Spider-Man: No Way Home

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 4/12/22;
Sony Pictures/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $803.82 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99, Blu-ray, $45.99 UH BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments.
Stars Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Benedict Wong, Tony Revolori, Marisa Tomei, Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire.

The story of Spider-Man: No Way Home hinges on a plot device that could have been one of the greatest surprises in cinematic history. Instead, it was one of the worst-kept secrets in Hollywood that previous Spider-Man actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would reprise their roles alongside current Spider-Man Tom Holland to fight a variety of villains from all the “Spider-Man” movies since the first film in 2002.

It wasn’t as if Sony’s marketing department didn’t try to keep it quiet. Images of the multiple Spider-Men were omitted from trailers, and Garfield resorted to blatantly lying in interviews in which he said he wasn’t involved, despite all the widespread rumors to the contrary, and in some cases photographic evidence.

Of course, the momentary shock value for such a reveal can only add so much to the viewing experience, and the film’s immense box office fortunes don’t seem to have suffered in the least. And knowing of the eventual Spidey super team-up doesn’t detract at all from the emotional resonance that elevates Spider-Man: No Way Home into more than just a fantastic superhero action movie.

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The film is the 27th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and picks up immediately following the events of 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, as Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is publicly identified as being the masked webslinger.

As his life spirals out of control due to people knowing that he’s Spider-Man, Peter asks his Avengers cohort Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to reset everyone’s memories so they don’t remember his secret anymore. But the spell becomes unstable and breaks down the barriers between different realities, drawing in villains such as Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina) and Sandman from the Sam Raimi-directed movies, and Electro (Jamie Foxx) and the Lizard from the “Amazing Spider-Man” films.

Rather than send them back to their universes only to die fighting their versions of Spider-Man, Peter endeavors to cure them first, a decision that backfires and results in profound tragedy.

However, the spell also brought Maguire’s and Garfield’s Spideys from those universes, giving Holland’s Spider-Man the allies he needs to stop the team of villains from doing more damage. It feels a lot like one of those “Doctor Who” anniversary specials in which previous versions of the Doctor joined the current one for a grand adventure.

The film works as a celebration of Spider-Man and his legacy in film, tying together the entire franchise in a way that not only continues the development of Holland’s Spider-Man, but also enriches the story arcs of Maguire’s and, especially, Garfield’s.

Spider-Man: No Way Home looks amazing, with several instantly iconic sequences, and seamless visual effects that really make it seem as if Molina and Dafoe were just plucked out of the earlier movies and placed into this one.

Another standout is the musical score by Michael Giacchino, who not only continues to develop the progression of his themes from the first two MCU Spidey movies, but gets to reuse his Dr. Strange themes as well. As if those weren’t enough, he also incorporates some of Danny Elfman’s themes from the Maguire films, and the late James Horner’s wonderful theme from The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s leitmotif on overdrive.

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The Blu-ray includes a solid hour-and-a-half of bonus materials, including seven behind-the-scenes featurettes. The six-minute “A Spectacular Spider-Journey With Tom Holland” tracks the journey of its star since he joined the MCU, while the seven-minute “Graduation Day” looks at the evolution of all the recurring characters. The five-minute “Enter Strange” examines the wizard’s role in the story, while the six-and-a-half-minute “Action Choreography Across the Multiverse” looks at the film’s stunt work. The eight-minute “Realities Collide, Spiders Unite” looks at how the film’s legendary team-up came to be, while the seven-minute “Weaving Jon Watt’s Web” focuses on the director’s experiences making the three MCU “Spider-Man” films.

The best extras are two panel discussions with the cast. The nine-minute “The Sinister Summit” features the villains of the film — Dafoe, Molina and Foxx. But the main event is the seven-and-a-half-minute “A Meeting of the Spiders” with Holland, Garfield and Maguire discussing their camaraderie.

A nearly five-minute featurette informs viewers of many of the references to previous Spider-Man films and comics that have been layered into the film.

Another fun inclusion are three in-universe story videos about Spider-Man from TheDailyBugle.net, running a total of about four minutes.

There are also two videos comparing the stunt previsualization with the final result, running three-and-a-half-minutes.

A section of promotional materials includes three short clips: Holland and co-star Jacob Batalon taking a lie detector about their experiences on the film, running two minutes; a minute clip of Holland’s press tour to Paris; and a minute of the filmmakers raving about the benefits of filming in the state of Georgia.

Rounding out the extras is a four-minute bloopers/gag reel.

In the 4K combo pack, all the bonus materials are on the Blu-ray disc. The 4K disc doesn’t include any extras.

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Headed to Digital March 15, Disc April 12

The Marvel Studios film Spider-Man: No Way Home will head to digital March 15, and DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc April 12 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

As the film begins, the friendly neighborhood hero’s identity is revealed, bringing his superhero responsibilities into conflict with his normal life and putting those he cares about most at risk, including MJ (Zendaya). When he enlists Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) help to restore his secret, the spell tears a hole in the world, releasing the most powerful villains who’ve ever fought a Spider-Man in any universe. Peter (Tom Holland) will have to overcome his greatest challenge yet, which will not only forever alter his own future but the future of the Multiverse. 

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Bonus materials on the Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD and digital editions include a bloopers and gag reel; alternate reality Easter eggs; seven behind-the-scenes featurettes; and two panels. DVD bonus features include two behind-the-scenes featurettes.

