MHZ Choice Digital Platform Debuts February Series

Digital SVOD platform MHZ Choice this February offers new seasons of “Tatort: Cologne” from Germany and “Thicker Than Water” from Sweden as well as the series premiere of Italian Mafia drama “Anti-Mafia Squad.”

On Feb. 6, homicide detectives Max Ballauf and Freddy Schenk return to solve cases in season three of “Tatort: Cologne.”  Feb. 13 the Waldemar family reunites as the B&B opens for one last Christmas in season two of “Thicker Than Water.” Feb. 27 is the series premiere of “Anti-Mafia Squad,” in which chief Claudia Mares and her team in Palermo need all the technology they can muster to chase the mafia.

MHZ Networks offers U.S. viewers access to a library of the international television mysteries, dramas, comedies and documentaries subtitled in English on DVD and on its digital platform, MHz Choice, for $7.99 a month. New MHz Choice customers receive a free 30-Day trial.

Studios, SVOD Win Court Injunction Against TickBox TV

Hollywood studios and subscription streaming video services have been granted a preliminary injunction against TickBox TV, the Atlanta-based company allegedly selling illegal access to myriad TV shows and movies through a proprietary set-top box.

U.S. Federal District Judge Michael Fitzgerald Jan. 30 in Los Angeles ruled TickBox must maintain changes it made to its user interface and marketing after Universal Pictures, Columbia, Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Amazon and Netflix filed a lawsuit last October.

TickBox argues it merely sells hardware and cannot be liable for the actions of third-parties, i.e. its consumers.

Indeed, at the bottom of its website, TickBow said its hardware “should not be used to download or stream any copyrighted content without permission from the copyright holder.”

But Fitzgerald ruled that while TickBox had not necessarily “caused” users to illegally stream or download copyrighted content, it had sold them the means to do so.

“TickBox may be held responsible for the instances of infringement that would not have otherwise occurred in the absence of the Device,” Fitzgerald wrote.

The judge ordered TickBox and plaintiffs to iron out technical safeguards that protect the latter’s copyrighted content, in addition to implementing software updates that could reset devices already sold.

The Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, which represents studios and digital companies such as Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, hailed the judge’s decision.

“This is an important step, particularly given the court’s conclusion that the ACE members are likely to succeed on the merits of their case,” spokesperson Zoe Thorogood said in a statement. “We look forward to further developments in this case.”

Netflix Blows Lid Off Hollywood’s Female Age Ceiling

Hollywood’s age cap on conventional female attractiveness has always been unfairly low when compared to male actors. Netflix appears to be disrupting this industry norm as well.

It just launched a 13-episode reboot of Norman Lear’s long-running 70s-80s sitcom, “One Day at a Time,” co-starring 87-year-old Rita Moreno as an “old-school” Cuban-born mom who hardly looks or acts her age.

The SVOD behemoth earlier this month bowed season four of acclaimed comedy, “Grace and Frankie,” co-starring timeless Jane Fonda (who just turned 80) and 79-year-old Lily Tomlin. Both actors shine with their 77-year-old male counterparts, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston.

But they’re all “teens” compared to Betty White, who at age 96 has inked a deal to reprise her role in a reboot of “The Golden Girls.” The original 80s series co-starred Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty and Rue McClanahan, all of whom have died.

It’s a strong statement in an industry obsessed with youth and millennial indifference toward tradition. A Time magazine study found female actors’ careers peak at age 30 in the number of roles available, compared to age 46 for male actors. The study found that while Sandra Bullock generated more paying roles (14) than George Clooney (2) at age 29 – at age 38, Clooney generated 11 roles compared to six for Bullock.

To watch Moreno guest-star on an episode of “Grace and Frankie” is to watch time stand still. In a career that spans almost 70 years, Moreno held her own among strong personalities Fonda, Tomlin, Marsha Mason (75) and Swoosie Kurtz (73).

Indeed, series creator Marta Kauffmann (“Friends”) has made a point to comedically showcase yesterday’s female (and male) stars coming to grips being seniors in a tech-savvy age — a dilemma no one can escape.

But will Hollywood take note?

