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Headsup: Astronauts, Werewolves and People With Guns

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.

Dark Blue Season 2 DVD
Hell on Wheels Season 1 Blu-Ray

[ad#longpost]Following in the footsteps of the first season, the second and final season of Dark Blue hits DVD from Warner Archive, meaning it’s a MOD affair and in fact comes with no bonus bits. I’ve liked Dylan McDermott ever since Hardware–and here he’s heading up an undercover unit in Los Angeles. For the second season, Tricia Helfer from Galactica arrived, probably to try and shore up ratings to avoid them getting canned. All ten episodes are here across three discs, and at around $3/an episode you need to make sure it’s something you want on your shelf. If you don’t mind not having the hard copy, but do want to own it in some form or fashion, you can buy the entire thing from Amazon Instant Video for half the price. But there’s something to be said for having the real thing on a real shelf. Fans must decide. (Click here to buy it from the Warner Archive. Click here to buy the digital season from Amazon.)

The Eastwood Squint is not enough to make a solid Western. This is known. However, fans who were bummed by the seeming premature implosion of Deadwood should find some delayed solace in Hell on Wheels, which uses the implementation of the railroad as the backdrop for multiple stories, the center ring being one man’s quest for revenge over the death of his family. Anson Mount is the guy playing the Lead Squinter and brings excellent gun-toting to the fore. Also of note among the cast: Common and Colm Meaney. All ten episodes are here across three discs, and the hi-def presentation is quite solid: this isn’t a series that, in my opinion, yells for hi-def…but considering the current price point is about equal with the DVD, it’s a no-brainer. It doesn’t yell, but it does suggest it. While squinting. The good news for fans of the series it that it’s not devoid of bonus bits: alas, no commentaries, but you do get a making-of, behind the scenes footage and numerous featurettes. The featurettes cover everything from a train crash setup to costumes to weapons and then a bunch covering the characters. Currently you’re looking at $2 an episode, which is more than decent for hi-def. If you’re unfamiliar, check out an episode or two before deciding if the replay value is there to plonk down coin to add this to your collection permanently. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Rizzoli and Isles Season 2 DVD
Martina Coles Runaway DVD
Teen Wolf Season 1 DVD

The second season of Rizzoli & Isles hits DVD with all fifteen episodes across three discs. The tale of a cop and a forensic pathologist teaming up to Fight Crime, this has always had a weird spot in my head since the first season’s billboards went up around here (Atlanta). For some reason, whatever implement they had representing Dr. Isles looked to me like a piece of kitchen cutlery, so it’s been stuck in my memory as a show in which a chef and a cop team up. I have a weird head. Regardless, the second season continues their adventures with, among other things, the daughter of her former partner being the victim of a crime, family issues that could also include the mob and the return of an old “friend” from the first season. The set also comes with a production featurette, unaired scenes and a gag reel. The price point is about $1.80 an episode, so that’s not terrible. If you find rewatch value in such a thing, it’s worth snagging–but for most people who just enjoy a good crime show, then a rental or Netflix or whatnot should be sufficient. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Based on the novel by Martina Cole, The Runaway covers ten years in the lives of two young people who were meant to be together but then were separated by circumstances beyond their control. And by “circumstances, etc. etc.” I mean the really heinous kinds: murder, abuse, crime, violence, more crime, you know how it goes. This six-episode series also features Alan Cumming in drag as Desrae. The whole series is here across two discs, clocking in at over six hours. Fans of crime dramas will want to check this out, as I’m not aware of it having aired on this side of the pond. The BFS release, alas, has nothing in the way of bonus bits, so renting it to give it a watch will probably be sufficient for most. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

You, like me, probably thought “MTV is doing what?” when it was revealed that Teen Wolf was getting adapted for the small screen. But yes, putting aside the Michael J. Fox original, the new show gives you a protagonist who wanders off into the woods only to get bitten by a mysterious alpha werewolf–and that makes him a werewolf too. This is yet another reason to stay indoors, people. Anyway, in addition to going through the very real terrors of high school, now he has to deal with other werewolves, plus people who make it their job to find and kill werewolves. Lovely. Fans who understand that you’re going to get a very low budget horror feel to this thing might appreciate it. If there are any purists out there, be aware that the music has been changed to protect licensing, which means that downloads of the show are simply going to increase. Well played. The three disc set comes with bonus bits, including an extended season finale; deleted, alternate and extended scenes; commentaries; a gag reel and additional behind the scenes featurettes. Price point per episode is around $2.25, so if you find replay value in it, it might be worth snagging. But sample it first to see if it’s your bag. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Dragonslayer DVD
Man on a Mission DVD
Ken Burns: War Blu-Ray

