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Headsup: Regarding Horror, Sci-Fi, Spandex and Skynet

An ongoing attempt to help you sort through the mountains of new material that people want you to buy. Should you? I’ll try and help sort this out.

Ultimate Matrix Collection Blu-Ray cover art
Ghost House Underground DVD cover art

The Ultimate Matrix Collection takes everything that you would want out of a Matrix set–which is basically everything that you had in previous collections–and smacks it into a Blu-Ray set. Mostly. The three films plus Animatrix are all provided in Blu-Ray and look about like what you would expect these films to like on hi-def: which is to say, awesome. Granted, there is not enough awesome in the world to fix the third film. But I’ll try to keep from harping on that as we move forward. Each film comes with an “in-movie experience” that pops up with extra bits while you’re watching. This is good if you’re not wanting to wade through all thirty-five hours of bonus bits. Each film also comes with a commentary track with critics as well as a separate one with philosophers, with the cast and crew giving a commentary on the first film. Each film also comes with a positively ludicrous amount of behind the scenes bits, some focusing on particular scenes, like the Freeway Sequence or the Upside Down Fight Sequence. There’s also two bonus discs comprising the “Matrix Experience” as well as a bonus disc that has the digital copy of the first film–if you’re into such things. So not counting the digital copy, it’s a six-disc set, of which four are Blu-Ray and the “Experience” discs are vanilla flavored. So should you buy it? Well, it is one of those films that just screams for hi-def, since it is, warts and all, visually stunning. So there is that. And if you wanted, say, just the first film in Blu-Ray form–you’re stuck with getting it this route. There are no plans from Warner Brothers to release the films separately at this time as I understand it. It’s $74.95 on Amazon as I write this, so you’ll have to ultimately decide about the price point. But the set is formidable and fans of the series might want to seriously consider it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

[ad#longpost]Ghost House Underground is a massive eight-disc set of horror films, brought to you by Lionsgate as well as Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. The film that appears to have gotten the most attention out of this mix is Dance of the Dead, where geeks fight zombies to save the day. I wonder why so many people would be attracted to such a film? Huh. Anyway, there’s also the “My Teacher is an Alien” fun of The Substitute, the film-that-stars-Lordi Dark Floors, the horror in the subways Trackman, the Ken Foree and Sid Haig-starring Brotherhood of Blood, the grindhousey gore-strewn The Last House in the Woods, and the haunted dorm flick Room 205. There’s also a sequel to a film called Reeker, which is not, in fact, about that kid in your high school class who never showered. Just for the record. Anyway, each film, apart from Trackman, comes with at least a commentary. The entire boxed set currently runs $111.99 at present, with individual titles as low as $13.99 on Amazon. It’s probably a lot to ask to grab eight films sight unseen, especially eight as varied as these. Since there’s very little savings in buying them all in one fell swoop, I would suggest a rental beforehand and then if any really crank your tractor, you can pick and choose at will. (Click here to buy the boxed set from Amazon or click here to shop Ghost House Underground stuff.)

CSI: The Eighth Season DVD cover art
Chaplin DVD cover art
Liberty's Kids DVD cover art

