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Welcome to....
The DVDTalk Holiday Gift Guide!

We've engaged our amazing staff of editors to come up with the most definative list of Holiday Gift Ideas for anyone who loves movies, DVD's, High Defitition Televisions, and entertainment equipment!


Top TV on DVD sets

With TV on DVD being more popular than ever, here are some recent releases that would make great holiday gifts:

JLA1.jpgJustice League The Complete Series - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl joining together to fight evil. What more could you want?

Homicide: Life on the Street - The Complete Series - all seven seasons of this excellent show plus the TV movie

Supernatural: The Complete Fourth Season - the best season yet of this outstanding show.

Life on Mars: Series 2 - the conclusion to the British series is some of the best television you'll ever watch.

Blackadder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition - all of the adventures of Edmund Blackadder from the middle ages to WWI.

It's Garry Shandling's Show: The Complete Series - the classic TV show is available AT LAST!

Big Bang Theory The Complete Second Season - At work, physicists Leonard and Sheldon and their geek pals conquer the cosmos. At home, real life . from dating to driving . conquers them. Twenty-three hilarious episodes from series creators Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men) and Bill Prady (Gilmore Girls)

Superman The Complete Animated Series - the creative team behind the Emmy Award-winning "Batman: The Animated Series" chronicles the adventures of Superman, the legendary superhero, as he battles the forces of villainy and continues his quest for "truth, justice and the American way."

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - The Complete Second Season - the best show that nobody watched last year.

The Mentalist The Complete First Season - Patrick Jane is a celebrity psychic whose wife and child are viciously murdered by an elusive serial killer called Red John. Devastated, Patrick admits his paranormal act is fake, renounces his earlier life and uses his astonishing skills of observation and analysis . talents that made him appear psychically gifted . to bring killers to justice.


Editor's Buying Tip

If you’re going to be buying a lot of your gifts this year at sites like Amazon.com, you might want to try and order as much as possible at one time. By combining the shipping costs, you’ll be able maximize your savings!

Also, remember that Amazon will gift wrap all your items to save some of that precious holiday time!


Christmas TV Shows

Christmas and TV an indispensable combination. If you grew up like I did (glued to the set day and night, except for pesky interruptions for school and sleeping), Christmas break was a time to catch up on TV shows you couldn't watch during the school week, as well as a chance to see your favorite series trot out their specially-themed Christmas episodes. TV somehow looked better during those holiday times, when the living room or den were bathed in a festive glow from the tree lights, and the old man might grudgingly let you drape a little tinsel and garland over the set itself, just to show how much you loved it ("Fine, whatever . just don't mar the walnut finish!"). Today, of course, the Christmas holiday as seen through our television screens is no longer beholden to what chance signal happened to come over the aerial during those short two weeks. Your kids can watch a Christmas DVD in July, if they want to (and a more jarring sound of hearing adenoidal Rudolph exclaiming he's cute while it's 90 degrees out, I can not think of), while nostalgia lovers can program their favorite Christmas movies and television episodes to their schedules, at the flip of a disc. I sometimes miss that "one shot" urgency of television back then; if a family wanted to watch Frosty together, they had to make sure time was set aside to do so on the appointed night. TV seemed more like an "event," then. But."choice" is never a bad thing, and as anyone who loves TV knows, DVD has provided a dizzying array of programs to choose from . and this year was no exception. So let's look at some of the more notable TV DVD releases this year . releases that will make great Christmas gifts for TV lovers out there . through the TV experts here at DVDTalk.

Certainly one of the most readily identifiable vintage TV series (or more correctly, series of specials) associated with TV's second golden age and the holidays, are the Peanuts specials written by Charles Schulz. In Randy Miller III's review of pea1.jpgPeanuts: The 1960s Collection, Warner Bros. newly repackaged collection of the first six specials, including A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, have been carefully remastered from their original elements. Extras haven't been ported over from the solo deluxe editions, but the Peanuts: The 1960s Collection is an economical way to get these classics in front of your kids where they belong (and they probably couldn't care less about those missing extras, either).

