The Complete James Dean Collection
East Of Eden
(WB, 1955) D: Elia Kazan, w/ Raymond Massey. Rating: NNN
Rebel Without A Cause
(WB, 1955) D: Nicholas Ray, w/ Natalie Wood. Rating: NNN
(WB, 1956) D: George Stevens, w/ Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson. Rating: NNN
If you already worship at the James Dean shrine, you know what to expect here: powerful acting with emotion that comes from the centre of the soul, presented in movies that seem designed by fate to cement his status as outsider icon for all time.
If you aren't a devotee, you may be surprised to see much fidgety, overbusy acting whose alleged power seems to come directly from the actor's own whiny emotional neediness. Dean doesn't begin to comprehend stillness until near the end of Rebel, and doesn't start to really shine until the middle of Giant.
Whether you're a true believer or not, this is a great box if you're at all interested. Each movie generously fills its second disc. Together, they offer three extended bios of Dean, plus extensive making-ofs (both contemporary and archival), informed commentaries by scholars and contemporaries including Rock Hudson and Dennis Hopper, nifty trivia like home movies, wardrobe and screen tests, plus 50s making-of TV shows, one featuring Dean advising teens to drive safely. There's also ample discussion of co-stars and directors.
It's all the public and private Dean you need to understand very well why his peers and the public thought he was great and why he achieved legend status. What you won't know is much about his alleged homo- or bisexuality. That gets about three minutes of flat denial, understandable given the speakers and the times, but some present-day discussion would've been welcome.
The movies themselves are good to near-great, depending on your tolerance for two egregious 50s flaws: clunky, earnest dialogue and syrupy orchestral scores. Against this, you've got some fine acting, notably by Hudson, miscast but excellent as a millionaire Texas rancher, and great stories, visuals and direction by some of Hollywood's top artists of the day.
Taken individually, each of these is good. Together, they're outstanding.
Extras East Of Eden: Historian commentary; trailer; two Dean docs; screen, wardrobe and other tests; additional scenes, premiere footage. Wide-screen restored digital transfer.
Rebel Without A Cause: Historian commentary, trailer, making-of doc, Dean doc, additional scenes, 50s making-of TV shows with Dean, screen and wardrobe tests. Wide-screen restored digital transfer.
Giant: Critic and writers commentary, Stevens doc, two making-of docs, two premiere specials, 50s making-of TV shows, notes, stills and documents galleries, awards, filmographies. Wide-screen.
(MGM, 2003) D: Russell Mulcahy, w/ Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis. Rating: NNN
What could have been a mediocre inspirational sports movie - poor boy overcomes dysfunctional family to become Australia's best swimmer - turns into a harrowing tale of emotional and physical abuse thanks to powerful work by Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis. As the sports-obsessed alcoholic father who inexplicably hates his second son, Rush delivers an amazing, nuanced portrait of a man consumed by self-loathing and unfulfilled ambition who inflicts both on his wife and children. Rush conveys every detail of Harold's inner life, from sentimental love through secret joy in petty cruelty, all while letting us know when the man is or is not aware of his own changes. Portraits of alcoholism are common in the movies. I've never seen one come close to this.
Judy Davis, as his long-suffering wife, avoids the clichés of victimhood. She lets makeup and wardrobe speak to that, while she concentrates on creating a high-spirited, down-to-earth woman who's adapted to daily hardship. It's a less developed role, but without her outstanding work Rush would be acting in a vacuum. Jesse Spencer, who plays the despised son, is good but no match for Rush and Davis.
Director Russell Mulcahy, best known for Highlander, flips effortlessly into expressionistic overdrive for key emotional moments but struggles with the swimming scenes. There's little you can do with racers in a pool, and he does it all.
But the biggest drawback is the story. This is fairly accurate, fact-based material without a strong climax. This means we have to endure a few mawkish speeches and an inspirational ending, but they're well-handled, mere blips in an otherwise terrific movie.
Extras Making-of doc, deleted scenes, trailer. Wide-screen. No subtitles.
The Parent Trap
(Disney, 1998) D: Nancy Meyers, w/ Lindsay Lohan, Dennis Quaid. Rating: NNN
There's nothing at all special about this "special double trouble edition" of a movie first issued on DVD in June 2004, unless some extremely average making-of docs count as special.
The extras do show us what a hard-working 11-year-old Lindsay Lohan was. But that's obvious from the movie. She pumps out charm, brains, high spirits and teary sentiment non-stop. And fairly often, she convinces us that she's the character and she's having fun, not just working hard. Sadly, she occasionally comes across a wee bit robotic or stumbles over a contrived-sounding line.
If her accent slips now and then, its forgivable - she's playing both halves of a set of twins, one British, one American, struggling to reunite their divorced parents. It's a tough role.
First-time director Nancy Meyers keeps things moving at a brisk clip and gives the grown-up comedians lots of snappy moments. But this is a kids' movie all the way, and at 128 minutes it's a slog for any but the tweeniest Lohan-loving mind.
Extras Producer, director, cinematographer commentary, making-of docs, deleted scene. Wide-screen. English, French subtitles.
(WB, 1972) D: Sam Peckinpah, w/ Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw. Rating: NNN
The Getaway comes with a great gimmick - virtual commentary by director Sam Peckinpah and stars Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. Warner's DVD arm has tracked down period interviews with all three and cut them together. Sadly, this feature is only 12 minutes long, but their remarks are thoughtful, and it's a treat for Peckinpah fans.
The regular commentary by a round table of Peckinpah biographers and scholars is as good as it gets on the subject of the production and the film's relation to the director's ongoing themes.
But The Getaway stands on its own as a high-energy thriller that gives equal weight to the crime elements and the relationship between career bank robber Doc McCoy and his wife, Carol, whose apparent betrayal of him may be justified but still corrodes the relationship.
The role is tailor-made for McQueen's action-man mode, and Peckinpah gets a decent performance out of MacGraw, not the finest actress around.
Amazon.ca has The Getaway for $17.47, or you can pick it up in the Essential Steve McQueen set, six films for $60.31. The other titles are Tom Horn, The Cincinnati Kid, Never So Few, Papillon and a two-disc edition of Bullitt. Worth it if you're a fan of the star, much less so if you're not.
Extras Scholar commentary; virtual director, stars commentary; trailer. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, June 7
(MGM, 2005) Wretched Get Shorty sequel with lots of extras but no commentary. Could everyone be too ashamed?
(Disney, 2005) Vin Diesel continues to follow in Schwarzenegger's footsteps.
What's New, Pussycat
(MGM, 1965) The quintessential swinging 60s comedy, and Woody Allen's first film role.
(Fox, 1978) Walter Hill's classic existential thriller.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb