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2020 Home Video Holiday Gift Guide

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It’s that time again. The holidays are here, and you’re still struggling to find those last couple of gifts for your friends or family or Secret Santa. Well, have no fear, the 2020 Home Video Holiday Gift Guide is here!

And this year, its even more useful than ever; with so many people working from home and curtailing extracurricular activities, everybody needs something good to watch!

As always, we’ve broken them down into categories so you can easily find something for anyone. And make sure you read through to the end for some cool toys and other goodies as well as just video releases. Enjoy!

 

FOR JUST ABOUT EVERYONE:

Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy (4K Ultra HD) – Well, the holidays are upon us and with a lack of major new theatrical titles hitting home video, we are at least getting some great new catalog releases. This week, that kicks off with this terrific 7-disc 4K Ultra HD box set from Universal Studios. Now, before you stop reading if you’re not one of the people with a 4K player, don’t worry; this set comes with each movie on both 4K and Blu-ray, so this is still an excellent way to get the whole trilogy of one of the best movie franchises of all time. In addition to the three films, you get all the original extra features from the first box set iteration (and there are plenty) plus some new extra features, including audition videos, a special YouTube program about BTTF, a look at the films’ props and memorabilia, and more. But of course, if you’re buying for the 4K versions of the films, how do they stack up in the premium format? After all, these films are 30 years old, so do they look brand new? Well, no, but I do have to compliment Universal for really delivering a terrific picture quality here. I just watched these films on Blu-ray a few months ago, so viewing them now on 4K, I was amazed how much vibrant and colorful the films are, especially how the past and future-era Hill Valleys appear. Image clarity is razor sharp, and I feel like the films take on a new life. The surround soundtracks, likewise, really max out the use of the various channels, giving even seemingly insignificant sound effects a proper place and immersing you in the action. Yes, there have been several BTTF box sets before, but this is hands down the best yet.

Game of Thrones: The Complete Collection (4K Ultra HD)Game of Thrones is kind of like – if you’ll excuse the football analogy – the 2007 Patriots. They went 18-0 through the regular season and the playoffs, then dropped the ball in the Super Bowl and lost it all. Well, I see a clear parallel with Game of Thrones. One of the most successful and well-loved shows of all time, fans had to wait two years after the end of Season 7, by which point most people considered this pretty much the best show in the history of television. Then Season 8 shows up and – what happens? Pretty much everybody hated it. That said, the show as a whole was a stunning success, becoming a major cultural touchstone and pop culture juggernaut. And now you can relive the entire series in one nice, chunky box set, and it looks and sounds better than ever in the premium 4K Ultra HD format. The 4K transfer is gorgeous; if ever there was a show that deserved the 4K treatment, it’s Game of Thrones. It may have faults in finishing a story, but awe-inspiring cinematography is never one of them. The surround soundtrack is also excellent, bringing every battle scene, mob, and dragon flight to life and filling in your living room with sound from every direction. The set comes loaded with all of the original extra features, as well, so this is a set that should keep you buys for a long time to come. Even if you do decide to skip that last season!

FOR FANS OF COMEDIES:

Schitt’s Creek: The Complete Series – I’ll admit, I was VERY late to the game with Schitt’s Creek. Honestly, it was one of those shows that escaped my radar for a long time, until all the buzz about it began to become deafening. Honestly, just the amount of people in my social media circles talking about how great it was made it something I HAD to check out. And once I dove into it, I realized just how funny it is. For those of you who don’t know, the show is about a mega-wealthy family who loses all of their money to embezzlement and ends up residing in the podunk town of Schitt’s Creek, which they own. Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Dan Levy, and Annie Murphy play the Rose family, and their dynamic is absolutely terrific. The supporting cast is great as well — although I could go the rest of my life without seeing Chris Elliott in another show and be perfectly fine. This new DVD collection from Lionsgate features all six seasons in one 15-disc set. The packaging of the discs isn’t my favorite and I’m surprised the show isn’t being offered on Blu-ray, but still, if you love this show for even if you’ve never watched it, this is a great way to dive into 80 episodes of hilarity.

