Chances are, you’ve got someone on your list that likes movies, TV and other audiovisual fare. Here, you’ll find a few interesting ideas in the form of juicy rock docs, lustful box sets and other hi-def goodies, plus a couple surprises.
Made of Stone
While they never made much of a dent in these parts, Manchester England’s beloved Stone Roses are something of legend across the way. After a limited theatrical run, this new Blu-ray release has been eagerly anticipated by music fans of all stripes—as few bands in the history of contemporary rock ‘n’ roll have experienced the rapid rollercoaster ride that the Stone Roses have. And, it’s one helluva story.
The band’s mix of vintage ‘60s guitar-pop sounds with acid-flavored dance beats was new and novel during the late ‘80s, culminating in the hedonistic “Madchester” scene that also spawned other key players like Happy Mondays and The Charlatans. The Roses’ eponymous debut (1989) was a massive statement of intent, with every song a burner in its own unique way, especially the tripped-out “Fools Gold,” the anthemic pop of “She Bangs the Drums” and the epic ballad, “Waterfall.”
The album was so impactful in the UK that it spawned hordes of copycats that aped its blaring wah-wah guitars, swirling bass lines and hip-hop beats, not to mention the detached, but infectious vocal melodies. Many of those influenced by the band would eventually become major players in the soon to be rampant Brit Pop movement a few years later. Besides the fans, many journalists were of the opinion that the Stone Roses could eventually become one of the great bands of our time. The band had that rare chemistry that both thrilled fans and intrigued passive bystanders, and were obviously poised for big things.
Unfortunately, label problems and lawsuits would prevent The Stone Roses from releasing anything for five years. At that point, the band had lost a lot of ground to the musicians it had influenced, and released the so-so Second Coming to mixed reviews. Soon after, it broke up, leaving fans and critics to wonder what might’ve been.
Made of Stone follows The Stone Roses from their 1983 origins to their triumphant reunion tour in 2012. Directed by long-time fan Shane Meadows, whose credits include the excellent skinhead opus This Is England, the film is a must-have for fans. Live sets are interspersed with interviews and vignettes, and there are several bits about the band’s early days that should be a big bonus for those wanting to know more. Meadows’ warm treatment of the subject matter is extra apparent in these areas, where the band’s odyssey from amped young outcasts to megastars, pariahs, and ultimately redeemers, is a blockbuster in its own right. (MVD)
Ultimate Collector’s Edition
Director Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman series, was novel for many reasons. But most compelling was the approach that placed the masked crusader in a gritty, realistic film noir atmosphere. While the approach had been touched on in earlier renditions, no one quite captured the angsty, badass side of Bruce Wayne and his masked alter ego like this trio of films has. And the departed Heath Ledger’s twisted take on The Joker is now looked upon as iconic.
This Ultimate Collector’s Edition, features all three films in stunning hi-def, with a book and a slew of extras. And it’s at the top of my list (hint, hint). (Warner Home Video)
US Festival 1983: Days 1-3
Sponsored by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, the US Festival was the ‘80s answer to Woodstock. Truly a multi-genre affair, the SoCal festival spanned several days and boasted performances by the likes of Van Halen, David Bowie and The Clash.
Oddly, there’s never been a comprehensive video release of the event, which is why this one is notable. Although, far from comprehensive, and lacking in some of the meatier acts, this new DVD features performances and snippets from a few key players like The Clash (which would be their final performances with Mick Jones), U2, Judas Priest, Scorpions, Berlin and others, along with some commentary by Wozniak and MTV VJ Mark Goodman. The resolution and sound quality are so-so in spots, and the lack of full performances is also an issue. But, as more than 670,000 attended these shows, it’s great to at least have something, and this new release makes for a decent sampling. (MVD)
Portlandia is a sketch comedy with former SNL comedian Fred Armisen and musician Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney) spoofing the politically correct culture that is apparently rampant in Portland. And it’s hilarious. The third season finds this screwy duo crusading for Portland as missionaries and visiting a hippie-chic restaurant that features a dedicated section for those in need of passing gas. (MVD)
It’s hard to not to like Nancy Botwin (played to the hilt by Mary-Louise Parker). She’s dishy with a dry sense of humor, a loving mother, and a steadfast entrepreneur since the death of her husband. But, Nancy’s also a pot dealer with a habit for connecting with the lowest of low—and endangering the lives of everyone around her.
With a set-up like that, Weeds is a must-see, every episode pulling you into another absurd situation. This sweet Blu-ray set comes packaged in a green translucent box, as odd as the story lines themselves. (Lionsgate)
Series 1-7 Gift Set
Doctor Who has been a part of English culture for decades. And just like the Ramones, when it’s time for one Doc to exit, there’s a new one standing by to take his place. In rebranding the series a few years back, the creators struck gold with actor David Tennant.
