Magnolia Slates Pair of Racing DVDs

Magnolia Home Entertainment has slated the racing documentaries Dust 2 Glory: Deluxe Edition and The Last Race for DVD release.

The two-disc Dust 2 Glory: Deluxe Edition will be available Dec. 18 under the Magnet label and explores the Score Baja 1000 desert race, often called the world’s toughest point-to-point desert race.

Dust 2 Glory is director Dana Brown’s follow-up to 2005’s Dust to Glory.

The Score Baja 1000 has been held on the Baja California Peninsula since 1967 and serves as the final round of a four-race annual series.

The DVD includes the mini-documentary The Baja Desert Championship: Origins, which includes interviews from top off-roading racers such as Cameron Steele, Rob MacCachren, Bryce Menzies and many more who have come to love and appreciate the treacherous and breathtaking details that comprise the Baja 1000.

Other extras include a Dana Brown interview and Bruce Brown’s last interview.

The Last Race, a documentary about the inner workings of one of the country’s last remaining stock car racetracks, arrives on DVD and digital Feb. 19.

The intimate portrait of New York’s Riverhead Raceway and the passionate blue-collar drivers that call it home, struggling to hold onto an American racing tradition as real estate development threatens its survival.

 

‘Incredibles 2’ Jumps Back Into Top Disc Sales Spot

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s Incredibles 2 returned to the No. 1 spot on the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc chart the week ended Dec. 1.

That marks the third time the sequel from the Pixar animation studio has topped the charts since its debut. It slipped to No. 3 in its third week, but that coincided with post-Thanksgiving period dominated by deep-discount retail sales that usually skew the charts with surges from older titles. So it’s entirely possible Incredibles 2 could have been the top title for four straight weeks if the run hadn’t been interrupted by special circumstances.

The No. 2 title on both charts was another superhero sequel, 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool 2, which had topped the charts the week before.

Warner’s The Meg swam back to No. 3 on the overall chart and No. 7 on the Blu-ray chart.

No. 4 overall, in its second week, was Warner’s Crazy Rich Asians, which was No. 6 on the Blu-ray chart. The comedy debuted a week earlier at No. 36, another result of the effect Black Friday has on the charts.

Holding onto the No. 5 spot was Fox’s The Greatest Showman, which slipped to No. 9 on the Blu-ray chart.

Disney’s Avengers: Infinity War was No. 3 on the Blu-ray chart, followed by  Universal’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom at No. 4 and Sony Pictures’ Hotel Transylvania 3 at No. 5.

Studios offered a modest new-release slate the week after Thanksgiving, and as a result no new titles debuted among the top 50 sellers for the week.

On the Media Play News rental chart for the week ended Dec. 2, Crazy Rich Asians held onto the top spot for a second week, with The Meg holding onto No. 2.

Sony Pictures’ Searching, the most notable new release of the week, debuted at No. 3.

Universal’s Mile 22 came in as the No. 4 rental, followed by Incredibles 2 at No. 5.

Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 12-1-18
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 12-2-18
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 12-1-18
Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 12-1-18

 

The Happytime Murders

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 12/4/18;
Universal;
Comedy;
Box Office $20.71 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong crude and sexual content and language throughout, and some drug material.
Stars Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Leslie David Baker, Joel McHale, Michael McDonald.
Voices of Bill Barretta, Dorien Davies, Kevin Clash, Drew Massey.

The Happytime Murders continues the glorious tradition of using the tropes of children’s programming as the basis for subversive adult entertainment.

The film is set in a world best described as “Muppets-adjacent,” where felt-skinned puppets are alive and second-class citizens of a society in which humans are pretty openly racist toward them. Some of the puppets end up as performers in movies and TV shows for kids, and when they’re off camera they have to deal with the harsh realities of life like everyone else.

The story involves a puppet named Phil (Bill Barretta), an ex-cop now working as a private investigator. He gets roped into a case involving the former members of a TV show called “The Happytime Gang” getting killed one at a time, and the police ask him to help his former partner (Melissa McCarthy) figure out who’s behind it.

The Happytime Murders could be considered something of a puppet version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit if not for a couple of factors. First, all the puppet characters are generic and created just for this film. Seeing characters from other franchises interact could have helped build the world and establish a sense of nostalgia to better connect audiences to the story. To that end, it’s not surprising that other studios would be reluctant to lend their IP to the project, which owes a lot to the second factor — the film is completely filthy.

