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.
Amazon's 'Star Trek Into Darkness' exclusive
The reality of the home entertainment market has made the synergy between theatrical and home video more pronounced than ever. Iron Man 3 caused a few eyebrows to raise when several retailers began taking preorders of the DVD and Blu-ray just as the film hit theaters.
The latest blockbuster subjected to this trend is Paramount’s Star Trek Into Darkness. The same weekend the film hit theaters, Amazon began offering several configurations for preorder, including an exclusive replica-phaser gift set of the 3D Blu-ray combo listed at $99.99 (discounted to $79.99).
Best Buy devoted a significant portion of its weekly ad circular and shelf space touting preorders for Star Trek Into Darkness. Shoppers who paid the $14.99 deposit on the Blu-ray or 3D combo packs were given $8 off the cost of a ticket purchased on Fandango.com, as well as instant access to exclusive content on CinemaNow.
Best Buy also offered $8 movie coupons for The Hangover Part III and Fast & Furious 6 with the purchase of previous Blu-rays in those franchises, among other select titles.
Walmart offered exclusive availability of the family film The Lost Medallion on DVD ($12.96) and Blu-ray ($14.96) from Bridgestone.
Mel Brooks: Make A Noise
Shout! Factory/PBS, Documentary, $19.97 DVD, NR.
2013. Mel Brooks, soon to be 87, is not only with us but spry, at least in this sassy contribution to the “American Masters” catalog. It presents the subject himself sitting in a mostly empty soundstage to talk about a career that included writing for the great Sid Caesar before launching a big-screen career with the original movie version of The Producers, which got Brooks a screenwriting Oscar presented by no less than Frank Sinatra and Don Rickles. The presentation is clip-heavy in terms of Brooks-directed features, which is probably what everyone involved calculated consumers would most enjoy. Those interviewed include the subject’s longtime partner and friend Carl Reiner, from the Caesar and “2000-Year-Old Man” days, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick from The Producers (musical version), and the great Gene Wilder from the key early films.
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Olive, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95
Marlon Brando, Teresa Wright, Everett Sloane, Jack Webb.
1950. To deal with the challenges of credibly playing a therapy-bound paraplegic in his screen debut, Marlon Brando spent two weeks living in a ward at Birmingham Army Hospital in Van Nuys, Calif. It’s one of The Men’s joys (and despite the honestly treated subject matter, there are some) that frequent on-screen reactionary Jack Webb gets to play a paraplegic cynic who, for a while, even sports a beard. The Olive print is nothing special, and I suspect the Blu-ray version brings little to the experience. But the movie still kind of is special, both for history and for subject matter.
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Faith-based comedy 3 Blind Saints has earned the Dove Foundation’s family approved seal.
Written and produced by Steve Gray, 3 Blind Saints follows three childhood friends with big plans to make it big, and in the process shows how the Lord sometimes works in mysterious ways. The film stars Richard Speight Jr., Stelio Savante (“Ugly Betty”), Elijah Rock, Barry Corbin (No Country for Old Men), Murray Gershenz (I Love You, Man), Audrey Matos and Irma P. Hall (Meet the Browns).
It is available for instant viewing on Amazon.com and iTunes, or for purchase at blindsaints.com, Best Buy, Amazon and Walmart.
Produced by Hungry Horse Media Productions, 3 Blind Saints was filmed in Kansas City with more than 200 community volunteers.
By: Ashley Ratcliff
This past January, Kevin Tsujihara was catapulted into the CEO slot at Warner Bros. largely because he is a very smart man with a history of making good choices.
Yesterday, he made another one of those good choices when he announced the elevation of Ron Sanders from president of Warner Home Video to president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment Distribution. The new role gives Sanders expanded oversight of the global digital transactional business as well as the global distribution activities of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
In selecting Sanders, Tsujihara — widely considered one of the most promising executives in Hollywood — chose someone much like himself. As I said in a previous column, during Tsujihara’s run as head of the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group he not only stood out from the home entertainment pack, he stood out ahead of it.
Under Tsujihara’s watch, Warner was consistently in the lead when it came to innovation, creativity and vision. And Sanders was right there by his side, keeping the machinery of the home video operation running smoothly — Warner consistently held the No. 1 market share spot among the major Hollywood studios — while working alongside his boss in crafting a strategy for the future.
