February 27, 2017

New on Disc: 'Mildred Pierce' (1945) and more …

Mildred Pierce

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Ann Blyth, Eve Arden.
As an even niftier mix of “woman’s picture” and film noir than some have given it credit for being, there really isn’t much that’s all-out risible in Joan Crawford’s Oscar vehicle beyond Eve Arden’s intentionally funny laugh lines and our glee in seeing Crawford’s Mildred mix it up in violently high-pitched fashion with snotty daughter Veda (Ann Blyth).
Extras: Beyond a lot of 4K digital polish that makes a movie released shortly after World War II ended leap off the screen, the extras here are keenly balanced in terms of the James M. Cain source material, Director Michael Curtiz's prowess, Oscar night lore (when Crawford, perhaps fearful of losing, apparently faked an illness to take her award from a sickbed) and Crawford’s extraordinarily durable career until its howler half-a-decade on the road to swansong Trog. The accompanying essay by Imogen Sara Smith explores the movie’s themes, which are far more grounded in the Depression and its fallout than the barely mentioned war.
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Available via Universal Vault Series
Universal, Mystery, $19.98 DVD-R, NR.
Stars Dennis O’Keefe, Gale Storm, Jeff Chandler, Raymond Burr.
Abandoned wouldn’t be worth much attention here were it not for two novel components, one of which involves film scholarship of the highest order.
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February 27, 2017

A Flexible Vision for Home Entertainment

This year’s visionary is emblematic of the change the entire home entertainment industry is experiencing. Comcast’s Brian Roberts is straddling a legacy cable business while embracing a new digital delivery model.

Whew! It’s a hard task for an executive to keep one foot in the past and one in the future — but Roberts seems to be up to it. He is maintaining the cable business and sees the need for electronic sellthrough with expanded digital extras, but also recognizes the subscription video-on-demand draw of Netflix. The future will need such a flexible executive — as it’s unclear where the future home entertainment consumer will go.

Along the lines of that theme, the studios are rethinking their vision of the theatrical window. 20th Century Fox CEO Stacey Snider told a tech confab the issue is at the forefront of studio conversations. Kevin Tsujihara, CEO of Warner Bros., has broached the subject as well.

Exactly when does entertainment enter the home? Is there are window between initial theatrical release and Digital HD/disc release? What is the consumer demand for that release window based on the film? And how much should a studio charge?

These are all questions to be answered as we enter the new realm of home entertainment, which is more elastic than ever. It requires a very flexible executive, one that knows the legacy business but also understands where the consumer is going. Roberts has been that kind of leader, a visionary that can adapt to a changing market. The home entertainment industry will need many more like him to follow consumers who demand entertainment when and where they want it.

“Ultimately, it’s not really about the business model per se, it’s about giving consumers what they want,” Tsujihara said on a fiscal call.

I agree.

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February 27, 2017

An Unconventional Vision — Brian Roberts, Comcast Chairman/CEO

Back in 1990, when home video — powered by the rental videocassette — was at the height of its glory days, 31-year-old Brian Roberts was given control of a $657 million cable company his father had built.

More than a quarter of a century later, Comcast Corporation is an $80.4 billion company that aside from being the country’s largest cable TV company and home Internet service provider (ISP) is one of the most important players in what we now call the home entertainment industry.

And much of the credit goes to Brian Roberts, now company chairman and CEO, who is being honored this year with Home Media Magazine’s 2017 Visionary Award.

He’s the latest in a series of honorees dating back to 2002, when Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD, received the same honor. Other honorees have included Sony Pictures’ Ben Feingold, Samsung’s Tim Baxter, and Walmart’s Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson

Roberts, like our other visionaries, understands the critical importance of giving consumers as many choices as possible to enjoy their entertainment, even it means breaking tradition and disrupting existing business models.

Under his direction, Comcast has spearheaded home entertainment content distribution on the Xfinity X1 platform.

Comcast in 2013 became the first pay-TV operator to sell subscribers digital movies, a move that quickly catapulted the company into the ranks of top
electronic sellthrough (EST) platforms, alongside iTunes and Amazon Instant.

As Michael Bonner, EVP of digital distribution for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment told Home Media Magazine, “Comcast’s 2013 entrée into EST was an unequivocal game changer for the digital sellthrough market. Overnight, Comcast took its place among the industry’s top digital retailers.”

