Clint Eastwood Film ‘In the Line of Fire’ Coming to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray June 15

The 1993 Clint Eastwood film In the Line of Fire will come out on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, remastered with High Dynamic Range, on June 15 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

In the film from director Wolfgang Peterson, Eastwood stars as Frank Horrigan, a veteran Secret Service agent haunted by his failure to protect John F. Kennedy from assassination. Thirty years later, he gets a chance to redeem himself when a brilliant psychopath threatens to kill the current president and take Horrigan with him. Taunting him by phone and tantalizing him with clues, the assassin (John Malkovich) lures Horrigan into a battle of wits and will that only one man can survive. The film co-stars Rene Russo as Horrigan’s risk-taking Field Chief.

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The release features Dolby Atmos audio, original theatrical 5.1, and original theatrical stereo. Special features include audio commentary with Petersen, five deleted scenes, several featurettes and a theatrical teaser. The release does not include a regular Blu-ray copy but does come with a digital copy, for a limited time.

Analyst: Netflix Paying Sony $1 Billion For Movie Rights

Netflix’s big distribution deal with Sony Pictures for exclusive streaming access to new theatrical and original-produced movies beginning in 2022 is expected to cost the SVOD behemoth more than $1 billion, according to media analyst Michael Pachter. Netflix and Sony did not disclose financial details of their landmark agreement, which supplants Sony’s long-time distributor (since 2006) Starz.

“This is meaningful for Netflix as many of its earlier exclusive licensing deals have expired, the content pulled back by studios such as Disney and WarnerMedia seeking to shore up their competing streaming services,” Pachter wrote in an April 12 note.

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The agreement comes as other studios pull content from Netflix for proprietary services. MGM-owned Epix and MGM have opted for an exclusive partnership with Paramount+, while NBCUniversal is considering pulling content from both HBO Max and Netflix to shore up its Peacock service, while potentially leaving some of its content available to co-owned Hulu on a non-exclusive basis.

“While these are clearly exceptional times and exhibitors are willing to negotiate terms they typically would not have in a pre-COVID environment, we think these types of negotiations will continue, and we expect to see more original content from streamers playing in theaters post-pandemic,” Pachter wrote. “We think exhibitors are now more willing to negotiate favorable terms with far more flexible windows than they had in the past, as long as their counterpart is willing to pay.”

Indeed, the analyst contends Netflix acted proactively as studios continue to hold back major tentpole titles due to the pandemic. With many lower-budget movies slated for release last year shifted to streaming to recoup production budgets, most larger budget titles have been pushed back to later this year or into 2022. Despite the expected July 9 theatrical bow of Disney/Marvel’s Black Widow, and exhibitors in some markets, including Los Angeles, expanding seating capacity to 50% from 25%, Pachter says the exhibition industry is not expected to “normalize” until this summer at the earliest as more moviegoers get vaccinated.

“Attendance levels will not materially improve until tentpole titles return to theaters, and studios clearly prefer the lower risk of releasing tent-pole titles when vaccine s should be widely distributed in the U.S. and Europe,” wrote the analyst.

Netflix Licenses Rights to Sony’s Kevin Hart Feature ‘Fatherhood’

Netflix has licensed the worldwide (except for China) rights to Fatherhood from Sony Pictures for a June 18 release on the service.

The film stars Kevin Hart (Jumanji: The Next LevelThe Upside), Alfre Woodard (Juanita, Clemency), Lil Rel Howery (Bad TripGet Out), DeWanda Wise (Someone Great, Jurassic World: Dominion), Anthony Carrigan (“Barry,” “Gotham”), Melody Hurd (Them) and Paul Reiser (“Mad About You,” “The Kominsky Method”).

Based on the book Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love by Matthew Logelin, the drama features Hart taking on the toughest job in the world — fatherhood.

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Earlier this year, Hart and his HartBeat Productions inked an exclusive partnership with Netflix for feature films as well as a first-look production deal. (Fatherhood was independently licensed and not part of this overall deal.)

Higher Ground Productions, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, will present the film, alongside Netflix and Sony.

Tim Burton’s ‘Big Fish’ Coming to 4K Ultra HD May 4

The Tim Burton-directed 2003 fantasy drama Big Fish is coming to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray May 4 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film stars Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Robert Guillaume and Marion Cotillard with Steve Buscemi and Danny DeVito.

