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Insights from home entertainment industry experts. Home Media blogs give you the inside scoop on entertainment news, DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, and the happenings at key studios and entertainment retailers. “TK's Take” analyzes and comments on home entertainment news and trends, “Agent DVD Insider” talks fanboy entertainment, “IndieFile” delivers independent film news, “Steph Sums It Up” offers pithy opinions on the state of the industry, and “Mike’s Picks” offers bite-sized recommendations of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases.


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17 Apr, 2017

New on Disc: 'World Without End' and more …


World Without End (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive        
Warner, Sci-Fi, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Hugh Marlowe, Nancy Gates, Rod Taylor.
1956.
World Without End tells the story of astronauts time-warped to an Earth filled with cave-dwelling creatures that attack Hugh Marlowe and crew in a futuristic society full of mutants in a story that shares many similarities with H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, and the result is all rather charming unless your eyes get stuck rolling back into their sockets.
Read the Full Review

Night Passage (Blu-ray)

All-Region French Import (billed as Le survivant des monts lointains)
Elephant/Universal, Western, $34.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Brandon de Wilde, Dianne Foster.
1957.
Sometimes an unexpectedly great-looking disc is its own justification if it catches you in a receptively generous mood. And Passage, whose lack of any substantial dramatic sand may have been a contributor to its unfortunate footnote in Western history, gets a lot of “demonstration” visual utmost out of its source Technirama roots.
Read the Full Review

 


11 Apr, 2017

'Rogue One' Hangover Leaves Retailers Prepping for Easter

'Hidden Figures' display at Target
'Hidden Figures' display at Target

A week after the mega home video release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, retailers took a step back for the April 11 new releases. While more notable titles were available during the week, overt retailer exclusives were kept at a minimum. About the only spotlight for the new titles was a front-of-store corrugated display for Fox's Hidden Figures at Target.

A week earlier, all the big retailers had exclusive editions of Rogue One. The 3D exclusive editions offered by Target and Best Buy apparently sold out quickly, and a week later only the Walmart exclusive-packaging version of the Disney film was observed still being on shelves in a store check of some Southern California locations.

For Hidden Figures, Fox actually released two configurations of the Blu-ray combo pack. One was a simple Blu-ray case with a Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD code. The other came with a cardboard fold-out slipcover and The History and Inspiration movie companion booklet. According to Internet reports, Amazon shipped the simpler version without the booklet.

In addition, Best Buy offered he slipcover version with an exclusive e-book of the original Hidden Figures book upon which the film is based.

Retailers were more interested in running promotions for Easter tie-ins in the week leading up to the Sunday holiday. Target touted several sales, including big brands such as Disney films and Warner's "Harry Potter." The chain also had family DVDs and Blu-rays priced at $4, $10 and $13 levels

Best Buy didn't offer a weekly ad circular; some weeks it doesn't publish one. The chain did offer a $5 gift card with the purchase of $25 or more on select movies from its family and Easter displays.

Notably, a couple of high-profile HBO shows were released on disc April 11 but weren't seen at most stores. Neither Veep: Season 5 or Silicon Valley: Season 3 were seen at Target or Walmart on DVD or Blu-ray, with the websites for both chains listing the titles as unavailable in stores. A Best Buy in Costa Mesa, Calif., just had the Blu-ray of "Veep," while the Blu-ray for "Silicon Valley" was available only in select stores, according to the Best Buy website.


10 Apr, 2017

New on Disc: 'S.O.B.' and more …


S.O.B. (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $21.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’
Stars Julie Andrews, William Holden, Robert Preston, Richard Mulligan, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters.
1981.
The main claim to fame of this admittedly overlong outing with huge visual compensations is probably as the vehicle in which top-billed Julie Andrews bared her breasts, but more importantly as the source of William Holden’s final screen appearance.
Read the Full Review

Peyton Place (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Lana Turner, Diane Varsi, Lee Phillips, Hope Lange, Arthur Kennedy, Russ Tamblyn.
1957.
Producer Jerry Wald did a bang-up getting Peyton Place to the screen so relatively soon after the best-selling 1956 publication of Grace Metalious’s New England scandalmonger. This has to be one of the most handsome Blu-rays that Twilight Time has ever released.
Extras: Both voiceover commentaries here are worth it and the first fabulously so. It’s by filmmaker/historian Willard Carroll, whose bonus then-and-now video of the Maine locales is a treat I didn’t expect. There’s also a spotty but valuable track, carried over from the 2004 Fox Studio Classics DVD, by Russ Tamblyn and supporting player Terry Moore in which Tamblyn comes off as one of the great guys ever, at least if we’re talking actors.
Read the Full Review
 