Saturday Night Live: The Early Years – Back in the early days of DVD, there was an attempt from NBC to package up all of the original Saturday Night Live episodes, but it only lasted a couple of seasons and was then abandoned. Well, Time Life has wisely realized that there definitely is an audience for these shows and has released Saturday Night Live: The Early Years. Available now exclusively at TimeLife.com/SaturdayNightLive, this 12-disc sets includes 33 episodes total from the first five seasons (30 episodes are hand-curated while there are three more episodes included as an extra feature on a bonus DVD). While it’s not the entirety of the first five seasons (although there is a deluxe box set available that includes every episode), I think this is the best way to go. Let’s be honest, not every moment on SNL is comedy gold. By giving us the best 30 episodes from the first five seasons, we get a really high quality collection of episodes: all killer, no filler, as they say. I’m a little surprised that there aren’t really any extra features, aside from the aforementioned bonus episodes and a 28-page booklet, but the real attraction is the classic cast, the guest hosts (Carrie Fisher! George Carlin! Steve Martin! Richard Pryor!), and the classic, iconic sketch characters we all know and love. This is a very cool set and also a terrific gift for the holiday season. RECOMMENDED!

Mallrats: Arrow Video Special EditionMallrats, Kevin Smith’s second film (after his debut hit, Clerks.) gets the Arrow Video Collector’s Edition treatment. I am proud to say that I was sitting in theaters on opening night for Mallrats, which is something I suspect not many people can say, considering it was a box office flop. But Kevin Smith fans know it’s an integral chapter of the View Askewniverse, and it’s a great comedy in its own right. Starring Jason Lee and Jeremy London (as well as a ton of other great cast members), the film isn’t high concept or plot driven, but it does have the Jaws ride at Universal studios, Stan Lee, Jay and Silent Bob, and chocolate covered pretzels. I love this movie! Once again, this new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray has been remastered and includes both theatrical and extended cuts of the film, as well as a slew of extra features including multiple featurettes, deleted scenes, and a second disc that includes the TV cut, which has been overdubbed to remove the profanity, and that’s a whole new kind of comedy! As a bonus, you get a terrific full-color booklet and a recreation of Jay & Silent Bob’s blueprints from the schemes within the film. This one is — simply put — a must-have for Kevin Smith fans. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

FOR FANS OF HORROR AND THRILLERS:

Blumhouse of Horrors: 10 Movie Collection – I’m not always a fan of multi-movie collections, because they can often be a really mixed bag of good and bad titles. But this new 10-Movie Blu-ray box set from Blumhouse Pictures is a winner from top to bottom. Blumhouse has single-handedly revitalized the horror genre, making low-budget horror flicks into massive box office successes, and they do it with a mix of good storytelling, great atmospheres, a scary-not-gory aesthetic, and PG-13 ratings. I can’t say I love every Blumhouse movie, but by and large, they hit a lot more often than they miss. This 10-disc set includes the following movies on Blu-ray (and digital, yay!): Get Out, The Purge, Ouija, Split, The Visit, Unfriended, Truth or Dare, The Boy Next Door, Happy Death Day and Ma. Now, out of that bunch, I absolutely loved Get Out, The Purge, Split, The Visit, Truth or Dare, and Happy Death Day, so that’s a pretty good base. Ouija and The Boy Next Door are perfectly enjoyable if uninspiring. The only two I’m not that big a fan of are Ma and Unfriended, but neither are out-and-out terrible, and I’m sure there are people out there who like them. Each disc includes the films’ original extra features (and the aforementioned digital copies) so you get a lot of bang for your buck with this great box set, just in time for Halloween! RECOMMENDED!

The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection (4K Ultra HD) – The 4K Ultra HD format has had a handful of classic releases so far, but for the most part it’s been used to showcase shiny new films. This week, we get a terrific collection of some of the best films of all time on the new format, and I couldn’t be happier. The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection includes four of Hitch’s most well-loved and influential films: Psycho (more on that in a moment), Vertigo, Rear Window, and The Birds. Each film is included on both 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, so even if you haven’t upgraded to 4K, it’s still worth picking up the set. What’s neat is that there’s a theatrical cut of Psycho included as well as what has apparently become the “standard” cut used on home video releases for the past 50 years. It’s not a terribly different film, but it’s still cool to see the movie with a few changes here and there. Each film boasts an improved audiovisual experience in 4K, although due to the age of the films, it’s not a complete revolution. Still, each film looks a little sharper, a little brighter, and a little more colorful (except Psycho, which is obviously in black & white). Each disc is packed with extra features (Universal doesn’t seem to be including them with the digital films as digital extras, though, which is pretty frustrating), and the set as a whole is gorgeous. This is a must-have for Hitchcock fans.

