Log in


February 27, 2012

Hollywood’s Retro-Fueled Nostalgia Trip

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which just won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, tells the story of a young artist who finds himself entranced by the romanticized atmosphere of France in the early 20th century. I can’t think of a better microcosm for Hollywood in the past year.

Let’s begin with last night’s Academy Awards ceremony, which in addition to Allen’s award bestowed 10 trophies upon two films built around French silent films.

Voters swooned around The Artist, a French film from a creative team previously best known in America for a pair of James Bond spoofs (among those who knew them at all, that is). Jean Dujardin, a superstar in his native land, plays a silent film star who finds himself unable to adapt to the advent of talkies. Does its win for Best Picture constitute a vote of protest from Hollywood in the face of its own struggles to adapt to an evolving medium? In this case, of course, it’s the plethora of new filmmaking technologies that seem to have democratized the industry, putting less emphasis on the traditional movie star and forcing studios to turn to new gimmicks such as 3D. And that’s not to mention the evolving home entertainment sphere, with the struggle between Blu-ray and digital delivery as the future platform of choice for the theatrical aftermarket.

In embracing the past, the Academy chose a silent movie for the first time since Wings was given the top prize at the inaugural ceremony in 1929. (Coincidentally, Wings was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time by Paramount.) It’s also the first Best Picture winner to be produced in the classic 4:3 ratio since 1955’s Marty. If not for Schindler’s List in 1993, it would be the first predominantly black-and-white film to win since 1960’s The Apartment. Take that, modern cinema!

On the other end of the scale is Hugo, which celebrates the past with thoroughly modern production values and dazzling use of the 3D form. Martin Scorsese paints a loving tribute to the spirit of artistry found in early silent films, particularly those of French film pioneer Georges Méliès. To celebrate how much cinema has evolved since those early days, Scorsese even converted some of Méliès’ most famous scenes into 3D. Take that, classic cinema!

What Scorsese’s film glosses over is how Méliès was ruined by rampant piracy and his own inability to adapt to the emerging business models of his new industry, which came to be dominated by Thomas Edison and his Machiavellian alliances to control most distribution channels. Instead, the film blames a changing cultural climate following World War I for Méliès’ downfall, as audiences supposedly turned their backs on anything “fun.”

Hopefully, modern Hollywood will not be so similarly oblivious to its own shortfalls.

But, it seems, in these cynical times, Hollywood is pining for a return to a simpler era of creative achievement unburdened by commercialism, when art for art’s sake was enough of an accomplishment. After all, it’s a lot easier to blame the audience when things don’t work out.

Hugo and The Artist haven’t exactly scored at the box office, but that doesn’t mean nostalgia doesn’t sell. Of the top 12 films of 2011, 10 were sequels and two were based on comic books. And both of those, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, are entries in the Marvel Films series that tie into the upcoming The Avengers.

Even looking at the top 25, most have some sort of nostalgic kick to them. One of the central themes of Bridesmaids (No. 14), for example, deals with how friends can find themselves drifting apart despite trying to hold onto what made that friendship work to begin with. And Super 8 (No. 21) is just an homage to Spielberg films of the 1970s and 1980s, with its own subplots of characters having to let go of the past.

And let’s not overlook The Muppets, which may be the ultimate nostalgia trip, as it reminisces about earlier “Muppet” movies as its characters try to re-create an episode of “The Muppet Show.” (Half the dialogue, it seems, is some variation of “I loved you guys when I was a kid.”)

And therein can be found the dichotomy in which Hollywood finds itself: a gap between artists who don’t want to be judged by an audience that prefers the safety of familiarity in the absence of fresh ideas, with the studios caught in the middle, facing a changing technological landscape that makes it that much harder to monetize their product.

If everyone is living in the past, is anyone looking toward the future?

Bookmark it:

September 10, 2013

Promoting 'Into Darkness'

In a move bound to annoy Trekkers everywhere, it seems most of the extras produced for Paramount’s new Star Trek Into Darkness home video release were available only as retailer exclusives, aside from the seven featurettes (totaling about 42 minutes) that come on the standard Blu-ray.

Target offered exclusive editions of both the 2D and 3D Blu-ray combo packs, with exclusive packaging and more than 30 minutes of exclusive production featurettes.

