HBO Limited Series ‘The Regime,’ With Kate Winslet, to Start Streaming on Max in March

The six-episode HBO Original limited series “The Regime” starring Kate Winslet will start streaming on Max in March after its HBO debut on March 3.

“The Regime” tells the story of one year within the walls of the palace of a modern European regime as it begins to unravel. The series was written by Will Tracy and directed by Stephen Frears and Jessica Hobbs.

In addition to Winslet, best known for her starring role in Titanic, the series cast includes Matthias Schoenaerts, Guillaume Gallienne, Andrea Riseborough, Martha Plimpton and Hugh Grant.

Avatar: The Way of Water

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 6/20/23;
Disney/20th Century;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $684.08 million;
$29.99 DVD, $36.99 Blu-ray, $44.99 UHD BD, $39.99 3D BD, $19.99 Digital;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language.
Stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Edie Falco, Brendan Cowell, Jemaine Clement, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Lo Bliss, Jack Champion, Bailey Bass.

The big question mark surrounding the box office prospects of an Avatar sequel was whether or not the first film had enough pop culture clout. After all, it’s not as if it were the topic of many conversions despite being the highest-grossing film of all time.

I think in the decade since that first movie came out, the only instance I can recall of Avatar being referenced by characters on another TV show or movie was in an episode of “The Rookie,” and that was only due to some corporate synergy to promote the sequel. (For corporate cross-promotion, it seems, “The Rookie” is Disney’s go-to show.)

But another adage going around Hollywood just before the release of Avatar: The Way of Water was “don’t bet against James Cameron.” And sure enough, the film ended up at No. 3 on the all-time list. And yet the franchise still doesn’t seem to be much of a conversation piece a la “Star Wars” or “Top Gun” or the Marvel movies or Zack Snyder’s Justice League, aside from “can you believe Avatar 2 made $2.3 billion dollars?”

A primary reason for this might be how much the “Avatar” films are designed as big-screen spectacles, almost akin to an amusement park ride or a traveling exhibit. Every few years, audiences can visit a large-format theater for the visual splendor of a tour of an exotic alien world, in this case, the exo-moon of Pandora, in eye-popping 3D. The story is almost a secondary concern, crafted to provide the excuse for the visuals, though Cameron clearly sees the films as parables for the plight of indigenous peoples and the impact of industrialization on the environment.

Nothing is more important to how a film leaves a lasting impression on a viewer than that first experience in seeing it, and there is probably no franchise that demonstrates the gap between the big screen and the small screen in this regard than “Avatar.”

For most films with staying power, the stories and characters will translate well despite being viewed in a theater or at home. I saw the original Avatar in Imax 3D, and was as blown away by the visual effects as anyone else, until a baffling plot oversight to set up the final battle took me out of the movie.

So I didn’t bother with the sequel in theaters, and my first impression would have to wait until I could play it on my 4K TV. As with the first film, the visual effects are so extensive that it’s easy to see why this would be a popular choice to see on the big screen.

The story probably works a bit better, too, and offers more depth in the emotional stakes. If the first Avatar was Dances With Wolves meets Ferngully, this one could be Free Willy meets Tarzan. Set about 15 years after the events of the first film, The Way of Water finds Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), having transferred to his alien avatar body, raising a family with Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) and leading their Na’vi clan.

Then the humans return to reclaim Pandora as the future home of humanity, while a clone of Quaritch (Stephan Lang) in a new avatar body leads a squad to hunt down Jake for betraying humanity in the first film. With his family under threat, Jake, Neytiri and their kids seek refuge with a clan of Na’vi who evolved to live in the sea, thus providing the film a template for allowing the audience to explore Pandora’s oceans.

For the story to work, Cameron also has to introduce new elements to the storyline that weren’t present in the original movie, most notably the addition of Spider (Jake Champion) a human teenager who was too young to return to Earth and thus grew up on Pandora as a loincloth wearing Na’vi wild child Na’vi wannabe.

There are several parallels to the events of the first film, including the introduction of a new magical substance to generate humanity’s interest in Pandora. Where the humans of the first film were interested in mining “unobtanium” ore, in Way of Water it’s about hunting alien whales, whose brains secrete an ooze that reverses aging.

