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Headsup: The Knight, The Dragon, The Angel & More…

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.

Mr Selfridge PBS Blu-Ray
Touched By An Angel Season 7 DVD
Wyvern Mystery DVD

[ad#longpost]In the wake of Downton, plenty of people trying to slake the thirst of rabid period drama fans. So much so that you have The Paradise (no, not on Region 1 yet, so don’t even look) coming in along the same lines: let’s set a drama in a department store. Is it a serious, period Are You Being Served? Not as such, but thank you for playing. You do get Jeremy Piven in a British drama (he’s the series’ Shirley MacLaine? interesting) playing the titular Mr Selfridge–an actual person who came from America to open the store, Selfridges, in London. The series is from ITV across the pond and the ten episodes here constitute the complete first season. Just as with Downton, you get a drama that’s a borderline soap (though with excellent production values) with a backdrop of fancy period accoutrements and activities. Will it unseat the Julian Fellowes Juggernaut? More than likely not…but if you’re looking to get your fix while waiting for the next series of Downton, then this should do the trick. The one bonus bit is a decently sized making-of. I recommend a rental first…or you could just catch it on PBS. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The saga of Touched By An Angel continues with the seventh season and all twenty-five episodes are here from Paramount/CBS. The further adventures of angels intervening in the lives of mere mortals but in color and without subtitles. (And no Nicolas Cage, either. So bonus.) Some of your guest stars for this season are Ray Walston, Joel Grey, Scott Baio, Patti LuPone and, in an inspired bit of casting: Mandy Patinkin as Satan. Also, Valerie Bertinelli joins the cast as a rookie angel over the course of this season. The price point is decent (less than $1.75 an episode at the moment) and it doesn’t appear to be airing anywhere at the moment–so if you’re a huge fan, owning is probably the thing to do. For everyone else interested, a rental will work. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

With The Wyvern Mystery you get the full gothic monty: you get the manor house, the sinister elder (Derek Jacobi–yeah, what else do you need to say?), endangered love…the whole nine yards. Also starring are Naomi Watts, Iain Glen (you know, from Game of Thrones) and Jack Davenport (you know, from Pirates). Watts needs to escape from the man who’s given her shelter most of her life (the aforementioned sinister Jacobi) and runs off with one of his sons, only to find herself imperiled and in a gloomy house. Which is just how these things go. The DVD release from BFS comes with no bonus bits but the show itself will be good if you’re a gothic junkie in need of a hit. Rental will do for most everyone. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Dragon Blu-Ray
Earths Final Hours Blu-Ray
Gangster Squad Blu-Ray

No good deed goes unpunished. Thus, in Dragon, when Donnie Yen (in character as Liu) takes out a couple of bad guys who were demanding money, threatening people and being general dicks–he calls attention to himself. Undue attention. See, not only did he seem to be a little bit too badass for a mild-mannered guy who works in paper–but he killed one guy with just his fist. And when a detective starts trying to track down what the real story is, things get set into motion. So right next to the “Never lift a cart off a guy by yourself” entry on your list of Things to Remember While Hiding Out, make sure you add “Never break out the serious Fu.” Excellent acting and the detective angle make this transcend the never ending stream of Bland Fu films. And is worth checking out on its own. The Anchor Bay Blu-Ray release also comes with a number of making-of featurettes and mini-docus. Rental will do for even most serious fans of the fu–but it is worth checking out. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

We’re deep inside SyFy Original territory with the Anchor Bay Blu-Ray release of Earth’s Final Hours, where–not to confuse you with the title–the Earth is screwed and has only hours remaining. The rotation is screwed, the planet’s magnetism is getting severely wonkified and a motley crew of thrown-together types must work together to Save Us All. Fans of bad SyFy will probably even find themselves stretched with this–which just feels like they built a film around a low cost array of special effects simply because they could. And it treads directly in the path of previous “OMGWTF the Earth is doomed” disaster films. Some people might find that appealing–and you know who you are. And we won’t judge. However, the fact this has no bonus bits whatsoever means that it’s a rental any way you slice it. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Gangster Squad. It’s 1949 in Los Angeles, and Big Bad Mickey Cohen (a be-nosed Sean Penn who apparently tried out for the part of a spewing volcano) is seemingly unstoppable. Nick Nolte when he was younger would have just thumped Cohen himself–but being older, he can’t be arsed. So he enlists a cadre of cops to go outside the law and do the thumping. He picks Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling (who freaked everybody out with Drive) and a former Terminator, among others, and then…well, break out the machine guns. Because it’s war. I’m not sure how you could get too disappointed in this: after all, the trailer spelled out what you’re getting. Sean Penn being loud. A bunch of square jawed good guys breaking stuff. Lots of bullets. If that works for you, then so will this. It won’t rank up there with the best period gangster flicks, but it’s a nice distraction. Bonus bits on this Warner Brothers Blu-Ray release include a director’s commentary, PIP bonus info, behind the scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, a section talking about the real Mickey Cohen, a location featurette and more. Rental first is what I’d recommend and then hardcores for the cast or genre might want to pick it up permanently afterwards. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Batman: Dark Knight Returns Part 2 Blu-Ray
Iron Man Armored Adventures: Season 2, Vol. 4 DVD