Sanders, like his boss, also represents a new breed of executive we’re beginning to see more and more of in the Hollywood studio leadership ranks: Sensible, reasonable, even affable — a far cry from the desk-pounding tyrants of Hollywood lore. Anyone who knows Ron Sanders, who has worked alongside him, knows how incredibly hard it is to dislike him. When he says something, he means it. When he makes a promise, he follows through. He looks you in the eyes when he speaks to you; he is passionate about the industry, about Warner Bros., about business, about life.
Sanders joined Warner Home Video in 1991 and grew up in the business during the Warren Lieberfarb years, a particularly creative and productive era that saw the development of DVD, which ranks up there with the iPhone and the iPad as one of the most successful consumer electronics product launches ever. He ran Warner’s rental business during the tumultuous mid-1990s period of consolidation and copy-depth incentives; he subsequently moved across the aisle to sellthrough sales just as the floodgates opened and then was sent to London as managing director of the United Kingdom and Ireland divisions. He did so well that he was promoted to head of the entire EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region, overseeing Warner’s home video operations in 28 territories. He returned to the United States in 2002 and was appointed president of the division in October 2005.
A veteran journalist, after interviewing Sanders some years back, quipped, “I wish there were more home video presidents like Ron Sanders.” That quote has stuck with me ever since, and I believe is a testament to his integrity and foresight, his passion and his vision. He’s a good man — and the right man for his new job.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
Best Buy's CinemaNow station
Just as Walmart has been heavily promoting preorders of upcoming DVDs and Blu-rays with a tie-in to its Vudu digital service, Best Buy has been offering similar deals through its CinemaNow streaming site.
Without much else to promote during the May 14 new-release week, Best Buy touted the June 4 Blu-ray for Fox’s A Good Day to Die Hard. Shoppers who preorder the title in stores or at BestBuy.com/DieHard can watch it early in Digital HD on CinemaNow, and get the Blu-ray combo pack when it comes out with an exclusive beverage opener.
Also, Best Buy offers preorders of HBO's May 21 True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season DVD or Blu-ray with a $5 CinemaNow credit.
The in-store preorders at Best Buy require a $14.99 deposit.
Taking its commitment to CinemaNow a step further, Best Buy stores have set up CinemaNow kiosks in the home video section, with CinemaNow gift cards for consumer purchase and video displays to demonstrate the service.
A common theme throughout the recent studio fiscal calls was the emergence of electronic sellthrough (EST) as an undercurrent to a stabilized home entertainment market.
But a question arises as to how significant digital sellthrough really is. Is EST the catalyst to a renaissance in owning movies? Or is it a big fish in a small and largely insignificant pond?
To be sure, EST generated $231 million in revenue in the first quarter, which was up more than 50% year-over-year. Studios such as Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, among others, jumpstarted laggard digital sales in the fourth quarter by releasing select titles for $14.99 up to four weeks ahead of street date.
When combined with UltraViolet functionality, EST consumers now have cloud-based access to movies on connected devices — a utility heretofore limited to packaged media. Early access spearheaded a 400% uptick in Q1 digital movie sales at some studios.
“We definitely see an appetite for ownership and incremental lift in our overall title revenue from releasing titles early ahead of physical and VOD,” said an executive who wished to remain off the record.
Yet, while the industry extols digital sales, its contribution to overall home entertainment revenue in Q1 was less than 5%. In fact, sales of Blu-ray Disc and DVD titles — which topped $2 billion — was up more than 2% from last year, according to DEG. EST generated 90% less in revenue than packaged media — the format some observers consider just a few steps behind rental icon Blockbuster in relevance.
In an age of Netflix and subscription video-on-demand, the ability to meld sellthrough with streaming represents a consumer flashpoint to the studios that cannot be understated.
“There’s a subset of consumers that want to own a title as soon as it’s out. And early EST allows them to do that,” the executive reiterated.
Indeed, total digital revenue increased 26% in Q1 to more than $1.5 billion. After sellthrough, principle drivers included SVOD (up 29%) and transactional VOD (up nearly 16%).
But Wedbush Securities’ Michael Pachter questions the true impact of EST. He agrees early access and lower prices afforded digital are appealing to a small percentage of consumers. But lifeline to home entertainment? That’s another issue.
“They are putting too much stock in that data point,” Pachter said. “I don’t think most consumers will embrace movie ownership in the cloud. But I could be wrong.”
