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.
New on Disc: 'Pete Kelly's Blues' and more …
Pete Kelly’s Blues (Blu-ray)
Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jack Webb, Janet Leigh, Edmond O’Brien, Peggy Lee.
1955. The true big-screen baby of jazz lover Jack Webb’s career spun off from a radio show about ’20s Kansas City musicians so distracted by encroaching mob muscle that there isn’t a whole lot of time left for any fun with flappers.
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Man of the West
Kino Lorber, Western, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O'Connell, Jack Lord.
1958. The brilliance of the CinemaScope staging in director Anthony Mann’s next-to-last Western makes it easy to see how the isolation of the Texas land could drive certain men crazy and basically dividing their options into two: settling down with a respectable woman or sticking up train passengers.
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Casualties of the Marvel Movie War
The rise of Marvel Studios is starting to have a profound effect on the entertainment industry, and not just for what it means at the box office.
Paramount Pictures, which had a distribution deal with Marvel before Disney bought the comic book company, recently reported a significant drop on annual profits without its Marvel deal in the mix. Now that it’s firmly entrenched in the House of Mouse, Marvel has plotted out its theatrical strategies into the next decade, part of a cinema cold war of sorts with DC Comics, which has its own line-up of films slated by Warner Bros.
Given Warner’s inconsistent attempts to adapt its DC properties to the big screen (aside from Batman and Superman), it’s easy enough to assume Marvel has a better chance of making good on its proposed film slate at this point, having already released 10 films as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and seemingly printing more money with each one.
In 2016, Marvel has Captain America: Civil War, an adaptation of a comic book storyline that saw various factions of superheroes turn against each other over political disagreements. Interestingly, the ascendency of Marvel Studios has sparked something of a civil war within the various Marvel comics properties relating to film rights.
Before Marvel Studios was a glint in anyone’s eyes, Marvel Comics licensed the film rights to some of its biggest characters, with the Hulk at Universal, the X-Men and Fantastic Four going to Fox, Spider-Man ending up at Sony, etc. So when Marvel Studios started up, they only had the rights to what were considered second-tier characters at the time, such as Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. However, the fact that the characters they still had formed the core of the Avengers sparked the idea of building a shared cinematic universe to play in.
The rights to some characters, such as the Hulk, Daredevil, Ghost Rider and Punisher, have since returned to Marvel, allowing for their incorporation into the MCU. And certainly Marvel would like to get the rights Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men back, which they won’t be able to as long as Sony and Fox continue to make movies with those characters.
Fox seems particularly entrenched to keep Marvel from getting some if its characters back, especially after moving forward with a reboot of the Fantastic Four that has many fans scratching their heads. Marvel’s response seems to be a passive-aggressive war of attrition, as the comics division has canceled the Fantastic Four book, meaning it won’t be around to cross-promote the new film. Also, apparently Disney has blocked any merchandising for new “X-Men” products such as action figures, and Marvel has barred its comics writers from creating any new characters for the “X-Men” books, so Fox won’t have any new material to adapt into films.
Oh, and Marvel also decided to kill off Wolverine, the most popular X-Men character in the film series and the only one to appear in all seven movies.
This would seem to be a strategy meant to devalue the properties from within, diminishing Fox’s financial incentive to continue producing films. (It might also appear to be Marvel shooting itself in the foot on the comics side, but they probably feel the popularity of the comics is elastic enough to bounce back after the house studio recovers the necessary rights.)
One result of this animosity is that Fox has banned Marvel from using the term “mutant” in its movies to explain how any of their superheroes have powers. As fans of the comics are well aware, the mutant concept was introduced with the “X-Men” in the 1960s as a way to explain characters born with superpowers via genetic mutation, a plot point played up in the “X-Men” movies through its motif of the evolution of mankind.
Generally, Fox has exclusive rights to all of the Marvel Comics mutant characters, with a few exceptions, most notably Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who are members of the Avengers but also the mutant children of No. 1 X-Men baddie Magneto. The murkiness of these rights issues is playing out in the form of dueling Quicksilvers, with different versions of the character appearing in both X-Men: Days of Future Past and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Using these two mutant characters, however, does raise a story issue of how they obtained their powers within the context of the MCU. That might be one reason that the Marvel is devoting a lot of attention to its “Inhumans” brand. The Inhumans are essentially a race of superpowered descendants of humans who were genetically manipulated by aliens millions of years earlier.
