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Headsup: New Sherlock, Original Smiley and Other Such Interesting People

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.

Sherlock Season 2 Blu-Ray
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) Blu-Ray

[ad#longpost]If you, like me, thought that the most recent series of Doctor Who went south, I think there’s little doubt now as to why: as cool as it must be to showrun Who, Moffat’s clearly more in love with Sherlock. Just as Who sputtered and fell apart, Sherlock rocked the faces of everyone. This second series is just three feature-length episodes long but it’s so good you won’t care that it’s over so quickly. This update-to-the-present day version gives you Benedict Cumberbatch delivering an incredible Sherlock that you’ll be watching on the first viewing. I urge you, however, to watch it again for Martin Freeman. Upon subsequent viewings, once the stellar in-your-face awesome of the likes of Cumberbatch, Lara Pulver (Irene Adler) and Andrew Scott (Moriarty) have been seen and adjusted to, Freeman’s wonderfully understated and pitch perfect Watson shines. “A Scandal in Belgravia” opens the season and is so good it pisses me off. The season closes with “The Reichenbach Fall” which is mind-blowing. Their “Hounds of Baskerville” is the low point of the three–it’s not terrible but it definitely has a “Let’s see how far we can stretch this modern day conceit” thing as well as taking Sherlock’s mental powers to the point of deus ex machina. The Blu-Ray looks and sounds fantastic and you do have some bonus bits: a behind-the-scenes featurette and two commentary tracks. The first has Pulver and Cumberbatch along with Mark Gatiss and Moffat and crew on “Scandal,” having a criminal amount of fun. The second is on “Hounds” with Russell Tovey on hand. I was hoping for Scott to join in on a commentary for the third episode but alas. Fans will want to own. Everyone else should at least watch and will probably wind up as fans. It’s overall rather brilliant and highly recommended. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Here’s a serious recommendation: if you dug the feature film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, you owe it to yourself to see the original TV miniseries. The best way I can explain the difference is thus: the feature film is like the miniseries in concentrated form. You add some water (and the same level of thespian excellence but from old school late 70s Britain instead) and stir…and you’ve got it. And hot damn, but it’s good. Again, the supporting cast is fantastic, but Sir Alec Guinness absolutely owns the role of George Smiley so well that you can see why Oldman played a similar version…not because he was ripping off Guinness or even necessarily paying him homage but simply because that’s Smiley. The series is bloody brilliant. Enough gushing. What is the shot from this Acorn Media release: the whole series across two Blu-Ray discs. You get interviews with the director and author John le Carre plus deleted scenes. The only thing about the release is that the program itself has not been restored…so you’re not getting a huge upgrade video and audio-wise. I believe the director interview is exclusive to the Blu-Ray, so you’ll have to decide if that’s worth the extra $16+ or so that the hi-def here is priced above the DVD. But spy fans will want to own it in some form or another. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Cold War Complete Series DVD
George Harrison: Living in the Material World DVD

The 1998 24-part documentary maxi-series Cold War, originally broadcast on CNN, hits DVD from Warner Brothers. Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, it starts in 1917 laying the groundwork for the titular conflict that was to come. Using scads of archival footage and interviews, it lays out an array of subjects: Post World War II Europe; repressing contrary belief at home–on both sides; and the Space Race. It also comes with a vintage propaganda docu from 1952 and an extended interview with Castro. History buffs will want to give this a watch–how hardcore you are about history and the conflict this set covers will determine if it’s a keeper or not. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Having grown up listening to The Beatles, it strikes me that I keep finding out things about George Harrison that I previously did not know. If you think about it, Paul’s kept performing, Ringo’s an ongoing character of his own devising, John’s life and too early death has sort of kept him in the spotlight regardless…but George is a bit of a mystery. Look at the surface and you get, “That Beatle who got fascinated by the sitar. ‘My Sweet Lord’ is one of his, right?” So you must delve. George Harrison: Living in the Material World is definitely the product of Martin Scorsese delving. Grabbing enough interview and archival material to fill two DVDs–that’s just for both parts of the docu–you get as much info as you could cram elegantly into one production. His time with The Beatles and the problems that occurred with living and playing in the shadow of Lennon/McCartney is covered, and his personal life is touched upon–as is his association with the Pythons. A great deal of never before seen material is here, making this a must-see for any Harrison/Beatles fan. You do have some bonus features with additional footage, but not a huge amount. There’s going to be some aspect of his life that, even after viewing this docu, you’re going to want to demand to know more about. I suspect George would have been okay with that. Fans will want to own. Everyone else owes it a watch. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: Ultimate Ending DVD
Inch High Private Eye DVD

