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By Widge - posted 12.31.12 @ 8:00 am

There's a lot of stuff that comes out all the time, and the companies are want your attention and mostly...your coin. But, you know, it's your coin and you have to take care where you spend it. With these posts we try to take you through recent releases so you can make up your mind. If you find the info here to be of use, do us a favor and purchase stuff from Amazon through us. Especially if you were going to buy the stuff anyway. That gives us kickbacks, which help pay for things. Like the server. And coffee. And therapy. We thank you.

Finding Nemo 3D Blu-Ray
Up 3D Blu-Ray

Finding Nemo, the film I had to see twice in the cinema--once for the story and once for the sheer visual spectacle of the damn thing--hits Blu-Ray 3D in a five-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition. That's two Blu-Rays, a Blu-Ray 3D, a DVD and a Digital Copy. While a lot of things are getting the 3D treatment to the point where eyes are rolling (even William Castle's ghost has declared "Enough already!"), animation holds up better than most and Pixar quite damn well, thanks. So yes, the 3D works and looks excellent, and the hi-def treatment you get here is worth the price of admission, both video and audio-wise. So even if you don't have the 3D rig this instant, get this anyway. And of course, I dig the bonus stuff--especially solid Pixar bonus stuff, so you do get a new "Cinexplore Mode" visual commentary, a roundtable retrospective with the Pixar Crew, an alternate opening and a nice bit with Andrew Stanton regarding flashbacks. You also get a look at the former 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride and what happened to do it post-Nemo. Other bits carry over from previous releases, including a making-of, deleted scenes, outtakes, the never-gets-old "Knick Knack" short and more. If you have this from a previous release, it's worth it to upgrade. And at about $5 a disc, it's a no-brainer to justify. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Up holds a very strange place in the Pixar pantheon for me. I'm not sure when I'll ever be able to watch it again, frankly--and that's for a different reason that, say, Cars 2. The opening sequence of the film demolished any human adult within five hundred yards. It was positively startling how it completely cratered me and my family and then proceeded to build us back up with an amazing adventure. Although it then turned around and destroyed me all over again with a picture of two chairs. Two. Chairs for God's sake. It's an amazing mish-mash of odd elements (a talking dog? a flying house? zeppelin? what?) that completely and utterly works. And has absolutely no mercy. The previous four-disc Blu-Ray set was incredibly badass, what with its audio and video looking flawless even to my half-blind self out of the starting gate. You get a huge Cine-Explore Commentary where the directors go picture-in-picture to take you through everything, two animated shorts, an hour of featurettes and docus and more. What you get with this version is the 3D upgrade on Disc 5, which is something worth upgrading for--as much as we've been talking about how 3D adds very little to films, I think Pixar has been good across the board. And this release is no exception. If you haven't seen it, for crying out loud do so--but I bet money you'll be crying out loud yourself before it's all over. If you have seen it, then you know why you need to own it. It's one of my favorite Pixar films--and one of their most Pixarish outings. Highly recommended. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Dean Martin Christmas Show
Perry Mason Season 8, Vol. 1 DVD
Touched By An Angel: The Sixth Season DVD

Now when you see something like The Dean Martin Christmas Show as a DVD title, you could be forgiven for assuming (as I did) that it might have been a variety show series he had done. I mean, he had his own show--it makes sense that there might have been a series of holiday specials as well, right? Well, there were--but this release is not it. This is a single holiday episode from 1968. Granted, a crapton of people show up for the party, led by Dom DeLuise and Bob Newhart, along with Dennis Weaver, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Benny and loads more. So the episode/special itself is a worthwhile piece of comic television history, with all the Christmas caroling and cavorting Santas you might come to expect. That all being said, it's odd they didn't do a set of all his Christmas episodes at once. Granted, this was previously only available via The Ultimate Collection it seems, so maybe this is just for the fans who didn't have that much money to shell out. Regardless, at $11 for less than an hour of content (and no bonus bits), only the hardcore should do more than rent. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The first half of the penultimate season of Perry Mason hits DVD, with Volume 1 bringing you fifteen episodes across four discs. The thing about this show is it's a courtroom drama that gives you, for the most part, the same thing each episode. Though you do get to see Raymond Burr doing his thing--and that's what the fans want. And I'm not sure if the show is even airing anywhere at present, so hardcore fans will want this set just to have access to the episodes. Of note: guest stars this season include June Lockhart and Hugh Marlowe. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