Puppets do drugs. Puppets engage in dangerous sex acts. Puppets get ripped apart by dogs and get their heads blown apart by shotguns, leaving fluffy cotton entrails everywhere. An then there’s the excessive use of silly string. It’s pretty much everything you suspected goes on in the after hours of “Sesame Street” but were afraid to ask.

In fact, the film was the basis of an unsuccessful lawsuit from the Sesame Workshop for its tagline of “No Sesame. All Street,” which is still boldly emblazoned on the DVD and Blu-ray box art. But the fact that the puppets are basically off-brand Muppets is no coincidence.

The film’s director is Brian Henson, son of the late Muppets creator Jim Henson. In a commentary on the Blu-ray, Brian helpfully points out that he made sure to include a “Henson Alternative” production banner at the beginning of The Happytime Murders to signal that this movie really isn’t for children. Not that the trailers or any of the marketing wouldn’t have given that away.

The notion of living puppets scheming to commit mayhem brings to mind the “Smile Time” episode from Joss Whedon’s vampire drama “Angel,” which featured several demonic puppets stealing the life force from children. Unsurprisingly, many of the episode’s puppets were realized with the help of a number of Jim Henson Co. puppeteers, including some who worked on this movie.

I also have a feeling that the foul-mouthed Stinky the Grump from the famous “Chappelle’s Show” “Kneehigh Park” sketch would be quite at home in the world of The Happytime Murders as well.

But this isn’t a five-minute sketch. Happytime Murders doubles down on the concept of puppets doing inappropriate things, to the point where it doesn’t seem to have much to say beyond that. Most scenes are structured on the idea of a puppet doing something crude and unexpected, allowing the movie to coast on the juxtaposition of something associated with children acting in an adult way. Which isn’t to say it isn’t entertaining. The film offers a number of clever observations about a hypothetical puppet society, and there are even moments that are laugh-out-loud hilarious. However, the constancy of it is just a bit draining, and the pace of the puppetry must have worn out the filmmakers too given how the story evolves into a lengthy stretch focusing on a couple of the human characters trying to solve the mystery on their own.

More impressive is the film’s visual style, and the extent of the visual effects work involved may surprise some viewers. According to some of the Blu-ray’s behind-the-scenes material, there were a fair amount of puppeteers crouched just off camera to animate the characters. But there is also a lot of CGI involved, too. The disc offers a two-minute featurette about how the filmmakers used virtual environments to gain better control over the action.

More illuminating is a nearly three-minute video about how the visual effects team created a lot of the “puppets” from CGI to begin with. Some might see it as cheating, I suppose, but their work in this regard is amazing, as the level of detail in the texture of the fabric seems completely authentic. At first blush I just assumed many of the scenes of puppets walking around in full view of the camera were done with little people in costumes, so it was a bit of an eye-opener to see how they really did it.

A fuller overview of the visual effects work is on display in a four-minute montage video that shows several scenes at different stages of development.

In addition to the aforementioned audio commentary, in which director Henson is joined by puppeteer/voice actor Barretta, the Blu-ray also includes a three-minute gag reel and a two-and-a-half-minute “Line-O-Rama” of alternate improvisations.

Finally, the disc includes more than 14 minutes of deleted scenes, which expand on a few points and fill in some character details that are touched on in the final film.

Regarding the film’s digital copy, take note that the film is not available for redemption through Movies Anywhere, even though Universal is a signatory studio. The production company is STX Films, which does not have a distribution deal with Movies Anywhere, and as a result the digital code included with the disc is redeemable only through iTunes.

Capturing the Spirit of ’80s Cinema

Given how many kids of the 1970s and 1980s are creating the movies and TV shows of today, it’s no surprise that retro is in. And that includes making new products look like they were released a long time ago.

For example, shopping at Barnes & Noble I came across a behind-the-scenes book for the Netflix ’80s nostalgia-fest “Stranger Things.” The book was purposely made to look like it had been worn down by the ravages of 30 years on shelves, and even included a transparent plastic book cover not unlike what one would have found in their school library. The book looked so beaten up that its makers felt the need to include a sticker on the cover to tell potential buyers that it was meant to look like that.

On the video side of things, ’80s retro is covered by three simple letters: VHS. It would be futile for any studio trying to capture the spirit of the early days of home video without evoking the memory of video stores and VHS tapes.

Going back to “Stranger Things,” Netflix has released Blu-rays of the two seasons of the series (as Target exclusives) with packaging meant to resemble old hardshell VHS cases you’d get at a rental store.