Speaking of kids, BBC America has released what reviewer David Cornelius states is "unarguably one of the finest science fiction works I've ever encountered." Torchwood: Children of Earth is the five-part miniseries continuation of the Doctor Who spin-off, created by Russell T. Davies. Starting with the simple yet terrifying premise of every child in the world stopping for one minute, frozen in time, with all of them uttering in English, "We are coming," Davies and co-scripters James Moran and John Fay have concocted a bizarre, surprise-laden journey that David Cornelius says is one of the "finest, smartest, and most ingenious sci-fi tales of modern times." According to David's review, to reveal any more of Torchwood: Children of Earth would be a crime, so read the rest of his review at your own peril. Extras are light for this release, but content trumps any quibbling about bonus features.

Reviewer Stuart Galbraith IV recently reviewed On the Road with Charles Kuralt, a three-disc set of 18 episodes from that fondly remembered series of feature segments that often aired on The CBS Evening News, giving us over six hours of "a still-enchanting, utterly disarming collection of mesmerizing Americana." For those viewers who may have been too young to remember the avuncular, witty Kuralt, the reporter-at-large would travel across America in his white RV, finding average Americans who performed extraordinary feats of skill . or kindness . in an effort to find meaning in their everyday lives. One the Road was a charming, sometimes sad, often joyous show that celebrated . in a non-exploitive way . the true diversity of this great land, and Kuralt was the perfect host for this rambling, shaggy-dog collection of stories. The fact that these segments have been "rescued" from fondly-remembered oblivion by DVD is another indication that the format hasn't even scratched the surface of the vast amounts of available-but-forgotten TV treasure out there.

And now for something completely different. Reviewer Jason Bailey has clued us in on Monty Python: Almost the Truth, a new six-hour documentary on the legendary British TV comedy troupe that is "a joy to watch, an insightful and thoroughly entertaining jaunt through a rich and unreasonably funny body of work." A documentary that "knows its audience," Monty Python: Almost the Truth doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as other Python docs have, and that, according to Jason, is where the doc apparently surpasses those other efforts. Good bonuses help, and of course you get all those great Python moments, too. A must-have for fans of the group.

From the mad men of Python to the mad ad men of Madison Avenue. Reviewer Jamie S. Rich reviewed Mad Man: Season 2 earlier this summer, a "complex, nourishing drama" that may be the best TV show out there right now (now that The Sopranos is long, long gone). Telling the story of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the self-made, newly-invented man who creates for himself the reality of being a highly-paid advertising man on Mad Ave, show creator Matthew Weiner deftly navigates the social, political, and ethical changes that occurred during the 1960s, while creating a remarkably detailed look at that bygone era. Anyone who has seen the show knows that its spectacular art direction is a key element to its success, but as the show progresses in this second season, Jamie rightly hits on Mad Men's evolution out of obvious in-joke ironies of the audience being ahead of the characters' biases, and into an increasingly dark, brooding treatise on the seductive . and often disappointing . illusions we create at our jobs and in our homes. Sensational extras fill out this nicely-appointed box set.

G.I. Joe, one of the best examples of 60s Madison Avenue savvy pushing a product nobody was sure of (dolls for.boys???) was a staple of every boy's toy box from the 1960s through the 1990s, so it's appropriate that reviewer Francis Rizzo III would simply and accurately sum up the massive 95-episode box set, G.I. Joe: The Complete Collection, as "a chunk of my childhood in a well-constructed box." Although not entirely complete (the third DIC season is not included), this gigantic collection of the best-loved parts of the G.I. Joe toon is can't miss nostalgia for older fans, and a perfect gift for any wise-assed punk kid who doesn't get that only American pop culture could create a solder so perfect as G.I. Joe. Cobra beware. Solid extras enhance this hefty release.

