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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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2 Feb, 2010

Planet of Hulk and Zombies

While Zombieland was probably the biggest new release Feb. 2, most retailers still had prominent displays for Michael Jackson’s This Is It, a holdover from the previous week.

A Wal-Mart in Long Beach, Calif., was playing This Is It on one of its TV endcaps, and had two big aisle displays for the movie.

The only retailer offering a Zombieland exclusive was Best Buy, which had a bonus DVD packed in with limited copies of the Zombieland DVD and Blu-ray. Extra content includes the featurette “Shootin’ Zombies With Ruben Fleischer” and behind-the-scenes footage.

Another title that generated a lot of interest was Lionsgate’s new Marvel animated adaptation Planet Hulk.

Best Buy’s weekly ad circular promoted an exclusive mini comic book on-pack with copies of Planet Hulk. A store in Costa Mesa, Calif., had a nice Planet Hulk display at the front of the store, but DVD copies of the movie were marked with a sticker promoting a simple mini-poster inside the package.

The mini-comic, The Incredible Hulk and Now the Wolverine, actually came with copies of the new Wolverine and the X-Men: Fate of the Future DVD, as well as re-released versions of previous Lionsgate animated Marvel movies Ultimate Avengers, The Invincible Iron Man and Hulk vs.

Best Buy was one of three major retailers offering some sort of “Hulk” comic book exclusive. Wal-Mart offered a 20-page Planet Hulk Prelude: Peace in Our Time mini-comic with copies of the two-DVD special edition of the movie, while Target presented a digital comic with the special edition. (Target didn’t bother advertising the single-DVD version in its weekly ad circular.)

Wal-Mart also is running a promotion for the TV series “24.” Through Feb. 28, fans can get a free CTU T-shirt by mail with purchase of a “24” DVD set.

1 Feb, 2010

New on DVD: ‘More Than a Game,’ ‘As It Is in Heaven’ and more …


Prebook 2/2; Street 3/2
Shout! Factory, Drama, $19.97 DVD, NR.
Stars Kurt Russell, Shelley Winters, Season Hubley, Bing Russell.

Boilerplate biopic, albeit very high-end, spanning 1952-69 (when Presley made his Las Vegas debut). John Carpenter directed the eventual Golden Globe nominee for ABC. Kurt Russell’s performance is exceptionally studied (if your subject is Elvis, it had better be), and his nailing of the singer’s mannerisms and speech patterns (uh-huh, uh-huh) still leaves me all shook up.
Extras: Commentary by Ronnie McDowell (who re-creates Elvis’ “voice” in the movie — and very well) and Presley cousin Edie Hand; minor featurettes. 
Read the Full Review

More Than a Game

Street 2/2
Lionsgate, Documentary, B.O. $1 million, $27.98 DVD; ‘PG’ for brief mild
language and incidental smoking.
Remarkable access again distinguishes a basketball documentary. This time, it’s championship high-school team St. Vincent-St. Mary, out of Akron, Ohio, in the early 2000s – whose standout player just happened to be current Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James.
Read the Full Review

As It Is in Heaven

Street 2/2
Kino, Drama, $29.95 DVD, NR. In Swedish with English subtitles.
Stars Michael Nyqvist, Frida Hallgren, Helen Sjoholm.
Seeking inner peace, a renowned symphony conductor (Michael Nyqvist) returns to the Swedish village where childhood bullies once pummeled him — only to be cajoled into leading a church choir of oddballs and upsetting a closed community’s rhythm. Enjoyable — though at times, this foreign-language Oscar nominee seems like another of those humanistic feel-good imports that Oscar frequently nominates for foreign-language feature in its sleep.
Read the Full Review

Leonard Bernstein: Omnibus

E1, Music, $49.98 four-DVD set, NR.
Here’s Lenny in the just-plain-folks mode that some inevitably found off-putting — but he still has charm to burn explaining Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, jazz, conducting, American musical comedy, “modern music,” Bach and opera. Remarkably restored and remastered from kinescopes by the Archive of American Television.
Extras: A CBS broadcast of Handel’s Messiah from Christmas Day 1955. Note, also, young Carol Burnett’s appearance on the musical comedy program.
Read the Full Review

Ruggles of Red Gap

Available Now via Amazon.com CreateSpace
Universal, Comedy, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Charles Laughton, Zasu Pitts, Charles Ruggles, Mary Boland.
This is director Leo McCarey’s gentle jewel, epochs overdue on DVD. For lead Charles Laughton, it kicked off one of the greatest single years any actor has ever enjoyed. The recent availability of this best picture Oscar nominee is a nice lead-in to Criterion’s much-awaited Feb. 23 release of McCarey’s never-more-topical 1937 tearjerker Make Way for Tomorrow.
Read the Full Review

