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2013 - Holiday Gift Guide - Part III

December 19th, 2013

Part III of the Holiday Gift Guide is a little late due to reasons you probably don't want to hear the details about. (I believe I've developed a food allergy to something in Eggnog.) The third installment of our holiday gift guide includes independent films, classics, foreign films, etc. The fastest way to find gifts is to go to the Independent Spirit Awards nominations and find any film that is on that list that is already out on DVD / Blu-ray (Frances Ha, Mud, etc.). Unfortunately, most of the films competing for Awards Season glory are still in theaters and not available as gifts. But there are still many films worth picking up, starting with...

For those who don't care if songwriters make up words...
Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: Julie Andrews stars as Mary Poppins, who comes to the Banks family to help out after their previous nanny quit. Along the way, she and the kids, and Dick Van Dyke, go on many magical adventures.
Pros: This is arguably the best live action family film from Disney, and there's quite a lot of competition in that regard. (Although it is also arguably not live action.) The film won five Oscars, including one for Julie Andrews and two more for the music (it won for both Original Song and Original Score). The special effects also earned an Oscar, which is no surprise, as they were groundbreaking at the time.
Cons: "At the time" is a telling phrase, as some of the special effects have not aged well and are even weaker in high definition. That said, the Blu-ray is still worth the upgrade from the 45th Anniversary DVD.
Notes: Despite what you will read on some sites, Dick Van Dyke's accent is not considered a war crime. It's bad, but it's not that bad.

For those who like their classics animated...
The Little Mermaid - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray Combo Pack or 3D Combo Pack
Description: This is an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story focussing on Ariel, a young mermaid who is obsessed with the above water world, so much so that when she falls in love with a prince, she trades her voice in for a chance to make him fall in love.
Pros: This is the film that revitalized the Disney Animation studio, and for good reason. It is a classic story and the voice acting and the songs are incredible. The film looks and especially sounds amazing on Blu-ray and there are some new extras to this edition of the movie.
Cons: It's a Disney release, so while this is the first time it has been released on Blu-ray, it is not the first time it has been released on the home market, nor will it be the last.

For those who are into felt...
The Muppet Movie - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
The Great Muppet Caper / Muppet Treasure Island - Blu-ray Double-Shot - Buy from Amazon
Description: A trio of Muppets movies hit Blu-ray for the first time, including the original, and what most people consider the best movie, The Muppet Movie, which tells the story about how the Muppets first got together. There is also a double-shot with The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island. Caper, the first sequel, is a mystery film in which Lady Holiday's jewelry is stolen and the guys fly to London to crack the case. Treasure Island is an adaptation of the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Pros: The Muppet Movie is a classic and is one of the best family films of all time. The Great Muppet Caper isn't as good as its predecessor, but it is still a very funny movie. Muppet Treasure Island's human cast is led by Tim Curry, and he's perfect for a Muppet movie.
Cons: The technical presentation for these three movies is not great, mainly because of the way they were shot. The films are a little soft focus, but I think it was shot that way to help keep up the illusion that the Muppets are not controlled by rods. Even so, it still looks a lot better on Blu-ray than on DVD, especially the colors.

I swear there are non-Disney movies on this list...
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: Three shorter tales combined into one movie. Winnie the Pooh runs out of honey and needs to get some from a honey tree, a storm brews, and Pooh meets Tigger for the first time.
Pros: I love this movie. I didn't get a chance to review the Blu-ray, but I bought it anyway. I grew up on this movie and "Heffalumps and Woozles" might be my favorite musical number out of any Disney animated movie.
Cons: There's a little too much DNR and no exclusive extras on the Blu-ray, although it does come with a kite.

For those waiting for me to bring up Firefly or Serenity...
Much Ado About Nothing - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: A modern adaptation of the William Shakespeare play of the same name. Although, calling it modern is not quite accurate, as it uses the original Shakespearean language.
Pros: The film earned amazing reviews with a lot of praise heaped on the actors. The DVD and Blu-ray have good extras, including two audio commentary tracks and a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Cons: It uses the original Shakespearean language, which could be a problem for some. Admittedly, I watched it with the subtitles on, because it is really hard to understand what is being said.
Notes: I've heard some people say this was a box office disappointment, because it only made $4 million while playing in limited release. However, I don't think that it's fair to call it a disappointment for a couple reasons. First of all, it made $4 million in limited release. That's not something most films can do. Secondly, it is a modern adaptation of a William Shakespeare play using the original language. It was never going to be a mainstream hit.

