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Headsup: Aliens, Giants, Witches, Vampires & Other Modern Complaints

By Widge - posted 06.19.13 @ 11:36 pm

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 Blu-Ray
Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Best of Both Worlds Blu-Ray

I will admit something to you. I was never a huge Trek fan. (Trekker, Trekkie, Treksaurus, whatever the hell you people are calling yourselves this week.) I appreciated it, sure, but I never had time to watch a lot of television...and during that brief window of my life when I did, there wasn't a lot of Trek on the tube where I could get at it. This is probably why I enjoyed the latest Trek film and don't spit every time somebody mentions J.J. Abrams. Anyway, apart from rabid loyalty, only worn down by a series of increasingly lame films, there's one thing you can count on a Trek fan for: varying degrees of tolerance for Next Generation until it, in their opinion, found its legs. The second season seemed to get the show's shit together and then the third season kept running with it, giving us more fun with Q, a badass alternate timeline story (in continuity, my favorite flavor), and then the lead-in to the "Best of Two Worlds" two-parter. More on that in a moment. The hi-def-ery of this Season 3 Blu-Ray set are excellent and will make the fans (of whatever nomenclature) happy, and there are bonus bits as well. There are five audio commentaries, a season overview, character featurette, retrospectives on particular episodes, a look at the season's changes from the previous year, a writers roundtable, a feature-length docu and more. If you like the show, it will make you happy. Full stop. Then, if you dig the Borg/Picard two-parter, Best of Both Worlds splices both the finale and the Season 4 opener together for a full-on presentation. Now, at first when I saw this I thought, "Man, another example of trying to gouge impatient fans." But no, you've got an audio commentary exclusive to this release and a Borg featurette as well. No doubt they'll be available later on as part of some uber mondo set, but for right now they're just here. Fans will want to own one if not both...I'd say snag the season and rent Worlds to get the...well, best of...you know. (Amazon: Season 3; Best of Both Worlds.)

Gamer 3D Blu-Ray
Jack Reacher Blu-Ray
Manborg DVD

Gerard Butler is a human avatar being used by another human in a "real life" video game with actual people trying to actually kill each other. If Butler's character (Kable, natch) keeps on winning, eventually he gets his freedom and whatnot. But things are never that easy, right? Especially when you've got Michael C. Hall playing your nemesis, the man behind the game and your Arcade du jour, so to speak. IN a move that I find surprising because either Gamer did really well on home video or 3D conversion has gotten really cheap...because this is the 2D/3D Blu-Ray combo of the film, out from Lionsgate. It's just...not the sort of film where I found myself saying, "Man, if only this was in 3D!" And the end results in that arena (no pun intended) are a mixed bag. You'd be better off digging out your copy of Dredd 3D and rewatching it if you're just out for 3D-ness. And, hey, the film is still the same explodo distraction it was previously. Your sole bonus bit is the making-of from the previous release. If you already own the first Blu-Ray, then you're set and should just rent this if you must sample it. (Buy it from Amazon.)

Somebody's taken down five people, seemingly at random, in Pittsburgh. The sniper's been arrested and though all the evidence seems to point the guy's way, the guy wants Jack Reacher involved. And considering Reacher is Tom Cruise, then obviously hijinks, beatdowns and a bit of humor shall thus ensue. Jack Reacher is a solid, no frills action-mystery. That's about it. And there's nothing wrong with that being it. While I did miss some aspects of the mystery from the original Lee Child book, I thought the film itself--though having some fairly extensive holes--was a fun watch. And I like Cruise being able to walk the line between his action-self and his acting-self. The Blu-Ray here looks and sounds great and has as its bonus centerpiece a commentary with Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie, where they delve in all the right ways and explain their process of adapting the film. It's an excellent commentary for anyone who dug the film. There's also an isolated score with some comments from composer Joe Kramer, a making-of, a fighting/weapon featurette, and a featurette about the character himself. Cruise fans or Lee Child fans I think will both be pleased but the hardcore may be the only ones who should own. (Buy it from Amazon.)