The eighth season of CSI has arrived on DVD with seventeen episodes across five discs. And here’s where we get to see if the franchise can do the hard bit: surviving the loss of cast members. One leaves and another is setup to leave. And the head burrito of the cast is leaving this current season (the one that’s airing, I mean). So now it gets interesting, at least from an entertainment industry perspective. But back to the DVD. You get two commentaries, one with William Friedkin (and others) on the episode he directed, which is nice. They were considerate enough to include the Without a Trace episode that the show crossed over with. There’s also featurettes on Friedkin, Jorja Fox, a featurette about the season’s main story arcs, and interviews, especially one with the show’s staff forensic entomologist. Nice. Now, should you buy it? At $58.99 as I write this, it’s not cheap, sure. So it’s a fan matter, I suppose. If you’re a completist who wants this on your shelf then I think you’re fine. If you’re uncertain, there’s always the rental route. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I’ve appreciated Robert Downey Jr’s talent for years. Hell, I thought he was good from the beginning. But Chaplin cemented what should have been a sure road towards greatness, although we’re back on track following a…ahem…slight detour. But Downey just is Charlie Chaplin in this. A performance that’s easy to buy into. Directed by actor/director Richard Attenborough and with performances by Kevin Kline (as Douglas Fairbanks) and Geraldine Chaplin (as her own grandmother). This 15th Anniversary Edition from Lionsgate has three featurettes and a home movie from the real Chaplin. But that’s it. And that’s a shame. Now this is probably released to capitalize on Downey having an amazing year. And it’s worth owning just for his performance, make no mistake. But we’ve got no commentary which is the major shame. But regardless, if you like RDJ then this is worth owning. Especially at $14.99, which is the price at the moment on Amazon. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Liberty’s Kids is a forty-episode series that gives a kids’ perspective on the American Revolution. You’ve got a young boy who’s a colonist, a young woman who’s English, and a dangerously close to being Gleekish French kid. They work as reporters for Benjamin Franklin, voiced by Walter Cronkite, and get assisted and taught by Moses, a freed slave. So you’ve got an attempt to give a balanced view of everything that was going on at the time. And you also get a crapload of celebrities voicing historical figures, from Liam Neeson as John Paul Jones to Billy Crystal as John Adams to Michael Douglas as Patrick Henry. There’s also extra “newsbytes” with Cronkie in character, a “Now and Then” feature about language and how it’s changed, among other things, and a retrospective docu with the creators, plus more. Now when I first heard about this, I figured the price point would put it out of reach of everybody but schools. But at $44.99 (as I write this), it’s not bad for a complete series that can actually get kids interested in history–something that most schools these days don’t know how to do. I would say if you have kids that need teaching, give this a rental to try it out, and if it works for you, then a purchase is in order. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Poe's Children audiobook cover art
Pushing Daisies: The Complete First Season DVD cover art

Poe’s Children is subtitled “The New Horror: An Anthology,” and it’s supposed to be modern versions of Poe in that they’re “New Wave horror writers,” hand picked by Straub to be a part of this collection. These are all previously published stories, and I’m obviously not up on my modern horror writers, because Straub I know, and Stephen King of course, and I’ve heard of Steve Rasnic and Melanie Tem. Although we’re talking about the audiobook here, so the book apparently has Neil Gaiman and such on hand. Fifteen and a half hours of content are across twelve compact discs here for $36.71 from Random House Audio and the question of course is purchase or no? Well, replayability is a huge factor, and frankly when it comes to audiobooks there needs to be something special going on if you’re going to re-listen to over fifteen hours of stuff. If you want a crash course in Straub’s idea of “new horror,” then this might be worth a rental or borrow from the library. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Pushing Daisies is probably the best example of what happens when you take morbid whimsy and lean on the latter instead of the former. Not to say it doesn’t have its moments of sickness–when your protagonist can bring back the dead only for sixty seconds lest something else of equal life energy drop dead in its place–and when his girlfriend is a reawakened dead person who he can’t touch again lest he take back the gift of life–you’re going to have either a twisted romantic comedy or some kind of entry in Ghost House Underground (see above). You get the comedy, though, and it’s perfect. The production design and writing are flawless, and the leads are all good–although Chi McBride, the P.I. who knits when he’s nervous, steals the show for me. And oh, it can suddenly burst into weird musical numbers at random. It’s excellent–I’d actually watch this on broadcast television, that’s how good it is. There’s only a featurette to its name but I think you should, like I did, sample it before deciding its purchase-worthy. But if that sort of fantastical weirdness sounds like your bag, you need to at least give it a watch. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Big Bang Theory: Complete First Season DVD cover art
Run Fatboy Run DVD cover art
The Sarah Silverman Program, Season Two, Vol. 1 DVD cover art

