Second Half of ‘Vikings’ Season 5 on Disc Oct. 8

MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will release Vikings: Season 5 Vol. 2 on Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 8.

In this half-season, Ivar the Boneless’ tyrannical reign as king of Kattegat ushers in a new Dark Age for Scandinavia. And while Bjorn and Lagertha flee Ivar’s murderous forces with Bishop Heahmund, Duke Rollo’s return brings even more upheaval. Meanwhile, Floki battles the elements-as well as his settlers’ thirst for revenge-in beautiful, desolate Iceland. Ultimately, the sons of Ragnar and old sworn enemies must become allies to challenge the despot Ivar, who has declared himself a god. The gut-wrenching action and dramatic plot twists reach a fever pitch as the season unfolds.

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The Blu-ray and DVD will include extended versions of all 10 episodes (broadcast versions are not included with the DVD edition).

Extras include commentaries with creator Michael Hirst and actor Gustaf Skarsgard, deleted scenes, and featurettes “The Epic War of Ragnar’s Sons” and “The King and the Warrior Bishop.”

 

Fighting With My Family

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 5/14/19;
Universal/MGM;
Comedy;
Box Office $22.96 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for crude and sexual material, language throughout, some violence and drug content.
Stars Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson, Stephen Merchant.

The notion that professional wrestling is “fake” is pervasive enough that most people don’t realize it’s a world just as competitive as any sport. It’s just the indicators of success aren’t strictly focused on the results in the ring.

As is made abundantly clear in the very entertaining Fighting With My Family, while the results of wrestling matches are more or less fixed as a means of storytelling and showmanship, the athleticism on display is just as genuine as any contest where the results aren’t predetermined.

The film tells the story of WWE superstar Paige, who emerged from a family of wrestlers in England to become one of the top female performers in the world’s biggest pro-wrestling promotion.

With her family’s small promotion struggling to get by, Paige (Florence Pugh) and her brother, Zak (Jack Lowden) are invited to a WWE tryout. But when Paige is the only one deemed worthy of potential superstardom, the siblings must come to terms with the notion that one’s dream and one’s destiny might lead to separate paths.

For Paige, that means leaving her family to train in America, and dealing with the hardships of trying to fit in when it seems she doesn’t quite fit in. For Zak, it means coming to terms with the idea that maybe his place isn’t in the spotlight, but quietly working behind the scenes to further the traditions of his family profession.

Fighting With My Family is based on a British TV documentary about Paige and her family and their passion for professional wrestling. Director Stephen Merchant has refocused the story into a rather typical sports movie underdog tale, playing fast-and-loose with the reality it for a more concise narrative.

Vince Vaughn’s character of Hutch Morgan, for example, is a composite of a variety of WWE authorities Paige would have encountered during her training in the NXT developmental program, essentially the minor leagues of wrestling.

The movie also skips over dealing with NXT’s own championship hierarchy, where using it might have giving a better sense of Paige’s progress within the company aside from her reactions to a few contentious exchanges with Hutch, and some encouraging words from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who pops in to play himself.

As such, the film’s climactic result seems a bit forced within the context of the story beats the movie itself has established, a development owing more to being a re-creation of the real event than something the film’s version of events has earned. Merchant’s comedic background serves the offbeat moments of the story well, but he admittedly wasn’t aware of the inner workings of professional wrestling before taking on the task of helming the film, and a few beats focused more on the mechanics of pro-wrestling storytelling might have been warranted.

Still, aided by some great performances by the main cast, the film offers plenty of heartfelt sentiment in celebrating the power of family to fuel the pursuit of a lifelong dream and find comfort and contentment when things don’t always go according to plan.

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Home video extras include nine minutes of deleted scenes, a three-minute gag reel, a nine-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and a three-minute video about training for the physicality in the film. Merchant also provides an audio commentary for the film.

The Blu-ray also features an “unrated director’s cut” of the film, but the alterations are so minor that its inclusion seems like more of a marketing gimmick than anything of consequential artistic value. That being said, based on the few identifiable differences, my preference tends to lean toward the unrated cut, which actually runs three seconds shorter than the theatrical version.

The changes don’t alter the story in any way and consist mostly of alternate takes featuring slightly cruder dialogue to get the same message across.

I’ve managed to identify five alterations:

1) A slightly faster edit for a key joke during the dinner scene of Zak’s girlfriend’s parents meeting his family;
2) The Rock having a slightly different reaction to Paige’s shock at meeting him for the first time;
3) A more grotesque line of dialogue from an audience member reacting to Paige’s first introduction to an NXT crowd;
4) A faster edit of Zak getting into a bar fight; and
5) An obscenity as Hutch is testing Paige’s comebacks to potential crowd insults.