4 Apr, 2017

'Star Wars' Retail Blitz Centers on 'Rogue One'

(L-R): 'Rogue One' Blu-ray covers at Walmart, Target and Best Buy
(L-R): 'Rogue One' Blu-ray covers at Walmart, Target and Best Buy

Disney's home video release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story dominated retail channels April 4, with exclusive versions offered at most of the major chains.

Target even took the opportunity to promote all its "Star Wars" products, devoting a whole page to the franchise in its weekly ad circular. The chain offered coupons for $10 off any "Star Wars" purchase of $50 or more, and $25 off any "Star Wars" purchase of $100 or more. Among the products offered was an exclusive six-inch AT-ACT driver action figure.

Target's exclusive Blu-ray edition of Rogue One included the 3D version of the movie in addition to the Blu-ray combo pack, which included the 2D movie on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD. The exclusive packaging came with five interchangeable character covers and a bonus disc containing 10 minutes of exclusive featurettes: "Inside the Creature Shop" and "Digital Storytelling." Fans who preordered this version at Target.com also received a $5 digital gift card.

Best Buy's exclusive edition also included the 3D version as part of a Blu-ray combo pack in a Steelbook case. A Best Buy in Costa Mesa, Calif. was raffling off its Rogue One cardboard display to customers.

Walmart's exclusive Blu-ray had pop-out cover art featuring K-2SO and two Galactic Connexions trading discs.

The Disney store offered exclusive lithographs with preorders of the Rogue One Blu-ray.

Curiously, Amazon took down preorders for Rogue One weeks ago and listed the film as out of stock on its debut day. Availability of other Disney titles, such as Moana, was listed as out of stock or available only through third-party Marketplace sellers, leading to some speculation of a dispute between Disney and Amazon.

Rogue One home video display at Target

 

Rogue One display at Best Buy

 


28 Mar, 2017

'Fantastic' Retail Exclusives

Amazon's 'Fantastic Beasts' Blu-ray with statue
Amazon's 'Fantastic Beasts' Blu-ray with statue

Plenty of retailers offered exclusive editions of Warner's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Best Buy offered the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of Fantastic Beasts in a Steelbook case for $5 more than the widely available 4K version.

Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack in exclusive fold-out packaging designed to emulate Newt Scamander's case in the film.

Walmart offered a special edition of the Blu-ray with a pack-in coloring book, for $5 more than the regular Blu-ray.

Amazon offered a Blu-ray gift set with a Niffler statue.

Among other titles, Walmart offered a gift set of the Monster High: Electrified Blu-ray packed with a DVD of Monster High: Frights, Camera, Action for $18.96.


21 Mar, 2017

An 'Assassin' Made to 'Sing'

Best Buy's 'Sing' and 'Assassin's Creed' Steelbook 4K Blu-rays
Best Buy's 'Sing' and 'Assassin's Creed' Steelbook 4K Blu-rays

Retailers brought out exclusives for Universal's Sing and Fox's Assassin's Creed.

Walmart offered the Sing Blu-ray as part of a gift set with collectible character cards and exclusive bonus content.

Target offered a Gunter plush for $1.99 (regularly $10) with the purchase of the Sing Blu-ray.

For Assassin's Creed, Walmart had a gift set of the Blu-ray with a T-shirt.

Target offered a pack-in hidden dagger arm sleeve in select Blu-rays of Assassin's Creed.

Best Buy offered special Steelbook cases for the 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays of both films.


