Author - Thespia

Headsup: Secrets

Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment requests we note that it provided a free copy of the titles featured below. The opinions I share are my own.

Out now are two titles where not everything is as it seems:

Riverdale Season OneFirst we have Riverdale, the alternative take on small-town life based on characters from Archie Comics. The series stars KJ Apa (Archie Andrews), Lili Reinhart (Betty Cooper), Camila Mendes (Veronica Lodge), and Cole Sprouse (Jughead Jones). As a new school year is under way, the characters are dealing with issues of love and loss: Betty Cooper has yet to disclose her romantic feelings for Archie, Archie has just finished a clandestine relationship with his once-mentor music teacher, queen bee Cheryl Blossom may be hiding something about her brother Jason’s death, and Archie must decide whether or not to come forward with damaging information about the day Jason went missing.  The town’s idyllic facade begins to crack as more secrets begin to come to light, and the characters begin to realize that Riverdale will never be the same.

Out now is Riverdale: The Complete First Season, which includes all thirteen episodes of the first season on DVD and Blu-ray.  Bonus features include five featurettes (“The New Normal”, “I Got You”, “Riverdale: 2016 Comic-Con Panel”, “Riverdale: The Ultimate Sin”, and “These are the Moments I Remember”) along with some unaired scenes and a gag reel.  A streaming option is available on both Amazon and iTunes for $29.99 (Amazon’s offers the Comic-Con panel and a one-minute behind-the-scenes special as bonus features and iTunes offers all five featurettes).  If you want it in disc format, you can grab it on Amazon: the DVD currently goes for $24.57 and the Blu-ray for $31.50.  Since you save $4+ by doing the DVD versus streaming and you get all the bonus features to boot, I’d say the DVD is the better move here, but weigh the factors (including how crowded your shelf is at home) and decide what’s best for you.

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Headsup: Kids’ Corner #2

Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment requests we note that it provided a free copy of the first title featured below. The opinions I share are my own.

 

Out now are three new titles to help your kids get in some laughter and adventure:

 
Elmo's Wonderful World DVDFirst we have Sesame Street: Elmo’s Wonderful World, where the beloved muppet takes his preschool audience on an exploration of sharing, counting, kindness, playing dress up, meeting bees, and more.  Along for the ride are Elmo’s friends Smartie, Mr. Noodle, and Mr. Noodle’s dog Schmoodle.  In addition to the thirteen new Elmo’s World episodes, bonus features on this one include two episodes of Sesame Street‘s new spin-off Furchester Hotel (a fun new show featuring Elmo and Cookie Monster as they try to help the well-meaning but less-than-competent Furchester-Fuzz family run an upscale hotel), along with three classic Elmo’s World Episodes (“Frogs,” “Violins,” and “Helping”).

Sesame Street: Elmo’s Wonderful World is out now from Warner Brothers on DVD, which includes over two hours of Elmo’s World episodes.  The DVD is now available on Amazon for $9.19 and you can get a taste of the show with the clip below.

Rating: Not Rated

Episode Runtime: 5-7 minutes
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Headsup: The Art of Magic the Gathering – Amonkhet

Even if you aren’t a gamer, you’ve probably at least heard of Magic: The Gathering, the very first fantasy trading card game which was created by Wizards of the Coast back in 1993.  Over the past two decades, the game has grown to include over seventy-five expansion sets and even has an organized international tournament system (including professional players who can win tens of thousands of dollars from a single tournament).  It has also won multiple awards, including a Mensa Award and multiple Origins Awards, and is available in eleven different languages.

If you are one of the twenty million Magic fans (in more than seventy countries),  you’ll be happy to know that The Art of Magic: The Gathering – Amonkhet, the fourth volume in a series of coffee table books featuring the award-winning artwork in the beloved game, is now available.  In this volume, readers meet the inhabitants of the desert oasis of Amonkhet, whose lives revolve around a series of trials completed in preparation for the return of the God-Pharaoh.  This 240-page hardcover book features full-color illustrations from a variety of artists, including Cliff Childs, Winona Wilson, Christine Choi and Adam Paquette, among others.  In addition to the beautiful artwork, Senior Game Designer James Wyatt also provides some insight into the mysterious and intoxicating world of Amonkhet.

