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Headsup: Vampires, Snakes and a Monkey King

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.

Glades: Complete Second Season DVD
Leverage Season 4 DVD

[ad#longpost]Cop shows (or police procedurals or whatever you want to call them) are almost literally a dime a dozen. It’s becoming almost amusing to see where-all and when-all they’re going to be set. And with what characters and what quirks and so on. The trouble is trying to find some novel way of doing the show and then getting your footing with the characters and keep butts in seats, so to speak, while doing all of this. Because if we look at a show that actually does work for me, Burn Notice, I don’t know that I’d give a damn if it were set on a mining colony in space–the characters keep me interested. So with something like The Glades, the setup is where a sharp cop from Chicago finds himself in Florida after Chicago became disinclined to keep him around. In this second season, matters are complicated by Callie, the woman he wants to be with, still being married and with the husband resurfacing after time in prison. Oh, and someone from his past shows back up as well. You know, fun and games while you’re trying to figure out homicides. The four-disc set here comes with all thirteen episodes. There’s one extended episode, commentary on one episode, deleted scenes and a pair of featurettes. Hardcore fans of the show–those that are happy with the characters, as I’ve said–might want to own. Everyone else who’s trying to catch up will probably be fine with a rental. It’s not a show that I would follow but to each their own guilty pleasure. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I was speaking earlier about the importance of having a cast that you appreciate, especially when you’re dealing with shows that are, in essence, the same thing over and over again. Now I’m not saying that Leverage is like an A-Team for our times (even though it is), but the difference here is that we’re okay with characters changing over time…unlike with the previous classic cheeseball show where only rating slips would make any radical changes–and generally with the flip of a switch. (Robert Vaughn, anyone?) Here, the changes are gradual (romantic involvement between characters that’s been coming for a long time) and less of a focus on an overall arc, but still a fun, guilty pleasure sort of show. It’s one that is worth picking up for people who need that sort of thing. And Aldis Hodge is comic gold. Anyway, this Fox set has all eighteen episodes and again, normally, even for anybody but the hardcore fans, a purchase of a set is a stretch. Replay value and all that. But the fact that every episode has an audio commentary (and I’m a commentary junkie) is a huge bonus. There’s a behind the scenes, deleted scenes, a short writers’ room bit, a gag reel and more. So they get huge points for stacking the set more than most would. And at less than $1.50 an episode, the set is not out of reach for those that want to give it a snag. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Bonanza Season 3 Value Pack DVD
Boss Season 1 Blu-Ray

So Bonanza…one of those iconic TV westerns that gave you Lorne Greene and family along with the legendary Ponderosa. Seen in repeats for forever and a weekend, the show had been hitting DVD…but in public domain releases with bare bones and none of the original music. And people get very touchy when you start messing with any aspect of shows, yes? So Paramount has been rectifying that situation–and here we have a “Value Pack” of Season Three, wrapping both DVD volumes of the season together. That by itself is thirty-four episodes that were an hour-long each with commercials–and the price point on that by itself is about $1.60 an episode…which is not bad. You get a few audio commentaries, a radio show excerpt, plus original bumpers and Chevrolet commercials. I know I seldom come out and recommend a TV boxed set–leaving it to the fans to sample and decide for themselves, since again, it’s a very personal thing–but knowing that fans of this will be happy with both the core content and the bonus features, I would say a fan definitely needs this. Paramount is to be commended for doing the series properly and should be rewarded with coin. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

As we approach Boss, here’s the thing about Kelsey Grammer. He’s been trying to get a post-Frasier role for a while now. He tried two different shows that both died and he’s opted to go in a direction that makes a lot of sense. Let’s face it: he can go Dark. And I know that’s probably not a surprise to a lot of people, but still: I sort of appreciated his turn in Toy Story 2…and I thought he could do Evil really, really well. (“Runaway Brain” is Exhibit B.) And here he’s not evil, but he is a politician, so finish that joke yourself. He’s running Chicago and taking on all comers until he learns that he has a degenerative disease which is, eventually, going to leave him unable to do much of anything, much less be head of a major American metropolitan area. All eight first season episodes are here. You have a few bonus bits: two audio commentaries (neither of which have Grammer, alas) and a featurette with Grammer and executive producer Farhad Safinia. With more bonus bits, I would say this could be a contender for purchase with full-on fans, but as it stands, a rental will do for most. Fans of Grammer himself that want to see him stretch a bit will greatly appreciate it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Casa De Mi Padre Blu-Ray
Cinematic Titanic Live: Rattlers DVD

