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The 11th Hour, 3:10 to Yuma, others

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THE 11TH HOUR In exactly which universe could Al Gore possibly emerge as a more charismatic screen presence than Leonardo DiCaprio? In our own, it seems. DiCaprio has long proven himself to be a sincere environmentalist (he was a logical choice to share the stage with Gore at this year's Academy Awards ceremony), yet good intentions don't always make for good movies. Case in point: The 11th Hour, in which DiCaprio (who serves as producer and narrator) looks at the fragile condition of this planet and makes some suggestions on how to improve our quality of life before it's too late. Unlike the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, in which Gore shocked everyone by revealing himself as an appealing teacher while passing along a wealth of knowledge in a colorful and easy-to-digest manner, this dry documentary relies on a monotonous DiCaprio and 55 talking heads (yes, 55; I counted the names in the end credits) to relay soundbites of scientific data, much of which many of us already knew (if this film was a book, it'd be called Environmentalism for Dummies). This is clearly a case of too many cooks spoiling the organic broth: Whereas, for example, An Inconvenient Truth and Who Killed the Electric Car? focused on specific issues and explored them in depth, this dull film is too scattershot to make much of an impression -- or impact. As a PSA, The 11th Hour is an extremely important work, but as a motion picture, it's ripe for recycling.  **

3:10 TO YUMA 3:10 to Yuma proves to be a rarity among remakes. It doesn't slavishly copy the original, nor does it update it for modern times. It's respectful of its predecessor, and when it does make changes to the existing template, they aren't preposterous or pandering -- rather, they merely take another logical path than the one employed in the previous version. Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, the 1957 3:10 to Yuma retains its status as a solid Western, typical of the psychologically rooted oaters that emerged in force during that decade. Adding roughly a half-hour to the original's 92-minute running time, the new take includes more characters and more action sequences, but it takes care not to water down the battle of wills between its two leading characters. In Glenn Ford's old role, Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, a notorious outlaw who's finally captured by the authorities and scheduled to be transferred via train to the prison in Yuma, Arizona. Dan Evans (Christian Bale in the Van Heflin part) is a rancher by nature -- he's so mild-mannered that his own wife (Gretchen Mol) and son (Logan Lerman) are often disappointed in him -- but because he's about to lose his home and cattle, he agrees to help transport Wade for $200. Yet while Wade may appear to be the captive, he's in many ways the one in charge, charming Dan's family, killing the armed escorts who rub him the wrong way, and keeping Dan on edge with his taunts and bribes. Crowe pours on his bad-boy charisma as Ben Wade, milking it for maximum effect, while Bale embodies the noblest traits that can possibly be found in such a disreputable arena as the Old West. The strong supporting cast is headed up by Peter Fonda as Byron McElroy, a leathery bounty hunter whose past assignments (including the massacre of Native American women and children) qualify him as one sleazy rider.  ***

Current Releases

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM The third time's the charm with The Bourne Ultimatum, the best in the series of films based on the Robert Ludlum novels. Admittedly, I wasn't as great a fan as everyone else when it came to the first two entries in the series, 2002's The Bourne Identity and 2004's The Bourne Supremacy. While I appreciated the films' efforts to bring the spy flick back to its gritty and less gadget-oriented roots (an approach better accomplished by last year's James Bond reinvention, Casino Royale), both Identity (directed by Doug Liman) and Supremacy (helmed by Paul Greengrass) felt as if they were constantly getting stuck in the same grooves, with repetitive action sequences, a squandering of great talent in throwaway roles, and a tight-lipped protagonist so one-note that viewer empathy was next to impossible. These problems haven't all been rectified in Ultimatum, but they don't nag as consistently as before. Matt Damon, suitably taciturn even though he's still too young for the role, again stars as Jason Bourne, the former CIA assassin whose continuing bout of amnesia regarding his past perpetually keeps him searching for the truth, even as his agency handlers seek to have him terminated. Greengrass, returning to the series after taking time off to earn a Best Director Oscar nomination for United 93, tops himself with action set pieces that prove to be more exciting than those on display in his Supremacy (or Liman's Identity). One of the lengthy chase scenes is especially impressive, and makes one wonder if Damon elected to forego a straight salary in order to be paid by the kilometer.  ***

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