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Headsup: Art, Games & a Patchwork Dog

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.

Frankenweenie 3D Blu-Ray
Art of Wreck-It Ralph

[ad#longpost]You can tell Tim Burton is fond of certain things. Stop motion animation. The morbid. Monochromatic color schemes. Johnny Depp. That sort of thing. And Frankenweenie, out on 3-D Blu-Ray from Disney, at least hits three out of those four. In case you aren’t already familiar with the story via the live action short that this expands upon, our hero Victor loses his beloved pooch, Sparky. Unsatisfied with just letting his friend go, he reanimates the dog. And if you’ve seen any of the Re-Animator films, you know that this can only end in trouble when the wrong people find out about Victor’s methods. While not, in my opinion, the strongest of Burton’s stop motion endeavors–that’s still Nightmare Before Christmas (which he only produced)–it’s still a fun flick that gets a nice depth thanks to the 3D presentation here. It looks and sounds freaking amazing. In addition to the 3D and 2D BD discs, you get a DVD version as well as digital copy. As for bonus bits, the making-of is decent–but I always want more, especially with an animated film. You do also get a presentation of art, models and sketches and such plus the original live action short. There’s also a bonus animated short and a music video of a “Pet Sematary” cover. Nice. It makes sense, for the extra $5, to snag the four-disc even if you don’t have the 3D rig at the moment–because you’ll be glad you did later on. Burton fans will want to own but everyone wanting that brand of morbid whimsy should at least give it a rental. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

With a new Disney film comes a new art-of book from Chronicle–in this case, it’s The Art of Wreck-It Ralph. What’s nice about this is because you have the different video game worlds, you get a variety of different art styles in the mix plus all the roads that lead them to a particular environment or character design. And it’s, in essence, what you would want as bonus bits from the upcoming home video release: lots of backstory on why they made the decisions they did and what angle they came at the film from. Not literally. These books are always informative and excellent for the fan of the film or Disneyphiles in general. Be warned: when I get one of these, I inevitably see art I want on my wall. So be prepared to want to rob a bank. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Enlightened: The Complete First Season Blu-Ray
Episodes: The Complete First and Second Seasons DVD
Lifes Too Short: The Complete First Season DVD

Co-created by stars Laura Dern and Mike White (you know him from such appearances as School of Rock and Chuck and Buck–which he also wrote, among other things), Enlightened has Dern as a corporate executive who has a meltdown and then, as the title states, has a spiritual awakening. She tries to return to her previous life and set things right, but it’s never so easy, is it? The job has moved on, she now has to move in with her mom (Dern’s mom in real life, Diane Ladd–nice) and has to tell with her ex-husband (Luke Wilson). Oh, and the name of the company? Abaddonn. Nice. This is one of those critically appreciated shows that didn’t generate much of an audience, but it did get picked up for Season 2, which is airing now. All ten episodes are here across two discs–and the video and audio are both quite good, though this doesn’t scream hi-def to me. Four commentaries are given (one with Dern and Ladd) and White is on tap for some interviews. For those who appreciate an askew comedy–and especially fans of Dern and White–you might want to give this at least a rental. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

If there’s one thing fans of British TV shows fear, it’s American versions of their cherished programs. Just look at the outrage expressed when somebody dared to consider remaking Spaced. So it only makes sense for the Brits and Americans to join forces and make a show about this mayhem. Thus with Episodes you get Tamsin Greig (Black Books) and Stephen Mangan (Dirk Gently) sharing the screen with Matt LeBlanc playing a version of himself replacing the original star of the British series, Richard Griffiths (!–brilliant). Chaos and culture clashes result, along with hijinks. All sixteen episodes from both the first and second seasons are here on this Paramount/Showtime release. Even for hardcore fans, the lack of bonus bits make this a hard sell, though anyone who finds the notion amusing will want to give it a rental. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant go back to the TV mockumentary well with Life’s Too Short, giving Need Coffee fave Warwick Davis a starring role as a skewed version of himself, with a career on the skids, a marriage that’s pretty much over, and a huge debt to pay off. In desperation, he turns to Gervais and Merchant (playing versions of themselves) and hijinks ensue. As with Extras, celebrity guest stars ensue as well to great effect: look for Sting, Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and others. All seven episodes are here across two discs–and there’s a series ending special that’s coming up later in the year. However, I wouldn’t worry about snagging this and having to double dip later–Gervais doesn’t play those sort of games, based on what happened with The Office. Bonus bits are decent: a making-of, deleted scenes and outtakes and some behind-the-scenes footage. Gervais completists will want to own–but rent first to ensure that you’re on board and it has the prerequisite replay value. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Farewell My Queen Blu-Ray
Grand Hotel Blu-Ray
Mrs. Miniver Blu-Ray

