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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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28 Jun, 2016

'Kung Fu' Fighting For Exclusives

Best Buy's 3D Blu-ray of 'Kung Fu Panda 3'
Best Buy's 3D Blu-ray of 'Kung Fu Panda 3'

A couple of different retail exclusive versions of DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda 3 were available when the film arrived on disc June 28.

Target offered an exclusive bonus DVD with more than 20 minutes of additional extras, as well as a coupon for free popcorn and soda at the Target café (presumably for those locations that still have one).

Best Buy had a couple of different promotions for Kung Fu Panda 3. Shoppers could save $5 buying any disc of Kung Fu Panda 3 with a Blu-ray from one one of the first two movies, offered for $9.99. Best Buy also had the exclusive 3D Blu-ray combo pack of the film.

Walmart offered a free digital copy of Warner's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — Ultimate Edition with the purchase of a spcially packaged Blu-ray for Man of Steel.


27 Jun, 2016

Parsing Constitutional Games on 'Veep'


The June 26 episode of HBO’s “Veep” concluded an intriguing fifth season that played on the concept of a tie in a presidential election. The concept is catnip to political scientists and fans of U.S. history, given all the quirks built into the United States Constitution and its subsequent amendments and laws concerning succession of power. Unfortunately, the result of “Veep” might prove a disappointment to such wonks, given how it turns on common misconceptions of electoral procedures.

The situation on “Veep” involved President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) seeking to be elected outright after serving for a year when the previous president resigned. Election night ended with a tie in the Electoral College between her and Senator Bill O’Brien. And that’s just the start of this political rollercoaster.

Most voters have probably heard of the Electoral College, but don’t quite understand it in its full context. When the Constitution was originally written in 1787, the Founders envisioned the Electoral College as a council of experts qualified to choose a chief executive, chosen by the individual state governments. The idea was to guard against an uninformed electorate while at the same time preventing larger states from becoming too dominant. Over time, states granted the power over their Electoral delegates to a popular vote. So, when you vote for president, you actually aren’t picking the candidate on the ballot — you are voting for that party’s slate of electors who are pledged to that candidate. Each state gets a number of electors equal to their number of senators (two) plus their number of representatives in the House.

Interestingly, at the end of last season Selina remarked that giving the system an even number of electoral votes (538) to make a 269-269 tie possible was an oversight of the Founders. Actually, with a fixed Congress of 435 and two senators for each state, the number would be odd if not for the 23rd Amendment, passed in 1961, which gives Washington, D.C., a minimum number of electors, which in this case is three, which creates the even number. Also, the issue isn’t the tie per se, it’s that no single candidate received the 270 majority number, which could also happen if more than two candidates were strong enough to win a state, or if there were faithless electors who didn’t end up voting for their pledged delegates.

The Electoral College tallies their votes state-by-state in December, with each elector choosing one presidential candidate and one vice-presidential candidate, and sends the results to Congress. New congressional terms begin Jan. 3, and the Electoral College votes are announced and recorded Jan. 6. If no one has a majority for either president or vice-president, or both, then Congress has further work to do.

The procedure is covered by the 12th Amendment, which states:

“… if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.”

That means that each state delegation meets to determine who that state will vote for, which would likely break along party lines. It also means that states with just one representative can have a lot of influence. To win the presidency, a candidate needs to win 26 votes from the state delegations.

At the same time, to determine the vice-presidency, “if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice.”

After a recount plot failed to resolve the tie, the story on “Veep” ended up in the House and Senate. Now, a reading of the Amendment might imply that the votes are supposed to happen as soon as they read the Electoral College results, and keep voting until someone wins. But that’s not what happens on “Veep,” which may be the first signal of some Constitutional disorder on the part of the show’s writers.

On the show, the House holds a vote, though it’s not clear it’s immediately after the Electoral College results are read. No one gets a majority, so no one wins the presidency on the first ballot.

Here’s where the show starts to mess up its exposition to viewers about the proper procedure. Selina’s advisors on the show say that if the House can’t decide, the vote goes to the Senate, and that the VP chosen by the Senate becomes president.

This isn’t quite the case in real life, though the scenario is covered by Section 3 of the 20th Amendment: “If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.”

In this case, the president needs the House vote to qualify, and if that doesn’t happen by the Jan. 20 beginning of the next term, then the Senate’s choice for vice-president, if they made one, “acts” as president until the House breaks its deadlock.

Yes, this does create the potential for a president and vice-president from different parties. But for the moment, the relevant language is that word “acts.” It means that the vice-president does not actually become president, contrary to the implication on the show. Rather, the VP is merely entrusted with the powers of the presidency on a temporary basis, until the House picks the true president, or the term ends, whichever comes first.

