Armchair Cinephile

The countdown begins

Okay: It's something like an hour and a half until somebody's expecting a present from you. You're reading this, which normally would be classified a procrastination technique. Fortunately, your movie-lovin' pal has some last-minute gift ideas for the cinemaniacs on your list, particularly the hardcore film historians.

Everyone knows that a DVD fan's favorite initials are CC. Fans of the Criterion Collection who already have their fantastic new John Cassavetes: Five Films would be delighted to get Great Adaptations, which gathers four titles from Criterion's catalog that tackle well-known novels. Two (Oliver Twist, Great Expectations) are from the erstwhile David Lean, while Lord of the Flies and The Most Dangerous Game lean to the racier end of the spectrum; all are well worth seeing.

Staying with adaptations, Shakespeare lovers know that the BBC undertook the grand task of committing all his plays to video in excellent productions starring everyone from John Gielgud to John Cleese. Ambrose Video has issued DVDs of the whole run, and while the box of all 27 is quite pricey, three smaller BBC Shakespeare sets (Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories) contain five plays each for a bearable $150. If you can't find 'em locally, try

One more adaptation and we'll call it quits: You can't get much better in this department than Peter Jackson's Ring films, and the Return of the King: Expanded Edition is a geek's best friend, adding a whopping 50 minutes to the film and bringing Christopher Lee's Saruman back for a final showdown. As anyone who's seen the previous Extended Editions can verify, the material Jackson adds is not fluff; it truly enriches the storytelling.

Also on the epic adventure front: The Cary Grant/Douglas Fairbanks Jr. yarn Gunga Din is the headliner, alongside the Irene Dunne family saga I Remember Mama, of a new batch of George Stevens titles from Warner Brothers. The other two, D-Day to Berlin and A Filmmaker's Journey, are documentaries, one compiling Stevens' wartime footage (in color!) and one an overview of his work.

Warner also offers The Buster Keaton Collection, a snapshot of the brilliant comic's uncomfortable segue into the world of talkies. As much as the movies themselves, fans will be eager to see the documentary So Funny It Hurt, which chronicles some of the hardships the Great Stone Face met when the silent era ended.

Students of the pre-talkie era will drool over the F.W. Murnau Collection that Kino issued earlier this year. Bundling his big hit Nosferatu with more obscure titles such as Tabu and Tartuffe, it fills in some gaps in the filmography of one of the giants of film's early years. The Last Laugh isn't as well known as Murnau's vampire movie, but some consider it his finest film.

On a happier note, the Mouse House has come through with their latest batch of Walt Disney Treasures, focusing on Pluto, Mickey, and The Mickey Mouse Show respectively. These are the créme de la Disney, and are guaranteed to please cartoon lovers. Meanwhile, Mary Poppins is one of the studio's most enduring live-action features, and makes nice holiday viewing to boot.

And for those on your list who just want a good laugh, the Shout Factory label has two off-the-beaten-path options: SCTV Volume 2 continues their reissue of one of the weirdest sketch shows ever to take the airwaves hostage (again, I recommend watching this slightly drunk around 2 a.m., to best appreciate its alternate-reality flavor); and Rodney Dangerfield: No Respect! is a timely tribute to a comedian who, all joking aside, was a lot funnier than some folks will admit. No Respect gathers together network and cable TV specials and previously unseen footage from the late comic's personal stash.

Now stop reading and hotfoot it to the video store - these things aren't going to buy themselves!

By John DeFore

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