Welcome to Versailles and the court of Louis XVI. It’s seen better days, seeing as how there’s a bigass revolution coming and lots of sharp things that rely on gravity to get their jobs done. But the court is just going about their business like The End isn’t near (sorry, spoilers). Into this we get the story told from the perspective of Sidonie, one of Marie Antoinette’s servants, and their relationship as the time of Marie in power starts to draw to a close. The Cohen Media Group Blu-Ray release of Farewell, My Queen is worth the hi-def for anybody who’s a fan of period drama, since then you get the full effect of all the production design and costuming. Bonus bits include a discussion with the director and a series of interviews with the cast and the director. Period drama hardcore or French history hardcore, rent it before you decide to plonk coin. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

My first exposure to Grand Hotel was seeing the Tony Awards in which the Broadway musical version was nominated–and got to see the late great Michael Jeter dancing his ass off in the role that Lionel Barrymore plays here in the 1932 version. And if you’ve ever been amused at the “multiple name actors and multiple storylines running amok in one place” subgenre (personal favorite: Neil Simon’s California Suite) then this is the granddaddy of them all. In this case the big guns you’d recognize are Greta Garbo, the aforementioned Barrymore and also John B., along with Joan Crawford. This Blu-Ray release looks pretty damn good for a film that’s eighty years old (and the original negative is long gone) and for fans of the film or the cast, it might be worth an upgrade for that alone. Granted, the majority of the bonus bits are carryovers from previous DVD versions: a short making-of, a newsreel about the film’s premiere, a theater announcement and a vintage parody. The commentary included is quite good and I believe new to this release, so that’s a bonus for those looking to replace a prior DVD purchase. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Having snagged six Oscars (including one for director William Wyler and one for the title actress, Greer Garson (Goodbye Mr. Chips)), Mrs. Miniver hits Blu-Ray from Warner Brothers. Setup to show what a family in England was experiencing due to the Blitz, it plays out the drama with all the heart and oomph that Wyler (a German Jew who had emigrated to America) wanted to bring to the screen. The Blu-Ray looks damn fantastic for a film seventy years old and the restoration is as good as WB normally does–though I wish they had included a comparison featurette, since that really drives the point home. What you do get is mostly a replay of features from previous releases: two vintage shorts, a Tex Avery cartoon, and a brief Oscar acceptance newsreel for Garson. Fans of the film will want to snag or upgrade–but everyone should give it a rental at least. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Art and Making of Peanuts Animation
Silhouettes from Popular Culture by Olly Moss

There’s a reason why every year we ended 13 Days of Xmas with A Charlie Brown Christmas. The classic Peanuts specials are just that: classics. And for fans of Peanuts, there’s plenty of reasons to snatch up Chronicle Books’ The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials. Author Solomon takes you through all the films (yes, including Flashbeagle) and punctuates the book with my favorite bits of such tomes: interviews, production art, concept art, cels, script pages and one of my favorite artifacts from them all–a “rejection letter” from Schulz where he avoided really responding to a request for the animation rights. Nice. And is there anyone among us who wouldn’t gaze at the artwork from Great Pumpkin and want that on their wall? (Seriously.) 160 pages and hardback, it’s a must-own for any fan of the strip, the specials or both. Recommended. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

