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Headsup: Swords, Automatons and Gods in Slow Motion

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.

Game of Thrones Season 1 Blu-Ray
Hugo Blu-Ray
Immortals 3D Blu-Ray

[ad#longpost]Well, my hero when it comes to television on Blu-Ray is HBO. Game of Thrones, the ridiculously reverent (and yet awesome) series hits DVD and Blu-Ray this week. The shot is far too large to try and go through here, but for the three of you who don’t know it, here’s the haiku version: the Hand of the King is dead (think Walsingham but less crafty). The King desires a new Hand. The King goes to his old friend Ned and taps him for the job, bringing him and part of his family back to the capitol of the seven kingdoms of Westeros. While intrigue happens at court, something Big and Evil is stirring north of the kingdoms behind a bloody great ice wall while the usurped family who originally held the throne is on a completely different continent, plotting. Yeah, that’s the haiku version. Anyway, it’s got some of the best on-the-nose casting you will ever see. The video and audio on the hi-def are magnificent. And the bonus bits are pretty damn fine as well. The DVD and Blu-Ray both sport a guide to Westeros, character profiles, a making-of, a Night’s Watch featurette, a making-of for the opening title sequence, a making-of for the Dothraki language and seven audio commentaries. For the Blu-Ray add in additional histories of the Seven Kingdoms, and in-episode guide that gives you even more info as you watch, a full-on picture-in-picture exploration of the “Golden Crown “episode and more. The Blu-Ray is only $5 more. Seriously, it’s a no brainer, folks. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

We have Hugo, hitting Blu-Ray from Paramount. One of the best films of last year, it’s about the titular boy, orphaned and living in the enormous train station in Paris, and trying to figure out the mysterious automaton that his father left behind. A film about the awesomeness of film, it does more to make you want to love movies than all the Hollywood propaganda of the past several years combined. Don’t tell us you’re magical, assholes. Just be magical. The film also serves as an entry point for classic silent cinema–which makes 2011 the year of the silent film resurgence, we hope. The film suffered from a marketing push that didn’t know what to do with it, and was painted as a film strictly for kids. Sad. Also sad is that they didn’t send over the 3D version of the Blu-Ray, in that the film is enhanced by the 3D–I know, what a novel concept for a live action film. But the regular Blu-Ray does have the amazing video and audio that you want from the film (if you’ve seen it, you understand what I mean). You also get some small featurettes about the making of the film, the silent film director Georges Méliès, and the automaton aspect of the film. There’s also a short spotlight on Sacha Baron Cohen. My hope is that this is the Let’s Get One Out for the Oscars Edition and a more extensive version is coming. At least rent it and if it had more bonus bits on it, I’d tell you to own it in a heartbeat. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

So: Immortals. I love the work of Tarsem…overall. I enjoyed the hell out of debut The Cell. I thought The Fall was amazing. And I couldn’t wait for Tarsem to show that lame Clash of the Titans remake how it was really done. Alas, while style-wise the film here is nifty to look at, there’s not much else going on. Hyperion, in legend leader of the Titans, is instead here a human ruler wanting to bring down the gods by unleashing the Titans. To do this, he wants to snag the magical bow that blond kid from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon and thus win the primitive arms race of the world. The only one standing in his way is Theseus. Worth watching if you enjoy incredibly awesomely stylized films…but Dindrane isn’t allowed to see this. I think her head would explode, considering what was done with the mythology. Again, the style of Tarsem and the costuming of the late great Eiko Ishioka make this worth watching…but only just. The Blu-Ray looks great but the 3D is only okay and not essential to proper viewing pleasure of the film. The bonus bits are okay, but not stunning: a proper commentary would have been welcome but instead, you get a making-of, alternate opening and closings, deleted scenes, a digital comic and a mythology featurette. Rent this by all means, but I wouldn’t find this worth owning unless I thought it was a good 3D rig showcase…and that you can only tell by trying out your rig. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Justice League Doom Blu-Ray
Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D Blu-Ray

