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Headsup: Bringing Justice, Solving Crimes and Staking the Occasional Vampire

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.

Spy Kids Blu-Ray
Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams Blu-Ray
Spy Kids 3: Game Over Blu-Ray

[ad#rightpost]The Spy Kids trilogy hits Blu-Ray from Lionsgate. And there’s two things to say up front about the series, as the fourth film bears down upon us. First, it is very much for kids–although the first film especially is cute and clever and actually still easy to enjoy for all ages, methinks. By the time you get to Game Over, the third film–which isn’t nearly as much fun without the 3D effects–you’ve gone directly into game-infused adolescent mayhem that most adults won’t care for. However, depending on how much you want a good kids film you can watch as a family, you can start off with the first Blu-Ray and work your way down. The video and audio don’t blow me away, but the main thing is on the first film you get bonus bits: featurettes on the actors, stunts, FX, makeup and my personal favorite with Rodriguez releases: cooking school. This time it’s smoothies and a grilled cheese sandwich. (The breakfast tacos one from Sin City is still a personal favorite.) The second and third films come with ports from the original DVDs: Rodriguez commentaries, his Film School featurette, and featurettes covering stunts. The second film also comes with “lost scenes” with optional commentary, featurettes on Big Bend National Park, the gear, and more. The third film has a making-of featurette, and a bit with Alexa Vega performing some of her songs. The discs are all hovering around fifteen bucks–and all come with digital copies–so if you must plonk down coin it’s excusable. But I think the first film’s your best bet for the bonus features and there’s no need to double dip for the other two if you already own the DVDs. Be warned, again: the third film isn’t a Blu-Ray 3D, so if your kids are expecting that…well, you know how that goes.

Garrow's Law Series 2 DVD
Pie in the Sky: Series 5 DVD
Poirot: The Movie Collection Set 6 DVD

So you know how Law & Order would always state that the case in the episode was fictional and not really based on a real court proceeding…especially when it was very obviously “ripped from the headlines”? What’s one way to get around this? Well, based your legal drama in the 18th Century, using information on actual cases from the Old Bailey. Pretty ingenious, really. That’s what you get with Garrow’s Law, the second series of four episodes is here on two discs from Acorn Media. The other bonus by going historical? You don’t have to invent a character from wholecloth, you can just grab somebody like William Garrow, our protagonist. That phrase you hear all the time, “Innocent until proven guilty”? Yeah, that was his. The cases on the docket this time out include slavery, sodomy and adultery. This is right up the alley of people who dig period dramas and legal dramas and like them both in one nice burrito. The fact that it’s historically based is nice as well–in fact, there’s a rare featurette regarding the real Garrow vs. the fictional one. Nice. As for snagging it for yourself, I would say try it first, especially considering it currently has a $7.50 an episode price point, which is rather steep. Your best bet at the moment is Netflix if you’re watching your wallet. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The final series of Pie in the Sky has hit from Acorn Media, with the last eight episodes across three discs. The shot is thus: Richard Griffiths (Dursley from Harry Potter) just wanted to retire from being a detective inspector and just be the head chef of restaurant instead. However, circumstances put him into the position of being both–his supervisor has something to hold over his head and can call him back on-duty whenever the guy likes. But here the character actually gets wrapped up in the final episode, while still having some other crimes and situations to contend with, not to mention his supervisor. For the person who’s tried all the cop dramas and wants something light and different, this might be something worth checking out…although the last season isn’t one to come in on. You still get around a $7/episode price point, which is stiff. And there’s no bonus features, so you’d want to make certain this is something you’d want on your shelf before throwing down the coin. Not available on Amazon streaming, but it is available on Netflix. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The latest collection of David Suchet as Poirot is out with Acorn Media’s Poirot: The Movie Collection Set 6. This features three mysteries: Three Act Tragedy, The Clocks and Hallowe’en Party. In the first, meeting friends for dinner can be positively lethal, as people start dropping dead. In the second, a blind woman has a corpse in her house plus four clocks all stopped at the same instant. And lastly, telling stories at a party can also make you wind up dead, launching other hijinks in motion as well. The main draw here is no surprise to people who are already on board this series: Suchet as Poirot is fantastic. And is it just me, or does he simply not age? Terrifying. The three made-for-TV films are of good quality, video and audio wise but sadly we get no bonus bits. Fans of the show may want to consider owning–they should see it one way or the other–but again, it’s a hefty price tag: slightly over $40 as I type this. But if you are a Christie fan or Poirot completist, you may be doomed to snag it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Better Off Dead Blu-Ray
Overboard Blu-Ray
Perfect Game Blu-Ray

