25 GIFT IDEAS FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Gifts that keep on giving are ones that recipients can enjoy year round and will go back and visit long after the morning of wrapping paper destruction frenzy.  DVDs, books and cds are cost effective gifts that your loved ones will cherish far longer than hats, scarves, socks and grandma’s secret brittle recipe.

DVDS

There are a number of niche players in the dvd market who continually release interesting titles that you should make a point to watch.  Film Chest which boasts of a library exceeding 10,000 hours has a year round release schedule of classic feature films, television, foreign imports, documentaries, special interest and audio—much of it restored and digitized in HD.  THE RED HOUSE, a psychological thriller from 1947 starring Edward G. Robinson and Judith Anderson was directed by Delmer Daves (3:10 TO YUMA) and scored by Miklos Rozsa, is one of the gems they’ve released in 2012 through their HD Cinema Classics label.  The crime drama “Federal Men” which ran on tv from 1950-1955 is based on real cases from the U.S. Treasury Department.  16 episodes from the series are compiled here in a 3-disc set.  (www.filmchestmediagroup.com)

“Cagney & Lacey: The Complete Series” is 93+ hours of two female detectives breaking through the old boy wall of blue battling crooks, sexism, gender politics and various social themes not usually examined in standard cop shows.  If you buy the Limited Edition box set online (exclusively) you get a much better deal as the 29 hours of extras include the 1981 tv movie with Loretta Swit (M*A*S*H) as Cagney and Tyne Daly as Lacey; The six-episode series premiere which featured Meg Foster as Cagney; four made-for-tv movies which aired after the last episode [The Return (1994), Together Again (1995), The View Through The Glass Ceiling (1995), True Convictions (1996)]; and many more goodies.  Complete Series (www.visualentertainment.tv) Limited Edition (www.cagneyandlacey.com)

“The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection Of Unhinged Comedy “ is a six disc set of rare footage any Brooksian disciple should have.  Outside of visiting the handful of television archives (i.e. Paley Center of Media in NY) one does not usually have a chance to see this footage until the time a philistine decides to violate copyright and post clips on YouTube.  (www.shoutfactory.com)

Kino Classics has put out so many great reissue titles this year that I had to force myself from making this Gift Guide an all-Kino review.  One of their unique restored treasures for 2012 is THE DEVIL’S NEEDLE & Other Tales Of Vice And Redemption.  These films were mastered to HD from archival 35mm elements preserved by the Library of Congress.  All three of these films were part of the 1910s wave of social issue films.  Norman Talmadge and Tully Marshall (watch Marshall in Kino’s QUEEN KELLY and you’ll know why von Stroheim was fired by Joe Kennedy) battle morphine addiction in THE DEVIL’S NEEDLE.   THE INSIDE OF THE WHITE SLAVE TRAFFIC, one of the most notorious silent era films, rips the cloak off of pimps, prostitution, child labor and urban slums.  CHILDREN OF EVE if in color and shot in Bangladesh would seem to be ripped from today’s headlines.  The film is best known for how it ends, with a re-enactment of the 1911 Triangle Waistshirt Factory fire in Greenwich Village (the building is now owned by NYU). (www.kinolorber.com)

Quentin Tarantino fanatics will feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven (or hell, based on the excessive use of the “N” word in his films – some usage acceptable more than others) as all of his feature films have been gathered in a box set “Tarantino XX: 8-Film Collection” to take advantage of the 20th Anniversary of QT and the theatrical release of his Sergio Corbucci spaghetti western homage DJANGO UNCHAINED opening on Christmas Day.  The box set includes: RESERVOIR DOGS, TRUE ROMANCE (written by QT), PULP FICTION, JACKIE BROWN, KILL BILL VOL. 1, KILL BILL VOL. 2, DEATH PROOF, INGLORIOUS BASTERD.  What would have been really cool is if they allowed the purchaser to re-edit some of his films as he has become a lot like the documentarian Frederick Wiseman who, the older he gets, the less he remembers about editing so his films run on for ever.  (With the money QT made on INGLORIOUS BASTERDS he can do whatever the hell he wants.)  JACKIE BROWN should have been cut by 30 minutes while the KILL BILLs could have been combined and cut to a compact 165 minutes.  What’s your thoughts?  Grindhouse films never were epician; they followed the Roger Corman dictum of including action, humor, sex and a little social comment – with lots of blood, guts, gore and gratuitous nudity.  (http://www.miramax.com/on-disc/tarantino-xx)

