Today's DVDs: Dead Man and The Battle of Algiers

Dead Man

stars Johnny Depp, Gabriel Byrne, Robert Mitchum and Crispin Glover, with Jim Jarmusch directing.

The setup: There have been lots of terms tossed around in describing Dead Man, from "disappointing" to "cinematic masterpiece" to "the ultimate postmodern Western." Our personal favorite is "acid Western." That most completely captures the 1995 black-and-white film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch.

Johnny Depp stars as William Blake, a young greenhorn who goes out West, where he finds a former prostitute, Thel (Mili Avital). When Charlie (Gabriel Byrne), her ex-boyfriend, catches the new couple in bed, gunfire breaks out, leaving Thel and Charlie dead and Blake wounded.

An offbeat Native American named Nobody (Gary Farmer) finds Blake near death and tells him the bullet is lodged too close to his heart to be removed; he's a walking dead man, and Nobody insists Blake is the famous poet by the same name despite Blake's repeated protests to the contrary.

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When Blake finds out he's wanted for killing Charlie and Thel, Nobody decides to help him make the most of the little time he has left.


Depp's angular, slightly gaunt face is the perfect death mask as Blake slowly withers and begins his journey to the other side, a journey he decides he won't make alone. Blake finds himself with a gun in his hands, and Nobody intones, "That weapon will replace your tongue, you will learn to speak through it. Your poetry will now be written with blood."

Here's our take: Weird, slow-moving, eloquent, Dead Man is a must-see for Johnny Depp fans, Western enthusiasts and anyone with offbeat tastes. DVD/Blu-ray extras: Deleted scenes, theatrical trailer and the music video to the Dead Man theme by Neil Young.

The Battle of Algiers

stars Brahim Haggiag, Jean Martin and Saadi Yacef, Gillo Pontecorvo directs.

Also of interest: The Battle of Algiers: The Criterion Collection. Considered a classic, this political film captures 1950s Algiers, a city active in the Algerian struggle to win its independence from the occupying French. Startlingly familiar are scenes of child soldiers, terrorist attacks, counterattacks, torture and resistance by the insurgents. Shot in black-and-white, this release is in Arabic and French with English subtitles.

DVD/Blu-ray extras: Director of photography Marcello Gatti supervised the high-definition digital transfer, there's an uncompressed monaural soundtrack, interviews with filmmakers Oliver Stone, Steven Soderbergh and Spike Lee commenting on the film's influence, four documentaries (Gillo Pontecorvo: The Dictatorship of Truth, Marxist Poetry: The Making of The Battle of Algiers, Remembering History and États d'armes) and more.

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