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Gift Guide: Video

by Shawn Stone on December 6, 2012

 

First, before we get into the really super stuff for the cinephile in your life, a consumer alert: The retail chains are offering some insane price reductions this holiday season. Wander through Best Buy, and you might spot The Coen Brothers Collection (20th Century Fox), which includes Blood Simple, Rasing Arizona, Miller’s Crossing and Fargo, on Blu-ray for $19.99. Or, pop into FYE and you might find the 10-film Clint Eastwood Collection (Warner Home Video) on Blu for $49.99. You may not in fact find these particular deals, as they may disappear before you get to the mall. However, it’s a good bet that there will be other equally tasty, deep-discounted titles on Blu-ray or DVD served up between now and Christmas.

Now, for the megasets. These are big ticket items you buy for someone really special. In celebration of a half-century of slick spy capers, MGM is offering Bond 50: The Complete 22 Film Collection. The gang’s all here: Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan and Craig. The films themselves range from the sublime (Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice) to the ridiculous (Moonraker), but it’s a fascinating trip through evolving cinematic styles and social mores—not to mention wars both hot and cold.

The old line about the world ending not with a bang, but with a whimper certainly applies to Christopher Nolan’s Batman triptych. Despite having an electric performance by Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, The Dark Knight Rises was a disappointment. Still, there are plenty of folks who would be delighted to receive The Dark Knight Trilogy (Warner Home Video) as a gift set.

Kino Lorber has been reissuing, piecemeal, its Buster Keaton catalog on Blu-ray over the last couple of years; now you can buy the whole damn thing in one package as The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection. It includes the multi-disc short films sets and all the feature films (before Keaton became indentured to MGM), including the underrated College, which is exclusive to the set until next year. This is essential American comedy.

Last (and probably least), the complete collection of the 1970s syndicated TV show In Search Of . . . (Visual Entertainment) is available in a 19-disc, 142-episode set. If you’re under 45 years old, you’re probably wondering what that hell In Search Of . . . was. Well, it was a half-hour show hosted (and occasionally directed by) Leonard Nimoy that investigated UFOs, the paranormal, ancient gods and Bigfoot. Think of it as a toned-down version of that great radio show Coast to Coast AM; if you know someone who loves the fanciful, this is for them.

This year, Olive Films issued a slew of deep-catalog Paramount and Republic Pictures titles on Blu-ray and DVD. The best of these included Don Siegel’s original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which remains powerful, exciting sci-fi—and looks terrific in this transfer. Orson Welles’ Scottish-accented version of Macbeth doesn’t look as wonderful (owing to poor surviving source materials), but this low-budget wonder is brooding and engrossing nonetheless. Cowritten by Ruby Dee, Jules Dassin’s Uptight is a lost treasure. This 1968 remake of The Informer replaces the original IRA context and Dublin setting with a Black Panther-style organization in Cleveland right after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. It’s vibrant, fast-paced, and unsentimental. And then there’s Elaine May’s loopy comedy A New Leaf, with Walter Matthau priceless as a rich twit who loses his fortune and is forced to marry money.

I’ve chronicled a number of Universal’s 100th Anniversary restorations on Blu-ray in the regular video section; a few more worthy titles include the classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, James Stewart (and his invisible rabbit pal) in Harvey, and very impressive restoration of one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest, Jaws.

Recent manufactured-on-demand highlights from the Warner Archive collection include Perry Mason Mysteries: The Original Warner Bros. Movies Collection, which presents a significantly more colorful legal ace than the TV show ever did, and a reissue of John Boorman’s melancholic and surprisingly thoughtful Dave Clark Five romp, Having a Wild Weekend.

Boutique label Twilight Time, which distributes online only through Screen Archives Entertainment, offered up a selection of titles this year almost as varied as those from Olive Films. (Twilight Time licenses its titles from Sony and Fox, primarily.) Jean Renoir’s Southern gothic Swamp Water and Fritz Lang’s noir masterpiece The Big Heat shimmer in all their original black-and-white glory; Blake Edwards’ collegiate romp High Time, which offers a middle-age Bing Crosby alongside the likes of Tuesday Weld and Fabian, is a Color by Deluxe/CinemaScope trifle that has worn extremely well.

A number of films have recently received very nice Blu-ray upgrades; these include Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (Criterion), Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can (Paramount), Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (Criterion) and Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend (Criterion).

Over on the TV front, the first season of Lena Dunham’s acclaimed Girls (HBO) and The Simpsons: The Complete 15th Season (20 Century Fox) are hot off the presses.

Finally, here are some last-minute releases for you last-minute shoppers: Seth MacFarland’s alternately sentimental and obscene comedy hit Ted (Universal); William Friedkin’s consistently obscene trailer-park drama Killer Joe (Lionsgate); and the better-than-Glee musical Pitch Perfect (Universal). In the last week before Christmas, Warner Home Video will release the first of its newly licensed Samuel Goldwyn titles, the Danny Kaye musical Hans Christian Anderson (Warner Home Video), and 20th Century Fox will issue a Blu-ray edition of the taught World War II spy drama The Man Who Never Was (20th Century Fox).

 

 

Edited to correct the dumb error that asserted a 1960 20th Century-Fox release would be in Technicolor rather than Color by Deluxe.