The Current War: Director’s Cut

DIGITAL REVIEW: 

Universal;
Drama;
Box Office $5.98 million;
$22.98 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some violent content and thematic elements.
Stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Tom Holland, Matthew Macfadyen, Stanley Townsend, Katherine Waterston, Tuppence Middleton.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Current War tells the story of something we take for granted so much nowadays it would be nearly impossible to imagine life without it — the installation of electrical systems to power society.

The story takes place in the 1880s and 1890s, with arrogant inventor Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and businessman George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) locked in a contest to deliver electricity to America’s cities.

Edison pushes the direct current (DC) system, which requires a new power plant every mile or so. Westinghouse champions alternating current (AC), which can more efficiently transmit power over farther distances with fewer plants, but the technology is unproven.

The ruthless Edison even engages in a PR war, claiming Westinghouse’s AC is too dangerous to be used around populations. He goes so far as to arrange a demonstration of how AC could electrocute animals, prompting the government to ask Edison to create an electric chair to execute death row inmates as a “humane” alternative to hanging.

Westinghouse enlists the aid of futurist Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), the eccentric Serbian whose ideas were rejected by Edison but who may have conceived the breakthrough in constructing a generator capable of powering both lights and machines, when previous AC systems could only turn on the lights (putting AC at a disadvantage to DC from the standpoint of industry).

The Current War is a fascinating retelling of one of the great rivalries of the industrial revolution, marked by engaging performances from Cumberbatch and Shannon as the two men to dream of lighting America’s skies at night.

The story’s focus is more on the personalities of the men involved, rather than getting bogged down in the technical details. For example, there’s no scene that succinctly explains the differences between DC and AC systems, leaving that to inferences and implications spread throughout the film in scenes where discussions of such things warrant it.

What that leaves is an ode to innovation and inventiveness, and the fighting spirit that fueled the men who were inspired to bring the world into the future.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The reason the film has been draped with the “director’s cut” label is almost as interesting a story.

Gomez-Rejon’s original cut played at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017, though he admits it was rushed to meet the deadline and he wasn’t happy with the result. The film was going to be released theatrically by The Weinstein Company, but those plans fell through in light of the sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Contractual obligations regarding the TWC bankruptcy and the sale of its assets prevented Gomez-Rejon from adjusting the film to better meet his vision.

When the film’s new rights-holder emerged in 2019, Gomez-Rejon was able to convince executive producer Martin Scorsese to exercise a clause in his contract that gave Scorsese final cut approval, and Scorsese let Gomez-Rejon make the changes he wanted to make, trimming some scenes and adding others through reshoots. He also got rid of expositional title cards that explained what the stakes were but made the film feel too much like a documentary.

Gomez-Rejon discusses some of this process in his solo commentary for the film, in which he points out where some of the changes took place and how they resulted in a more satisfying film.

Follow us on Instagram

The film’s home video edition also includes three interesting deleted scenes that run about five-and-a-half minutes in total.

While the film will play on any number of platforms, including Vudu or FandangoNow, thanks to Movies Anywhere, the bonus content is accessible through Apple TV (iTunes), as well as disc.

1917

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Universal;
Drama;
Box Office $ 159.23 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray, $44.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for violence, some disturbing images, and language.
Stars George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Director Sam Mendes’ 1917 puts viewers in the midst of World War I with a personal story about two messengers sent to the front lines to prevent a slaughter. Or, at the very least, delay it.

Mendes co-wrote the film, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, based on stories his grandfather told him about serving in the trenches. The plot is simple enough. With the German army having moved its lines to set up an ambush, two British messengers are sent with intelligence from aerial surveillance to call off an attack by another division before 1,600 men are needlessly killed in a battle they have no chance of winning.

The journey proves a harrowing one, filled with booby traps, dogfights, snipers, and stray enemy soldiers lurking about. Of course, the underlying threat is always the nature of war itself, and the prospect of those potentially saved being killed anyway the next time they’re ordered into an attack.

Follow us on Instagram!

The main gimmick of the film is that it is presented in one continuous shot for the two hour-duration, following the soldiers as they receive their orders and throughout the ordeals they encounter. Technically it’s more like two shots, given there’s a very clear break in the story to allow for a time jump, though the camera seemingly holds its position for the duration while it waits for the action to resume.

