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June 23, 2017

Mixing Fun With Innovation Is a Winning Hollywood Recipe

Virtual reality may still be a Great Unknown in terms of how it ultimately will change filmmaking — and storytelling, for that matter.

But while VR is essentially still in its incubation period, Hollywood sure is having a lot of fun taking baby steps, using VR mostly as a way to drum up excitement about its core product, movies.

Most recently Sony Pictures announced a new VR experience for Columbia Pictures’ Spider-Man: Homecoming movie that lets people experience what it’s like to actually be Spider-Man – in a virtual sense, of course.

They can sling themselves in the air to do battle against The Vulture, and play around with the superhero’s new and improved web-shooters that feature prominently in the newest “Spider-Man” film, the second reboot of the franchise.

The VR experience becomes available for free June 30, a week before the film opens, across all prominent VR platforms, including, of course, PlayStation VR, from a sister Sony division, as well as Oculus Rift (owned by Facebook) and HTC Vive.

According to our friends at Variety, Spider-Man: Homecoming VR was produced by Sony Pictures Virtual Reality, the studio’s VR unit, which was launched last summer under the auspices of Jake Zim, the SVP of Virtual Reality for Sony Pictures Entertainment. It was developed by CreateVR, the same agency that turned Sony Pictures’ The Walk into a VR experience.

It’s good to see Hollywood having some fun again, and at the same time, pushing the innovation agenda. Invariably, fun and innovation go hand in hand, and the whole excitement about VR is a refreshing change of pace from the regular industry news, which this summer seems to be revolving around “franchise fatigue” (which I don’t happen to believe in — in my view, a good movie is a good movie, and a bad movie is a bad movie, regardless of whether it’s part of series) and the continuing debate over releasing movies on other platforms around the same time as they debut in theaters (something I see as inevitable).

On the home entertainment side of the business, we’re seeing quite a few triumphs, including the remarkable home video performance of Lionsgate’s “John Wick” properties and Walt Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast.

And on the innovation front, the home entertainment business is doing quite well itself, particularly at 20th Century Fox, whose Innovation Lab has its fingers in all sorts of technological wonders. Fox also smartly set up a new business unit, FoxNext, that’s home to the studio’s video gaming, location-based entertainment, virtual reality and augmented reality productions.

It’s shaping up to be a long, hot summer — and Hollywood, despite the usual turbulence, is sizzling.

 

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June 20, 2017

'Showing Roots' at Walmart

Walmart has an exclusive DVD of the movie Showing Roots starring Maggie Grace and Uzo Aduba for $9.96. The film tells the story of two women who cross racial boundaries to form a friendship and fight against inequality in their small town. The DVD includes a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Sony Pictures has re-released Blu-rays and DVDs of the previous five "Spider-Man" movies to offer $7.50 coupons for a ticket to the upcoming theatrical release of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Walmart had a significant display of the titles in their discount kiosk.

Target is offering a free $5 gift card with pre-orders of Universal's The Fate of the Furious at target.com/preorder. The movie comes with a collectible clinch sack.

Other Target preorder exclusives include a Steelbook case and graphic novel with the Blu-ray of Lionsgate's Power Rangers.

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June 19, 2017

New on Disc: 'The Ballad of Cable Hogue' and more …

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive        
Warner; Western; $21.99 Blu-ray; ‘R.’
Stars Jason Robards, Stella Stevens, David Warner, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Slim Pickens.
1970.
Director Sam Peckinpah referred to Ballad as his personal favorite in later years, and befitting its title, the movie really does play like the parable set to music that it sometimes literally is.
Extras: Included is a commentary by Nick Redman and his longtime gallery of fellow Peckinpah historians (Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle), plus Redman’s frank featurette interview with Stella Stevens from the earlier DVD release.
Read the Full Review

Housekeeping (Blu-ray)

All-Region Import
Indicator, Drama, $20 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13.’
Stars Christine Lahti, Sara Walker, Andrea Burchill.
1987.
It may be dominated by a character who’s batty and maybe even beyond, but from the very opening we sense that this is a movie about to get under our skins in a subliminal kind of way.
Extras: Featurettes focus on interviews with director Bill Forsyth and cinematographer Michael Coulter; There are also several essays, plus reminiscences by editor Michael Ellis and even author Marilynne Robinson, who seems to be pleased by the adaptation of her book, which was thought to be unfilmable.
Read the Full Review

 

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June 13, 2017

Retailers Build Exclusives for 'Lego Batman Movie'

Several retail promotions were tied to the June 13 home video release of Warner's The Lego Batman Movie.

Walmart offered a gift set containing the Blu-ray combo pack with a lunchbox that had a cape on it.

Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack with a pack-on Batgirl mini-figure and three collectible postcards. Target also offered 15% off any "Lego Batman" product with the purchase of the film on disc.