A small bit of pop culture/coffee table/art book goodness, Olly Moss brings you Silhouettes From Popular Culture. And this Titan Book hardcover is your one stop shop for fun cameo-inspired profiles of everything from Number 6 to Giger’s Alien and from Doc Brown to James Bond(s). To me, part of the entertainment value is to use it as a quiz–there’s no explanatory text to say, “By the way, that’s Prince Valiant,” and such. Hell, pass it around your next party and see who can get the most. But I think my favorite is still the Bride on the cover…because it says in a single image what you’re going to get: elegant silliness. And we could all use some more of that. Recommended. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy DVD
Samsara Blu-Ray

John Turturro heads to Sicily in Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy, a docu that seems to be a bit confused but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. The title ties into the fact that there’s a lot of thought given to death. They’re also in Sicily during the ramp-up to the island’s Day of the Dead. But we go from the wide view of the people and the island to Turturro’s interest in the local tradition of puppeteering. Again, doesn’t make it any less interesting but it does take a shift in focus to keep up. This First Run feature hits DVD with no bonus bits but is worth a rental for any fan of Italian travel or of Turturro himself. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

From the people that brought you Baraka comes the latest in their non-verbal, all visual, blow-your-mind-out-the-back-of-your-skull docu, Samsara. How do you document the width and breadth of the human condition (and at times inhuman condition) that we have on the planet? You spend five years filming bits and then edit them into an array of juxtapositions between life and death, barren land and man’s defiance of it, aboriginal vs. modern culture, and on and on and on. It’s okay if at a certain point your mind hits the overload point–that’s working as designed. Helping matters is the fact that this hi-def 4K presentation has leapt to the forefront of “discs that stores should have on hand to sell bigass TVs and uber Blu-Ray players,” even ahead of most of the BBC nature docus. And that’s saying something. Audio and video are freaking astounding. Your bonus bit comes in the form of a decently-sized making-of that covers most everything you would want to know. Worth a rental for everybody, but if you really want to wow people with your home rig, you’ll want to own it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Mad Science from Wired
Mastery by Robert Greene
Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by Jake Tapper

There’s a lot of books that you could consider for gift-giving purposes. You know, “gift books.” And I’m talking about the bathroom reader genre, where you just give somebody (your father-in-law, an uncle, whatever) a book with some stuff in it because you needed something to fill a box. We’ve all been there. However, with Wired putting out Mad Science via Little, Brown and Company, you actually get a fact-a-day sort of calendar book that’s, you know, cool. Taken from their This Day in Tech bit, you get a page for each day outlining something that happened in the past on that day. The day the typewriter got patented? That’s June 23rd, harkening back to 1868. September 26, 1956 had the paving starting on the first interstate highway. One page, factoids delivered, done. Nothing to hurt your brain. It’s actually cool enough to leave the bathroom and enjoy elsewhere in the house. Recommended especially because at less than $14 it’s inexpensive enough not to kill your wallet but also won’t make you look completely cheap. Win-win. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Having checked out Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, I was intrigued to see his latest tome, Mastery, especially with it getting the Tim Ferriss-seal of approval as a companion book to his own new monstrosity, The Four Hour Chef. Whereas Greene previously was taking you through how to gain and keep power and giving you how the lessons could be viewed through history, here he’s talking about the road to become a master of a chosen art or profession and using figures throughout history as examples. Sadly, it’s not talent, we’re told, as it is hard work. Just like with Power, I think even when you disagree or wonder about Greene’s conclusions with a particular facet of the subject, he never fails to make you think. I found this a bit more dense than the previous release, but he is able to lay out his case well–so you don’t get lost. Worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the subject of going beyond self-help. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Setting aside the question of why American forces should be where and whether or not such reasons are justified, the guys in the boots on the ground are the ones who get the brunt of…everything. Second guessing, misunderstanding and, oh, yeah, bullets and the enemy. Thus we get, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, the story of Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan–where in 2009, the Taliban showed up and tried to hand the Americans stationed there their collective asses. And outnumbering them roughly eight to one, they caused eight deaths and twenty-two men were wounded. The true story of what happened there is outlined in Tapper’s book from Little, Brown and since I gather most people stateside don’t know the first thing about it, it’s worth a read to see–regardless of the whys and wherefores–what the consequences are. A must-read for any fan of military history and a good consideration for gifting to those who know such fans. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Branded Blu-Ray
Collision Earth Blu-Ray
Dredd 3D Blu-Ray

