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Armchair Cinephile



Ho, Ho, Home Video!

W ithout unnecessary ado, a quick roundup of the gifts sure to elicit giddiness from your cinemaniac friends and family:

Geek love: That's what will wash over you, should your fanboy friends unwrap a package of The Alien Quadrilogy (Fox) with your name on it. This is an unprecedented level of attention for any movie series: Each of the series' four films is presented in its restored original version and in an expanded one, and each has a bonus disc full of features that would take more than a working week to absorb. The Adventures of Indiana Jones (Paramount), on the other hand, is so confident in the original films (justifiably, for the first and third) that no tinkering has been done. (The Extended Edition of The Two Towers, a must for any fanboy and many civilians, has already been covered in this column.)

Beat crazy: Love, love me do. Of the 9 million pieces of documentation surrounding the Beatles, surely few are more valuable than The Beatles Anthology (Apple/Capitol). Over 11 hours of programming compile obscure newsreel footage, tons of complete performances of songs, and contemporary interviews with the bandmates, assembling a chronological account of the life of the world's greatest pop band. A nice touch: no meddlesome narrator to get between us and the raw material.

Shaken, not stirred: His adventures may provoke much eye-rolling, but there is something enduring about Her Majesty's most valued spy. MGM has recently re-released three volumes of its James Bond 007 DVD Collection, containing every movie starring the spy who loved you. See Bond evolve from serious and cool, to silly, to serious and uncool, to the, well, meta-cool of his current incarnation.

Elementary: Fighting crime on a smaller scale, Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous sleuth has also seen his share of cinematic incarnations. MPI Home Video's The Sherlock Holmes Collection, which is now up to its second volume, focuses on the most righteous: Basil Rathbone, who had played such wonderful villains up until then, became an updated Holmes in films that pitted him against Nazis, spider women, and a "marsh monster." Despite the generic-looking packaging, these discs contain fine film restorations done by the UCLA film archive.

The Alien Quadrilogy, The Simpsons, Futurama, Vol. 2 (Fox)

The Adventures of Indiana Jones, Spongebob Squarepants (Paramount)

The Beatles Anthology (Apple/Capitol)

James Bond 007 DVD Collection (MGM)

The Sherlock Holmes Collection (MPI)

Dead or Alive Trilogy, American Film Theater (Kino)

A Film Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman (Criterion)

The Ben Stiller Show, The West Wing (Warner)
Japanese mayhem: Forget Godzilla - the scariest thing coming out of Japan these days is Takashi Miike, the insanely prolific director whose films range from brilliant to unwatchably goofy. (You direct 45 movies in a decade and try to make them all masterpieces.) Among his most famous are the Dead or Alive Trilogy (Kino), which start off as a crime saga and sprawl out into the sci-fi world. Astoundingly violent, often comically repulsive and taboo-testing, and so imaginative they defy categorization, Miike's movies are a taste sensation unlike any other.

Winter light: Chances are that the highfalutin arthouse snob in your life will go all weak in the knees over A Film Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman (Criterion), the four-DVD set containing the three films that marked his shift from allegorical tales to the "chamber dramas" that are now so identified with his name. The Criterion set includes a feature-length documentary, Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie, which probably needs little explanation. Also for the chin-stroking crowd, Kino just wrapped up its American Film Theater collection with a third box set.

Tube, sans boob: TV-on-DVD releases make for awfully easy gifts. What right-thinking individual wouldn't want to get The Simpsons (Fox) under the tree? Nobody, that's who - and since new seasons tend to come out around this time of year, hard-to-shop-for Homer fans can save their money and let loved ones know there's one sure-fire hit under the tree. For those naughty fans who couldn't wait and already bought their own, there is always the underrated Futurama, Vol. 2 to substitute. Still waiting to achieve Simpsons-level world dominance is Spongebob Squarepants (Paramount), which is more kiddie-oriented, and the brilliant The Ben Stiller Show (Warner), which was cancelled after 13 episodes but is ripe for a post-Mr. Show rediscovery. If comedy's not your bag, try the lefty fantasy of The West Wing (Warner), the first season of which finally appeared on disc.

Whew! Now off to the gift-wrapping … •

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