Comcast added access to Disney Movies Anywhere in 2016, strengthening its position in the EST market even further.

Late last year, Comcast and four studios announced the launch of enhanced, mutable movie extras on electronic sellthrough titles on X1 — a key step in
improving the consumer offering for EST titles.

The company has also embraced direct access to streaming kingpin Netflix, regarded by most cablers as Enemy No. 1. “We got off the rails in the Time
Warner deal,” Roberts told in November 2016. “I wanted [Netflix chief Reed Hastings] to know that we believed Netflix was important to the ecosystem. I asked him what it would take to hit the reset button.”

The reset button was officially hit on Nov. 4, when Netflix launched on Comcast’s X1 cable set-top box. As observed, “The new service broadens consumer appeal for their respective services and helps Comcast with federal regulators who say that pay-TV
companies should integrate traditional TV and streaming services on set-top boxes.”

It’s that openness to unconventional ideas, that willingness to take risks and shake up the status quo, that has played a key role in Comcast’s success, not just with home entertainment, but overall.

It’s also why Home Media Magazine is honoring Roberts as the 2017 Home Entertainment Visionary.

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February 24, 2017

A Changing of the Guard

A changing of the guard often indicates further changes are ahead — and, invariably, we’re not talking minor tweaks but, rather, dramatic transformations of existing business models.

Three of the six major studios have recently undergone leadership changes, most recently Paramount Pictures, where Brad Grey’s 12-year run as chairman and CEO is over. Replacing him, at least on an interim basis, is a committee of executives that includes Amy Powell, president of TV and digital.

The new studio heads will likely be more open to change, and less averse to risk, than their predecessors — particularly if more studios wind up being owned by digital networks, like Comcast’s NBC Universal and, soon, AT&T’s Warner Bros. And all signs point to a dramatic shift in Hollywood’s venerated business model, which has always been “theatrical first.”

The validity, and continued viability, of a system in which movie theaters are at the top of the food chain has been questioned for some time. The advent of home video showed us plenty of consumers preferred to watch movies at home, and the rise of Netflix made it even clearer that home truly is where the heart is. The streaming service now generates nearly as much consumer spending as disc and digital sales of movies and TV shows combined — all without the benefit of recently released theatrical movies.

It’s no wonder, then, that for several years now the big talk in Hollywood has been significantly shortening the window between a film’s theatrical and home release — or even erasing it altogether (see page 11). In the not-so-distant past, such talk would have been seen as blasphemous, an affront to the all-powerful exhibitors.

But the old-school studio chiefs are pretty much gone, and their replacements are a lot more pragmatic. Kevin Tsujihara, whose selection as Warner Bros.’ studio chief four years ago stunned observers, given his home entertainment background, has been clamoring for years for a shakeup. Just this past November, Tsujihara at Credit Suisse’s Technology, Media & Telecom Conference said he considers it “imperative … to offer consumers more choices earlier.” And James Murdoch, who less than two years ago replaced his dad at the helm of Fox, ticked off the National Association of Theatre Owners last September when he blasted the “crazy holdbacks that theater owners put in place,” referring to the traditional 90-day window between a film’s theatrical debut and its first after-market appearance.

So far, however, there’s been lots of talk, but little action. It’s been sort of like a Cold War between the studios and the exhibitors.

But just like the real Cold War more or less ended with the toppling of the Berlin Wall, there’s going to have to be a break, and soon. Consumers have grown accustomed to being in control of their entertainment, of watching movies on their own schedule, in their own environment — and there’s no telling how much money is being left on the proverbial table because of this silly 90-day window. Each year, fewer people are going out to the movies. Never before have we had so many different choices, so many different platforms — from Netflix to YouTube, from iTunes to Google Play, from elaborate home theater setups to iPads and smartphones. And if first-run movies aren’t available, guess what? There’s lots of other stuff to watch.

By continuing to cater to exhibitors, studio executives are only shooting themselves in the foot. It’s time to not just shake up the existing business model, but also turn it upside down, ‪inside out‬‬‬. It is imperative that Hollywood offer in-home delivery of movies (at a premium price, of course) during the so-called theatrical window — and, perhaps, not just one month out, or even one week out, but same day.

Will it happen? You can count on it. It’s not a question of if, but when.