Casa De Mi Padre is Will Ferrell’s love letter to anyone who’s ever switched over to Telemundo, either with no working knowledge of the Spanish language or a diminished version of it (I’m in the latter category). The earnest, low-rent telenovela is being sent up here and you’re either going to get on board with it or not. I’m sure if you’ve never switched over, you might be a bit lost and have no idea what they’re trying to send up. But all of that they get right. Ferrell fans or anyone that description appealed to will want to give this a watch–but while there are some bonus bits: a commentary, making-of, deleted scenes and an interview with the late Pedro Armendariz Jr. (who played Ferrell’s father in the film) among them–a rental will probably take care of most everyone. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

There’s nothing quite like seeing a Cinematic Titanic Live show when it comes to riffing. You wouldn’t think that watching five pros riff from prepared notes over a terrible movie would be as funny as it is. But, trust me, it is. So much so that last time they came by I saw them twice. However, for those of us who don’t like to go out among people, they’ve been putting out Live DVDs. The latest is Rattlers, a When Animals Attack flick that pits the titular snakes against the humans that managed to piss them off. Bad as you would expect it to be, it becomes hilarious when exposed to the CT Crew. And the fact that instead of being in silhouette you get them on screen with the film and a live audience to react with–that’s the good stuff. Any MST3K fan worth their salt should check this out if they can’t make the actual live show. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Doomsday Prophecy Blu-Ray
Midnight Son DVD
Twins of Evil Blu-Ray

The world is ending. Yes, again. And if you’re worried about cosmic forces killing us all, don’t worry, because Doomsday Prophecy has a dude who can see the future–and he’s enlisted the unwitting help of two people to take a magical rod to a specific place on the planet and save us all. Well, it’s the epitome of something that winds up on SyFy and as such, it’s sort of hard to get mad at it. If you’re on board with SyFy films, then you are…if you’re not, you’re probably not going to enjoy it much. That being said, Firefly fans might appreciate a rental considering that Jewel Staite is one of the stars. That also being said, somebody “losing” the Black Sea is a fun concept. It does actually have a featurette on it talking about the film and eschatological shenanigans. Only the most hardcore will want to do more than rent. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The vampire horror film is going to eventually come back around, don’t worry about it. It’s been through a lot, trust me. Sparkles can’t keep a good sub-genre down. Case in point: Midnight Son, out on DVD from Image. Owing more to, say, Martin than Twilight, it gives you the story of a young man who’s coming to realize that he’s got a little bit more going on that just a skin condition. And he’s fallen for a girl who’s got more than just a drug dependency. To play off an old tagline, who will survive and what will be left of him? A low budget, indie vamp flick that’s definitely worth checking out–and not bare bones in the least: there are deleted scenes, interviews and a commentary with the writer/director and the main cast. Worth a rental and hardcore fans of the vampire subgenre might want to consider adding this to their shelf. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Interestingly enough, before plunging into Twins of Evil I recently watched a docu on Hammer Horror, where it talked about their later years and the struggle/balancing act between the owners wanting to get nudity and sex into the mix and the people who wanted to make horror movies to, you know, make horror movies. The impression they gave was that if the owners could have figured out a way to market a porn film, they would have. Nowhere is that more prevalent as a notion than this film–because, I mean, the notion of good and evil Playboy Playmate twins as vampires? Seriously, it seemingly writes and sells itself. But the balancing act goes in the favor of the film here: it’s one of the better of the later vampire/Cushing outings and because of that, one of the most interesting of the Karnstein Trilogy. Because this is out from Synapse, you’ve got a film that looks and sounds as good as it could possibly get without some kind of mad remastering. There’s also a feature-length docu that covers everything about the trilogy that they could pull together, a featurette about extant props, stills, a deleted scene and an audio track that’s the isolated score and FX. And if that weren’t enough, it’s a DVD combo pack as well. Hammer and Cushing fans will want to snag this, as it’s Criterion-level horror goodness. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Dan Vs. Season 1 DVD
Heidis Song DVD
Matt Braunger: Shovel Fighter DVD