Fundamentally, they differ from mutants in that their genetic distinctions are a result of engineering rather than evolution, but functionally they serve the same purpose. MCU can simply dub its superpowered characters Inhumans instead of mutants and carry on without any concern at all. In fact, the MCU properties are already carefully laying the foundation for these story points, with the means of obtaining superpowers being a central focus of the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show, which is deep into a story arc that involves alien artifacts and DNA unlocking mysterious abilities. The MCU has already trotted out the terms “gifted” and “age of miracles” to explain non-mutant superpowered humans, but Inhumans would accomplish the goal in a much more elegant way.
Certainly, MCU’s adaptation of the Inhumans may differ from the comics presentation to fit its needs, but the fact that an Inhumans movie is slated for 2018 definitely shows they already have some role to play in the MCU.
On the flip side, a rift in character rights doesn’t have to lead to a rift between the studios involved. Contrast the Fox/Marvel rift with the relatively cozy relationship between Marvel and Sony, which are rumored to be in talks to connect the Sony’s Spideyverse to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This isn’t the first time such an idea has been floated. In 2012, the Oscorp building from The Amazing Spider-Man was reportedly approved by Sony to appear in The Avengers but the visual effects couldn’t be finished in time.
It’s unclear if the MCU Spidey would continue with the ASM storylines or reboot the franchise yet again, but obviously an alliance between Marvel and Sony over Spider-Man would be a huge deal for future MCU and Spider-Man films.
It would also shield Sony from the criticism that, following the poor reception of Amazing Spider-Man 2, that it’s only trying to pump out Spidey movies to maintain the rights, without regard to quality. Marvel Studios has clearly demonstrated that it has a firm grasp on how to adapt its characters into popular, well-received blockbuster films, and there’s no reason to think they couldn’t do the same with Spider-Man.
As far as Fox is concerned, it’s not like they don’t work with other studios either. Fox recently reached an agreement with Warner Bros. that paved the way for the long-awaited home video release of the 1960s “Batman” TV series, which is being handled by Warner.
But the impacts of its dispute with Marvel could be felt well beyond just the Marvel properties. For instance, could the feud spill over into Disney-owned Lucasfilm’s efforts to promote the next “Star Wars” movie? After all, Fox still controls distribution of the earlier films for a few more years, and owns the distribution rights to Episode IV in perpetuity, so any plans Lucasfilm has for new boxed sets of the earlier films will require Fox’s cooperation. This is especially the case if the rumors are true that Disney is hoping to release Blu-rays of the unaltered original trilogy, something “Star Wars” fans have been demanding for years.
It’s a mess to be sure, but if anything is certain in Hollywood, it’s that money will always win out in the end.
Big Deals for 'Dragon 2'
Walmart's 'Dragon 2' Blu-ray with game
DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2 was the overwhelming choice for retail exclusives among the Nov. 11 new releases.
Walmart had the most choices for the title, offering a total of six different versions of the title. In addition to the widely available DVD, Blu-ray combo pack and 3D Blu-ray, Walmart carried a stripped-down DVD version that lacked extras, a DVD packed with a Dawn of the Dragon Racers DVD, and a Blu-ray packed with a Dragons Deep Toss Game.
Best Buy offered a fabric Dragon 2 banner for $4.99 with the purchase of the film on disc (or sold on its own for $7.99).
Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack of Dragon 2 with an exclusive bonus disc containing two featurettes. Target also offered a $5 savings with the purchase of the Blu-ray with a Power Dragons action figure.
New on Disc: 'Possessed' and more …
Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks.
1947. One of several postwar psychiatric dramas, Possessed features Joan Crawford as a paranoid schizophrenic, and her sometimes chilling performance gets further below the surface than a lot of the acting does even in some of the best noir competition.
Extras: Crawford is as vulnerable as she ever let herself be on screen, a point raised on the featurette this handsome Blu-ray has imported from the old DVD, one that features several familiar film noir specialists known to those who like digging into bonus extras.
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Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2014. In this “American Masters” presentation, which avoids being episodic, director Dyanna Taylor presents a portrait of her grandmother, famed Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange.
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Taylor Swift in Tune With the Studios
The music business has long mirrored the video industry, facing many of the same challenges. Singer Taylor Swift, fresh off the launch of her latest blockbuster album, 1989, recently pulled her catalog from subscription streaming service Spotify, saying artists and their labels aren’t paid enough for the many times listeners stream their songs.
“Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is,” she wrote in a column in The Wall Street Journal.
