Greg’s Grab Bag – Suggestions for Spending Holiday Gift Cards
If you are like me and haven’t used up all of the money on your holiday gift cards yet, here is a random assortment of recently released pop culture goodies you might enjoy.
Elvis Presley – That’s The Way It Is (Deluxe Edition 8 CD/2 DVD Set)
When you open the immaculate and immense new box set from Elvis by RCA/Legacy Recordings, you are immediately reminded of the big collections that helped to define the box set concept in the early days of CDs – highly regarded collections, like the self-titled Led Zeppelin box set, the initial Bob Dylan Bootleg Series release, and Live/1975-85 by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. This set, which includes eight CDs, two DVDs in packaging that resembles old vinyl jacket sleeves and an 80-page book chock full of rare archival photos, concert playbills and other pieces of memorabilia, is reminiscent of those pioneering releases in both their depth of content and attention to detail.
In November 1970, the MGM studio released a feature-length documentary concert film directed by Denis Sanders which chronicles Elvis Presley’s performances at an August 1970 festival in Las Vegas. This film, Elvis: That’s The Way It Is Live, was a mix of live performances, rehearsals and interviews with peripheral people like fans, journalists and associates. It also included some odd directorial choices like footage of foodservice staff prepping at the venue, interviews with hotel management and meetings with staff regarding the distribution of promotional materials – things that don’t advance the overall narrative.
In 2001, a new version of the documentary was compiled that put more emphasis on the concert footage and cut down the off-stage content. This special edition documentary, which included new sequences and performances, essentially created a different film – one that was actually 12 minutes shorter than the original release. The That’s The Way It Is (Deluxe Edition) box set includes both the original theatrical version and the 2001 special edition, along with outtakes.
Concurrent with the theatrical debut of the Elvis: That’s The Way It Is film, RCA Victor released an LP by the same name. Although they shared a moniker and both featured songs from the August live performances, the album consisted primarily of 8 new studio recordings and was not considered a soundtrack.
Now, for the first time ever, both the documentary film and the album are being released together, along with a treasure trove of complementary content. Included here are the audio recordings of the six concerts that were recorded and at least partially filmed as part of this dual project from August 10-13, 1970 – two of which appear here for the first time as complete recordings. Also included here is a disc of 20 songs culled from Elvis’ rehearsals with his supporting band.
This box set is a result of a unique collaboration between Sony Music and Warner Brothers Home Video and it is clear that both companies used the vast resources available to them in order to create something Elvis fans will chrish.
Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)
For anyone who grew up watching the groundbreaking Pee-Wee’s Playhouse television program or experienced the classic show through either online video clips or the original 2004 DVD release, this incredible new Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory will be nothing short of revelatory.
Created by Paul Reubens as a character for a stage production, Pee-Wee Herman first came to prominence thanks to a 1981 HBO special and the Tim Burton-directed 1985 feature film, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Based on the popularity of the film, a children’s show was developed. Originally airing from 1986-1990, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was known for its unique approach to children’s programming and earned popular and critical praise, including 22 Emmy Awards.
Starting with the original 16mm film and audio tracks, Shout! Factory utilized the latest digital technology to complete a painstaking restoration of each episode. This effort lead to the creation of the first high-definition version of this cherished program and the results are stunning. Colors are brighter, images are clearer, video errors/anomalies have been removed and the dialog, sound effects and quirky score pop like never before.
In addition to the amazing restoration, this release includes newly filmed interviews with cast and crew members. Also included on this set is Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, which originally aired during season three in 1988.
Owners of the previous DVD collections may question if they need to pick up the Blu-ray version, but the improved look and sound more than justifies a purchase. Barring future technological advancements, Shout! Factory has created the definitive version of this beloved children’s program. So plop down on your own Chairry and enjoy a trip down memory lane with Pee-Wee, Jambi The Genie, Captain Carl, Cowboy Curtis, Miss Yvonne and the rest of the Playhouse gang.