So Dan Vs. is a mildly disturbing yet amusing show about our hero, Dan, who sets himself against the majority of the world, seeking revenge for transgressions said world has committed against him. Dan’s plans pit him against a dinner theatre, George Washington (yes, the president) and the entire state of New Mexico. Perhaps the thing that sets the series apart, apart from being so terribly wrong in the right ways, is the voice cast: Curtis Armstrong (Booger from Revenge of the Nerds) as Dan with Dave Foley as his friend Chris and Paget Brewster as Chris’ wife Elise. And Elise’s parents? Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross. Yes, you probably got that. If not, then kids, ask your parents. All twenty-two episodes are here along with a complete animatic for one of the episodes. Full-on fans of the show might want to consider buying–and at a little over a $1 an episode, it’s not a bad price point–but for most outside the hardcore, a rental will probably do just fine. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The Hanna-Barbera feature film from 1982, Heidi’s Song, gets the Warner Archive treatment. The story is sort of based on the original novel, in which the orphan of the title first goes to live with her grandfather (voiced by Lorne Greene) and then is sent to become the companion of an invalid girl–and hijinks ensue when not everybody is charmed by the little country girl with the heart of gold. It’s an old school Hanna-Barbera film that isn’t Charlotte’s Web–so while it’s good for the nostalgia effect, it’s probably not going to be as good as you might remember it. But fans of H-B will want to revisit it, I’m sure–only, with no bonus bits, it’s probably best to leave it as a rental. (Click here to buy it from the Warner Archive.)

The lightning rod for awkwardness, Matt Braunger, returns with his Comedy Central DVD, Shovel Fighter. I must admit this: apparently Braunger has been around and I’m just late to the party, but better late than never because this is a quite enjoyable set. Starting with his inability to say the right thing to the opposite sex and how his brain and mouth both conspire against him (can totally relate), he moves on to the inexplicable comedy of Chippendale dancers and the palpable all-encompassing nature of fear. I think I like best how he’s saying the absurd but doing so like a reassuring storyteller. Very pleased I ran across this guy. Bonus bits include fake commercials, Braunger himself pitching the notion of the special and a brief making-of bit. Sample it on Spotify to see what I’m talking about, but the DVD is worth a rental. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Callers: Art of Auctioneering DVD
Inventing Our Life: Kibbutz Experiment DVD
Jiro Dreams of Sushi Blu-Ray

There are a lot of people around these days who have never experienced a live auction–as opposed to eBay or even a silent auction, which I don’t necessarily think of as “live” either (no excitement, really)–and everybody should go at least once even if you’re not there to buy anything. If you can’t make it to a live event, then The Callers is a nice substitute–you wind up in Pennsylvania where you can see some pros go to work on the crowd. You get a nice portrait of auctioneers and hear from them how the craft works. I don’t see this profession going anywhere–wherever there’s stuff you’re going to need somebody who can help you sell it–but this is a nice snapshot of the current state of their art for posterity. And if you didn’t realize it was an art before watching this docu, it’ll leave that impression on you. Bonus bits on this First Run release include some extra scenes. A rental will do for most. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

While familiar in passing with the notion of the kibbutz as a type of community based in Israel, my knowledge that they existed/exist was about the extent of what I knew. Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment takes on the large task of looking at the history, the present status of the kibbutzes (excuse me, kibbutzim–another new word for this week) and what they might have on tap for the future. Talking to people who were around at the very beginning of the movement as well as checking in on the kibbutzim still in existence, it’s a nice overview–but again, a lot to cover in eighty minutes. Bonus bits on this First Run DVD release include some extra scenes and an audio interview with the director. Again, a rental will probably work for most–and it’s recommended for anyone interested in Israeli history or the history of the movement in general. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

As I’ve said before, the best documentaries are those that seem to tackle one subject but then broaden in scope when the documentarians themselves realize what they’ve gotten a hold of. That’s the feeling with Jiro Dreams of Sushi, where the widely recognized greatest sushi chef in the world, Jiro Ono, is the focus. But more than just one guy, it’s a docu about family, about work and about art. And like the best docus, the scope moves without doing so blatantly or inelegantly, much like Jiro working with delicious fish. The Magnolia Blu-Ray release comes with a commentary with the director and editor, deleted scenes, additional scenes and a gallery of sushi. Fans of sushi and Japanese culture will want to watch this, as will docu fans. If you just grab cheap sushi from someplace and think that’s awesome, you owe it to yourself to watch this and expand your horizons a bit. A rental will do for most everyone. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

4:44: Last Day on Earth Blu-Ray
Brake Blu-Ray
Four Minute Mile DVD

If you were facing down the last day of life on Earth, I would hope you could find something else better to do than hang out, order takeout, chat on Skype and…well, hang on a sec, sex would be quite acceptable. But that’s basically the premise of 4:44: Last Day on Earth, in which Willem Dafoe and his girlfriend count down the hours till the ozone layer gives way and life goes bye-bye. There seems to be a huge surge of apocalyptic well-that’s-it sort of films recently, with varying degrees of success. Here, there’s just not much going on. Not that I expect zombies or aliens falling out of the sky–or both–but it all seems so tedious. This MPI/IFC release looks and sounds okay but has nothing in the way of bonus bits. If this genre is your thing, you might want to consider this–but if you’re going to go down that road, why not rent Miracle Mile instead? (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

