It’s that time of year again, when sites the web-over compile helpful holiday shopping lists to guide you into the deepest, darkest pits of retail with a map that will hopefully get you out alive. Here now, without further ado, is the 2008 Quick Stop Holiday Shopping Guide (and if you see anything you like, support Quick Stop by clicking through the links and order from that fine online emporium, Amazon.com)…
I’ve banged on about for years, and I’m going to keep going virtual door to virtual door until the word gets out about QI. If you’ve never heard of the UK quiz program QI, you’re missing out on one of the funniest “educational” shows ever devised (the devisee being creator/producer John Lloyd, formerly of Blackadder, Not The Nine O’Clock News, and Spitting Image). The key to QI (which stands for “Quite Interesting”) is the central tenet of its philosophy - it’s not always being correct that counts, but being interesting (and funny). The interesting nature of a given piece of information spurs conversation and debate, eventually leading round to the learning of said informational nugget. Did you know that the Earth has more than one moon, for example? Or that otters kill crocodiles? Soon to make its debut on BBC1 (with its 5th season), it’s hosted by Stephen Fry and features a rotating panel of four comedians (one of which is mainstay Alan Davies) - and it’s one of the most hilarious shows I’ve ever seen… Honestly, you’ll laugh as much as you learn, and I still hold out hope a network in the US is smart enough to pick the show up uncut, as BBC America have been nothing but boobs about it (Hello, Comedy Central! Hello, Discovery Channel! Hello, PBS! Somebody!). Until then, you can grab a copy of both the first (A Quite Interesting Game) and second (Strictly Come Duncing) interactive QI DVD games (Warner Home Video, DVD-£18.99 each), the 2-disc, feature-laden DVD sets of the first three seasons - The A Series (2 Entertain, Not Rated, DVD-£19.99), The B Series, & The C Series (Warner Music Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-£19.99 SRP each). Keep in mind that all five of which are available only for Region 2, so make sure you have a Region Free player. For those in the US, the very first QI Book of General Ignorance (Faber & Faber, $19.95 SRP) and the follow-up Book Of Animal Ignorance (Faber & Faber, $ SRP) are available, and they’re both brilliant tomes which collect much of the interesting information featured in the first four seasons into one handy volume, plus scads more of those aforementioned nuggets of intellectual goodness. Folks in the UK (and bright, industrious Americans who know how to use the internet, HINT HINT) can get their very own copies of both the inaugural QI “E” Annual and this year’s QI “F” Annual (Faber & Faber, £12.99 each), which make the perfect holiday gift for all ages. Last but certainly not least is the Advanced Banter: The QI Book Of Quotations (Faber & Faber, £14.99 SRP), which is the most interesting compendium of clever and memorable quotes you’ll ever lay your inquisitive mind upon. By all means, learn what all the hubbub is about (and stop by the official QI site at www.QI.com).
And while we’re on the subject of Stephen Fry, let me take a moment to heartily recommend the DVD collection of his recent documentary series, Stephen Fry In America (West Park Pictures, Not Rated, DVD-£ SRP) - also available in a beautiful Blu-Ray edition (£39.98 SRP), both for Region 2 - which finds dear Mr. Fry traversing every State in the US in his London cab, exploring the Venn diagram of American and regional identity. At the same time, be sure you get a copy of the companion book, also titled Stephen Fry In America (HarperCollins UK, £20.00 SRP), which offers deeper insight and anecdotes from Stephen on his journey.
Few could have predicted that over 25 years later, Ralphie Parker and his Christmas quest for a Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action BB Gun would be a must-see holiday tradition. Based on the childhood stories of humorist Jean Shepherd, its impact continues to grow - the sales of Leg Lamps have skyrocketed, people are more conscious of eye safety, and no one will ever pronounce “Fragile” the right way again. Now, the 2-disc special edition has been repackaged as A Christmas Story: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$39.92 SRP) which - in addition to the bonus features on the original release (an audio commentary, Jean Shepherd radio readings, a retrospective documentary, & featurettes) - contains themed cookie cutters, a cooking apron, and a photo-filled recipe book within a collectible cookie tin. And for you high-def enthusiasts, a Blu-Ray edition is also available ($49.99 SRP), which - instead of the cookie materials - sports a set of string of miniature leg lamp lights.
My good friend Glen Oliver and I waited years - YEARS! - for a company to treat The Final Countdown (Blue Underground, Rated PG, Blu-Ray-$34.95 SRP) with the love and care deserved of such an enjoyable cult classic. We’d suffered through the heartbreak of mediocre releases that were so bad they almost broke us. We feared there would be no one out there that would give a fair shake to the tale of a modern aircraft carrier that, via a freak time storm, is given the option of altering the events of Pearl Harbor. Just when we thought no one would step up, a light shone on the horizon… A blue one, to be exact. Blue Underground gave fans a beautiful 2-disc special edition with wonderful sound and video, plus bonus featurettes and an audio commentary with Director of Photography Victor J. Kemper. Now they’ve gone one better and ported the whole kit and kaboodle over with a new, glorious high definition transfer to Blu-Ray. It’s a must-have. On behalf of Glen and myself - plus countless fans - many, many thanks to the fine folks at Blue Underground for continuing to give the flick due respect.
Although the story is rather flat and doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny, Sleeping Beauty (Walt Disney, Rated G, Blu-Ray-$34.99 SRP) is the one Disney film that I watch just to admire the visual design (due largely to designer Evinyd Earle) and the incredible 2:55 widescreen canvas. The new 2-disc 50th anniversary edition is sparklingly clean and pops like a champagne cork. It’s also the first of the classic Disney animated films to get the high definition treatment - and it is a wonder to behold. I can only hope the other classics in the Disney library arrive quickly (though, knowing Disney’s history, it will be a long, slow trickle). Bonus features include a never-before-seen alternate opening sequence, deleted songs, a new making-of documentary, an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and much more.
I admit - I tried to avoid the pressure to fall in lock step with the “It’s the second coming” crowd who banged the drum loudly for The Dark Knight (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$34.98 SRP). After seeing the film - and being disappointed by so many comic adaptations that litter the recent past - Not only is it a nuanced, brilliantly acted piece of cinema, it doesn’t stab the mythos or the characters in the back to achieve it. The 2-disc special edition features making-of featurettes, the film’s IMAX scenes, Composer Hans Zimmer on scoring the Joker, 6 episodes of the faux news program Gotham Tonight, galleries, trailers, and more. The 2-disc Blu-Ray edition ($35.99 SRP) sports all the same bonus features, but in high-def. The real jaw-dropper, though, is just how spectacular the film looks and sounds. If you have the option, go Blu-Ray.
