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November 29, 2010

Gift Guides 2010: Time's Holiday Shopping Guide

Time's guide was the one I reviewed last year, so it seems appropriate to start with them this year. They seem to have dropped the charity aspect, so we just have "this year's coolest books, music, DVDs and gifts for every budget." Here we go!

Under $5

The Christmas Gig
What is it? A free 13-track download of holiday music by indie bands, from target.com. (Downloadable starting November 28.) No, I have no idea why it's called what it's called. Bands include Guster and, um, other people I've vaguely heard of.
How much? Free!
Who is it for? Broke hipsters.
What's wrong with it? Well, it's free. Which is fine, but since it's so obviously free, people might be offended if you give it to them as a "gift." This is the sort of thing I would certainly TELL my friends about - and I'm working on a "free holiday music" post so I'll add it to that, and likely download it myself - but I wouldn't call it a gift, exactly.
Grade: C-

"Norwegian Wood" on iTunes
What is it? A digital version of the song. (By the Beatles. But you knew that, right?)
How much? $1.29
Who is it for? They say you could give it as a "token" to a Beatles fan who undoubtedly has it already, but that seems dumb. And I'm not sure this is the best song to use to introduce the band to someone who isn't a fan. Hm. Actually, if you have a relative who has all the albums on vinyl and you're trying to convince them to try digital music, this might be a decent way to start.
What's wrong with it? As I said last year when they recommended a Darlene Love song, I'm skeptical of "giving" a one-song download. There's probably a way to buy it and send it to your friend's email address. (Okay, I finally gave in and looked, and there is a way.) But it still seems more like a nice friendly gesture than a gift, per se.
Grade: B for content, D for presentation


Decoy Gift Box
What is it? An empty box made to look like it's for a fake product like a USB toaster or an underwater cell phone case. (Wait, but those actually do exist.)
How much? $7.99 for one, $25 for 4, or $37.99 for 7
Who is it for? People who like gag gifts
What's wrong with it? Well, it's way more than I'd want to spend on a joke, but you may have someone on your list who would love this.
Grade: C

Glee: The Music, Vol. 4
What is it? An album of music from Glee.
How much? List price is $13.99, but you can find it cheaper in all sorts of places.
Who is it for? Glee fans, or maybe fans of Gwyneth Paltrow or Darren Criss, as their songs both made it onto this album.
What's wrong with it? Well, nothing, and I might actually put it on my Christmas list. I'd just check that your Glee fan doesn't already have it, because there's a lot of hype around these albums and people tend to pre-order or buy them on release day.
Grade: B+

I Live Real Close to Where You Used to Live
What is it? A book of kids' letters to Michelle, Malia, and Sasha Obama. Proceeds go to charity!
How much? $12
Who is it for? Kids, Obama fans, anyone into presidential memorabilia
What's wrong with it? Well, I would make sure I was aware of my recipient's (or his parents') political views before I gave this, so as not to offend, but that issue aside, this is a great gift!
Grade: A-

Let's Bring Back
What is it? A book of interesting things that have been forgotten, been made obsolete, or just fallen out of fashion. Examples: the automat, paper dolls, serenades, Mae West.
How much? $13.57
Who is it for? Nostalgic people; those into social history
What's wrong with it? Well, on a philosophical and political level, I tend to get annoyed at all the "The past was obviously better" stuff, but this book looks really fun and interesting and I certainly wouldn't mind receiving it!
Grade: B+

Atlas of Remote Islands
What is it? A book about isolated islands, with both narration and maps. It promises cannibalism and "macabre glee." SIGN ME UP.
How much? $18.48
Who is it for? ME. I WANT. Also, it would be an awesome gift for my professor who taught that Literature of Isolation and Exile class. Anyway, also good for people into maps and sea adventure stories, as well as amateur anthropologists, maybe.
What's wrong with it? NOTHING. Well, it looks kind of dark, so make sure you get it for someone who likes that sort of thing. But seriously, it looks awesome.
Grade: A