For those who don't like to drink alone...
Drinking Buddies - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: The movie focuses on a pair of couples, Kate & Chris and Luke and Jill. Kate and Luke are co-workers and have a lot of chemistry together, so much so that many people think they should be a couple.
Pros: The film earned excellent reviews and the DVD / Blu-ray have strong extras for a limited release.
Cons: Despite the strong reviews, it failed to find an audience in theaters. This might indicate it does not have much mainstream appeal. Or it could be a good thing, as it means a potential recipient is less likely to already own the movie.

For those who are directionless this Christmas...
The East - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Co-written and starring Brit Marling. She plays Sarah, an undercover agent working for a private security firm whose current assignment is to go undercover with The East, an environmental anarchist group. However, while undercover she begins to see her target in a new light.
Pros: The film earned very good reviews and has a number of young but talented cast members (Brit Marling, Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard).
Cons: It didn't live up to expectations, either with critics or at the box office. (Yes, 75% positive reviews was lower than expected. There were some who thought this film would be an early Awards Season player.) This means there are not a lot of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray.

Now onto some documentaries...

On a side note, there are also several potential Oscar-winning documentaries coming out in January or February. This includes The Act of Killing, which was supposed to come out on DVD and Blu-ray this week, but was pushed back to January 7th. 20 Feet From Stardom comes out on DVD or Blu-ray on the 14th. Both would make excellent gifts, assuming the person you are giving it to is okay with a late gift. Or you could go to last year's Awards Season nominations lists and grab something from there. Most of them were not released on the home market till this year.

For those who want another reason to free Willy...
Blackfish - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: A documentary about Tilikum, an orca that was first captured in 1983 and in the 30 years since then has been involved in three deaths. The film looks at these incidents, but also at the overall problems with keeping intelligent animals used to swimming in the open oceans in tiny pools.
Pros: This film has earned nearly perfect reviews and it is on the shortlist for this year's Oscars. The DVD and the Blu-ray are loaded with extras, including an audio commentary track, extra interview clips, and more.
Cons: If you like going to SeaWorld or other animal themed water parks, you won't after watching this.

For those who want to hear about someone else's family secrets this Christmas...
Stories We Tell - Buy from Amazon
Description: Sarah Polley has been making movies since she was four, but her breakout success came with Road to Avonlea. (I first remember her in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but given its box office numbers, I don't think that's true for a lot of people.) Hopefully she will continue to act, but she has found success behind the camera in recent years. Her latest project is a documentary that looks at some of her family secrets, but the less I say the better it is for the viewer.
Pros: Another documentary with stellar reviews and while it is about one family, a lot of people will connect to the film.
Cons: There are no extras on the DVD.

For those who want a little Candiana in their documentaries...
TutuMuch - Buy from Amazon
Description: A look at nine girls trying to succeed at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Dancers. If they can make it here, they can move on to become professional ballet dancers. If they fail here, their dreams are likely over.
Pros: It's a really good documentary that is a follow-up to Ballet Girls. We get a very good behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to become a ballerina, while we also get to know these charming girls, which is also an excellent part of the movie.
Cons: There are no extras on the DVD. This is not uncommon for a documentary.

Moving on to some foreign flavor...

For those who want a great film about a difficult subject matter...
The Hunt - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Mads Mikkelsen plays a man who is trying to rebuild his life after a difficult divorce. He moves to a small town and takes the job as a kindergarten teacher. However, when he is wrongfully accused of exposing himself to one of his students, his life is destroyed.
Pros: One of the best-reviewed films of the year, it has already picked up a couple of major nominations, and will likely grab an Oscar nomination as well.
Cons: There are not a lot of extras on the DVD, which is not uncommon for foreign language films.

For those who want to go on an adventure in a foreign langauge...
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Louise Bourgoin plays the titular Adele Blanc-Sec, an author who writes about her many adventures around the world. Her most recent adventure takes her to Egypt, where she steals a mummy (it's for a good cause). Meanwhile back in Paris, a scientist has learned the secrets of life after death and used it to bring to life a pterodactyl, which wrecks havoc all over Paris. That's not even the weirdest thing that happens in this movie.
Pros: The movie is written and directed by Luc Besson and you can tell. He's got a way with action. It is also a fantastic movie and Louise Bourgoin is great as the heroine. We need more characters like her in movies. The Blu-ray looks amazing, while there are quite a few extras for a foreign language film.
Cons: You are going to want to watch the movie in French with English-subtitles. It's better than the dubbed version.

We've reached the point where last week's installment of the Holiday Gift Guide ended, and we still have several more films to go. I've already been working on this for 12 hours straight, and it looks like I will be working on it for more.