Michael Pachter, media analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, says that while Netflix is again pushing the envelope, he believes Fonda, Tomlin, Moreno and White are outliers in an industry still preoccupied by youth.

“The biggest appeal of age is relatability to the target audience, so I presume these actors resonate with a demographic that Netflix is trying to capture,” Pachter said.

Amdocs to Acquire Vubiquity

Amdocs, a provider of solutions to communications and media companies, Jan. 30 announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Vubiquity, a provider of premium content services and technology solutions, for approximately $224 million in cash.

The deal is expected to be completed before the end of the second quarter of fiscal 2018.

Vubiquity CEO Darcy Antonellis will, upon completion of the deal, be joining Amdocs as head of the Amdocs Media Division.

The companies plan to deliver enhanced digital content capabilities for network operators, video distributors, OTT companies, content owners and content producers, according to the Amdocs release.

The combination of Vubiquity’s expertise across the content ecosystem and Amdocs’ proven, scalable solutions enables customers to quickly improve entertainment offerings and maximize revenues while gaining increased customer insights from content consumption, according to the release.

“This acquisition uniquely positions Amdocs at the center of increased convergence across the content community and video distributors including major OTT providers,” said Eli Gelman, Amdocs president and CEO. “Our joint offerings address the media and entertainment industry’s challenge in balancing the incredible growth of content and the many ways to consume content with making programming easier, faster to deliver and ultimately watch, while also delivering profits.”

“Vubiquity has successfully been connecting content owners and distributors across many diverse platforms and evolving business models at the core of its support to the media community,” Antonellis said. “Our capabilities, coupled with Amdocs’ global scale and rich set of complementary solutions around monetization, analytics and personalized customer experience will be truly unique, allowing us to deliver to a larger set of customers while solving key industry challenges. This includes helping video distributors deliver additional profitable offerings, as well as enabling content owners to focus on content creation and maximizing licensing revenues.”

Amdocs and Vubiquity can deliver unparalleled cloud solutions using a modern modular micro-services architecture across all aspects of delivery and user experience, including video acquisition, processing, consumer engagement and monetization, the release stated.

Vubiquity, based in Los Angeles, has worked with more than 600 leading film studios, television networks, and independent producers. Vubiquity has an international footprint in 121 countries and manages a 150,000-plus asset library, providing superior quality and high volumes of assets for predictable day and date delivery.

Netflix Resumes ‘House of Cards’ Production; Diane Lane, Greg Kinnear Join Cast

Netflix Jan. 31 announced it has resumed production on the sixth and final (abbreviated) season of original series “House of Cards” in Baltimore following a forced three-month hiatus. The SVOD pioneer added Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear to cast, playing siblings in yet undisclosed storylines.

Production on the show came to a standstill last October when lead actor Kevin Spacey was publicly accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with a minor in the 1980s.

Subsequent revelations resulted in Netflix shutting down production, firing Spacey and shelving the actor’s biopic Gore, about writer Gore Vidal, among other projects. The actions contributed to Netflix reporting a $39 million write-down in its most-recent fiscal period.

“Cards,” along with “Orange Is the New Black,” helped put Netflix on the map creatively, winning myriad industry awards for Spacey as scheming politician Frank Underwood, and Robin Wright as his wife, Claire.

Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter contends the show can succeed despite likely losing viewers since the Spacey scandal broke and the storyline still being in the middle of its stride.

“My guess is that their audience going forward will be half as big as in the past” said Pachter.

The series is distributed at retail by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Oscar Frontrunner ‘Three Billboards’ Set for February Home Video Release

Acclaimed indie film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is slated to hit digital retail Feb. 13 and packaged media Feb. 27 from 2oth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture,  Billboards features Oscar winner Francis McDormand (Fargo) as the defiant mother of murdered girl who erects three local signs with a controversial message seeking justice.

The billboards and McDormand soon come into conflict with local cop (Sam Rockwell) and the chief of police (Woody Harrelson).

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards won four Golden Globes Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell).

In addition to being available on Digital HD through Movies Anywhere and other digital retailers, the movie will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Bonus material includes featurette “Crucify ‘Em: The Making of Three Billboards” and short film Six Shooter.