Stephen King 5-Movie Collection – This new Blu-ray collection is an interesting one. It’s called a 5-movie Collection, but The Stand is actually a miniseries, so you get a little extra bang for your buck here. And while there are so many Stephen King adaptations out there it would be nearly impossible to fit them all in one box set, this has a little bit of a mixed-bag deal to it. I love The Stand miniseries, The Dead Zone is a thriller classic, and Silver Bullet is goofy werewolf comedy/thriller starring Corey Haim that is ‘80s-tastic, but in a good way. Then you get both versions of Pet Sematary, neither of which I’m a terribly huge fan of. So, really, a lot of the value of this collection comes down to which films you like and which you don’t, and how many fall into each category. Still, for under $30, it’s hard to argue with four movies and a miniseries, all on Blu-ray. Worth the pick up if you’re a fan of at least… oh, I’d say, three-fifths of the material included.

Eli Roth’s History of Horror – Now THIS is a release I was excited about. I don’t know if there are any bigger horror fans out there than Eli Roth. Despite what you may think of his films (Cabin Fever, Hostel, etc.) Roth is a horror super-fan and an enthusiastic on-camera personality. Here, we get seven episodes that look at a variety of horror genres, with participation by and conversations with some of the biggest names in horror, including Stephen King, Greg Nicotero, Rob Zombie, Joe Hill, Mick Garris, Quentin Tarantino, John Landis, and many, many others. Each episode focuses on a different subset of horror, including zombies, slashers (two episodes), demons, vampires, creatures, and ghosts. I mean, how awesome is that? Through it all, we get clips from classic movies, in-depth discussion of the films and the genres, and just a real sense of love for horror, largely thanks to Roth and his infectious enthusiasm for the genre. This is a must-watch show for fans of horror!

FOR FANS OF SCI-FI (THAT ISN’T STAR TREK):

The Last Starfighter: Arrow Video Special Edition – Those of you who read my column regularly know what a huge fan of Arrow Video I am. They are basically the Criterion Collection of cult and genre films, and this week they have several new Collector’s Edition releases that I am beyond excited about. The first one is The Last Starfighter, the classic 80’s sci-fi film about an arcade game champion on earth who gets recruited into an intergalactic space war. Starring Lance Guest and Dan O’Herlihy, The Last Starfighter is one of those 80s films that will forever live on in the hearts and minds of kids from that decade. It’s a terrific film with a great concept, and I love rewatching it every few years. This new edition features restored and remastered A/V elements, gorgeous new packaging (including a full color booklet), and a host of extra features. There are three commentaries, seven featurettes, a four-part documentary, and more. It’s really a dream package for any fan of the movie, which I definitely am. This one’s a sci-fi slam dunk! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Flash Gordon: Arrow Video Special Edition – Also from Arrow Video, we have Flash Gordon, the classic 1980s sci-fi adventure starring the original pulp hero. Now, some people consider this film cheesy, but I actually think it’s pretty amazing. The visual look and feel of the film is outstanding and highly creative, and I just love watching it. Sam Jones stars as Flash Gordon, a human from earth who gets sucked into a war on the planet Mongo. It’s high adventure in the best pulpy way, and it’s just an incredibly fun film. This new two-disc edition of the film comes to Blu-ray with restored picture quality, two audio commentaries, half a dozen featurettes, a cast reunion special, a rare TV episode from the 1982 TV series, and more. Then there’s a second disc which includes 2017’s acclaimed documentary Life After Flash, which explores Sam Jones’ life and career in the decades since Flash Gordon. It’s hours and hours of great bonus material on top of an already fantastic film; what more could you ask for? RECOMMENDED!