By: Erik Gruenwedel
The world is going digital, and how the studios fit into that new world is still up in the air. We’ve got subscription streaming, electronic sellthrough, UltraViolet (which is sellthrough for the moment), early digital availability and (though most don’t want to admit it) digital piracy vying for customers.
Fox and Sony may be on the right track with early digital availability of titles, but the ultimate digital purchase would take advantage of moviegoers as they leave the theater.
After enjoying a blockbuster such as Iron Man 3 or a film that the little ones exclaim they want to see again and again, it would seem only logical to have the ability to purchase that film, either on disc or digitally. There is never a more opportune time to capture the enthusiasm of a movie audience than after they have just seen the film.
Think of it as the rent-to-buy option the video and game industry have been touting for years. Seeing a film in the theater is similar to renting it (though the screen size is obviously much bigger, the sound better, and the popcorn and drinks exponentially more expensive).
For years, theaters have been marketing vehicles for the video industry and others down in the entertainment food chain. Why not take advantage of the marketing muscle closer to the release of the film?
I know what I’m proposing may seem like heresy to film connoisseurs. Certainly, many, including myself, relish and respect the experience of viewing a film in the theater.
But I think Fox and Sony may be on to something. They just aren’t marketing it at the correct point. If, after viewing a particularly good movie in the theater that I want to own, I were to get a pitch to buy it and have it delivered to my house either digitally or on disc (or both via UltraViolet) in a matter of weeks, I might make that digital impulse purchase at the right price. It would allow the studio to reap a more-instant gain on the film, and, if the deal were structured properly, might even help the theater owners.
I can envision a future in which you walk out of the theater and can buy that movie on your mobile phone for delivery at a later date (either on disc or digitally).
By: Stephanie Prange
Major Dundee (Blu-ray)
Available via www.ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Western, $34.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, Jim Hutton, Senta Berger.
1965. Stigmatized for decades as the lost cause that launched (excluding earlier minor skirmishes) Sam Peckinpah’s first all-out war with a producer and/or studio, this partially restored Western epic still remains several rungs down from his greatest achievements, which to my mind number maybe a half-dozen from the director’s frustratingly limited career pool. But with the 14 minutes that Sony’s Grover Crisp and his archival colleagues unearthed and reinstated in 2005, the result comes tantalizingly close to being “good” (and, in certain scenes, better than that), thanks to a strengthened narrative that, even in its improved state, relies more than is cinematically healthy on a voiceover narration. What’s more, these additions flesh out Charlton Heston’s lead performance, which now seems like one of his sturdiest.
If there are elements here of the standard jaw-clenched Heston hero, the actor is nonetheless cast as something of a maverick (Union Army variety) whose past behavior has gotten him relegated to a barren Cavalry post that at times makes the one in John Ford’s Fort Apache look like a bed-and-breakfast. With what appears to be less-than-ironclad orders to do so, Heston/Dundee then takes off on a not-quite-madman’s trek into Mexico to capture a skedaddled Apache adversary whose men have slaughtered several Cavalry colleagues in more brutal fashion than I usually associate with 1965 screens. Because his troops have been so decimated, Dundee is forced to employ some less-than-enthusiastic Confederate prisoners on his mission, one of them a sometimes friendly (and sometimes not) partner in back-and-forth bickering. He’s played by Richard Harris.
The beauty of Twilight Time’s release is its most welcome academic inclusion of both versions, even if the choppy but originally released 122-minute cut (liked by almost no one) is additionally undercut by a Daniele Amfitheatrof score so reviled by Peckinpah and nearly everyone else that even purists didn’t complain all that much when the 2005 revamp commissioned a new and improved replacement by Christopher Caliendo. Blu-ray also does what it can to make presentable “Eastman Color by Pathe” — but oh, what a brown-ish blight that dribbly process was on Columbia product of the mid-1960s.
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Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Sony Pictures, Drama, $20.95 DVD, NR.
Stars William Holden, Sophia Loren, Trevor Howard.
1958. With some dusty release charts and a little historical perspective, one can get a revelatory sense of the pre-release anticipation that must have greeted even movies that are now semi-forgotten. In this case, William Holden, writer Carl Foreman, composer Malcolm Arnold and releasing Columbia Pictures were merely coming off The Bridge on the River Kwai, while director Carol Reed still had remaining (if waning) glory in which to bask, courtesy of The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. Based on a Jan de Hartog novel (Stella) from 1951, The Key is a curiosity with an unusual backdrop: the plight of tugboat captains and crews who lugged Britain’s injured warships back to safety from German bombers in the early days of World War II. The problem with The Key is that the seafaring scenes are arguably more compelling than the main story, though Holden with Sophia Loren would seem to be interesting casting. The Key is worth seeing, but it marks the point where Holden’s career stature started to wane.
