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Armchair Cinephile

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Hubcaps over Hollywood

Some thought the day would never come: After numerous pushed-back release dates - I think it was first announced in the '90s - Tim Burton's magnificent Ed Wood (Buena Vista) is finally in stores this week. It's worth the wait. The movie is exceptional in Burton's filmography, one in which the filmmaker's unfailing visual sense is matched by a perfect cast and a story that moves gracefully, if atypically, to its conclusion. Funny and genuinely moving, the film finds the idealistic auteur inside the man many call the worst director of all time: Ed Wood Jr., creator of Plan 9 From Outer Space. (Wood's other claim to fame, Glen or Glenda, is actually a fascinating movie, but that's fodder for another column.) Here we see Wood, a straight man with a secret passion for wearing women's clothing, climb every hurdle (including a lack of any obvious talent) to make a life for himself as a filmmaker; his folly is fun, but the passion is genuine, and the friendship he finds with a washed-up Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau in the role of his life) may break your heart.

Speaking of Lugosi, Dracula's running buddies are getting their due on DVD. Following a first wave a few months back, Universal has three new titles in its Legacy Collection of classic monster movies. The sets are devoted to The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and the Creature From the Black Lagoon - and each, for the cost of a single full-price release, contains the original film and a number of sequels. (In the case of The Mummy and The Invisible Man, your 20 or 30 bucks buys no fewer than five flicks!) This kind of thing is getting more common: Studios are realizing that few consumers are willing to buy, say, Police Academy 5, so they're lumping sequels and original films together in bargain-priced collections. Pat the studios on the back for this one, movie lovers, especially when the discs go the extra mile (as the Legacy titles do) and offer commentaries and documentary material about the movies.

Turn that approach on its head and you get Anchor Bay's new edition of George Romero's original Dawn of the Dead, this release dubbed The Ultimate Edition. Weighing in at four discs and a list price of $49.98, this omnibus offers exactly one film. Well, it has three versions of that film: the U.S. theatrical cut, the version shown in Europe, and an "extended version." The fourth disc contains The Dead Will Walk, an all-new documentary featuring a who's-who of horror interviewees, and a few other goodies. It's not exactly the bargain you get with the Legacy Collection - then again, not many movie buffs are as obsessed with the third Black Lagoon film as with this culmination of Romero's classic Dead trilogy.

Since this has turned into a slightly early installment of our annual horror movie roundup, we should also mention the recent release of I'm Not Scared (Miramax), an artful Italian film which provokes a few "yikes" moments but is more about psychological suspense.

Then there's Lars Von Trier's Dogville (Lions Gate), which wouldn't be shelved in the horror section but revolves around a truly monstrous group of people. The jury is split on whether this is as fine a film as its two predecessors, Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark - many feel it's LVT's masterpiece, but I prefer the first two - but it's surely a must-see for art-cinema devotées, a film full of mixed messages (Is it anti-American, as its closing credits suggest, or just a condemnation of any small-town mentality?) and provocative techniques (does the setting - an empty soundstage with chalk lines where buildings should be and few props - prevent you from identifying with the characters, or simply help you read the tale's allegory?). Whatever one makes of this film, it's the first chapter in what could become Von Trier's equivalent of Romero's Dead films; the next installment, Manderlay, will explore slavery in America.

John DeFore on DVD


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