20 Mar, 2017

New on Disc: 'Deluge' and more …


Deluge

Kino Lorber, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Peggy Shannon, Lois Wilson, Sidney Blackmer.
1933.
The Big Apple gets swallowed by a tsunami yet again and unexpectedly early in screen history — courtesy of a middling movie curio that was thought to have been “lost” for decades and is of viewing interest these days at least as much for its lead casting.
Extras: This new Kino Classics release, which also includes a savvy voiceover commentary by Richard Harland Smith, is arguably better approached as a Peggy Shannon two-fer, thanks to the bonus inclusion of 1934’s bargain basement but not-bad newspaper romp Back Page.
Read the Full Review

Kiss of Death (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Richard Widmark, Coleen Gray.
1947.
Whatever its other virtues, which are considerable enough, Kiss of Death will always be renowned as the Fox film noir in which maniacal thug Richard Widmark shoves a wheelchair-bound mother down some steep apartment stairs.
Extras: The two audio commentaries are complementary: In a carryover from the old DVD, noir specialists James Ursini and Alain Silver roam on the technical side, while Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo get more into actor personas.
Read the Full Review


14 Mar, 2017

Retailers Load Up for 'Passengers'

Best Buy's 'Passengers' Steelbook
Best Buy's 'Passengers' Steelbook

Sony Pictures' Passengers arrived on disc with a couple of retailer exclusives.

Best Buy offered a Steelbook version of the 4K Ultra HD/3D/Blu-ray combo pack of the sci-fi film. The Steelbook verison was offered for $1 more than the regular version of the UHD/3D Blu-ray.

Target had the standard Blu-ray with an exclusive bonus disc containing the featurette "Journey to the Stars: The Making of Passengers."

Target is also offering a $5 gift card with online preorders for several upcoming titles, including the exclusive 3D Blu-ray of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.


13 Mar, 2017

Unpacking the Baggage of 'Passengers'


To hear most critics tell it, Passengers isn’t so much a love story as it is a tale of interstellar rape, given a happy ending through a morally ambivalent attitude toward Stockholm Syndrome. But to reduce the film to such a simplistic reading is to ignore many of the complex emotions at play within the characters involved, while at the same time overlooking the fact that the film generally agrees with the consensus of its detractors.

This essay is going to pretty much spoil the heck out of Passengers, so it’s best to avoid it until you check it. It’s available now on Digital HD, and will be available March 14 on Blu-ray, DVD and a 4K UHD/3D/Blu-ray combo pack from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film chronicles a starship hundreds of years into the future bringing 5,000 colonists from Earth to a new planet 120 years away. For most of the journey, the passengers and crew are asleep in hibernation pods while the ship operates on autopilot with robots conducting repairs and keeping everything clean. In the last four months of the trip, everyone wakes up and the trip essentially becomes a luxury cruise that helps everyone prepare for their new life.

As the film opens, the ship is damaged by an asteroid despite having shields against such things. The ship’s systems are able to repair most of the damage and compensate for what can’t be fixed, but the resulting malfunction causes one passenger, Jim (Chris Pratt) to wake up 90 years too early. He finds himself alone on the ship for more than a year with no recourse but to try out the ship’s amenities until he gets bored, and then wait for death.

As he contemplates suicide, he finds the pod of Aurora, an obvious Sleeping Beauty reference, and falls in love with her at first sight (she’s played by Jennifer Lawrence, so who wouldn’t?). He learns she’s a writer (her last name is Lane, as in Lois Lane?) and then reads all of her work, and watches interviews she has given, and in his loneliness comes to believe they’d be an ideal match.

Being an engineer, Jim has figured out how to bypass some of the ship’s systems that he has access to, including how to wake someone up from their pod. He considers waking up Aurora, but understands how morally repugnant that is, since she has no choice in the matter and would condemn her to the same, slow death sentence that fate has given him. But as people with an infatuation tend to do, he starts to believe that if she falls for him she would forget about whatever plans she was making on this new world.

So, he ends up waking her up, but then lying to her about it, passing it off as another pod failure (which she has no reason to doubt). Continuing the references (intentional or not) to Disney movies, their courtship involves hints of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.

The filmmakers make an interesting choice to follow Jim through his thought processes before he wakes her up, giving the audience the full knowledge of the truth about Aurora’s circumstance as they get to know each other. This is the primary point that many critics seem to have tuned out the movie, as they consider Jim’s actions irredeemable. And it’s true that the film does have the effect of making the naturally charming Chris Pratt, the hero of Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World and The Lego Movie, seem like a huge creep. He's clearly riddled by guilt over what he's done, but whatever empathies we had for Jim being alone for so long are tossed aside, even though it’s not like he was in an enviable position to begin with. This is a prime example of how sci-fi can test characters in a fictional setting in order to make viewers consider what they may have done in that situation. Laurence Fishburne plays a crew member who wakes up later in the movie and, upon learning what he did, likens him to a drowning man reaching out for help and pulling someone else down with him; the second victim doesn’t deserve it, but it’s not like he’s still not drowning.

