Author

Ed Hulse

'Jaws' Hungry for DVD Release

IF NOT NOW, WHEN? While Disney recently decided to release many of its animated ”classics” on DVD (the studio will release favorites like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King at the rate of one per year), other hotly desired films remain unavailable. ”We’re asked every day about certain titles,” says Joe Failla, DVD buyer for Tower Video’s Paramus, N.J., store. ”E.T., Jaws, Close Encounters, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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Resurrected on screen (in Frank & Jesse’s case, HBO) for the umpteenth time, the James brothers of Missouri, notorious bandits of the post-Civil War era, return — portrayed yet again as victims of vengeful Yankees and unscrupulous railroad men. Writer-director Robert Boris (Steele Justice) perfunctorily re-creates most of their exploits, but Lowe effectively interprets Jesse as part visionary, part sociopath, and country-music superstar Randy Travis makes a surprisingly vivid appearance as Cole Younger. C+

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Even though theater audiences barely nibbled at The Quick and the Dead, director Sam Raimi’s tasty homage to spaghetti-Western maestro Sergio Leone — spiced with Raimi’s offbeat humor — goes down pretty easily. Trading glamour for grit, Sharon Stone plays a six-shooter gladiator competing with the West’s deadliest guns in a contest sponsored by the ruthless Gene Hackman, her father’s murderer.

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Critics appraising a reissued ”masterpiece” sometimes review the reputation instead of the film, and Sam Peckinpah’s genre-bending Western The Wild Bunch certainly inspires such temptation. Restored to its original 145 minutes, this ultraviolent chronicle of aging outlaws planning one last haul made the use of slo-mo violence de rigueur for a generation of filmmakers.

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A hoary horse-opera plot gets dusted off for Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventure of Pecos Bill, an exceptionally handsome action fable. Acting honors go to Scott Glenn, playing a diabolical gunman who menaces the settlers of Paradise Valley until a plucky farm boy (Nick Stahl) enlists the aid of legendary folk heroes Pecos Bill (Patrick Swayze, looking as if he stepped out of a Remington painting), Paul Bunyan, and John Henry. The exquisitely photographed landscapes pull you out of your living room and into the grandeur of the West. B+

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This latest version of Rudyard Kipling’s fanciful tale finds the wild-boy-raised-by-animals motif superseded by a quest for hidden treasure, tipping the narrative scale from whimsy to melodrama. Director Stephen Sommers (The Adventures of Huck Finn) deserves praise for his magnificent animal sequences. He isn’t as successful with Jason Scott Lee and love interest Lena Headey: Though attractive and competent, they lack chemistry and are overshadowed by supporting players Cary Elwes (a surprisingly able villain), Sam Neill, and John Cleese.

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HARD BOUNTY Matt McCoy, Kelly LeBrock (1995, Triboro, unrated, priced for rental) Part Unforgiven, part Bad Girls, this reasonably entertaining B Western teams an ex-bounty hunter (McCoy) with a classy madam (LeBrock) and two curvy sidekicks searching for a working girl’s killer. Extensive use of rugged locations doesn’t conceal obvious budgetary constraints (where are all the horses, wagons, and townspeople?), and the heavy looks like a refugee from Venice Beach, but Bounty exudes cheesy charm. And who knew the Old West had so many silicone-enhanced saloon girls? C+ -Ed Hulse

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This Western Bonnie and Clyde (totally lacking the elan of its ostensible inspiration) finds Sam Elliott’s cold-blooded marshal trailing a murderous wife (Linda Fiorentino) and a handsome sharper (Craig Sheffer). A dreary horse opera without heroes, the direct-to-video Desperate Trail tries to camouflage deficiencies in plot and characterization with bursts of gratuitous violence lensed, predictably, in slow-motion. Elliott, growling through his mustache as usual, makes the most of an unappealing role, but Fiorentino seems awfully uncomfortable in this milieu.

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Rarely seen in recent years, its importance all but forgotten, Hondo supplies the prototype for all those laconic men of action John Wayne played through the years — and across the plains and oceans. As the hard-boiled cavalry dispatch rider protecting a feisty woman (Geraldine Page) and her young son (Lee Aaker) living on the frontier, the Duke dispenses pearls of prairie wisdom when he’s not trading shots with marauding Apaches.

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