There were plenty of worrisome moments over the past few years, where it seemed like the wonderful Walt Disney Treasures line of collector-friendly vault releases were doomed. This uncertain fate was particularly heartbreaking as it would have put the release of the complete run of Donald Duck cartoons in jeopardy. Thankfully, though, we’ve made it to the end of the Duck’s theatrical run with The Chronological Donald Duck: Volume 4 (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$32.99 SRP). The 2-disc set contains all of the shorts from the years 1951-1961, which include some rare Cinemescope outings that have been gorgeously restored. The set also features a look at the Duck’s career in comics books, animator Eric Goldberg presenting the storyboards to an unproduced short, and audio commentaries on a pair of shorts.
The second of this year’s Walt Disney Treasures sets focuses on the most beloved of all the Mouseketeers - Annette Funicello. This 2-disc set contains the complete run of The Mickey Mouse Club Presents Annette (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$32.99 SRP), a 20-minute serial that aired during the 3rd and final season of The Mickey Mouse Club and featured Annette as a country girl gone to live with her suburban relatives. In addition to an introduction from Leonard Maltin, the set also sports a tribute to Annette.
Finally, the third and final release from this year’s Walt Disney Treasures wave contains the complete adventures of Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow Of Romney Marsh (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$32.99 SRP). Produced for Disney’s Wonderful World Of Color, this 3-part adventure aired in 1964 and starred a pre-Prisoner Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Christopher Syn, the midnight righter of wrongs. In addition to the 3-parter as originally aired, the set also includes the feature film assembled for theatrical release in England, Walt’s TV introductions presented in widescreen, a look at the history of the Dr. Syn character, and the reasons behind the creation of Disney’s satellite studio in England.
In a perfect world, shows like Freaks & Geeks never would have been prematurely cancelled, but in a near-perfect world, at least creator Paul Feig has carved out a niche for himself as an author who successfully mines all of the social and physical awkwardness of adolescence and turns tragedy into comedy - first in his non-fiction essays on his own childhood, and now in the laugh-out-loud functional adventure Ignatius MacFarland: Frequenaut! (Little Brown Young Readers, $16.99 SRP). When the teased and tormented Ignatius MacFarland decides that space must be kinder than his classmates, he builds a rocket ship. Unfortunately, an accident transports Ignatius - not to space, but to another “frequency” (a parallel world), where former English teacher (and frequenaut) Chester Arthur has become a dictator. Can Ignatius and another trapped frequenaut, Karen, unseat the evil Arthur and find a way to return home? Read the book and find out!
It was only a matter of time before the classic James Bond flicks made their high definition debut, and we’ve got a clutch of 6 to ring in the holiday season. You can whet your Blu-Ray Bond appetite with the fully restored Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball, For Your Eyes Only, Live & Let Die, and Die Another Day (MGM, Rated PG, Blu-Ray-$34.98 SRP each). While all of the bonus features are basically those found on the previous standard DVD special edition sets, many of the documentaries have been remastered in high definition. The picture quality is revelatory - they certainly beat any of those viewing you might have had on standard cable during your childhood holiday season. By all means - fire up the Blu-Ray player, pull over the ottoman, and have yourself a mini-marathon.
Now that you’ve got the adults squared away, how are you going to keep the kids occupied? How about with the newly-revamped with sound FX silly skill game, Operation ($14.99 SRP)? How’s that? Or how about an electronic edition of Guess Who? ($24.99 SRP)? With tons of faces and characters to keep kids playing into late-adolescence?
This holiday season, I feel compelled to guide you towards a handful of UK (that’s Region 2, so be sure you have the capability to play them) DVDs from some stand-ups you should be following. First up is the latest offering from comedian Jimmy Carr, who supplements his too-numerous-to-mention hosting gigs to periodically return to the stage for some pocket money. This year, it’s Jimmy Carr: In Concert (Channel 4, Not Rated, DVD-£19.99 SRP), which features 90 minutes of scathing jocularity recorded at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre. Bonus features include a collection of Jimmy’s best audience put-downs done in various animated styles, comic strips, and alternative subtitles (be sure to check out Scouse and Polish).
If Jimmy’s humor isn’t pitch black and acerbic enough for you, then the first live DVD from Mock The Week regular Frankie Boyle might be what you’re looking for during the bleak midwinter festivities. Titled, wouldya believe it, Frankie Boyle Live (Channel 4, Not Rated, DVD-£19.99 SRP), his caustic wit is a wonder to behold, as it leaves absolutely no taboo unmolested. Bonus features include the behind-the-scenes tour diary “F**k You Scotland”, sketches from the BBC3 comedy Rush Hour, and additional audio material.
Another Mock The Week regular getting his very first live DVD is Russell Howard. Imagine taking the Ritalin away from a hyperactive child, then sitting him down with a bowl full sugar. That, in a nutshell, is the comedic energy you’re dealing with here - and even better, it’s intelligent comedy that belies Howard’s age (he’s younger than me, the bastard). Bottom line - pick up a copy of Russell Howard Live (Channel 4, Not Rated, DVD-£19.99 SRP), which also features a behind-the-scenes tour diary.
To further reinforce Mock The Week as a veritable breeding ground for launching inaugural stand-up DVDs, another regular gets his first with Michael McIntyre: Live & Laughing (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-£19.99 SRP). McIntyre is another of those virtuoso comedians whose ability to entertain feels like nothing more than reflex action - the reflex action of a ridiculously talented bastard who somehow must have sucked the talent from the rest of us (a statement meant merely to assuage my bruised ego, that so much funny should exist in one cheeky fellow). This disc also features the entirety of McIntyre’s Live A The Apollo appearance.
We haven’t run out of Mock The Weekers yet, as the host of the show has also got his second stand-up DVD dropping this holiday season. Dara O’Briain Talks Funny In London (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-£19.99 SRP) finds the sharp Irishman unloading on a whole slew of new targets.
Surely that’s all of the UK panel show regulars, right? Well, no, because 8 Out Of 10 Cats team captain and QI regular Sean Lock has got his very own debut DVD, Sean Lock Live (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-£19.99 SRP). And now I think that’s it. Quite a lot to buy, no? And you should get every one of them.
Oi! I almost forgot that Bill Bailey has a new DVD out, from his last stand-up tour, in the form of Bill Bailey: Tinselworm (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-£19.99 SRP). Is everybody coming out with their stand-up DVDs this year? Well, make sure you add this one to the stack, ’cause it’s a right funny affair.
And while you’re at it, pick up the Russell Brand Menage A Trois Collection (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-£39.99 SRP), a 3-disc set collecting two of the Forgetting Sarah Marhsall star’s stand up specials - Russell Brand Live & Russell Brand: Doing Life - as well as the first season of his hilarious observational series, Russell Brand: Ponderland.