This fall, DVDTalk editor John Sinnott looked at Foyle's War: Series 1 -5 - From Dunkirk to VE-Day, an excellent compilation of all 19 movie-length episodes of the respected British mystery series. One of my favorite British imports, Foyle's War stars Michael Kitchen as Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, a copper who's kept on the homefront during WWII with the job of keeping the peace as Britain almost spirals down into defeat before the relentless Axis powers. As John rightly points out, a big part of Foyle's War's appeal is the unusualness of its settings: Britain's homefront during the Big War. So many WWII-themed projects revolve around the actual battlefield conflicts; Foyle's War reveals hidden themes of personal and societal duress and conflict in the small English villages that never seem to make it into "big pictures about big battles." It's a fascinating series created by pro Anthony Horowitz, and a worthy member of the superior English-based mystery series that seem to dominate the genre.

And while we're on the subject of British domination of a particular genre, I'm beginning to feel . despite my understandable tendency towards jingoism . that Britain may well dominate the TV sitcom, genre, as well. Case in point: One Foot in the Grave: The Complete Series. A epic cock-up of cosmic proportions for the constantly shat-upon Victor Meldrew and his long suffering wife (Richard Wilson and Annette Crosbie), One Foot in the Grave combines shatteringly funny sight gags with poignant, sometimes terribly sad commentary on getting older and becoming irrelevant in this increasingly remote, sterile modern world, to create one of the most meaningful . and hilarious . series I've ever seen. And this box set gives you ever single episode of this important series.


10 Nominations for the Holiday Movie Canon

Holiday movies the family-friendly comedies and fantasies we all know; the handful of classics that we all have to sit through year after year after year.  Well, it doesn.t always have to be Miracle on 34th Street and It.s a Wonderful Life.  The master list of Holiday movies needs to be permanently expanded . and here are a group of suggestions.  They may not all celebrate goodwill toward men and such, but these .alternative. holidays will satisfy those bored by the snuggly-soft marshmallow confections that typify the season.

  • The Apartment (1960) . The core of Wilder.s melodrama takes place during the holiday season, with C.C. discovering Fran at his place on Christmas Eve.
  • Trading Places (1983) . Dan Ackroyd.s drunken Santa prefigures Thornton.s Bad Santa, with a fun, climactic New Year.s Eve sequence to boot.
  • Gremlins (1984) . The most destructive Christmas gift of all time.
  • Brazil (1985) . Gilliam.s futuristic Christmas season is spiced with terrorist attacks!  Oh and plus everyone gives one another the same present.
  • Lethal Weapon (1987) . Gibson and Glover face off against Busey on Los Angeles streets strung with Christmas lights.
  • Die Hard (1988) . L.A., again.  A Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza goes somewhat awry, and a New Yorker takes care of business.  Kamen.s score is laced with an ironic jingle-jingle.
  • Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) . Forget that California sunshine, this one takes place at a snow-bound Dulles swarming with holiday travelers.  Another Christmastime crisis calls for Willis to kill a ton of bad guys.
  • Batman Returns (1992) . Tim Burton.s best film has Gotham covered in snow and Christmas dér as Shreck, Cobblepot, and company wreak havoc.  It.s the most emotionally-charged of any Batman film.
  • Love Actually (2003) . The sweetest movie on this list, it takes several premises that defy believability and turns them into a dense truffle of a film with real staying power.  The pornographic subplot does little to relieve sugar shock.
  • The Ice Harvest (2005) . A comedic thriller with terrific bite; Christmas Eve has never felt so desperate.

Top Blu-ray Upgrades

As Blu-ray technology grows further refined with the years and companies cut their teeth on what works and doesn.t with both mastering and special features, they begin to dig deeper into their vaults for films to release. Some are presentations that are striking on their own as beautifully-shot pictures, while others are pieces of work that have desperately needed a boost with a new release for quite some time. What we get, as lovers of both the technology and of movies in general, are high-definition releases that truly showcase the difference between the DVD technology of yesteryear and the new-fangled crispness and clarity of Blu-ray -- steps closer to true cinema in the home. 2009 has been a phenomenal year for upgrades in that regard, showcasing jumps from non-16x9 DVDs and lackluster, incorrect transfers to stunning HD clarity. Several of the best appear below (in alphabetical order):

aud1.jpgAudition

Batman Returns from Batman Anthology

Bottle Rocket

Braveheart

Monsoon Wedding

Pinocchio

Requiem for a Dream

Seventh Seal

Wings of Desire

Wizard of Oz


Import Finds by Stuart Galbraith IV

If you've resisted buying a region-free DVD or Blu-ray player up to now, or even if you have one you may not be aware of these great, mostly also-rans available for import. These aren't necessarily the best-known import titles, but for one reason or another well worth getting. Some aren't available in the United States at all; in other cases the import version offers a far superior transfer and often a much lower price, even with the added shipping fees.