The final DVD release of the Ben 10: Ultimate Alien series has hit, with the last ten episodes of the second season here across two discs. He finds himself dealing with the alien conqueror Diagon and then an old friend (not-friend) returns towards the end to menace Ben and his actual friends once more. This is out to be ready for the new series to hit in June–and to Cartoon Network’s credit, at least with this one they’re putting out small sets, but doing them in order. This one clocks in at about $1.50 an episode, so that’s not terrible. You only get alien files as a bonus feature, however. Ensure that you have the replay factor necessary to want to snag this now…but I don’t know that we’ll get better versions later on, so it’s probably safe if you want to plonk coin. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Again, we look to the Warner Archive to bring Hanna-Barbera toons to Region 1 DVD and make lives harder for bootleggers at conventions everywhere. Here we have all thirteen episodes of Inch High, Private Eye. Voice veteran Lennie Weinrib plays High, who is exactly what his name says he is: a detective who, being literally an inch tall, can use that to his advantage in Fighting Crime. (Don’t recognize the name of Weinrib? Three words: “Time for Timer.” There you go.) With his niece Lori, her boyfriend Gator and Don Messick providing the voice of the dog (named Braveheart–no, really), they contend with getting fired from the Finkerton Detective Agency often. The release has no remastering or anything like that–nor bonus bits–but at $2 an episode, that’s not bad considering. I would say rent it if you want to reacquaint yourself, but if you’re a fan, this is the only game in town. No shame in restoring bits of your childhood to your DVD library. (Click here to buy it from the Warner Archive.)

Clueless Blu-Ray
Road Trip Blu-Ray Best Buy Exclusive

Clueless was the film that put Alicia Silverstone on the map. I remember at the time some people were saying she was a dark horse for a Best Actress nom. And then I don’t think she ever recovered from Batgirl. But to be fair: neither did we. But this was a simpler time: a high school film based on Austen’s Emma in which Silverstone plays a matchmaker who stumbles into doing nice things for people and wants to keep doing them. And being the ditz she is, hijinks ensue. The film has a well-earned place in people’s hearts, if not for the story or Silverstone, then for other actors, who many people met for the first time: among them Paul Rudd and the late Brittany Murphy. The Blu-Ray release here is a decent hi-def upgrade…but that improved audio and video is the only thing going: the array of small featurettes (among them a retrospective, one covering the script and others) were on the previous DVD release. There is a trivia game exclusive to the Blu-Ray, but those are never as much fun as they think they are. Hardcore fans of the film may want to upgrade, but if they don’t already own: this one is only about $4 more, so going for hi-def seems fairly safe. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Things you should never do when trying to preserve a long term relationship: mail a sex tape of you–with someone else–to your girlfriend. Already, many males can feel better about themselves thinking about this. But then the madness continues unabated as a Road Trip begins to steal the tape before it can wind up in the girlfriend’s hands. Worth checking out for Todd Philips, to check him out as he was working his way through decent comedies on his way to excellent comedies (The Hangover), or worth checking out for Seann William Scott, DJ Qualls or Tom Green (remember him?). It’s here on a respectable Blu-Ray port of the previous unrated edition from DVD…only this time as a Best Buy exclusive. While the price is decent, if you do want this on your shelf bear in mind the previously released DVD is half the price. So decide just how much you need this in hi-def and act accordingly. (Click here to buy it from Best Buy.)

Beautiful Wave Blu-Ray
Dirty Dancing Collection Blu-Ray

In Beautiful Wave, a young girl finds herself adrift (Jesus, I really don’t mean to throw all these puns in here, sorry) after the death of her father. She is sent out to spend time with her grandmother and discovers a map of surf spots that leads her on a Surfing Quest. And because it’s just that sort of film, she learns about herself, friendship, family and all the things one is supposed to learn about in a film that uses surfing as the backdrop for a coming of age tale. It’s hard to tell who should have this film recommended to them–there are better surfing films that are better looking (indeed, the film doesn’t look good enough in its hi-def outing so the surfing sequences, which might commend it, don’t add much in the way of points). And it comes with no bonus bits. Rent it or Netflix it if you’re a surfing completist. And please, please, people: he’s Lance Henriksen. If you’re going to credit what he’s been in, Scream 3 should not be your first choice. I’m just saying. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The original Dirty Dancing is a classic. I mean, it just is. Even if you don’t give a crap about dancing (I don’t), it managed to take what could have been a coming-of age story that we’ve seen a thousand times before and wrap it in excellent dance numbers and great music. And it had two solid leads who sold the entire thing, cheese and all. A Blu-Ray release of this is a no-brainer, and indeed, Lionsgate released it as such a couple of years back. In an attempt to get some more coin out of that release and knowing that the unnecessary more recent non-sequel/reworking of the film, Havana Nights, probably wouldn’t sell on its own, they’ve released the two together in this collection. The original film does have a scad of bonus bits, including two commentaries, a location featurette, outtakes and tribute featurettes for those members of the cast we’ve lost. It’s a decent array of stuff with a decent but not fantastic hi-def upgrade. The second film comes with a commentary, deleted scenes, multi-angle dance sequences and more. So who needs this? Well, bear this in mind: the “Limited Keepsake Edition” of the first film is still mysteriously available…and comes with a book…but from what I can tell, the book is all you’re missing if you snag this version…and this version is about $10 cheaper. And no one can make you watch the second film if you don’t want to pop it in. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Armored Book
Marvel Animated Features Collection Blu-Ray
Ultimate Avengers Movie Collection Blu-Ray