Prior to laying eyes on the Premium Format Indiana Jones (Sideshow, $279.99 SRP), I’d considered the Premium Format editions of Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi to be Sideshow Collectible’s greatest achievements in their deluxe line. I may have to revise that assessment, but regardless, Indy belongs firmly in their company. Not only is the costume tailoring and scale issue spot-on, the likeness captured in the sculpt has to be the finest representation of Harrison Ford yet in collectible form. Edition size is limited to 3,000, and it’s every bit worth the price of picking one up.
However, if you can’t afford the big fig, a very nice alternative is Sideshow’s 12″ Indiana Jones ($89.99 SRP). The details are just as great - it’s just the size that’s smaller. It also has a much larger edition size, of 7,500, so you’re chances of snagging one are much better.
If you’ve yet to spend some time with the addictive fun of Nerf Darts and their accompanying launchers, rectify that particular black hole in your life with the ultimate Nerf Dart launcher - the Nerf N-Strike Vulcan Blaster ($44.99 SRP). Like a Nerf Gatling gun, it automatically fires 25 Nerf darts in a matter of seconds from an ammo belt. Where were these glorious toys when I was a kid?
Well, Nerf even has an answer for that, too, as they’ve produced an adult version of their blasters in game form, perfect for office conflicts of domestic disputes - the Nerf Elimination Game ($19.99 SRP). What you get are 4 single-shot Nerf blasters ideal for sneak attacks sure to make the daily grind, if not better, at least tolerable.
While I still wait (it seems) in vain for the DVD release of Car 54, Where Are You? and Sgt. Bilko, I can at least console myself by watching the complete 4-season run of McHale’s Navy (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$44.99 SRP each). It’s basically Bilko on the water, as we follow the naval misadventures of the crew of PT-73 - a crew that included Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine) and Ensign Parker (Tim Conway). Forever plotting to get McHale’s crew tossed out is Captain Binghamton (the great Joe Flynn). Fun, fun stuff. Get it!
For criminy’s sake - it’s taken forever, but we in the US have FINALLY gotten a box set containing all of the various travel documentaries hosted by Python Michael Palin in the uber-wonderful Michael Palin Collection (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$249.98 SRP). The set features Hemingway Adventures/Great Railway Journeys, Full Circle, Pole To Pole, Around The World In 80 Days, Sahara, Himalaya, and New Europe. The titles are also available separately, if you just need to pick up the new stuff. Either way, GET THEM.
Even though they’ve done just about everything possible (including throwing the kitchen sink at it) to tear down the beloved characters and stories of their relaunch, time and unfortunate editorial machinations have only made the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire run of Justice League International look all the more enjoyable by comparison. Ignore all of that Uber Final Infinite Crisis of Something Or Another business and pick up the collected Justice League International: Volume One, Volume Two, and Volume Three (DC Comics, $24.99 SRP each), which collects the first 22 issues. You won’t regret it.
Speaking of the League, Roger Stern and John Byrne re-teamed last year for a JLA story arc that’s now been collected in JLA: That Was Now, This Is Then (DC Comics, $14.99 SRP), which finds our heroes going toe-to-toe with an ancient foe that troubled them in their early days, and threatens to destroy them in the present.
Try as we might, there’s not doubt that this holiday season will cause at least some small amount of aggression. How to deal with it, then? Why, your very own Hulk Smash Hands ($19.99 SRP)! Unlike the original Hulk Hands from a few years back, they changed the foam construction to stuffed cloth, I guess because even if it’s Nerf, a punch might hurt just a bit. These new hands are soft… Though even in the most heated holiday battle, I’m not exactly suggesting you wallop someone with them… Unless, you know, they deserve it.
The first major HBO miniseries to make the transition to high definition is the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg produced Band Of Brothers (HBO, Not Rated, Blu-Ray-$99.98 SRP). The 6-disc set presents all 10 episodes in full 1080p HD. The 80-minute documentary “We Stand Alone Together: The Men Of Easy Company”, the making-of featurette, and footage from the Normandy premiere all carry over from the original DVD release, while the Blu-Ray edition adds picture-in-picture commentary from real Easy Company veterans.
I admit - I was wary of Wall-E. Cars had left me a little cold (and the creepy, post-apocalyptic, human-less but made by humans world it was set in was just disturbing), but Ratatouille was more enjoyable than I thought it was going to be, and my faith in Pixar was ready to be fully restored. And it was. It helps that I experienced the film sitting beside my 4-year-old nephew, who was in the process of taking in his very first movie on a movie theater’s BIG SCREEN. It was a magical time from start to finish, and the DVD brings it on home. If standard definition is still your cup of tea, then I recommend the Wall-E: 3-Disc Special Edition (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$39.99 SRP), featuring an audio commentary with director Andrew Stanton, deleted scenes, a sneak peek at “Wall-E’s Tour Of The Universe”, a look at Ben Burtt’s sound design work, the “Presto” short, a brand-new short following the frustrated robot Burn-E, a look into the workings of Buy n Large, behind-the-scenes featurettes, Leslie Iwerks’s feature documentary The Pixar Story, and more. For you high-def enthusiasts, the Blu-Ray Wall-E (Walt Disney, Rated G, Blu-Ray-$40.99 SRP) features all of the bonus features of the standard edition, plus the addition of picture-in-picture storyboards and commentary on “Burn-E”, pop-up commentary, video games, 3-D set fly-throughs, and Cine-Explore with Andrew Stanton. Take your pick, but be sure to pick up at least one.
Kudos to Stephen Colbert for reviving the tradition of a pundit holiday special - just like the George Plimpton celebrations of yore - with A Colbert Christmas (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP). Would you believe it’s full of festive musical performances and opinionated tidings? And a video fire? BELIEVE IT!
The fourth season of Saturday Night Live (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$69.98 SRP) is the last to feature what’s now considered the “classic cast”, as this was the final season to feature both John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as cast members (they would soon be off making The Blues Brothers). As far as guest hosts go, the season is absolutely stellar, with the roster including the likes of Steve Martin, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Carrie Fisher, Fred Willard, The Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, Elliott Gould, Walter Matthau, and the infamous Milton Berle. Musical guests included Talking Heads, Peter Tosh, Van Morrison, The Grateful Dead, Bette Midler, James Taylor, The Doobie Brothers, and more. Bonus features this go round are limited to archival cast interview footage, but something is certainly better than nothing.