Water.org CamelBaks
What is it? A fancy water bottle. Proceeds go to charity.
How much? $18.99-$24.99
Who is it for? Hikers? People who work out a lot? These seem to be popular with college students at the moment, too. Also: Matt Damon fans (he endorsed them).
What's wrong with it? Well, it's a little expensive for a water bottle, but not unusually so, I guess. Trendy water bottles vaguely annoy me, but I actually can't articulate any reason why this would make a bad gift. Ooh, unless it's hard to clean. That tends to be my issue with water bottles and travel mugs.
Grade: B


Green Toys Fire Truck
What is it? A toy fire truck made of super-safe recycled plastic, safe for any child over one.
How much? $24.99
Who is it for? "The kid whose parents won't let him have anything." Children of overprotective ecoconscious hipsters.
What's wrong with it? Well, it's a little precious, and expensive for a toy truck that doesn't light up or make noise or do anything fun, but they're right. It is perfect for that precious little child who only eats organic baby carrots and isn't allowed to get dirty.
Grade: B

Community: The Complete First Season
What is it? DVD set of the (very funny) sitcom Community.
How much? $26.99, but it's been on sale practically everywhere for less.
Who is it for? People who like funny things. Joel McHale fans. Maybe people who work at or attend community colleges, if they can take a joke.
What's wrong with it? Well, it's a great show. But I always have issues with TV show seasons as gifts, unless they're specifically asked for, because otherwise there's a pretty good chance you've given the DVDs to someone who has never seen the show and might or might not be interested, OR you've given them to a fan who has seen every episode and may already have the DVDs. So . . . I wouldn't. But Community itself is probably the best sitcom on TV right now, so.
Grade: B-

Kiehl's Creme De Corps Holiday Collection
What is it? Lotions and stuff with labels by Jeff Koons. Proceeds go to charity.
How much? $27
Who is it for? People who like fancy bath and body stuff. Jeff Koons fans.
What's wrong with it? Actually, $27 isn't bad for nice lotion, and the interesting labels and charity aspect make this into a really nice gift! Just make sure your recipient can use scented stuff. (I have several people in my life who can't.)
Grade: A

What is it? 236 little magnetic metal balls. No, really.
How much? $29.99
Who is it for? Older kids or adults who like sciencey things or abstract toys or just interesting things to fiddle with.
What's wrong with it? These actually look pretty awesome. Just make sure you don't give them to kids with younger siblings who will eat them, because that would end badly.
Grade: A-

Electronic Spy Camera Shirt
What is it? A t-shirt with a picture of a spy - but his camera actually works.
How much? $39.99
Who is it for? Wannabe spies, people who like nifty gadgets.
What's wrong with it? Well, it's sort of for a niche audience, I guess, but it's pretty great.
Grade: A

iPod Shuffle
What is it? A postage-stamp sized iPod that holds 2GB of music, but has no screen and limited controls.
How much? $49
Who is it for? I'm . . . not sure. See below.
What's wrong with it? My feelings on this are complicated. I mean, first of all, OMG, you can get an iPod for under $50! We really are living in the future! Awesome! On the other hand, now that iPods and other mp3 players are so cheap, pretty much everyone who's serious about music (and wants one) has one. And I know I would be frustrated by the lack of a screen; I also sort of assume that makes it harder to navigate your music or control what you listen to, but I don't know that for sure. I think the two big categories of people who don't have mp3 players yet are little kids and older people who are wary of the technology. This would probably make a fine "my first iPod" for a kid. I'm less sure that it would be good for an older person, because of the aforementioned no-screen issue. (I'd probably spring for a Nano instead.)
Grade: C+

Disney Epic Mickey
What is it? A Wii game about Mickey Mouse that is hard to describe but sounds pretty cool. Battling evil! Forgotten Disney characters! The chance to play Mickey as heroic or self-serving!
How much? $49.99
Who is it for? Are you the sort of family that tries to do a "family gift" for everyone to play together? And has a Wii? If so, this would be perfect for you, as it promises that it's accessible to kids but also interesting for adults.
What's wrong with it? Very little, actually. Just make sure your recipient has a Wii and not some other gaming system.
Grade: A+

