With Christmas basically two weeks away, it's high time you snapped up those last-minute gifts for your cinema-loving friends and family. This handy-dandy gift guide will help you decide what to choose for the die-hard cineaste in your life. And if that die-hard cineaste is you (and it probably is if you're reading this), then why not start dropping some aggressive hints by sending the link to this page to everybody you know?
We'll start with some of this year's hot Blu-ray and DVD releases.
Powerful close-ups and performances elevate The Passion of Joan of Arc to the level of masterpiece.Last month, Eureka put out its long-awaited Blu-ray of Carl Dreyer's 1928 masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. Presented in a stunning new restoration in both 20-fps and 24-fps versions, both with silent soundtracks and newly recorded musical scores, The Passion of Joan of Arc is as powerful as ever. Following the trial of the titular historical figure as she seeks to prove that she is not in league with the devil, but is in fact a servant of God, the film may appear dated, but it stands as a stark reminder of the difference between zealotry and faith as well as serving as a technical lesson in how to shoot faces (in the photographic sense, not the Judge Dredd sense). The lead performance from Maria Falconetti will break your heart right until the tragic and shockingly graphic end. Also available on DVD and in a double-play SteelBook edition. Region B only.
Keeping it old-school, we have "Universal Monsters: The Essential Collection." This long-awaited box set compiles some of the classics from the Universal monster canon: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), The Phantom of the Opera (1943) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). It may be a bit of a mixed set in terms of film quality, but every presentation is unmissable. The new restoration of Dracula is particularly impressive, I had no idea that film had any sound effects that weren't an all-consuming hiss.
I can only hope that a second set is soon released that includes Dracula's Daughter (1936) and Son of Frankenstein (1939), two of the real gems of Universal's output. We'll make do, for now, with the brilliant Frankenstein and The Invisible Man, though. Both of those films are just as effective and powerful today as they ever were (just try to imagine audience reactions to The Invisible Man, you'll wish you could have been there). Creature from the Black Lagoon also benefits from the inclusion of a new, wonderful 3-D restoration for owners of a 3-D TV. Each film is also available individually. Region Free.
From Warner Home Video comes the Blu-ray Digibook release of Frank Oz's Little Shop of Horrors (1986), one of the great oddball musicals to come out of the 1980s. The man-eating plant Audrey II's intricate puppetry looks better than ever in high definition, but the real draw for this release is the inclusion of a fully remastered director's cut. This cut includes the film's original ending, an elaborate homage to alien-invasion films of the '50s, previously only available in black-and-white. The Digibook is Region A only, but the Blu-ray is also available in a Region Free release.
Christopher Lee's hypnotic charm in The Devil Rides Out.
Sticking with monsters, we've had a whole slew of Hammer Horror classics released on Blu-ray this year. While not available in a box set, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966), The Mummy's Shroud (1967) and The Devil Rides Out (1968) are all available in new Blu-ray editions with some uniformity. With some controversy and still-raging arguments about the correct aspect ratios in which to present these films, many are available in various ratios, which puts the power of decision in your hands. The real gem here is The Devil Rides Out, which stars Christopher Lee as the hypnotist antihero Duc de Richleau, who must do battle with the Devil himself and some charmingly dated special effects. Also great is Curse of Frankenstein, the film that started the Hammer Horror franchise. Peter Cushing plays the titular mad scientist and Christopher Lee is his violent creation. All films sold as double-play sets. Region B only.
Another classic box set comes in the form of "Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures," compiling all four Indiana Jones films on Blu-ray: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). While there is some controversy on the colour timing of the picture, contrast that with the beautiful, inky blacks and rich grain and you've got a stellar presentation. I don't think the quality of these films needs to be explained to you: Who hasn't seen them? They're three of the best action-adventure yarns of the '80s and one of the least memorable action-adventure yarns of the '00s. Your feelings on any of the single films in the series may put you off the box set, but fear not, each film is also available individually. However, the box set comes complete with a fifth disc loaded with bonus features. Region free.
Douglas Trumbull's science fiction classic Silent Running (1972) was given the Blu-ray treatment by Eureka earlier in the year. Formally available only in a shoddily presented DVD, Silent Running now looks as good as ever. The rich, beautiful colours and impressive special effects shine in this stellar restoration. The story of space hippie Bruce Dern and his efforts to preserve the last of Earth's wildlife, now floating in a biodome on a spaceship orbiting Saturn, is in equal measures moving and thought-provoking. This is one of the most influential science fiction films ever made and yet it is often overlooked today. If you're a fan of Moon or Wall-E, then you really shouldn't miss Silent Running. Region B only.
The Rescuers shows us how Jay Dub prepares for his movie-watching experiences.2012 was a great year for Disney classics on Blu-ray. The best release of the bunch is the 35th Anniversary Edition of The Rescuers (1977). (A film about talking animals that Joe doesn't actively hate? It must be a Christmas miracle!) You'd be hard-pressed to find a Disney release that isn't visually stunning in 1080p, but this set is hard to top. Included in this release is the original Rescuers, as well as the 1990 sequel Rescuers Down Under. Featuring the vocal talents of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, these films act as unique bookends to a period in animation history that Disney would probably rather forget. Down Under, one of Disney's first forays into computer animation, especially benefits from the HD upgrade, which gives the film a crisper, more dynamic style. Region Free.