A good docu, in my opinion, has to transcend. You can’t just tell the story of whatever it is you’re telling the story about. How good would King of Kong have been if it simply told the tale of a Donkey Kong competition? That’s the situation with Dragonslayer, in which we see the life of a skateboarder who is on the fringe of that particular skating world. He skates in swimming pools (empty ones), he has a girlfriend, he has a kid. It’s shot well and it gives a nice musical and social snapshot. Fans of the sport or of docus might want to check it out, but this First Run release is devoid of bonus bits, so owning will be a hard sell. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Travel is getting more and more expensive each day. The price of gas is mental (and even more mental if you go outside the U.S.). However, if you want to feel better (of a sort), at least you’re not paying the fare to head to the Space Station aboard a Russian rocket. I mean, you probably would if you could (I know my audience), but you’re not. Because the price tag is $30 million. One person who did want to pay that far (and could) was Richard Garriott, gaming wizard. He couldn’t make the grade to join NASA and be an astronaut like his dad, so he did the next best thing and became a space tourist. Which is as close to astronaut as one can get, so full marks there. This docu, Man on a Mission, shows you the road to the trip and the trip itself and the antics of this guy on the way. Any geek with a dream is the audience for this bad boy (space geeks being a subset, mind you) because here’s a guy who decided he wanted to do something…and did it. We could all use some more stories like that. This First Run DVD release is not bare bones: you get a number of featurettes to back it up, including a short film Garriott made while in space, follow-ups to the docu after his return, Garriott’s plan for space travel, a zero-G magic trick and more. Definitely worth a watch–true space geeks may want to check it for replay value and own. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Ken Burns somehow is able to take something that should be about as compelling as cold porridge–namely a slew of stills, some archival film, earnest narration and a bunch of talking heads–and turn it into riveting documentary television. No matter what the subject–although he chooses excellent subjects. With The War, it’s Not Just Another WWII Docu. He focuses on four communities in America and gives you the macrocosmic story of the war–both on the front lines and on the home front–through the microcosm of what happened to them. Seven feature-length episodes make up this huge series. The Blu-Ray package is pretty damn awesome, frankly: yes, the hi-def part of it is iffy at times because of the amount of archival stuff that you have on screen. But both video and audio hold up. You also get bonus bits: two audio commentaries from director/producers Burns and Lynn Novick, a making-of featurette and scads of deleted scenes and additional interviews. Docus I seldom recommend for purchase because often, unless you’re one of the hardcore, there’s no replay value. But this is worth having on the shelf for anyone interested in this part of history. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Aggression Scale Blu-Ray
Awakening DVD
Perfect Sense Blu-Ray

Two things spring to mind when I see The Aggression Scale. One, at Corona aeons ago we had a Die Hard-homage April Fool’s movie page for Play Hard. It’s exactly what you think it is. Anyway, this is a much more visceral version of that: indeed, a home invasion does not go according to plan since they weren’t betting on the violent and unstable young son of the household in question. So it’s criminals vs. crazy young person for a taut bit of thriller action. Anchor Bay puts this out in Blu-Ray form, and the video and audio are quite good for a lower budget film. The one bonus bit is a making-of. Those who want something different in the thriller genre should give it a shot–check your replay value before plonking the coin. The second thing? Oh, I had to ping Siege over IM and tell him I found his movie. B007CZ37B0

How do you know you have an English degree? When you see The Awakening as a title and even with a cover like this DVD from the Warner Archive, you still don’t go to an Egyptian horror movie–instead your mind thinks, “What the hell have they done to Kate Chopin?” No kidding; welcome to my brain. Anyway, yes, this is not the Chopin novel adapted into some weird form–it’s the Charlton Heston-starring 1980 horror movie based on the Bram Stoker novel The Jewel of the Seven Stars. In it, Heston plays an egyptologist who opens up a tomb and unleashes a timeless evil that infiltrates his family. Look for Stephanie Zimbalist in the cast, as well as Ian McDiarmid. Also of note: the film is directed by Mike Newell early in his career, pre-Four Weddings. The film is worth checking out for Heston completists–but while it has its moments, it’s no Omega Man. (Click here to buy it from the Warner Archive.)