The Art of Magic: The Gathering – Amonkhet is currently available on Amazon for $27.17; not bad considering how hefty a book this is (it weighs around four pounds and measures almost two feet wide when open)…a nice gifting choice for anyone in love with the art of the game (for some sneak peeks of the illustrations, see below).

 
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Headsup: Girls Kicking Butt

 

Out now are two titles for fans that are all about girl power:

 

Ghost-in-Shell-2017-Blu-ray-3DFirst we have Ghost in the Shell, the American action/sci-fi film directed by Rupert Sanders based on the Japanese manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow (for our recent feature on the animated Ghost in the Shell steelbook release, click here).  The film tells the story of Major (Scarlett Johansson), a futuristic cyborg supersoldier who was designed to fight against cyber-crime but discovers that events in her past may not be what her creators led her to believe.  As she delves into the mystery of her own identity, Major is forced to follow what is left of her human instincts to decide who she can and can’t trust, and must reconcile who she thought she was with who she may truly be instead.

The film is now out on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray Combo Pack, and DVD. In addition to the film, the Blu-ray sets also boast almost an hour of extras, including “Hard-Wired Humanity: Making of Ghost in the Shell” (a 30-minute behind-the-scenes feature with interviews from the cast and crew, covering topics such as character preparation, stunts, costume-making and the adaptation of the manga source material into the current film), “Section 9: Cyber Defenders” (an 11-minute examination of Major’s crime-fighting team and their individual specialized super-soldier abilities), and “Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy” (a ten-minute featurette that takes a look into the real-life science behind robotics and the future possibilities of human cyber enhancement).  The disc and digital versions are all currently available on Amazon, with the DVD and the Blu-ray Combo Pack both going for $19.99,  4K Ultra HD for $29.72, and the Blu-ray 3D for $48.99.  With so many options, it’s up to you which fits your needs / wants best if looking to purchase.  Just a note of reminder, though, that the DVD doesn’t offer the bonus features like the other sets, and since Amazon is currently offering it for the same price as the Blu-ray Combo Pack (which itself includes the DVD), there’s really no reason to not choose the latter of those two.

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Headsup: Independent Film Friday #2

RED LEAVES DVD 1944 DVD Bender DVD

 
The first week of August is just around the corner, and with it come some new titles for the independent film junkie:

 

First is Fipresci Prize winner Red Leaves, Israeli-Ethiopian director Bazi Gete’s feature-length debut film which tells the tale of Meseganio Tadela (Debebe Eshetu), a 74-year-old Ethiopian immigrant living in Israel who has recently become a widower.  After deciding that he will sell his apartment and live alternately with his two adult sons (regardless of their feelings on the matter), the harsh reality of Tadela’s role as an unassimilated patriarch clinging to the past clashes with the realities of living in modern Israel as he struggles to pass on the values of his culture and his life to those around him before his chance is gone.  The movie is out from IndiePix Films on August 1 on DVD (at $24.95 suggested retail) as well as the streaming subscription service IndiePix Unlimited.  For an insight into the film, check out the trailer below:

 

 

Next up is 1944, Estonia’s Official Oscar Entry for Best Foreign Language Film in 2016.  Directed by Elmo Nüganen, 1944 takes an inside look into the effects of Estonia’s occupation during WWII (first by Soviet Russia and then by Nazi Germany) when tens of thousands of men of combat age in the Baltic country were forced to fight for the Soviet and Nazi forces.  Friends and neighbors were facing each other on the battlefield, with the country torn apart as a result.   The story (written by novelist Leo Kunnas, a former high-ranking Estonian military officer) is told through the eyes of the Estonian civilians fighting on opposing sides and the struggles that they go through to keep their humanity while trying to survive one of the bloodiest periods in the country’s history.  The film is out on August 1 from Film Movement on digital platforms and a Walmart-exclusive DVD, which includes the original Estonian with English subtitles as well as an English-dubbed track.  As a bonus feature, the DVD also includes director Jeanne Joseph’s Le Deux Vies de Nate Hill (The Two Lives of Nate Hill), an animated short that juxtaposes chance and fate.  For a preview of 1944, check out the trailer below:

 

 

