Christmas has come early for home video enthusiasts, as a ton of great new (and familiar) titles hit DVD and Blu-ray. Start your holiday shopping this week (and buy a few DVDs for yourself) with great new sets courtesy of Hellboy II and The Sopranos, or venture into Blu-ray territory with must-have TV on DVD titles like Band of Brothers and Firefly!

1. Hellboy II: The Golden Army Collector’s Set — 88%

While 2004’s Hellboy was a modest commercial success (and scored an 80 percent Tomatometer), thank goodness Universal allowed fantasy auteur Guillermo del Toro to unleash his creativity with an even bigger budget for the first of two planned sequels! In a summer that belonged to the comic book superhero, del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army quietly claimed its own comfy corner of the box office, earning over $150 million worldwide and besting the Tomatometer score of its predecessor in the process.

Now you can own Hellboy II: The Golden Army on DVD and Blu-ray, though we highly recommend any diehard del Toro fan save up for the generous Collector’s Set, which comes with a collectible Golden Army statuette, a limited edition poster, and a copy of Guillermo del Toro’s production diary filled with meticulously hand-drawn creatures and notes.

Meanwhile, even the single-disc DVD features more than your average bonus features, including a feature-length commentary by del Toro, a feature-length commentary with cast members Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, and Luke Goss, seven behind-the-scenes set visits, a tour of the Troll Market with del Toro as your guide, and deleted scenes.

Which means that on the 3-disc and Blu-ray disc, you’ll get even more bang for your buck. Expect over two hours of footage from the making of Hellboy II, exclusive design and concept art, and more; Blu-ray viewers can chat with friends, build their own comic book, and get a sneak peek at new footage from Universal’s Wanted.

See exclusive set photos from Hellboy II: The Golden Army and selected pages from del Toro’s on-set journal below!

Next: Kung Fu Panda strikes on Sunday

2. Kung Fu Panda – 89%


In a world of animation dominated by sad-sack robots, existential action figures and fish that have lost their way, it’s refreshing to watch a pixilated hero who’s not afraid of a little rumble — and one who wasn’t borne of the expert hands at Pixar. DreamWorks’ tale of a lowly panda who becomes a star kung fu pupil performed so well at the box office, those crafty studio heads decided to change the home video game themselves, releasing Kung Fu Panda with a day-and-date companion sequel DVD (Secrets of the Furious Five) AND debuting them both on a Sunday instead of the industry-standard Tuesday. John McCain could have used this kind of maverick thinking months ago.

Pick up Kung Fu Panda and along with it, a host of all-new bonus features that include featurettes, commentary, and more; the extras-laden 2-disc and Blu-ray editions will host an additional set of interactive games, and featurettes, while the Blu-ray disc itself boasts even more.

Next: Is the Force withClone Wars?


3. Clone Wars – 19%


Designed as a lead-in to the Cartoon Network’s current series, Clone Wars opened in theaters with the distinction of being the first animated Star Wars feature film in the franchise’s 30+ year history; it left theaters with the distinction of being the worst-reviewed Star Wars feature film in the franchise’s 30+ year history (falling even below 1984’s TV film Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure). This week, Clone Wars can be yours to own on DVD and Blu-ray!

Assuming only true-blue Star Wars fans will consider picking up this title, a wealth of bonus material awaits: a feature-length commentary by director Dave Filoni and his crew, concept art, making-of featurettes on the recording process and Clone Wars backstory, a taste of the upcoming Clone Wars episodes, and ten minutes of deleted scenes.

Next: Takashi Miike serves up Sukiyaki Western Django!

4. Sukiyaki Western Django – 60%


If you missed Takashi Miike‘s (Audition, Ichi the Killer) audacious samurai-western mash-up in theaters, now’s the time to bite; Sukiyaki Western Django hits stores with Tarantino-esque flair sure to earn it a spot nestled between Pulp Fiction and Sergio Corbucci’s Django on your DVD shelf. You’ll recognize the Western-genre archetypes (the lone gunman, the fallen woman, the evil band of locals) but you’ve never seen them like this before, played entirely by a Japanese cast speaking heavily-accented English. Even Tarantino, in a cameo role, lays the drawl on like molasses. (You might want to make use of the English subtitles.)