The world is ending. Yes, again. In Perfect Sense, the notion of Blindness is multiplied five-fold. Everybody’s losing their senses one by one and into this escalating chaos, can an epidemiologist and a chef find and sustain true love? That’s the notion here and is more about romance in trying circumstances than it is a film about an epidemic apocalypse. Being a hi-def release from IFC and MPI, it does look and sound pretty damn good, admittedly. Fans of Eva Green and Ewan McGregor will want to check this out, as will anyone who is a sucker for the apocalypse. However, with only a tiny featurette and a trailer as bonus bits, finding replay value enough to cover the price tag will be hard going. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Bullet for the General Blu-Ray
Tomahawk Trail DVD

In A Bullet for the General, El Chucho is a bandit, stealing weapons in Mexico. After ripping off a train his crew is joined by an American…one with a secret. And because this is a spaghetti western, there’s going to be some bloodshed before everybody puts their cards on the table. There are some familiar faces to be seen here: Klaus Kinski and also Gian Maria Volonte from A Fistfull of Dollars. It’s a Blue Underground Blu-Ray release, so it is choice. Not only do you get it looking as good as any film of this kind from this era has a right to, but this being a two-disc special edition–the second disc comes with a feature-length docu on Volonte. You also get a short interview with the director as well. Fans of the western genre in general will want to give this a viewing–hardcore fans will want to consider owning. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Out of the depths of the Western genre comes Chuck Connors starring in Tomahawk Trail from 1957. It’s out on the MGM Limited Edition Collection, so it’s manufactured on demand. The shot is this: a lieutenant is doing his job of leading so badly that a sergeant (Connors) has to usurp command to keep them all from getting killed. There’s an outpost where they can find safety…or so they think. Fans of Connors or fans of the genre (always looking for an unknown gem) might want to give this a rental, but alas with no bonus bits it’s hard to recommend for a purchase. Look for Harry Dean Stanton in the film when you watch it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Oz and James Big Wine Adventure: California DVD
Simply Red Live in Montreux Blu-Ray
This Means War Blu-Ray

It must be nice to be able to drink alcohol and write everything off as a business expense. Wait, I do this a lot myself. Yes. Yes, it is nice. But in this case it’s not me and Leigh (or even me and Big Dub) creating alcoholic mayhem–it’s Oz Clarke and James May, and the show is Oz and James’ Big Wine Adventure – California, aka the second series of that show. As previously in France, the gist here is that Oz, wine expert, is trying to educate James, wine amateur, about vino while taking a lovely road trip at the same time–all without killing each other. Here you have the entire series, all eight episodes, across two discs with them hitting everything from Santa Barbara to Napa Valley. I know the first series eventually hit BBC America but I don’t know that this one did–so this might be your only chance to snag it–but surely your only chance to grab it on Region 1 DVD. It’s a little over $3 an episode, so the price point isn’t bad–it just depends on how big a wine and/or Top Gear enthusiast you are as to whether or not you’ll want to own. Some of May’s other shows I would put above this one–but fans will want to at least give it a watch. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Blu-Ray release of Simply Red: Live at Montreux 2003 from Eagle Rock is really two concert releases in one. First up, you do get the 2003 set with eighteen tracks on it then a bonus of an additional seven tracks from their 2010 appearance. I think the thing that strikes me most about this is that while Mick Hucknall has certainly aged, his voice has still got it. This is especially evident in one of my favorite tracks from across both sets: a version of “Holding Back the Years” that begins acoustic and brings the rest of the band in behind him. Nice. The hi-def presentation here is good–especially in the audio department, which let’s face it, is where you want it most–and with twenty-five total tracks on here, your price point is a respectable sixty cents each. Fans will definitely want to pick it up. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Hollywood still hasn’t managed to bash all the optimism out of me, apparently. I saw the trailers for This Means War, and I was hoping it could mix the notion of a spy-rom-com with some action and then the dark edge of something like War of the Roses. I know, you might not have gotten that from the trailers, but again, me, the damned eternal optimist. The shot is simple: superspies Chris Pine and Tom Hardy both, conveniently, wind up with the same girl, Reese Witherspoon. Their competition gets increasingly out of control as they both try to undercut the other. Hijinks ensue. And while there is some action and splode, it never sort of transcends beyond a rental at best. This Fox Blu-Ray release does have some things going for it: the hi-defness is at a decent level; there’s a director’s commentary; you get the theatrical and extended versions; three alternate endings; gag reel; deleted scenes; and alternate opening and more. Put it towards the bottom of your list if you’re fiends for any of the trio of actors heading it up. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

