Movie gift ideas for the holidays, gifts for movie buffs, Star Wars The Complete Saga, Pulp Fiction
Stuff to Buy Channel / Bullz-Eye Home
The Blu-ray revolution kicked into full gear a few years ago and it hasn't stopped to look back, with a variety of classic films both old and new being offered in high definition for the first time ever. Although it would be impractical to list every single release that we think is worthy of being included on your holiday wish list this year, our guide has something for just about everyone in your life, with exception of tiny tots. If you can't find a gift idea here, then chances are, the person that you're buying for doesn't like movies.
If there's one film franchise that fans have been dying to own on Blu-ray since the introduction of the HD format, it's George Lucas' "Star Wars" saga. Not only does it contain some of the most popular movies ever made, but all six films were practically designed to be enjoyed with optimal picture and sound to better appreciate the groundbreaking special effects, Ben Burtt's legendary sound design and John Williams' classic score. Some fans still haven't forgiven Lucas for updating the original trilogy and making the prequels, but if there's anything that could bring them back over to the Light Side, it's watching the movies in gorgeous high definition. The original trilogy, in particular, looks every bit as good as you'd hope, and although that alone is enough reason to covet the 9-disc set, Fox has also piled on hours of bonus material, including audio commentaries, deleted scenes, archival interviews, and concept art, as well as an entire disc dedicated to documentaries, a conversation with the men behind "The Empire Strikes Back," and 96 minutes of "Star Wars"-related film and TV spoofs from throughout the years.
Just when you thought you never needed to buy another version of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, New Line Home Video shoves an Extended Edition Blu-ray in your face. How rude! Ah, but despite their ill manner, their marketing department knows you all too well: the mere sight of the words "Extended Edition" has already caused your heart to skip a beat and your brain to dwell on exactly how much extension we're talking about here. Well, the good news is that this is, for all practical purposes, the exact same version – albeit in different packaging – that's been out on DVD for ages, which means there's 30 more minutes to "Fellowship of the Ring," 43 more minutes on "The Two Towers," and 50 more minutes on "Return of the King." Think about it: isn't the DVD good enough? Well, it might've been, except that now you're thinking about how much more crisp, clear, and completely gorgeous Middle-earth is going to look on Blu-ray. But you must desist, for that way lies unnecessary expenditure! Remember: there can be no triumph without loss, no victory without suffering, no freedom without…oh, never mind. You've probably already bought it by now.
Is dad a classic movie fan? A devout Christian? Both? Then this ultra-deluxe box set highlighting the most popular, acclaimed, and action-packed of all Hollywood religious epics could be the most on-the-money Christmas gift ever. Based on Lew Wallace's perennially bestselling "tale of the Christ," director William Wyler's 1959 version of "Ben-Hur" is most famous as a vehicle for the emotive displays of Charlton Heston and for the often copied, but never equalled, chariot race sequence. Though two years late to its own anniversary, this astonishing frame-by-frame digital restoration has miraculously healed the film with a sparkling clarity that justifies the existence of giant 1080p TV screens and home theater sound. Moreover, this set offers enough extras to keep a "Ben-Hur" fan in semi-eternal bliss, including an audio commentary featuring the late Mr. Heston, the hugely successful 1927 silent version of Lew Wallace novel, and a feature length Heston-centric making-of documentary by chip-off-the-movie-block Fraser Heston. The limited edition also includes two small but impressive hard bound volumes: a picture book of stills and behind-the-scenes material and a reproduction of Charlton Heston's personal diary from the 1958 shoot.
It's taken a little longer than we expected for Quentin Tarantino's entire oeuvre to be made available on Blu-ray, but thanks to the recent acquisition of Miramax's back catalog, fans can finally get their high-def fix. "Pulp Fiction" is without a doubt one of the best films of the '90s, and "Jackie Brown" is arguably one of the most underrated, so it's with great pleasure to see that Lionsgate has put so much tender loving care into their respective Blu-ray releases. In addition to some gorgeous HD transfers that were approved by Tarantino himself, both discs also include a film critic roundtable discussion about the movie in question, and, in the case of "Pulp Fiction," an awesome retrospective featuring interviews with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. While either movie would make a great gift for any film lover, you'd be better off just picking up the pair, especially when they can be had for under $30. It's no five dollar milkshake, but you'll definitely get more bang for your buck.
