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Headsup: Ghosts, Spies, Musicians and Human Monsters

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.

Innkeepers Blu-Ray
Thou Shalt Not Kill Except Blu-Ray
Wicker Tree Blu-Ray

[ad#longpost]The Yankee Pedlar Inn is going to be closing its doors soon. You might not have heard of the Inn before, but that’s probably because you’re not into lists like “The Most Haunted Hotels in New England” and stuff like that. Because this would be on there. Before the place shuts down for good, the two last employees are going to try and sort out what’s behind all the ghostly hullaballoo if it kills them. Cue sinister laughter. All seriousness aside, The Innkeepers is pretty much what you would want from a haunted hotel flick. So many horror films are busy trying to reinvent or subvert the genre–which is fine and to be commended–but director Ti West’s film shows up to do its thing and then just does it. The Blu-Ray presentation here is actually pretty choice–you know I’m big on “Not everything has to be Blu-Ray,” but I can tell that the audio and video here are a cut above. You get two commentaries as your centerpiece bonusness: one with the director and crew and one with the director and the two main stars. You also get a short behind the scenes featurette. Horror fans will want to give it a rental and then plonk coin as necessary. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Ah, Synapse films. You’re constantly bringing me films I’ve never heard of and I have to wonder how in the hell I missed them. Especially when they have films like this, one of my favorites in recent memory, Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except. It’s bad when you come back injured from Vietnam. Then you find your ex-girlfriend has been kidnapped by an insane cult leader who likes to torture people. But you are a soldier. And you have buddies. And there are guns. Therefore, mayhem. That’s…pretty much the long and short of it. Oh, except that director Sam Raimi plays the lunatic cult leader. Fantastic. This being a Synapse release, the Blu-Ray looks better than a low budget flick from the 80s has any right to. And the features are fantastic: the original short, entitled “Stryker’s War,” which stars some guy named Bruce Campbell. There’s also a making-of; two audio commentaries featuring the director, the star and Campbell; a new interview with Campbell; a deleted scene with optional commentary and more. If that level of insanity sounds like you’re thing, it’s definitely worth a watch. Especially for fans of Evil Dead alumni. And at $18.99 currently, if you decide to purchase, there is definitely no shame for a presentation like this. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

So you, like me, might be asking yourself what in the hell is up with a movie called The Wicker Tree, when it’s very obviously tied to the classic horror flick The Wicker Man and we’ve been burned by a remake. Wow, seriously no pun intended there. Anyway, because The Law of Trilogies states that every film is “intended” to be part of a trilogy, original Wicker director Robin Hardy created this as a follow-up/side film to the original, based on his novel Cowboys For Christ. So it shares themes with the original. The shot is that two young folks decide to spread their Christian faith to rural Scotland. And if you’ve seen the original, I’m sure you can guess that that was probably a bad idea. For multiple reasons. Anyway, what you’ve got is something worth watching for fans of the original or for people who are Christopher Lee completists. The Blu-Ray presentation from Anchor Bay is quite decent, though the bonus bits are a little slim: a short making-of and some deleted scenes. Rent it first and then decide if the replay value warrants purchase. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

American Dad, Vol. 7 DVD
Happiness is Team Snoopy DVD
Tom and Jerry: Around the World DVD

American Dad returns from Fox with its seventh DVD release, comprising all nineteen episodes of its sixth season. From an animation enjoyment perspective, I’ve never recovered from Family Guy‘s Monkey’s Paw-like resurrection. And this was the spinoff that followed it, so it’s not really worked for me from jump. I think what we’re seeing is MacFarlane trying to make a transition to non-television work with stuff like this summer’s Ted, which I’m sure is eating up a lot of his time…but hey, more power to him–that actually looks funny. But regardless, what you have here is what fans will want: a lot of the same. In this set, they hit their magic 100th episode, test parenting skills via cloning, try out marriage counseling, and get into a war with Santa. The set has some decent features: nine audio commentary tracks, a Patrick Stewart appreciation featurette, deleted scenes and their 2010 Comic-Con panel. Fans may want to consider owning–the price point of about $1.50 an episode is not too shabby for having it on one’s shelf. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I’m assuming that if you already own all the superlative Peanuts releases, you might be looking at something like Happiness is…Peanuts: Team Snoopy. The main feature, Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown, is a standalone special involving the gang’s sport of choice, baseball, and the ins and outs of being a team manager–and being Charlie Brown. There’s also an episode from the Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. The entire thing, altogether, clocks in at 48 minutes for roughly $15. This is a better deal that what you would pay for the special on DVD–currently twice that amount. However, you can buy the entirety of the Show–all the episodes–for about $28 from Amazon Instant Video–which isn’t available on DVD at all. And then rent or Netflix the special. Which makes much more sense. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Tom and Jerry: Around the World is another compilation DVD of the titular cat and mouse, putting twenty-two episodes across one disc for what is, at the time of this writing, a little more than $.50 an episode price point. And you’ve got a blend of classic cartoons and more recent entries from the Tom and Jerry Tales program. And yes, it is, if you haven’t already caught on, a themed collection regarding them running all over the globe. Here’s the thing, though: if you have a kid that wants some cat and mouse mayhem, spend a little extra coin. The entire first season of Tales–that’s thirteen full episodes, not just segments (which are the bits that appear on here)–a two-disc set–is currently available for less than $11. And the first volume of the Golden Collection is available–on Blu-Ray–for less than $24. That’s thirty-seven classic shorts. So, granted, the second season of Tales isn’t available as a set yet, but full seasons or collections are better than compilations like this. Upgrade a bit and get more for your rugrats. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Flicka: Country Pride Blu-Ray
Treme Season 2 DVD
W./E. Blu-Ray

