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Headsup: What Christmas Is Actually All About

That’s right: pandas, bad sci-fi, robots and aliens. That’s Christmas around here. How is it at your place?

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.

Cinematic Titanic Live: War of the Insects DVD
Hangover Part II Blu-Ray
Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-Ray

[ad#longpost]I have been on record as saying that most live shows I’d like to avoid. You can’t get good seats, you can’t hear or see what’s going on, and you have to go out and be among–that’s right–people. Few are the events that will draw me from the TechnoCave blinking into the light (either sunlight or very bright streetlamps, they’re all evil). One of them, however, is Cinematic Titanic. You wouldn’t think there would be a difference between riffing live and riffing Memorex…but there is. Having seen both of their live shows here in Atlanta (#1 and #2), I can tell you they simply must be seen. Here they attack War of the Insects, which is not really insects fighting each other as much as it is a plot to create insects and destroy the world. Through bad acting and hilarious dubbing. And we have the five heroes of the story standing by the sidelines getting you through it. And you will positively love Charlie. They did. Having the live audience on DVD is the next best thing to actually being there. I would recommend this for anyone who’s a CT or MST3K fan–you can get it on DVD or digital straight from the crew themselves. Also, bear in mind they’re having a $9.99 sale for a bunch of their titles this month for your Xmas gift-giving shenanigans. (Click here to buy it from Cinematic Titanic.)

I know I’m probably on the more positive side of the spectrum when it comes to “feelings about The Hangover Part II.” I had a good time. That’s all I went in for, really, and they delivered. I realize for some people that the first film was like some sort of Comedy Revelation or something, but these are the same people who read The DaVinci Code and think it’s the best thing they’ve ever read…because sadly, it is the best thing they’ve ever read. It’s the same routine here: three friends are setup for an impending wedding and wake up later lost, confused and embroiled in a mystery. It’s nothing new, but it was never meant to be, so I can’t get pissed off at it. What I can say is whatever you feel about the film, the Blu-Ray smells like a setup. You get an “unauthorized documentary” about the making of the film, a series of featurettes (including one focusing on the monkey and another with Ken Jeong being insane (as usual)) and a gag reel. Since we have a third film coming (bank on it), I have this sneaking suspicion that you’re going to get a better version of this–and the first film–before #3 hits. So if you need to purchase, go ahead, but just remember the prediction. And you’ll want to make sure you’re happy, since $24.99–even for BD/DVD and the non-digital copy Ultraviolet streaming copy–is a little steep. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Little by little, DreamWorks has become a worthy rival to Pixar. Here, in Kung Fu Panda 2, they’ve given you everything the first film had: Jack Black; awesome animation; fantastic voices; funny animal fu. They’ve then taken it and turned it up to eleven with more explodo and the addition of Gary Oldman as your new heavy. And rather than just reworking the same film, they do bring more to the table, making it a worthwhile sequel for fans. The Blu-Ray/DVD/digital copy combo that we have here is set to delight these fans. Again, animation is one of those arenas where hi-def audio and video is warranted–and they do it justice here. Even I can tell this looks badass. And also in the badass arena, we’ve got a lot of bonus bits: a new short film, a picture-in-picture commentary plus an additional filmmakers commentary. There’s a pop-up trivia track, a bonus episode from the animated series, a vocal featurette, deleted scenes and more. I only have this set here, but from what I can tell, this is just $1 more than the two-disc DVD set–so if you want to own–and animated fans will–then this just makes sense to grab. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Big Love Season 5 DVD
Big Love Complete Collection DVD

