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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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31 May, 2010

New on Disc: 'The Eastwood Factor,' 'MLB Bloopers' and more …

The Eastwood Factor: Extended Version

Street 6/1
Warner, Documentary, $14.97 DVD, NR.
The Eastwood Factor is a pleasing afternoon chat with a legendary filmmaker. The documentary has been expanded from a version that was included in the 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros. boxed set from February. Several Eastwood films also are being released on Blu-ray, such as Heartbreak Ridge, Absolute Power and The Rookie.
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MLB Bloopers: Baseball’s Best Blunders

Street 6/1
Shout! Factory, Sports, $14.97 DVD, NR.
You go into one of these amusing grab-bags — this one seems like the millionth since the dawn of the VHS era — wondering if it will pay deep and deserved homage to the May 23, 1993, Indians-Rangers game in which a fly ball hit Texas outfielder Jose Canseco in the head and bounced into the stands for a home run. The bounce heard ’round the world is, in fact, the funny DVD’s opening selection. The DVD also, for better or ill-focused worse, includes more than bloopers: think song-time in the dugout during rain delays or players tarp-sliding in the same situation.
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Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Vol. One

Infinity, Musical, $29.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Edie Adams, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee.
Bing Crosby was unquestionably the most important American entertainer from the first half of the 20th century, but he didn’t plunge into his TV specials until the Sunday night after New Year’s in 1954. This is the first of four shows on this spotty mix of curios and the genuinely super.
Extras: It was rare to see Crosby interviewed in any depth, but there’s a 1967 beauty in this set’s outstanding bonus section. The other standout — in an array that even includes a 1964 pitch for a Thermo-Fax machine — is a spring 1952 episode of religious show “The Christophers.”
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Silver Lode: Special Edition

VCI, Western, $14.99 DVD, NR.
Stars John Payne, Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea.
One of the better Westerns that rode in on High Noon’s buckboard, Silver Lode exhibits the limitations of low-budget filmmaking, which reduces its effectiveness as a political tract opposing McCarthyism.
Extras: VCI previously released Lode early in the decade but here gives it a fresh spiff-up, fine-tuning the film’s inherently expressive Technicolor and cleaning up wear that detracted from its DVD predecessor’s print.
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Which Way to the Front?

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, ‘G.’
Stars Jerry Lewis, Jan Murray, Steve Franken, John Wood.
A band of American World War II draftees, played by predominantly but not exclusively Jewish actors, invades Italy to take on the Germans. This gives Jerry Lewis, sporting a distinctive mustache/beard combo, the opportunity to impersonate a lookalike general in the German high command. I dare you to watch.
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27 May, 2010

'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' Season 2 on Disc Oct. 26

It looks like “Star Wars” just won't go away. Even 33 years after the debut of George Lucas' blockbuster space epic, the franchise continues to grow. The Empire Strikes Back recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, “Star Wars” merchandise is still a top seller, and Cartoon Network's CG-animated “Clone Wars” series continues to perform well in the ratings.

Warner Home Video will release the second season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” Oct. 26 (order date Sept. 14) as a four-disc set on DVD ($44.98) and Blu-ray Disc ($59.99). The discs will include all 22 episodes from the recently concluded season, plus audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes and a 64-page production journal. Exclusive to the Blu-ray edition will be “The Jedi Temple Archives,” an extensive database of special effects footage, concept art, 3D renderings and more.

The show takes place in the time frame between Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, with the action-packed second season dubbed “Rise of the Bounty Hunters.” One of the highlights was the return of Boba Fett, the badass bounty hunter from the original trilogy, who is still learning the ropes here, as he is still a child seeking revenge for his father's death in Episode II. Longtime franchise fans should appreciate many of the subtle nods to the expanded universe established in novels and comic books.

25 May, 2010

A Retail ‘Blood’-Letting

The release of HBO Home Entertainment’s True Blood: The Complete Second Season received most of the attention at retail May 25, even over a couple of theatricals debuting on disc.