The third Flicka movie is out with Clint Black back in the saddle again (yeah, sorry) in Country Pride. There’s a family ranch/stable in trouble. They have a chance to win an equestrian event if only the daughter can get over the loss of her father and also get literally back in the saddle again. Can she overcome the jealousy of a rival and find true love and win? Can her mom also find true love and not lose her ranch? What do you think? It’s a direct to video family-friendly horse movie. You are most assuredly getting what the cover implies. Smiling people. Horse. Horse riding. Currently it’s available for rental from Amazon for just $4…so while the hi-def presentation isn’t shabby, this doesn’t scream hi-def to me. Also, you’ve got just a couple of short featurettes for bonuses, so not much there to commend it either. Rent it if you must.

Speaking as someone who doesn’t watch television–and by that, I mean I don’t just sit down and turn it on–when I’m in front of it there has to be a reason–I find it fascinating that more and more shows feel like the visual equivalent of a graphic novel. What I mean by that is: it’s much easier and more rewarding, it seems, to “buy the trade,” or in this case, “buy the DVD.” Then you can sit down and blow through it at your own pace–wait a week for a new episode? What, are you on crack? I’m glad I watched The Wire that way and Treme leans that direction as well. It’s just easier to digest, what with all the characters and plotlines–if you can watch at your own pace. Over the course of the season, the characters struggle to rebuild, to just flat out build, to pursue their goals (musical or otherwise) and exist in a Post-Soft-Apocalyptic city. The four-disc set here has all eleven episodes plus an array of bonus bits: an in-episode bit that will give you info about the music as the episode plays; a Q&A with folks from Tulane University plus the creators along with actor Clarke Peters; a food featurette; a featurette about the Mardi Gras Indians; four audio commentaries; and music commentaries on each episode. I would say rent it for a watch-through and then see if the replay value is there for you. Some people are good having seen things once, some like them to sit on their shelf for just such a revisiting occasion. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The first thing that strikes me about W./E. is simply a practical one: it’s a bitch to look up. Gmail–when I was looking for the press release a while back–couldn’t even locate it. That’s not a reason to bash the film itself, just an observation…but one that leads into something. Stand by. Madonna‘s directorial debut involves the romance of Edward VIII with commoner Wallis Simpson. In case you didn’t catch the bit from The King’s Speech, Edward abdicated his throne because he wanted to be with Simpson and the Church opposed remarrying unless you were widowed. This is the story of the two of them as well as a modern woman fascinated with the story and dealing with issues of her own. It’s not the definitive film on the subject, but like the title, it’s the sort of thing a first-time director might do, warts and all. The Anchor Bay Blu-Ray has decent audio and video, and considering it was nommed for a Costume Design Oscar, you would want it to look good. The sole bonus bit is a making-of featurette. Even if you’re a huge fan of the history, I would recommend giving it a rental before making the decision to purchase or not. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Garbo the Spy DVD
Hitler Chronicles DVD
Man Nobody Knew DVD