Slings and Arrows: The Complete Collection
What is it? All three seasons of the critically-acclaimed Canadian dramedy about a somewhat dysfunctional Shakespearean theater troupe.
How much? $49.99
Who is it for? ME. I've been meaning to Netflix this for years. Also, people who like critically-acclaimed dramedies. This might actually be good for people who watch a lot of British TV and need some new things to try, because it sounds like it's in roughly the same vein as a lot of popular British shows, but since it's Canadian, they might not have seen it.
What's wrong with it? This is one of those things that's for a bit of a niche audience, but for that audience, it's perfect. And my usual reservations about TV on DVD as gifts are somewhat lessened here, because a) this hasn't been shown on American TV (I don't think) so it's less likely that people have seen it and b) it's the whole series rather than one season.
Grade: B+


Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
What is it? A racing game. I think it's the kind with lots of crashing.
How much? $49.95-$59.95, depending on platform.
Who is it for? Teen and twenty-something guys, mostly.
What's wrong with it? Well, if you have someone on your list who likes this sort of thing (and either has parents who don't mind it or is old enough that Mom's opinion doesn't matter), this is probably a good choice. Make sure you get the right version, and if you're getting it for a real fan I'd check that they didn't buy it themselves on release day.
Grade: B

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back
What is it? A gigantic book about, uh, the making of The Empire Strikes Back.
How much? $50.68
Who is it for? Star Wars fans, movie buffs, people who like "behind the scenes" stuff.
What's wrong with it? It's a little expensive, but it sounds really interesting.
Grade: B+

40: A Doonesbury Retrospective
What is it? A book with 1,400 comic strips, essays, and more.
How much? $63
Who is it for? Doonesbury fans, presumably. Leftists. People who like comics.
What's wrong with it? Well, I am not really a person who likes comics. I mean, I don't dislike them, but if someone was going to spend $63 on books for me, I can think of many, many titles I'd pick over this. But for people who do like comics (and aren't going to be offended by the strip's political position), this looks neat.
Grade: C+

The Larry Sanders Show: The Complete Series
What is it? A DVD set of this comedy set behind the scenes at a late-night talk show.
How much? $98.49
Who is it for? Fans of the show who don't have it on DVD yet. People intrigued by all the late-night drama in the news the past year (with Team Coco et al.).
What's wrong with it? Confession: I had no idea what this show was until I read this description, which makes it sound like the Sports Night of late night. Now I kind of want to watch it (although probably not own it). But my usual caveats about TV on DVD apply.
Grade: B-

The Pacific
What is it? WWII miniseries; follow-up to Band of Brothers
How much? $56.99
Who is it for? Band of Brothers fans. WWII buffs. This will probably be one of the season's most popular Dad/Grandfather/Random Hard-to-Buy-for Uncle gifts.
What's wrong with it? Well, I certainly wouldn't kick it out from under the Christmas tree. I guess it's probably pretty violent, so that's something to keep in mind. Oh, and this link seems to be specifically for the Blu-ray; unless you're sure your recipient has a Blu-ray player I'd just go for the DVD.
Grade: B+


75 Years Of DC Comics: The Art Of Modern Mythmaking
What is it? Okay, I said that Star Wars book was gigantic, but this is really gigantic: 15 pounds, 720 pages, of DC Comics (Superman, Batman, etc.). Plus some annotations and such.
How much? $126
Who is it for? Fans of comics, superheroes, or the history of pop art.
What's wrong with it? This looks like a beautiful gift, if you have a comics fan and $126 to spend.
Grade: A-

Microsoft Kinect
What is it? A thing to add to your Xbox to be able to play games with no controller - it uses a camera and your body movement.
How much? $199 with two games
Who is it for? Like the Wii, this is probably mostly for less-serious gamers who want to do dancing and sports type things. And already have an Xbox.
What's wrong with it? Well, make sure the recipient has an Xbox - it doesn't work by itself. And make sure they actually want to play the kind of games this uses, or it's a waste of money. But I saw a demonstration of it on TV and it was pretty nifty.
Grade: B-

