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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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25 Jul, 2016

New on Disc: 'Deadline U.S.A.' and more …


Deadline U.S.A. (Blu-ray)

Street 7/26/16
Kino Lorber, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Kim Hunter Ethel Barrymore, Martin Gabel.
1952.
One of the reasons that Deadline U.S.A., the cheerleading newspaper melodrama that writer/director Richard Brooks, continues to have a following is that certain things never change.
Extras: Includes another dynamically entertaining commentary from film historian Eddie Muller.
Read the Full Review

Stakeout on Dope Street

Available via Warner Archive       
Warner, Drama, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Yale Wexler, Jonathan Haze, Morris Miller, Abby Dalton.
1958.
The debut feature for both director Irvin Kerhsner and cinematographer Haskell Wexler halfway falls into the teen-exploitation genre itself due to its plot-central portrayal of three out-of-their-league rookies who find an entire canister of uncut heroin that’s been desperately abandoned by thug kingpin subordinates during a police drug bust that goes south.
Read the Full Review
 


25 Jul, 2016

Netflix's Pricing Dilemma


Netflix’s latest financial report can be taken in one of two ways. Cynics may read the report, in which the streaming service reported missing its growth projection by 32%, as a precursor of impending doom. They might take issue with CEO Reed Hastings’ assertion, in a shareholder letter, that market saturation in the United States isn’t a factor, and that the slower-than-expected growth was largely a reflection of a price increase in monthly subscriptions — a price increase Netflix badly needed to remain competitive in acquiring, and producing, content. In fact, one might argue that if the U.S. market isn’t saturated, then why bother to raise the price? As for international expansion, growth projections there weren’t met, either.

Cynics see this as a clear indicator that Netflix has some serious headwinds to contend with, headwinds that will only grow stronger as time marches on. The most pessimistic among them believe Netflix is living on borrowed time, and — just like so many trendy products and services, may ultimately shrink (like MySpace) or vanish completely (like Blockbuster, which ironically was deep-sixed by Netflix effectively building a better mousetrap).

Personally, I don’t see much cause for alarm in Netflix’s latest numbers — at least, not yet. Subscription growth may be leveling out, but I don’t see churn increasing significantly anytime soon, as long as Netflix keeps future price hikes in check. It’s sort of like gym memberships — the gyms that charge 10 bucks a month are flourishing because the amount is too small for most people to notice each month when it’s automatically charged to their credit cards or taken out of their bank accounts.

Saturation is a bigger concern, both in the United States and globally. While a flattening out of Netflix revenue would still see the company in serious money, investors aren’t generally drawn to slow and steady. They want growth to continue, as evidenced by the 15% plunge in Netflix’s stock price in the wake of the earnings report’s release.

Another challenge Netflix is facing is competition. Dozens of OTT rivals have sprung up, and Netflix is finding that while its logo is popping up on more and more TV screens, so are those of other services, from Amazon Prime to Hulu. And despite Netflix’s push toward original programming, Netflix fatigue will become a bigger factor over time — which means the company will have to spend even more money on content, money that at some point in time will be harder to cough up.

It’s a classic case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Netflix will need to keep raising prices to remain in the game, but it can’t raise prices too much or else subscribers will jump ship and go elsewhere — particularly as the pool of alternatives continues to expand.
 


22 Jul, 2016

Future Shock — Again


The annual Los Angeles Entertainment Summit took place July 18-20, and as usual it helped us all unpack the constant change in the industry. While we heard some disappointing news about physical disc sales, there were bright spots in 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray sales and hits such as Deadpool. Executives from the Entertainment Merchants Association, which puts on the event that also benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, told the crowd about the trade group’s continued work in creating standards for digital distribution — the future of the industry.

The Tech Tour and a panel explored virtual reality. Attendees at the Tech Tour could play catch with a virtual dog (and stick) and shoot virtual space invaders. It was an eerie contrast with the 1980s-themed arcade games at the Paramount lot — which included the classic Space Invaders game with which those of us of a certain age grew up. Meanwhile, famous DJ Richard Blade mixed tracks from the 1980s with more recent hits. It’s perhaps fitting that the theme of the Paramount lot party was “Star Trek,” a franchise that has spanned the decades.

While we were all contemplating virtual reality, another new form of entertainment, augmented reality, was taking the country by storm. A certain day in July, I heard a shriek from my teenaged daughter’s room. Was she injured? Did something horrible happen with a friend or boyfriend? No. She lamented the fact that the Pokémon Go servers were down. A new form of entertainment had emerged, and it was consuming her entertainment time — and causing her to yell in frustration.

But was it really new? The concept of Pokémon Go is based on an older franchise, one that my daughter grew up with and is nostalgic about. It was the connection to her past — and to content that she loved — that drew her into this futuristic world of augmented reality.

Augmented reality is yet another format to connect viewers to content — something we in the home entertainment business have seen and navigated numerous times. Recently, we’ve focused on 4K Ultra HD with HDR, offering a better, more realistic picture for home entertainment viewers. Whether we bring the consumer along with us depends on how compelling our content is, whether new or old.
 


