Holiday gift guide
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2011 Calendar Holiday Gift Guide

Holiday gift guide
Calendar writers and critics make holiday gift-buying suggestions. Items involving ‘Dexter,’ ‘Star Wars’ and Thelonious Monk make the cut.

It used to be relatively easy to pick out an entertainment-related gift: a holiday music CD, a ticket to “The Nutcracker,” a poster from “Home Alone” and you were good to go.

But in the confusing new world, entertainment choices are everywhere and seemingly endless; it’s easy to get lost in Web “clouds” and app forests. To guide you through the thicket we asked Calendar writers and critics to select some prime choices for your holiday gift buying.

For each area -- movies, TV, theater, classical music, etc. -- we have four categories of gifts: digital and nondigital, splurge and bargain. We cover the waterfront, items as varied as an iPad app that lets you make music by recording sounds from everyday life, Dr. Ward’s Classic Throat Lozenges so you won’t cough during a Mahler symphony at Disney Hall, pocket-sized flash drives designed as characters from “Star Wars” and T-shirts saluting Thelonious Monk.

So dig in, the selections are delicious. And if none of them work for you, “The Nutcracker” is coming back to town. (Smule;; Friend or Foe Clothing; Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times; Image Entertainment)
Architecture: Digital/Nondigital
Digital: “The Films of Charles and Ray Eames.” $79.99, available at the Museum of Modern Art online gift shop,

Thanks to Pacific Standard Time and in particular to the ongoing LACMA exhibition “Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965,” L.A.'s Midcentury design pioneers are back in the spotlight. One of the best ways to dig deeper into this well known body of work is through the rich variety of short films made by the husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames. Collected in a six-DVD set, the series includes the classic “Powers of Ten” along with “Toccata for Toy Trains,” “Day of the Dead” and my personal favorite, “Blacktop.”

Nondigital: “California Houses of Gordon Drake.” $39.95, available at William Stout Publishers,

Though it is sometimes hard to believe, there are still corners of Midcentury architectural practice in Southern California that remain underappreciated. One example is architect Gordon Drake, who worked for Harwell Hamilton Harris before striking out on his own and designing a handful of small, exquisite modern houses in and around Los Angeles. Drake died in a skiing accident in 1952 at age 34. Douglas Baylis and Joan Parry wrote a study of his work four years later, “California Houses of Gordon Drake"; this year, William Stout Publishers has reissued it in beautiful form, with a new introduction by Pierluigi Serraino.

-- Christopher Hawthorne (Image Entertainment; William Stout Publishers)
Architecture: Splurge/Bargain
Splurge: Grasshopper floor lamp, $875 at Design Within Reach, (800) 944-2233 or

Sticking with the Midcentury theme, how about a reissued floor lamp by one of the great pioneers of modern industrial design, Greta Magnusson Grossman? Grossman was born in Sweden but moved to Los Angeles with her American husband, jazz bandleader Billy Grossman; she is one of the stars, without a doubt, of the LACMA exhibition, and just in time for that show, Design Within Reach has begun selling one of her finest designs, the Grasshopper floor lamp, with its delicate, canted, three-legged profile.

Bargain: Arts & Architecture prints, $19.95 each,

Bringing the modern spirit into your house doesn’t require seeking out a Grossman design, however; a more modestly prized alternative is one of the prints available at the LACMA shop reproducing covers from Arts & Architecture magazine, the L.A.-based journal that launched the Case Study program and championed the work of the Eameses, Raphael Soriano and Craig Ellwood. The covers include designs by Saul Bass, John Follis and others.

-- Christopher Hawthorne (Design Within Reach; Arts & Architecture magazine cover reproduction, design by Erwin G. Lang, May 1956. Image ©David Travers 2006-11.)
Art: Digital/Nondigital

Many art galleries will go out of their way to help you purchase a work of art for a friend or relative, from arranging store credits to setting up wedding registries. But nobody makes buying digital prints by contemporary artists quite as easy as the online retailer 20x200. Their “gift” section groups images that might appeal to different sensibilities, whether animal lovers, “word nerds,” sports fans, “girly girls,” or foodies. But if you can’t decide, it’s easy enough to create an account and buy a gift certificate that matches your budget — from $20 to $5,000 — and have it emailed within minutes. Just keep in mind that these are usually digital or ink-jet prints in large editions — not the traditional recipe for art that gains in value.

