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'Little Wolf and Cub' | © Criterion Collection
'Little Wolf and Cub' | © Criterion Collection
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Home Video Stocking Stuffers For Serious Binge-Watchers

Picture of Graham Fuller
Film Editor
Updated: 25 November 2016
There are advantages to buying people gifts of Blu-ray and DVD box sets or extended single films. Binge-watching is a good way to spend a lot of time with relatives or to avoid them for long periods. Not that anyone should feel guilty about giving or receiving the titles on our “recommended” list.

TINSELTOWN TREATS

Cary Grant: The Vault Collection

The ideal gift for Grant completists, this collection devoted to the transplanted Englishman’s early Hollywood career consists of 18 films he made between 1932 and 1936.

As well as his debut This Is the Night, it includes five movies never officially released and several uncensored entries from the pre-Production Code era. The stand-outs are Grant’s game-changing romantic tutorials by Mae West (She Done Him Wrong, I’m no Angel) and Marlene Dietrich (Blonde Venus). DVD $34.90.

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Cary Grant in ‘Wings in the Dark’ (1935) | © Paramount Pictures

Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 1o

The latest addition to the long-running Turner Classic Movies Series features five more Pre-Code goodies (or should that be “baddies”?) from 1931-33: Guilty Hands, The Mouthpiece, The Match King, Secrets of the French Police, and Ever In My Heart.

The talent includes Barbara Stanwyck, Lili Damita, Lionel Barrymore, Kay Francis, Frank Morgan, and the invariably wicked Warren William, who stars in a pair. DVD $27.81.

© Warner Bros.
© Warner Bros.

Buster Keaton Shorts Collection: 1917-23

Keaton’s 32 extant shorts — the earliest of them made in New York — have been restored for this re-release packed with terrific extras. It’s fascinating to observe the evolution of Keaton’s Great Stone Face persona as he uses logic and instinct to overcome the kind of physical challenges that nowadays only the super-powered attempt. Blu-ray $39.09; DVD $34.99.

EURO-ESSENTIALS

The Jacques Rivette Collection

Spanning the new wave master’s 1971-81 work, this juggernaut for cineastes consists of his Balzacian 13-hour Out 1 “miniseries” — eight feature-length films involving two theater troupes, seduction, secret societies, and conspiracy. Also included is the short version Out 1: Spectre and the features Duelle, Noroît, and Merry-Go-Round. UK Region B Blu-ray import $154.99.

Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy

Rüdiger Vogler stars in the three road movies — Alice in the Cities (1974), Wrong Move (1975), and Kings of the Road (1976) — that established Wenders as the hippest of the New German Cinema directors and the one most influenced by American movies and music.

Hanna Schygulla and Nastassja Kinski grace Wrong Move, Wenders’ homage to the Romantic landscape paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, and the only one of these films shot in color. Blu-ray $55.33; DVD $55.99.

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‘Wrong Move’ | © Criterion Collection

Dekalog

Inspired by a 15th-century painting, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 10-hour opus, which centers on the occupants of a block of flats in 1980s Poland, brings a fresh moral perspective to each of the 10 Commandments. Blu-ray $68.44; DVD $68.49.

The Taviani Brothers Collection

The Tuscan filmmakers were at their 1977-84 peak when they made Padre Padrone, the story of a Sardinian shepherd bullied by his father; Kaos, comprising five Pirandello stories; and Night of the Shooting Stars, a nostalgic paean for villagers who resisted the Nazis in 1944. Blu-ray $34.99; DVD $29.29.

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© Cohen Media

BEAT THE BREXIT BLUES

Dissent & Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC (1969-89)

Since his death at 54 in 1990, Clarke has been recognized as a master. Harnessing the language and grammar of cinema, his urgent television dramas scourge patriarchal institutions and, no less than those of Ken Loach, empathize with the socially disenfranchised.

Clarke was especially attuned to the crises faced by youths and young adults, as evidenced by Penda’s Fen (a proto-Queer masterpiece steeped in English myths), Diane, Stars of the Roller State Disco, Christine, and Road, as well as the more famous Scum and The Firm.

Also among the 31 titles are Clarke’s searing Northern Ireland films Contact and the hugely influential short Elephant; their stripped-down narratives focus attention on the violence perpetrated during the Troubles.

