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Headsup: Zombie Apocalypses, Vampire Weddings, True Love and Other Madness

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.

Love Story Blu-Ray
Malcolm X Blu-Ray
Whistleblower Blu-Ray

[ad#longpost]Love Story gets a hi-def upgrade by Paramount. Here’s the shot for this, one of the most famous romance-tearjerkers: he’s from a well todo family. She’s strictly middle class. They are in love, in case you didn’t catch from the title. Despite their differences and familial concerns, they decide that they’ve found the One(s) and hook up. But things are never that easy, unless you’re in a rom-com…and this is no rom-com. This Blu-Ray gets a direct port of the bonus bits from the previous DVD release: a director’s commentary, a retrospective featurette and the trailer. So really what you’re looking for is a hi-def upgrade in the audio and video department. You…don’t really get that here, at least not enough to, in my opinion warrant the upgrade. And this really isn’t a screaming-for-hi-def sort of film regardless. No giant mecha rear up in the background and tear up the city behind them. I would say if you want it and don’t already have it, grab the DVD, which is only $5 right now. If you haven’t seen it, you should at least watch it for the posterity of the genre. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Malcolm X hits Blu-Ray as a book combo from Warner Brothers. It is, of course, the biopic from Spike Lee starring Denzel Washington in yet another fantastic role from him. One of the things about Denzel is that he’s excellent even when the film around him is not. He’s so good he elevates everything around him–he has, in other words, the acting equivalent of the Speed Force. Here he freaking becomes Malcolm X and drives the film. I’ve always found Spike Lee an intriguing but flawed filmmaker, so regardless of your feelings of the film, I’m not sure anybody can say anything disparaging about the performance. What this Blu-Ray release comes with is a port of the bonus bits from the DVD special edition–from what I can tell, as I don’t have a copy of the DVD special edition here. By that: a commentary from Lee, along with the cinematographer, editor and costume designer. Also, there are deleted scenes with a Lee introduction, a making-of featurette and a separate disc containing the 1972 feature-length docu, also called Malcolm X. So the new stuff you get: the upgraded video and audio (which are excellent) and the souvenir photo book. This is a tough one, so I’ll put it like this: if you already own the DVD, rent the Blu-Ray and see if the hi-def upgrade is worth your while. If you don’t own the DVD, rent this as well. I say this because the Blu-Ray is currently $29.99 while the two-disc DVD is $8. $20 difference is enough where you need to make certain of your purchase, in my opinion–but if you’re up for it, then by all means. Denzel fans will want to make the leap. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Whistleblower again shows us Rachel Weisz in an excellent role for her: she plays a version of real-life Kathryn Bolkovac, a cop from the American midwest who takes a gig in Bosnia in 1999 as a UN peacekeeper. Working with a military contractor, she’s effective at her job. So much so that she gets tapped to head up investigations into sex trafficking and other such scandals. Trouble is this: she’s effective at her job. So she comes into direct conflict with a whole lot of people who wish she would just let them be about their business, as disgusting as it is. Joining Weisz are Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, Monica Bellucci and Benedict Cumberbatch. This hits from Fox on a decent hi-def presentation but alas, only comes with one short bonus bit about the real Bolkovac. Worth renting at least for fans of Weisz or those that don’t mind such dramas. But it’s not the sort of film, given the subject matter, that one necessarily enjoys, if you catch my meaning. Nobody likes being reminded how corrupt we are as a species. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Dead Blu-Ray
Paranormal Activity 3 Blu-Ray
Twilight: Breaking Down Part 1 Blu-Ray