The disc release comes the week before the March 4 Oscars ceremony.

Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 2/13/18;
Kino Lorber;
Adventure;
$14.95 DVD, $24.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars William Katt, Sean Young, Patrick McGoohan, Julian Fellowes, Hugh Quarshie.

This 1985 adventure from the Disney studio plays a bit like Romancing the Stone if the central object everyone seeks was a dinosaur.

Sean Young and William Katt play a married couple on a research expedition in Africa, where they stumble upon evidence of a family of brontosauruses living in the jungle. It soon becomes a race against time to find the rare creatures, in order to protect them from other members of the expedition who want to exploit them for fame and glory.

Katt was coming off several seasons of the cult-classic superhero TV show “The Greatest American Hero,” and one of the main reasons he took the role in Baby, he admits in a new bonus interview included on the Blu-ray, was because he liked the idea of shooting in Africa. Sean Young, on the other hand, was on the rise after Blade Runner but still relatively early in her career; No Way Out was still two years in her future.

The film also boasts Patrick McGoohan as the lead scientist of the expedition who becomes a one-dimensional villain in his quest to find the dinosaurs and take all the credit for discovering them. And his sniveling sidekick is played by Julian Fellowes. Yes, that Julian Fellowes, years before he would be better known as the Oscar-winning writer of Gosford Park and creator of “Downton Abbey.”

The visual style of the film places it firmly at a crossroads between goofy creature features of the 1950s and 1960s, and the advanced visual effects techniques to come in the 1990s.

In his own retrospective interview on the Blu-ray, director Bill Norton points out that this was one of the last major live-action movies centered on dinosaurs that used practical effects, before Jurassic Park would come along (eight years later) and show everyone how to do it with computer graphics.

In the mid-1980s, however, CGI was still a nascent visual effects technology, best used for depicting holograms, video games and other things not meant to be perceived as “real” (not that The Last Starfighter didn’t try to do it just a year earlier). Young Sherlock Holmes, often cited as one of the early breakthroughs in depicting CGI creatures, wouldn’t hit theaters until nine months after Baby.

So, here the dinosaurs are essentially giant puppets. As a result, Norton laments, even as advanced as the craftsmanship of the 1980s had become, the old-school techniques weren’t quite up to snuff in generating the realism of the dinosaurs he was looking for, and one of his biggest challenges was figuring out how to shoot the film in such a way so as not to highlight the fakeness of it all.

What ends up on screen is just charming enough to accept for the story, but high-definition isn’t doing it any favors when the shots linger just long enough for viewers to focus on Baby’s obviously rubber skin and eerily unnatural eyes. The look of the dinosaurs is not unlike an animatronic one might expect to find at a Disney theme park had the movie been successful enough to inspire a ride based on it. (While Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in Florida does have a dinosaur-themed land, its attractions are based on other sources.)

The film’s title and the cutesy design of the baby dinosaur puppet suggest a family friendliness that is belied a bit by an unexpected level of sexual innuendo and violence. As Katt suggests in his retrospective, the film had a harder edge to it that the film’s marketing may not have properly translated to older audiences, while at the same time turning off parents looking for some appropriate entertainment for their kids.

With all this going on, Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend is certainly a minor curio for anyone interested in 1980s film history, but it’s of particular nostalgic interest to me since I remember seeing it in theaters when I was about 10 (and probably hadn’t seen it again until this Blu-ray, save for any TV airings shortly afterward). I don’t recall why I would have wanted to see it back then, aside from the fact that I liked dinosaurs as a kid (and still have an affinity for them). I also watched “The Greatest American Hero” fairly regularly, and maybe seeing that show’s hero on the big screen was a selling point. However, like most things remembered from childhood, the particulars of the plot didn’t stick with me as much as a general sense of what the movie was, which to me has always been “the one where Sean Young finds a baby dinosaur in the jungle.”

So, yeah, this was my first exposure to Sean Young, and don’t think that scenes of her clad in her underwear lying in bed in a humid African hut, or trying to get it on with her husband in the middle of the jungle while the curious young reptile keeps interrupting, don’t leave an impression on a young boy.