Count Draculon. Dr. Scorpius. #1 Man. Mega-Death City. If you don't realize we've turned the corner into retro 80s action/sci-fi paradise, then you haven't been paying attention. Because in low budget Manborg, a dead soldier is brought back on duty by remaking him into the titular asskicker. Can he and his allies stop the evil Count before the madman's evil schemes succeed? The first thing I thought of when I saw the cover was Metalstorm. And if that sort of weird comparison excites you, then the mayhem of the film might be right up your alley. As long as you go in aware of what game they're trying to play here, you'll probably dig it. And this Dark Sky DVD release has commendable bonus bits: two commentary tracks, behind the scenes, FX montages, deleted scenes, interviews and more. Most everybody would be good with a rental on this one, but if you grab it and adore it, let the replay factor be your guide. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters 3D Blu-Ray
Jack the Giant Slayer Blu-Ray

See, I'm not sure that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was ever supposed to be good. The poster with Jeremy Renner standing behind Arterton with a gun in each hand...that to me screams 80s bad sci-fi/horror VHS cover. And you have to give a film credit that just wants to be what it is. Regardless, it made a ton of money worldwide (as intended--I'm sure Renner in Avengers didn't hurt it any), so don't be surprised if there's a follow-up. For those who didn't check it out in cinemas and who want to see the disaster for themselves, Paramount has released it to 3D Blu-Ray. The 3D here is decent but not critical, and the audio and video are both excellent for your hi-def rig. The 3D version of the film is the theatrical release; the promised unrated cut is on your 2D Blu-Ray. So are a brief making-of, and featurettes covering the witches and the troll. At present, the 3D version is about $20 more than the regular Blu-Ray release, so my advice would be--if you must own it--snag the 2D and rent the 3D if you want to get that fix. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

It only makes sense that with Once Upon a Time doing so well, the studios would be re-farming fairy tales. Like the above, where they added lots of weapons. So yes, a Jack and the Beanstalk story was inevitable. Jack the Giant Slayer, unlike the above, aimed to be a bigass summer tentpole. See its $200 production budget if you don't believe me (which it only just managed to make back worldwide). The good news is that you've got a number of actors having fun--among them, Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor and Bill Nighy (who makes everything better). The bad news is that the giant effects all seem a bit...well, cheap...and you've got a decent story where the feel of the film makes you think there should have been more there. The film looks and sounds great on your hi-def setup at home, though, so that's something. You also have a number of featurettes that range from FX to how to deal with a beanstalk and seem to be very, very kid-friendly. You also get deleted scenes and a gag reel. If you have a kid who isn't scared by digital monsters, then they might be up for this--it feels like a kids' movie with delusions of grandeur. But in most cases, a rental will do just fine. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas Audiobook
Here is Where by Andrew Carroll Audiobook
Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void by Tim Lebbon Audiobook'

What's it like to be a sociopath if you're not the protagonist of a network TV show and/or media franchise? The real world example is given by the pseudonymous author M.E. Thomas in Confessions of a Sociopath. Rather than kill victims and cook them or start some sort of whacked out cult, she's become a Sunday school teacher and lawyer. The latter she praises her condition for, saying that a lack of fear and guilt comes in handy when you're in court and under a lot of pressure. She speaks up for all the sociopaths who don't kill people (although she has had fantasies...but then again, who hasn't?) and mostly just struggle to figure out others and their wacky human emotions. The reader for this nine CD, unabridged set is Bernadette Sullivan, who gives it the somewhat casual narration such a memoir requires. And the book itself is recommended for anybody who wants a first-hand account of what it's like to have this condition and not be a dashing cannibal. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