The Brits have a knack for taking the tired old sitcom format, blowing it up, and creating some absolutely brilliant television. Those bastards. Most definitely to be included in their long line of triumphs is Spaced, a show about a pair of twenty-something slackers - Tim & Daisy (Simon Pegg & Jessica Stevenson) - who pose as a professional couple in order to get a North London apartment. Sure, Tim could be a comic book artist if he tried, and Daisy’s quite a good writer, but being successful in either of those careers would mean applying themselves… By, of all things, *working*. Gah! With a gaggle of off-the-wall friends and acquaintances, if you think of it as a twenty-something Seinfeld with a postmodern pop culture twist (there are frequent surreal diversions) you wouldn’t be far off the mark. After much legal wrangling, fans and soon-to-be fans in the US can now pick up Spaced: The Complete Series (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). In addition to the audio commentary, outtakes, feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary, deleted scenes, trailers, raw footage, and galleries found on the original UK release, the US set also includes brand new commentaries featuring special guests Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Matt Stone, Diablo Cody, and more. Try out the show - I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Those clever bastards.
Just when the summer doldrums were beginning to set in, I found out just why everyone has been fawning over Mad Men (Lionsgate, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) - the AMC series about Madison Avenue ad execs in the early 60’s. The reason why everyone has flocked to it? Because it’s one hell of a great show. Check out the first season for yourself. The 4-disc set features all 13 episodes, plus audio commentaries, featurettes, and more. The first season is also available on Blu-Ray ($49.99 SRP), with identical bonus features.
They took a little while to wade in, but the wait was definitely worth it when one of the first two high definition releases from the cinema mavens at Criterion is their already-stunning special edition of The Third Man (Criterion, Not Rated, Blu-Ray-$39.95 SRP). The picture is just a revelation - which is certainly welcome, considering what a mood piece the film is. Bonus features are carried over from the recent revised special edition, and include a pair of audio commentaries, an introduction from Peter Bogdanovich, an abridged recording of Graham Greene’s treatment, the outstanding 90-minute documentary Shadowing The Third Man, an hour long documentary on Graham Greene from 1968, the 30-minute Austrian documentary Who Was The Third Man?, The Third Man on the radio, an illustrated production history, archival footage of post-war Vienna, a look at the foreign dialogue in the film, and Joseph Cotton’s opening narration for the US version of the film. A must-have.
The other Criterion release to go Blu-Ray is The Man Who Fell to Earth (Criterion, Rated R, Blu-Ray-$39.95 SRP). The film itself is an odd duck. One part allegory and one part sci-fi, it was also intended as a starring vehicle for the recently Ziggy Stardust-ed David Bowie. Amazingly, director Nicolas Roeg was able to craft a masterful tale that is at the same time both beautiful and enigmatic. In it, Bowie stars as an alien from a dying planet who, upon landing on Earth, becomes a reclusive millionaire enveloped by the decadent, self-destructive lifestyle he embraces. This special edition contains the uncensored, fully restored version of the film, an audio commentary (with Roeg, Bowie, and Buck Henry), a video interview with screenwriter Paul Mayersberg, video interviews with Candy Clark & Rip Torn, audio interviews, still galleries, trailers and more.
When I was but a wee lad still fresh in this phenom called Star Wars and eagerly awaiting the release of Return of the Jedi (we knew there was a third one coming, because they went off to save Han), one of my favorite Christmas gifts of all was the Millennium Falcon. I still remember tearing open the box and then spending what seemed like hours putting all of the decals on before finally sliding the lock-legged Han & Chewbacca into the cockpit and navigating the starship around the room courtesy of the center handle (later that morning, all of my figures took turns playing holo-chess in the cabin area while Luke whacked the training ball around). I can only imagine the jaw-dropping joy that me from then would greet the new Millennium Falcon (Hasbro, $199.99 SRP) with now. First of all, it’s immense - this thing is over 3 times as big as the original toy, and was awkward for me, as an adult, to cart around, so modern kids are going to have plenty of grounded play. The detailing is pretty damn faithful to the actual models, and the increased size means they could finally get the proportions right. Also included are both a Han Solo and Chewbacca figure, both of which sit perfectly in the cockpit. Oh, and it’s positively packed with sound effects, putting the old school Falcon to shame. This is simply an amazing toy… For kids of all ages.
If you still haven’t treated yourself to the complete run of Monty Python, now’s the time to pull the trigger and pick up The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Collector’s Edition (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$159.95 SRP), containing the entire 45-episode run, plus the 7 discs packed with the German special, Monty Python Live!, additional Gilliam animations, documentaries, all of Personal Best DVDs, as well as a pair of brand new documentaries.
It’s not Wall-E, but there’s plenty of wonderful production artwork to be found in the pages of Chronicle Books’ latest Disney “Art Of” book, The Art Of Bolt (Chronicle Books, $40.00 SRP). They’re always worth picking up and flipping through.
Also from Chronicle, you can explore the fascinating history and groundbreaking output of a true videogame pioneer in Rogue Leaders: The Story Of LucasArts (Chronicle Books, $60.00 SRP). Started in 1982, over the next quarter century there would be plenty of landmark games, including Sam & Max, Monkey Island, and a bunch of games with Star Wars in the title. The book is packed with info and concept art, and is in many ways a nice blast from the past.
As a good friend of mine says often - and practically lives his life by - a robot makes everything better. Make your holidays better with the i-SOBOT (Thinkgeek, $179.99), and incredible RC bit of technology that can actually walk, dance, do a handstand, play air guitar, and more. You can program the 6.5″ ‘bot, or use pre-programmed actions to awe and delight. Really, this little servo-filled bugger is amazing. Where was this when I was a kid?
I’ve made no secret in the past of my love for the various vinyl Disney figures that Medicom has been releasing in Japan and that are, thankfully, now distributed in the US by Sideshow. The Medicom sculpts are always spot-on and put any of the domestic licensees to shame. For the holidays, I wanted to spotlight a trio of Vinyl figures based on the original comic book versions of Mickey Mouse ($47.99 SRP), Minnie Mouse ($47.99 SRP) and Pluto ($47.99 SRP). Nice, aren’t they? Oh, and let’s not forget Winnie the Pooh, too ($39.99 SRP)!
Ask people what their favorite classic film is, and most often it’s a toss-up between Citizen Kane and Casablanca. Personally, I’ve always been a Kane-ite, but Casablanca is high up on the list. Even though the film has been on DVD for quite awhile, Warner Home Video worked their digital mojo, crafting a deluxe, fully-restored special edition. The film never looked better… in fact, it almost looked *too* good. The frame is so clean, I’d almost expected to see someone wearing a digital watch. Some purists don’t like this level of restoration, but I’m all for any process that makes a film look as good as it possibly can. That restoration is now beautifully packaged in the Casablanca: Ultimate Edition (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). It features the 2-disc special edition with an audio commentary from Roger Ebert, a second audio commentary with author/historian Rudy Behlmer, an introduction with Lauren Bacall, theatrical trailers, deleted scenes and outtakes (believe it or not!), “You Must Remember This” & “Bacall On Bogart” documentaries, “The Children Remember” featurette, the Looney Tunes homage “Carrotblanca”, the radio adaptation, a still gallery, and the premiere episode of the 1955 TV series. The documentary Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul is also included. As if that weren’t enough, the set also sports a 48-page photo book, 10 one-sheet reproduction cards, archival correspondence, a passport holder, and a luggage tag. The one to get, tough, is the Blu-Ray edition of the set ($64.98 SRP) which is just draw-droppingly wonderful.
