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2011 Holiday Gift Guide
DVDTalk's Holiday Gift Guide
Looking for a gift for a movie fan?  Have no idea what to get them?  Not to worry!  DVDTalk is here to help.  We've polled our staff of writers and created a series of guides full of gift that are sure to please anyone on your list.  Whether you're looking for a deluxe boxed set, high quality foreign films, a cool MOD disc, or a great movie that they might not have seen, we've got you covered.  Check out all of the cool gift ideas below.

M.O.D. Discs

According to everything you read, if you're not downloading or streaming your movies and TV shows onto your phone or laptop, you're out of the loop, right? Wrong. And the holidays are the perfect time to buck that trend with an M.O.D. (manufactured on demand) purchase. After all, friends and relatives want something tangible when the presents are passed around, and the Warner Archive, M-G-M Limited Edition Classics, and Sony/Columbia Classics libraries of hard-to-find movie and TV cult classics are the perfect way to put a unique gift right in their hands that you won't find in any store. M.O.D. releases have exploded this year, and DVDTalk's 2011 Holiday Buying Guide has room for only a few of the many excellent releases this year; for info on all of our M.O.D. reviews, please check out DVDTalk's The M.O.D. Squad.

Dark of the Sun (The Mercenaries), from Warner's Archive Collection, is a slam-bang, lightning-fast, crude, vital actioner...with something on its mind. Starring he-men Rod Taylor, Jim Brown, and Peter Carsten, with Yvette Mimieux and Kenneth More lending support, Dark of the Sun was a hit for M-G-M in 1968. A big-scale actioner about mercenaries in the strife-torn Congo, it was notorious in its day for its levels of violence and sadism. Dark of the Sun ranks up there with the very best of 1960s big-budget actioners, blending a gritty, unrelenting savagery with some intriguing political/sociological/psychological undercurrents. [Read full review here]

For movie buffs, 1974's The Phantom of Hollywood, from WB's Archive, is an absolute must. Its premise is obvious, even inevitable: a shadowy figure lurking about a disused studio backlot, in a modern-dress Phantom of the Opera. But its timing, its weirdly autobiographical, even confessional approach, and use of MGM's actual backlot as it was literally being ripped apart and sold off, is ingenious, heartbreaking, and utterly mesmerizing. It helps that The Phantom of Hollywood is also an exceptionally good TV-movie, one of the best of its kind during the Golden Age for such things. [Read full review here]

Warner's Archive Collection has made vintage TV sci-fans' dreams come true with the release of Man from Atlantis: Complete Television Series and Man from Atlantis: Complete TV Movies Collection, a comprehensive two-set collection of the NBC sci-fi cult favorite from 1977, starring fleet-of-webbed-feet Patrick Duffy that spanned four made-for-TV movies and an aborted-run 13-episode first (and last) season. The Man from Atlantis movies and regular series episodes are exactly the kind of programs suited to a M.O.D. service like the W.B.'s Archive Collection: a well-remembered fan favorite that you can't find anywhere else. [Read full review here]

A superlative shocker, it ranks right up there with the celebrated Night of the Demon. M-G-M's Limited Edition Collection's Burn, Witch, Burn!, the American International Pictures title for the 1962 U.K. production, Night of the Eagle, starring Janet Blair, Peter Wyngarde, and Margaret Johnson, features an intelligent, spooky script by horror masters Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont (with an apparent uncredited assist by George Baxt), and tense, scary direction by Sidney Hayers. Janet Blair's beautiful face is used as a frightening prop, while Peter Wyngarde believably goes from smug and arrogant to unhinged with fear in this remarkable tale of modern-day witchcraft. It surely belongs with the absolute best of the genre, one you need to see. [Read full review here]

A brilliant psychological/supernatural horror movie from M-G-M's Limited Edition Collection. A Quiet Place in the Country (Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna), the 1969 Italian-French shocker starring Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero, directed by Elio Petri, is a sensuous, scary, horrifying nightmare of artistic madness...or supernatural possession, that is a completely disturbing, sensational aural/visual experience. Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero are beautiful to look at here in this little-seen shocker. [Read full review here]