Similarly, Best Buy offered exclusive packaging on the regular Blu-ray combo pack, and also touted 30 minutes of exclusive bonus content. The Best Buy extras, however, had to be viewed via Best Buy’s CinemaNow digital streaming service. Best Buy also offered exclusive packaging on the Blu-ray of the original “Star Trek” TV series.

Walmart’s promotion included a gift set of the Star Trek Into Darkness Blu-ray in a steelbook case with a Hot Wheels miniature of the U.S.S. Vengeance. In addition, shoppers could get a two-pack of Star Trek Into Darkness and its 2009 predecessor (at the same price as the standalone Blu-ray of the new film), and the DVD included Vudu digital copies of both films.

Amazon.com offered a deluxe boxed set of the 3D version of Star Trek Into Darkness, packaged with a collectible phaser replica and display stand.

Fans looking for a commentary by director J.J. Abrams and the other filmmakers had to download the film from iTunes, offered in both standard-definition ($14.99 to buy, $3.99 to rent) and HD ($19.99 or $4.99). A free iTunes digital copy, including the commentary, is available with all Blu-ray purchases.

Bookmark it:

September 09, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Big City' and more …

The Big City

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
In Bengali with English subtitles.
Stars Anil Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee, Jaya Bhaduri.
City is one of a half-dozen or so titles from Satyajit Ray, India’s greatest director, that got restored in the 1990s. Set in Calcutta during a time of social upheaval fostered by Indian Prime Minister Nehru (he of the jacket), this 2¼-hour domestic drama with compelling sojourns outdoors deals with a crowded household indebted to the wife (Madhabi Mukherjee) who makes things happen. 
Extras: On one of the bonus features, titled “Satyajit Ray and the Modern Woman,” scholar Saranjan Ganguly discusses City, 1964’s Charulata and 1965’s The Coward in terms of feminist cinema. The Coward is included as a bonus movie in its entirety.
Read the Full Review

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

Olive, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Cagney, Barbara Payton, Helena Carter, Ward Bond.
Based on a novel by Horace McCoy, this is an extremely zippy chunk of nastiness from James Cagney’s production company, though it’s about as preposterous as even melodramas come. The actor, who was 50 and showing it, plays a chain-gang escapee with the ability to make comely young things fall for him in a minute or so — to say nothing of a knack for pretty well taking over the corrupt wing of a town almost immediately after blowing in. Ward Bond’s performance as a crooked professional servant is very impressive and nuanced, and it reinforces what a good actor he was. Olive’s print is typically no frills but looks pretty decent.
Read the Full Review

Posted in: Reviews , Agent DVD , Mike's Picks , Blogs
Bookmark it:

September 03, 2013

Exclusives Light the Way

Among the slew of new TV titles on DVD and Blu-ray for the new-release week of Sept. 3, Target attached exclusives to several of them.

The most notable was probably the Blu-ray combo pack for Warner’s Revolution: The Complete First Season, which came with a pendant with glowing power symbol.

Target also offered exclusive content with the fourth season of Warner’s “The Vampire Diaries” (video from this year's San Diego Comic-Con International panel) and season two of Disney’s “Scandal" (an extended version of the episode "Happy Birthday, Mr. President").

In addition, Target has exclusive availability of Shout! Factory’s new “Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters” DVD, Dawn of the Beast, offered at $9.99.

Shoppers at Best Buy could get an exclusive Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of Asylum’s Sharknado for $9.99. In addition, Best Buy offered a $10 instant savings to those who bought Universal’s Parks and Recreation: Season Five on DVD ($27.99) at the same time as The Office: Season Nine on DVD ($32.99) or Blu-ray ($39.99).

Walmart offered as an exclusive Lionsgate’s animated Snowflake the White Gorilla, at $12.96.

