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Headsup: The Grid, The Big Easy, Dinosaurs and More

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.

Tron 2-Movie Collection Blu-Ray
Treme: The Complete First Season DVD
Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Season 1, Part 2 DVD

[ad#longpost]Well, first up there’s the Tron 2-Movie Collection. This is what a lot of people have waiting for, more because it brings Tron to hi-def for the first time than anything else. And the first film has been out of print for a while now, so that’s one thing. Sadly, while the first film still holds up (and looks pretty damn fantastic in the new hi-def version), the second film is…well, the second film. There is nothing timeless about it and while it’s eye candy (especially in 3D) it’s more on the par of live action films that were coming out at the same time as the original than it is with what the initial Comic-Con trailer promised. But ah well. This is the five-disc set we’re talking about here and what’s amazing is that a set this large can have so little that’s new to offer. Let’s offer up first that you do get Tron Legacy four ways: Blu-Ray 3D, regular Blu-Ray, DVD and digital copy. That’s four discs right there. Bonus bits to speak of just come on the two Blu-Ray versions of the feature film–and there’s no DVD version of the first film. The majority of the original film’s bonus bits are ports from the 20th Anniversary release–which is not to say they’re bad, they’re actually pretty awesome. The commentary is a must-listen, and I would hold up this bonus content with the same regard I do Terminator 2–it’s a glimpse into a filmmaking process that you simply wouldn’t do nowadays. Not if you were sane, anyway. There’s also a look back at the phenomenon that is Tron, which is only seen as a success in retrospect. Plus a visit with original creator Steve Lisberger and his son to the Disney archives. That’s pretty choice. The Legacy bonus bits are okay, but not stellar. No commentary, but cast interviews, a brief behind the scenes bit, and making-of featurettes. But my favorite is how the audience at Comic-Con was used to provide the audience roars at the Disc Wars sequence in the sequel. This is a franchise now, so you can expect a better version of Legacy to hit with the third film but sadly this is probably all you’re going to get on the original unless they wind up porting it to 3D. They were rumored to have shown some 3D footage at D23 but alas I had swine flu and had to go back to my hotel and collapse. Unless you either adored Legacy or just really need to use it to show-off your 3D home setup, I would say save the $30 and just get the DVD/BD version of the original. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Treme‘s first season is out on DVD from HBO. This is, of course, the long-awaited follow-up series to The Wire–and that’s the series which I would call the best television I’ve ever seen. Ever. I’m a guy who doesn’t watch a lot of television, but I found time to blow throw all five seasons of The Wire as quickly as possible. The setup is this: it’s New Orleans. Katrina happened three months previous. Everybody’s trying to pick up the pieces. That’s the haiku version, anyway. I think fans of The Wire will be pleased to learn it’s no John From Cincinnati, if you catch my meaning. First of all, the cast is fantastic: John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Steve Zahn and two returning favorites from the previous series: Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters. Now I think most people will enjoy it but I have heard from some dissenters, so it’s definitely a matter of personal taste. All ten episodes are here across four discs, so your price point is around $3.50 an episode. Which is comparable for shows like this, although bearing in mind this is DVD and not hi-def. You also get a text commentary for episodes regarding the music (as well as some music-specific commentaries), five audio commentaries, a making-of and a location featurette. I would encourage folks to sample it via Netflix or even Amazon Video on Demand before taking the plunge. And check out the replay factor as well…give it a few episodes before you decide. It took three for me for The Wire, for example. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold is basically a series for anybody who dug how Justice League Unlimited would pull all manner of wild characters out of the DC Universe and gives the people with the show a chance to play with all the awesomeness that can exist there. This is the second half of the first season, across two discs. You get more well-known characters like Aquaman, Black Canary, Jonah Hex and Green Arrow. But you also have The Outsiders, Kamandi, Booster Gold and freaking Ace the Bathound. And yes, before I get hate mail from geeks: I know you and I know all these characters, but the “rest of the world” isn’t quite so used to them. So. Anyway, currently the show has got its third season underway–and eventually these will get replayed on Cartoon Network, I’m sure. There’s no real place to jump on, since most of the episodes do stand alone, so you could Netflix it to see if it would hold up to multiple viewings. There are no bonus bits, but the price point as I type this is a bit over a $1 a piece, so if you do want to take the plunge, it’s not a bad deal. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Last Dinosaur DVD
Switch Blu-Ray
Vegas: The Second Season, Vol. 2 DVD

