Gift Guide: Valentine's Day at the movies, the playground and on the bookshelf
(KUTV) With Valentine's Day a week away, you might find yourself scrambling for gift ideas. Here's a look of recent DVD, Blu-ray, video game, toy releases along with a handful of other ideas to help you out with your gift giving. Not seeing the perfect gift here? Take a peek at my Post-Holiday Guide which also links to my extensive Holiday Gift Guide coverage across for a few dozen more options.
New Releases: Mainstream
While there might not be an obvious romantic choice among these recently-in-theaters titles, but that doesn't mean that there are some great films to be gifted. "Battle of the Sexes," the story of the legendary tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, was one of the more enjoyable films of 2017 as Emma Stone and Steve Carell showed off their comedic prowess; "Better Call Saul Season Three," the most recent season from this "Breaking Bad" spin off, ends in darkness, but the slow build up to the season's finale is well worth the ride; "Blade Runner 2049," the sequel to 1983's cult classic, divided audiences and critics, but to my taste, it was one of the most stunning cinematic experiences of 2017; "Goodbye Christopher Robin," the story behind the writing of the classic Winnie-the-pooh tales is an unexpectedly sad one as it examines the sacrifices that author A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) asked his son Billy, the inspiration behind Christopher Robin, to endure; "It," another one of my favorite films of last year, not only does a wonderful job of adapting the best aspects of Steven King's novel, but also gets the award for the most unusual use of The Cure's "Six Different Ways" that you'll ever see; Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell star in "Last Flag Flying," the story of three Vietnam veterans who served together are brought back together by tragic circumstances; "Only the Brave," the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of Arizona wildfire fighters looking to rise above their grunt status, starring Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller and Jeff Bridges and "Thank You for Your Service," a deeply moving and incredibly look at the emotional and physical struggles that greet veterans when they return from their tours of duty featuring stand-out performances from Haley Bennett, Miles Teller and Keisha Castle-Hughes.
New Releases: Art House
Shifting over to the art house side of the equation we have "The Florida Project," an excellent film about a group of children living in a rundown motel who run amok in shadows of Disney World featuring an Oscar-nominated performance from Willem Dafoe; "The Killing of a Sacred Deer," a gripping thriller that finds a doctor (Colin Farrell) taking the son of one of his patients who died during surgery under his wing with disastrous consequences; Liam Neeson and Diane Lane star in "Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House," the story of the man known as "Deep Throat" who played a role in uncovering the Watergate scandal in 1972, "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women," a look at the unusual polyamorous relationship of psychologist William Moulton Marston that inspired the creation of Wonder Woman and "Red Trees," a documentary that traces the journey of a Jewish family's escape from Prague during the Nazi's World War II occupation.
It's been an interesting few weeks for genre releases, particularly from the horror side of things. The infamous "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes," the 1978 B-movie classic was recently restored for a new re-release and the results are actually fairly alarming as the notoriously cheap effects look even more laughable in glorious, damage-free high definition; "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage," the first of two Dario Argento films arriving on February 13 from Arrow, tells the story of an American writer visiting Italy who witnesses an attack on a woman and becomes the target of the attacker's vitriol; "Blade of the Immortal," legendary director Takashi Miike's great adaptation of the popular samurai manga; "The Cat o' Nine Tales," the other Argento film, finds a blind man and a reporter investigating a series of bizarre deaths at a science facility; "The Legend of the Naga Pearls," a Chinese fantasy film that pits humanity against a group of winged people; "Night of the Living Dead," the Criterion Collection's newly restored version of George A. Romero's zombie classic arrives on February 13 (it's at the top of my list); "Rendel: Dark Vengeance," an interesting low-budget superhero film from Finland that mixes The Punisher with Batman with a bit of Deadpool's look thrown in to balance the equation and "The Silence of the Lambs" makes its way back to the Criterion Collection on February 13 with what is reported to be a glorious new 4K transfer that easily outshines previous releases of this unmissable classic thriller.
Recently, Olive films released a series of important classic Spanish films including Fernando Trueba's tale about a deserted soldier who finds himself entranced by a famer's four daughters in "Belle Epoque," 1994's Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film; "Jamón, Jamón," Bigas Luna's wildly comedic story from 1992 about a wealthy mother's attempt to curb her son's love for a common woman by hiring a series of men to seduce her; "The Red Squirrel," Julio Médem's 1993 drama follows Jota, a failing musician, who attempts to convince a stranger who has lost her memory in a motorcycle crash that she is his girlfriend and "Tierra," Médem's 1996 film about a mentally unstable exterminator who often holds conversations with ghosts who looks to combat a small town's grub infestation and becomes romantically involved in with two of the town's women.
Elsewhere, the Criterion Collection adds "Westfront 1918," a German film from 1930 that mirrors the "All is Quiet on the Western Front." Subsequently, in 1933, the film was banned because the film's themes didn't play well with Nazi ideology.
Those looking to avoid subtitles would enjoy "Letter from an Unknown Woman," a 1948 release about a womanizing pianist who is planning to flee Vienna to avoid a duel, but decides to stick around when he receives a mysterious letter from a woman he can't remember who claims to have met him numerous times; "The Quiet Man," a classic romantic comedy from 1952 by famed director John Ford, who took home an Oscar for his efforts, and starring John Wayne as an American boxer who travels to Ireland to reclaim his family's farm and falls in love with a local girl (Maureen O'Hara) in the process and "Trust," a 1990 dark comedy from acclaimed indie director/writer Hal Hartley about a pregnant high school dropout who falls for a moody electronics repairman.
Director/writer Stephen Chbosky is responsible for "My Life as a Wallflower," one of my absolute favorite films. With "Wonder" he, along with writers Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, has adapted R.J. Palacio's novel about a fifth-grade boy born with facial differences who attends a public school for the first time.