Lost: The Complete Collection
What is it? Complete DVDs of the show, plus some extras and interesting packaging.
How much? $148.99
Who is it for? Lost fans who aren't quite fanatic enough to have bought this already.
What's wrong with it? Well, my usual TV on DVD issues apply, especially with a show so ridiculously popular and well-known as this. But I hear that this set is pretty neat, so if you do have a Lost fan on your list, this would be great!
Grade: B-

The Rolling Stones Limited Edition Remastered Vinyl Box Sets
What is it? Boxed sets of remastered Rolling Stones records. Yes, on vinyl.
How much? $277.27 for 1964-1969, $296.90 for 1971-2005.
Who is it for? People you really really like who really really like the Stones.
What's wrong with it? I mean, I like the Rolling Stones as well as anyone. At first I thought this was a remastered CD set, and I could get behind that idea, but . . . Really? Almost $600 for vinyl? I mean, fine, if you have a lot of money to spend on a vinyl purist. But most of us don't.
Grade: C-

Posted by Kat at 07:54 PM | Comments (3)

November 27, 2010

Alert! ALERT! Beck's Oprah post!

Yes, this one link is enough to warrant its own post from me, because I've been looking forward to it all year. My friend Beck reviews Oprah's holiday gift suggestions each year, and last year her post was hilarious and wonderful enough to prompt me to get into the gift guide review thing. And look! Here's Beck on Oprah's list this year!

Posted by Kat at 08:38 AM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2009

Gift Guides 2009: Time Magazine

Ever since I started reading Beck's holiday gift guide reviews, I've been wanting to jump in with some of my own. But I've been a little intimidated, because Beck is just so darn funny. But. I finished my NaNoWriMo novel today so I'm feeling pretty invincible and am just going to jump right in here. Without further ado, the Time Holiday Gift Guide 2009, reviewed!

First, a note: they call this a list of "books, music, DVDs, games and gifts that give back." I guess by that they mean there are some of those "buy this and we'll give some money to charity" items or the "this was made by starving children in a third world country" items, which are all well and good, but seem out of place on such a media/entertainment-centric list. Anyway. Onward to the list!

Under $5

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Darlene Love
What is it? An mp3 from iTunes.
How much? 99 cents.
Who is it for? I suppose it is for music lovers who like Motown but, improbably, don't already have this whole album.
What's wrong with it? Well, first of all, this is in no way, as claimed, "the greatest holiday song of all time." It's good, but the greatest? Just no. It's not even the best track from A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, which may in fact be the greatest holiday album of all time. I also didn't appreciate the wholly gratuitous Leighton Meester bashing in the description. But! Sure. It's a good song. People should listen to it. The real issue here is this: How on earth do you give an mp3 as a gift? I mean, sure, I think there's a way to buy a song on iTunes and send it to someone. I think. But it still seems weird and not very gifty. "Here's this 99 cent song that I barely thought about before I pressed a button to send it to you!" Sending a song to a friend seems like a nice gesture but not exactly a Christmas gift.
Grade: B for content, F for presentation.

What is it? Some sort of cartoony game for the iPhone.
How much? $2.99
Who is it for? Hipsters with iPhones, looks like.
What's wrong with it? Well, I have to say that iPhone apps are yet another category of things that I'd never considered as a gift. Is there a way to buy one and send it to someone's phone? I suppose there probably is. The description doesn't really say much about the game itself, so who knows what it's like. If you know your recipient has an iPhone and has extra space for another app and likes to play games, then hey, go for it.
Grade: C, I guess.

Soap with Hope
What is it? Fair trade soap from India in nice scents (jasmine, cucumber, mango or cinnamon).
How much? $4.50
Who is it for? Socially conscious people who like smelly bath stuff. (Also - me!)
What's wrong with it? Well, this is one of those things that, sure, costs under $5, but if you were actually giving it to someone you'd probably get a few bars or a little soap dish or something to go with it. But other than that issue, it's a great idea. The price isn't outrageous and the scents sound nice. I looove cucumber. In case anyone was wondering.
Grade: A-.