The Last Dinosaur is another in a long line of “Holy crap, dinosaurs still live!” films, though this one is from Rankin/Bass (as a co-production). Starring Richard Boone as a big game hunter who goes into an underground valley where dinos still roam because A) the valley is discovered and is thus accessible and B) he wants to go after a Tyrannosaur. You know, like you do. I think there’s a number of people who read this site who are nodding in agreement at this point. And Siege would be figuring out how to make a barbeque pit big enough. Anyway, this is out from the Warner Archive on DVD and is a no brainer for people who love this sub-genre of film. Because it’s from the Archive, there are no bonus bits, but considering this is how it at last hits Region 1 DVD legitimately, it’s worth consideration for completists. I notice that some other Warner Archive titles are making their way to Netflix streaming, so perhaps if you want to sample it, hold out and check that out. But if you want to plonk down the coin and own it, it would be perfectly respectable to do so. (Click here to buy it from the Warner Archive.)

There’s a couple of things you notice quickly about The Switch. First, it’s based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides, who wrote the fantastic Virgin Suicides. The second is that if I showed you the cover art of this Blu-Ray (which, come to think of it, I just did), you’d probably be able to guess a good 80% of the plot. Romantic comedy, shocked Jennifer Aniston, bored and bemused Jason Bateman staring into a cup…it’s all right there. But to flesh it out a bit, no pun intended: Aniston’s character wants to get pregnant, and due to some hijinks best friend Bateman’s seed gets used instead of good looking Patrick Wilson’s. And then, you know, further romantic comedy hijinks ensue. The Blu-Ray is out from Lionsgate and has decent features: deleted scenes and an alternate ending with intros by the directors, a behind the scenes featurette and bloopers. But it suffers from the hi-def question: do I really need a romantic comedy on Blu-Ray? Well, yes, if the Blu-Ray is only $3 more (as it is when I’m typing this). There’s a nice cast here and if you go in for this sort of thing, it might be worth a rental from Amazon Instant Video to see if it has enough replay value to make it worth sticking on your shelf. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The second season of Vegas, that bastion of 70s television with Robert Urich, hits DVD from Paramount with a second volume and the remaining eleven episodes across three discs (one’s a double episode, so I guess it’s really twelve). Urich of course plays private eye Dan Tanna in the city so focused on money that the series is mostly known as “Vega$.” Interesting it shares that in common with Steakley’s Vampire$. Anyway, the per episode cost on this appears to be comparable (it’s around $2.25 each) so if you want retrotastic goodness on your shelf, then this would be an okay way of doing it. However, like with most shows–especially older ones that you may not be familiar with–your best bet is to check it out via rental or Netflix before taking the definite plunge. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Daughters of Darkness Blu-Ray
Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia 3D Blu-Ray
Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D Blu-Ray