On the show, Selina’s running mate, Sen. Tom James (Hugh Laurie) schemes with the Speaker of the House to ensure the House vote for president doesn't yield a winner, and block further votes. The popular James is confident he can win the Senate vote for VP, and thus would be president given the other vacancy. The show also holds the Senate vote a few days after the House vote, which seems contrary to what the Amendment says. Remember, both the House and Senate are in theory meeting in a joint session to hear the Electoral College results. The Founders probably figured that, if no one wins, then the two houses would break into their constituent groups and call for an immediate roll call.

Given Congressional procedural rules, delaying another House vote might not be out of the realm of possibility. The length of the delay might cause some public outcry, and could send the candidates affected out to lobby for a new vote and to get Representatives to change their vote. And with a long-enough delay, a midterm election to select a new House might decide a presidency as well. But for now, let’s assume the situation on “Veep” so far is possible as presented.

One of the jokes put forth on the show is that, assuming James wins the vice-presidency and then elevates to the presidency, he would pick Selina as his veep, putting her back in the position she was at the start of the show (hence the show’s title). This is covered by Section 2 of the 25th Amendment: “Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”

On the show, James is essentially proposing to nominate Selina to be VP. This wouldn’t be possible, however, because the VP position wouldn’t be vacant. Even as he’s acting as president, James would still be VP.

It’s at this point the show makes its most egregious Constitutional error. James starts getting cocky about his potential to win the Senate vote, and all the scheming for votes in the House and Senate has slighted lame-duck VP Doyle, who begins his own scheme. The Senate vote subsequently ends in a 50-50 tie, and the show cites Article 1, Section 3, Clause 4 of the Constitution: “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.”

This means that when a Senate vote is 50-50, the VP breaks the tie. This is what happens on the show. Doyle betrays his party and selects O’Brien’s running mate, Laura Montez, to be VP. The show then immediately elevates her to be President-Elect.

But the show’s exposition about the VP breaking ties is overly simplistic. What makes the show wrong about this procedure is the phrasing of the 12th Amendment, which specifies that a majority of the “whole number” of “Senators” is required to select a winner.

A majority in this case is 51 Senators. And since the vice-president isn’t a senator, his vote doesn’t matter. In a 50-50 tie, no one wins and the Senate votes again.

The show either tries to cover for this or is confused by the VP’s role in the Senate, thinking that the title of President of the Senate makes him a member of the Senate, which it does not. The show confounds the error by presenting a C-SPAN graphic identifying VP Doyle as “Senator Doyle,” which is obviously wrong, though might be understandable if the show’s writers thought the VP was a member of the Senate.

Still, that’s a quibble based on a dramatic conceit to give Doyle a chance at revenge. A 51-49 vote would yield a similar result, provided the House vote remained blocked.

However, at this point the show goes off the rails, Constitutionally. Everyone declares Montez the next president, and the population doesn’t seem to have a problem with the legislative maneuvers putting someone who didn’t receive any votes into the White House instead of two people who are still ahead of her in line to get the job. On top of that, Montez is identified as the “First Elected Female President,” as a way for the episode to further slight Selina, who wanted to be the first woman elected.

This statement is just a bizarre leap of logic. On top of Montez not actually being president, and not actually being elected, her maneuver into the presidency is still due to a vacancy, which was the same way Selina became president a year earlier.

The show’s intent seems to dump on the luckless Selina as she leaves office, and implies she has nothing left to do. But with the House vote still technically open, she and O’Brien could continue to lobby for votes. So her resigned attitude at the end seems bizarre.

What’s a shame is that the show could have achieved very similar results with a few twists that were more Constitutionally accurate. The episode is still very funny, but understanding the Constitutional sidestepping involved detracts a bit from the end result.
 


27 Jun, 2016

New on Disc: 'The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T' and more …


The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (Blu-ray)

Mill Creek, Fantasy, $14.98 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Stars Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, Hans Conried, Tommy Rettig.
1953.
Fingers has the only original screenplay that Dr. Seuss ever wrote, and whatever you think of the picture, which is absolutely one of a kind, it sounds, looks and feels like a product of the good doctor — brandishing far more charm and invention than the Seuss screen adaptations of the early 2000s.
Read the Full Review

Le Amiche

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
In Italian with English subtitles.
Stars Eleonora Rossi Drago, Gabriele Ferzetti, Franco Fabrizi, Valentina Cortese.
1955.
Michelangelo Antonioni’s third fictional feature is pure Region A Criterion: super new print and good bonus section context that explores Italy’s societal changes and the rising importance of fashion (it, a kind of Antonioni trademark) following World War II. Adapted and somewhat altered from a novel by Cesar Pavese, it explores the kind of upscale life not many Italian women were able to enjoy in this period.
Extras: Strengthening the backgrounders we get in the bonus interviews is an essay by film scholar Tony Pipolo.
Read the Full Review
 


27 Jun, 2016

Happy Birthday Blu-ray!