The story, based on the book, follows Edward Bloom (McGregor), who throughout his life has always been a man of big appetites, enormous passions and tall tales. In his later years, portrayed by five-time Best Actor Oscar nominee Finney (Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Erin Brockovich, 2000), he remains a huge mystery to his son, William (Crudup). Now, to get to know the real man, Will begins piecing together a true picture of his father from flashbacks of his amazing adventures.

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The 4K UHD disc is newly remastered in 4K resolution from the original camera negative with HDR10 and includes new Dolby Atmos audio plus original theatrical 5.1 audio. The Blu-ray disc includes the feature presented in HD, sourced from the new 4K master; Burton audio commentary, moderated by Mark Salisbury; several featurettes; Easter eggs; and the theatrical trailer.

DOJ Indicts North Korean Military Hackers for 2014 Cyber Attack on Sony Pictures, AMC Theatres

The Department of Justice Feb. 17 unsealed a federal indictment charging three North Korean computer programmers with participating in a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy to conduct a series of destructive cyberattacks, to steal and extort more than $1.3 billion from financial institutions and companies, including Sony Pictures and AMC Theatres.

The indictment alleges a broad array of criminal cyber activities undertaken by the conspiracy, in the United States and abroad, for revenge or financial gain. The schemes included a destructive cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in November 2014 in retaliation for The Interview, a movie comedy that depicted a fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The attack resulted in the release of confidential emails and sensitive information from the studio, executives and other employees, leading to the departure of co-chairman Amy Pascal.

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The hackers also targeted AMC Theatres, which was scheduled to screen the movie in December; and a 2015 intrusion into Mammoth Screen, which was producing a fictional TV series involving a British nuclear scientist taken prisoner in DPRK.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un

Named in the indictment, filed Dec. 8, 2020, in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Jon Chang Hyok, 31; Kim Il, 27; and Park Jin Hyok, 36 — all alleged members of units of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), a military intelligence agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which engaged in criminal in a single conspiracy to cause damage, steal data and money, and otherwise further the strategic and financial interests of the DPRK government and its leader, Kim Jong Un.

The North Korean military hacking units are known by multiple names in the cybersecurity community, including Lazarus Group and Advanced Persistent Threat 38, according to the DOJ. Park was previously charged in a criminal complaint unsealed in September 2018.

“As laid out in today’s indictment, North Korea’s operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world’s leading bank robbers,”  Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement. “The Department will continue to confront malicious nation state cyber activity with our unique tools and work with our fellow agencies and the family of norms abiding nations to do the same.”

The indictment expands upon the FBI’s 2018 charges for the cyberattacks conducted by the North Korea to extract revenge and obtain money to prop up its regime.

“The ongoing targeting, compromise, and cyber-enabled theft by North Korea from global victims was met with the outstanding, persistent investigative efforts of the FBI in close collaboration with U.S. and foreign partners,” said FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate. “By arresting facilitators, seizing funds, and charging those responsible for the hacking conspiracy, the FBI continues to impose consequences and hold North Korea accountable for its/their criminal cyber activity.”

Warner’s ‘The Little Things’ Helps Pandemic Weekend Box Office Top $10 Million

The little things do matter, especially during a pandemic. Warner Bros. Pictures’ criminal thriller The Little Things, starring Oscar winners Denzel Washington, Remi Malek and Jared Leto, topped the domestic weekend box office (Jan. 29-31) with an estimated $4.8 million in ticket sales across more than 2,100 screens.

The drama about a burned-out Kern County, Calif. deputy sheriff (Washington) who teams up with a Los Angeles County Sheriff detective (Malek) to nab a serial killer (Leto) proved successful with COVID-19 moviegoers despite launching concurrently on HBO Max as part of Warner’s 2021 strategy to release its theatrical slate simultaneously on the $14.99 monthly subscription streaming platform.

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“We are absolutely thrilled by how Warner Bros.’ The Little Things is performing on HBO Max — it immediately shot up to number one, where it currently remains,” said Andy Forssell, EVP and GM at Max, said in a statement. “Following the breakthrough success of WW84, The Little Things shows the insatiable appetite our audience has for high quality, feature films.”

Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation’s perennial pandemic box office champ, The Croods: A New Age, again proved a strong attraction on the big screen and home entertainment. The sequel finished No. 2 generated $1.8 million in ticket sales to bring its global tally to $144.3 million, including $44 million domestically.

Warner’s Wonder Woman 1984 rounded out the podium with $1.3 million in ticket sales, bringing the Gal Gadot-starrer past $152$ million at the global box office ($40 million domestically).