What if we took the concept of Buried and upped the stakes and put it on wheels? That seems to be the notion behind Brake (but of course it’s never that simple), in which Stephen Dorff plays a Secret Service agent who wakes up in a box in the trunk of a car. Bad Shit is afoot and the bad guys who have Dorff’s character want him to divulge the location of the President’s secret bunker. And they’re willing to do just about anything to get him to give up the info. It’s the sort of thing that could be handled badly and, with the exception of a few “Aw, man” moments–it’s handled with deft and claustrophobic precision. And I’ve always liked Dorff anyway, so I’m in. Bonus bits on this MPI release include a director’s commentary and a making-of. A rental will do it for most. Not certain this subgenre of thriller has enough of a fanbase to warrant a purchase. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Much has been made of the fact that The Four Minute Mile took so long to break. And that makes sense, I can barely make a four minute sandwich. So because sports and television/movies go together like the components of that slow sandwich, we have this production which is out on DVD from BFS. This two-disc set gives you the story of Roger Bannister and his rivals, all trying to be the first to break the barrier. And of course, once it was done once, it was done several times. Fans of track will want to check this out and hardcore sports movie fans, but it’s not one of those that transcends the genre IMO. And be warned it doesn’t have the slick sports feature film feel that a Hollywood version of this story would give you–whether or not that’s a good or bad thing you must decide for yourself. No bonus bits make this a rental at best. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Etta James: Live at Montreux CD
Smashing Pumpkins: Pisces Iscariot

So we just lost Etta James earlier this year–and if there’s anything that this Eagle Rock release, Live at Montreux: 1975-1993, should remind us of: is that live this woman could, even later in life, blow the top of your head off. From the opening salvo of “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” from her 1993 appearance, she’s growling and just singing her ass off. It’s pretty impressive stuff. After six tracks from 1993, we wind up in 1975 with “Respect Yourself” and two other tracks. It’s obvious we’re dealing with a younger woman–but that’s the only major difference. She can still wail, howl and everything else on the spectrum. If her vocals don’t make you start nodding appreciatively, then you might want to seek help. We also get a track from 1977 (a medley that starts with her singing the hell out of “At Last”) and 1989 as well. It’s a nice sampler platter that’s all too brief, I fear–but it’s damn good across the board. Any fan will want to own and anyone who’s not a fan needs to listen and become one. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I missed Pisces Iscariot the first time around. Let me explain: I, like everyone else, could not help but become aware of Smashing Pumpkins thanks to Siamese Dream. But apparently this album never got big enough to make it on my weird, esoteric radar. Because until I opened this thing up, I had no idea I was getting a rarities LP and not another “regular” studio album. And let me just say, so you understand where my head is at: I’ve never minded the Pumpkins. Hell, I even like Mellon Collie–the album that most people seem to turn their head and spit when you mention. Sorry, but I thought the fact it was big and overblown was part of it. Anyway, getting this set is fascinating for me, since not only do you get the first disc of the album, remastered but then the second disc is a bunch of new and old mixes from various sessions and demos. Then you’ve got the third disc which is a DVD, containing a public access appearance from 1988–a basement jam session and then a series of bonus clips, mostly live rarities. Then, and this is probably my favorite, and the bit that somehow I completely missed while scanning the contents before tearing into it–the first demo from the Pumpkins, reproduced on cassette. Kids, ask your parents. There’s also a series of postcards, lyrics, photos and liner notes and such–making this entire package a serious no-brainer for any fan. Even with a $42 price point, this isn’t the sort of boxed set/reissue that we often bitch about. This is something with added value that wasn’t designed to frustrate the fanbase, and should be rewarded appropriately. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Beautiful Planet: England and Low Countries Blu-Ray
Beautiful Planet: Germany and Austria Blu-Ray
Los Angeles Kings: Stanley Cup 2012 Champions Blu-Ray

We’ve talked about these sort of releases before: basically you’re given a tour of an area–sometimes you’re just flying over it–and somebody tells you what you’re looking at. Sometimes there’s music. And it makes sense for somebody who’s an armchair traveler, I suppose. Me, unless I’ve got a tour guide at the level of a Simon Schama or David Attenborough, then I’m not completely content. But these Blu-Ray releases under the Beautiful Planet banner (released by Mill Creek) do give you visuals for the countries involved–between them you do go to many interesting locations–but the hi-def here isn’t great. Nothing really popped out at me. And the narration doesn’t thrill. Granted, these are two countries/areas on each release for $10, so you’re not paying for the level of a BBC nature or travel docu, but still–if you want to sample, a rental is probably fine. (Click here to buy the England/Low Countries release from Amazon. Click here to buy the Germany/Austria release from Amazon.)