A genre hybrid film with influences ranging from "The Warriors" to "Critters," Joe Cornish's directorial debut is a lean, mean sci-fi action thriller that, although it doesn't boast any big names and was made for a fraction of the cost of most Hollywood blockbusters, is undisputedly one of the year's best (and most quotable) movies. The young actors are great, the creature effects are even better, and the film is fueled by a relentless, almost infectious energy that keeps the story moving at a rapid clip. It's a really fun slice of nostalgic geek cinema that effortlessly blends action, comedy, horror and sci-fi to create an instant genre classic, and the film's Blu-ray release extends the entertainment even further. In addition to three audio commentaries, the disc also includes some great bonus features like an hour-long making-of documentary and an exclusive look at unfilmed sequences from the movie. There were quite a few alien invasion films in theaters this year, but "Attack the Block" is hands-down the most enjoyable of the bunch.
Lionsgate gave movie buffs a real treat this year by releasing a trio of modern classics to Blu-ray. For our money, "Swingers" is the headliner of the group, an iconic and infinitely quotable comedy starring a young (and slim) Jon Favreau as Mike, a guy whose lack of confidence is matched only by his lack of game with the ladies, and a young (and slim) Vince Vaughn as Trent, a ladies man who just wants Mike to get over his ex-girlfriend and get some action of his own. For all intents and purposes, this is where we first met Favreau and Vaughn, whose friendship anchors the story, as well as Ron Livingston, who went on to star in a classic of his own three years later in "Office Space." Boasting a slew of special features, including the "Making it in Hollywood" original documentary and a look at the creation of the film from start to finish, this Blu-ray is a must for any fan of the movie.
Before the poker craze swept the nation, Matt Damon and Edward Norton gave us a fascinating look at the life of Mike McDermott (Damon), a reformed gambler who hits the tables again to help his friend, Lester 'Worm' Murphy (Norton), pay off his own gambling debts. Damon and Norton are both fantastic in these early career roles as we watch Worm drag Mike, a promising law student, back into the life he had left behind, with the duo looking for a game wherever they can find one and reviving some of their old tricks with very mixed results. "Rounders," the second of three modern classics released to Blu-ray by Lionsgate this past August, also features memorable performances from John Turturro and John Malkovich, and includes some great extras, including a behind-the-scenes special, champion poker tips, and commentary from the cast, crew and even professional poker players.
Just like "Swingers" introduced us to Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck burst onto the scene with "Good Will Hunting" in 1997. Like any great buddy flick, the friendship between Will Hunting (Damon) and Chuckie Sullivan (Affleck) is front and center, which makes sense considering Damon and Affleck wrote the Academy Award-winning script. "Good Will Hunting" made the duo instant stars, but the performance by Robin Williams, who won an Oscar of his own for his portrayal of psychologist Sean Maguire, had a lot to do with the film's success. The list of special features seems a little thin for the Blu-ray release of such a significant movie, but you'll find audio commentary from Damon, Affleck and director Gus Van Sant along with a production featurette, the Academy Award Best Picture montage, deleted scenes and some other standard extras.
In between the first two installments of "The Godfather," Francis Ford Coppola carved out some time to make a smaller, more intimate film called "The Conversation." Starring Gene Hackman as L.A.-based surveillance extraordinaire Harry Caul, the movie still stands as a powerful exploration of paranoia possibly brought on by isolation. Caul is hired to record the conversation of a young man and woman (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams) in a crowded public square, which in itself is no small feat. Once he gets the tapes back to his workbench, the real intrigue begins, as he becomes convinced that the pair is in danger from the shady characters (Robert Duvall and Harrison Ford) who hired him. A tragedy occurred in New York a few years ago due to Harry's work, and he wants to make sure history doesn't repeat itself. "The Conversation" arrives on Blu-ray with a clean, '70s-tinged transfer, a crisp soundtrack (for a movie that relies heavily on sound), two commentary tracks and over a half dozen featurettes and interview pieces.