The visuals are inventive, but the ubiquitous CGI and high frame rate make the film feel more like a video game without the human characters to provide some sense of scale. Every so often I had to remind myself this was supposed to be a representation of live-action, not a cartoon — a concern likely obviated in a theatrical setting with darkened lighting and 3D polarized lenses.

I’m not saying it isn’t fun to watch, but on the small screen it’s not so different in concept than many other visual effects extravaganzas. However, the filmmakers do take full advantage of the higher capacity of the 4K disc and HDR10 to really show off the visual effects, which are particularly bright and vivid compared with the image from the film’s standard Blu-ray, which itself offers some of the best picture quality the format allows. Also, at least at home the ability to start and stop the movie makes the three-hour running time easier to digest.

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The home video edition comes with a massive trove of behind-the-scenes material that runs more than three hours long, and as a primer on filmmaking techniques is probably more interesting than the movie itself.

The bulk is contained in the two-and-a-half-hour “Inside Pandora’s Box,” a series of 14 featurettes that delve into the technical challenges of the film, from the intricacies of crafting the visual effects to designing new alien sea creatures to expanding the Na’vi language. Of note, even though most of the characters are CGI aliens, the cast still performed the parts using performance capture techniques, which didn’t always let them off the hook in regards to doing stunts; for the sake of realism, several of the actors in performance-capture camera rigs still had to shoot scenes underwater, and learn how to hold their breath for minutes at a time to do so. Figuring out how to integrate Spider into the CG environments and interacting with CG characters also led to new challenges for the Oscar-winning effects team.

A half-hour supplement called “More From Pandora’s Box” offers four additional featurettes that focus on stunts and some of the below-the-line players that are essential to the film’s technical achievements, including a troupe of performers who put on blue suits to stand in for the Na’vi on set to provide reference for the CGI artists. Also included are screen tests from some of the new young cast members, which reveals a unique challenge for casting a film with a production schedule that lasts several years — having to cast a child while studying their family to project whether they’ll still fit the part in a few years when they appear on camera.

Rounding out the extras is a package of marketing materials that runs a total of about 10 minutes, including two trailers and a “Nothing Is Lost” music video by The Weeknd.

Note that these are the exact same extras included with the digital release of the film back in March. There are no exclusives for disc, which would have been a nice incentive for physical media buyers. At least the new 4K of the original 2009 Avatar has some new retrospective featurettes.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack of Avatar: The Way of Water is a three-disc set that includes the film on both a 4K disc and a regular Blu-ray disc. All the extras are contained on the third disc, which also is a regular Blu-ray. Rounding out the package is a redemption code for a digital copy. The standard Blu-ray is a two-disc configuration, with the movie on one disc and the extras on another. The 3D edition is a four-disc set that includes the 3D version of the film split among two discs, joined by the regular Blu-ray Discs of the film and the bonus materials.

On the digital side of things, the bonus materials are subject to availability depending on the retailer. However, since Disney is a Movies Anywhere company it shouldn’t be too hard to access a member retailer that offers the extras (Movies Anywhere has them, as does Vudu).

Updated from a review of the digital version, originally published April 3, 2023.

HBO Orders Limited Series ‘The Palace’ Starring Kate Winslet

HBO has given a series order to the limited series “The Palace.” The series will be directed and executive produced by Stephen Frears and showrun, written by, and executive produced by Will Tracy. Kate Winslet will star and executive produce. 
 
“The Palace” tells the story of one year within the walls of the palace of an authoritarian regime as it begins to unravel.
 
“We are honored to be working with this incredibly talented group of filmmakers on ‘The Palace,'” Francesca Orsi, EVP of HBO Programming, said in a statement. “The notion that Kate Winslet and Stephen Frears, two of our industry’s leading lights (who — remarkably — have never collaborated before now), are joining forces to bring Will Tracy’s wildly original, prescient, and dazzling scripts to life at HBO is a dream come true for us.” 

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Academy Award winner Winslet is about to start filming Lee, the true-life story of famed photographer Lee Miller, in which she stars and is producing. Additionally, HBO recently announced that it’s developing the limited series “Trust,” based on Hernan Diaz’s novel, with Winslet set to star and executive produce. She previously executive produced and starred in HBO’s limited series “Mare of Easttown,” for which she won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie at the 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 2021.

