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DVD Releases for July 24, 2007

July 23rd, 2007

It's the busiest week in a long time and not only do we have more than three dozen films on this week's list (and six spotlight reviews), but we have plenty of releases worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week. Hard Boiled - 2-Disc Collector's Edition, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law - Volume 3, The Host - 2-Disc Special Edition... and those are just the ones beginning with the letter H. All three of those deserve to be added to your DVD collections, as well as a few others, but I'm trying to limit the DVD Pick of the Week to one selection and that's The Host - 2-Disc Special Edition.

Anita - The Shocking Account of a Young Nymphomaniac - Buy from Amazon
This film tells the supposedly true story of a 16-year old nymphomaniac and stars Christina Lindberg, who was 23 at the time. I wonder if having adults portray teenagers has a negative effect on the psyche of the viewers. Not just in films like this, but nearly every teenager on TV is played by someone in the 20s. The film also stars Stellan Skarsgård, who played 'Bootstrap' Bill Turner in the final two Pirates of the Caribbean movies, which makes it a little more interesting for audiences here. Despite the title, the film isn't as exploitive as most would assume, but it also isn't that terribly intriguing. Add in zero extras and I can't recommend anything past a rental. On a side note, every time I see that title I think of the Tom Lehrer song, Smut. Specifically the line, "In other words, Smut. I love it / Ahhh, the adventures of a slut"

Benson - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
A spin-off of the TV series Soap with Robert Guillaume reprising his role as the butler Benson DuBois. While most critics would agree that Soap was the better show, Benson was more mainstream, lasting several years after the original went off the air. Extras on the 3-disc set are light, but not so much so that it is a detriment. For instance, there's an introduction by Robert Guillaume, a making of featurette, and retrospective. That's enough to satisfy most fans, but not enough for a very enthusiastic recommendation.

The Big Bad Swim - Buy from Amazon
This Indie film earned good reviews and a few awards while touring festivals, but never landed a distribution deal, at least not theatrically. Fortunately it is not being dumped on home market on a featureless DVD as it has an audio commentary track, behind-the-scenes, and deleted scenes, and much more. Fans of Indie cinema should certainly check it out and many that do will want to pick it up.

A Bit of Fry and Laurie - Buy from Amazon: Season Three and Season Four
Before he was Dr. Gregory House he was half of Fry and Laurie, one of Britian's best comedy duos of the late 80s early 90s. Tomorrow the last two seasons of the show hit DVD, as well as a Complete Series box set, which is perfect for those who like the show but decided to wait when the first seasons came out.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Out for Justice, Purple Rain, and Weeds - Season Two
This week's list of Blu-Ray releases are rather light. The only one of any interest is Weeds - Season Two, and that's only because it is an early TV on Blu-Ray release and buying it on DVD makes as much sense.

The Bourne Files - 3-Disc Collection - Buy from Amazon
Just in time for The Bourne Ultimatum comes this 3-disc set. ... Skip it. I can almost guarantee there will be a box set of all three movies coming out for Christmas. And if not this Christmas, the next. Save your money and wait for that.

Cashback - Buy from Amazon
The latest film to come out in theaters and on PPV simultaneously on the Friday before hitting the home market on the Tuesday. I'm still waiting for this release strategy to work but they will have to choose better films than this for that to happen.

(I think this experiment has been performed with the same results enough times to conclude that for most films people would rather see it at home than in theaters. But that's a topic for another day.)

Cashback stars Sean Biggerstaff as Ben Willis, an art student who broke up with his girlfriend only to suffer from insomnia as a result. (And yes, he broke up with her, even though the official synopsis says otherwise.) After a few sleepless nights he decides to get a job on the night shift at a local grocery store. There he meets a demented boss, odd co-workers, and possibly the women of his dreams.

This is not a terrible movie; in fact, it does have a number of things going for it. However, these worked better in the condensed form in the original short film. Not enough happens in the film's 98-minute running time, and a few of the things that do happen seem tacked on. For instance, the soccer match happens and leads nowhere, the run in with the other time manipulator is never resolved, etc.

