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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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28 May, 2013

Summer Deals Galore

A slow week for new releases coming off the Memorial Day weekend has given stores a big excuse for promoting older titles with huge savings.

Target set up several deep-discount shelves, such as $4.75 for 1980s and ’90s hits on DVD, and $10 for more recent fare such as The Expendables 2 and The Perks of Being a Wallflower on DVD or several “Star Trek” movies on Blu-ray.

Target also offered a $10 savings when two Universal TV DVDs were bought together: the second season of “Suits” and the third season of “Covert Affairs.”

Best Buy touted a $10 discount coupon for Disney/ABC’s Red Widow DVD, bringing the first-week price down to $9.99. The coupon could be found at ABCTVonDVDCoupon.com.

In addition, Best Buy offered a free $10 gift card with the purchase of $50 or more of TV titles on DVD or Blu-ray.

Walmart offered pack-ons with two Nickelodeon titles: a puzzle and crayon pack with Peter Rabbit and a beach ball with Bubble Guppies: Sunny Days.

Also, Walmart packed Arc Entertainment's DVD of the movie Space Warriors, which looks to be a 21st century update of Space Camp, with Return to Nim's Island for $16.96. Space Warriors is available separately for $12.96 on DVD and $14.96 on Blu-ray.

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21 May, 2013

Retail Trek 'Into Darkness'

Amazon's 'Star Trek Into Darkness' exclusive
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.

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20 May, 2013

New on Disc: 'Mel Brooks: Make a Noise' and more …

Mel Brooks: Make A Noise

Street 5/21/13
Shout! Factory/PBS, Documentary, $19.97 DVD, NR.
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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The Men

Olive, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95
Blu-ray, NR.
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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14 May, 2013

More CinemaNow in Stores

Best Buy's CinemaNow station
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.

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13 May, 2013

New on Disc: 'Major Dundee' on Blu-ray and more …

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.
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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The Key

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Sony Pictures, Drama, $20.95 DVD, NR.
Stars William Holden, Sophia Loren, Trevor Howard.
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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7 May, 2013

Stripping Bare at Walmart

Walmart-exclusive 'Jack Reacher' DVD
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.

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6 May, 2013

New on Disc: 'Howdy, Kids!! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup' and more …

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.
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.
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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Django Unchained

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.

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30 Apr, 2013

Taking A Mother’s Day 'Trip'

Target's 'Guilt Trip' audio gift card
Target's 'Guilt Trip' audio gift card

Target kicked off its big pre-Mother’s Day promotions with an exclusive edition of Paramount’s The Guilt Trip DVD and Blu-ray. The Target special edition offers the disc gift-wrapped, with an audio greeting card featuring the voice of star Barbra Streisand.

Copies of The Guilt Trip DVD at Walmart came with a special digital copy from the chain’s Vudu digital streaming service.

For Mother’s Day, Walmart set up a huge endcap display of $5 DVDs of such titles as Saturday Night Fever, Grease and Love Story, and $7.50 DVDs such as Magic Mike. Walmart also trotted out two new animated adventures exclusively on DVD at its stores: Universal’s Small Potatoes at $9.96 and Fox’s Koala Kid at $12.96.

Target offered a few discount deals on other new releases. Shoppers who bought Silver Linings Playbook on DVD or Blu-ray along with the paperback book (offered at $12) upon which the film is based could save $5. And the joint purchase of Star Trek: The Next Generation — Season Three Blu-ray ($59.99) with the Best of Both Worlds Blu-ray ($14.99) included a $10 savings.

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24 Apr, 2013

Caught Between a 'Gangster' and 'Super Friends'

Best Buy's 'Gangster Squad' cover and Target's 'Super Friends.'
Best Buy's 'Gangster Squad' cover and Target's 'Super Friends.'

For the biggest new release of April 23, Warner’s Gangster Squad, Best Buy offered a special version of the film’s Blu-ray combo pack with unique box art and an exclusive 30-minute bonus featurette, “Meet the Gangster Squad.”

Target had exclusive availability of Warner’s The World’s Greatest Super Friends DVD, presenting eight episodes from the 1979-80 fourth season of the “Super Friends” cartoon franchise.

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22 Apr, 2013

New on Disc: 'China Gate' and more …

China Gate

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gene Barry, Angie Dickinson, Nat King Cole, Lee Van Cleef.
Casting Angie Dickinson as a Eurasian saloon keeper named Lucky Legs — and then directing her to sit in semi-recline amid a CinemaScope frame — was inspired even by Samuel Fuller standards. Filmed during a kind of heyday for Fuller when the producer-director-writer found 20th Century Fox to be a harmonious playground, China Gate will pass as the first Hollywood movie about what became the Vietnam quagmire until someone can name me an earlier title of equal weight. At this point, America was simply advising the French, though the protagonists here are a ragtag collection directly from the soldiers-of-fortune playbook, even if the casting of Nat King Cole as one of them — and make that a singing Nat King Cole — threatens on paper to make the picture go a little gonzo.
In addition to having delivered booze to the Commies and, thus, developing a sense of local geography, Ms. Legs is additionally a good choice to have been recruited for the mission because the North Vietnamese major whose fortress the band is trying to crack has a yen for her. So does the Gene Barry character, but here it gets complicated. The two have a little history (read: a 5-year-old son), though dad bailed out because the kid looks Asian and not like, say, Bat Masterson — the TV cowboy Barry would soon be playing on TV.
Gate probably wouldn’t have the cult rep it has today had it come out 10 years later in the Duke Wayne/Green Berets ’60s, but as a product of the auteurist ’50s, I suspect it has always spurred a “Let Sam Be Sam” attitude among those not sharing Fuller’s politics (not that they’ve ever been easy to pigeonhole). Olive’s print shows some wear in certain reels but exhibits visual depth most of the time. The major league music credit is unusual — Victor Young and Max Steiner — because Young, who was working himself to death in the mid-1950s, died at 57 during production — less than a month after his greatest triumph (Around the World in 80 Days) opened in New York before the composer could see the degree to which the Decca soundtrack LP caught on with the public.
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Key to the City

Manufactured on demand via Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Frank Morgan, Raymond Burr.
Known to fanciers of low-end trivia questions as the 1950 George Sidney movie that wasn’t the year’s biggest box office attraction (which was Annie Get Your Gun), this is one of those projects more interesting for the history and dynamics that occurred off screen than on it. A romantic farce that isn’t farcical enough, it casts Clark Gable and Loretta Young as, respectively, East and West Coast mayors who meet at a mayoral convention — with reserved Young falling for her counterpart’s masculine ways (former longshoreman that he is).
What makes this movie a little interesting around the edges is, first, the fact that third-billed Frank Morgan — Oz himself — died at 59 of a heart attack right after filming; according to the very first volume of Daniel Blum’s Screen World from 1949, it was two days. Though looking unambiguously elderly in his role as Gable’s fire chief, Morgan doesn’t seem at all infirm and, in fact, delivers a broad performance. The second point is even more intriguing: Gable and Young had conceived a child during the filming of 1935’s screen version of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, a daughter whose real identity was somewhere between a secret and open secret after she was “adopted” from the Catholic orphanage in which Young had initially placed her. The late Judy Lewis’ memoir about her upbringing, Uncommon Knowledge, is one of the best show biz biographies I’ve ever read.
There must have been some compelling dynamics on the City set — more compelling, to be sure, than what this inoffensively mild comedy has to offer. As for Gable, he was from that era when guys in their late 40s often looked old, but for the day, and as much as one can discern through his shirt, the dude looks pretty ripped.
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