I’ve long felt that Blu-ray Disc hasn’t gotten the respect it deserves. Yes, it was birthed during a bruising format war, followed by the Great Recession. And in its adolescence it had to contend with a consumer rebellion against the buy-everything mentality that gripped the public during the halcyon days of DVD.

And yet Blu-ray Disc continued to grow, although its true upswing was obscured by the industry’s tendency to lump all packaged-media sales together, a move that softened DVD’s precipitous plunge but also hid the fact that even during Netflix’s meteoric rise Blu-ray Disc adoption continued to increase. In the first quarter of this year, Blu-ray Disc unit sales were up 3% from the previous year’s first quarter, while consumer spending rose 6%, according to Home Media Research estimates.

As it celebrates its 10th birthday, Blu-ray Disc has passed the $15 billion mark in consumer spending, which equates to nearly 750 million discs in the market.

If DVD was to home entertainment what the album Thriller was to Michael Jackson, then Blu-ray Disc is Bad. Thriller sold 65 million units worldwide, while Bad did about half that, 32 million units. Now, 32 million is certainly nothing to sneeze at; Bad was Jackson’s second-biggest seller and ranks as one of the 10 top-selling albums of all time.

But, it came after Thriller, and that was an exceptionally hard act to follow. The same can be said about DVD, the most successful consumer electronics product launch in history.

And yet DVD was, in some respects, a one-trick pony. It transitioned our business from rental to sellthrough, and turned millions of Americans into movie collectors — and yet capacity and resolution limits cut short its glory days with the advent of HD.

Blu-ray Disc, on the other hand, was designed to be future-proof from the very start, both on the software side, with its incredibly higher capacity than DVD, and on the hardware side, with consumer electronics companies wisely looking ahead and seeing a connected future. The Blu-ray Disc was smart a good year before the first iPhone; Blu-ray Disc players were connected at a time when skeptics were still wondering how to string an Ethernet cable into their family room.

As a result, Blu-ray Disc not only offered consumers the highest-quality high-definition viewing experience, but now makes the same boast for Ultra HD. Let the cable companies and streaming services talk up “4K” until they are blue in the face (pun intended); pick up an Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, with High Dynamic Range, and you’ll see what’s passed off as “4K” is all too often a weak, and meek, pretender.

At the same time, Blu-ray Disc players are universally hailed as the best streaming machines in the business.

So happy birthday, Blu-ray Disc. You had some growing pains, and you were raised in the shadow of DVD, our industry’s “perfect child.” And yet while DVD flamed out, you’re blazing ahead as brightly as ever, a true technological marvel that is once again on the front lines of home entertainment.


24 Jun, 2016

In Praise of 'Casting'


Recently, I’ve abandoned TV and have been watching streamed content.

It’s been a gradual process. My teenaged daughters have been doing it all along. While my youth consisted of watching “The Tube” and putting up with commercials, my kids have been watching YouTube without the ad breaks almost their whole lives.

It was hard for me to let go of traditional TV content, but the allure of on-demand, no-commercial entertainment finally drew me in.

For me it started with an interest in the latest “The Nightly Show,” “The Daily Show,” “Last Week  Tonight,” Bill Maher and “Full Frontal” comedy news episodes. After I got comfortable Chromecasting episodes from my phone to my TV, I was hooked. That connection from the Internet to the TV was the beginning of an obsession.

I would turn on the tube and yearn for something more compelling, something I could “cast” — without those ridiculously long and growing advertising breaks. Why not turn off “The Tube” and find something I chose to watch without those annoying commercial breaks?

When watching snippets of something fed to me, I would yearn to “cast” the rest of the show I missed in making dinner or picking up the kids.

I wanted more control.

Recently, ESPN conducted an experiment that seemed aimed right at me. They made “OJ: Made in America” available on the cable channel as well as via a streaming app. I’d watch 40 minutes of an episode of the series on cable, and yearn to see the rest on my own timetable.  Eventually, I figured out how to “cast” the episodes to my TV, like I had other YouTube channels.

I could watch this amazing series, on demand, on my own time. It’s a very long series, and I’m still not finished, but I will finish it — when I have the time.

