- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones makes an impressive directorial debut with his border-set modern Western The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, new from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment ($26.96). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

Written by Mexican scenarist Guillermo Arriaga, late of “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams,” the film casts the versatile Mr. Jones as Pete Perkins, an old-school cowboy deeply shaken by the shooting death of his longtime illegal alien friend Melquiades (Julio Cesar Cedillo).

When Pete learns that paranoid, trigger-happy border patrolman Norton (Barry Pepper) is responsible, he decides to teach him a harsh lesson and grant his pal a proper burial in the process.

In a fairly grisly scene, Pete orders Norton to exhume his bud’s remains for a grueling horseback odyssey to Melquiades’ hometown in rural Mexico. Along the way, Pete discovers surprising secrets about his late compadre, while Norton undergoes a journey of painful self-discovery.

Both lead actors turn in standout work, while musician Levon Helm contributes a strong cameo as a blind hermit harboring an unexpected agenda. Director Jones and cinematographer Chris Menges fully use the beauty of their Southwest and mountainous Mexican locations, granting the modestly budgeted film a scope and sweep normally reserved for far costlier fare.

Bonus material is a bit skimpy, beyond an audio commentary with Mr. Jones and supporting actors Dwight Yoakam and January Jones; a making-of featurette might have shed interesting light on the offbeat project’s genesis. Still, not many recent movies pack this film’s sheer dramatic punch and power.

Collectors’ corner

In vintage-film developments, both Clark Gable and Betty Grable vie for fans’ digital attention in two new sets via Warner Home Video ($59.98 each). The six-disc Clark Gable: The Signature Collection spotlights the star in several vehicles — 1933’s Dancing Lady and Mogambo, China Seas (1935), San Francisco, Wife vs. Secretary (both 1936) and 1940’s Boom Town.

The four-disc Betty Grable Collection showcases the erstwhile pinup queen in the all-singing, all-dancing romps The Dolly Sisters (1945), Down Argentine Way (1940, costarring the irrepressible Carmen Miranda), Moon Over Miami (1941) and My Blue Heaven (1950).

Both sets come complete with select film historian audio commentaries, featurettes, shorts and more.

Paramount Home Entertainment celebrates Johnny Depp via a trio of special editions — John Badham’s 1995 thriller Nick of Time, Tim Burton’s 1999 fright fable Sleepy Hollow and Lasse Hallstrom’s 1993 drama What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? ($19.99 each) — arriving with commentaries, featurettes and other extras.

New Video resurrects Broadway’s erotic vaudeville show Oh! Calcutta! ($26.95) in a new edition that includes a 1971 “Playbill” reproduction.

Tele-video

In fresh TV on DVD developments, Sony Pictures looks for laughs with three new sitcom sets — The King of Queens: Fifth Season, Married … With Children: The Complete Fifth Season and NewsRadio: The Complete Fourth Season (three-disc, $39.95 each), the last bolstered by cast and crew commentaries, a gag reel and more.

Warner Home Video works the superhero beat, issuing the live-action Lois & Clark: The Complete Third Season (six-disc, $59.98), along with two animated series, Justice League of America: Season Two (four-disc, $44.98) and Superman — The Animated Series Vol. 3 (two-disc, $26.99).

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment focuses on a pair of proven winners with The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Fourth Season (three-disc, $29.98) and NYPD Blue: Season 04 (four-disc, $39.98), the latter equipped with select episode commentaries and featurettes.

The ‘A’ list

Twentieth Century Fox hones in on horror with a pair of recent theatrical releases. “High Tension” auteur Alexandre Aja delivers solid scares in his pumped-up remake of Wes Craven’s original mutant shocker The Hills Have Eyes ($29.98), issued in separate R and Unrated editions packed with bonus material galore; and the Russian vampire-hunter import Night Watch ($27.98), armed with a filmmakers’ commentary.

In a vintage vein, the same label proffers a new double-disc special edition of the original The Omen ($26.98), starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick.

Elsewhere, Walt Disney Home Entertainment presents the fact-based canine survival story Eight Below ($29.99), while Warner Home Video debuts “Traffic” director Stephen Gaghan’s gripping Middle East thriller Syriana ($28.98), starring George Clooney and Matt Damon. Extras include an interview with Mr. Clooney and additional scenes.

Foreign fare

In the import arena, First Run Features extends its “Global Lens Collection” with two new releases, Mehdi Charef’s Algeria-set odyssey Daughter of Keltoum and Maria Joao Ganga’s drama Hollow City ($24.95 each), set in post-civil war Angola.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Looking for the Italian classic Open City: Is it currently on DVD?

James Cannon, via e-mail

Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 neorealist pioneer is out via Image Entertainment, available from Amazon.com and other sources.

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.videoscope mag.com.

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