Nondigital: “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde” (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art); $75

What is better than giving a museum lover a handsome coffee-table book? Finding one that is full of images by both Picasso and Matisse. Published by SFMOMA for the exhibition that opened there this summer (and heads to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this winter), “The Steins Collect” looks at Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas as well as Stein’s brothers Leo and Michael as great patrons of modern art. The catalog reproduces the paintings they owned as well as providing scholarly essays and archival material that set the scene, in Paris mainly, for what it was actually like to live among the artists who invented modernism.

-- Jori Finkel (Aaron Straup Cope / 20x200; Yale University Press)
Art: Splurge/Bargain
Splurge: Leonardo da Vinci, “Christ as Salvator Mundi,” about 1499 or after, oil on walnut panel; about $200 million; inquiries at Robert Simon Fine Art, New York;

This year, make it a Leonardo da Vinci holiday with the only known painting by the Renaissance genius to come on the market in — well, who knows how long? With “Christ as Salvator Mundi,” a 26-by-18-inch oil painting on walnut panel dated around 1499 or after, you’ll joined a rarefied list of collections with a Leonardo among your holdings. No, the condition isn’t perfect, but this is Leonardo we’re talking about: With only 15 attributed paintings known to exist in the world, you’ll still have bragging rights.

Bargain: Leonardo da Vinci, “Christ as Salvator Mundi,” 2011, poster on glossy paper; about $24 (plus shipping); Shop Art at the National Gallery, London, United Kingdom;

Currently it’s a star attraction in an exhibition at London’s National Gallery. The recently authenticated work shows a bust-length figure of Christ, right hand raised in benediction and left hand holding an impossibly perfect rock-crystal sphere. A smart consortium of American art dealers — who now insist (unconvincingly) it’s not for sale — acquired it in 2005 as a work by an uncertain hand. The valuation is steep: Reports have pegged it in the $200-million range. But if you’re a one percenter looking for a tax break; or, if you have the word “Getty” in your institution’s title, you could give today’s beleaguered 99% a lift by making it a public gift.

And if that’s out of your range altogether, try the National Gallery’s online shop. There among a range of Leonardo-themed items, a poster of the “Salvator Mundi” will set you back only about 24 bucks.

-- Christopher Knight (Tim Nighswander / National Gallery)
Classic Hollywood: Digital/Nondigital
Digital: Turner Classic Movies app, $1.99, available at the iTunes store

Film fans addicted to Turner Classic Movies — the cable outlet that plays vintage films around the clock without commercial interruption — should get a kick out of the channel’s app, which features videos, trailers and photos from cinema’s Golden Age. The home page alone displays detailed background information about any movie currently running on the network, and there are routinely updated video clips from and trailers for vintage films, as well as stills, lobby cards and posters from Hollywood classics.

Nondigital: Jean Harlow 100th Anniversary Collection, $49.95

One screen siren who routinely appears in the TCM lineup, Jean Harlow, is the subject of a seven-disc 100th-anniversary DVD collection from the Warner Archive. The platinum blond helped the country shake away the Depression blues during the 1930s with her saucy, sexy, devil-may-care persona and her crack comedic timing. Though Harlow’s career was short — she died of renal failure at age 26 in 1937 — her talent still sparkles — particularly in the best of the seven movies in the set, 1933’s “Bombshell,” in which Harlow has a field day spoofing herself as a famed actress who wants to quit the biz. Other highlights include 1935’s “Reckless,” a pastiche of musical, comedy and drama that was also directed by Victor Fleming.

-- Susan King (TCM; Warner Archives)
Classic Hollywood: Splurge/Bargain
Splurge: “It Takes a Thief” (Entertainment One), $199.98

James Bond changed the landscape of film and television thanks to Sean Connery‘s performance as 007 in 1962’s “Dr. No.” The movie inspired a slew of popular 1960s spy shows, including “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” “The Girl From U.N.C.L.E,” “The Avengers,” “Get Smart” and “I Spy.” One of the last of the espionage series to debut was ABC’s lighthearted “It Takes a Thief,” which aired from 1968 to ’70. Entertainment One has released the entire 66-episode-run on an 18-disc set that sees Robert Wagner playing ultra-suave thief Alexander Mundy, a man hired to travel the globe stealing in the name of the government. There’s plenty of groovy music, beautiful women and even Fred Astaire as Mundy’s dapper dad. The set includes a feature-length version of the pilot, an interview with Wagner and a four-piece coaster set, so you can enjoy a martini while watching the show.