Toys "R" Us offered the Blu-ray combo pack at $29.99 with a Batmobile Lego building set.

Best Buy offered the Blu-ray combo pack with Steelbook packaging. Best Buy also had Steelbook packaging for the Blu-ray combo pack of Lionsgate's John Wick Chapter 2.

Best Buy also offered a deluxe edition of Paramount's South Park: The Complete Twentieth Season containing the Blu-ray and exclusive 12-inch art cards.

Tied into promotions for the upcoming theatrical release of Transformers: The Last Knight, Walmart offered a $25.96 gift set containing a Blu-ray set of the first four live-action "Transformers" films on Blu-ray, plus a mini Transformers action figure.

Among the curiosities of the week, Amazon didn't have on-hand copies of the plain DVD for Lego Batman Movie, with shoppers wanting to buy a copy from the online retailer on its first day of release having to do so from a third-party marketplace seller.

Also, Fox's Table 19, a notable theatrical release starring Anna Kendrick that grossed $3.6 million at the domestic box office, wasn't offered at brick-and-mortar Best Buy and Target locations, where it was an online-only item. And Barnes & Noble offered it online at full SRP.

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June 12, 2017

New on Disc: 'Cheech and Chong's Next Movie' and more …

Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie (Blu-ray)

Street 6/13/17
Shout! Factory, Comedy, $27.99 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Evelyn Guerrero, Paul Reubens.
1980.
This is one of the more cogent Cheech & Chong vehicles out of seven this occasionally uproarious team made in a big-screen run known for its severe downward trajectory.
Read the Full Review

Obsessions (Blu-ray)

Cult Epics, Mystery, $34.95 Blu-ray/DVD combo, NR.
Stars Alexandra Stewart, Dieter Geissler, Tom Van Beek.
1969.
For those willing to lower expectations, there’s some lukewarm kinkiness to be gleaned from this Dutch Hitchcock homage co-written by Martin Scorsese that never reached U.S. theaters despite provocative displays of supporting actress tan-lines and considerable box office success abroad.
Extras: Includes separate interviews each running about 20 minutes with director Pim de la Parra and star Dieter Geissler, who have contrasting personality styles but otherwise couldn’t possibly be more personable. There’s also a page-by-page replication of the shooting script, complete with copious Scorsese margin notes.
Read the Full Review

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June 06, 2017

Exclusives for 'Beauty,' 'Bambi'

Retailers June 6 offered exclusive versions of Disney's Bambi: Signature Collection and live-action Beauty and the Beast.

For Beauty and the Beast, Best Buy offered exclusive Steelbook packaging with the Blu-ray combo pack. The new Bambi Blu-ray came with special lenticular box art.

Target offered special 32-page storybook packaging with the Blu-ray for both.

Walmart offered an exclusive DVD movie called You're Gonna Miss Me, starring John Schneider.

Best Buy offered a sale by which shoppers could save $5 when buying more than $25 of select titles.

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May 30, 2017

Walmart Prepping for Dad's Day With Free Can Coolers

Walmart set up a display of DVDs with specially themed Father's Day packaging and a free can cooler. The guy-friendly comedies from Warner ranged from $5.96 to $9.96 and were touted with a sign that said "Celebrate Dad with these 'bromantic' comedies." Titles included Oceans 11-13, We're the Millers, Horrible Bosses 2-Film Collection, Blazing Saddles, Vacation and more. The display took up one end of the usual $9.96/$12.96 kiosk.

Best Buy offered a $5 savings with the purchase of two Blu-ray or DVD collections from a display of select titles.

FOr preorders, Best Buy is offering a Steelbook case with the Blu-ray of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and a lenticular cover with Disney's Bambi: Signature Collection. Both titles will be released June 6.

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May 29, 2017

New on Disc: 'Seven Days in May' and more …

Seven Days in May (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive      
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien.
1964.
Though plotting specifics differ markedly and sometimes in polar-opposite fashion from current headlines, you have to believe that the political time is right for a remarkably clean high-def transfer of John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May, which now seems more potent than it ever did.
Extras: Frankenheimer’s typically standout voiceover commentary is carried over from a previous rendering.
Read the Full Review

Broken Arrow (1950) (Blu-ray)

Kino Lorber, Western, $29.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Stewart, Jeff Chandler, Debra Paget, Will Geer.
1950.
Broken Arrow may not be best of the Delmer Daves Westerns, but it was his first and probably the one that comes closes to being a household name, with a story about a person trying to straddle opposed cultures — a theme unlikely, to be sure, ever to lose its topicality or relevance.
Read the Full Review

 

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May 26, 2017

Events Mark Both Change and Legacy of Our Industry

Over the past month or so I’ve attended and reported on events that highlight the enormous change and legacy of our industry.