Previous weekend box office winner The Marksman saw the Open Road Films drama starring Liam Neeson generate $1.25 million in ticket sales for $8.5 million worldwide total since bowing Jan. 15. Sony Pictures’ Monster Hunter tracked $740,000 in ticket sales to up its global count near $20 million ($11.1 million domestically) since launching Dec. 18, 2020.

CES: Sony Touts Games’ Expanding Movie/Streaming Presence

In the wake of last November’s launch of the next-generation PlayStation 5 video game system, Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) used Sony Corp.’s annual (and virtual) CES media presentation to showcase PlayStation’s expanded foray into film and TV with a diversity of stories.

As with much of Hollywood, PlayStation, along with Sony Pictures Entertainment, pushed back most of its new original content releases to 2021 and beyond due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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In addition to continued development of the “Spider-Man” franchise, two PS properties eyeing both theatrical and episodic TV adaptations in 2021 include Uncharted, featuring Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming) as a live-action young Nathan Drake and Mark Wahlberg as Victor Sullivan. The film is now set to release on July 16. Separately, Sony Pictures Television and HBO are creating a limited series around the video game The Last of Us for subscription streaming platform HBO Max.

The studio also has a partnership with Hivemind Productions (creator of Netflix’s “The Witcher”) for a live-action adaption of the Final Fantasy XIV series games.

“This is just the beginning of the expansion of our storytelling into new media and even wider audiences,” Jim Ryan, president/CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, said in a video clip. “Sony is a creative entertainment company and entertainment has never been more important. Our community are networked like never before and are more diverse than they have ever been. And we celebrate and embrace the differing viewpoints and tastes that make up our community.”

Indeed, Sony Pictures CEO Tony Vinciquerra last month announced that the studio was working on three movies and seven TV shows based on PlayStation games, including the recent actioner Monster Hunter, starring Mila Jovovich and Tony Jaa.

“You’ll be seeing a lot more integration of Sony companies together in the future,” Vinciquerra told CNBC.

‘The Last Vermeer’ Coming to Disc and Digital Feb. 23

The World War II drama The Last Vermeer will come out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital Feb. 23 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

In the film, while Joseph Piller (Claes Bang), a Dutch Jew, was fighting in the Resistance during the Second World War, the witty, debonair art connoisseur Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) was hosting hedonistic soirees and selling Dutch art treasures to Hermann Göring and other top Nazis. Following the war, Piller becomes an investigator assigned the task of identifying and redistributing stolen art, resulting in the flamboyant van Meegeren being accused of collaboration — a crime punishable by death. Despite mounting evidence, Piller, with the aid of his assistant (Vicky Krieps), becomes increasingly convinced of Han’s innocence and finds himself in the unlikely position of fighting to save his life.

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The film is based on the book The Man Who Made Vermeers by Jonathan Lopez.

Former Sony Pictures Publicist Staci Griesbach Releases Second Album of Jazz-Inspired Covers

Staci Griesbach, the Sony Pictures publicist-turned-vocalist, is out with her second album, My Shania Twain Songbook, a collection of jazz-inspired interpretations celebrating the 25th anniversary of the iconic 1990s country star’s breakout album, The Woman in Me.

Among them: “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under,” “Any Man of Mine,” “The Woman in Me” and “No One Needs To Know,” which JAZZIZ Magazine hailed for its “warmth” and made its “Song of the Day” earlier this month.

“When Shania released The Woman in Me in 1995, I was a junior in high school in rural Wisconsin, and that album very much represented a coming of age for me,” Griesbach said. “Shania demonstrated confidence in being a woman and really owning who she was as an artist.

“Most importantly, she didn’t shy away from her desire of pursuing her dream, and that was inspiring to me then and perhaps even more so now.”

Twain pushed the boundaries of country music at that time, and fans responded by making her one of the 1990s’ biggest country-pop crossover superstars, capable of filling huge arenas.

The Woman in Me, her second studio album produced with then-husband Robert John “Mutt” Lange, became certified “diamond.” Twain just released a “Diamond Edition” version of the album to commemorate the 25th anniversary of its initial release.

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Inspired during the coronavirus pandemic, the timeline for Griesbach’s second album was incredibly quick. Griesbach once again collaborated with some of the top musicians in the world on the arrangements, including Tamir Hendelman, Michael O. Mitchell, Rahsaan Barber and Otmaro Ruiz.

