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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.


Opinion
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25 Nov, 2014

Easing Into Black Friday


Most retailers focused less on the new releases of Nov. 25 and more on kickstarting this year's Black Friday deals.

Target, for example, used its weekly circular to tout $5 holiday movie DVDs, and some stores had many DVD displays set up throughout the venue, not just in the electronics section, with $5, $6, $7, $8 and $13 titles.

For new or upcoming home videos, Target offered a $5 gift card and mail-order delivery of the eventual The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 Blu-ray with preorders at Target.com/mockingjay. The film hit theaters the weekend before.

Best Buy promoted up to 45% savings on select gift sets, and buy-one-get-one $9.99 Blu-rays.

Walmart offered exclusive availability of Hallmark Christmas movies A Royal Christmas and Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas for $9.96 each, from Cinedigm.


24 Nov, 2014

Honoring Women


I am so delighted every year to publish this issue honoring the top women in home entertainment. I have two young girls, and I am always encouraged by the accomplishments of the women in our industry, as they are blazing the trail.

These women are forging the path to a new entertainment ecosystem, in which digital delivery is an ever-growing branch. Kelley Avery has been key to DreamWorks Animation’s moves on the Netflix platform. Disney’s Janice Marinelli has spearheaded the cloud-based Disney Movies Anywhere platform. Mary Daily is using her marketing expertise to tap social media. And Lexine Wong is expanding movie extras into the digital realm with Walmart’s Vudu Extras+ for UltraViolet titles.

These women, along with their distinguished teams, are at the forefront of devising a strategy to deliver digital entertainment in the home, while managing a still important physical disc business that continues to bring in revenue for their respective studios. Meanwhile, women at independent content operations are helping to develop delivery of documentaries, independent films and quality television product. On the retail and digital distribution front, women play key roles at Walmart, Redbox, Netflix and Comcast, getting content to the consumer in many different ways.

On this occasion, I would also like to honor another woman in this industry who, after 23 years at Warner Bros., is retiring — Ronnee Sass. Ronnee is one of those rare publicists in the entertainment business who is unfailingly kind and generous, while also being effective at her job. Warner Home Video executive Jeff Baker couldn’t have said it better: “This individual is — and I can speak from first hand knowledge because I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside Ronne Sass for 12 years that I’ve been here — this individual is the best publicist in the history of the home entertainment business. She had a remarkable career here, and she is going to be missed.”

Yes, she will.


24 Nov, 2014

New on Disc: 'Portrait of Jason' and more …


Portrait of Jason

Milestone, Documentary, $29.95 DVD, $35.96 Blu-ray, NR.
1967.
Director Shirley Clarke’s once unique one-man-show is a verbal all-nighter with a black and gay male hustler (and also aspiring stand-up comic). Subject Jason Holliday knows how to work the room when it comes to relating his experiences with a tough, hard-ass father, white employers who’ve hired him as a domestic assistant and those he’s hustled for money and sex.
Extras: This release’s copious bonus section includes a live comic album (or part of it) to indicate that Holliday’s skills as an entertainer were publicly shared with more than just Clarke and interviewer Carl Lee.
Read the Full Review

Viva Maria!

Kino Lorber, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Star Brigitte Bardot, Jeanne Moreau, George Hamilton.
1965.
A prime “it is what it is” comedy that just misses wearing out its welcome until expectedly lurching into fourth gear during the final half-hour, this one’s about a pair of anarchist Marias who earn their living on stage while traveling from town to town via covered wagon transport.
Read the Full Review
 


21 Nov, 2014

Welcome to Black November


It used to be you had to scrounge the Web for an advance peak at Walmart’s Black Friday circular, to get an eyeful of what the huge discount chain had in store for those post-Thanksgiving bargain hunters.

This year I didn’t have to look far at all — a copy was emailed to me by Walmart itself, and it came in my email on Thursday, Nov. 14 — two full weeks and a day before The Big Event.

I should say, events. Black Friday is no longer limited to one day. A few years ago, it crept into Saturday, then it expanded the other way, into Thanksgiving Day.

This year’s Walmart circular is the biggest yet, which explains, perhaps, why it was emailed out, as a PDF — and its 40 pages of rock-bottom prices are broken up into three separate Black Friday “events.” The first is 6-8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, the second starts at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and the third and final “event” is Friday, Black Friday proper, beginning at 6 a.m.

The best deal is a 32-inch LED TV for $98, about half what my boxy 14-inch Toshiba ran me a decade ago. Consumers can pick one up during Event No. 2, Thanksgiving Day, beginning at 8 p.m. — while supplies last, of course.