Speaking of manipulating time, Ben clearly says he imagines time has stopped as a method of getting through the long, boring night shift. However, later in the film there are times when it appears this ability is real and not just the momentary run in with the other person who can do it. Imagining you can stop time as a way of making time fly faster is an interesting idea. Actually being able to do it, paradoxically, is not as interesting. Being able to actually stop time and doing nothing with that power is pointless. Okay, that's not exactly true, he uses this power to look at women naked, but he's an artist so its not creepy, at least I don't think it was supposed to be creepy.

On a side note, narration has been done so many time filmmakers need to do something with it for it to be an asset. Adaptation had the lecture scene referring to narration as a payoff. In High Stakes with Dave Foley the rift between the narration and the reality of what was happening on screen was half the humor (I want that movie on DVD). Here it didn't distract from the movie, but it didn't add much either.

Moving onto the extras, there are only two: a making of featurette and the original short film. The making of featurette is 19 minutes long and is the usual mix of talking head, behind-the-scenes, and clips from the movie. It is really hard to make these stand out, but at least I never looked at the featurette and thought it was fluff. Really, that's about as high praise as these can get. As for the short film, if you've seen the movie, you've seen the short film. You could describe the short as a 15-minute long cut of the original.

As I was watching Cashback, I kept thinking the movie was so close to be really good. The filmmakers certainly have an eye for the artistic (the bag of spilled peas attests to that), but the plot was a little thin. Also, the time manipulator should have been kept as strictly imaginative. That would have covered some of the holes in the plot while keeping the ample nudity artistic not creepy. However, as it is, it is still worth checking out, but for most renting will be enough.

Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
Five more musicals, mostly from the 1940s and 50s. The selection isn't as good as with volume 1, but still worth checking out for fans of musicals from that era.

The Contract - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD-DVD
Another hitman movie with John Cusack. In fact, he plays another hitman in an upcoming movie, War, Inc., which also stars Hilary Duff. I'm not sure how to react to that. In this movie, John Cusack stars as an ex-cop trying to return Morgan Freeman to justice. The film never really coalesces as a whole in the end, which may explain why it is coming out direct-to-DVD. Add in a DVD that is light in special features and I can only recommend renting it.

Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about Jason 'Crazy Legs' Conti, a New Yorker who was a fan of the sport of competitive eating for many years. This is his story of how he tried to break into that cutthroat field. There's just one problem.

Competitive eating isn't a sport!

It isn't a sport any more than chess is a sport. Or riding a roller-coaster is a sport. Eating barely qualifies as an activity. In a normal world these people would be considered anything from eccentric to mentally ill and no one would ever use the word athlete to describe them. The only reason this isn't true today is the fact we have several dozen 24-hour channels that seem to be designed to keep up distracted from the real world and they need something, anything to fill their schedules. Crackpots! I can see it now... Coming soon, competitive breathing. Whoever can breath in the most oxygen in five minutes, without getting dizzy and passing out, is the winner.

At least that's the way I felt before I saw this movie... Okay, I still feel that way, but this movie is far more entertaining than I thought a documentary on the subject could be. A lot of this has to do with 'Crazy Legs' Conti himself, who possesses an oddball charm that is engaging, although he holds the 'sport' in way too high regard. I would have been a lot happier if he had just come out and said, "We're nuts. But we're having fun and we're not hurting anyone." That I could respect. We also get to see other members of the International Federation of Competitive Eating and the two guys who run the organization. Overall there's a good mix of background information on the non-sport, a look at some of the other competitors, etc.

Extras on the DVD were far superior to what I was expecting. Starting things off is an audio commentary track with the co-producers / co-directors Chris Kenneally and Danielle Franco, as well as Crazy Legs himself. It walks the fine line between information and entertainment, just like the documentary itself. Up next are some deleted scenes, also with optional audio commentary. Most are rather short and made for good cuts but are equally worth checking out as extras. There are also a handful of featurettes on various subjects including some of the restaurants where the film was shot, a Q&A session with Little Jimmy (Conti's manager), and much more. (Several of these featurettes also have commentary on them.) Total running time is more than an hour and it's quite a package for such a small film.

