Last week, we published our first Gift Guide of the year, with 80 gift ideas for the people on your list, be they robots, inmates, Mama Grizzlies, Mad Men fans, homeless people, dogs, or what have you.
This week, our focus is on media — on all of the books, DVDs, CD box sets, videogames and board games that the robot, inmate or Mama Grizzly on your list is slavering to devour.
Horror movies have their niche audiences, but horror comedies tend to transcend theatrical genres.
Zombieland slides into this category and succeeds with its unusual combination of romance, humor and bloodlust. The film showcases a world where zombies have taken over America. It’s up to a makeshift family of runaways to shoot the heads off zombie little girls dressed like princesses and bludgeon zombie rednecks with banjos.
The humor, gore and frightfully fast zombies are over the top, yet quelled by modest acting and thoughtful character development. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is nerdy yet endearing with his list of survival rules and longing for human intimacy.
Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) is a crazed killing machine desperately seeking the world’s last Twinkie, while their female sidekicks are part innocent, part con artists. The cast’s bloody journey across America is a funny ride — and the cameo appearance by Bill Murray is worth the entire 88 minutes. (Jordy Byrd)
THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS
This is the perfect comedy for conspiracy theorists. Yes, these people do have a sense of humor and this movie successfully pulls off a bizarre tale with a phenomenal male cast. The story follows reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) into Iraq. Floundering to find a story, he finds himself in the presence of Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a man claiming to have knowledge of secret military operations.
Cassady leads Wilton on what seems like a wild goose chase into the depths of an Army special unit that employed paranormal powers in their missions. Bred from the post-1960s hippie movement, the unit is led by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), who teaches soldiers to kill animals (goats and hamsters) with their minds, smoke a lot of dope and use mind tricks to stop the enemy. (JB)
Ahh, to be young and in love. This coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in 1960s suburban London seems like a recipe for disaster, but Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is intelligent and has the perfect ratio of teenage angst amd cynicism — until, that is, a playboy (Peter Sarsgaard) nearly twice her age, and his motley crew of friends, interrupt what was once her perfect future.
The heroine is torn between an alleged life of luxury with her playboy and the mundane chores of high school, college and home. When at last she makes her decision between the two worlds, her reality abruptly changes. The realization of her blinded perceptions fall a bit flat, but nevertheless, the story eloquently reveals the hardships of love and one girl’s journey toward womanhood. (JB)
This isn’t easy to watch. The theatrical adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel is raw, nauseating, and yet painfully beautiful. The post-apocalyptic tale follows a man and his son surviving by any means possible. Their world is still inhabited by humans, but humanity — in any sense of the word — is nowhere to be found.
The father (Viggo Mortensen) leads his son into the darkness and chaos that spreads when the world is dying, there’s no food and humans are both predator and prey. Despite the carnage and persistent gloom, there is hope in characters like the boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who is born into despair, yet still shows signs of compassion and love. The movie suggests that the end of the world comes not when nature dies, but when the human spirit fails. (JB)
The Fosters (Steve Carell and Tina Fey) are a married couple with children and no romance. They’ve lost any sense of identity, as both individuals and as a couple, but they aren’t ready to go down without a fight.
Through an unexpected turn of events on their weekly date night, the New York City couple find themselves in a case of mistaken identity that transforms their romantic evening into a dangerous yet thrilling ride. The humor is PG, but mostly likable. Both Carell and Fey rely a bit too much on their awkward/approachable personas but the duo bounce well off one another — especially when pitted against eye candy Holbrook Grant (Mark Wahlberg). If nothing else, it’s a family-friendly comedy that parents can stomach without sing-alongs and cartoon characters. (JB)
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
Unemployed at 23, Scott Pilgrim is not quite a beacon of success, and he doesn’t particularly care. Although he’s dating a sweet girl, she’s five years younger than him and he’s not totally over his ex-girlfriend, who is in a successful band. Scott’s life is pretty bleak, so it’s no surprise he’s enthralled by Ramona Flowers, a super-hot chick with a secret past.
The only problem is that Ramona is guarded by a group of her exes, who are determined to fend off any new love interest in Ramona’s life. Scott must defeat all seven of them in order to win Ramona. Like the comic book it was based on, this is sure to be a movie you can watch over and over again. (Tiffany Harms)
SEX AND THE CITY: THE COMPLETE SERIES DELUXE EDITION
The amazing thing about Sex and the City is its universal appeal. Yes, it may be shameful to watch at first, but hey, it’s genuinely funny. And it’s fun to make fun of some of the outfits. And there’s tons o’ nudity, so tell your boyfriend to shut up and be patient.
Anyway, the set comes with all 94 episodes, bonus features and both movies. So basically, this edition of Sex and the City is pretty much the most complete you can get unless they start selling these things with vintage Versace shoes taped to them. For the old fan or for someone who needs to be indoctrinated, here is the end-all, be-all package of the SATC universe. (TH)
THE KARATE KID
At the spry age of 12, Dre is forced to move to China with his mom from his hometown of Detroit. Upon entering school, Dre gets the pulp beaten out of him by a bully named Cheng, and decides to start learning karate. His teacher: the school maintenance man, Mr. Han, who is secretly a Kung Fu master.