Best Buy essentially offered its own “True Blood” store, with discounts off the first season on disc, as well as other merchandise, such as souvenir T-shirts and bottles of a Tru-Blood branded soda.

Target offered a $5 gift card to customers who bought season two on DVD or Blu-ray with any book by Charlaine Harris, author of the novels upon which the TV show is based. Target also had exclusive bonus content: a 45-minute cast Q&A, available with either the DVD or Blu-ray. Target also had the DVD of the first season at $39.99.

Also available at Target was an exclusive Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of Dear John.

Walmart offered copies of the Dear John DVD packed with DVD copies of Sleepless in Seattle for $19.96 a set.

Best Buy also is taking preorders for season six of “Lost,” on DVD and Blu-ray Aug. 24.

24 May, 2010

New on Disc: 'Stagecoach' and more …


Street 5/25
Criterion, Western, $39.95 DVD or Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Thomas Mitchell.
John Ford’s landmark Western is about as bedrock as you can get when it comes to American cinema. The print here — struck from best-existing 1942 materials, which tells you everything you have to know — is the best of the movie I’ve ever seen, though with more scratches than anyone is used to seeing in a Criterion Hollywood release. That’s the way it is: We all know the horror stories about the what-me-worry attitude the industry took toward preservation way back when.
Extras: Criterion has gone all out on the extras here, starting with a rather rigidly delivered but undeniably organized no-fat commentary by top movie Western historian Jim Kitses. You get the sense that Criterion, knowing the inevitable shortcomings of the utilized print, did everything else possible to succeed in making this one of the DVD/Blu-ray releases of the year.
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Doctor Zhivago: 45th Anniversary Edition

Warner, Drama, $24.98 two-DVD set, $35.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13’ for mature themes.
Stars Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson, Tom Courtenay.
David Lean’s blockbuster adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel became the No. 1 date movie of its era, and Warner’s gorgeous new Blu-ray almost makes it seem like a first-time viewing.
Extras: Extensive carryovers from previous releases, though a new 40-minute featurette has several filmmakers rhapsodizing on what Zhivago meant to them.
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Rogues of Sherwood Forest

Sony Pictures, Adventure, $14.94 DVD, NR.
Stars John Derek, George Macready, Diana Lynn, Alan Hale Sr.
Cashing in on the new Robin Hood is a DVD quartet of ‘B’ movies that along with Rogues includes The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946), Prince of Thieves (1948) and Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960). This movie about Robin Hood’s son is minor, yet looks as if it cost four times more than it must have, so splendid is the Technicolor that hits us in the face with its reds.
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Roads to Memphis (American Experience)

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Perhaps not as classy as other “Experience” presentations, this documentary at least provides context for the fateful (and fatal) convergence of Martin Luther King Jr. and his assassin, James Earl Ray, in 1968.
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Available now via WBShop.com’s Warner Archive.
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Peter Falk, Emily Lloyd, Dianne Wiest, Jerry Lewis.
No more — or less — than keenly cast goombah fluff that barely got a national release at the time, this reasonably cute trifle didn’t just predate “The Sopranos” by a full decade in its portrayal of hoods at home. It also opened before Warner, almost exactly a year later, unveiled Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas to instant classic status. Cookie may be one of Warner’s DVD-R titles geared to on-demand requests, but there’s nothing wrong with its 1.85:1 presentation.
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18 May, 2010

More Titles Await Online

May 18 represented a decent week for new releases, with several mid-range but high-profile titles heading to stores. Not every title will be available on shelves, however, with some retailers saving space by shifting smaller titles to their websites.

Wal-Mart is most notorious for this practice, routinely offering many Blu-ray titles and pricier boxed sets online.

May 18 saw the release of the Oscar-nominated but low-earning The Messenger, the Woody Harrelson film about soldiers who inform family members of their loved ones’ deaths. Among major retail chains, only Best Buy offered the Blu-ray combo pack in stores, at $22.99 ($17.99 for the plain DVD). Wal-Mart offered the DVD at $15, with the Blu-ray online only at $19.96.