This time-travelling Doc had a likeable, comedic side, and had a few good years before being replaced by actor Matt Smith, who has just finished his own ride. This plush Blu-ray set collects all of his episodes over seven seasons, some specials and loads of bonuses. The packaging is heft and includes original art, a comic and a life-like, electronic replica of the Doctor’s famous sonic screwdriver. (BBC)
While not a gift set, collector’s edition or highly sought after release, this film is such a charmer that it begged for inclusion. A mother and daughter vampire duo have traveled the ages together in search of some peace and quiet, only to be met with strife at every turn. Will they ever find the peace of mind they so desperately crave?
This British production is an absolute sight to behold, with lush, textural scene-scapes, dreamy atmospherics, and a poetic pacing that elevates all the twists and turns. Starring the luminous Gemma Arterton, and directed by Neil Jordan (Interview with the Vampire), Byzantium is a treat for the senses. (MPI)
The thought of a group of whiny, elitist NYC females carrying on about their hang-ups over coffee and clubbing wasn’t immediately appealing to yours truly. But, by the second season, I began to get it, and it’s pretty funny, once you peel away the hipster facade. What truly makes Girls work, is the strong character development, which while slow, makes you almost want to root for these four privileged pop tarts by season’s end. (HBO)
Mystery Science Theater 3000
25th Anniversary Edition
There’s something oddly appealing about a show that features a couple of disheveled puppets hosting and goofing on bad movies. That’s the magic of MST3K: the quirky, smart-assed commentary and fine selection of trashy cinema that has become a decade’s long tradition. This collector’s edition features gems Moon Zero Two, The Day The Earth Froze, The Leech Woman and Gorgo, plus bonus films Mitchell, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die—all great fodder for our hosts. (Shout! Factory)
Game of Thrones
Those damn Starks. If unfamiliar with what seems to be everyone’s favorite show, the Starks are an honorable clan that keeps getting screwed—by their enemies, friends and even casual acquaintances. The second season sees them starting separate new chapters after the loss of their beloved leader Ned Stark the season before. And it ain’t pretty. This Blu-ray has everything—warts and all—for a view that’s painfully addictive to say the least. (HBO)
Defiance is a nifty little Sci-Fi/Western that singlehandedly gave the SyFy channel some credibility back, after deluging us with lame reality shows, wrestling and such.
Set after a devastating world war, the Earth’s atmosphere has been transformed with aliens and humans rebuilding and coexisting. A metaphor for race relations, politics and class warfare, it’s cleverly done and has some impressive costumes, sets and special effects. This Blu-ray set has it all in crisp hi-def, along with several worthwhile extras. (Universal)
The Complete Series
This was one of those shows that I never really paid attention to in prime time, until it got set on rerun mode. I figured it was just another mundane cop show set at the beach. Corny.
But, the story of a former CIA agent getting blacklisted and not understanding what the hell happened is kind of mysterious and compelling in itself. And, it’s also got wry humor, purposeful twists, the intriguing UK actress Gabrielle Anwar, and the one and only Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame—that alone makes this something worth exploring. This massive set contains all seven seasons, plus loads of extras. (FOX)
One of the funniest films on my list—bar none—is Christopher Guest’s Waiting For Guffman. For fans of the quirky, clever satire, Guest is now back with Family Tree on HBO. While lacking some of the absurdity and sheer genius of the aforementioned masterpiece (and Spinal Tap for that matter), the show is still good for some strange, cynical bits, as it follows one sad-sack’s journey of discovery, from his sheltered UK confines to Los Angeles, where he gets more than he bargained for. (HBO)
50th Commemorative Ultimate Collector’s Edition
We will never know what happened with JFK, no matter what anyone says. We do know that something very bad went down and that there are guilty bastards on all sides of the political spectrum. Oliver Stone knows this, too, and that’s why he continually presses these issues to get the bad to squirm. And, hat’s off to him for it.
If you are a conspiracy buff, this is entertaining stuff to say the least. If you’re a fan of the film, this ultimate edition has several extras, including documentaries and the film PT 109, about Kennedy’s time in WWII. Especially interesting is Stone’s doc, JFK: To The Brink, which can also be found in his series Untold History of the United States. Riveting stuff. (Warner Home Video)
This cult favorite created by The Jim Henson Company made quite an impression upon its release with its kooky Muppet aliens and super-charged special effects. But the stories had some interesting twists, making for a fun, albeit kooky viewing experience. This slick 15th Anniversary Blu-ray set has the entire series across 20 discs, and includes a graphic novel. (Cinedigm)
The fifth season of True Blood saw the two toothsome male leads take center stage. Fanboy fave Sookie Stackhouse took a backseat as Eric and Bill followed down a different—and not altogether righteous—path. While not the very best of the series, Season 5 did have some high points and it all came down to one nasty climax…would you expect anything less? (HBO)
12 Film Flesh Fest
It’s easy to be skeptical about these low-budget collections. Most of them consist of bargain basement, B-movies that have fallen into public domain and have been given no love as far as quality control goes.
