(Photos: Kino; Shout! Factory)
By Matt Brunson
Think of it as a sliding scale for holiday handouts. For this, Film Frenzy’s fourth annual Holiday Gift Guide, the choice film and television offerings won’t be listed alphabetically but rather by cost. It’s basically the equivalent of Amazon’s “Price: High to Low” option for its columns of similar products, and if an item here includes more than one price (say, for the DVD vs. the Blu-ray), the default is the highest one cited.
While this format makes it easy to ascertain what’s available for however much you want to spend on your friends or family members, do take note that even the lowest priced item costs a couple of bills. But fret not, skinflints: Over on eBay, a new DVD of Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill is selling for as little as $5.50. You’re welcome!
(Note: The retail prices are included as starting points only. Obviously, most of these titles can be found for lower costs on numerous websites, often even on the sites of the distributors themselves.)
THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN: THE COMPLETE SERIES / THE BIONIC WOMAN: THE COMPLETE SERIES
Studio / Distributor: Shout! Factory (www.shoutfactory.com)
The Scoop: One of the pop culture phenomenons of the 1970s, The Six Million Dollar Man stars Lee Majors as Steve Austin, an astronaut whose body is largely rebuilt with bionic parts following a crippling accident. This upgrade allows him to run at superspeed, lift objects too heavy for regular folks to budge, and, presumably, to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The popularity of the show — at its height, it was #7 in the Nielsen ratings — led to all manner of merchandise, including trading cards, board games, and action figures (it was practically impossible to read a superhero comic book from the period and not see an ad for these plastic, poseable dolls “with bionic grip”). The series also led to a spin-off: The Bionic Woman, starring Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers. While The Six Million Dollar Man ran for five seasons (1974-1978) , this one lasted three (1976-1978), and it was also a massive success (its Nielsen peak was #5). Shout! Factory and Universal have released complete Blu-ray box sets for both shows. The 33-disc set for The Six Million Dollar Man contains not only all 99 episodes from its five seasons but also the three 1973 pilot movies, the three reunion movies (1987, 1989, 1994) with the Bionic Woman, and crossover episodes of The Bionic Woman. The 18-disc set for The Bionic Woman contains all 58 episodes from its three seasons as well as the aforementioned reunion movies and crossover episodes.
Extras: Between the two sets, there are about six million bonus features, so fans will be kept busy even after watching all the movies and episodes. Extras on The Six Million Dollar Man include audio commentaries by various writers and directors on select episodes; a multipart look at all the stars — both established and future — who made guest appearances on the series or in the films (among them William Shatner, Sandra Bullock, Kim Basinger, and Major’s then-wife Farrah Fawcett); a piece on the groovy sound effects employed on the show; and the syndicated versions of the three pilot movies. And as Shout! Factory did with its 4K release of Alligator, Bryan Cranston is again invited to chat about his participation (in this case, appearing in the reunion movie Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman). Extras on The Bionic Woman include audio commentaries by Wagner and various writers and directors on select episodes; a Q&A with Wagner; a gag reel; and series promos. Oh, and more Cranston.
Retail Price: The Six Million Dollar Man: $189.98; The Bionic Woman: $159.98.
RUSSELL SIMMONS’ DEF COMEDY JAM ALL-STARS
Studio / Distributor: Time Life (www.timelife.com)
The Scoop: From 1992 to 1997 — and then from 2006 to 2008 — entrepreneur and music maven Russell Simmons produced the HBO series Def Comedy Jam, which served as a showcase for a staggering number of black comedians, many on the ascendancy. Some served as hosts while others performed stand-up material — among those invited to bring down the house were Martin Lawrence, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Queen Latifah, Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Tracy Morgan, Steve Harvey, and, yup, Dave Chapelle. Several episodes from the smash series featured stand-up comedian Rich Vos, whose claim to fame is that he became the first white person to perform on the program (ironic, since he was reportedly revealed earlier this year to be an unrepentant racist). Time Life’s 12-disc box set collects 36 of the best episodes from the series’ nine seasons (a deluxe edition is also available).
Extras: This consists of a bonus DVD featuring a 2009 special fronted by Cedric the Entertainer and Shaquille O’Neal, and the bonus episode “2 Raw 4 TV.” A booklet is also included — it contains a piece on the show’s history, photos, and jokes.
Retail Price: $99.95.
