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Headsup: Stalked by Aliens, Death, Apes …and Other Such Modern Problems

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.

Apollo 18 Blu-Ray
Final Destination 5 Blu-Ray
Rise of the Planet of the Apes Blu-Ray

[ad#rightpost]Two films concerning The Moon and conspiracies were out this past year. One was Transformers, the other was Apollo 18. The trick being, of course, that there was officially no Apollo 18 mission…or so we were told. This found-footage horror flick (who knew that would be a subgenre unto itself?) posits that yes, there was, and furthermore, there was a damn good reason we haven’t been back. Conspiracy, paranoia and enclosed spaces converge for this (relatively) low budget sci-fi horror flick. Without giving anything away beyond the something that’s obviously up there with them, it’s probably a rental for those curious about such things…however many may find that with three Paranormal Activity flicks already behind us, the subgenre needs to go to sleep for a while. Regardless, this Anchor Bay Blu-Ray does look nice (considering it’s supposed to be vintage space footage, so don’t expect it to be pristine) and it comes with an audio commentary with the director and editor, deleted scenes and both alternate scenes and endings. Regardless, at $24.99 it’s a largish price tag for such a film–make sure you really like it before plonking down coin. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

On that same subject, you might be wondering: “Why is there a fifth Final Destination movie?” Well, here’s your numbers. Just like Apollo 18, the thing is profitable. $40 million budget spent for Destination 5…$150 million worldwide box office. Horror movies are relatively cheap–and their appeal worldwide is huge. And that’s box office, folks. Not counting home video sales like for this Blu-Ray, which comes with DVD as well as the UltraViolet streaming copy. The synopsis here is nothing new: people cheat Death. Death gets pissed. Death wants what’s coming to him. If watching another round of people trying to dodge the inevitable is your thing, then by all means, go for it. The Blu-Ray from New Line looks well enough, though this isn’t, for my money anyway, a hi-def screaming film. Not helping matters is the fact that you’ve got some alternate death scenes, a couple of FX featurettes and a short bit on the film itself…and that’s it. And really, once you’ve hit the surprise ending, such as it is, replay factor comes into question. At $22.49, make sure it’s something you want on your shelf. Otherwise, rent it or Netflix it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

2011 had its share of surprises for me at the cinema. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of them. I did not expect to like the film but found myself enjoying it for what it was, and more specifically–what it wasn’t. The trailer made it look like an apes vs. man uprising and battle–but that’s an oversimplification. What you get instead is a sci-fi film with depth that plausibly sets up what could be a new franchise. In fact, FSM help me, I’d actually be up for a sequel. Of course, Andy Serkis is on hand–along with WETA Workshop–to bring the simians to life. And they look fantastic. And Serkis is frigging incredible. If you avoided this because you were afraid–like I was–then at least rent this Fox Blu-Ray. I say yes to hi-def on this one because the FX for the apes is truly astounding work and should be enjoyed to the fullest. You do have DVD and digital copy on this, plus a decent helping of bonus bits. Not one but two audio commentaries; one from the director, the other from the writers. There are unfinished/deleted scenes, and featurettes covering everything from the score to the real apes to the FX. And there’s one about Serkis himself–and damn straight, too. Love that guy. Watch the film first to judge its replay value for yourself, but do at least watch it. Yes, the Blu-Ray is $10 more than the DVD, but IMO WETA is worth it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Futurama, Vol. 6 Blu-Ray
Simpsons Season 14 Blu-Ray

The latest home video releases of Matt Groening’s brain children have hit Blu-Ray thanks to Fox. When it comes to Futurama, Vol. 5 covered the first thirteen episodes of Season 6…this release tackles the back thirteen. The regular cast of characters are here, confronting everything from organic food to the Bermuda Tetrahedron to being “Fleischer-ized” in vintage cartoon style. Fans can go back and forth on whether the show was better and/or more consistent and/or whatever pre- or post-resurrection, but one thing is true: the boxed set is sweet. Commentary junkie that I am, I am pleased: every episode comes with commentary. There’s also deleted scenes on each disc, a making-of, a Q&A, a featurette covering the three animation styled finale episode, and more. The Blu-Ray looks fantastic–and normally I’m a fan of hi-def animation, but I’ll let the fans judge for themselves. Know this, though: the Blu-Ray is about $2.25 an episode…the DVD is $1.50 an episode. So a difference of $.75 an episode. But the fan should own one version or another methinks. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

