2013 - Holiday Gift Guide - Part IV

PANIC! If you haven't finished your Christmas shopping yet, it is officially time to panic. Personally, I got the last of my shopping done on Wednesday, although I don't think the gift will arrive in time for Christmas. For those still looking for a last minute gift, Part IV of our Holiday Gift Guide focuses on books, CDs, and of course anything else I missed the first time around, beginning with...

For those who don't want to just see the wizard...
Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer - Buy from Amazon
Description: The book focuses on Martin Kenneth Banks, who is not really a computer hacker, but someone who likes to mess around on his computer poking around in systems he shouldn't poke around. One night, he finds a text file on the computer system of a seemingly random company that is 50 terabytes long and has all of the information about the world on it. And, when you change a number in the file, the real world changes accordingly. With this much power in his hands, Martin naturally makes a mess of things.
Pros: Scott Meyer is the creator of Basic Instructions Webcomic. This is his first novel and it has his sense of humor, so if you like Basic Instructions, you will probably like this as well. The reviews have been strong. You can also get it on the Kindle, which means you can buy it on Christmas day and give it to someone nearly instantly. Personally, I think I'm going to grab the audio book.
Cons: Even the positive reviews call it a, "light read", so if you want something deep and meaningful, this isn't it.

For those who like Young Adult fiction, but hate what it's become...
Awoken by Serra Elinsen - Buy from Amazon
Description: Andromeda Slate is the most ordinary girl in the world, until she falls in love with the boy of her dreams... and the boy who haunts everyone's dreams, Cthulhu.
Pros: Serra Elinsen doesn't actually exist and this book is a joke, a parody of Young Adult Supernatural romances, of which there are far too many. Lindsay Ellis, Antonella Inserra, and Elisa Hansen decided to create a parody of books like Twilight, Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments, etc. using all of the overused tropes and amaturish writing that has sadly dominated the genre. (Not all Young Adult novels are badly written. I would recommend reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Read it before the movie comes out.) They were aiming for a intentionally bad book, the end result was really good.
Cons: If you are not familiar with the Young Adult Supernatural romances genre and its various tropes, you might not get the full value of the book.

For those who wonder if there's more to The Simpsons...
The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh - Buy from Amazon
Description: Simon Singh is a mathematician and a fan of The Simpsons. He noticed that there were a lot of mathematical Easter eggs in the show and decided to see if there was a reason for this. It turns out there are a lot of university educated mathematicians writing for the show. In this book, he collects these mathematical tidbits and talks about them.
Pros: If you are a math geek and / or a fan of The Simpsons, this is a great book to read and has earned great reviews.
Cons: If you are not big into math and / or The Simpsons...
Notes: If this book is of interest, check out Math Gear for more ideas.

For those who love Guillermo Del Toro filmography...
Guillermo del Toro Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions by Guillermo Del Toro and Marc Zicree - Buy from Amazon
Description: Guillermo Del Toro is a great filmmaker with a wonderful sense of style. One of the things he does for every movie is create a notebook full of illustrations and ideas. This book is a collection of said notebooks with more commentary.
Pros: If you've bought any of his movies on DVD or Blu-ray, then you've probably seen some of these illustrations before, but this book is the first time they've been collected in this format. There is a ton of artwork for many, many movies, including some Del Toro worked on before leaving the project or are stuck in development hell. This book is especially intriguing for giving us looks into movies that never were or are yet to be.
Cons: If you are not a hardcore fan of Del Toro, it might be better just to stick with his movies.

For those who want to learn the truth...
The De-Textbook: The Stuff You Didn't Know About the Stuff You Thought You Knew by The Staff at Cracked.com - Buy from Amazon
Description: All the stuff you were taught about life from the time you were potty trained to today was wrong. In this book, the staff from Cracked.com help set the record straight on all the lies you were taught. (And yes, this includes teaching you the proper way to poop.)
Pros: If you like Cracked.com, and especially if you liked You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News, then you will likely like this.
Cons: If you like Cracked.com, then you've likely seen some of these facts in various articles already.

For those who like some science in their music...
The Sky Is Calling by The Impossible Girl - Buy from Amazon
Description: The latest album from Impossible Girl, a.k.a. Kim Boekbinder. This includes "Stellar Alchemist" which is one of my favorite new songs of the year. I'll include the official video on YouTube below.
Pros: If you like electronica with strong vocals on top, then this CD is worth checking out. If you also like smartly written lyrics with a lot of science behind them, then this CD is a must have. (For instance, "Stellar Alchemist" is about the thermonuclear fusion that takes place in a star and how it combines elements till it reaches iron. Heavier elements, like gold, are only created when the star goes supernova.)
Cons: Admittedly, this isn't top 40 material. It's more of a niche sound.
Notes: You can also buy the CD directly from Kim Boekbinder's Official Site and more of the money goes directly to the artist.