So Touched by an Angel is basically Wings of Desire without all the desire. Lead character Monica (Roma Downey) is an angel working her way up through the ranks (good to know the afterlife is like a corporation) learning lessons and undergoing tests while under the supervision of Tess (Della Reese). This sixth season boxed set contains episodes with guest stars--everybody from Eileen Brennan to Charlotte Church and Ann-Margret to Kenny Rogers. The shot on a show like this is simple: if you dig it, you probably dig it rather hard. If you don't, it probably doesn't even show up on your radar. So for those with it in your sights, I give you this: you get no bonus features on this Paramount set, but episodes are only around $1.50 a piece. So there's no sin in snagging it. Couldn't resist it at the end, sorry. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Charlie Brown and Snoopy: The Complete Animated Series DVD
Iron Man: Armored Adventures Season 2, Vol. 2 DVD
Transformers Prime: Season 2 Blu-Ray

So for a while now, Warner Brothers has been releasing episodes of The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show to DVD in little fits and starts, as themed content on various "Happiness Is" titles. As I think I mentioned more than once, it didn't make sense for anyone to snag them piecemeal because a season release would follow eventually. And here Warner Archive has done one better by releasing all eighteen episodes (both seasons) to DVD at once in this Complete Animated Series. And at a price point of slightly more than $1.50 each, it's not terrible. As you might imagine, the content isn't on par with the classic specials...but then again, what is? No bonus bits are here, but the fact you get it all at once without being exorbitantly priced is something to please most Peanuts hardcore fans. If you're not quite so hardcore, bear in mind that Amazon Instant Video has the episodes for $1.99 each if you wanted to just sample some. (Click here to buy it from the Warner Archive.)

The second volume of the second series of Iron Man: Armored Adventures has hit DVD from Vivendi with six episodes--and the series plays around with a teenage Tony Stark. No, don't panic: not the teenage Tony from the future or the...whatever the hell that was from the comics--just thinking about it makes my eyebrows hurt. No, this is a version of the story where Tony, Rhodes and Pepper are all teenagers and Tony originally became Iron Man to investigate the death of his father. They're spinning off of storylines from the comics, like Armor Wars and the Stane takeover, with characters like Titanium Man, Doctor Doom, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the Mad Thinker all making appearances. The main problem here is, well, you're just dumped into the middle of the arc of the season and only get six episodes--when we all know that a complete second season release will show up, much like the first season. Bonus bits include artwork galleries for two characters. Wait for the complete season. Netflix this if you need to tide yourself over. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

As mentioned previously--sometimes when you want a full season set, just wait for it. Thus Transformers Prime: Season 2 hits Blu-Ray from Shout! Factory with all twenty-six episodes across four discs. In this season, Megatron takes advantage of how the first season left Optimus and the Autobots scramble to recover him--at the same time, relics from the Transformers' past get pulled out of the closet, so to speak, with the fight over them raging and how they will be used. Your bonus bits include interviews and a 2012 Comic-Con panel with Larry King and Peter Cullen. For those who want to own, the price per episode is currently around $1.60--which isn't bad at all. Of course, this builds on the last season, so the uninitiated will want to start at the beginning. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Blu-Ray
Bomber Boys DVD
Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America DVD

The man's name is Ai Weiwei and he's an artist with an agenda: he's going to execute artwork and he's going to get information and he's not going to shut up. That's the premise behind Never Sorry, the docu on Blu-Ray from Sundance that takes you through the life and work of the Chinese artist and dissident. He's been attacked, he's been under surveillance and he's even been made to disappear--imprisoned for almost three months--but he won't shut up. In fact, he takes to Twitter to report on what's going on with him and his activities. The docu follows Weiwei in his adventures, which get pretty crazy. The release comes with an audio commentary that includes the director, alongside scads of deleted scenes and additional interviews. I recommend it to anyone who is in a place where they can speak up or speak their mind with greater ease than he does...because perspective is a lovely thing. Rental will work for most but hardcore fans may desire to own. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Ewan McGregor and his brother Colin did a documentary about the Battle of Britain not that long ago and now they come back to visit the territory again, this time focusing on the Bomber Command: the history, the planes and the people who flew them. Basically, the shot of Bomber Boys is this: Colin, an actual pilot, works his way up to getting behind the wheel of a Lancaster bomber and Ewan makes the rounds, gathering info from talking heads and so forth. What results is a nice love letter to the guys who fought the war from the air, from two brothers who aren't faking it: they respect the history and it shows. Anyone with an interest in military aviation or WWII will want to give this a watch/rental...the hardcore will want to probably own it. At about $15, out from BFS on DVD, it's not a terrible price point. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America is Senator James Webb hosting and narrating the Smithsonian Channel adaptation of his own historical tome. The basic argument is that the Scots-Irish--the culture even more than the actual people or bloodline of them--is part of the foundation of America. More specifically, it's that desire to, put one way, not take shit from anybody. And this Webb threads into much of our history--and many of our conflicts. I've not read the book this was drawn from, but my understanding is that the entire package is compelling and people who hail from that--culture, blood or both--swear by it. There aren't any bonus bits on this BFS release but for those people who do actively appreciate the docu, the price point--just $15--is not bad at all. I would say catch it online or in repeats if you want to sample it--and if it rings that true with you, then plonk the coin. But, you know, don't do that just because I said to. Would hate to piss anybody off. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Jethro Tull: Thick as a Brick Special CD DVD Collectors Edition
Twisted Sister: A Twisted Xmas Live in Las Vegas DVD
Wilson Phillips: Live at Infinity Hall DVD