Bargain: Hollywood Forever Cemetery Walking Tours, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. (323) 469-1181, $15

If your funds are a bit low this holiday season, consider purchasing some movie history for the cinephile on your list with the unusual gift of a tour of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr. and Don Adams are among the celebrities buried there. Film historian Karen Bible hosts three different walking tours of the cemetery, each of which about two hours. The Cemetery of the Stars tour visits the final resting places of Valentino, Tyrone Power, Vampira and Marion Davies. The Jewish Heritage tour is available only on select Sundays and includes a visit to the Beth Olam Mausoleum. The Hidden Hollywood Tour gives fans the opportunity to see the graves of stars who have not stood the test of time, such as Henry B. Walthall of 1915’s “The Birth of a Nation” and Karl Dane and Renée Adorée of the 1925 film “The Big Parade.”

-- Susan King (Los Angeles Times)
Classical Music: Digital/Nondigital
Digital: Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall. Gift vouchers are about $13 for a two-day ticket, about $40 for a 30-day ticket or about $200 for a year.

The Berlin Philharmonic’s glamorous sound is its own special kind of German engineering. So leave it to the Berliners to also do the best engineering on the Internet with its Digital Concert Hall. The orchestra streams its concerts and archives them in spectacularly clear video and better sound than anyone else’s. There are treasures to be found, including Simon Rattle’s incredibly affecting performance of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” staged by Peter Sellars. Gustavo Dudamel shows up too.

Nondigital: Stuart Isacoff: “A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians — from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between.” (Knopf, $30)

Open Stuart Isacoff’s “A Natural History of the Piano” at random and you’ll find something arresting. For instance, I just turned to Page 302, which has a small photo of the immoderate Romantic, Earl Wild. On the facing page, the illustration is P.D.Q. Bach playing at the keyboard in white tie and tails, being hit in face by a boxing glove bounding out from his sheet music. Isacoff is an exuberant witness who finds and shares infectious pleasure in everything about the piano.

-- Mark Swed ( / Knopf)
Classical Music: Splurge/Bargain
Splurge: New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. $295/year or 29.95/month.

“The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians,” however much everyone gripes about errors and biases, is the single greatest musical encyclopedia ever compiled. The latest (2004) edition, in 29 volumes, lists at $1,575 but is being remaindered around the country for as little as $60 new, because the only way it matters anymore is having “The New Grove” online, with all the benefits of search engines, error correcting, updating, etc. It’s no bargain that way, with subscriptions costing $295/year (or $29.95/month).

Bargain: Lofthouse’s Fisherman’s Friend. Available from drugstores everywhere, $2.99; Dr. Ward’s Classic Throat Pastilles, about $2.20.

Lofthouse’s Fisherman’s Friend is the strongest over-the-counter cough drop, with 10 milligrams of menthol. That makes it a gift for everyone sitting near a cougher in the concert hall. The taste is strong, which means it keeps you awake. But if you want to be unbelievably cool give Dr. Ward’s Classic Throat Pastilles, instead. They are also strong, and the cool part is that they are the cough drop of the Gothenburg Symphony, Gustavo Dudamel’s Swedish orchestra. “Dr. Ward” happens to the orchestra’s urbane publicist, Urban Ward. The pastilles can be ordered on the orchestra’s website. It’s only in Swedish, but with the help of Google Translate you should be able to find the tab for the orchestra’s store, and then look under “other.”

-- Mark Swed (Graham Barclay / Los Angeles Times; Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dance: Digital/Nondigital
Digital: Dora’s Ballet Adventure, available at the iTunes store, $2.99

For pre-schoolers addicted to Dora the Explorer and pink tutus, there is “Dora’s Ballet Adventure” app (for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad). Dora narrates her interactive story as she tries to get her dance slippers delivered in time for the big performance (even parents can relate to that). The app features songs, animation, reading and Spanish-language teaching.

