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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Blu Tuesday: Man of Steel, Ip Man and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Man of Steel”

WHAT: It’s been 30 years since Kal-El was jettisoned to Earth by his father (Russell Crowe) just before their home planet of Krypton was destroyed. Raised as a human named Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and taught to hide his superpowers, Clark eventually accepts his role as Earth’s protector just as Zod (Michael Shannon), the man responsible for his father’s death, arrives on the planet with plans to terraform it into a new Krypton.

WHY: The Superman franchise was practically DOA before Warner Bros. enlisted the aid of Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer to press the reboot button, and in doing so showed that the studio is finally starting to think about the bigger picture. One of the main problems with Superman as a character is that he’s pretty dull compared to the likes of Batman. Director Zack Snyder really can’t change that, but he at least manages to make him feel more relatable by depicting him as a bit of an outcast. Henry Cavill proves himself more than capable of carrying the Superman torch with his subtle yet effective performance, while Russell Crowe and Kevin Coster both turn in solid work as Kal-El/Clark’s respective fathers. The best thing about “Man of Steel,” however, is the action. The fight scenes are lightning fast and brutal, playing up the superhuman angle in a way that’s never been done before. The fight between Superman and two of Zod’s soldiers in the streets of Smallville is particularly memorable, delivering everything you’d expect from a modern day Superman film. Granted, it’s not as groundbreaking as what Nolan achieved with “Batman Begins,” but considering Warner’s recent track record with DC Comics characters, it’s a big step in the right direction.

EXTRAS: In addition to a feature called “Journey of Discovery” that tracks the making of the film with interviews, storyboards and other behind-the-scenes footage as the movie plays in the background, the two-disc set includes featurettes on rebooting the franchise, stunts and visual effects. There’s also a faux documentary about Planet Krypton that’s almost as pointless as the “Hobbit” promo that appears in the extras.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Ip Man: The Final Fight”

WHAT: Upon arriving in postwar Hong Kong, legendary Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (Anthony Wong) begins teaching a new class of pupils amid a backdrop of poverty, labor strikes and police corruption. But when a local crime lord threatens one of his students, Ip Man is called into action once again, despite his attempts to lead a peaceful life.

WHY: There have been so many movies about Ip Man released over the last few years that it’s become overkill, and although “The Final Fight” takes a completely different approach by exploring the martial artist’s later years, it’s the weakest Ip Man film to date. The Donnie Yen movies featured some great action choreography, and Wong Kar-Wai’s “The Grandmaster” looks absolutely gorgeous, but the only thing that “The Final Fight” has going for it is its cast. Anthony Wong turns in a solid performance as Ip Man, handling the action sequences fairly well for an actor with little experience in the genre, while Jordan Chan and Eric Tsang are both good in supporting roles, though I would have liked to see more of both characters. Unfortunately, the film lacks focus, unable to decide whether the story is about Ip Man or his various pupils, constantly shifting attention throughout its sluggish 100-minute runtime. Director Herman Yau does an admirable job of juggling the many subplots, but in the end, it’s the movie’s undoing.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and interviews with the cast and crew.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Movie Review: “Man of Steel”

Starring
Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne
Director
Zack Snyder

Marvel and DC Comics may be viewed as equals in the publishing arena, but the latter is hopelessly losing the battle when it comes to their respective film divisions. While Marvel has released one hit after the next (culminating in last year’s mega hit “The Avengers”), DC has failed to launch a single successful franchise other than Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. 2006’s “Superman Returns” was a big disappointment, 2011’s “Green Lantern” was even worse, and Joss Whedon’s long-mooted Wonder Woman project was ultimately axed, leading him to direct the aforementioned “Avengers” for the competition.

But in trying to reboot their Superman franchise, parent company Warner Bros. did something very smart – they enlisted the aid of Nolan and Batman co-writer David S. Goyer to usher in a new era of Kyrpton’s favorite son. And if “Man of Steel” is any indication, that was a great move on the part of the studio, not only because they’ve finally managed to do Superman right, but because it shows that they’re thinking about the bigger picture, both for their flagship character and the DC movie universe as a whole.

“Man of Steel” is a giant-sized film with so much on its plate that it takes nearly 30 minutes before Clark Kent/Kal-El (Henry Cavill) even makes his first appearance. The movie opens with a prologue set on Krypton amid a military coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon) in a last-ditch attempt to save their dying planet. But scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) doesn’t agree with Zod taking such desperate measures, and instead launches his newborn son Kal-El (the first natural born Kryptonian in centuries) to Earth in the hope that he can save that planet from making the same mistakes. In the end, Zod and his cronies are captured and sentenced to the Phantom Zone, while Krypton is destroyed.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to June

june_movies

Though the summer movie season is typically reserved for the kind of big blockbuster action films that dominated theaters last month, June offers a more eclectic assortment of movies, including star-studded comedies, small indies, and yes, another helping of big blockbuster action films. From the return of Superman to the end of the world (twice), there are plenty of good reasons to get out of the sweltering heat and be entertained this June.

“THE INTERNSHIP”

Who: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne and John Goodman
What: Two salesmen whose careers have been ruined by the digital age get internships at Google, where they must compete against young, tech-savvy geniuses.
When: June 7th
Why: It’s been almost a decade since Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson teamed up for “Wedding Crashers” – which, along with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” helped revive the R-rated comedy – so there’s a certain degree of excitement about seeing them together on screen again. Of course, “Wedding Crashers” was actually funny, whereas “The Internship” doesn’t look quite as promising. The studio clearly believes that just by reuniting the two actors, the laughs will automatically flow, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Director Shawn Levy’s previous comedies have been pretty tame in comparison to the duo’s last film, and many of the jokes in the trailer feel about five years past their sell-by date, Still, the Vaughn/Wilson reunion is simply too enticing to pass up, so I wouldn’t count out “The Internship” just yet.

“MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING”

Who: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond and Nathan Fillion
What: A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words.
When: June 7th
Why: Most directors would take a much deserved vacation after wrapping on a movie as massive as “The Avengers,” but not Joss Whedon, who used his short break between filming and post-production on the Marvel blockbuster to shoot a modern day version of “Much Ado About Nothing” with some friends at his house. The movie is packed with familiar faces from the director’s so-called Whedonverse, with every one of his former TV shows represented in some capacity. Shot entirely in black and white, the film looks about as close to a low budget indie as you’re bound to find, but Whedon and Shakespeare are such a great fit (both celebrated for their sharp and witty dialogue) that it’s a wonder the latter didn’t attempt an adaptation of the Bard’s classic any sooner.

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