2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Television

Television fans must love the holidays, because it’s the one time of year when studios unleash a host of massive box sets collecting their favorite dramas and comedies. But while we like to devour an entire TV show just as quickly as the next person, sometimes a little self-discipline is required, which is why we’ve devoted most of this year’s guide to some less time-consuming (and more affordable) suggestions. If you don’t find anything for your friends and family here, a Netflix gift card works just as well.

Click the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and check back throughout the week for more additions to our Holiday Gift Guide.

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson

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There’s been a lot of great television this year, and FX’s “American Crime Story” is right up there at the top. Though most people of a certain age remember the media circus surrounding the so-called Trial of the Century, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” manages to feel like an entirely fresh experience, revealing things about the case you may not have known before while also recapturing all the infamous moments. Told largely from the perspective of the lawyers, the show examines topics like race, gender, celebrity and the criminal justice system and how each one affected the outcome of the trial. There’s hardly a dull moment throughout the show’s debut season, including the excellent bottle episode “A Jury in Jail,” which details the mental and physical strain placed on the jurors throughout the lengthy court case. At its core, however, “American Crime Story” is just a really excellent actor’s showcase that features award-worthy performances by Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown, among others. The series is so engrossing and expertly cast that it’s like watching the murder trial all over again, only this time, with an unrestricted view of the chaos and drama.

The Night Of

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The Night Of” was originally supposed to star James Gandolfini before the actor’s untimely death, but within the first few episodes of the HBO limited series, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than John Turturro in the role. The veteran character actor is so riveting as the down-on-his-luck attorney that it seems a near-certainty he’ll walk away with an Emmy for his performance. He’s that good, and the same could be said for the rest of the cast, including co-star Riz Ahmed and supporting players like Bill Camp, Michael Kenneth Williams and Peyman Moaadi. However, what really elevates “The Night Of” beyond the typical crime drama is the superb writing by co-creators Richard Price and Steve Zaillian, which delivers a probing examination of the systemic problems in the U.S. criminal justice system (from the police, to the prisons, to the lawyers) and how one crime can affect the lives of not only the accused but the people connected to them as well. Though the actual investigation feels a bit rushed, and the series doesn’t hit as many highs in the later episodes, “The Night Of” is an excellent piece of filmmaking that challenges the way we watch television and tell stories.

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Drink of the Week: The Genever Old Fashioned

The Genever Old Fashioned.Before there was gin, there was genever — sometimes also called jenever — a concoction that is similar and yet different from the ubiquitous clear booze we now enjoy in our martinis and G&Ts. One obvious geographical difference is that most gins are now made in England or thereabouts, and by law, a liquor can only be marketed as genever if it’s from the Netherlands or Belgium. Only a few brands can be found at all in the United States and, so far, I’ve only seen one on store shelves: Bols Genever. The flavor is definitely different; the manufacturing process is more similar to whiskey, and many detect a more malty flavor.

There’s quite a bit more history on how Dutch genever became English gin, and you can learn some of it in a post I wrote a few years back. However, I never actually owned a bottle of the stuff until this week, when curiosity finally got the better of me and I purchased a bottle of Bols. In Europe, I understand that genever is often served more or less in the same way that whiskey or vodka is traditionally consumed there — more or less straight, possibly with a beer chaser or with a small amount of sugar. It’s use in cocktails is something I’m still learning about, though I know it has been mentioned in some of the oldest cocktail books.

I am, however, under the impression that Old Fashioneds are one popular way to serve genever, and the ur-cocktail seems like a pretty good place to start with one of the ur-liquors. At the same time, genever isn’t whiskey, so you might want to vary the recipe ever so slightly from the basic whiskey Old Fashioned. Or, maybe you don’t.

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2016 Father’s Day Gift Guide: Entertainment

Everyone loves watching a great movie or TV series, so we’ve compiled some of our favorite releases from the past few months that most guys will enjoy. And for more great suggestions, be sure to check out the other categories in our Father’s Day gift guide.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an exciting return to form for the franchise that recaptures the childlike sensation of watching the original trilogy for the first time. It’s thrilling, funny and surprisingly emotional. While the inclusion of familiar faces like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Leia is great fan service that also functions as a passing of the torch to the new characters, director J.J. Abrams never lets you forget that this is their movie. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all shine in their respective roles, although it’s playful droid BB-8 who ultimately steals the show. If there’s one complaint, it’s that Abrams packs too many characters into the story, resulting in several unanswered questions that are dangled in front of the audience like a carrot on a stick. But those kinds of mysteries have always been a part of the “Star Wars” ethos, and “The Force Awakens” is “Star Wars” to the core, blending the old with the new to produce an excellent continuation of the saga that leaves you wanting more.

The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s first crack at making a Western may have resulted in the slightly disappointing “Django Unchained,” but his second attempt is a much-improved genre piece that represents his most accomplished work behind the camera to date. While Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins all deliver excellent work, Samuel L. Jackson’s show-stopping turn is the real standout, chewing up scenery with every juicy monologue and sly look. Granted, the first half of the film moves like molasses as Tarantino gets all of his pieces on the board, but the pacing is intentional, slowly building to a boil that spills out into a flurry of violence in the final hour. Though “The Hateful Eight” is filled with the same self-indulgent tendencies that fans have come to expect from the director’s movies, this Agatha Christie-styled whodunit is a lot of fun thanks to a smartly crafted script, some outstanding camerawork that benefits from the 65mm film format, and riotous performances from the cast.