Okay - I'm cheating a bit. Many of the DVDs and Blu-rays listed below were actually released prior to January 1, 2009. However, I've included these older releases because, in 2009, many became incredibly affordable, as much as 80% off their original SRP, and therefore offers so good they justify the cost of buying a region-free player all by themselves.

landh1.jpgLaurel & Hardy - The Collection
This incredible 21-disc set of nearly every Laurel & Hardy movie produced during their best years at Hal Roach Studios - from their early silents to their later sound comedies, both short subjects and features - originally retailed for £199.99, or about $330. But for most of 2009 this incredible set, featuring lots of great extra features and bonus shorts, has been around 78% off its SRP, which comes out to a mere $50 or so shipped to the U.S.! With U.S. rights holder Hallmark utterly disinterested in releasing these films here, this is a must-have for fans of classic film comedy.

Gold
One of the great unsung action thrillers of the 1970s, Gold is a superbly directed and very suspenseful movie about South Africa's gold-mining industry. It was produced by many of the people associated with the James Bond series, including cutter-turned-director Peter Hunt, editor John Glen, title designer Maurice Binder, and star Roger Moore, who gives one of his best performances. (The score by Elmer Bernstein is also a knockout.) The 16:9 enhanced transfer isn't great, but for now the UK DVD is by far the best way to see it.

ER
When it comes to TV, you might assume British DVDs are only good for British television shows, but you'd be wrong. For instance, in the U.S. the twelfth season of ER isn't even due out until next January, but in the U.K. the 13th, 14th, and 15th (and final) seasons have already been released - and in some cases for a lot less money. ER: The Complete 13th Season is just £9.98 ($16.55) on Amazon UK - that's about half the cost of ER season sets in the U.S.

The Michael Palin Collection
Of course, the real savings come with British shows, from Doctor Who to Inspector Morse. I'm a big fan of Michael Palin's wonderful travel documentaries, but not U.S. distributor BBC Warner's outrageous price gouging. One example: The Michael Palin Collection (which includes Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Full Circle and four others) retails here for $249.98 but the same set presently sells on Amazon.uk for just £34.88 (about $57.83), or nearly one-fifth the price!

W.C. Fields - The Movie Collection
More great savings: Boxed sets are where the DVD importer/classic film fan can really save a lot of dough. Even though I already had Universal's Region 1, two-volume W.C. Fields Comedy Collection (at a $59.98 SRP for each volume) I bought this set anyway because it included a bunch of films not available in the U.S., notably Million Dollar Legs, Tillie and Gus, and If I Had a Million. Better still was the price: it's currently £39.48 ($65.47) for 17 movies - seven more than the two-volume region one set. Search around and you'll find similar deals on Douglas Sirk, Preston Sturges , and The Marx Bros.

The Railway Children
If you're looking for something different for the kids, you might consider this British classic, widely regarded as one of the best-ever children's films, yet it remains virtually unknown in the United States, where an out-of-print Anchor Bay release from 2003 now fetches collector's prices - but which can be imported for less than $9. Indeed, there are dozens of great classic films available for £4.98 or less.

Hellzapoppin'
One such £4.98 gem is this hilarious, must-be-seen-to-be-believed anarchic comedy starring the unjustly forgotten comedy team of Olsen & Johnson. This is just one of a batch of films that may never be released to home video in the U.S. due to rights and other legal issues. Other movies turn up elsewhere but not in the U.S. for no clear reason. Why, for instance, is Two Rode Together available in Britain but not in the U.S., considering it was directed by John Ford and stars heavyweights Jimmy Stewart and Richard Widmark?