The Indie Rock Coloring book
What is it? A coloring books for grown-ups of things somehow related to indie rock bands.
How much? $10
Who is it for? "Bearded hipsters and the women who abide them," according to the magazine. Hey, I resemble that remark! But I don't want this.
What's wrong with it? Well, anything for adults described as "precious" makes me immediately suspicious. And the art looks really dense, like it would be hard to actually color. But I guess this might be the perfect gift for a certain very narrow demographic, and if you see it more as a novelty book rather than a coloring book, the price isn't that bad. And I have to say that the bands listed look right on the money. Oh! And it seems to be for charity, which was not at all obvious from the Time listing! That makes it better.
Grade: B-? Sure.

Children's Chopsticks
What is it? Chopsticks in bright colors that are linked at the top with animal shapes.
How much? $10 per set.
Who is it for? Patient children from families who eat a lot of Asian food.
What's wrong with it? Some kids might have a lot of fun with these, but I can also see them being frustrating if the child in question doesn't have the fine motor skills for it yet. And if a kid sees Mom and Dad using chopsticks, I feel like he'd likely want to try regular ones, rather than "baby" ones like this. (And again, if he were young enough to like these, they'd probably be too difficult.) But the proceeds go to UNICEF!
Grade: C+. Good effort, but seems to slightly miss the mark. But what do I know? I don't have kids. Any parents disagree?

The Man's Book: The Essential Guide for the Modern Man
What is it? A book that tells you things like how to make a fire, choose a beer, mix a drink, and close a letter. Because clearly only men need to know these things.
How much? $16.31
Who is it for? Men, clearly. It says it's for the modern man but it seems pretty retro.
What's wrong with it? Well! There's the obvious sexism. Some of the information provided seems useful but there's also "when to get married and how to break up." And in addition to being sexist, it ALSO buys into the "all men are the same, poor inept little dears" thing. The following line in the Amazon description made my brain hurt too much to keep reading: "Organized by subject in a man-logical way, it's the go-to guide for anyone with a Y chromosome." So. No.
Grade: D-.

What is it? A Pixar DVD or Blu-Ray disc. I'm sure you've heard about it ad nauseum already.
How much? $19.99. Really? It's probably on sale for less at Target.
Who is it for? Kids? Maybe adults too, if you believe the hype?
What's wrong with it? I know this was wildly popular, but the previews left me completely cold so I never saw it. So maybe you shouldn't listen to me on this one. The kids you know would probably love it. Of course, they have also probably already seen it, so you might want to check with their parents as to whether they liked it. Or already have it, actually. I can see lots of kids getting multiple copies of this this year. Also, I have to say that after the whole Balloon Boy saga, this movie seems a little less fun.
Grade: B. I'm probably letting my own tastes get in the way too much here.


Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Season 1
What is it? A DVD set of a cartoon series set between Star Wars episodes two and three.
How much? $27.49
Who is it for? Star Wars fans.
What's wrong with it? Not much, except that it's the sort of thing that some Star Wars fans would have purchased on release day, so keep your receipt in case your recipient already has it. And - are there Star Wars purists who are opposed to this series? I'm not sure. $27.49 is a good price for a whole season.
Grade: A-.

What is it? A doohickey that turns the regular music on your iPod into karaoke-type tracks (with the vocals turned down) so you can sing along.
How much? $29.88
Who is it for? Karaoke fans who aren't going to actually go do karaoke, I guess. And who have iPods.
What's wrong with it? First of all, all iPods are not created equal, so check the compatibility and make sure this will actually work with the recipient's iPod. And to make this really work correctly, you also need a stereo and an FM transmitter or cable or something. If you don't prepare very carefully, I can totally see this turning into one of those Christmas morning nightmares in which you can't actually get the present to work because you need all these other things to go along with it and the stores are all closed, and where are you going to find that specific cable on Christmas morning? Otherwise, I guess it seems kind of fun, but what's wrong with just singing along to your iPod?
Grade: C. Seems cool on the surface but kind of finicky and unnecessary.