Nondigital: “The Red Shoes,” $31.96

Before “Black Swan,” there was a dance film of another color, “The Red Shoes.” It’s too limiting, though, to put “The Red Shoes” in just one category. It is an all-round masterpiece. Produced, written and directed by Michael Powell and Emerich Pressburger, the 1948 film was a breakthrough for its design, cinematography, luscious Technicolor and the 20-minute, “Red Shoes” ballet. The movie’s original negatives were repaired and restored in 2009, and this high-definition version is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion Collection. Extras include a documentary on the making of the movie; a video interview with Powell’s widow, Thelma Schoonmaker ( an Oscar-winning film editor); a collection of rare publicity stills; and more. And, of course, there are the unforgettable performances by Ballet Russes choreographer Léonide Massine and Moira Shearer — a ballerina and actress, who didn’t have to be taught to do either.

-- Laura Bleiberg (Nickelodeon; UCLA Film & Television Archive)
Dance: Splurge/Bargain
Splurge: American Ballet Theatre, world premiere of “The Firebird,” Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. March 29-April 1. Tickets $16-$115 (on sale Feb 19). (714) 556-2787 or

Here’s a must for any dance lover: A promise to take them to see American Ballet Theatre’s highly anticipated world premiere of “The Firebird” by Alexei Ratmansky (at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts). Ratmansky, ABT Artist in Residence, is using Igor Stravinsky‘s complete score for his remake of this Russian folk tale. Russian star Natalia Osipova has been cast as the mythical creature, and so have two ABT soloists who are increasingly being tapped for leading roles, Isabella Boylston and Misty Copeland (the Spotlight Award-winner who grew up in San Pedro). The uncommon program features two other treats, Christopher Wheeldon’s new “Three Diversions” and the late Merce Cunningham‘s “Duets.” The best seats in the house will be $115.

Bargain: Gert Weigelt calls his work “physical photography” and as you look at his 2012 Dance Calendar (teNeues Publishing) you feel the muscles contracting and stretching in your body. Weigelt is a former member of Nederlands Dans Theater, Royal Swedish Ballet and Cullberg Ballet, and like other former dancers-turned-photographers, he has an unerring eye for that moment of astonishing athleticism. But he also captures the unusual spatial angle, such as in November’s overhead shot from “Swan Lake.” This calendar mixes recent and older photographs of companies not often seen here, including the late Pina Bausch‘s Tanztheater Wuppertal, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and Ballett det Staatsoper Berlin.

-- Laura Bleiberg (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times; teNeues)
Hero Complex: Digital/Nondigital
Digital: Mimobot character flash drives, $22.95 and up, available at

Tech-savvy comics fans will love Mimoco’s adorable, pocket-sized USB flash drives disguised as characters from DC Comics, “Transformers” and “Star Wars.” The Mimobot designer drives come with memory capabilities ranging from 2GB to 64GB, but their real charm lies in the details. The Darth Vader Mimobot comes with a removable cap that looks like the villain’s shiny black helmet and conceals his battle-scarred face; the Han Solo Mimobot can come packaged with a key chain carrying case resembling his carbonite prison from “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Nondigital: Star Trek salt and pepper shaker set, $13.99, available at; USS Enterprise pizza cutter, $29.99, available at

If you know a Trekkie (or Trekker or, uh, a Klingon), a Spock and Capt. Kirk salt and pepper shaker set is the totally logical way to spice up a Starfleet kitchen. The set of ceramic figures is just under 5 inches tall and has little magnets that keep them shoulder to shoulder, just the way “Star Trek” godfather Gene Roddenberry would have wanted it. What could be better? Possibly the USS Enterprise pizza cutter because 1) it cuts pizza and 2) it’s shaped like the USS Enterprise.

-- Noelene Clark and Geoff Boucher (; Westland Giftware; Think Geek)
Hero Complex: Splurge/Bargain
Splurge: “Star Wars: The Blueprints,” $500 or $1,000, available at

“Star Wars: The Blueprints” by J.W. Rinzler is a gorgeous, 336-page volume that would make a lavish gift for a serious “Star Wars” collector. The book draws from Lucasfilm archives and contains the original blueprints and first concept drawings for ships and other locales, including the Millennium Falcon, Jabba the Hutt’s palace and the Death Star. All 5,000 copies of this limited-edition book from Epic Ink are hand-numbered. The first 125, which retail at $1,000 instead of $500, are also signed by the three surviving Academy Award winners for best art direction, Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley and Roger Christian.

