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Headsup: Triumph, War, Humanity & Nerds

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.

Chariots of Fire Blu-Ray book
Flowers of War Blu-Ray
Hunter Blu-Ray

[ad#longpost]For some reason, I thought Chariots of Fire had already hit Blu-Ray and this Blu-Ray Book release was just a special edition, but no, this is making its Region 1 Blu-Ray debut from Warner Brothers. This story about two runners prepping to compete in the 1924 Olympics made such an impression, especially with its Vangelis score, that of course Mr. Bean had to show up and utilize it in the opening ceremonies this year. And the hi-def release here is a solid one: the video and audio look pretty damn good to my diminished eyes and ears. You also get, ported from the previous DVD release, director interview and commentary, deleted scenes and a couple of featurettes that get expanded into further behind the scenes and other bits. There’s also a four song CD sampler plus the book that’s built into the packaging. As of this writing, this release is actually cheaper than the previous two-disc DVD one…so if you want to snag this for yourself, this makes the most sense. And the fan of the film will definitely want to own. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

It’s safe to say that over the course of the 20th Century, there were many places you would prefer not to be. Nanjing, China in 1937 was three of them. I guess it’s not your fault if you were educated in a public school and don’t know that Nanjing (or Nanking) is usually and unfortunately associated with the preceding words “The Rape of” since the Japanese rampaged through the city raping and killing for about six weeks. The Flowers of War puts an American mortician, a group of courtesans and a group of schoolchildren in the city in the relative and precarious safety of a cathedral. The struggle to remain alive and intact with enemy soldiers everywhere forms the background for the story. Is Christian Bale there to give the film more salability outside of Asia? Almost certainly. But he’s not the reason to pick up the film anyway…the story itself, though not exactly a happy one, is worth watching…and being a victim of public schools myself, I can’t say how accurate it is. I’ll leave that to others. The video and audio look pretty fantastic for hi-def and the one bonus bit is a feature-length behind the scenes divided up into multiple parts. If the notion of the film–or even if just the notion of the film with Bale in it–appeals to you, then this is worth checking out. However, it’s not the happiest of films. So pick your time to watch it carefully. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Let me put an important card on the table before we start talking about The Hunter. Willem Dafoe I will watch in almost anything. (The “almost” in that statement more than eluding to Antichrist, which I think might make me want to kill myself.) But when you put in a gun in his hand and send him into the Tasmanian wilds to hunt a possibly extinct beast and maybe have some sort of thriller/mystery thing happening in the background? I was sold from the trailer. And Dafoe fans will not be disappointed, because it’s positively driven by his performance and the cinematographer making the most out of the aforementioned locations, which are gorgeous. Those looking for strictly the thriller angle might be a bit disappointed when all is said and done. This Magnolia release looks and sounds great in hi-def and does come with a number of bonus bits: a making-of, deleted scenes with commentary and a commentary track for the film with the director and the producer. Worth a rental to see if it stands up to multiple viewings and Dafoe hardcores will want to consider owning. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Big Bang Theory: Complete First Season Blu-Ray
Big Bang Theory: Complete Second Season Blu-Ray

Even if you knew nothing about The Big Bang Theory–the show that has nerds and non-nerds alike glorying in the comic potential of putting extremely smart yet awkward people into the real world (or a necessary equivalent)–the fact that Warner Brothers is going back and filling in the two missing seasons on Blu-Ray is testament to its money-making power. Because you have to have a lot of faith to go back and ask your fans to double-dip for just hi-def. And yes, you do get exactly that–but you also get it in a format that essentially replaces the sets going forward: these are DVD/Blu-Ray/Ultraviolet combo packs for basically 50% more than the DVD alone. Same bonus features–shortish featurettes and gag reels. No commentaries, which is sort of mind-blowing for such a fan favorite. Now here’s the thing about the show: if you’re a fan and you’re a hi-def fiend, then this might make sense to you to trade up. Me, I can’t tell enough of a difference to where I would want to, were I in the same boat as you. In fact, I would say unless you are a stickler for such things–but you do want this on your shelf–save the $10 and snag the DVD sets solo if you haven’t already. (Click here to buy Season 1 from Amazon. Click here to buy Season 2 from Amazon.)