If the blood-and-guts of 1944 doesn’t put you off, you might be just the audience for Bender, a thriller based on “the Bloody Benders,” America’s first (recorded) family of serial killers, estimated to have murdered a dozen (or more) travelers unfortunate enough to cross their path.  The film (the directorial debut of John Alexander) follows the investigation of people disappearing from a Kansas frontier settlement in the 1870s and the chilling discoveries that ensue once the focus is turned on the Bender family.  The ensemble cast features several familiar faces, including James Karen (The Return of the Living Dead, The Pursuit of Happyness, Wall Street), Linda Purl (The Office, Homeland), Bruce Davison (X-Men, The Fosters, Longtime Companion), Buck Taylor (Gunsmoke, Cowboys & Aliens), Reylynn Caster (Speechless), and Jon Monastero (The Book of Daniel).  Out on August 1 from Candy Factory Films, Bender will be available both on digital platforms and DVD (at $19.99 suggested retail).  For a sneak peek at the film, check out the trailer below:

 

 

Headsup: Tested Loyalties

Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment requests we note that it provided a free copy of the first two titles featured below. The opinions I share are my own.

 

Out this month are three titles whose characters must deal with the challenges that come when loyalties and circumstance collide:

 

The 100 Complete Fourth SeasonFirst we have Season Four of The 100, the post-apocalyptic drama that tells the story of inhabitants of a space habitat (“The Ark”) who return to Earth after a massive nuclear event (which caused an almost total extinction of the human population) and their interactions with those on Earth who survived.  In this season, the characters are reeling from the all-out war in Season Three while at the same time are faced with the discovery that Earth’s atmosphere will soon be set on fire due to the meltdown of the existing nuclear reactors from lack of maintenance.  Clarke and others try to find a solution using the Nightbloods’ natural immunity to radiation while the twelve clans are faced with the decision of selecting those among them who will be afforded protection for five years in a newly-discovered bunker.  Alliances are tested, relationships strained, and everyone must again fight for their own rights of survival.

Now out on DVD and Blu-ray is The 100: The Complete Fourth Season, which includes all thirteen episodes as well as bonus features, including the featurettes “From Outcasts to Leaders” (which examines the under-fire maturation of The 100), “Creating a Post-Apocalyptic World” (which looks at the construction and simulation of the show’s sets), “The 100: Jasper’s Journey” (where the cast and show creator Jason Rothenberg discuss the life of Jasper Jordan), and “Battle Tested: The 100 Season 4 Stunts”.  Other bonus features include the show’s 2016 Comic-Con panel, a gag reel, and some unaired scenes.  Fans can get the DVD and Blu-ray on Amazon (for $17.18 and $34.99, respectively) or you can take advantage of the streaming option on Amazon for $19.99 (which includes the Comic-Con panel) or on iTunes for $24.99 (which includes the featurettes on the disc versions plus a 5-minute featurette they don’t have, “A Look at Season Four: From the Ashes”).  Bonus features are definitely one of the deciding factors here for those looking to purchase, so make sure to weigh how much they mean to you versus the difference in cost across the disc and streaming options.

 

 

Pretty Little Liars Season SevenNext we have Pretty Little Liars, the teen drama mystery thriller television series (loosely based on the popular book series of the same name written by Sara Shepard) which follows the members of a clique of pretty and fashion-forward girls as they are thrown into turmoil by the disappearance of their friend Alison and the subsequent taunting messages they receive from a mysterious person identified merely as “A” or “A.D.”  The show’s quintet of title characters include Troian Bellisario as Spencer Hastings, Ashley Benson as Hanna Marin, Lucy Hale as Aria Montgomery, Shay Mitchell as Emily Fields, and Sasha Pieterse as Alison DiLaurentis.  Since its premiere in 2010 the show received good viewership ratings, causing ABC’s initial order of ten episodes to grow into a seven-season run (which also prompted the book series to be extended past its original plan of eight novels).  The show also received multiple award nominations and wins, including the Teen Choice, People’s Choice, GLAAD Media, Young Hollywood, MTV Movie & TV, and Saturn Awards (among others).