For those who like evil sexy or sexy evil...
Sexy Evil Genius - Buy from Amazon
Description: A trio of strangers meet at a bar. They have not a lot in common, except that they are waiting for someone. They are all waiting for Nikki Franklyn, the titular Evil Sexy Genius, who is also their ex-girlfriend. The three of them talk about Nikki and why she asked them to meet her at this bar and why she decided to arrive late. She clearly has a plan, because she is a genius, but is this plan also evil?
Pros: The film has an amazing cast for a low, low-budget Indie release. There are almost no reviews online, but I loved the movie. It has excellent dialogue and really skilled actors to pull it off. There are some good twists and a lot of tension, as for a long time, it is impossible to know if Nikki really is crazy, or if she is just acting that way as part of her latest scheme.
Cons: It's a dialogue driven drama that mostly takes place in one location with a trio of characters reminiscing, so if you are not drawn into the stories the characters tell, you might be bored. I wasn't, but everyone's tastes are different.

Oop-Boop-A-Doop!...
Betty Boop: The Essential Collection - Buy from Amazon: Volume 1 and Volume 2
Description: Betty Boop began in 1930 and became quite possibly the most famous movie character of her day... at least until the National Legion of Decency and the Production Code destroyed her character.
Pros: Each volume has a dozen films from her original run remastered in high definition. They look and sound really good, especially when you consider the age of the source material.
Cons: There are no extras on the Blu-ray and they are splitting the shorts into multiple volumes instead of one box set. I really think it deserved more.
Notes: Volume 3 comes out in April.

I can't believe I missed this one the first time around...
Burn Notice: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Description: Micheal Weston was a C.I.A. agent, until he was burned. For the next seven seasons, he tries to figure out what shadowy organization burned him and why. He has help from his ex-girlfriend, a former Navy Seal, and his Mother.
Pros: I've reviewed every season, and the TV movie, and I've loved all of them. The show has great characters, excellent acting, fantastic writing, etc. Nearly every season was a Pick of the Week contender when they came out on DVD and many won.
Cons: The screener for the final season hasn't arrived yet, so I don't know if it ended on a strong note. After doing a little bit of research while desperately avoiding spoilers, I don't think that is the case.

For those who want their TV shows to be a little more animated...
Beetlejuice: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Description: Beetlejuice, the movie, was a visual feast and many people still love it 25 years after it hit theaters. The animated TV series ran for four years starting in 1989 and while it is not as well known, it certainly has a lot of fans.
Pros: The vast majority of the time, when a movie is turned into a cartoon series, the cartoon is really bad. However, the movie has the sensibilities of a live action cartoon, so the adaptation to animation was a lot smoother. The plot was changed significantly to give it more longevity. (If Beetlejuice was still the bad guy, then the show could have only lasted till he was vanquished or the family moved out.) But it was still a very fun show. In fact, it won an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program.
Cons: There are no extras on the box set and the show is rather old and some reviewers have pointed out the audio and video haven't aged well.

For those who want swordplay for Christmas...
Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (Criterion Collection) - Buy from Amazon
Description: A 25-movie / 27-disc box Blu-ray box set from the Zatoichi franchise, which is the most successful movie franchise from Japan. Yes, more successful than Godzilla. (Although Zatoichi isn't as big of a cultural icon worldwide.)
Pros: It's a 25-movie / 27-disc box Blu-ray box set from the Zatoichi franchise. What more do you need to know to be sold? Anyone who loves martial arts movies, especially from the era (1960s to early 1970s) and / or martial arts movies that emphasize swordplay will love this box set. It is even a good price, given the number of movies here (about $5 a movie).
Cons: While it only costs about $5 a movie, it still costs $130 in total, which is a lot for most people.

For those who want an enlightening view on a different side of racism...
Dark Girls - Buy from Amazon
Description: A documentary that first aired on OWN in this past summer. It looks at the racism within races and how women with darker skin tend to be looked down upon within their own ethnicity. Unless these women are white, in which case they spend money and risk their health in order to look tan.
Pros: There are not a lot of reviews online, but the ones I've read are mostly positive. It is also an interesting movie because it looks at a side of racism we rarely see. (It's one that is caused by class as much as ethnicity. If you've seen Bend it Like Beckham you've seen a bit of this. In it, Jess's mother complains to Jess that her playing soccer in the sun has made her dark like some poor farmer who works in the fields all day.)
Cons: It was on TV in the summer, so if they have OWN, they might have seen it for free.