One thing I love is history--but not just any history, the weird, wacky history that you didn't find out in schools. (Granted, I went to school in Alabama, so I'm lucky I know where the continents are.) You know what I mean: the fascinating nuggets of huh-inducing wonder. Well, it turns out I'm not alone: Andrew Carroll digs that sort of thing too. He started off by visiting the location where Abraham Lincoln's eldest son was saved from death by Edwin Booth. Yes, Booth the brother of the other Booth. From that point, he decided to check out "unmarked places" that were significant to history or just plain interesting. Thus Here is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History. Unabridged, the book is here across fourteen hours and eleven CDs from Random House Audio and read by the author...who comes across as enthusiastic and stacked with knowledge. I recommend this not just for anybody who has the same interest in history--but if you're taking a card ride somewhere this summer and need something to listen to that might make the kids sit up a bit and take notice, then give it a shot. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Speaking of history, apparently while trying to tide everyone over until 2015 and another new Star Wars film, the comic book series Dawn of the Jedi (which should have been the sequel to Night of the Living Jedi) has spawned a novel, Into the Void, written by Tim Lebbon. I'm not big into this universe beyond the original trilogy, so my ability to enjoy this is limited--so take this recommendation with a grain of salt. I'm not familiar enough with the lore of the Jedi, stretching back to Gilly-Umpteen B.C. or whatever, to really appreciate everything that's going on here. And I'm sort of wondering if this was a story meant for kids...because this Random House audiobook has background sound effects and such that are unnecessary and distracting. Not helping matters is the narration by January LaVoy, who reads the book, yes, but...that's about it. And her style of reading feels more like she's reading to her young niece or something rather than trying to perform the text. This nine CD unabridged release is best for those who are already immersed in the books and comics. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Cloud Atlas Blu-Ray
Details Blu-Ray
Mighty Fine DVD

The problem with Cloud Atlas is that I think it scared people off with its bigness. The tale that spans six different eras and interlocking stories with the same ensemble cast (including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Jim Broadbent) playing multiple characters. Ostensibly showing how everything is connected and every action you perform affects somebody, somewhere...it sort of can't be anything but big. That was both its strength and weakness, and in my opinion whatever it lacked in execution it made up for in both ambition and its sometimes crazy-like-a-fox casting. Tom Hanks as a murderous gangster turned murderous author? Hugh Grant as a cannibal warlord? Fantastic. The Blu-Ray release from Warner Brothers is decent but nothing to write home about and nowhere near the exploration that the film deserved. (It made its money back at the box office--but only just.) You get a series of brief featurettes covering the stories, the way the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer went about adapting the monster book, and more. No commentary, which is what I was really looking forward to. That being said, the audio and video look damn fine, so you can enjoy this even if it never made it to your neck of the woods. Highly recommended. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Details, out on Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay, also looks at the human condition--but in a mad, absurd way. When an addition to their house doesn't go according to plan, the fact that raccoons of all things keep getting in the way of progress is more than Tobey Maguire's character can bear. So he goes after them...and hijinks and various and sundry repercussions ensue. Some of these involve Laura Linney as a neighbor, Dennis Haysbert as a terminal friend, and Ray Liotta playing another Ray Liotta character...except in this instance, Maguire's character messed around with his wife. I mean, honestly: would you mess with Liotta's wife, even in a fictional universe? Home video's the perfect place to catch this because that way if the ever darkening humor works (or doesn't), you're in the privacy of your own home. So chortle to your heart's delight. The release only comes with an alternate ending and beginning but it's worth checking out for people who like black comedies with excellent casts. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Talking about further hijinks, you've got Mighty Fine, hitting DVD from Lionsgate. In it, a Jewish family gets moved to New Orleans from Brooklyn by Dad (Chazz Palminteri) for business reasons, uprooting Holocaust survivor Mom (Andie MacDowell) and their two daughters. The trouble is that Dad has these fits of rage that everyone has to deal with...not helped by the fact that the business isn't doing so hot and Dad wants to shower his family with stuff that costs money. Trouble indeed is brewing. The film is worth checking out for fans of Palminteri, who turns in a great performance but the story itself (daughter narrates troubled household) doesn't seem to transcend enough to be anything more than a mildly interesting autobiographical bit. Check it out on cable or Netflix. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Dexter Season 7 Blu-Ray
Laverne and Shirley Season 6 DVD
True Blood Season 5 Blu-Ray