I am hesitant to marvel at the wide assortment of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs available this year for the price of a super-size candy bar. The race to the bottom? We’re there, baby … I think it was 2011, maybe 2012, when DVDs first broached the dollar mark. And yet from the looks of the circular, the novelty of ultra-cheap discs has yet to wear off for Walmart, which I suppose is a good vote of confidence in the continued viability of the packaged-media business.

Bargain-priced discs go on sale at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, during Event No. 1 — which suggests Walmart has plenty of inventory and hopes to blow it out in a fast and furious manner.

All told, Walmart is offering 214 different DVDs at $1.96 and another 165 at $3.96. Among the former are Sherlock Holmes, Magic Mike, Titanic and Meet the Fockers; the latter group include more recent hits such as Fast & Furious 6, Grown-Ups 2, The Expendables 2, Bad Grandpa, Man of Steel and World War Z.

Blu-ray Discs start at $3.96, with “over 113 titles available at this price!” according to the Walmart circular. Among them are Men in Black 3, Horrible Bosses, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Flight, 300 and Robocop. Another 104 Blu-ray Discs will be on sale for $6.96, including Man of Steel, Lone Survivor, The Mummy, Despicable Me, Scarface: Limited Edition and The Wolverine.

Another 42 DVD and 34 Blu-ray Disc titles are priced at $7.96, with the Blu-ray Disc crew including such recent hits such as Godzilla and Transformers: The Age of Extinction. Another 34 Blu-ray Discs top out at $9.96 — the cream of the crop, including Frozen, Divergent, Heaven Is for Real and Hercules. And then there’s 89 “complete-season” sets of popular TV shows, from The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season to American Horror Story: Asylum.

We may have hit a new low for fresh product — some of these $9.96 Blu-ray Discs are less than a month old — but hey, moving huge quantities has always been Walmart’s modus operandi. And if the world’s biggest discount chain continues to use DVDs and Blu-ray Discs to lure people into its stores, who am I to complain?

Clearly, there’s still plenty of consumer demand. And for that, the staff of Home Media Magazine — and, if I can speak for them, the studios that pay our bills — truly have something for which to be thankful.
 


18 Nov, 2014

Extras From 'Street' to 'City'

'22 Jump Street' and 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' steelbook covers
'22 Jump Street' and 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' steelbook covers

Two sequels generated the bulk of retail promotional interest among the Nov. 18 new releases: Sony Pictures’ 22 Jump Street and Anchor Bay’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

For 22 Jump Street, Target offered the title in exclusive steelbook packaging, while Best Buy offered a bonus disc with 25 minutes of exclusive bonus content — a behind-the-scenes featurette with Ice Cube and a look at the action and stunts. Walmart offered the DVD of the film packed with the DVD of its predecessor, 21 Jump Street.

For Sin City, Best Buy offered the steelbook packaging, while Target offered the exclusive bonus content on a bonus disc. Walmart offered the Blu-ray combo pack with a copy of the first Sin City.

Target also has an exclusive Blu-ray edition of the 1982 film Annie, timed with the Dec. 19 theatrical release of Sony Pictures’ remake. The Blu-ray comes with an $8 movie ticket voucher and a bracelet.

Shoppers could get a free copy of Disney’s new Frozen: Sing-Along Edition DVD at Target with the purchase of at least $50 of Frozen products.


17 Nov, 2014

'Frozen' Sing-Along Spotlights Cool Songs


If you have daughters (I have two) or noticed a particularly popular Disney princess costume this Halloween (Elsa), you probably know Frozen is one of the hottest properties for girls.

“I saw about six Elsas,” noted my 16-year-old, who “volunteered” (with a little push) to escort the younger kids around the neighborhood Oct. 31.
Even before Frozen won Oscars for Best Animated Feature and for Best Original Song for “Let It Go,” the tide of praise from the pint-sized set had been building — and they had been singing the songs. In addition to award-winning music and lyrics, what also makes Frozen’s songs so hot is that they are easy to sing. In addition to “Let It Go,” the film includes such hits as “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” “Love Is an Open Door” and “For the First Time in Forever.”

My girls know the tunes by heart, but often stumble over the lyrics. That’s why Walt Disney Studios’ all-new, full-length Frozen Sing-Along Edition, coming Nov. 18 on DVD and Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere, will satisfy many a budding singer. They’ll be able to follow the lyrics with a bouncing snowflake to sing along with Elsa (Idina Menzel), Anna (Kristen Bell), the goofy snowman Olaf and the other characters. In addition to sing-along and original theatrical versions of the film, the release also includes an all-new extra “Breaking the Ice” and the Mickey Mouse short “Get a Horse!” The Frozen sing-along will likely light up the holidays for many families, as adults patiently, but happily, listen to their kids’ rendition of “Let It Go” for the umpteenth time.