HBO’s ‘Mare of Easttown’ Heading to Disc Sept. 14

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the HBO limited series Mare of Easttown on DVD Sept. 14. A Blu-ray Disc edition will be available the same day from Warner Archive Collection. The show is available now for digital purchase.

The seven-part drama stars Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan, a respected small-town Pennsylvania detective investigating a local murder while also balancing her own personal life, which is rapidly falling apart around her.

The cast also includes Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart, Angourie Rice, Evan Peters, Guy Pearce, David Denman, Joe Tippett, Cailee Spaeny, John Douglas Thompson, Patrick Murney, James McArdle, Sosie Bacon, Neal Huff, Kate Arrington, Ruby Cruz, Eisa Davis, Enid Graham, Justin Hurtt-Dunkley, Izzy King, Mackenzie Lansing, Cameron Mann, Kiah McKirnan, Jack Mulhern, Anthony Norman, Drew Scheid and Madeleine Weinstein.

Extras include the featurettes “Invitation to the Set,” “Mare of Easttown: A Closer Look,” “Welcome to Easttown” and “Making Mare of Easttown.”

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Flurry of New Films, Including ‘Spell,’ ‘Come Play,’ ‘Skylines’ and Animated ‘Batman: Soul of the Dragon’ Debuting Jan. 12 on Digital, Disc

A batch of new movies, including Paramount Home Entertainment’s Spell and Jungleland and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s Ammonite and Come Play, top the slate of new disc and digital releases available Jan. 12.

Also new in stores are Skylines and two other new films from Lionsgate and several animated cartoon compilations and movies, including Warner Bros.’ Batman: Soul of the Dragon, which is making its digital debut two weeks prior to its release on disc.

Spell, available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD, stars Omari Hardwick as a man flying his family to his father’s funeral in rural Appalachia. He loses control of the plane in an intense storm and awakens alone, wounded, and trapped in the attic of a woman who claims she can nurse him back to health with a Hoodoo figure she has made from his blood and skin.

Jungleland, a DVD-only release, is a buddy film from Vertical Entertainment that stars Charlie Hunnam, Jack O’Connell and Jessica Barden. The film was released Nov. 10 on premium VOD and for digital purchase — four days after its theatrical debut, in a limited release. Directed and co-written by Max Winkler, Jungleland follows two brothers struggling to stay relevant in the underground world of bare-knuckle boxing, and facing danger when one of them falls into debt with a crime boss.

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Ammonite, about a passionate and all-consuming love affair that changes the lives of two 19th century women, becomes available Jan. 12 through digital retailers and on demand, as well as on Blu-ray Disc and DVD.  The film, written and directed by Francis Lee (God’s Own Country), stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan.

Come Play makes its digital debut Jan. 12, two weeks ahead of its Blu-ray Disc and DVD release. The supernatural thriller is about a young boy who relies on his cell phone and tablet for companionship. He befriends a strange and sinister non-human creature; when the mysterious creature uses the devices to break into our world, his parents must fight to save their son.

The three new releases from Lionsgate include Skylines, the third and final installment in the science-fiction “Skyline” trilogy. Directed by Liam O’Donnell, the film stars Lindsey Morgan and Rhona Mitra and was initially released last December by Vertical Entertainment in theaters and on Apple TV. It is now available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD as well as through digital retailers such as FandangoNow and Redbox On Demand. The film details the battle between defenders from Earth and invaders from the moon.

Also out from Lionsgate, on DVD and digital only, are the crime thriller American Dream,  about two entrepreneurs (Luke Bracey and Michiel Huisman) who wind up beholden to a Russian mobster (Nick Stahl), and Parallel, another Vertical Entertainment release, starring Kathleen Quinlan, in which a group of friends stumble upon a mirror that serves as a portal to a “multiverse,” but soon discover that importing knowledge from the other side in order to better their lives brings increasingly dangerous consequences.

Also available on Jan. 12 is the crime thriller Coming From Insanity, which home viewers can rent or purchase from digital retailers or watch on demand. The Level 33 Entertainment release follows Kossi, one of many children trafficked and sold into servitude in Nigeria.