Next, we have a film that is very near and dear to the old professor's heart. In July, Blue Underground released a new Blu-ray of Django, Kill! (If You Live Shoot!) (1967), an overlooked gem that seems to have an ever-growing fanbase. At the height of the Italian Western fad, Giulio Questi used the momentum of the public obsession to make this truly disturbing horror western. Cuban movie star Tomas Milian plays The Stranger, who marches into a forbidding backwater town in search of revenge. When he is robbed of his revenge, he gets embroiled in the petty greed and intrigue of the town's inhabitants, who are fascinated by his solid gold bullets. The Blu-ray presents Django, Kill! in the frankly bizarre 2:42:1 aspect ratio, probably in an effort to remove damage to the top and bottom edges of the frame. Weird ratio aside, this is the best the film has ever looked or is ever likely to look, and the sound restoration is flawless. This will be a nice surprise to most fans of horror movies, or maybe not so nice, considering how unsettling the whole thing is. Region free.
And what film guide would be complete without a recommendation from the Criterion Collection? This year, we recommend the just-released Blu-ray of Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985). It may simply be an HD upgrade of the DVD released in 1999, but the features on the original release are well worth the upgrade. Included in this set are Terry Gilliam's director's cut of the film; the much-maligned "Love Conquers All" version of the film; the documentary "The Battle For Brazil," which chronicles the director's struggle to get his film made and released at Universal Studios' and Criterion's usual bevy of video essays, commentaries and other supplementals. Fans of Terry Gilliam and/or dystopian sci-fi owe it to themselves to have this in their collection. (And it's a Christmas film, too!) Region A only.
Other great 2012 releases include The Tarantino XX Collection, featuring the past 20 years of violence and lengthy discussions of how cool things were in the '70s, and this insanely random collection of films with nothing in common that Universal has given us. This collection is noteworthy for two things: One, it finally recognizes that The Fast and the Furious is just as good as To Kill A Mockingbird, and two, it has given us the most smart-assed Amazon review I have ever seen. Other impressive releases include The Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece collection and the 70th anniversary release of Casablanca.
Books on film: for when you're buying for someone who has seen it all.
One of the most acclaimed and important film books of the year is undoubtedly The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us by David Thomson. A "love letter to a lost love", The Big Screen is a lyrical and moving ode to the loss of wonder in the very notion of the screen (big or otherwise) and its wonders. A full history of film told from a very personal place. Available in hardcover and Kindle editions.
Spike Lee: the most American filmmaker?The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs. Authority in American TV and Film. In this book, author Paul A. Cantor examines the intersection of government and American notions of freedom in some of pop culture's most indelible creations. Cantor's book explores everything from the connections between Star Trek and the westerns of John Ford, to the libertarian underpinnings of South Park, to The X-Files and Americans' distrust of the government after 9/11. Available in hardcover and Kindle editions.
Spike Lee's America, by David Sterritt, is the latest in a series of books that explore the works of America's filmmakers and what they say about America. Spike Lee is, perhaps, the most interesting entry to date, as his films may have the most to say about America through history and today. Available in hardcover and Kindle editions.
Every gift guide needs a nice coffee-table book thrown in for good measure. Batmobile: The Complete History, by Mark Cotta Vaz, is a fun journey through the evolution of one of the most iconic-yet-versatile design icons you can think of from its comic origins all the way to the modern "Tumbler." Hardcover only.
For those who want to buy a gift that is also an investment, we have some hardware ideas too.
The OPPO BDP-105EU is widely considered one of the best players available along with its much more affordable little brother, the OPPO BDP-103EU. Both are region-free for DVDs and Blu-rays and are fully equipped with 3D functionality and both 7.1ch and 5.1ch audio output. We recommend the 103 for the price.
For a full 3D home-cinema experience, why not try out a neat system from the Panasonic SC-BTT range? Panasonics are renowned for their reliability and compatibility, so while you're not getting the functionality of the OPPO, you won't be disappointed if you like a surround sound system in your home (it's the only way to watch Apocalypse Now, after all). The different model numbers offer a variety of styles of speakers. The 270 is a good choice if you want to minimise wall space usage and still get a great sound.
Or, how about a quirky alternative?
This needs no explanation.The internet has given us the world's biggest flea market in Etsy, and then filled it with people from Tumblr. That sounds like pretty much the worst idea ever, but hear me out. Movie posters are basically bland, boring, art-by-committee Photoshop monstrosities. Because Etsy supports artists who have total creative control, mainly because they don't get paid, they can create really cool artwork that represents films better than the actual studio posters can. Here are a few of our favorites. For something more functional in your home décor, here are two clocks that will tell people how much you love movies whenever you check the time, which you won't, because you have a cell phone.
Too often, movie geekdom is seen as a man's domain, and the nice thing about sites like Etsy is that they offer ways to show film appreciation with some classy and artsy touches of femininity. (Or dude-that-like-jewelry-ity, we don't judge.) Let's start with custom bracelets featuring The Shining and Casablanca. Earrings are fairly easy to make, and everyone like them, so Etsy's full of 'em. They range from classy, like these Audrey Hepburn ones, to simplistic, like these wooden film reels, to What-Really-Plan-Nine-That's-Kinda-Awesome. All of this is futile, however, as there is only one of The Best Present Imaginable.
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Something Awful reviews the latest films in a straightforward (for SA) manner.