CINEMA’S FIRST NASTY WOMEN
Format: Blu-ray and DVD
Studio / Distributor: Kino Lorber (www.kinolorber.com)
The Scoop: I daresay this is the most unique offering of the bunch, and it would make a great gift for someone seeking something different … provided that someone isn’t a misogynistic moron. A joint project between Kino and approximately 20 other organizations (including the BFI, the Library of Congress, Gaumont, and MoMA), this consists of four discs housing a whopping 99 short films produced during cinema’s silent era. Covering 1898 through 1926, these works from the U.S. and various European nations (the U.K., France, Italy, and more) are fast and furious feminist flicks tackling a wide range of themes and genres. Each disc has its own title (“Disastrous Domestics & Anarchic Tomboys,” “Queens of Destruction,” “Gender Rebels,” and “Female Tricksters”), and these are further broken up into segments with monikers like “Catastrophe in the Kitchen,” “Tyranny at Home,” and “Topsy-Turvy Gender Madness.” As for the films, tantalizing tidbits with such names as The Dairymaid’s Revenge, Fatty and Minnie-He-Haw, and Taming a Husband, they cover comedy, crime, social commentary, and more. In short, Donald Trump (who disgustingly called Hillary Clinton a nasty woman; hence the set’s name) would hate this collection, which is about the biggest recommendation I can give. (As an aside, it was startling to actually see a familiar name in one of these pieces: Sessue Hayakawa, the Japanese actor who was Oscar-nominated for his performance in 1957’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, stars in 1914’s The Death Mask.)
Extras: These consist of audio commentaries on select films and video introductions by series curators and scholars. A 116-page booklet is also included.
Retail Price: Blu-ray, $79.95; DVD, $39.95.
CRITERION TRIPLE FEATURES
Format: 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD
Studio / Distributor: The Criterion Collection (www.criterion.com)
The Scoop: Another year, another selection of mouth-watering movies unleashed on the Criterion label. Yet there were enough releases in 2022 that shared common elements, so if you would feel stingy giving only one movie to your favorite cineaste, consider handing them a ready-made trilogy of titles perfect for binge-watching their own DIY film festival. For example, quirky cult classics could be found via the trio of Richard Lester’s 1964 masterpiece A Hard Day’s Night (a “typical” day in the life of The Beatles), Frank Tashlin’s 1956 comedy The Girl Can’t Help It (the one with Jayne Mansfield and the ejaculating milk bottles, and, coincidentally, a favorite film of Paul McCartney and John Lennon), and John Waters’ notorious 1972 Pink Flamingos (with Divine as “The Filthiest Person Alive,” and she proves it!). Fans of Denzel Washington will be thrilled to learn that this past year saw Criterion releasing three fine titles starring the acting great: Devil in a Blue Dress, the crackling 1995 thriller with Denzel as detective Easy Rawlins, 1992’s Malcolm X, Spike Lee’s towering epic about the controversial leader (see the recent review here), and 1991’s Mississippi Masala, Mira Nair’s exceptional drama about the romance between a black man (Washington) and an Indian woman (Sarita Choudhury). Those more into the behind-the-camera talent will appreciate the theme of formidable female directors, what with Jane Campion earning a Best Director Oscar for 2021’s The Power of the Dog, Sofia Coppola scoring an early hit with 1999’s The Virgin Suicides, and Kasi Lemmons making her mark with 1997’s Eve’s Bayou. Finally, those who prefer their triple features confined to one set can choose between Three Films by Mai Zetterling, showcasing sexually frank (and thus highly controversial) films from the Swedish feminist filmmaker, and Michael Haneke: Trilogy, featuring the earliest works from the provocative Austrian filmmaker who would later make such art-house hits as Caché and Amour.
Extras: Bonus features on select titles include a making-of documentary and archival interviews with The Beatles on A Hard Day’s Night; audio commentary by writer-director Carl Franklin and Don Cheadle’s screen test on Devil in a Blue Dress; an interview with Campion and behind-the-scenes footage on The Power of the Dog; and a 1984 interview with Zetterling and a 1989 documentary about the filmmaker on Three Films by Mai Zetterling.
Retail Price: Three Films by Mai Zetterling: Blu-ray, $79.95. A Hard Day’s Night: 4K + Blu-ray, $49.95. Devil in a Blue Dress: 4K + Blu-ray, $49.95; Blu-ray, $39.95. The Power of the Dog: 4K + Blu-ray, $49.95; Blu-ray, $39.95; DVD, $29.95.
