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ED WOOD (1994). Tim Burton's best movie also stands as his biggest box office flop, more proof (as if we needed any) that quality and commerce rarely go hand-in-hand. A spirited Johnny Depp stars as Edward D. Wood, Jr., the hopelessly untalented, cross-dressing moviemaker whose eternally optimistic outlook serves him well as he goes to any lengths to get his pictures made. Boasting that he and Orson Welles are the only two people in Hollywood to write, direct, produce and occasionally star in their own movies, he relies on miniscule budgets and his offbeat friends to help him get such enduring turkeys like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen Or Glenda into the can. It's my bet that any other filmmaker would have made a dark, depressing movie out of this material -- a downer about a sexually confused hack who surrounded himself with a gallery of freaks and rotted away in the bowels of Hollywood. But under Burton's sympathetic eye, this unique gem is actually a gentle valentine that celebrates the creative spirit, no matter how misguided that particular spirit happens to be. Yet for all its merriment, the movie's primary juice comes from the friendship between Wood and Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), the once-prominent horror star downsized to a frail morphine addict by the time Wood met him. Their scenes are handled tenderly, and Landau delivers an astonishing performance that embodies irony, humor and pathos. Several critics' groups rightly cited Stefan Czapsky's crisp black-and-white cinematography and Howard Shore's ebullient music score in their year-end accolades, but the Academy's charity only extended toward Landau for Best Supporting Actor and Rick Baker and team for Best Makeup Design. DVD extras include audio commentary by Burton and Landau, deleted scenes, interviews with Landau and Baker on "Making Bela," and a music video; sadly, it does not include the documentary Ed Wood: Look Back In Angora.
Movie: 1/2
Extras:

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) / DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993). Universal Studios' DVD branch has released these two titles together under the subhead Ultimate Party Collection, but there's a key difference between the movies: Fast Times was an 80s film about the 80s, while Dazed was a 90s flick about the 70s. In this instance anyway, nostalgia clearly trumps immediacy. With Dazed, writer-director Richard Linklater (The School of Rock) offers an infectious ode to wasted youth (in both senses of the term) in 1976 Middle America, following a group of high schoolers around as they kick off their summer vacation by getting drunk, getting high and trying to get laid. The film is virtually plotless, yet by nailing the look, the music and the dialogue of the era, Linklater generates a you-are-there vibe as he examines a period when indulging in vices was viewed as a coming-of-age rite of passage rather than a life-threatening act of immorality. The cast includes such up-and-comers as Ben Affleck and Parker Posey, and that's Matthew McConaughey who delivers the film's most famous line as jailbait-dating Wooderson: "That's what I love about these high school girls; I get older, they stay the same age." Fast Times, directed by Amy Heckerling from a script by Almost Famous's Cameron Crowe, has always struck me as overrated, and a recent revisit did little to change my mind. The filmmakers' attempts to capture the "real" high school experience run hot and cold, while the comedy quotient just doesn't cut it: The ballyhooed scenes between Sean Penn's surfer bum Jeff Spicoli and Ray Walston's stern teacher Mr. Hand seem like blueprints for a comedy sketch more than fully realized set pieces. Jennifer Jason Leigh is affecting as the naive kid determined to lose her virginity, and star gazers can catch early appearances by Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards and Nicolas Cage (still billing himself as Nicolas Coppola). Extras in this two-disc DVD set include audio commentary, deleted scenes and a couple of public service announcements from the 70s (including the famous "Crying Indian" TV spot).
Dazed and Confused:
Fast Times at Ridgemont High:
Extras: 1/2

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