One of the epitomes of what it meant to be a teenager and in not just love but Oh My Freaking WTF Love–it’s Better Off Dead, starring John Cusack. His girlfriend has left him for the captain of the school ski team, so Lane enters into that bizarre liminal void of Must Get Her Back and/or Must Die. Considering how many people I know who cite this as one of their favorite teen comedies of the 80s, I think it’s disturbing both how accurate the utterly mental film turns out to be…and how many people must have gone through some variation of it. It’s finally hitting Blu-Ray from Paramount in a bare bones release, though, which begs the question: why? On one hand, if you’ve already got the DVD (which was also bare bones) then there’s no reason to go back to the well. However, I honestly know some people who are so crazy about this film they’ll snag it anyway. And hey, if that cranks their tractor, then go for it. It’s the not the sort of film that screams hi-def to me, but whatever works. We must own and support our personal classics the best way we can. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Overboard is one of those films that’s just…cute. The setup is this: Goldie Hawn is an utter bitch who decides to take out her bitchy ways on a carpenter played by Kurt Russell. But she falls off your yacht and loses her memory…giving him the opportunity to get payback by bringing her home and claiming she’s his wife. Yes, it’s a romantic comedy. So a cute romantic comedy where you can probably guess what happens just from my brief synopsis there…it sounds like it might injure your teeth. But actually, no it’s funny and, well, like I said: cute. And somehow, at least around this house, eminently rewatchable. That has a lot to do with the cast as well as the fact it’s comedy guru Garry Marshall at the helm. It’s on Blu-Ray from Fox and it’s a bare bones release, alas. If you already have the DVD, there’s probably not a reason to upgrade, but if you don’t already own it, the price difference is just a few bucks. If you’ve never seen the film at all, do yourself a favor and check it out–you can grab it via Amazon Instant Video. It is a bit of a hoot.

I’ve gone on record as saying it takes something extra special to get me to care about a sports movie. So take what follows with a salt lick. But The Perfect Game, hitting Blu-Ray from Image, has as its number one feature the fact that it’s based on a true story: both the first non-American team to win the Little League World Series and the only to-date perfect game pitched in the history of that championship. That being said, there’s a lot of feel-good kids-in-sports stuff going on. If that sounds like a family film winner for you, then be my guest–but just bear in mind the real story by itself probably deserved a better turn. The audio and video are okay here but again, this isn’t a film, in my opinion, that demands hi-def–although, granted, if you are going to own it’s only a dollar more to do it on Blu-Ray. As far as bonus bits go, the main thing here is a director’s commentary although there’s also a behind the scenes featurette. Give it a rental or a Netflix run before purchasing, I would advise. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Deep Red Blu-Ray
Stake Land Blu-Ray
Yellowbrickroad DVD

With Dario Argento‘s Deep Red (which sounds so much cooler with its Italian title, Profondo Rosso) you get a psychic who foresees her own murder. Then a musician sees her actual murder and becomes obsessed with trying to figure out whodunit. And it’s Argento, so you can imagine things get both stylized and nothing ends easy. This Blue Underground release is hitting Blu-Ray on this side of the pond for the first time with an upgraded video and audio that–while I don’t have the previous Anchor Bay or Blue Underground releases here to compare it to–seem to be pretty choice for a film that’s almost as old as I am. (Translation: old.) Where I’m having some difficulty piecing together what’s new here is that there have been multiple previous releases and, as I said, I don’t have them here. It appears that the interviews that are on here as a bonus are a port over, and from what I can figure–and this is just my best guess based on me trying to dig up what’s what–the uncensored English version and the director’s cut have both been available previously…but I don’t think on the same release. If I am wrong in this, please let me know. As to a purchase question, I think the main question is: are you an Argentan or not? Hardcore fans will probably want to make the upgrade but if you’re uncertain–or unfamiliar with the film–then check replay value by renting or nabbing it via Amazon Instant Video (although it appears to be the English non-director’s cut version for streaming FYI). But this is a nice stop on the journey for discovering Italian horror and suspense, for the uninitiated. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Stake Land is a film I’ve been looking forward to for some time. Take I Am Legend and smack it into The Road and I’m in for the post-apocalyptic gritty vampire-ridden long haul. Never did make it to town long enough for me to catch it on the big screen but it’s now on Blu-Ray from Dark Sky. The shot is this, as though you needed more synopsis: America’s finished. The vampire plague has kicked the country squarely in the ass and the kidneys both. A vampire hunter named Mister has taken a young man as his apprentice, and the two are making their way to what they hope might be a place of sanctuary. Of course, there’s vampires between here and there. And, you know, humans. In most films like this, it’s only a question of which gets you killed faster. If the above got you psyched, then you’re squarely in the demographic for who should be checking this out. If you’re used to more action with your vampires, or, FSM forbid, sparkles–then this probably isn’t going to crank your farm vehicle in the least. Supporting the release is a healthy array of bonus bits: two audio commentaries with cast and crew, a making-of (plus bonus behind the scenes video diaries), a series of short films that serve as prequels, and footage from the Toronto premiere and the resulting Q&A. The thing looks pretty choice in hi-def, so that’s your best bet if you want to purchase, being about half of what the two-disc DVD costs. It’s also available from Amazon Instant Video if you want to try it before you buy it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Yellowbrickroad enters into the at times tired genre of “horror in the woods.” This can generally take two forms: backwoods brutality (which is incredibly tiresome) and Blair Witch-esque mystery and WTFery. This film goes into the latter subcategory but not in an annoying way. It actually makes strides towards being original and engaging and while it’s not perfect fans of this particular subgenre wanting to try something a little different with some unnerving touches will want to give it a shot. The setup is thus: the denizens of Friar, New Hampshire one day decided to walk off into the woods. Nobody knows why–they just know that a lot of them disappeared leaving littered bodies behind. So because they didn’t watch enough horror movies–apparently–a group decides to try to get to the bottom of what happened. The DVD from Vivendi has only one bonus bit: a directors’ commentary. Watch it before deciding if the replay factor warrants purchase, but know it’s available from Amazon Instant Video if you just want to check it out. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Eastbound and Down: Complete Second Season DVD
Tracy Morgan: Black and Blue DVD
Zen Vendetta Cabal Ratking Blu-Ray