The MVD Rewind Collection brings ’70s and ’80s cult hits to Blu-ray using box art meant to evoke a VHS box, complete with faux stickers with messages like “Be Kind Rewind.”

Now Mill Creek is getting into the game with box art that makes it look as if the VHS is slipping out of its case. The effect comes via a slipcover that takes advantage of the relative wider dimensions of the Blu-ray compared with VHS, to basically put authentic-looking VHS art on one side of the cover, with the simulated tape on the other.

Since it’s just a slipcover it’s mostly just an optical illusion, but it looks cool. The Blu-ray itself is a standard case with non VHS-styled poster art. In some cases the Blu-ray appears to be a previously released standard Mill Creek release repackaged in the retro VHS case to give it some eye-catching pizazz.

The first batch of six films includes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Last Action Hero, Chuck Norris’ Silent Rage, John Candy’s Who’s Harry Crumb?, the fantasy epic Krull, the horror movie Happy Birthday to Me and the erotic comedy Hardbodies.

These are bare-bones releases without bonus features, but for most of them it’s enough just to have them on Blu-ray. What Chuck Norris fan isn’t going to want to put Silent Rage on their shelf?

In a precursor to “Walker, Texas Ranger,” Norris plays a small-town Texas sheriff taking on a serial killer.

Who’s Harry Crumb? was a great vehicle for John Candy, in which he played a goofball detective in the Inspector Clouseau mold who bumbled through cases and solved them through luck and blind chance.

And of course there’s Last Action Hero, a movie that was in many ways ahead of its time in how it deconstructed the action genre and pointed a satirical lens at Hollywood in a way mid-’90s audiences might not have been ready to embrace. Or, maybe its earnestness and meta-humor mark it as more clever than good, though it does feature appearances from future “Game of Thrones” star Charles Dance as the bad guy, and Ian McKellen as the grim reaper.

The Retro VHS Blu-rays were originally released as Walmart exclusives in October but are getting a wide release Jan. 15. They carry a list price of $14.98.

‘Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’ Game Coming Exclusively to Nintendo Switch

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is heading exclusively to the Nintendo Switch video game system, Nintendo announced.

Nintendo made the announcement with a trailer shown during The Game Awards in Los Angeles.

The game brings together superheroes and villains from across the Marvel Universe to battle for the limitless power of the Infinity Gauntlet, one Stone at a time. The team of characters must use their superpowers to defeat the mad cosmic tyrant Thanos and his ruthless warmasters, The Black Order. The game will feature an original story and a playable cast of dozens of Marvel superheroes, including the Avengers, the X-Men, and — for the first time in series history — the Guardians of the Galaxy, according to the Nintendo release.

Up to four players can drop in for co-op battles in a variety of ways: They can play online (through a Nintendo account), link up offline via local wireless or pass a Joy-Con controller to a friend to join the team, according to Nintendo. With another pair of Joy-Con (sold separately), four players can team up on one system. In addition to the series’ traditional perspective, the new entry will let players select a dynamic, zoomed-in heroic view, allowing for a more immersive play style for single-player or multiplayer when using multiple systems.

“As longtime fans of the franchise, we could not be prouder and more excited to bring back Ultimate Alliance with its biggest game yet,” said Mike Jones, VP and executive producer, Marvel Games, in a statement. “Marvel Ultimate Alliance is all about teaming up with your friends and creating your own ‘dream team’ of superheroes to go on adventures across the Marvel Universe, and Nintendo Switch is perfect for delivering on that promise of cooperative gameplay and shared experiences.”

“The Marvel Ultimate Alliance games have been beloved by fans for more than a decade, and this new installment on Nintendo Switch will deliver even more of the thrills and heroics that the franchise is known for,” said Doug Bowser, Nintendo of America’s SVP of sales and marketing, in a statement. “Thanks to our partnership with Marvel, the fate of the Marvel Universe will literally be in the hands of Nintendo Switch players, whether they’re at home or on the go.”

Additional details about the game will be announced in the future, according to Nintendo.

Federal Appeals Court Questions DOJ Economic Concerns Regarding AT&T/Time Warner Union

Federal Appeals Court judges Dec. 6 questioned lawyers representing the Department of Justice about the government’s economic concerns regarding AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner.

The Justice Department’s antitrust division filed an appeal of a district court judge’s June approval of the merger that resulted in the formation of WarnerMedia — citing the deal would lead to higher pay-TV pricing and content blackouts for consumers, among other issues.