So the idea behind The Big Bang Theory is to take two physicists and put them in a situation where theory breaks down and practice must begin: an attractive woman moves in across the hall. Thus begins a road that leads to social interactions, parental figures, obsession, depression, and all of the other things that, in retrospect, make you wonder what the hell you were thinking and why you ever talked to another human being in the first place. Starring Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons and Kelly Cuoco with guest stars like Laurie Metcalf and James Hong, you get seventeen episodes and one short behind-the-scenes featurette. From what I can tell, first season episodes are being repeated from time to time, so you can still catch them. Plus the lack of features on the release doesn’t exactly sell it. If the subject matter appeals, you might want to give it a rental. Otherwise, if you’re a huge fan, the $18.99 current price tag on Amazon isn’t terrible. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Run Fatboy Run, Simon Pegg’s first major role after Hot Fuzz, finds Dennis Doyle (our hero) having run out five years before on his pregnant girlfriend, Thandie Newton, which strains credulity, to be certain. His life has sucked ever since. Now that Newton’s character has found Hank Azaria, or at least the character Azaria is playing, Dennis has one last chance to get his shit together. The title is not to be taken literally, although I could have sworn it was originally meant for someone else to play besides Pegg, even though Pegg has co-writer credit. Anyway, David Schwimmer is in the director’s seat and Dylan Moran plays Pegg’s best friend, which puts it into serious rental territory. And that’s about it, despite the deleted scenes, the commentary with Pegg, Newton, Schwimmer and Pegg’s Mom, plus outtakes. If you’re a Pegg completist, you might consider purchase, but do rent first if you haven’t already caught it. It’s $18.99 on Amazon as I write this. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Sarah Silverman is a comic who I had heard of and seen some of her stuff but didn’t really get my attention until she and Jimmy Kimmel exchanged their Matt Damon/Ben Affleck videos in what was the probably the best pair of music videos of the past ten years. So now she has my attention, we turn to The Sarah Silverman Program, which has the first part of its second volume here from Paramount and Comedy Central, containing six episodes across two discs. And while taking God to her high school reunion and…ahm, committing an offense against her dog might be funny, it is just half a season that we have here. Yes, there is select audio commentary, behind the scenes bits, other short films and the panel they did at last year’s Comic-Con, but you are still looking down the barrel of $18.99 for six episodes. It’ll be up to you and your feelings about the show to determine whether or not that flies. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The New World: Extended Cut DVD cover art
Supernatural: The Complete Third Season DVD cover art
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete First Season DVD cover art

You know, if you had told me that you had this great idea, to take an already long Terrence Malick flick and make it even longer…I would probably fork the sign of the evil eye at you and run away. After all, I still wake up screaming after going to see The Thin Red Line in cinemas, an experience that felt like we were trapped in there for literally days. Still, the visual poetry–um, visual novel-like nature–um, visual Encyclopedia Britannica that is Malick’s vision is probably best sampled at home where there’s a pause button. It’s for those of you who know where the pause button is that The New World has been re-released in an extended cut that has either 20 or 30 minutes of new unrated footage depending on which side of the box you look at (it’s closer to 30). You still get Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale and the introduction of Q’orianka Kilcher but you only get the digital copy of the film available to you–and nothing else. So it’s essentially a bare bones release. Worth a rental if you wanted to get more of the film, but beyond that, probably only a purchase for Malick completists. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

