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Giant

D: George Stevens; with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo.
VHS Home Video
Waterloo Video, 1016 W. Sixth

Giant

If you happen to catch Jim Brennan's documentary, Return to Giant, at the SXSW Film Festival this week, then revisiting this grandfather of Texas movies is just exactly what you'll be inspired to do. Giant (1956) is still a big enough movie to represent the Lone Star State worldwide, a responsibility it shares with a certain long-running, night-time soap whose resemblances to the film aren't coincidental. Based on Edna Ferber's best-selling novel, the epic begins back East as Bick Benedict (Hudson) is in the market for a horse. He returns home to the barren lands of his West Texas ranch with a stallion and a new East Coast wife (Taylor) on his arm, a strong woman who adapts quickly to the ways of the Texas rancher but doesn't let him quash her cheeky individuality. Though the politics of the story are no longer correct, the film is successful in capturing just how different (and how vast) Texas was -- and still is -- from the rest of the country. James Dean, in his final role, plays the ornery ranch hand-turned-oil baron Jett Rink with rugged handsomeness (until he's badly made-up to look old at the end). On a side note, Giant remained Warner Bros.' highest grossing film until 1978, and was recently re-released for the big screen. Look for the new video version, a restored print complete with footage from the making of Giant and the film's New York premiere. -- Jen Scoville


Trainspotting

D: Danny Boyle; with Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald.
VHS Home Video

The fact that Bob Dole denounced this movie is almost reason enough to rent Trainspotting, and it doesn't surprise me in the least that this surreal, metaphor-filled picture about the terror of heroin addiction was lost on the wizened ex-candidate. Director Boyle, who proved himself a virtuoso at working with the camera in 1995's Shallow Grave, took the craft of jarring cinema to a new level with this follow-up, the biggest hype of 1996, complete with its own trendy advertising campaign. The film's title refers to a popular British hobby -- sitting by the railroad tracks while counting trains and collecting other useless railway information. In following Trainspotting's motley crew of characters, an attempt to romanticize the druggie lifestyle is nowhere on Boyle's agenda. Instead, McGregor's Renton leads us through the real war on drugs as experienced by the boys on the front line. Trainspotting is full of jolting visuals, quirky humor, and unfortunately some indecipherable dialogue, so stay near that rewind button.

-- Christopher Null


He Walked by Night

D: Alfred Werker; with Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Whit Bissell, Jack Webb.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th

This 1949 noir classic filmed in a documentary style is said to have been a precursor of the Dragnet radio and television series, and even includes a baby-faced Jack Webb as a police lab technician. One-dimensional characters and dry storytelling sans soundtrack do not detract from this film's appeal, but instead serve to draw the suspense closer to the surface, a suspense resulting, in part, from the uncredited direction of Anthony Mann, whose eclectic filmography spans several genres and includes noir classics such as T-Men as well as Westerns and grand epics such as 1961's El Cid. There is nothing left wanting, however, in the rich vision of legendary noir cinematographer John Alton. The shadowy life of cop-killer and crafty thief Ray Morgan (Richard Basehart) meets its sorry end lit by the beams of police flashlights in the cavernous dark of a Los Angeles sewer. Framed by Alton, this flat, hard-boiled narrative is luminous with glamour. -- Kayte VanScoy


Denise Calls Up

D: Hal Salwen; with Alanna Ubach, Timothy Daly, Caroleen Feeney, Dan Gunther, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Liev Schreiber, Aida Turturro, Sylvia Miles.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video,
609 W. 29th

Seven friends, seven phones, and six degrees of separation are the crux of this silly tale about adults so modern and so urban that they never actually meet in person, but only communicate electronically. They court each other, comfort each other, and experience both the miracle of birth and the tragedy of violent death over the telephone. It is an unlikely precept and strains to stretch itself out over the course of the short movie, but it also hits home. Watching these poor souls experience life through their laptops, cellulars, and fax machines will depress you enough to send you rushing out to embrace the first real person you meet just to affirm that, yes, you are human. Denise Calls Up is like one of those urban myths you don't believe but will love retelling. -- Kayte VanScoy


Destruction Derby 2

for Sony PlayStation
Psygnosis

This game is two things. Beautiful and ridiculously difficult. British-based Psygnosis has recently produced sequels to their early PlayStation hits Wipeout and Destruction Derby. Some critics complained that Wipeout XL was far too easy, but no one will make similar protestations about Destruction Derby 2, which is hard enough to drive the average gamer to toss his controller across the room. The graphics and sound are fabulous, although a rear-view mirror would have been nice, and the many tracks offer a pleasing variety for any fan of driving games. But no prospective buyer should expect to pick this up and master it quickly. Still, it's a great, rambunctious ride for those who can enjoy vehicular mayhem without the need to finish at the head of the pack. -- Bud Simons

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