Mr. Han teaches Dre all about the art of karate to prepare him for “the fight of his life” against the school bullies. Clearly, Dre has yet to deal with insurance agents or meter maids. He may re-think that whole “fight of his life” thing. (TH)
LIFETIME COLLECTOR’S SET, VOL. 2
If you’re unaware, Lifetime Original Movies are perhaps the most hilarious cinematic works ever created. The combination of washed-up actors, ridiculous writing and low-budget charm rounds them out as the perfect movies to watch with friends. You will laugh until you become moist.
With tears or whatever. Trust us. That one where Jennifer Love Hewitt played a Texan hooker was money.
The second collector’s set features four films, Taming Andrew, Untamed Love, Just Ask My Children and Invisible Child. You don’t need to know what they’re about. Just give it to that one friend who’s always, “I don’t want anything,” then gather up the gang, stick a tiny mustache on her TV screen and drink every time it lines up over Rita Wilson’s upper lip. After all, what’s better than the gift of (drunken) friendship? (TH)
VIDEOGAMES by Marty Demarest
This year, thanks to the Kinect ($150), the Xbox 360 steps into the “oooh, cool” spotlight hogged by the Wii for the past few years. The Kinect is a camera (infrared and other sorts) that can track players’ whole bodies as they move around the room. Not only that, but it can recognize their faces and understand their words as well. Players merely need to be in the room with the 360 and clear some free space for the games to begin.
Like most innovative technologies, the Kinect is just the first step. Great games still haven’t arrived on the system. That’s going to take a year (or more, if the Wii has taught us anything). But the Kinect does have plenty of tech demos — enough to gee-whiz your whole household and every holiday visitor you host. The Kinect comes with a game called Kinect Adventures! (rated Everyone) that does a decent job of displaying what the machine can do.
But the highlight is probably Kinect Sports ($40; Everyone 10 ), featuring activities such as beach volleyball and soccer — activities that use the whole body, not just the arms. Young kids may connect with Kinectimals ($50; Everyone), which lets them train an in-TV animal by acting out what they want the animal to do, whether that’s jump, roll over or play dead. Dance Central ($50; Teen) is a bit more grown up thanks to songs by Lady Gaga and Rihanna, and teaches players choreographed routines before scoring how well they’re mimicked. (Alas, only one player can dance at a time.)
But the Kinect isn’t this year’s most talked-about videogame gift because of great games. The Kinect is compelling because it offers a working glimpse of the future of electronic entertainment. The cords have been cut. The controllers have gone kaput. It’s time to stand up and be recognized — by your Xbox 360.
ON THE MOVE
Motion-sensitivity also comes to the PlayStation 3 this year in the form of Sony’s Move. Combining the system’s Eye camera ($40) with a special Move controller that looks like a futuristic ice cream cone ($50), Move essentially duplicates the Wii’s motion-sensitive powers with greater accuracy.
In the athletic simulations department, the PS3 gets Sports Champions ($40; Everyone 10 ), which uses alternative arm- and aim-games like archery and gladiator dueling to highlight the Move’s tracking abilities. The Shoot ($40; Teen) is a Hollywood-style shooting gallery that uses the ball-tipped Move controller as a gun. Pistol-like plastic mounts for the controller, such as the PlayStation Move shooting attachment ($20) are also available. EyePet ($40; Everyone) is Sony’s entry into the virtual pet world, featuring a monkey-faced critter frolicking around the player’s living room that players can interact with using the Move controller.
Perhaps the most interesting use of a motion-sensitive controller is not as a game in itself, but as an additional feature in an already solid game. R.U.S.E. ($60; Teen) is a slow and serious war strategy game that lets players of the PS3 version command their forces with either standard controllers or the Move controller, directing troops like a general standing at a map with a pointer. And the basketball game NBA 2K11 ($60; Everyone) also takes advantage of the Move for its PS3 version, giving players the chance to physically mimic slam dunks, shots and blocks.
WII-TURN OF THE SUPERSTARS
Having ridden the motion-sensitivity wave until it crashed onto other systems, Nintendo’s Wii seems to be spending this season focusing on more classic-style games. Undoubtedly the biggest Wii release of the season features a star even bigger than Mario. Disney Epic Mickey ($50; Everyone) puts players in charge of the iconic mouse as he heroically and artistically takes charge of an animated universe of forgotten Disney characters.
But if you know someone who simply must celebrate with a Nintendo icon, I’m pleased to say that Nintendo is releasing a compilation that features the greatest Super Mario Bros. game of all time. Which ones? Well, either Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, or Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. Take your pick. They’re all classics, and in Super Mario All-Stars: Limited Edition ($30, Everyone) they’ve been upgraded for the Wii’s simple, lightweight controller.
But the Wii is still getting a few titles that take advantage of the system’s groundbreaking motion sensitivity. Just Dance 2 ($40; Everyone 10 ) is about, well, just dancing. It rewards points for movement, letting players learn the dances that the game teaches, or just groove their own funky way to tunes ranging from Ke$ha and Vampire Weekend to Elvis and James Brown. And for families with a Wii who want a more casual, all-aboard gaming option, Wii Party ($50; Everyone) is a super-simple board game that gets players playing with each other in real life as much as onscreen.