2013 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 on the image next to each item to purchase it online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy will likely go down as one of the best franchises in movie history, so it’s not too surprising that Warner Bros. has decided to capitalize on the films’ success with a fancy Ultimate Collector’s Edition box set. Though most people have probably already purchased the movies individually, this limited edition six-disc set (with only 141,500 copies produced) is geared more towards diehard fans – the kind that would gladly buy all three films again if it meant getting their hands on the exclusive bonus disc (featuring a new retrospective on the series and an interview between Nolan and “Superman” director Richard Donner) and the Happy Meal-sized reproductions of the Batmobile, Batpod and Batwing. The set also includes an introduction letter from Nolan, a glossy photo book, and a series of cool art cards by Mondo artist Jaw Shaw featuring the trilogy’s villains. The only thing it’s missing is your very own Batsuit.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition

It was never going to be an easy job adapting “The Hobbit” for the big screen, especially after the success of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and although that likely played a hand in Peter Jackson’s initial decision to let another director take the reins, at the end of the day, it just wouldn’t have felt right with anyone else behind the camera. Not only does Jackson know the source material inside and out, but in keeping with the same tone and breathtaking visuals from the original trilogy, the movie feels like it’s part of a bigger story. Though it’s not as great as the “Lord of the Rings” films, “An Unexpected Journey” is still a delightfully fun trip back to Middle-earth with a solid lead performance by Martin Freeman. And for those diehard fans who have been patiently awaiting the customary Extended Edition, it’s arrived just in time for the holidays with 13 minutes of additional footage, an audio commentary by Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens, and two entire discs of supplemental material clocking in at over 9 hours. If this doesn’t satisfy your “Hobbit” fix, nothing will.

Star Trek: Stardate Collection

Most diehard “Star Trek” fans probably already own all of the films on Blu-ray, but for those that still haven’t gotten around to picking up high-def versions of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s first 10 big screen adventures, the Stardate Collection is the easiest and most cost-effective way to remedy that. This 12-disc set combines the previously released Original and Next Generation Motion Picture Collections into one massive box of sci-fi goodness, including every feature-length film starring the respective crews of Captain Kirk and Picard, from 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” to 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis.” Additionally, there’s over 25 hours of bonus material like audio commentaries, featurettes and the 70-minute roundtable “The Captain’s Summit.” While “The Wrath of Khan” remains the only installment to have received a 4k restoration (though likely not for long with the original show’s 50th anniversary just around the corner), the rest of the movies still look and sound better than ever.

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2013 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 year that just about guy will enjoy. And for more gift ideas, be sure to check out the other categories in our Father’s Day gift guide.

Ultimate Gangster Collection: Classic and Contemporary

gangsters

Most guys love gangster films, so it’s hard to think of a better “one size fits all” gift than Warner Bros.’ recently released Ultimate Gangster Collection on Blu-ray. Divided into two volumes, the Contemporary edition is arguably the more desirable of the pair as it’s comprised of favorites like “The Untouchables,” “Heat” and three Martin Scorsese films (“Mean Streets,” “Goodfellas” and “The Departed”). Though the Classics edition is a little more niche, you really can’t go wrong with a quartet that includes Golden Age standards like “Little Caesar,” “The Public Enemy,” “The Petrified Forest” and “White Heat.” All four films have also been remastered for their Blu-ray debuts, and like most Warner Bros. catalog titles, they look fantastic. Each collection also includes a 32-page book with images and additional info on each movie, and the Classic edition comes packaged with a feature-length documentary. The best part? At $40 a pop, you’re getting some great movies at an unbeatable price.

Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Collection

die_hard

What better way to celebrate Father’s Day than with one of the coolest dads in movie history? We’re talking about John McClane, of course, even if he wasn’t exactly a very good father himself. Though Fox has released the fifth installment in the “Die Hard” series, “A Good Day to Die Hard,” just in time for the holiday, we’d actually recommend picking up the “Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Collection” on Blu-ray instead. Though the earlier films haven’t been given the HD restoration that they deserve, the set does include a nearly two-hour retrospective on the franchise titled “Decoding Die Hard” that’s definitely worth checking out. Plus, unlike the latest installment, the other four movies are all worthy of repeat viewings (yes, even the underrated “Live Free or Die Hard”), making this five-disc box set a must-have for any fan of the series, Bruce Willis or great action films in general.

Forever Marilyn Collection

marilyn

She’s probably our most iconic sex symbol. Marilyn Monroe remains relevant after all these years for more than just her amazing beauty and charisma. She was a true starlet, but she could act as well. Now you can get many of her best films in one collection with “Forever Marilyn: The Blu-ray Collection.” The films include classics like “The Misfits” and “Some Like It Hot,” along with new-to-Blu-ray titles “How to Marry A Millionaire,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “The Seven Year Itch,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “River of No Return.” We’ve included some images of Marilyn from the films courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, including the memorable scene of Marilyn’s white dress being blown up in the subway in “The Seven Year Itch.”

