‘Tis the season, boys and girls. No, not just of family, friends, and good cheer, but of getting and giving really cool toys! And let’s face it: you don’t want to be known as the friend or relative who always gives money (boring!) or warm woolen socks (comfy but still boring!). You want to be the cool gift giver!
Fret not, terrible shoppers, because the Popblerd staff is here to help! We’ve complied a list of some of the latest and greatest books, movies, CDs, musical shirts, and shower curtains that money can buy. So whether you’re looking to give or receive, we’ve got you covered.
Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series ($129.99 MSRP, from $76 online)
While the ratings would never show it, Friday Night Lights was one of the most endearing, faithful, and loyal TV shows in some time. Never having to give in to sex, violence, or car crash television (okay, season 2 was a bit trying at times), Friday Night Lights gave you well-written characters and fantastic acting. Though it was dismissed as a show about “football”, it’s really a show about family with a football setting. Season 2 was the worst of the five seasons mostly because it was curtailed by the writer’s strike and because they were trying too hard to find a casual audience, but the other four seasons were absolutely spectacular. The cast didn’t overstay their welcome and even when the show finished its run earlier this year, it left you wanting more. Every single person I have turned on to this show has loved it. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.
WWE Blu-rays: WWE’s Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Micheals vs. Bret Hart /Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time ($39.95 MSRP each, from $21 each online)
While WWE may be far removed from their pop culture popularity peak of the late 90s, they continue to put out stellar DVDs that allow you to revisit yesteryear. Their two latest releases reach back into their archives to give you great old footage, but more importantly, allow you to revisit three of the best wrestlers of all time in “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, and “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. On Austin’s DVD, you see his entire career from the beginning, to the peak, to his retirement from injury. Stone Cold looks back at his career with no regrets with his most honest interview yet. Speaking of honesty, with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, you get a sit down interview with the both of them side-by-side and Jim Ross throwing fastballs at them. There are no softball questions here. Finally, you’ll get the full story (without having to read the Wrestling Observer) of what happened in Montreal on the night of the Montreal Screwjob. It’s the most truthful DVD the WWE has ever done. Both of these DVDs are awesome purchases for a current wrestling fan, or one who gave up on the product after its peak.
Community, Season 1 and Season 2 ($35.99/$45.99 MSRP, from $10/$17 online)
I know you’ve heard of it. I know your friends like it. I know you’ve been meaning to get around to it eventually. Now it’s time for you to watch it. This holiday season, treat yourself (or ask to be treated) to hours of enjoyment with the first two seasons of Community, hailed by fans and critics alike as one of the funniest and most innovative sitcoms ever. It was just put on an indefinite hiatus by ratings-struggling NBC, so now is the perfect time to take a couple months and get caught up at your own pace (although it’s entirely possible you’ll be hooked and watch all of it in just a couple days). If you like smart comedy with interesting characters and infinite re-watch value, you’ll love this show. Check it out!
Strange Negotiations by David Bazan (from $9 for CD and $15 for vinyl online)
Formerly of indie rock band Pedro the Lion, singer-songwriter David Bazan has been going solo for several years now, continuing to make great music with his unique blend of sincerity and cynicism, hope and despair. His first full album, Curse Your Branches, was a fascinating and honest exploration of his loss of faith, as well as my favorite album of 2009. This year he followed up with Strange Negotations, which, while perhaps not as thematically piercing as CYB, sees him playing with his sound a bit, adding more instruments and layers to his usually guitar-based act to create a more fun and textured sound while still being as introspective and morose as ever. A great gift for anybody who appreciates solid singer-songwriters, or indie music in general.
Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu Ray ($139.99 MSRP, from $79.99 online)
Do you have a Star Wars fanatic in your family? Of course you do; we all do! For that special someone the new Star Wars Complete Saga on Blu Ray is not just the gift of the year, but barring a TIE Fighter ride to the Death Star, it’s the gift of the century. I’m not exaggerating; this set is the real deal! Visually, the films look so amazing. It’s as though you are seeing them all for the first time, even though for many, the number of viewings may number in the thousands. The amazing backdrops, special effects and futuristic scenes are brought into their fullest. Upon my first viewing I remember thinking, “So this is what it looked like in George Lucas’s dreams’.” Like I said: real deal.
All this being true, I know a lot of people who will not shell out the $100 or so for the set because they already own a copy, if not multiple copies of the films in standard definition. For those content fans, I bring you this news! Can you say “40 hours of full blown Star Wars extra goodies”? That’s a full work weeks worth of extras guaranteed to engage anyone from the newbie SW fan to the most fanatic. Full of documentaries, behind the scenes, shots and much more, the extras alone justify the purchase.
One criticism of the set lies in the inability of George Lucas to control himself at times. Lucas is like a master builder, always tinkering, and the 9 disc super set is not left unscathed. There are added scenes throughout all 6 films, some welcome, most not. Many may not be visible to anyone but the hardcore fan, and who knows? Time may prove that to the new, younger generations of SW fans, the additions may become as epic and important as parts of the original films were to us old timers.