19 Jul, 2016

'Batman v Superman' Gives Fans Packaging Options

BvS exclusives: Best Buy graphic novel and Steelbooks; Target's digibook; Walmart's DVD
BvS exclusives: Best Buy graphic novel and Steelbooks; Target's digibook; Walmart's DVD

Warner's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice arrived on shelves July 19 with several retail-exclusive packaging options from which fans would have to choose.

Best Buy packaged the Blu-ray combo pack in a hardcover graphic novel collecting Batman and Superman comic book adventures. It also had the Blu-ray in a steelbook case with reversable Batman and Superman covers.

Target offered an exclusive Blu-ray combo pack with a 64-page digibook package and lenticular cover art.

Walmart offered a single-disc DVD version with no extras and special box art.


18 Jul, 2016

New on Disc: 'To Have and Have Not' and more …


To Have and Have Not (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive       
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, Lauren Bacall, Hoagy Carmichael.
1944.
Lauren Bacall was billed third and under the title for what is still among the more smolderingly explosive debuts in screen history, but To Have and Have Not is still on history’s map in large part because it romantically paired Humphrey Bogart opposite a statuesque looker who once made cigarettes look sexy.
Extras: Carried-over extras from the old DVD include a highly germane Merrie Melodies cartoon (Bacall to Arms); a making-of featurette that notes how Hawks had to settle for featured player Dolores Moran when Bogart took up with Bacall off the set; and the two leads in a “Lux Radio Theatre” broadcast of the same in which filmmaker/host William Keighley assures us that Bogart has assured him that there are plenty of Lux suds in the Bogie household.
Read the Full Review

Yellow Sky (Blu-ray)

Kino Lorber, Western, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter, Richard Widmark.
1948.
William A. Wellman’s Yellow Sky was another of the postwar bread-and-butter Fox studio Westerns — big-star efforts that didn’t aspire to reinventing the wheel but which radiated a significant degree of viewer comfort from watching pros at work.
Extras: Wellman Jr.’s commentary here is on the sporadic and reserved level despite some valuable anecdotes from his days on the Sky set as a kid.
Read the Full Review
 


12 Jul, 2016

Covering 'Allegiant'

'Allegiant' variants at Best Buy and Target
'Allegiant' variants at Best Buy and Target

Best Buy and Target offered special packaging for Lionsgate's Allegiant for the film's home video debut July 12.

Target offered an exclusive deluxe edition of the third film in "The Divergent Series" containing special box art and a bonus disc with 30 minuts of extra footage.

Best Buy offered Allegiant with special steelbook packaging.

Best Buy also touted upcoming theatrical films with movie ticket coupons in tie-in DVDs and Blu-rays.

For the Ghostbusters remake, fans could get a $7.50 coupon for a movie ticket with the purchase of either the steelbook Blu-ray or 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of one of the two original films, the two-movie Blu-ray boxed set of the two originals, or the boxed set of the "Real Ghostbusters" animated series.

Also, $8 coupons for Star Trek Beyond were available in specially marked "Star Trek" DVDs and Blu-rays.

Walmart offered $10 in Vudu digital credits with the purchase of select Lionsgate titles, such as Divergent, The Hunger Games and The Expendables.


11 Jul, 2016

New on Disc: 'The Member of the Wedding' and more …


The Member of the Wedding (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Ethel Waters, Julie Harris, Brandon de Wilde, James Edwards.
1952.
Fred Zinnemann’s ever-resonant film of Carson McCullers’ book-to-play was the ultimate in outsiders’ cinema for its day — and is, of course, far more in keeping with today’s indie-pic times than it ever was.
Read the Full Review

I’ll Take Sweden

Olive, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Bob Hope, Tuesday Weld, Frankie Avalon, Dina Merrill, NR.
1965.
Though lacking even a single laugh, Bob Hope’s I’ll Take Sweden does offer some mild curio currency, courtesy of its immediate supporting cast.
Read the Full Review
 


5 Jul, 2016

Small 'Chance' of Finding New Product

Walmart's 'Emma's Chance/The Dog Lover' DVD two-pack
Walmart's 'Emma's Chance/The Dog Lover' DVD two-pack

Studios used the day after the July 4 holiday as a dumping ground for a number of low-profile DVD and Blu-ray titles, with Sony Pictures' fourth-season disc of "House of Cards" being the only title consistently available at most stores. Best Buy offered a $5 discount with the purchase of the new season with a previous season on disc.

In one sense, the biggest title of the week could be considered to be The Mermaid (Mei Ren Yu), a Chinese film that has earned $553.8 million at the global box office. But with just $3.2 million in U.S. theaters, the retail distribution of the Sony Pictures DVD and Blu-ray will likely maintain the film's Stateside obscurity. Of the major retailers, only Target had a slot for it on its shelves, for the DVD version. Best Buy's website indicates the title isn't available in its stores, while the Walmart and Barnes & Noble websites list it on DVD only as a double feature with Kung Fu Hustle.

Another potentially high-profile title, the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light, starring notable "Avengers" actors Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen, was also scarce at retail. Best Buy didn't have the DVD version on shelves, Walmart kept the Blu-ray online only, and Target skipped stocking the title altogether.

The only retailer exclusive for the week was Walmart's DVD two-pack of Sony Pictures' Emma's Chance and The Dog Lover.


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.