Follow us on

2014 - Holiday Gift Guide - Part IV

December 20th, 2014

The final installment of our annual Holiday Gift Guide involves books, music, and whatever DVD and Blu-rays I forgot the first time around. Also, like every year, I use this as an opportunity do go over some screeners that arrived late and that I didn't have time to go through in-depth. Like I've said the first three times, I didn't feel like there was a huge amount of DVDs and Blu-ray that came out this year, so I really hope I didn't miss out much. We can start out with...

For those who want the greatest addition to metal in decades...
Description: J-Pop + Heavy Metal = BABYMETAL. In Japan, premade bands are incredibly common, even more so than they are in the English-speaking world. Usually, these bands sing bubblegum pop songs, but with BABYMETAL, the lead singer, Suzuka Nakamoto, and the two backup singers, Yui Mizuno and Moa Kikuchi, sing pop, but the band plays heavy metal.
Pros: When I first heard of this band, I thought it was a novelty act. I am not alone in this initial reaction. However, after hearing a couple of their songs, I realized the band was actually really talented metal musicians, while the three singers weirdly fit the genre. They've become very popular and have even sold out shows during their world tour.
Cons: The physical CD and DVD haven't been released in North America, but you can import them. They are really expensive to import, on the other hand.

For those who think alcohol makes everything go down easier, including history...
Drunk History: Seasons One and Two - Buy from Amazon: DVD
Description: The first two seasons consist of 18 episodes and each episode takes place in one city. Three people each describe an historical event, while they are drunk. Meanwhile, actors like Winona Ryder, Jack Black, John Lithgow, Weird Al Yankovic, etc. reenact the historical events while lip-syncing to the drunk narrators, no matter what they say or do. One of them had a sneezing fit during his story while Jenny Slate was interrupted by her dog.
Pros: Many of these stories are not only interesting and sort of educational, but they are also very funny. The extras on the three-disc set are better than expected, as many episodes have behind-the-scenes, deleted scenes, outtakes, etc.
Cons: While some of the people who get drunk become more energetic and lively, some get sluggish and slur their words more. This is less entertaining. Some get so drunk they puke repeatedly, which gets nauseating.

Speaking of Jenny Slate...
Obvious Child - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Jenny Slate stars as Donna, a stand-up comic who learns her boyfriend has been cheating on her with her best friend. While getting over this, she has a one-night stand and gets pregnant as a result. Unlike so many other films where this happens, she seriously contemplates an abortion.
Pros: This film earned excellent reviews. Jenny Slate gives a career-making performance in this movie. Additionally, the extras are better than expected for a limited release.
Cons: It got the unfortunate label as the "Abortion Comedy", which would make for a weird Christmas gift.

For those who want a multi-dimensional experience...
Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension by Matt Parker - Buy from Amazon: Kindle or Hardcover
Description: Matt Parker is a stand-up comic and a mathematician and in this book he describes a number of fun and interesting mathematical facts that fit in the "recreational mathematics" field.
Pros: If you are subscribed to Numberphile, you know Professor Matt Parker, who has a talent to explain math in a way that is engaging and educational, even if he says maths, which is clearly wrong.
Cons: You would be giving a math book for Christmas, so that limits your potential target audience.

For those who like their comedy broad...
Broad City: Season 1 - Buy from Amazon: DVD
Description: Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer star as two women, who are slackers and have a talent for making situations way more complicated than they should be.
Pros: The webseries this show is based on earned high-praise and the show is no different. At the moment, its reviews are 95% positive. Extras include plenty of deleted scenes, outtakes, alternative takes, as well as video commentaries on select episodes.
Cons: While I'm sure Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are nice people in real life, the characters they play in this show can be a little grating. It might be a turn off for some people.

For those who want to know how to pronounce xkcd...
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe - Buy from Amazon: Softcover, Hardcover, Kindle, or Audiobook
Description: Randall Munroe, the writer and ... artist? behind wrote a book where he tried to find the scientific answers to truly stupid questions, like can you swim in the radiation containment pool used to store spent nuclear reactor fuel rods?
Pros: If you are a fan of, then you should love this book, as it has the same weird nature to it. Additionally, you can get it in audiobook form read by Wil Wheaton, which is a great nerd fit.
Cons: Seriously, how do you pronounce xkcd?