I interviewed longtime video veteran Mark Vrieling about the closing of his last rental store after nearly three decades in the business. He said he held out as the great majority of video stores closed by offering a deep catalog — which I think is something the industry should heed as we go digital.

Jodie LeVitus Francisco May 8 organized a video industry reunion in Calabasas, Calif., to bring together many of the executives that have passed through this business over the years. Our coverage of the event was heavily viewed and liked online. It was nice to see those I still work with and those who have moved on or retired, but still have a soft spot for the video industry.

“Video stores may end up as just a footnote in the history of the movie business, but I think the footnote will be a high point in the history,” Vrieling told me. “It was a time when pretty much any movie ever made was within reach of anybody. Even small towns and suburbs like mine had tens of thousands of titles available to customers.”

It also helped spawn digital goliaths such as Netflix. Many outside of this industry don’t know or remember that Netflix’s Ted Sarandos got his start in the entertainment business at a video store. The business also pushed Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to offer discs by mail after suffering a video store late fee. Even the famous video clerk recommendations immortalized by the sitcom “Seinfeld” have transitioned to the digital world with the recommendation engines at Netflix, Amazon and other online retailers. Marketing tie-ins long practiced by this industry are mirrored in practices at digital retailers such as Fandango, which offers licensed merchandise and videos of franchise predecessors to moviegoers who purchase tickets for the latest blockbuster in the theater.

Fandango president Paul Yanover, in receiving an award for leadership in the industry from the Entertainment Merchants Association May 19, professed optimism about home entertainment. His company has created an integrated digital network that serves consumers throughout the movie lifecycle, from theatrical tickets to premium on-demand video service FandangoNOW.

Yanover noted Fandango is “a newbie” in home entertainment, but added, “We truly believe there’s a massive opportunity.”

While certain iterations of the industry may wane, their legacy lives on in the digital realm and in a business that continues to bring an enormous amount of content, on demand, to the consumer.

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May 26, 2017

'Omni-channel' Retailing Still Has a Ways to Go

Our annual salute to the nation’s top home entertainment retailers is still a month away. But in my regular perusals of quarterly earnings reports, and earnings call transcripts, I’ve noticed that perhaps the most overused term in retail circles is “omni-channel,” an attempt by brick-and-mortar retailers to remain relevant — and stay in business — in a world increasingly dominated by Amazon, iTunes and other Web-only sellers.

What I’ve noticed is that while retail executives liberally toss around the “omni-channel” term and pat themselves on the backs for their efforts to bring the physical and virtual worlds together, only a few are getting it right. Among them is U.K. fashion retailer Oasis, which arms its clerks with iPads so if an item isn’t in stock, the customer can either order it on the spot or be directed to a nearby store that does have the item in stock. Another is Carrefour, a Belgian supermarket chain that lets customers scan items they want into an online shopping list and, when done, submit the order for pickup or delivery. And I absolutely love Apple’s approach, to let customers make appointments online to the “Genius Bar” in Apple stores, for quick, one-on-one customer service.

One of the silliest trends I’ve seen is the “ship to store” option, in which customers can order something online, through the retailer’s website, and then pick it up at the store. That defeats the whole purpose of online ordering — the primary reason we buy something from Amazon is because we don’t have time to go to the store, and want the merchandise delivered to our home or office. Why would I order a PlayStation 4 or a batch of Blu-ray Discs from Best Buy and then schlep on down to the store to pick the stuff up? Yes, I know, the lure is free shipping, but guess what? Amazon already offers that, and in fact shipping charges are fast disappearing in the online world. I know why retailers like the “ship to store” option: It brings customers into their stores, where hopefully they will buy something else. But that’s not thinking like a customer, is it?

Retailers also need to realize that speed is critical — and thanks to Amazon Prime we’re used to getting pretty much everything we could ever want within 48 hours. Our youngest son, Hunter, came home from ninth grade the other day and said he needed a copy of a certain book and movie ASAP. My wife drove down to the nearest Barnes & Noble to see what they had; neither book nor Blu-ray Disc was in stock. A cheerful clerk offered to order both and smiling said they’d arrive at the store in about a week. As she was relating this story to me on the phone, I was already on my Amazon app and by the time we hung up had purchased both online, with free two-day shipping. “Bad customer service,” I told Diana when she got back home. “The clerk should have said it will be there in two days and, if necessary, done the same thing I did, order it off Amazon,” I noted. Instead, I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth — and for our next school-required book or movie purchase we’re not even going to give Barnes & Noble a chance.

It’s a brutal world out there, folks. Brick-and-mortar retailers need to sharpen their survival instincts and get aggressive. And the whole concept of “omni-channel” is not so much integrating the physical and virtual retail worlds as it is streamlining the shopping process and enhancing the customer experience.

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