HBO has ended their Big Love series, which cast Bill Paxton as a polygamist Mormon and Chloe Sevigny, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Ginnifer Goodwin as his wives. The series finally led them to where it picks up with Season 5, released here standalone with all ten episodes across four discs. Paxton’s character, also Bill, won the state senate seat he wanted and then outed his family as polygamists. This brings all manner of hijinks to the fore, including opposition from his new governmental co-workers and…practically everyone else as well. The set comes with a short bit for each episode in which the creators can discuss what went on and there’s also a series-end retrospective. Currently the per episode cost is just under $4…and considering this is the last season, this is not the place to jump on board. Rent the first season first and move on from there–and even then, you should watch the show through and decide on replay value before plonking coin. After all, there’s stuff for the archives, there’s stuff you want to rewatch from time to time and then there’s just stuff that was fun once. It’s up to the individual in 90% of cases to say which is which. If you like buying in bulk, they’ve also released The Complete Collection, where the episodes, all fifty-three of them across nineteen discs, are less than $2.50 each. There’s nothing new under the sun here if someone has been buying the other sets–but you do get some prequels, commentary, featurettes and more of the aforementioned “Inside the Episode” bits for seasons four and five. So for the fan of the show, there are at least some purchasing options–and no gotcha of an exclusive something or other in the big boxed set. (Click here to buy Season 5 from Amazon. Click here to buy the Complete Collection from Amazon.

Fright Night 3D Blu-Ray 2011
Intruder Blu-Ray
Little Deaths DVD

Fright Night 3D is itself a victim of remake mania. Despite an excellent cast, with Anton Yelchin doing his best and David Tennant and Colin Farrell bringing a much better game than the material deserved, it just doesn’t quite work. It even could have been a bit of nonsensical fluff but for a really hideous “No, They Can’t Possibly Be Going There” twist in the final conflict. They traded in the fun of Roddy McDowall and Chris Sarandon for 3D, most of which they squander on ensuring the air is filled with bits of blood. Yippee. And as I said in my initial review, it did have two really great things in it, which I cannot discuss because they are spoilers. The fact they’re a surprise are the only good non-acting things in the film. The look of the film is meh, and the 3D didn’t do anything for me in the cinema, so while it’s realized well enough at home…there’s just nothing really impressive there. You get deleted and extended scenes, a Peter Vincent short bit, a how-to for vampire movies, and an extended version of a film that appears briefly in the feature film. That’s not to say it’s not worth seeing once: Farrell and Tennant are excellent and fans should check it out for them–and vampire completists will want to give it a spin. However, if you do wish to purchase, I’d advise saving the $7 and going for the 2D BD version. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Intruder is the tale of a night crew at a supermarket who are facing down the barrel of unemployment (the store’s being sold and their jobs are going the way of all flesh) along with some crazed person bumping them off one by one. This is a 1989 slasher flick which has significance for a number of reasons, apart from its heroic doses of gore and blood. It features director Sam Raimi in the cast, along with a cameo from some megastar named Bruce. It’s the feature film directorial debut of Scott Spiegel (co-writer of Evil Dead 2–his most recent helming job is the third Hostel film, apparently hitting DVD later this month). And it’s also very early work by KNB EFX…who have done effects work for everything…including Walking Dead. So there you go. Synapse has given the film a great treatment on Blu-Ray–for a late 80s slasher it looks very impressive. And it’s sporting the original uncensored director’s cut, so that’s a bonus. You also get a making-of, extended sequences taken from the original workprint, outtakes from the short film Night Crew which was blown up into this feature. The back of the box says it’s “now-lost.” You also get audition footage, still gallery, and an audio commentary from Spiegel and producer Lawrence Bender. And it’s a DVD/Blu-Ray combo so you have the best of both worlds. This is worth seeing for any fan of slasher flicks. A true aficionado will want to own it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I’m not a big fan on mixing sex and horror. That’s just a personal thing. Perhaps it’s because I live in America, where sex is weird enough without throwing bile and demons and stuff into the mix. We’re very uptight about it here. Anyway, I tell you that as a prelude to discussing Little Deaths, out on DVD from Image. We’re back with another horror anthology, with three different stories mixing torture, drugs, BDSM, sex and more sex. It’s one of those things that you’ll either dig or not, IMO, and just because it’s not my thing doesn’t mean it won’t be appreciated by others. Sadly, no commentary track, which would have let the filmmakers reveal what they had going on behind the scenes of their own brains for this stuff. That I might find interesting. As it is, you’ve got a behind-the-scenes featurette and a trailer and that’s about it. I would advise giving this a watch before purchasing–fans of the genre might want to own, but definitely sample first. If sex and horror aren’t two tastes that taste great together in your mind, then skip it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Raising Hope: The Complete First Season DVD
Sledge Hammer!: The Complete Series DVD
Sons of Anarchy Season 3 Blu-Ray