“This album came together so incredibly fast, it was like magic,” she recalled. “We started on the arrangements in July, were in the recording studio at the end of September and mixing in October. It’s almost unheard of to release an album that fast, but I guess the inspiration was that strong.”

To promote the release, Griesbach has teamed up with Twain’s charity, Shania Kids Can, for a benefit streaming concert and online auction to help raise money for kids and schools.

My Shania Twain Songbook is a followup to Griesbach’s debut, My Patsy Cline Songbook, which was financed partially by a Kickstarter campaign and released in August 2019. The album — a reimagining of classics by the pioneering female country singer in a style similar to jazz standards from the Great American Songbook — led to gigs at top jazz clubs in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, as well as an appearance at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Carnegie Hall.

Rolling Stone hailed her “gorgeous jazz interpretation of Patsy Cline’s ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’” and included the song on its  “10 Best Country and Americana Songs to Hear Now” list, alongside such established stars as Miranda Lambert.

The album even won accolades from Cline’s daughter, Julie Fudge, who in the CD’s liner notes wrote, “It is amazing to hear Staci interpreting Mom’s music for the jazz fan, as well as the traditional Patsy fan.  These arrangements are new and fresh and so engaging.  I truly think Mom would have listened to this collection.”

Griesbach, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, spent 15 years as a publicist for the home entertainment division of Sony Pictures, rising to VP of worldwide publicity.

Music was never far from her heart, though, she recalled. On the farm, she had grown up to the songs of Patsy Cline and other famous stars of the era, and later, in high school, Griesbach became a huge fan of Shania Twain, who at the time was breaking boundaries for women in music and inspiring young female musicians all over the world.

“Shania crossed genres arguably better than any other female in country music at that time, and it’s part of my exploration to bring her music into the jazz world,” Griesbach said. “For me, looking at this album 25 later is like going home and reconnecting to a little part of myself all over again.”

While attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Griesbach was a member of the Wisconsin Singers, a touring troupe that performs Broadway and pop standards and entertains more than 50,000 fans each year.

After graduating, she pursued a career in PR and landed a job with Fleishman-Hillard in Kansas City. The big agency moved her to Sacramento, and two years later she moved to Los Angeles to be closer to the entertainment scene.

In 2005, Griesbach was hired at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, where over a 15-year run — and under the tutelage of Fritz Friedman, regarded as one of Hollywood’s top publicists — she rose from manager to VP, managing global campaigns and promoting the studio’s film and television content around the world.

Music, however, remained more than just a hobby. In 2013, Griesbach started studying jazz vocals and jazz piano with Michele Weir, currently an adjunct professor in global jazz studies at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music. In January 2015, she secured a regular residency at a Hollywood hotel, performing with her trio on Friday evenings.

In 2017, she recalled, “I sang and produced 100 songs for a centennial tribute to Ella Fitzgerald — complete with a sell-out show at an L.A. club benefiting the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation.”

She subsequently booked time at Talley Sherwood’s TriTone Recording in Glendale, and in January 2018 recorded the first six tracks.

Two years after her position at Sony was eliminated, Griesbach runs her own boutique PR agency but is laser-focused on music.

“Like many, there were so many dreams and plans we had going into this year,” Griesbach said. “For me, it was playing the SXSW Music Festival. But even though this year has been challenging on so many levels, 2020 has provided an opportunity for this album to be born, for me to continue to explore this intersection of country and jazz, and take my musical journey one more step forward.”


Sony Pictures Sets Home Release Dates for Arthouse Film Favorite ‘Yellow Rose’

Sony Pictures has set home release dates for Yellow Rose, a film festival favorite about a Filipina teen from a small Texas town who fights to pursue her dreams as a country music performer while having to decide between staying with her family or leaving the only home she has ever known.

The film, directed by Diane Paragas, will be released through digital retailers on Dec. 22 and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on Jan. 5, 2021. Yellow Rose stars Grammy-winner Eva Noblezada in her feature film debut, award-winning country music artist Dale Watson, Princess Punzalan and Tony Award-winner Lea Salonga (Mulan, Aladdin).

Noblezada is best known for her work on the Broadway stage and independent film. Noblezada made her Broadway debut as Kim in a revival of “Miss Saigon,” a performance for which she received a 2017 Tony Award nomination. She also played Eurydice in “Hadestown,” winning a second Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, as well as the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

Yellow Rose premiered at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in May 2019. It was screened at several other film festivals internationally and ultimately picked up 13 film festival awards. Yellow Rose was released theatrically in October.