Ryan’s DVD & Blu-ray Picks For Tuesday, September 14th 2010

This week has a pretty impressive collection of DVDs and Blu-rays hitting the market, and instead of devoting individual reviews to each release, I’ve decided to try out a list of everything that I’m excited to pick up.

Many of these releases are items that we’ve discussed on recent Disc 2 episodes of the podcast, but a few might have slipped through, and I want to make sure that you all know how awesome (or potentially awesome) they are.

I’m actually going to start off with a DVD that came out a few weeks back, before getting into today’s releases.

Released August 24th:

Flight Of The Conchord: The Complete Collection DVD

Anyone who has been following me on Twitter over the past few weeks could easily pick up on the fact that I’ve completely fallen head over heels in love with Flight of the Conchords. I’m running a little late in this write up for the DVDs, but it’s only because I can’t stop watching this show. I missed this show as it was airing on HBO a few years back, and while I’m a little disappointed that I couldn’t help with the ratings in keeping the show alive into a third season, I have found this show at the perfect moment in my media consuming life.

This show follows the mis-adventures of two New Zealanders, trying to make their way in New York as struggling folk musicians. While that may not necessarily sound like the formula for comedic gold, it is. The level of writing in this show is top notch, and surprisingly brilliant. The songs come in and out of the show as almost hallucinations that the characters are having, yet blend into the reality of the shows universe. They are clearly well produced musical moments, yet have to maintain a certain handmade feel. I found myself laughing harder during this show than I have trying to get through the British Office, which I can appreciate as technically funny, but something about Flight of the Conchords rings truer to me.

The show is only two seasons, and can easily be watched within a few nights of marathoning through them. Having said that, I cannot count how many times I’ve gone back and rewatched the series since getting the complete series set. I find the songs stuck in my head all day at work, leading me to have to re-watch some of the more memorable episodes again and again. Since I didn’t experience this show as it was being broadcast, I don’t really have any baggage surrounding it’s growth over the two seasons. On the recent Disc 2 where we discuss the show, Rudie found the second season to be a little disappointing, and found it to not really take itself to it’s potential that season 1 had built up. I honestly have found season 2, with all of it’s absurdist episodes, to be even funnier than the first. I love where the characters go, and how they grow. The side characters are often funnier than the main duo, and I’m speaking specifically of the band manager Murray, and the obsessive uber fan, Mel. The deadpan nature of the comedy is something I can’t get enough of. The characters are clearly dumber than real people, but not so dumb that you couldn’t imagine running into someone like this on the streets of any modern American city.

The DVDs have a few deleted scenes, some live performances, and interviews. Nothing mind-blowing in the supplement category, but the show is where the real joy from this set comes. As I spoke about last week on the Golden Briefcase podcast, I often find myself turned off by peoples overly insistent recommendations when it comes to television programs, and I think I was with Flight Of The Conchords initially. I can tell you that this show will absolutely take over your life for a good few weeks, which makes the cost of admission well worth it.

Add it to your Netflix queue.

Out today, September 14th:

Breathless Blu-ray

This past summer, we were treated to a theatrical re-release of Jean-Luc Godard’s debut into filmmaking, À bout de souffle (Breathless), in honor of it’s 50th anniversary. It had also been restored and remastered for this theatrical re-release, and Criterion was quick to get a Blu-ray ready. While it is technically a part of the Studio Canal line of Blu-rays in Europe, somehow Criterion held onto the rights, keeping it in the Collection.

You can read Joshua’s review of the film here, and James’ review of the Blu-ray, which went up earlier this morning.

While the supplements are the same as on the DVD, I’d say if you are a fan of Godard, you’ll want to upgrade this one. I’ve had a chance to check out the print quality, and it looks fantastic. I can’t wait to add this Blu-ray to my own collection.

Add it to your Netflix queue.

The Twilight Zone Season 1 Blu-ray

As I’ve said recently on our Disc 2 discussion, this Blu-ray represents almost all that I love about collecting physical media. While the world slowly shifts to ubiquitous streaming options for the various forms of media, I’ve held on tightly to my shelves of DVDs and more recently, Blu-rays. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a family that treasured having full bookshelves, going to the library, and being able to pass on history through storing said media.

This first season of the Twilight Zone gives you some of the most iconic episodes, from Burgess Meredith’s bookworm who suddenly finds himself with enough time to read all of the books that he has been longing for, to Long Live Walter Jameson, the story of a professor who is much older than he appears, starring the recently deceased Kevin McCarthy. Every episode features a mature and imaginative look at a number of science fiction, horror, and fantasy themes. From time travel, to parallel universes, from angels and demons, to alien visitors, the Twilight Zone has something for everyone. If, over the past few years, you’ve been obsessively watching shows like Futurama and Lost, or have enjoyed movies like Inception, but haven’t taken the time to go through the entire run of the Twilight Zone, you’re missing out. The shows are an easy 24 minutes each, and manage to always pack a moral punch with their genre messages.