Also note that while Universal is distributing the Blu-ray, the film is an MGM production and thus the digital copy is not compatible with Movies Anywhere, but redeemable only through iTunes.

Tubi Licenses ‘The Apprentice’ Catalog Featuring Donald Trump

Ad-supported VOD app Tubi May 6 announced it has secured streaming rights to all 15 seasons of “The Apprentice,” the reality TV show that helped put Donald Trump, his family members and Omarosa on the national stage.

Arnold Schwarzenegger hosted the final season after Trump was elected President of the United States in 2016.

San Francisco-based Tubi secured the rights from MGM, which created the long-running series from 2004 through 2017.

The debut season of “The Apprentice” premiered on NBC delivering an average weekly viewership of 20.7 million and was one of the network’s most-watched series with adults 18-49. The franchise has broadened globally with over 20 localized versions.

Notable U.S. contestants included Bill Rancic, Piers Morgan, Bret Michaels, Arsenio Hall, Trace Adkins, Leeza Gibbons, Khloe Kardashian, Cyndi Lauper, Lil Jon, Vivica A. Fox and Geraldo Rivera, among others.

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Last month, a New York appeals court ruled Trump could not dismiss a sexual defamation lawsuit filed by former contestant Summer Zervos just because he is President.

“In our quest to democratize content and make more premium content accessible, we are making a big push into the reality television space,” Tubi CEO Farhad Massoudi said in a statement. “‘The Apprentice’ is our second big series (after Lionsgate’s ‘Anger Management’) announcement this month, and we will have more in the near future.”

Tubi claims to consistently rank as one of the most-watched apps on platforms such as Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Android, among others.

Creed II

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/5/19;
Warner/MGM;
Drama;
Box Office $115.7 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sports action violence, language, and a scene of sensuality.
Stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris, Andre Ward, Russell Hornsby, Florian Munteanu, Dolph Lundgren.

Given the premise used in 2015’s Creed to restart the “Rocky” franchise, this sequel is more or less exactly the movie the series’ fans were waiting for.

The eighth film in the “Rocky” franchise continues the story of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the young boxer who is still haunted by the legacy of his father, Apollo. Adonis faces a new challenge in the form of Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of former Russian champion Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) famously defeated in 1985’s Rocky IV.

The fact Apollo died as a result of an exhibition match against Ivan Drago gives Adonis added motivation, as he seeks retribution for his family name. But Rocky doesn’t think the match is worth it, pointing out Adonis has bigger priorities in his life now, such as starting a family with Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

Creed II

While the film serves as a natural sequel to both Rocky IV and Creed, it borrows a lot from Rocky III in terms of story structure. While much of the plotting fits in well with the “what happens next” soap opera flow of the “Rocky” movies in general, the film is bound together by the motif of legacy, in particular the influence parents and children can have on each other that transcends generations.

In fact, two of the featurettes included with the Blu-ray are built upon this idea. The first is “The Rocky Legacy,” a 15-minute history of the “Rocky” films hosted by Lundgren that examines why the franchise has endured. The second is the seven-minute “Fathers and Sons” featurette, which takes a deeper look at how the desire to build a legacy impacts the characters involved.

Interestingly, the film adds depth to the Drago character beyond his role as the cookie-cutter villain from Rocky IV. He blames Rocky for his loss of stature following their match, and through his son he seeks a measure of revenge as well, against the fighter now seen as Rocky’s protégé.

There’s a six-minute featurette devoted to the casting of amateur boxer Munteanu as the younger Drago, and he certainly casts an intimidating shadow when standing next to Jordan’s Creed (not unlike seeing Lundgren’s towering frame over Stallone 33 years prior).

The six-minute “The Women of Creed II” focuses on the other side of the equation, Thompson as Bianca and Phylicia Rashad as Adonis’ mother representing the impact his professional struggles have on his personal life.

Finally, there are four deleted scenes running a total of 10 minutes, and a couple of them will be of particular interest to longtime “Rocky” fans.

One features the funeral of Spider Rico, who was the first boxer Rocky was seen fighting during a sparring session in the first film back in 1976. This scene adds a bit of context to one of the film’s plot developments.

Another scene serves as an epilogue to the main story, as the characters encounter each other in the locker room after the climactic fight.

While the business of Hollywood is such that it would be unwise to rule out another sequel, the conclusion of Creed II leaves the characters and viewers in a place where it would be a satisfying conclusion to the series if the particulars involved chose to leave it at that.

At least, until 2045, when the next entry sees Mickey’s great-great-grandson challenge the grandson of Clubber Lang to an MMA fight. Stay tuned, fight fans.