Of course, looking back it’s easy to laugh at how out-of-place any attempts by the characters to get frisky were given the situation, as it provides just the unlikely plot point needed to propel the film into its third act — the inevitable need to rescue the cute creature from the bad guys who want to exploit it. (In this case, when Baby is shooed away by the lovebirds who up to this point in the film have been doing everything they can to keep an eye on it. But, hey — nature calls, right?)

Sony Celebrates ‘Groundhog Day’ With 4K BD Release, Theatrical Screenings

Sony Pictures Entertainment will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the comedy classic Groundhog Day with a series of theatrical screenings in the United States and Canada in time for the holiday Feb. 2, on the heels of a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release Jan. 23 exclusively at Best Buy stores.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray includes Dolby Atmos audio, a commentary with director Harold Ramis (who died in 2014) and deleted scenes.

“We are excited to bring Groundhog Day, widely considered one of the best comedies of the 90s, back to the big screen for its 25th anniversary,” said Adrian Smith, president, domestic distribution for Sony Pictures Releasing.

To find participating theaters, consumers can visit GroundHogDayMovie.com or the film’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/GroundhogDay.

Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell star in the movie about a man who relives Groundhog Day over and over.

Groundhog Day has been restored from the 35mm original camera negative, utilizing in 4K the full resolution, detail and color depth inherent in the film, according to the Sony release.

SVOD, Studios Ready Super Bowl LII Ads

Amazon Studios will showcase its first Super Bowl ad for a TV show or movie when it airs a trailer for episodic series, “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski (“The Office”) – the fifth actor to play the title character after Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October in 1990.

Amazon will also run a humorous ad for voice-controlled Alexa losing her voice, with baffled CEO Jeff Bezos asking, “How is that even possible?”

“People are aware of Prime video, but they’re not always aware that they get this award-winning programming as part of the membership,” Mike Benson, head of marketing for Amazon Studios, told The Los Angeles Times.

The Big Game, which boasts a domestic TV audience of 100 million, again promises to be a showcase for Hollywood studios and subscription streaming video mainstays spending upwards millions per spot.

Few studio ads have been confirmed, but online speculation is rampant.

Paramount Pictures has myriad options, including spots for Krasinski’s horror thriller, A Quiet Place, in addition to Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, among others.  Universal Pictures has spots for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Dwayne Johnson’s Skyscraper and Fifty Shades Freed.

Walt Disney Studios could run ads for Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity Wars, among others. Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox reportedly are not airing ads.

Hulu, which aired a 2017 Super Bowl ad for original series, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” undoubtedly will run another spot considering corporate co-owner Comcast (NBC Sports) is broadcasting the game.

Netflix might air an ad for a Cloverfield sequel. The third installment in the franchise originally was set to be distributed by Paramount, until it wasn’t. Scuttlebutt at the Sundance Film Festival had Netflix acquiring global rights.

Direct-to-Video Sequel to Shark Thriller ‘Deep Blue Sea’ Due April 17

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Deep Blue Sea 2 on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD April 17.

Taking its cues from the 1999 original Deep Blue Sea, the direct-to-video follow-up features another top-secret project to find cures for human diseases by using genetically engineered sharks, which threaten to turn against the humans who created them.

Deep Blue Sea 2 is a true sequel, staying within the mythology of the original film, and taking the next step in the evolution of the sharks … and their human counterparts,” said Mary Ellen Thomas, VP of TV marketing, family and animation at WBHE. “This time, there’s more perspective from the sharks, giving greater personality to the ‘villains’ in this film. It’s a thrill ride that will keep the audience guessing throughout.”

Directed by two-time Independent Spirit Award nominee Darin Scott, Deep Blue Sea 2 stars Danielle Savre , Rob Mayes, Michael Beach, Nathan Lynn, Kim Syster and Jeremy Jess Boado.

Extras include the making-of featurette “Returning to the Deep”; a “Death by Shark” featurette in which the actors discussed how their characters are killed off; a gag reel; and deleted scenes.

The original film earned $73 million at the domestic box office and more than $164 million worldwide.