Animated ‘The Star’ on Disc Feb. 20

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release faith-based animated movie The Star on Digital HD Feb. 6, and on Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 20.

The film follows a small but brave donkey named Bo (voiced by Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead”), who embarks on an adventure during the events of the Nativity and encounters other animal friends along the way.

The voice cast also includes Aidy Bryant, Keegan-Michael Key, Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Kelly Clarkson, Anthony Anderson, Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias and Patricia Heaton.

The title song of The Star earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song by Mariah Carey and Marc Shaiman.

Extras include: “Star-aoke: Sing-Along with Bo & Friends”; “Life Is Good” Dance-Along; Lyric Sing-Along Videos of “The Star” by Mariah Carey, “Can You See” by Fifth Harmony, “Children Go Where I Send You” by Kelsea Ballerini, “We Three Kings” by Kirk Franklin and “Life Is Good” by A Great Big World; “Sweet and Sparkly Stars” cookie recipes; “Star Mason Jar Votives” craft tips; video sermon “Faith All Year Round With DeVon Franklin”; and a featurette about the cast.

‘LBJ’ Director Rob Reiner to Be Honored by AAFCA

Veteran actor, writer and director Rob Reiner — who most recently directed LBJ due from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Electric Entertainment on digital and disc Feb. 6 — will receive the inaugural Stanley Kramer Award for Social Justice from the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA).

The award recognizes him for his career-long activism and support for progressive politics. The director, whose LBJ earned AAFCA’s Seal of Approval, will be presented his award at the 9th AAFCA Awards, scheduled for Feb. 7 at the Taglyan Complex in Hollywood.

“Even as an actor, Rob Reiner made a statement. In the years he spent on ‘All in the Family,’ he was the liberal voice countering Archie Bunker’s extremely conservative one,” said Gil Robertson, president of AAFCA, in a statement.

Much like Kramer, as a director, writer and producer, Reiner, has craftily used the art form as a springboard of political activism that has resonated far beyond Hollywood, noted a Sony release. His films have spearheaded progressive dialogue on a variety of critical societal issues, be they gender roles and attitudes in When Harry Met Sally or race and justice in Ghosts of Mississippi.

The AAFCA honored Kramer at its 2017 ceremony and decided to create the AAFCA Stanley Kramer Award for Social Justice to encourage and applaud filmmakers like Kramer for infusing their films with a sense of purpose and social responsibility.

“Film served as an important vehicle to explore and examine social issues for Kramer,” Robertson said in a statement. “Our hope is that, through this awareness, it will inspire other filmmakers to continue making those statements.”

Reiner’s LBJ takes a look at President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Woody Harrelson), covering the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. The film also stars Michael Stahl-David, Richard Jenkins, Bill Pullman, Jeffrey Donovan and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 1/30/18;
Sony Pictures;
Drama;
Box Office $1.58 million;
$25.99 DVD, $26.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong sexual content including brief graphic images, and language.
Stars Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Oliver Platt, Connie Britton.

The story of Wonder Woman’s creators is so fascinating that it’s a bit surprising it hasn’t been the subject of a movie until now. Of course, it only took 75 years to bring the most iconic female superhero of all time to the big screen, so who’s to say with these things?

Certainly the resurgent popularity of Wonder Woman in the past few years, thanks to her appearances in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and her own solo film, sparked a renewed focus on her origins as a character. And societal taboos likely muted the true extent of the salaciousness surrounding her creation in ways it really takes the passage of decades to appreciate. Still, this better-late-than-never docu-drama is a well-timed accompaniment to her cinematic adventures.

Conventional wisdom holds that Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, a Harvard psychologist who invented the lie-detector test and wanted to create a positive role model for young girls in the vein of how Superman influenced young boys. But there’s so much more to it than that.

But the deeper truth is that Marston and his wife, Elizabeth, were involved in a fetishistic, polyamorous relationship with his research assistant, Olive Byrne. Both women would provide major help and inspiration in creating Wonder Woman.

Many of these “how something was created” type of movies seem to rely mostly on nostalgia to carry the story, hoping audiences will appreciate seeing the introduction of all their favorite traits.

With Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, however, writer-director Angela Robinson isn’t so much interested in the nostalgia behind Wonder Woman’s creation, but what drove the people responsible for it. To that end, the film is structured with a framing device of Marston (Luke Evans) defending the Wonder Woman comic book to a censorship board after it, like many comic books at the time, is labeled a subversive element.

Then, in flashbacks, we learn the circumstances of Marston’s relationship with Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), a fierce academic resentful that she isn’t being taken seriously in a university system dominated by men. The arrival of Olive (Bella Heathcote) inspires lustful tendencies in both of them, and as they develop the lie-detector their three-way relationship quickly turns sexual. Rumors of their unconventional relationship cause them to be shunned.

