DVDs For The Holidays


When the holidays come around each year everyone gets frantic looking for the right gift for that certain someone.  With the economy in shambles, entertainment is one gift that keeps giving throughout the year.  Consider a dvd that the recipient will enjoying watching multiple times alone or with families and friends.

John Wayne Bigger Than Life (Synergy Entertainment) – The Duke, considered a relic today by some deserves to have his career revisited.  This box set clocking in at over 7 hours has a host of treasures for the fan.  Included are John Wayne: Bigger Than Life (1990), The American West Of John Ford (1971), the long unseen controversial pro-Vietnam War ‘documentary’ No Substitute For Victory (1970), The Western (1958) originally seen on NBC and the lusty western comedy McLintock! (1963) which features Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers and Yvonne DeCarlo.  Special extra treats include three rare tv appearances from Wayne, People Are Funny (1968) with Art Linklater, The Colgate Comedy Hour (1953) and The Lucy Show (1966) where star-struck fan Lucille Ball ruins every take of a western scene the Duke is shooting.

For the silent comedy buff, Kino has released a fantastic 3-disc set Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923 a complete collection of all 19 of Keaton’s solo silent comedies remastered in HD from 35mm archival film elements.  Disc One features The ‘High Sign’, One Week, Convict 13, The Scarecrow, Neighbors, The Haunted House and Hard Luck.  Disc Two features The Goat, The Play House, The Boat, The Paleface, Cops and My Wife’s Relations.  Disc Three features The Blacksmith, The Frozen North, Day Dreams, The Electric House, The Balloonatic and The Love Nest.  The box set also includes loads of extras with the Carter DeHaven gag film Character Studies being a must see for those unfamiliar with it.

The Sophia Loren Award Collection (Lorber Films) is a guaranteed pleaser for all fans of one of Italy’s biggest exports and at the same times admirers of the master Vittorio DeSica who directed (or co-directed) all of the features in this box set and Ms. Loren’s regular co-star Marcello Mastroianni.  Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 1965 Academy Awards, has included with it the 2009 documentary Vittorio D. about DeSica.  The hilarious comedy Marriage Italian Style and Sunflower are also included.  The anthology film Boccaccio ’70 which features Ms. Loren along with Anita Ekberg and Romy Schneider was co-directed by Vittorio DeSica, Federico Fellini, Mario Monicelli (a great director not as well known in the US anymore) and Luchino Visconti is the one film in the collection most people may not be familiar with.

Foreign film devotees will definitely enjoy the Kim Ki-Duk’s Golden Palm nominee from Cannes Breath (Palisades Tartan), which is an emotional tour de force from South Korea’s leading auteur (The Isle, 3-Iron).  Nominally about a prisoner on death row falling in love with a woman drawn to his plight, Ki-Duk utilizes the changing colors of the season to heat up restrained passions until…

Genre fans are in for a treat with Oscilloscope Laboratories release of the Finnish horror film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale about Evil Santa which won prizes for Best Film and Best Director at Sitges.  For fans of truly bad films, the Blu-Ray extra is the cult classic Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964), the film that foisted Pia Zadora on the general public.

ESPN Films: 30 For 30 Limited Edition Collector Set – The acclaimed 12 disc (6 discs on Blu-ray) documentary series of the greatest and most controversial moments in sports history.  Among the many directors who contributed are Albert Maysles, Peter Berg, Barry Levinson, John Singleton and Barbara Kopple.   (Team Marketing)

Harry Potter fans rejoice.  Although I hated the first one and never bothered watching the following seven, it may be time to do a marathon weekend with this Warner Home Video release Harry Potter: The Complete Collection Years 1-7.  For those who loved the series, the box set is a must for the holiday stocking.

Ingmar Bergman is back, this time with the Fanny & Alexander Box Set released in HD by Criterion Collection.  Here you get both the 188-minute theatrical version and the 320-minute tv version.

West Side Story 50th Anniversary remastered in high definition will be treasured by fans of Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents.  Robert Wise who co-directed the feature adaptation with Robbins also deserves kudos.  Thanks MGM for this spectacular 4 disc set.

