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2008 - Holiday Gift Guide - Part I

December 3rd, 2008

Thanksgiving is over and that can only mean on thing, Christmas shopping! And that means it is time for our annual Holiday Gift Guide. This week we will look at some of the recent releases, as well as some soon to be released Blu-ray films.

This year getting into High Definition is a lot less complicated than last year, since Blu-ray won the format wars, as was expected. There are still a lot of choices to be made with TVs, players, receivers, speakers, etc. But that's outside my area of expertise. In my opinion, if you have yet to get into High Definition and are looking for a player, the Playstation 3 is still you best bet. This is a bit of a shock, and I was expecting stand-alone players to overtake the gaming system. However, its ability to upgrade over the internet has prevented that from happening and it was the first, and still the best, Profile 2.0 player out there.

And now we move onto the actual movies / TV shows being released...

For those still waiting and hoping a sequel will come...
Serenity - Blu-ray
Description: Even Joss Whedon has given up on a sequel for Serenity, but his fans haven't. That's loyalty. That's beyond loyalty and into the realm of mental illness.
Pros: One of the best movies of 2005, it was criminally ignored by most moviegoers, but at least it earned a second life on the home market. Also, it is a very visual movie and should pop in High Definition. Finally, there are more special features this time around, including a Picture-in-Picture track and it is BD-Live enabled.
Cons: It doesn't come out until the 30th of December, so while it would make a great gift, it would also make a late gift.

For Joss Whedon fans that insist on celebrating Christmas on time...
Firefly - The Complete Series - Blu-ray
Description: When this show first aired, Joss Whedon had three shows on TV. Less than two years later, he had none. This Sci-Fi Western lasted the shortest at only half a season (and several episodes were not even aired during its initial run). However, it developed a rabid following during that time.
Pros: While it was canceled first, I consider it the best Joss Whedon out there, and not just for the Canadian content, although that helps. Also, the Blu-ray edition of the TV series has an additional audio commentary track, as well as a 28-minute long reunion among some of the cast.
Cons: When the show was originally made, the special effects were made in Standard Definition, and at times you can really tell. However, it still looks as good as you can expect given the source material.

For those worried about shooting your other eye out...
A Christmas Story - Ultimate Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
Description: A classic Christmas movie about a boy who only wants a Red Ryder Carbine Action, 200-Shot, Range Model Air Rifle.
Pros: There are few movies that have better replay value than this one. It's the kind that you could watch any time of year and still enjoy. It's the kind of movie you could watch more than once a day and still enjoy.
Cons: It was released on Blu-ray last year, and it will likely be released on Blu-ray next year.

For those who were pissed off Paramount dumped Blu-ray last August...
The Transformers - Blu-ray
Description: One of the most pleasant surprises from 2007, at least at the box office. Don't get me wrong, it is a fun popcorn flick and the special effects are great, but at times the narrative does feel flatter than the original cartoon.
Pros: The HD DVD was one of the best releases for the format. And the Blu-ray has lost none of its luster.
Cons: It has already been released on DVD and HD DVD, so there's a chance that fans already have it. That said, it's worth the double dip, especially for those who are phasing out their HD DVD player.

For those who want to see the latest and greatest computer animation...
WALL-E - Blu-Ray
Description: Pixar does it again as WALL-E is arguably the best movie of the year. It's arguably the best movie of the past few years.
Pros: Not only is the movie simply magical, the Blu-Ray is among the best I've ever seen. Worth upgrading to High Definition for.
Cons: There are no cons. Get this movie on Blu-ray.

For those who want a deal they can't refuse...
The Godfather - The Coppola Restoration Giftset - Blu-ray
Description: It's The Godfather. I assume if you don't know all about these movies, you've stumbled on this site by accident.
Pros: The first two films combined for a total of twenty-two Oscar nominations and nine wins. Also, the films have been restored to an immaculate degree and arguably look better than they have since its initial run. ... Perhaps better.
Cons: Godfather III. Also, while the films look and sound better than they ever have on the home market and there's a ton of extras here, none push the limits of the format.

For those who like their martinis shaken, not stirred...
James Bond on Blu-ray - Volume One & Volume Two and Casino Royale - Blu-ray
Description: Is there really a difference between a shaken and stirred martini? It sounds like something self-identified connoisseurs would say, but the only actual difference is psychological. ... Moving on. The first wave contains six films in two volumes covering three of the six actors who portrayed James Bond.
Pros: The most prolific franchise ever, at least going by theatrical releases. And for all but one, they are coming out on High Definition for the first time.
Cons: This is the third year in a row that there has been a major James Bond release. I fear once they finish the franchise on Blu-ray, they will re-release them again in a super special edition. Also, while there are lots of extras, they don't push the limitations of the format, except for the most recent Bond to hit the home market, which has a Picture-in-Picture commentary track.

For those looking to start a beautiful friendship...
Casablanca - Ultimate Collector's Edition - Blu-ray
Description: Set during World War II, the film takes place in Casablanca where an American ex-patriot runs Rick's Café. He is just trying to survive the war and not get involved, while making a little bit of money on the side. He doesn't want complications, but that's exactly what he gets when she walks in.
Pros: It's widely considered one of the all-time classics, and for good reason. Also, it's never looked or sounded better (although don't expect your home theater system to get an audio workout here). Plenty of extras, including on the disc and physical goodies.
Cons: It's rather pricey, and it's not the first time its been released on High Definition, having previously come out on HD DVD.