We kick off proceedings this time with Daughters of Darkness, the early 70s erotic vampire flick that has been released by Blue Underground multiple times to DVD and now getting a hi-def upgrade. A newlywed couple winds up staying at a resort pretty much by themselves until the Countess Bathory arrives with her assistant. Yes, I said Bathory. The oddly ageless Countess Bathory, you understand. So then the games begin. I admit freely that I’m no expert on 70s erotic horror (I’ve seen several, but not enough–and I don’t mean that in a necessarily kinky way), although it seems to me that’s when the subgenre really took off. And from what I’ve gathered this is one of the better entries in the cavalcade of titles. It’s certainly not completely exploitative like many are. The hi-def upgrade looks pretty fantastic, and that’s…really all that’s different from the last version that hit DVD. There’s two commentaries, one with the director and one with star John Karlen. You get a visit to the location, interviews and a bonus film: The Blood Spattered Bride. If you already own the previous 2-disc edition, then unless you need a better audio/video combo, you’re probably better off without double-dipping. That being said, if you do need to own this, it makes no sense not to grab the Blu-Ray if you have the capability–this and the 2-disc DVD are exactly the same price as I type this. If you’re unfamiliar with it, probably best to check it out before dropping the coin to make sure it’s your bag. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Next we have a pair of Blu-Ray 3D releases from Image Entertainment for the Next Big Thing that is home 3D fun. I got fascinated by this previously lame (read: red and blue glasses) technology when I saw just how badass it could be at the Disney D23 event. So now what we get is a bunch of previously 3D content being repurposed for home viewing. And that can work, but I think there’s just so many variables that go along with the setup. Let’s face it: Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia and Ultimate Wave Tahiti were created with IMAX in mind. IMAX = bigass screens. So you’re already watching this on a screen that might be bigass for your living room (although doubtful it’s that big–if it is, please adopt me) but it’s nothing compared to full-on IMAX. That being said, credit where credit is due: these two forty-minute flicks look pretty fetching in 3D, although I would go with surfing over CG dinos because…well, surfing is practically shot and the CG dinos are four years old. The only other thing is that these, being IMAX films, are about forty minutes a piece. So they might be awesome to pick up to test out your setup, but bear in mind they’re not full-feature length. And there’s a 2D version on here as well, so if you don’t have 3D yet you can still get some of the experience. (And these are priced, as I type this, equal with their DVD counterparts.) They’re not without bonus bits. Patagonia has a bonus documentary. Tahiti has mini-featurettes and a small bit about Tahiti itself. My thing is always replay factor–if you have kids, I can see where Patagonia might be readily dug. If you’re huge into surfing, maybe on Tahiti. But I would say rent first and sample before plonking the coin. (Click here to buy Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia from Amazon.. Click here to buy Ultimate Wave Tahiti from Amazon.)

Love and Other Drugs Blu-Ray
Hard Ground
Modern Masters: Jeff Smith from TwoMorrows

Love & Other Drugs reunites Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway (previously together in Brokeback Mountain). He’s a fast-talking on-the-move drug salesman. She’s an artist with attitude and a secret. I know you really wanted me to say “They fight crime,” but no, they instead have lots of sex, fall in love and things go from there. The secret–which I’m counting as spoiler material because it was left out of both trailer and back-of-the-box synopsis–wants to make the film leave its romantic comedy moorings but never quite gets the film to sea, so to speak. It’s definitely in the rental category for that reason, and possibly only for people who really enjoy our two stars. The Fox release here has a decent hi-def presentation with deleted scenes and interviews but little else to commend it beyond the digital copy second disc. If you’re intrigued, check it out with an on-demand rental before taking the plunge. Replay factor, as always, is key. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.