Miike’s Sukiyaki is a must-see for genre fans and cult aficionados, and includes deleted scenes and a making-of featurette. The Blu-ray disc offers a bit more; use BD-Live to access additional special features, and download a digital copy of the film.

Next: Hip hop goes global in Planet B-Boy

5. Planet B-Boy – 89%


Director Benson Lee takes you into the world of break dancing — as in, more Breakin‘ than America’s Best Dance Crew — in this compelling, energetic documentary. Following five international b-boy crews from France, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. as they compete in the 2005 Battle of the Year, Lee’s film conveys the essence of global hip-hop culture with authenticity, while capturing some great dance battles in the process. If you’re a fan of hip-hop, breaking, or performance art in general, check out Planet B-Boy as a primer for the feature film adaptation reportedly in the works.

Next: Scrubs Season 7

6. Scrubs Season 7


Longtime Scrubs fans may see Season 7 as an end of an era, thanks to its impending move from its home on NBC, where it’s aired since 2001. As a last hurrah of sorts before Season 8 debuts as an ABC mid-season replacement (and before key cast and creative talent inevitably depart for greener pastures), pick up the new 2-disc Scrubs set for all eleven episodes of Season 7.

Bonus features include cast interviews, bloopers, deleted scenes, and episode commentaries, plus a making-of featurette on the season finale “My Princess,” directed by star Zach Braff.

Next: Band of Brothers comes to Blu-ray!

7. Band of Brothers Blu-ray – 90%


HBO Films’ captivating mini-series Band of Brothers drew acclaim from critics and viewers alike when it first aired in 2001, and was released in a sprawling box set the following year. Finally, six years later, it comes to Blu-ray in a must-have 6-disc set — and more importantly, the Blu-ray release includes all-new special features.

In addition to the previously-released host of bonus material found on the standard release, Band of Brothers on Blu-ray will include a new commentary track by the real-life members of Easy Company as well as an interactive field guide. Buy Band of Brothers on Blu-ray for yourself, or make your favorite Blu-ray/Playstation 3 owner’s Christmas wish come true.

Next: Speaking of long-awaited fan favorites…anyone up for Firefly on Blu-ray?

8. Firefly – The Complete Series Blu-ray


While we’re on the subject of must-have Blu-ray stocking stuffers, consider picking up the long-awaited Blu-ray release of Joss Whedon’s beloved series Firefly; the Browncoats on your holiday list will thank you. Though short-lived (it only ran for fourteen episodes before getting the axe), the sci-fi space Western about the ragtag crew of the spaceship Firefly — led by disillusioned former soldier Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) — cultivated a devoted fan base so fervent that uproar over its cancellation led to a surprise feature-film follow-up, 2005’s Serenity.

Firefly: The Complete Series on Blu-ray will include three discs packed with bonus features, including a Blu-ray exclusive reunion between creator Joss Whedon, Fillion, Alan Tudyk and Ron Glass. And keep an eye out this winter as the Firefly movie Serenity gets the Blu-ray treatment (Dec. 30).

Next: The Huxtables celebrate their 25th anniversary

9. The Cosby Show 25th Anniversary Set


The landmark sitcom The Cosby Show ran for eight years between 1984 and 1992, launching comedian Bill Cosby into television history, and giving the African American community perhaps their most significant media presence to date. In commemoration of the milestone series, check out The Cosby Show — 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition, which includes all eight seasons of Huxtable family hijinks (and life lessons), an exclusive new interview with Bill Cosby, set photos, a personal letter from Cosby, a 25th Anniversary commemorative book, and more.

Next: A Sopranos box set you can’t refuse…

10. Sopranos – The Complete Series


If you hadn’t already guessed, the home entertainment holiday season has begun. With a hefty $400 price tag, this week’s big ticket item may nevertheless be worth every penny: the complete Sopranos box set. Weighing in at ten pounds, this massive set includes all 86 episodes and six seasons of the HBO mobster drama, spread across 30 discs.

The set also contains two bonus DVDs with new cast and crew interviews and specials, including an interview with show runner David Chase and series fan Alec Baldwin. The serious Sopranos fan will be delighted to find 16 additional unaired scenes and three previously released soundtrack CDs.

Tarantino fans, prick up your ears! Maverick filmmaker Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer) is back with the culture-mashing Sukiyaki Western Django (which features a cameo by QT himself), and Rotten Tomatoes is bringing you an exclusive look at the very baddest scene of the whole film. Picture this: a mysterious gunslinger in the Wild West faces off in a duel against…a samurai sword-wielding maniac! It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Watch it after the jump!