As the series finally starts to round the final curve, Dexter hits Blu-Ray with all twelve episodes across three discs. In addition to having to deal with two killers who are running about and might need Proper Dealing With, Dexter also has to contend with the fact that his sister finally knows his secret. Family's never easy, right? My problem with the show is that I tuned out after the incredibly insipid second season, which just seemed like the worst sophomore album ever after the utterly brilliant and increasingly dark before going pitch on us First Season. One thing I can still appreciate is Michael C. Hall's performance, who's always been good at acting like somebody who's having to act at being a normal albeit quirky human. Look for Ray Stevenson this season as one of the other killers in question. The audio and video for this are quite good--and at $10 more than the DVD set, they better be--but you get really nothing in the way of extras, a big disappointment. Fans and completists who've been following the show might want to snag this--but everyone else (including those who want to get a refresher before the final season starts at the end of this month) will be fine with a rental. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Well, here it is: the first of the California season of Laverne & Shirley, where they were downsized at their brewery jobs in Milwaukee and decided to move out west. In addition to new jobs, new characters and a new environment, the twenty-two episodes here (across three discs) bring you guest stars like Keith Coogan, Vicki Lawrence, Eric Idle and Richard Moll. As far as bonus bits go, you do get some snippets: promos, a gag reel and a videogram. Some fans of the show contend that this was the beginning of the end--some say it had already ended. Regardless, if this is your thing, this is probably your only way to view them: and at a little over $1 an episode, that's not bad. Hardcore will want to own but if you just want to reacquaint yourself then rent or Netflix it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The final season with head burrito Alan Ball, True Blood's fifth season deals with the Vampire Authority, curses, superhuman powers, and then ends with a setup for more hijinks and evil in the next season (which has just kicked off). I've never been a fan of the show, despite liking most of the cast in other things that I've seen them in--but I can see where a world of vampires, werewolves, faeries and other critters can appeal to many. Especially when you throw in the nudity and sex as the cherry on the horror sundae. That appears to be a popular condiment in the world of cable television. Anyway, the Blu-Ray release is out from HBO and they normally do it up right: no exception here. All the episodes look and sound fantastic and come with a healthy array of bonus bits. You get five audio commentaries, an "Inside the Episode" featurette for each episode, a full hour long exploration of the season's sixth episode, and the entire season comes also on DVD and Digital Copy for those who require such things. Each episode also comes with an "Enhanced Viewing" setup where you can get other tidbits as you watch. A nice way to talk yourself into watching an episode again, to be sure. The price point is around $3 an episode but the fan of the show will want to snag this for the bonus bits. If you're trying to watch your coins, though, a rental should let you get through everything you need. As always, the fan must answer the replay factor question for themselves. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Bike Snob Abroad
Myth of the Superhero
Songs That Saved Your Life: The Smiths

There's a problem with cycling with your toddler? I'll admit I'm surprised, but then again I neither A) cycle or 2) have a toddler. But that's the impetus for BikeSnobNYC (aka Eben Weiss) hitting the road overseas to see if there's a more bike-friendly city out there with Bike Snob Abroad: Strange Customs, Incredible Fiets, and the Quest for Cycling Paradise, out from Chronicle Books. On the way, he takes you through the personal story of cycling, being a cycling parent and the fun that entails, and how other cities treat their cyclists and their bikes. I appreciate moments like when he's being given concern by a woman driver who's concerned about his toddler being in the kid's seat on the back of his bike. Relating the paragraphs of info that run through one's mind when such an interaction is taking place--nicely done and something we've all experienced in one form or another, bike/toddler or no. I would recommend this book as a gift for that "Bike-Xuberant" person on your list, especially if that's yourself. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.

It's easy to see that with Marco Arnaudo's Myth of the Superhero (out from Johns Hopkins and translated from Italian by Jamie Richards), clearly the man's not screwing around. Beginning with the tie-in with mythology and bringing in both Gilgamesh and Joseph Campbell from pretty much square one, you're going to get exactly what you would want: a scholarly look at the pop culture mythos but not so scholarly that it can't be read by, you know, a non-scholarly comic fan. Comparisons to Olympus (not lost on people like Grant Morrison) are here plus a look at how religion ties in, plus an exploration as to why the hell America seems to do the superhero more than anyone else. The info just keeps going and it's a fascinating take on the genre most of us know and love. Are you going to get pounded with a brand new idea that's new crossed your mind before? Probably not...but that doesn't mean it's not worth reading. It's good to just have all these thoughts in one place, frankly, and have somebody organize them for you. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

