Armchair Cinephile

Have a home-vid-y little Christmas

I'm a firm - tyrannical, even - believer in the "no Christmas spirit before Thanksgiving" standard, despite the fact that I come from staunch Yule-lovin' stock. Now that the season is official, though, I couldn't be happier at the arrival on disc of Elf (New Line), which is already looking like a new seasonal must-view.

Who knows if it will be a favorite forever. My wife might give me the cold shoulder for saying this, but it's possible that Will Ferrell will have a limited shelf life. Certain great comedians are forgotten by the next generation while others are treasured for decades. (Still others, like Buster Keaton, have a genius that survives bouts of obscurity, waiting stoically for the next resurgence of popularity.)

But for now, Ferrell is a king, one of the funniest people alive, and Elf captures the most charming side of his personality: the wide-eyed delight in things the rest of us take for granted. Maple syrup on spaghetti, for instance.

Elf holds up quite well one year after its theatrical run. It plays better, in fact, than one might guess. The more routine holiday-movie plot points that crop up at the story's end float by effortlessly, sweet but not overblown. And what was special the first time has already come to feel classic.

New Line's disc looks like it benefited from a lot of well deserved TLC, right down to the menu screens, which take the form of a pop-up storybook. It has the expected behind-the-scenes stuff, audio commentary, and deleted scenes, in addition to DVD-ROM goodies and kids' games. Best of all, the picture will be bright and shiny even after innumerable family-room playings.

Elf will have to fight for space, of course, with A Christmas Story, which got the deluxe-edition treatment last year. The immortal dad from that movie, the cantankerous but charming Darren McGavin, never became a movie star, but he's the focus of a new (non-holiday) video release: The Night Stalker / The Night Strangler (MGM) is a double feature (on one disc) in which he plays a tenacious newspaperman with a tendency to stumble across dead bodies. Stalker was made for TV and looks it; it has the mechanical pacing and bland lighting of a television movie. But over the years, this oddball feature has attracted a small cult following. It begins like a predictable crime tale, but takes a strange turn: The serial killer McGavin is tracking appears to be a vampire.

Getting back to Christmas, a new BBC release milks the holiday's bittersweet side for pathos and uncomfortable laughter: The two seasons of The Office have already been released on disc, but a new box set packages those with the one-time special that was made after the series ended to keep fans happy. The special is set at Christmastime, after the ridiculously unflappable David Brent has left the workplace and been replaced by that scrawny guy with military aspirations. Brent is a little infamous, since the first documentary was apparently a minor hit on TV, and now he's trying a dating service. His blind phone calls and awkward first dates are, if possible, even more funny than the workplace scenarios of the original show.

Miscellaneous tangent: Has anyone noticed how similar the They Might Be Giants-penned theme (the rocking part, not the faux-pompous strings thing) to The Daily Show is to the one played by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet for The Kids in the Hall (A&E)? I'm not shouting "rip-off!" but the songs are close enough that they'd make a great internet mash-up. If you don't believe me, check out the Kids' second season, which was just released and features some of the troupe's most memorable bits, from one-off's like the drunken Dad who keeps threatening to kill his son in his sleep to the best appearance of Buddy, Scott Thompson's bar queen.

John DeFore on DVD

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