Bargain: “My First Superman Book: Touch and Feel,” $9.99, available at

Super-babies can learn about DC Comics heroes in “My First Superman Book: Touch and Feel” and companion books about Batman and Wonder Woman. These board books by David Katz feature a glow-in-the-dark Bat Signal, Wonder Woman’s shiny gold cuffs and a furry Krypto. There’s even a tab that pulls Clark Kent into a phone booth as Superman flies out.

-- Noelene Clark and Emily Rome (Epic Ink; Downtown Bookworks)
Jazz: Digital/Nondigital
Digital: The History of Jazz iPad app, 955 Dreams. $9.99, available at the iTunes store.

The rich narrative of jazz takes on a new life with the intricate iPad app, The History of Jazz. The hands-on journey through jazz’s timeline comes with elegantly scrolling and keyboard-inspired design. Offering pages dedicated to such legends as Chet Baker, Charles Mingus and Bill Evans, the app also doesn’t skimp on audio and video. With its impossible task of touching on all the key figures in a great American art form there’s ample room for outrage. Pick your favorite slights and omissions and argue with friends — it’s far better holiday fun than another round of Angry Birds.

Nondigital: Friend or Foe Clothing, $45-$34.99 (enter promo code FOFLAT for 20% off)

Similarly inspired to bring the iconic history of jazz into a coolly modern context, the L.A.-based clothing company Friend or Foe offers a different kind of soft wear for jazz fans. This eclectic lineup of stylish, slim-fitting T-shirts taps memorable record covers from the Fantasy, Prestige and Blue Note catalogs, focusing on albums by Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk and Lee Morgan. Longtime music fans and fashionable design geeks alike will be tempted by the colorful, subtly updated prints. The only thing better than how these shirts look is how they sound.

-- Chris Barton (955 Dreams; Los Angeles Times)
Movies: Digital/Nondigital
Digital: Guess the Movie app, 99 cents, available at the iTunes store

Film buffs itching for some mobile trivia should love Guess the Movie, a phone app that tests cinema knowledge in a variety of categories by asking players to identify films based on hints about cast members, characters, famous quotes and Academy Awards. The app has more than 2,000 questions to keep the movie lover on your list busy and entertained.

Nondigital: “The Everything Large-Print Movie Crosswords Book” $15.95, available at and other retailers

For those who aren’t as tech-savvy or as keen to read tiny letters on a digital screen, there’s “The Everything Large-Print Movie Crosswords Book,” which divides its puzzles into categories including drama, action and adventure, movie stars and award winners.

-- Emily Rome (jinfra; Adams Media)
Movies: Splurge/Bargain
Splurge: Dupont James Bond pen set, $4,000-$5,000, available from Bonhams auctioneers starting Dec. 6

It would be awfully tricky to get your hands on James Bond’s movie gadgets, but S.T. Dupont Paris might have come up with the next best thing. The French designer has crafted the Dupont James Bond, a pen set modeled after the spy’s favorite handgun, the Walther PPK. It includes a fountain pen and ball pen, both with engraved lines inspired by the grip of the firearm, and the ink capsule looks like a bullet. And like any good gadget, these pens are not simply pens – the fountain pen doubles as a laser pointer and both come with a time-zone function that calculates the time zone difference between cities.

Bargain: Classic movie candy $1.99 and up, available at Oldtime and other outlets

Of course, not everyone can afford to keep themselves in the luxury to which Bond has become accustomed. A far less expensive alternative for movies fans? A sugar-filled blast from the past. has a good selection of classic movie candy, including Black Crows, the licorice gum drops that date to 1890, and Charleston Chews, the vanilla-flavored, chocolate-coated nougat bar named after the Charleston dance. Among the other retro treats available on the site are Goldenberg’s peanut chews, Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy and Razzles. Specialty retailers including Soap Plant/Wacko on Hollywood Blvd., and Galco’s Soda Pop Stop in Eagle Rock also offer an interesting array of classic candy options.

-- Emily Rome (Bonhams;
Pop Music: Digital/Nondigital
Digital: Spotify subscription, $9.99 for a month ($119.88 for a year), available at

European music streaming site Spotify arrived to much fanfare in America this year, and much of its praise is deserved. The cloud-based service, which offers high-quality streams of more than 15 million songs, features an intuitive, engaging interface that encourages legal music sharing via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Spotify is available for free, but that version comes with various restrictions, including annoying commercials and limits on listening time. Best is to commit to the $9.99-a-month (or $119.88 per year) premium version, which eliminates the ads, provides higher-quality streaming and offers more listening options. The result is a rich entry into the world’s recorded music archive, whether shopping for your oh-so-indie teen, your budding opera star sister, your auntie who loves show tunes or your hip-hop thug brother-in-law.