For those who think a good story is worth retelling...
On the Riviera - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: Danny Kaye plays Jack Martin and Henri Duran. Henri is a rich man, Jack is not. Henri hires Jack to impersonate him at a party, so he can be out of town. Needless to say, things get very complicated very fast.
Pros: An Oscar-nominated mistaken identity movie that is beloved, but not that well known. The Blu-ray looks and sounds good, especially given the age of the film. There are a number of extras on the Blu-ray, more than most films from the era have.
Cons: It's not that well known, which is true of a lot of Danny Kaye films. Not sure why that is.

For those who are sad it is gone... again...
Futurama: Volume 8 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: The final volume of Futurama, the adventures of Phillip J. Fry, who in the year 2000 was frozen for 1000 years and awakes to a strange world with robots, aliens, mutants, and more.
Pros: For much of its run, this show was the best animated show on TV. Additionally, the Blu-ray looks amazing, while it is loaded with extras. (This includes audio commentary tracks on all 13 episodes.)
Cons: The relaunch never quite reached the high peaks of the show's original run, although that's a bit unfair. If you were to list the top ten best animated episodes of all time, one could argue half of them would be from Futurama. (Jurassic Bark, The Luck of the Fryrish, The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings, Amazon Women in the Mood, The Sting, The Farnsworth Parabox, Parasites Lost, Where No Fan Has Gone Before, and Godfellas would all be contenders.) There are a few episodes that come close, including the series finale, Meanwhile. And it is important to note that not living up to what is arguably the best animated series of all time is hardly an insult.
Notes: You can also get the Complete Series box set, but only on DVD. I'll wait for a Blu-ray release.

For those who like Wolverine as a character but were disappointed with X-Men Origins...
The Wolverine: Extended Edition - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray Combo Pack or 3D Combo Pack
Description: Taking place after the events of The Last Stand... Actually, it begins in World War II with Wolverine saving the life of a Japanese soldier, Yashida. We then flash forward to the present where Yashida is dying and asks Wolverine to make a deal. Wolverine will use his mutant power to cure Yashida, which in the process will "cure" Wolverine of his immortality. When Wolverine says no, that's when the trouble starts.
Pros: It's not the best of the X-Men movies, but it is still a really good movie. It is especially good if you get the extended edition, which not only adds more Wolverine vs. Ninja action, but it also adds more character development.
Cons: If you only get the theatrical edition, the extras are kind of weak on the Blu-ray.

For those who like Roland Emmerich's brand of spectacle filmmaking...
White House Down - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Channing Tatum plays a father who takes his daughter, Joey King, to the White House. He's there to try and get a job, she's there because she loves politics and he's screwed up missing her talent show performance. He doesn't get the job, but things go from bad to much, much worse when a group of terrorists attack the White House. Father and daughter are separated, but when he goes to find her, he gets mixed up with the terrorist plot and has to save the president, Jamie Foxx.
Pros: One of the most entertaining action movies of the summer. It might not have the scope or character development of Iron Man 3, but it is pure fun. The Blu-ray has plenty of extras and looks and sounds great.
Cons: Not everyone agrees with me. The reviews were only mixed. This is partially because it was way too similar to Olympus Has Fallen, which came out first. That movie was far too serious for its own good. Many critics also complained about having the White House the target of a terrorist attack, which is wrong in a post-9/11 world. I'll let Daniel O'Brien defend the movie more below.
Notes: Joey King provided the voice for Katie in Horton Hears a Who and was clearly the best part of that movie. Katie is apparently a baby ox. I've seen that move a few times and I had no idea she was an ox. Didn't learn that till I read it while doing research for White House Down. I always referred to Katie as a fluffy yellow ball of concentrated crazy, which I think you will admit is an accurate description.

And after you are done watching that, watch Channing Tatum and Joey King do their 45-second long handshake.

For those who want Michael Bay smaller, but smarter, movies...
Pain and Gain: Special Collector's Edition Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie star as two Miami bodybuilders who are sick and tired of working hard for little reward. So they recruit Dwayne Johnson, an ex-con and bodybuilder, to help them kidnap Tony Shalhoub and force him to sign over his wealth.
Pros: Arguably the best Michael Bay movie since... well since the original Transformers movie, which I liked more than most critics. But before that, it's the best Michael Bay movie since The Rock, which is almost 20 years old now. The Collector's Edition Blu-ray has an hour-long making of featurette and looks and sound great on high definition.
Cons: The reviews were mixed with a lot of critics complaining about the brutal violence right next to the comedic tone. This is especially troubling for some when they realize the movie is based on a real story. Admittedly, it does have problems, but it is worth checking out. On the other hand, this is not the first time it has come out on Blu-ray, as it had a featureless DVD and Blu-ray release in August before having a special edition come out in December.

