Donnie Darko has had more than its share of bad timing. Originally released in October of 2001, its remorseless critique of everything wrong in Middle America-mixed with a strange brew of brat-pack and slasher-flick spoofs-was lost in shock waves that would soon be ridden by forces far worse than what writer-director Richard Kelly was depicting.
Problems with timing carry over even into the two-disc director's cut, which came out a few months ago and was relatively ignored, even in these pages. And yet nothing has ever really halted the movie's growing cult status.
Let's recap: Jake Gyllenhaal stars as the title character, a possibly schizophrenic high schooler plagued by a giant bunny who's a twisted counterpart to Jimmy Stewart's imaginary pal in Harvey. The star's sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal, plays Donnie's party-hearty sibling, Elizabeth, and the too-rarely seen Mary McDonnell is their long-suffering mother, Rose. Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle do career-stretching work as the only teachers around them who are more than drones. (There's more of that in this version, which adds 20 minutes of material, some of which was included as outtakes in the previous DVD release.)
Donnie's grotesque rabbit is telling him to do bad things but is also warning him that worse stuff will happen to their suburban town, pointedly named Middlesex, unless, well, it's not clear how he's supposed to fix it, but it might involve time travel, reading arcane old texts, and debunking a motivational guru played perfectly by Patrick Swayze.
Kelly, who is only 30, hasn't completed anything since his first feature (although there are two more in the pipeline), and it's hard to say where his peyote-drenched vision came from. At this distance, it's clear that there are missed opportunities in his script, and the execution is full of anachronisms for the time period-wrong model cars and product packages, et cetera. But it does capture the feeling of the late Reagan era, just as America went terribly wrong by electing the elder George Bush, who proceeded to wreck the U.S. economy while beating his chest. Apt music by such as INXS and Echo & the Bunnymen (some has been changed for the director's cut) sets the gloomy mood.
The set's special features aren't all that special. A couple of tributes to the movie's cult status reek of self-congratulatory geekdom. But cinematographer Steven Poster's commentary on the production diary contains a lot of info about low-budget filmmaking, including how to keep things close to where you live.
The week's biggest release is a two-disc version of The Aviator, featuring commentary from director Martin Scorsese, one deleted scene, and no less than eight documentaries about Howard Hughes and the making of the mega-budget film.
As part of an ongoing James Dean revival on DVD, there's a two-disc version of East of Eden, Elia Kazan's flavourful adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel. Yet another version of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde, Kar Wai Wong's Days of Being Wild, with a large and attractive cast centred by Maggie Cheung, is set one night in 1960 Hong Kong.
One of the most influential of all caper flicks, Mario Monicelli's Big Deal on Madonna Street, starring Vittorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroianni-the Brad Pitt and George Clooney combo of their day-is out in a Criterion Edition, with no special features, unfortunately. The latter-day Mastroianni also anchors 1987's Intervista, one of Federico Fellini's last efforts, and a good one.
A classic from the former Yugoslavia, 1985's When Father Was Away on Business, got writer-director Emir Kusturica's career under way. And there's also a Criterion Edition of The Phantom of Liberty, Luis Buñuel's 1974 follow-up to The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.