Pitch Black: Arrow Video Special Edition – The final Arrow Collector’s Edition release in this section sees the label bring their considerable talents to Pitch Black, Vin Diesel’s star-making sci-fi actioner. Not only is the film a fun twist on the Aliens franchise which hold up extremely well, but the disc and all its extra features are a thing of beauty. There are several newly recorded interviews with cast and crew, there’s a bunch of making-of featurettes and documentaries, but then you get things like Dark Fury, a feature-length animated film starring Vin Diesel as Riddick, that was the first official follow-up to Pitch Black. You also get a motion comic, archival features, a television special that s surprisingly cool (trust me, check it out), and much more. It’s pretty much the end-all, be-all of special edition discs for fans of Pitch Black or Vin Diesel. Simply put: I love this release!!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

FOR FANS OF SCI-FI (THAT IS STAR TREK):

Star Trek: PicardStar Trek: Picard got a LOT of attention from the fan community for giving us the return of the fan-favorite Captain Picard and the Next Generation universe. For my money, I was hugely disappointed in it. It was WAY too dark (with almost no humor), almost ALL of the characters are unlikable, and it introduces some new concepts and characters to the TNG universe that I didn’t care for (I can’t say exactly what because of spoilers, but let’s say the last two episodes were a bit much.) The premiere episode is pretty awesome, and the episode that sees Picard reunite with Riker and Troi is outstanding, but everything else was a big let down for me. I’m glad CBS/Paramount is keeping the Trek franchise alive, but I feel like this was taking the show in a direction I didn’t care for. I know I’m in the minority on that, but I gotta be honest. I hope the inevitable season two lightens up and gets better.

The Captains Collection – In the 2000s, William Shatner took on a new role as sort of the “Steward of Star Trek,” crafting a number of documentaries about the Star Trek franchise and phenomenon. Most notably, he sat down for a series of one-on-one interviews with all of the various captains of the different shows, including Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine. Over the course of four discs, you get the following features: The Captains (the film version featuring Shatner talking to all five captains); The Captains Close Up (A five-episode miniseries using extended interview material that wasn’t in The Captains, one episode for each captain); William Shatner’s Get a Life! (a really fun documentary in which Shatner looks at Trek fandom) and Chaos on the Bridge: The Untold Story Behind Trek’s Next Generation (Shatner’s look into the creation of the second iconic series.) You also get a number of extra features that give you extra interviews, featurettes, and the like. I’ll be honest, if you’re a Star Trek fan, you really need to have this collection on your shelf. It’s one of the best collections of programs about Star Trek I’ve ever seen, and Shatner’s films are all terrific. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

FOR SPORTS FANS:

The Last Dance – Speaking of things that got unending buzz, ESPN’s 10-part documentary series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s makes its home video debut in a limited edition Blu-ray set this week. This three-disc set includes the miniseries in its entirety, then also gives us over four hours of bonus features such as additional interviews, archival sports programming, and more. You also get a collectible 28-page booklet and a nifty fold-out timeline. But the real star of the show here is the show itself, which gives us an in-depth look at one of sports’ greatest dynasties and one of the biggest sports stars to ever walk the planet. Seriously. I don’t know if there’s another athlete who’s ever approached the level of fame that Michael Jordan has, and this show makes it clear why that is. Sports documentaries tend to be pretty exciting in general, but this is one of the best I’ve seen.

FOR FANS OF CARTOONS & ANIMATION:

The Flintstones: The Complete Series – Warner Brothers was great about releasing their classic cartoon shows in the heyday of DVDs, back in the late 2000s and early 2010s. But since the advent of Blu-ray, they’ve been releasing their classic cartoon shows in dribs and drabs in the better format. Well, I’m happy to report that Warner Brothers has stepped up and delivered a terrific new Blu-ray release with The Flintstones: The Complete Series, a ten-disc Blu-ray set that includes all 166 episodes and a couple of bonus movies. I’ve always been a big Flintstones fan; I watched it in reruns obsessively as a kid, and I’ve always found that it holds up exceptionally well, despite the fact that aired for the first half of the 1960s. You get the all six seasons’ worth of episodes, and the two movies are A Man Called Flintstone (a classic 1966 movie that sees Fred as a spy of sorts) and The Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age Smackdown, which seems like more of a marketing move than anything else, as it just came out a few years ago and doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the content in the collection. My only real complaint with the set is the lack of extra features. As this is a complete series set and is theoretically the only Flintstones collection you’ll ever need, it would have been nice to see a documentary or some featurettes or something. As it is, it’s just the episodes and the movies, but the show is so much fun, it’s hard to complain too much.

