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Headsup: Of History and Hitchcock

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.

Josephine Baker Story Blu-Ray
Thurgood Blu-Ray
Tuskegee Airmen Blu-Ray

[ad#rightpost]We kick off with a trio of Blu-Ray releases from HBO, out in time for Black History Month.

The Josephine Baker Story makes its Blu-Ray debut from HBO after being release to DVD about a decade ago. This of course the 1991 TV movie that starred Lynn Whitfield as the titular performer, taking you through her entire life: starting off with little to nothing in St. Louis before living through adversity in both America and Europe and enjoying some degree of success. Whitfield won the Emmy for her performance and it’s easy to see why. The hi-def upgrade here is worthwhile for the audio and video side and you do actually get a new audio commentary from Whitfield, along with one of the writers and an associate producer. The further good news is that at $11.99, if you do want to own this–which for fans of Baker or Whitfield is a no-brainer–then it’s simple enough and not painful to upgrade if necessary. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Thurgood hits Blu-Ray–this starring Laurence Fishburne–and this one is profoundly different from the above biopic…instead of giving us a straight-up biopic of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, it’s instead a filmed performance of the one-man play. It’s a similar setup to other shows (a recent one that springs to mind is Tovah Feldshuh in Golda’s Balcony) in which we meet Thurgood later in life and Fishburne’s performance changes as the time period in Thurgood’s life changes. And it works because, well, it is Laurence Damn Fishburne in the role. And at no point does he lose your focus. A must-watch for anyone interested in the history of his life and/or fans of Fishburne, the Blu-Ray itself has a damn fine video presentation. No bonus bits. Should be viewed at least once, if not owned. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Tuskegee Airmen from HBO makes its Blu-Ray debut, timed to coincide with the Lucas-produced Red Tails earlier last month. The story is thus: a group of black pilots have to fight damn near everything before they can be about the business of fighting for their country. And by damn near everything, I mean some officers above them as well as some people in the government. The concept that some people would actually volunteer to lay down their lives to die for others who not only would deny their right to do so–but actively hate them? That’s got a high drama factor from the get-go. And with the cast headed up by Laurence Fishburne, it does the story justice. So does the Blu-Ray release…considering this is a 1995 TV movie, the video looks pretty damn good. Alas, you get no bonus bits besides the book that accompanies the Blu-Ray. Worth viewing for anyone intrigued by the story or anyone who’s had their historical curiosity piqued by Red Tails. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season Blu-Ray
Glee: The Concert Blu-Ray
Going Postal Blu-Ray

So…Boardwalk Empire. If you’ve been following Weekend Justice, it’s no secret that I dig the hell out of this show. (I’m not alone in this regard.) It’s also no secret that I’m pleased that after a kickass first season…the second season did not disappoint. I hate it when that happens…Deadwood. Anyway, apart from giving a starring role to Steve Buscemi (never a bad thing), apart from playing the Wire card and involving Michael Kenneth Williams to make me want to watch it even more (never a bad thing) and having some serious firepower behind it with Scorsese on board…it’s just freaking solid. Great characters, great writing…it’s obvious these people had The Wire in mind when they went after this. Also–and bonus–it’s a great message, completely understated, about what happens when you try to legislate away the Things People Want. This DVD from HBO comes with an extensive behind-the-scene docu, a featurette on the ginormous set, a tour of speakeasies, an Atlantic City docu, a character guide, and six audio commentaries with cast and crew members participating. Now…I love the show, so that might be enough…but the Blu-Ray takes it a step further. You get an immersive bit where, while watching each episode, you can hit a button and get more information about locations, characters and more. One favorite feature of mine? A particular song playing in the background gives you the option to pause the film and hear the entire song. Nice. Want to see a larger mini-featurette rather than just a picture in picture snippet? Hit the button. Brilliant. Does this have some overlap with the rest of the bonus bits? Sure, but if you dig the show, this lets you dig into the show and is recommended. Either way, in some form or fashion…you need to watch this–and for me anyway–it’s good enough to own. And I highly recommend the Blu-Ray…the upgrade in features is worth the upgrade in price. (Click here to buy the Blu-Ray from Amazon. Click here to buy the DVD from Amazon.)

