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2011 - Holiday Gift Guide - Part IV - Panic Time

December 22nd, 2011

It's the final installment of our annual Holiday Gift Guide, also known as, "Panic Time". This week we have the releases I forgot the first three times, and there are several of them, as well as non-movie related gifts. (Not to mention a few late screeners that I won't have time to write full featured reviews for.)

For those who want what may be the first in a very, very long trend...
The Lion King - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray Combo Pack or 3D Combo Pack
Description: One of the biggest hits of all time. I can't believe I forgot it the first time around. It tells the story of a lion pride on the Savanna and the son of the leader, who is chased away after his uncle kills his father. He grows up with a meerkat and a warthog and learns, "Hakuna Matata".
Pros: It is one of the biggest hits of all time for a reason. It's a classic film and the Blu-ray looks amazing and there are plenty of extras to make it worth the upgrade. The 3D conversion was given mostly good reviews, which is impressive as a lot of critics have turned against the format as a gimmick.
Cons: Not many people have made the leap to 3D, so the target audience is limited, but the Blu-ray is still worth picking up.

For those who want a jump on the Oscar race...
The Help - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: An independent and modern woman, Skeeter, who returns to her town in Mississippi and tries to get a job as a writer. She gets her inspiration when she decides to write about the black maids that are everywhere in white society, but are still mostly invisible.
Pros: This film has performed very well during Awards Season thus far and is a shoe-in for at least a few Oscar nominations as well. Particular emphasis has been placed on the acting by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.
Cons: The DVD only has a music video and two deleted scenes. The Blu-ray has more (Making Of featurette, interviews with real life maids, a few more deleted scenes, etc.) and the film looks and sounds great in high definition.

For those who want an animated Christmas...
Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - Buy from Amazon
Description: A midquel to the classic animated film. It begins on the first Christmas have the curse was lifted with the servants talking about the previous Christmas and how while most of them were trying to help Belle and the Beast fall in love, the grand organ, Forte, wants to stop it, because he doesn't want to go back to being human.
Pros: It's a direct-to-DVD sequel, which tends to set the bar pretty low, but this one is better than most. It looks great on Blu-ray, while there are a handful of extras.
Cons: It's a direct-to-DVD sequel and "better than most" is still far weaker than the original movie.
Notes: If you want to go for a Beauty and the Beast double-shot, grab Belle's Magical World as well. It's not quite as good as the Christmas movie, but not as bad as a lot of direct-to-DVD sequel are.

For those who want a different kind of Christmas movie...
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Archaeologists unearth Santa, but when local children start to disappear, a group of hunters capture him plan to sell him. But Santa's elves try to get him back. Seriously. It's one weird movie.
Pros: It is also one really good movie. The DVD and the Blu-ray have plenty of extras, while the Blu-ray comes with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
Cons: It is more than a little bizarre and not for everyone's tastes.
Notes: For more Scandinavian weirdness, grab Trollhunter (DVD or Blu-ray) and Norwegian Ninja (DVD).

For those who don't want to liven up the holidays...
The Walking Dead: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: When the series begins, Sheriff Rick Grimes is shot by a criminal and lapses into a coma. When he awakes, the world has been infested with Zombies.
Pros: It's an award-winning show taking home an Emmy, a Saturn Award and more. The DVD and the Blu-ray are loaded with extras.
Cons: It's a zombie show. For a lot of people, zombies have been played out in the media recently.

For those who want something more lively that zombies, but still pretty downbeat...
Louie: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Louis C.K. plays a fictionalized version of himself, at least I hope it is a fictionalized version. The show deals with his day to day life, and how he works it into his stand-up.
Pros: It's very funny, and very dark and dramatic at times. It's a combination that was risky, but it works. The extras are impressive and include audio commentary tracks on most episodes, plus there's plenty of deleted scenes.
Cons: He's funny, but the humor can be pretty dark at times. Well, not so much dark as depressing.

For those who like their TV not live at all...
Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People - Buy from Amazon
Description: Adventure time! This is a show that's pretty hard to describe. From what I can piece together, Finn is the last human being alive after the world has succumb to nuclear war. He has adventures with his talking dog in a world full princesses, an angry King, and a vampire that sucks the color red.
Pros: It's as weird as that description makes it sound like, but very funny. Plus, the vampire, Marceline, is voiced by Olivia Olson, who plays Vanessa Doofenshmirtz in Phineas and Ferb, which makes her awesome.
Cons: It's not a full-season set. Also, Marceline the Vampire Queen needs to have more episodes dedicated to her.