Sometimes, you just want soldiers armored up to the teeth, fighting things. The back of the book Armored wisely invokes everything from Halo to Iron Man and well played, because what you have here from Baen is close to six-hundred pages of enhanced soldier-infused fiction. Among the usual suspects, you get folks like Simon Green, Jack Campbell, Daniel H. Wilson and Jack McDevitt. And the cover price is $7.99, which is pretty damn good for a mass market paperback (easily carried) that you can cart around and get your sci-fi fix. And it’s edited by John Joseph Adams, the guy who brought you scads of Night Shade anthologies. If this is your bag, it’s recommended. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Of course, with Avengers now destroying the box office, Lionsgate has two Blu-ray compendiums of previously released animated titles. The first is the Marvel Animated Features 3-Movie Collection, with Planet Hulk, The Invincible Iron Man and Doctor Strange. The Hulk adventure is based on the comic where they decided to shoot Hulk into space for the safety of mankind (previously, banishing him to an alternate dimension didn’t work–not sure what they were thinking) and also so that they could turn him into a gladiator on an alien world (oh, right, that’s what they were thinking). The story adheres as much as it can to the comic, following twists and changes regarding who owns the rights to what and whom, and probably won’t piss off the faithful. The audio and video aren’t stellar but it is stocked with bonus bits, including two audio commentaries, a making-of, some motion comics and more. The Iron Man feature predates the live action wonderment and probably would have gotten a better treatment if they had known what sort of juggernaut was coming. You get an origin story that ties in the Mandarin but doesn’t really do anything superlative. I think it’s mostly that I find the character design to be…I dunno, soft? Not sure how to put my finger on it. Again, serviceable audio and video but the main bonus bit is a short making-of that also involves the character’s history. As for Dr. Strange, well, it’s certainly better than the 70s TV movie. Again, I’m not crazy about the character design on it–it seems very, very Saturday morning to me–but you get the origin tale of the doctor whose injured hands end his career but send him on a quest that ultimately leads him to become the Sorcerer Supreme. You get the same sort of making-of/history featurette that came on the Iron Man release. All in all, if you did want to own these things, you’re looking at $5/each, which isn’t bad. But I would say rent them first to see if they warrant replay in your house. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Again, animation is my problem with the main two films in the Ultimate Avengers Movie Collection. It seems less Saturday morning and more afterschool, if you catch my meaning. In the first film, those pesky Chitauri (the new fangled Skrull) are up to no good and a team must be put together to stop them. I think this is probably familiar to you by now. In the followup, the Chitauri return and are after vibranium, which as we all know can be found at Wakanda. Which means The Black Panther and other hijinks ensue. My problem with basing films on the Ultimates series which are targeted at kids is that…a comic full of domestic abuse, sex and some really serious impressive violence is not one I think kids should be reading. Call me a conservative weirdo, but…well, kids don’t need to see Giant Man beat up the Wasp. Anyway, main thing bonus-wise, you get a history of the characters in a featurette and also a discussion of the Ultimate reboot. I rather enjoyed Next Avengers–it seems much more in line with a decent kids flick and something that could easily be a series. After the Avengers died at the hands of Ultron, their descendents were kept safe but can’t be kept safe forever. So now they get to suit up. It did not suck, honestly. I think only the hardcore would want to own these but the curious might want to rent them. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Patton Oswalt: Finest Hour DVD
Tim and Erics Billion Dollar Movie Blu-Ray

It’s hard to recommend stand-up, I find. Because the comedy either works for you or it doesn’t. And once I got rid of cable, due to time restraints, that random finding of stand-up specials or clip shows places to sample things…that went away. So I really haven’t gotten a lot of exposure to Patton Oswalt. I see now my mistake. His latest special hits DVD from Comedy Central, Finest Hour, and his rant about how liking a book (The Bible) doesn’t mean he gets a Green Lantern power ring might be one of my favorite things I’ve heard this month. He covers other subjects like the lack of a William S. Burroughs for sugar (genius and true) and the trouble with the Spam Museum. Bonus bits include an encore, a still gallery of stuff, and Patton’s “pre-show superstitions.” Worth a rental most definitely, but fans of Patton will want to own. My mistake has been corrected. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.