Warner’s Batman: Soul of the Dragon, the 41st film in the DC Universe series of animated movies, arrives on digital sellthrough Jan. 12 ahead of its Jan. 26 release on Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. The Elseworlds tale is set in the 1970s and finds Bruce Wayne in martial arts training alongside other students under a master sensei to confront a deadly menace. Batman, joins forces with Richard Dragon, Ben Turner and Lady Shiva, and their mentor O-Sensei, to battle the monsters of this world and beyond.

Also on the cartoon front, Paramount Home Entertainment is out with Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants: The Complete Twelfth Season on DVD only. In the 12th season, Gary tries out a new pair of legs to keep up with SpongeBob and Plankton and practice ruling the world in SpongeBob’s aquarium.

Cartoon fans also may be interested in Mill Creek Entertainment’s release of Ultraman Taro: The Complete Series  on Blu-ray Disc as both a special edition Steelbook and in standard packaging. It’s the North American debut of the series, which has never been broadcast on TV or available on any home entertainment format.

A complete list of new disc and digital releases, compiled each week by the Media Play News market research team, can be found here.

Universal Sets Jan. 12 Home Release for Kate Winslet Starrer ‘Ammonite’

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has set a Jan. 12 home release date for Ammonite, a romantic drama about a passionate and all-consuming love affair that changes the lives of two 19th century women.

The film, written and directed by Francis Lee (God’s Own Country) and starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, will be available to home viewers through digital retailers and on demand, as well as on Blu-ray Disc and DVD.

The home release comes with an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette with the cast and crew “taking audiences on a beautiful behind-the-scenes journey into the making of this remarkable film,” according to a news release.

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In 1800s England, acclaimed but unrecognized fossil hunter Mary Anning (Winslet) works alone on the rugged Southern coastline. With the days of her famed discoveries behind her, she now searches for common fossils to sell to tourists to support herself and her ailing mother. When a wealthy visitor entrusts Mary with the care of his wife Charlotte Murchison (Ronan), she cannot afford to turn his offer down. Proud and relentlessly passionate about her work, Mary initially clashes with her unwelcome guest, but despite the distance between their social class and personalities, an intense bond begins to develop, compelling the two women to determine the true nature of their relationship.

Alongside Winslet and Ronan, the cast of Ammonite includes Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’ Diary franchise, Sense & Sensibility), James McArdle (, Mary Queen of Scots), Alec Secareanu (God’s Own Country, “Strike Back”) and Fiona Shaw (“Killing Eve,” Colette).

With each purchase of Ammonite, either on disc or through digital retailers, consumers are eligible to earn points toward special rewards through the Universal All-Access Rewards program. Members can redeem their points for digital movies, signed collectables, boxed sets, and other exclusive prizes. To register visit www.MyUniversalRewards.com.

Disney+ to Bow ‘Black Beauty’ Later This Year

SVOD service Disney+ will stream a contemporary adaptation of Anna Sewell’s classic 19th century novel Black Beauty later this year.

The story, featuring Kate Winslet (as The Reader) and starring Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar), follows Black Beauty, who is a wild mustang born free in the American west. When she is captured and taken away from family, her story intertwines with that of 17-year-old Jo Green, similarly grieving over the loss of her parents. The two slowly develop a bond that is built on love, respect and mutual healing.

Iain Glen (“Game of Thrones”) and Claire Forlani (Meet Joe Black) also star.

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Animated Family Film ‘Swift’ Flying to Disc April 7 From Shout!

The animated Swift flies to Blu-ray and DVD April 7 from Shout! Kids.

Featuring the voice talent of Kate Winslet (Titanic) as Blanche, Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse, Finding Dory) as Yves, and Josh Keaton (Voltron: Legendary Defender) as Manou, the film follows Manou, a sweet bird who grows up believing he is a seagull like his parents. He strives to swim, fish and fly like them, but feels that he is not very gifted. To his great shock, Manou discovers that he was adopted, and is actually the offspring of the much-hated swifts. After a tragedy, Manou has to navigate the differences between swifts and seagulls, and ultimately try to find his own identity — and save his friends and family along the way.

Bonus features on the Blu-ray and DVD include an interview with Dafoe, a look at the making of the film and the theatrical trailer.

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