- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Following fairly flimsy theatrical exposure, a majestic old-school Western receives a well-deserved second life as David Von Ancken’s Seraphim Falls rides into the digital corral, courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment ($26.96). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

A bearded, battered Pierce Brosnan portrays former Union Capt. Gideon who, as the film opens, is being aggressively pursued by ex-Confederate Col. Carver (Liam Neeson) and a quartet of hired guns, for reasons initially unexplained, in 1868 New Mexico.

Wounded by the band, Gideon embarks on a desperate flight that leads him to a settler family’s cabin, a railroad construction site and a wagon train of traveling missionaries while he alternately battles and eludes his determined pursuers. Well-placed flashbacks gradually reveal the source of Carver’s relentless vendetta.

While Mr. Brosnan and Mr. Neeson command the screen with pitch-perfect performances, the New Mexico landscape, from its snowy peaks to parched deserts, emerges as a visual co-star, one expertly captured by veteran cinematographer John Toll.

Lending terrific thespian support are such dependable character actors as Michael Wincott, Ed Lauter and Tom Noonan, while Anjelica Huston impresses in a borderline-surreal cameo.

Mixing meanness and violence with moral values and natural beauty, writer and co-director Von Ancken crafts an ideal example of a nearly vanished genre, rivaled of late only by Nick Cave’s Australian frontier tale “The Proposition.” Extras include a commentary with Mr. Brosnan and the filmmakers and an informative behind-the-scenes featurette.

“Seraphim Falls” rates as a must both for Western and quality-film fans.

Collectors’ corner

Speaking of Westerns, Warner Home Video and Paramount Home Entertainment join forces to celebrate John Wayne’s centennial with a slew of vintage films showcasing the Duke.

Heading the outdoor roster are two new special editions of 1959’s Rio Bravo, a double-disc affair ($20.97) featuring a film expert audio commentary, a documentary on director Howard Hawks, and two new featurettes, plus an Ultimate Collector’s Edition ($39.92) further bolstered by collectible lobby cards, press book and comic book.

Warner also goes the special-edition route with The Cowboys (1972), while Paramount presents True Grit: Special Collector’s Edition (1969, two-disc, $19.99), both galloping in with audio commentaries, featurettes and original trailers.

More for collectors

Warner likewise offers Director’s Showcase: Take Two, with fresh special editions of a quartet of titles tagged at $19.97 each — Sidney Lumet’s 1981 policer Prince of the City (in a double-disc set), starring Treat Williams; Alan Myerson’s 1972 comedy Steelyard Blues, with Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland; Ulu Grosbard’s excellent 1978 crime drama Straight Time, starring Dustin Hoffman as an ex-con; and Richard Dreyfuss in John Badham’s 1981 drama Whose Life Is It Anyway? Extras include audio commentaries, featurettes and trailers.

Warner also honors an iconic actress with its six-disc Katharine Hepburn Collection ($59.92), assembling 1933’s Morning Glory; Sylvia Scarlett (1935), co-starring Cary Grant; Without Love (1945), with Spencer Tracy; 1944’s Dragon Seed; Undercurrent (1946), featuring Robert Taylor and Robert Mitchum; and the 1979 TV movie remake of The Corn Is Green. The set includes vintage short subjects.

Video verite

In documentary developments, PBS Video proffers three looks at the U.S. military ($24.99 each): Dogfight Over Guadalcanal, narrated by Liev Schreiber, relives a dramatic bout between American and Japanese aerial aces; The Marines examines the history and traditions of that venerable service branch; Warplane: A Century of Fight and Flight explores the evolution of fighter planes, with voice-over chores handled by Stacy Keach.

Docurama fast-forwards to the Iraq War with The War Tapes ($26.95), the first combat movie filmed by soldiers themselves.

The same label issues Obie Benz’s dating and mating inquiry Heavy Petting (two-disc, $29.95) and the six-episode One Punk Under God ($26.95), featuring Jay Bakker.

The ‘A’ list

Three indies with limited theatrical runs arrive on DVD this week: Brian Cox and Eileen Atkins in the British drama The Lost Language of Cranes (Warner, $19.98); Billy Zane, Dennis Hopper and Ann-Margret in the thriller Memory (Echo Bridge Entertainment, $26.99), equipped with audio commentary, bonus interviews and featurettes; and Natalie Portman in Amos Gitai’s Middle East-set road movie Free Zone (New Yorker Video, $29.95).

Tele-video

In a light week for new TV-on-DVD releases, Paramount Home Entertainment leads the way with Rawhide: The Second Season Volume 1 (four-disc, $39.99), starring Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood, while a mysterious teen may be literally out of this world in the sci-fi series Kyle XY: The Complete First Season (three-disc, $39.99), beaming down with audio commentaries, featurette and other extras.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Looking for an oldie I’d like to see again on DVD — The Long, Long Trailer, with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

Kay Winters, via e-mail

Warner released that 1954 comedy in 2006 ($14.98).

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or e-mail us at phanmedia@aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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