Technically speaking, Zombies Un-Brained could use a little work, as the grainy, tattered transfers don’t do some of these films many favors. But if you can look past that, there are indeed, some decent things in here. Carnival of Souls is a low-budget masterpiece, its impact far outweighing its limited budget, The Last Man on Earth and White Zombie are both cryptic B-movie chillers, starring Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi respectively. And, there a few more that make for above-average budget flicks, making for a set that far exceeds its frugal price tag. (Mill Creek)
A steamy, violent crime drama set in Amish country? Yep. And that’s what makes Banshee so damn appealing. It’s not really supposed to work or make sense, but somehow I find myself unable to tear myself away. Sure, there’s sex, drugs and horrible crimes in loads of other shows, but for some reason, it all seems more depraved when set against a backdrop of bearded men in horse-drawn carriages. Is it just me? Either way, Banshee just screams bad, and we love it for that. (Cinemax/HBO)
With its hypnotic aura and sluggish pacing, Mad Men is one of those shows that often leaves me scratching my head as to what the hell just happened. But that’s kind of the point, I guess. The creators seem to want us to draw our own conclusions, and while it’s a good cop out, it’d be easy to accuse them of employing a little too much style over substance. Season 6 sees main character Don Draper fall deeper into decline, all while a lot of stylish non-events unfold around him. Even with that, it’s hard not to watch. (Lionsgate)
Under The Dome
Stephen King’s celebrated novel was brought to the small screen earlier this year to mixed reviews. The story of a small town in Maine that gets excised from the rest of civilization by an invisible barrier is an intriguing premise. And although, the storyline gets watered down a bit, it starts out strong, before beginning to waver later in the series. That said, the story of what happens when folks are left up to their own devices with little accountability is an interesting one. (Paramount)
This cult UK series lasted just five episodes during the mid ‘90s, at a time when horror was not really happening on mainstream TV. Nonetheless, in watching it today, it’s apparent that it was underappreciated to some extent. It’s got some effective creeps, a little camp and a few supernatural bits that unexpectedly surpass expectations, making it a decent document for fans of obscure British TV horror. (Synapse)
Keeping Up Appearances
Keeping Up Appearances is the story of Hyacinth Bucket, a snobby, middle-aged perfectionist with a penchant for life’s pleasantries. Trouble is, her family is comprised of a gaggle of foul-mouthed slobs that she just can’t seem to escape. It all makes for some funny bits in this British comedy from the early ‘90s. This set has every episode remastered, in one tidy package that replicates a gardener’s vest. (BBC)
The Final Season
Dexter Morgan works as a forensics expert for the Miami Police Department and has access to all manner of tools to solve crimes—and commit murder. One would think that our favorite serial vigilante would get a fitting ending in this final season, especially given the quality and popularity of the show’s early years. Yet, the eighth season was a bit of a letdown, with many of the characters falling flat and an ending that, well, left a lot to be desired. But for Dexter completists, there are still a few decent bits if you look hard enough. (Showtime)
Big Beach Bootique 5
Since I seldom cover anything DJ- or electronic-related, I figured it was time to throw our groovy friends a bone. This DVD/CD combo features a mammoth live set from Mr. Slim’s hometown in Brighton England, and it’s huge. While I still prefer his work with ‘80s Smiths wannabe’s The Housemartins, and their brand of cynical guitar pop, I get why he’s so big. The man has an uncanny way of connecting with his audience, and this concert film does a decent job at showcasing that. (The End)
The Complete Series
When the Simpsons go Sci-Fi, the result is Futurama. But, Simpsons creator Matt Groening made these characters, weirder, more irreverent and more irritating. It all adds up to an offbeat animated experience rife with WTF? moments. This killer box includes all of the hit animated show’s 124 episodes, plus four feature-length bits and a 2014/3014 calendar. (FOX)
Absolutely All of It
UK sitcom Absolutely Fabulous centers on two crazed women navigating the single life in ’90s London. The series stars Jennifer Saunders as Edina, a hopelessly self-centered fashion victim obsessed with celebrity, and ex-Bond girl Joanna Lumley as Patsy, a cigarette-toting, anorexic boozer with big hair and far too much makeup. In their attempts to hang out with the beautiful people, something always gets in the way, which makes for some bizarrely funny bits.
As with other early ’90s TV shows like Seinfeld and The Simpsons, there’s an undercurrent of cynical, biting humor that makes it extra funny. This set has all five seasons on 10 discs, plus the stand-alone specials and extras. (BBC)
In closing this final installment of year, I wanted to do something special for the kids, or at least those who refuse to grow up. If you have a penchant for toys and memorabilia, check out the latest from the Doctor Who collection, including action figures, Potato Heads, busts and more from the BBC. My personal favorite, though, is the Debbie Harry bobblehead from Drastic Plastic and Aggronautix. It’s the spitting image of the Blondie singer in her prime—and is anatomically correct to boot!
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, JK