As a parent of two girls who really like to sing, I appreciate the fact that the tunes in Frozen offer an empowering message. It’s also what attracted my daughters to the film, about two sisters who must overcome a dangerous gift and plotting prince to save their kingdom and themselves. As much as they identified with the sisters’ tendency to annoy each other, my daughters also liked the loving relationship between the siblings that drives the plot.

Predictably, my youngest said, “A lot of younger siblings can relate to it, because the older sibling is shutting you out.”

The older one saw common ground in  “the idea of everyone expecting something from you.”

Of the climax of the film, “I liked how instead of a kiss from a boy, it was a hug from a sister,” said my youngest (and sweetest) — and the older one admitted she liked the whole sisterly love thing, too.

Aah … it warms a mother’s heart.
 


17 Nov, 2014

New on Disc: 'Pete Kelly's Blues' and more …


Pete Kelly’s Blues (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR. 
Stars Jack Webb, Janet Leigh, Edmond O’Brien, Peggy Lee.
1955.
The true big-screen baby of jazz lover Jack Webb’s career spun off from a radio show about ’20s Kansas City musicians so distracted by encroaching mob muscle that there isn’t a whole lot of time left for any fun with flappers.
Read the Full Review

Man of the West

Kino Lorber, Western, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O'Connell, Jack Lord.
1958.
The brilliance of the CinemaScope staging in director Anthony Mann’s next-to-last Western makes it easy to see how the isolation of the Texas land could drive certain men crazy and basically dividing their options into two: settling down with a respectable woman or sticking up train passengers.
Read the Full Review


13 Nov, 2014

Casualties of the Marvel Movie War


The rise of Marvel Studios is starting to have a profound effect on the entertainment industry, and not just for what it means at the box office.

Paramount Pictures, which had a distribution deal with Marvel before Disney bought the comic book company, recently reported a significant drop on annual profits without its Marvel deal in the mix. Now that it’s firmly entrenched in the House of Mouse, Marvel has plotted out its theatrical strategies into the next decade, part of a cinema cold war of sorts with DC Comics, which has its own line-up of films slated by Warner Bros.

Given Warner’s inconsistent attempts to adapt its DC properties to the big screen (aside from Batman and Superman), it’s easy enough to assume Marvel has a better chance of making good on its proposed film slate at this point, having already released 10 films as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and seemingly printing more money with each one.

In 2016, Marvel has Captain America: Civil War, an adaptation of a comic book storyline that saw various factions of superheroes turn against each other over political disagreements. Interestingly, the ascendency of Marvel Studios has sparked something of a civil war within the various Marvel comics properties relating to film rights.

Before Marvel Studios was a glint in anyone’s eyes, Marvel Comics licensed the film rights to some of its biggest characters, with the Hulk at Universal, the X-Men and Fantastic Four going to Fox, Spider-Man ending up at Sony, etc. So when Marvel Studios started up, they only had the rights to what were considered second-tier characters at the time, such as Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. However, the fact that the characters they still had formed the core of the Avengers sparked the idea of building a shared cinematic universe to play in.

The rights to some characters, such as the Hulk, Daredevil, Ghost Rider and Punisher, have since returned to Marvel, allowing for their incorporation into the MCU. And certainly Marvel would like to get the rights Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men back, which they won’t be able to as long as Sony and Fox continue to make movies with those characters.

Fox seems particularly entrenched to keep Marvel from getting some if its characters back, especially after moving forward with a reboot of the Fantastic Four that has many fans scratching their heads. Marvel’s response seems to be a passive-aggressive war of attrition, as the comics division has canceled the Fantastic Four book, meaning it won’t be around to cross-promote the new film. Also, apparently Disney has blocked any merchandising for new “X-Men” products such as action figures, and Marvel has barred its comics writers from creating any new characters for the “X-Men” books, so Fox won’t have any new material to adapt into films.

Oh, and Marvel also decided to kill off Wolverine, the most popular X-Men character in the film series and the only one to appear in all seven movies.

This would seem to be a strategy meant to devalue the properties from within, diminishing Fox’s financial incentive to continue producing films. (It might also appear to be Marvel shooting itself in the foot on the comics side, but they probably feel the popularity of the comics is elastic enough to bounce back after the house studio recovers the necessary rights.)

One result of this animosity is that Fox has banned Marvel from using the term “mutant” in its movies to explain how any of their superheroes have powers. As fans of the comics are well aware, the mutant concept was introduced with the “X-Men” in the 1960s as a way to explain characters born with superpowers via genetic mutation, a plot point played up in the “X-Men” movies through its motif of the evolution of mankind.