Fitting nicely into the pantheon of great Australian genre flicks, Razorback deserves its spot with the beasts, but not the relative obscurity it garnered. Now, Warner Brothers' Archive Collection will kindly send you a M.O.D. of this essential Aussie monster movie, a cult movie that deserves a wider audience. Featuring moody photography, a tense atmosphere, and a great, judiciously employed monster, Razorback rises above genre trappings and Jaws comparisons to become a tense horror-thriller in its own right. [Read full review here]

Phaedra, from M-G-M's Limited Edition Collection, is Jules Dassin's 1962 retelling of Euripides, a sensuous celebration of all things Greek. Phaedra stars the director's wife, Melina Mercouri, as the title character and Anthony Perkins as the stepson with whom she has a dangerous affair. The story is one of sex and consequences, and Dassin embraces its central metaphors and stokes their fires using arty photography and breathless pacing. Theirs is a feverish love affair, and the downfall that follows hits hard. The performances are strong, the music infectious, and the overall staging is excellent. [Read full review here]

M-G-M's Limited Edition Collection has released The Boss, the 1956 crime drama starring John Payne, directed by Byron Haskin (War of the Worlds), from a script by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (Spartacus). A sensational little programmer, featuring one of John Payne's best performances, The Boss plays like a mini-The Godfather, Part II, painting a crude, epic sweep of a story that details the corruption that's endemic to American politics. One of the best "B" movies of the 1950s. [Read full review here]

Lazy fun. Sony's Columbia Classics line of M.O.D.s brings you The Southern Star, the 1969 adventure comedy based on the Jules Verne novel L'Étoile du sud, starring George Segal, Ursula Andress (topless!), Harry Andrews, Ian Hendry, Johnny Sekka, and Orson Welles. It's the damnedest, most casual big-budget adventure film you probably never saw. It's difficult to pin down the source of The Southern Star's breezy, sometimes inept approach. But then again...who cares? How many times have you seen this kind of A-list production with such a charmingly nonchalant attitude? The jokes are mostly good, the adventure is hackneyed (and funny for that clichéd familiarity), and the performances are bright (even gorgeous stone-face Andress smiles a couple of times). What a fun discovery of a little-seen film-and that's what's so cool about M.O.D.s! [Read full review here]

Overlooked Gems
  For one reason or another -- marketability, violence, or sheer concern over whether audiences will embrace the content -- every motion picture doesn't see a wide theatrical release. Typically, the number settles on around 2-3,000 screens across the country, so it can be frustrating for indie or off-the-beaten-path film fans forced to travel distances to see smaller pictures that only occupy a handful within the swathe of mass-consumption fare. What we've put together is a list of the hidden gems that likely didn't play at a theater near you, the ones holed up in prime cinema hubs like Austin, Portland, and of course Los Angeles and New York that showed at less than 150 screens, all of which are at least worth the price of the Blu-ray for a viewing.

Animal Kingdom: Animal Kingdom isn't the Australian version of Goodfellas that one might be led to believe, instead its own wild, cornered beast. It doesn't offer an ounce of appeal to the world of gangster bedlam, void of a cascade from glitz and glamor and of the heavy rise-and-fall rush that adorn many of its type. The gritty story of a teenager forcefully wedged into a world of guns, drugs, death, and retaliatory violence lacks any appealing traits to its culture at all, which turns into one of Aussie director David Michôd's central strengths. Instead, Michôd creates a perilous domestic environment, populated with compelling villains -- two in particular, for wildly different reasons -- that never let the electricity empty from its atmosphere. [DVDTalk Review]

Another Earth: Another Earth's science-fiction element is moderately self-explanatory: a recently-discovered second world, just like ours, exists within a distance to Earth that's close enough to travel. In the realm of indie cinema, filmmakers often go small-scale when handling something like this to purposefully tiptoe around budget-sapping set pieces or glitzy visual effects, instead holing up in the weighty drama that thrives in the scope they're able to achieve. Writers Make Cahill and Brit Marling clearly relish their boundaries as they operate under those parameters, where a scientific oddity seamlessly integrates into our known world as both a curiosity and a vital narrative element. What they've created is robust, assertive personal storytelling that uses its outer-reality concept as a pivot point for musings on regret and the healing power -- and damaging effects -- of social isolation, as well as an ample source of metaphysical contemplation behind a second, potentially human-inhabited world. [DVDTalk Review]

