Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Wrapped Up in Tape

By Donna Bowman, Noel Murray, and Jim Ridley

DECEMBER 15, 1997:  For many people, a video isn't just an evening's entertainment. It's a baby-sitter, an old friend worth revisiting, or a diverting companion on a lonely night. For others, the right movie makes a great gag gift or indulges a guilty pleasure. Each of those reasons makes a video an excellent holiday present. In the list below, you'll find some of each, along with a couple of helpful video guides. These are all available at area video stores.

Kids

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen If you loved the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies as a kid, Terry Gilliam's eye-popping 1989 fantasy is a little-known treasure, filled with monsters, giants, outrageous feats, and dazzling images. For adults, there's Uma Thurman as Venus waltzing in midair. (Columbia, $17.99)

The Best of The Simpsons Vols. 1-3 Six riotous episodes on three tapes, including "The Crepes of Wrath" and "There's No Disgrace Like Home." And they only get funnier the more you see 'em. A particular highlight: the spot-on parodies of Patton and Full Metal Jacket in "Bart the General." (Fox, $19.99)

My Neighbor Totoro Something completely different in children's animation from director Hayao Miyazaki, this detailed fantasy introduces playful, magical, indescribable creatures through the eyes of Japanese children. Impress your kids and be ahead of the hype curve when Miyazaki's wildly popular The Princess Mononoke comes to the U.S. next year. (Fox, $14.95)

Wallace & Gromit Efficiency-minded Wallace and his skeptical dog Gromit are the greatest animated comedy team since Rocky and Bullwinkle, as these three side-splitting films by Nick Park attest. "The Wrong Trousers," an Oscar-winning extravaganza involving a model train, some mechanical pants, and a sinister penguin, gets our vote as the funniest half-hour of cartoon slapstick ever filmed. (BBC Video, $19.99)


Adults

The Best Years of Our Lives The nostalgic senior on your Christmas list will be delighted by this Oscar-winning small-town drama, in which three veterans return from World War II and try to fit back into their old lives. In a rich, poignant tapestry, director William Wyler shows each man learning how to abandon his front-line dreams of home for a new, perhaps better vision of tomorrow. The lesson of adapting is one that anyone, young or old, can always relearn. (Warner Brothers, $14.99)

The Big Doll House What red-blooded American male wouldn't want Pam Grier in his stocking? The queen of '70s blaxploitation kicks butt in a Philippine prison in Jack Hill's 1971 drive-in fave, just released as part of the "Roger Corman Presents" series. (New Horizons, $13.99)

Fargo The big attraction here: a new limited-edition snow globe in each package. There's a tiny little pregnant deputy with a gun, a tiny little mass murderer, and in the center, a tiny little foot sticking out of a woodchipper. The movie's great too. (PolyGram, $26.99)

Hard-Boiled Just the ticket for the jaded action fan: John Woo's rock 'em, sock 'em Hong Kong thriller about a cop (Chow Yun-Fat) and a hit man (Tony Leung) who take on an army of gunrunners. The opening sequence alone makes the average American shoot-'em-up look meek and mild. With subtitles...but you won't need 'em. (Fox Lorber, $17.99)

Punchy Ralph Meeker gets tough in Kiss Me Deadly

Kiss Me Deadly Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) slugs his way through post-nuke America in one of the roughest, toughest crime dramas ever, directed with gut-punch immediacy by Robert Aldrich. Now available with the original, less ambiguous ending, which isn't as good--but luckily both endings are included. A must for film-noir fans. (MGM/UA, $17.99)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Gift Pack For the smart-ass in your family, we recommend any of Rhino's tapes of this TV cult favorite. The latest gift-pack is the choicest, as it contains riffs on the deliriously incomprehensible Red Zone Cuba, the '50s delinquency melodrama I Accuse My Parents, The Atomic Brain, and a handful of educational shorts. That's pretty much the gamut of putrid cinema, made more palatable by the commentary of the gang on the Satellite of Love. (Rhino, $49.99)

The Quiet Man Lots of folks give their fathers John Wayne movies for Christmas, but if Dad doesn't own this peerless blend of fisticuffs, sentiment, and romance, lay it on him. Wayne plays an American boxer reclaiming his Irish heritage; Maureen O'Hara is the fiery colleen who matches him in spirit and stubbornness. Theirs is an unusually complex, even erotic screen romance--but if Dad doesn't like all that guff, there's an epic brawl between Wayne and Victor McLaglen that'll have him bobbing and weaving. (Republic, $17.99)

That's Entertainment! I, II, III The original is a venerable anthology of MGM musical moments linked with endearing narration from the stars. The latest includes behind-the-scenes footage of stagehands moving complex sets while stars dance their hearts out. Any of the three will warm the heart and bring back a truly golden age. (MGM/UA, $14.95 each)


Books

Leonard Maltin's 1998 Movie & Video Guide, edited by Leonard Maltin. With more than 19,000 entries (as recent as The Lost World) and actor/director indices, Maltin's 1,600-page guide is the mother of all video reference books. You're bound to disagree with the occasional rating (two stars for Taxi Driver?), but when you're curious about the feature playing on Insomnia Theater, this is the book you need by the bed. (Signet, $7.99)

The Psychotronic Video Guide, by Michael J. Weldon. Six hundred pages of world-class sleaze. Turn to junk-movie maven Weldon for the info you can't find in the Maltin book--for example, when you want to know which Shannon Whirry flick has the hottest Jacuzzi scene. Hey, it matters to us. (St. Martin's, $29.95)

Total Television, 4th edition, by Alex McNeil. Every child of the television age could spend the next year happily browsing this 1,251-page reference guide, which describes and lists the casts for every program produced from 1947 through 1995. Comprehensive but not without opinions, the book is invaluable to assess the smorgasbord of reruns available on cable--and to settle bets over which soap opera showcased Parker Posey (As the World Turns). A bundled edition comes with a CD-ROM. (Penguin, $22.95)


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