Generally, Fox has exclusive rights to all of the Marvel Comics mutant characters, with a few exceptions, most notably Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who are members of the Avengers but also the mutant children of No. 1 X-Men baddie Magneto. The murkiness of these rights issues is playing out in the form of dueling Quicksilvers, with different versions of the character appearing in both X-Men: Days of Future Past and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Using these two mutant characters, however, does raise a story issue of how they obtained their powers within the context of the MCU. That might be one reason that the Marvel is devoting a lot of attention to its “Inhumans” brand. The Inhumans are essentially a race of superpowered descendants of humans who were genetically manipulated by aliens millions of years earlier.

Fundamentally, they differ from mutants in that their genetic distinctions are a result of engineering rather than evolution, but functionally they serve the same purpose. MCU can simply dub its superpowered characters Inhumans instead of mutants and carry on without any concern at all. In fact, the MCU properties are already carefully laying the foundation for these story points, with the means of obtaining superpowers being a central focus of the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show, which is deep into a story arc that involves alien artifacts and DNA unlocking mysterious abilities. The MCU has already trotted out the terms “gifted” and “age of miracles” to explain non-mutant superpowered humans, but Inhumans would accomplish the goal in a much more elegant way.

Certainly, MCU’s adaptation of the Inhumans may differ from the comics presentation to fit its needs, but the fact that an Inhumans movie is slated for 2018 definitely shows they already have some role to play in the MCU.

On the flip side, a rift in character rights doesn’t have to lead to a rift between the studios involved. Contrast the Fox/Marvel rift with the relatively cozy relationship between Marvel and Sony, which are rumored to be in talks to connect the Sony’s Spideyverse to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This isn’t the first time such an idea has been floated. In 2012, the Oscorp building from The Amazing Spider-Man was reportedly approved by Sony to appear in The Avengers but the visual effects couldn’t be finished in time.

It’s unclear if the MCU Spidey would continue with the ASM storylines or reboot the franchise yet again, but obviously an alliance between Marvel and Sony over Spider-Man would be a huge deal for future MCU and Spider-Man films.

It would also shield Sony from the criticism that, following the poor reception of Amazing Spider-Man 2, that it’s only trying to pump out Spidey movies to maintain the rights, without regard to quality. Marvel Studios has clearly demonstrated that it has a firm grasp on how to adapt its characters into popular, well-received blockbuster films, and there’s no reason to think they couldn’t do the same with Spider-Man.

As far as Fox is concerned, it’s not like they don’t work with other studios either. Fox recently reached an agreement with Warner Bros. that paved the way for the long-awaited home video release of the 1960s “Batman” TV series, which is being handled by Warner.

But the impacts of its dispute with Marvel could be felt well beyond just the Marvel properties. For instance, could the feud spill over into Disney-owned Lucasfilm’s efforts to promote the next “Star Wars” movie? After all, Fox still controls distribution of the earlier films for a few more years, and owns the distribution rights to Episode IV in perpetuity, so any plans Lucasfilm has for new boxed sets of the earlier films will require Fox’s cooperation. This is especially the case if the rumors are true that Disney is hoping to release Blu-rays of the unaltered original trilogy, something “Star Wars” fans have been demanding for years.

It’s a mess to be sure, but if anything is certain in Hollywood, it’s that money will always win out in the end.


11 Nov, 2014

Big Deals for 'Dragon 2'

Walmart's 'Dragon 2' Blu-ray with game
Walmart's 'Dragon 2' Blu-ray with game

DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2 was the overwhelming choice for retail exclusives among the Nov. 11 new releases.

Walmart had the most choices for the title, offering a total of six different versions of the title. In addition to the widely available DVD, Blu-ray combo pack and 3D Blu-ray, Walmart carried a stripped-down DVD version that lacked extras, a DVD packed with a Dawn of the Dragon Racers DVD, and a Blu-ray packed with a Dragons Deep Toss Game.

Best Buy offered a fabric Dragon 2 banner for $4.99 with the purchase of the film on disc (or sold on its own for $7.99).

Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack of Dragon 2 with an exclusive bonus disc containing two featurettes. Target also offered a $5 savings with the purchase of the Blu-ray with a Power Dragons action figure.


10 Nov, 2014

New on Disc: 'Possessed' and more …


Possessed (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks.
1947.
One of several postwar psychiatric dramas, Possessed features Joan Crawford as a paranoid schizophrenic, and her sometimes chilling performance gets further below the surface than a lot of the acting does even in some of the best noir competition.
Extras: Crawford is as vulnerable as she ever let herself be on screen, a point raised on the featurette this handsome Blu-ray has imported from the old DVD, one that features several familiar film noir specialists known to those who like digging into bonus extras.
Read the Full Review

Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2014.
In this “American Masters” presentation, which avoids being episodic, director Dyanna Taylor presents a portrait of her grandmother, famed Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange.
Read the Full Review