Nondigital: " The Smiths Box,” Rhino Records. $68.99 ($499.98 for the deluxe package), available at

Those looking for a more specific offering — or are the parents of angst-ridden teens — might consider “The Smiths Box,” which provides in a handy cardboard package the entire realm of one forlorn, bitter Londoner’s human suffering and existential malaise, accompanied by catchy, jangly, transcendent Brit pop. Weighing about the same as a brick, “The Smiths Box” features eight compact discs that constitute the band’s full-length album output (four studio albums, three collections and a live album) over its 1982-87 life. Featuring said bitter Londoner Morrissey on vocals and his guitarist-writing partner bandmate Johnny Marr, the music that the Smiths made in England has gone on to become one of the defining sounds of the 1980s. Most important to parents of teenagers, the Smiths have become a rite of passage for new generations of sharp, emotionally sensitive youth looking for a port in the storm. Songs like “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side,” “How Soon Is Now,” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” offer the kind of comfort that you as a parent are apparently incapable of giving (at least according to your kid). This box is an unspoken acknowledgment that you understand — without having to say as much. Those who need more proof can opt for the deluxe package, which also features each release on vinyl, as well as much bonus material.’

-- Randall Roberts (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg; Rhino)
Pop Music: Splurge/Bargain
Splurge: Dr. Dre Laptop: Different models with varied hardware and software options available on Amazon for $1,300 and $1,400.

Visionary hip-hop performer and producer Dr. Dre has staked out a niche in the world of audio gear with his Dre Beats headphones and has now lent his name and logo to the Dr. Dre Laptop made by Hewlett Packard. It’s a PC-based machine with plenty of bells and whistles such as a high-def webcam and Bluetooth capability. Yet to be determined is whether it comes pre-loaded with beats that guarantee hits for would-be rap stars and nascent producers. It does, however, come with Beats Audio, which professes to deliver higher-quality audio reproduction than the garden-variety laptop. How better to judge the high performance sound than with a set of Dre Beats earbuds or headphones?

Bargain: Taylor Swift‘s “Speak Now World Tour” 16-track CD and 18-track DVD, $16.99. “The Journey to Fearless” DVD, $10.99.

Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now” became the first album in more than five years to top first-week sales of 1 million copies when it came out last fall and has since become the biggest-selling album in all genres of the last 12 months, selling more than 5 million. Her “Speak Now” tour sold out arenas across the U.S. in many other countries when she took it international. The new live CD and DVD features songs from that tour without overlapping with material from “Journey to Fearless,” which documents her previous tour, on which she performed songs from her last two blockbuster albums. “Fearless,” which hit stores in October, gives behind-the-scenes glimpses of her tour with home movie footage and includes interviews that tell the story of her remarkable rise to the top of the pop music world. Together they offer a bounty of material on the woman crowned entertainer of the year by the Country Music Assn., the Academy of Country Music and Entertainment Weekly. -- Randy Lewis (Hewlett-Packard /
TV: Digital/Nondigital
Digital: “Dexter” thumb drive, $39.95 at

Nothing says “Happy holidays!” quite like a severed appendage. Showtime‘s bloody serial killer drama “Dexter” is only too happy to oblige, creating a 2-gigabyte USB memory stick encased in a fake thumb. Get it? It’s a “thumb” drive! (Also available: a “Dexter"-branded paperweight that’s chock full of faux fingertips, but let’s not digress.) The new merchandise coincides with the return this season of the Ice Truck Killer and mirrors a story line in which stolen evidence — i.e. various body parts — turns up on an auction website. For the fan on your list, it’s just harmless (and twisted) fun.