Branded is the story of Misha, a man who develops the special ability to see just what advertising is doing to us. Like something out of a What If Frank Peretti Wrote Against Capitalism book, he can see predatory beings that hang over us and infect us. And he knows that Something Must Be Done. Well, what the trailers pitched as a mad update of They Live is unfortunately just…mad. It turns out to be something about obesity, cows, and consumerism…and really wants to Make a Point, when it probably would have made the point a lot better if it had just stuck with its trailer-imposed setup. The main bonus bit on this Lionsgate release is a commentary with the writers and directors. Rent it if you must but be ready for…something. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The problem with the movie Deep Impact was that rather than stick with Bruce Joel Rubin’s original script, they blinked and tried to do battle with Armageddon…and thus lost a great deal of the film’s humanity. If you dial past the Michael Bay-silly glory of Armageddon then you come nearby to SyFy’s Collision Earth, out on Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay. An anomaly in our solar system has caused the planet Mercury to leave its orbit and head careening towards our planet. And it’s up to an astronaut, a scientist, and some other misfits must team up to try and save Earth. I mean, it’s a SyFy flick. So you know what you’re in for. And if that works for you, then you might not mind that there’s nothing in the way of bonus bits on here. So it’s probably a rental even for you. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

One of the great mysteries of 2012 is the failure of Dredd. It’s almost like they set out to flop the thing: it wasn’t booked in enough cinema houses, it stayed around for about three days, it was warmly accepted by critics and absolutely nobody went to go see it. Not even in the UK did anyone see it. And here’s the damn shame of it: it’s a solid flick. Karl Urban is Judge Dredd, goddammit. And he completely wipes the silly Stallone version from your mind. The film’s slo-mo segments are gorgeous and violent and initial comparisons to The Raid aren’t completely warranted. The 3D is nice for said segments but not essential for repeat viewings–that being said, the video and audio are both pretty sweet and worth grabbing in hi-def. Features are thin but mostly worthwhile: a Dredd retrospective with the creators and those who came after and an effects featurette. There also some mini-featurettes about Dredd’s gear, the 3D setup and the location. Fans will probably want to own–as home video life is the only life this thing is going to get–but everyone else should at least rent. The film deserved better than it got. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Art of Assassins Creed III
Awakening: Art of Halo 4

I can’t speak to games. Apart from allowing myself a brief Civ fix every time a new version comes out, I have to stay away from games because of my insane and addictive personality. So I couldn’t tell Assassin’s Creed III from a hole in the ground where I buried these modern day complicated game controllers you kids have. What I can tell you though–and the bit that I really appreciate–is that video games are the big box office monsters that rival films–and it’s wise to appreciate all the work that goes into creating them. So just like I can appreciate the bonus bits on films that I don’t even care for–I can dig the hell out of bonus bits on games I don’t even plan on playing. That’s the case with the Titan Books release of The Art of Assassin’s Creed III, which gives you much the same array of artwork that you would want from any of the numerous making-of movie books that we get through here. You get costume design, studies for “sets” and other environments, plus a great deal of text talking you through what they were working through. Fans of the game who have played it through six ways from Sunday will definitely want to check it out. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

I never could get into playing Halo. I will admit that to you now. Bailey would ask me over to his place to play it on his Xbox so he could laugh at my frenzied attempts to do basic things like, oh, walk. Or aim. I would do well to just get in the turret of a vehicle and then blow things away. It was like having all the buttons and controls of the Defender arcade game on a hand-held controller. So I abandoned that mode of video game play a while back. However, I do dig the shit out of the concept art that comes as part of Awakening: The Art of Halo 4, out from Titan Books. I love picking out stuff like Syd Mead’s and Wayne Barlowe’s influence (don’t know how you do sci-fi and creatures without having their influence, frankly). And just the background concept art is something I could stare at for hours. So if you’re a fan of the franchise, this is worth checking out–but also if you need some inspiration in the sci-fi arena, either as an artist or a writer–you might give it a whirl. Gorgeous stuff. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Man Who Lived at the Ritz DVD
Perry Mason Season 8, Vol. 2 DVD
Titanic: Blood and Steel Blu-Ray