Bugs Bunny: 80th Anniversary Collection – This terrific new collection from Warner Brothers brings the world’s most famous rabbit to the digital age in style. This three disc Blu-ray collection includes 60 Bugs Bunny theatrical shorts, including some of his most famous outings — think The Barber of Seville or What’s Opera, Doc?. Each short has been restored and remastered, and they look utterly fantastic in high definition. Even better, Warner Brothers has also included a digital copy with the collection, meaning all 60 shorts can be added to your digital collection. On top of that the box set comes with a limited edition Diamond Bugs Bunny Funko Pop figure. I love Funko Pops, and any time I can get one as a part of a home video set, it makes them even better. There are also some cool extra features such as a documentary about Bugs and ten Looney Tunes Cartoons episodes (that’s the new show from Warner, be aware). Bugs Bunny is a household name for a reason, and this set is a great reminder of why.

Ghost in the Shell (4K Ultra HD) – One of the most popular and influential anime films of all time, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and what better way to commemorate that than with a new 4K Ultra HD release of the film. Chances are if you’re an anime fan, you’ve already seen this movie, but if you haven’t you really should check it out. Yes, the story is occasionally a bit tricky to follow, but overall it’s a terrific cyber-thriller that is a visual feast for the eyes. And now, that aspect of the film shines even more in the premium 4K Ultra HD format. The colors really pop off the screen, giving the film an almost 3-D look, and the outlines are razor sharp, giving the animation a crispness that is stunning. The surround soundtrack is atmospheric and humming with life, and the overall A/V quality is outstanding, especially for a film 25 years old. This one is a must-have for fans o the film or anime in general.

Weathering With You – Another time release this week, Weathering With You is not a Studio Ghibli film, and maybe that’s why I liked it better than The Wind Rises. This drama (with a fantastical flair) is much more compact (running only 90 minutes) and while I wasn’t blown away by it, I found it enjoyable overall. The story focuses on a young runaway and the mysterious girl he meets who can control the rain. There’s more to the story than that, but I don’t want to give anything away. The American voice cast includes the excellent Alison Brie, Lee Pace, and Riz Ahmed. If you like Studio Ghibli films, Weathering With You is enough in their wheelhouse that I think you’ll like it, but it’s also different enough to appeal to viewers like me who aren’t fans. This one is available in a regular edition or an outstanding Collector’s Edition box set that includes a 4K Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray, a CD soundtrack, a book, a poster, and more!

FOR FANS OF CELEBRITY DIVAS:

Dolly Parton: The Ultimate Collection – This massive new box set from Time Life (available exclusively from https://timelife.com/products/dolly-deluxe-edition/) features a whopping 19 discs about everyone’s favorite country icon/songstress/movie star/sex symbol. With over 35 hours of programming, this is pretty much a dream come true for Dolly Parton fans. So here’s what you get in the set: 22 episodes of Dolly’s variety shows from the 70s and 80s, each one packed with big name guest stars; 7 episodes of The Porter Wagoner Show from the 1960s, each featuring performances by a young Dolly; two Christmas specials; two live concerts from the 2000s (the highlight of the set, in my opinion); several talk show appearances from throughout her career; Six episodes of Dolly Parton: Song by Song, an exploration of Dolly’s most popular hit songs; the feature length BBC biographical documentary Dolly Parton: Here I Am; and then a ton of other features such as interviews, television appearances, musical performances, and more. The whole thing is wrapped up in a beautiful box with a full color booklet, and honestly, if you’re a Dolly Parton fan, I don’t know of a single other release that even comes close to this one. It’s literally a day-and-a-half off Dolly Parton, from her earliest days to programs from a few years ago. It truly spans her entire amazing career, and I’m very impressed by it. Nicely done, Time Life!

