Around this time of year, I'm usually sent special-edition box-set after special-edition box-set from film companies, all stuffed with peppy press releases. With the economy nearing Mad Max-like catastrophe, however, this season's home video pickings are pretty slim.
So, this year, instead of singling out exuberant wallet-draining movies that will be watched once by only the most devoted cinephiles in your household, I'm recommending a handful of pre-Christmas stocking stuffers that (mostly) everyone will enjoy as they put together a bike, or prep the fatted goose, or whatever it is you people do these days.
Keep the spirit
Of all the movies I'll write about here, these two Christmas-themed ones are probably the most acceptable to the widest group of people.
Dear Santa (NR, Image Entertainment, $27.97) is a charming comedy about a shopaholic who's forced to change her ways by Christmas, or else be cut off financially. It's a mildly heartwarming movie about the spirit of giving, directed by Jason Priestley. Yes, that Jason Priestley.
If you're looking for something even more uplifting and inspirational, you can't do better than The Perfect Gift (NR, Image Entertainment, $14.98), starring former American Idol crooner Ruben Studdard. He's a harried father who's forgotten what the true reason for the season is, but you can be damn sure he'll learn by the 90-minute mark. As a bonus, a soundtrack CD is included.
Take a breath
As much as child psychologists would scold you for it, sometimes the only way to catch a moment's peace is to park the kids in front of the TV. Everyone does it — there's no shame there.
For the little ones, the brutally heartwarming animated feature The Littlest Angel (G, Anchor Bay, $19.98) is about a young boy who dies and goes to heaven, but can't get in until he and his dog (who I guess is also dead) score a gift for the Baby Jesus. It's not as creepy as it sounds.
The somewhat older kids are probably already in the middle of a religious quandary, so movies about child angels will only lead to discussions not really appropriate for the holiday. Instead, why not force-feed them the hyper-color whimsy of Robert Rodriguez's latest kids' flick, Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World (PG, Anchor Bay, $29.98)? It's pure brain-melting eye-candy that features Ricky Gervais as a robot dog. Fun, right?
Kill the Crosby
As much as people love Christmas music, listening to "White Christmas" 30 times in a 24-hour period will drive anyone to violence. That's why you need to shut it off for a couple of hours and get back to reality.
And who knows reality better than classic outlaw country singers Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings? Shout! Factory has released two separate classic concerts featuring the artists, both listed as Live at the US Festival, 1983 (NR, $16.98). It's a rockin' good time, with Waylon and Willie rolling out their biggest hits to an audience of rednecks drunk on everything but eggnog.
And now, relax
Television during the winter is just as bad as television in the summer. Nothing but reruns. So how about you take this time to chill with some trashy reality shows? Not only will it put you into a restful coma, but it will also make you realize just how more fortunate you are than others.
Count your blessings with American Pickers, Volume Two (PG, The History Channel, $29.95), in which two grown men drive around the country, rummaging through people's trash in order to make a quick buck. It's like Hoarders with a purpose.
Speaking of purpose, everyone in life has one. For the cast of Half-Pint Brawlers, Season 1 (NR, Image Entertainment, $14.98), it's hitting the road and smashing folding chairs into each other's skulls. Oh, yeah — and they're all little people, too. The fights here are so bloody and brutal, they'll make your own family dinner-table argument seem imbecilic in comparison. Unless your family is made up of the Half-Pint Brawlers, in which case, I bet it's awesome.
Finally, give yourself the trashiest, sleaziest, stupidest, most reprehensible garbage reality show of all time: The Girls Next Door: The Complete Series (NR, MPI Home Video, $129.98). That's six seasons (17 discs!) featuring the foibles of an octogenarian pornographer (Hugh Hefner) fornicating with a trio of fresh-outta-high-school blondes. It'll be the perfect preparation for when Grandpa shows up with his new wife on New Year's Eve.