Bookmark it:

September 02, 2013

New on Disc: 'Sexy Beast' and more …

Sexy Beast (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for pervasive language, strong violence and some sexuality.
Stars Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian MacShane, Amanda Redman.
Firmly and almost immediately ensconced as one of the great British gangster movies of all time, director Jonathan Glazer’s feature debut got super reviews at the time and a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Ben Kingsley. Yet, if anything, it seems to have mellowed into an even more kinetic slice of nastiness today. Sun-baked for ideal Blu-ray presentation until the narrative takes us underwater for its climax, a constant payoff never outstays its welcome at just 89 minutes. In a way, the movie reflects the professionalism of lead Ray Winstone’s safecracker by getting in, doing its job and getting out so we (and he) can all go home. Glazer directs a smart Louis Mellis-David Scinto screenplay to the hilt, and this is a movie that gets maximum punch out of every bit of dialogue or reaction shot the way many of today’s best pay-cable series do. Twilight Time’s presentation, robust soundtrack included, is among its best.
Read the Full Review

Niagara (Blu-ray)

Fox, Drama, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Casey Adams.
Niagara definitely has most of the preferred noir elements: premeditated murderous intentions, a bombshell wife who’s fooling around and a noirish kind of backdrop song (“Kiss”). Niagara came out first in the year of 20th Century Fox’s big push for Marilyn Monroe in headlining marquee roles. You could easily get two more movies about the courtship rituals of the yarn’s plot-central couples. The movie is shrewdly full of what used to be called “scenic values.”
Read the Full Review

Posted in: Reviews , Agent DVD , Mike's Picks , Blogs
Bookmark it:

August 27, 2013

'Walking Dead' Gets Lively

Retailers offered a slew of exclusives and promotions tied to the new releases of Aug. 27, with the most notable being those for Anchor Bay’s The Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season.

Best Buy offered an exclusive Blu-ray combo pack of the season that also included the DVD. Target offered the Blu-ray with special steelbook packaging.

Walmart offered both the “Walking Dead” DVD and Blu-ray with an exclusive Songs of Survival CD.

For Warner’s The Great Gatsby, Target offered 20 minutes of exclusive bonus content, plus $5 instant savings when the movie was purchased with the paperback of the original book (priced at $12).

Target also included more than 25 minutes of exclusive bonus content with Paramount’s Elementary: The First Season.

For those buying Paramount’s Pain & Gain, Best Buy offered a 50% discount on the G.I. Joe: Retaliation Blu-ray combo pack.

In addition, Best Buy offered an exclusive Opie shirt for $5.99 (regularly $19.99) with the purchase of Fox’s Sons of Anarchy: Season Five.

Best Buy also touted $8 Planes movie cash with the purchase of Disney’s new Super Buddies.

Walmart offered a limited-edition gift set of Universal’s Barbie Mariposa & the Fairy Princess DVD with a butterfly finger puppet for $14.96.

Bookmark it:

August 26, 2013

New on Disc: 'God's Little Acre' and more …

God’s Little Acre

Olive, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, Tina
Louise, Buddy Hackett, Fay Spain.
Judging merely from one early bathtub scene with Fay Spain alone, one might speculate that American censors would have had a field day with the movie of Erskine Caldwell’s same-name 1933 novel, which is still one of the biggest sellers of all time. In a central role that could have made a lot of actors look silly, the never-bad Robert Ryan plays rural Georgia patriarch Ty Ty Walden, father to three sons and three attractive daughters. Obsessed by gold that his own father supposedly buried at some unknown spot on the property, Ty Ty is even driven (on advice from a sheriff’s candidate played by Buddy Hackett) to hire an albino who can divine its location. Olive’s prints are no-frills affairs, but what we get here are the fruits of a nice UCLA Archives restoration that definitely displays director Anthony Mann’s gifts at composition.
Read the Full Review

Going Hollywood

Available through online retailers via Warner Archive
Warner, Musical, $18.95, NR.
Stars Marion Davies, Bing Crosby, Fifi D’Orsay.
Buried as a French teacher in one of those awful Eastern female boarding schools devoted to turning out future old prunes, Marion Davies’ character develops an instant crush on a singer named Bill Williams (Bing Crosby), who is on his way to Los Angeles to make a movie. Davies finds a way to accost and follow him after bolting academia, and effortlessly steps in after the film’s intended co-star (Fifi D’Orsay) begins throwing temperamental fits. This is a Raoul Walsh musical, of which there are more than you might think, but the result is no less of a curio for that.
Read the Full Review

Posted in: Reviews , Agent DVD , Mike's Picks , Blogs
Bookmark it:

August 20, 2013

Finding 'Epic' Exclusives

Retailers didn’t hesitate to ramp up the exclusives for the home video of Fox’s new animated movie Epic.