Attack the Block: Should you believe the hype, bruv? Because a lot came out of the SXSW film festival this year for Attack the Block, Joe Cornish's Goonies-meets-alien-hunters romp through the streets of South London. Short answer: Yes. A triumphant case of style and attitude above substance -- with candy-coated lighting and a pulsing original score from Steven Price -- Cornish takes the to-the-point framework of inner-city teenagers brawling with a pack of wooly, neon-mouthed aliens and creates something polished and exhilarating, complete with thick urban dialogue and violence involving katana swords and fireworks that's, surprisingly, not for younger eyes. Alongside some dialogue about destitute living conditions in urban areas that gives it a pinch of import, it's all a hell of a lot of budgeted fun. [DVDTalk Review]

Black Death: It's hard to pinpoint exactly when Black Death was shown in theaters, but it's pretty clear why it funneled into the DTV and cable-channel market: Christopher Smith's dreary, challenging exploration of religious idealism within medieval England is a peculiar but fascinating hybrid of horror and historical fiction, one that would assuredly struggle to find its audience at the cinema. It rides that line between genres for its entirety, with grueling sword-'n-armor violence that unsettles and intellectual murkiness that's even more disquieting, remaining consistently thought-provoking while it builds a bleak atmosphere and tainted characters around its concept. Much like Smith's Triangle, there's a twisted road it traverses once it approaches its conclusion, arriving at a clever and stimulating ambiguous ending that shrewdly uses the story's place in history. [DVDTalk Review]

Fish Tank: The rawness that Andrea Arnold's cinematic style achieves isn't easy to find: she pushes emotional buttons, conveys an ascetic tone, and renders complex downtrodden characters with troubling mindsets, but does so while keeping in mind the audience's threshold of depressing drama. Fish Tank marks the pinnacle of her perspective, where she depicts a collection of bad turns and questionable decisions that a tough, angry urban girl navigates within the bubble of her East London neighborhood. Arnold follows the same sober current of developments and faint hair-raising ferocity as in Red Road and Wasp (her like-minded short film, also included on the Blu-ray), yet she comes up for breath a bit more often here by depicting a girl who's strong and determined enough to slipstream through the nastiness around her. [DVDTalk Review]

I Saw the Devil: What Kim Ji-woon hammers home with his tale of revenge might surprise those who have only experienced his restrained atmospheric ghost story A Tale of Two Sisters, but those who have plowed through his rough-and-tumble gangster picture A Bittersweet Life know better. I Saw the Devil merges both sides of his perspective -- steady, methodical pacing with punchy violence -- and ratchets up the blood-soaked ferocity into a disquieting two-and-a-half hour epic, one that pivots on the idea that certain degrees of malice and law-breaking are "acceptable" under the blanket of vigilantism towards a positive cause. Lee Byung-hun preserves the film's bracing emotionality during the stylized hyper-violence, which pushes the envelope in an artful, unsettling fashion that mesmerizes. [DVDTalk Review]

Meek's Cutoff: Slow, steady tension simmers in Meek's Cutoff. Director Kelly Reichardt depicts a cluster of families traveling the deserts of 1800s Oregon with dwindling food and water supplies, the sun-baked vistas and creaking wheels showing clear inspiration from Terrence Malick's work. Dire human suspense emerges from its continual pace, mostly from the viewpoint of the women as they powerlessly -- and nervously -- listening to the muffled conversations among the men, showing clear distrust and apprehension over their guide, Stephen Meek. But once the caravan stumbles onto a healthy Indian (a "savage") who knows where they can find nourishment, Meek's Cutoff bristles with power-struggling and austerity over where their trust lies, and Reichardt's capturing of the era takes the story up a slight grade towards intensity, powered by a magnificent Michelle Williams. [DVDTalk Review]