Overall this is an interesting look and one interesting fellow and its appeal is not limited to enthusiasts of competitive eating. However, while it is worth checking out, even picking up, it isn't likely that it will change your mind on whether or not it is a sport.

The Crow - Stairway To Heaven - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
When a show gets canceled it is usually because of low ratings, high production costs or a combination of the two. However, this show was canceled because of corporation takeovers. Had Universal bought out the studio, it would have made it to a second season at least, which makes it even harder for fans of the franchise. At least fans can watch it over and over again on DVD, even if the 4-disc set is devoid of special features.

The Doris Day and Rock Hudson Comedy Collection - Buy from Amazon
The exact same films from the Romance Collection, except without the CD. Skip it.

Les Enfants Terribles - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
Written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, this was one of his earliest works, but not his best. There's some debate about how much influence Jean Cocteau had over the production (he wrote the novel it was based on and did the narration). Both men were artists of the highest level and competing visions affect the movie. Extras spend a lot time with this debate and include an audio commentary track and several interviews. Worth picking up for fans of either Jean-Pierre Melville or Jean Cocteau.

Exterminating Angels (a.k.a. Close to Home) - Buy from Amazon
When this film hit theaters, it didn't overwhelm critics and barely made a peep at the box office. That still doesn't explain why the studio decided to change the name for the DVD release. The few people who heard about it before will be less likely to pick it up now. This is a shame since it deserves to be seen more. Excellent performances, weak story, and no special features adds up to a rental.

Hard Boiled - 2-Disc Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
One of Chow-Yun Fat's earliest work, and still one of his best.

In the film, Chow-Yun Fat plays Insp. Yuen, a cop who helps an undercover cop take down a mob boss. And it's not just one gang, but two gangs of gun smugglers who are in a battle over territory. The film was directed by John Woo and has what is arguably the best gun fight sequences ever filmed, but fans of Hong Kong cinema don't need me to tell them that. One of the greatest action films ever made. Anyone who considers himself a fan of these cinema will want to have this film in their DVD collection. The only real question is if it is worth upgrading.

The answer to that question is yes.

Extras are spread over 2 discs with the first disc having just the audio commentary track. This track features Bey Logan, whom you'll probably instantly recognize if you have purchased many of the other Dragon Dynasty DVD releases. He's very knowledgeable in Hong Kong cinema and fills the track with observations, history, background information, etc. Disc 2 starts off with an interview with John Woo that clocks in at 38 minutes. There are also interviews with the producer and two of the stars that run for more than an hour. Each features plenty of clips from the movie. Up next is an location guide hosted by Kea Wong; this runs nearly 9 minutes and features all of the key locations, a few of which no longer exist. There are also a few trailers, including one for the video game.

One of the best by Hong Kong directors teams up with one of the best Hong Kong stars to make one of the best action films ever made. And this 2-disc set does it justice with an audio commentary track, nearly two hours of interviews and more. It is easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law - Volume 3 - Buy from Amazon
Out of all the Adult Swim shows, I think this one is my favorite. Which is sad since it was canceled, apparently because Stephen Colbert can't handle doing this show and his talk show at the same time. At least the show maintains its strong level throughout the 4-year run, which ends with these 13 episodes. This includes the death of Phil Ken Sebben (booo), as well as the return of Birdgirl (woo hoo!). Every episode is worth checking out, most of them repeatedly. Extras are also amazing, as they have been the past two volumes, with audio commentary tracks, featurettes, and more. Easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: The Bourne Identity, Deep Purple: Live at Montreux 2006, In Good Company, Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps, Out for Justice, Purple Rain, Scent of a Woman, Streets of Fire, and The Way To Paradise
Another week, another list of HD-DVD releases without an obvious upgrade. In Good Company is the best movie while The Bourne Identity makes the most sense to upgrade to high definition. However, like with the The Bourne Files - 3-Disc Collection, it makes sense to wait till after The Bourne Ultimatum hits the home market to make the upgrade.