For those who want more animated shows for Christmas...
The Simpsons: Season 14 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: It's The Simpsons, do I really need to describe it for you?
Pros: It's still funny. It has the reputation as being way, way, way past its prime, but that's unfair. After a decade on the air, there are so many classic episodes that the new seasons seem weak by comparison. However, there were a lot of misses in those earlier seasons as well, but people tend to remember the hits and forget the misses. (It's how psychics make a living.) There are still many hits on this season as well, including Treehouse of Horror XIII, the return of Sideshow Bob, Moe and Maggie bonding, the Ribwich, and many more. Plus, the DVD and Blu-ray are loaded with extras, as always.
Cons: It also has its share of misses, but it is much better than its reputation.

For those who want even more animation...
Family Guy: Volume Nine - Buy from Amazon
Description: One of three Seth MacFarlane shows on TV. This one focuses on a dysfunctional family with a talking pet. Unlike the other two shows, which also focus on dysfunctional families with a talking pet.
Pros: Snark aside, there are some very funny episodes on this three-disc set, including Big Man on Hippocampus, where Peter loses his memory. (They even make fun of that tired plot hook.) Dial Meg for Murder, Go, Stewie, Go!, Brian Griffin's House of Payne, Something, Something, Something, Dark Side, Partial Terms of Endearment, and others are very good episodes.
Cons: The hit to miss ratio is not as good as it was last time and two of the best episodes, Something, Something, Something, Dark Side and Partial Terms of Endearment have been released on DVD already.

For those who want yet another animated show...
Futurama: Volume Six - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Philip J. Fry accidentally gets cryogenically frozen and wakes up 1000 years in the future. Now he has to adapt to a world filled with robots, aliens, and mutants.
Pros: After the show was canceled, the show was revived as series of movies, which earned good to mixed reviews. When it came back to TV, it wasn't quite as good as its original run. Well... I have good news, everyone. I think it's back. There's not a miss on this two-disc set. Extras include audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and more.
Cons: There are no cons. Buy it.

For those who are looking for low budget horror films...
Raymond Did It - Buy from Amazon
Fertile Ground - Buy from Amazon
Husk - Buy from Amazon
Seconds Apart - Buy from Amazon

Description: A quartet of horror films I've reviewed this year. The films are about a child with a learning disability framed for the death of his younger brother who returns years later to get revenge on those who framed him. A couple who moved to a house in the country, which was the site of a grizzly murder, and the wife might be reliving that murder. A road trip comes to a end after a group of teens get into an accident and they go for shelter in a creepy farmhouse. And finally, psychic twins use their powers to kill, but when a girl gets between them, they turn on each other.
Pros: Low budget horror films are hit and miss. Let's be honest, they are 90% miss. But all four of these film impressed my for various reasons.
Cons: Low budget horror films are an acquired taste, which limits the target audience.
Notes: You can buy Raymond Did It direct and get it signed by the writer / director.

For those who are looking for a little more Canadian content...
Barney's Version - Buy from Amazon
Daydream Nation - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Fubar: Double-Shot - Buy from Amazon
Good Neighbors - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Four Canadian films that hit the home market this year. Paul Giamatti was again unfairly ignored by Oscar voters, but he earned high praise for his performance in this film. Kat Dennings leads Daydream Nation, a film about teenage malaise. Fubar is a mockumentary about two Calagarian hicks. A serial killer stalks a neighborhood in Good Neighbors, and three people turn to each other for comfort, but one of them has a secret.
Pros: All four films are worth checking out, with the quality level ranging from Award-worthy to potential for cult status.
Cons: They are smaller releases, so some of them have little in the way of extras.

For those who want more movie...
Fly Away - Buy from Amazon
Description: Beth Broderick plays a mother trying to raise an autistic child, played by Ashley Rickards. As her daughter gets old, her autism becomes harder and harder to deal with and she must consider putting her in a home.
Pros: It's a powerful film filled with excellent performance. Part of the proceeds from the DVD go to charity.
Cons: Some have compared it to "Disease of the Week" TV movies, but I think this is unfair.

Some more gift ideas...

Music: There's a site called Band Camp where you can buy independent music to support upcoming artists. A couple of the artists that I like are Live2Tivo and Maja Toudal. I discovered both of them on YouTube, which is where I first heard Alyssa Bernal.

Art: RedBubble is a site where artists can upload images that can be sold in a number of formats from cards to T-shirts to prints to framed artwork. I've purchased quite a few items from the site, include Dwarf Hunter by Claire Watson. I recommend that item 110%, and not just because it's me. (Seriously. I was the model for that picture, so if you want me in your home, buy a picture.)

Charity: Fans of Simon and Lewis from YogsCast know they are holding a charity drive to buy goats for poor families in Africa. They are almost at their goal, so help they get over-the-top here.

That's it for our annual Holiday Gift Guide. Hopefully I've given everyone at least some ideas on what to buy loved ones.


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