Before I begin to speak to you about Raising Hope, I urge you to take my opinion with a grain of salt. First, it’s not the sort of comedy that appeals to me. Dysfunctional families I feel have been done to death and this doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. And brings some gross body humor to the table instead. Again, that’s just my opinion. Secondly, I sort of flinch at the fact you’ve got a grandmother character with Alzheimer’s being used for comedic purposes–but I’ve lost three grandparents to Alzheimer’s. So that doesn’t help its case with me. But that being said, I know people who really enjoy the show and more power to them. The idea of a guy finding purpose by being a single dad with the grudging half-support of his screwed up family looks good on paper, anyway. And the cast are doing quite well with it. So let’s just leave it at that. The first season DVD set from Fox will be welcomed by fans of the show, as it’s got all twenty-two episodes across three discs. And bonus, the unaired pilot, an extended version of the season finale, a featurette on the babies used for the show, an audio commentary on the pilot, deleted and extended scenes as well as a gag reel and more. The episodes are just a bit more than a $1 each, so that’s not bad–and when you throw in the bonus bits, it’s a winner for the fan. And fans of the show will want this for the replay value. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Sledge Hammer! is one of those series that, when it comes back around again from a Complete Series DVD set courtesy of Image Entertainment, I look at and say, “Only two seasons? Really?” Granted, those are American seasons so it’s forty-one episodes of madness. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, take Dirty Harry and turn everything up past eleven to the point where you break the knob off. His best friend and #1 love is his gun, the .44 Magnum, and he is extreme to the extreme. And David Rasche positively rocks the face off of it in the title role. The show is 80stastic silliness and worth watching. Fans of the show will be pleased to know that all the episodes are here in one collection. Fans of the show will be disappointed to learn that there’s nothing in the way of bonus bits–I’m not sure if it was a rights or a cost issue or both as to why they were not ported from the original Anchor Bay releases. If you are hardcore for the show, you might want to look those up, but I will say this: if the only thing you want on the shelf are the episodes, then you’re getting the lot for about $.50 an episode with this set. So there you have it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Sons of Anarchy has many, many fans and with good reason: it’s another of the shows that has an ongoing, harsh but engaging storyline. And it’s nailed down by a cast with Ron Perlman and Katey Sagal, who are both always welcome. Anyone unfamiliar with the show should back up and begin at the beginning. Yes, it’s one of those shows. The third season has the Sons dealing with a kidnapping and other fallout from the previous season, and circumstances will find them splitting their resources to deal with situations on two fronts. All thirteen episodes of the series are here across three Blu-Ray discs. Normally, I would say that a show like this doesn’t scream hi-def, but I think it’ll be on the viewer/owner to say. I will say that the Blu-Ray set is $8 more than the DVD–and that plays out to $2.80 an episode vs. roughly $2.20 an episode. So decide what the upgrade is worth to you, I would say. Bonus bits are healthy: three audio commentaries and three extended episodes, some prologues to the next season, a writer’s roundtable, a discussion with creator Kurt Sutter, deleted scenes, gag reel, a table read (an awesome bonus) and more. I do not know if any of these are exclusive to the BD version. Fans might want to own, but again, non-fans should check it out before plonking coin. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Jetsons Season 2, Vol. 2 DVD
Looney Tunes Show, Season 1, Vol. 2 DVD