"Blue" on Blu: A phrase that's been a few years in the making. Admittedly, placing David Lynch's '80s suburban nightmare on a Holiday Gift Guide is something of an odd move, but then, everything about "Blue Velvet" is strange, and with the release of this disc, it's gotten a little stranger. Recently discovered, long thought to be lost footage makes its debut on this Blu-ray – 50 minutes of it, to be precise. And an amazing 50 minutes it is, presented entirely in HD with music from the film accentuating the lengthy series of disconnected scenarios. Much of it fleshes out Jeffrey Beaumont's (Kyle MacLachlan) quirky home life with his mother and aunt, but we also get peeks into his college life (with Megan Mullally as his girlfriend Louise!), and more of his troubled relationship with Sandy (Laura Dern). Yes, there are even a few new scenes with Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini, although perhaps unsurprisingly, the bulk of their footage made it into the original film. In any case, this is some serious film buff Holy Grail material, and no cineaste's collection should be without it. Oh yeah, and the 1080p transfer is gorgeous.
Most of the stuff that "It's a Wonderful Life" is known for – the goofy talking stars, "Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings," and it being the ultimate Christmas movie – is just the wrapping paper. Rip all of that away and you're left with a true American classic about a man who doesn't get to live the life he desired. Then, one day, something truly awful happens to him and he considers ending it all, until somebody comes along and shows him how much he had all along. Jimmy Stewart is a marvel to follow, and in this day and age of fat cats eating too much of the pie, the core storyline of George Bailey standing up to a heartless, greedy banker resonates in a big way. Paramount just released a "gift set" that comes in a flimsy box and has the cheapest ornamental bell you've ever seen. Save a few dollars and go with the double disc Blu-ray that came out two years ago instead. Either way, you get a second disc with the colorized version of the movie, which will make a nice coaster or frisbee. Sure, "It's a Wonderful Life" can be seen on TV every December, but not sans commercials and in crystal clear 1080p.
When distilled to their essence, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were really just a skinny guy / fat guy comedy team. But anyone who's seen the numerous shorts and feature films they produced over the course of their career knows that they're the definitive
skinny guy / fat guy comedy team. (Only possible argument: Abbott and Costello. But this is neither the time nor place for that discussion.) Sometimes a so-called "Essential Collection" seems dubiously titled. This is not one of those sets. This 10-disc set may not contain every last thing the duo did – alas, the silent stuff isn't here, but, thankfully, nor is the craptacular colorized material – but everything that is here has been re-mastered in HD from the original surviving 35MM film elements. See Stan and Ollie move a piano! See them as Sons of the Desert and
as Saps at Sea! Plus, there's a bonus disc which features a handful of Laurel and Hardy guest appearances, along with a great tribute offering new interviews with Dick Van Dyke, Jerry Lewis and Tim Conway. "The Essential Collection" is in no way a mess, but it's certainly fine and definitely
something you'll want to get into.
Say, have you heard about these things called motion comics? Basically, you take the original artwork from a comic book, and…well, essentially, you make it move. Actually, that's kind of making it sound like it's only a step up from "Clutch Cargo." But trust us, it's actually pretty cool, and over the past year or two, Marvel Studios has been teaming with Shout Factory to produce several adaptations of classic comic book arcs, including tales from "Astonishing X-Men," "Iron Man," "Spider-Woman," "Thor," and "Black Panther." Well, actually, "Black Panther" was a BET series rather than a straight-to-DVD production, but the general format remains the same, so it certainly fits well into the "Marvel Knights Collection," which compiles all five of these adaptations in one easy-to-purchase box set. It's okay to admit if you give one of these titles a try and find it a little off-putting at first. Just trust us: the more you watch, the more used to the animation style you get, and once you've developed that appreciation, you can sit back, geek out, and enjoy the work of some of the best comic book artists and writers in the business.