Nondigital: The Walking Dead Board Game, $39.99, specialty toy and hobby stores or; Modern Family Board Game, $21.99 at Target (also at Amazon, Barnes & Noble); MythBusters Crashes and Collisions, $19.95 at Barnes & Noble and

From the dead to the dead-ish, AMC’s hit “The Walking Dead” has its first role-playing game in stores. Won’t everybody want to be Sheriff Rick? The Walking Dead Board Game gives players a chance to step into the weary shoes of their favorite characters as they struggle to survive the zombiepocalypse. Scrounge for food and shelter. Try to stay sane. Bash some walker heads! On a much sweeter note, there’s an all-family game centered on ABC’s Emmy-winning comedy “Modern Family.” It’s trivia based, so regular viewers of the series have an advantage, but there are side activities to keep everyone involved. Also good for all ages is the MythBusters Crashes and Collisions Science Kit that allows players to test out wacky theories like Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage do on the Discovery Channel series.

-- T.L. Stanley (Showtime; AMC Networks; Discovery Communications)
TV: Splurge/Bargain
Splurge: The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge Malibu, $2,295 to $2,695 per week; discounts for longer stays. (Staying off-site: $1,995 a week)

The NBC reality show “The Biggest Loser” would like you to consider a stay at its Malibu resort an investment in yourself or someone you love. And while it will lighten your wallet by a couple of thousand dollars, it’s also intended to lighten your (or your loved one’s) load. Literally. The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge Malibu, the show’s second weight-loss destination, offers boot camp-style exercise, healthful eating and spa services, but — sorry, guys — no Anna Kournikova. The TV series, now in its 12th season, has filmed at the resort, but there are no cameras following the regular guests. To save a few hundred bucks, you can stay off-site. Or travel to the other Biggest Loser ranch, in Ivins, Utah, where overhead’s slightly cheaper.

Bargain: Late Night Snack, grocers and convenience stores, $3.99 a pint; “Top Chef” ice cream scoop, $14.95,; “Paula Deen‘s Southern Cooking Bible,” $29.99 for a signed copy,; “Cake Boss” baking set, $39.95,

For the indulge-now, work-it-off-in-January approach, here are some TV-centric products that don’t give a fig about calorie counts. They’re modest only in price. Late Night Snack, Ben & Jerry’s potato chip-laced ice cream flavor based on Jimmy Fallon‘s NBC talk show, packs in a waist-expanding 270 calories (140 of them from fat) per serving. A “Top Chef” ice cream scoop could keep the portion sizes in check, perhaps? For a little DIY, check out “Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible” — Warning: There will be butter — and whip up some comfort food in a six-piece baking set from “Cake Boss.” Garnish with guilt.

-- T.L. Stanley  (Bret Hartman / NBC; Discovery Communications)
Theater: Digital/Nondigital
Digital: $1.99 “Wicked” Mosaic Electronic Program Book.

The endlessly touring musical “Wicked” flies back to the Pantages Theatre for a two-month engagement starting Nov. 30. If your favorite 11-year-old girl already has seen the show a dozen times, the “Wicked” Mosaic Electronic Program Book might make a suitable stocking stuffer. Available on the App store, it includes an interactive gallery of 1,700 production photos as well as song lyrics, facts about the show and backstage arcana about its Oz-ian back story. Just the thing to aid that 11-year-old in hum-singing “Defying Gravity” aloud for the 1,700th time.

-- Reed Johnson

Nondigital: Stephen Sondheim’s “Look, I Made a Hat"; $45, Alfred A. Knopf.

Stephen Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat” was the best theater book of last year, a gloriously opinionated reflection by America’s greatest living theatrical songwriter on the art of lyric writing. “Look, I Made a Hat” picks up the story with “Sunday in the Park with George,” the musical that has supplied these two volumes their titles. It’s no surprise to discover that Sondheim’s prose is as sharp and surprising as his lyrics. Allergic to clichés, he devotes his considerable verbal acumen to annotating his collected works from 1981 to the present while offering such tangy mini-essays as “Critics and Their Uses,” “Awards and Their Uselessness” and “Revivals: Directors and Their Notions.” Never one to pull his punches, he manages to combine feistiness with supreme elegance in this tandem volume — one that you will want not just to display but to read word by finely chiseled word.

-- Charles McNulty (Joan Marcus / Segerstrom Center for the Arts; Alfred A. Knopf)
Theater: Splurge/Bargain
Splurge: Gift cards can be ordered over the phone though the Geffen’s audience service line at (310) 208-2028 or online at by clicking the “Tickets” tab at the top of the home page.