What If…?

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Animated;
Not rated.
Voices of Jeffrey Wright, Benedict Cumberbatch, Hayley Atwell, Lake Bell, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Chris Hemsworth, Kurt Russell, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson.

This Disney+ animated series explores what could have happened to the Marvel Cinematic Universe had certain moments gone differently.

The nine episodes are narrated by Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher, an omniscient being of immense power who observes the various worlds of the multiverse (which was supposedly created by the events of “Loki”).

Most episodes offer the creators a chance to indulge themselves with references to the comics they couldn’t make before, or just have fun with character confrontations that haven’t been seen before (such as an epic battle between Thor and Captain Marvel when the Asgardian wants to turn Earth into a 24-hour party planet).

The first episode offers a fun twist on Captain America: The First Avenger, as Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) ends up as the super soldier, while still-skinny Steve Rogers gets a massive Iron Man-type suit of armor.

Another episode is a dark tale about a man’s inability to let go, as it shows how dangerous Doctor Strange can be if he turns his powers toward selfish interests.

Other episodes feature alternate versions of The Avengers, and of course there’s an episode (based on a popular comic book storyline) that basically turns all the heroes into zombies.

Among the most bittersweet episodes are those that feature Chadwick Boseman in his final performances as T’Challa, recorded prior to his death from cancer. One speech in particular hits hard as he discusses the afterlife as a new beginning.

The animation style is crisp and colorful, though not always the best in capturing the appearance of the actors who play them in live-action.

Overall, the show is mostly a love letter to longtime MCU fans, who should appreciate the mostly fun but often dark chance to see the franchise in a different light.

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The Courier

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Lionsgate;
Drama;
Box Office $6.6 million;
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence, partial nudity, brief strong language, and smoking throughout.
Stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley, Angus Wright, Maria Mironova, Kirill Pirogov, Zeljko Ivanek.

The engrossing Cold War docudrama The Courier examines a lesser-known chapter of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The film takes place in the early 1960s, when a high ranking Soviet army officer named Col. Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) becomes wary of his country’s military boasting and makes overtures to help the West.

The American CIA and Britain’s MI6 soon organize an effort to utilize him as a mole, but don’t have any operatives who could credibly infiltrate Moscow to make contact with him.

So, they recruit an industrial salesman named Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has already made business inroads selling supplies to communist countries, to proffer a similar business arrangement in the U.S.S.R. as a front for obtaining state secrets from Penkovsky. As an amateur to the clandestine services, Wynne fears for his safety at first, but comes to embrace his role ferrying packages from Penkovsky to the Western intelligence agencies. Some of the documents tip off American spy planes about where to look for missile bases on Cuba, leading to the confrontation that ultimately would lead the Soviets to back down and set up improved channels of communications to stave off the threat of nuclear war between the superpowers.

Eventually, Wynne and Penkovsky develop a mutual respect and friendship that is tested when the KGB begins to suspect their treachery. Realizing the heat now on Wynne, his MI6 overseer pulls him off the case and sends him back to his life, much to the chagrin of the CIA liaison (Rachel Brosnahan). However, Wynne volunteers for one last mission with hopes to help Penkovsky defect to the West and live out his dream of setting up his family on a ranch in Montana.

Cumberbatch blends naturally into the role of the earnest yet wary businessman thrust into an impossible situation. Why based on actual events, the film works more as an absorbing spy thriller than a history lesson, since a number of key details were fictionalized for dramatic effect. For instance, Brosnahan’s CIA officer character is completely made up, constructed to inject a woman into the mix, according to the screenwriter.

This revelation and many more details about the production are included with the lone extra on the Blu-ray, a comprehensive 29-minute making-of featurette.

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Cold War Thriller ‘The Courier’ Due on Digital and Disc June 1

The Cold War espionage thriller The Courier will come out on digital, DVD and Blu-ray June 1 from Lionsgate.

In this true-life spy thriller, unassuming British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) becomes entangled in one of the greatest international conflicts in history. Recruited by MI6 and a CIA operative (Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Wynne forms a covert partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), and both men risk everything in a danger-fraught race against time to provide the intelligence needed to prevent nuclear confrontation and end the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Extras include the featurette “On the Brink: Making The Courier.”

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Benedict Cumberbatch Thriller ‘The Courier’ Coming to PVOD April 16

The Benedict Cumberbatch thriller The Courier will come out via premium VOD rental April 16 from Lionsgate.

The film is currently in theaters.

In this true-life Cold War spy thriller, unassuming British businessman Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch) becomes entangled in one of the greatest international conflicts in history. Recruited by MI6 and a CIA operative (Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe winner Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Wynne forms a covert partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), and both men risk everything in a danger-fraught race against time to provide the intelligence needed to prevent nuclear confrontation and end the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Jodie Foster Film ‘The Mauritanian’ to Debut on PVOD March 2

STX Films’ The Mauritanian will debut on premium VOD March 2 at $19.99 for a 48-hour rental period.

The film earned Golden Globe nominations for leads Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald, The Mauritanian is based on the book Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. It’s the true story of Slahi’s fight for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the U.S. Government for years. Alone and afraid, Slahi (Rahim) finds allies in defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) who battle the U.S. Government in a fight for justice that tests their commitment to the law and their client. Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by a military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), uncovers shocking truths.

The film also stars Zachary Levi and Saamer Usmani.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.