In need of work, Marston creates Wonder Woman as a means of using comic books to spread a subtle feminist message. Elements of the bondage and role play in his own sexual life seep into his writing, with Wonder Woman known as much for her suggestive outfits and lasso of truth as she is her strength and heroism. Marston tying her origins to Greek mythology then comes across as a thinly veiled excuse to infuse lesbian overtones into the comic, in the guise of an island of paradise populated entirely by women.

Ultimately, though, the core of the film is the relationship between William, Elizabeth and Olive, and their struggles to stay together amid the pressures of societal norms.

The idea that the three of them as a group should be considered the creator of Wonder Woman is put forth in a motion comic on the Blu-ray called “The Secret Identity of Charles Moulton,” which was the pen name Marston used to obscure from the academic community that he was writing comic books.

The eight-minute featurette “A Dynamic Trio: Birth of a Feminist Icon” is a more conventional piece about the real-life characters, while the six-and-a-half-minute “A Crucial Point of View” featurette focuses on Robinson’s motivations for making the film.

The Blu-ray also includes three interesting deleted scenes that run a total of about five-and-a-half minutes.

‘Call Me By Your Name’ Headed to Home Video

Another Best Picture Oscar nominee is headed for home video.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release Call Me By Your Name, a romantic drama set in 1980s Italy, on Digital HD Feb. 27 and Blu-ray Disc and DVD on March 13.

Aside from its Best Picture nom, Call Me By Your Name was nominated for three other Academy Awards: Best Actor (Timothee Chalamet) Best Original Song (“Mystery of Love”) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

In the film, directed by Luca Guadagnino, Chalamet plays a precocious 17-year-old, Elio Perlman, who spends his days in his family’s villa transcribing and playing classical music and reading. He meets and falls in love with Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar who arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Perlman’s father (Michael Stulhbarg), an eminent professor.

In addition to its four Oscar nominations, Call Me By Your Name was named one of the Best Movies of the Year with an AFI Award from the American Film Institute. It was also nominated for three Golden Globes, including Best Picture, and received a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role (Chalamet) at the Screen Actor Guild Awards. The film also received the most nominations of any film at the Film Independent Spirit Awards with six nominations, including Best Feature, Director, Male Lead and Supporting Actor.

The Digital, Blu-ray Disc and DVD releases of Call Me By Your Name include the music video for the Oscar-nominated song “Mystery of Love,” by Sufjan Stevens, as well as audio commentary and two featurettes. In the commentary, Chalamet and Stulhbarg discuss bringing their characters to life and their fond memories of making the film. There’s also a behind-the-scenes featurette, “Snapshots of Italy: The Making of Call Me By Your Name,” and a cast Q&A.

Call Me By Your Name opened in a limited release in November 2017 and then went wide in January 2018, earning $11.4 million domestically.

Home Entertainment’s Mantra in 2017 was ‘Just Keep Swimming’

At this year’s Video Hall of Fame ceremony in Beverly Hills in December, Janice Marinelli, president, Disney/ABC Home Entertainment & Television Distribution, for The Walt Disney Studios, drew solid applause when she advised her fellow home entertainment executives to “just keep swimming.”

The line, from the hit Disney film Finding Nemo, seemed to resonate with the several hundred execs in the room, many of whom have been contending with increasingly choppy seas for the better part of a decade.

In fact, 2017 marked the 10th anniversary of Netflix’s decision to transition its subscription approach from disc rentals by mail to digitally delivering content over the Internet – a truly disruptive moment that shattered the traditional home video model. Year after year, disc sales plummeted as consumers planted themselves on their sofas for a nightly steam of at first studio discards and then an increasingly compelling menu of original programming.

In the first nine months of this year, numbers provided by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group show, more than 40% of the money consumers spent on home entertainment in the first nine months of 2017 was generated by Netflix and other subscription streaming services, up from 34% in 2016 and 29% in 2015.

Sales of Blu-ray Discs and DVDs, meanwhile, accounted for 24% of consumer home entertainment spending in the first nine months of 2017, down from 27% in the comparable period in 2016 and 31% in 2015.

In the first nine months of 2011, by contrast, streaming accounted for just 3.8% of the home entertainment business, with disc sales accounting for 46%, or $5.6 billion – compared to $3.26 billion in the first nine months of 2017.

“The [disc sales] business remains under pressure, due to the growing number of entertainment options,” says Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “Nonetheless, studios and retailers continue to aggressively champion the category, looking to create the most compelling and meaningful opportunities to eventize our disc products and deliver the best, most exciting shopping experience possible.”

