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: Pacific Rim, The Heat 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.

“Pacific Rim”

WHAT: Set in the not-too-distant future, giant beasts called kaiju have emerged from an inter-dimensional rift below the Pacific Ocean to wreak havoc on the planet. In response, the world’s governments came together to build giant robots called jaegers to combat these monsters, but when the program is shut down, commanding officer Marshall Pentecost (Idris Elba) recruits a retired pilot named Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) to spearhead one final attack in the fight for humanity’s survival.

WHY:Pacific Rim” is about as close to a Transformers/Godzilla mash-up as you’ll ever see, so it’s not surprising why fanboys were quick to jump on the bandwagon of Guillermo del Toro’s latest film. But while the marketing campaign focused almost entirely on the robots vs. monsters angle, the action is a pretty big letdown. While it’s hard to deny the gleeful sensation of watching giant robots pummel giant monsters, it starts to get a little repetitive and would have benefited greatly from more distinct battles and creatures. As it is, every major fight sequence takes place either at night in the pouring rain, or underwater where it’s just as murky, and that makes it really difficult to see things clearly, especially when del Toro relies so heavily on extreme close-ups and quick cuts. After all, if you’re going to promise robots vs. monsters, then you should at least be able to make out what’s going on. There’s more than enough CGI-fueled destruction on display to categorize “Pacific Rim” as a fun popcorn flick, but it’s lacking the substance that you would normally expect from a filmmaker like del Toro.

EXTRAS: The two-disc set includes an audio commentary by director Guillermo del Toro, five Focus Points featurettes, deleted scenes and a blooper reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Heat”

WHAT: Straight-laced FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is up for a big promotion, but while she’s the perfect candidate on paper, Sarah hasn’t earned the respect of her peers. To prove that she’s a team player and the right person for the job, Sarah’s boss (Demian Bichir) sends her to Boston, where she must partner up with an uncouth and unconventional local detective named Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) to bring down a ruthless drug lord.

WHY: Though fans of “Bridesmaids” will likely enjoy Paul Feig’s latest R-rated romp with Melissa McCarthy, anyone that wasn’t already sick and tired of the actress definitely will be after sitting through two more hours of her annoyingly boorish and over-the-top brand of humor. “Identity Thief” should have been the final nail in the coffin of America’s love affair with McCarthy, but if her irritating performance in “The Heat” doesn’t put an end to that reign, then the moviegoing public deserves more lowbrow comedies just like it. “Bridesmaids” may be overrated, but at least it has some genuine moments of laughter and a decent story at its core. “The Heat,” meanwhile, never merits more than a few chuckles, and a major reason for that is the overdependence on McCarthy’s loud-mouthed buffoon. It’s supposed to be hilarious, except that it’s not. You know what would have been funny? If Sandra Bullock and McCarthy had switched roles. At least then we could have seen both actresses do something a little different for once, and it probably would have led to a more entertaining movie. Instead, we got “Miss Congeniality 3: Boston Boogaloo.”

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy, the Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette, a collection of deleted and extended scenes, two more commentary tracks (one with the original “Mystery Science Theater 3000” guys and another with the Mullins family), a blooper reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Movie Review: “Pacific Rim”

Starring
Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Rob Kazinksky, Clifton Collins Jr.
Director
Guillermo del Toro

It’s been five years since Guillermo del Toro’s last film, and between the problems he faced working on the “Hobbit” movies and trying to get passion project “In the Mountains of Madness” off the ground,” you could hardly blame the guy if he had just called it quits. But instead of getting frustrated by the Hollywood system, he gave them exactly what they wanted: an action-packed blockbuster that also appealed to his inner 12-year-old. “Pacific Rim” is about as close to a Transformers/Godzilla mash-up as you’ll ever see, so it’s not surprising how quickly fanboys jumped on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, the film lacks the uniqueness of the director’s other projects, because while it may not be based on a preexisting property like a lot of summer fare, it still feels oddly generic. That being said, you definitely won’t be bored, and that’s to the credit of the rich mythology that del Toro has created.

Set in the not-too-distant future, giant beasts (referred to as kaiju) have emerged from an inter-dimensional rift below the Pacific Ocean to wreak havoc on every major coastal city from San Francisco to Tokyo. In response, the world’s governments came together to build giant robots called jaegers to combat these monsters, with two pilots controlling each machine via a neurological sync known as drifting. The more compatible the pilots, the better they perform. Though successful for several years, the jaeger program has become increasingly less effective as the kaiju continue to adapt and evolve. When the program is ordered to be shut down, commanding officer Marshall Pentecost (Idris Elba) recruits a retired jaeger pilot named Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) to team up with rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), with whom he shares a particularly strong connection, and spearhead one final attack in the fight for humanity’s survival.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to July

july_movies

Audiences have seen quite a few big movies may their way into theaters over the past two months, but the onslaught of summer tentpole films isn’t even close to over. In fact, we’ve just reached the midway point of the season, and as you might expect, there’s plenty more big blockbusters on their way, including a potential new Disney franchise for Johnny Depp, Guillermo del Toro’s answer to Godzilla, and the return of Wolverine.

“THE LONE RANGER”

Who: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner and Helena Bonham Carter
What: Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.
When: July 3rd
Why: Disney may think that they have another ready-made hit on their hands with this big screen adaptation of the popular radio serial, but I don’t know many people that are actually excited about “The Lone Ranger,” and that includes myself. Though Johnny Depp will almost certainly be a riot as the dead-bird wearing Tonto (he’s at his best when playing eccentric characters), Armie Hammer has yet to prove himself as a viable leading man. Additionally, the rumors about the film’s troubled production don’t exactly exude confidence, and although “World War Z” taught us not to take behind-the-scenes drama at face value, there hasn’t been a single trailer released yet that doesn’t make the movie look like one really expensive mess.

“THE WAY, WAY BACK”

Who: Liam James, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell and Amanda Peet
What: Over the course of his summer break, a teenager comes into his own thanks in part to the friendship he strikes up with one of the park’s managers.
When: July 5th
Why: After becoming a smash hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the coming-of-age comedy ignited a bidding war, with Fox Searchlight ultimately acquiring the rights for a near-record $10 million. The indie studio clearly believes that the film can replicate the box office success of “Little Miss Sunshine” (it even features two of the actors from that movie in Steve Carell and Toni Collete), and if the festival buzz is to be believed, an awards campaign might not be too far behind. The film marks the directorial debuts of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who first turned industry heads with their Oscar-winning script for “The Descendants,” and boasts a star-studded cast that also includes Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet. Though it may seem like an odd time of the year to release such a small comedy, it’s actually a smart piece of counterprogramming that could work to its benefit.

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