So Glee: The Concert. Okay, I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. I’ve said it before; I shall reiterate it here: Glee is for adults who simply couldn’t bring themselves to like High School Musical. And it’s a show that takes itself way, way too seriously–a parody that doesn’t have enough sense to know it’s a parody. And I’ve tried to watch it. Honestly. Because I wanted to understand–but I just can’t get through an episode in a single sitting without it making my eyelids hurt. So bearing in mind I’m not in the audience for this, what can I tell you? I can tell you this is the cast of the show, singing cover versions of Michael Jackson and Journey and Prince. There are two bonus performances, two extended performances, some additional cast bits and a booklet for fans. There’s nothing about the Concert experience here that is going to convert anyone but die hard fans of the show are probably going to want this. And if you think of it as less than $1 a song, then it’ll make it easier if you want to grab it and plonk coin. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Going Postal is the Terry Pratchett novel brought to television and brought to Blu-Ray by Acorn Media. One of the Discworld stories, it so happens that con man von Lipwig (played by Richard Coyle, recognizable to most from Coupling) is sentenced to death but gets one last chance: if he can revive the dead post office, then he can go on living. If not, then he’s toast. And he has his work cut out for him since “Clacks,” the new fangled communication system, has all but negated the need for the post office in the eyes of most. Also in the cast are Charles Dance, David Suchet and Andrew Sachs. Recommended for fans of Pratchett and Discworld–while I am not a Pratchettologist like some other people we have on staff, they swear by it so I’m comfortable saying that the Pratchett fan should own. The hi-def treatment here is good and the bonus bits are a respectable lot: Pratchett himself introduces the program, there’s a commentary from the director, a series of interviews, deleted scenes and bloopers. At $34.99, it’s not cheap but the DVD is only $5 cheaper. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Notorious Blu-Ray
Rebecca Blu-Ray
Spellbound Blu-Ray

Notorious makes its Blu-Ray debut from MGM via Fox. The setup is thus: Ingrid Bergman is the daughter of a convicted Nazi and Cary Grant‘s character believes her to be the perfect way to get inside a Nazi ring in post-WWII Brazil. He puts her on the path of a high-ranking Nazi, played by Claude Rains. And as they try to figure out what the bad guys are up to, there’s a smattering of love, distrust and danger. Of course there is. A Hitchcock classic–not one of my favorites, but a damn fascinating watch–it was previously released as a Criterion DVD. None of the bonuses make their way over here–but you do get an excellent audio and video presentation. Not as crisp as some other black and white films, but still you can tell the difference. You also get a series of bonus bits: two commentaries, both with film professors; an isolated musical score and sound FX track; a making-of featurette; a featurette focusing on Hitchcock; a bit from the AFI tribute to Hitchcock; the 1948 radio play version with Bergman reprising her role (I always love the hell out of these); audio interviews with Hitchcock and a restoration comparison so they can show off what hard work they put into sprucing the film up. Recommended. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

And of course, we have Rebecca, the 1940 film that saw Hitchcock meeting Hollywood and having, as is explained in the bonus bits, oh so much fun. Rebecca was the first wife of Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) and now he has a new wife (Joan Fontaine). But the past never strays far in a gothic story, and the odd Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) is there to help spur things along towards the mad conclusion. This is the adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel, a film that had some problems with both getting scaled down to fit inside a feature and also with its revelation about what exactly happened to Rebecca. It’s still a fascinating film, though, despite the changes–and it absolutely nails the atmosphere. As above, the Criterion-specific bonuses are not here–but you do get a decent array to go along with the upgrade in video: a commentary by film historian Richard Schickel; isolated music and sound FX track; a making-of; a featurette covering du Maurier; screen tests; three (!) different radio play versions and audio interviews with Hitchcock himself. If you are a fan of the film, I would suggest using this as a supplment/bonus disc for the Criterion release (which you should own). Any Hitchcock fan or completist will want to own as well. The price is right and upgrade is worth it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