The Dead, which we’ve talked about before, is a phenomenally creepy movie. The shot is this: our hero was on the last plane out of an unspecified African region, thrown into (even more) chaos due to Zombie Apocalypse. Because things are never quite that easy, the plane goes down and strands him in the middle of nowhere with barely any supplies and surely no way in hell of escaping the zombies and getting home to his family. Let me tell you: if you are a zombie fan at all, you owe it to yourself to watch this film. Yes, it was the first zombie film to be shot in Africa utilizing locals for the zombies. Yes, it’s an amazing test of endurance to have created the film. But you will go insane watching it for one simple reason: the zombies are utterly silent. You used to be able to count on a groan or something…but no, the shots in which you don’t see zombies are just as scary as the ones with zombies. Because you know they are inexorably coming. And soon. And there are no malls to hide in. Not even any decent shelters. Just nerve-wracking. Check out the commentary for tales of muggings, malaria, other ailments and trying to survive long enough to film a damn movie. The commentary and the story behind the film are as harrowing as the film itself, if not moreso. Rent it first, but I think the true zombie fan will want to own. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Well, we had to have something to take the place of Saw. And considering how much profit this new franchise is making, Paranormal Activity 3 is sure as hell not going to be the last or anywhere near the last in the series. (The fourth is already announced to be out this October.) Here we have the Unrated Director’s Cut hitting Blu-Ray from Paramount, with DVD and Ultraviolet + Digital Copy along for the ride. The second film backed up on the first film and now the third film serves as a prequel for both, showing the two women from the series as girls…When All The Trouble Began. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that the titular Paranormal Activity starts in their house as kids and cameras get purchased and setup to record said activity and…well, hijinks ensue. Not a great deal in the way of new hijinks, but there are some. If the notion of the Jump Scare appeals to you, as well as not being numb to the “found footage” horror flick, then this might be worth a watch. The unrated cut adds ten minutes to the running time. And there’s little else: an array of scares and a commercial for a business in the film. Even if you want to own–now may not be the time since surely–surely–there’s going to be some sort of mondo set that comes later with more bonus bits than this. And as for the hi-def…well, remember this is home video footage, so while the hi-def relates it well, don’t expect it to be amazing. Rent it if you must but I recommend holding off purchase, assuming you feel purchase is warranted. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Part 1 of Breaking Dawn hits Blu-Ray from Summit as all the fan(atics) try to hold off until November when the series (so far) finishes. The shot is this: Bella and Edward are married. Fine. They’re even trying to figure out how to have sex when she’s human and he’s super(dead)human. Fine. But…she’s pregnant now. And if you want to talk about a complicated pregnancy, Bella now has one. When I heard that this was hitting Blu-Ray, I thought it would be a bare bones affair with an uber-mongo edition to come later. To Summit’s credit, yes an uber-mongo edition is almost certainly coming later–but this is not bare bones. You get a director’s audio commentary, a six-part making-of docu that you can either watch independently of the feature or as a picture-in-picture running deal, a wedding video and a featurette about Jacob’s character. The $5 it takes to move from the DVD to the hi-def option is worthwhile, as the video and audio are both excellent. This series isn’t my bag, but if it’s yours and you don’t mind the notion that you’ll probably need to consider going to uber-mongo land with a double-dip later, there’s no shame in buying this now. If you want to hold off, at least rent it for the special features which you might find of interest. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Double Blu-Ray
Outrage Blu-Ray
Very Harold and Kumar Christmas Blu-Ray

The Double hits Blu-Ray from Image Entertainment. Something is afoot regarding a Russian assassin that has been on the “No Don’t Worry, They’re Dead” list for some time. Trouble is, is he dead? Or not? And what’s the deal with Richard Gere’s retired operative, brought back on board because he’s the subject matter expert? And just how much danger/in-over-his-head is Topher Grace‘s character, the young FBI agent who also (at least thinks he) knows a thing or two? I’ve become a fan of Gere in recent years, even enjoying films that I appear to be in the minority on, like Unfaithful. So I’m good to watch him work in this and it’s nice to see Grace in something that’s different. Fans of either will want to check this out; fans of spy thrillers might be a bit let down at the setup and execution, so it makes for a decent rental when your Netflix queue has some holes in it. Granted, the hi-def setup looks quite good–and you do have some bonus bits: an audio commentary and featurette. But still, rent it and I think you’ll be good. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Outrage is hitting Blu-Ray from Magnet/Magnolia. And it’s brought to you by writer/director/star Beat Takeshi. Those who know yakuza films understand that means guns. Oh, and blades. And the faithful will not be dissatisfied with this: in which a seemingly simple setup sparks off a war between gangs, revenge and new and interesting ways to cause bodily harm and death. Some of you are probably already thinking this isn’t your thing: no worries, in that case, it isn’t. But if well orchestrated carnage by a master craftsman is your thing, then look no further. Indeed, the Blu-Ray itself is a sharp looking and sounding presentation that gratefully comes with bonus bits: interviews and a making-of, a Q&A from the premiere, a behind the scenes docu and Red Carpet footage. As to the DVD vs. Blu-Ray question: easy, the Blu-Ray is only $2 more. If you have, say, The Yakuza Papers on your shelf…then this is probably up your alley and worth snagging. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas is on Blu-Ray from Warner Brothers. The further adventures of the stoner friends finds them at holiday time trying to recover from the fiery death of a Xmas tree, trying to survive gangsters who want them dead, trying to survive the return of Neil Patrick Harris and trying to rekindle their friendship. First of all, yes, a 3D home video release of this exists…but it didn’t get sent to me. So considering that the utterly ridiculous nature of the 3D in the trailer is what got me ready to see this in the first place (a tough thing to do in our 3D-saturated cinematic world), a 2D version of the film just isn’t going to cut it. There, I’ve said it. There’s just something inherently sad about watching a film that flaunts its 3D reduced to 2D. There’s just something inherently sadder about the fact that yes, this is a Blu-Ray/DVD combo…but on a flipper disc. I freaking hate flipper discs. And the digital copy provided is of the Ultraviolet variety. Surely we can find some succor in the bonus bits, yes? Well…kinda. They are sparse. There’s an extended cut which adds all of six minutes to the film, there’s a series of bits with Tom Lennon (who is admittedly a very funny guy), and a small featurette about one of my favorite sequences: the claymation bit. Then there’s deleted scenes. I don’t know that everybody needs to own this, but it could be a holiday cult classic in the making. If you do want to own it, pay the extra $3 and get the 3D Blu-Ray version–at least it’s not a flipper, as I understand it. Criminy. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Bed Sitting Room DVD
Hostile Witness DVD
Up the Creek DVD

Here’s the good news first. We have the completely mental film, The Bed Sitting Room, based on the play by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus. It concerns a post-apocalyptic Britain in which everything is completely destroyed and insane, in equal parts. You have Penelope, who is seventeen months pregnant. Her father, who turns into a parrot. And there’s Lord Fortnum, who convinced he is going to turn into the title. It’s like The Goon Show given a further shot of acid (by Help! director Richard Lester) and then given more of a cast because Peter Sellers was (we guess) busy. So joining Milligan and fellow Goon Harry Secombe, you have Peter Cook, Marty Feldman, Dudley Moore, Ralph Richardson and a scad more. Fans of surrealistic British humor should check out this MGM Limited Edition Collection MOD release, most definitely. And will probably want to own it. But here’s the bad news–the frustrating news. A Region 2 release of this came out a couple of years back, but remastered and with a small array of bonus bits. And we get none of that. Blu-Ray even. In fact, just last year they released a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack, available from Amazon UK. Just make sure you can play Region 2/B discs. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Hostile Witness is out from MGM–this is also part of their manufacture-on-demand Limited Edition Collection. It’s a 1968 starring Ray Milland as a barrister whose daughter is killed by a hit and run driver. He gets a bit distraught about this, to say the least, swearing vengeance on the killer, who remains uncaught. Trouble is, he finds himself having a breakdown and coming home after that to find his neighbor dead and himself accused of the murder. Can he defend himself in the courtroom and prove his innocence? Insert dramatic sting here. Fans of courtroom drama or Milland will want to give this a spin (it was his final film to direct although he was acting for two decades beyond this) but will probably find this interesting for the sake of posterity and not much else. Rental for the above, a curiosity for everyone else. No bonus bits. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Up the Creek is hitting from the MGM Limited Edition Collection as well and what I remember most about when this film came out (1984) is that they were playing the hell out of the music video for the title track from the film, recorded by Cheap Trick. And it involved, if memory serves, opening on a someone getting shot in the ass with an arrow. And that set the tone. Of course now, looking back, what I find most amusing is that it’s a college student competition movie, but one that stars Stephen Furst and Tim Matheson…six years after Animal House. Nice. Anyway, our heroes, a team of schlubs from a down and out university are in a white water rafting competition, and if they win, they get scholarly glory. It’s the sort of film one can snag as a rental and enjoy with a bit of nostalgia and perhaps alcohol. Especially for fans of Furst and Matheson. Worth a viewing, yes…worth owning, not so sure. Rent it where you can and snag it after if you feel it has replay value. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

House By The Cemetery Blu-Ray
Night Train Murders Blu-Ray
Zombie Blu-Ray

Blue Underground brings you the haunted house WTFery that is The House by the Cemetery, directed by Lucio Fulci. Bob is a young boy whose parents are moving the family to the country (again with being out in the country–and this was 1981–they still should have known better by this time!) despite the warnings of a ghostly girl. It’s a weird house. And the cellar is nailed shut. Oh dear. Hijinks ensue. Because this is Blue Underground, the Blu-Ray release is nigh Criterion quality–it looks damn good for an early 80s horror film. And for bonus bits, they’ve thrown everybody they could get a hold of into interviews–over an hour’s worth. You also get a deleted scene and trailers. Fulci fans will definitely want to snag this to add to the library, as will hardcore horror fans. If you don’t know what you’re in for, though, give it a watch before plonking coin. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The back of the Blu-Ray for Night Train Murders, out from Blue Underground, says that “It was released as Second House on the Left, New House on the Left…” And if you’re unfamiliar with the film–like me–you can think, “Oh, that makes total sense.” Because it’s nothing new to rename your film to be similar sounding to another film in order to ride the first film’s coattails. But this film really is “What if we basically took Last House on the Left and set it on a train?” Much like the later game of “What if we basically took Die Hard and set it on [blank]?” Two girls traveling by train get intercepted by two criminals and a mysterious woman who decide to basically Do Terrible Things to them. And there’s a family waiting to receive the girls…and things will not end well. As is the case with Blue Underground releases, the hi-def video is as good as you can get for a 1975 Italian horror film (IMO). The bonus bits here are the same as the previous 2004 DVD release: an interview with director and co-scribe Aldo Lado, radio spots, trails and a poster/still gallery. At this point, the Blu-Ray release is $14 more than the DVD…so the question is really: what is hi-def Italian horror worth to you? I would say rent the hi-def and see if replay value and/or the upgrade is worth the coin. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

