Holiday Gift Guide 2007: the movie edition

November 27, 2007

By now, you’ve probably seen at least several hundred of these (I could be exaggerating – but sadly, or disturbingly, I don’t think so). But hey, what’s one more to add to the pile?

See, I like to wait until the web is totally oversaturated with exactly the same content to publish my own contribution to the excess. Or for the precise moment when many people don’t even want to think about shopping for a whole ‘nother week after spending six hours standing outside of Best Buy in the wee hours of the morning after Thanksgiving (you know who you are) – and then walking home, uphill, hopefully in the snow. In any case, I find it much more thrillingly extraneous that way. Or so I tell myself.

With that said, here are some of my own recommendations for what to get that incurable movie fanatic you know and love. I mean, there’s bound to be at least one in every family, right? Or am I just writing my own holiday wish list? Well, either way – hopefully my family is paying attention…

(all prices are retail, and thus pre-any sort of discount, such as the standard Amazon deductions)

Stocking stuffers

Or gifts for the other seven nights. Or, well, whatever the case may be. You get the idea.

Pure fun miscellany – If you’re in New York, buy a can of EVIL, some powdered antimatter and other superhero stuff at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store. If you’re in San Francisco, buy pirate goodies at the Pirate Supply Store. Seattle: space travel necessities at the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. LA or Ann Arbor: time travel essentials (Echo Park Time Travel Mart) and monsters-in-your-closet supplies (The International Monsters Union) respectively.

Sound far-fetched? Fortunately for kids at heart everywhere (and, of course, actual kids), it’s not! For more information on these real life stores, click here.

Gift cards – If you don’t live in any of these cities, or don’t have easy access to one of them, there are, of course, many alternatives.

A Netflix gift subscription is always a fun option (and addictive, I’m on my, um, 23rd month or so past the three I originally got as a gift), and a gift certificate for a movie theater chain is easy, affordable and flexible. Almost all movie theaters have them, even the most staunchly independent ones. With ticket prices soaring to $11 (and no matinees) in cities like New York, and that’s not including the $4.50 small popcorn, your friend or family member will thank you.

And of course, finally, an iTunes gift certificate will let them download their favorite movies onto that new iPod nano you caved in and got them.

The book Cinescopes: what your favorite movies reveal about you – One of those “laugh over after opening and then forget” presents (we’ve all gotten them), it’s nonetheless the type of gift we all need during holiday bonding time with the family. $14.95 at Kitson.

DVDs – Basic, yes, but certainly not the easy way out. Individual DVDs are the fun, simple item that many people want but don’t want to actually spend the extra cash on to get themselves. I mean, really, you’re doing them a favor.

Solid

Candy Princess Kit – If you just can’t deal with one more Disney Princesses toy in your home, but someone you know is desperate for something royal after seeing Enchanted, try this fun gift basket ($50) from the famous Willy Wonka-esque candy store, Dylan’s Candy Bar. Sure, you won’t be able to drag the recipient from the walls, but most of it will probably be gone by the next morning. It includes pretty much everything you could ever think of that involves a Disney princess and sugar.

Film journal – I think we can all agree that no one actually uses these, apart from that diligently filled out first entry, of course. But if you have a Phoebe Cates fan on your list, you can cleverly point out that this elegant film journal ($45.00) came from her boutique in New York. That’s practically 3 degrees of separation!

Books and graphic novels – Sure, books that have recently been turned into films make great gifts, but if you understandably want to avoid the “Oh… Great… A book… Thanks…” response, check out these bound alternatives.

Stardust – The fairy tale (but not, I repeat not, with Disney’s G-rated fairies) graphic novel on which the Claire Danes, Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer special effects flight of fancy is based.

300 – Before it was an ultraviolent, testerone-fueled box office heavyweight, it was an ultraviolent, testerone-fueled graphic novel about the historic battle of Thermopylae in ancient Greece (it’s almost an educational book, really…). Other novels by Hollywood golden boy Frank Miller that have been adapted into film: Sin City and The Dark Knight Returns (not directly, but still very influential; see Tim Burton’s Batman)

Scott Pilgrim – Get a jump start on this 2009 film by reading the indie graphic novel on which it’s based. A boy must fight off his new girlfriend’s 7 evil exes – tongue-in-cheek, martial arts video game style. Vol. 4 just came out, but for you newbies, start with – what else? – Vol. 1.

Pretty much anything by Alan Moore – Disgruntled Hollywood golden boy Moore has written the graphic novels that inspired The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and the upcoming Watchmen (2009).