The Host - Buy from Amazon: Standard DVD, 2-Disc Special Edition, Blu-Ray, HD-DVD
I loved this movie when it first came out, and I was not alone in that opinion. I really hoped the film would be able to break the language barrier and become a big hit here like it was in South Korea. (I knew it wouldn't earn as much there as it did here, but I was hoping for more than $2.2 million.) That said, I'm glad the distributor didn't skimp on the DVD package as the 2-Disc Special Edition is loaded. Disc one starts with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and a short featurette while the second disc has a more extensive making of featurette (broken up into smaller segments), and another massive featurette on the making of the creature. (It's like they read my review before making the DVD because I specifically stated I wanted to learn more about the creature of this monster.) There are additional featurettes on the cast, the crew, as well as outtakes and a retrospective. An amazing package and one that is worth picking up and a clear contender for DVD Pick of the Week. Get it now before Hollywood remakes it and messes it up.

Ivan's Childhood - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
The first feature-length film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, who is arguably one of the best Russian directors of all time. This is clearly one of his best films and while I prefer Stalker, this movie is worth adding to your DVD collection. However, since it has already been released on DVD, the real question is the new edition worth the upgrade? On the one hand, it is a Criterion Collection release and that does mean the audio and video are better than ever; however, the extras are a little light compared to most other releases of their. There's no audio commentary track and only a trio of featurettes with a total running time of just over 50 minutes. I think the A/V improvements will be enough for most people to upgrade, but renting it first might be in order.

Land of the Giants - The Full Series - The Giant Collection - Buy from Amazon
Wow. That's a lot of money for a show that only ran two seasons and has limited cult appeal. Granted, there's a lot of extras for a show that's nearly 40 years old, but even at half that price a lot of fans would balk at buying the 9-disc set.

Last Hurrah for Chivalry - Buy from Amazon
The second film by John Woo on this week's list. This writing / directing effort was an earlier project than Hard-Boiled, but isn't as strong.

The film stars Lau Kong as Kao Pun, who swears revenge after his father is killed during his wedding during which his bride was killed. It is important to note that the bride was a prostitute who was paid to kill him. Kao can't defeat his enemies, so he hires Chang, a master swordsman to get his revenge.

The story is rather common to these films, but the real draw are the fight scenes. Unlike most John Woo movies, in this one the fighters use swords and not guns. The fight scenes are great, for the most part, and a lot bloodier than most Hong Kong action made during this time and that sets it apart.

Extras on the DVD are on par with other releases from Dragon Dynasty and are led by an audio commentary track with... Bey Logan. There's a reason why he does so many of these; he's really good at it. Additionally there are a couple of interviews (total running length of just over 20 minutes), and a featurette on the Chinese weapons. This featurette runs 11 minutes and is the meatiest of the three featurettes.

Fans of martial arts movies are certainly being treated well these days. It seems like I've reviewed a dozen such films in the past few months, almost all of which are worth adding to your DVD collection. Last Hurrah for Chivalry is no exception.

Live Free or Die - Buy from Amazon
A heist film that never escapes mediocrity. Too many dumb characters doing too many dumb things prevents the viewer from being fully engaged. Extras are plentiful in number but weak in substances. There's an audio commentary track, deleted / alternate scenes, outtakes, short making of featurette. But nothing here that adds any replay value to the movie. Call it a rental, but that's it.

Monster Squad - 2-Disc 20th Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon
This movie missed the top ten when it opened 20 years ago and quickly fell off the charts after that. This is a shame since it isn't a bad movie, although it is a horror film that is aimed at kids and that might explain why it was hard to market. The monster movie is getting its due on DVD with a 2-disc set that is packed with extras like audio commentary track, making of / retrospective, deleted scenes and more. Most people will have never heard of this movie, but those who do will be thankful that it finally came out on DVD. Easily worth picking up and one of many contenders for DVD Pick of the Week.

Nomad (The Warrior) - Buy from Amazon
The Kazakhstani government spent $40 million to make this movie, a movie that earned less than $3 million worldwide. They made the film not to make money, however, but to show studios worldwide that Kazakhstan would be a good place to make a movie. Too bad they didn't make a good movie.