World War II is a subject I find particularly fascinating. Probably because it seems like I find out some new, wild and interesting fact every few months. And considering how shabby the history classes were/are in Alabama schools, it’s amazing I left them knowing who the primary protagonists and antagonists in the conflict were. Be that as it may, one badass thing I knew nothing about–and it appears neither did a lot of people–is the subject of Garbo the Spy, which is hitting DVD from First Run Features. How do you know you’re a badass spy? You wind up getting decorated by both sides in the conflict. Juan Pujol Garcia convinced the Germans he was running a network of informants and agents and thus was able to feed all kinds of bullshit to the Axis. This includes running interference that allowed for the successful staging of D-Day. This docu is pretty stunning and recommended for at the very least a rental by anybody who’s into World War II or just spies in general. Bonus bits include a fairly extensive interview with intel expert Nigel West, a WWII training film (these are always retro gold) and more. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Hitler Chronicles is a four-disc set from First Run, collecting four different docus about, well, guess. You start off–or I would, anyway–with Hitler: A Career, which takes you through what the title implies. An older docu, it still breaks down–in less than three hours–the life of the man. This sets you up for The Architecture of Doom: it’s known that Hitler was a failed artist. Some have even said that had he succeeded in his art, he would never have gone into politics. So this docu explores what role art had in shaping Hitler’s mad perspective. Then we have The Top Secret Trial of the Third Reich, covering the 1944 failed assassination attempt on Hitler using some actual footage. One of my favorites just because I’ve always been fascinated with the What If? nature of the numerous attempts to take Hitler out. And lastly, Dear Uncle Adolf, with an idea so elegant (and somewhat frightening) that it had to wait for the letters to be discovered before it could happen. Yes, the mail Hitler received, read out by actors. Sort of a fascinating glimpse into just what was happening in the minds of people while all this madness was playing out. The boxed set itself is what the cost of about two of these docus alone would be…but I would say if you’re a WWII historical enthusiast, it’s worth renting, then check it for replay value. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Talking again about spies, we have The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby, also out on DVD from First Run. And yes, no lie, the filmmaker is Carl Colby. The senior Colby started off with the OSS in World War II working to sabotage the Nazis and then on through his career until he finally ended up running the CIA. And then what happened after that. So you get a balance of the history of American intelligence with the mystery of a man who was separated from his family, even though they were around. It’s a pretty big deal when some of the talking heads you have on hand are Bob Woodward and Donald Rumsfeld. Again, it’s a docu that will be of interest to those wanting the history of spying in this country…and probably for general fans of good docus as well. The DVD does have extra scenes, as well as an interview with the younger Colby. Worth a watch…if you’re hardcore, rent and then see if the replay factor will enable you to buy. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Ministry: Fix DVD
Peter Gabriel: Live Blood CD

Funnily enough, just the other night I was comparing “How I Discovered Ministry” notes with someone. For me, it was coming across the Jesus Built My Hotrod CD single in Sunburst Records and saying, “What the hell is this?” I bought it, took it home and was not disappointed. What we have here is Fix, the Ministry docu that gives you the history, the backstage tour footage, the dirty laundry and plenty of context from folks like Trent Reznor and Maynard. I find it interesting to see Trent discussing someone who hasn’t walked away from the madness like Al, especially since now Trent is busy getting nominated for Oscars and such. Regardless, the fan of the band will want to at least rent this for the feature alone. Bonus bits, though, exist: a second disc is a CD of music by ex-Ministry-er Paul Barker plus an array of additional interview footage. This is out from Gigantic Pictures. Again, fans should give it a watch and decide if they need this on their shelf next to copies of the Just One Fix CD single and Filth Pig. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Talk about a perfect storm of things that get me jazzed. Peter Gabriel. Realworld Records. Orchestra-infused re-workings of songs to turn them around and make them awesome in a new form. That’s what you get with the two-disc release of Live Blood, featuring Gabriel with the “New Blood Orchestra.” (We’ve previously talked about the DVD release.) Just when you think certain songs can’t get bigger or more powerful, check out “The Book of Love” and “San Jacinto.” And even something like “Intruder,” which kicks things off (and is a great song, don’t get me wrong)…I never considered it could get wide and enormous. But of course, something about an orchestra just does that. I actually prefer this–and I think Gabriel’s in better form–to some earlier Gabriel live sets (Segways, anyone?). And I prefer this to the DVD because this is the sort of thing I’d rather hear than watch. I’d recommend this for any Gabriel fan…though I think any fan of orchestral work will want to give it a listen. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Terror Experiment Blu-Ray
Theatre Bizarre DVD

In the wake of the zombie craze, you’re going to get all manner of low budget films playing with it. This is known. And demonstrated. It doesn’t take much to drop zombies (or zombie equivalents) into any setting you might have access to, since zombies are just people with messy makeup on (for the most part). And it’s especially good for the budget if you limit your scope and setting. Hence, The Terror Experiment makes sense when you take the zombies-in-a-building thing and put the zeds down below and the survivors up top with no way to get down. Apparently, a guy decides to kick off a terrorist act by revealing the existence of a bioweapon that creates the equivalent of zombies…and gives it its debut by setting it off in a federal building. Hijinks ensue. Not up there with stuff like [REC], for example–this is one of those that you might decide to grab when your Netflix queue is shallow. Sole bonus bit is a commentary with the executive producer/director. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

