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2014 - Holiday Gift Guide - Part I

November 26th, 2014

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, which means this is Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and a ton of shopping. It also means the first installment of our Holiday Gift Guide. Over the next month, we will talk about TV on DVD releases, independent releases, foreign language releases, classics, etc. but this week we start with Major Movie Releases. These are first run releases, franchise box sets, etc. In some ways, this is better than last year, as there were a wider number of big releases that would make great gifts. However, in other ways it is much weaker. I can't think of a single big franchise box set that came out this year. There are some smaller ones, like the Halloween Box Set, but while the franchise has lasted ten installments and 30 years, how many can you really say are worth repeated viewing? Fortunately, there were plenty of great films to come out this year, starting with what is currently the biggest hit of the year.

For those who are hooked on the Marvel Cinematic Universe...
Guardians of the Galaxy - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Guardians of the Galaxy is the riskiest of the Avengers franchise, because it takes place far off in deep space and focuses on characters that could generously be called second-tier.
Pros: The film was a huge hit, both with critics and with moviegoers. In fact, it is the highest grossing film released in 2014, at least so far. It is also arguably the funniest film in the Avengers franchise, a franchise that is known for combining action and humor. (Unlike the D.C. Comics movies.) Also, the Marvel Comics Blu-rays tend to be awesome.
Cons: The Blu-ray doesn't come out till December 9th and while I should get a screener, I don't know if the extras on the Blu-ray live up to the previous Blu-ray releases in the franchise.

For those who want the previous biggest hit of 2014...
Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: The sequel to Captain America and The Avengers. It focuses on S.H.I.E.L.D. and the enemies within that Captain America has to fight. He also has new allies, like Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon.
Pros: The film's reviews are among the best for any wide release of the year. It also helped set the stage for a number of major changes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Blu-ray looks and sounds amazing.
Cons: The Blu-ray doesn't have a ton of extras and there will very likely be a Phase Two Megaset coming out after Age of Ultron comes out on the home market.

For those who want the previous previous biggest hit of 2014...
The LEGO Movie - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: A movie based on LEGO. This was very high risk, because there's no plot in LEGO to base a movie around. The screenwriters decided to instead make a story within a world that involves a prophecy, conspiracy theory, romance, etc.
Pros: Fortunately, the writing was fantastic and the story they created was marvelous. It maintained the sense of wonder a child has while playing, while still having a very serious and mature message. Additionally, while the DVD lacks substantial extras, the Blu-ray is much better in that regard.
Cons: The film came out in theaters in February and came out on the home market in June. If the person you are shopping for liked the movie, there is a good chance that they own it already.

For those who want one of the biggest hits of 2013...
Frozen - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Frozen is loosely based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, but it was modernized. I don't mean it was set in the modern day, but its sensibilities certainly mesh more with a modern audience.
Pros: This film was in the top ten at the box office for sixteen straight weeks. It wasn't until its was released on DVD and Blu-ray that the film was finally kicked out of the top ten. The reason for this is simple. It is an amazing movie. Additionally, it looks absolutely fantastic on Blu-ray.
Cons: There are not a ton of extras on either the DVD or the Blu-ray. Also, it came out on Blu-ray in March, so chances are fans of the movie already own it.
Note: A new Sing-Along version came out more recently, but only on DVD.

For those who want the other Marvel franchise that is still going strong...
X-Men: Days of Future Past - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: This film combines the original X-Men franchise with the First Class reboot. It uses this unique setup to tell one of the best story-arcs in the X-Men comic book history.
Pros: The adaptation is amazing. It is arguably the best film in the franchise and one of the best wide releases of the year. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great.
Cons: There are not a lot of extras on the DVD or Blu-ray, plus there's an extended cut scheduled to come out next year.

I didn't mention The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which made more than $200 million over the weekend. The reason for this is simple: The franchise has run its course and needs to be retired.

For those who prefer their time travel with a side of puns...
Mr. Peabody and Sherman - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: A feature-length movie adaptation of a 5-minute cartoon series with no character development. In fact, the only real purpose of the original shorts were to deliver weapons-grade puns. They took the origin story as told in the first of the original Mr. Peabody and Sherman shorts and added a family drama to the mix.
Pros: While the film wasn't a monster hit, it did win over the vast majority of critics, including myself.
Cons: There weren't a ton of extras on the DVD or Blu-ray, while some critics complained about the number of puns. It's like they've never seen the original cartoons before.

For those who want the only summer animated release...
How to Train Your Dragon 2 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Was there really only one major animated release this summer? This is a sequel to How to Train Your Dragon and unlike so many other animated sequels, it actually ages the kid characters. Hiccup is growing up and exploring more. What he finds during his exploring is a major spoiler; however.
Pros: The film earned outstanding reviews and is one of the best wide releases of the year. The Blu-ray looks and sounds amazing and has a lot of extras, including many that are aimed at kids and many that are aimed at adult animation fans.
Cons: It isn't quite as good as the original was, but that's hardly an insult.