Best Buy offered a “battle character” for the free Epic mobile game, playable on the iPhone, iPad and Android products.

Target presented the Epic Blu-ray combo pack with digibook packaging containing a 24-page bonus booklet.

Walmart went a little nuts with Epic, offering a Blu-ray combo pack option with three pack-on reusable snack bags. Walmart also offered, as it usually does, a stripped-down DVD version with no extras. With four different Epic SKUs on shelves, it was a bit ironic that a store in Irvine, Calif., didn’t have the 3D version stocked.

Also available exclusively for a limited time at Walmart: the new Scooby-Doo Adventures: The Mystery Map, which presents a Scooby-Doo mystery with puppets instead of animation.

Walmart also has a One Direction: This Is Us movie fan pack for DVD ($19.96) and Blu-ray ($22.96), containing a ticket to the Aug. 30 movie, preview footage and a future copy of the home video.


Bookmark it:

August 19, 2013

New on Disc: 'Seconds' and more …


Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Murray Hamilton.
Playing something like a “Twilight Zone” episode that would have been too unhinged for CBS to air, John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, adapted from a David Ely novel by screenwriter Lewis John Carlino, has to be one of the most uncompromised major studio releases before the 1970s.
Extras: The disc includes new and archive interviews, Frankenheimer audio commentary, a good Criterion essay, a 1965 promotional short with Rock Hudson and a visual essay.
Read the Full Review

Nova: Manhunt — Boston Bombers

Street 8/20
PBS, Documentary, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Future documentaries will, of course, warn of surveillance-spurred privacy abuses or chronicle those that have already occurred. But for now, this Boston-bombing springboard exists as a much more positive head-shaker in the manner it shows us the degree of technological wizardry governments already have at their disposal for tracking down criminals, including (as here) some unequivocal human slugs. Make no mistake: there’s plenty of on-the-scene footage on prominent display, including what you’d expect to see here from the April 15 explosion during the city’s Marathon and the immediate street aftermath of a tragedy that killed three people and injured more than 250 others. There is, in addition, some tape of the April 18 Watertown, Mass., police shootout with the two suspects, plus helicopter shots of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (or at least his outline) when he was hiding in an ordinary citizen’s backyard boat. But more of this documentary is devoted to how the technology works.
Read the Full Review

Posted in: Reviews , Agent DVD , Mike's Picks , Blogs
Bookmark it:

August 19, 2013

10 Lessons From Comic-Con

Amid the landscape of geekdom, there’s nothing quite like San Diego Comic-Con International. After more than 40 years, this Super Bowl of pop-culture conventions has astounded fans, organizers and marketers alike not only for its scope and spectacle, but also the lure of reaching out to an unprecedented congregation of fanboys and fangirls from around the world.

While recent years have shown Comic-Con isn’t the best place to build buzz about movies that don’t already have it, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to take advantage of the many rabid consumers of genre entertainment in one spot.

1. It’s a Good Place for Home Video Premieres
Screening new movies for fans at Comic-Con is becoming the norm. Warner Home Video has made a tradition of premiering its newest DC Universe animated superhero movies during special Q&A panels with the cast and crew, and this year brought Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox to the show just a few weeks before it arrived on DVD and Blu-ray. The past few years, Warner has also premiered a DCU movie at WonderCon, too.

2.  How to Expand a Fictional Universe
Likewise, Marvel Studios showed Comic-Con fans the pilot for its new “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show (which it also showed at the recent D23 Expo for Disney fans) and premiered the Marvel One Shot: Agent Carter short film that will be an extra on the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray. Between the films and these tie-in projects, Marvel Studios is establishing a viable cross-medium promotional strategy that engages consumers in the larger story arcs it is trying to establish. Putting Agent Carter on Iron Man 3, for example, makes it a promotional tool for the upcoming Captain America sequel. IM3 already includes a preview of the next Thor movie, which arrives in November.  And the IM3 disc arrives Sept. 24, the same day “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” debuts on ABC.