For those who want an ultra low-budget look at the post apolcalypse...
5 Shells - Buy from Amazon
Description: An economic collapse causes the society to collapse with it. Two teenage sisters, Matti (Kelsey Hutton) and Joslyn (Eve Kozikowski), lives are shattered when their parents are murdered. So they decide to travel to their grandmother's place, hoping for a safer life. All they have with them is some canned food and a shotgun with 5 shells.
Pros: It's a really good movie that takes a rather tired genre and gives it some life. The writing is great, the acting is fantastic, and it is certainly worth checking out. The DVD has an audio commentary track and a short making of featurette, which isn't a lot in terms of extras, but better than most low budget films have.
Cons: It's not exactly a Christmas friendly film.

For those want to be disturbed this Christmas...
American Mary - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Katherine Isabelle stars as the titular Mary. Mary is a medical student who is desperate for money to pay for school. She first attempts to become a stripper, but during her interview, she's asked to save the life of a man who has been tortured. She's horrified, but soon returns to that world as a less-than-ethical plastic surgeon doing whatever crazy body modification surgeries people want.
Pros: This film has earned amazing reviews among genre critics and was even the big winner at last year's Screamfest picking up five awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematographer, and Best Make-Up). The Blu-ray looks great for a low budget horror film and the extras include an audio commentary track and a making of featurette, which is better than most similar releases have.
Cons: It's body horror and if you don't know what that is, you are probably not in the target audience. It's a small target audience, which is why it won awards at Screamfest, but earned mixed reviews overall.

For those who want the latest great cartoon series from Disney...
Sofia the First - Buy from Amazon: Once Upon a Princess and Ready to Be a Princess
Description: Ariel Winter stars as Sofia. Sofia is a commoner in a magical kingdom, at least she was a commoner, until her mother married the king. Now she's a princess, but it is a large leap from commoner to princess and it might be one she's not quite ready for.
Pros: The show was heavily promoted by Disney when it first came out, but it lived up to the hype becoming the biggest ever cable hit for kids 2-5. The writing is good and the acting is even better, while the two DVD releases come with fun physical extras.
Cons: The price-per-minute for Once Upon a Princess is a little high, even for this type of release. Also, it came out on DVD in March, so fans probably already own it.

For those who want the latest from the greatest Disney cartoon series ever...
Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel - Buy from Amazon
Description: The latest from Phineas and Ferb includes the special Marvel crossover double-double-length episode (that's two full episodes to tell one story, as opposed to the usual two stories per episode), as well as six bonus stories, two of which are double-length.
Pros: Still one of the best cartoons on TV today. Even a lot of adults will enjoy the humor here. The price-per-minute is good for this type of release with an effective total of six episodes. Plus the DVD comes with a mini-comic.
Cons: Full season sets. Real fans want full season set.

Arg... I thought I was done...
Prince Avalanche - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Two guys, Paul Rudd and Emilie Hirsch, work together painting the lines on roads after a wildfire through a rural area. With pretty much only each other as company, they first annoy the hell out of each other before a friendship builds.
Pros: This film earned excellent reviews with a lot of praise going to the two main stars and the tiny supporting cast. Unfortunately, it failed to find an audience in theaters. Despite this, there are plenty of reviews on the DVD and Blu-ray.
Cons: Like most films that earn good reviews but struggle at the box office, there's good news and bad news. Good news, it is less likely that the person you are buying it for will have it. The bad news, it might lack mainstream appeal and might be one of those movies that only critics like.

Almost done...
Before Midnight - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: The third film in the Before Sunrise franchise. The characters played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are now married and have two kids, but there are still issues with their relationship.
Pros: One of the best movies of the year (although it hasn't become a major force during Awards Season). The writing and the acting is stellar, but fans of the franchise shouldn't be surprised by that. Extras include an audio commentary track, Q&A with the Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and Richard Linklater, and a featurette.
Cons: It's a dialogue driven drama and not everyone is into that.

Finally I'm done...
The Way Way Back - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: A coming of age story focusing on Duncan, who is having a terrible summer, because his mother's new boyfriend is psychologically abusive. Instead of spending time with his family, he gets a job at the local water park, run by Owen. He gains more confidence while he is there and even begins a friendship with the girl next door, Susanna.
Pros: One of the best coming of age movies I've seen in a while. It is written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. The cast is fantastic and the Blu-ray has plenty of extras.
Cons: It's a coming of age story and there's practically nothing in this movie that is original to the genre. That said, they execute the tropes in the genre extremely well.

And I'm finally done. I was going to include In the Mouth of Madness on Blu-ray and Love Actually on Blu-ray, but I'm calling it. I'm done. I hope everyone has a happy whatever it is you celebrate. Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Ukrainian Christmas (in which case you have a couple more weeks), etc. In the meantime, I'll start collecting new releases for next year's Holiday Gift Guide.


- C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2013-12-21