There’s nothing like working with family. So Sam and Dean Winchester work together. Instead of having your normal family business, however, they’re like The X-Files meets Dark Shadows since their business involves fighting demons, bargaining about souls, time travel, murder, ghosts…you get the point. The third seasons sees them having to deal with the repercussions of the second season, since Sam sort of died and Dean sort of sold his soul to get him back. And now they’ve got just one season–well, sixteen episodes across five discs, anyway–to figure out a loophole or Dean’s screwed. And the sort of screwed that lasts all eternity. This boxed set comes with an effects featurette, a featurette about the car (because chicks dig the car, right?), gag reel and more. It’s currently $38.99 on Amazon, so if you’re a fan of the show (and some of you are), then you’ll have to decide whether or not it’s purchase worthy. Everyone else should rent it if they want to try it out. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Is another series with Summer Glau in it seriously going to get canceled? Well, damn. Lena Headey is Sarah Connor, Thomas Dekker is John, and Summer is Cameron (nice) the Terminator sent back in time to help protect them. And of course, Judgment Day is still coming–it’s just been delayed–because the franchise must endure, so the story continues. There’s only nine episodes to the first season and they’re presented here with cast/crew commentary on three of them, a making-of docu in three parts, and extended version of one episode, audition tapes, extra scenes, gag reel and more. Ratings are in the toilet for season two despite the welcome addition of Shirley Manson, so if you’re a fan of the show and you want to try and prop it up with coin where you can’t with extra sets of eyes watching–well, you know what you must consider. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Gossip Girl: The Complete First Season DVD cover art
Justice League Season One Blu-Ray cover art
Universe: The Complete Season Two DVD cover art

I must admit that I don’t understand shows like Gossip Girl. To me, it seems like just another 90210 clone in which very attractive people have Problems and Issues. Myself, I have enough problems and issues and am unattractive, so I’m at a bit of a loss here, so bear with me. Regardless, I know that these sort of shows appeal to certain people–and if you’re those people then more power to you. You do get all eighteen first season episodes on this set across five discs. Along with each episode come deleted scenes as well. There’s also a making-of docu, a fashion featurette, yay, music videos–our favorite, and in an interesting option that surprisingly appeals to me–but not for the reasons you might suspect–there’s an audiobook you can download of the original novel that eventually spawned the series, read by Christina Ricci. I think it would be brilliant if more adaptations that make their way to DVD give you access to the source material like this. And this is the first place I’ve ever seen it. So. It’s currently running $36.99 on Amazon, so fans of the show will have to determine if that’s worth their while. You can always rent it to sample before you buy, though. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Well, as much as I love the standard DC animated shows (and by standard, I mean those set in the Dini/Timm universe of the Batman and Superman shows, not the new Batman animated series where the art design makes my eyebrows bleed), all’s not perfect with this Blu-Ray flavored first season. Sure you get featurettes covering storyboards and characters designs, you get commentaries with the creators on three episodes, plus a look at the show’s pitch reel. That’s all from the original release–but you also get the full-frame versions of the episodes. Now, as I understand it the second season was created for a widescreen format, but the first season was matted to make that format work–and the creators prefer it. So Warner Brothers has these episodes in a widescreen version but neglected to put them onto a Blu-Ray release–when it’s obvious if you’re buying Blu-Ray you’re probably interested in visuals. So that really puzzles me and probably does you as well. But bear in mind this is probably the only hi-def version of this first season you’re going to get, at least in this medium, so if you want it, you’re stuck with it. It’s currently running at $39.95 on Amazon. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Universe is a pretty messed up place. And I’m not just saying that because I live there. It’s filled with mind-numbing bits. And this second season of the show from The History Channel gets you into some of the ways that reality plays shenanigans. Like the “Biggest Things in Space” episode, which will really mess with your head regarding the concept of scale. Then there’s “Dark Matter,” which is where some bits of the universe are actually AWOL. And there’s “Alien Planets,” which goes over the exoplanets we’ve found evidence of orbiting other stars. Nice, huh? I love this stuff. (I’m happy it’s coming out in Blu-Ray shortly as well.) You get eight episodes–fourteen hours of content–across five discs. Plus a featurette on backyard astronomy. It’s currently going for $30.99 on Amazon–and the purchase question is how cool you find the content. So I’d recommend either catching it on television or renting first–and if you think it’s as cool as I do, then you might want to take the plunge. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)