Zack Snyder’s Justice League

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Action;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for violence and some language.

Stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Diane Lane, Harry Lennix, Billy Crudup, Willem Dafoe, Joe Morton, Kiersey Clemons, Jared Leto, Jesse Eisenberg, Joe Manganiello, Peter Guinness, Ray Porter, Ciaran Hinds.

The 2017 theatrical version of Justice League foisted upon audiences was undoubtedly a compromised film, the result of a now infamous clash between creative vision and studio sensibilities.

Warner Bros., having been lapped in the superhero shared universe race several times over by rival Marvel, was looking to catch up quickly with its own DC Comics-based franchise. But the studio lost faith in director Zack Snyder, whose efforts in building the universe from the ground up — 2013’s Man of Steel and 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — were met with mixed reaction at best. The studio brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to help “guide” Snyder in completing the third installment of his trilogy, Justice League, which would see Batman and Wonder Woman recruit additional superheroes to help fight an alien invasion.

Snyder, wary of the studio’s attempts to rein him in, ultimately left the film following the death of his daughter — to whom the new longer cut is dedicated.

Whedon, under a mandate to deliver a taut, two-hour action film, re-wrote Chris Terrio’s screenplay and oversaw extensive reshoots that it is clear now were intended to bridge story points between the action scenes that Snyder had shot. Whedon, known for infusing his projects with witty banter and offbeat humor, also added levity to Justice League to the point where it was much lighter in tone compared with the world established in Snyder’s earlier films. Whedon’s version ultimately did the job of telling the story it needed to, but didn’t satisfy many viewers who had bigger expectations based on what had come before.

And thus, the “Release the Snyder Cut” movement was born, fueled by rumors that the studio was sitting on a longer version of the film turned in by Snyder before he left. While Snyder had created a rough cut of the film before most of the visual effects were completed, the so-called “Snyder Cut” of Justice League was hardly in a state to be seen by the public, and thus its release was little more than a pipe dream without a studio willing to dedicate the resources to finish an alternate cut of a film it had already wrote off.

Then came the deep pockets of HBO Max, the new streaming service from Warner’s parent company, which had not only the deep pockets to finish the Snyder Cut, but also the desire to cash in on the hype surrounding it. The cost to complete Snyder’s version was reportedly north of $70 million (the 2017 theatrical release earned $657.9 million globally against a budget that ballooned to $300 million).

The obvious parallel here is with the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, but the Snyder Cut make that project seem like a lark.

Snyder’s four-hour director’s cut of Justice League plays like a completely different film, treating the story like the epic the theatrical version showed little interest in being.

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Now, admittedly, it’s unlikely that this version of the film, absent studio meddling, would have seen the inside of theaters back in the day either. For starters, a four-hour superhero movie based on Snyder’s take on the characters would have been a big ask of the audience, and he surely would have trimmed it to something in the range of two-and-a-half to three hours, just like he did with BvS (with the longer, better cut available on home video). Certainly, there are several scenes in Snyder’s Justice League that will give it a reputation for indulgence but could easily be cut for a theatrical release, but play better in a streaming format where binging serialized TV shows for six, seven, eight hours at a time (with breaks here and there) is commonplace.

Indeed, the original plan for Snyder’s Justice League was to present it as several episodes, like a TV show, but vagaries in Hollywood contract law supposedly led to the decision to deliver it as a single movie, albeit segmented into six succinctly labeled chapters and an epilogue.

Regardless, the film flows just fine even at four hours, and there is no confusion about what is happening or why the characters are motivated to do what they do. Snyder’s vision is to present the superheroes of today as the modern extension of the legends of old, drawing a direct line between classic mythology and their comic book counterparts.

The big beneficiary of all this is Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, who is given a fully fleshed out backstory that is barely touched upon in the theatrical cut, as well as a full character arc as he learns to accept and understand his powers.

Of course, if Warner had been patient enough to follow Marvel’s formula, Cyborg likely would have gotten his own origin movie before this, negating the need to devote so much screen time to it here. But that’s neither here nor there at this point.

The Snyder Cut is revelatory when compared with the Whedon Cut, which replaced a number of scenes with reshot versions that were similar but not as good, probably to add more of that Whedonesque humor. Fantastic scenes of endearing character interactions that would have added depth and meaning were removed entirely. Instead, Whedon added scenes showing a family imperiled by Steppenwolf’s plan who had to be saved by the League in the final battle. There’s no distracting family in the Snyder Cut, which instead takes the opportunity to foreshadow storylines that were intended for future sequels.

Another change Snyder made was reverting to the musical score by Tom Holkenborg, who continues the musical style established in Snyder’s previous entries. Whedon had replaced it with a more conventional but still serviceable score by Danny Elfman, who reused a number of more iconic themes for the characters from earlier franchises that played on audience nostalgia for the characters as a way to shortcut any development of them as specific to the Snyderverse.

Also, since he’s using his original footage and ignoring the reshoots, Snyder didn’t have to use digital effects to remove the mustache Henry Cavill couldn’t shave off while filming Mission: Impossible — Fallout, famously leading to his awkward-looking mouth in the 2017 version.

Another advantage Snyder’s cut has is that we’ve gotten to explore the DC universe a bit more since 2017, most notably with the 2018 Aquaman movie that really fleshed out Jason Momoa’s character and backstory, and gels nicely with his development here.

Snyder also took the opportunity to fix his presentation of the films’ villains. The CGI for the primary antagonist, Steppenwolf, has been reworked to be much more menacing and looks a lot better. Snyder also gives the audience a chance to see Darkseid, the legendary DC comics warlord who serves as Steppenwolf’s master and was reduced to just one mention of his name in Whedon’s cut.