Out tomorrow (July 25) is Pretty Little Liars: The Seventh and Final Season on a four-disc DVD set.  After the five-year leap forward in the timeline in Season Six, Season Seven has the Pretty Little Liars dealing with more trauma and drama as they seek to end the deadly game they’ve found themselves in once and for all.  The collection includes all 20 episodes from the seventh season and multiple bonus features, including nine featurettes (most between 3-5 minutes): “Inside the PLL Sheets,” “That PLL Boy is Mine,” “A PLL Proposal,” “A Surprising Mary Drake,” “Hot for Haleb,” “Say I Do: A PLL Wedding,” “The Final Send Off From Rosewood,” “A.D.: The Ultimate Suspect,” and “Thank You to Fans”.  Bonus content also features the special episode “Pretty Little Liars: A-List Wrap Party” (a 43-minute special with a Q & A with the cast and wrap party footage) and some deleted scenes.  Fans can pre-order the DVD set on Amazon for $32.99 or can get the season digitally there for $29.99 (be aware that the only bonus feature included with the digital season option is the 2-minute featurette “That PLL Boy is Mine).  iTunes also offers a digital season option which (with the exception of the deleted scenes) includes all the bonus content for $39.99, which means if you’re wanting the season plus all the bonus features for the lowest price, your best bet on this one is to just get the DVD.

 

 

Arthur - Brothers and SistersOn the lighter side of conflicted relationships, we have Arthur: Brothers and Sisters out now from PBS.  Based on the best-selling children’s book by Marc Brown, the Arthur television series lets kids join in with 8-year-old aardvark Arthur Read as he navigates the adventures of growing up.  Arthur made his book debut (Arthur’s Nose) in 1976 and his television debut (Arthur’s Eyes) twenty years later in 1996.  Across the TV and “Living Books” series, Arthur has been voiced by thirteen different voice actors, but the character himself has remained largely (and endearingly) the same.

In Arthur: Brothers and Sisters, kids experience eight stories dealing with the joys and challenges of having a sibling, including “D.W. the Copycat” (where D.W. decides she wants to emulate Arthur in every aspect), “Arthur’s Baby” (Arthur’s visualization of what it will be like to have a noisy new baby in the house), “D.W.’s Baby” (D.W.’s struggle to cope with having to share attention with Baby Kate), “Arthur’s First Sleepover” (Arthur facing his fear of the dark and possibly aliens), “Francine Redecorates” (where Francine and Catherine’s opposing stylistic tastes collide in the room they share), “Sue Ellen’s Little Sister” (Sue Ellen’s exploration of what it might be like to not be an only child), “Two Minutes” (the power struggle that ensues when the Tibble Twins find out that Tommy is the elder by two minutes), and “The Pageant Pickle” (where Arthur’s dreams of a lazy summer are put in jeopardy due to D. W.’s spring pageant).

The DVD set has a total run time of 108 minutes and is available on Amazon for the low price of $3.99—-not bad for a couple of hours of re-playable entertainment for the kiddos (and dare we hope some lessening of sibling rivalries?), especially considering the per-episode cost of around fifty cents.  This title isn’t available streaming on Amazon or iTunes, but if you and your kids already like the Arthur series, you can’t really go wrong with this one.

 

 

 

Headsup: A Dose of the Sillies

 

If you need a little bit of silliness mixed into your weekend, check out these recently released titles:

 

Johnny and Friends Steve Martin Robin Williams Eddie Murphy

First up is The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends featuring game-changing comedians Steve Martin, Robin Williams, and Eddie Murphy.  This three-disc collection includes nine episodes of The Tonight Show that span across the seventies, eighties, and nineties in the heyday of host Johnny Carson.  All nine shows are complete (including the commercials from when they aired— a fun bonus!) and have not been previously released for retail.  Disc One includes three episodes (from 1976, 1982, and 1991) with the legendary once-banished guest (and eventual fill in host) Steve Martin, who appears alongside Jimmy Stewart, Karen Black, Sylvester Stallone, Cathy Ladman, Leon Redbone, and others.  Disc Two centers on the incomparable Robin Williams, whose three episodes (one from 1984 and two from 1991) show the unpredictable entertainer cracking Johnny up as he appears with Phyllis Newman, Steve Lawrence, Jonathan Winters, and Park Overall.  Disc Three belongs to Eddie Murphy, whose three episodes (all from 1982) show how Murphy skyrocketed to stardom in less than a year as he appears with fellow guests McLean Stevenson, Wayne Rogers, Albert Hague, Randal “Tex” Cobb, and Angela Bofill.  The DVD set is out now from Time Life but isn’t available on Amazon (except for one third party seller here) or Barnes and Noble as of yet, so keep an eye out for it at other places (suggested retail: $29.95).