And lastly on this Hitchpalooza trip, we’ve got Spellbound, in which a psychiatrist (Ingrid Bergman) falls in love with another doctor (Gregory Peck)…only, he’s not really a doctor at all. Instead, he’s suffered from amnesia and may or may not have killed the real doctor whose place he filled. Trying to figure out what happened and unravel what’s going on in the man’s head forms the story…and a surreal dreamscape created by Salvador Dali. What we have here is a decent looking hi-def upgrade that, again, sports a radio play as the only carryover from the out-of-print Criterion release. In addition, what you do get is a commentary from a pair of film historians, a featurette on the collaboration between Hitchcock and Dali, a psychoanalysis featurette, a profile of actress Rhonda Fleming, and a Hitchcock interview. Like the above, fans of the film and Hitchcock completists should own both this and the Criterion to get the best of both worlds. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Captain America 1992 DVD
Pepe Le Pew: Looney Tunes Super Stars DVD

Long ago, children, comic book movies were rare. For multiple reasons that we don’t really need to go into here. But when they would happen you’d sometimes get a Superman and sometimes you’d get a Punisher (the Dolph Lundgren one). In 1992, we had Captain America. Matt Salinger, son of J.D., plays the Captain–and looks like Steve Rogers, that’s for sure. But there’s a reason why it took two years to finally go straight to video and has been a staple of bootleg video sellers at conventions for years. It’s not just the fact that the Captain looks a bit like he’s having a continuous Maalox moment and that the Red Skull looks like an odd Krofft villain. Regardless, MGM finally got smart and released it as part of their Limited Edition Collection (their version of the Warner Archive). Worth grabbing and viewing with a bunch of comic geeks especially if there is alcohol involved. Beyond that, worth watching as a double feature with The First Avenger so you young bastards can appreciate just what we older bastards had to go through. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Pepe Le Pew has a release from the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes Super Stars Collection hitting DVD. And I usually have mixed feelings about such things. Normally, these single disc deals are to try and double or triple dip and/or present parents with a dilemma about something to buy for their kids. However, while I would much rather this be presented as part of the Platinum Collection of Looney Tunes releases, it cannot be denied that of the seventeen cartoons on here–fourteen are new to video. And considering that the cartoons come in at less than $.90 each, so for the fan of the character, it’s a no brainer. At least until all of them hit the Platinum Collection. Recommended. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Point Blank Blu-Ray
Tanner Hall Blu-Ray
Wings Blu-Ray

We come to Point Blank, the French film about a guy who’s forced to get involved with criminals after they kidnap his pregnant wife. When pushed up against the wall like that, pretty much anything can happen…and things get a bit crazy. If you’ve been thinking, “Man, I really wish there was a film that was just relentless, full of chase scenes and the film never really stops,” then it’s here to answer your call. It’s out from Magnolia on Blu-Ray and the audio and video are both quite good. It also comes with a behind-the-scenes docu. I would say give it a rental first before plonking coin simply due to the replay factor. Some thrillers I know I can re-watch, others I’m just happy to have seen the once and I’m good. But check it out if that sort of film appeals. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Tanner Hall finds Rooney Mara heading up a cast of young women at a boarding school in New England. Because they are young women and they are at a boarding school, that pretty much guarantees we’re looking at a coming of age story filled with finding out about oneself, about one’s friends, about love, and all of the normal things that coming of age stories bring you. Recommended for anyone who wants to see Rooney Mara in a role that doesn’t involve lots of piercings and isn’t the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Notable also for having Amy Sedaris and Chris Kattan among the cast. Doesn’t break any new ground but would be a definite rental for anyone who the coming-of-age-and-growing-up subgenre appeals to. At present, the Blu-Ray is actually cheaper than the DVD…so the fact that it looks great in hi-def is actually beside the point. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Wings is a film that every film buff needs to see. It’s from 1927, stars Clara Bow and was the first Academy Award winner for Best Picture. A love triangle becomes complicated by war as both men get whisked off to fly in World War I with the resolution of who Clara Bow’s character of Sylvia actually loves left, well, in the wings. If you want to see what big FX was like Back in the Day (Wednesday), then this is the place to go. You get the full silent film treatment: yes, it’s not full on black and white (but instead the sepia type), but you do get it restored–and holy shit, it looks fantastic. And even though it’s a silent film, they’ve created audio tracks with musical scores, one of which has sound FX by Ben Burtt. In addition to the feature, which would be worth viewing on its own, if not owning–you get a retrospective featurette, a restoration featurette and an aerial combat featurette. I would say if you’re a film buff, it’s a good idea to buy this just to inspire this sort of treatment for other films of its kind. Just a superlative Blu-Ray for your shelf. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Janes Journey DVD
Limelight DVD