We've expressed surprise (well, for me surprise) on the music podcast before: The Smiths really didn't put out that much material. But hot damn, the stuff was good and they have, you know, a few fans. After giving us a history of the band (stuff I didn't know...the It's a Wonderful Life framework for the thing was most helpful, I admit), the book goes track by track through their songs and gives you the scoop on their creation. I recommend reading this with their library handy so you can play through the songs you're not as familiar with (if you need it--I've listened to Strangeways so many times, I had them down pat), because unless you have them in your head, you're definitely missing something. Obviously, non-fans or fans who are fine with not delving won't need to snag this Titan Books release...but if you're a serious Smiths fanatic or know someone who is, this is a must-own. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Devil is in the Details: Examining Matt Murdock and Daredevil
Lego Batman: The Movie Blu-Ray
Superman Unbound Blu-Ray

Above we were talking about a scholarly look at the superhero genre in a broad sense--now Sequart and editor Ryan K. Lindsay are focusing on Daredevil in the new book The Devil is in the Details: Examining Matt Murdock and Daredevil. After an excellent intro by Daredevil mega-editor Ralph Macchio--you get the story of how Stan Lee got handed the task to, in essence, do Spider-Man again...and how he managed to, with a little help from his friends, craft a character that shouldn't still be around. (This is mentioned more than once.) Then just about everything gets touched upon in one way or another. Foggy? There's one in here for you. Spider-Man and Punisher and Daredevil's pairing with each of them? Check and check. And lots is made--and rightly so--of the non-costumed Matt Murdock and what part that played in the fact that the book is so enduring, not even the ill-advised feature film could kill it. Again, if you've been jonesing to delve into the character, then this is right up your alley. Recommended. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

So here we go: another amusing adaptation chain. Batman the comic, Lego-ized and turned into a video game, which is then turned around and made into an animated film. The story is pretty simple: Lego Bruce Wayne is getting the Man of the Year Award, which ticks off Lego Luthor. So he teams up with fellow baddie Lego Joker and all the Batman Rogue's Gallery show up. So then of course you need Batman, Robin and Superman to get augmented by the Justice League. Two things. First, this is fleshing out some in-game cut scenes...which means this is more like a bonus feature to the game than a standalone release. And second, I know adults who dig the hell out of the Lego Whatever line of games. I doubt they would feel the same about this film--it seems to be aiming to a very young audience. There are a few bonus bits: a stop motion animation featurette, an animated short, some additional DC animated episodes and more. Again, if you have a kid who loves the game, then they'll probably dig this. If you're a Batman completist, a rental will do you just fine. But don't put it on the shortlist. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Brainiac I grew up with--i.e., the non-Gigerish, green guy--comes to Earth in Superman: Unbound, intent on increasing his bottled city collection (guy should be on an episode of Hoarders) and then, just to make sure it's a mint-in-the-bottle one of a kind, destroy the solar system. Along with Supes, Supergirl is on tap to stand against the guy who stole Kandor from Krypton, and Lois Lane is backing him up as well. There's a lot to like about the film, even without Tim Daly on board. The animation is solid, there's a goodly amount of punching things, and the voice cast is quite good. The film needed some more time to breathe, perhaps, but that's as maybe. In the bonus department, you've got an audio commentary, a Brainiac featurette, a Kandor featurette, some additional DC animated bits and some digital pages from the Superman: Brainiac series this was based on. If you're a DC or Superman fiend, this is definitely worth checking out--the replay factor on this one is purely a personal choice. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Looking Glass War John Le Carre Audiobook

Russia House John Le Carre Audiobook
Small Town in Germany John Le Carre Audiobook