American Reunion Blu-Ray
Freak Dance DVD
God Bless America Blu-Ray

Full disclosure here: I…let’s say…did not appreciate the original American Pie. I need a very special balance of raunch and humor in order for something to work for me and the first film didn’t cut the mustard. As a result, I haven’t cared too much for the franchise–and so you understand why I look upon this eighth film in the American Pieverse to be…well, a good idea…but one that, instead of trying to go to interesting places (how many teen comedies get the chance to come back over a decade later and pick up with the characters–and what should that mean to the characters and yet still be funny?) it tries to do mostly more of the same…but older. The Universal Blu-Ray looks and sounds decent enough but this isn’t a hi-def screaming film. There’s an unrated version–but it’s only a skoche longer than the rated one. There’s a director/writer commentary, a pop-up commentary, deleted extended and alternate scenes, a gag reel, a look at dredging the series from direct-to-video Hades, and some other tiny featurettes that don’t bear much mentioning, honestly. I assume that if you’re a die-hard for this series then this might go on your shelf–I assume also that a mega-boxed set might be out at Xmas or at some point when the inevitable ninth film hits–but for the simply curious, a rental should more than suffice. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Upright Citizens Brigade will always have a soft spot in my heart. With the very first episode of their TV show, they had me crying with laughter (the close of “Bucket of Truth” had me in the floor). And that’s hard to do. So I call upon that memory when I just need to grin like an idiot, as opposed to my usual way of acting like an idiot. So it is with interest that I look to Freak Dance, the UCB stage show that has morphed into a musical movie, that looks like a simply dance flick parody but aspires to be something greater, with actual mental musical and dance numbers. It’s not a flawless affair, nor does it reach the heights of other great WTF movie musicals like South Park, but it’s worth a watch for any fan of UCB. I would recommend the UCB-related Martin & Orloff over this, for example, but fans will want to rent it. With an audio commentary, deleted and extended scenes and some PSAs, the hardcore might want to own, but a couple of nights with a rental will probably take care of most. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

You might not know this: but Police Academy alum Bobcat Goldthwait is one busy dude. I knew about Shakes the Clown but somewhere along 2003 and the release of his album I Don’t Mean to Insult You, But You Look Like Bobcat Goldthwait (which is freaking hysterical, BTW) he just seemed to pick up speed. But it’s easy to forget that God Bless America is Bobcat’s fifth film where he’s been in the chair. And he just seems to get more mental with time, since this film gives you a Bonnie & Clyde meets Natural Born Killers where the killers in question are taking on the inanity of American culture. Yes, it sounds like it was designed with this site in mind. Joel Murray (Mad Men and brother of Bill) and Tara Lynne Barr (her feature debut) decide to go on a spree and rid the world of the people that, well, we could all do with a little less of…that’s the kindest way of putting it. And what follows is blood-drenched mad satire…and exactly what you might come to expect. This Magnolia Blu-Ray release has a decent video and audio presentation, but with a mini-plethora of bonus bits that I think clenches it. There’s a commentary and interview with writer/director and his two stars, a behind-the-scenes docu, deleted and extended scenes, outtakes and more. Rent it first to make sure it’s for you (because it is, as you might imagine, dark) but worth considering for ownership if you find the replay factor works for you. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell DVD
My Wifes Best Friend DVD
Rings On Her Fingers DVD

With the Fox Cinema Cinema Archives, we have have Clifton Webb’s final turn as Mr. Belvedere in Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell. Now, first: you might be thinking…and yes, you’re right. They used the same source material/source character as the 80s sitcom. Well spotted. Anyway, in this setup, Belvedere, while on a book tour, decides to prove the point of his book–that you can always be young, no matter how old you actually are–by checking himself, under an alias, into an old age home. Look for Zero Mostel in a very early role as Belvedere’s tour man Emmett, and Hugh Marlowe is running the home. Again, being the third film in the series it didn’t hold up perfectly but might be worth checking out–all three of them–for anyone interested in the history of the TV series. No bonus bits. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

