September 01, 2009

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

September is upon us and I've got new DVDs to recommend.  Please ignore all the new Michael Jackson DVDs hitting the shelves and go directly to the SF/Fantasy/Horror section.

First up is the complete series of the manga-turned-anime "Ah! My Goddess". Our protagonist is a college student with a hot girlfriend who is really a goddess, and doesn't know how to behave amongst humans.  Hijinx ensue, and this new 6-disk collection of the series is the best way to enjoy all the hijinx.

For all you people out there who have been holding off on buying John Carpenter movies, I have to ask:  "What is wrong with you?"  But if you HAVE been holding out,  now is your chance to buy a quadruple feature of some of his best (and one of his worst) movies.  Universal is putting out "John Carpenter: Master of Fear".  It contains "The Thing","Prince of Darkness","Village of the Damned", and "They Live".  For my money, there is only one clunker in this set, and that's "Village of the Damned". . . but it's got Christopher Reeve and creepy little kids, so I won't complain too much.  This set comes on two disks, so my guess is it's not loaded with extras like some of the JC releases are, but "Prince of Darkness" and "They Live" were pretty bare-boned as single disks, so you probably aren't missing much, and if you don't already own these movies, you probably don't care about the extras anyway.  But if you don't own these movies, this is a great chance to pick up JC on the cheap -- $5 a movie.  And let's face it: everybody reading this should own at least a couple of JC movies. I think there's a rule about that somewhere.

Getting into more quadruple feature action is Turner Classic Movies.  This month they are giving us both a horror and a science fiction set.  The horror set contains "House Of Wax" (1953), "The Haunting" (1963), "Freaks" (1932), and "Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde" (1941).  The science fiction set contains "Forbidden Planet" (1956), "The Time Machine" (1960), "Soylent Green" (1973), and "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968).  These are better-then-average selections for discount box sets, and with a per-movie price of $7, they are a great bargain.

For a classic of a completely different sort, don't miss the 1971 Angela Lansbury/Disney classic "Bedknobs and Broomsticks".  It might not be for everyone, but if you love this movie, this restored, remastered edition has a heaping of extras.  I repeat, don't miss it.

And leaving the realm of classic, and back to the realm of multi-movie sets: the first three Amityville Horror movies are collected together in the "Amityville Horror Collection".  Cheesy 70s/80s haunted house movies, all in one box.   It may not be great cinema, but if the profile of that house ever gave you nightmares, this might be the box set to have in your collection.

Speaking of cheesy movies that have been repackaged:  this month Universal Pictures is FINALLY (they originally announced it as a May title but pulled it) releasing a new edition of "Army of Darkness" (The Screwhead Edition).  Now, you might say that "Army of Darkness" has had a million different editions, and you'd be right.  But EVERY LAST ONE of the Anchor Bay releases of "Army of Darkness" used a really really really bad, grainy, high-compression version of the film.  It looked like crap.  It looked like it was shot on 16mm, and I can tell you. . . I saw this baby in the theater the week it came out, and it looked glorious.

For a long time, the MGM Japanese DVD was THE disk to get if you wanted the best picture quality.  Well, the North American rights reverted back to MGM, and they are releasing this on both DVD and Blue Ray, so the transfer is bound to be the best available.  Now,  the bad news is that it is ONLY the "theatrical cut" on the disk: the "slept until the future" ending is tacked onto the disk as an alternate ending/bonus material.  This is NOT the significantly longer running time "director's cut" that featured the original ending and a bunch of other dialogue and bits that were cut from the North American theatrical edition.  So don't throw away your Anchor Bay Director's Cut DVDs just yet.  But for my money, the theatrical cut was always the tightest/best version of the movie anyway, and I say that as someone who has owned the original dual disk Anchor Bay Theatrical and Director's Cut disks since they were first released. I've watched both versions. . . a lot.  Actually, I have to admit that I even had the laserdisc of "Army of Darkness" for a while too.  Yeah.  I'm a geek on so many levels it hurts.

I'm going to sort my "Evil Dead" disks, and move them into my zombie section, instead of my Bruce Campbell section, while I wait for this new "Army of Darkness" disk. I'll talk to you next month about a bunch of Halloween releases, and more stuff, I'm sure.