THE SONNY CHIBA COLLECTION
Studio / Distributor: Shout! Factory (www.shoutfactory.com)
The Scoop: Japanese actor and martial arts expert Sonny Chiba died last year of COVID complications (he had opted not to get vaccinated), but not before leaving behind approximately 200 movies, many of which cemented his status as a superstar. He’s probably best known (if at all) to general American audiences for his turns in the two Kill Bill movies and one of the Fast and the Furious installments, while more seasoned filmgoers know him from The Street Fighter (his international breakthrough) as well as assorted titles like Message From Space, Virus, and Sushi Girl. This new compilation chooses to focus on seven films that aren’t well-known stateside, although one did benefit from a U.S. cut. That would be 1973’s Bodyguard Kiba, included in this set along with the same year’s Bodyguard Kiba 2. There’s another twofer with Yakuza Wolf: I Perform Murder and Yakuza Wolf 2: Extend My Condolences (both 1972). Legendary actor Toshiro Mifune and Ran’s Mieko Harada co-star with Chiba in 1978’s epic samurai tale Swords of Vengeance (aka The Fall of Ako Castle), while Ken Ogata (who portrayed the title character in Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) plays the villain opposite Chiba’s hero in the 1981 supernatural yarn Samurai Reincarnation and the hero opposite Chiba’s villain in 1989’s Shogun’s Shadow.
Extras: Special features consist of an interview with Chiba and theatrical trailers for five of the seven films.
Retail Price: $69.98.
XMAS IN 3-D
Studio / Distributor: Kino Lorber (www.kinolorber.com)
The Scoop: Certainly, all the 3-D chatter right now is centered around the cutting-edge technology seen in James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water. But those more into old-school graphics might be interested in these three three-dimensional offerings (and, yes, glasses are helpfully provided). The first is 1983’s Treasure of the Four Crowns, an Italian-American co-production about J.T. Striker (Tony Anthony), an adventurer who gets mixed up with mystical artifacts, melting villains, and even a big ol’ rolling boulder (hmm, I can’t quite place it, but this all sounds familiar). The second is 1954’s The Diamond Wizard, in which an FBI agent (Dennis O’Keefe) heads to London on the trail of a band of criminals. And the third option itself offers three options: Paravision Dreams, a trio of films made by producers William H. Pine and William C. Thomas. The set consists of 1953’s Sangaree, a steamy period drama set in Savannah, 1953’s Those Redheads From Seattle, in which four sisters search for their father’s killer, and 1954’s Jivaro, whose alternate title, Lost Treasure of the Amazon, helpfully hints at the plot.
Extras: These include an interview with Anthony on Treasure of the Four Crowns; alternate opening credits on The Diamond Wizard; and before & after restoration demos on Paravision Dreams. Audio commentaries are also included on all three releases.
Retail Price: Panavision Dreams: $49.95; The Diamond Wizard: $29.95; Treasure of the Four Crowns: $29.95.
BLONDE: THE MARILYN STORIES
Studio / Distributor: Film Chest Media Group (www.filmchestmediagroup.com)
The Scoop: Andrew Dominik’s Blonde was supposed to be an awards powerhouse this year for Netflix, but aside from Ana de Armas’ lead performance as Marilyn Monroe, every aspect of the production has been trashed by practically everyone. Still, the movie hung around long enough to doubtless inspire Film Chest Media Group to release its own package of Marilyn material. Blonde: The Marilyn Stories contains not one, not two, but three movies offering fictionalized takes on her tragic life. The theatrical release Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976), from the director of Zontar, the Thing from Venus and Mars Needs Women, stars Hee Haw regular Misty Rowe as MM. Marilyn and Me (1991) is a made-for-TV movie about Robert Slatzer (Jesse Dabson), the sleaze who claimed with zero proof that he was the one true love of Marilyn (Susan Griffiths). And the two-part television miniseries Blonde (2001) is, like the new movie, based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, with Poppy Montgomery as Marilyn and Ann-Margret as her grandmother.
Extras: Included are two made-for-TV documentaries, The Legend of Marilyn Monroe (1965) and Marilyn Monroe: Beyond the Legend (1986); an early television appearance by Marilyn; and a photo gallery.
Retail Price: $24.98.