‘Tis the season to fill stockings with Blu-rays, books and wi-fi ready tablets. So if you’re stuck coming up with a gift for your favorite Big Hollywood reader, here’s a handy guide to make Black Friday, Cyber Monday and every day before Christmas Eve a little easier to navigate.
- “Stallone Three-Film Collector’s Set” – Sylvester Stallone shot to fame as Rocky Balboa, but the hulking actor’s career soon spread far beyond the boxing ring. This Blu-ray package includes Stallone’s cerebral comeback (“Cop Land”), his second signature role (“First Blood”) and a generic but still watchable ’80s entry (“Lock Up”). “First Blood” has aged quite nicely, while “Cop Land” reminds us of the actor lurking underneath the Adonis physique. “Lock Up” is the weak link in the grouping, but Donald Sutherland’s snarling prison warden gives the film a nasty kick.
- “Mad Men Season 5” – AMC’s justly celebrated drama returns for a new season full of period attire, corporate maneuvering and, of course, plenty of smoking as the cast adjusts to the swirling social changes of the 1960s. The package includes a crush of extras, including the best one-liners from season five, a visit from the artists who bring sound to the TV franchise (composer David Carbonarra, orchestrator Geoff Stradling and sound engineer Jim Hill) and audio commentaries from the cast and crew for all 13 episodes.
- “The Dark Knight Rises” – The summer’s best superhero sequel was also the year’s most unabashedly conservative blockbuster. Batman is back to battle Bane (Tom Hardy) and his swarm of Occupy Wall Street stooges. Add a perfectly divine Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), a satisfying conclusion to the Bat trilogy and you have the perfect gift for a right-minded movie lover. (Available Dec. 4)
- “Beatles Stories” – Singer Seth Swirsky’s affection for the Fab Four can be heard in every track of his solo discs as well as his Red Button recordings. Now, Swirsky takes camera in hand and asks the famous (Graham Nash, Ben Kingsley, Brian Wilson) and not so famous about their favorite Beatles tales. The result? A joyous look back at the greatest band … ever.
- “Occupy Unmasked“ – The mainstream media’s line on the “mostly peaceful” Occupy Wall Street movement is a charade, another example of extreme media bias. “Unmasked,” featuring the late Andrew Breitbart and directed by Stephen Bannon, does the journalistic digging the media couldn’t be bothered to do, examining the group’s roots, violence and ultimate goals.
- “Lawrence of Arabia” – Nothing is written … except the enduring greatness of director David Lean’s 1962 classic. Peter O’Toole’s star-making turn as T.E. Lawrence defines the Hollywood epic. The 50th anniversary edition features a gorgeous Blu-ray adaptation along with copious extras.
- “JAG: The Complete Series” – This one won’t fit snugly in a Christmas stocking, but military buffs can still savor all 10 seasons of the Emmy Award winning TV series. This 56-disc set comes with special features, new cast and crew interviews, a 40-page JAG manual featuring intel about the actual JAG Corps and military history, character biographies and trivia. (Available Dec. 11)
- Amazon Kindle Fire HD – The cluttered tablet market got a boost with this year’s new, vastly improved entry from Amazon. The second generation Kindle Fire tablet corrects most of the mistakes found in the first model, but its price point ($199) makes it uber-accessible compared to its glossy competitors. It’s visually appealing – even if finding that power button is a constant chore – and the menu layout is a breeze. You’ll get an Amazon ad every time it powers up, but otherwise it’s a shrewd, affordable gateway to both the world of Amazon shopping and tablet content.
- “Back to Blood” – Even Tom Wolfe’s lesser fare can teach us plenty about society at the moment. “Blood” visits Miami in the Age of Obama, a city divided by race, class and animosity toward the melting pot ethos. Wolfe’s cavalcade of characters disappoint, but his x-ray of the Florida city will haunt readers long after the final pages.
- “Who I Am: A Memoir” – “Pinball Wizard.” “Let My Love Open the Door.” “Quadrophenia.” The man behind The Who and some stellar solo work opens up about his life, influences and damaged soul. Pete Townshend isn’t the voice of The Who, but he continues to drive the band well into 2013 courtesy of their current throwback tour.
- “Sweet Tooth” – Ian McEwan (“Atonement,” “Enduring Love”) returns with this Cold War-era spy story involving literature, love and potential betrayal. The Telegraph called the author’s latest work, “a wisecracking thriller hightailing between love and betrayal, with serious counter-espionage credentials thrown in.”
- Hemingway on War, Fishing and Hunting – The literary giant’s work explored a variety of manly subjects, and a trio of new tomes focuses extensively on three of them. (Available Dec. 11)
- “The Casual Vacancy” – J.K. Rowling graduates from the Hogwarts School of Storytelling for this sublime tale of a small town racked with big societal woes.
- “Not Taco Bell Material” – The fast food chain’s loss is our gain. Adam Carolla’s second book rounds up some of his funniest real-life stories, told with the podcast king’s gimlet eye for human foibles … and fart jokes.
- “The Joy of Hate” – The only quibble to be found with Greg Gutfeld’s latest book is found in the title. “Hate” really focuses on the Tolerance Police, the liberals who find offense in virtually anything done by conservatives while ignoring heinous behavior on their own side. It’s political to the core but blisteringly funny and sharp. Not to be missed.
- “Three Pears” – Hard to believe it’s been seven years since Dwight Yoakam’s last studio album. His latest finds the country crooner’s formula unaffected by the layoff. Sterling numbers like the title track and “Take Hold of My Hand” are balanced by lighter fare, like the fizzy fun of “Waterfall.”
- “Rebel Soul” – Kid Rock may not have pushed Mitt Romney over the top on Election Day, but the eclectic singer can always fall back on his day gig. With “Rebel Soul,” Kid Rock resumes his genre-skipping mentality with 14 songs touching on heroic soldiers, his Detroit stomping grounds and “Redneck Paradise.”
- “Unapologetic” – Rihanna’s stab at movie stardom took a hit with “Battleship,” and her love life remains a tabloid editor’s dream. The singer’s seventh album drew a wave of mostly friendly reviews all the same, promising her hit parade will march on into 2013,
- “The Sound of the Life of the Mind” – Ben Folds Five tentatively reunited recently for a “best of” compilation and then a concert appearance. Apparently, their good vibes which technically ended 13 years ago with their last album came rushing back, witness the band’s latest release.