Psychologists have pointed out that the best gifts are experiences rather than material objects. If you want to create lasting memories for a loved one, why not give them something you can enjoy together? Theater provides such an opportunity — an outing that has the potential to expand your horizons, or at the very least, set conversation heatedly in motion during the drive home. The Geffen Playhouse has a gift card option that allows you to give the gift of a single show (perhaps Kathleen Turner in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins”), an entire-season subscription or some dollar amount in between. What better way to honor the memory of Gil Cates, the Geffen’s irreplaceable founder who died this fall? Supporting local theater is good for the city, good for your lucky recipient and good for your own morale.

-- Charles McNulty

Bargain: “Iris” soundtrack $15, and other album outlets.

It was kind of a no-brainer for Cirque du Soleil to hire Danny Elfman to compose the soundtrack to its movie-themed show “Iris,” which opened this fall at the Kodak Theatre. Before he became one of Hollywood’s most prolific composers (“Batman,” " Spider-Man 2,” “Alice In Wonderland”), Elfman was the songwriter and driving force behind the genre-busting L.A. rock band Oingo Boingo. In a previous creative life, Elfman was a member of the French magic-theatrical troupe Le Grand Magic Circus. Not surprisingly, the 17-song soundtrack Elfman has devised for “Iris” is a mood-rich montage that synthesizes rock, Latin jazz, Balinese gamelan, Japanese taiko drums and serialism. It evokes Hollywood genres like film noir and 1930s musicals, with an athleticism and grace that’s equally suitable if you’re swinging from a trapeze or chilling on the sofa.

-- Reed Johnson (Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times; Cirque Du Soleil)
Video Games: Digital / Splurge
Digital: Deepak Chopra’s Leela, THQ. $39.99 for the Wii version, $49.99 for the Xbox 360 version.

If achieving spiritual enlightenment is on the 2012 self-improvement list, check out Leela, a game by self-help guru and trained endocrinologist Deepak Chopra and published by THQ. Instead of blasting your way through a level, players progress by mastering seven “chakras” through yoga exercises. Instead of making a superhero avatar, players create a personal “mandala,” a visual representation of their spiritual status. For those who have Kinect motion-detecting cameras attached to their Xbox 360s, the game monitors players’ breathing by tracking subtle body shifts to guide them into a “flow state.” Turn on. Tune out.

Splurge: Rocksmith, Ubisoft Entertainment. $79.99 for the game, $199.99 for the game bundled with a Les Paul Jr. guitar. Available a major retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon, as well as Gamestop.

Who says video games are bad for you? There’s a bumper crop of games this holiday that promises to help people make good on their New Year’s resolutions. Rocksmith enables players to plug in any standard electric guitar into their Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game consoles and start doing a Keith Richards imitation to the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” Unlike Guitar Hero and its many clones that required little more than syncopated button-mashing, Rocksmith’s ultimate end game is to have its users play the actual guitar parts of famous rock songs. Tracks in the game include Eric Clapton‘s “Run Back to Your Side,” David Bowie‘s “Rebel Rebel,” and Radiohead‘s “High and Dry.” Don’t have a guitar? A deluxe version of the game comes with an Epiphone Les Paul Jr., complete with a guitar strap and two picks. (Ubisoft; THQ)
Video games: Nondigital / Bargain
Nondigital: Tetris Link, Techno Source. $29.98.

If it’s your brain that needs a workout, but you’re tired of waiting for your electronic gadgets to boot up, Tetris Link is a board game that turns the digital classic into an old-fashioned turn-based strategy game. Up to four people can play the multi-player game to match colored tiles by taking turns dropping them on a vertical board. The aim is to link as many pieces of your chosen color while also blocking your opponents’ attempts to do the same. The game scored high marks from reviewers when it was introduced at this year’s Toy Fair in New York.

Bargain: MadPad HD, Smule. $2.99. For Apple’s iPad.

You don’t necessarily need an instrument, however, to start making music. MadPad HD is a nifty iPad app that lets players make music by recording sounds from everyday life — a mouse click, the whir of a blender or a purring cat. There’s even a YouTube video demo showing sounds captured from kicking the tires on a 1991 Honda, honking its horn, opening the door handle and squealing the brakes can be combined into a percussive audio montage. iPad 2 owners can use the tablet’s camera and microphone to capture video as well. (Tetris Holdings / Smule)