The Week In Video Part LXIV

Wednesday, May 20 2015
The Week In Video Part LXIV

Our regular round-up of recent, current and forthcoming home entertainment releases, with a keen eye on their commercial potential and trade prospects…

When it comes to the platform or collapsed window release, Universal is becoming as effective as an independent company in terms of working its titles. It is working with small, independent theatrical operators rather than its own theatrical arm (sensible given that especially this year its got it hands full with titles such as Fast And Furious 7) and its current partner Munro Films seems to have got it right. The pair’s collaboration on Northern Soul in 2014 worked a treat, latest to come out from this partnership is Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck. It’s already performed well in the first half of its release, at cinemas, with the digital then physical releases following. It’s already garnered plenty of coverage and with Cobain and Nirvana continuing to fascinate, it is set to generate more. It features some outstanding, never-seen-before footage of the singer and his wife Courtney Love. While some of the footage can grate (think Sid And Nancy levels of junkie whinging), there’s plenty here for fans to lap up. This should sell like Teen Spirit.

Also from Universal, just released by the company, is the 30th anniversary edition of The Breakfast Club. Anniversaries are now key for the catalogue market, with events such as this giving a hook to hang the release on. Much of the chatter about this film has concentrated on the passage of time (of the “can you believe it’s 30 years?” variety) and it will reverberate throughout the year as the film sits on the shelves complete with its 30th anniversary flash o n the front. It’s a nicely put together package, which has actually had a bit of thought put into its Blu-ray package – pop-up notebook-style factoids appear throughout the film, offering up titbits of trivia about John Hughes’ classic, both in terms of the making of the film and the fallout following its hugely successful release.

Sticking with Universal and a couple of biggies. Black Sea is an underwater thriller, solidly commercial, with Jude Law heading the cast of misfits who pilot an old submarine to discover some wartime gold buried leagues under the sea. Wildly varying accents aside, it’s decent and has already had a solid first week or two on sale. It’s the kind that will work well at a lower price, either as three for £20, or some other multibuy or lower price option.

Unbroken is a classier affair, also representing the first big studio directorial outing of one Angelina Jolie. Hers is enough of a marquee name and carries enough clout to make this a success; her weight behind its UK launch alone guaranteed plenty of coverage. It certainly doesn’t lack ambition, spanning continents and years. The presence too of rising star Jack O’Connell, of 71 and Starred Up notoriety, gives it further impetus too. He’s marked down as a name to watch and his name above the title will draw in plenty of punters beyond those swayed by Jolie’s involvement.

Due on the way from Universal, bringing to a close a look at its hefty slate, are Stretch and Ex Machina. The former has a distinctly 1980s feel, it’s loosely reminiscent of films such as Something Wild and After Hours, like the latter it’s set over the course of a night or so and rather than a yuppie nightmare, it’s more Hollywood – limo driver cum actor spends an evening with assorted oddball characters while trying to raise enough cash to pay off his debts. It has a decent enough pedigree, Patrick Wilson stars, Ed Helms pops up regularly and Jessica Alba is also on hand, giving it some decent selling points, as does the director Joe Carnahan’s track record. Its script doesn’t quite have the same zing as his Smokin’ Aces, but it’s got solid potential.

Ex Machina, our last from a hefty recent Universal slate, marks the directorial debut of Alex Garland and boasts an impressive, albeit small cast, some neat ideas, strong special effects and, although it’s similar to at least one or two other recent outings (The Machine, from Anchor Bay, springs to mind), a timely sci-fi and cyborg-based plot. It also arrives on DVD and Blu-ray, after the requisite exclusive digital window, with a higher box office than anticipated, as well as critical plaudits ringing in its ears. Which all makes for a hugely commercial prospect, one that it should capitalise on too. It’s got all kinds of film fans excited – hardcore soundtrack devotees, for example, will be drawn in by its excellent score created by, among others, Portishead mainman and Invada label boss Geoff Barrow – while the buzz around it should draw in a wider audience too.