Another highlight is Clarke’s stylized studio adaptation of Baal, Bertolt Brecht’s first play, which showcases David Bowie’s mordant portrayal of its cruel and self-destructive troubadour. Blu-ray $138.96.

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@ British Film Institute

WALL-TO-WALL KATNISS

The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection

Blu-ray $35.86; DVD $29.96.

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© Lionsgate Films

EAST ASIAN GLORIES

Hou Hsiao-hsien Early Works

Three formative early 198os films from the emergent Taiwanese master: Cute Girl; The Green, Green Grass of Home; and The Boys From Fengkuei. Dutch import requires a multi-region player in the US. DVD $44.99.

Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection

Meiko Kaji stars as the unbreakable torture victim and perennial prison escapee Nami in the Toei Company’s four-film exploitation series that began with 1972’s Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion. The restorations are packaged with tons of extras on eight discs. Blu-ray and DVD $87.20.

Lone Wolf and Cub

Criterion has stunningly restored the six “Sword of Vengeance” films based on Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s mangas about the revenge quest undertaken by Ogami Ittō, the disgraced Shogun executioner turned assassin, and his three-year-old son Daigorō. Blu-ray $78.49; DVD $84.99.

@ Criterion Collection
@ Criterion Collection

FANTASIES TO FEAST ON

Game of Thrones Seasons 1-6

Region-free UK import. Blu-ray $119.99; DVD $95.18

The Trilogía of Guillermo Del Toro

Criterion’s set features the Gothic horror maestro’s vampire film Cronos, the Spanish Civil War fable The Devil’s Backbone, and the Francoist-era phantasmagoria Pan’s Labyrinth. Blu-ray and DVD sets each $79.96.

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© Criterion Collection

Middle-earth Limited Collector’s Edition

The extended-edition Blu-rays of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies (technically, triptychs) cost a dragon’s fortune: $499.96. The package includes 30 discs and a Hobbit-fashioned bookshelf, but you’d think for that price they’d throw in a palantír or some mithril.

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© New Line Cinema

INDISPENSABLE AMERICANA

Pioneers of African-American Cinema

Kino Classics’ momentous Blu-ray compendium features 30 partial or complete “race” movies and other African-American subjects made between 1915 and 1946; four titles were omitted from the DVD.

Nine of these films were directed by black cinema’s trailblazing Oscar Micheaux, including 1920s Within Our Gates (the first picture known to have been directed by an African-American) and The Symbol of the Unconquered: A Story of the Ku Klux Klan. Each is a fearless response to D.W. Griffith’s notoriously racist Birth of a Nation; a flashback in Within Our Gates depicts a white mob lynching the parents of the community activist heroine (Evelyn Preer).

The extras include the film’s historian Pearl Bowser’s videotaped interview with the Cotton Club performers Ethel, Lucia, and Julia Moses. Ethel starred in four of Micheaux’s films and was dubbed “the black Jean Harlow”; Lucia starred in The Scar of Shame (1929), which deals with class prejudice among African-Americans.

By the time of Spencer Williams’s Dirty Gertie From Harlem USA (1946), starring Francine Everett as a Harlem singer beguiling GIs in the Caribbean, race films were becoming polished entertainments.

Of vital historical interest are Rev. S.S. Jones Home Movies (1924-28), filmed in rural Oklahoma, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Fieldwork Footage (1928), filmed on 16mm by the anthropology student and future novelist in Florida and Alabama. Blu-ray $51.26; DVD $42.08.

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Francine Everett in ‘Dirty Gertie From Harlem USA’ | © Kino Video

The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates

Drew was a pioneer of cinéma vérité whose documentaries on the Kennedys form a crucial part of the historical record. The release of Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, starring Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy at the time of her husband’s assassination, lends extra context to Drew’s JFK funeral film Faces of November. Blu-ray $22.49; $17.59.

@ Criterion Collection
@ Criterion Collection

FOR ‘NOEL’ PRIZE-WINNERS

No Direction Home

The digital re-release of Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary about Bob Dylan — this year’s Nobel Prize-winner for Literature — features enhanced sound and over two hours of extra material, mostly via extended scenes and interviews. Blu-ray $18.59; DVD $14.99.

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© Capitol