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Blu Tuesday: Iron Thrones, Fake Movies and More

For the second week in a row, Blu-rays fans have been treated to an impressive selection of new releases, including personal favorites like “Game of Thrones” and “Argo,” and other award-worthy fare to get you in the mood for the upcoming Oscars. We might not see another Blu Tuesday this good for awhile, so enjoy it while you can.

“Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season”

Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” may have been my favorite freshman series of last year, but when it comes to HBO, “Game of Thrones” is (appropriately) still king. There’s nothing else quite like it on television, and though Season Two wasn’t as good as the first season on an episode-to-episode basis, the payoff was arguably even better, showing the full complexity and richness of the universe that George R.R. Martin created. As anyone who watches the series can attest, there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of, and though several new faces were introduced in the second season, it’s the familiar ones that remain the best reason for tuning in, including Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Kit Harrington as Jon Snow, and Maisie Williams as the cute but headstrong Arya Stark. Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen is regrettably saddled with a boring subplot this time around, but Season One background players Alfie Allen and Richard Madden are given much more to do, and the show is ultimately better for it. The scope of the series also seems to grow with every season, and as a fan of what David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are doing with Martin’s source material, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Blu-ray Highlight: Much like last season, there’s a wealth of extras on the five-disc set, including a roundtable discussion with several cast members and a look at shooting the Battle of Blackwater Bay. The real highlight, however, is the 12 audio commentaries recorded by various cast and crew. There’s one track for every episode except “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” and Episodes 3, 9 and 10 each have two commentaries a piece.

“Argo”

Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the multihyphenate moved away from the comforts of Boston to a much larger stage, delivering his best film in the process. A politically charged thriller that felt eerily timely in the wake of the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya, “Argo” is unique in that it also juggles a lighter Hollywood insider subplot in addition to its main story. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work, but Affleck makes the blending of the contrasting tones seem effortless. The comedy provided by Alan Arkin’s veteran producer and John Goodman’s makeup artist never undercuts the seriousness of the action in Tehran, and yet the strategically placed laughs help break up the tension that mounts over the course of the film. It’s been a while since a movie literally had me on the edge of my seat, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. The fact that it’s also based on a true story is simply the icing on the cake.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s so much great material here that it’s hard to choose. The feature-length picture-in-picture track boasts interviews with the people involved in the event (like CIA operative Tony Mendes, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and the “house guests”), while director Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio discuss the actual making of the movie on the disc’s audio commentary. Also worth checking out is the excellent retrospective “Rescued from Tehran: We Were There,” which uses additional interviews with the real-life subjects about their memories of the event, and the making-of featurette “Absolute Authenticity.”

“Anna Karenina”

If there’s one director whose films I’ll watch no matter what the subject matter, it’s Joe Wright. The British-born filmmaker has a knack for making stuffy love stories interesting (see: “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement”), but unfortunately, even he falls short with his big screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Though the popular Russian novel has been adapted so many times that there really wasn’t a need for another interpretation, Wright at least brings something new to the material with his inspired theatrical setup. It’s like watching an acting troupe perform a play in your living room (complete with intricate, movable sets), and it’s an awe-inspiring piece of filmmaking… at least for the first act or so. By the midway point, Wright has pretty much given up on the theater gimmick in favor of a more traditional storytelling method, and it saps what little energy the movie had going for it. The main love story is insufferable and boring, and although there are some good performances from supporting players like Matthew Macfadyen and Domhnall Gleeson, it’s not enough to hold your interest. Still, it’s better than reading the book.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s a good amount of bonus material on the making of the film – including a look at transforming a single theater space into the various sets and how it was accomplished during production – but listening to director Joe Wright explain the process and the reasoning behind it on the audio commentary is far more interesting.

  

2012 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

2012 wasn’t exactly an unforgettable year at the movies – I know that, you know that – but it can hardly be described as a disappointment, because while there weren’t many films that will be remembered 20 years from now, there was still plenty of quality to be found if you looked hard enough. As is usually the case with these year-end features, my Top 10 deviates a little from the typical crop of movies that you’d expect to find on most critics’ lists (some that I didn’t love as much as others, and some that I never had the chance to see), but it’s nothing that will surprise anyone who’s read my past work.

