Holiday Gift Guide: Classic-film reissues
Whether you're looking to have 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' or clutch at 'A Fistful of Dollars,' you'll find priceless box sets for every taste.
The Coen Brothers Movie Collection ($49.99)
The last time a handful of titles by off-center filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen was pulled together, "The Big Lebowski" came bowling off the cover. This time it's a postcard from "Fargo," the dark, deep-frozen, and heavily accented effort that showcased Francis McDormand (now Joel's real-life wife) as a housefrau law-enforcement officer. Steve Buscemi plays a weasley guy – what else? – who has a date with a wood chipper (the Coens don't pull punches). Also here: the 1984 noir classic "Blood Simple" (the brothers' first collaboration), "Raising Arizona," "Miller's Crossing," and the acclaimed "Barton Fink," with John Turturro in the title role – and in a masterful interplay with John Goodman. Sure, you could make a case for subbing in some favorite or another – say, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" But watch any disc in this set for a clinic in ensemble acting and camera work.
Stanley Kubrick ($79.98)
The centerpiece of this collection is a feature-length documentary about the director who hit it big with "Spartacus" in 1960 and then applied his mastery of light and music to the mammoth works in this set: "2001," "The Shining," the violent and controversial "A Clockwork Orange," "Full Metal Jacket," and "Eyes Wide Shut." In the documentary – and in full discs of extras – commentary by such luminaries as Spielberg, Scorsese, and Pollack show how Kubrick probed the extreme edges of the zeitgeist, using modified cameras and dolly tracking to full effect. The slowly revolving spacecraft in "2001," backed by a Strauss waltz, still seems ahead of its time. As Martin Scorsese says, recalling his response to Kubrick's "Paths of Glory": "It was so honest it was shocking." That applies to the oeuvre.
The Sergio Leone Anthology ($89.98)
Enter gunslinger. Sergio Leone's movies were more than shoot 'em ups – they were large-scale matches of will, morally unambiguous battles between good and evil. Maybe that's why this DVD set, which includes the immortal "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly," and "A Fistful of Dollars," stands up so well. Who needs nuance when you've got one bad dude and one badder dude, staring down the barrels of a pair of pistols? "The Sergio Leone Anthology" isn't perfect – a few more extras would have been nice – but the restored colors and the sharp sound will have you diving behind the family couch. "Duck, You Sucker."
Blade Runner (Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition) ($78.98)
"Must get lonely here," Pris, a robot, intones in "Blade Runner," and we believe her. Ridley Scott's masterpiece presents a foreboding future, full of machine-men, machine-women, and a few who straddle the dark places in between. This "Ultimate Collector's Edition" is perfect for the real die-hards. Packaged into a silver plastic briefcase is an assortment of toys: key chains, holograms, and five DVDs, including a feature-length "making-of" called "Dangerous Days." The crown jewel, of course, is Ridley Scott's "final cut," rendered in vivid, glowing Technicolor. We won't give away any secrets, but suffice it to say, "Blade Runner" will never be viewed the same way again.
The Audrey Hepburn DVD Collection ($39.99)
This reasonably priced box collects five delightful Audrey Hepburn classics. In fact, at under $10 per DVD, it's a rare bargain! There is, of course, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961); the original "Sabrina" (1954), which pairs Hepburn with Humphrey Bogart; "Roman Holiday" (1953) with Gregory Peck; a 50th-anniversary edition "Funny Face" (1957), Hepburn's musical romp with Fred Astaire; and "Paris When It Sizzles" (1964). Fashioncentric bonus features include engaging commentary on Hepburn's iconic style and her enduring relationship with designer Givenchy.
Warner Home Video Shakespeare Collection ($59.98)
Kenneth Branagh is widely recognized as a contemporary Bard master, and his epic "Hamlet" (1996), which he directs and stars in along with Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, and Billy Crystal among others, is a lavish achievement. The film is boxed with three vintage editions: Max Reinhardt's interpretation of his own blowout Hollywood Bowl staging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935), starring Olivia de Havilland and James Cagney; Laurence Olivier's turn as "Othello" (1965) – in startling blackface; and a George Cukor- directed "Romeo and Juliet" (1936). There's no explanation of why these four films were chosen from the many fine classic and contemporary versions of each. But even their extras make for a telling time capsule of Tinseltown's Shakespeare through the decades.
• Written by Josh Burek, Clayton Collins, Gloria Goodale, Stephen Humphries, John Kehe, Brad Knickerbocker, Teresa Méndez, Matthew Shaer, and Yvonne Zipp.