Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection
The oeuvre of kung fu master Bruce Lee has long been a nightmare for collectors, his slim filmography available mostly in shoddy transfers under a variety of titles, with countless “Bruceploitation” movies confusing the shelves for good measure. The good folks at Shout Factory stepped up with this deluxe box set, gathering remastered versions of four of his films (under their original titles), along with three documentaries, copious bonus features, and a beautifully illustrated companion book.
ESPN 30 for 30, Season 2 Vol. I; ESPN Films: Nine for IX
Your mileage may vary, but in my own experience, it seems that there’s not a lot of crossover between sports fans and movie geeks. You can’t pay me enough to watch a full game of football, for example — but I’ve never missed an episode of 30 for 30, ESPN’s riveting sports documentary series. The network has just released the first half of its second season on DVD, including such four-star episodes as Ghosts of Ole Miss, Benji, Broke, and Bernie & Ernie. They’ve also put out a collection for Nine for IX, their outstanding series about female athletes from female filmmakers, with excellent entries like Ava DuVernay’s Venus Vs., Alison Ellwood’s No Limits, and Heidi Ewin and Rachel Grady’s Branded.
Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman
The Criterion Collection is well known for its commitment to thorough extravagance, but even that reputation wasn’t preparation enough for their jaw-dropping new Zatoichi box set, which collects the twenty-five original films in the series (released between 1962 and 1973) on 27 discs (nine Blu-rays and 18 DVDs). Just out, it is the new must-have geek totem for genre fans.
If Zatoicihi’s $200 price tag is a bit too rich for your blood, fear not; Criterion also just released the definitive Blu-ray version of Robert Altman’s masterpiece, a busy, funny, and fascinating examination of popular music and the American ethos, released on the eve of the Bicentennial. Criterion, as usual, includes an impressive assortment of extras, such as archival Altman interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and a new, 72-minute documentary about the making of the film.
The Wes Anderson Collection
Plenty of superlatives have been hurled at Matt Zoller Seitz’s painstakingly detailed, thoughtfully written, and beautifully assembled survey of Anderson’s filmography to date. It deserves them all, and more; it’s both a gorgeously designed coffee-table volume (overflowing with still photos, production elements, and factoids) and a thoughtful analysis of Anderson’s distinctive style. Don’t go Kindle on this one; you’ll want to hold this monster in your hands, and at $24, it’s a steal.
Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses: Roger Corman, King of the B Movie
Like the Seitz book, Chris Nashaway’s celebration of exploitation movie king Roger Corman serves a dual function: it is a lavish collection of lobby cards, stills, and posters from his (literally) hundreds of movies, and also a hefty oral history of how he made them, with input from not only Corman but the all-star roster of future directors (Scorsese, Bogdanovich, Coppola) and actors (Nicholson, Dern, Stallone) who cut their teeth under his tutelage.
The Story of Film (book and DVD set)
When this UK miniseries quietly popped up on Netflix (after runs at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Museum of Modern Art), it quickly became a must-see for movie buffs; sure, we’d seen plenty of comprehensive film documentaries before, but nothing with the scope (15 episodes), worldwide breadth, and insight on display here. Director/narrator Mark Cousins makes unexpected connections and thrilling discoveries while surveying world cinema from its origins up to the present day, with an academic’s intelligence and a fan’s enthusiasm. It’s just finishing up its run on TCM, but the entire series is available on DVD, while Cousins’ 2004 book has been reissued as a companion volume.
Chain Saw Confidential: How We Made the World’s Most Notorious Horror Movie
The production of Tobe Hooper’s horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was such a fast-paced and low-rent affair that stories differ wildly about exactly how it was made (and the thick haze of marijuana smoke that it was shot through certainly doesn’t help). But if there’s one person whose memory seems trustworthy — or, at the very least, entertaining — it’s Gunnar Hansen, who donned the Leatherface mask and created one of the most terrifying boogeymen in all of filmdom. His detailed and entertaining account of the production is a no-brainer for the horror fan on your list.
“El Macondo Apartments” T-shirt
When Steven Soderbergh started the “threads” section of his Extension 765 website, the aim was deliciously geek-worthy: he wanted film-related T-shirts that weren’t of the obvious “You talkin’ to me?” and “The Dude abides!” ilk. So his shirts are delightfully obscure, from the “Sybil the Soothsayer” design (that was one of the fake shows in Network) to the “Pacific All Risk Insurance Company” logo tee (Fred MacMurray works for them in Double Indemnity) to even one that’s merely the license plate number for the heroin-filled car in The French Connection. But this Chinatown fan can’t resist this logo shirt for the El Macondo Apartments, where Jake Gittes spies on Hollis Mullwray — a fictional complex named after the town in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Double-obscure reference for the win!
The Star Wars fan is particularly hard to shop for, since there’s so much merch geared directly at them, and it’s hard to know what they’ve got. But here’s a gift that’s goofily ingenious yet totally practical: a bathrobe in the style of Vader’s evil Stormtroopers. And if that’s too easy (or, natch, they’ve already got one) Think Geek also offers, at a slightly higher price, the Boba Fett bathrobe.
BONUS #1: Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: The Complete Series
This one’s more for TV geeks, so it’s outside the list proper, but too interesting not to mention. For a year and half, between January 1976 and May 1977, super-producer Norman Lear tried a bold experiment: a soap opera parody that aired, as soap operas do, every single day (or, in most markets, late at night). As you could imagine, that would make DVD releases a bit of a challenge, but Shout Factory was up to it; their new full-series set collects all 325 episodes on a mind-boggling 36 discs, plus two discs of bonus features. And it gets even better: among those features are ten episodes of Fernwood 2-Night, the insanely brilliant, years ahead of its time talk-show parody spin-off, starring Martin Mull and Fred Willard. Sure, the $225 price tag is a little hefty, but it’s 135 hours of quality cult television. That’s take-time-off-work binge watching.
BONUS #2: Released: The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998
And maybe this one falls more into the music realm, but if it’s a big DVD release, I’ll push it anyway. This six-disc set collects the four Human Rights Concerts, mounted by Amnesty International to raise both funds and consciousness. The result is a remarkable collection of socially conscious rock, from all the usual suspects (Bruce, U2, The Police, Miles Davis, Radiohead, Lou Reed, Sinead O’Connor, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, Youssou N’Dour, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, and many more). The concerts are moving, the sound is outstanding, and bonus features are killer — a new documentary, new interviews, and tons of additional performances.