Ah, it’s sounds so familiar to those of us in the home video business. The studios have been making the same accusation against subscription service Netflix and kiosk vendor Redbox — that they devalue entertainment. And several studios, too, have limited access to top entertainment on those services.
Unfortunately, consumers also help determine the value of entertainment, and since the advent of the great recession, they have flocked to the cheapest venues, some of them, such as YouTube or pirate sites, offering free entertainment. Low price has driven the rise of Netflix and Redbox, as much as innovative distribution models. For consumers squeezed by lower wages, the value of entertainment is heading downward. After Netflix raised prices to new subscribers, their growth slowed domestically in the last quarter. Redbox’s attempt to do the same could end badly, analysts have opined. Both are treading carefully, testing the waters.
Artists such as Swift may have the popular muscle to get fans to pay more by buying her album instead of streaming it through Spotify. But U2, one of the biggest bands in the world, recently took a different tack, offering their album at no charge on iTunes.
Here’s hoping that Swift has some effect on raising the value of entertainment. If there were a large supply of free diamonds or diamonds at little cost, no matter how beautiful they were, they too would lose their value. It’s high time we value the talent that produces our music, films and other artistic content. They work hard on their art, and not to pay them for it seems, well, out of tune with the idea of the American work ethic.
By: Stephanie Prange
EST the Emperor's New Clothes?
I may get strung up by my feet for suggesting this, but I am beginning to wonder whether electronic sellthrough, or Digital HD, is something akin to "The Emperor's New Clothes."
Every three months, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group releases a new set of quarterly numbers, derived mostly from the studios, that show consumer spending on the various forms of home entertainment.
Each time, disc sales are down, EST sales are up and we hear lots of crowing about how consumers are finally grasping the concept of buying movies, TV shows and other filmed content as downloadable files instead of on physical discs, and what a great thing this.
Freed from the burdens of manufacturing and distributing physical discs, not to mention dealing with returns, the studios are crowing about how great the margins are, how lucrative this new business model is, and how consumers will no doubt soon be abandoning disc purchases altogether in favor of buying filmed content electronically.
But I question whether this brave new world will ever materialize, and whether all this happy talk about EST's remarkable gains is really just something we all want to believe so badly that we have somehow convinced ourselves that the more we talk about it, the more likely it is to become true.
The plain and simple fact is that while EST sales do keep inching up, they still account for a tiny fraction of overall home entertainment purchases — 18% to 82%, I believe the latest set of numbers indicate.
And while pushing EST through early release windows and digital lockers is certainly the smart thing to do, I believe a fair amount of caution is in order.
For starters, the disc business is still quite healthy. Sometimes I think those of us who live on the coast get too caught up in technological advances and trends — 3D, anyone? — to stop and think what mainstream America is doing. And the numbers suggest an overwhelming percentage of people still prefer to buy discs instead of downloads, in large part because of the old "if it ain't broke don't fix it" axiom but also because there's something about ownership that almost mandates a physical object. If we're going to buy something, we want something tangible, not ethereal.
Secondly, I think there's a misconception about the correlation between the rise of digital delivery and the decline in disc sales. Disc sales aren't going down because people are finally starting to realize they can buy movies as digital downloads without having to worry about cluttering up their homes with more "stuff"; they are going down because 1) younger people simply don't have the same desire for owning something that we older folks do (as seen in everything from music to cars and the rise of Uber and Lyft) and 2) the alternatives to ownership are so easy and cheap. Why spend hundreds of dollars on a boxed set of a hot TV show like "Breaking Bad" when I can access the same content at any time on Netflix?
If, as some pundits believe, eventually we will obtain all of our content electronically, then our home entertainment business will be in big, big trouble. If studio executives were stunned to discover people weren't rebuying their libraries in the transition from DVD to Blu-ray Disc, I believe they will be absolutely shocked to discover how few people are going to buy movies electronically that they already own on disc — particularly since so many of the films we have collected over the years are instantly accessible through Netflix.
That's why it behooves our industry to support, market, and promote discs as much as we can, as diligently as we can — lest this business wakes up one morning and finds itself stripped to its undershorts.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
Special Covers Dominate Nov. 4 Titles
Walmart's 'Hercules' and Target's 'Hobbit' steelbooks
A slew of new titles on the Nov. 4 slate arrived in stores with special covers, box art and packaging exclusives to certain retailers.