In the 1952 comedy My Wife’s Best Friend a man decides to unburden his soul to his wife when he thinks they’re both about to die since the plane they’re on appears to be falling out of the sky. The confession? That he and his wife’s best friend had an affair. Trouble is, that pesky plane wound up not killing them. Now he needs to survive surviving alongside his wife. The wife is Anne Baxter (the titular subject of All About Eve) and the husband is Macdonald Carey, who would go on to be on Days of Our Lives off and on for seeming aeons. The marital comedy is fanciful but moderately amusing and any hardcore fan of either actor might want to seek this out, but again, the lack of bonus bits will make this only for the truly hardcore to purchase. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Next we have the 1942 comedy, Rings on Her Fingers. The setup is one that we’ve seen many times since then…a con is on to get somebody rich to part with their coin. In this case, we’ve got Susan (Gene Tierney, Laura) as the ingenue drawn into the caper…and the mark (Henry Fonda) they have in mind is sure to give them a huge payout. Or…hmm. Not going to give away anything, but be warned if you start looking up info on the film: it’s given away everywhere else, which is a bit of a shame. You can see where this wouldn’t have enough purchase (no pun intended) to warrant a regular release, which is why it’s here on MOD…it’s funny and novel–of its own era–but without proper context, it seems a bit derivative of everything that came after. Worth checking out for fans of old school comedies or the actors involved–rental should do for most, methinks. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Black Hand DVD
Devil Makes Three DVD

So as Singin’ in the Rain turns sixty this year, the Warner Archive has released a pair of Gene Kelly films, both of which are making their Region 1 DVD debuts. You might be like me in that when you think Gene Kelly, you think dancing and musicals. But he had range, as evidenced first by Black Hand from 1950. He plays a guy whose father was murdered by the titular group of criminals. He was taken away, being just a kid–but now all grown up, he comes back to get revenge. But not in a Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood sort of way (that would have been interesting) but instead he’s trying to get the community to stand firm against the bad guys. Kelly fans will want to check this out for a change of pace and everyone else might be fine with going for a rental–it’s a capable enough bit of drama. You also have The Devil Makes Three (these both sound like horror films on the surface, honestly) from 1952. It’s post-WWII Germany and an American soldier returns to visit with the family that hid him after he was shot down–unfortunately and sadly, their house has been utterly destroyed and the daughter orphaned. Now he has to deal with her embittered self as well as getting entangled in a plan to bring the Nazis back. Not as sharp as Hand, it’s again worth checking out to see Kelly in a different sort of role and he holds his own quite capably. Again, no bonus bits but worth a rental for those fans. It’s just worthwhile that they’re finally hitting a legit release. (Click here to buy Black Hand from the Warner Archive; Click here to buy Devil Makes Three from the Warner Archive.)

Mr. Wong in Chinatown DVD
Mystery of the 13th Guest DVD

The third in the Mr. Wong series starring Boris Karloff, Mr. Wong in Chinatown sees our protagonist trying to solve a mystery sparked off by a woman being killed in Mr. Wong’s own study. Let’s just take it as read that one needs to suspend some disbelief–as one normally does–to an Englishman playing an obviously Asian role. And suspend one’s desire to get pissed–it was 1939, after all. The film will be of some interest to Karloff enthusiasts, but the MGM Limited Edition release gives me some pause. There are numerous in-print versions of this film, usually as part of a “Mr. Wong” Complete Collection–some of which give you all six films for less than this single one. Granted, I don’t have those sets here to compare this to–but my main concern would be video quality. Not sure how much you can muck up a black and white film that’s this old–but rent whatever set before purchasing. Whether it’s this or another. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

If you’ve ever enjoyed something like Murder By Death and wanted to catch one of the original “dark house” films in which “someone here is a murderer!”…well, there’s better choices than The Mystery of the 13th Guest starring Dick Purcell. This 1943 mystery is amusing enough if nothing else is on, but there’s not enough mystery, not enough sense, not enough of…well, anything to make it towards the top of your viewing list. It’s from the MGM Limited Edition Collection, which means it has nothing in the way of bonus bits. This would have been better served as part of a boxed set, methinks. Rent it if you want to sample it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Staind: Live From Mohegan Sun CD
Staind: Live From Mohegan Sun Blu-Ray