95 Miles to Go DVD
Pruitt-Igoe Myth DVD
Windfall DVD

What do you do when your fear of flying means you can’t get on a plane but you need to do your stand-up tour? Well, if you’re Ray Romano, then you and your opening act get in a car and drive everywhere. What do you do when you want to reuse content? Well, if you’re Ray Romano, then an intern films the hijinks that ensue and you turn it into a docu. That’s 95 Miles to Go, a 2006 film that shows Romano and Tom Caltabiano on the road. They bicker, they eat, they sit in hotels. You also get some stand-up, too. What a concept. This DVD release is fairly stacked: two Q&A sessions, a video commentary from our two stars, two audio commentaries, deleted and extended scenes and Romano’s Kansas City stand-up set. For hardcore Romano fans only, it’s material that would have been familiar to them at the time the docu was shot–much less now, six years later. But the bonus features make it easy to justify the time of those aforementioned hardcore fans. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

So what was Pruitt-Igoe? Apparently, a housing project in St. Louis in the 1950s that was designed to solve every problem, including how to more efficiently slice bread. It was a dream of government housing utopia that ended with decay, depopulation of the facilities and then finally demolition in the 70s. There have been over-simplified attempts at tracing down what exactly went wrong with this dream housing setup–but as The Pruitt-Igoe Myth puts forward…the truth is far more complicated than the myth. It does this through pulling out facts and interviews with people who were there. Anyone interested in trying to solve the world through architecture or indeed just with modern architecture itself might want to check this out. You do get bonus bits: an additional short film from 1969, additional interviews, a tour of the site and a director’s commentary. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

There is an intriguing disconnect that happens when it comes to important topics. When something must be done, very often a “something” is identified, therefore regardless of the nature of that “something,” “it must be done.” And it turns out to be something and not the right thing. It can often–and normally is–the wrong thing. Thus Windfall, the story of a small town that got handed an easy answer to a complicated question–and is having issues because of it. Industrial wind turbines divide the town in question and may solve some problems but, well, the Law of Unintended Consequences. Or were they intended but simply…unheeded? There’s a lot going on in the docu, and I would encourage anyone of an ecological mindset to watch it. Something must be done, yes, but the film encourages to double check our facts before we start just Doing Things. The First Run DVD comes with additional interviews and footage. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Blind Guardian: Memories of Time to Come CD
UFO: Chrysalis Years: 1980-1986 CD

Before we get from the rawk of UFO we have the straight up kinetic metal of Blind Guardian. This is also from EMI, their Best Of compilation, Memories of a Time to Come. Sixteen tracks across two discs, all remastered and/or re-recorded. I’m not the best person to speak on the music itself, since my limit for full-on metal (of this flavor, at least) is something like Yngwie Malmsteen. But I will say that from understanding what my friends into such things appreciate, this appears to be directly in their wheelhouse. The somewhat shouty vocals, what sounds like a double bass pounding away and the obligatory quiet bits so they can crash back in on your skull. Not my bag, but it sounds like they know damn well what they’re doing. The set clocks in at a little over $1 a song and I think that even someone who has the original albums will want to check out the new versions and remasters on here. I don’t have the originals to compare, but they sound pretty sharp to me. Bear in mind that the MP3 version is more than half-off the physical CD, in case that helps you out. (Click here to buy the CD from Amazon. Click here to buy the MP3 download from Amazon.)

There are holes in everyone’s musical knowledge. Mine more than most. But there’s just too much damn music and it’s hard to catch up–especially when you were simply not in the circle of the music in question when it was coming out. I’m speaking specifically here of UFO and their oeuvre from the early 80s, as portrayed in The Chrysalis Years: 1980-1986, from EMI. UFO is one of those bands I would describe as “Rawk with Flourishes.” And I say Rawk with all endearment. It’s not just a run of kicking guitars, though. Check out the blues feel of “Mystery Train.” And the slightly Queen-reminding riffs of “Chains Chains.” But there’s plenty of classic feeling straight up rawk, like with the Who-esque “Young Blood” (I prefer the BBC live version of the ones on here) and the included B-side “Everybody Knows.” This is the second volume of these sets and it is chunky. You get five discs with their studio albums, plus a previously unreleased BBC live set, a live 1983 Hammersmith set, and number of b-sides, different edits and remixes. Seventy-five tracks in total and the price point is about $8 a disc–not terrible. If you opt for the MP3 option, you save about $10. I would say if you’re unfamiliar, check them out via Spotify or the like, but the fan will definitely want to snag this bit of discography in a single set. (Click here to buy it from Amazon. Click here to buy the MP3 download from Amazon.)