FilmRise Inks Streaming Deals with ITV, MGM and Warner Bros.

Ad-supported movie streaming service FilmRise said it has signed distribution agreements for catalog content with ITV Studios Global Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and Warner Bros., among others.

Titles include Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, The Terminator, and the original Blade Runner.”

“We are thrilled that the FilmRise Channel has become a major platform where consumers can watch their favorite films and TV shows,” FilmRise CEO Danny Fisher in a statement.

We have formed a stellar line up of programming thanks to our amazing partners,” said Fisher.

The channel can be found on Roku, iOS, Android, Amazon Fire devices, Apple TV, and other connected devices.

 

Operation Finale

Munich meets Argo in this low-key depiction of Israel’s secret mission in the years after World War II to capture Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and bring him to trial for his role in the Holocaust.

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Drama;
Box Office $17.61 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for disturbing thematic content and related violent images, and for some language.
Stars Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, Haley Lu Richardson, Peter Strauss.

At the end of World War II, as so many Nazi leaders were being captured, or committing suicide to avoid facing justice for war crimes, SS officer Adolf Eichmann managed to flee from Europe.

Widely considered to be one of the major architects of the Nazi Holocaust that resulted in the death of 6 million European Jews, Eichmann was considered a prime target for the Nazi hunters who popped up after the war, though his whereabouts remained a mystery for more than a decade. He was eventually spotted in Argentina, where many former Nazis fled because their ideology meshed well with local political movements at the time.

In 1960, Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, organized a secret mission to capture Eichmann and bring him to Israel to stand trial for war crimes.

Operation Finale dramatizes the key events of the mission, though not as intensely as other depictions of Mossad operations on the big screen, such as Steven Spielberg’s Munich.

So much of the story involves characters waiting around and getting the proper paperwork in order — not exactly riveting viewing. As a result, director Chris Weitz puts less emphasis on the process of finding Eichmann and the decision to capture him, and focuses more on the characters involved in the operation, particularly the growing rapport between agent Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and Eichmann (Ben Kingsley). Fortunately, the performances are strong enough all around to hold audience interest.

One interesting affectation Weitz brought to his handling of the performances was an edict against artificial accents, so the actors use their normal speaking voice regardless of what nationality they are meant to be. It’s a noticeable choice but certainly not as distracting as an actor stumbling through an accent they have no mastery of.

Weitz also rearranges the chronology of events to ramp up the tension a bit, aided by a pulsating musical score by Alexandre Desplat.

In a solo commentary, Weitz says he thought of Operation Finale as a spiritual companion to another Spielberg film, Bridge of Spies, which takes place at the same time. As such, he included a brief scene of the Mossad agents hearing a news report over the radio of American spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers being captured by the Soviet Union.

Weitz also mentions how the story parallels that of Argo in that it too climaxes with an escape via plane before local enemies can figure out what is going on (in this case, Eichmann’s family and supporters conducting a manhunt to find him after he disappears), and how he went about structuring the sequence so as to avoid comparisons.

The Blu-ray also includes a six-and-a-half-minute “Inside the Operation” featurette about the making of the film with interviews from the cast and filmmakers.

A featurette about the actual events would have been an appropriate inclusion as well, but as long as the film encourages people to look into the real story more, it’s definitely a win for the study of history.

Operation Finale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Universal Releasing ‘Operation Finale’ Digitally Nov. 20, on Disc Dec. 4

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release MGM’s Operation Finale digitally Nov. 20, and on Blu-ray, DVD and on demand Dec. 4.

Based on a true story, the film follows an Israeli intelligence mission in 1960 to capture high-ranking Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) in Argentina and prosecute him for the deaths of millions of Jews in concentration camps during World War II.

Directed by Chris Weitz, the film also stars Oscar Isaac, Mélanie Laurent, Lior Roz, Nick Kroll, Haley Lu Richardson, Joe Alwyn, Pepe Rapazote and Greta Scacchi.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a feature commentary with Weitz and the making-of featurette “Inside the Operation.”

Starz Adds Former Netflix, Lionsgate Executives to Digital Networks Team

Lionsgate-owned Starz Sept. 5 announced the hiring of former Netflix executive Darren Nielson as SVP of distribution and business development at its international digital networks team led by EVP Superna Kalle.

Starz also named Jeff Cooke, ex-VP of global digital at Lionsgate, its new VP of programming at international digital networks.

Nielson, based in Lionsgate’s Santa Monica corporate office, will lead the distribution and business development for Starz’ digital and linear services and channels, working with Kalle to develop expansion strategies, identify and evaluate partner opportunities, and source and negotiate distribution agreements with in-territory partners.