Director Takashi Miike is arguably the Quentin Tarantino of Japan. Accordingly, his Sukiyaki Western Django, like the Japanese dish for which it’s named, is a delicious mash-up of all the best elements of the Spaghetti Western genre. In the exclusive clip below, you’ll watch one of the film’s best scenes — one that, even without any previous knowledge, gives you a sense of what Miike and his “Sukiyaki Western” are all about. Watch as the mysterious Gunman (Hideaki Ito) engages in a High Noon-esque duel with the warrior Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya), the katana-wielding leader of the White gang.


Click to watch the exclusive snow fight scene from Sukiyaki Western Django

A bit of background: Sukiyaki Western Django explores the genre known as the Spaghetti Western popularized in the 1960s by films like Sergio Leone‘s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Specifically, Miike borrows his plot and title from Sergio Corbucci‘s 1966 film Django, which starred cult icon Franco Nero.

But the history of the Spaghetti Western is much more textured than that; Django was fashioned as a poor man’s Fistful of Dollars, like many films of the time produced in quick succession to more successful Westerns in order to capitalize on their popularity. However, Fistful of Dollars itself was a remake of Akira Kurosawa‘s samurai tale Yojimbo, which in turn was influenced by the film noir stylings of Dashiell Hammett and the early Westerns of John Ford.

Click images for more stills!

And so the storytelling lineage of the genre goes back and forth between Hollywood and Japan, each one influencing the other, making Sukiyaki Western Django a remake of a remake of remake of a remake — set in a mining town in Nevada entirely populated by Japanese characters, who wear clothes that combine Western wear with Harajuku sensibilities, wield six-shooters with samurai armor, and speak in heavily accented English.

Sukiyaki Western Django promises to be a treat for genre fans, and is out in limited release Friday, August 29. Click here to read what critics are saying and check out more photos!

Well, it certainly hasn’t been a dull festival. Tons of films big (Michael Clayton) and small (Juno) have screened to kudos, and on the whole there haven’t been very many outright disappointments (notwithstanding George Romero‘s Diary of the Dead and a few others).

It’s now a week into the Toronto Film Festival, and we definitely have our favorites. They include, in no particular order: the Ian Curtis biopic Control, the quirky teen comedy Juno, Lars and the Real Girl starring Ryan Gosling, and Julie Taymor‘s ambitious Beatles-infused Across the Universe. Many other entries are good as well (No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, Lust, Caution, Disengagement). A few in particular are unconventionally enjoyable (Sukiyaki Western Django, Nothing is Private).


Across the Universe

I just came from a press screening of Brian DePalma‘s Redacted, anticipation of which stemmed from its second-place showing last week at the Venice Film Festival (where Ang Lee‘s Lust, Caution took the Golden Lion prize). With an unconventional format that combines a French-narrated faux-documentary, a deployed soldier’s home videos, local Arab television reports and fictional video-hosting websites, Redacted tells the (based-on-a-true) story of a group of U.S. Army soldiers involved in the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl. DePalma’s film is at least rife with meaning, though there are so many divisive issues concerning Iraq in Redacted that it’s hard to know where to start. Are U.S. peace-keeping procedures dangerously confusing to Iraqis? Does mutual misunderstanding often lead to tragic civilian casualties? Do the media keep the rest of us adequately informed about a war that is happening on the other side of the world? Redacted is likely to split critics (one journalist warned me off, calling it straight-up “bad,” while a smattering of applause erupted at the end of my screening).

Plenty of other films have gotten mixed receptions as well. Julie Taymor notoriously battled with studio execs over her Across the Universe, which combines a 1960s-1970s love story with historical events, all set to a near non-stop soundtrack of Beatles songs. Sound good to you, fellas? Unsurprisingly, Across the Universe seems to leave many male reviewers cold, while women (and predisposed lovers of musicals) enjoy it much more. The film is out in limited release this week. Full review to come!

Speaking of high profile cinematic gambles, I’m headed out to the late night screening of Todd HaynesI’m Not There. Cate Blanchett nabbed Venice honors for her portrayal of Bob Dylan; six more actors take on different aspects of the legendary musician’s life and persona, including Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Richard Gere. More on that very shortly.

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