irglova (who play the aptly titled roles of Guy and Girl). When the two sit at a music-store piano and perform "Falling Slowly," it's as romantic as Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer lip-synching "Somewhere" in West Side Story.

Made for a paltry $160,000, the film is a testament to the notion that a good idea and great talent are all that's really needed for successful movie, unless your film involves Death Stars or giant lizards or something like that. The film is one of those rare movie miracles that will never be repeated.

Special Features: Carney, Hansard and Irglová deliver an endearing commentary. Behind-the-scenes features on the making of the movie reveal more about the film's incredible origins.


Braveheart: Special Collector's Edition

Paramount
Movie A-
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 6.75 (out of 10)

Could this be a sign of the last days of HD-DVD? Paramount, ardent supporters of HD-DVD (as opposed to Blu-Ray) remastered and released this one on standard DVD, but have yet to announce a release date for this film in hi-def.

Still, Gibson's epic about William Wallace and his funky war paint has never looked better. The picture is so clean now that you can actually see the spot in his hair where his real locks meet the extensions. (I'm kidding. You could see that easily in a worn, scratchy print of the film.)

This movie has some great stuff. When the little girl gives young William the flower at his dad's funeral, it becomes obvious that Gibson (who had only directed one film before) is on his way to a great movie.

Since his run-in with one too many margaritas and the law, Gibson hasn't formally announced any new films (the Internet Movie Database lists a couple of projects that have been sitting inactive for years). There's no telling when Mel will re-emerge from his self-imposed exile and make movies again. We'll just have to settle for re-releases of his past works, and hope that counseling does him some good.

Special Features: A Gibson commentary crosses over from a prior release. Some making-of stuff and old interviews are also included. It's a good disc thanks to the cleaned-up picture, and very much worth the cost if you haven't owned Braveheart before.

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