TCM Greatest Classic Films: Sci-fi Adventures

Street 2/2
Warner, Sci-Fi, $27.92 two-DVD set, NR.
Stars Kenneth Tobey, James Whitmore, Hugh Marlowe, Lois Maxwell.
Another keenly packaged Turner Classic Movies four-pack offers The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, World Without End and Satellite in the Sky. My, what large scales or pincers you have.
Read the Full Review

26 Jan, 2010

Jacko's Final Spotlight

(L-R): Wal-Mart and Target <i>This Is It</i> Exclusives
(L-R): Wal-Mart and Target <i>This Is It</i> Exclusives

With This Is It representing the last new material generated by Michael Jackson before his death, retailers understandably gave it a grand treatment upon its release Jan. 26.

Target offered an exclusive This Is It Blu-ray combo pack that also contained the DVD, the latest Sony Pictures title to see this configuration at Target (Angels & Demons was the first). Shoppers also could get a $5 gift card with purchase of the This Is It CD soundtrack with either the DVD or Blu-ray.

In a related promotion, Target gave away 3D glasses to be used during a special Jackson tribute during the Grammys.

Best Buy listed This Is It videos in the music section of its weekly ad circular, and offered an exclusive bonus disc with the Blu-ray version, which also came with a backstage pass replica. Fans could also save $5 off the DVD or Blu-ray with purchase of the This Is It CD or the 25th anniversary Thriller CD.

Wal-Mart, which devoted a whole sectional display to This Is It and other Jackson products, offered an exclusive two-DVD special edition of the concert film, with four additional featurettes on the second disc.

Wal-Mart also give short shrift to another Blu-ray new release Jan. 26 by not offering the Whip It BD in stores, but online only, presumably to drive traffic to Walmart.com.

Wal-Mart also cut the price of a BD Live-ready Samsung Blu-ray Disc player nearly in half, from $248 to $128, the same price as its Magnavox non-Internet ready player.

25 Jan, 2010

New on DVD: 'This Is It,' 'Whip It' and more …

Before writing a quarter-century’s worth of consecutive Friday home viewing columns for USA Today, I programmed about 5,000 movies at Washington, D.C’s American Film Institute Theater for eight years.

Before that, I went through a kind of screening-regimen boot camp (though this one was more for wimps) at New York University’s Graduate School of Cinema. And before that, I worked at a CBS affiliate in one of the country’s largest feature film libraries.

In other words, I have seen them come and go.

Starting this week, I hope to bring some of the colorful fallout from all this (plus my admitted junkie-dom for sports, politics and all things pop) to a Home Media Magazine feature devoted to the viewing room releases that push my buttons.

I didn’t want to begin until there was an especially meaty week of choices at hand. So here we are: for anyone whose taste runs to the eclectic, Jan. 26’s street date comes close to being the full haunch.

Michael Jackson’s This Is It

Street 1/26
Sony Pictures, Music, B.O. $72.1 million, $28.96 DVD; $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG’ for some suggestive choreography and scary images.
Jackson is in full command as he rehearses for the concert that never was. Some of the performance footage here needs no qualification: “The Way You Make Me Feel” performance, for example, made me feel pretty spry.
Extras: Several behind-the-scenes documentaries, and the Blu-ray adds lots more, including interactive features.
Read the Full Review

Whip It

Street 1/26
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $13 million, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13’ for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material.
Stars Ellen Page, Juliette Lewis, Drew Barrymore, Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern.
Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut benefits from plucky Ellen Page really diving into roller derby mayhem. The story’s sisterly camaraderie (Lewis and Barrymore play partners in contusions) is not without appeal, and it’s fun to see the beer enthusiast dad played by Daniel Stern.
Extras: Expendable deleted scenes — though there’s one funny harangue by the team’s coach (Andrew Wilson).
Read the Full Review

Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy

Street 1/26
Criterion, Drama, $79.95 three-DVD set, NR.
Director Rossellini made history by filming World War II’s aftermath as it happened with Rome Open City (1945); Paisan (1946-48) and Germany Year Zero (1948-49). The still-searing City, about Italy’s anti-Fascist resistance, put future Oscar-winning actress Anna Magnani on the international map. The six-part Paisan remains an uncommonly consistent anthology film.
Extras: Archival Rossellini intros, extensive documentaries, essays, the Taviani Brothers (great Italian filmmakers themselves) paying homage, and more.
Read the Full Review

The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours Later

Street 1/26
A&E, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.
As one historian notes, few days left America more vulnerable than the events of Nov. 22, 1963. This account replicates the feel of William Manchester’s 1967 essential read The Death of a President — possibly because the author himself compiled documents in 1964-65  that were sealed until last year. Most amazing revelation: a power scuffle over JFK’s body between government and local authorities in the hospital, during which someone actually pulled a gun.
Read the Full Review