The only reason I can figure that The Jetsons is being released now through the Manufacture on Demand Warner Archive Collection is that the sales of the regularly released Season 1 were not what Warner Brothers was expecting. Or perhaps it’s the fact that the old school Jetsons was the only ones which have the draw–Season 2 is the mid-80s continuation. Not being a Jetsonologist, I can’t speak to the quality of the seasons versus each other (it would help if I had the first season on DVD here). Because in my mind, after all, the freaking Jetsons. I mean, I can understand the Hair Bear Bunch not selling well and only being desired by the hardcore Hanna-Barbera fans…but the Jetsons? Odd. I suppose if that live action film ever happens, you’ll probably see that change, but for now this is your best bet for getting the episodes on official Region 1 DVD. What we have here is a three disc set that has the second round of twenty episodes, finishing up the second season. No bonus features. Episodes are around $1.50 each, so that’s not bad for fans of the cartoon. If you just want a refresher or to share it with the kiddies, rent it if you can. (Click here to buy it from the WB Shop.)

The Cartoon Network show, The Looney Tunes Show, has Bugs and Daffy living together in the same house, with other characters as their neighbors. When their friends and neighbors include Gossamer and Taz, hijinks are certain to ensue. Now. I’ve already mentioned how pleased I was to have the initial Platinum Looney Tunes Blu-Ray Collection. And so, just like above with TV comedies, I throw out my reservations against this show and say take them with a grain of salt. Number one, Warner Brothers has never been able to tap again into the legendary stuff that made the original Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons zing. They continue that run here. Number two, they’ve redesigned the characters…and they make my eyelashes hurt. Number three, instead of releasing a season at a time–they’re releasing the first season in multiple volumes. That would be one thing if you had a substantial amount of episodes you were dividing up…instead we’re on Volume 2 of a twenty-six episode season. If they go on at this rate, you’re looking at six and a bit volumes in total. And at $12, that’s $3 an episode. With no bonus features. Honestly, for the price of three of these, you could have the Platinum Collection on Blu-Ray with over five times the running time plus bonuses. Just…go for that instead. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: Wild Truth DVD
Transformers Prime: Darkness Rising DVD

The fourth volume of Ben 10: Ultimate Alien hits, called The Wild Truth, with twelve episodes from the second season. (Or finishes up the second season with a majority from the third season, I’ve seen conflicting information about it. Either way.) This volume includes trouble at Area 51, the return of the “Anti-Ben,” Albedo, and a revolt by the Ultimate Forms themselves. There are no bonus bits, just the twelve episodes across two discs, out from Cartoon Network. One thing to bear in mind is that they are re-running the episodes on here, it looks like. So bear that in mind. That being said, for the fan of the show, we are talking at just over $1 an episode, so if you don’t want to wait or want to add this to your existing Ben collection, it’s not going to set you back too far. I wouldn’t jump on board at this point, since there’s a bit of history, but if you’re up to date, it’s not a terrible deal to snag it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Transformers: Prime is the new iteration of Transformers, out on DVD from Shout! Factory, and developed by the writers of the three live action films. I know that gives you pause (or it should), but they do leave a bunch of the humor on the bench and instead bring a darker tone to proceedings. And the CG animation style, once you get used to it, doesn’t make you want to tear your eyebrows off. In addition to the voices you know you have to have, i.e. Peter Cullen and Frank Welker, The Rock and Jeffrey Combs are along for the ride. Nice. What they’ve done here is kicked things off with a five-part mini-series (like in the old days) and that mini-series has been presented here as one continuous feature length thing. The shot is this: Megatron has returned with yet another plan to conquer everything–and he has the power over life to help him. Zombies in the world of Transformers? Never good news. Bonus bits are two featurettes: covering character and production design. Plus you get some animatics as well. This is probably the best home video version of this you’re going to get…but if you are concerned about price point–and if you think about it as breaking the episodes down into five again–you get about $2.25 an episode. So not terrible. The hardcore will want to own. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Royal Upstairs Downstairs DVD
Tora! Tora! Tora! Blu-Ray