The key to the film is its technical mastery, from the camerawork to the visual effects, in re-creating a French countryside devastated by the effects of one of the bloodiest wars ever waged. The set design and lighting are impeccable, making this one of the most beautiful war films to hit screens in a long time.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Pulling off the single take involves some visual trickery in stitching together sections of footage blended by wipes and pans, and trying to identify the transition points on subsequent viewings is part of the joy of it.

Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins points out the seams in a very technical-minded solo commentary in which he discusses in great detail the processes used for filming. This is a must-listen to anyone interested in the process of filmmaking.

The other commentary is by Mendes, which also delves into some of the technical details but focuses more on the origins of the story and the performances of his actors. Interestingly, Mendes advocates anachronisms that reflect the time in which the film is made, admitting to purposefully depicting racial minorities serving alongside white soldiers in a segregated army because he wanted to reflect the diversity of modern times.

The only other extras on the Blu-ray are five making-of featurettes that run a total of 38 minutes, and can be played individually or using the disc’s “Play All” option. These cover pretty much all aspects of the production, from Mendes’ conception of the story to creating the WWI period, with extensive interviews from the cast and filmmakers, including a video about Thomas Newman’s amazing musical score.

Universal Makes ‘Current War’ Available Digitally Now, on Disc March 31

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment was made the docudrama The Current War: Director’s Cut available through digital retailers now, and will bring the film to Blu-ray Disc and DVD March 31.

The film chronicles the legendary rivalry between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Nikolai Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) over the best system to provide electricity to the nation.

Follow us on Instagram!

In the 1880s, Edison is on the verge of bringing his direct current (DC) technology to Manhattan, but he is upended by businessman George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), who believes Tesla’s alternating current (AC) is superior.

The cast also includes Tom Holland.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Originally intended for release in 2017 by The Weinstein Co., the film was shelved following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations, and then passed along to other distributors. In the interim, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon re-shot scenes and re-edited the film, resulting in the “Director’s Cut” that was ultimately released to theaters in late 2019, earning $6 million at the domestic box office.

Bonus materials on the home video edition include deleted scenes and a commentary with Gomez-Rejon.

‘The Grinch’ Sliding to Digital Jan. 22, Disc Feb. 5 From Universal

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch is coming to digital (including Movies Anywhere) Jan. 22 and 4K Ultra HD combo pack, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and on demand Feb. 5 from Illumination and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film earned $267.4 million in North American theaters, making it the year’s No. 6 movie, according to Box Office Mojo.

Based on the Dr. Seuss tale, the animated film follows a cynical grouch who goes on a mission to steal Christmas from others only to feel his own heart grow three sizes larger through unexpected friendships. Narrated by Pharrell Williams, The Grinch stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange, “Sherlock”) as the Grinch, who lives a solitary life inside a cave on Mt. Crumpit with his loyal dog, Max, for company. The voice cast also includes Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation,” The Muppets) as Donna Who, Kenan Thompson (“Saturday Night Live”) as Bricklebaum, Cameron Seely (The Greatest Showman) as Cindy-Lou Who and Angela Lansbury (AnastasiaBeauty and the Beast) as the mayor of Whoville.

The home entertainment edition contains more than 60 minutes of bonus content, including three mini-movies: “Dog Days of Winter” starring the Grinch and his heroically loyal dog Max; and “Yellow is the New Black” and “Santa’s Little Helpers,” both starring the Minions. It also includes featurettes and a how-to-draw tutorial.

Bonus features exclusive to disc include the interactive map “Who’s Who in Who-ville” and the “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” lyric video.

Thor: Ragnarok

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 3/6/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $314.97 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.
Stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch.

As with any movie franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become adept and finding formulas that work and sticking to them.

As a case in point, the first two standalone “Thor” movies are generally regarded as among the weaker of the Marvel films. It’s not that they’re bad per se, it’s just that they really didn’t establish themselves much beyond a general space-fantasy epic that connected to elements of the larger Marvel films. As a character, Thor worked better in the “Avengers” films, when he had other heroes to play off of and the films could take advantage of his other-worldly nature for moments of levity and comic relief.

Over the course of 10 years, the MCU as a whole has tended to take itself less seriously, embracing the sense of fun that a comic book movie franchise should have without sacrificing the emotional connection the audience needs to have with its characters.