The Twilight Zone is clearly one of the most important and influential television programs to have come about in the last century, and this release presents the show in all of it’s glory. Packed to the brim with commentary tracks, documentaries, interviews, and isolated scores, the Blu-ray’s give the viewer the ability to experience the show with as much context as they could make available. The image quality is crystal clear, scanned from the original negatives. The uncompressed PCM Mono tracks sounded fantastic through my speakers,

I’ve been asked on several occasions if this Blu-ray is worth the upgrade, from folks that have bought the DVDs over the years, and I have to say yes. While this is certainly one of the more expensive Blu-ray sets (about $70 as of the writing of this post), I think they clearly give you your money’s worth in terms of quality of production, and in the supplements. Image and CBS have really gone above and beyond the usual Blu-ray release, and I cannot recommend this more highly. It will be something that you’ll enjoy for years, and be able to share with future generations. While we are certainly experiencing a new modern golden age of television, this set shows you how much is recycled in today’s media culture.

Star Crash DVD

Shout Factory has been reliably and quite enjoyably, releasing all of the Roger Corman produced films over the past few months. I think we’ve come to think of Shout as the new Criterion Collection of B-movies and Television Shows, and I say that with as much praise as I can. Shout clearly has the films best interest in mind when putting together an incredible amount of supplements for each of their Corman releases, and this week’s Star Crash is no different.

Essentially a Star Wars knock-off, Star Crash presents the gorgeous Caroline Munro as Stella Star, and her eerily human/alien sidekick Akton (portrayed as something like Chewbacca and C-3PO mixed together) as they find themselves entangled in an interstellar war. While it doesn’t have the apparent budget that something like Flash Gordon or Barbarella had, it certainly falls into that same type of awesome sci-fi campy fun. The special effects are surprisingly creative, but again, think low budget when going into this. I’m obviously much more drawn to the science fiction stuff that Corman produced, over the horror movies, so Star Crash definitely tickled me in the right spots.

Something really special that Shout managed to score for this release are the commentary tracks for the trailer of the film from Joe Dante and Eli Roth. I also really enjoyed all of the production art that is found in the supplements, showing off how much thought went into this movie. It’s really easy to call this a Star Wars clone, but I think it aspires to be something more, and is definitely a film that I’m going to share with my kids when I show them the science fiction classics of the last 30-40 years.

Fringe: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray

As I’ve been watching the Twilight Zone over the past few weeks, I’ve also been re-watching this second season of one of my favorite shows that will be returning in a few weeks, Fringe. What could have been a “monster of the week” X-files knock-off, has become something much more nerdy, and exciting than I ever anticipated. We caught the series premiere a couple years back at Comic Con, and I think we were all a little wary about what this show could have become. All of the players involved, from JJ Abrams and his Bad Robot crew, to actors that I’ve come to really respect like John Noble (Lord of the Rings) and Lance Reddick (The Wire), have all brought their creative talents in full force, and this second season was a lot of fun.

Where this season really shines is in the building of the over-arching mythology of both worlds involved in the show. The episodes that deal with the parallel Earth, and the counterparts to the main cast of characters are so much fun because we can see the writers clearly having fun as well. They throw in all sorts of easter eggs for the uber-vigilant viewers, who pay attention to things like movie theater marquees, and newspaper headlines. We also get much more from Leonard Nimoy in Season 2, and he is used to great effect in his portrayal of the head of Massive Dynamics, William Bell. Season 2 also featured a daring attempt at a musical episode, which divided some of it’s fans, but I found absolutely entertaining. Another episode, not to be missed, is Peter Wellers appearance in episode 17, White Tulip, which shows how terrifying a time traveler can be.

Over the past few years at Comic Con, I’ve attended the various “Science of Sci-Fi” panels, hosted by the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait. Last year we were introduced to several of the science advisors of Fringe, which really helped me come to appreciate how much thought goes into each of the episodes various monsters and science-ish plot lines. While they try to be as scientifically accurate in their portrayals of the rather extraordinary, they still appear to be having a blast with it. I can’t wait for season 3 to start up, to see where they go from here.