There are people who “get” Tim & Eric. I tried to get on board–have tried multiple times–and it’s just not for me. But to each their own kit. Here in Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, they accept a billion dollars to make a movie, waste it, and need to get it back before Robert Loggia kills them (a palpable threat). Their scheme to get the money back involves trying to get a dying (or completely dead) mall back on its feet. Anyone familiar with their antics can imagine the wolves, pizza and slightly odd humor that ensues. While this isn’t a screaming-for-hi-def sort of film, it does look pretty damn good, I must admit. It also has a nice stack of bonus bits, including a commentary from the guys themselves, deleted and extended scenes, interviews, promos, and a “Shrim Dance” screensaver. Yes. Fans will probably want to own this as it’s nicely bonused out–but if their TV shows didn’t work for you, this probably won’t either. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

42nd Street Forever Blu-Ray
Killer Nun Blu-Ray

There is something glorious in the trailers of old. They are cinematic posterity in a capsule. You watch for a couple of minutes and you can get a taste of so much on a cinematic era in one fell swoop: the film itself, the style, the acting, the music, the attitudes and, sometimes best of all, the style of advertising. And no moreso than in an array of mad blaxploitation, grindhouse, horror and other trailers…the sort that hits Blu-Ray thanks to Synapse on their 42nd Street Forever collection. This is a Greatest Hits of sorts for previous DVD releases along these same lines. And there’s also a commentary with reps from, Fangoria and Temple of Schlock. It’s a “coffee table” Blu-Ray…you probably won’t want to sit down and watch it straight through (not without friends and a lot of alcohol), but you can throw it in and get some joy. Some of the titles that are represented here? Werewolves on Wheels. Chained Heat. Flesh Gordon. Savage! Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon. Classic. The only thing you’re missing are some of the radio commercials for these titles…they are a hoot as well, let me assure you. This is worth a rental for just about anybody but the hardcore enthusiast for film posterity might want to seriously consider owning. Sure, you could find most of these on YouTube…but having them from the finest source material on hi-def? Yeah, plonk this next to your David Attenborough collections, I say. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I don’t know how I missed the sub-sub-genre known as nunsploitation. I don’t say that because I have some sort of weird Chicks in Habits Behaving Badly fetish. I have just, you know, seen a few films (of all sorts) in my time. Maybe I was aware of it and put it out of my mind. No idea. Regardless, another entry into this category is Killer Nun, hitting Blu-Ray from Blue Underground. The shot is this: Anita Ekberg plays a nun who is having health problems–specifically splitting headaches. Everybody tells her she’s fine. Trouble is, she’s not. She keeps going into terrible states of mind that leads her down a path of sex and murder and then more murder! This release looks about as good as a hi-def version of an Italian flick from 1979 is going to. The bonus bits here are the same as the DVD release: an interview with the director and the trailer. If you already own this, rent the Blu-Ray before double dipping to ensure you need the upgrade. If you don’t, I would say rent it regardless and make sure you need it on your shelf. Who knows? Maybe you’re a nunsploitation completist. We don’t judge. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Flareup DVD
Maisie Collection Vol. 1 DVD

Here’s a test. This Warner Archive release is Flareup, in which Raquel Welch plays a go-go dancer who sees a friend get murdered and becomes the murderer’s next target. What was the test? Some fans of the actress stopped reading at the words “plays a go-go dancer.” And no shame in that–this is late 60s Raquel Welch here. Kids, ask your parents…if you are old enough to do so. But yes, that’s the gist: Welch on the run from a killer, the chase going from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. The DVD is a Region 1 legit release and Manufactured on Demand, so you’re not getting any bonus bits nor should you expect it to be crystal clear or whatnot (though the website lists it as “newly remastered,” I guess it is, you know, a 1969 film and you can only do so much). That being said, the Welch completist will want to snag this–if you have any doubts, rent it before plonking coin. (Click here to buy it from the Warner Archive.)