The thing about Dark Knight Returns is that…well, it’s Dark Knight Returns. As a comic book series, it’s not only untouchable…but unfilmable. Sort of. The closest you’ll probably ever get to a full-on, 100% pure adaptation is concluded with Part 2, out on Blu-Ray from Warner Brothers. I’ll be damned, but it’s all here and it all works. This is where you get The Joker, you get Superman, you get nuclear winter and you get the fight to end all fights. And know this: while I’ve said before that I never would have come up with Peter Weller to do the voiced of the aged Dark Knight…he’s flat out perfect. Is it perfect? No. There are some small things you’ll miss and a couple of places where you can see they might have been actually a little too close to the source material, but all of that is easily forgiven. As for bonus bits: the release is quite worthy. You’ve got a pretty extensive docu about adapting the work, a Joker featurette, a featurette on the aforementioned Fight, three bonus Batman animated episodes and more. Fans of Batman will want to own. Rent it first if you’re wary–which is always wise. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Just in time for The Mandarin and Iron Man to face off in the film hitting next month, Iron Man Armored Adventures collects the remaining episodes of Season 2 in this fourth volume. Over the course of these episodes, you get Mandarin, Doctor Doom, Titanium Man, The Hulk, and Pepper Potts becomes Rescue. The series itself is fine, especially the de-aging of the characters to make it more palatable to kids. Whatever works. What doesn’t work–and what’s very strange–is the same thing I bring up every time we take a look at one of these releases. Why? Who buys these individual volumes when they know that inevitably (and in this case on the same release date as this volume) you can get the entire season for slightly more than a single volume. Is anyone that desperate to watch or re-watch these? Weird. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Central Park Five PBS Blu-Ray
Erroll Garner: No One Can Hear You Read DVD
Hurricane Sandy: Inside the Megastorm Nova PBS DVD

In 1989, a woman was raped in Central Park and among her terrible injuries was amnesia. Needing to hang the crime on someone, the authorities grabbed five youths who were in the park that night and through various methods had them admitting to their guilt…when they hadn’t done the crime in the first place. And they did serious time as a result. Hence The Central Park Five. Sadly, it probably won’t surprise you that the woman was white and the supposed bad guys were black. Now out (because a serial rapist admitted to the crime since then), they talk about the experience and the scars it left. Sarah Burns, who spearheaded this docu, is the daughter of Ken Burns. Yeah, you might know him. The only odd bit is that whereas usually a documentary with the Burns name on it hits the story from all angles, this one seems to leave out a few. But regardless, it’s worth watching for the true story that it imparts–and a reminder that the justice system is far, far from perfect. Watch your ass out there, friends. The bonus bits consist of a making-of and a postlude that brings us up to date on how the Five are proceeding with their lives. Worth a rental. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Erroll Garner is a name you probably don’t know–but the man was a fantastic jazz pianist, and for a name as big as he is, it’s amazing that this is, apparently, the first docu to cover his life and work. His style is at times classical, at times improvisational (but without sounding improvisational–at least not to me) and always joyous. Here in No One Can Hear You Read, out from First Run, you get a complete look: his life, his playing and an appreciation for both from everyone including Woody Allen and his cousin Steve. Steve Allen and also Dick Hyman are on tap to demonstrate what Garner’s style was about–so between that and the archival footage we get an appreciation for what the man was up to. And all this from a guy who was self-taught and couldn’t even read music. Just damn. Bonus bits include: extended interviews, a run-down of the long-in-production docu, and more. Jazz fans must at least rent. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

This PBS/Nova program, Hurricane Sandy: Inside the Superstorm, does a good job of providing interviews with the people who were there and giving you the facts of what went down when New York and New Jersey took it in the face last year from Mother Nature. Sadly, it’s a bit overblown with its dramatic musical score–seriously, guys, the story isn’t compelling enough? Trust your material. But between all of the bombast you get some talking heads who explain, scientifically and meteorlogically, what the hell happened. Worth a rental for those interested in the incident–but do bear in mind that you can watch it on the PBS website with commercials. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart audiobook
Heart of the Hunter by Deon Meyer audiobook

So how do you go from the garden to the bar? Leave it to Amy Stewart, who previously has explained how various plants could be used for evil…now with The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks, she shows how various plants can be used to spruce up the party. She goes so far as to say “Every great drink starts with a plant.” She takes you through the process of how we make the leap and also investigates the plants themselves. And, bonus: recipes. It sounds dry, but Stewart has way too much fun with the subject…and it’s sort of hard to be dry when you feel like singing “How Dry I Am.” The unabridged release on CD from Highbridge Audio clocks in at over ten hours across eight CDs. Reader Colleen Marlo has the right energy for the subject but I think she speeds through her words: trying to sound enthusiastic is one thing, but making it so I have to pay really, really close attention lest I miss a word that you’re reading…that doesn’t work for me. Especially when I’m listening to audiobooks while driving, cleaning the house, performing dentistry…you know. I want to absorb the information…but I’m lazy, is what I guess I’m saying. Regardless, the content is excellent and anyone who has interest in alcohol, plants or both should definitely check it out. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

The solid thriller Heart of the Hunter by Deon Meyer concerns itself with a man named “Tiny” (anything but) who used to be a professional badass. Trained by the KGB and one who fought against Apartheid, he now lives a relatively normal life and abhors violence. Trouble with being a really good badass, though, is that eventually your past rings your doorbell. In this case, a friend of his is in serious danger and the friend’s daughter enlists his help. Trouble with being a really good badass who gets contacted by an old friend’s family member is that you pretty much know that you’re going to wind up sought by the cops, the government, the military…pretty much everybody. The Highbridge Audio release is eleven-plus hours across ten discs and read by go-to narrator Simon Vance, who, with his English accent, is exactly who you want to read a spy thriller. Anybody seeking something in the genre to plow through as we move towards summer and is in the six week period that it takes your favorite thriller author to write something…you might want to take that opportunity to check this out. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)