The Office: The First Season
Subscribers to BBC America are already familiar with this unbearably funny look at workplace desperation and cubicle angst, but there's a vast majority of basic cablers out there who have yet to meet the sorry denizens of TV's most wretched and true-to-life office. Writer-director Ricky Gervais stars as David Brent, the manager from hell, a narcissistic, thin-skinned oaf who truly believes that his work in an industrial-suburb paper-sales firm has some sort of meaning. Gervais embodies Brent brilliantly, but his supporting cast (especially Mackenzie Crook as Gareth the psychotic team leader) is so good, you feel like you're watching a particularly insightful and horrific documentary. The two-disc DVD includes the first season's six episodes, plus previously deleted scenes.
Everyone knows about the Beatles' rambunctious American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show 40 years ago; not as widely known is that the group made three subsequent appearances on the program through 1965. Now all four shows (two of them unseen since they were originally aired) have been digitally restored and packaged in this terrific two-disc DVD. Here's Ringo and his talented sidemen performing 20 hits from their greatest era -- "I Saw Her Standing There," "Ticket to Ride," "Help!" and "I Feel Fine," to name a few -- in the matchless excitement of live performance. A bonus is that the shows are presented in their entirety, complete with vintage commercials, vaudevillian entr'actes, and the lumbering presence of TV's oddest host.
Southlander: Diary of a Desperate Musician
Everybody needs to insert some indie cred into their DVD player every once in a while, and Steve Hanft and Ross Harris' Southlander: Diary of a Desperate Musician will do just the trick for any hipster on your shopping list wondering where the indie rock film scene has gone to since the days of R. Kern and Desperate Teenage Lovedolls. The plot focuses on keyboard player Chance (Rory Cochrane), who rummages through the junkyards of Los Angeles to find his stolen analog synth, the 1969 Moletron, before his band takes off on tour without him. But the interest focuses on the soundtrack and featured appearances by Beck, Beth Orton (who plays Chance's love interest), Hank Williams III, Union 13, Lawrence Hilton Jacobs (Washington from Welcome Back, Kotter), and the late Elliott Smith. A deep-fried chunk of lowbrow California kitsch, high in cholesterol and dopey charm.
Growin' a Beard
"May the best beard win -- because I'm fixin' to turn mine loose," says the determined former champion Richard Smith at the beginning of Mike Woolf's wacky documentary Growin' a Beard. The movie follows a handful of Shamrock, Texas, residents (and one full-follicled Austinite) as they grizzle up for the town's annual Donegal beard-growing contest. Think Abe Lincoln: The Donegal stretches from ear to ear, minus the mustache and the neck hair. The movie spans the 76 days between January 1 -- Day One of the contest -- and the hour of judgment on St. Patrick's Day. Hilariously entertaining, this short picture makes the commonplace heroic, without a trace of condescension. Playfully soundtracked by Texas bluegrass band the Gourds, Growin' captures prickly rivalries and itchy trash-talking throughout the furriest of competitions. Facial hair philosophy and method meet, uniting a town for 45 minutes of charming absurdity. Available at http://www.asypr.com.
We have yet to meet a man who's breathing who wouldn't squeal like a girl upon receiving the Godfather trilogy in a nice DVD set. Don Corleone and the gang scheming and plotting and killing everyone in their path to wealth and power -- what could be cheerier for the holidays? This classic is the most sophisticated look we'll ever get at the world of La Cosa Nostra.
Björk's British record label One Little Indian has recently released no fewer than eight different DVDs marking the tenth year of her innovative solo career. These range from various live performances to collections of her music videos. But this documentary is perhaps the most special of the bunch, offering real insight into the artist as she is interviewed amidst the natural wonders of her Icelandic homeland. Seeing her float on a boat past icebergs, her quirky context begins to make sense, perhaps for the first time to some. Though not essential to the tale, celebrity "testimonials" from folks ranging from Missy Elliott and Radiohead's Thom Yorke to, curiously, Sean Penn, help demonstrate her insanely wide reach in an entertaining way.
Real Wild Child: Video Anthology
This collection of 35 videos and performances charts a course from Jett's sexy longhaired days to her current maneuvers as a platinum blond vixen. And though it's a 20-year-plus journey, you wouldn't know it, since her energy remains essentially unchanged. It's all a revelation for those who may have only seen the "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" video (included here in its until-now-unseen color version); also fascinating is the interview with Jett and manager Kenny Laguna. This is definitely the ultimate in Joan Jett worship items (except, perhaps, for the "What Would Joan Jett Do?" T-shirts sold on bust.com).