And So to Bead
What is it? Beaded necklaces made by women in Uganda.
How much? $30.
Who is it for? Women who like extremely bright jewelry.
What's wrong with it? I don't know if it's just the pictures or what, but these look practically neon. They also kind of look like those pop-bead things. Was that what they were called? You know what I mean. So they look kind of childish, basically. And bright! Did I mention bright?
Grade: C. I'm all for supporting women in Uganda, but most women I know wouldn't actually wear this, so I'd rather just give the money directly to the charity.

A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt
What is it? A book of tritone pictures of African animals.
How much? $31.50.
Who is it for? People who are into Africa, animals, and/or photography.
What's wrong with it? Personally, I am not so big on photography/coffee table type books because I always end up disappointed at the lack of words. But I realize that I'm weird. So this is probably a great gift for people who are not me. I can particularly see older kids who are into animals liking this. Ooh, especially if they have graduated from The Lion King.
Grade: A-.

What is it? A four-disc boxed set of Dolly Parton recordings.
How much? $36.99.
Who is it for? Country music fans.
What's wrong with it? Well, I can't, offhand, think of a single person on my gift list who would have the slightest interest in this. But your mileage may vary. If you are buying for Dolly Parton fans, I'm sure this would be a great choice.
Grade: I don't know. I'm from Connecticut.

thirtysomething: The Complete First Season
What is it? A DVD set of the first season of the apparently groundbreaking show.
How much? $39.99.
Who is it for? I'm not sure. Probably original fans of the show who will be excited to know that they can now rewatch it.
What's wrong with it? I actually really want to see this, because I adore Timothy Busfield with an unseemly passion. But I wouldn't necessarily want to own it right off the bat, and I'd say that about pretty much any show I hadn't seen. So it would probably be safest to get this for someone you already know is a fan of the show.
Grade: B

Gone with the Wind 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition
What is it? A DVD set that comes with all sorts of extras, a picture book, etc.
How much? $45.49.
Who is it for? My friend Christine, as I could practically hear her squeal over IM the other day when she saw a commercial for this. Also: classic movie fans. Those who like pretty costumes.
What's wrong with it? Nothing, except that it's prompting me to publicly admit that I have neither read nor seen Gone with the Wind. So someone should get me this for Christmas! Anyway, it looks like it has enough fun stuff added to make it worthwhile for even someone who already has the basic DVD of the movie, so you don't have to worry about that issue.
Grade: A.

What is it? Dude, I have no idea. A game? Okay, it says "you're a badass desperado wandering a postapocalyptic Western wasteland, blasting critters with a near infinite variety of sweet-looking firearms and driving around in funky vehicles with bouncy suspension." Well then.
How much? $49.99
Who is it for? Someone to whom the above description is not only comprehensible but appealing.
What's wrong with it? Okay, this actually sounds pretty cool, if you're into this sort of thing. "You go up levels. The critters go up levels. Even your guns go up levels." Hah. Just be sure you get the version that goes with the gaming system your recipient has. And note: this does NOT seem to be for kids.
Grade: B? Sure.

Uncharted 2
What is it? Another game! This one sounds awesome: It's like Indiana Jones, basically, except instead you are descended from Sir Francis Drake! And there's artifact hunting! Museums! Fisticuffs! Marco Polo!
How much? $49.99.
Who is it for? Gamers, Indiana Jones fans.
What's wrong with it? I'm sure if I looked more closely I'd find all sort of historical inaccuracies about which to be righteously indignant. It's a sequel, so it would sort of bother me to get it if I hadn't played the first one, but your gift recipients are probably less rigid and/or neurotic than I am. It seems to only come for PlayStation 3, so I can't play it. And it's rated T, so if you're thinking of getting it for a kid, I'd check with his or her parent first.
Grade: A-.

