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Sling Blade: Exclusive Director's Cut

Movie A
Special Features A
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

For its 10-year anniversary, actor-director Billy Bob Thornton has fashioned a director's-cut version of his seminal film that actually improves upon the theatrical release. While some of the changes to the story of troubled murderer Karl (Thornton) are subtle (some of the walking montages are a bit longer), others are quite major.

The biggest change in the director's cut would have to be a lengthened sequence of Karl taking a little more time before dispatching the villainous Doyle (an unbelievable Dwight Yoakam) in the film's final moments. Thornton has inserted extra footage of Carl that significantly alters the feel of this already powerful scene. I won't give it away, but it's a must-see for fans of the film.

This is one of the best American movies of the past 10 years, and now it's even better. Thornton hasn't achieved near the success of this film as a director (although he has as an actor), but watching this, and listening to him speak about his movie, left me with the impression he could have some directorial surprises in the future.

Special Features: Thornton augments his original DVD commentary by adding new insights about where changes to the theatrical release occur. There's a new roundtable discussion where Thornton, Yoakam and others discuss all aspects of the movie, including the passing of J. T. Walsh and John Ritter. A fantastic little nugget would be The Return of Karl, which has Thornton revisiting the character for kicks while filming his Daddy and Them.

Rebel Without a Cause

(Part of the Complete James Dean Collection)
Warner Brothers
Movie B+
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

Watching this movie knowing James Dean, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood all died of tragic circumstances makes the experience a strange one. Jim Backus, the guy who played Dean's father (not to mention Mr. Howell on Gilligan's Island) outlived them all!

Rebel is a little goofy in places due to the passage of time. But back in the day, this was a shocking movie (my mom still refuses to watch it!), and James Dean was, and still is, a marvel on the screen.

This is one of those movies, like Citizen Kane and A Streetcar Named Desire, that illustrated great change in moviemaking. Directors and actors started to shoot for more realism, and Rebel feels like quite the transitional film. Some of the stuff with the supposed teen thugs feels very dated, as does the handling of Natalie Wood's rebellious daughter character. Dean himself delivers a revelatory performance by acting without a net. He was a performer who gave a sense that everything happened in the moment, rather than simply reciting rehearsed lines. The Dean character's obsession with not being regarded as a chicken was nicely spoofed in Back to the Future.

Rebel can be purchased on its own, or as part of The Complete James Dean Collection, which also includes the actor's other two starring vehicles, Giant and East of Eden. Each is also a two-disc special-edition release.

Special Features: Rebel features a couple of decent documentaries remembering the actor, and a screen test featuring Wood, Mineo and Dean. There's also the infamous "Drive Safely" interview, featuring Dean in a publicity film (dressed as a cowboy) offering kids advice on safe driving and adhering to speed limits.

Seinfeld: Season 4

Show A
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

Seinfeld has been off the air for near seven years now, and its presence is missed. Most probably remember the show as a certified hit, but the reality was that when the show entered its fourth season, many of those involved thought they were in trouble. The series had not established itself as a mainstay, garnering mediocre ratings. It was the death of Cheers that allowed the show to become a hit.

Seinfeld and company thought they were heading for the last roundup when they started their fourth season. As co-creator Larry David explains in a documentary contained on the DVD, the writers pulled out all the stops, thinking they had nothing to lose. The season contained the show-within-a-show plotline, where Jerry is approached by NBC to start his own sitcom. It also featured Kramer's scrape with being a serial-killer suspect and his struggles with intestinal distress, achieving epic levels in hilarious bad taste.

Most notably, Season 4 contained an episode entirely dedicated to masturbation ("The Contest"), a television feat that hadn't been accomplished since the infamous "Archie Jerks Off Two Times" episode of All in the Family. (Writer's note: No such episode of Family ever occurred, but it would've been funny, not to mention incredibly disgusting.)

Special Features: While blooper reels have long been a useless DVD mainstay, Seinfeld mishaps are always fun to watch. The average blooper has Kramer (Michael Richards) doing something so funny his costars can't handle it, resulting in a blown take and Richards getting bent out of shape.

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