The second season of Eastbound & Down hits DVD from HBO starring Danny McBride as Kenny, who left the major leagues to return to his hometown only to become a gym teacher. He had dreamed of returning to the big time but that all went to hell last season and now he’s retreated to Mexico. However, having become a cockfighter there’s now another chance to involve himself with a local baseball team. This seven episode season hits on two discs and has, among its guest stars, Michael Pena and Don Johnson. Fans of the first season (the second season is no place to jump on board if you’re not on already) who appreciate Kenny will be okay with the change of setting and cast. The set comes with a decent array of bonus bits: including commentaries on some episodes, deleted scenes, a cockfighting featurette, outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage. The price point is not bad: around $2 an episode, but the replay factor comes to bear here. Serious fans of the show–and they certainly exist–might want to, for that price point, stick it on their shelf. But try it out first before you take the plunge. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Tracy Morgan‘s first stand-up special for HBO, Black and Blue, has hit DVD. Fans of his work in film or on the small screen (I find him exceptionally effective on 30 Rock…but then, that’s one of the most effective comedies in recent memory) will want to check this out. It is, alas, not the smack out of the park that a lot of big Tracy fans might expect/hope for, but they probably want to check it out regardless. Regardless of how big a fan you are, even the less than $10 price point is too high for this. The main feature is around an hour and the only bonus bit is fifteen minutes of extra footage. That’s it. Considering it’s worth probably a single watch-through, catch it on cable or snag it from Amazon Instant Video. I’m thinking only a full-on Morgan completist will want to buy. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

There is precedent for taking a crime drama set in another country and populating it with British actors in order to create a series: the so-bleak-it’s-unwatchable Wallander puts Kenneth Branagh in Sweden. The same people behind that show put Rufus Sewell in Italy as Italian detective Aurelio Zen. I really do think BBC Home Video should have called this release “Series 1” of Zen instead of the cover’s Zen: Vendetta Cabal Ratking, which just looks like somebody’s been playing at Cheddar Gorge, frankly. Regardless, this three TV movie series aired on this side of the pond on Masterpiece and it hits here on Blu-Ray. Zen goes through three mysteries, covering everything from a murder case that’s been re-opened to shadowy criminal organizations to a kidnapping. Fans of Sewell or crime dramas in general are going to want to check this out, but considering the price point you’re looking at around $10 an episode, even a full-length one. And the hi-def didn’t scream at me that it was warranted, even though the non-hi-def is only $5 less. I would recommend renting this or snagging via Amazon Instant Video if you want to sample it, then let the replay factor guide you on a purchase. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

1 comment

  • My favorite SK was #2 I really thought it was quite clever and actually warmed my slow beating near death heart (DISCLAIMER: Dan North is not near death it is an analogy). Now the 3rd one was pretty terrible and even I with my shit tolerance level at a very high level wasn’t entertained by Stallone (it was Stallone right) screaming at me. And the 4th one like’s absolutely deplorable.