The Man Who Lived at the Ritz takes place during World War II. The Germans have taken Paris. Perry King (Riptide) plays a man living in the hotel who, after running into a gent by the name of Hermann Göring (Joss Ackland), gets tapped to help the Nazis snag art. And the Resistance taps him as well. So now he’s living on both edges and trying to figure out how to not wind up screwing up and getting very dead. A more than decent WWII TV movie, it holds up fairly well considering. The BFS two-disc set comes with no bonus bits and is thus a bit pricey, but it’s probably worth a rental for WWII movie fans. It’s also worth noting that this brings the title back into print for Region 1 after a bit of an absence. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The second half of the penultimate season of Perry Mason hits DVD from Paramount, with the remaining fifteen episodes spread across four discs. The show continues pretty much as it has been–the ultimate in winning attorneys doing his thing for law and order. Guest stars across these episodes include Fay Wray and Victor Buono. From what I can tell, the series isn’t being aired anywhere, so this marks the fan’s only way to snag the episodes. Bear in mind, though, you might want to hold off: there’s a problem where the episode descriptions are not correct. Or, hey, buy one for cheap used if you could care less and you just want the episodes. Bonus. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Those Titanic addicts will be interested in Titanic: Blood and Steel as at least trying to do something different from all the other stories about the actual sinking. Consider this TV miniseries a prequel, as it gives a (mostly) fictional account of the building of the ship. And the cast is pretty stellar: among them Derek Jacobi and Sam Elliott (wait, sorry, that’s Chris Noth playing Elliott playing J.P. Morgan). Clocking in at over ten hours (across three discs), you get plenty of chances for the period drama-ness to play out. And as long as you can set the history aside, you might enjoy yourself. Especially you Downtonites. A rental will do for most everyone besides the hardcore, since you only get two very brief bonus bits: a making-of and an FX featurette. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era
Monty Pythons Flying Circus: Complete and Annotated: All the Bits

So I’m one of the five people on the planet who isn’t a complete and total Downton Abbey addict. However, I can see where people need a soap opera to be British in order to not feel guilty about enjoying it. To each their own. However, I can appreciate a well done book about just about anything, and that’s the case with The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era out from St. Martin’s Press. Along with character profiles for everybody, you get lots of illustrations, bits of props and period dressing from the show, and more. Fans will especially dig things like the map of the estate and the vintage advertisements. I only wish when they had pages with scads of vintage-looking (and probably authentic ones as well) props, they went into explaining what they were for and where they came from. At over three hundred pages, it’s a good companion to the series for anybody who just can’t get enough and is going to be chomping at the bit soon for Series 4. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

For the Python lover, there’s very little one needs to say about Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Complete and Annotated…All the Bits, out from Black Dog and Leventhal. Along with all the scripts for the show, you get annotations, which are especially helpful for those not familiar with every bit of Brit slang, geography, politics and whatnot that were referenced for the skits. Beyond that, you get stills from many of their most popular skits–and if you’re a true Pythonphile then you probably just need one to call to mind a video in your own noggin of what follows. Along with scads of those, there’s interviews, trivia, behind the scenes facts…it’s a ridiculous wealth of information that clocks in at nearly 900 pages and nearly seven pounds. More than enough to kill a parrot with. And considering it’s currently around $27 as I write this…that’s cheap to get something this huge for either yourself or the fan in your household. Between this and the ginormous DVD megaset, you’re pretty much covered for just about anything having to do with the TV show. At least until they annotate the annotations. Because you know they will. Well. At least Eric Idle would. Highly recommended for fans and non-fans should get out. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)