 


22 Jun, 2016

Target Adds 'Harry Potter' to Pre-orders


Target has extended a promotion for movie pre-orders to a new 'Harry Potter' book.

Target is offering a $5 gift card with pre-orders for the home video verisons of Warner's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Marvel's Captain America: Civil War, and Disney's The Jungle Book.

Now, the $5 gift card also comes with pre-orders of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child book, due July 31 in hardcover. The book is a re-creation of the script for the play based on the popular wizarding series.


20 Jun, 2016

New on Disc: 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' Blu-ray and more …


She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Western, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Starring John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar, Victor McLaglen, Harry Carey, Jr.
1949.
In terms of Technicolor, to say nothing of its signature John Wayne performance, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is still a movie for which John Ford fans have enduring affection.
Read the Full Review

99 River Street (Blu-ray)

Street 6/21/16
Kino Lorber, Mystery, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, Brad Dexter, Frank Faylen, Peggie Castle.
1953.
There are a few hoked-up bits here that compromise the rest but not in any truly serious ways because we aren’t, after all, talking about Henry James but the cinematic equivalent of lurid paperbacks.
Extras: The Blu-ray commentary here is infinitely more fun than a lot of movies.
Read the Full Review
 


14 Jun, 2016

Best Buy With the Blu-ray Equalizer

Best Buy's '10 Cloverfield Lane' steelbook
Best Buy's '10 Cloverfield Lane' steelbook

Best Buy engaged in some interesting pricing for the new releases of June 14, offering a number of the newcomers at the same price on both DVD and Blu-ray.

The affected titles include Universal's London Has Fallen, Paramount's 10 Cloverfield Lane, Fox's Eddie the Eagle and Fox's The X-Files: The Event Series.

What makes the move especially interesting is that the Blu-ray versions of London Has Fallen, 10 Cloverfield Lane and Eddie the Eagle are combo packs that include a digital copy and the DVD version. That means, at Best Buy's debut price for these titles, anyone wanthing the DVD version who buys the combo pack is essentially getting both the Blu-ray versions of the film for free (although the DVD versions are cheaper at Target and Walmart, if anyone wants to forgo the Blu-ray because of cost).

Best Buy also offered an exclusive steelbook case with the 10 Cloverfield Lane Blu-ray.

Also interesting is that among the big three retailers, only Best Buy offered the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Eddie the Eagle in stores, while Walmart had it online and Target didn't offer it at all. On the other hand, Walmart offered the UHD versions of Paramount's 2009 Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness in stores, while Best Buy had them only online and Target didn't have them at all.


13 Jun, 2016

New on Disc: 'Cinema's Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood' and more …


Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood

Available via Warner Archive       
Warner, Documentary, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Sigourney Weaver.
2009.
The arguable high point of this two-hour history from filmmaker Karen Thomas shows just how many of that Warner Bros. landmark’s memorable performers came from the Olympic-sized pool of displaced actors who fled Hitler for successful careers in Hollywood.
Read the Full Review
 

Garden of Evil (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Western, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, Richard Widmark, Cameron Mitchell.
1954.
Set in the late 1880s, this yarn about a goldmine cave-in’s aftermath is fairly basic, but its stars both in front of and behind the camera are compensation for its narrative concerns.
Extras: Twilight Time maestro Nick Redman, with colleagues Stephen C. Smith, John Morgan and William T. Stromberg, devote a huge amount of the voiceover commentary to composer Bernard Herrmann and a discussion of sound cues. As with other Twilight Time releases, you can isolate the music track. With archive featurettes on Hayward, Hathaway and the film’s making, this is one of TT’s more “packed” releases.
Read the Full Review

 


7 Jun, 2016

Plenty of Options for '13 Hours'

Walmart's '13 Hours' gift set with shirt
Walmart's '13 Hours' gift set with shirt

Shoppers looking to pick up Paramount's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi June 7 had plenty of retail exclusives from which to choose.

Walmart offered a gift set of 13 Hours with the Blu-ray and a camo T-shirt.

Best Buy offered the 13 Hours Blu-ray with exclusive steelbook packaging.

Target offered the 13 Hours Blu-ray with the book upon which the film was based.

For Disney's Zootopia, Target offered the Blu-ray and 3D combo packs with exclusive box art and two exclusive featurettes available to stream through the Disney Movies Anywhere site. The 15 minutes of new content includes cast interviews and an early version of the film.

For HBO's Vinyl: The Complete First Season, Target offered an exclusive bonus disc with video of a cast roundtable.

Best Buy offered HBO boxed sets for up to 60% off.