Target offered no copies of The Messenger in stores, shifting it online with the DVD at $19.49 and the Blu-ray at $22.39.

Target was more interested in pushing re-releases of “Sex and the City” season sets at $13.99 each, touting that they contain a $7.50 movie coupon for Sex and the City 2, in theaters May 27.

17 May, 2010

New on Disc: 'The Messenger,' 'Walkabout' and more …

The Messenger

Street 5/18
Oscilloscope, Drama, B.O. $1.1 million, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language and some sexual content/nudity.
Stars Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi, Jena Malone.
To my knowledge, here’s the first time that a movie has focused its full intensity on those soldiers whose duty it is to report the deaths of other soldiers to their families and loved ones. This is among last year’s best films.
Extras: The DVD/Blu-ray extras include a commentary and an interview of key filmmaking personnel; reflections from the set; and a documentary on the U.S. Army Casualty Notification Officers.
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Street 5/18
Criterion, Drama, $39.95 DVD or Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg, David Gumpilil.
A prominent example of a movie beloved by many within cult parameters yet not particularly known to the masses. The story focuses on two siblings (played by Jenny Agutter and director Nicolas Roeg’s son, Luc) who are stranded in the Australian Outback after their father flips out, and meet a young aborigine (David Gumpilil) on a ritual quest to claim his manhood.
Extras: The print here is the longer European cut. Criterion’s extras are superb, highlighted by an hour-long documentary about Gumpilil — who has spent his life going back and forth between movie appearances and living the most primitive kind of life.
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Carlito’s Way (Blu-ray)

Street 5/18
Universal, Drama, $26.98 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for strong violence, drug content, sexuality and language.
Stars Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzman.
In terms of movies about former outlaws trying to go straight but getting foiled by bad luck and bad punks, Brian De Palma’s kinetic adaptation of the Edwin Torres novel is way up there on my list of applicable favorites. The photographic interiors make this movie an enticing Blu-ray candidate, even though a fresh remastering wouldn’t have hurt.
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Universal, Comedy, $19.98 DVD, ‘PG’ for language, and for mild violence and sensuality.
Stars John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton.
You’d really have to be a pop-culture zero not to realize that the comic sleeper of its year was made by a pair of savvy movie lovers (writer Charlie Haas and director Joe Dante) who grew up paying attention to what theatrical exhibition in the early 1960s was really like.
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Toys in the Attic

Available now via Amazon.com CreateSpace
MGM, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Dean Martin, Geraldine Page, Wendy Hiller, Yvette Mimiuex.
An oddball adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play about repressed incest and other hothouse excesses in New Orleans. After a career directing live TV, George Roy Hill made Attic his second feature (of only 14 total) before he really got rolling several years later with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting and Slap Shot.
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13 May, 2010

‘Avatar’ a Wasted Opportunity?

Wow. James Cameron’s surprising box office bonanza Avatar has sold 20 million discs, 6.2 million of those being the Blu-ray version to set a record for the format.

Let me put it another way. Avatar has sold 20 million DVDs, with 6.2 million consumers wisely choosing to spend a couple extra bucks to get the set that includes an extra disc with a Blu-ray copy.

See the difference?

The huge sales (three straight weeks at No. 1 and unlikely to change for a fourth) indicate such strong demand that I think had the only version available been the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack it still would have sold exceptionally well. Plus, it would have forced consumers to confront their lack of knowledge of Blu-ray Disc.

OK, maybe that’s utopian thinking on my part, since in my experience most consumers seem rather rube-ish about technical issues. Just look at some of the negative PR Disney took by putting a Snow White Blu-ray in a DVD-style case last year.

BUT, you don’t let 13 million people off the hook by letting them buy the lower-quality DVD version of a movie that really needs to be seen in HD. (I am not going to get into the bigger flaw with the Avatar release strategy, namely a complete lack of a bonus disc or any extras in the initial release).

