Giving a movie usually means one of two things: that the film is good enough for multiple viewings or that you want to expose someone to something you think is cool or educational. Tear-jerkers, surprise endings and light romantic comedies don't usually hold up on review. Fine cinema, good special effects, cult films, and very clever comedies do. Well-made documentaries are also a safe bet to pass along. For owning a copy of a film, the superiority of DVD over VHS is a foregone conclusion. The letterbox format presents movies as the filmmaker intended, while the quality of digital audio and surround-sound, compared to that of VHS, approximates the difference between cassette and CD. Basic functions like chapter lists and language options are often accompanied by extra features such as directors' and actors' remarks. Commentaries by auteur filmmakers are often interesting, as are annotations on low-budget films and effects-heavy action pictures.
Throughout our gift section, items with a local angle are marked with SF*.
Lord of the Rings
Coincidentally, just in time for the second installment of the trilogy comes this four-disc special edition of Tolkien's classic story. This is the Grand Pooh-Bah of bonus features -- this year's Godfatherpackage. It shows just what can be done, with an unlimited budget, to construct an entire fantasy civilization and then document every single step of the process: The result is an incredible video diary that will enrapture anyone interested in filmmaking. One entire disc takes you from book to script, and another documents the journey from script to screen. Whereas many DVDs offer "deleted scenes" out of context, here the film itself has been extended by 30 minutes and the musical score re-recorded for flow. There's a Middle Earth atlas, a Tolkien biography, lavishly animated menus, and copious film-crew geek interviews.
SF* Mr. Show
Comedians Bob Odenkirk and David Cross took the formula for TV sketch comedy and added the reactive agents of darkness and biting satire to explode the genre. The two seasons it ran on HBO have just come out in one package, so one no longer has to go to Le Video, where, because it had not been commercially released, episodes were lent out free with any rental. The television parodies never go on too long, the sketches are rarely built around one funny premise and beaten into the ground (à la many Saturday Night Livebits), and the segues are up there with Monty Python's. Featured performers include a slew of former San Franciscans: Tom Kenny, Brian Posehn, Greg Behrendt, and the uniquely eccentric Mary-Lynn Rajskub.
Band of Brothers
This epic HBO miniseries chronicles the true adventures of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne, a volunteer paratrooper division, as members go from training, to D-Day, to capturing Hitler's hideaway. Far and away the best way to experience and understand all that is going on is with the DVD format. Watch the 10 episodes on your own time, with menus, guides, and maps to help you keep the characters and chronology straight. Bonus disc 6 has a feature-length documentary on the real men that comprised the company, who recount their experiences and sometimes break down as they relive the memories. This is your best bet to launch Grandpa into the DVD world.
SF* Eddie Izzard: Dress To Kill
To be released on November 26th is this Emmy Award-winning live performance of British cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard. As a testament to his talent, the transvestism doesn't come off as a gimmick, and you soon forget about it. From the point of view of a Yank, Brit Izzard has the one-two comedic punch of not just saying funny things, but saying them funny. Revered in England and with a snowballing cult following stateside, Izzard chose to record at San Francisco's Stage Door Theater in 1998, and references to our city are peppered throughout. He calls the audience a "city of snakes" after they hiss at the word "Frisco," and the disc's introduction is a farcical tour of our tourist traps. Also included is "America: 1998: homage à Ken Burns," a photomontage parody in the overdramatic style of the epic documentarian.
SF* Monsters, Inc.
The kiddie must-have this Christmas is Monsters Inc., created by the animation wizards at Emeryville's Pixar studios. Rare is a film that is enrapturing for kids and enjoyable for adults, but as with Toy Storybefore it, there's more here than just cutesy gags and formulaic storytelling. The DVD set is a two-disc affair, with all kinds of bonus features including a training manual to work for Monsters Inc. and the employee handbook. Calling ahead to mom and dad might be a good idea -- just to be sure the youngster doesn't already have it. If not, you can't go wrong.
Special Edition DVDs
Other films that have been given the DVD treatment with tons of cool special features and documentaries include One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Blue Velvet, Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Jules & Jim, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Sunset Boulevard, Roman Holiday, Memento, and a new box set of seven James Bond flicks representing four different 007s. Releases of local interest include Tom Petty Live at the Fillmore and native hell-raiser Margaret Cho's second feature performance film, Notorious C.H.O.
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