Given that we’re currently arse-deep in the holiday shopping season, I’ll just go ahead and assume that you’re reading this on your phone while waiting in a ten-hour line in a barely climate-controlled department store, in that special kind of headspace that comes after an extended Christmas shopping outing. That frayed, panicked desperation, that fatigue, not just of the body, but of the soul itself. I’ve been there. And listen, don’t pay any attention to the visions. It’s just your brain shutting down, and they just get worse if you feed into them.

And if you’re shopping for a movie buff, God friggin help you. Movie nerds are especially hard to shop for, thanks mostly to that nagging suspicion that any Blu-Ray or DVD you pick up for them is already in their collections, and you really have no way of knowing until it’s too late. Well as usual, I’m here to help. For this week’s FFR, I’ve put together a few suggestions for what to pick up for your favorite film nerd.

Eraserhead: The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray

The Criterion Collection is a line of high-end DVD and Blu-Ray editions of the kinds of films that movie geeks love, paradoxically sold at prices that a lot of movie geeks can’t afford. Art house, foreign films, classics, pretty much anything outside the mainstream is a viable candidate for a Criterion release, and this year David Lynch’s classic Eraserhead was ushered into the Criterion ranks with a snappy Blu-Ray.

You get an apparently awesome looking 4K remaster of Lynch’s famously WTF opus, as well as new restorations of six of Lynch’s short films. Criterion releases have a tendency to go up in price, so its current Amazon price tag of $29.99 is probably the cheapest you’re ever going to get this sucker at.

Cabinet of CuriositiesGuillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities

If your movie nerd friend is a fan of fantasy movies, odds are he or she is also a fan of Guillermo del Toro, the Spanish auteur behind Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and more recently Pacific Rim. Cabinet of Curiosities is both an analysis of Del Toro’s work and a rare look inside his legendary sketchbooks and notebooks, which he keeps for every film he makes.

The book is filled with Del Toro’s musings on filmmaking, gorgeous hand drawn concept art, and even a photo tour of his LA house, which contains everything from a wax dummy of H. P. Lovecraft to his insane collection of movie props and memorabilia. When it was first released, Cabinet of Curiosities ran for around seventy bucks, but these days you can generally find it for half that, making it the ideal time to pick it up.

Halloween: The Complete Collection

But say your movie friend is more into the kind of flicks that involve lots of stabbing, mayhem and white-painted William Shatner masks. Well, after giving them a long talking to about maybe having less unreasonably specific tastes, you can give them this year’s complete box set of all 10 films in the series.

In addition to HD restorations of every film, you also get extremely rare deleted scenes as well as multiple cuts of various films, including the long-awaited “producer’s cut” of Halloween 6. By all accounts, the new cut doesn’t save the film from being one of the low points of the series, but is apparently still worth a look.

Hitchcock: The Ultimate Filmmaker Collection

So, let’s say you have a lot of extra money to blow on Christmas presents. Like, 200 bucks plus; and you want to ensure your money goes towards something that may still involve a brutal stabbing or two – but a classy brutal stabbing. Well look no further than the latest Alfred Hitchcock box set, containing 16 of Hitchcock’s better known classics, each one coming in their own case styled after a film canister, and all in an exceptionally pretty display case that probably accounts for a fair chunk of the asking price.

You get a LOT of extras with this set, posters and booklets, script pages and storyboards, to say nothing of new transfers of some of Hitchcock’s best films, but really this set is “shelf candy” in the purest sense. It just looks gorgeous on a shelf, bringing class and swag to any movie collection, even if it’s shelved between Hitch and the 2007 remake of Hitchhiker.

Belafonte print

Family Tree Design ‘Belafonte’ Print

But let’s say your movie nerd friend doesn’t like any stabbing in his movie, classy or otherwise, and prefers beautifully crafted, offbeat dramedies steeped in quirk and nostalgia. Odds are he or she already owns every movie Wes Anderson’s ever made, but you may want to add this gorgeous art print of the Belafonte, Bill Murray’s ship from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou to their lives.

Showing a cutaway of Zissou’s ship modeled on the cutaway set used for the film, this is about as classy as film artwork can get, striking and colorful and loaded with almost as much hand crafted detail and charm as a frame from one of Anderson’s films. The same company also offers an equally gorgeous rendering of the Grand Budapest Hotel from the film of the same name, and offers a discount when the two are bought together.

Theodore Rex

But let’s say you’re especially strapped for cash, and the movie nerd friend that you’re shopping for is either a fan of the more craptacular side of modern cinema or something of an insufferable prick. Either way, we got you covered. For less than than five dollars, you can gift your movie nerd friend with the timeless classic Theodore Rex, the story of a talking, human sized t-rex detective partnering with Whoopie Goldberg to fight crime in a futuristic metropolis.

It is exactly as bad as it sounds, and will leave the giftee with the bemused smile or a gentle hint to shut their damn pie-hole about Fellini for five seconds.

Note: Yes, yes, I know Fantasia started yesterday, rest assured I’m probably writing my account of the first day right now, but in the mean time, I’d be remiss if I talk about this one….