If Casablanca has left you wanting a little more classic cinema to explore, then you might want to pick up (be careful, though - it’s heavy) the Murnau, Borzage, and Fox box set (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$239.98 SRP). This absolutely incredible set the two surviving works that F.W. Murnau made with Fox from 1927-1930, Sunrise & City Girl, while his lost work 4 Devils is given an exploration in both featurette form and a lavish book included in this set. Murnau protégé Frank Borzage gets ten films in the collection - 7th Heaven, Street Angel, Lucky Star, Lazybones, They Had To See Paris, two versions of Song O’ My heart, Liliom, Bad Girl, After Tomorrow, Young America, and a reconstruction of the lost film The River. The set also includes the feature length documentary Murnau, Borzage, & Fox, and a companion book. This is simply a breathtaking set.
If you’re holiday isn’t nearly bizarre enough, achieve the proper level of bizarreitude with Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume 6 (Adult Swim, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). The 2-disc set features 13 episodes, 4 of which have never been seen before. Bonus features include featurettes, oddities, and the horror that is Terror Phone.
Yeah, I’m a sucker for the Guinness Book of World Records. There’s just something so compellingly exciting yet sad about the various and sundry attempts at dubious immortality “achieved” by the people, events, and tragedies included in the 2009 edition (Guinness, $28.95 SRP).
Trekkies wanting to wipe the pain of JJ Abrams Trek High can take some solace playing with their very own Original Series Star Trek Communicator toy (Diamond Select Toys, $29.99 SRP). Comparing it to my prop replica of the same, the sculpt is pretty darn good, and this even features authentic series dialogue from Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, & Uhura.
Nothing says “perfect gift” like something with no practical purpose except to entertain, and that’s certainly the case with the Stickman Action Figure (Thinkgeek, $11.99), which allows you to pose the hapless Stickman and create your own custom caution sign. Mine is currently staring at the computer, traumatized by the economy.
Home Movies is one of those shows that - despite making it 5 seasons - was cancelled before its time. Victim of apathy at Cartoon Network (a few influential individuals though it didn’t fit into their vision for the Adult Swim line-up), the animated adventures of budding filmmaker Brendon (Brendon Small) who, along with his friends Melissa (Melissa Galasky) and Jason (H. Jon Benjamin), crafted some truly Ed Wood-ian movies, was one of the most well-written character pieces ever to grace the small screen (be it live action or animation). The most vibrant character, though, would definitely have to be the kid’s gym teacher and emotional man-child, Coach John McGuirk (Benjamin, again), who had designs on Brendon’s single mother. Discover the series via the now comprehensive Home Movies: 10th Anniversary set (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$129.99 SRP), containing all of the episodes plus audio commentaries, interviews, short films, easter eggs, a clapperboard, and a Coach McGuirk tote bag.
For the little kiddies on your list, the Beeb have released the complete first and second seasons of their Disney Channel hit Charlie and Lola in one handy-dandy set (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$79.98 SRP). The set features all 8 previously released single-disc volumes.
I caught an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba! the other day, and if any show can rightfully claim the mantle of “Kiddie Show Beloved By Stoners”, it’s this intriguingly bizarre combination of music and costumed characters, If you doubt me, check out Yo Gabba Gabba!: The Dancey Dance Bunch! (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$16.99 SRP). The sole bonus is a “Meet The Dancey Dance Bunch!” featurette. Oh, and good times. The show’s first album is being released digitally on iTunes, as well - titled, shockingly enough, Yo Gabba Gabba.
After her turn in the Christmas special “The Runaway Bride”, some were worried about Catherine Tate reprising her role of Donna Noble as the 10th Doctor’s new companion in the fourth series of Doctor Who (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$99.98 SRP). I’m happy to report that those fears quickly dissipated right from the get-go, as Donna - and Tate - proved to be one of the Doctor’s finest companions in a season that saw the return of the Sontarans and Davros, plus a few more surprises to boot. The 6-disc set features all 14 episodes plus audio commentaries, deleted scenes, video diaries, the Children In Need special “Time Crash”, a retrospective featurette, Doctor Who Confidential, teasers, and trailers.
I’m going to give you one reason - and one reason only - to pick up Cartoon Network’s Chowder: Volume 1 (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP). However, it is a compelling reason, and one that can not be ignored. It refuses to be ignored! In fact, the reason will grab you by the collar and drag you to your nearest DVD emporium. That reason? One of the main characters on the show is voiced by none other than Dana Snyder. That’s right. Now do you see?
If your idea of chestnuts roasting by the open fire is spending time with a vengeful Vietnam vet, then you’ll probably want a copy of Rambo: The Complete Collector’s Set (Lionsgate, Rated R, DVD-$49.99 SRP), featuring all four flicks starring Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo - First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III, and Rambo). The 6-disc set contains the feature-laden ultimate editions of all four films. Also available is a Blu-Ray edition of the set ($49.99 SRP) with identical bonus features, in uber-sharp high-def, but without the most recent film.
I’ll be honest with you - Freaks and Geeks was a painful show to watch when it originally premiered (for far too brief a life) on NBC in the Fall of 1999. It was painful because I could relate to every bit of the awkward adolescence that the characters on screen were going through - my high school years were reflected in the tribulations of Sam and Lindsay Weir, and their assorted friends and enemies. Freaks and Geeks was the first (and so far only) show that presented the teenagers as they really are, and what high school is really like. And it was painful to see that on screen, because it dredged up my bitter memories of gym class, of disastrous social situations, and just the perpetual teenage ennui. But the beautiful part is that once you get past the pain it dredges up, Freaks and Geeks became a catharsis. It became a way of measuring your growth as a person against the mirror being presented on screen. And it was a damn good show, to boot. Well-written, funny, and emotional, it was… Well, it was life. Not a comedy, not a drama, and nothing as hackneyed as a “dramedy,” it merely existed as one of the most well-crafted shows ever to get slaughtered upon the network altar of quick returns and poor judgement. Credit goes to creator Paul Feig and producer Judd Apatow for giving us a glimpse of greatness, however briefly it shone. Of course, the coda on all of this is that we eventually got the long-awaited DVD set, collecting all 17 episodes (with their original period song-packed soundtracks intact) alongside a ton of bonus features. Originally a limited edition, now the general public can purchase the 8-disc special Freaks & Geeks: Yearbook Edition (Shout Factory!, Not Rated, DVD-$169.98 SRP). Packaged in a replica of the William McKinley High School Yearbook and containing 2 additional discs crammed full of cool bonus materials, the regular bonus features carried over from the 6-disc set are the audio commentaries - each episode features at least one audio commentary (while some feature more than one) from the cast, crew, executives, and sometimes the characters themselves.