When it comes to the fourteenth season of The Simpsons, I think fans are a lot more vocal about how the show is these days…mostly because it never went away for them to miss it. And everybody has their own place in the sequence of the show where they’ll swear it jumped the shark for them. Regardless, with this set (which is from way back in 2002…my how time flies), you get all twenty-two episodes from the season. This of course includes “Treehouse of Horror XIII,” which involves, among other things, zombies and time machines. Also in the mix are Homer discovering the power of prayer and Moe discovering how much he likes babysitting. Among other things. On the bonus side of the house, again, Groening and company do not disappoint with a commentary on every episode, featurettes and additional artwork for the packed-with-rock-guest-stars episode, “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation.” There’s a featurette on the 300th episode, deleted scenes, and other bits that mostly regurgitate things that have come before. Like a pair of older “Treehouse” episodes, which, if you have the earlier boxed sets, then you already have them. As far as owning it goes, the fan who finds replay value will want to…and the Blu-Ray is only $3 more as I type this, so that’s a no-brainer. Episodes on hi-def run you about $1.75 each. Not bad. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Jersey Shore Uncensored: Season Four DVD
Shameless: The Complete First Season Blu-Ray
Stars and Stripes Forever Blu-Ray

Jersey Shore hits with its “uncensored” fourth season on DVD. This is out from MTV and Paramount. This season the shot is they’ve taken the crew and removed them from the titular location; they’ve been transplanted to Italy for hijinks on a foreign shore. Or, as the back of the box puts it–with a degree of candor that you would have to judge for yourself–“it’s just a little funnier when it’s in a foreign country.” It’s pretty cut and dried on a reality TV show release: either you’re into it, or you’re not. And if you are into it, you are either because you actually do enjoy the sort of thing at face value–or you just enjoy watching people whose lives are more of a trainwreck than your own. And we try not to judge anybody around here (the operative word being “try”), so here are the facts: you get twelve episodes–with bonuses–across four discs. There are a number of bonus bits, dealing mostly with deleted scenes, additional footage, the “Reunion Special,” and more bits with the cast, including a fashion featurette. It’s either terrifying or terrifyingly entertaining–you be the judge. The episodes are less than $1.75 each on this set–and that’s not counting the bonuses. So if you absolutely had to own it, it at least wouldn’t be costing you your arm or your leg. Soul, maybe. But again, we try not to judge. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Shameless appears to be an odd creature: a series that’s been successfully transplanted from Britain to America. The setup is depressingly simple: William H. Macy plays Frank, the patriarch of the Gallagher Family at the center of the show…and he is just a mean drunk who wants what mean drunks usually want: drink. And then perhaps some more drink after that. The reason the family is able to scratch by is because of Fiona (played by Emmy Rossum, getting some excellent reviews for her performance), who has taken it upon herself to run things in their father’s (mostly) absence. Insane bits include: having to cover for kidnapping, having to cover for Frank waking up in Canada, and having to keep Frank from getting killed by the people he owes money to. The usual, in other words. All twelve episodes are here across two discs and looks good in its hi-def format. There are some bonus bits as well, helping matters along: a featurette on bringing the show to the U.S., a cast discussion about the sex in the show, audio commentary on two episodes, deleted scenes and more. Owning it is up to the individual fan of the show. If you’re unfamiliar, rent an episode or Netflix it to acclimate yourself. If the replay factor for you is a solid one and you want to more, Netflix the set for the bonuses. But if you do want to own: consider the hi-def. The difference per episode is just $.60. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