 

 

Adventure Time Complete Seventh Season

Next we have Adventure Time: The Complete Seventh Season, which follows the much-loved citizens of Candy Kingdom as they embark on more adventures.  In this season of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning series, we see Marceline’s quest to throw off vampirism and become human in the eight-part “Stakes” story arc, Jake and Finn being freaked out by the Blank-Eyed Girl, Princess Bubblegum’s attempt to grow a vegetable kingdom while exiled at Lake Butterscotch, BMO’s aspirations to become a cowpoke, and the stop-motion episode Bad Jubies, which won the Best Animated Television/Broadcast Production For Children Annie Award back in April.  Out now from Cartoon Network are all twenty-five episodes (at a run time of around eleven minutes each) across a 3-disc DVD set housed in a nice die-cut cover.  Bonus material on this one includes animatics, galleries, song demos, the featurette “Good Jubies: the Making of Bad Jubies” a hyperlapse of Bad Jubies, and “Behind the Title Cards” videos.  If you’re one of the literally millions of fans of the show (18 million on Facebook alone!), you can grab the DVD set on Amazon for $17.18.

 

 

 

 

Headsup: Independent Film Friday #1

Wichita DVD Life of Significant Soil DVD Game Changers DVD La Vie de Jean-Marie DVD
 

If you’re an independent film buff, one (or more!) of these titles may be right up your alley…

 

From Candy Factory Films comes Wichita, a horror flick that follows Jeb (played by Trevor Peterson), a failing children’s show director desperate to save his job by leading a work-intensive writers’ retreat in Aspen.   As the “retreat” progresses, Jeb is pushed to the brink and turns his frustrations outward as hidden cameras capture the homicidal results of his ever-deepening psychotic rage. The film co-stars Caitlin Gerard (as Natalie), Persia White (as Raven), Demetri Goritsas (as Clark) and Christopher Robles (as Billy) and was directed by Matthew Ward and Justyn Ah Chong. You can rent or purchase digitally on Amazon (for $4.99 and $9.99 respectively) and see the trailer below for a preview.

 

Taking its name from the final line of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Dry Salvages,” Life of Significant Soil follows a couple whose relationship has outlasted their love for each other as they find themselves trapped in their last day together.  Starring Alexis Mouyiari (as Conor) and Charlotte Bydwell (as Addison), the film examines the building blocks of a once bright relationship and seeks to solve the mystery of how to keep its flame from self-extinguishing.  The film is the feature-length debut of director Michael Irish and was nominated for “Best Showcase Feature Film” in the 2016 Soho Film Festival and won “Best Feature Film” at both the Art of Bklyn Film Festival and the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival.  It is currently available on DVD from Candy Factory Films on Amazon for $14.99 and you can check out the trailer below.

 

Next up is Game Changers, the story of fading eSports gaming champions Bryan (Brian Bernys) and Scott (Jacob Albarella) as they try to regain their former greatness when faced with the realities and drudgery of adulthood.  As they put together a top tier team of players in an effort to regain their former glory, the pair are forced to ask themselves (and each other) how much they are willing to do to once again become the legends they were, and how much they are willing to risk losing along the way.  Rob Imbs wrote and directed the dramedy, which won “Best Feature” and “Best Gaming Film” at the 2016 Origins Film Festival.  The movie will be released on July 11 and Candy Factory Films has announced it will be available on DVD and digital platforms including Amazon and iTunes. To check out the trailer, see below.

 

Also later in July comes La Vie de Jean-Marie, a cinéma vérité documentary by director Peter van Houton about an elderly dutch pastor safeguarding the spiritual well being of twenty-five villages in the French Pyrenees.  A colorful portrait of a man who turned to his religious calling after being rejected by the love of his life, the film was created from material spanning six years of van Houton following the pastor in his everyday life and recording his thoughts and stories.  The film was featured at multiple festivals in 2015, including the Festival du Nouveau Cinema de Montreal in Canada, the IndieFestival El Horizonte and the IndieFestival Sao Paulo in Brazil, the International Festival du film de la Rochelle and the Petite Lanterne Olonne sur Mer Festival in France, and the International Film Festival Rotterdam and the Nederlands Film Festival in the Netherlands.  The DVD is available for pre-order on Amazon ($24.95, shipping on July 18) and according to IndiePix Films will also be available on Amazon channels and on IndiePix’s signature streaming service.  To see the trailer, just watch below.