That slight criticism aside, this set is a must for any Star Wars fan on your list. So don’t be like Darth Vader, who now screams “Nooooooo!”as he tosses the Emperor to his demise (a really inexcusable addition IMHO); there is no try, there is only do, as in “Do run and pick it up!”
Beats, Rhymes & Life on Blu Ray ($35.99 MSRP, from $20 online)
Perhaps the most powerful and intriguing behind the scenes glance into hip-hop was brought forth this year, courtesy of Michael Rappaport and the greatest group in hip-hop history: A Tribe Called Quest. Their story is so amazing, one might think it was drafted as a work of fiction, containing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, not just within the group dynamic, but between two childhood friends. I’ll exercise some self control and begrudgingly save my commentary to reserve my space here simply to encourage you to make sure you pick this up for a loved one, but definitely check out our review here. The film is incredible. Rappaport scores, using his unprecented access to brilliantly leave every A.T.C.Q. fan both satisfied and hungry for more at the same time. This film is an absolutely necessary addition to your music lover’s collection. I assure you, putting this under your tree ensures a complete bug-out by your favorite Quest-er, so don’t find yourself described as a fool: go get it!
Continuum’s 33 1/3 series ($10.95 – $14.95 MSRP, from $7 online)
33 ? books are one of the greatest things to happen for music fans and people who buy gifts for music fans. Each edition in Continuum’s sprawling and ongoing series (now checking in at 83 volumes) is a concise, focused examination of a particular album, and each book is penned by a different author. Consistently of high quality, what makes the series so interesting is diversity – both of the albums covered and the approaches that each author takes. Some are more straightforwardly biographical/factual, some more analytical, some amount to cultural critiques and at least one frames the album within a fictional narrative. It’s that diversity that keeps the series compellingly fresh. And while a number of the albums covered are canonized classics (Born in the USA, Electric Ladyland, Harvest, etc.) the 33 ? series is doing an excellent job of filling in the gaps that are either overlooked by mainstream music writing, or what I’ll simply call “the new classics” – artists and albums from the last 25 years that haven’t achieved the legendary status of say, the Beatles or Rolling Stones (i.e. The Smiths, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Portishead).
The entire list of current titles is here. With everything from classic rock, pop, alternative, soul, funk and hip hop, there’s at least one title on here for the music geek on your gift list. Undecided? Continuum has compiled two Greatest Hits volumes, providing tight little collections of some of the series’ most notable titles.
Kembrew McLeod and Ben Franzen’s documentary is a sharp examination of the relationship between culture, technology, music and copyright. Recently featured on PBS as part of the network’s Independent Lens series, Copyright Criminals discusses the effects of increasingly overbearing intellectual property laws restrict artistic creativity to the detriment of our collective culture.
In addition to a veritable who’s who in legal scholarship, the documentary’s interview roster boasts a dizzying list of artists, including De La Soul, Public Enemy, George Clinton, El-P, DJ Spooky, Shock G, Saul Williams, Sage Francis, Pete Rock, and more.
The deluxe “Funky Drummer” edition (so named for Clyde Stubblefield of James Brown fame) includes not only the documentary on DVD, but a poster, stickers, a 12” of Stubblefield’s hand-selected beats and breaks, six new featurettes, a digital soundtrack, 15 remixes, and two music videos featuring the Copyright Criminals All Star Band. Of course, if that all seems too overwhelming, you can opt for the standalone DVD instead.
Kindle Fire ($199 MSRP, too new and hot to be found any cheaper)
I’d like to think of myself as somewhat of a tech-junkie. I love new technology, and I love gadgets. However, I’m a poor, single college student, so I’m usually the very last person to get the coolest Apple product. For example, I’ve wanted an iPad since the day it was released, but the $500+ price tag has put me off (that’s a whole semester of textbooks/various bills…*sigh*). However, the great people over at Amazon have released their latest Kindle (eBook reader) product: the Kindle Fire. I’d like to think of it as the poor man’s iPad, and I mean that in a great way. Kindle Fire is only $199, and you get a lot of bang for your hard-earned bucks: a 7” color touchscreen, Wi-Fi, built in apps for Pandora, Netflix, and Hulu Plus, a dual-core processor, 8GB internal space (plus a USB port and Amazon Cloud- a free storage utility included with the Kindle Fire), and, of course- plenty of books! You can store your book, movie or MP3 collection, surf the net, and even play Angry Birds, all on your Kindle Fire. Considering the price and all the included apps, I’d say this is the best, most affordable tablet out there, and a perfect gift for any other tech junkies out there. Or, you know, if you’re feeling generous, just send one to Brittany Brown, Reno, Nevada…
Harry Potter Complete Collection on Blu Ray and DVD ($139.99/$98.92 MSRP, from $78.99/$48.99 online)
C’mon now…we all know that I’m the ultimate Harry Potter fan, so what Christmas List would be complete without me including some HP merchandise of some sort? With the release of the final movie (Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part II) this year, there’s now a complete collection of all 8 movies, available either in Blu-ray or DVD format. Of course, any Harry Potter fan probably already owns each of the eight films independently, but the box set is a nice collectors item for the ultimate fan, or for the person who has been waiting to see all the films from start to finish.