I know this is going to sound terrible, especially to fans of the band Staind, but I honestly had no idea they were still around. Granted, there are twenty trillion bands in the world and this wasn’t one that I had decided to keep up with. But they’ve always been that “band who did that song with Limp Biskit.” Well, and that band that did a fairly solid cover of “Sober,” lyrics aside. Yes, yes, I know. Here we have the recent Live From Mohegan Sun, with sixteen live tracks. Now the thing about Staind is that…well, you know how some bands are scream-scream-sing? Like Motograter, for example. So the singer has multiple types of chops. Staind doesn’t fall into that category enough to be on serious rotation with me, but that’s just me. So the album doesn’t appeal to me but the hardcore fan will appreciate it–musically the band is pretty damn solid, but the vocalist is a little muddy in the mix as well, for my tastes. As for the Blu-Ray release, the live stage performance itself isn’t what you’re here for–again, it’s the audio. The video itself is decent enough and the audio sounds good, but I hear the same vocal muddiness. You do get bonus bits: a decent-sized interview with the band and then a tour of Mike Mushok’s guitars. The show itself is on Spotify, so you can sample it before you buy–but again, the fan will want to seek it out. (Click here to buy the CD from Amazon. Click here to buy the Blu-Ray from Amazon.)

Black Limousine DVD
Django Kill Blu-Ray
Sound of Noise DVD

Black Limousine is out from Anchor Bay on DVD, featuring David Arquette as a former film composer who’s down on his luck following a bout with alcoholism that left one of his loved ones dead. Now he’s stuck as a limo driver with a Hollywood friend who might want to help him get back in the game and an actress that might be interested in him too. Lots of mights, yes? Well, Arquette’s character is having a bit of tiff with reality as well, so he’s an unreliable narrator of the first order. Weird reality bending stuff is what I normally leave to the likes of David Lynch, but I think Arquette fans are going to want to check this out just to see him in something where he’s leaning on the dramatic side than what I’m more used to him doing (i.e. Scream). No bonus bits make this a rental if that, however. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Spaghetti westerns can get a bit mental, but you don’t get more mental than Django Kill, the non-Django sequel where a Stranger gets killed, brought back from the dead, equipped with golden bullets and then set upon a task of revenge. It’s mental mostly from the standpoint of the crazed bits of violence, which reaches from a town pulling a reverse-Tull (some people will get that reference) to what happens when people find out you’ve been shot with golden bullets. This is out from Blue Underground, which means it’s about as good a hi-def presentation as you’re going to get. That being said, they’ve done the best they can with Spaghetti western source material from 1967–so don’t be alarmed when this isn’t the most striking of their releases from an audio and video perspective. The one bonus bit is a port from the previous DVD release: a serious of interviews with the director and stars. Fans of the spaghetti western will definitely want to at least rent this, because it’s bizarre as hell–they just need to be aware that the violence might put them off if they’re not prepared for it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

There’s something terribly appealing about utterly mental heist/caper movies. Especially where what’s being stolen is the chance to create utterly insane avant garde musical pieces. Such as an amazing bit in which the crew break into an apartment to perform “Music For One Apartment and Six Drummers.” Yes, it’s the Swedish comedy Sound of Noise, which basically ask the question: “What if the makers of Stomp turned to a life of bizarre crime?” This is the story of the crime/music syndicate and the cop who wants to stop them. And anybody who appreciates music and movies will want to check this out. The Magnolia release comes with multiple featurettes, including extended musical sections. Worth watching and more than likely you’ll want to own it. It’s that mayhem-infused. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Suez DVD
They Came To Blow Up America DVD
Way of a Gaucho DVD