For the headbanging Adult Swim fan on your shopping list, there’s the uncensored complete second season of Metalocalypse (Turner, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). The 2-disc set features all 19 episodes, plus loads and loads of features sure to blow your mind.
Make the season shagadelic (yes, I just used that old chestnut) with the high definition release of The Austin Powers Collection (New Line, Rated PG-13, Blu-Ray-$74.98 SRP). That’s right - you can now get Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and Austin Powers In Goldemember in all their Blu-Ray glory, featuring the same bonus materials as the standard editions. Groovy! (Yeah, I used that, too.)
It’s a Yabba Dabba good time for Hanna-Barbera fans with Flintstones: The Complete Series (Warner Bros., Not Rated, $129.98 SRP), a colossal slab of a set containing the entire run of the Stone Age family’s classic 60’s series. Bonus features are identical to the previously released individual sets, but this package does come in a plastic case sculpted like the Flinstone’s TV set.
Comprehensive box set fever has also hit Will & Grace (Lionsgate, Not Rated, DVD-$249.98 SRP), with the entire 8 season run housed in one massive, 32-disc block. If you’re thinking “But I already own all of the seasons!”, wouldn’t you know that they’ve gone ahead and put an exclusive bonus disc in the set with brand new bonus features.
While kudos must go to Rhino for keeping the Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD releases coming over these long years since the show’s cancellation, the show’s new DVD home - Shout Factory - has really elevated the game with their Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition (Shout Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). They continue the Rhino precedent of releasing 4 episodes at a time spanning the 10-year run of the show - this set includes First Spaceship on Venus, Laserblast, Werewolf, and Future War - but they’ve also gone to town with the bonus materials. Not only is there a feature-length 3-part documentary on the history of the show, the 20th anniversary panel from the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con, and a compilation of all the show openings, but the whole kit and kaboodle comes bundled in a collectible tin with postcards AND a pretty damn spiffy Crow T. Robot figurine. Support this with your purchase, and keep the classic releases coming.
Glad tidings from the folks at Cinematic Titanic (MST3K creator Joel Hodgson and alums Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl) comes in the form of a fresh take on that horrid holiday perennial, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (Cinema Titan LLC, $14.99). MST fans will remember it as a classic episode, and this new edition features all-new riffs that make it a must-get disc. Just make sure to lay off the candy canes and nog before you give the flick a spin, as the very sight of Dropo’s awkwardly unfunny goofiness is sure to make it all come back up.
When HBO’s brilliantly dark western Deadwood began its first season, the time was only a few weeks following the massacre of Custer’s troops in 1876. Into the lawless South Dakotan town rode two men - one a bitter ex-lawman, and the other a man looking to start a new life - and both ran afoul of the local heavy who owns half the town. What followed was an epic drama of operatic heights, and one you can watch in its entirety with Deadwood: The Complete Series (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$179.97 SRP). The 19-disc set features all 36 episodes, audio commentaries, featurettes, interviews, and an exclusive bonus disc with creator David Milch discussing the season’s conclusion, a historical featurette on the real Deadwood, a Q&A with the cast & creative team, the Al Swearengen audition reel, and a 360-degree tour of Deadwood.
Ah, but that isn’t the only HBO series you should be picking up. Empty out your wallet at the same time by snagging The Wire: The Complete Series (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$249.98 SRP). That’s right - all 60 episodes of the epic tale in one 23-disc box, with an exclusive bonus disc filled with a trio of prequels and a gag reel.
If you’ve been patiently avoiding the single-disc releases for the next seasonal batch of that happy chap that lives in a pineapple under the sea, then you’ll rejoice in your purchase of SpongeBob Squarepants: Season 5 Volume 2 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP), whose 2 discs feature 21 episodes.
If you want your holiday gift-giving to be full of blood, battle, and none-too-thinly veiled homoeroticism, then you’re probably going to want to pick up the 300: Limited Collector’s Edition (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$49.98 SRP). In addition to the original 2-disc special edition with an audio commentary and bonus materials galore, the set contains a brand new bonus disc with a look at the 300 legend and its filtering through history, graphic novel, & film. If that weren’t enough, you also get a 52-page photo/art book, 6 photo cards, and a lucite-encased lenticular display from the film.
Every comic book series seems to be getting the snazzy deluxe treatment nowadays - with some bewildering choices - but certainly deserving of the honor is Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. The clothbound, hardcover Hellboy Library Edition: Volume 1 (Dark Horse, $49.95 SRP) contains the first two Hellboy mini-series - “Seed Of Destruction” and “Wake The Devil” - printed in oversize 12″x9″ with brilliant reproduction. The Hellboy Library Edition: Volume 2 (Dark Horse, $49.95 SRP) contains all of the short stories that made up the bulk of the late 90’s Hellboy material, including “The Chained Coffin” and “The Right Hand Of Doom”. There are even a clutch of bonus materials, including sketchbooks. Perfect for the library.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (Fox, Rated G, DVD-$19.98 SRP) is director Robert Wise’s classic (and extremely relevant) tale of mankind’s first encounter with an alien being, whose enigmatic agenda leads a fearful world to turn to violence - even though the alien may be their only hope for survival. The new 2-disc special edition DVD features fully restored picture and sound, an audio commentary with Wise and Nicolas Meyer, a “film historian” commentary, featurettes, a 1951 Movietone Newsreel, still galleries, trailers, and more. A Blu-Ray edition is also available ($34.99 SRP), and is worth the addition to the library.
I’ve spoken in the past of just how much I love the mental acrobatics of magician Derren Brown, but one of the sore points is that his specials have been absent from DVD even as his series have gotten released. Well, all of that is rectified with Derren Brown: The Specials (Channel 4, Not Rated, DVD-£29.99 SRP) - a 2-disc set that collects Russian Roulette, Séance, The Heist, and The System. Sadly, the set is missing the specials The Gathering and Messiah and has zero in the way of bonus features, but it’s still better to have something rather than nothing (with the hope the rest will come eventually).