The marketing strategy for Blu-ray has been to push it as a premium product, with a combo pack offering a bonus disc of the DVD. I say reverse that logic, and get those stuck in standard-def to think of combo packs as DVDs that also contain a Blu-ray Disc (Fox and MGM have started to do this with some of their catalog titles). I think if more studios adopted a strategy of only releasing combo packs for new movies, the late-adopters to Blu-ray would still get their DVD, plus start building a pile of Blu-ray Discs that may just spark their curiosity about the format enough to finally splurge on the $120 for a decent but low-end BD player.

The faster consumers get on board with Blu-ray, the better things will be for packaged media in the long run.

11 May, 2010

‘Toy Story’ Still Going Strong

While most retailers gave a fair amount of shelf space to the modestly performing theatrical films hitting DVD and Blu-ray Disc May 11, a lot of the attention was diverted to old favorites, especially Disney’s “Toy Story” movies.

Wal-Mart continues to stock 2008’s Iron Man in its new-release shelf, while also giving considerable space to Avatar and DVD-only re-releases of the “Toy Story” movies.

It’s worth noting that the “Toy Story” movies have been released on DVD numerous times before, and on Blu-ray just a few months ago. The May 11 DVDs basically are the special editions from a few years ago with a new preview for Toy Story 3.

Target’s weekly ad circular gave the “Toy Story” DVDs such prominent placement that one would think they were brand new to disc. Best Buy’s ad circular also touted Avatar and Toy Story, pointing customers to a Toy Story 3 theatrical coupon in the Blu-ray versions of the first two films, plus a $15 savings with the purchase of both.

Best Buy also offered a $5 gift card with the purchase of both Legion and Daybreakers.

The most notable exclusive was Wal-Mart’s two-pack of Legion and Gabriel, a 2007 film starring Andy Whitfield of “Spartacus: Blood and Sand.”



10 May, 2010

New on disc: 'Leap Year,' 'No Time for Sergeants' and more …

Perry Mason: Season Five Vol. One

Paramount/CBS, Drama, $54.99 four-DVD set, NR.
Stars Raymond Burr.
I love hopping through vintage TV series to see which ones were employing character actors on their way up, down (usually) or simply sustaining themselves via steady employment. Perry Mason: Season 5 Vol. 1 offers a fair tally, starting with dishy Leslie Parrish in a pair of episodes following her Broadway and screen appearances as Daisy Mae in Li’l Abner — but before she appeared memorably in The Manchurian Candidate as Laurence Harvey’s tragic wife.

In “The Case of the Impatient Partner,” she’s a receptionist the boss honcho is always chewing out whenever she tells him the bad news that Mrs. Honcho is calling. (There’s also a prototypically “Mason” hysterical courtroom breakdown by Ben Cooper, who was previously the one green member of the Dancing Kid’s gang in Nicholas Ray’s classic Johnny Guitar). In "The Case of the Left-Handed Liar," Parrish runs an exercise class (she’d easily fill the bill today as well) but has a really snotty personality.

Robert Armstrong, renowned as the crusty promoter in the original King Kong, plays a crusty seaman in “The Case of the Malicious Mariner” — and working phones in the shipping office is former cowgirl Penny Edwards, who often took over as Roy Rogers’ leading lady when Dale Evans got pregnant in real life. Skip Homier had the kind of facial features that suited his frequent casting as villains, a la the Nazi youth in Tomorrow the World and the punk who shoots Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter. In "The Case of the Pathetic Patient," he’s a good guy doctor getting sued by Frank Cady (previously the neighbor who sleeps on the fire escape in Rear Window and later Sam Drucker on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres”). And look: here’s “Star Trek’s” DeForest Kelley — in a white tux, no less — fairly miserably married to the boss’s daughter in “The Case of the Unwelcome Bride.” There are all kinds of familiar faces in this one: The Crimson Pirate’s Torin Thatcher; frequent underworld smoothie Gerald Mohr; Shane’s string-pulling villain Emile Meyer as a cop; and on the witness stand, Alan Hale Jr. pre-“Gilligan’s Island.”