This is not breaking news or anything: but you don’t have to be in Britain to see people who are nuts about royalty. See Royal Wedding, Recent. I’m not sure how it is outside the States–maybe more people are nuts about it here because we don’t have any official royalty. No idea. But I will say that BBC (and BFS, who are releasing this on Region 1 video) nailed something when they brought the series Royal Upstairs Downstairs. Smartly titled to immediately catch the eye of discerning anglophiles, it’s nothing to do with the fictional series…instead the two hosts are taking Victoria’s diaries and running through her travel itinerary, visiting various locations she visited to see where and how life for a royal was experienced. So you get one host tackling the location and another tackling the food. And their glee is palpable and just oozes out through the screen. And that’s what you get for five discs, twenty episodes. So it’s a lot for fans to gnaw on. If none of that appeals to you by me describing it, well, there you go. No bonus bits included and you’re looking at around $2.30 an episode at present. The hardcore will want to own it–and the hardcore know who they are. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Tora! Tora! Tora! is the dramatization of the attack on Pearl Harbor, seen from both the American and Japanese perspectives and luckily does not contain an absolutely reprehensible and unnecessary love story. The American side was directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and the Japanese side was directed by Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale) and Toshio Masuda (Yamato). And it tries to do a straight-up telling of the story using whatever facts were available at the time (1970). War movie buffs don’t need me to tell them that this is for them–but they might be interested to know that this 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor edition looks fantastic on Blu-Ray. From what I can tell–don’t have the DVD edition here–it looks like this is a port of the DVD bonus features from the two-disc edition of a few years back: historical docus, audio commentary from Fleischer and a Japanese film historian, and Fox Movietone News bits. The major new addition is the booklet that comes with, which again will appeal to the war movie buff. You’ve figured out who needs to own this by now, I’m sure. Everyone else should at least give it a rental. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Dear Santa DVD
Happiness is Snow Days Peanuts DVD
Perfect Gift DVD

A trio of Xmas releases rounds out this edition as we prepare to slip out the back of the season, hopefully unnoticed. Yes, we’ll be stopped by a security guard on the way to the parking lot, but that’s how it goes some time. Hang on to your receipts. Dear Santa is an odd study in how to stretch believability of finding a mate. Even in movie-land. Even in made for TV-movie-land. A woman who needs a change finds a Dear Santa letter from a girl who wants someone to come marry her dad. So she goes and finds the soup kitchen where said dad works and decides to make that happen. This is out from Image on DVD and strictly for those who appreciate holiday schmaltz when it comes to romantic films. There are no extras on this release, so there’s very little to warrant purchasing it. I don’t know anyone who’s a completist for such films…perhaps a big fan of director Jason Priestley? (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Happiness is…Peanuts: Snow Days is odd in that it’s called a “collection.” This might make you think, excellent, a collection of the snow-related Peanuts specials, starting with the inevitable and classic Christmas special. Well…no. In fact, there’s only one special here. And then an episode of The Charlie Brown & Snoopy Show in which only one of the segments deals with Christmas. So it’s forty-seven minutes. Yeah. Yes, the $8.99 pricetag currently isn’t bad for the hardcore Peanuts fan, but I say this: eventually they will run out of single disc specials (with “bonuses”) that they can throw out and they will, eventually, release a Special Collection, possibly in multiple volumes, that actually collect them properly. Unless you absolutely have been dying to own “She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown” on DVD, hold out. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

And lastly, another release from Image: The Perfect Gift puts Ruben Studdard front and center in the hopes of drawing in his American Idol following. If the phrase “the true meaning of Christmas” makes your eyebrows fall out, then I don’t need to really go any further, but that’s what gets learned here. If you never get sick of watching films about same, or the prospect of seeing Studdard on screen works for you, then more power to you. But even then, it might be worth a rental alone–because the replay factor just doesn’t seem like it would hold. To the disc’s credit, it does come with the soundtrack as a second disc and some additional scenes. But rent it or Netflix it before you plonk coin, if you were tempted. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)