The Best of Cher – Cher is a household name who has reinvented herself numerous times, so the only surprise about the new 9-disc Best of Cher DVD release is that it took so long to come out. From Time Life, who have done a great job of immortalizing other pop culture icons like Carol Burnett and Jackie Gleason, comes The Best of Cher, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink collection of some of the highlights of her career, largely drawn from her eponymous TV show. The set is broken into two volumes; the first volume consists of five discs which give us 10 episodes of her show Cher, which was her follow up to The Sonny and Cher Show. Volume 2 focuses on her network specials and her live shows, giving us Cher…Special (1978), Cher…and Other Fantasies (1979) Live from the Mirage (1991) and Live at the MGM Grand (1999), as well as the full-length documentary Dear Mom, Love Cher. Now, of course, as is usual with Time Life releases, the set is also loaded with extra features, including interviews with Cher, her guest appearances on various talk shows (including one as recent as 2018), an exclusive new featurette, and much more. While this is far from a complete retrospective of Cher’s extraordinary career (her movies are absent, obviously), it’s still a really great package for anyone who is a fan of the original multimedia diva/goddess.

FOR MYSTERY FANS:

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: The Complete Collection – The original Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series (which has since seen a spin-off show and a movie) gained a fan following all over the world. Part mystery, part adventure serial, the original show only ran for a few seasons but it was a lot of fun, and fan interest remains high, which led to a crowdfunding campaign to fund a movie that served as a sort of wrap-up for the series. Now, just in time for the holidays, we have Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: The Complete Collection, a 12-disc box set in beautiful packaging that includes all three seasons, the Crypt of Tears movie, and even a fun magnetic paper doll set featuring Miss Fisher herself. I imagine this is the type of show a lot of fans will want to have in their collection, and now you can own it in its entirety in one nice collection.

FOR THE KIDS (OR KIDS-AT-HEART):

The Spongebob Musical: Live on Stage – This is a pretty cool release. Spongebob Squarepants has obviously transcended being just a kids cartoon and has gone on to morph into a full-fledged pop culture sensation. That culminated in the Broadway show, The Spongebob Musical. Well, since many people can’t get to Broadway (and, of course, Broadway is currently shut down due to COVID-19) you can now watch the show in its entirety, filmed live on the Broadway stage. Now, personally, I’m not a huge fan of musicals, and honestly, while I like Spongebob just fine, I’m not one of those people who just loves the show. So I can’t say this is the kind of thing I’m gonna watch over and over. But Spongebob fans, Broadway fans, and kids who love Spongebob should all find something to like here. I like releases like this that offer up something a little different for fans of a particular franchise.

FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO’S ALWAYS SHOWING OFF THEIR HOME THEATER SYSTEM:

The Goonies (4K Ultra HD) – If you’re of a certain age, The Goonies is a touchstone film, a part of your childhood that never ages, and I definitely am of that age. I love The Goonies, and I can watch it again and again and never get tired of it. So I was thrilled to get the film in the premium 4K format. Now, the film is 35 years old, so the 4K format gives it a nice upgrade, but it isn’t a complete transformation. The film looks very clean, with nice, sharp lines and good image clarity, and the enhanced color saturation gives the film new life. Honestly, it’s the best I’ve seen the film look since I saw it in theaters. The surround soundtrack also gives the film new depth, utilizing the rear channels well. It’s not the most subtle or nuanced mix I’ve ever heard, but it puts the big action in the appropriate speakers, and that’s all I need sometimes. The disc includes a number of extra features, mostly ported over from the previous special edition Blu-ray, but hands down, if you’re a Goonies fan, this is the version to own.

Sherlock Holmes & Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (4K Ultra HD) – Also making their way to 4K Ultra HD this week are the two Sherlock Holmes films by Guy Ritchie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. I really enjoy these films and I wish the franchise had continued. The first film is outstanding, and the second movie is flawed, but it’s still quite entertaining. I’m not even a huge Guy Ritchie fan, but I quite liked his take on the England’s greatest detective. Both films have been released on 4K Ultra HD, and they both look and sound fantastic. As much more recent films, the 4K upgrade really works well. Shadow delineation makes the many dark scenes much easier to see, image clarity is at a premium, and even though the films have a more muted color palette, the deeper colors give the films much more vibrance. The surround soundtracks take full advantage of the satellites speakers to bring the hustle and bustle of turn of the century London to life, creating an immersive experience. These films are definitely worth revisiting and this is the way to do it!