The film is an old school epic that features a number of very large sets, battle scenes, etc. and in this way does show off was Kazakhstan has to offer. The scenery often looks amazing and the cinematography is good, but sadly that's all the film has to offer at times. On the other hand, the writing, pacing, acting, and such are all suspect, and that's putting it nicely. The film follows practically every cliché written for these films and anyone who is familiar with Westerns, Bible Epics, or sword and sandal epics will be well familiar with what is presented here.

Due to the film's short theatrical run, the DVD is devoid of extras.

Even fans of the genre will find little here to satisfy them and even for them I would warn against renting. The only hope for the Kazakhstani government to recoup their investment is if the film does bring about an increased level of foreign production to their land. That said, the cinematography will go a long way to achieving that goal.

The Number 23 - Buy from Amazon
One of the worst reviewed movies of the year. (I'm so sick and tired of saying that, but how else can you describe a movie that earned just 8% positive reviews?) This is the film that made Jim Carrey fire his agent, and that little bit of trivia should be enough to warn people away. Granted, the film didn't bomb at the box office and with better than expected extras should earn a profit relatively soon on the home market, but overall there's nothing here to recommend the movie above the curiosity factor.

Perfume - The Story Of A Murderer - Buy from Amazon
A hard movie to describe, it is equally hard to review. It isn't what you would call a good movie, but it is one that will crawl under your skin. Even those who do not like the movie will want to see it a second time, it can have that effect on people. This is a film that demands an audio commentary track, an in-depth making of featurette, interviews with the cast, crew and even film critics, and a lot more. However, what we get is a simple making of featurette that doesn't do the movie justice. I was recommend renting the movie for now and waiting for a special edition DVD. However, since the movie barely made more than $2 million in theaters here, that might be a long wait. It earned more than that in nearly every major international market, and a number of midlevel markets, and if you have a region-free DVD player, you might be able to pick up a special edition DVD from one of those markets instead.

The Real McCoys - Complete Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
One could argue that this TV series helped pave the way for a number of similar shows like The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, and others. However, it is not nearly as popular as the shows that followed it. However, fans of the show should be happy that it's finally coming out on DVD, even if it is devoid of special features.

Renaissance - Buy from Amazon
This movie feels like it was made to divide critics. On the one hand, the visuals were amazing, at least I thought they were. Others found them to be a distraction. One's opinion on the movie depended almost entirely on which side of that debate you fell.

Daniel Craig stars as Barthélémy Karas, a tough cop on the trail of a missing research scientist, who worked for a large and powerful biomedical cosmetic company called Avalon. (Their billboards seem to be everywhere in the movie.) However, Karas quickly realizes that all is not what it seems

This film used motion-capture technology to create very fluid animation, but it was rendered in black and white. And by that I mean black and white with almost no shades of gray. (There was only one scene of color as well, but this contrast was well used and didn't seem gratuitous.) Because I was instantly drawn in by the visuals, I found the story to be more engaging than it otherwise would have been. However, I will admit there were more than a few clichés thrown around. Okay, nearly the entire plot is one cliché after another, but this deficit of substance was made up for by the style and the mood.

The film is a French import that did almost no business when it opened in theaters last year, so it's not surprising the DVD is light on extras. The only thing of substance is the 26-minute making of featurette, which is in French with English subtitles. Even so, it has enough substance to add to the overall experience.

If you saw the trailer and thought to yourself, 'Wow, that's awesome.' you should check out this DVD. I would suggest renting it first, but many who do give it a chance will want to pick it up. On the other hand, if you thought the visuals in the trailer were a distraction, the movie won't be able to sell you on the story alone.

The Secrets of Isis - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
This TV series ran for just 22 episodes over two years during the mid-70s but made quite an impression on a lot of young boys. And not just because JoAnna Cameron wore a mini-skirt. Like most Filmation productions that have come out recently, this one has audio and video quality that shows its age, but better special features than expected give the age of the show. This includes audio commentary tracks, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and much more. Fans of the show will want to pick it up, but those who have never heard of it before can give it a pass.