Prior to joining Starz, Nielson served as director of content acquisition at Netflix. He was instrumental in building Netflix’s presence across Europe and Asia managing global licensing relationships with major studios and local partners across both film and TV content.

Cooke, also based in Santa Monica, will oversee programming for the international expansion of the Starz OTT subscription service to new global markets. He will be tasked to define and implement the content strategies across all international territories and identify key programming initiatives through data insights and analytics.

Cooke will curate content that defines the Starz brand in each region and capitalize on global trends and strategies. Cooke will continue to work with London-based Brett Marottoli, head of program acquisitions, to identify and acquire additional content for the StarzPlay platform.

Prior to Lionsgate, Cooke held positions at Miramax and MGM.

“Darren and Jeff bring a wealth of global acumen and skill to this international team at a time of significant growth for our company and our brand,” Kalle said in a statement. “I look forward to exploring new opportunities around the world for our content across digital and linear platforms with them on board.”

 

Walmart Streaming Service Hires Former Epix CEO Mark Greenberg, Targeting ‘Roseanne’ Crowd?

Walmart’s secretive subscription streaming video service is reportedly targeting consumers not catered to by traditional content distributors — and at a price point below Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

The Wall Street Journal — citing sources familiar with the situation — said the pending SVOD service — which Walmart has not officially greenlighted — is working with former Epix CEO Mark Greenberg.

The executive, who helped bow multilevel (online, linear) distribution platform Epix with MGM, Lionsgate and Paramount Pictures in 2008, left last September after MGM acquired majority ownership. Greenberg previously worked at HBO and Showtime.

Specifically, Greenberg is looking at programming that would appeal to consumers living in middle America – away from traditional bi-coastal markets. Sources told The Journal the service would target viewers attracted to the short-lived “Roseanne” TV reboot.

“They’re catering to that Americana base,” said the source.

Whether Walmart plans to rival original content spending by Netflix ($8 billion), Prime Video ($5 billion) or HBO ($2.7 billion) remains to be seen. Not doing so would limit the service to licensing content already available on other OTT video services.

The platform would also operate separate from Vudu.com, the digital retail and transactional VOD service Walmart acquired in 2010.

 

The Quarter-Billion-Dollar Spat

In the corporate annals of executive buyouts, few are as crazy as Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s (MGM) decision to purchase the equity stake of fired CEO Gary Barber for $260 million.

That’s on top of the $15.4 million golden parachute Barber got after unexpectedly getting the axe in March – just five months after privately-held MGM extended his employment contract through 2020.

Media reports suggest there had been friction between Barber and Kevin Ulrich, the boss at investment group Anchorage Capital — MGM’s largest investor — over the future of the studio.

Apparently, it was a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar rift.

Indeed, as part of the buyout — which involved MGM tapping into its credit facility — Barber agreed to customary “standstill provisions” that prohibit him from competing directly on MGM-related matters for a three-year period.

If Barber, who, since his ouster, had reportedly been trying to line up creditors to acquire MGM, was such a threat, why not keep him on the payroll?

Barber, together with Roger Birnbaum, helped MGM Studios emerge out of bankruptcy in 2010 through the usual cost-cutting restructuring taken by companies under Chapter 11 protection or in M&A crosshairs.

The executive in 2017 spearheaded complete ownership of premium TV network Epix from partners Lionsgate, Viacom and Paramount Pictures. Barber revitalized the “James Bond” franchise with box office hits Skyfall and Spectre. The next installment — Bond 25 — is slated for release in 2019.

Barber hired reality TV whiz Mark Burnett (“The Voice,” “Survivor,” “Shark Tank”) as president of the TV group and digital.

In home entertainment, Barber distributed MGM’s vaunted catalog and new releases to the highest bidder, with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment winning rights to SpectreSkyfall, Death WishEvery Day, RoboCop, Poltergeist, “Vikings,” “Get Shorty,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Teen Wolf,” among others. The Fox agreement expires June 30, 2020.

Notably, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will distribute Bond 25 in packaged media thereafter. The studio’s parent, Comcast recently inked a direct-access deal with Epix for its cable operations.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment distributes the “Jump Street” franchise and The Magnificent Seven, while Warner Bros. Home Entertainment distributes the “Hobbit” trilogy, CreedMaxMe Before You, Tomb Raider and Everything, Everything.

Paramount Home Media Distribution has DVD/Blu-ray rights to Sherlock Gnomes and Ben-Hur.

Regardless, home entertainment revenue in 2017 dropped 55% to $91.9 million from $206.5 million in 2016.

Hardly enough to pay off Barber.