How do you follow up an album like Aqualung? By releasing an album where the title track...is the album. It's Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull, out from EMI as a 40th Anniversary Set. It's a CD/DVD/book edition, where the book contains not only the newspaper from the original release but articles, an interview and scads of photos plus other material. And then you get the album multiple ways. The CD contains a new mix by Steven Wilson. The DVD contains the album in 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital surround, a new stereo mix and then the original 1972 "stereo mix flat transfer" along with a radio ad from the release in 1972. Now I will say that most remixing and remastering escapes me, partly because I'm half deaf from the three years I spent in bands. However, I can tell the difference between stereo and 5.1 and both versions here have their merits. To me, it's like watching an older film converted to 3D--the 3D is interesting but I'll go with the original just about every time. Hardcore fans of the album or the band will want to check this out--the new mixes will be of great interest. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I will admit this to you: I missed the fact that Twisted Sister released a Xmas album back in 2006: A Twisted Christmas. I mean, I enjoyed "We're Not Gonna Take It" as much as the next guy. And I do like music that attempts to grind me into a fine powder. But Twisted Sister was never really my bag. However, my distrust of the usual holiday music means that it's a fertile ground to be screwed with--and this band screws with it quite well, I have to admit. And they sound pretty damn good live, admittedly. Recorded live in Las Vegas and opening with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," it's clear from the start this is a nice heavy metal wink at everybody. This gives the guitars a chance to grind through "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "Silver Bells," along with the aforementioned "Not Gonna" as well as "I Wanna Rock," "You Can't Stop Rock N' Roll" and other Sister standards. I wouldn't characterize myself as either a metalhead or a true believer in the Xmas spirit, but this was painless and even enjoyable. Recommended for anybody who dreads dealing with the relatives during this joyous time of year. Banging your head will take your mind off of the pain. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Weirdly, I keep thinking there's more in my musical history having to do with Wilson Phillips than there actually was. When trying to figure out what I knew them for besides "Hold On," I kept having conversations with myself something like this: "Oh, right, they did that cover of 'Hazy Shade of Winter'..." "No, that was The Bangles." "Oh. Right." So yeah, it's just "Hold On." But here they are doing a slew of covers and...well, here's my problem. They sounded fine over twenty years ago...but now something's happened to Chynna Phillips' voice and it makes me want to punch kittens when I hear her launch into something like "California Dreamin'." Regardless, I know many may feel differently, and for them, they'll probably dig this release--with live versions of both the aforementioned songs as well as "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Dedicated to the One I Love." Fans will want to check it out. Those who are content with appreciating the nostalgia of that one song should probably pass. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Angry Boys
We Can Be Heroes DVD
Jay and Silent Bob Get Old DVD

HBO has released a pair of titles from Australian comedian Chris Lilley. I wasn't familiar with him either, but he writes and performs as multiple characters in a mockumentary style--a long-standing tradition. First up is We Can Be Heroes, in which five characters (all Lilley, six if you count the twin brother of one of the five) vie for the title of Australian of the Year. The contestants include an ex-cop who became a recognized hero after saving children from a bouncy castle accident and a housewife whose athletic activity of choice is rolling. Yes, that's exactly what you think that is. It's a six episode series that goes through ludicrous and comes out the other side. The two-disc set has the series itself on disc one, then scads of deleted scenes and outtakes on disc two. Also there is behind-the-scenes footage, extended episodes and a musical performance by one of the characters. You also have Angry Boys, with Lilley bringing new characters to the screen--including an African-American rapper and a Japanese woman--as well as the twin brothers from the previous series. The setup concerns the twins and their grandmother, and the "Legends" that the twins idolize (hence, the other characters--except for the bikini model). The Blu-Ray comes with all the episodes--and the presentation is good, though this isn't what I would call something that screams for hi-def. Bonus bits are extensive: a live concert and music videos with Lilley as the rapper, S.mouse; bloopers; and a ton of deleted scenes. Fans of the comedian or anyone who wants to check out comedy from outside the U.S.--or just anyone interested in this mockumentary, mostly-single-actor style, might want to give this a rental. The hardcore would be interested in owning. (Click here to buy Heroes from Amazon.; Click here to buy Angry from Amazon.)