Colossus: The Forbin Project
Even movies available in Region 1 are often frustratingly panned-and-scanned transfers that drive film fans nuts. Fortunately, this sci-fi sleeper is 16:9 enhanced widescreen in the U.K., as are other Universal '70s titles like Don Siegel's terrific Charley Varrick and the somewhat underrated suspense thriller The Hindenburg.

The Last Dinosaur
Japanese DVDs of Japanese movies tend to be outrageously pricey (often around $50 for a single movie) and usually don't have English subtitles. However, this release from last May was an unexpected surprise. A filmed-in-Japan American TV movie (released theatrically overseas) starring Richard Boone and Joan Van Ark finding romance and Godzilla-type dinosaurs in a Lost World near the Arctic Circle is at once goofy and strangely touching, thanks to Boone's boozy, elegiac performance. Toho Video's English-audio equipped, 16:9 enhanced widescreen release is a delight.

The Designated Karl May DVD Collection 1 (Der Schatz im Silbersee / Winnetou und das Halbblut Apanatschi / Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand)
Regrettably (and unaccountably) importing DVDs and Blu-rays from Germany is much more expensive than just about anywhere else, but Western fans will want to consider this first set of Karl May adaptations, especially the first, Der Schatz im Silbersee (Treasure of Silver Lake), a hugely influential Euro-Western directed by Harald Reinl and starring ex-Tarzan Lex Barker and Herbert Lom. The DVD has been out for a while now but for adventurous Western fans I can't recommend it enough. (Note: The first and third films are supported by English subtitles and audio, but the second film is in German only.)

Sunrise
Alas, 2009 saw British Blu-ray releases move away from region-free classic releases, but for those still unaware there are some eye-popping high-def releases still available for import. You simply can't do any better than F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, David Lean's Great Expectations, or Powell & Pressburger's splendiferous Black Narcissus. Other recommended region-free Blu-rays include Zulu, The Ipcress File, and The Italian Job, The Boys from Brazil, and Ran.

The Designated Victim
If you're like me and can't get enough giallo, the singularly Italian suspense-thriller genre popular in the 1960s and (especially) '70s, Shameless Screen Entertainment is a label with lots of titles unreleased in the U.S. This one's a pretty good remake of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Some of their other titles include Strip Nude for Your Killer, Oasis of Fear, What Have They Done to Your Daughters? and Night Train Murders.

Wunder der Schöng ("Our Heavenly Bodies")
Essentially an illustrated astronomy lecture in the form of a special effects-filled German silent film, Hanns Walter Kornblum's 1925 feature is a feast for the eyes. It covers a wide range of topics over the course of its 92 minutes, from the history of astronomy to an imaginary exploration of the solar system and beyond by spaceship, from faster-than-light travel to Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Using all manner of special effects, especially myriad forms of animation, the picture is an amazing cinematic accomplishment, comparing favorably to contemporary fiction films like Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Harry Hoyt/Willis O'Brien's The Lost World. The region-free PAL DVD, released by Filmmuseum Mü, is a beauty. Also included is a beautifully illustrated full-color booklet with essential essays in both English and German.


Top Ten Cool Big Ticket sets

This past year has seen some really cool DVD and Blu-ray sets being released. From deluxe versions of classic films to multi-season complete series sets, there as some great collections available for the film or TV on DVD lover in your life. Check out these ten can't-miss presents:

wiz1.jpgThe Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector.s Edition - this definitive collection includes not only the restored film but over 16 hours of bonus material as well as an exclusive watch.

AK 100: 25 Films of Akira Kurosawa - Criterion releases 25 films by the incomparable Japanese director. Spanning his entire career from 1943's Sanshiro Sugata (his first film) to his final work Madadayo (1993), the set includes such classics as Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), and his most famous work, Seven Samurai (1954).

Transformers: 25th Anniversary Matrix Of Leadership Edition - all 98 episodes of the original series in a neat collector's box. With copious extras, this is the prefect gift for the Transformer fan.

The Sopranos: The Complete Series - the entire ground-breaking HBO series in one handy collection.

Charmed: The Complete Series - Limited Deluxe Edition - the whole series in a replica of the book featured in the show.