“Weird Al” Yankovic – The Compleat Al (DVD) & UHF: 25th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
With the July 2014 release of Mandatory Fun, his 14th studio release and his first-ever #1 album, the recent announcement of his upcoming world tour and his funny cameo appearance as a singing monk on the well-received ABC musical comedy series Galavant, “Weird Al” Yankovic may be more popular now than at any other time in his illustrious, nearly 40-year career. This makes it the ideal time for Shout! Factory to release two Al-related videos – The Compleat Al on DVD and the 25th anniversary edition of UHF on Blu-ray.
Originally airing on the Showtime cable network in August 1985, The Compleat Al is a “mockumentary” focusing on Yankovic’s childhood, school years and eventual rise to stardom. A delightful blend of fact and fiction, this exaggerated look at his origin story is exactly what you would expect from “Weird Al.”
Both the name and basic premise are a parody of the 1982 documentary, The Compleat Beatles, but at its heart, this funny little film lampoons the life of the rock star, including the obstacles they overcome to make it to the top and the trappings often associated with the lifestyle of famous musicians. It could be argued that this film lays the foundation for the style ultimately popularized in the late 1990s through VH1’s popular Behind The Music documentary television series.
Right from the start, the parody factor is high. Even before the title credits roll, an antiquated version of the copyright text found on all home video releases to this day is morphed into something that more closely resembles the side effect warnings on modern pharmaceutical commercials. This then transitions to a send up of Jimi Hendrix’s iconic guitar burning performance from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, including Al setting his accordion ablaze in an arena packed full of adoring and screaming fans.
This style is carried throughout the 100-minute film with highlights including the artist’s first trip to Japan, a look at obsessed super fans, a peak behind the extensive “Weird Al” merchandising machine, and overview of his “Yankland” mansion and a “Thriller”-inspired take on “Weird Al’s” meeting with Michael Jackson in order to get permission to parody “Beat It.”
In addition to the new content, the film features eight of “Weird Al’s” groundbreaking music videos in their entirety and clips from Al TV, his parody video show which first aired on MTV in 1984, interspersed throughout the narrative.
Although clearly dated with parody references that newer fans may not fully appreciate, the DVD debut of The Compleat Al is a great piece of comedy and a welcome addition to any “Weird Al” fan’s collection.
The second “Weird Al” release is the long-awaited Blu-ray debut of UHF, the 1989 feature film written by and starring Yankovic. To mark the film’s 25th anniversary, Shout! Factory put together a package that honors the film’s status as a cult favorite by giving it a transfer that improves the quality of previous home video releases while also maintaining the original look and feel of the picture and by including a nice set of bonus features.
UHF is an underdog story about George Newman (played by Yankovic) who is fighting to keep the TV station he manages on the air by taking an over-the-top approach to programming. Although there is a heartwarming narrative throughout, the movie ultimately succeeds because it gives Yankovic the perfect canvas on which to paint a broad range of parodies in the form of Channel 62 programs.
Vignettes for fictional shows like Wheel of Fish (gameshow), Secrets of the Universe (science show), Raul’s Wild Kingdom (nature show) and Stanley Spedowski’s Clubhouse (kid’s show featuring actor Michael Richards – Kramer of Seinfeld fame), with its memorable drink from the fire hose gag, are spot-on parodies of popular television program genres and one of the primary reasons why this movie is still popular after 25 years. Also contained within the film is the full-length music video for “Money For Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies,” Yankovic’s song about the characters from The Beverly Hillbillies which uses Dire Straits’ groundbreaking “Money For Nothing” music video as its delivery vehicle.
In addition to producing the first high-definition version of the film, this disc also includes bonus content like deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage, the video for the film’s title song and a nearly hour-long panel discussion from the San Diego Comic-Con 2014 hosted by comedian and “Weird Al” enthusiast Jonah Ray. Overall, this package is a fitting tribute to this cult classic comedy and its milestone anniversary.
Until next time, enjoy your gift card purchases!