With Industrial's release of the two-disc set, Jay and Silent Bob Get Old: Tea Bagging in the U.K., you get what seems to be, on the surface, a gold mine of content for hardcore fans of Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes--of which there are legion. You get three live shows--recorded at London, Manchester and Edinburgh--for a total of four hours of content. Nice, yes? And you do actually get some bonus cut bits for added footage. Also nice. What I find a bit weird--and I'm not hardcore, mind you--is that I thought, "Didn't these get released as podcasts?" And unless I'm mistaken, Manchester and Edinburgh are available to download as I type this. I couldn't find the London show. And, really, the stage show consists of the two sitting around and, for the most part, recording a podcast--so the visuals aren't adding a great deal. All of that being said, if you are hardcore you might find it worthwhile regardless, and the $15 price point for three live shows isn't terrible. I would say snag the podcasts if you want to sample--or bits are online, I'm certain--and if you count yourself as somebody who needs everything Smith...then go for it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Life of Pi Soundtrack
Silver Linings Playbook Soundtrack

I haven't seen Life of Pi and I blame Fox for that. Their five minute clip that they showed, with little in the way of explanation or framing, in front of some other film--made it look like pretentious crap. And after having endured crap from Ang Lee before, I didn't know if I could emotionally handle that again. That being said, I can report that the soundtrack with the score by Mychael Danna (Doctor Parnassus, Little Miss Sunshine) is quite excellent. Starting with the soothing "Pi's Lullaby" with vocals (and writing credit) by Bombay Jayashri, you then go into the score, which seems like the sort of score you would want a film like Pi to have: expansive when necessary, but not in your face or excessive. Granted, out of context, it's hard to tell if "The Whale," which I'm assuming corresponds to the behemoth from the trailer, works with the footage, but as background music for working--which is how I grade most scores, whether I've seen the film or not--it's quite good. Not soothing all the way through but punctuated by swells that can keep the brain from falling asleep. If you need to sample some tracks, I recommend, in addition to "Lullaby," checking out "Meeting Krishna" (shades of English Patient), the vocal-infused "God Storm," and also "Which Story Do You Prefer?" which closes out the proceedings. Score fans will want to potentially own, as well as anyone who dug the film. I'll get around to it one of these days. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

When it comes to soundtracks for this year that are mostly compilations, I can say that the Silver Linings Playbook CD is pretty fantastic. Haven't seen the film yet, but these folks have excellent taste in music. You open with some score work by Danny Elfman that at the same time sounds both Elfmanesque and not. Then you get classic Stevie Wonder, new warm to the touch Alabama Shakes, then Brubeck, followed by alt-J? I really appreciate when you get some classic, some new, all in a good mix. By the way, how many soundtracks can sport Brubeck, Dylan and a cover of "Monster Mash"? Damn. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Art of Rise of the Guardians
Science Fiction Universe and Beyond

So it's no secret that I dig the hell out of bonus bits on DVDs. Especially animated DVDs because, well, considering how long it takes to make an animated film--there's generally plenty of bonus to go around. Check out most animated DVDs for evidence thus. But there's something to be said for just having a bigass hardback book of good concept art, character explorations and set designs. That's the case with the The Art of DreamWorks' Rise of the Guardians, out from Insight Editions and Titan Books. It opens up with Alec Baldwin's foreword then William Joyce's preface, then scads and scads of artwork. Of particular interest: looking at the various directions where they took these well-known characters before settling where they did. Also, the concept art behind the various locations and sets--and, well, I do enjoy the section on the villain, Pitch. Well, it is all black, what do you want? If you know someone who absolutely dug the film (and perhaps that's you), then you might want to consider this. But regardless, any fan of animation can get something from any book like this: not just a wish list for what they'd like to see on their walls. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Universe Books is, appropriately enough, the publisher of The Science Fiction Universe...And Beyond: Syfy Channel Book of Sci-Fi. A coffee table book that's a whirlwind tour of the genre...because it's trying to hit as much of it as possible, don't expect to get blown away by startling revelations. This is a book for fans of the genre, to have out on their table and flip through when you need to see something--and that's the strength of the book. The visuals are pretty awesome, dominating the majority of the spreads...which is primarily what a coffee table book is for, yes? And the book gets points for starting with a place that a lot of modern fans won't know enough about: Georges Melies' Le Voyage dans la lune. And then it works up from there. At $36 currently on Amazon, it's a hefty price tag, but might be worthwhile for the fan who, again, just wants to flip around and see something to jog his memory. Or, better yet, as a checklist for films that they need to see (or see again). (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Best of From the Tomb
Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation
Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour

Continuing to bring you cool comic stuff you didn't know existed (or maybe did and couldn't bloody well find it), Halloween saw the release by TwoMorrows of The Best of From The Tomb. From the Tomb, for the uninitiated (of which I was one), is a UK mag that covers horror comics. It apparently is hard to find stateside (which makes sense, since I had never heard of it--and this is my thing, after all). This Greatest Hits of the mag (which is apparently dead and going to soon rise from the grave--naturally) gives you all manner of features--plus all of the artwork that you would expect from a TwoMorrows release. And this isn't just stuff like Strange Tales and Creepy, but true crime and "bad girl" comics like "Reform School Girl." Featuring some excellent color artwork--a feature on apocalyptic comics is one of my favorites--it's a must for anyone who wants an overview of horror comics in general. And if their stuff is this good, maybe a series of full-on collected From the Tombs should grace our shores as well. Recommended. (Click here to buy it from TwoMorrows.)

I don't know about you, but I don't always think or even know about the individuals who shaped (warped?) my childhood. I mean, yes, you know Walt Disney. But he was front and center, yes? Less so, at least in my case, was Lou Scheimer. You might be wondering who the hell he is as well, but once you see the cover of this TwoMorrows release--and see him hanging out with animated versions of the Enterprise crew, He-Man, Archie and scads more...then you know: he's that Filmation guy. And yes, this is Creating the Filmation Generation. This is the guy who brought you DC's animated series, Fat Albert, Jason of Star Command...the list is just ludicrously big. And now that you know, I'm sure you can picture the logo at the end of the cartoons. And this is TwoMorrows, so not only do you get his story and the story of Filmation--but the standard array of archival photos and artwork, animation stills and so forth. It really is a trip down memory lane in a very comfortable golf cart. Fans of animation will want to give this a read. Highly recommended. Warning: will probably make you feel old. (Click here to buy it from TwoMorrows.)

Also, if you're like me, you know the work of Matt Baker even if you didn't know his name. I've seen several of his covers before--and the full color Phantom Lady pages that open the TwoMorrows hardcover edition of The Art of Glamour make me know that yes, of course, I know this guy. Apparently one of the first African-American comic artists, he seemingly worked on freaking everything: westerns to romance to adventure to Lassie, for crying out loud. And here's the thing: although he died way too young in 1959, you'd think he would have been providing art to Playboy since that mag kicked off--because damn, his women are gorgeous. And it's easy to tell because true to TwoMorrows form, the book is stacked with full color artwork, archival bits and other rarities. A fantastic overview of an amazing artist, this is recommended for anybody who loves "good girl" (or "bad girl") art and anybody who wants to delve into comic history. (Click here to buy it from TwoMorrows.)

Document of the Dead DVD
Loved Ones DVD
Rites of Spring DVD

After getting the ultimate backstage pass for the making of Dawn of the Dead, Document of the Dead came out from Roy Frumkes. Since then Frumkes has gone back to Romero to record additional material, changing and reworking Document until now we get to the Definitive version, hitting DVD from Synapse. Now I haven't dug out my Ultimate edition of Dawn of the Dead to compare running times between that version and this one, but I know that some material has been added, since there's post-Ultimate footage in here. And you do also get a Frumkes commentary. And the shot is this: if you are a hardcore Romero fan or zombie enthusiast like myself--or you dig the shit out of Dawn--like myself--then this is definitely up your alley and worth a purchase. Everyone should give it a rental--primarily because while you do get an older version of the docu on the Ultimate set--you can get that entire set for less than this single disc. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I make no bones about the fact that I'm not a fan of torture porn. In fact, I still hold to my theory that a lazy cinematographer invented the subgenre because it's much easier to light and shoot a victim nailed to a chair than a victim running through the woods. To give some credit, The Loved Ones isn't just torture porn. Oh, there's plenty of torture. And it tries to have a bit of humor about it, but the notion of some guy getting kidnapped and tortured because he turned a girl down? I don't find the setup appealing and I just don't find the film itself appealing. I prefer my horror to be at least fun...and I just don't find wanton mutilation fun anymore. I guess that's what growing up means. That being said, if you want your torture subgenre film with a little something extra, then this film is for you. This Paramount release comes with interviews with both stars and the FX supervisor. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

How badly can a kidnapping-for-ransom go wrong? Well, you could have your hideout stumbled upon by a completely separate kidnap victim, who was intended to be a human sacrifice for some horrible entity...and, oh, by the way, that entity's on its way to say hi. That's the setup for Rites of Spring, which gets points for at least trying to do something different with this sort of horror/suspense setup--in this by giving parallel storylines that are fated to converge. (No spoilers here, it's covered on the back of the box for crying out loud.) This IFC release comes with commentary track, storyboards, art gallery and more. Worth a rental for anyone who digs the concept, but most will probably be fine stopping there. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Annotated Sword of Shannara Audiobook
Marseille Caper Audiobook
Thomas Jefferson: Art of Power Audiobook