 

 

Headsup: Kids’ Corner #1

 

Summertime is well underway, so if you need something to fill the spaces between the pool, summer camp, and building awesome forts outside, check out these kid-friendly titles……

 

First up is Bunnicula, the new animated series loosely based on the book (of the same name) many of us read and loved as kids by James and Deborah Howe.  The story revolves about a vampiric bunny rabbit who instead of blood thirsts for vegetable juice, which gives him supernatural powers.  In this (comedic) series, Bunnicula (voiced by Chris Kattan) teams up with his adoptive human Mina (a New Orleans teenager, voiced by Kari Wahlgren), Harold (her easy-go-lucky dog, voiced by Brian Kimmet), and Chester (her anxiety-ridden cat, voiced by Sean Astin) for otherworldly adventures with lots of laughs along the way.  The series premiered in February of 2016 and is currently airing on Cartoon Network.

Bunnicula: Season One, Part One is out now from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment, which includes the first twenty episodes of the series across two DVDs.  The set is now available on Amazon for $10.86 and you can get a taste of the show with the clip below.

Rating: Not Rated

Episode Runtime: 11 minutes
 

 

 

Tom and Jerry- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate FactoryNext we have Tom and Jerry: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which pairs the rambunctious cartoon cat-and-mouse duo with beloved Roald Dahl icon Willy Wonka and other familiar characters.  Based on a combination of Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the 1971 family film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory about a boy who wins a golden ticket to the factory tour of a lifetime, this musical animated film shows Tom and Jerry having their own adventures with Charlie, Arthur Slugworth, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teevee in the wonderful “world of pure imagination.”

Coming out on July 11 from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment is the DVD of the film, which also includes bonus cartoons Here’s Looking A-Choo Kid/Superfied, Joy Riding Jokers/Cat Got Your Luggage/City Dump Chumps, No Biz Like Snow Biz, The Maltese Poodle, and Cast Away Tom.  You can preorder the DVD on Amazon for $13.20 or you can purchase the film digitally right now on both Amazon and iTunes for $14.99.  If you find your interest piqued, check out the film’s trailer below.

Rating: Not Rated

Film Run Time: 79 minutes
 

 

 

Caillou : Things That Go!Third we have Caillou: Things That Go!.  The preschool-targeted Caillou series which airs on PBS KIDS (produced by DHX Media) is about an ever-curious 4-year-old boy who is always on the search for new discoveries and fun, using his imagination to go on multiple adventures while taking the audience along as they make believe with him.  The series was created in Canada in 1997 and was originally in French; a few reincarnations (complete with the introduction of an older and yet still bald Caillou) have led to the series as it stands today.  Across the years the character of Caillou has been voiced by three different actors: Bryn McAuley from 1997 through 2000, then Jaclyn Linetsky in 2000 through 2003, followed by Annie Bovaird.  The series also expanded into extensive merchandising outlets, including games, books, a mobile app, play sets (some of which are buildable), dolls, clothing, and more.

In this installment of the series, Caillou explores what it’s like to GO! on multiple vehicles, including a car, a boat, a plane, the subway, a rocket, a schoolboy, a bulldozer, and more.  Caillou: Things That Go! includes thirteen episodes and is set to release on July 11 (you can pre-order the DVD on Amazon now for $8.99).  To get a general idea of the Caillou series, check out the clip below.

Rating: TV-Y

Episode Runtime: 5 minutes
 

 

 

Headsup: Faces of the Past

 

Out now are two historical documentary series that explore the stories of people from the past, from ancient times through today:

 