Injustice in the American legal system is a given.  Pre-DNA, innocent people were executed on a regular basis.  Today, they spend years in prison, sometimes under life sentences until organizations like the Innocence Project gets involved.  THE PARADISE LOST Trilogy is Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky’s expose of Southern justice (in the old days it involved a rope and a tree) in Arkansas and the railroading of three young men whose only crime was they liked Heavy Metal music in a Country music town and had an interest in Lucifer (which they of course learned about in bible class).  PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS, PARADISE LOST: 2: REVELATIONS and PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY along with a bonus disc of never-before-seen content and a 20-page booklet are some of the best work from the HBO Documentary Unit.  I would suggest you choose a weekend with no distractions and watch the entire box set in one sitting.  Afterwards, if it’s still in theaters or out on dvd, as a coda, watch the Peter Jackson produced documentary WEST OF MEMPHIS by filmmaker Amy Berg, which helps wrap up this sordid stain on American jurisprudence.  (www.docurama.com)

When it comes to “B” actors, they don’t make them like they used to.  Instead of muscles and brawn with blank expressions like today, in the 1970s Robert Conrad (“Hawaiian Eye,” “The Wild Wild West,” “Black Sheep Squadron”) made two really good heist pictures with his frequent sidekick Don Stroud (JOE KIDD, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR).  Based on the true story of the JP Morgan jewel collection heist from the Museum of Natural History, LIVE A LITTLE, STEAL A LOT (aka MURPH THE SURF) audaciously had one of the original thieves as an advisor.  SUDDEN DEATH (ripe for a remake) features Conrad as a CIA operative going mano-a-mano with a treacherous assassin (Stroud) with one result – one is going to die, violently.  Both are in a double bill package released by Inception Media.  (www.inceptionmediagroup.com)

I was debating which category to put this into so by default, as it’s an animated feature, it’s in the dvd section.  THE POINT directed and animated by Fred Wolf has a fantastic score written and sung by John Lennon’s favorite musician, Harry Nilsson.  Oh yeah, the film is narrated by Ringo Starr.  This classic, created by an Academy Award winner and a Grammy Winner, has long been out of distribution.  Today we have the definitive collector’s edition with four never-before-seen featurettes.  (http://mvdb2b.com)

One of my favorite tv series growing up has finally come out on dvd (it was never even released on VHS).  “In Search Of…The Complete Series” hosted by Leonard Nimoy ran for a whopping 152 episodes from 1976-1982.  Unlike today’s plethora of trash, fake reality shows this program featured an international team of researchers and scientists who conducted in-depth investigations into subjects ranging from the paranormal and witchcraft to ufos and the Loch Ness monster.  The bonuses include two specials hosted by the late Rod Serling and the 2002-reboot that ran for eight episodes hosted by Mitch Pileggi (“The X-Files”).  (www.visualentertainment.com)

Redemption Films, a resurrected imprint now partnered with Kino Lorber, has released two great horror films from the forgotten British director Vernon Sewell.  THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR is a classic horror film harkening back to the classics of Universal in the 1930s.  Peter Cushing portrays a detective brought in to solve a case of gruesome slayings when bodies are littering the English countryside drained of blood.  The 1820s story of body snatchers is familiar to us, (it was also drawn upon for the classic novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley), but this version of BURKE & HARE is at once scary, comedic and bawdy interlaced with the grotesque and features Derren Nesbitt and Glynn Edwards.  (www.redemption-films.com)