Ann Sothern is Maisie, a showgirl whose adventures spanned ten films and a radio show from 1939 to 1947. She starts off in Wyoming having to deal with romance, a suspected murder and other such intrigue. The first film is Maisie, of course, and she goes on to Africa in Congo Maisie, goes prospecting for gold in Gold Rush Maisie (no connection to the series, Rox–sorry), winds up (through a series of hijinks) as a maid in Maisie Was a Lady, and lastly (in this set) we get Ringside Maisie, where she winds up as part of a boxing love triangle. The set, Collection Vol. 1, is the Region 1 debut of these titles and is worth checking out for Sothern…although there’s no bonus bits to help justify owning for anyone other than the hardcore fan. Assuming the rights were available, one of the radio shows would have been awesome–or, apparently there was a TV movie pilot in the 60s? Either way, some context for this series, which most modern film viewers were unaware of, would have been warranted. But either way, check out the first film and see if you want to roll with it from there. (Click here to buy it from the Warner Archive.)

Madison County DVD
Mothers Day Blu-Ray
Playback Blu-Ray

Speaking as someone who was born in one of the Madison Counties that dot the United States, I can honestly say I never ran into anybody with a Pig Head. But yes, Damien is the masked killer of the film and he runs around in a style that give us a fantastic adjective (per the back of the DVD box): “hog-masked.” So Madison County is about a guy who’s seeking out the author of a book on a particular serial killer…and goes to the serial killer’s stomping grounds along with some friends. Which is already fishy: if you know so much about a killer, why would you be in the same area code with him? Anyway, Hog Mask attacks, there’s some backwoods brutality and college co-eds will suffer. If you want a slasher flick, then this Image Entertainment release should be right up your alley. It actually comes with some bonuses as well: an audio commentary with the director and producers plus a Q&A. If this is your genre of choice, then give it a rental and I think you’ll be sated. I just came up with fifteen different hog-related jokes and vetoed every single one of them. You’re welcome. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

So your reaction to a remake of the Troma Mother’s Day is probably the same as mine: whoa, Rebecca De Mornay is playing the mother in that? Because you’re probably, like me, expecting them to run in some direction of the backwoods brutality that the original film brought to the table. However, I guess figuring that that particular subgenre might be played out: they’ve taken the name and pretty much…nothing else. They’ve shifted the action into a home invasion thriller with added gore and violence. Those additional bits are probably no surprise, considering the director has three Saw films under his belt. Fans of De Mornay will definitely want to check it out, as she rules the film (as you might expect). But it’s more of a rental or Netflix opportunity than anything else overall. The hi-def presentation looks and sounds good, and the DVD/Blu-Ray combo is only $5 than the DVD solo. So there’s that. And the one bonus is a commentary with the director along with actor Shawn Ashmore. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Playback just shows you should be careful what you watch. Because that’s how a high school senior, fascinated by a series of murders in his town’s past, winds up unleashing an evil power that wants to use him for its own evil ends. Because that’s generally what happens when you’re fixated on murders of the past–evil gets hold of you. Or something like that. Something that, again, probably should be for the far end of your “I’ve depleted my Netflix queue” scenario, it’s probably not going to need to be included on anyone’s shelf–even one owned by the Christian Slater completist. Bonus bits are a short behind-the-scenes bit and a photo gallery. The hi-def presentation is decent, and it’s only $3 more than DVD. Snag this on the cheap if you absolutely must. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Cinema Verite DVD
War Horses of WWI DVD

Reality TV. It had to start somewhere, yes? Well, the grandparents of Big Brother and its ilk can be found in Cinema Verite. The story is this: in the early 70s, a producer (James Gandolfini) came up with an idea: find an American family and convince said family to let a camera crew document their lives. I know, what a wacky notion, right? Well, he found them in the Louds (Tim Robbins and Diane Lane) and the rest is television history: a family under the microscope has to figure out if they can get through the experience without completely falling apart. The film itself is worth checking out not only for the performances, but also for anyone interested in a window to how we got to where television is bloody riddled with reality TV. Major bonus bit is a commentary with the director and also Lane. Worth watching but uncertain about replay factor as far as a full-on purchase goes. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

If you were amazed at the puppetry of the stage version of War Horse and feeling a bit bummed at the feature film version (real horses, not awesome puppets), then you might want to snag War Horses of WWI. The docu hits DVD from BFS and clocks in at just under an hour but it spends it well. The shot is that horses were drafted into military service in WWI from all over Britain because you just couldn’t find a better way of hauling, sending messages around and also of course being mounts for the cavalry. Here you get information on how this was handled, and they talk to some people who were there when the horses were taken as well as some veterans. The price is around $16 at the moment–and that’s not terrible–but with no bonuses you’d need to be hardcore into WWI history to want to own. Rental should probably suffice. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)