As a child of the 80’s, I was absolutely taken with Ghostbusters when it came out. I had the toys, I used to pretend I was a Ghostbuster, and before everything turned sour with Ghostbusters 2, I delighted in the Saturday morning adventures of the guys on The Real Ghostbusters. After a few disappointing single-disc collections from Sony, Time Life has hit the ball out of the park with the wonderfully packaged The Real Ghostbusters: Complete Collection (Time Life, Not Rated, DVD-$179.99). The 24 disc set features all 134 Real Ghostbusters episodes, 13 Slimer! episodes, episode introductions, visual commentaries, isolated music & effects tracks, featurettes, interviews, and much more. There’s also a set-exclusive bonus disc with the original promo pilot (with visual commentary), extended interviews with the cast and crew, the DVD promo trailer, a title card slideshow, the series bible, and storyboards for the pilot promo. Kudos must go to Andy Mengels, the special features producer, for putting together such an amazing package. Did I mention that all 5 volumes come packed in steelbook tins, housed inside of a box representing the firehouse?
I’d say that watching George Carlin’s 14th and final HBO special was a bittersweet affair, but it seems like such an inappropriate word considering just how funny It’s Bad For Ya (MPI, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) is, even compared to Carlin’s incredible catalogue of work. It’s certainly a good feeling to know that he went out at the top of his game in topics ranging from politics and religion to children and, yes, death. Bonus features on the disc include selections from the Archive of American Television’s 3-hour interview with Carlin, as well as his January 25, 1969 appearance on The Jackie Gleason Show. And, while you’re picking this disc up, be sure to snag a copy of the classic Carlin on Campus album (Laugh.com, $12.98 SRP), featuring such classic routines as “An Incomplee List Of Impolite Words” and “Baseball and Football”.
A long time ago, not too terribly far away, there was a company that produced some of the most wonderful and faithful Star Wars prop replicas to be had. Sadly, due to corporate issues both various and sundry, the timeliness of the releases began to wane, and then the company decided to drop the license entirely. What became of it? Well, the core group who handled the license at that other company decided to strike out on their own, and they formed eFX Collectibles. Out of the gate, they’ve created a prop replica of the Star Wars Clone Trooper helmet circa Attack Of The Clones ($429) - which is unique in that all of the Clone Troopers in the film were digital, so this is the first “real” CT helmet. My feelings for the movie aside, right out of the gate eFX has done a stunning job on the helmet itself, which is fully padded (and fully wearable) and even features a red LED light on the back, as it did in the film. The edition size is limited to 1,000, so you’d better act fast. The company has some big plans for the future (check out their Ralph McQuarrie-inspired Vader helmet), and should be on your “will drop plenty of dough on…” list.
I remember always looking forward to watching Mr. Bean whenever it would air on HBO (remember that?). Rowan Atkinson’s devilish character never failed to entertain. Like an ersatz Harold Lloyd, Bean is an almost silent physical comedy, and I’m delighted that all 14 episodes are on DVD in Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$69.95 SRP). If that weren’t enough, the set also features both Mr. Bean feature films - Bean: The Movie & Mr. Bean’s Holiday - and 9 animated episodes. Special features include the 40-minute documentary “The Story of Bean,” never-aired sketches “Bust Stop” and “Library,” the Comic Relief skits “Torvill & Bean” and “Blind Date,” a photo gallery, deleted scenes & trailers on the films, and more.
For all of the dramatics found in the stage and screen versions of Frost/Nixon, the kinetics found in the actual interviews - collected for the first time on Frost/Nixon: The Original Watergate Interviews (Liberation Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP). You can find out the mechanics of how the interviews happened in the film, but to watch David Frost set up a most ingenious honeypot and admit the failings of not only his administration, but also himself, is an amazing thing to behold.
There’s nothing quite like seeing the stop motion magic of Ray Harryhausen in high definition, which is exactly what fun you can have with the Blu-Ray Ray Harryhausen Collection (Sony, Not Rated, Blu-Ray-$107.95 SRP), which features the deluxe special editions of Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, It Came From Beneath The Sea, 20 Million Miles To Earth, and The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad. Also available is a Ray Harryhausen Gift Set (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$80.95 SRP), featuring the standard edition DVDs of Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, It Came From Beneath The Sea, and 20 Million Miles To Earth, plus an incredibly cool 12″ statue of the monster Ymir.
Rights issues prevent regular Rifftrax commentaries from being released as physical DVDs with the movies they’ve riffed, but no such issues exist with the public domain short subjects Mike, Kevin, and Bill have been doing over the past year. What does that mean, exactly? That means we get almost 90 minutes of goofy fun with The Best Of Rifftrax Shorts: Volume One (Legend Films, $14.99). That’s 9 whole shorts on everything from patriotism and juvenile crime to proper shopping techniques and canine racism.
Transformers fans both young and old will have something to snag this year, with the younger crowd enamored of the current Transformers Animated series able to get their very own talking, and incredibly large Roll Out Command Optimus Prime (Hasbro, $49.99 SRP), who actually begins his transformation process from big rig to robot as you roll him across the floor. The sculpting on the toy fixes most of the more awkward design deficiencies of the cartoon, but the main key here is that my nephew is intent on asking Santa for one of his own.
For old-timers with too much nostalgia and cash on hand, there’s the 25th Anniversary Optimus Prime ($69.99 SRP) - a perfect reproduction of the original G1 Optimus that was the lynchpin of every kid’s Transformers toy collection. This is an exact repro of the Prime I owned - including the trailer and its launchable roller vehicle. It may not b accurate to the G1 cartoon designs (which was recently rectified with the wonderful Optimus Masterpiece edition), but this certainly brings out all the warm fuzzies in my pop culture-infused heart.
You may not think “horror” when you think “holidays”, but John Carpenter’s The Thing (Universal, Rated R, Blu-Ray-$29.98 SRP) is certainly in a class of its own. You can now experience all of the arctic psychological terror in full high definition courtesy of the new Blu-Ray edition. The audio commentary from the standard release carries over, and interviews with the cast and crew are now integrated into a picture-in-picture feature.
The “Judd Apatow” brand of comedy has always been hit or miss with me, but when it does hit a sweet spot - as it does with Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal, Rated R, Blu-Ray-$39.98 SRP) - it best exemplifies how many levels a good comedy can work on, from slapstick to true drama. Penned by and starring Freaks & Geeks alum Jason Segal, it’s the story of one schlubby man’s attempt to get over a break-up by traveling to Hawaii - and running right into his ex (Kristen Bell) and her new beau (Russell Brand). Will he find new love in Hawaii with a hotel staffer (Mila Kunis, who continues to grow as an actress the more I see her in)? What do you think? The extended cut Blu-Ray edition features a visual audio commentary, picture-in-picture behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, video diaries, featurettes, a gag reel, karaoke, and more. While you’re at it, pick up the Blu-Ray edition of Apatow & Rogen’s Knocked Up (Universal, Not Rated, Blu-Ray-$29.98 SRP), featuring the unrated version of the film, an audio commentary, deleted/alternate scenes, featurettes, video diaries, gag reels, and more.