Government attorney Michael Murray argued U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon erred in “economic logic and reasoning” in relation to possible blackouts of consumer access to content occurring during carriage disputes between content holders and pay-TV and over-the-top video distributors.

“‘Incentives remain the same’ for a super company to threaten a ‘blackout,’ in which it withholds content from distributors, in order to cripple rivals,” said Murray, as reported by CNN Business.

But D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robert Wilkins countered that there exist arbitration procedures in place for carriage disputes  — systems Wilkins said Judge Leon used in his decision.

“So how can we just ignore that and say the district court has irrationally switched positions?” asked Wilkins.

Speaking Dec. 4 the UBS 46thAnnual Global Media and Communications confab in New York, AT&T Randall Stephenson remained optimistic the appeals court would validate the merger.

Specifically, Stephenson said the appellate court is looking for errors in law, not whether the district court judge “gets the facts right or not.” He said AT&T hired appellate lawyers during the original trial to consult on the strength of their case as it applied to the rule of law.

“We feel like Judge Leon wrote a pretty tight order and it was an order that was very fact-specific to the AT&T/Time Warner case, and so we feel like we have an order that should stand up well in the appellate review,” Stephenson said. “And so, we’re anxious to get this piece of it behind us.”

 

Hulu First SVOD Service to Offer Payment through Venmo

Hulu announced it is the first streaming service to offer payment through the peer-to-peer app Venmo.

“At Hulu, we want to bring our viewers choice and flexibility, in as many ways as possible,” read a company statement. “From infusing our product with your favorite features like Night Mode on Web to supporting all the devices that matter most to you, we constantly strive to make it easy for you to stream, any way you want. And that includes how you want to pay for your Hulu subscription.

“That’s why we’ve partnered with Venmo, the app you love to use to send money, to bring you a new way to pay for your Hulu subscription.”

Beginning Dec. 6, Hulu subscribers with a Venmo account were able to sign up for a new Hulu account and pay with the peer-to-peer app.

“Pay with Venmo in just a few clicks — no need to pull out your credit card and type in your card number,” read the Hulu statement. “Just use your mobile Web browser to sign up for Hulu and select Venmo as your payment option. From there, your Venmo balance or linked payment method will be used for your monthly recurring subscription.”

Existing Hulu subscribers will soon be able to switch payment preferences to Venmo, too, according to the company.

Netflix Expanding Global Mobile Strategy

Netflix is set launch mobile access in Spain next week as part of an existing deal with Telefónica, the Madrid-based multinational telecom. The SVOD pioneer and Telefónica rolled out a similar promotion in Brazil affording subscribers direct access to content.

The strategy is aimed at growing Netflix’s global subscriber count targeting the service’s least-used distribution channel: mobile. Indeed, 70% of Netflix programming is streamed through the television – a percentage that undermines the service’s attempt to create a larger global subscriber footprint in regions with heavy mobile platform use such as India.

In June, Netflix inked a deal with Vodafone affording the telecom’s Indian postpaid subs one year of free Netflix access. That promotion is aimed at telecom rival Airtel’s pact with Amazon Prime Video.

Netflix, which has similar Vodafone agreements in New Zealand and Australia, is currently offering one-year of free service to T-Mobile subscribers in the United States.

The promotions are part of a concerted effort to raise mobile streaming of Netflix content. In 2016 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Netflix revealed 50% of its users accessed the service on their smartphone, yet only 10% actually streamed content.

“Behavior on mobile is different,” Scott Meyer, VP of Netflix’s device partner ecosystem, said at the time. “We’re just starting to learn about this.”

Flash forward two years and Netflix thinks subs are apparently willing to stream full-length feature films – not just TV shows – on their smartphone, according CCO Ted Sarandos.

Speaking Dec. 6 at Variety’s Dealmaker’s confab, Sarandos touted Netflix’s original feature film Roma as content subscribers would willingly access on their phone.

When questioned about the likelihood someone would actually stream director Alfonso Cuaron’s two-plus hour, black-and-white semi-autobiographical movie on a phone, Sarandos said his 22-year-old son, a film school student, does just that.

“He’s only seen Laurence of Arabia on his phone,” said Sarandos. “He thinks it’s one of the great movies of all time.”

Netflix screened Roma in select theaters exclusively to appease industry awards such as the Golden Globes and Oscars, but Sarandos is well-known for challenging the industry’s 90-day theatrical window, claiming more people would watch movies if offered concurrently via streaming channels.

“Most people see most movies that change their lives at home,” said Sarandos.

