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Holiday Gift Guide: Blu-ray/DVD

by Shawn Stone on December 12, 2013


The drought of catalog titles on home video ended this year, as the studios either started issuing their own editions again or licensed them to boutique labels. Some did both: Fox issued a lovely Blu-ray of John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, and licensed the director’s Drums Along the Mohawk (which hasn’t looked this good since 1939) to Twilight Time for a limited edition of 3,000 Blu-rays.

All discs listed here are available on Blu-ray and DVD, unless noted.

If you’re looking for quirky, try the 1966 sci-fi drama Fantastic Voyage (Fox), in which a team of doctors climb into a submarine, are miniaturized and injected into a scientist patient—to save the world. There’s no body horror here; just a showcase of beautiful, flashy design and efficient action (and Raquel Welch). One of the lesser appreciated efforts by the Coen brothers, The Hudsucker Proxy (Warner Archive, Blu-ray only) is a corporate screwball comedy starring Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Paul Newman. And speaking of Newman, Universal has happily issued a Blu-ray of his last collaboration with director George Roy Hill (The Sting), the profane and hilarious hockey comedy Slap Shot.

If you want to know why JFK was a great president, watch him (Bruce Greenwood), his brother Bobby (Steven Culp) and their aide (Kevin Costner) save the world from nuclear destruction in the true-life thriller Thirteen Days (Warner Home Video).

Betty Boop: The Essential Collection Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (Olive Films) are the first official releases of the Fleisher Studios’ irrepressible flapper, remastered in HD. The fluidity and invention of these cartoons remains astonishing—and they usually have something to offend everyone.

One of the most outlandish films of the 1970s gets the deluxe treatment: Robert Altman’s Nashville (Criterion) is presented in a new high-def transfer with a load of special features, including the director’s commentary from the old Paramount DVD. One of the most outlandish films ever made, D.W. Griffith’s sprawling Intolerance (Cohen Media Group)—which tells four stories in just under three hours, cutting back-and-forth between them—also gets the deluxe treatment. Most importantly, the restored image is beautiful. The multiple-disc package also includes the feature-length versions of two of the stories Griffith recut and released separately when the full version flopped (The Fall of Babylon and The Mother and the Law).

Just in time for the holidays, Warner Home Video has reissued The Bishop’s Wife, starring Cary Grant as an angel who takes too much of an interest in the title character, played by Loretta Young. Even more significant is the Blu-ray debut of Leo McCarey’s The Bells of St. Mary’s (Olive Films), an improbably compelling and entertaining comedy-drama about the battle of wits between a priest (Bing Crosby) and a nun (Ingrid Bergman) at a Catholic school.

Charlie Chaplin kept his mouth shut in his first sound comedy, City Lights (Criterion), in which the “little tramp” character is at his funniest—and most heartbreaking. Philip Kaufman’s wildly entertaining version of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (Warner Home Video) brings the optimism of NASA’s early years to life. And what a cast: Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Sam Shepard, Barbara Hershey, Fred Ward, Scott Glenn, Veronica Cartwright, Pamela Reed, Lance Henriksen, Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum.

If you’re looking for film noir, try Orson Welles as a Nazi hiding out in New England in The Stranger (Kino Lorber), or Joseph Lewis’ brutal The Big Combo (Olive), which pits an honest cop against a vicious mobster in a nightmarish world conjured up by cinematographer John Alton. If you want to see what noir looks like in Technicolor, there’s Twilight Time’s edition of Leave Her to Heaven (available only as a Blu-ray through Screen Archives Entertainment). Beautiful Gene Tierney is the femme fatale of your most treasured nightmare.

This season’s most outlandish TV show collection is Breaking Bad: The Complete Series (Sony). This comes in a miniature version of the black drum Walter White used to bury his loot, which I suppose is classier than the blue drum he favored for shipping meth or disposing corpses. In addition to the stack of Blu-ray discs or DVDs, you get a Los Pollos Hermanos apron, an exclusive making-of documentary, a series guide with a letter from creator Vince Gilligan and a collectible coin. That’s all fine, but I think a bag of blue candy made to look like Heisenberg crystal meth, or some artificial sweetener in a faux ricin vial would have been way cooler.

Comedy? Pick up the deluxe collection of the three Edgar Wright collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End (Universal). Fantasy? There’s the Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Edition (Disney). Comedy and fantasy? There’s Danny Kaye in the The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Warner Home Video, DVD only). Check out the latter before you plunk down the big bucks to see Ben Stiller’s remake.