Best Movies of 2012

1. “THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

It’s not every day that the author of a critically acclaimed novel gets the chance to adapt their book for the big screen, let alone direct it, but after watching Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job. After all, Chbosky knows the material inside and out, and it definitely shows in this modest but heartwarming tale about finding your place in the world. It’s your typical coming-of-age story, but one that’s handled with a certain level of maturity rarely found in high school films, and though the comparisons to “The Breakfast Club” may not be completely warranted, it’s one of the few movies about high school that actually gets it right. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller all deliver excellent performances in their respective roles (especially Miller as the openly gay senior that takes Lerman’s freshman under his wing), and Chbosky’s deft script earns every emotional moment. It’s just a shame that “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will probably get lost in the shuffle come awards time, because it has everything you could possibly want in a film.

2. “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Leave it to David O. Russell to create a romantic comedy as quirky, dark, funny and surprisingly touching as “Silver Linings Playbook,” because the movie is almost as crazy as its two leads. One minute a fiercely honest character study about a man coping with bipolar disorder, and the next minute a charming rom-com revolving around an amateur dancing competition, the film performs such an amazing tightrope act that it’s really to Russell’s credit that it doesn’t come crashing down like a house of cards. Of course, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it weren’t for the risks that it takes thematically, but none of that would matter without its outstanding cast. Bradley Cooper finally gets the chance to show what he’s fully capable of in the best role of his career, and Robert De Niro has some great moments as Cooper’s superstitious father, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence (already so good at such a young age) who steals the show with a phenomenal performance that all but guarantees she’ll win the Oscar for Best Actress.

3. “ARGO

Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the Boston-born multihyphenate moved away from the comforts of his hometown to a much larger stage, delivering arguably his best film in the process. A politically charged thriller that felt eerily timely in the wake of the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya, “Argo” is unique in that it also juggles a lighter Hollywood insider subplot in addition to its main story. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work, but Affleck makes the blending of the contrasting tones appear almost effortless. The comedy provided by Alan Arkin’s veteran producer and John Goodman’s makeup artist never undercuts the seriousness of the action in Tehran, and yet the strategically placed laughs help break up the tension that mounts over the course of the film. It’s been a while since a movie literally had me on the edge of my seat, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. The fact that it’s also based on a true story is simply the icing on the cake.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to October

Much like the month before it, October isn’t exactly overflowing with quality, but what it lacks in that area it more than makes up for with plenty of variety. Though there aren’t many films worth getting genuinely excited about, the schedule does provide some audience-friendly fare as well as an early look at a few potential awards contenders.

“TAKEN 2″

Who: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace and Rade Serbedzija
What: In Istanbul, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills and his wife are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter.
When: October 5th
Why: Though it’s one of those sequels that doesn’t really need to exist, the original film was so much fun (not to mention made a decent bit of coin at the box office) that it’s not surprising Fox was so quick to greenlight another installment. After playing the helpless victim in the first movie, it’ll be refreshing to see Maggie Grace get in on the action this time around, even if all people care about is watching Liam Neeson kick ass and take names. Granted, the setup is ridiculous, as it’s hard to imagine the villains would have the resources to track down Neeson’s character, let alone know when he’s in a different country (a U.S.-based story would have been much more exciting), but it’s one of those details you just have to ignore in order to enjoy the movie for the action fantasy that it is.

“THE PAPERBOY”

Who: Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and John Cusack
What: A reporter returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate.
When: October 5th
Why: Unlike most of Hollywood, Lee Daniel’s “Precious” failed to convince me that it was anything more than a well-made afterschool special, so I’m curious to see what he’s able to do with his latest film, a pulpy erotic thriller featuring a trio of dependable actors. Though it’s been awhile since Nicole Kidman or John Cusack did anything of note, you can never count them out, while Matthew McConaughey has been on a bit of hot streak recently. The wild card of the cast is undoubtedly Zac Efron, because despite the actor’s dogged determination to shed his “High School Musical” image with more adult roles, he’s yet to really prove that he has the talent to back it up. Reaction was pretty mixed when the movie debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (not terribly surprising considering the material), so you would be wise to approach it with caution.

“BUTTER”

Who: Jennifer Garner, Yara Shahidi, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde and Rob Corddry
What: An adopted girl discovers her talent for butter carving and finds herself pitted against an ambitious local woman in their small town’s annual contest.
When: October 5th
Why: A black comedy that takes place in the offbeat and seemingly trivial world of butter carving competitions? What’s not to love? The concept sounds like something that Alexander Payne might make (it’s especially reminiscent of his 1999 cult hit “Election”), but while that may speak well of the movie’s potential, it’s a little worrying that it’s take so long to get a theatrical release. Directed by Jim Field Smith, who also made the underrated rom-com “She’s Out of My League,” “Butter” played the festival circuit at the end of last year, but the Weinstein Co. hasn’t shown a lot of confidence in the movie by dumping it in October. With that said, however, the cast is awesome (Jennifer Garner is great at playing the uptight socialite), and the script by newbie Jason A. Micallef landed a spot on the 2008 Black List. That doesn’t guarantee it will be any good, but it helps.

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