If you’re not all politicked out this holiday season, then you might want to pick up the JFK: Collector’s Set (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Not only does the set feature the previously released 2-disc special edition of Oliver Stone’s film, plus the documentary The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings. If that weren’t enough, the set also contains a 44-page book of rare behind-the-scenes photos, photos, and reproductions of letters written to and from Kennedy. A Blu-Ray edition is also available ($34.99 SRP) containing identical bonus features.
Fans of Jack Sparrow can now get the entire swashbuckling trilogy - The Curse Of The Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest, & At World’s End - in high definition courtesy of the Blu-Ray Pirates Of The Caribbean Collection (Walt Disney, Rated PG-13, Blu-Ray-$ 82.99SRP). The bonus features pretty much identical to the standard edition DVDs, but the visuals and sound are the real draw here.
Eager to suck every last nostalgic dollar out of my long-suffering wallet, the re-launched classic GI Joe line that hooked so many kids in the 80’s is still going strong, with their lovingly updated versions of old school favorites. This year has brought - alongside the regular figures ($5.99 SRP each) - the addition of vehicles, including the Cobra HISS Tank ($14.99 SRP). And, just like in the old days, it comes with the Cobra HISS Commander figure.
There are some flaws here and there, but I was incredibly impressed with The Incredible Hulk (Universal, Rated PG-13, Blu-Ray-$39.98 SRP). Whoda thunk that, oh, just being faithful to the character and its history would be the right way to go? WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT SUCH A BIZARRE NOTION WOULD BE TRUE? You know, besides intelligent people who aren’t Avi Arad or Tom Rothman. This flick erases the abysmal Ang Lee Hulk from memory, and sets a redo template I can only hope will soon be applied to Fox’s bastardized Fantastic Four and X-Men. The Blu-Ray edition features an audio commentary, deleted scenes, making-of featurettes, a gallery of comic images that inspired shots in the film, an interactive character dossier, and more.
It’s certainly a case of diminishing returns, but the Brendan Fraser-led Mummy films are a far sight better than the cursed Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, and there’s no better way to watch the technical hoo-ha at hand than via the Blu-Ray editions of The Mummy and The Mummy Returns (Universal, Rated PG-13, Blu-Ray-$29.98 SRP each). Bonus features include audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes, and more.
Previously only available as a Time Life exclusive, now one and all can pick up the complete Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$199.92 SRP). The classic 60’s spy series comes housed in the kind cardboard briefcase familiar to anyone who owned a portable kiddie record player, and contains 41 discs with all 105 episodes, plus the original color pilot, the feature One Spy Too Many, behind-the-scenes featurettes, retrospective interviews, award show excerpts, galleries, and more.
Every once in a while, a truly spectacular, must-have catalogue release makes its way to DVD. Add to that exclusive list the Blu-Ray edition of the Cinerama epic How The West Was Won (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$34.99 SRP). Meticulously restored and remastered, the 2-disc special edition features a new commentary, a documentary on the film’s Cinerama experience, the theatrical trailer, a reproduction of the original souvenir book, photo cards, and a reproduction of the original pressbook. You even get the option to watch the film in “Smilebox”, which approximates the experience of seeing the film on Cinerama’s curved screen. Truly stunning, and a requirement for any film library.
Just when you think that there can’t possibly be another collectible line that will hook you, along comes Mighty Muggs ($9.99 SRP each) - 6″ cartoony versions of all your favorite characters, from Darth Vader and Indiana Jones to Spider-Man and Captain America. As soon as you see one of these addictive little bastards, you’ll want them all. Devious!
And just as subversively cute and irresistible are the various tiny, cartoony “Heroes” lines by Hasbro, featuring well-known characters in kiddie-friendly tooned-up forms and sold in ready-for-fun two-packs ($5.99 SRP each). Marvel Comics characters are featured in the “Super Hero Squad” line, Indiana Jones has “Adventure Heroes”, The Transformers are featured in “Robot Heroes”, and GI Joe has now got “Combat Heroes”. Forget the kids - how can you not pick up Lil’ Cobra Commander?
You know, Will Smith’s I Am Legend is actually a decent adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel - up to a point. That point is when we leave behind Smith’s Dr. Robert Neville - who has stayed behind in a decimated New York City to try and find the cure for a virus that has wiped out mankind, leaving a small survivor base of violent humanity, the immune Neville, his dog, and the hope of more people out there somewhere. The film begins to flail about in the cesspool of Hollywood mediocrity when the crappy CG infected monstro-humans show up, with their implausible anaconda mouths and plastic skin. It’s a shame it all falls apart, because they had something there. See for yourself with the new I Am Legend: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$49.98 SRP), which features a new 3-disc edition with an audio commentary, deleted scenes (with optional commentary), the alternate ending that hews closer to the book, a making-of documentary, a look at the science of the film, a quartet of animated comics, and the theatrical trailer. In addition, the set contains a 44-page concept sketch book, 6 art cards featuring cities devastated by the plague virus, and a lenticular. A Blu-Ray edition of the set ($59.98 SRP) is also available.
And now, because I have to shop for little nephews, how about a digression into some toys geared towards the little ones on your list? In fact, the first pair of items comes from that somewhat disconcerting yet oddly ingratiating Nick Jr. show The Wonder Pets. First off is the titular rescuers in their Fly Boat ($19.99 SRP). Featuring 3 removable heroes, lights, and sounds, it’s sure to delight junior fans. But if that’s simply not enough, you can also pick up “This Is Serious” Ming Ming ($34.99 SRP), a large plush that sings, talks, and shows off her rescue moves.
For the slightly older kids, there’s the Go Diego Go Animal Rescue Railway Track Set ($49.99 SRP), which features 3 cars, track, rescue environments, and a Diego figure that is sure to make kids go “Thomas who?” And toy that comes with monkeys is definitely a keeper.
He has yet to make the transition to the US, but Alan Carr - currently riding high in the UK - is a comedian worth keeping an eye on, should he make his way across the pond. Until then, I’d certainly recommend you pick up a copy of his first stand-up DVD, Tooth Fairy (Universal, Not Rated, £19.99 SRP), as well as his recent autobiography, Look Who It Is! (Harper Collins, £18.99 SRP), and keep an eye on him.
Let pure evil keep your tootsies warm with the big and fluffy Evil Stewie Slippers ($11.99 SRP) that I’m sure will be embraced by the Family Guy fan in your family. Who likes evil. You know who that is.
It’s goofy, but darned if my nephews don’t have a ball (no pun intended) with Gator Golf ($19.99 SRP). It’s like an executive putter for the preschool set, as kids can face off against each other by putting a golf ball into a giant orange alligator head, and you can save all the money you’d otherwise spend on a trip to put-put. A perfect gift!
So there you have it… my humble suggestions for what to watch, listen to, play with, or waste money on this holiday season. See ya next year…
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