Add it to your Netflix queue.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done DVD

I love what Werner Herzog has become in these last few years of his filmmaking career. From his eccentric version of the Bad Lieutenant, to his upcoming 3D cave art film, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams (screening this week at the Toronto International Film Festival), he has clearly not slowed down in his later years as a director.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is Herzog’s latest, that unfortunately didn’t receive any sort of theatrical run. The film tells the story of Brad McCallum, a man slowly losing his mind, leading to a gruesome end for his mother. The story is inspired by the true life events of Mark Yavorsky, but has apparently been expanded upon by Herzog for the film. It’s shot around my old stomping grounds in San Diego, and uses the locations nicely to help highlight the suburban malaise that is eating away at McCallum. While shot on video, the film is an interesting look into madness. I found myself drawn to the flashback moments in Peru, and I loved all of the smaller character moments with Udo Kier and Brad Douriff. While Willem Defoe doesn’t exactly stand out as the homicide detective, Michael Shannon is incredible as the McCallum.

The DVD isn’t exactly packed with special features, but since this is the first time that most people will be seeing the film, it’s acceptable. One feature that is particularly awesome is the inclusion of the short film, Plastic Bag, which I saw and reviewed at SXSW (it features narration from Werner Herzog).

I hope this film finds an audience on home video, as it definitely features some interesting ideas that are worth a discussion.

Add it to your Netflix queue.

Not reviewed, but stuff that I will likely be picking up:

The Third Man Blu-ray

Last fall, we had our first Criterion Blu-ray go out of print, which caused quite a commotion. Carol Reed’s The Third Man is one of the truly great Criterion titles (listen to our podcast episode with Aint It Cool’s Quint, discussing the film), which makes it hurt a little more to see it go out of print. Luckily it wasn’t too long before Lionsgate and Studio Canal released their own Blu-ray edition, with a new commentary track, and new supplements. I haven’t had a chance to check out this new edition, but I am very curious to see what they did with it. I wasn’t very happy with the Ran and Contempt Blu-rays, so hopefully the transfer will be a little better here. Another small knock against this release is the strange choice in the cover art, which is surprisingly colorful for a black and white film.

Add it to your Netflix queue.

Delicatessen Blu-ray

Along with The Third Man, Lionsgate and Studio Canal are releasing Jean Pierre Jeunet’s classic, Delicatessen. I haven’t watched this movie in years, but I remember loving it. These early Jeunet films show a definite connection to Terry Gilliam, with a strong French flavor. I wish these Studio Canal Blu-ray releases were a little cheaper, but I think they’re clearly trying to market to the Criterion fans in their packaging and attempts at filling the discs with more than just the film. I’m probably going to rent this one first, to see if the cost justifies the rewards.

Add it to your Netflix queue.

Black Cauldron 25th Anniversary DVD

The Black Cauldron is one of those Disney animated movies that you forget about, unless you grew up with it. I honestly don’t remember seeing this in theaters, but I know that I played the really basic computer game that was released in conjuction with the film. I really wish this new 25th anniversary DVD was also a Blu-ray worth title, but I think the special features they’ve added are enough to sucker me into this double dip. I’ve never read the series of books from Lloyd Alexander, but I know that watching this as a kid it absolutely hit the Lord Of The Rings and Clash Of The Titans beats that I craved.

Add it to your Netflix queue.

Se7en Blu-ray

This was certainly one of the earliest DVDs I bought for my collection when I finally took the plunge into the format. The Seven DVD was packed with special features, and had a awesomely gruesome cardboard packaging. It’s wonderful to see that New Line / Warner Bros took their time with this one, and did it right. From the looks of the screenshots over at DVDBeaver, this Blu-ray takes David Finchers incredible movie, and presents it with care.

The Lord Of The Rings – Individual Theatrical Blu-ray Releases

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Two Towers

The Return of the King

A few months back, Warner Bros released the Lord of the Rings theatrical editions as a box set, much to the chagrin of the fans of the extended editions. I was able to rent the Blu-rays from my local video store, and it was a real joy to see the movies I love in high definition. While I already own three different versions of the movies on DVD, I will likely be picking these individual Blu-rays up when the prices drop a bit. I can’t say that I would want to own one or two, but not all three, so there isn’t really an advantage for me in buying them individually versus a box set (except for the price). The audio and video quality that I saw earlier this year was top notch, and I can’t imagine they’ve changed anything with these. The special features are also presumably the same.

While I’m definitely more on the side of wanting to own the extended Blu-rays, I can’t really get behind all of the hate that the Amazon commenters have been heaping on these releases in the reviews.

Next week I’ll be taking a look at the Charade Blu-ray, the first season of Bored To Death on Blu-ray, and the epic set of Fantomas films that Kino is releasing on DVD.

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