For those wanting the current best-selling Blu-ray of all time...
Iron Man - Blu-ray
Description: The first in what will be a long franchise of films based on the Marvel comic book. It stars Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, a genius / billionaire / industrialist / playboy / weapons dealer / alcohol enthusiast who, after being injured in an attack in Afghanistan, builds a suit of high-tech armor and becomes a super hero, Iron Man.
Pros: Robert Downey, Jr. is nearly perfectly cast as the playboy / alcohol enthusiast and pulls off genius rather well. It also combines action, humor and drama nearly perfectly, making it one of the best blockbusters of the past summer.
Cons: None that immediately spring to mind. If I want to stretch... I was hoping for an audio commentary track, or indeed a Picture-in-Picture track, but none was provided on the otherwise packed Blu-ray.

For those wanting what will likely be the next best selling Blu-ray of all time...
The Dark Knight - Blu-ray
Description: The follow-up to the critically acclaimed Batman Begins. This film managed to do even better with critics and became the second-biggest movie all time at the domestic box office and is currently fourth worldwide.
Pros: It was a good year for critically acclaimed blockbusters with five of the top six hits at the box office earning Tomatometer scores of 75% positive or more. While I think WALL-E was the better movie, no film came close to this film's combined box office / critical reception.
Cons: The Blu-ray isn't as packed with extras as I would have liked it to be. There's a cool Gift Set that comes with some physical extras, but that's more for people with more money than brain cells. People like me. (I've had mine pre-ordered for a month now.)

For those who want to be scared on Christmas...
The Nightmare Before Christmas - Blu-ray
Description: A stop-motion animated musical that tells the story of what happens when Jack Skellington grows bored of Halloween and decides to take over Christmas. The film earned excellent reviews, but never found as large an audience as it deserved. However, it has since become a holiday classic.
Pros: This movie has never looked better than it does on Blu-ray. It also has a huge amount of replay value and I watch it at least once a year.
Cons: The DVD packaging looks cooler than the Blu-ray packaging; this is all too common, and it hurts adoption rate for the new format. Also, I suspect it will be coming out in 3-D sooner rather than later, and hopefully that release will have extras that really push the format.

For those who want to be scared on Christmas, but for a different reason...
Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus - Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour - Blu-ray
Description: If you don't know who Miley Cyrus is, then you clearly don't have 'tween girls in your household. She's the latest Teenage Phenomenon who has a hit TV series that is being turned into a movie, a music career, and it appears she's about to have her first $100 million hit at the box office. This concert film presents the 3D experience for those who couldn't get tickets to the tour, and that includes a lot of fans since the shows sold out in record time.
Pros: The show earned surprisingly strong reviews and it has an energy that will enthrall her fans.
Cons: Parents might not feel the same. In fact, parents might be a little scared by the level of devotion her fans show.

For those who think of Clerks when they hear the above title...(Yes, I have used that joke in the past.)
Dogma - Blu-ray
Description: The biggest hit in Kevin Smith's career, although not for long. The movie is also his most controversial, drawing attacks from the religious right, which is odd since Kevin Smith is a devout Christian.
Pros: It's as offensive as it is funny, which is one of the selling points for the collective works of Kevin Smith.
Cons: It is shovelware.

For those who think Judd Apatow is the heir-apparent to Kevin Smith
Ultimate Unrated Comedy Collection - Blu-ray
Description: Three films from the Judd Apatow Cannon including his first directorial effort, The 40-Year Old Virgin, his biggest hit, Knocked Up; as well as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which he produced.
Pros: All three films are hilarious while the Blu-rays have a ton of special features. Additionally, the price is very reasonable for three movies.
Cons: Unless the person you are buying this for has one of them already, in which case it is better to buy them separately.

For those who think girls can rock the ensemble comedy just as good as boys can
The House Bunny - Buy from Amazon
Description: While Judd Apatow has helped raise the male-dominated ensemble comedy to an art form, Anna Faris lead a pack of women in this film about a Playboy Bunny who becomes the house mother to the uncoolest Sorority.
Pros: A very funny movie that not only features Anna Faris, who has serious comedic chops, but also several up and coming young actresses like Kat Dennings, Emma Stone, and others. Additionally, there are a lot of extras on the Blu-ray release.
Cons: Not everyone liked the movie as much as I did with the average critic calling it formulaic.

YES!
Criterion Collection on Blu-ray: Bottle Rocket, Chungking Express, The Man Who Fell To Earth, and The Third Man
Description: Criterion makes the leap to high definition this month and the first wave includes Bottle Rocket, Chungking Express, The Man Who Fell To Earth, and The Third Man.
Pros: Criterion Collection has been one of the best studios when it comes to putting out great movies on top-notch DVDs, and now they are releasing films in High Definition. What more do you need? (On a side note, the Blu-rays are less expensive than I thought they would be.)
Cons: I'm not sure I would have started with these four, with the exception of The Third Man, which is one of my favorite films. Also, there are some reports that The Man Who Fell To Earth is not coming out until January.

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Filed under: The Dark Knight, Transformers, Iron Man, WALL-E, Casino Royale, Die Another Day, Knocked Up, The 40 Year-old Virgin, Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The House Bunny, Serenity, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D