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.


Best Movie Trailers

October 26, 2007

Sure, I’m actually there to see the movie. And yes, it’s often pretty good too. But somehow I just can’t help but get excited when that first green ratings sign pops up on the screen. Perhaps it’s something to do with the often unintentionally hilarious ratings comments (“rated PG for non-stop frenetic animated action” and sometimes the dreaded “thematic elements”). Or perhaps it’s something to do with the innocent promise inherent in movie previews – you have no idea what the movie is actually going to be like yet, but darned if it doesn’t look like fun from a few minutes of clips.

So here a few of my own favorites – or at least the ones that, you know, I managed to remember after I left the theater. You’ll notice many of these clips employ “The Voice.” If you don’t know what I mean, well… you will.

Comedian

Why spoof indirectly when you can go straight to the source?

Gymkata

There are no words. No. Words.

For another classic ’80s trailer, see this Entertainment Weekly post.

Superman Returns

Pure film nostalgia at its best.

Blair Witch Project

Yes, yes, it’s seriously cliché now, but no matter what you think of the film, you can’t deny that this trailer worked really, really well. And hey, who says you can’t indulge in a little cliché now and then?

Citizen Kane

Back when trailers were nothing but a news headline parade of flashy movie star clips set to booming voice overs, Orson Welles went a different route. Not exactly the older brother of the 300 trailer, but it’s got witty humor, “caught off guard” celebrities, and (perhaps cleverly? or tongue-in-cheek… ily?), a focus on Welles’s most infamous asset: his voice over the microphone.

(See War of the Worlds radio broadcast)

Sin City

Because it’s just so much fun to watch. Talk about setting the mood…

Honorable Mentions:

The Omen (the original one)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Chicken Little (guilty pleasure)

Jarhead (I’ll admit, it’s mainly for the Kanye West song)

And finally, you have to include at least one fake trailer in one of these things. It’s an oldie (by web standards), but always a goodie – the classic: The Shining

More trailer goodies:

Golden Trailer Awards – Yes, they do exist.

Best Fake Trailers

The Holiday – Finally, movie trailer makers get their due! Cameron Diaz stars as a woman who has made a (ridiculously wealthy) living off of making movie previews, and hears her life in “trailer format” (i.e., with “The Voice”) at particularly stressful moments.

Perhaps I spend way too much time watching TV (ok, not perhaps, that’s definitely true), but I always get a kick out of those TBS movie previews. Here are some for The Lord of the Rings.


Citizen Kane cheat sheet

August 24, 2007

There have been many occasions where I’ve been embarrassed by my lack of information about earlier, so-called “classic” films – with my boss or other superiors at work (“Ha, ha! Rosebud! That’s so true!” “Oh, um, yeah, of course.”), reading an article in a “serious” magazine or newspaper, or when my grandparents destroy me at Trivial Pursuit.

Ok, maybe that’s just me, but I do think it can come in handy to know a thing or two about the classics. I recently decided to go through and watch all those classic movies I’ve been missing out on, and since I was going to watch them anyway, I figured I’d put everything I’d learned into little cheat sheets that could be used to, you know, impress various friends, colleagues or acquaintances.

I decided to start with the granddaddy of them all: Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane is intimidating for several reasons. 1) It’s in black and white. 2) It’s long. 3) It stars one of those big, serious actors, Orson Welles. 4) It’s on the top of seemingly every single “best movies ever” list out there, from AFI Top 100 Movies to Time magazine. As Time magazine says:

Named the greatest of all films in poll after critics’ poll for the past half-century, Kane might by now seem suitable for viewing not through the glass of the movie projector but under glass, in the museum of outmoded innovations.

In the end though, I decided to conquer my fear and take the plunge. How bad (re: boring) could it be? Not too bad really, as it turned out. So, here then is my cheat sheet for Citizen Kane.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

Title

Citizen Kane

Who?

Charles Foster Kane, the powerful and enigmatic main character.

Technical details that will help verify you’ve actually seen it

1941 release. By RKO Pictures. Black and white. Two hours long.

The movie begins with the death of Kane (Orson Welles).

People you should know

Orson Welles, the star/director/producer/co-screenwriter. He won an Oscar for the screenplay. Trivia: Orson Welles is the guy who sent the world into a panic by reading H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds over the radio.

Awards

It did NOT win Best Picture, although it was nominated. It was also nominated in 8 other categories, including Best Director, Actor and Score, but it only won Best Original Screenplay.

Crucial quote

The movie begins and ends with it: “Rosebud.”

Trivia: Roger Ebert calls this “The most famous word in the history of cinema.” It’s short, memorize it.

(Imaginary) modern day pitch

Think a non-violent Godfather: Part II crossed with Spike Lee’s Inside Man on a dark and stormy night.

Plot

The life of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane is told through flashbacks and the stories of those who knew him. This look into his life is prompted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death at his massive estate known as “Xanadu” (which appropriately describes its scope). The last thing he uttered before he died was “Rosebud,” a strange phrase no one can understand. A journalist is sent out to discover what it means by interviewing those who were a part of his life: his general manager, the late banker who raised him (no, this isn’t sci-fi, he reads the guy’s journals), the closest thing he had to a friend (Jedidiah Leland), Xanadu’s manager, and his second wife, Susan Alexander Kane (a reluctant opera singer).

His life is revealed to be one of turmoil and regret, where he, an incredibly wealthy man, acquired many things, but none made him feel loved or happy. He lost both of his wives (the first one died a short while after divorcing him), large parts of his controversial, sensationalist newspaper, his friend/hapless sidekick Jedidiah, and, most importantly, his mother, who gave him away so that he could be raised in the city by a banker. He dies alone on his huge estate, with nothing but meaningless possessions surrounding him.

In the end, no one figures out what “Rosebud” means.

So what does Rosebud mean?

It’s the name of the sled Kane had when he was a child, and that he was forced to give up when he left his family to go live with his new foster father. It’s a symbol of his life of loss, regret and loneliness (and empty materialism), and the shot of it being burnt up after his death is the last shot of the movie.

Famous scene

Unfortunately, the whole movie is a famous scene. Here are a few: the opening scene where the camera moves slowly through Kane’s deserted estate to the room where he’s dying, the strained breakfast table scenes between Kane and his first wife, Susan Alexander Kane’s opera debut.

History

Much of the film is based on the life of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who (shockingly) was not very happy with the film (for more: see film RKO 281, a whole movie about Hearst’s battle with the filmmakers). Hearst’s company still exists today, and owns magazines such as O (The Oprah magazine), Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar.

Themes

Regret, materialism, money, ego, loss, fame, friendship, love. Kane is always obsessed by possessions and by what he can’t have – particularly the mother (and by association, the sled) that he lost and was forced to give up so that he could do what she thought was best for him.

Classy conversation starter

“You’re my Rosebud.”


Quotes

August 19, 2007

Citizen Kane

“That ‘Rosebud’ – that don’t mean anything. I heard him say it. He just said ‘Rosebud’ and then he dropped that glass ball and it broke on the floor. He didn’t say anything about that, so I knew he was dead…”