Rabbit Hole: Rabbit Hole approaches a challenging topic -- the aftermath of losing a child -- and strikes a beautiful balance between drama and melodrama that's much more approachable and delightful to watch than many might expect from this type of material. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are crucial to the film's strength, as they both deliver superb performances as the grieving couple, yet the absorbing cinematography and, of course, a richly-written script constructs a tremendous infrastructure for their dramatic poignancy. John Cameron Mitchell exercises an impressive level of control over the drama, showing restraint and force in all the right moments, coming together into an immensely complete, self-aware portrait of grief that only pulls heartstrings where needed. [DVDTalk Review]
High Ticket Colletions

Wondering what to get that special film-lover in your life? How about an ultra-cool high-end boxed set? There have been some excellent collections released recently, and you can't go wrong with any of these:

Smallville: The Complete Series: This impressive set collects all ten seasons of Smallville, chronicalling Clark Kent's journey from a high school student to becoming the Man of Steel. That's 218 episodes, over 192 hours worth of viewing spread over an amazing 62 DVDs contained in two two lay-flat picture books. In additon to five hours of new special features the set comes with a Daily Planet newspaper and an episode guide.

Barney Miller: The Complete Series: One of the best shows from the 70's, and one that is often overlooked, is Barney Miller. A great cop show that was hilariously funny without ever making fun of crime or its effects, Sony only released the first three seasons to DVD before stopping. Now, thanks to Shout! Factory fans of this great comedy can pick up the entire 168-episode series in an attractive case that looks like the famous squad room door. They really went above and beyond the call of duty with this package by including some great extras including the first season of the spin-off series Fish.

Planet Earth: Limited Edition: With jaw-dropping scenes, remarkable (while not being dreary) information and compelling narration, Planet Earth is a show that is a joy to watch. This new release showcases over three hours of fresh bonus material including the all-new program "Great Moments of Planet Earth." What really sets this aprart is the cool packaging: it comes in an exquisite, individually numbered weighted globe case that makes this a must-buy this holiday season.

The Honeymooners - Lost Episodes 1951-1957: A chronologically presented boxed set featuring every surviving, live-on-kinescope "Honeymooners" sketch performed on the Dumont Network's Cavalcade of Stars and, later, on CBS's The Jackie Gleason Show, this is one of this year's Best DVD Boxed Sets. A big brick of a release with approximately 50 hours of material spread across 15 discs, the set includes 30 new-to-DVD episodes, some of which haven't been seen publicly since 1957. Also included is an entire disc of extra features. If you know Honeymooners fan - and who isn't? - you're going to want to get them this.

Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection: Laurel and Hardy are arguably the greatest, and funniest, comedy duo of all time, and this collection proves it. The stunning 10-disc set collects 58 of 'The Boys' talking shorts and feature films, produced by Hal Roach from 1929 through 1940. Including some of their best-loved work such as Helpmates, Hog Wild, Another Fine Mess, Sons of the Desert, Way Out West, and the Academy Award winning The Music Box, this is a no-brainer.

It Takes a Thief: Among the last of the 1960s spy television shows, It Takes a Thief was one of the best. Stealing to finance his life as a playboy and sophisticate, Alexander Mundy (Robert Wagner) was the world's greatest cat burglar... until the day he got caught. But thievery skills are an asset in the world of espionage, so Mundy is pardoned when he agrees to use his wily ways to help steal for the SIA, an American espionage agency. Never before available on any format, Entertainment One has released the entire sereis in a collectible 18-disc set containing all 66 digitally remastered episodes and a host of bonus featurettes and extras.

Yankeeography Collectors Edition DVD Megaset: How about the sports fan on your holiday shopping list? The Yankeeography Collector's Edition Megaset lives up to its title in two different areas. With almost two days of material that could be played consistently, combined with a package heavy enough that it could serve as a substitute for hitting fungoes, this is a must-own for any Yankee fan.

Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938: A great set filled with many rarities and little seen films. There are newsreels, travelogues, features, and shorts, all of which deal in some way with some of the American West. With films made by Mack Sennett and D.W. Griffith and stars such as Mabel Normand and Clara Bow, there's a lot of solid entertainment here in addition to the historical and educational value of these films. The National Film Preservation Foundation has created another must-buy collection

Gifts For the Foreign Film Lover

For the guy or gal on your holiday shopping list whose tastes stretch beyond borders, there's a bevy of recently released foreign films, classic and contemporary, to choose from, any of which they'd be delighted to unwrap.