And now for something completely different. It’s out from Fox, Stars and Stripes Forever, the John Philip Sousa biopic. Yes, the guy who wrote everything from the title march to “Semper Fidelis” (a.k.a. the official march of the U.S. Marines) to “The Liberty Bell” (a.k.a. the official march of Monty Python). This 1952 release stars Clifton Webb as Sousa (although he could have made a very convincing Sgt. Pepper as well) with Robert Wagner and Debra Paget in the cast as well. It deals with his life, including his decision to break out on his own and form his own band so he could properly promote himself and his works. Fans of his work–or fans of music history in general–will want to check it out. It’s not bare bones, which is good on Fox. While it does lack a roundtable discussion with the Pythons (I would have paid good money for that), it does have a making-of featurette, a short tribute piece, art galleries and comes packaged with a DVD version–which is good as I can’t find an instance of it being release on Region 1 DVD. For the price–a shade over $20 as I type this–rent it first to ensure it belongs on your shelf. But the hi-def presentation from Fox is a good one considering the film’s age. And would be worthwhile for the fan. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Blackthorn Blu-Ray
Catch .44 Blu-Ray
Warrior Blu-Ray

Here are five words that make this at least a rental out of the starting gate–or at least it should–for damn near everybody: “Sam Shepard is Butch Cassidy.” And indeed, once I got thrown the synopsis–that Cassidy didn’t die when cornered by the Bolivian Army but instead took on a new name and an honest life–I was in. Because that’s Blackthorn. Cassidy, tired of being away from the United States towards the end of his life, decides to make a break with his assumed life and head back to see his remaining family once more. And that’s where the hijinks come in–because it’s never that easy. But this is long ago and Cassidy hasn’t seen enough westerns to know what his decisions might bring down. Also showing up is Stephen Rea, who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite actors to just show up and rock something (see The Shadow Line for more information). This Blu-Ray release is out from Magnolia and has a decent presentation–I don’t have the DVD so I can’t compare, but it works fine. Bonus bits include: deleted scenes, a making-of, a pair of short films from the director (Mateo Gil) and more. If you just want to sample it, try the Amazon Instant Video option ($4). But if you do want to buy, the Blu-Ray is only $2 more than the DVD. So the hi-def upgrade is certainly worth that. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Catch .44 goes to direct-to-video Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay starring Bruce Willis, Forest Whitaker and Malin Akerman (Watchmen). The shot, no pun intended, is this: three ladies show up for a drug deal but things go quite awry. Of course, the ladies haven’t seen enough Tarantino films to know that when you’re in a film that’s trying to be Tarantino…things happen. At least Cassidy (see above) had an excuse. Anyway, Willis and Brad Dourif make an appearance and Forest Whitaker works magic like he always does, but the film is primarily for anyone who’s seen the entire Tarantino filmography and wants to see something that’s trying to be…well, that. The Blu-Ray does come with an audio commentary from the writer/director and the editor as its sole bonus bit. For the curious, probably worth Netflixing. Not sure who would be hardcore enough or a crime thriller completist to the extent where they would want this on their shelf. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

There’s nothing wrong with retelling a story. When you boil everything down, there’s only a small number of core stories, anyway. The trick is to tell the story well, so that at the same time the audience knows what you’re doing–they don’t care. Hence the acclaim achieved by Warrior, the fighting-as-healing movie starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte. Don’t be surprised if it makes a Best Picture nod (given that the category has ten slots that need filling) and Nolte’s almost a shoo-in for a Best Supporting nom. The gist is this: two brothers are dealing with their pasts and, by way of doing so, wind up signing up for the same MMA competition. And the trailer already basically tells you what’s going to be the final fight–if the box art doesn’t drive the point home. Regardless, the film is of interest to a broad array of viewers: MMA/fighting (straight drama and otherwise) movie fans and people wanting to get on board before the Oscars. Plus anyone wanting to see more of the actors involved. Like Hardy…want to believe he can pull off Bane later this year? Watch this and Bronson and learn. Anyway, this Lionsgate Blu-Ray release looks and sounds pretty damn good, considering this isn’t a film I would necessarily say screams hi-def. And they’ve backed the release with a stack of extras, including an “enhanced viewing mode” that gives you, alongside the original feature, an array of interviews and behind the scenes bits. There’s also an audio commentary with the director, co-writer, editor and also Edgerton. There’s a decent-sized making-of, a deleted scene, gag reel, a fight featurette, a chat with some MMA experts and more. Considering the Blu-Ray is only $4 more than the DVD, it’s worth the hi-def upgrade if you want to put this on your shelf. But the Amazon Instant Video’s $1.99 if you want to just sample it before buying. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Greatest Super Bowl Moments DVD
Deep Purple Orchestra Blu-Ray
Yes: Symphonic Live Blu-Ray

