Enough with the woodland creatures, it’s time for Criterion and TV bests

Somebody has to say it, so I will: nobody cares about sweaters with deers and shit, OK? Mom, auntie, whoever you are: if you’re reading this, there’s a reason all the neighborhood windows glow blue at night (and it’s not the Christmas lights) — they’re getting off on someone else’s drama! So do us all a favor and, instead of wasting your time knitting another silly outfit, buy someone a movie or a TV series that keeps a masterful narrative in circulation. ‘Cuz, honestly, those sweaters you’re putting out don’t even get picked up again on Goodwill’s racks. We’ve gone back to check. It’s a one-way trip to the landfill. Just think about it. — Enrique Lopetegui


For armchair cinephiles

John Cassavetes: Five Films
(The Criterion Collection) $124.95

Long, extreme close-ups while the action is happening elsewhere; whimsical in-and-out focus; plenty of improvisation; realistic, depressing depictions of minds disintegrating… These are some of the qualities that exasperated critics and turned Cassavetes (1929-1989) into box-office poison. But if you are able to endure this genius at work, you’ll understand why he’s widely regarded as the father of American independent cinema, with people like Martin Scorsese calling him “my mentor.” This box includes Shadows, Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and Opening Night, in the way Cassavetes’ widow and star Gena Rowlands wants you to see it (a similar box subsequently released in the UK claims to have Shadows’ “original” print, which Rowlands views as simply an unfinished version that “was never meant to be screened”). On December 9, Cassavetes would’ve been 82 years old. Time proved him right, and this box should be given to filmmakers who dare to be original or pride themselves in defying the system. “The most difficult thing in the world is to reveal yourself, to express what you have to,” Cassavetes once said. His films accomplish that. Precisely. — EL




For the ultimate Stan fan

Stanley Kubrick: Limited Edition Collection
(Blu-ray) $148.99

Which is Kubrick’s masterpiece? When your filmography includes 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, and Dr. Strangelove (with The Shining considered a “minor” chapter in your career), it’s hard to pick one. The solution: get them all, or as many as you can. This set includes Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut. I would throw in The Killing, even if you have to buy it separately, but this box should be enough to turn anyone into a believer. Indispensable tip: Texas Public Radio will show A Clockwork Orange at the Bijou on Thursday, January 26, as part of the citywide Beethoven Festival. If you’re into Beethoven and ultra violence and your partner won’t take you to see it, tell her she is a “naughty, naughty, naughty filthy old soomka.” — EL





For that one friend who smugly refuses to own a TV

Mad Men Season 4 / Breaking Bad Season 3
(Blu-ray) $39.95

I used to be one of those “I don’t have a TV” people. You know the kind — they don’t have TVs but they religiously devour each new Parks and Rec episode on Hulu or stream Arrested Development on Netflix for background noise. (Bandwidth, shmandwidth.) But one show converted me into just another massive-LED-owning, Blu-ray hoarding zombie: AMC’s Mad Men.

Mad Men is a show that demands to be seen in high-def, where its lush production value and fascinating characters can be obsessed over in detail. The fourth stellar season takes conflicted 1960s adman Don Draper (Jon Hamm) to unfamiliar territory — new firm, new single-dad status, new conquests — but even as the narrative twists and turns, the show’s devotion to its extremely well-drawn characters never falters. (Speaking of devotion: Christina Hendricks. ’Nuff said.)

While waiting for Mad Men’s fifth season (coming March 2012), I finally took on AMC’s other critical darling: quirky crime saga Breaking Bad. One hit and I was totally, hopelessly addicted. Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Walter White, a nerdy high school chemistry teacher turned ruthless drug dealer, is scarily brilliant. Season three finds the perfect balance of complex character work and “holy-shit-what-just-happened” moments and is only surpassed by season four (which isn’t on DVD yet). I’ve never seen a more expertly plotted, endlessly surprising television series. Binge-watching encouraged. — Chuck Kerr



For bad motherfuckers

Pulp Fiction/Jackie Brown
(Blu-ray), $19.99 each

It’s your lucky day, sugar. The underrated Jackie Brown and the acclaimed Pulp Fiction are now available on Blu-ray. Enough has been said about Fiction, but give Jackie another chance. — EL







For tying the room together

The Big Lebowski
(Limited Edition Blu-ray) $29.98

Newly remastered with a 28-page book and an interview with Jeff Dowd, the former member of the Seattle Seven and the man Jeff Bridges’ “Dude” was inspired by. Of course, instead of buying this and enjoying it at home you could “bowl, drive around,” or have “the occasional acid flashback.” C’mon, dude, get it. To do otherwise would be “so un-Dude.” — EL






For regenerating Time Lords

Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series
(6-disc set) $79.98 (DVD) $89.98 (Blu-ray)

Simply put, Doctor Who (the BBC Sci-Fi series that began in 1963) is the longest-running and most successful sci-fi series of all time. I could tell you the plot (a humanoid alien who fixes problems traveling through time in a phone booth-looking ship called TARDIS), but this is something to be seen, and several times, too. Now, the magic of DVD allows you to do just that — here’s the second series to star Matt Smith as the 11th incarnation of the Doctor. If you don’t get hooked after watching the first episode (appropriately titled “A Christmas Carol,” but, believe me, not the kind of Christmas carol you’re thinking of), there is no hope for you. This is a smartly written, well-acted, unpredictable, and highly entertaining trip. — EL

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