For those who think Irish is a foreign language...
Grabbers - Buy from Amazon
Description: Aliens crash into the sea off the coast of a quiet Irish town and soon begin eating the locals. A pair of cops, a local marine environmentalist, and the village drunk, figure out the only way to survive is to get really, really, really drunk.
Pros: This is a B-movie monster movie that has a fun twist to it, and it is done really well. It's got a great cast, it uses the small town Irish location well, and the monster effects are actually really good, especially considering the budget. Didn't make a lot of noise at the box office, so whomever you are buying it for probably doesn't own it.
Cons: Didn't make a lot of noise at the box office, which explains why there are not a lot of extras on the DVD.

For those who didn't think Grabbers was strange enough...
Blancanieves - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: A retelling of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves story, but set in the south of Spain in the 1920s and centering on the world of bullfighting. ... Also, it's a silent film. I told you it was strange.
Pros: The reviews are amazing and the film looks great on Blu-ray. There are not a ton of extras on the DVD or Blu-ray, but there's a 30-minute making of featurette, and a few other smaller extras.
Cons: It might be too strange for mainstream audiences.

For those who think it is worth the wait...
Rebelle (a.k.a War Witch) - Buy from Amazon
Description: Rachel Mwanza stars as Komona, a 12-year old girl kidnapped and forced to become a child soldier.
Pros: This Canadian movie earned stellar reviews and even picked up an Oscar nomination... last year. It came out in theaters in 2012, but only hit DVD in 2013. Not sure why.
Cons: Like so many other limited releases, there are not a lot of extras on the DVD.

For those who want options when it comes to movies about bullfighters...
Blood and Sand - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: Tyrone Power stars as Juan Gallardo, a peasant who dreams of becoming the greatest bullfighter ever. He wants to do this to lift his family out of poverty, and to marry the girl of his dreams.
Pros: Tyrone Power was one of the biggest stars of his day and this film is among his best known and most beloved. The Blu-ray looks amazing for such an old Technicolor film.
Cons: The only extra is an audio commentary track.

For those who want to experience a little Oscar history...
Cavalcade - Blu-ray Combo Pack - Buy from Amazon
Description: A look at British society life from 1899 through 1933 touching on many historical events.
Pros: This movie was one of the biggest box office hits of 1933 and won three Oscars, including Best Picture. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great, given its age. The film is more than 80 years old and it is likely there isn't a complete original anywhere out there, so this is mastered from copies, and you can tell at points. There are not a lot of extras on the Blu-ray, with only an audio commentary track from film historian Richard Schickel.
Cons: It's Oscar Bait. It's Oscar Bait from 1933. What was grand and impressive 80 years ago has not aged well.

For those who want more Oscar history...
A Letter to Three Wives - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: Three friends get a letter from a fourth friend, Addie Ross, who informs them that she's run off with one of their husbands, but she doesn't tell them who. We then see the three ladies' marriages and how each of them has a problems and could be the victim here.
Pros: An amazing movie that won Oscars, both to Joseph L. Mankiewicz (one for writing and the other for directing) and was nominated for Best Picture. The Blu-ray also has strong extras, including an audio commentary track and an episode of Biography on Linda Darnell. Finally, it looks and sounds great on high definition, especially given its age.
Cons: I'm coming up blank on a con here.
Note: I recognized the last name Mankiewicz because I'm a fan of The Young Turks and wanted to see if Joseph L. Mankiewicz was related to Ben Mankiewicz and they are. While looking this up on Wikipedia, I noticed Ben Mankiewicz's mother's maiden name was Holly Jolley. This might make this movie the perfect Christmas gift. This or White House Down, which has Ben Mankiewicz playing a news analyst.

On that note... I'm calling it a day. There are undoubtedly films I missed, but there's still Part IV, books, CDs, random stuff, and everything I missed in the previous three installments. I will upload that one this weekend.


Filed under: The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins, The Muppet Movie, Muppet Treasure Island, The Great Muppet Caper, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Rebelle, The East, Stories We Tell, Jagten, Much Ado About Nothing, Blancanieves, Drinking Buddies, Blackfish, Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec, Grabbers, Blood and Sand, Muppets, Julie Andrews, Tim Curry, Jodi Benson, Luc Besson, Louise Bourgoin, Linda Darnell, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Mads Mikkelsen, Ellen Page, Sarah Polley, Tyrone Power, Diana Rigg, Alexander Skarsgård, Dick Van Dyke, Olivia Wilde, William Shakespeare, Brit Marling, Rachel Mwanza, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stevenson