Our Holiday Gift Guide 2008

 

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Unlike the MPAA we do not assign one inscrutable rating based on age, but 3 objective ratings for SEX/NUDITY, VIOLENCE/GORE and PROFANITY on a scale of 0 to 10, from lowest to highest, depending on quantity and context.

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The holidays are almost upon us and we plan to help you do your shopping with our guide to gifts and stocking stuffers which we consider worthwhile and useful. This is a work in progress, so check it out often, as we compile our recommendations, based on personal, and often esoteric choices by our own staff and critics. This is the only time of the year we allow ourselves to express opinions, in this guide to stuff we actually use and like.

Mobile [Acorn]

The global telecom industry may not come to mind immediately when one considers conspiracy, betrayal and revenge. Yet, in this modern mystery with the always dependable Michael Kitchen (of Foyle's War, another excellent British mystery series) someone who apparently hates cell phones is blowing up mobile-phone towers across Britain. Is it a father, tired of paying for his teens' non-stop text messaging? It seems more devilish than that -- messages scrawled in blood-red paint proclaim that cell phones are the instruments of the devil, and someone is shooting cell phone users in mid-conversation. The threat of public panic and complex motives make for a compelling contemporary modern thriller.

» Buy it


The Minotaur’s Island [Acorn]

The Greek island of Crete gave birth to Europe’s first civilization nearly 5,000 years ago, well before Athens and Alexander's Macedonia came to symbolize Greek Antiquity. It was even older than Mycenae and Troy, more than two millennia before Homer composed The Iliad. Suddenly it collapsed violently -- was it invasion or a natural disaster? Perhaps a tsunami from the explosion at neighboring Thera (the modern island of Santorini)? Historian Bettany Hughes follows the footsteps of Arthur Evans, Harriet Boyd, and other famed archaeologists to find startling new insights into the tragedy of Minoan culture.

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Alfresco [Acorn]

Before House, M.D. and in the tradition of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Hugh Laurie was a member in an up-and-coming British comedy troupe that created Alfresco in the 1980s. the other members? Why, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Ben Elton, Stephen Fry, all of whom have gone on to individual success on TV and film. Alfresco serves social satire and delightfully wacky and off-the-wall sketches that still seem somehow fresh and topical. The DVD special features include the three-episode pilot series, the story of the alternative comedy boom in 1980s Britain, and cast biographies and filmographies.

» Buy it


The Commander Set 1 [Acorn]

From Lynda La Plante, the creator of the grown-up and gritty mystery series Prime Suspect, comes the first installment of another serial about a tough but flawed female cop: After 20 years with London’s Metropolitan Police, Clare Blake (Amanda Burton) has reached the top of her profession and she’s New Scotland Yard’s highest-ranking female officer. But she's as ambitious as she's reckless, and she allows her personal life to interfere in her career, to the delight of her a vengeful colleague. The DVD special features include an interview with Burton, character retrospective with La Plante, supporting cast featurette, and bios.

» Buy it


George Gently, Series 1 [Acorn]

Based on the long-running series of novels by Alan Hunter, the feature-length mysteries take place in 1960s Britain. An untouchable, uncompromising and incorruptible detective (Martin Shaw) is transplanted from London’s Scotland Yard to England’s North Country where he finds an unlikely ally in a young sergeant (Lee Ingleby) who's not exactly scrupulous about following police procedures. The odd couple goes after murderers, drug dealers and gun runners. Like the Midsomer Murders series, the idyllic backdrop of rural Britain creates a nice contrast.

» Buy it


Midsomer Murders 1-11  [Acorn]

  John Nettles's DCI Barnaby has had three assistants, while he's kept the same actresses for his wife and daughter throughout this long-running British series. But despite the talented cast, the star, of course, is the seemingly tranquil county of Midsomer. The contrast between the beautiful locale (where it's almost always sunny, despite the fact that this is England) and violent murders is the main attraction of the series. It's a winning formula, and the 11 seasons of the ongoing series live up to it splendidly. The gentle DCI Barnaby, with his uncomplicated personal life, is always welcome in our home. Interview with Nettles, a Midsomer map, a Caroline Graham biography and cast filmographies round out the extra features in many of the sets.

» Buy it


Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series [BBC]

Time is the Doctor's enemy in the Children in Need special "Time Crash" where the 10th Doctor (David Tennat) meets himself in his Fifth incarnation (Peter Davison) as the TARDIS from their respective eras collide. That's just the tip of the iceberg so to speak as we also get to voyage on the Titanic a spacecraft named after Earth's luxury liner (although the designers of the spacecraft clearly had no clue as to what really happened to the real Titanic) and the Doctor has to stop the ship from being destroyed in the 2007 Christmas Special featuring Kylie Minogue. The Doctor also gets a new companion is an old one -- Donna (Catherine Tate) returns after her brief tenure with the Doctor from the previous year.

» Buy it


Get Smart: The Complete Collection [HBO/TimeLife.com]

For anyone who grew up in the '60s "Get Smart," was as much of a must-see for those with a developed sense of humor as "The Daily Show" is today. Disguised as a sitcom, it was also a penetrating satire on the Cold War. It is undoubtedly a TV classic, but it also seems relevant -- and funny -- today. And now the whole collection is available from Time Life. All 138 original episodes of the Emmy® Award-winning series, each remastered and restored for flawless clarity on 25 DVDs. There are also 9 hours of bonus materials, including never-before-seen bloopers, interviews and commentaries and rare TV footage. It all comes in a special phone booth collector's box with photos and booklets for each season. It is therefore one of our top picks of the year.

» Buy it


Simon Schama's Power of Art [BBC]

What do eight works of art from different eras have in common? Why choose these eight as, ostensibly, the most significant? Does art (or rather "Art") still have anything to tell us about human nature and civilization? Is visual imagination still relevant? Well, Simon Schama aims to tell you. Traversing time from the world of baroque Rome to revolutionary Paris via the civil-war massacres of 20th century Spain and the excitement of avant-garde 1950s New York, Schama uses a combination of dramatic reconstruction, spectacular photography and his idiosyncratic personal style to tell stories that provide necessary context to these masterpieces. Extra features include revealing and funny commentary tracks by Schama and his co-producer.

» Buy it


My Hero 1 & 2 [BBC]

Sci-fi comedies are hard to do, let alone sci-fi sitcoms. American TV may have tried with Mork and Mindy, but the result was lackluster, and I'd be hard-pressed to even call it sci-fi. On the other hand, the BBC has done a fantastic job at this hybrid genre, first with Red Dwarf and now with My Hero. The beauty of the show is in not bothering with FX -- which stateside defines sci-fi -- and instead concentrating on character-based comedy.

» Buy it




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