The film stars Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic and Julia Roberts and is a wonderful film that can be shared with the entire family. The DVD and Blu-ray are released on February 13, but the film is already available digitally. Palacio's novel and the film's soundtrack are also readily available.
For those looking to accent their wardrobe, Out of Print Clothing has released a tote bag, pouch and enamel pin based on the book's cover.
Recently Released on 4K
Those looking to expand their 4K Ultra HD collections should note the recent releases of "Cloverfield," "10 Cloverfield Lane," "Jigsaw" and the BBC documentary "Earth: One Amazing Day."
The Cloverfield films, particularly the first one, might seem like odd choices for 4K releases, but the 4K releases are a generally pleasing experience with slightly more detail and improved and expanded color palette.
Reviews for the 4K "Jigsaw," the latest film in the Saw franchise, have been positive. Not positive enough to improve the actual film, which is marginally better than the recent entries in the series.
"Earth: One Amazing Day" is simply stunning. If you're looking to flaunt the improved detail and color that comes with your 4K television, this will do that. It's a spectacular watch.
You might also consider "Blade Runner 2049," " It" or last year's Academy Award Best Picture "Moonlight."
Shout! Factory and GKIDS continue their rollout of the (almost) complete Studio Ghibli catalog with "The Cat Returns," "My Neighbors the Yamadas," "Pom Poko," "Tales from Earthsea" and "Whisper of the Heart." "Tales from Earthsea" is particularly timely considering the recent death of Ursula K. Le Guin, the novelist who wrote the series of books that the film is based on.
On the DC Comics front we have the perfectly themed graphic novel "DC Super Hero Girls: Date with Disaster." This particular adventure finds Batgirl working with Lois Lane to solve a mystery while also balancing the pressures of Super Hero High School.
Those looking for something more collectable might want to consider the DC Designer Series: Aquaman & Mera. This incredibly detailed sculpture stands 9 inches tall.
"Batman: Gotham by Gaslight" is the newest animated film from DC and comes with a visual twist as the events take place in a Victoria era Gotham City as the Dark Knight tracks Jack the Ripper. Be warned, this is an R-rated film, as the plot suggests.
Gifting for someone who has an interest in music? "Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense" is a wonderful documentary about the evolution of jazz featuring interviews from legendary musicians like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Wynton Marsalis and younger talent like Terence Blanchard, Brian Blade, Esperanza Spalding and Medeski Martin and Wood.
"Culture Club: Live at Wembley" captures the iconic band in top form as their world tour brought them home to London. Featuring the entire original lineup of Boy George, Roy Hay, Mikey Craig and John Moss. George's voice has deepened a bit, but the songs still sound fantastic and the set includes a few of the newer songs that tease the album release that the group promise will finally arrive this year.
"Echotone" is an in-depth look at the Austin music scene. We're treated to tour of the sights and sounds of bands like Black Angels, Ghostland Observatory and The Octopus Project. The film was originally released in 2011, so the material is slightly dated, but the music is timeless.
Book Lovers: Pop Culture
Those looking for a fantastic coffee table book should turn their attention to either "The Beatles in India," a visual journey that celebrates the group's visit to India 50 years ago with photos from the personal collection of Paul Saltzman, a fellow visitor to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram; or "Marvel's Black Panther: The Illustrated History of a King," which explores the origins and history of the first mainstream black superhero. Ties in perfectly with the release of Marvel's new film later on in the week.
Book Lovers: Jane Austen
Jane Austen is a Valentine's Day favorite, but if you're gifting for someone who already have every novel and movie or television adaptation I'd recommend checking out the beautiful Folio Society editions of her work or the various clothing and accessories from Out of Print Clothing including T-shirts, totes, pouches, notebooks and a Pemberly pennant.
While visiting The Folio Society's site you might also want to check out their other beautiful hardcover editions including Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" or Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time" to prepare to the upcoming movie adaptation.
If you're part of a couple that enjoys video games you'll want to consider these titles.
PlayStation 4's "Dissidia Final Fantasy NT," is a fighting game that allows players to choose from the vast Final Fantasy roster of character for 3-vs-3 battles.
There's been a lot of buzz surrounding "Monster Hunter: World" for the PS4 and Xbox One. The adventure drops players into a vast ecosystem filled with exotic monsters. The drop-in multiplayer options allow you to play with friends around the world.
"Florence" is an interactive narrative from Ken Wong ("Monument Valley") that allows gamers to experience the ups and downs of a young woman's first love.
Lastly is "Fe," which arrives on February 16 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch (perhaps the perfect gift for those who find that their gift giving is fashionably late). A few months ago, I saw some of the game's artwork and knew it was something special. The game allows players to travel through a magical Nordic forest filled with mystical animals. Think of it as interactive art.
Toys and Collectables
On the Toys and Collectables front we have a variety of options.
The Star Wars: Forces of Destiny figures that I'm a huge fan of are a great option. I hadn't seen the "The Empire Strikes Back" era Luke Skywalker and Yoda set until I sat down to prepare this guide and had to include it. Other options include Princess Leia (in two styles with R2-D2 or an Ewok), Chewbacca, Ahsoka and Rey with BB-8.
I'm also fond of the new Marvel and Star Wars Mighty Muggs that include a variety of the most popular, characters ranging from Captain America, Spider-Man and Black Widow to Darth Vader, Chewbacca and Rey.
Those shopping for younger children should consider the Little Kingdom Magical Movers playsets featuring scenes and characters from films like "Aladdin," "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid."
Another option is the DreamWorks Troll line featuring characters and playsets from the film and Netflix animated series "Trolls."
Then again, sometimes the best choice is the classic choice. That brings us to the Play-Doh Magic Oven, which is only one of many Play-Doh options available for you.