As a rule, Johnny Depp is the one who steals every picture he's in. There's nothing wrong with his performance in 1994's Ed Wood (on disc Oct. 19), where he plays the angora-attired transvestite director of the worst B movies in history, but Depp actually has the show stolen right out from under his pencil-thin-mustache-enhanced nose by Martin Landau as Wood's brilliantly fading fallen star, Bela Lugosi.
The movie operates on two levels: hoot and heartbreak, with Depp owning the former and Landau the latter. The hoot is watching Depp as the Micawber of subterranean, midcentury zero- budget moviemaking, ever chipper, his big eyes glowing and shit-eating-grin gloating after every hopeless take of trash classics like Plan 9 From Outer Space, even when the inept actors knock over walls and tombstones, and the crew neglects to steal the motor to the giant octopus they've stolen from the studio, so that poor Lugosi has to flop its arms around for it to appear alive during his big octopus-wrestling scene. Director Tim Burton makes first-rate cinema out of re-enacting the filming of ninth-rate cinema, and startlingly makes it all look just like his previous work. To update T.S. Eliot: Immature artists imitate; mature artists steal—and make what they've stolen their own.
More haunting is the film's deeper level, the platonic love story of Wood and Lugosi, the first major star to come out as a heroin addict in rehab. Among the special-edition DVD extras, Landau explains how he nailed the part—he plays a Hungarian trying to hide his accent more vigorously than his junk habit—and movingly notes that while the Oscar went to him, its shadow went to Lugosi's shade. The deleted scenes deepen the relationship: Lugosi puts Wood up for the night, and reminisces about the time he almost went back to Hungary in triumph—though possibly to the gulag. My favorite deleted scene: Bill Murray as Wood's transsexual wanna-be crony serenading a mariachi band in a meat locker with "Que Sera Sera" in a swoon of eccentric sexual passion. Landau and Burton also contribute to the commentary track.
ALSO OUT OCT. 19, Hugh Jackman in Van Helsing (let's hope for no sequel) and Colin Farrell in the Irish roundelay Intermission. The Vietnam documentary Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry may help his election prospects, while The Ultimate Oliver Stone Collection contains a baker's dozen of his titles on 14 discs (most of which also seem stuck in Vietnam). Chungking Express is included in a five-title Wong Kar-wai box set from Kino, and the charming French schoolhouse doc To Be and to Have also reaches DVD.