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Today's DVDs & Blu-rays: Cloud Atlas, Two Classic Westerns and a Warning

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Tom Hanks and Halle Berry star in the sci-fi epic

Cloud Atlas

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Our sister paper the Village Voice named Cloud Atlas one of the worst movies of 2012. Film critic Roger Ebert named it one of the best. For us, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

At just under three hours, Cloud Atlas does much too much in terms of plot (the actors play various characters in seven different time periods ranging from 1849 to 2321). Then again, Halle Berry is easy on the eyes, which makes the time go by (though the part where she wears white-face is extremely uncomfortable and seems to drag out). Both Berry and Hanks turn in good performances, but all that jumping through time jumbles the story and by Act III, we had lost most of the plot connections.

Village Voice film critic Nick Pinkerton wrote, "If you want to learn something about feeling, you're at the wrong movie," and we agree with that. Ebert called it "ambitious" and we certainly agree with that. Our verdict: Cloud Atlas is ambitiously wrong. Or wrongly ambitious. Either. Both. Neither. We changed our mind several times as we watched. But by the end, we were more tired than entertained.

A couple of classic westerns...

Two classic westerns are being released this week by the Criterion Collection -- 3:10 to Yuma and Jubal. We strongly recommend both. Based on a story by Elmore Leonard (the man behind Hombre, Get Shorty and Justified), 3:10 to Yuma features Glenn Ford as Ben Wade, playing against type as a murderer/thief/general-all-around-bad-guy. Van Heflin is Dan Evans, the luckless rancher who agrees to escort the captured Wade to the train station while evading the gang that's hoping to help him escape.

Jubal, also directed by Daves, stars Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine and Rod Steiger. It's a sort of reworking of Othello. Borgnine, an absolute gem in this film, plays Shep (the Othello-like character), with Ford as Jubal (the Cassio-like character) and Steiger as Pinky (Iago). The supporting cast also includes Charles Bronson, Jack Elam and Felicia Farr.

Both films show Daves's ability to instill tension and suspense in a scene without resorting to gunplay (although there is plenty of that in both). And both are iconic westerns that every film buff with even a passing interest in the genre should own.

And a warning...

We love the Marx Brothers. Their jokes and sight gags still hold up some 90 years later. What hasn't held up so well are the film prints, all of which could do with some loving restoration. That's why we can't recommend Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. The box set includes five films, each starring all four brothers. Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, Monkey Business, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers are all worth seeing, but wait for the restored versions before you plunk down any money.

Up next... Next week we'll look at the documentary Mel Brooks: Make A Noise from the American Masters series, the horror flick Last Kind Words and the television vamp drama True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season.

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

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