Story of China With Michael Wood Blu-rayFirst we have The Story of China, written and hosted by the gold-standard-making historian Michael Wood.  In this six-part documentary about the oldest continuous state on earth, Wood follows the stories of characters who formed China’s history and cultural identity, including those who led the Tang, Song, Ming, and Qing dynasties from 1500 BC to the twentieth century along with leaders in science, literature, and revolutionary political movements.  A sprawling and vibrant story (charmingly told in Wood’s posh British accent), The Story of China brings viewers face-to-face with the likes of The First Emperor, Xuanzang (famed Buddhist traveler), Su Song (often referred to as “China’s Leonardo da Vinci”), Li Qingzhao (a female poet), and Mao Zedong (the Communist revolutionary also known as “Chairman Mao”), among many others.  On his historical journey, Wood also examines the places where these stories took place, taking viewers back in time to see the Silk Road, the Yellow River, the Grand Canal, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and other amazing places that were the backdrop of China’s journey over the last four thousand years.  If you just want to check out the series (and haven’t caught it live on PBS), you can currently watch it online at PBS.org (although this will most likely be a short-lived option, so if you want to check it out for free, do it asap).  For those who want to have it forever and always, the entire documentary is now out on both DVD and Blu-ray and also has some bonus mini featurettes about the challenges (and fun) of filming the series, including “Xi’an City Walls”, “A Crane and a Goddess,” “Anyone for Coffee?”, “The Pleasures of Filming,” and “A Noodle Bar”.

So on to purchase options…which are some of the wackiest I’ve seen to date.  As of this writing, Amazon says it has the Blu-ray (priced at $39.93) available on July 9 (but when you click on it just shows a blank image and labels the set as a DVD—-so purchase at your own risk) and the DVD (priced at $18.93) available now but set to “ship in one to four weeks” (even at Prime shipping).  Amazon also offers a digital purchase streaming option for $1.99 SD/$2.99 HD for the different one-hour episodes, which is a good option pricing-wise, but presently it only offers parts one through four (this will likely expand after all the episodes have aired on television).  Both the DVD and Blu-ray are currently available on PBS.org (where both formats are priced at $29.99…not sure why). On this one, therefore, it looks like if you want it in hard copy (and unless you want to wait 1-4 weeks for DVD availability on Amazon to save some coin) the best current offer is actually from Barnes and Noble’s online store, where you can snag the Blu-ray for $25.69 and the DVD for $27.77 (yes, the DVD is more than the Blu-ray).  As I said, pretty whacky, but if you’re a history buff it’s worth it to get your hands on this series.

 

Mummies Alive Season OneNext we have Mummies Alive from the Smithsonian Channel, which takes the 4,000 years of history mentioned above and adds a millennium on top to examine the stories of mummies from around the globe.  While records as far back as Ptolemaic Greece show our long-lived interest in mummies (including their widespread sale as curiosities for entertainment or novelty value), most of what we consider “scientific” studies of this method of preservation (and those who have undergone it) began in 1901 with studies conducted by professors at the Government School of Medicine in Cairo.  Soon after Grafton Elliot Smith and Howard Carter used the only X-ray machine in Cairo to do deeper examinations of the mummified remains of Thutmose IV in 1903.  Carter, as you may recall, was the man who headed the expedition that led to the discovery of Tutankhamun (King Tut)’s tomb in 1922, which made the world explode with interest in mummies and the secrets they held.

Out now is Mummies Alive: Season One, which includes five one-hour episodes that put the spotlight on particular mummies as scientists use the 21st-century tools at their disposal to unlock the mysteries of the past.  With only a little over a century having elapsed since those first studies, it’s amazing how far science has come: with modern techniques (including cutting-edge CGI, CT imaging technology, and state-of-the-art virtual autopsy techniques), the scientists can not only provide a good estimate of a mummy’s current age, but also the age at which they died, what they did for work, where they lived, what they ate, and the manner of their death.  The main mummies mentioned in the series include “Ötzi the Iceman” (a 5,300-year-old mummy discovered in a glacier in the Italian Alps), “Sylvester” (a mummy from the Wild West on display at a Seattle curiosity shop since the 1950s), “The Inca Maiden” (the mummy of a 14-year old girl found on top of a 22,000-foot volcano in South America who also holds the distinction of being the best-preserved mummy in the world), Iron Age mummies unearthed in an Irish peat bog, the mummy of a mutilated Egyptian pharaoh, and the mummified remains of a resident of Herculaneum who died laden with weapons, gold, and silver as the city perished under the wrath of the volcanic eruption.

Mummies Alive: Season One is available now on DVD (you can score it on Amazon for $16.32) or you can purchase episodes or the entire season digitally (for $2.99 and $12.99 respectively).  Without the pull of any disc-specific extras, this may be a good one to just do the streaming option, but if you’re a teacher or someone else who wants to be able to share the information contained therein, the DVD price isn’t bad considering the five hours of content.