21 Jump Street & 22 Jump Street (4K Ultra HD) – I was a huge fan of 21 Jump Street when it aired on TV in the ‘80s, and I was a huge fan of the two feature films made based on the show. Even though they are sort of a parody of the show’s original concept, they’re just so funny that I really loved them. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill made a great pair, and I had hopes the franchise would continue. (There are rumblings of another film in the works, at least.) Both films have now been released on 4K Ultra HD (available separately), and I’m pleased to see the movies in the premium format. Now, these are pretty recent films and they looked pretty good on their original home video releases, but they shine just a little brighter on 4K, with extremely vibrant colors that really fit the tone of the films. The surround soundtracks also add a nice layer of ambience to the movies. These aren’t really A/V-driven films, but they do benefit with a nice upgrade from the 4K format.

Another big 4K release is the format debut of Whiplash, the utterly fantastic film debut of Damien Chazelle (La La Land). Starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, the film tells the story of an aspiring drummer and the music teacher who attempts to lead him to greatness — through intimidation, terror, and bullying. It’s technically a drama but at times it almost feels like a horror movie — and it’s absolutely riveting. Both Teller and Simmons give amazing performances, and you literally can’t look away from the screen once the cat and mouse game begins. I absolutely love this movie! Now we have a new 4K Ultra HD release of the film, which lets you see it in all its glory. Not the most colorful film in the world, the increased color saturation does add a little more vibrance to the proceedings, but the image clarity is absolutely top-notch. The surround soundtrack also does an excellent job of capturing every drumbeat, every cymbal crash, and every hand clap with crystal clarity and a nice use of the surround channels. It’s a very strong technical presentation, but I would expect no less with J.K. Simmons’ tyrannical teacher overseeing things!

It’s a Wonderful Life 4K UHD SteelbookIt’s a Wonderful Life makes its return to the 4K Ultra HD format this week, but this time it comes in a sharp-looking steelbook case. Now, the film is 70 years old, so while the 4K update does give the film a new sheen, it’s not like it suddenly looks like a brand-new film, however, I’ve seen this film a million times and it definitely looks and sounds better in 4K than any other format I’ve seen it in. There is a colorized version of the film included on a Blu-ray disc (which does not include the B&W version, a mistake in my opinion), but the 4K disc features the original film, which is how it should be seen. You also get a digital copy of the film, which I love, because I didn’t have it in my digital collection until now. A flawed release (I don’t like when they put different versions of the film on different discs; they should all be available in all formats), but still a worthwhile part of any collection, as the film is a masterpiece.

FOR MUSIC FANS:

Burt Sugarman’s The Soul Of The Midnight Special – Okay, so the seventies isn’t exactly my favorite era of music. In fact, it’s probably my least favorite. But even I have to admit that Midnight Special is chock full of awesome! This five-disc set includes more music than you can shake a record player at, and the collection of talent here is astounding. And while there are some lesser-know artists in here, you’d be surprised how many of the artists in this set have stood the test of time. While there have been other Midnight Special releases (including a 10-disc set that I believe this five-disc release is culled from), you still get over 70 live performances of classic soul and R&B music. Performers include Al Green, Earth Wind & Fire, James Brown, Gladys Knight, Barry White, Ray Charles, Kool & The Gang, and so many more it’s unbelievable. With classic songs like Lean on Me, Johnny B. Goode, Ain’t No Sunshine, Georgia on My Mind, and In the Midnight Hour (among so many others) any fan of The Midnight Special or soul music in general will love this set. Currently you can find it on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble.

FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO ONLY WATCHES WEIRD ARTHOUSE FILMS:

Alejandro Jodorowsky: 4K Restoration Collection – Google “Alejandro Jodorowsky” and see if you can find anything written about the auteur that doesn’t read like a third year doctoral student’s philosophy thesis paper. It’s almost impossible. Well, I’m not a philosophy student, so I’m gonna try and keep this as straightforward as possible. I feel like there are three kinds of movie fans: those who are Jodorowsky fans, those who have never heard of Jodorowsky, and those who have heard of him but never seen a single movie of hi. I would guess most people fall into that last category. I’ve actually seen one or two of his films but I’m far from an expert, so this new box set was a deep dive for me. The six-disc set includes four Blu-rays and two soundtrack CDs (for El Topo and The Holy Mountain), giving you four films. Three of them (El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Fando Y Lis) are classic Jodorowsky works that are remastered on 4K (but presented on Blu-ray, so you don’t need a 4K player to watch them), and are probably his most well-known films, while the fourth one, Psychomagic: A Healing Art is his most recent film. Without delving into philosophy too much, here’s what I’ll say about the films in the set: they are visually striking, and watching them and exploring some of the bonus features is a bit like going to film school for cheap. But did I actually enjoy watching any of his movies? Ehhhh… not so much. These are esoteric, surreal works, and if you’re more a fan of narrative-based cinema, you’ll struggle to find something to latch on to. If, however, you like experimental filmmaking and art, I can’t recommend this set highly enough for you.

FOR THE ANIME FAN IN YOUR LIFE WHO ALREADY HAS ALL THE DVDS:

Funimation is one of the leading purveyors of all things anime, and this year they generously provided us with a sampling of the toys and goodies they have available, all of which would make terrific gifts for the anime fan in your life. First off, they have some special deals on their website for Black Friday: You can get a FREE one-month subscription to Funimation, offering over 13,000 hours of the world’s greatest anime featuring a deep catalog of big hits, fan favorites and all-time classics, as well as the latest shows right out of Japan. As a bonus, on Black Friday subscribers can get a Free Dragon Ball 25th Anniversary Funko (Young Goku on Nimbus Cloud [Silver-Chrome]) with $50 Shop purchase!

They also sent us some really cool gifts to check out, including two of the Funko Pops based on their properties, Ken Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul and All Might from My Hero Academia. I LOVE Funko Pops, I collect them personally, and I know they have a legion of fans out there. The Silver-Chrome Funko are super shiny and neat looking, and they stand out even more than the regular Funko Pops. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t love a Funko Pop under their Christmas tree or Menorah (or any other festive present-gathering location!)

Also extremely cool are the two collectible statue/figures we got our hands-on. These are the perfect collectible; they look like high-quality ceramic statues (which usually run over $100 dollars) but because they’re made out of PVC, they’re much more affordable, ranging from $20-$40. We received the My Hero Academia: The Amazing Heroes Volume 3 figure of Katsu Ki and the Dragonball Super: Blood of Saiyans Special VI figure of Goku. Both of them are incredibly detailed and vibrantly colored, and they measure about six to seven inches tall each. I REALLY dig these cool, affordable mini-statue figures.

But that’s not all! We also received a set of eight My Hero Academia Holiday Ornaments. This set of ornaments come packaged in one nice, bright, colorful window box and will make a great gift as well as fun decorations for your tree! Each ornament is fully sculpted and painted and stands about two inches tall. We have tons of geeky ornaments on the Christmas tree in my house, so if you like your decorations to have a bit of a theme to them, this set is a must-have.

If you want some outdoor decorations, check out the My Hero Academia Garden Gnomes! Okay, I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to think about the idea of anime Garden Gnomes took me by surprise, but getting to see one up close and personal, I think they’re pretty cool. They’re well sculpted and while they’re colorfully painted, the colors are purposefully muted a little bit so they look more like actual garden decorations, and not just toys that you stuck amongst your rhododendrons.

The Gnomes stand about seven inches tall or so, and you can get a two-pack featuring Deku & Bakugo that is available with or without two MHA Blu-rays. And if you need something to do your gardening in (or just to wear out and about on the town), Funimation has a large selection of t-shirts and apparel available as well. We were lucky enough to get the sporty Dragonball Z T-shirt pictured here, and it’s a nice quality shirt with a super cool design.

 

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