On the flip side, the full knowledge of what Jim did puts all our sympathies with Aurora, and J-Law’s performance is so good that it’s really easy to love her. Further, this structures the film in such as way to make it mostly about Jim’s character arc in dealing with his guilt and seeking redemption. Had the film used some editing tricks let the audience discover that Jim woke her up at the same time she learns about it, it would have put more emphasis on her own arc of having to adjust to having her life stolen from her, and made the final half of the movie less about him. The film as presented, then, can be seen as reducing her character even more to the sex object Jim first sees her as, which only earned the film more ire. (The key of when to let the audience in on a plot twist to affect their perception of a movie is nothing new, but I was particularly reminded of the key reveal in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.)

She does learn the truth, of course, after a year in which they start a sexual relationship (after an awe-inspiring spacewalking sequence — not fair!) and begin to fall in love, and we are as heartbroken as Aurora, in no small part because Lawrence really nails the despair and anger she is flooded with upon learning of Jim’s betrayal. So, for the second third of the film, she wants nothing to do with him, while he tries to explain why he did what he did. He still comes off as creepy, but we can at least see that Jim is a fundamentally decent guy all things considered, and he does have genuine feelings for Aurora. Understandably, she doesn’t care about any of his excuses, since she ascribes his actions as tantamount to murder.

This gets into why they were on the ship to begin with. Jim, as a mechanic, is of little use on a technologically advanced Earth where everything is replaced. He wants the challenge of a new frontier were he can build a house and solve new problems.

Aurora, on the other hand, is trying to establish herself in the shadow of a famous father, who encouraged her to go on adventures to have something to write about. So she wants to go to sleep for 120 years, live for a year on a new planet, go back to Earth after another 120 years asleep, and then write a book about living 250 years in the future. Jim’s actions have robbed her of her audience. All she can do now is write about her life alone on the ship, which is not appealing to her. While critics have rightly pointed to her lack of agency in her life on the ship, it’s important to note that her goals here do factor into the decisions she ends up making in the final third of the film that have been met with so much disapproval.

For the third act, the film swerves a bit from exploring the various ethical motifs of its relationship drama and turns into more of a disaster film thriller, as the plot must address what caused the malfunctions to begin with. The asteroid strike has triggered a cascade failure of the ship’s computer, which will eventually cause the main reactor to fail and the ship to explode, killing everyone. The life-and-death struggle allows the story to sidestep the characters really dealing with their situation in lieu of some quick emotional shortcuts, which has drawn the ire of critics who were willing to cut Jim some slack and would have preferred a more intellectual resolution to the central character conflict instead of a Gravity-inspired action setpiece. The film is still entertaining, but such concerns are understandable.

What it boils down to is that in order to save the ship, Jim needed her help, so if she hadn’t have been awake, she would have died anyway. And his efforts to win back her trust and affection are accomplished by offering to sacrifice himself to save everyone’s life, leading her to realize that she’d then be put in the situation he had been in of being all alone for decades unless she woke someone up as well.

And it’s here the film throws in its final plot twist, as Jim, having been given access to new parts of the ship by Fishburne’s character (who, due to circumstances, doesn’t live long), is able to figure out how to use the medical equipment to put Aurora back to sleep for the rest of the trip. This gives finally gives her the choice she never had before in the movie, although it is a bit manipulative. By choosing to stay awake, the movie would suggest she cedes the moral high ground, thus earning more criticism.

However, I think those who would dismiss the film for reducing its ethical themes into a romantic context are missing a lot of what the film is trying to say. There are several scenes that tie into the moral implications of the narrative that almost everyone who discusses the film seems to overlook.

One scene involves Jim and Aurora looking at random sleeping passengers and playing a game about guessing the person's identity through looking at them. Aurora claims she she knows if she would befriend someone just on sight, something Jim sees as helping rationalize his decision as it implies some sort of sensory bond that stretches beyond a linear understanding of familiarity. He didn't just wake her up because he thought she was pretty. He took the time to get to know her through her writings and interviews. From his perspective, it likely wasn't much different from meeting a girl on a dating website, or in a bar, or at the park — he sees something in her that makes him think they would match well, and makes a case to convince her she should be with him. The big difference, of course, is that if he's wrong, as far as he knows at the time there's no recourse to put her back in the box. She can't just walk away and get on with her life — she's stuck on the ship too with someone she doesn't want to match with, and faced with the same dilemma of isolation.