Penguin Audio continues to push out new unabridged versions of John Le Carré's spy novels. You have The Looking Glass War, the George Smiley novel that precedes Tinker Tailor in the sequence of that series. In it, the predecessors to The Circus, known as The Department, are trying to retain some degree of action and to those ends starts tracking down word of some Soviet hijinks in East Germany. Things...don't go according to plan, of course. Then in A Small Town in Germany, a worker in the British embassy in Bonn goes AWOL with some secrets and someone is sent in to figure out just what the hell happened to the guy. Because you know it can't be simple. And lastly in this lot, The Russia House, later made into the film with Connery and Pfeiffer. In it, a British publisher gets pinged with a manuscript with some details about the Soviets...but the manuscript doesn't quite make it to where it was supposed to go, and again, things get complicated. I personally find these novels to be excellent when read, especially with the hard accent of Michael Jayston. You're not likely to fall asleep while driving with him working through it. If you're fans of Tinker Tailor and want to know more about Le Carré's spy-filled universe, then this would definitely be a way to delve more while on your road trip this summer. Recommended.

Citizen Hearst DVD
Witness HBO Documentary DVD
WWII From Space Blu-Ray

For some crazy reason I thought that Citizen Hearst was going to be a docu about the life and times of William Randolph Hearst...and based on the fact that I don't know how much Oprah (pictured on the cover) and he spent together, maybe get some opinions on his legacy. Instead, Hearst dies not too far into the proceedings (whoops, spoilers) and we then comb down the ages all the way to today, talking about the empire that he built. The "Now You'll Know Everything" tagline is misleading as well...this doesn't really reveal much of anything. While it's not exactly bare bones, it just would lead one to believe it's a meatier meal than it actually is. William H. Macy's capable narration is about the only feature on here. Check it out on cable if there's nothing else running and you need a docu fix, otherwise if you seek info on Hearst himself, there's a number of books on the subject that would probably suit you better. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Now that Vice has ended its season (and thankfully been renewed) you have until 2014 to wait for more of its insane reporting. Not on the same level of gonzo-ness but still involving insanity abroad--the world of combat photographers gets its own docu miniseries, Witness, also from HBO. Here, we get some time on the ground in Juarez, Mexico; Libya; Southern Sudan; and Brazil. Trying to cram a lot of info into an hour each (30 minutes in the case of the Juarez installment), you get both the landscape and what mayhem is happening there plus a bit of insight into what compels somebody to go there with a camera. Unfortunately, there's no bonus bits with the release: I would think surely you had to have some footage that didn't make the final cut...that could have been easily included. Or for when you do have an interview...uncut versions of that. But regardless, for anyone who wants to see what's not making it to the evening news, this is an excellent thing to catch on HBO. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

So while we're still on the subject of docu programs living up to the promise of their titles/cover art/taglines/marketing, we come to Lionsgate and History and their WWII From Space. You might think that, knowing the Nazis were up to some truly crazy shit (especially towards the end of the war), it's about secret projects that might have formed the basis for Iron Sky. You might even think it was going to take a bird's eye (space whale's eye?) view of the conflict, maybe showing what, say, Pearl Harbor looked from a long way up. Admittedly, I'm reaching there. But apart from trying to stay airborne (spaceborne) as much as possible, there's not a lot separating this from the other 13,415 specials brought to you by the network. No supplemental features means it's the sort of thing you just want to catch next time it comes around on History or Netflix it at the most. You won't find out a great deal you didn't know, unless you're a WWII newbie. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Hand-Crafted Candy Bars
Stuck on Star Trek

As I've mentioned before, diet cheat days are important. As the one day a week I get to legitimately go insane and eat whatever I want, there's only so many pizzas and Nutrageous bars I can consume. I haven't proved this yet, mind you, but it is a theory. Anyway, I appreciate books that can help me get crazy and creative--one such entry is Hand-Crafted Candy Bars: All-Natural, Gloriously Grown Up Confections by Susan Heeger and Susie Norris (with Joseph De Leo on camera duty), out from Chronicle Books. If you, like me, see blog posts about completely mental (both ingredient-wise and price-wise) artisan hand-made candy bars and think, "I dunno if I should rob a bank just for this..." well, don't worry about it. You might, at first, think that you're going to get thrown in at the deep end with a bunch of recipes and no overall instruction. I mean: cookies, cakes, brownies, whatever...but making a candy bar can be an alien thought at first. No worries. They take you through the ingredients and the methods in detail so when you are facing down something like "Cocoa-Nib Caramel Cookie Sticks" or "Whit Chocolate Cookies & Crunch Bars" you don't flinch. An excellent book that should get you making completely insane candy bars that are an affront to man and god in no time. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

