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Screens Armchair Cinephile

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Boxed and boxless

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Is there some big religion I don't know about in which gifts are exchanged in May? I ask because recent weeks have seen the kind of uptick in boxed sets and the like that one usually associates with Christmas. Holiday or not, big-ticket items are making their way into stores.

For fans of Hollywood's golden years, the coolest of these new releases is Errol Flynn: The Signature Collection (Warner Bros.), which is just what it sounds like: the welcome arrival of a handful of films featuring a legendary but underrepresented-on-disc star. The emphasis is on swashbuckling, of course, with sword fights aplenty in The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood, but the set also shows Flynn playing General Custer, the Earl of Essex, and the sheriff of Dodge City. These being Warner reissues, they're loaded with fantastic extras appropriate to each film's year of release (and a bonus documentary about Flynn's colorful career).

Speaking of colorful, two boxes from Japan are racy enough they should carry warnings on their packaging (one does). The Hanzo the Razor trilogy (Home Vision) looks like your average samurai saga, and even stars Zatoichi himself, Shintaro Katsu. But this warrior is known less for his sword than for the blade in his pants. He's "dirtier than Harry and shaftier than Shaft," the packaging coos, in case you're not getting my drift.

Hanzo may lean toward some pornographic themes, but another Japanese series really should be in your rental store's roped-off "adult" area: A five-disc set titled Angel Guts (Artsmagic) is dedicated to combinations of gore and explicit sex that push boundaries in ways only the Japanese can. The movies, with titles such as High School Co-Ed and Red Porno, certainly achieve their shock-and-offend goals, but what I want to know is, who finds this titillating?

After viewing Angel Guts, it almost seems quaint how worked up people got when Six Feet Under premiered, with its singular mix of caustic wit, gallows humor, and frank sexuality. HBO is just about to release the third season on disc so fans can catch up before new episodes hit cable.

Andrzej Wajda fans will be happy to see the Criterion Collection turning their gaze in the Polish filmmaker's direction. Their latest box-set release is Three War Films, compiling the trio of war stories - A Generation, Kanal, and Ashes and Diamonds - with which he launched his career. These have been on disc for a while in stripped-down editions, but Criterion offers new high-definition transfers, scholarly commentary, new interviews, a 1951 short by Wajda, and assorted other goodies.

For pure pleasure, few new boxes can compete with the Ealing Studios Comedy Collection, Anchor Bay's new anthology of five titles by Britain's legendary studio. The company that made Alec Guinness a star is represented here by films such as Passport to Pimlico and A Run for Your Money, which are full of laughs and all the more lovable for their modesty and good-naturedness.

Not all the good collections are as finite as these. Home Vision is continuing their fine Merchant Ivory Collection, for instance, in which big-name titles such as Howards End are presented on equal footing with the largely unknown The Courtesans of Bombay. The series recently issued The Ballad of the Sad Café, which holds special interest here, as the filmmakers shot the Carson McCullers/Edward Albee adaptation in Central Texas (on property owned by Willie Nelson, in fact).

Some labels are also releasing series devoted to movies practically nobody has heard of (in America, anyway). TLA Releasing, a label better known for films aimed at gay audiences, has an ongoing "International Film Festival" series, which gathers together films that drew notice on the festival circuit but weren't picked up for wide theatrical distribution. Recent titles come from South Africa (The Wooden Camera), Denmark (In China They Eat Dogs), and France (No Rest for the Brave). Lots of companies will put out foreign films, but most aim for titles with built-in recognition in at least a niche market. Kudos to TLA for going out on a limb and finding these orphans welcoming homes.

By John DeFore


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