If for some strange reason you had never seen a western before, then the only one you would ever need to see would be director Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. Part opera and part fairy tale, Leone's film is a distillation of the western genre, a pastiche of themes and homage to all the cinematic tales of gunslingers and lawmen Leone loved. The result is an epic tale of revenge and absolution that focuses on the lives of four people (Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards and Henry Fonda in his most sinister role) whose lives come together in a small town where the railroad is passing through. The film deals with the passing of the Old West as it succumbs to modern technology, with the iron horse of the railroad serving as the ultimate metaphor for the harbinger of change. Recently released as a two-disc DVD, Once Upon a Time in the West features an audio commentary track that includes Leone biographer Christopher Frayling, Cardinale, and directors John Carpenter, Alex Cox and John Milius. The commentaries were recorded separately, and only Frayling has anything of real merit to say. The second disc features several documentaries on the making of Once Upon a Time in the West, which includes old footage of Leone and Fonda. As far as the increasingly common second-disc-of-supplementary-material goes, the bonus included in this package is a cut above the standard garbage that usually clutters such discs.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Let's be honest. We all were just a bit surprised when a film about pirates, based on an amusement-park attraction, turned out not to suck total ass. Johnny Depp, swaggering and swishing like a sexually ambiguous junkie, gives the sort of wonderfully quirky performance (modeled after Keith Richards) that has come to define the best films of his career. Sure, the film is a bit long, but that's what makes it perfect on DVD: You can hit "Pause" while you go make a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich, or simply fast forward. The double-disc DVD features more bonus features than most people could ever hope to wade through in a lifetime, but diehard fans and insomniacs will have plenty to keep them occupied.
Angels in America
Tony Kushner's critically acclaimed and multi-prize winning play Angels in America makes the transition to the small screen in this made-for-HBO adaptation. I haven't seen it yet, but the buzz is strong on this six-hour, two-part meditation on AIDS, among other things. Al Pacino and Meryl Streep lead the ensemble cast, with Pacino giving what is being called one of the best performances of his career as Roy Cohn, the real-life homophobe who was secretly gay and died of AIDS. Since I don't have HBO, maybe someone out there could tape it for me.
HBO, 8 pm Sunday, Dec. 7.