“Physical media continues to be an integral component of the product mix, but we need to find ways to remind consumers of the value of owning and renting discs,” adds Mark Fisher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA).

Disney’s Marinelli says “physical consumption continues to be a vibrant, viable and top-performing line of business for us and it is also proving to be a very valuable resource in the transition to digital with e-copy redemption. This year the in-home division broke and set new records with four bestselling physical titles in the top 10 to date including tentpoles Star Wars: Rogue OneMoanaGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Beauty and the Beast.  As viewing habits and consumer consumption rapidly evolve, we continue to evaluate our offerings on a regular basis and what will best meet the needs and demands of our customers.  This year we vigorously expanded into the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray premium format beginning with inaugural title Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which quickly rose to the top of the industry’s 4K physical sales chart.”

Through it all, home entertainment executives have, well, just kept on swimming – and managed to keep their heads afloat through a steady string of technological advances and innovation. This year’s gold star goes to Movies Anywhere, the Walt Disney-owned digital movie service that allows consumers to buy newly released movies electronically (or redeem access codes packaged inside Blu-ray Discs) and watch them whenever they want to, on any screen, from the family room TV to their iPhone.

“Consumer centricity was without a doubt a defining characteristic of 2017, which was most notably addressed by the launch of the multi-studio digital locker Movies Anywhere,” said Disney’s Marinelli. “Movies Anywhere is a huge win for the consumer, providing them with more freedom, flexibility and utility and their digital library can now be viewed through a range of devices and digital retailers, anytime and anywhere. The strength of the studios and digital retailers that have come together at launch is unprecedented.”

Hollywood also claimed a seat at the burgeoning Ultra HD table with Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, which experts agree is the optimum way to view 4K content , with even sharper pictures and more realistic colors than standard high-definition.

“We can expect to see the number of 4K UHD Blu-ray titles to expand considerably in 2018, as content companies  continue to release new and catalog titles in the premium format,” says Universal Pictures’ Eddie Cunningham. “As well, 4K movies, TVs and players are selling units in record numbers.  There is a clear groundswell around consumer demand and the industry is highly optimistic about the format’s future prospects.”

As Netflix and its OTT compadres continue to grab market share, studio executives – who still consider movie sales, either on disc or electronically, as their holy grail – also have had to contend with other challenges. Distribution channels have continued to proliferate, and the concept of content continues to evolve as millennials are as quick to spend an evening watching their favorite YouTuber or anime webisodes as they are the new Spider-Man movie.

“2017 really was the year of ‘more’ – more content, more provides, more devices, more technological enhancements, and more consumer choice,” said the EMA’s Mark Fisher. “Overall, this is a good thing, but it did lead to disruption of traditional business models. And we haven’t seen the end of it.”

Electronic sellthrough – also known as Digital HD – remains the most promising bulwark the studios have against continued double-digit OTT growth, but challenges remain. Consumers accustomed to spending around $10 a month for unlimited Netflix viewing might be reluctant to spend the same amount, or more, for a single piece of entertainment, even if they own it.

EST growth slowed from several years of double-digit gains to 7% in 2016, then rose slightly to 8% in the first nine months of this year. Executives hope Movies Anywhere will be the catalyst to reignite higher growth.

“On the EST front, we continue to see product, marketing and merchandising investments across the industry accelerate,” says Michael Bonner, EVP, Digital Distribution, for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “As a result, digital sell-through has been growing year over year and we continue to see increased consumer engagement in the category. Movies Anywhere is just the latest example of studios and distributors working together to provide more value to the consumer and setting a new bar for digital movie ownership.”

“Our focus is always on offering the best consumer experience possible, removing the barriers and offering a high-quality experience that adds value and utility to a digital movie collection,” adds Disney’s Marinelli. “Providing consumers with early digital access has been a successful way to drive consumers to the digital experience.  We continue to work closely with our digital retail partners to build a compelling in-home movie watching experience, including offering quality formats like 4K Ultra HD, as well as expanded and interactive extras – some of which are only offered digitally.”

Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc also is seen as a growth driver, particularly as the number of UHD TVs continues to mushroom.

“2017 was the year 4K UHD really took off,” said Jim Wuthrich, president, The Americas and Global Strategy, at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “With $200 million in global consumer sales, ample physical and digital distribution and accelerating penetration of capable TVs, content sales will continue to soar into 2018.”

“2017 was a year where we saw 4K HDR make huge strides towards becoming a mainstream part of the industry,” adds Jason Spivak, EVP, Worldwide Digital Distribution and North America Sales, for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “ 4K UHD physical discs are selling well, and we are seeing big advancements in 4K HDR digital services and devices.   The format is essential to our commitment to deliver the highest caliber consumer experience, and it is well on its way to mass acceptance.”