If books are in the cards, however, try these:

His Dark Materials – Controversy or not, these elegant, and at times emotionally wrenching, tales for young adults are a must for fantasy fans. The first book in this three volume series by Philip Pullman is the basis for the new Golden Compass epic film.

No Country for Old Men – It has certainly been Cormac McCarthy’s year. Between the Pulitzer and Oprah’s Book Club selection for his bleak The Road and the critical acclaim for the film adaptation of No Country‘s disturbing tale, McCarthy is having a good holiday.

Beowulf – Lure them in with Angelina Jolie, keep them (for a time at least) with Seamus Heaney’s actually intelligible translation of the classic English poem. And no, this is not just my own revenge for having to read this in high school – after all, my class didn’t just read it. We had to listen to it read to us in Old English, with a lyre, for hours. Well, maybe I should take back that revenge comment…

Why not?

“Ultimate” DVD collections – They’re hefty, pricey and they’ve got that “cool, lots of stuff” factor. As a very early collector of the comics, I’m partial to the Superman Ultimate Collector’s Edition ($99.98 – but phew, not $100!), which comes with 14 discs (including the Richard Donner version of Superman II and loads of extras) and total non-portability.

But perhaps your gift recipient is a Bond fan? Check out the James Bond Ultimate Collector’s Set ($289.98) with its whopping 42 discs (Never Say Never Again and other “unofficials” not included).

As for me, I’m actually hoping for the collector’s set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – was that too subtle of a hint? Mom?

Other “Ultimates”:
Blade Runner Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition ($78.92) comes in one of those super spy, I’m handcuffed to this, shiny metal briefcases. Ooo, shiny.
Essential Art House – 50 Years of Janus Films ($850) might break the bank, but with 50 discs, you get a huge slice of indie film history all in one place.

Portable DVD player – A bit of a classic but always a good choice. I got one of these (plus that Netflix subscription) one year for the holidays and it was the best day (almost better than a basket of mini-muffins – sorry, in an oblique references to Friends mood) … Ah, materialism. For one that will last you beyond the next year’s holiday season, expect to pay about $150 and up.

Movie magazine subscription – Something they will literally enjoy (or at least receive) for a year. They range from mainstream (Entertainment Weekly) to humorously British (my favorite, Empire) to Hollywood (Variety). Depending on seasonal offers, a year’s subscription can run anywhere from about $20-40 (EW) to over $150 (international subscribers to Empire). For more film magazine options, click here.

Video editing software – For the aspiring filmmaker. Expect to pay around $70-$100 (from what I can tell). For help picking the right one (who can tell them all apart? capability to do what exactly?), if your budding director hasn’t given you very specific requests, go here for PC Mag’s detailed guide to buying video editing software.

The holidays only come once a year… right?

Maya and RenderMan – If you know someone who is really (really, really) into 3D animation – like, “Pixar or bust” into animation – then they are probably drooling over these computer programs, if they don’t have them already. Autodesk’s Maya software, “the current king-of-the-hill in high-end 3D animation software” (according to 3DRender.com), is the program to beat, and since you can’t get more name-brand than Pixar, throw the 3D animation king’s own rendering software into the mix as well with their RenderMan for Maya product.

Of course, you get what you pay for, and sadly, you will pay for these products: at about $4,000 and $1,000 respectively, these pricey animation gifts clearly eliminate any need for additional stocking stuffers – or any gifts for the next 10 years, for that matter.

James Bond accessories – Sure, that Ultimate DVD set is nice and all, but why just watch Bond when you can look like him? Check out Bond Lifestyle to find the stuff that the movie spy and his associates actually use and wear. Items range from the Omega watch seen in Casino Royale (about $2,500) to Brioni suits ($5,000-ish) to a sterling silver Aston Martin keychain (approx. $400).

The site also includes a list of the watches worn in the 007 films. They probably won’t shoot darts or help unzip a dress (not literally anyway), but nothing’s perfect. For a history of Bond watches, click here.

That Ferrari you’ve always wanted

Now that winning a part in a Will Ferrell movie is off the market, what gifts are there for a movie lover to dream about – or actually purchase, for those ridiculously wealthy people out there (any lottery ticket now!)?

Design your own Star Trek apartment – Although the original sold for over $800,000, get your own room, house or apartment transformed into an insanely authentic replica of the Star Trek starship by the guy who built it. No joke – if you haven’t seen pictures of what this guy did to his apartment, click here now to visit his official “24th Century Interior Design” website.

Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane Oscar – On December 11th, Sotheby’s is auctioning off the only Oscar that this über-acclaimed flick ever won (believe it or not): Best Writing, Original Screenplay. The Oscar was shared by Welles and Herman Mankiewicz. It’s expected to fetch around $1 million, but $800,000 at the very least. Steep, you say? Well, there’s nothing like literally holding Oscar glory in the palm of your hand. Or at least, Sotheby’s hopes so.

Home movie theater – Sure, that 60″ flat screen is nice, but really, it’s got nothing on a full-on luxury movie theater in your own home. In the US, companies like Gramophone, Sound Image and New England’s Home Entertainment Expo will design you a seriously jealousy-enducing home theater. Think huge leather chairs, fully integrated sound system, paneled walls, high definition lowered screen, and those essential movie curtain drapes. MTV Cribs will be knocking down your door within weeks – if they aren’t busy with those Star Trek-inspired homes of course.

If you don’t want to go quite this far, check out about.com’s list of movie theater accessories (from a projection screen to a vintage popcorn maker – nothing like the smell of popcorn throughout your entire house to make you feel that the expense was totally worth it).

Or go for the sleek accent look and purchase these stage / movie – style polished steel light fixtures from NY boutique staple, Mxyplyzyk (yep, named after that dimensional Superman villain, and it’s pronounced mix-ee-pliz-ik according to the store).

** For more similar, exactly the same and not so similar gift suggestions for movie fans, see Jenny Lauck’s thoughtful list. Also check out Moviefone’s gift guide. It’s a lot less practical than Lauck’s (think “Dumbledore gay pride” t-shirts), but, as a result, great eye candy and perfect fodder for internet procrastination. I know I at least am definitely getting that voice-changing Optimus Prime helmet for a, um, friend.


Thanksgiving movie menu

November 19, 2007

Between the family infighting, the poor excuses for cooked turkey and the endless hours of golf discussions (that last one could just be my family…), let’s admit it, Thanksgiving can be tough to take sometimes, or at the very least a little overwhelming. Sure, you want to spend some good, quality time with Aunt Jaimie, but isn’t a few minutes enough?

Not to mention that classic Thanksgiving pastime: forcing everyone to watch holiday TV “specials,” also known as The Wizard of Oz with overexcited cousins for the 50th time and counting. Nothing against that time-honored film, of course, but after a while, enough is enough. Not even the strongest can survive a family get-together, underwhelming cooking and back-to-back showings of The Wizard all in one.

So here are some fun suggestions for your own type of holiday menu – a true meal for before, after, or even during (only the very brave need apply) the festivities themselves.

Amelie

Appetizer

Amélie – To put you in that light-hearted, forgiving, “let’s help other people!” mood that you’re going to need for an afternoon and evening of family politics. And to put the wonderful taste of crackling, melted, crème brulée sugar in your mouth – you know, as a sort of buffer against what’s to come…

Entrée (2 options)

Meet the Parents – Humor born out of desperation and tactless behavior all rolled into one. Yep, it’s definitely dinner time. And, of course, unlike any Thanksgiving I’ve ever heard of… Enjoy that extra helping of family disapproval!

Mean Girls – A sort of cleansing, cathartic, just let it all out experience for when the, uh, stuffing really starts flying. They can get revenge so you don’t feel the need to have to.

Side dish

A very special Thanksgiving episode – A quick, painless distraction from the main meal. Your favorite TV show must have at least one of them. Here are some excellent suggestions that span decades – I certainly can’t disagree with the trifle gone very, very wrong episode of Friends and the “I can slay and give thanks!” Buffy choice, at least.

Dessert

Ratatouille – Now that you’ve let it all out (and eaten most of the food, so a film about rats is more of a safe bet), time to bury your sorrows in sugar and butter. It’s gorgeous, it’s fun, it’s animated, and it’s even got cheese. The perfect, delectable end to a hopefully short evening.

Drinks (‘cuz god knows you’re gonna need ’em)

Old School – Unleash your inner college student (or soon-to-be, or currently are, or whatever the case may be) and embrace denial and total oblivion from the real world. Just to clarify: I am not advocating lots of heavy drinking here, but rather watching this film to get the same result, but better! (no hangover, see?)

(Alternative tasting menu for the less humor inclined: go to New York Magazine’s “Pre-Holiday Guide to Downer Films.” I have serious chart envy over this post.)


Halloween movies for the scared

October 31, 2007

Not the kids – but rather those (like myself…) who prefer to have the lights only, um, partially dimmed.