Hard Ground is out from The University of Texas Press and when I tell you that it features poetry by Tom Waits, you’ll quickly understand why I was interested in taking a look at it. The other half of the book I was less familiar with, and by that I mean the work of photographer Michael O’Brien. He apparently befriended a homeless man in the 70s, making him aware of the problem of homelessness, and then returned to the problem in recent years to find that the numbers of the homeless in America has increased. Thus what we have is a coffee table book of poignant photographs of people–they happen to be homeless, but what I take away from the book is that primarily they’re people in a bad situation. I say that because I don’t–and I would hope that nobody really needs this–need photos to show me that homeless people are people too. But I think what the photos do is just give a report on a portion of humanity. What Waits does with his poetry is sometimes address the subject matter head-on and sometimes at an angle. Few of them are as complex as we’re used to with his lyrics, but sometimes they don’t have to be: the most effective are the short ones that remind me of “Johnsburg, Illinois,” the shortest, most moving Waits song out there. Fans of Waits are going to want to check this out, as well as fans of portrait photography–not to mention anyone that campaigns for the homeless. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The problem with talking about stuff from TwoMorrows is that whenever I do, I feel like I’m putting myself to sleep. I say that not because their releases suck but because they’re so comprehensive and chocked full of good stuff that I feel like I’m just repeating what I’ve said before. So forgive me, but I’ll be brief. The Modern Masters series gives you an in-depth look at an artist and their work. Here we have Jeff Smith, best known for Bone. And simply put, a fan of Smith is going to want this. I don’t know that there’s a page in here that doesn’t have either samples, sketches, pictures–something you’ve either seen before and now has new context or something you’ve not seen before. And it covers everything from Bone to his Shazam work and more. Again: any fan of comics or art will want to snag TwoMorrows and the Jeff Smith fan without this in their library is missing out. (Click here to buy it from TwoMorrows.)

Murder Investigation Team: Series 1 DVD
Napoleon and Love DVD
Norman Conquests DVD

The thing that struck me initially about Murder Investigation Team is that its generic title sounded like the punchline of the old joke about IBM, that if they had developed the concept of sushi, they would have marketed it under the name “Raw Dead Fish.” It’s less well known on this side of the pond simply because I don’t think many people get its parent series, The Bill, which I think ran for about 15,314 episodes. That might be a slight exaggeration. But it did run for twenty-six seasons. Anyway, the first episode of this series is a murder investigation for a long-running character from the original Bill–a nifty way to try and get a CSI-esque show over in the UK. This has all eight episodes from the first series (the first of two) and those are here from Acorn Media across three discs. I would suggest it for anybody who’s enjoyed Law & Order UK or enjoys crime dramas in general and wants a different spin on it. To the set’s credit, you do have commentary on the first episode and a decently sized interview with one of the actors. You can rent the first episode from Amazon via on demand video to sample it and then if the replay factor works for you, then take the plunge. But the per-episode cost is a bit high (over $4 each), so be sure you want it first. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Ian Holm is the go-to guy to play Napoleon. You’ve got his small bit in Time Bandits, you’ve got much more recently in The Emperor’s New Clothes, but prior to that you had the mini-series Napoleon & Love, which came from ITV and now hits DVD from Acorn Media. All nine episodes–almost eight hours of content–are here across three discs. The trick is that the synopsis is in the title, with more about his relationships with women than anything else. As far as bonus bits go, you’ve got a timeline and filmographies and that’s about it. I will also warn that this is a 1974 costume drama miniseries, so if you’re going into it with the sensibilities of a modern television viewer (i.e., you’re expecting a serious budget), then you’re going to be disappointed. I’m torn on this: I dig the hell out of Holm and think any fan should check this out, this being one of his first major roles. But if you break it down on a per episode basis, it is about $5 each. I’d say that the Holm completist will want this on their shelf, but you can Netflix it to check it out and decide the replay factor for yourself. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Norman Conquests is interesting in that it’s a series of three plays that share not just a cast and characters…but in essence a time and place. One country house where six people have wound up converging for a weekend and each segment takes place in a different part of the house. Watching all three segments gives a complete picture of what happened over the course of the weekend. Great cast here, headed up by Need Coffee fave Richard Briers. Worth seeing by fans of novel theatre and good British drama, the set only has some information on playwright Alan Ayckbourn and the trilogy. But the spectre of replay factor rears its head, as always. It is five hours of content for around $40 (as I type this), so you’re paying $8 an hour (a better bit of math than going for three “episodes,” when in reality they’re all feature length. It does not appear to be available via Netflix, so I would recommend renting it before taking the plunge. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)