Fans of the Justice League and the array of DC Animated films that have been coming out will want to sample Justice League: Doom, out on Blu-Ray from Warner Brothers. Using Mark Waid’s fantastic “Tower of Babel” JLA arc, Batman has humanity’s best interests at heart. Because of this, and because of how powerful his fellow members of the Justice League are, he wants to have a Plan B in case any of them go rogue. Trouble is, somebody gets a hold of his contingency planning and starts using the “most dangerous man” alive’s plans to take down the League one at a time. The release is fairly stacked, with some exclusive Blu-Ray bits: a featurette about power, one of the JLA issues from “Babel” in digital form, an audio commentary from Geoff Johns and Mike Carlin, and a featurette about Cyborg. You also get a tribute to the late Dwayne McDuffie and a two-parter from the JLU cartoon is here as a bonus as well. And as to the Blu-Ray question, it looks to me like the Special Edition DVD is the same price as Blu-Ray, so that’s a no-brainer. I would say for DC fans, rent it first and check its replay factor, and dive in as necessary. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon hits 3D Blu-Ray at last. There were two things about this movie that worked. First, the moon conspiracy subplot was so good it deserved its own movie. Or at least to be in a better movie altogether. And second, the 3D made this the best live action 3D film of the year until Hugo. So thank FSM for Hugo. Without beating a dead Autobot, the film is just silly, overlong, and senseless. And you’re taking to a guy who will defend Armageddon against all comers…so for me to say those things means it’s hit new levels of nonsense. What we should focus on instead is this Paramount release and the bonus bits it sports. Of course, there’s the 3D…and while it doesn’t appear to be on the same level of the cinema experience–and how could it be–it comes pretty damn close. And let me just say: the hi-def audio and video Do Not Disappoint. This set is worth owning just to show off your hi-def rig, make no mistake. Also you have a huge making-of docu, a NASA featurette, a huge breakdown section taking you through the Chicago sequence multiple ways, an art section and a series of smaller featurettes covering the art to the sound. If you enjoyed the film, then this set is a no-brainer. And at only $6 more than the previous DVD/BD combo, you were smart if you waited. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Adventure Time: It Came From the Nightosphere DVD
Happy Feet Two Blu-Ray
Young Justice Season 1, Vol. 3 DVD

Fans of Adventure Time are utterly devoted to the madness of this show, in which Finn and Jake (a human and a dog, respectively) engage in hijinks and adventures in the land of Ooo. It’s mental. Which is why so many people I’m near enjoy it, no wonder. It’s out here on a second volume of episodes from Cartoon Network…trouble is…it’s sixteen episodes, plucked seemingly at random from the three seasons of the show thus far. And yes, it’s under $12, so you’re getting the episodes for less than $1 each…but why would someone buy this who’s a fan? They’re going to want full season releases. A character info bonus doesn’t throw much fuel on the fire. They just repeated the titular episode on Cartoon Network on the evening I’m writing this up…so wait for a better set. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Happy Feet Two hits Blu-Ray from Warner Brothers and it’s here to do two things. First, entertain small children. Because, frankly, the mess on the screen is going to appeal to them. And remember: you were a small child once and you dug the hell out of talking animals. The worst talking animal animation you saw was pretty good, remember? Two, it’s here to make money. Which is an unfair assessment: as hinted at by the trailers, a main plot involving the return of Mumble (now with son) and how he and the others cope with change isn’t nearly as interesting as the mad adventures of a pair of krill. (Which is a sentence I never thought I would be typing, to be honest.) But no, this is targeted squarely at the kiddies: and the bonus bits bear this out. You’ve got behind the scenes featurettes, focus bits on the music, and a bonus Tweetie CG cartoon. You’ve also got the second screen app that provides extra content on your iWhatever. The good news I have to give you is this: if your kids are going to make you own this, at least it looks and sounds frickin’ amazing. If you’re a huge fan of this now-franchise, oh sure, go ahead and snag it (but be prepared for a more mondo edition when the inevitable third film hits in 2018 or whenever) and if your kids want it, well…you’re just doomed, aren’t you? (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

From Warner Brothers: Happy Feet Two available NOW on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download. Be sure to check out the free Happy Feet Two movie app for iPhone, iPad and iPad Touch. The app synchs with the Blu-ray disc to provide enhanced content and interactive features. Link.

Young Justice hits from Warner Brothers with four more episodes from its first season in this, its third volume. In these episodes we see some familiar faces enter the YJ universe, Superboy and Miss Martian attend school, and villains from Hugo Strange to Cheshire make appearances. I’ve always thought the show was decently put together and the concept of a team of young heroes in the DCU has always been a great idea (but rarely executed well). However, these DVD releases are mysterious to the extreme. I’m not sure who’s up for paying $2.75 an episode for this…especially when a bundle of the first three volumes is due out in April for just a couple dollars more. Honestly, catch them on reruns and if you must own, wait for a Complete First Season release. These mini-volumes are misguided in the extreme. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Fan Favorites: Best of Cheers DVD
Fan Favorites: Best of Frasier DVD
Fan Favorites: Best of Hogans Heroes DVD

Paramount has released a series of Fan Favorites: Best Of… DVD releases, based on Facebook polls. And yes, you do get the Top Eight episodes as chosen by fans (Cheers has a two-parter as one pick) on one DVD. And yes, you get them for just over $10. But here’s what I don’t get…the people I know who like these shows…like these shows, if not love them. I don’t know any of them that would be happy with spending $10 for a single disc of eight episodes when for, in the case of Frasier, for example, you drop another $7 and you get all twenty-four first season episodes instead. Or grab some sort of streaming thing…you can get all of Frasier and Cheers on Amazon Instant Video for free, for example. Granted, Hogan’s Heroes, which we were also sent to sample…is a no-show there. But my point, I guess, boils down to: this is the sort of thing you buy if you are just a hardcore proselytizer for the show in question and want to hand it to people to get them on board. But any fan either already owns the favorites or knows a better way to get at them. (Click here to buy Best of Cheers from Amazon. Click here to buy Best of Frasier from Amazon. Click here to buy Best of Hogan’s Heroes from Amazon.)