Leap Year

Universal, Romance, B.O. $25.9 million, $29.98 DVD, $36.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG’ for sensuality and language.
Stars Amy Adams, Adam Scott, Matthew Goode.
When it played in theaters in January, neither critics nor the public got too excited about the admittedly modest Leap Year. But if you have a crush on lead Amy Adams — and I will plead guilty to any of Perry Mason’s judges — this predominantly Ireland-based romance does more for her as a star vehicle than, say, January’s Edge of Darkness did for Mel Gibson. Though, yes, its basic framework has been employed again and again and again (if perhaps not lately) since It Happened One Night.

No Time for Sergeants

Warner, Comedy, $14.97 DVD, NR.
Stars Andy Griffith, Myron McCormick, Nick Adams, Murray Hamilton, Don Knotts.
Watching Sergeants today, you have to think that it must have in some ways influenced “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” in that its rural innocent is drafted into the Air Force, whereby he turns his superiors into basket cases. This screen version’s first hour is much funnier than I remembered.
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The Honeymooners Valentine Special

MPI, Comedy, $14.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, Jane Kean.
This late-1970s special and a new companion volume (1976’s Second Honeymoon) are funnier than expected, though they must have seemed beyond retro at the time, when “Saturday Night Live” was still a fresh rage.
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The Barbara Stanwyck Collection

Universal, Drama, $49.98 three-DVD set, NR.
Two movies I treasure are the hallmarks of a six-title set devoted to my favorite actress of her generation, one who could be vulnerable or charming — but if the script called for it, also capable of taking your head off. Those are Douglas Sirk’s There’s Always Tomorrow (1956) and All I Desire (1953). The other four selections have enough individual ammo to make them worth seeing — Internes Can’t Take Money (1937), The Great Man’s Lady (1942), The Lady Gambles (1949) and The Bride Wore Boots (1946), which features a 7-year-old Natalie Wood.
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Art & Copy

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
There are no specific allusions to “Mad Men” in Doug Pray’s documentary about 1960s ad men and women, but you feel its presence everywhere in this story of how a once stale business and “old boys club” got creative just as the country was changing and getting out of its own cultural doldrums.
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The Gallant Hours

Available now via Amazon.com CreateSpace.
MGM, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
The Gallant Hours was James Cagney’s next-to-last movie before retiring, not counting the late twilight comebacks he made in Milos Forman’s Ragtime and TV’s “Terrible Joe Moran” two decades later. His performance as World War II’s famed Adm. William Fredrick “Bull” Halsey Jr. — think Paul McCartney & Wings’ Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey — effectively submerges the more familiar Cagney flamboyance and is instructive in gauging his acting range, which was underrated. Compare this film, which came out a year after Halsey’s death, with Cagney’s mile-a-second comic monologues in Billy Wilder’s One Two Three, where breathlessly staccato pacing facilitated the exhausted actor’s retirement as retiring to a more placid farming environment suddenly looked attractive.  

4 May, 2010

‘Iron Man’ Back in Retail Spotlight

The May 7 theatrical debut of Iron Man 2 means retailers are keen on offering “Iron Man” product this week. Not only did two new volumes of “Iron Man” cartoons hit DVD May 4, but some retailers put the 2-year-old DVD of the first movie back in the new-release section.

Wal-Mart offered the 2008 film on DVD for $13, while Best Buy offered it at $12.99 for DVD and $19.99 for Blu-ray.

Best Buy also had the recent Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel DVD discounted 50%, to $9.99.

As Mothers Day looms on May 9, the big retailer with the most noticeable themed display was Best Buy, which offered a selection of mom-friendly hits for $4.99 or $9.99 each.

Target tagged a selection of DVDs for moms at $4.99 each and offered Blu-ray Discs at $12.99 apiece.

Wal-Mart had the exclusive distribution for Fox’s Flicka 2, offered at $13 on DVD and $15 as a two-pack with the first movie.

Best Buy exclusively offered the Blu-ray Disc version of WWE’s Wrestlemania XXVI.