TLA Films best known as a gay dvd label and mail order company also has an imprint Danger After Dark which releases a number of worthwhile edgy action and genre films.  PISTOLEROS by director Shaky Gonzalez is a mash up of Guy Ritchie and Roberto Rodriguez films – all macho bravado, sleazy lowlifes and violence, lots of it.  (www.tlareleasing.com)

CJ Entertainment, one of the two biggest Korean production & distribution companies, (they also have an investment in DreamWorks), has launched a US dvd label releasing through Inception Media Group.  For fans of HK cops vs. triad films from the 1980/90s, come see what’s exploding all over Asian box offices and illegal downloads today.  HINDSIGHT by renowned action director Lee Hyeon-Seung is about a legendary organized crime figure who wants out to open a restaurant with the young woman he recently met and fell in love with. When a gang war breaks out Doo-heon gets dragged back in as heir apparent.  His paramour Se-bin turns out to be more than meets the eye.  (www.inceptionmediagroup.com)

BOOKS

Has it really been that long?  2012 is the 110th Anniversary of Cadillac.  What better gift for the auto fiend in your life than the oversized picture book “Cadillac” which will have even non-car lovers salivating over those fins.  (www.assouline.com)

As the “Sex & The City” fan base has moved on to tying up their lovers ala “50 Shades Of Gray,” it was only time before someone thought of creating a mash up ala “Pride And Prejudice And Zombies.”  From OR Books comes a delightful trashy reinterpretation of Louisa May Alcott – “Fifty Shades Of Louisa May” which is definitely NOT for minors.  It’s illustrated with X-rated woodcuts that would make Albrecht Durer jealous. (www.orbooks.com)

If you want to go old school, check out “Hip Pocket Sleaze: The Lurid World Of Vintage Adult Paperbacks” written by John Harrison.  Gramps and daddy were sleazy pervs devouring such classics as “Pit Stop Nympho” and “Nazi Love Slaves.”   The paperback originals market which blossomed in the wake of the decline of pulp magazines after World War II broke multiple taboo boundaries in the repressive 1950s heading into the Swinging ’60s and then diving into a dark pool in the early 1970s.  Gay and Lesbian literature began in earnest in this market that branched out into S&M, witchcraft, gore, drugs and free love before hardcore sex ruled the roost starting at the tail end of the Nixon administration.  (www.headpress.com)

University presses are becoming the go to publishers for really interesting books that the major houses won’t release anymore.  Kent State University Press’ imprint Black Squirrel Books has put out not one, but two books on the notorious Mad Butcher of Cleveland who was active from 1934-1938 during the reign of the city’s safety director Eliot Ness.  James Jessen Badal has written “In The Wake Of The Butcher: Cleveland’s Torso Murders” and Though Murder Has No Tongue: The Lost Victim of Cleveland’s Mad Butcher.”  The f first book, originally published in 2001, was the first serious journalistic look at a true crime story that was mirrored in later years by the hunt for the Zodiac Killer in San Francisco.  The author’s second book from 2010 is about Frank Dolezal, the only man ever charged in the killings before his mysterious death.    Coming in May 2013 is Badal’s third book, “Hell’s Wasteland: The Pennsylvania Torso Murders” which may point to Cleveland’s bad boy spending time across statelines in Pennsylvania continuing his killing spree.  (www.KentStateUniversityPress.com)

It takes a punker to write one of the definitive books on punk rock that exploded on the music scene in the mid-1970s before fragmenting into niches like Oi, Hardcore and Two Tone.  John Robb (The Membranes) has written such book, “Punk Rock: An Oral History.”  Rob who grew up with punk rock and formed his own DIY band/label interviewed over 150 individuals who helped give birth to one of the greatest upheavals in music industry history.  Among the many participants include John Lydon (Sex Pistols/PiL), Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie & The Banshees), Poly Styrene (X-Ray Specs), Mick Jones (Clash/Big Audio Dynamite), Chryssie Hynde (Pretenders), Billy Bragg, Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) and Henry Rollins on through band members from Joy Division, Buzzcocks, The Damned, Killing Joke, The Stranglers, The Slits, Selecter, UK Subs, Sham 69, Cockney Rejects, The Saints, Stiff Little Fingers, The Adverts, Wire, The Undertones, Chelsea, The Beat, The Specials and Angelic Upstarts, among many others.  (www.pmpress.org)