The Paris Review Interviews Box Set
What is it? Four decades - 1946 pages - of interviews with famous writers about how they work.
How much? $50.
Who is it for? Me. My dad. My uncle. My cousin. Probably some people who aren't related to me, too.
What's wrong with it? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Assuming you are buying gifts for the sort of people who want to read thousands of pages of writers talking about writing. But maybe your family is less nerdy than mine, in which case you probably think this is the most boring gift idea ever.
Grade: In the Welsh family? A+. In the general populace? I'm not sure.


The John Barrymore Collection
What is it? A boxed set of silent films from the 1920s: Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Beloved Rogue, and The Tempest, which seems to have nothing to do with Shakespeare.
How much? $53.99.
Who is it for? Classic film buffs, or maybe extremely obsessed Drew Barrymore fans.
What's wrong with it? Well, I initially read this as "The John Barrowman Collection," and most of my friends would be way more interested in that. The price seems a little steep for four movies without a lot of extra features or anything, but it looks like some of the movies are hard to find and/or expensive by themselves, so if you're buying for someone who's into silent film, this might be a good deal.
Grade: C+.

Sinatra: New York
What is it? Four CDs and a DVD, all of unreleased material recorded in New York.
How much? $55.99.
Who is it for? Music lovers. Rat Pack wannabes.
What's wrong with it? I realize that it's entirely a reflection of my own biases that this seems an eminently more reasonable gift suggestion than the Dolly Parton set, but it does. It's nice that it's all unreleased stuff. The Time blurb says that the packaging is unimpressive, and I've never really been a fan of concert DVDs. But this might be the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for grandmother or elderly uncle.
Grade: B+.

BoGo Light SL2 Solar-Powered Flashlight
What is it? A solar-powered flashlight. When you buy one they'll send one to a charity (you choose from a list).
How much? $59.99.
Who is it for? Your friend who wants to put solar panels on his roof but can't afford it/hasn't gotten around to it yet.
What's wrong with it? I don't know, it seems kind of expensive for a flashlight. Even a special flashlight. But I guess it's kind of cool. (Note: Requires special batteries! In order to, you know, be solar-powered!) But I got someone a combo hand crank/solar powered radio/flashlight a few years ago for a lot less. Of course, that one didn't have a charity involved.
Grade: C.

Modern Warfare 2
What is it? A game. About modern warfare. Part of the Call of Duty series.
How much? $59.99. But I wouldn't be surprised if it's on sale in various places on Black Friday.
Who is it for? People who like combat games.
What's wrong with it? I've actually seen the TV commercial for this about 40 times today, because they quite reasonably seem to be going for the NFL-watching demographic. The art is certainly impressive. The content isn't my thing (and it seems a little grim for Christmas, says the girl who asked for books about Cheney and Nixon last year), but I can see why it's popular. Again, make sure you get the version that matches your gamer's platform, and don't assume that just because it's a video game it's appropriate for kids.
Grade: B.

Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection
What is it? 13 movies spanning from 1958 to 1982. With a 136-page book.
How much? $62.99.
Who is it for? Paul Newman fans, one assumes.
What's wrong with it? I don't know. Honestly, I associate Newman more with auto racing and organic food than with acting. Is it possible that the only one of his movies I've seen is Cars? Huh. Most people probably are not as oblivious as I am, though, and I'm sure many of them would like this.
Grade: B? Okay.

Rome: The Complete Series
What is it? DVD set of both seasons of the HBO/BBC series about the Roman empire.
How much? $64.99.
Who is it for? Um, ME. History buffs who don't get HBO. Maybe Grey's Anatomy fans who want to see the new Army doctor Owen in a toga.
What's wrong with it? Nothing. Well, okay, it's kind of violent, and it wouldn't be ancient Rome without some poisonings and incest and such. So maybe it's not for everyone. But for those who are interested in ancient Rome - this is very, very well done. I think I read that it had the highest per-episode budget of any TV show ever, and that definitely shows in the attention to detail and the breathtaking scope of this.
Grade: A.