There’s very little I know or understand about the game of football. But I do have an appreciation for the fact that, you know, a lot of you out there are picking up the slack where I leave off. But it ultimately boils down to just how much history of the sport someone cares about as to whether or not Vivendi’s Greatest Super Bowl Moments will appeal. It’s a greatest hits of the championship, showing an array of the best plays in history: and there are forty-five games to pick and choose from in a two-and-a-half hour span. So on one hand, the hardcore fan will want to own this just to get the best of the best (although I understand there are compilations released just about every year–so they may already own something very similar (or have access via, say, Netflix)). And at less than $14, it’s not a terrible splurge for someone to buy it…but I would encourage anyone to watch it once and see if they want to set it on their shelf. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.

We then turn to Eagle Rock with a pair of live releases–bands enhanced via lots of instrumentation. We have Deep Purple With Orchestra Live in Montreux 2011. The title pretty much describes what we’ve got here: the current iteration of the band played the Montreux Jazz Festival backed by a full orchestra. While I am familiar with the band–it’s sort of hard not to be–I am probably not the best at judging how they themselves sound in this performance, which does contain classics like “Hush” and “Smoke on the Water.” What I can say is that the orchestra is an odd choice–part of the problem is that there are plenty of great band+orchestra concerts out there. (We’re going to talk about one in a second.) So when you’ve got one where you’re wondering why the orchestra is there…that’s never good. As a result of this odd mix, I would say that hardcore fans will want to check out the release–but will want to ponder before plonking coin. The one bonus bit is a series of interviews with the band. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Which brings us to Yes: Symphonic Live. This was taken from their 2001 tour where they, yes, no pun intended, toured with an orchestra in support of their album at the time, Magnification. Tracks from the album are here, along with some kickass versions of classic Yes tunes, including “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” I’m a bit more familiar with Yes–having coming on board around the 90125 era…so I’m pleased with the music on here. In addition, it sounds and looks pretty darn good for a hi-def release. It’s a nice healthy three hours of content in total, which includes a behind the scenes docu and the music video for the song from Magnification “Don’t Go.” Live music fans who want to see how this is done properly, the band+orchestra thing, would do well to check this out. And Yes fans will seriously want to consider owning…the Blu-Ray, in fact, is going for less on Amazon new than the DVD. Which makes it a no-brainer if you’re looking to purchase. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Oz and James: Big French Wine Adventure DVD
Oz and James: Drink to Britain DVD

There’s a lot of programs that the presenters of the UK Top Gear show get up to that we never see on this side of the pond. Or rarely. I’m not aware that James May’s Toy Stories series ever aired over here, for example. (CoughsearchYouTube) Anyway, one we did get (and are now getting on DVD) has James pairing up with wine-ologist Oz Clarke as they embark on two adventures involving alcohol. The first, Big French Wine Adventure, has the two men driving around France for a month, with Oz trying to educate James regarding wine without talking too much rubbish. The second has them driving around Britain looking for the “drink that defines modern Britain” in, what else, but …Drink to Britain. Like most good comedy shows that double as docus, you get a nice balance of both. Granted, the first series in France has them trying not to throttle each other whereas with the British show, they’re more used to each other and they’re less prone to desire violence. Although in order to get some friction going, they are restricted to living in a small caravan. You do learn some things about beverages in the midst of all the mayhem, which is why the show is at least worth watching. The French adventure is six episodes; the British is eight. While worth watching–I’m not sure about the replay factor for owning. Top Gear or alcohol fans, judge for yourselves: the sets are thus $4/episode and less than $3.25 an episode respectively. (Click here to buy French Wine Adventure from Amazon. Click here to buy Drink to Britain from Amazon.)