No secret that I know next to nothing about sports and specifically hockey–but I do know that just as there is all kinds of pop culture fandom, be it for vampires or zombies or shoot em ups or whatever–I know what fans like. Any of the faithful for the Los Angeles Kings would greatly appreciate this look back at their season and the road they took, as serious underdogs, to make it to the Stanley Cup. And granted, I don’t keep track of this stuff–but the feeling for me, anyway, is that this is not just a bunch of stuff that you’ve already seen as a fan. The bonus bits, a large number of them exclusive to Blu-Ray, are nothing to sneeze at: TV spots, additional interviews, extended footage, and more. If you’re a true believer, you’re going to want this on your shelf. If you’re only mildly a fan or just a fan of hockey in general, you might appreciate a rental. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Ozzy Osbourne: Speak of the Devil DVD
Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live Blu-Ray

It’s hard to be very critical of the DVD release of Ozzy Osbourne: Speak of the Devil–this was a live show recorded shortly after the death of guitarist Randy Rhoads where Brad Gillis stepped in to continue the tour. And since I haven’t watched a lot of live Ozzy, I can’t say how much of my not-getting-it regarding the live show is because things are normal or not. I also did some digging to figure out what was up with the vocals–they appear to have been overdubbed, something Ozzy either did often or tried to do as a complete cheat, depending on who you use as a source. He doesn’t look like he’s in any shape to have such clean vocals, basically. I’ve run about a stage and sung. It sucks. Anyway, you get fourteen tracks in all, for a little less than eighty minutes of concert time. Some people will probably be confused that this isn’t, in fact, a live performance of the album Speak of the Devil…so don’t get caught out. Hardcore Ozzy fans will probably want to snag it for posterity–the audio’s a bit weird and the video is as good as early 80s can muster, but again, it’s for the fans. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The two-disc CD I have of Secret World Live is one of my favorite live albums and, honestly, Peter Gabriel‘s video release of this is still one of my favorite live concerts. I think I still have the VHS around here somewhere. So the fact that it has hit Blu-Ray from Eagle Rock is most excellent news. This is my favorite iteration of Gabriel’s band: Paula Cole providing vocals, Tony Levin on bass, Manu Katche on drums, Shankar on violin along with others and special guests. It’s a fun change of pace from mad, huge live shows–it’s impressive for its time and yet fairly sparse at the same time, relying on a cadre of musicians who are just masters at what they do. The Blu-Ray here isn’t the clearest thing in the world but it’s not bad for a show that’s almost twenty years old. The sound, though…kicks as much ass as you would want. Bonus bits–I think–are all things I’ve seen on previous iterations, but again, I don’t have them handy so can’t double check. We’re talking a bonus track, a timelapse of the stage being setup, photo montage, a making-of and more. There is one new thing: a bonus track of Gabriel with the New Blood Orchestra. Fans will want to own this–fans of live music in general should at least give it a rental. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Master Qi and the Monkey King DVD
Art is the Permanent Revolution DVD

If you, like me, hear the term “opera” and think about people singing in foreign languages for hours while one line of subtitling goes past, then set that aside for just a moment. Because Peking Opera is to regular opera like Cirque du Soleil is to regular circuses. Peking Opera is a particular type of theatrical performance that has music and singing, yes, but also dance and acrobatics. This First Run release, Master Qi and the Monkey King takes you both through the theatrical genre in China and in particular with the titular Qi Shu Fang and her troupe which moved to the U.S. and now operate out of New York City. If you are interested in theatre and especially this subgenre of it, then this is worth a watch. It doesn’t exactly transcend as a docu, but it does relate its subject matter well, and you’ll be more informed as a result. This DVD comes with bonus performances and a photo gallery. A rental will work for everyone but the hardcore. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

What could have been a portrait (no pun intended) of three artists working in their different forms of media (painting, woodcutting, etching and so forth) becomes more once it is clear that Art Is…The Permanent Revolution wants to tie these three craftspeople to the long standing heritage of commentary through art. So while we’re watching modern artists make responses to war and death, we get them placed in a context alongside the likes of Goya and Rembrandt. Anyone interested in visual arts and how they comment on our times in ways that transcend time will want to check out this DVD release from First Run. Rental will be fine for most. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)