Target offered exclusive packaging variants on two different titles: a steelbook case for Warner's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug — Extended Edition Blu-ray and a storybook edition of Paramount's Hercules Blu-ray. Target also offered a "Brave Firefighters" digital storybook with the Blu-ray of Disney's Planes: Fire & Rescue; shoppers could get a $5 discount buying the Blu-ray together with a die-cast "Planes" toy.
Best Buy offered the Planes: Fire & Rescue Blu-ray with a lenticular cover, and packed the new "Hobbit" release with a Key of Oakenshield collectible. Best Buy's Hercules Blu-ray came with a bonus disc containing an hour of bonus material. Best Buy also had an exclusive DVD boxed set of HBO's Eastbound & Down: The Complete Series.
Walmart offered a Hercules Blu-ray steelbook edition, and packed the Planes: Fire & Rescue Blu-ray with a Wildfire Air Attack Team Trainer interactive bonus DVD. Walmart also seemed to be the only retailer with a DVD-only version of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug — Extended Edition.
Amazon offered an exclusive of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug — Extended Edition that included a special statue depicting the Hobbits' river escape.
New on Disc: 'The Believers' and more …
The Believers (Blu-ray)
Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Horror, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Martin Sheen, Helen Shaver, Robert Loggia, Harley Cross.
1987. Aside from not having the kind of high-profile cast from which pedigrees are fashioned, this John Schlesinger urban horror film is one icky movie even before the movie loses a few beats on its way to a wrap-up that some may find risible.
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Gold Is Where You Find It
Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars George Brent, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Margaret Lindsay.
1938. Take away a good supporting cast and one topical selling point of interest to the ecologically minded, and we likely wouldn’t be giving this semi-obscurity too much notice were it not for its visual novelty value, which is seeing Northern California and its apple orchards in 1930s pigmentary splendor.
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Target Has Exclusive 'Brady Bunch' DVDs
Target shoppers looking over the Oct. 28 might have raised an eyebrow at seeing a sizable promotion for individual DVD season sets of the 1969-74 TV sitcom “The Brady Bunch,” on disc from CBS and Paramount.
The show was released on DVD in 2005 and 2006, before CBS took over the rights, but now Target is exclusively selling the re-release at $9.99 per season. This is an exclusive early window for the retailer, as the DVDs will be widely available Dec. 9.
Target also has early availability of Disney’s Phineas & Ferb: Star Wars, which won’t be widely available until Nov. 11.
Target also offered an exclusive bracelet with Shout! Factory’s My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks.
Walmart had a re-release of Fox’s Free Birds DVD with a plush toy
Best Buy offered some incentives on preorders, including 100 My Best Buy bonus points for each $19.99 preorder of such titles as Disney’s Maleficent, DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2, Fox’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Sony Pictures’ 22 Jump Street (with bonus content), Paramount’s Hercules (with bonus content) and Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (with steelbook packaging).
Good-Bye Mrs. Kotter
Back in the mid-1980s I managed a bike shop — Ernie’s Pro Bikes — on trendy San Vicente Blvd., in the swanky Brentwood suburb of West Los Angeles.
Actress Marcia Strassman, who died Oct. 24 at age 66 following a seven-year battle with breast cancer, parlayed a brief but mundane role at the end of each episode as Gabe Kaplan’s understanding wife on the hit ’70s sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter,” to cult status.
Even at 5-10 with sparkling eyes and lean figure, Strassman didn’t necessarily stand out. She didn’t need to. Her air of normalcy in a town awash with manufactured vanity — a welcomed respite, especially at Ernie’s where she would pop in on occasion for no apparent reason. An unhappy marriage ventured during one visit.
Strassman had just caught lightning in a bottle for a second time with the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movie franchise — again playing the wife character to lead actor Rick Moranis.
While she really wasn’t interested in cycling, the colorful bikes, Lycra clothing and related accessories intrigued her. She would pull up on a shop stool and ask oddball questions like why male cyclists shaved their legs? Or how do the gears on a bike work?
When I told her I could show her a few shaving tricks, she blushed and smiled. She once vented her frustration out loud on the pay inequalities with the 1992 sequel, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. She also joked having “made it” in Hollywood by virtue of a “hunky” personal driver assigned during filming.
If Los Angeles is indeed a constellation of plastic, Strassman seemed an odd fit. Like a lot of LA stories, Ernie’s is no more — replaced by a trendy eatery du jour. But the memory of Ms. Strassman remains.
By: Erik Gruenwedel