So, Colorforms. (Kids, ask your parents.) Getting a background and then a bunch of your favorite characters to stick onto it and create a tableau of whatever. And if there was a Star Trek Colorforms set, I never knew about it. But if you've ever felt like blocking out a scene from the original series--whether it's on the bridge, the transporter room or elsewhere--here's your chance. Plenty of characters you can stick on the scenes along with props and such...and if you get a scene you're keen to show off, the book folds out and lets you display it. Feel free to get a Benedict Cumberbatch stick-on figure from somewhere and use it to confuse your friends. A good gift choice for that hard-to-buy-for Trekkie. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Felicity Season 3 DVD
Felicity Season 4 DVD

Lionsgate wraps up Felicity with the third and fourth seasons on DVD (for this re-release, anyway). The junior and senior years of the series have our heroes getting through college and all of the life and relationship tribulations that entails. Well, a bit more than normal, this is, after all, a WB Network soap opera. And that's the thing: it's like most soaps. You either are on board or you're not and if your soap quota is already full up, you might not have had room for it at the time. The good news is that not only do you get special features on these releases--but the original Buena Vista ones are out of print and pricey, so if you're a fan this is the way to snag them. Both sets come with commentaries--Season 3 also has a retrospective docu, while Season 4 comes with a cast and crew Q&A plus two additional featurettes. Again, if you're a fan and don't already own them, now would be the time to snag them. If you have a previous edition, no need to re-purchase.

Paul McCartney and Wings: Wings Over America CD

As the Paul McCartney Archive Collection marches on, thanks to Hear/Concord Music, we have the two-CD remastered release of Wings Over America to contend with. Twenty-eight tracks compiled from live performances across the United States, it's a solid release. All you need to do is seek out some of your favorites to hear how they hold up live: I dig the bouncy energy of "Magneto and Titanium Man," for example, and "Live and Let Die" is everything that you would hope for. And when some Beatles tunes are rolled out, they're a treat as well: "Lady Madonna" comes across as both energetic and bemused, but then it leads into "The Long and Winding Road," in an excellent live version featuring very warm horns. Granted, I don't have another release of this to compare it to, but from what I can tell, it sounds excellent. The fan is definitely going to want to snag this. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Film Music of Michael Nyman for Solo Piano: Performed by Joohyun Park CD
Styx: Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight Live CD

Michael Nyman is no doubt best known for the score to The Piano, and a quick trawl of Amazon or Spotify will show you a number of different albums of Nyman's work--and it lends itself to going the solo piano route as, well, that's his modus operandi. So enter Joohyun Park, who is putting her spin on the work. Now, the good news is you have not only selections from Piano, but other films you might not even know he did the work on, like Gattaca and Diary of Anne Frank. And the album is quite beautiful because it's just beautifully composed music--however, there's not much spin happening here on several of the tracks. To take a work of solo piano and cover it on solo piano...well, you need to do something or why wouldn't I just go and get the original? The album is a limited edition physical release of 1000 copies. (Buy it from Buysoundtrax.)

As mentioned before when we discussed the Blu-Ray release of this, Styx recorded two of their albums live in 2010: The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight. While a Styx fan will appreciate hearing these albums tackled, even though it's by the present iteration of the band. While they aren't sounding as tired as a lot of bands who are still touring and rawking for their aging fans, they have lost some oomph. Lawrence Gowan does a capable job of filling Dennis DeYoung's shoes, but there's still something missing. This is quite evident on "Come Sail Away." It's hard to put my finger on exactly what's not there (besides the obvious answer of DeYoung). That being said, it's a good live show that will appeal to fans--though they should be aware that for $8 extra, they could get the DVD/CD set to get the visuals to go along with the music. (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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    1. 

    You said "The Piano".

    Comment by Bailey — July 8, 2013 @ 9:56 am

    2. 

    Shit! He heard us! Everyone run!

    Comment by Widge — July 9, 2013 @ 11:12 pm

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