Jane’s Journey, out from First Run on DVD, is a docu that covers the life of Dr. Jane Goodall. Goodall is the world expert on chimpanzees and has done a great deal to educate people and promote conservation. Anyone who is a big fan of animals knows her well…the trouble is, they’re not going to to find anything terribly new or even deep in this docu, glossing over things in favor of talking about how awesome she is–without ever delving or rising above a promotional feature. Nobody’s saying she’s not awesome…but give us something that’s a bit more than fluff. The DVD is a good one for anyone who’s already a fan but probably skippable for everyone else. No bonus bits. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

So it’s not news that NYC is probably home to some killer nightclubs. But the guy who was running the gauntlet of them in the 90s was apparently Peter Gatien. Gatien came in, opened the Limelight Club and others, made a ton of money and found himself in the crosshairs of Mayor Giuliani as he tried to clean up the night of the city. The results: trials and Gatien getting deported. This docu takes you through it and is of interest to anyone who wasn’t a fan of Giuliani’s sanitizing the New York nightlife or anyone who just enjoys the heydays of mega clubs. It’s out from Magnolia and comes with a number of deleted scenes as its sole bonus bit. Worth a watch for the above mentioned demographic. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Archer Season 2 Blu-Ray
Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret Season 1 DVD

Archer hits with its complete second season–all thirteen episodes–on a two-disc Blu-Ray set from Fox. It’s the tale of Sterling Archer, superspy, who works for ISIS (International Secret Intelligence Service), one of the most dysfunctional organizations out there. When not dealing with his co-workers, which includes a beautiful fellow agent (his ex) and an alcoholic of a boss (his mom), he’s dealing with the KGB, medical problems and paternity issues. The show looks great in hi-def–and it’s only $5 for the upgrade. The Blu-Ray is basically $1.50 an episode, which isn’t bad. You get two animated shorts, a Q&A with Archer himself, a Comic-Con panel and more. Fans will want to own this–because the fans I know freaking love the show with a dangerous passion. And like I said, the price point isn’t insane, so they can snag it in good conscience. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret his DVD from IFC/MPI Home Video with all six first season episodes on a single disc release. The shot is this: David Cross is Todd Margaret, and the source of his titular decisions stem from the fact that he simply cannot help but lie. And once the truth starts to close in on him, he continues to lie. And of course, he’s just been appointed the sales director of an energy drink and his territory is the UK. And of course, he knows nothing about any of those things in the previous sentence. And on top of all of that, he really wants to not lose whatever chance he might have to get with Alice, a local cafe owner. Recommended for fans of David Cross or even Arrested Development, since the show reteams Cross with Will Arnett. The price point per episode is under $3, but there are bonus bits to be had: commentaries on all episodes (one has two commentaries), an extended version of the first episode, a behind-the-scenes featurette, a Q&A, deleted scenes, bloopers and more. Sample it first but you would do well to own it if you’re a fan. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)