One of the major contributors to this change in attitude since the second “Thor” movie landed in 2013 was the arrival of two “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, which are not only the most comedy-driven of the Marvel films, but they also tread in the cosmic setting that should have been Thor’s bread and butter. Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming further demonstrated that the MCU could embrace a lighter tone while still remaining true to the source material and the overarching storylines being established for the crossover films.

So, it should really come as no surprise to see Thor: Ragnarok really deconstruct the elements of the MCU’s success, what has worked for Thor in the past, and let director Taika Waititi throw them into a blender to whip up his own unique cocktail for a hilarious big screen comic book thrill ride.

The secret ingredient, as far as Waititi is concerned, it seems, is a healthy pinch of 1970s and 1980s nostalgia, as Thor is essentially re-imagined as a Saturday morning cartoon hero akin to “He-Man” accompanied by a rockin’ techno-synth soundtrack, (from Mark Mothersbaugh, whose name popping up in the credits as the composer certainly elicits a “yeah, that makes sense” reaction).

Waititi does a masterful job of re-focusing the efforts of the “Thor” films while both wrapping up previous storylines (without much fuss) and positioning the characters for the next big crossover, Avengers: Infinity War, which arrives April 27.

Thor himself is now much more irreverent, with the script playing to Chris Hemsworth’s natural comedic talents. As for finding others for Thor to play with, this film offers a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, but really hits a home run by pairing Thor with Hulk, taking advantage of a long-running rivalry between the two characters. A battle between Thor and Hulk in the gladiator pit of an alien world (inspired by the popular “Planet Hulk” comic book storyline) perfectly positions this film as a counterpoint to Captain America: Civil War, in which neither character appeared (as they were off conducting adventures in space, it would appear).

Thor’s only fighting Hulk, though, in order to escape from confinement and recruit a team to take back Asgard from his sister, Hela, the goddess of death. Hela (Cate Blanchett in a juicy performance that borders between menacing and sexy) had been imprisoned by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) for being too cruel, but manages to escape to claim her father’s throne.

The setting of the gladiator planet lets the filmmakers indulge themselves in the colorful renderings of legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby’s designs, and also provide an excuse to just insert Jeff Goldblum into the film (as the Grandmaster of the games) and allow him to just be his zany self, much to the delight of the audience.

The film is a visual spectacle, reminiscent of cult favorites such as Flash Gordon or Heavy Metal, and would be a spectacular showcase for home theater 3D effects were the format not being phased out (at least in the United States. All-region 3D Blu-rays are available from overseas markets such as Europe and Australia).

The home video offers extensive bonus materials, with some exclusive to the digital versions.

The highlight of the presentation on all platforms is probably the six-minute “Team Darryl” short film, the third installment in a spoof series about Thor’s roommate on Earth. This time, with Thor off the planet, Darryl’s new roommate is the Grandmaster, and any excuse for more Goldblum in any setting is a good one.

Also included are about 40 minutes of behind the scenes featurettes, with a three-minute video about the Thor-Hulk relationship presented as a digital exclusive. Other featurettes profile the new female characters, and look at many of the new elements this film brings to the franchise. There’s also a five-minute appreciation of the 10th anniversary of the MCU.

Offering digital exclusives is fine in this case, since the disc comes with access to the digital copies, but the extras are structured differently depending on where you try to watch them, particularly where the deleted scenes are concerned.

On disc, the deleted scenes are pretty straightforward, offered one at a time. Many of them are extended sequences from an earlier conception of the film before story elements were streamlined. So the glimpse of that alternate version is fascinating on its own. The deleted scenes run about 15 minutes, compared with less than six minutes on the disc.

Note that Vudu presents the deleted scenes as a single featurette with them strung together, ending with the fun Easter Egg reference to another Marvel movie that has created some online buzz.

Lastly, there’s an introduction and solo commentary by Waititi, in which he offers a few insights about the making of the film, but mostly maintains the jokey nature he often displays in public. He describes many scenes with tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, hypes up his own skills as both a director and actor, and spends considerable time allowing his young daughter onto the microphone and reacting to her rather than what’s on the screen. No doubt fans of Waititi’s brand of performance art will eat this up, but for general MCU fans, it seems like a missed opportunity to offer a good, in depth discussion about the film.