Brian Boone’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (Except When I Hate It): Extremely Important Stuff About the Songs and Bands You Love, Hate, Love to Hate, and Hate to Love (Perigee) ($13.95 MSRP, from $5 online)
Sure, author Brian Boone is a colleague (as are several Popblerd! staffers) on the always-entertaining Popdose, but this would easily make the list regardless. It’s always a treat, as a voracious music geek, when you come across a book that simultaneously enlightens you and makes you excited to keep reading. I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (Except When I Hate It) is that book, a side-splitting read full of great trivia that even I didn’t know (and I know everything about music, if you ask my friends).
The only complaint one can lodge with the book is the quickness with which you can read it; even at 224 pages, it’s a breezy read. The only antidote to that would be a sequel, which I will wait patently for…right in this spot, handcuffed to my music shelving units. No rush.
Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy Blu Ray ($79.98 MSRP, from $48.49 online)
Let’s say you’ve gotten pretty lucky for Christmas and have a fantastic new television and Blu-Ray player to show for being good all year. You’ve got an increasingly large playing field of films with which to show off your home viewing experience, but few are as exciting as the premiere of the Jurassic Park films on the format. The 1993 original is still one of the most delicious popcorn movies of the past two decades, and those stunningly lifelike computer-generated dinosaurs look as good as they ever did in 1080p. (Even the less artistically-successful sequels, 1997’s clumsy The Lost World and 2001’s glorified B-movie Jurassic Park III, are a blast to watch on Blu-Ray, especially when that fearsome Tyrannosaurus thunders into frame.)
But there’s more than just great audiovisuals on display here: like any good Blu-Ray upgrade, this set ports over a good chunk of the bonus content from previous DVD releases (including an excellent feature-length documentary on the original film and a host of intriguing concept meetings between director Steven Spielberg and his all-star team of special effects artists), and adds a fantastic and insightful six-part documentary on the making of the entire trilogy. All in all, the set is a loving tribute to the artistry of director/producer Spielberg; if this one’s any indication, it’s going to be geek heaven when his most timeless films are released on Blu-Ray.
Microsoft Kinect for XBox 360 ($149.99 MSRP, from $99.99 online)
To me the perfect Christmas gifts are things that you would never rationally buy for yourself, but would love to play around with anyway. The Microsoft Kinect fits that bill perfectly. A year in, Microsoft’s foray into motion gaming still lacks compelling must have games and hasn’t been the runaway success that the company had hoped (well, outside the countless amazing uses dreamed up by creative programmers and homebrew coders), but it still offers a gaming experience you can’t quite get anywhere else (and at a more affordable price this year). The idea of using your body as a controller is a novel one, and one that lends itself to family get-togethers, where everyone from the kids to grandma can get in on the action.
Whether you’re learning new dance moves, guiding a raft down a river, controlling a gun slinging marionette, or slicing fruit with you hand, Kinect at the very least provides joy in short bursts. And with the recent update to the 360 dashboard, it’s become a viable means of navigating the console menus, complete with menus more suited for hand gesture control and integrated voice search (for example, “XBox Bing Star Wars” will search your console and XBox Live for all the related content: games, movies, and more). It may not revolutionize gaming, but it succeeds in the way we secretly want all our new tech toys to: it’ll impress your friends.
Life on Blu Ray ($69.98 MSRP, from $41.99 online)
If you know a friend or family member getting a new HDTV or Blu Ray player this year, these are the absolute go-to show off discs for the set-up. Sporting crisp resolution, vivid colors, and some of the most amazing shots of animals eating other animals ever put to film, BBC’s Life is an essential addition to any Blu Ray collection. Just be absolutely sure you don’t accidentally buy the Oprah Winfrey edition; nature shows are always better with the regal British narration of David Attenborough, who doesn’t leave you with the constant sense that he’s going to start handing out gifts or recommending books in between shots.
Electronic Drum Machine Shirt ($29.99 from ThinkGeek)
Perfect for music nerds, percussionists, or the guy that needs a gimmick to meet girls at the bar, ThinkGeek’s drum machine shirt is exactly what it sounds like: a t-shirt with a fully functioning drum machine on the front. With its own amp, 7-voice processor (meaning you can hit up to seven pads at once) and the ability to create loops of up to three minutes, the shirt actually offers a decent platform for crafting beats, albeit not in any long-term functional way. Still, for its novelty alone, the shirt’s bound to be a hit with friends. Annoy fellow bar patrons. Wow the ladies with your ear for groove. Craft your own intro music. Always have a rimshot ready for your corny jokes. What’s not to love?
Noel Gallagher Adidas Trainers (currently going for $775.35 a pair on eBay, as only 200 pairs exist)
Rammstein Made In Germany Super DLX 2 CD/3 DVD set (from $141.74 online)
Newbury Comics Gift Card ($25, $50, or $100, but only usable if you live in MA, NH, RI)