Millennials Devoted to Amazon for Tech Shopping

A new study from consumer-tech communications firm Max Borges Agency has found that millennials are highly devoted to online retail giant Amazon. In a survey of 1,108 U.S. millennials conducted May 30 to June 14, fewer than one in four said they would buy a tech product elsewhere if it wasn’t available through the online retailer, according to the “How America’s Largest Living Generation Shops Amazon” report.

When asked if they would give up sex and alcohol for a year versus giving up Amazon, 77% choose Amazon over alcohol, and 44% chose Amazon over sex.

Prime shipping was a huge motivator for three of four millennials in purchasing tech on Amazon. In an analysis of shopping habits, the report found that 78% purchased between one and five tech devices on Amazon in the past year; 61% shopped while awake in the middle of the night; and 57% shopped while working. Almost half of respondents shopped while using the bathroom, and 19% admitted to purchasing tech goods while intoxicated.

Tech purchases outweighed all others, at 61%, followed closely by clothing, shoes and jewelry at 60%. The survey found smartphones were least likely to be purchased on Amazon, as respondents still look to brand retailers for assistance, pricing and compatibility. Headphones and mobile accessories, like phone cases, dominated the category, at 54% and 53%, respectively, while only 27% shopped for virtual assistants like the Amazon Echo.

Other millennial shopping patterns uncovered by the report include

  • 71% shopped for tech products on their mobile device;
  • 45% open the Amazon app at least once a day;
  • 84% discover new products on Amazon;
  • 87% research products on Amazon;
  • 90% consult Amazon Customer Reviews before making a tech purchase on the site.

Nearly half who discover consumer tech brands or products on a blog or news site will go to Amazon to buy it.

For higher-cost items, millennial shoppers typically spend more than a week to research it, with two in five consulting expert reviews, and three in four visiting the brand’s site before ultimately buying on Amazon, according to the report.

Customer reviews are a major factor in millennial purchasing decisions, with only 8% likely to buy a product with a three-star Amazon review, rising to 47% with a four-star review.

“Shopping on Amazon has become second nature for many of us, and has become a powerful hub for the online purchase of consumer tech products,” said Lindsay Stuart, VP of business intelligence at Max Borges Agency. “Where millennials are concerned, we wanted to show exactly how relevant this retailer is to the group, and why brands need to understand their research and shopping habits, and how better to serve this generation.”

The full report is available at https://www.maxborgesagency.com/how-americas-largest-living-generation-shops-amazon.

 

 

‘Black Panther,’ ‘BlacKkKlansman’ Among Top Golden Globes Nominees Already on Home Video

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced the nominees for the 76th annual Golden Globes Dec. 6. Winners will be announced Jan. 6 on NBC.

Nominees for Best Motion Picture — Drama include Disney’s Black Panther, Universal’s BlacKkKlansman, Fox’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Annapurna’s If Beale Street Could Talk, and Warner’s A Star Is Born. Thus far, only BlacKkKlansman and Black Panther are available for home viewing, with both available on Blu-ray, DVD, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and through digital retailers.

Movies up for Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy include Warner’s Crazy Rich Asians, Fox’s The Favourite, Universal’s Green Book, Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns and Annapurna’s Vice. Of those, Crazy Rich Asians is the only one audiences can check out at home, on Blu-ray, DVD, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and through digital retailers.

Best Motion Picture — Animated nominees include Incredibles 2 (on Blu-ray, DVD, 4K UHD BD and digital from Disney), Isle of Dogs (on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from Fox), GKIDS’ Mirai, Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet and Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Nominees for Best Motion Picture — Foreign Language include Sony Pictures Classics’ Capernaum (Lebanon) and Never Look Away (Germany), Magnolia’s Shoplifters (Japan), and two movies from Netflix: Girl (Belgium)  and Roma (Mexico), the latest from director Alfonso Caurón.

On the TV side of things, nominees for Best Television Series — Drama, include FX’s “The Americans,” Netflix’s “Bodyguard,” Amazon’s “Homecoming,” BBC’s “Killing Eve” and FX’s “Pose.” Episodes of “The Americans” and “Killing Eve” are both available on disc.

Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy nominees include HBO’s “Barry” (season one on DVD), NBC’s “The Good Place” (on disc from Shout! Factory), Showtime’s “Kidding,” Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method” and Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Nominees for Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television are TNT’s The Alienist, FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora, HBO’s Sharp Objects (recently released on DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon’s A Very English Scandal.

A full list of nominees is available at GoldenGlobes.com.