Now, I don’t want to say that I’m petrified at the site of a movie monster or anything; it’s more that I’m petrified at the thought of a horror movie at all. Don’t laugh, but even Scream can send me into nightmares for at least a week. I know, I know, it’s supposed to be a “humorous” film, but watching it for the first time in the empty, open suburbs of the Midwest, with lots of big windows, easily accessible garages, and, you know, telephones, and anyone could get scared. Or so I tell myself (and others, muffled from behind the pillow that’s covering my face).

In any case, as someone who has suffered (and I mean suffered) through many Halloween horror fests with friends, I have found it quite necessary to come up with some movies that I feel free to safely recommend to some horror-happy friends without gaining yet another reason to turn on all the lights at any hint at all of sunset. Think about it this way – watch these films, save the environment! I feel better already…

From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-leggedy beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!

– Scottish prayer

“Do you know why I can stay in your spooky old room Mr. Olin? Because I know that ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties don’t exist. And even if they did, there’s no god to protect us from them is there?”

-1408 (not one of the movies in my list, I just like the quote – sorry Stephen King, but this one’s a little much for me)
(from imdb.com)

Shaun of the Dead – Without a doubt, one of my favorite movies ever. Perhaps surprisingly, considering the fact that some of my friends do think this a bit scary. Nevertheless, I find it the perfect antidote to being scared out of my wits by an actual zombie movie – I just think of disposable cameras and a “girl in the garden” and all the anxious jitters go away.

A spoof on classic zombie flicks (think Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Office meets George Romero), with a hero who at first thinks the walking dead are simply people who have had a bit too much to drink (an honest mistake), the film’s certainly got its must-have horror moments – bloody zombies attack, screams are screamed, people batter zombies with pool cues – but the humor is priceless. What other movie would have a victory against the zombies moment set to music by Queen?

Young Frankenstein – Also containing one of my favorite movie quotes, this classic comedy from Mel Brooks delivers all of the typical horror fare, including a dark and stormy castle, mysteriously creepy castle denizens, and Frankenstein’s monster him/itself, without any of the fright. And of course, look for a great performance from the late Peter Boyle as the monster (he sings!). Bonus (positive or negative still to be decided): it’s now a Broadway musical. It was inevitable.

Beetlejuice – The thrice-called ghoul played by Michael Keaton in this Tim Burton film (who went on to make Batman with Keaton as well – I personally would have immediately thought of Keaton as the Dark Knight after seeing this movie) wreaks cooky havoc on the Deetz home with fellow ghosts Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin, looking very young, and Geena Davis). Winona Ryder also stars as the black clad girl who befriends the couple. It’s odd and totally crazy and definitely a Burton film – with some clear disturbing/spooky moments, especially towards the end. Might not want to watch alone.

Ghostbusters – Because nothing heralds winter like a giant marshmallow terrorizing the streets of Manhattan. Extremely minimal horrors, but with plenty of otherworldly monsters and goings on (not forgetting Slimer, of course), it’s got the added bonus of being an almost universally loved comedy. With Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis as the paranormal avengers, as well as Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, and Annie Potts.

The Nightmare before Christmas – I know, this is probably a bit standard and boring, but how can you have a list like this without it? After all, don’t be fooled by the name – the whole movie actually revolves around a place called “Halloween Town” and starts off with a bunch of sinister-looking animated characters chanting “This is Halloween!” Now that’s a Halloween movie. This stop-motion holiday film (now in 3D!), another one from Halloween maestro Tim Burton, is spooky and Halloween gloomy without being really scary. And with the additional inclusion of Christmas Town in the movie, you get two holidays in one!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Before it was a critically-acclaimed hip show, and way before it was touring as a sing-along, Buffy was a completely campy early ’90s flick from cult god Joss Whedon starring Kristy Swanson (Buffy), Donald Sutherland as “the Watcher” and Luke Perry as the boy toy. Not to mention Hilary Swank, David Arquette and, believe it or not, Paul Reubens (yes, Pee Wee Herman himself) in other roles. Now, I’m not saying it’s good, and in my mind, it’s definitely got its scary vampire moments, but it’s a lot of camp fun.

Other favorites with descriptions in other posts:

The Mummy – The mummy itself may be scary to some (although I don’t think anyone can argue that the beetles are pretty darn icky), but it’s light monster fun for the action set. Just turn away whenever the mummy or beetles attack anyone and it’s no problem.

Spirited Away – A beautiful and ethereal fairy tale for the indie lover, with an actual long-legged beastie, from Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki. You’ll never see another haunted house quite like this.

Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit – Just pure guilt-free fun.