One of Ex Machina’s stars is Oscar Isaac, who is also one of the chief selling points of A Most Violent Year, Icon’s latest release out this week (May 18). It’s a real gem of the film, held back at theatrical by arriving in a hugely competitive, packed quality film market, as well as it’s slightly misleading title. Icon’s put together a strong campaign for it, taking in everyone from supermarket shoppers to the cognoscenti, neither of whom will be disappointed by the film, which also stars Jessica Chastain, another selling point. Deserves to succeed, hopefully it will.

Icon has also made a foray into the world of classic films too, picking up the rights to Mean Streets, the early Scorsese and De Niro tale of grim life on the streets of New York, giving it the Arrow Video treatment – new sleeve, new extras and a sumptuous transfer to Blu-ray. It’s done a solid job on it and, considering it’s the first UK Blu-ray release for the title, it should find its place assured. It also ties in neatly with A Most Violent Year, set a few years later but in the same city, of course, giving the company leverage at retail. Of all mini-majors currently plying their trade in the theatrical and new release home entertainment sector, Icon is arguably the best-placed to do editions such as this, more please…

Another classic comes in the shape of Paper Moon, revived by Eureka’s Masters Of Cinema imprint and given the kind of treatment that the label specialises in. It’s a great film (one we’d not seen for a good few decades) and is perfectly illustrative of the kind of work MoC does in reviving long lost classics, rather than just plumping for the same obvious films. It’s aged really well, Peter Bogdanovich’s black and white treatment stands the test of time and it’s a fine example of 70s filmmaking at its finest. The label’s reputation will help it, if nothing else.

More just released titles and a few to have caught our eye recently include World War Dead: Rise Of The Fallen. It’s notable as much for who’s behind it as what it is. For it’s backed by Anchor Bay – which has since morphed into Platform as a distributor and it indicates the way forward for the new operation. It backed the film and it’s produced by md Colin Lomax and former acquisitions supremo Rod Smith, a one-time hub buyer turned independent producer. It’s always difficult to judge when it’s mates and industry people you know well involved – confession: this writer has known them for many years – but again, it’s less about the film (a decent enough zombie soldiers rising from their trenches found footage tale), rather more to do with its genre, where it will work and why it will work. It neatly blends two DTV favourites – the zombie flick and the war film – throwing in found footage for further commercial viability too. And it shows how indie distributors are increasingly looking to owning their own titles in perpetuity after creating them themselves, as a means to driving profit within the DTV market.

Another that’s proving that if you get the elements right, the end result will be positive, in commercial terms, certainly, is Automata, just released by Lionsgate. Antonio Banderas stars and it’s got the post-apocalyptic kind of feel to it, complete with what could possibly be described as a cyber-sleeve. A top 10 new entry in its first week of release shows the potential for this genre, particularly on the back of Mad Max and another Terminator film both due, pushing this kind of fare to the forefront.

Talking of genre fare, let’s not forget the still hugely important sword and sandals sector, or, rather, to break it down further, the distinct areaof Viking movies, and the rather wonderful Northmen. It’s a genre which, like, say, the aforementioned zombie and found footage ones, simply refuses to go away. The continued success of Game Of Thrones and anything with even the slightest whiff of sword distributing swift justice to hirsute fellas, illustrates that this is still a hugely popular arena. Northmen is above average fare in this sector and has already proved its worth – unsurprisingly given how much blood and guts and killings and all the other necessary ingredients there are in this. As ever, it’s not the stars so much, as the sleeve and the gore quotient that have aided its progress.

Completely at odds with this is the latest from the Lego stable, under its ongoing series of DC Comics-related releases. Justice League Vs Bizarro League sees the DC stable coming up against their slightly odd alter-egos (it’s a long story, one that comic book fans should be acquainted with). It shows there’s no abating in Lego’s quality control – this is once again excellent stuff, with its tongue firmly in its cheek and a healthy lack of reverence for such comic book institutions as Superman and co. We washed it with a seven and a 12-year-old, both of whom absolutely loved it. As anyone with children knows, it’s hard to capture that elusive boys’ market in that age range, Lego, perhaps more than anything else, can achieve that. And what’s more, it’s sense of humour brings in a wider, often older audience too. As good as it gets for pre-teens.

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