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The Road





(OUT OF 10)

John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's brilliant novel is a major gloom-and-doom affair. A father (Viggo Mortensen) leads his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) on a journey toward the Atlantic Ocean, with no true goal other than surviving.

An unknown catastrophe (nuclear or environmental) has made the planet a wasteland, and food is as precious as gold; a passer-by might try to eat you after saying hello. All the major set pieces from the novel are in place, and Hillcoat does the prose justice.

Mortensen was robbed when he failed to get an Oscar nomination, and Smit-McPhee will break your heart as a little kid who can't believe his luck when he gets to drink his first Coke. Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall both make huge impressions with small parts, as does Garret Dillahunt as a gang member who picks the wrong time and place to take a leak.

I think The Road was one of last year's best films; it's one of the better novel adaptations of the past decade. It's a shame the studio didn't know what to do with it, and cheated the movie with a paltry, limited release.

Then again, it isn't exactly a party film, unless your parties consist of no showers, public urination and scrounging for food. (Actually, if you are into Burning Man, you might like this movie.)

Our beloved James DiGiovanna didn't care all that much for the film, so I'm thinking he might de-friend me on Facebook when he reads this.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A nice (but short) making-of doc, in which some great acting moments are explained by the actors. Hillcoat's commentary is first-rate. He's a director who digs in and really gives you his insights; I especially liked his take on the scene where the father washes the son's hair in a cold stream. Smit-McPhee was really crying.

The Messenger





(OUT OF 10)

In this film, Ben Foster continues his transformation from one of the worst overacting hacks in the business into a fine, nuanced, intelligent performer. There was a time when I just couldn't stand the guy, but he is starting to blow me away with his work—and this features his best performance yet.

Foster plays Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery, an injured soldier back from the war in Iraq who is assigned to the Casualty Notification Team. He's mentored by Capt. Tony Stone, a career soldier (Woody Harrelson, in an Oscar-nominated performance) who expects by-the-book professionalism when on duty. When off duty, Stone's a bit of a loose cannon.

Foster and Harrelson make one of last year's more interesting screen duos. They play off each other perfectly, and I would love to see them in something together again. Samantha Morton is excellent as a widow who becomes involved with Montgomery. Like Foster, she delivers some career-best work. Steve Buscemi, in a small role as a father who has lost his son, delivers an emotional punch to the solar plexus.

Oren Moverman's film is the rare war movie that delivers an anti-war message without slamming you on the head with a hammer. The message is quiet, effective and devastating, delivered by actors who truly seize the moment.

SPECIAL FEATURES: You get Notification, a touching short film about soldiers who must deliver the most horrible of news—and the people on the receiving end of that news. This film is actually an excellent feature to watch before taking in The Messenger. You also get a director-and-cast commentary including Foster and Harrelson, and a post-screening Q&A with the cast and crew, which gives Foster and Harrelson a live, on-the-spot opportunity to express their feelings about the movie. This is a first-rate DVD with a lot of excellent material to take in.






(OUT OF 10)

John Ford's famous Western, a film that marked a magical return to the genre for him in 1939, gets dusted off and given its best presentation yet. The setup—involving a bunch of disparate personalities crowding into a stagecoach under the threat of an Apache attack—is fantastic, and the movie has aged well.

John Wayne, who had already made almost 80 films, got one of his first major starring roles in this, the first of many collaborations with Ford. The Duke is great here, as are Oscar winner Thomas Mitchell as the drunken doctor, Andy Devine as the goofy stagecoach driver, and John Carradine as a mysterious passenger. This is an all-time-great classic cast.

Seriously: Stuntmen fall off of horses in a way that could never be done again in a major motion picture. It's incredible.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Loaded! The two-disc set comes with a commentary, a book, interviews with Ford and, best of all, a restored silent film of Ford's called Bucking Broadway.


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