We also have a fantastic “2-Disc Ultimate Edition,” a Blu-Ray Blue Underground release of Fulci’s Zombie. Yes, this is the famous worm-in-the-eye-socket zombie that is seen everywhere. What’s worse than running out to a place in the remote countryside? Going to a strange tropical island in search of your dad, who’s suffering from a weird disease. Oh, and you found this out from a boat that brought a zombie to the city. Foreboding, anyone? Anyway, this is the mad undead classic that was supposed to be the unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead. And Blue Underground fills me with glee with this array of stuff: a commentary with Ian McCulloch (who played Peter) and the editor of Diabolik Magazine, Jason J. Slater. You also get an intro from Guillermo Del Toro, interviews with, again, pretty much everybody–the entire second disc is wall to wall interviews. Any fan of Fulci or fan of the zombie genre will want to grab this. Even if you own it on DVD, yes, the bonus bits and the upgrade is enough to warrant purchasing again. Just trust me. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Queen: Days of Our Lives Blu-Ray
Richard Thompson Band: Live at Celtic Connections Blu-Ray
Styx: Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight Live Blu-Ray

As we prep for the upcoming Freddie Mercury biopic starring Sacha Baron Cohen (which I can’t wait to see), we have Queen: Days of Our Lives hitting Blu-Ray from Eagle Vision. Taglined “the definitive documentary of the world’s greatest rock band…” I don’t know about it being definitive, but it’s a good watch for a fan of the band. It goes through the story of their creation and rise, their evolution of their techniques, and covers, of course, the way-too-soon loss of Mercury. The hi-def video and audio both sound fine, but be aware you’re switching over to archival footage–and when you do, well, it’s archival footage. The bonus bits include seven music videos, additional interview footage and additional scenes. Recommended for a watch for any fan of the band…the true hardcore will want to consider owning. And if you go down that road, the Blu-Ray is about $1.50 more than the DVD, so that’s a no brainer. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Richard Thompson hits Blu-Ray once more with Richard Thompson Band Live at Celtic Connections, shot last January at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow from the Celtic Connections Festival. In it, you get the group plowing through the vast majority of their 2010 album, Dream Attic. Then you get a smattering of songs from other various releases, like “The Angels Took My Racehorse Away,” “One Door Opens,” and “Man in Need.” I will say this: despite this not being something I’d have on heavy rotation, Thompson’s skill both as performer and flat-out guitarist cannot be denied. I respect his stuff and I’m fine with listening to it, even though I wouldn’t count myself as a full-on fan of his material. What you have here from Eagle Vision is a total of twenty-two tracks with the hi-def treatment…and honestly, it’s a no-brainer to go hi-def since both this and the DVD are the same price. Fans of the artist might want to consider purchasing–as I’ve said before, I prefer to listen to live music more often than I do to watch it…so I wish these came with a bonus CD or an option to download the MP3 versions. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The trouble with live concert DVDs or Blu-Rays is that you either like them or lump them. You’re either into the content or not. And I can tell you: a fan of Styx, in general, I’m not. Oh sure, I have the same awareness of them that anyone of my generation would have. “Mr. Roboto,” “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Come Sail Away” are eminently quotable and worthy earworms. So I don’t have a full appreciation for how impressive it is that Styx would get together to perform their two most acclaimed albums, The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight in their entirety live. I do, however, have enough sense to know that considering the band had this thing shot in hi-def with eleven cameras back in 2010…they were aiming squarely at their fanbase. So I can at least appreciate that the fan of the band is going to want to check this out if not own it. The concert footage looks and sounds great and the Eagle Vision release comes with a behind the scenes docu as well. I don’t know that it will convert anyone, but the fan will want to snag it. And hey, in this case there’s an option to get the audio! Smart. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)