3. Longstanding Rivalries Heating Up
This success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (aka “Avengers”) franchise is already proving the envy of other studios, as Warner has been trying to get a “Justice League” film off the ground for years and is moving forward with a Man of Steel sequel that will introduce a new, post-Christopher Nolan Batman with hopes of setting up a live-action Justice League movie. On the theatrical side, the Superman-Batman movie news generated the biggest buzz of the show.

4. Speculation About the Future of Star Wars
Given the success of the “Avengers” strategy, it will be interesting to see how Disney handles marketing for Star Wars: Episode VII at Comic-Con in the future. The exhibit floor had a large “Star Wars” area consisting of several different retail booths selling “Star Wars” merchandise such as clothes, dolls, toys, dog toys, car accessories and other random gift items.

Episode VII director J.J. Abrams had said that he wanted to use a multiplatform marketing approach with “Star Trek” but couldn’t work out the licensing logistics. He shouldn’t have any trouble with such a strategy for “Star Wars.” In the wake of the cancellation of the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” series (jointly produced by Lucasfilm and Warner), Disney is bringing a new animated series, “Star Wars: Rebels,” to Disney XD. Many fans at Comic-Con also wondered if Disney would ever release the original, non-special-edition versions of the original trilogy on disc, and while a Lucasfilm rep at the D23 Expo said this was a possibility, there aren’t any plans to do so yet.

5. It doesn’t hurt to reach out to the fanboy demographic
Sometimes, it takes good old-fashioned hard work to get the word out about an upcoming project. Warner heavily promoted its Oct. 25 documentary Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics not only at its own preview panel, but also at several other panels where the producers made special appearances to speak about it.

6. A Forum for Home Video Cross-Promotions
What better way to announce a show’s DVD release than the show’s Comic-Con panel, where fans can eagerly cheer the news? Paramount and CBS used Comic-Con to announce several upcoming home video releases, including Dexter: The Complete Series and the first seasons of “Under the Dome” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

7. Classic TV on Blu-ray Can Work
Conventional wisdom holds that older TV shows with a lot of visual effects wouldn’t work on Blu-ray because the effects were done in standard-definition and an upconversion would look horrible. The “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Blu-rays demonstrated the viability of remastering the show in HD by reassembling the original VFX elements, and at Comic-Con, Shout! Factory announced it is converting “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” to HD using the same process. This raised speculation about other classic series that could undergo such a conversion for Blu-ray, such as Fox doing something similar for “The X-Files.”

8. Displaying the Personal Touch
Fox also set up an interactive booth to promote its 3D Blu-ray release of the original Predator, due in December. The display also included a mock-up of limited-edition packaging shaped like a Predator head, which will be limited to a run of 500. Fans who preordered the disc could get a figurine of a Predator holding a facsimile of the guest’s severed head, created using a 3D printer. Don’t be surprised to see this kind of thing in the future. A company called Cubify was allowing fans to make Star Trek figurines with their face on them for $70.

9. Getting Off the Floor
It’s no secret that Comic-Con has outgrown the San Diego Convention Center, with official events and panels now taking place in nearby hotels. But the spirit of Comic-Con has engulfed most of Downtown San Diego, with a number of activities set up in the Gaslamp District far away from the convention floor. This year, the Aquabats staged a concert at the House of Blues, Sony Pictures celebrated the Blu-ray release of Evil Dead with fans at The Commons sports lounge, and Universal promoted Kick-Ass 2 with a giant downtown fan festival. And don’t forget “The Walking Dead Escape,” which lets fans play walkers (zombies) or runners (survivors) during a massive reenactment of the hit AMC show at nearby Petco Park.

10. Exploring the Digital Frontier
The expansion of digital technology provides a fast and easy way to bring content to Comic-Con attendees, and also recognizes that Comic-Con attracts a lot of families each year (and that means little kids). DreamWorks Animation teamed with M-Go and Fox to promote DreamWorks Animation titles through limited-edition collectible cards distributed to attendees at the Fox booth. The cards contained codes for attendees to redeem for free access to DreamWorks Animation digital shorts. In addition, M-Go street team members distributed 13,000 cards with a promo code for free movie rentals on the pay-as-you-go service.

Bookmark it:

Bookmark it: