Puzzled over what to give your geek friends and family for the holidays or any day?
ShopPBS.org gives you until 20 December to order for a pre-Christmas delivery (11 p.m. ET), 21 Dec. for a 2-day shipping (11 a.m. ET) and 22 Dec for 1-day (8 p.m. ET).
“Downton Abbey“: Fans of period drama, England and a good snark are in mourning over the ending of this wonderful BBC production. Happily, you can revisit your friends and frenemies at Downton Abbey by giving them the DVDs. PBS sells this as a complete limited edition ($114.99) with a tea sampler. You can also get a Blu-ray set for $99.99.
“The Hollow Crown“: This is for fans of Shakespeare and history, particularly English history. This series includes “Richard II,” “Henry IV, Part 1” and “Henry IV, Part II” and “Henry V.” The series has three directors: Rupert Goold for “Richard II” with Ben Whishaw as the titular king, David Suchet as the Duke of York and Patrick Stewart as John of Gaunt; Richard Eyre directs both parts of “Henry IV” with Jeremy Irons as Henry and Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal; and Thea Sharrock directs “Henry V” with Hiddleston as the doomed king. This 4-disc set sells for about $39.99.
“The Hollow Crown: Wars of the Roses”: This covers “Henry VI, Part I,” “Henry VI, Part II,” and “Richard III,” all directed by Dominic Cooke who gives us an idea of how a moral vacuum allowed Richard III (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to rise. The cast includes Judi Dench, Sophie Okoneda, Tom Sturridge and Hugh Bonneville).
You can also purchase the complete Hollow Crown series ($81.99).
“Poldark“: If you want tortured period romance with a flawed hero, Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark to the rescue in Season 1 and Season 2 of Poldark. Poldark features Jack Farthing as a fancy dress hissable villain in George Warleggan. You’ll want to visit the windswept cliffs and beaches of Cornwall, or if you have vertigo or dislike the cold winds, this armchair visit will have to suffice. PBS gives you a variety of options.
Still in the theaters:
“The Eagle Huntress” is still in the theaters, but is a must-see for families, particularly for those with young girls. Adventure photographers and filmmakers will also want to check this out.
“Hidden Figures” is a movie that should motivate girls and boys to study math in all its forms. The movie will be out in theaters on Christmas Day, but the book is already out and you can order it through Amazon.com.
“Moana” is for all beach girls and people with a bit of wanderlust, and, of course, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson fans.
“A Monster Calls” is about love and loss. It’s a wonderful blending of animation, CGI and live-action with a tender mother-son story at the center. Insight Editions has produced a lovely book about the production with thick paper pages and lots of photographs from the production, including drawings.
“Beauty and the Beast” is now out as a 25th anniversary edition that gives you three versions of the movie that revived the Disney animated musical: original theatrical, special edition and, for the karaoke crowd, a sing-along version. Think of all the parties you could have, from princess party to sing-along evening in.
Bonus features include:
- The Recording Sessions
- Always Belle
- Menken & Friends
- Walt, Fairy Tales and “Beauty and the Beast”
- Audio Commentary (Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale, Don Hahn and Alan Menken)
If only I had remained in Chula Vista and kept all of my choir pals, this would be the DVD/Blu-ray set for them and even your secret singers. As always I love seeing the recording sessions and learning how the voice cast worked and how the animators worked off of them. It’s a lovely way to remember the late Jerry Orbach. Seeing Paige O’Hara as she was and now is and learning that she has worked with other Belles is heartwarming. On the audio commentary, directors Wise and Trousdale and producer Hahn are featured along with the composer, Alan Menken, but this was on a previous DVD.
The “Menken & Friends” feature includes people who’s expect and you might not expect: Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz (“Godspell,” “Wicked,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Prince of Egypt” and “Enchanted”), Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez (who with Anderson-Lopez wrote the Oscar and Grammy Award-winning song “Let It Go” for “Frozen”) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In the Heights” and “Hamilton”). This is basically a love fest.
“Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas“: This is a hilarious new addition to the Shaun the Sheep series. Here, Shaun the Sheep wins a big on three llamas and the farm gains three soccer-playing hooligans. The DVD has the following bonus features:
- Meet the Llamas
- The Director’s Perspective
- Behind the Fleece
- Two bonus episodes: “Cheetah Cheater” and “Zebra Ducks on the Serengeti”
Meeting the llamas is a charming discussion on the threesome’s personality and it made me want to re-watch the movie to see all the details (e.g. legwarmers). People interested in the animation will find the director’s comments and the behind-the-scenes features worth watching.
“Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas” is available at Amazon.com with a two-day delivery option.
“Finding Dory“: If you loved “Finding Nemo” or are a fan of the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Ellen DeGeneres, you’ll love “Finding Dory.” While this is about a forgetful Blue Tang, the star really is Hank the Septopus.
- All new mini short: “Marine Life Interviews”
- “Piper”: An animated short about a sandpiper hatchling who must overcome a fear of the water to eat.
- “Animation & Acting”
- “The Octopus that Nearly Broke Pixar”
- “Deep in the Kelp”
- Deleted scenes.
“Piper” is really priceless, an enjoyable short that sets the tone for “Finding Dory” and was originally shown before “Finding Dory” in theaters. This package includes an extra DVD with features that are interesting but the best are on the disc with the movie.
The interviews are amusing, but more interesting are the problems the team faced by centering the story on a character that has short-term memory loss. The story and the new characters changed as the team tried to decide how to characterize Dory’s mother and father and how to get Dory to remember her past.
Animators will be interested in how the team met the challenge of animating an octopus which doesn’t have a hard frame and that partially explains why Hank became a septopus.
As always, Pixar did a lot of research and the bonus features show how the research changed the story and brought up some ideas (such as the touch pool scene)
“Kubo and the Two Strings” features wonderful stop-animation, but doesn’t quite understand the Buddhist traditions of Japan or elsewhere. That mars some of the storyline of this otherwise fine feature which animates origami.
- Kubo’s Journey
- Corners of the Earth
- Feature commentary with director/producer Travis Knight
“Kubo and the Two String” is available on Amazon.com ($24.99)
“Mr. Church” is a live-action animated feature inspired the screenwriter’s childhood experiences and a true friendship. I found the movie warm and hopeful for cross-racial relationships, for those who have to make families through friendships. The special features include:
- Britt Robertson
- Eddie Murphy Doing Drama
- Food on Film
- Based on a True Friendship
Although foodies will be salivating throughout the film, the feature shows that what looks good might not be good to eat. It doesn’t go into detail about how one makes faux food for photo ops, but it still is entertaining. The best part is about Eddie Murphy on doing drama. Murphy has a great deal of charm on screen and is humble and thoughtful in this presentation.
“Mr. Church” is available through Amazon.com.
“Pete’s Dragon” is a live-action remake in which the CGI effects greatly improve on the original. Re-watching after Pantone declared the color for 2017 is green, I thought this movie celebrates green in many different ways.
- Notes to Self: A Director’s Diary
- Making Magic
- Disappearing Moments
- Audio Commentary
- Music Video of “Nobody Knows” by the Lumineers
- Music Video of “Something Wild” by Lindsey Stirling
The director’s diary are an interesting look at the production of the movie. The features show how the actors interacted with substitute stand-ins for the CGI and scenes show with green screen and also reviews the process behind the design of the dragon known as Eliot.
“Pete’s Dragon” is available on Amazon.com but not at the Disney Store.
“Zootopia” is a clear winner on so many levels. The animation is top notch, the thought process behind the scaling of the different worlds and how they interact is well-conceived and humorous and the theme is one of harmony between different types of animals.
Special features include:
- Zoology: The Roundtables
- The Origin of an Animal Tale
- Research: A True-Life Animal Tale
- Research: A True-Life Adventure
- SPD Forensic Files
- Deleted Characters
- Deleted Scenes
The research behind this film is incredible and one wishes to follow all the animators and writers on their adventures. I like that Disney allows us to see how the story developed and what went wrong just as the Pixar bonus features do.