The Iconic House and Frank Gehry: Houses
What is it? Two big pictures books of architecturally interesting houses.
How much? $65 and $85, respectively.
Who is it for? People who like architecture and coffee table books.
What's wrong with it? We've already discussed my issues with coffee table books, but these do seem neat, especially for people who are into architecture. Might want to make sure that the recipients haven't had their houses foreclosed upon or anything, though, as that would be awkward. I guess it seems like an oddly extravagantly-themed choice for this year in general, but whatever. Pretty houses!
Grade: B+.

Absolute Death by Neil Gaiman
What is it? A big book that collects various shorter works about the character Death from Gaiman's Sandman series.
How much? $99.99.
Who is it for? Most of my friends, who love Neil Gaiman. Fans of graphic novels. Goth types, if only for the character name. People who already have the Absolute Sandman series.
What's wrong with it? Well, it's kind of a niche item, and it's expensive for one book. But Gaiman is great, and I can assure you that his many fans really, really want this for Christmas this year.
Grade: B+.

More than $100

The Shield: The Complete Series Collection
What is it? A DVD set of all seven seasons of The Shield, a show about cops in L.A.
How much? $107.99.
Who is it for? Uh, fans of cop shows? I guess? Is this supposed to be an "intellectual" cop show? I'm not sure.
What's wrong with it? First of all, I am unclear why the words "series" and "collection" are both required in the title. You'd think we could do with one or the other. Anyway. I wouldn't spend over $100 to get someone a complete TV show on DVD unless I was sure that he or she liked the show in question. A lot. But if you're shopping for someone who is a fan of this show, this would be great. I've never actually seen the show, so I can't say much about it.
Grade: I don't know. C? With all the good TV out there on DVD, this seems kind of random.

Grapes for Apes Collector's Pack of Wine
What is it? Six bottles of wine. Some slightly unclear percentage of the proceeds go to a group called Orangutan Outreach.
How much? $114.
Who is it for? Wine lovers, theoretically.
What's wrong with it? Well, I'm always suspicious of the actual quality of the wine with this sort of thing. $114 isn't bad for six bottles of wine, but if the wine isn't any good, then I'd rather just give the money to the charity in the first place. And people who are really into wine tend to know a lot about it and like specific things. So really, I'd skip this one.
Grade: C-.

Futurama: The Complete Collection
What is it? Another DVD set. Like The Simpsons but sci-fi, I think.
How much? $117.99.
Who is it for? People who like both The Simpsons and sci-fi.
What's wrong with it? Again, I'd only get something like this for someone I knew liked the show. But if you do have someone who likes the show, go for it!
Grade: B-.

DJ Hero
What is it? Like Guitar Hero but about DJing. It's a video game that comes with some sort of fake turntable thing.
How much? $119.99, but I'd look for Black Friday sales on this one too. And it looks like it's $99.99 on Amazon at the moment.
Who is it for? People who like music games. Aspiring DJs.
What's wrong with it? It says it has a wide variety of songs but lots seem to be hip hop, techno, etc., so make sure the prospective recipient likes the music involved. And if it's for a kid, make sure the parent is okay with the music as well as the "clubbing" portrayed, etc. (And, once again, get the version that goes with your recipient's gaming system!) Other than that, this could be a lot of fun.
Grade: B+.

AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa
What is it? A DVD set of 25 movies and "a plethora of ancillary scholarship." I'm not sure exactly what that includes.
How much? $284.99.
Who is it for? Action film buffs.
What's wrong with it? Well, that seems like a lot to pay for a DVD set, even such a large DVD set. But if you have the money and know a Kurosawa fan, I'm sure he'd like it. I haven't seen any of these movies, I don't think.
Grade: C+.

And one more thing: I am completely baffled that the new Beatles Remastered Box Set is not on this list. It seems as though it was made for lists like this. (And it is in fact at the top of my own Christmas list.) So! Something else to consider.

Well! That was fun! I have several more lists coming up through the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Posted by Kat at 11:16 PM | Comments (6)

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