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Walmart-exclusive 'Jack Reacher' DVD
One of Walmart’s go-to exclusives of late has been to strip a new-release DVD or Blu-ray of any extras and offer it to consumers at a discount from the widely released editions. May 7 Walmart employed the strategy for both Paramount’s Jack Reacher, offering a bare-bones DVD edition (though it did include a Vudu digital copy), and Fox’s Safe Haven, offering not only a vanilla DVD but also an extras-free Blu-ray.
Target went the opposite direction for both titles. For Safe Haven, Target offered an additional 70 minutes of bonus content with the Blu-ray, and offered a $5 savings when the movie was purchased at the same time as the original novel (offered at $11.99). For Jack Reacher, Target packaged the Blu-ray with an exclusive novella of “Reacher” adventure The Second Son. Target also had all “Reacher” books for sale.
Walmart was not without its add-ons on certain titles. For Warner’s Superman Unbound, Walmart had an exclusive two-DVD special edition not yet available elsewhere (it streets June 18). And for the indie faith-based DVD release of Deep in the Heart, Walmart offered a bonus CD soundtrack.
Best Buy offered the Superman Unbound Blu-ray with a Brainiac figurine, and promoted an exclusive 20-minute Jack Reacher strunt-driving featurette available via streaming through its CinemaNow service.
Howdy, Kids!! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup
Shout! Factory, Western, $24.97 3-DVD set, NR.
Stars Roy Rogers, Chuck Connors, Gail Davis, Jock Mahoney.
1950-58. Roy Rogers is plenty hacked off, and we can tell it from the intensity in his punch-outs of two rent-a-villains hired to bilk an old lady out of some property. These are highlights of this 24-episode companion to Shout! Factory’s 2008 Hiya, Kids!! A ’50s Saturday Morning. Rogers’ theatrical features got increasingly violent in the post-World War II era, a trait that carried over to NBC’s “The Roy Rogers Show” — which, like the other half-hour TV series represented here, was one of the zillion TV offerings that went 98% of the way toward killing off the theatrical ‘B’ Western by the mid-1950s. It was normal for even small kids to sit around the set and salivate over Roy’s 1-2 pugilistic combos or Trigger stomping a bad guy in a low-angle upward shot (the affected rib cage or nose cartilage would be off-camera) or Roy’s tooth-baring and all but rabid “wonder dog” Bullet ripping out the chimes (at least in our childhood imaginations) of the same assailant.
Roundup’s other selections are more benign, and almost none originally aired on Saturday afternoons — not that the target demographic here (almost exclusively nostalgia junkies and pop anthropologists) will care about that particular letter of the law any more than the villains here do about letters of the law in general. “Fury” and “Sky King,” both represented here, did air on Saturday mornings, with the former pointing up how important horses were to the boilerplate TV Western genre in general. “The Adventures of Champion,” “Annie Oakley” (Gail Davis as a riding-shooting girls’ role model of the day), “The Range Rider” and “Buffalo Bill Jr.” were all from Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions, which came close enough to cornering the market for Autry get rich enough to bankroll first baseman Ted Kluszewski’s famed sleeveless muscle-jerseys after the cowboy-turned-team-owner bought the new Los Angeles Angels Major League Baseball team in 1961.
Other selections include “The Lone Ranger,” “The Cisco Kid,” “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon,” “The Adventures of Kit Carson” and “The Adventures of Rick O’Shay.” There’s also an episode of “The Rifleman,” which, however welcome, seems miscast for this predominantly daytime-oriented set.
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Panic in the Streets (Blu-ray)
Fox, Thriller, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Walter Jack Palance.
1950. As a transitional Elia Kazan movie, also an Oscar winner for best story (Edna and Edward Anhalt), as the screen debut of Jack Palance and Zero Mostel (not counting one long previous bit part for the latter) and as a key vehicle in the dramatic modification of lead Richard Widmark’s screen persona, this nifty “disease” thriller is probably a little less known than it ought to be, though its reputation has always been solid. A poker game has gone sour, and one of the participants has met a conventional death by bullets, though it quickly turns out that the guy already had a serious problem before the first cards were cut. His sickly appearance came courtesy of the pneumonic plague, which meant old age wasn’t on his agenda anyway. So what might have been a routine murder investigation becomes a race against time, as a U.S. Public Health Service doc (Widmark) and a police captain (Paul Douglas) hustle to locate the victim’s assailant (Palance). Both pursuers have differing approaches and agendas, and both have an innate ability to get steamed on occasion.