Gone with the Wind 70th Anniversary Edition - David O. Selznick.s monumental production of Margaret Mitchell.s Pulitzer Prize-winning book is now available in a deluxe collector's edition filled with extras and including a book and postcards.

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music Director's Cut (40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition) - the concert that defined a generation is available in high definition!

Murnau, Borzage and Fox Box Set - okay, it actually came out at the end of 2008, but this collection didn't get the press it deserved. This 12 movie set included a pair of F.W. Murnau films and 10 films directed by Frank Borzage. A fantastic collection that deserves a place in any comprehensive film library.

G.I. Joe A Real American Hero: Complete Collectors Set - Shout! Factory has released the entire remastered series in a very cool foot locker case.

Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972 (10 Disc Blu-Ray) [Blu-ray] - the definitive, comprehensive, chronological survey of Neil Young's entire body of work, Volume I covers the period from his earliest recordings with the Squires in Winnipeg, 1963, through to his classic 1972 album, Harvest.


Anime Talk Holiday Gift Guide
The Holiday season is upon us and chances are good there might be an anime lover in your life. Here's a nice collection of shows that came out this past year that received the highest of highest recommendations. This is the cream of the crop for 2009's anime so consider these titles for any otaku on your shopping list.

gl1.jpgGurren Lagann: Gurren Lagann is one of the most irreverent giant mecha shows ever created. This one sees humanity stealing massive pieces of technology known as Gunmen to defend against their potential annihilation at the hands of the Beastmen. The show is over-the-top and entertaining in just about every way.

Welcome to the NHK: Taking place in modern day Japan, Welcome to the NHK is a story about a hikikomori (shut-in or recluse) trying to get by daily life. A wild cast of characters and a surprising amount of heart fill this show. You can rest assured that you've never seen another show quite like it.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Okay, so Fullmetal Alchemist isn't exactly a spring chicken. The show has been out for a while and there is another series already airing in Japan, but the original is so well done it should be in everyone's collection. This fantasy/action show features a tale about two brothers attempting to use alchemy magic to undo their past mistakes.

Sword of the Stranger: Sword of the Stranger is a throwback to anime films such as Ninja Scroll and Blood: The Last Vampire. It's a straightforward action tale filled with well-developed characters, blood, and a plot that moves at breakneck speed. If the otaku in your life enjoys popcorn action flicks as well, this is definitely one to pick up!

Grave of the Fireflies: Another film that should be in just about every anime lover's collection is 1988's masterpiece, Grave of the Fireflies. This particular movie has been around for a while now, but the recently released DVD brought it back into focus. It's a hard, emotional film to watch though it is masterfully played and will make an impact on viewers.

Nabari no Ou: The second part of Nabari no Ou will be out just in time for the holidays, but the first part deserves mention as well. This recently released show from FUNimation takes viewers into a world full of ninja and mystical magics. At the center of everything is an apathetic young boy caught between the regular world and that of the nabari.

Romeo x Juliet: It's not often we see an anime adaptation of Shakespeare. Romeo x Juliet takes plenty of liberties with the material in the classic tale of tragic love, and the production team at Gonzo has made it uniquely Japanese. Little is lost in translation as the show makes its way to the English dub, and this turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Gankutsuou: Count of Monte Cristo Every once in a while a show comes along that sets the bar that all others should be graded upon. On artistic merit alone Gankutsuo stands out like none other. This show may be older, but it had a re-release this year and is definitely one to consider.

Claymore: While it's not the most unique show out there, Claymore is immensely entertaining. This anime feels a lot like Berserk and stands out with its bloody good action and tragic tale of its heroine, Claire. Fantasy fans will gobble this one up for sure.

The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk: Hot off the presses is another show that just landed in America. Tower of Druaga is a sequel anime to the original game that came out back in 1984. It's a fantasy tale about a group of people who are trying to climb a tower to defeat an evil demon, but it's infused with so much personality it's almost too much to take at times. Hilarious adventures await.

Honorable Mentions:

Ghost Hound Volume 1
Last Exile Complete Series
Irresponsible Captain Tyler Remastered Collection
Black Lagoon Complete Series
Moonlight Mile


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