When you’re trying to take your mind off the fact you’ve been shunted to Egypt and have nothing to really impress the woman you wanted–and you’re Ferdinand de Lesseps–apparently the trick is to do a great deal of earth moving and engineering and get the Suez Canal built. Yes, even if you had only heard the title of the film here, Suez, you’d probably been able to guess most of the setup. But that’s the biopic we have at hand, with Tyrone Power as de Lesseps and Loretta Young as the woman he meets at the beginning of the film. Another Fox Cinema Archives release, this comes with no bonus bits–which is a shame, really. A little featurette talking about vintage biopics and how they relate to both modern biopics as well as the actual history–would be fantastic. But alas, we get nothing. If you’re a hardcore Power or Young fan, this might be worth owning…but for the curious, a rental will probably do you just fine. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Okay, it’s hard to get a better title that They Came to Blow Up America–and it’s by far my favorite of this round of Fox Cinema Archive releases. All seriousness aside, though, it’s a film from 1943, and as long as you weren’t educated in a public school in my home state, you would know that gives a movie about a guy going undercover to fight the Nazis would have been pretty timely. Our hero is George Sanders (All About Eve) who can’t tell his German-American parents that he’s really a double agent, so joining the Fuhrer doesn’t sit well. And of course, he has to fall in love–because that’s how these things work. A nice bit of propaganda that’s actually fun, it’s definitely worth a rental for anybody who enjoys WWII films. No bonus bits. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I know that’s old hat for me to get surprised that some of this MOD stuff is relegated to MOD, but with Way of the Gaucho, I gotta do it again. Rory Calhoun? Hugh Marlowe? Richard Boone? Plus Gene Tierney? Really? There, I got it off my chest. The shot is this for this Western-set-in-Argentina: Calhoun plays a man who joins the military to avoid a death sentence, only to decide he doesn’t like the policies (nothing says civilization like exterminating native peoples) and so he makes a career change to rebel leader. Fans of the any of the actors involved will enjoy checking out this decent flick, as well as anyone who appreciates anything that does something a little different with the western genre. As always, no bonus bits, so only the seriously hardcore will want to purchase, but the aforementioned will be happy with a rental. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Fightville Blu-Ray
Operation Bikini DVD
Outside Man DVD

Okay, so MMA. I’ve never been a fan of boxing, partly because I don’t understand the need to beat the crap out of someone else unless your life or limb depends on it. I realize that as the owner of a penis who still doesn’t get that, I’m probably in the minority. So be it. However, I do have a slightly better appreciation for MMA simply because you can do more. I don’t mean to belittle the skills of a boxer or a professional wrestler, but I can at least see something in having, say, a guy who’s big into hand-to-hand combat having to take on a grappler. So I don’t know, in other words. However, you get something like Fightville, and it takes you to the ground level of the sport, watching two up-and-comers try to use it as a way of getting ahead in the world. And putting a human face on the yelling and beatdowns can be very compelling. I love a good docu, and while this isn’t the best I’ve ever seen, docu fans or fans of the sport would do well to check it out. The story it tells is worthwhile and the look under the hood of the advancement in the sport is interesting enough. The Blu-Ray looks pretty good for a docu and comes with deleted and extended scenes as well as behind the scenes footage. Worth a rental for interested parties. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Well, here’s something you don’t see every day. I’m speaking of the MGM Limited Edition Collection MOD DVD release of Operation Bikini. Because you’ve got American International doing the film, and Frankie Avalon in the film. And Avalon performing songs in the film. But yet, despite all of this–and the cover art which makes it look like a comedy, it actually also wants to be a bit of a war movie about going after a submarine–all of it complete with people getting killed and whatnot. So it’s all a bit mental, really. But if you wanted to catch Avalon and Jim Backus together, well, here’s your chance. And of course, if you didn’t catch the Beach Party connection…this marks the first appearance of Eva Six, who would also star in that other film, out the same year. No bonus bits on this release, it’s mostly available for the hardcore or the simply curious. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

A Frenchman is hired to take down the head of a crime family. But now he’s been targeted by a hitman himself, and trying to stay one step ahead of everybody else while he unravels just what the hell is going on and attempts to remain breathing throughout. This noir-ish film, The Outside Man, is worth checking out to see the supporting cast. Roy Scheider is the second hitman, Angie Dickinson is the wife of the crime boss, Ann-Margret is our protagonist’s only ally and Jackie Earle Haley makes his screen debut in a small role. As part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection, and Manufactured on Demand, this release gets nothing in the bonus department and isn’t cleaned up–though the video is acceptable. Fans of the actors involved will want to give it a rental but only the hardcore would want to own. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)