The book that launched Del Rey, Sword of Shannara, hits from Random House in a 35th Anniversary Annotated Edition. And I admit when I saw that there was an audiobook version of this release, I wondered how that was going to work. But it works about like you would imagine: they've taken the previously released unabridged Scott Brick-narrated audio and thrown in the annotations, read by Brooks himself. Obviously, what you have is an experience setup for the Brooks hardcore, since you don't, on your first listen, want to have the author interrupting his book repeatedly. So if you are a Shannara series or Brooks fan--and you're already heard the audiobook--then this will be a nice way to revisit it. If this is your first time, you'll want to listen to it normally first. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

In his first adventure, Sam Levitt found himself on the trail of some stolen wine. Now a former adversary has tapped him to take part in a different caper in Marseille--hence, The Marseille Caper--the adversary has plans that he cannot be the face of, so Sam is the stand-in and frontman for a real estate deal. But things are never that simple, and you have not only the situation becoming more complicated--but you have plenty of descriptions of food, which is how author Peter Mayle got his start. This unabridged audiobook production is more fun than it is mystery, so people who aren't all Dragon Tattoo about everything might want to give it a spin. Especially since Robin Sachs is narrating and is able to give character voices and accents enough to keep the six hour running time nice and brisk. This is out from Random House Audio across five discs. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I think it comes as no surprise to say that any biographer has a bit of an agenda when it comes to the subject at hand--especially if the subject happens to be long-dead and even more especially when it's somebody with the stature of Thomas Jefferson. And it's very hard to encompass every aspect of a person's life and fit in with that agenda--not that I'm saying that Pulitzer monster Jon Meacham is omitting history in order to get his point across, but it seems to me that there are biographies that manage to paint fuller portraits than others. The Art of Power makes a case for Jefferson being a huge figure in American history with a far-reaching legacy--which might not sound like news to American readers of this site, but with most Americans we're lucky if they know he drafted the Declaration of Independence. While not exhaustive, the audiobook, unabridged and out from Random House, packs a lot into a nineteen hour listening time. Edward Herrmann (known for playing both FDR and being in The Lost Boys--you know who I mean) gives an excellent and authoritative reading, easy to follow and not zone out while driving. Lovers of history or those who want to learn more about the man will want to give this a shot. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
Last Lion: Winston Churchill

I remember I didn't know about the darker nature of fairy tales until I got involved in a production of Into the Woods and someone brought in a book that described earlier versions: including the one where the Wolf and Little Red basically hopped in bed together. Big and Bad, indeed. And while I may never forgive Philip Pullman for the end of his Dark Materials trilogy, here he's taken fifty fairy tales and retold/re-translated them in time for the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm's first publication. No, he's not updating them for the present day and he's not creating some sort of League of Extraordinary Fairy Tale Characters story arc...he's just giving us a straightforward, easy to read series of stories. And as you would want, it's not all things you've read before. Yes, you have "Cinderella" and the aforementioned Ms. Hood but also "The Goose Girl at the Spring." And after each tale, there's Pullman's own commentary and background details that enhance the experience. Fans of the tales will want to definitely check this out, as well as fans of Pullman, as his style is in evidence--and to the material's benefit. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Ever seen or heard something that simply wasn't there? Well, join the club. That's what's at the heart of Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks (yes, the guy who brought you Awakenings, among other tomes) and out from Knopf. It's more common than you would think--from just hearing your name called when it wasn't to full-blown alien abductions. And it can come from sleep dep (boy, don't I know it--once nearly had a wreck while swerving to avoid a dog that simply wasn't there), drugs, illness or injury. Sacks takes us through scads of case studies of varying severity (including his own first-hand experiences) and wants us to relax, hey--it's all part of being human. A somewhat freaky side of being human, but human all the same. The audiobook, out from Random House, is unabridged and read capably by Dan Woren (with the intro read by Sacks himself). And it's important when you have this much factual audiobooking going on that you have somebody who has an interesting enough voice to keep you from zoning out. Recommended either in text or audio form. (Click here to buy the audiobook from Amazon. Click here to buy the book from Amazon.)