For those who thought this would be a bigger hit...
Night Moves - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Three environmental activists, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard, plan to destroy a dam as an environmental protest. However, when the act of terrorism goes wrong, more wrong than they were planning, they worry about the results.
Pros: The film earned excellent reviews with much of the praise going to the actors, as well as the director, who helped create a character-driven story.
Cons: It didn't do well in limited releases and as a result there are no extras on the DVD or Blu-ray. Also, I don't think it is unfair to say this film has a deliberate pace, to be kind.

For those who are still trying to deal with the fact that this show is over...
Legend of Korra: Book Three: Change - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: After Korra defeated Vaatu, the evil spirit, and the gateway to the spirit realm was left open, the world of the Avatar changed. For instance, people who had never had the ability to airbend suddenly do. While Korra tries to deal with that, or fails to deal with that, a new threat emerges. Zaheer was one of the people granted the ability to airbend and he uses his new powers to escape prison, gather allies, and try to destroy the Avatar.
Pros: I loved the first two seasons and I'm happy to say season three is just as good. Extras on the Blu-ray are amazing with an audio commentary and behind-the-scenes featurette for all 13 episodes.
Cons: The DVD only has audio commentary tracks and behind-the-scenes featurettes for four episodes. That's still good, but not amazing.

For those who associate a secluded mountain resort with horror and not holidays...
Don't Blink - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: A group of ten friends travel to a secluded mountain resort for a vacation. When they get there, they find the place deserted. Worse still, it was so out of the way that when they got there, they didn't have enough gas to make it back. The group begins to panic once some of their members simply vanish.
Pros: Despite there being no reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, this is a very good movie. It reminds me of The Presence, which I previously reviewed. It's a thriller / suspense that builds up tension in an effective way. It's an impressive debut film for writer / director Travis Oates.
Cons: It's a low-budget Canadian movie, which explains why there are no extras on the DVD. Also, the ending is ... ambiguous, which has split critics.

For those who think My Little Pony needs fewer ponies...
My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: A trio of sirens banished from Equestria use their magical ability to cause dissent among the kids of Canterlot High. Twilight and her friends try to save the day by casting a counter spell through a song, but the sirens' powers begin to have an effect on them and their friendship.
Pros: This is better than the first Equestria Girls was, although there are almost no reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. The Blu-ray has an audio commentary, the preview shorts, and sing-alongs for three songs.
Cons: It is better than the first movie, but not as good as the TV show is.

For those who want more fighting in fairytales...
RWDY: Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: An animated series that uses fairytale characters like Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, etc. and makes them high school students in a magical world where they have to train skills and powers to battle the forces of evil.
Pros: The series is very fun. What else can you say about a show that starts its second season with an extended food fight where turkeys are used as boxing gloves. There are plenty of extras on the DVD / Blu-ray.
Cons: While you can watch the series as a two and a half hour long movie, it was originally released as 12 15-minute long shorts, so it feels very episodic and the action overtakes the characters.

For those who are not tired after the seven-year Trek...
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Buy from Amazon: Season Seven
or All Good Things
Description: It's the end of the line for The Next Generation, as season seven comes out on Blu-ray. Also coming out is All Good Things, the two hour series finale.
Pros: In my opinion, All Good Things was the best series finale for all of Star Trek. The entire seven-year run on Blu-ray has looked amazing, while the extras have been consistently impressive.
Cons: Season seven is widely seen as the worst season since season two. There are still many good episodes, but also more misfires than we've seen in most other seasons.

For those who prefer there stars to go to war and not trek...
Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars - Buy from Amazon: DVD
Description: This is the retelling of Star Wars, but with the Phineas and Ferb characters playing side roles that weren't shown in the original movie.
Pros: As I said in my review, this is arguably the best Star Wars parody since Spaceballs. That is high praise coming from me. There are also a number of other episodes on this DVD that range from the merely average to the instant classics. The DVD also comes with a Perry in Carbonite keychain.
Cons: I'm drawing a blank.

For those who celebrate Ester Day...
This Star Won't Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl - Buy from Amazon: Kindle
Description: Esther Grace Earl was a blogger and a member of Nerdfighteria, who in 2006 at the age of 12 was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She sadly passed away in 2010, but her writings were collecting and turned into this book.
Pros: This is an inspirational story that has earned amazing reviews from readers.
Cons: It is inspirational, but also more than a little emotional.

And with that, the Holiday Gift Guide is done for another year. Hopefully I've helped some people find gifts for loved ones. There is certainly an eclectic selection of possible gifts on these four lists.


Filed under: Jack Black, Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, John Lithgow, Travis Oates, Henry Rollins, Winona Ryder, Peter Sarsgaard, Wil Wheaton, Weird Al Yankovic, Janet Varney, Jenny Slate