Bright Star

Street 1/26
Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $4.4 million, $27.96 DVD, ‘PG’ for thematic elements, some sensuality, brief language and incidental smoking.
Stars Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Paul Schneider.
The story is of John Keats at 23 as an aspiring Romantic poet. Writer-director Jane Campion got super reviews for her take on the romance between Keats (Whishaw) and neighbor Fannie Brawne (Cornish). The movie looks gorgeous, too — so where’s the Blu-ray?
Extras: Three minor Campion featurettes, over in a blink.
Read the Full Review

Country’s Greatest Stars Live: Vol. 1 and 2 (DVD Review)

Street 1/26
Shout! Factory, Music, $26.99 each two-DVD set, NR.
Telecast over a five-month period during the Jimmy Carter years, this seven-hour tribute to 50 years of a bedrock music form showcases more than 60 artists performing the expected evergreens. But this is what you want in a comprehensive overview, which is far more often moving than not despite an overabundance of saccharine strings.
Read the Full Review


22 Jan, 2010

Continuing an Epic

Sci-fi geeks experiencing a bit of “Battlestar Galactica” withdrawal should be able to get their fix with the prequel series “Caprica,” which premieres tonight on Syfy.

Granted, most fans have probably seen the pilot, which Universal released on DVD last year, and tonight’s version is an edited-for-TV version (with limited commercial interruption, at least). So for many fans, the real premiere comes next week with the first regular episode of the series.

I can’t wait to dive in. I was a huge fan of the “Galactica” remake, developed by veteran writer Ronald D. Moore, who cut his teeth on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” writing some of the better episodes of those shows. “Caprica” chronicles how the Colonials created the Cylons, a race of robots who would eventually turn against their masters and force them to flee their homeworlds in search of the mythical Earth.

With the arrival of the show on Blu-ray and its spin-off movie The Plan, I recently watched “Galactica” from start to finish again, and I must say it’s even better the second time around, avoiding the problem a lot of shows have once their freshness has worn off (I’m looking at you “24”).

Yes, “Galactica” took a lot of heat and criticism for a final season, and a final episode, that seemed to abandon its sci-fi ideals in exchange for a blanket spiritualism that overwhelmed the storylines, leading many viewers to conclude it overwhelmed the writers as well. Talk of angels and gods began to take on literal meanings within the plot, although it turns out the characters in question were saying exactly what they were the entire time.

This evokes the feeling of a Greek poem not unlike The Iliad or The Odyssey, when gods would interfere with the course of humanity all the time. Upon further review of the show’s plots and motifs, it seems clear that these ideas fit perfectly into the narrative structure. The Plan acts as an epilogue that reinforces the primary themes of the show.

Fundamentally, this is a show (and, with “Caprica,” a franchise) about the conflicts between parents and children. How a new generation’s desire to stake a legacy of their own often interferes with the goals of the previous generation for a better tomorrow.

We see it with the Cylons attacking humanity.

We see it in Cavil’s conflict with the Final Five.

We see it on a personal level, between Apollo and Adama. Between Starbuck and her parents. In Athena and Helo’s attempts to protect Hera.

We see it on a spiritual level, as a story of humanity’s metaphorical parent, God, attempting to set right the sins of its creation by orchestrating the destruction of one society and the creation of another. The Biblical overtones are obvious.

Further, we can extend the metaphor beyond the fourth wall, as the show attempts to surpass the original from the 1970s. “All of this has happened before, and will happen again” is more than just key mythology within the storyline, it is an acknowledgement of the show’s roots. In this sense the series seems aware of its place within the history of televised science-fiction.

Now, with “Caprica,” the franchise grows beyond its origins, maintaining its focus on the core story, but presenting it in a whole new light. I for one can’t wait to see how these new stories inform and enhance what we already know.

Sure, history has shown us that creating an effective prequel isn’t always the easiest task to accomplish. However, given the pedigree of the writers involved with “Caprica,” I have faith that they’ll pull it off.

21 Jan, 2010

DVD Has Spoiled Us

While not altogether surprised, I often find it amusing to see how much we as a consumer society have taken DVD for granted.

Here’s how Steve Nickerson, Summit’s president of home entertainment, summarized the studio’s reasons for loading its upcoming New Moon discs with special features:

“This is what the fans are looking for,” Nickerson said. “The true fans of the franchise have already seen New Moon in theaters — maybe two or three times. We need to give them more than just the film on DVD.”

Wow. Remember the olden days of VHS, when all we got was the movie we had already seen in theaters. And maybe a few movies came with another tape that had a making-of documentary or something, but that was the exception.