So he's really betting the farm on them being compatible enough for her to be willing to choose him over her original plans for this trip. The fact that there's so much downside for being wrong explains his hesitancy in putting any sort of moves on her right away— giving her space, so to speak.

What the film doesn't get across so well is an idea that they don't seem to belong together, which she discusses in a voiceover of the character writing her book. It's a bit of a double-edged sword for the movie, in that his character is supposed to be sort of a nerdy loner who is more comfortable around machines than other people (Pratt's performance seems layered with hints of an aw-shucks introversion and social awkwardness), and yet if he's not played by someone as naturally charming as Chris Pratt there's a big question as to whether the audience would have abandoned him completely even as he's trying to redeem himself. To us, the characters aren't so much coming across as from different avenues of life as they are just Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence hanging out with great chemistry.

There's a bit more subtext to this on the Blu-ray, as there's a deleted scene in which she loads up on wine and calls him in the middle of the night to essentially make fun of how much of a loser he is, that there's no way she would have chosen to be with him in a normal circumstance, and she only slept with him out of boredom. It’s cruel, but hard to argue it’s unearned.

But the fact that she did spend a year with him also affects her decision later in the movie when she's given the choice of going back into suspended animation. This is really where the rubber meets the road as far as the ethical dilemmas of the film are concerned, as Jim is basically saying to her, 'look, I know I screwed up, but I do have genuine feelings for you, and I think you have feelings for me, too. If you truly think what I did was horrible, you can go back to sleep and never see me again, and live the life you wanted.' But I think playing into her decision in this regard was a scene, after learning the truth that Jim woke her up, in which she watches her friends leaving video messages to say goodbye to her. One friend even brings up the fact that when Aurora wakes up, the friend will be dead. This had to stir the internal dilemma within Aurora about what exactly she was doing with her life. Aurora was engaging this trip just to write a story about it because she thought it would make her unique. It would give her fame, sure, but her friend wishes for her to find someone to settle down with and be happy. (Jennifer Lawrence, speaking in the Blu-ray bonus featurettes, actually argues that Aurora's life is so without purpose that being woken up is actually the best thing that could have happened to her.)

There are a couple of quotes in the film that encapsulate what the characters are dealing with. In one, Aurora, first attempting to deal with the implications of waking up early, describes her plight thusly: “I may well spend the rest of my life here … traveling forever, never arriving.” This becomes an especially poignant statement regarding her character once we learn what she's really up to, and in light of some advice given to Jim by the robot bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen), repeating by Aurora as the closing line of the film: “You can’t get so hung up on where you’d rather be that you forget to make the most of where you are.” This evokes the classic maxim that life is about the journey, not the destination, which is a lesson I think we are meant to believe Aurora comes to realize thanks to her brush with death. Any decision to forigive Jim could be an honest reaction to his self-sacrifice (she at one point suggests letting the ship blow up rather than deal with the idea of killing him so she and everyone else could live), or it could just come down to accepting her situation for what it is — she may be stranded, and he may have stranded her, but is staying angry going to soothe the soul as much as going with the flow? Given the events that transpire, she may even start to believe fate had a hand in convincing him to wake her up.

So, Aurora's friend's words resonate when Jim tells her she can go back to sleep, and her first reaction is to express concern for leaving him alone, and that she’d never see him again. In thinking back to her friend’s message, she is possibly realizing how easily she is able to dismiss the people in her life for the sake of her own selfish motives. So yes, he was selfish in waking her up, but she was, in her own way, selfish in leaving her friends behind to take this trip, so that moment where she's able to return to her plan brings their relationship back into balance, which to me makes the ending of the film not only easier to swallow, but easier to appreciate on its own terms.


7 Mar, 2017

Packaging Options for Disney's 'Moana'

(L-R): Best Buy's 'Moana' Steelbook and Target's 'Moana' storybook Blu-rays
(L-R): Best Buy's 'Moana' Steelbook and Target's 'Moana' storybook Blu-rays

A couple of retailers offered exclusive packaging for the Blu-ray edition of Disney's Moana.

Target offered a Blu-ray version of the animated film packaged in a 32-page storybook.

Best Buy had the Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray versions of the film available as Steelbook editions for $5 more than the regular editions of those versions.

Best Buy is also touting its Steelbook 3D Blu-ray edition of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, available April 4.