Pacific Rim is a hard movie to stay unbiased about, mostly because I’m pretty sure the director, Guillermo del Toro, was thinking of me the whole time he was making it. I mean look at the premise, for crimminy’s sake. Some years in the future, a dimensional rift opens up in the Pacific Ocean, and giant monsters dubbed kaiju begin spilling out and attacking major cities. To defeat them, the nations of the world ban together to implement the only feasible and realistic solution: giant robots called Jaegers, controlled by two mind-linked pilots. This is basically Thomas the Movie.

pacific-rim-posterSo going in, there was a fair bit of apprehension about whether the movie would live up to the promise of its premise. Two and a bit hours later I emerged from the theater with all that apprehension burned away like a Popsicle on a Montreal summer’s day, because holy SHIT this movie rocks.

The best way I can describe it is as the best animated movie I’ve seen all year. Because for all intents and purposes, this really is an animated film. Not just because of the massive levels of cgi, but because how readily it throws itself into the kind of exaggerated, cartoonish (and I do hate using that word) fantasy that most grim n’ gritty sci-fi these days does its level best to avoid.

Make no mistake, this is a movie that throws itself with all cylinders firing and all guns blazing into the fantastical. Everything that can be exaggerated is, and with gusto. The Russian Jaeger pilots are bleach-blonde golems who barely talk and go into battle with a full Russian choir blaring through the soundtrack. The support crew and scientists behind the Jaegers sport bow ties and suspenders and outrageous accents. Every costume design and set is a marvel, with all the detail and color punched up to eleven, and Ramin Djawadi is a symphony of pounding drums and grinding guitar riffs. The female lead, Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi, seems to be channeling every Anime heroine ever, with her giant eyes, partially blue hair and ever-shifting personality. Hell, there’s a goddamn lunch room scene where she and Charlie Hunamm’s Raleigh Beckett, stare at each other across a crowded cafeteria holding trays of food. It’s like for two seconds the film becomes an episode of…I don’t know, what high school drama anime is popular right now, I don’t have time to keep up with this shit.

The upswing of it is, the film is a love letter to the outlandish, the fantastical, the absurd. It revels in its own absurdity, it molds it into a crown and wears it with pride. It knows it isn’t here to make you think, or make some kind of statement, it’s just here to make sure you spend two hours having the time of your goddamn life, and if you let it, it’ll do just that. It’s the best kind of summer popcorn movie, the kind that knows it’s silly, but doesn’t confuse silly with stupid.

One side of this that a lot of people may not appreciate, however, is that the acting and dialogue are almost always leaning toward stilted and hokey. In some cases, like Ron Perlman’s gloriously scenery-chewing turn as black market Kaiju organ dealer (I’m not even fucking kidding) the actor clearly is just running with it and having a blast. Other cases, like Charlie Hunamm, seem to be struggling to walk the line between over-the-top and actually good. Kikuchi seems to have a better time of it, though a lot of her role is just staring wide-eyed at things. Idris Elba, who is no question the biggest name on display, of course does an excellent job as the generic military leader/father figure/retired badass/inspirational figure.

We must break you

Now, all this isn’t to say the movie is perfect. While the massive, theater-shaking Kaiju fights are often spectacular to look upon, sometimes it seems like we’re a bit too close to the action, and what exactly is going on is a bit of mystery. The ending fight scene, which takes place entirely underwater, or the opening scene, which happens during a tidal storm, are good examples of that.

The best fight scene by far, the one you practically know beat for beat from the trailers, comes at the end of the third act, and the movie never quite comes back from that high. Get it? High? Ok, you’ll get it if you’ve seen the movie. To put it in layman’s terms, the movie blows its load a bit too quickly, and while the third act is pretty good, it never quite matches that one fight.

Of all the big, loud, effects-laden summer blockbusters to hit this year, Pacific Rim is easily the best. While most of its competition has been preoccupied with moody, gritty drama and wants desperately to be taken seriously, Pacific Rim wants none of your seriousness, and even less of your grit. This is a movie which is committed, with every frame, to just being fun. Sure, when you start thinking too hard about it, you start plotting holes and inconsistencies and vagaries, but Pacific Rim isn’t the kind of movie so stuck up its own backside that that shit even matters. This is the pure, illogical joy of a kid playing with his action figures in the sandbox, put on screen with a painter’s eye and a great, passionate gusto for the fantastic. This is the kind of movie that makes summer blockbuster season worth it, despite all the Star Treks and Man of Steels with their too cool for school sense of self-importance that just makes you want to throw a pie in their faces and tell them to lighten up and enjoy themselves.

Pacific Rim is that pie.

And we’re back for the second round of our look at the work of Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. There’s a lot of ground to cover this week, so I’ve got less time to dither around and gab on about how damn excited I am for Pacific Rim, so let’s just dive in, starting with Del Toro’s second English-language movie:

Blade 2 (2002)blade_ii_2002_1

The chance to work on a comic book movie is probably what lured del Toro back to Hollywood after the disaster that was Mimic, and while Blade 2 isn’t the best thing he’s ever done, it’s definitely a step up from Mimic. Following the original Blade film, directed by Stephen Norrington, the sequel follows the half human, half vampire (which is technically called a dhampir if you’re a massive nerd) vampire hunter Blade, as he teams up with a group of vampires originally trained to kill him to take down a new strain of vampires that feeds on normal bloodsuckers.

