December 9, 2009

Holiday Home Video Bonanza

This week: It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Tale, Gremlins, Holiday Fireplace(?) & Gift Sets(!)

Ho-Ho Holiday Highlights

It’s a Wonderful Life (Paramount) Merry Christmas, Blu-ray! Frank Capra’s definitive holiday classic arrives in high-def and in living colourization. But only a stupid, silly old fool would fall for visual gimmickry over monochrome, looking crisper than it ever could on basic cable, where it’ll invariably be playing regularly until the 25th. Extras: colourized and black-and-white versions, very nice 22-minute making-of, trailer.

A Christmas Tale (Criterion) Taking cues from Bergman, Truffaut and Wes Anderson, Arnaud Desplechin’s latest, arguably greatest, cine-novel comes highly recommended as our belated holiday highbrow-light. Criterion’s petite but precious extras, including Desplechin’s 2007 doc about the sale of his family home (a motivator for the film) and a dense 35 minutes of interviews with the director and actors Mathieu Amalric and Catherine Deneuve, rank among the year’s finest. Same goes for the high-def version’s vibrant transfer, which will light up your living room better than a Christmas tree. 

Gremlins (Warner) Perhaps it’s not everyone’s ultimate Christmas flick, but it’s a personal pick, and it no doubt deserves requisite annual viewing. Twenty-five years later (whoa!) we still want a Bathroom Buddy, and if you think that’s meant in creepy way, you definitely need to revisit Joe Dante’s bestest ever, now available in Blu. Dare to watch it with a midnight snack. Extras: commentaries, behind-the-scenes, deleted scenes, trailers.

Holiday Fireplace (E1) Impress the ladies by spinning this scorching screensaver... but skip the elevator tunes that accompany it in favour of smooth R&B. Extras: alternate angle (oh no they di'int), dozens of sub-department store holiday instrumentals.

Give the Gift of Gift Sets

Gone With the Wind / The Wizard of Oz (Warner) Frankly, you should give a damn about two of this year’s snazziest gift sets, available separately in pricey, flawlessly packaged and restored 70th anniversary high-def limited editions. This isn’t the first time these Warner classics have seen fancy releases, but Blu-thusiasts are urged to double dip. Neither flying monkeys nor the US Civil War has ever looked this breathtaking. Gift set extras: massive commemorative books, lobby cards, more top-shelf swag. Blu-ray extras: film historian commentaries, docs galore, featurettes old and new, screen tests, more.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Ultimate Gift Set (Warner) Pay respect to the late John Hughes (who served as writer and co-producer) by picking up this year’s guiltiest pleasure. The 1989 movie is a lovable dud, but Randy Quaid’s cousin Ed is still commendably odd 20 years later. Gift set extras: collectable tin, Santa cap, drink coasters, Griswold button, instant snow powder. (Blu exclusive: puny, plastic moose mug.) Extras: commentary, trailer.

Coraline Gift Set (Alliance) This year’s second-best stop-motion masterpiece (after Fantastic Mr. Fox) gets repackaged in a Santa-worthy, limited-edition gift set with a choice of standard or eyegasmic high-def. The disc content is identical to last summer’s DVD release, so no need to upgrade for a couple nifty trinkets. But if you don’t own this (and you should), here’s another way to do so. Gift set extras: purdy hardbound book and postcards. Extras: four pairs of 3D glasses (home-video 3D still ain’t there yet), commentary, making-of, featurettes, deleted scenes. Blu-ray extra extras: picture-in-picture behind-the-scenes stuff, tours and voice sessions.

Michel Gondry 2: More Videos Before & After DVD 1 (101 Distribution) Not exactly a gift set, but a sweet compilation of Gondry’s ├╝ber-visionary music videos and shorts, along with other silliness, behind-the-scenes stuff and Steven Seagal. If you bought his previous set of collected works (on the Directors Label series), you should have no qualms grabbing this as well. Brilliant from top to bottom, the time-consuming-but-totally-worth-it menus play like a psychedelic Atari game — if that doesn’t sell this I don’t know what will. Extras: see the entire disc.

Tarantino: The Ultimate Collection (Alliance) Filmgoers can prepare for next week’s release of Inglourious Basterds by spinning one movie a day from QT’s six-film catalogue. From Reservoir Dogs to Death Proof, it’s all here. And isn’t it time you revisited the awesome and underrated Jackie Brown? Gift set extras: photo album keepcase, Hattori Hanzo–crafted miniature plastic sword. Extras: pfft.