Extras: Film noir is made for Blu-ray, and noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini (their commentary carried over from the DVD) do a good job of describing some of Kazan’s staging of physical action.
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Anchor Bay, Western, B.O. $162.8 million, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity.
Stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson.
2012. Whatever else you want to say about Quentin Tarantino, he’s never come close to making a bad feature, which puts in him in a writer/directorial club that has fewer members than your run-of-the-mill Ivy League secret society. Whatever charm this professionally cheeky writer-director exudes when he’s a broadcast guest of Charlie Rose, Tarantino has exasperated even certain of his fans with a narrowness of vision, be it his exclusively genre-driven choice of material or his unwarranted slamming of John Ford, whose half-century breadth of expression was beyond extraordinary (in other words, the day even your second-tier filmography includes both a Pilgrimage and a Donovan’s Reef, come back and open your mouth). Tarantino isn’t yet the end all/be all filmic deity a lot of under-30s have made him out to be, yet a solid track record one is forced to acknowledge pretty well speaks for itself, which isn’t to say you can’t chip at his legacy-to-date a little bit.
And I really was tickled by Django, which on paper sounded like the world’s biggest crapshoot: an attempt to get down-and-dirty with America’s Original Sin (slavery) in the context of a spaghetti Western, not exactly a genre today’s multiplex masses were clamoring to revive. Interestingly, my two twentysomething sons — who initially rated Django as far and away the year-end release they were most ravenous to see — professed fairly intense disappointment over the result because, at 165 minutes, the unbridled running time (which translated into a redundancy of point-making) simply wore them out. And speaking of points, they have one: at 99 minutes, QT directorial debut Reservoir Dogs (1992) seems as compact and economical as a modest Woody Allen movie from the mid-1980s. (Though for me, it was the length of Inglourious Basterds that elicited clamors for mercy.)
Still. Keenly juggling a cast of both white and African-American performers, Django deals with a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) in search of the wife (Kerry Washington) who, in common practice, was taken from him and finding the perfect associate to help him do it. The last is a shady German bounty hunter (are there any other kind?) played by Christoph Waltz, who took the most recent supporting actor Oscar against a remarkable field of previous winners, himself included. You have to think that he will be forever indebted to the cadences of his colleague’s dialogue, thereby entering another club (co-member Dianne Wiest comes to mind) who’ve won double Oscars under the same writer-director (in her case, it was Woody himself). There’s also the sight of Leonardo DiCaprio, cast as a Mississippi plantation owner and paragon of bad taste, having a loose, grand old time on screen. How often do we get to see this happen? Well, probably not in this month’s take on The Great Gatsby, to be sure. And there is also what for me was last year’s funniest movie scene — the one where the eye holes don’t align properly on the racist posse members’ hooded sheets (or is it sheeted hoods?). This is one of those scenes like the pork-and-beans flatulence bit in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, in that the situation must have arisen many times in history, but no filmmaker ever had the imagination to portray it.
This home release is nice because the extras concentrate on an aspect of Tarantino’s filmmaking that is almost never emphasized: production design, costume design and (in this atypical case) horse stunts. I have to admit that I previously hadn’t stopped to think how much the first two got me “into” the picture, but here it’s clear that Tarantino took a lot of care with what (for him) were fairly subtle components to his movie’s overall success. The shocker is hearing about J. Michael Riva’s painstaking production design and then learning that Riva died last June from complications of a stroke. (It is also a shock, albeit a lesser one, to learn that he was the daughter of actress/writer Maria Riva, which made him the grandson of Marlene Dietrich.) The horse material is interesting, too, in that the veteran personnel employed here went back to the John Wayne era, a contrast in colleague sensibilities there, lemme tell you. Tarantino says you can get horses to do amazing things without injury if you just put in the prep time. In Django, the four-leggers do just that — yet Tarantino was still able to give prominent credit up-front at the end that no animals were harmed in the movie. Which is a lot more than you can say for many of the characters here once the story plays out.