Nowadays, a disc makes news when it DOESN’T have extras. Studios that skimp are accused of being cheap. Not exactly the best image from a PR perspective.

Seems to me the distribution channel that more closely mirrors VHS is online, in that digital copies don’t have the extras either. And that’s what makes DVDs (and now Blu-ray) such a unique value proposition. Heck, some discs have so many extras it’s like a film school in a box, or at least a solid afternoon of entertainment.

Disc sales may have come down a bit recently, but I’d hate to imagine the growth curve if we had to rely on VHS for the past 13 years.

19 Jan, 2010

Retailers Overwhelmed by Mid-Range Releases

The selection of new releases Jan. 19 may have been vast, but the selection apparently wasn’t exciting enough to inspire retailers’ promotional efforts.

With many stores still heavily promoting catalog titles at clearance prices, some of the newer titles seemed lost in the shuffle.

Best Buy, for example, didn’t even bother including Anchor Bay’s Pandorum or Sony Pictures’ Damages: Season Two in its weekly ad circular. Instead, the chain trumpeted the new Blu-ray flipper discs for the “Bourne” movies (at $17.99 each) and an exclusive Blu-ray boxed set of the two “Smokin’ Aces” movies ($29.99). The original Smokin’ Aces hit Blu-ray Jan. 19 in time for its direct-to-video sequel.

Despite its gestures toward raising Blu-ray’s profile, Wal-Mart doesn’t seem to have made great strides in promoting the high-definition format. A store in Long Beach, Calif., had a few token catalog Blu-ray titles next to its new-release section, but otherwise the depth of title selection was lacking. The store didn’t even have a Blu-ray copy of the Jan. 19 release The Invention of Lying on display anywhere.

The store did have a “Movie Spotlight” display filled with football movies, no doubt to take advantage of the current NFL playoffs. But again none of the featured titles were offered on Blu-ray.

As far as Blu-ray players go, the Long Beach Wal-Mart had dozens of Magnavox BonusView players stacked in a rear aisle, listed at $128 each.

12 Jan, 2010

Retail Focus on ‘Hurt Locker,’ ‘Simpsons’

With Jan. 12 lacking any blockbuster new releases, no single title seemed to hog retailer attention.

Early Oscar favorite The Hurt Locker did come with a few exclusives. Best Buy offered the Blu-ray in a steelbook casing with a photo book. And Wal-Mart packaged the DVD with a DVD of the documentary Brothers at War, which like The Hurt Locker focuses on the Iraq War.

Another big title released Jan. 12 was 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s The Simpsons: Season 20 on DVD and Blu-ray. Best Buy had the DVD at $28.99 and the Blu-ray at $38.99, while Target had the DVD at $28.99 and the Blu-ray at $36.99.

A Wal-Mart in Long Beach, Calif., didn’t have the Blu-ray version of The Simpsons: Season 20, but did package the DVD with an exclusive “Laugh-a-Day” 2010 calendar for $34.96.

The same Wal-Mart also tried to clear excess two-movie packages for $13 each. Wal-Mart typically offers a new release packaged with an older, similarly themed film as a bonus for a few dollars more.

Best Buy is holding a huge Blu-ray Disc promotion with titles for as low as $9.99.

A Fry’s in Fountain Valley, Calif., didn’t even put up a new-release display, though the store offered several prominent Blu-ray Disc displays. The store didn’t even have every new title, and those it did have were scattered among th shelves as if they had been released weeks ago.

5 Jan, 2010

‘Cloudy’ Outlook for Retailers to Kick Off the Year

It seems retailers are kicking off the new year by encouraging DVD shoppers to read.

At Target, DVDs and Blu-rays of Sony Pictures’ CG-animated hit Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs come with copies of the original children’s book upon which the film is based.

Target also has an exclusive deluxe version of Warner Home Video’s The Final Destination 3D DVD that includes a comic book. Earlier “Final Destination” DVDs, and other horror films such as Saw and The Blair Witch Project, were offered at $5 each.

Best Buy chose to focus its exclusives energy on a TV DVD release, Chuck: The Complete Second Season. The retailer is offering an exclusive comic book with the DVD version.

Otherwise, Best Buy is focused on clearly post-holiday inventory, with specials such as fitness DVDs for $7.99 each, TV DVD seasons for $13.99, and TV on Blu-ray seasons for $26.99 each.

Another promotion at Best Buy offers consumers a $5 gift card with the purchase of two recent DVD hits (from a limited selection) at $9.99 each.

Wal-Mart had the Cloudy deluxe editon with a limited-edition umbrella that shows pictures of food when wet. The chain also had sale displays of DVDs for $4 and Blu-ray Discs for $12.