The Criterion Collection never fails to put out a "big" title in time for holiday gift-giving, and this year's release fitting that description is Polish director Kryzstof Kieslowski's trilogy (made in France) Three Colors: Blue, White, and Red, which practically redefined foreign cinema when they reached these shores, to huge acclaim, in the early '90s. Taken together, they pretty much run the gamut of visual beauty, deliberate pacing, and thoughtful philosophical contemplation that are by now the clichés most automatically associated with foreign films, but they do it so well, with so much compelling emotion (all centered around three fetching, captivating French starlets: Juliette Binoche in Blue, Julie Delpy in White, and Irène Jacob in Red), they practically sum up what's refreshingly "different" about a foreign film, and could even make a nice intro for the subtitle-resistant giftee.

If you want to cast your gaze across the other ocean to give some of the best Asian cinema, a double feature from South Korean auteur Lee Chong-Dong--2007's Secret Sunshine and last year's Poetry--got respective U.S. DVD/Blu-ray releases this year. Each of these tells a powerful, subtly disquieting story of a woman's struggle to overcome life's harsher challenges: In Secret Sunshine, a young widow tries to put her life back together by moving to a small town, and in Poetry, a grandmother diagnosed with Alzheimer's takes the leap toward self-expression. Lee's eye for the social and natural worlds is exquisite; he is one of the most interesting foreign filmmakers to have emerged in recent years, and your foreign film aficionado would definitely appreciate the opportunity to add one or both of these to their collection. [DVDTalk review of Secret Sunshine], [DVDTalk review of Poetry]

Elsewhere on the re-release front, on top of Three Colors, Criterion gave the world yet another gift that wouldn't go amiss were you to pass it on: The Complete Jean Vigo collects the one feature (L'Atalante) and the most famous shorter work (Zéro de Conduite) as well as all the rest of the shorts and documentaries by the great French master of the '30s whose career was cut tragically short by his early death. The well-deserved legend of these films lives on in this lovingly restored and packaged compilation, both a necessity and a treat for any lover of French cinema. And if Vigo's '30's-style insouciance isn't your particular recipient's style, perhaps the hilarious, explicit, raw, yet surprisingly sweet raunch of Bertrand Blier's colorful 1974 French sex comedy Going Places, starring the young Gerard Depardieu, which recently granted a long-overdue restoration and re-release to DVD and Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, would be more their speed. [DVDTalk review of The Complete Jean Vigo], [DVDTalk review of Going Places]

Kino did right by another great foreign classic this year, too, restoring the revered Russian cinéaste Andrei Tarkovsky's final film, 1986's The Sacrifice, and releasing it in great-looking new Blu-ray and DVD editions. This autumnal masterpiece relates an aging philosopher's grappling with what seems to him the human race's nuclear death wish, so it's not escapist fare. It is, however, sheer, profound cinematic poetry of the sort that will gladden the heart of most any foreign film enthusiast you might be shopping for. [DVDTalk review]

Finally, if you need to look under the radar to find the perfect movie for that collector of foreign films who already seems to have it all, you'll want to be sure to spot these three ravishing, less-hyped offerings: In Spanish filmmaker's José Luis Guerín's 2007 French-made film In the City of Sylvia (which got a long-delayed DVD release not long ago thanks to the good people at Cinema Guild), a young man pursues his (perhaps imaginary, certainly elusive) object of affection through the streets of Strasbourg for a hypnotic effect like when James Stewart followed Kim Novak in Vertigo, but stretched out, slowed down, and minutely, hypnotically observed. Jessica Hausner's Lourdes (an Austrian/French coproduction) boldly ventures into touchy issues of faith and the possibility (or not) of miracles by telling the story of a wheelchair-bound young woman who visits the famous Catholic destination of healing. Last but not least, Italian director Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte poses the huge Tree of Life questions about Human Existence in its own stoical, radical, captivating way. [DVDTalk review of In the City of Sylvia], [DVDTalk review of Lourdes], [DVDTalk review of Le Quattro Volte]


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