Slow Burn - Buy from Amazon
One of the worst-reviewed movies of the year... Wow, déjà vu. It also bombed at the box office so the level of extras are better than expected (audio commentary track, deleted / alternate scene, etc.), but it doesn't even add up to a rental.

Star Trek Fan Collective - Captain's Log - Buy from Amazon
The term, "cash grab" comes to mind when seeing this title. Star Trek has already released full-season sets, full-series sets, a full franchise set, there's a special edition coming out soon, and rumors about High Definition releases that are not too far away. The bonus disc of new material might be worth the price for hardcore fans, but I can't recommend picking up this or the complete collection.

Stargate SG-1 - Season 10 - Buy from Amazon
A lot of people were not happy with the way this series ended as they felt there were too many unanswered questions. Personally, I'm hoping these questions will be answered on its spin-off, Stargate Atlantis. Even if they are not, Season 10 is still worth picking up with a high quality maintained throughout most of its run and extras that most TV on DVD sets would kill for. These include audio commentary tracks on every episode, behind-the-scenes featurette, featurettes on the directors, the Ori, deleted scenes, and a lot more. Easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Tales from the Crypt - The Complete Sixth Season - Buy from Amazon
The penultimate season of this anthology series, which had some excellent episodes this season. My personal favorites include Let The Punishment Fit The Crime and You, Murderer!, but most are worth checking out. On the other hand, the extras have almost completely dried up with just a interactive comic book narrated by the crypt-keeper. Even so, fans of the franchise will want to pick up this 3-disc set while completing their collection when season seven comes out (which is in October).

Todd McFarlane's Spawn - Animated Collection - 10th Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon
For those who know Spawn only through the atrocious movie, the cartoon and the comic book it was based on were much, much better. This cartoon was clearly aimed at adult audiences and was too dark for mainstream appeal, but developed a loyal fanbase. However, that loyal fanbase probably already has the previous full season set that came out in 1999 so the real question for these people is with regards to an upgrade. And the answer is yes. New extras include several audio commentary tracks, which alone are worth the upgrade, as well as an interview / making-of featurette. Easily worth picking up and yet another contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Ultimate Underdog Collection - Buy from Amazon: Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3
Just in time for the movie adaptation comes three volumes of the classic cartoon. Although in this case "classic" merely denotes age and not quality. I'm not sure if the show was that good when it first aired, but it certainly hasn't aged well. So much so that I can see these DVDs hurting the film's box office chances. Adding in extras that are small in number and low in replay value and there's little reason to even rent these DVDs.

Unconscious - Buy from Amazon
Strong reviews couldn't help this film in theaters but it did perform better than its opening would indicate. Extras on the DVD are as expected given its short run with just an interview with a psychologist on the DVD.

Weeds - Season Two - Buy from Amazon: DVD and Blu-Ray
I've noticed recently that more than half of the shows I buy on DVD come from cable and not network TV. It seems that cable channels are far more willing to deal with subjects that would potentially offend mainstream audiences. By trying to appeal to everyone, the networks appeal to no one. Weeds is one show that proves cable is just better at producing high quality shows. Season 2 maintains the high quality of season 1 while the extras are also very strong. Just over half of the episodes have audio commentary tracks while the ones that don't have trivia tracks. In addition there are a couple of featurettes on hydroponics / marijuana, outtakes, and a few other smaller extras. Easily worth picking up and one of what feels like 100 contenders for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection - Buy from Amazon
Never was a fan of Woody Woodpecker. Found him to be highly annoying while the villains in his cartoons were equally uninteresting. Add in no extras and I can't even recommend renting.

Zodiac - Buy from Amazon
One of the best-reviewed movies of the year. Sadly, it bombed at the box office, costing $85 million to make while earning just $33 million domestically and roughly $80 million worldwide. Fortunately the film is getting a special edition DVD release despite this weakness at the box office. However, it doesn't come out till next year, so skip this version and save your money.


Filed under: Video Releases, In Good Company, The Number 23, Zodiac, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Gwoemul, Slow Burn, Nomad, Renaissance, Inconscientes, Cashback, Karov La Bayit, Live Free or Die