One of the strengths of horror anthology films is that hey, if you’re not digging one segment, just hang out and another will present itself shortly. That’s the situation with The Theatre Bizarre, out from Image Entertainment. A woman goes into a theatre and is presented (by Udo Kier, who you think is creepy without makeup…just wait) with six stories of the weird and fantastic. Of note, two of the segments are directed by Richard Stanley (Hardware) and Tom Savini. They handed each director a budget, a schedule and the theme of ‘Grand Guignol’ and let them go nuts. And they did. The DVD also comes with commentary from the directors, interviews and behind the scenes material. If the notion of an anthology works for you, it’s worth a rental. Just be aware…if you’ve got an issue with needles and eyeballs, well. You’ve been warned. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Waking the Titanic DVD
When the Drum is Beating DVD

Waking the Titanic is a sort of generic-sounding title for a docu that manages to do something that–with all the Titanic-mania after the 100th anniversary of the tragedy plus the film before (and during)–I figured wasn’t possible. Bring up a story that hadn’t–to my knowledge, at least on this side of the pond–already been told. The Addergoole 14 were fourteen residents of Addergoole, Ireland, who were getting on the ship to head to America for a better life. Only three of them made it. The docu talks with descendents of the victims and survivors, who still have a ceremony each year for the loss. It also takes you through the story through re-enactments. Is it the slickest docu in the world? No, but the story is interesting enough for anyone who thinks they’ve heard it all. There’s bonus material as well: additional interviews, deleted scenes and more additional footage. Worth a rental at least–those with a connection will probably want a copy for themselves. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

One of the benefits of having good friends that are also music geeks (and sharing a podcast with them) is that you are constantly shown that no matter how big a music geek you are, there is always something you haven’t heard of before. And once you’ve seen it/heard it, you wonder…how the hell did I miss that? Of course, in the non-genre of “world music” (which is basically everything that’s not American or at least not in English)…that’s a pretty broad array of tunes to go play in. Thus I am still surprised I’ve never heard of Haiti’s Orchestre Septentrional, the subject of this docu from First Run, When the Drum is Beating. A huge group with a badass horn section that’s been around since 1948, standing firm despite everything the nation of Haiti has had thrown at it–that’s them. Telling the story of the band, plus how it has survived all that and how it is putting in place plans to go on into the future–it’s a must watch for anyone interested in Haitian music, “world music,” or just want an angle into Haitian history. Main bonus bit is an interview with the director. Worth a watch–fans of the band–or if you become fans of the band–you’ll want to snag it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Scotland Highlands DVD
Scotland Islands DVD
Scotland Mountains DVD

The BFS Video release Scotland Highlands looks like, from its cover art anyway, another DVD release that will show you the titular geographic region…and that’s about it. You know the sort of release I mean: wide sweeping aerial shots that might be awesome in IMAX or something, but not too hot on your set at home. Well, that’s actually not what’s happening here: Brit TV actor John Michie narrates you through some aerial sweepage, yes, but you’re actually getting the history of the region with Michie talking to various historians and others to get the story told. You’re getting a transition from a way of life to a group of folks getting killed and scattered…and it’s not a cheery tale, no. This set is a good intro to folks who don’t know this portion of Scottish history. It’s a two-disc set and clocks in at around $27…so a rental, yes. And if the spirit moves you after you’ve tried it out for replay value, then by all means. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Speaking of which, another BFS release is Scotland Mountains, a 2005 docu that is of the sweeping vista variety. Aerial shots of Scotland comprise the six episodes: “The Trossachs to Rannoch Moor,” “Nevis and Glencoe,” “The Grampians,” “Torridon and the Far North,” “Skye and Kintail,” and a “Best of the Mountains” episode. The music is well enough, the narration by Fiona MacKinnon is good and it’s the sort of thing that, if you’ve ever felt like flying over the mountains of Scotland and just never had the opportunity–I can see where this might be worth a watch. However, only the hardcore will want to own. It’s a bit of $4 an episode, and that needs some replay value to get snagged. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The same treatment comes for Scotland Islands, also from 2005. Again, you get the aerial photography–this time with John Carmichael handling the narration. The six episodes cover the following regions: “The Isle of Skye and The Small Isles,” “The Orkney Isles,” “Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Gigha,” “The Shetland Islands,” “Mull, Iona, Coll and Tiree,” and “The Western Isles.” I prefer the MacKinnon narration, but Carmichael is fine for what he’s there to do…narrate as you fly along. It’s the same setup as before, except for islands, go figure. Same price point at less than $4 an episode, so rent it once if you need to. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)