With MMA all the rage, a serious book about the sport that owes a major debt to the Gracie Clan is past due.  World Champion Alexandre Paiva has written “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,” a full-color step-by-step guide to the skills necessary to dominate Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts Combat.  After reading and re-reading this book you may think you’re ready to get into the Octagon.  (www.tuttlepublishing.com)

As the creators of the Golden Age of MAD Magazine are almost all in the nuthouse in the sky, thankfully the few remaining artists are still active.  “Jack Davis: Drawing American Pop Culture” is a career retrospective of the ‘Master of the Quick Draw’ best known to many from his work with MAD, EC Comics, Playboy and his numerous album covers (Spike Jones, Johnny Cash, Homer & Jethro) and movie posters like IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD.  (www.fantagraphics.com)

Spy Vs. Spy Omnibus – For the MAD fanatic, this 50-year compilation tribute of EVERY strip written and drawn all in their original size by Antonio Prohias is a must.  (www.madtrash.com)

One of the best comic collections released this year is “Mort Drucker – MAD’s Greatest Artist” from Running Press.  For six decades Drucker has caricatured numerous movie stars and politicians.  This collection includes the 1963 “East Side Story” which transposed WEST SIDE STORY to the Cold War with Kruschev warbling “I feel vicious, oh so vicious/I feel vicious, malicious and low” and JFK leading our stalwart allies with “Nikita!/ We’ve just seen a Red named Nikita!”  (www.runningpress.com)

MUSIC

Speaking of musicals, Sony Masterworks has released “Broadway In A Box,” a monster set of 25 Broadway musicals, maybe not for aficionados who sing these tunes in the shower but for the “Glee” generation who may be interested in discovering the classics of the American Songbook.  Selections include Showboat (1927), Anything Goes (1935), Oklahoma! (1943), Oliver! (1963), Man Of La Mancha (1965), Hair (1968), A Chorus Line (1975), Into The Woods (1987) and Sweeney Todd (1979) among others.  The one disappointment is the set doesn’t include any mono recordings so all of the pre-late ’50s plays are the revival editions (i.e. Guys & Dolls, Carousel, The King & I) along with a number of the other plays.  I should be grateful I have many of the original recordings on 78 and vinyl. Alas, the box set is void of musicals by Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Cy Coleman, Bob Merrill or Burton Lane.  (Maybe Sony doesn’t own the masters?)  For the $105 price one shouldn’t quibble about the versions chosen.  (www.masterworksbroadway.com)

For those with a thirst for rip-roaring rock & roll, Rockbeat Records (a great new reissue label) has released “The Moving Sidewalks – The Complete Collection” (Billy Gibbons’ pre-ZZ Top band).  The rare extras included are tracks from his earlier band The Coachmen.  Gibbons has reformed this seminal Texas band and they will be going on the road in 2013.  The New York date will be March 30th at BB Kings.  Hopefully tickets will still be left when you read this.  (www.rockbeatrecords.com)

“NUGGETS: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era [1965-1968]” – I’ve personally worn through two vinyl copies of this national treasure.  Originally released in 1972, it is one of the few “Various Artists” compilations to be listed regularly on Top 100 Albums Of All Times lists.  Included are 27 tracks of raw rock & roll and is where the punk rock crowd got their first influences the same way the Dylan-era folkies devoured Folkways Records releases in the late ’50s/early ’60s.  My fave tracks include Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction,” The Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard” and The Castaways’ “Liar, Liar” all some of the best garage band records of all times.  (www.rhinorecords.com)