Borgia Faith and Fear Season 1 DVD
Comic Strip Presents: The Complete Collection DVD
Happily Divorced Season 1 DVD

Borgia: Faith and Fear is here from Lionsgate with its first season (and last, as I keep seeing that it hasn’t been renewed) on DVD sporting all twelve episodes. This is from Tom Fontana (creator of Oz) and stars John Doman (Rawls from The Wire) as Rodrigo Borgia (i.e. the Jeremy Irons role in That Other Borgia Series). A different perspective on the same story, it ran in the U.S. on Netflix rather than on a network…which is why most people haven’t heard of it. Hell, I hadn’t even heard of it. And I try to stay up on such things. Regardless, if you enjoy costume drama or you just want something to tide you over until The Borgias returns in April, it’s worth sampling. Solo bonus bit is a making-of featurette. Price point is less than $2 an episode, but regardless sample before buying to check its replay factor. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Despite being a fan of British humor–and enjoying both French & Saunders and The Young Ones–I wasn’t really familiar with The Comic Strip Presents (which features the primary cast of both titles) until receiving this copy of The Complete Collection on DVD. In essence, each episode is a standalone bit of anarchy, from parodies of well known Brit shows to send-ups of the music scene and beyond. You get every episode (excluding two specials, from 2005 and 2011) plus a retrospective docu, interviews with cast members, featurettes, a behind the scenes look at the club that gives the show its name and more. This across nine discs, so it’s a nice chunk of funny, all things considered. If you dig British humor and would like to see the likes of Robbie Coltrane, Jennifer Saunders, Rik Mayall and scads of others in their earlier days, this is worth at least a rental. Hardcore will want to own. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Say what you want about TV Land’s original programming…they have a decent strategy behind them: get a bunch of TV veterans and combine them into a single show. So that’s why you have Fran Drescher (The Nanny) joining forces with Tichina Arnold (Everybody Hates Chris), Valente Rodriguez (George Lopez), Robert Walden (Lou Grant) and Rita Moreno (Everything) for Happily Divorced. There’s also John Michael Higgins, best recognized for being part of the Christopher Guest Brigade. The shot is this: Drescher and Higgins were married, but Higgins’ character turned out to be gay…now they’re both single again but unable to separate their living arrangements because the economy sucks. Hijinks ensue. You get all ten episodes from the first season across two discs in this Paramount release. You also get interviews and two behind-the-scenes featurettes. I would say if this is your thing, then check TV Land for repeats as they launch the second season or rent it. Replay factor would be a huge deal for this release, but YMMV. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Footloose (2011) Blu-Ray
Talking Heads Chronology DVD

Here’s the thing about Footloose. It’s already been remade as a stage musical. I’m just surprised that the film here isn’t a feature film adaptation of the stage musical based on the original film starring Kevin Bacon. But no, this is just the remake: and if you’ve seen the original (or know of it), then you know the shot: in the wake of a tragedy, a town bans dancing. And to answer the obvious question, no, the tragedy in question was not the fact that Step Up is a franchise. A young man moving to the city doesn’t understand why dancing is banned, wants to dance, bucks the system. Your reaction to the film could go in any direction–I’m thinking with no dependency on your love/like/indifference of the original. There is something to be said for the usefulness of laws–but whether this film is the best way to say it is strictly in the eyes of the beholder. You do get a Blu-Ray/DVD/Ultraviolet combo here with an audio commentary, a featurette about remaking the original, a cast featurette, a choreography featurette, deleted scenes and more. Replay factor is working here especially (I never felt the need to re-visit the original, myself) so if you feel the need, hell, go for it. At least it looks and sounds good. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Talking Heads fans, welcome to the world of the no-brainer. I say this because Chronology, out from Eagle Vision on DVD, takes you on a tour of their career from CBGBs in 1975 (“With Our Love,” for example) and leading up to their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance in 2002 (“Life During Wartime”). With a ton of stuff in-between, including Old Grey Whistle Test in 1978 (“Don’t Worry About the Government”) and American Bandstand in 1979 (“Take Me to the River”), this wealth of archival footage alone would be worth the price of admission. However, you also get a thirty-five minutes South Bank Show from 1979 and a Byrne interview from 1978…plus audio commentary from the band. Nice. Note that video quality varies, as you might expect, when you’re going with stuff from the archives, but the audio will please. A Heads fan who doesn’t own this will regret it. Just saying. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Beneath the Darkness DVD
Rabies DVD
Recoil Blu-Ray