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February 21, 2017

Best Buy Has Exclusive 'Bad Santa 2' Ultra HD Blu-ray

The first title for which a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition was leveraged as a retail exclusive is … Bad Santa 2. The comedy sequel, released on disc by Broad Green, is available in the 4K format only at Best Buy, and comes with special box art as well.

Among the other new releases, Target offered the Blu-ray of Lionsgate's Hacksaw Ridge in a Steelbook case.


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February 20, 2017

New on Disc: 'Bells Are Ringing' and more …

Bells Are Ringing (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive       
Warner, Musical, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Judy Holliday, Dean Martin, Eddie Foy, Jr., Jean Stapleton.
For such a frequently ingratiating movie, Vincente Minnelli’s Bells Are Ringing exudes an air of melancholy that can’t be denied, no matter how sublime its Judy Holiday-Dean Martin teaming was and is.
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What a Way to Go! (Blu-ray)

Kino Lorber, Comedy, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Shirley MacLaine, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Gene Kelly.
There were likely people who went to see What a Way To Go! precisely because of lead Shirley MacLaine’s dizzying costume changes, which go in radical new directions each time her “Louisa” character gets married again (the story’s central gag).
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February 14, 2017

'Thomas & Friends' Extraordinary Exclusive

While some big titles such as Paramount's Arrival hit shelves Feb. 14, none of them came with any retail exclusives.

The only noticeable exclusive among the new releases came at Walmart, which offered a DVD two-pack of the new Thomas & Friends: Extraordinary Engines with Thomas & Friends: Railway Friends, at $12.96.

Among other items of note, Best Buy did not have DVD copies of the Universal new releases Bleed for This and The Edge of Seventeen stocked in its brick-and-mortar stores. Only the Blu-ray combo packs were offered, which include the DVDs. Similarly, Best Buy didn't have the DVD version of Sony Pictures' Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, although the Blu-ray version didn't include a DVD.

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February 07, 2017

'Justice League' Takes on 'Trolls' in Exclusives Battle

DreamWorks Animation's Trolls, distributed by Fox, and Warner's Justice League Dark arrived at retail Feb. 7 with their share of retail-exclusive options.

For Trolls, Best Buy offered the Blu-ray "Party Edition" with an exclusive graphic novel. Best Buy also included a graphic novel with the Justice League Dark Blu-ray gift set, which already includes a Constantine figurine.

At Target, the Trolls Blu-ray came with exclusive box art and a bonus disc containing an additional 20 minutss of material. Target offered a Steelbook case with the Justice League Dark Blu-ray.

Walmart had the Trolls DVD as a "party edition" similarly to the widely released Blu-ray version, and plugged two music videos with both the DVD and Blu-ray.

Walmart also had a DVD two-pack containing the first seasons of two HBO shows: "Eastbound & Down" and the newly released "Vice Principals."

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February 06, 2017

New on Disc: 'The Barefoot Contessa' and more …

The Barefoot Contessa (Blu-ray)

Available via
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Marius Goring, Rossano Brazzi.
With cinema-centered The Barefoot Contessa, writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz brought years of professional and family experience, so if this almost illegally gorgeous saga about a Spanish dancer-turned-movie-star can be on the windy and lumpy side, it is a real insider’s movie.
Extras: Includes a first-rate commentary from Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo and the always ticklishly irreverent David Del Valle. An added virtue is a stills gallery from Del Valle’s personal archive.
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Suddenly (Blu-ray)

Image, Drama, $14.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, Nancy Gates, James Gleason.
Though the picture has some of the limitations associated with ‘B’-movies, Frank Sinatra is spectacularly good here as an all-out villain in ways that we rarely got to see on the screen, given his disinclination to put out in movies the way he did in the recording studio or in concert.
Extras: One of the two voiceover commentaries here is by the late Frank Sinatra Jr., who not only knew some Suddenly family lore but was actually present on the set. The other Blu-ray commentary is by frequent voiceover commentator and standout USC film prof Drew Casper.
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January 31, 2017

Exclusive Packaging for 'Pinocchio'

A couple of retailers offered exclusive packaging for Disney's new Pinocchio: Signature Collection Blu-ray.

Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack with a 28-page storybook.

Best Buy offered the animated classic with special lenticular box art.

For Paramount's Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Best Buy had exclusive Steelbook cases for the Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray editions.

Walmart offered a DVD gift set of Universal's Barbie: Video Game Hero with a Princess Charm School DVD.

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