Well, the possibility of it scares the hell out of all of us reader-types. We'll be on board a series and then the writer himself will be lost to us. That's what happened with William Manchester's Last Lion trilogy...in 2003, before his death, Manchester handed the reins over to Paul Reid. And what follows all this time later is a 1000+ massive exploration of Winston Churchill's World War II years through the end of his life. I have not read the first two volumes of this massive opus but the word from those who have say that this completes the trilogy as well as could be expected given the author switch. There's something to be said for wading through this tome, which could probably stop a bullet--since when it comes to a man who probably saved the world via sheer force of will and his ability to lead, you want to linger with such a guy as best you can. It's also where we get his finest hour--much has been made of the disaster that a lot of the rest of his career was...but when the war tried to knock Britain on its ass, Churchill stepped up and kept the nation from teetering. Again, a massive time investment, but for anyone interested in Churchill or World War II, the Last Lion trilogy is a must. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Can I Eat That? DVD
Dropout Nation DVD
Ken Burns: Dust Bowl Blu-Ray

How to get practically anyone interested in science? Couple it with food. That's the shot with this release from PBS, a bit from the show NOVA Science NOW entitled Can I Eat That? Through the four segments, we get the science behind how a Thanksgiving dinner works, why humans cook and theories as to how this has shaped our development, how taste actually works and then finally a look at Nathan Myhrvold, the former CTO of Microsoft who is now Science Food Guy. While the show is worthwhile and quite educational, the one drawback is $20 for a little under an hour of content. With no bonus bits. Rent it or catch the shows on repeat. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

A PBS Frontline documentary about the whys and wherefores of kids who don't make it through high school, Dropout Nation goes to one high school and profiles a semester in the life of four at-risk kids. In addition you see the people around them who all appear to be working their asses off to try and help them in the best ways they know how. Coming from the Alabama school system, where I probably would be further along in life had I dropped out and got started earlier, I feel everybody's pain involved with this. The docu is definitely worth checking out but either as a rental or online. The one benefit of purchasing a program like this--or any PBS release--is that you're supporting their programming. So bear that in mind. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I dig the hell out of Ken Burns. I have no idea how he is able to take simple narration, some talking heads, some music and some vintage pictures and video--and turn it into a compelling docu narrative rather than just, well, something boring that could just as well have sprung up at 2am on The History Channel. In fact, if you too are familiar with his work, I bet if I described The Dust Bowl to you--a multi-part docu about the ecological crash of America--and left off the bit about it coming from Burns, you probably wouldn't give a damn. But here you get the same sort of thing he brought most recently to Prohibition: he actually makes history interesting even for people who don't normally go in for such things. Around four hours of content are on this two-disc set from PBS, where he talks to people who were actually there and contextualizes everything so that the end result is excellent. Does it require hi-def? Not really, nor am I sure that this requires purchase due to replay factor--but the fact you do get making-of bits as well as additional interviews and bonus bits says that if you did want to own, you would at least be getting a decent amount of stuff for your coin. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Beatles: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band 180 Gram Vinyl
Megadeth: Countdown to Extinction

Here's what I can tell you about Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, out on 180 gram vinyl as part of the Uber Mondo Beatles Stereo Vinyl Boxed Set. I am not what I would consider a "audio nerd." If I can hear the difference in audio quality between two recordings of a song, then the differences must be extreme. I know some people can tell the difference between 128KB and 160KB bit rates--I can't. Nor am I a vinyl snob where I find it superior to other music storage systems. Granted, there is something about the sound you get from vinyl, but that's probably the nostalgia in me coming to the fore. And that's the main thing for me about checking this out--which remastered version, what level of grammage for the vinyl (I'm sure that's the right technical term), none of that matters--I'm listening to a pristine vinyl edition of my favorite Beatles record in the same medium that I was first introduced to it. And that's huge. That all being said, vinyl maniacs who also are hardcore fans will want to check out the vinyl editions of all of these titles. In reading around other reviews (which I do when I know I'm out of my depth--i.e., hearing the differences in sound quality), I see some people have had issues with quality control. Noted, but if they're that prevalent I guess I got lucky with my copy. If you're in the right demographic for this, you already know it. For those people I say: recommended. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

1992, I had left whatever metal I had previously enjoyed behind. There was a time, children, when you couldn't simply have all you could eat when it came to music. Ask your parents. Anyway, I wasn't on the Megadeth train when Countdown to Extinction first hit. And once I did become exposed to it, it never really hit me the way it must have others: it is, IMO, at its best, just straight up rawk. At its worst, it just sounds like a bunch of other metal and seems uninspired. "Foreclosure of a Dream" just wants to put me to sleep, for example. Now out in a 20th Anniversary edition, EMI has released the remastered original album (sans previous bonus tracks) and included a second disc, the entirety of their Live at the Cow Palace set from San Francisco, 1992. For me, the live set is much more attractive than the album itself--admittedly, it may be nostalgia that makes me enjoy the live grind of "Peace Sells." But there's also still a fun, capable cover of "Anarchy in the UK" to finish everything off. You also get liner notes, postcards and such...making this a worthwhile consideration for the hardcore Megadeth fan. Non-hardcore might want to check it out on Spotify or elsewhere before deciding about coin. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Asylum: I Want to Be a Gangster DVD
Burning Man DVD
Waves of Lust DVD