So Beneath the Darkness pits a hometown hero turned mortician against a group of local teens who think he’s up to No Good. Granted, he is–he has a thing for burying people alive–but how to prove this to the Powers That Be? Especially when said mortician is played by Dennis Quaid, and he’s not known for playing bad guys? He’d have fooled me on general principles. This Image Entertainment release is probably best suited for Quaid fans who want to see him tackle something slightly different. Or for fans of horror movies featuring teens in over their heads…and probably when their Netflix queue is nearing empty. (The fans, not the teens.) The DVD here comes with a behind the scenes featurette as its only bonus bit, so I’d be hard pressed to recommend a purchase. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Rabies has been getting a lot of press because it’s the first slasher film to come out of Israel and because it doesn’t seem satisfied with just being a slasher film. It gets some points for wanting to screw around with the genre. And that’s not just because you get an array of cast members who are setup to be more than just victims for the slasher in question: a quartet in a car (that’s four people, not a musical group, mind you) accidentally run into a wounded guy whose sister is apparently trapped in the woods. The guys go off to help…the girls stay put…and hijinks ensue. Definitely worth checking out/renting for anyone interested in seeing the state of horror films from outside America, just be prepared to not take the title so bloody literally. No pun intended. It’s out from Image Entertainment. No bonus bits. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Recoil hits Blu-Ray from Vivendi. The shot is this: Steve Austin is Cop Out For Vengeance. Danny Trejo is Ultimate Big Boss. They will clash and fight. That’s just about all you need to know–as we’ve talked about before, some people just like certain types of movies, throwaway or otherwise. For those in need of a vengeance flick, Steve Austin fans or people who think Trejo is gold in everything (that’s me in the latter category), this is worth a watch. It’s not a film that screams hi-def to me, but it does look and sound well enough. Bonus bits are a bit thin, as you only get a short making-of and deleted scenes. But I’m not sure who’s hardcore enough to find replay value in this, but you can never tell. Rent it if it looks like it’s up your alley. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

All Things Fall Apart Blu-Ray
Like Crazy DVD
Martha Marcy May Marlene Blu-Ray

All Things Fall Apart puts 50 Cent in the role of a rising college football star with all the hopes of his family riding on him…and then his career nosedives following a Serious Health Diagnosis. What he does, what his family does, and how they cope and try to move through this life change form the thrust of the story. What happens when life kicks you in the arse? Fans of the rapper will want to turn out to check out the Blu-Ray from Image Entertainment. It’s not going to change the state of the sports drama genre nor was it really meant to, but it’s harmless enough and with a decent message. Again, fans will want to sample it…but a decent price point and an excellent showing on the audio and video side of things won’t help the complete lack of bonus bits, making it a hard sell. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

You know how once you hear about something for the first time, you start seeing it everywhere? (Example: The Law of Fives.) And you’re never quite sure if these occurrences were always there and you’re just now noticing them, or by noticing them are you making them occur? That’s how I feel about Anton Yelchin, who I first noticed in Star Trek and now he’s freaking everywhere. Another case in point: Like Crazy, in which he falls for a British girl who leaves the country and can’t get back in because she was naughty and was in the country on an expired visa. And trouble ensues as they try to get back together, try to find somebody else, and try to do a bit of in-between. People tired of regular romantic films will want to check this out, as it features performances worth catching from Yelchin and Felicity Jones (and also Jennifer Lawrence) and is just something different and well executed. The DVD comes with a commentary from the director, editor and cinematographer. Watch it once before plonking the coin, as the replay factor on romance films varies wildly from person to person. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Did you know the Olsen Twins had a sister? I don’t know anybody did…at least not until Martha Marcy May Marlene. (And can I just say–between this and Silent House, whoever Olsen is using for an agent must be damn good. Brilliant career strategy working out here.) The shot is this: she’s a cult member who eventually, for an at-first unspecified reason, has Had Enough and wants to get out. She goes to her sister and tries to rejoin the world, but it’s never that easy and things get a little bit crazy. Worth checking out for Olsen and Deadwood fans take note: John Hawkes (who played Sol) plays the cult leader. The audio and video are both excellent on this hi-def release from Fox, and it does have a few bits of bonus-ness (though no commentary): the short film that formed the original idea of the film, interviews, making-of, and a featurette about cults. Worth renting for those who enjoy indie drama/thrillers, sample it before deciding whether or not to buy. If you do buy, it’s only $5 more than the DVD, so that’s not terrible. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)