“ The number of 4K devices continues to grow, and is forecasted to triple in the next five years to nearly 350 million,” said Bob Buchi, president, Worldwide Home Media Distribution, for Paramount Pictures.  That clearly indicates that consumers have an appetite for the format, but we have to ensure that we don’t have a content gap.  At Paramount, we are committed to releasing the vast majority of new releases in 4K and have greenlit dozens of catalog titles for the format.

“We are seeing 4K UHD with HDR represent up to 10% of physical sales and a quickly growing percentage of digital sales as more platforms embrace the superior technology.  This technology is a huge boon to both consumers and filmmakers who are able to better realize their vision on home viewing platforms.  And the reality is that 4K UHD with HDR and object-based sound looks and sounds great.  It all contributes to the value proposition. “

Driving ownership of content, both physical and digital, is critical as the industry moves forward, executives agree.

“We continue to employ the most innovative and comprehensive tactics to drive ownership across both physical and digital platforms,” said Disney’s Marinelli. “We’ve had tremendous success implementing a number of strategic initiatives including pre-sale promotions, improving retail placement, expanding our social presence, producing live events and creating promotional partnerships. We are also committed to creating a superior in-home viewing experience that extends the consumer experience and deepens engagement.”

“We continually work with our retail partners to present consumers with compelling reasons to own, including superior audio and video presentations, early access, exclusive bonus features, special packaging, and more,” adds Paramount’s Bob Buchi. “Our job is to make our content readily available while maximizing revenue, which means carefully honing the distribution strategy of each title based on projected consumption. The great news is that the proliferation of platforms means consumers are enjoying our content in more ways than ever.”

Transactional video-on-demand (TVOD), which lets consumers “rent” a film or TV show for a limited streaming period, could use a shot in the arm.

“I am concerned that the consumer embrace of TVOD has not been as robust as we would have liked,” says the EMA’s Mark Fisher. “It remains a challenging business. Retailers and content providers are hesitant to invest in the category because it is not getting the desired growth, and we’re not seeing growth because investments are not being made. Delivery costs remain too high, and supply chain efficiencies need to be more widely embraced. EMA is actively working on both of those issues, and we will continue to do so because it is the right thing to do for the industry.”

Looking ahead to 2018, the prognosis among studios is essentially the same as it’s been at the end of the last few years – guarded optimism and a continued belief in the sales model.

Consumers’ appetite for home entertainment content remains remarkably robust,” says Universal Pictures’ Eddie Cunningham. “In fact, our research shows that a vast percentage of households continue to engage in the category whether via disc, digital or both.  Though there are many entertainment choices to distract consumers, offering tangible benefits unique to the format such as exceptional value, accessibility and utility of their favorite movies and TV shows reinforces the distinct advantages of ownership that you can’t get when renting or streaming.”

“I expect change to continue to be a factor in our industry in 2018 and beyond,” adds the EMA’s Mark Fisher.  “Movies Anywhere and Premium VOD, for example, will shake up the basic tenets of distribution and how and when consumers get content. Potential industry consolidations could significantly impact our industry as well. We shouldn’t fear any of this, but managing change will remain a challenge for all of us in the industry.

The home entertainment industry  “remains at the intersection of compelling content and technology, stemming from our consumers’ constant need for new and exciting experiences,” said Keith Feldman, President, Worldwide Home Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox.

“Technology is moving at a rapid pace and we must evolve our content offerings to meet consumer expectations, which means delivering on next-generation technologies including 4K HDR, 5G and mobile content delivery, simple and functional solutions like Movies Anywhere and immersive experiences like virtual and augmented reality that accurately realize and extend the vision of our filmmakers.”

Disney’s Marinelli has high hopes for 2018. “Disney has the most impressive slate in the industry and we’re confident that 2018 will once again be a very successful year for us with the highly-anticipated in-home releases of Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok, Pixar’s Coco,Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Walt Disney Signature Collection release of Lady and the Tramp.

“Movies Anywhere makes it easier than ever to build a digital movie collection. So far we’ve seen an incredible consumer response and believe that by offering a one-of-a kind experience, digital movie purchases will grow.  We will continue to work with the other studios and our digital retailer partners on programs to deliver exclusive content and offers that we believe will be important to driving engagement in the apps and website.”

“The choice between digital and physical is no longer an either/or proposition,” notes Paramount’s Bob Buchi. “We recognize that home entertainment has become a dynamic mix of consumption with opportunities across the spectrum.  Consumer behavior increasingly includes combinations of subscribing, transacting, renting, and buying, and greater comfort switching between digital and physical formats.  Our goal for 2018 is to make sure consumers have easy access to our content in the many ways they want to enjoy it.”

(This article previously appeared in Home Media Magazine.)