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2015 Holiday Gift Guide: Movies

These days, if you don’t own a Blu-ray player, you’re missing out, especially with a variety of classic movies being offered in high definition for the first time ever. But while we could easily fill several pages with suggestions of great films and cool box sets that deserve a spot on any holiday wish list, we’ve picked some of our favorites released over the past 12 months. If you can’t find anything worth buying here, then chances are that the person you’re shopping for doesn’t like movies.

Click the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Back to the Future: 30th Anniversary Trilogy

By this point, you may well be weary of hearing about “Back to the Future,” given how much press the time-travel trilogy received when the first movie hit the big 3-0 earlier this year, but at some point you’ll find yourself wanting to revisit the fun of these three films, and that’s when you’ll want to have a copy of this five-disc set in your collection. In addition to a disc for each of the films, each of which has deleted scenes, “Tales from the Future” documentary segments, audio commentaries and various other bonus material, there’s also a separate bonus disc that includes a variety of additional mini-docs, plus a 2015 message from Doc Brown, two new commercials (one for “Jaws 19,” the other for a Hoverboard), and two episodes of “Back to the Future: The Animated Series.”

The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki is one the most celebrated filmmakers in the history of animation, boasting a unique style that shines through in every one of his fantastical stories. Though Miyazaki’s films are currently available as individual Blu-rays, this 12-disc box set – which is available exclusively through Amazon – is the first time that they’ve been offered in a single collection. All 11 movies are included, from 1979’s “Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro” to 2013’s Oscar-nominated “The Wind Rises.” In addition, there are several hours of bonus material that are perfect for the Miyazaki admirer, including his 1972 TV pilot for Tetsuya Chiba’s “Yuki no Taiyo,” three episodes of the 1972 anime series “Akado Suzunosuke,” the 90-minute press conference announcing his retirement, and a 37-page collector’s book featuring the essay, “The Great Dichotomy: Looking at the Works of Hayao Miyazaki.” It’s probably not worth the double dip if you already own all of his movies on Blu-ray (especially since the extras from those releases have strangely been removed here), but this box set is a must-have for fans of animation, as well as kids who are beginning to outgrow their Disney and Pixar collections.

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2015 Holiday Gift Guide: Television

Television fans must love the holidays, because it’s the one time of year when studios unleash a host of massive box sets collecting their favorite dramas and comedies. This year is no different, with several critically acclaimed shows getting the complete series treatment. But while we like to devour an entire TV show just as quickly as the next person, sometimes a little self-discipline is required, which is why we’ve also included some less time-consuming (and more affordable) suggestions as well.

Click the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Justified: The Complete Series

Justified” is one of those shows that never really got the credit (or the audience) it deserved, because it’s a sharply written and well-acted neo-Western that managed to pull off what most series have failed to do: stick the landing. Though it started out as a more formulaic, crime of the week-type drama, “Justified” evolved into something much richer over the years by focusing on the relationship between U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens and smooth-talking outlaw Boyd Crowder, two men who grew up in the same poor, coal-mining town in Kentucky, but ended up on different sides of the law. Both Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins deliver strong, well-rounded performances in their respective roles, but while it would be difficult to imagine the show without either of them, the supporting cast is just as important, especially Nick Searcy as Givens’ crusty boss, Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel as fellow Marshalls, and Joelle Carter as Boyd’s fiancée/partner in crime. The rotating cast of guest stars is also impressive, adding to the series’ rich tapestry of down-and-dirty hillbillies, criminals and lawmen to create a lived-in world that feels more genuine than just about anything else on television. The fact that “Justified” was able to maintain its high quality throughout all six seasons is pretty extraordinary, but it’s also one of the few shows to produce a satisfying series finale, and that definitely earns it a spot among the TV drama elite.

Californication: The Complete Series

With Hank Moody, David Duchovny created a character that ranks as one of the greatest hedonists in television history. “Californication” was loaded with great characters and it thrived on introducing countless examples of the bizarre and interesting people you’ll find in L.A., but everything revolved around Hank and all of his crazy exploits. He could be arrogant and often self-destructive, but watching his endless exploits with the flaky but often beautiful women of La La Land made you want to hop on a plane and rent an apartment in Venice Beach. The best part was that Hank always found a way to enjoy the ride, even as things got a little rough. Through it all he was still crazy in love with his ex, Karen, played by the lovely Natascha McElhone, and Evan Handler was excellent as Charlie Runkle, his dopey but ever-loyal agent and sidekick who had his own ups and down with his hilarious and nutty wife Marcy. Now you can enjoy all 84 episodes on 14 discs in this new box set. Give it to someone who needs to learn how to enjoy life again, or at least can use a vehicle to live vicariously through someone else’s crazy adventures.

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