For those who want the best video game movie ever...
Edge of Tomorrow - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Tom Cruise stars as a non-soldier during an alien invasion. He's in the military, but he's not a soldier. He just films the soldiers to make them seem heroic to make sure there's support for the war. However, one day he's forced to be a real soldier... and quickly dies. And then he wakes up the day he died and dies again. And again. And again.
Pros: While not based on a video game, this movie nearly perfectly shows what it would be like for a video game character when the player dies over and over again. The character gets better, because it has knowledge of what's coming, knowledge it shouldn't have. Also it's a really good action film, even without the Groundhog Day-like setup.
Cons: The Blu-ray isn't loaded with extras. Also, it is a little repetitive. That's the nature of a time-loop story, but not everyone will forgive the repetition.

Oh no, they say he's got to go, go go...
Godzilla - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: It's a Godzilla movie, so you don't really need a lot of plot details.
Pros: One of the best Godzilla movies ever. Granted, while the franchise got off to an amazing start, there have been more than a few duds along the way. This film proved that Godzilla as a character was still relevant enough to carry a movie.
Cons: Unfortunately, Godzilla wasn't the focus of the film. Worse still, the human characters they did focus on were the least interesting of the human characters.

For those who think the first one should have been called Dawn and the second one called Rise...
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: The events of this film take place a decade after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes where a group of human survivors interacts with a group of super intelligent apes. There are some who think cooperation is needed for anyone to survive, but there are some on both sides who are itching for a war.
Pros: This film's reviews are even better than the first film's reviews were. Additionally, the extras on the Blu-ray look great.
Cons: I say looks great, because it isn't out yet. Comes out next Tuesday.

For those who want to see it from the villains point of view...
Maleficent - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: The film takes the basic setup of Sleeping Beauty and creates a whole new story that focuses on the evil fairy witch, Maleficent, from a young girl to when she was betrayed by the one she loved.
Pros: While Sleeping Beauty is widely considered a classic of the Golden Age of animation, Maleficent actually has more developed characters and a stronger emotional arc. Additionally, the technical presentation on the Blu-ray is practically reference level quality.
Cons: I liked the movie a lot more than the average critic did. Then again, a common complaint was that Maleficent didn't follow Sleeping Beauty closely enough.

For those who understand sequels are rarely better than the original...
Muppets Most Wanted - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: After their big comeback in The Muppets, they take their show on the road. However, their new manager is a bad guy who gets Kermit thrown in a Russian gulag and replaced by his evil doppelganger, the world's most feared criminal.
Pros: I love this franchise and while I didn't think this was the best installment, it is close enough that it is an easy recommendation.
Cons: It has been out on Blu-ray since August, so anyone you are buying it for might already have it.

For those who think sequels are not always worse...
22 Jump Street - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: A sequel to 21 Jump Street, which was about two men who knew each other in high school, but were not friends. They meet again when they join the police and become friends and partners going undercover.
Pros: Comedy sequels rarely work out, because comedies rely on characters and situations, so having the same characters in similar situations two movies in a row doesn't make sense. However, this film's reviews were nearly identical to the first film's reviews were and many thought the humor and the chemistry was even stronger than the first film. The extras on the Blu-ray are very strong.
Cons: Not everyone agrees that this film is as good as the first film.

For those who think growing up can be tough...
Neighbors - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are new parents and they learn their new neighbors are a Frat. At first they and the Frat's leader, Zac Efron, get along, but soon the relationship turns sour.
Pros: All three of the leads have great comedic timing and the writing is great. It manages to balance the humor and the emotional elements very well.
Cons: The movie isn't as good as the other comedy above.

For those who want to laugh and cry...
The Fault in Our Stars - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: The film focuses on two kids, Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, who meet in a cancer support group. They begin to fall in love, but do you want to risk love when death is so close?
Pros: This film was based on a very popular young adult novel and there was a lot of hype surrounding its release. Fortunately, the reviews were excellent and many critics agree than the film tells an emotionally moving story. If you know someone who was a fan of the book, they will very likely love this movie.
Cons: While the film earned great reviews, even some of the positive reviews mentioned the film dances on a fine line between emotional and emotionally manipulative. If I Stay has similar complaints thrown at it, but while it isn't as good as this film, I think it was unfairly criticized.

And with that, I should really end the first installment of our Holiday Gift Guide. As usual, there are very likely some I've forgotten, but that's why we have a fourth part to this list. Next week we have the December preview, but the week after that the Holiday Gift Guide returns with TV on DVD releases. Are there any great full-season Megasets to get as gifts? How about first season releases? Tune in to find out.


Filed under: Edge of Tomorrow, Maleficent, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Frozen, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Lego Movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Godzilla, Muppets Most Wanted, 22 Jump Street, Neighbors, The Fault in Our Stars, X-Men, Halloween, Muppets, Spider-Man, Godzilla, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Jay Baruchel, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chris Evans, Ricky Gervais, Anthony Mackie, Seth Rogen, Steve Whitmire, Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Hans Christian Andersen