The original Blade was a dark, gritty, largely humorless bloodbath of violence and f-bombs that played things alarmingly straight before even X-Men got the idea that the only way to film its comic book universe was to suck all the color and whackiness out of it.

Blade 2 takes a different approach, more “comic book-y” as much as I loathe that phrase. His usual black humor is on full display and the creatures, makeup effects, colorful characters and overall aesthetic of the world have been punched up a few notches, with more ninjas and Ron Perlman and less of an oppressive, downtrodden atmosphere than its predecessor.

Which isn’t to say it’s really that amazing, it is still fairly dumb in the long run, but it’s at least a fun kind of dumb, which is damn well more than you can say for Blade 3 at least.

But with del Toro back and having a better time in Hollywood, the stage was finally set for…

hellboy-posterHellboy (2004)

Hellboy is easily one of my favorite del Toro movies, in the top two if not the top spot all together. Not because it’s artful and moving and makes you wanna cry at the end, like say Pan’s Labyrinth, but because it’s just a really fun movie.

Adapated” from the comic of the same name by Mike Mignola, the story follows Hellboy, a paranormal investigator/professional monster puncher who works for a secret government organization and who also happens to be a demon the Nazis plucked from hell as an infant who was then rescued and raised in America. I say “adapted” because as good a movie as Hellboy is, I will admit quite freely that it does miss the mark in adapting Mignola’s comic, being far more “big effects-driven action movie” in tone than Mignola’s fairly somber, dark comic.

However, if you’re willing to overlook that, Hellboy is one of those few truly clever, creative action movies that keeps you smiling ear to ear the whole damn time you’re watching it. This is a movie where literally anything can show up at any time, from clockwork Nazi ninjas, a fishman voiced by Niles from Fasier and even Grigori effin’ Rasputin.

Hellboy isn’t the most artful or poetic of del Toro’s films (we’ll get to that in a second) but it, as well as its sequel, is definitely among the most fun. And hey, fun’s ok, y’know? But if you’re looking for less big red fellas punching out Lovecraftian monsters and more artistry, del Toro delivered next with…

untitledPan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Switching gears entirely from the action fun shooty bang bang fun of Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth is less clever action fun as it is “this movie will scare you so hard and make you weep so many bitter tears you will be an deflated balloon of skin and hair by the time its over.”

Again, set after the Spanish Civil War, the protagonist, Ophelia, is taken to a secluded army base in the forest, where her mother’s new husband (a high ranking officer in the fascist government) is raging war against guerrilla rebels. But like a demented(er) Miyazaki movie, Ophelia routinely escapes into a magical world of fantasy, where a vaguely sinister faun tells her she’s the lost princess of the underworld and sets her on a series of tasks to prove her lineage.

What really works in Pan’s Labyrinthine, besides the excellent creature effects and suit acting courtesy of Hellboy actor Doug Jones, is that it really keeps you guessing about a lot of things. Is the faun a benevolent guardian to Ophelia or a sinister figure? Are the fantasy sections really happening or just a young girl constructing an elaborate fantasy to escape the cruel world she’s been brought to? Is the movie a fantasy film set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, or a Spanish Civil War film set against the backdrop of fantasy? Surprisingly, very few (if any) of these questions really get answered.

If Hellboy is in my top 2 del Toro movies, Pan’s Labyrinth is the film it’s constantly wrestling for supremacy. Of course, that’s to say nothing of del Toro’s last film to date….

hellboy2posterHellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008)

Pretty much everything that can be said of Hellboy can be said of its sequel. It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s worth a watch. However I will admit I do like the first one a little better. Something about it clicked a little more. Maybe it’s the slightly bloated script, maybe its the absence of David Hyde Pierce. Don’t get me wrong, Hellboy 2 is still a hella fun movie, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first one.

This time around, Hellboy and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense have to square off against a rogue elf bent on awakening an ancient army of golden robots (well…magic robots. Like I said, anything can happen) and conquering the world. Not quite as original as “Grigori Rasputin is back from the dead and he and his Nazi ninja pals want to awaken an ancient Lovecraftian tentacle god,” but hey, it still works.

With an ampler budget, the effects have been ramped up considerably for this one and the absolute highlight is the Troll Market sequence, which practical special effects enthusiasts watch in the wee hours of the night on repeat when they’re feeling lonely. There’s also a few less-practical cgi beasties that make for some impressive fight scenes, but really the in-camera effects steal the show.

And that, my fine friends, brings the Guillermo del Toro retrospective to a close. It’s been a fun two weeks and hopefully I’ve added a few films to your watch list. If not, maybe I’ve at least learned ya something about a weird Mexican director and the crazy awesome films he makes.