The Boys are back in town.  Vivendi/RHI Entertainment has released Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection in the best quality seen in decades.  All of the short films and most of the features made for Hal Roach Studios are here for the entire family to enjoy, from the grandparents to the grandkids.

Cop show lovers unite.  Shout! Factory has released Barney Miller: The Complete Series.  The 25-disc set includes all eight seasons along with Season 1 of the Abe Vigoda spinoff “Fish”.

Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series from Universal is a 19 disc set of quality television in the time of trashy reality shows.  Adapted from the Peter Berg directed feature (and novel written by his cousin), this series was one of the best series on television for its five-year airing.  Congrats to NBC for giving FNL a decent run.

George Lucas is at it again with the release on Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episodes I-VI) revised and technologically updated.  (Fox Home Video)

A Christmas Carol: 60th Anniversary Diamond Edition featuring the loveable Alistair Sim is the best film adaptation of the Dickens classic ever (Rich Little’s CBC special is a close second).  The high definition transfer is joined with lots of extras including the 1939 Orson Welles radio adaption.  (VCI Entertainment)

Charles Bukowski: One Tough Mother from Monday Media is NOT for the faint-hearted.  For Bukowski bums you’ll be in heaven.  This 2 disc set includes uncut versions of Bukowski’s last two public readings, (he hated doing them and rarely did so), The Last Straw and There’s Gonna Be A God Damn Riot In Here!  The featurettes included are goldmines.  They include: Bukowski At The Huntington (the panel discussion upon the donation of his archives by his widow to the Huntington Library); About Bukowski: Born Into This; Love, Bukowski; The Vancouver Gang; The Vancouver Letters and Inscriptions Of A Dirty Old Man.  It’s a whopping 350 minutes of poetic debauchery.

The BBC mini-series adaptation of John LeCarre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy featuring Alec Guinness as George Smiley and a supporting cast of stellar Brit talent such as Ian Richardson, Michael Aldridge, Joss Ackland and Ian Bannen is now available in a 3 disc set clocking in at 324 minutes.  As an aside, try to find a copy of Reilly: Ace Of Spies starring Sam Neill for companion viewing.  (Acorn Video)

For that special cinephile, make sure to pick up The Complete Jean Vigo.  Unknown to many film buffs today, Vigo, who died of tuberculosis in 1934 at the age of 29, made four films that should be seen at least once, if not multiple times, annually.  A Propos de Nice is a fake travelogue that is both political and satirical was shot with a hidden camera in addition to staged enactments.  His short about a French swimming champion, Taris, was quite innovative for the time.  His 44-minute fiction film Zero de Conduite was a major influence on Lindsay Anderson’s …If and was itself banned for 20 years.  I consider it the grandfather of Youth In Revolt cinema.  Vigo’s proper feature L’Atlante starring Michel Simon shows the genius the world lost upon his death.  (Criterion Collection)

Planet Earth: Six-Disc Limited Collector’s Edition is stunningly beautiful as our home planet rightfully is (until such time as man completely destroys it).  The BBC pulled out all stops here with the Blu-ray release, packing it into a globe with a run of 50,000.  (BBC Worldwide)

The Robert Wagner tv series It Takes A Thief finally comes to dvd in an 18 disc set of all 66 episodes clocking in at a whopping 3,366 minutes.  For women of a certain age, Wagner is a god on the level of Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Warren Beatty.  Be forewarned that a number of reviewers have complained about the uneven transfer quality.  (Entertainment One)

Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition – For those who loved the books and made the Swedish films a box office smash, you will be in for a pleasant surprise as the Salander saga is reformatted for the small screen with the three features re-edited into six episodes as show on Swedish tv as a mini-series.  The first in the series, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is slightly tweaked as a two-parter which some say is superior to the feature version.  The second and third films, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest are extended drastically, Fire by 55 minutes and Hornets Nest by 39 minutes.  The best part of all the additional footage is the secondary character (and best cast of the series) Erika Berger gets more screen time.  It’s 540 minutes on 4 discs.  (Music Box Films)

That’s it for this holiday season.  I’ve included a dvd stocking stuffer for the 8 Days of Hanukkah and the 12 Days of Christmas.