DVD Corner: ‘Appaloosa’ runs away from the pack; ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ is such a loser

Posted Jan. 11, 2009, at 3:35 p.m.

“Appaloosa” DVD, Blu-ray: Says more in its long stretches of silence than most movies say with the heaviest use of dialogue. Ed Harris is Virgil Cole, Appaloosa’s marshal-for-hire, who along with his best friend and second hand, Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), is trying to bring one man to justice.

That would be Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons, charged with murder and about to be hanged for the crime. Bragg is having none of it. He does, after all, have power, money and the sort of friends who can intervene on his behalf — for a price.

As the story unfolds, another ties a noose around it — Cole must deal with his affections for Allison French (Renee Zellweger), a widow of questionable intent who “chews her food good,” looks pretty when she pinches her cheeks and does up her hair, and who can be a knockout in the right dress. Cole knows Allison is a drifter willing to fall into any man’s arms if it means keeping a roof over her head, but he nevertheless is smitten with her, which becomes a cornerstone for the story as the film’s more satisfying second half takes root.

Zellweger is the film’s weakest link — she has difficulty losing herself in a role that doesn’t offer her many opportunities for concealment. It’s a shallow part, slightly written, with the actress left stranded amid material that would rather focus on the dynamics between Cole and Hitch. To that end, the movie is solid — it rides on a backbone of cliches, but it occasionally kicks them up and makes the genre its own.

Harris is excellent, nicely recalling elements of Clint Eastwood at his coolest, but he also generously steps aside and allows Mortensen to reveal just how good he can be, which is pretty terrific. Rated R. Grade: B

“My Best Friend’s Girl” DVD, Blu-ray: The less said about this rotten comedy, the better. Still, it’s my job to tackle it, vilify it, screw it to the wall, rip it down and send it back into the sewer from which it came. Dane Cook is Tank, a charismatic bad boy who has made something of a career out of getting women with zero sense to fall for him. When a woman leaves her boyfriend, Tank sells himself as the solution to get that woman back into her ex’s arms. Tank does so by wooing her with his smoky good looks — and then he turns her off by taking her out on the most revolting date of her life. By turning her off so resoundingly, the idea is that the woman in question will suddenly snap to her senses and realize that her ex really wasn’t so bad after all. What that says about women is about as flattering as spandex on a corpse, but here, the female characters are devoid of intelligence, they actually fall for the gimmick. The exception is Kate Hudson’s Alexis, who is dating Tank’s rigid roommate Dustin (Jason Biggs) when she decides to dump him for falling for her too quickly. Naturally, Dustin hires Tank to work his magic on Alexis. And right there, when these two meet, the movie mounts one massive wave of predictability it never overcomes. Alec Baldwin does enjoy a cutting, fleeting cameo as Tank’s father. He’s so good here that within 10 minutes after he has left the scene, you wish the producers had given him a larger part. Unrated. Grade: D

“Transformers Animated: Season Two”: Move beyond the workmanlike animation and, for younger fans of the Transformers, they’ll find well-executed shows that do what they’re intended to do — satisfy first, and then entice those awaiting the live-action 2009 release of “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.” Each episode features a typical story of good vs. evil, with the battle between the Autobots and the evil Decepticons offering just what fans want — plenty of creative morphing, a measure of excitement, escapist fun. Grade: B-

“The Waltons: Eighth Season”: Sorry, but who are these people? Set mostly in Depression-era Virginia, the eighth season of this genial drama follows the Waltons through yet another season of hardships, with Michael Learned’s sanitarium-stricken Olivia returning for 12 episodes (she looks a bit pale, poor thing), while Ellen Corby’s Grandma quietly slipped under the radar by appearing in only a few episodes (she looks a whole lot paler). A robust Robert Wightman takes over the role as John-Boy, with Richard Thomas having moved on to presumably better things. And so, with the show winding down, it all seems off-track and strained. In this season, World War II is deeply entrenched, with members of the family taking their part in fighting it. Still, the show remains flat and overtly earnest, an acquired taste that’s little more than an antiseptic balm of family highs and woes. Grade: C

“The Wedding Crashers” Blu-ray: The film’s best element is the inspired casting of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, who make for a fine comedic pairing — their easy repartee helps to grease over the film’s shortcomings. In the movie, Vaughn’s Jeremy and Wilson’s John aren’t exactly the marrying types. They prefer to crash weddings for the free food and the single women than to stand at the altar themselves. But when life intervenes with Rachel McAdams’ Claire, who startles John with what he begins to feel for her, and Isla Fisher’s Gloria, who startles us all with the certifiable depth of her feelings for Jeremy, the movie achieves a punchy, likable stride in spite of its overly long running time. Rated Unrated. Grade: B-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of hundreds of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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