August Bestsellers

1) Fairest of All by Serena Valentino
2) Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
3) Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
4) Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
5) Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson
6) Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
7) The Sunless Countries by Karl Schroeder
8) Sword of the Lady by S.M. Stirling
9) Winds of Dune by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert
10) Grantville Gazette V edited by Eric Flint

1) Anathem by Neal Stephenson
2) Marsbound by Joe Haldeman
3) The Devil You Know by Mike Cary tie with
    Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
4) Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson
5) Lightbreaker by Mark Teppo
6) Skin Deep by Mark Del Franco
7) Cape Storm by Rachel Caine
8) Passage at Arms by Glen Cook
9) The Dragon Never Sleeps by Glen Cook
10) Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

Trade Paperbacks:
1) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
2) World War Z by Max Brooks
3) Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan
4) Hotel Under the Sand by Kage Baker
5) Desolation Road by Ian McDonald

Sony Gets Smart

by Alan Beatts

This month's piece is going to be kind of short since I'm working like mad to get the final paint and other work done on the cafe.  But I thought that, given some announcements and events in the last month, it would be interesting to follow up on my article from last month about ebooks.

It seems that someone at Sony has decided to get serious about their ebooks and readers.  And, whoever it is, they're very, very smart.  First off, they have announced three new readers.  One is much like their original reader but with the addition of a touch screen (which adds note taking abilities to the device) and at the same price point, $299.  The other two readers both break new ground, albeit in very different ways.  The Pocket edition brings the screen size down to 5" from 6" and the price to $199.  That price is a major watershed for readers, though not the under-$100 price that people expect will be needed for large scale purchasing by people who aren't either avid readers or tech-heads.  The other reader is the Daily edition which brings wireless connectivity and an even larger screen (7") for the premium price of $399.  But, this reader can finally compete with Amazon's Kindle in the area of on-demand, wireless downloads of books.

But that's not all that Sony has been up to.  Last month they also announced that they were abandoning their proprietary ebook format and switching to EPUB, which is the book industry standard open format.  Also announced was a deal with Google to make all 500,000 of Google's archived public-domain works available for free download.

But Sony's last move was the icing on the cake -- they've made a deal with the American Bookseller's Association to make their readers available to independent bookstores for resale as well as making Sony's ebooks available at wholesale prices for resale on independent bookstore ecommerce sites.  That means Sony will be able to get bookstores to act as a sales force for their hardware, which is a move that Amazon can't even consider.

All in all, Sony is setting itself up as the new power in ebooks.

Also, a number of other businesses are jumping into the market for ebook readers -- Asus, the manufacturer of low cost netbooks like the Eee PC has announced that they are going to produce a dual screen reader and Astak, a British company, is about to ship their 5" screen reader, the EZReader Pocket PRO, which is notable for its low price ($199).

That's about all I have time for right now but before I go, I've got a question for you.  Is all the stuff about ebook and readers of interest?  If so, there is enough going on in that area right now that I could write a column about it every month.  But, I'm not sure if there is enough interest on the part of our customers for it to make sense.  What do you think?  (I should point out that something like that would be in addition to my usual column, not instead of it.)

Overheard at The World Science Fiction Convention

This is a feature that appears periodically, as we attend conventions and overhear things.  The tradition of keeping track of anonymous overheard bits and bobs started for us at the 2002 ConJose in San Jose, where trying (or trying not to) fill in the blanks on overheard conversations made us laugh so much that we made it a tradition.  In this issue we share the newest "overheards" from the World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal.  This year was especially fruitful for quotes, not all of which could be printed!

1: "I just wondered if he had a function at all."
2: "Ah ha, look at me being tactful! And silent."

"Australians keep New Zelanders around to **** sheep for us!"

"I was the bouncer at a pinball arcade in Ann Arbor, Michigan called The Cross-Eyed Moose."

"People with tattoos on their eyes buy art."

"There are some things I don't mind you doing to my wife. Mutual tattooing is not one of them."

"Attending Comic-Con is like swimming through a sea of human meat."

"You must be a writer because you're dressed so well."

"And now they're swabbing the air conditioner with giant q-tips!"

"If she ends up licking his burger, I'm totally taking pictures."

"I rely upon the meekness of strangers to get me through life."

"Tor has just agreed to buy our new anthology, 'Tales of the Callused [Omitted]'!"

"How do you tip strippers in Montreal?"

"I've got two words for you: shut the **** up!"

"Bauderlaire & tentacles? I think we've got a pitch for the Jane Austen zombie guys."

"Sometimes I think the tool chest of literary criticism is overflowing with cow turds."

To a famous editor: "I really have no interest in putting your foot in my mouth."

"How would history have been changed if Winston Churchill had been Elmer Fudd?"

"When you use bread you don't have to wear a mask."

"People would like to look back on the future fondly."