Do you want to get cured of being a gangster? Well, botching a job and ending up chained to a tree and left to die is probably one "tough love" way of doing it. That's the basic gist of Asylum (aka "I Want to Be a Gangster"). Apart from the subtitles, which shouldn't scare anyone, there are some distractions that might get in your way: the filters, the low quality video (which was on purpose, we're told) and certain story aspects. But if you're willing to go to an unorthodox place for a low budget gangster film that's at least trying to do something different, you might be rewarded. This Synapse DVD release comes with a making-of and another short film by the director. Rental will be fine for most everyone. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Burning Man is an unconventional film dealing with that most conventional topic: grief and how we deal with it in the wake of life-changing tragedy. Matthew Goode (probably best known to readers of this site as Ozymandias in the Watchmen movie) plays a chef who unravels and has to deal with the shreds of what's left. The Australian film is a good one for anyone who wants to check out a drama that aims to be slightly askew and different without just doing it for the sake of doing it. There is method to the madness. This IFC release comes with commentary, interviews and behind the scenes bits--most people would be fine with a rental. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

So you're just trekking along minding your own business--and by you I mean a young couple--and you get invited for a weekend jaunt on a yacht. Sounds good so far, yes? Yes. However, the owner of this yacht is a total bastard who likes to torment his girlfriend and now looks at the female newcomer as somebody else he could have fun with. And considering the title of the film you're in is Waves of Lust you--again, the young couple--probably are going to experience nudity, sex and oh, naturally, murder. Raro Video continues to bring films to DVD in excellent editions--you get a short docu and a booklet with an essay. Which is, frankly, not bad for an 1975 Italian erotic thriller. Fans of that particular genre might want to give this a rental but only the hardcore will want to own. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Bad Karma DVD
For the Love of Money DVD
Snowmageddon Blu-Ray

In Bad Karma, Ray Liotta plays a criminal who suddenly discovers he has a potentially fatal health problem and decides to turn it around. After he's gone legit (le-what?), an old buddy of his (played by Dominic Purcell) shows up and wants to pressure Liotta's character into one last job. That's how these things work, yes? So now we get the clash between these two--the reformed criminal and the full-on criminal. The good news is that Liotta and Purcell both get characters that they can smack around and enjoy--and thus be enjoyed--but if you guessed the One Last Job bit before I said it, then prepare for a lot of that. That being said, fans of the actors involved will want to give this a rental to check them out. Alas, this Anchor Bay release is devoid of bonus bits, so it's hard to consider it a purchase for anyone, really. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

For the Love of Money looks like one of those low budget gangster flicks that managed to pull in some names. I mean Paul Sorvino? James Caan? That's gangster cred there. And hey Edward Furlong is the star? Man, he looks like a badass. It would be nice to see him getting some better work. Could this actually be decent? Well, the problem is...it's not their story. It's not even some sort of heist flick as the art would make you believe. The actual story of an Israeli family moving to Los Angeles to escape crime and instead facing up to crime...that would be interesting enough, but the sham setup is a bit too much to overcome, especially when you were expecting the people on the front of the box to have larger roles. It's everything you fear from low budget films but taken to an extreme--and I'm sure the true story involved deserved better. This Lionsgate release comes with a behind the scenes bit. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

When we say that Snowmageddon is a SyFy release, then you know what you're in for. At least, I hope you are. That being said, the people who brought you Stonehenge Apocalypse and Mongolian Death Worm are really pushing it when a town in Alaska faces destruction due to an evil snow globe. Yes, it's fine, read that sentence again. So while the strength of SyFy is to be silly and bad and yet somehow awesome...this never quite elevates itself above the whole silly and bad piece. The fact that it's tied in with the holidays doesn't appear to help matters. This Anchor Bay release is bare bones and that, along with other reasons, cause me to advise it only for the SyFy hardcore. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

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Widgett Walls is Need Coffee's Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. He is the author of the novel Mystics on the Road to Vanishing Point, and two collections of short stories, Magnificent Desolation and Something Else: The Complete First Season. He is also co-author of the children's book There's a Zombie in My Treehouse! All of those books are available in paperback or for the Kindle from Amazon. He is also the narrator and publisher of the first unabridged recording of Seneca's letters, available here. He is active on both Twitter and Facebook. (If you befriend him on Facebook, do say you came via Need Coffee.) He lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. He hardly ever sleeps.

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