Steppenwolf’s plan, as in the theatrical cut, is to collect the three “Mother Boxes” on Earth that when united will allow him to re-create Darkseid’s homeworld of Apokolips on Earth. The Mother Boxes were left behind when Darkseid’s first invasion of Earth was repelled thousands of years earlier, and thought lost until Superman’s death at the end of BvS caused them to reactivate, drawing Steppenwolf to them.

We also get an expansion of the nightmare future hinted at in BvS, in which Batman leads a rebellion against a Superman who has become a tyrant ruling over the wasteland Earth has become as a result of Darkseid’s invasion. This particularly impacts the scene of Superman’s resurrection, which plays very differently now that we have the expanded context behind it. Rather than Superman’s revival serving as another plot device in the battle against Steppenwolf, here it is re-framed as a complex ethical question about whether bringing Superman back to life in order to win the battle of today will ultimately lead to the very dystopia his resurrection is meant to prevent — and whether Batman’s desire to atone for his guilt over Superman’s death in BvS is blinding him to this potential outcome.

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Snyder presents his version in the 4:3 format most viewers will associate with the standard square ratio of classic non-widescreen TVs. That means vertical black bars to the right and left of the movie. While this might look odd to viewers accustomed to widescreen, Snyder’s framing actually presents more of the image as originally filmed. The square frame was chosen with Imax exhibitions in mind, since true Imax screens are higher than a typical theater. A standard “widescreen” print of the film is then made by cropping from the top and bottom of the picture. By eschewing this process, Snyder is instead offering us everything in the frame he shot.

Time will tell if we get any follow-ups to plot points developed in Snyder’s Cut that otherwise fell by the wayside in Warner’s DC universe. But even if we don’t the complete Snyder Cut on its own is a triumph of a filmmaker’s singular vision, and the story surrounding it a fascinating glimpse into the process of the Hollywood machine and the often-conflicting instincts of those in charge of it.

The 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Disc versions offer the film spread over two discs. The first disc of both the 4K and regular Blu-ray versions contains the set’s lone extra: a 24-minute featurette of Snyder reflecting on his experience making his trilogy of superhero movies, and the fan effort to bring it to fruition with his vision of Justice League.

Also, the discs do not include a code for a digital copy of the film, so the digital version remains exclusive to HBO Max. The disc does include an insert with an ad touting HBO Max and the black-and-white version of the movie, Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Justice Is Gray.

Originally published as a streaming review March 18, 2021.

Sony Pictures, Netflix Ink Exclusive U.S. Movie Distribution Deal

In a throwback to a former landmark deal between Netflix and Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment has signed a distribution deal with the SVOD behemoth for exclusive U.S. access to Sony theatrical releases following the box office and home entertainment windows.

The agreement, which begins in 2022, will replace Sony’s existing digital deal with Lionsgate-owned Starz. Sony, unlike other major studios, does not have its own branded streaming video service. Financial terms were not disclosed.

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The deal will include upcoming Sony releases Morbius, starring Oscar winner Jared Leto, and Uncharted, featuring “Spider-Man” actor Tom Holland. Sony, which will also produce movies for Netflix as part of the streamer’s 60+ movie releases per year, will give Netflix access to its lucrative Spider-Man franchise.

Other tentpole titles include Where the Crawdads Sing and Bullet Train, which will be among the initial 2022 offerings. They will be followed by continued entries in Sony Pictures’ rejuvenated slate of IP, including the sequel to Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and several more SPE films featuring Marvel characters, including future installments of Venom and Spider-Man; and expected follow-ups for the “Jumanji” and “Bad Boys” franchises. Netflix will also license rights to select titles from SPE’s vast movie library.

“This not only allows us to bring Sony’s impressive slate of film franchises and new IP to Netflix in the U.S., but it also establishes a new source of first run films for Netflix movie lovers,” Scott Stubler, head of global films at Netflix, said in a statement.

Sony will also offer Netflix a first look at any films it intends to make directly for streaming or decides later to license for streaming, and Netflix has committed to make a number of those films over the course of the deal. Any such direct-to-streaming projects will be additive to SPE’s full 15-20 title theatrical film slate, which will continue at its current volume. Netflix recently acquired rights to Sony animated comedy The Mitchells vs. The Machines.

“Netflix has been a terrific partner as we continue to expand our relationship,” said Keith Le Goy, president of worldwide distribution and networks for Sony Pictures Entertainment. “This exciting agreement further demonstrates the importance of that content to our distribution partners as they grow their audiences and deliver the very best in entertainment.”

Netflix’s 2016 deal with Disney afforded the streamer exclusive access to the studio’s movies — in a deal that reportedly cost Netflix $350 million annually. That turned out to be a boon for Netflix as it had exclusive rights to Disney’s burgeoning Marvel Studios’ titles — a reality that help skyrocket subscriptions. Disney did not renew the agreement when it decided to launch branded SVOD platform Disney+.

Warner’s ‘The Little Things’ Due on PVOD March 19, Digital April 20, Disc May 4

The crime drama The Little Things is coming to premium VOD rental March 19 at $19.99, digital sale April 20, and Blu-ray and DVD May 4.

The film debuted in theaters and on WarnerMedia’s HBO Max SVOD service Jan. 29.

The psychological thriller stars Academy Award winners Denzel Washington (Training Day, Glory), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club). It follows Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon (Washington), who is sent to Los Angeles for what should have been a quick evidence-gathering assignment. Instead, he becomes embroiled in the search for a killer who is terrorizing the city. Leading the hunt is L.A. Sheriff Department Sergeant Jim Baxter (Malek), impressed with Deke’s cop instincts, unofficially engages his help. But as they track the killer, Baxter is unaware that the investigation is dredging up echoes of Deke’s past, uncovering disturbing secrets that could threaten more than his case.

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The film was written and directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder) based on his own original screenplay.

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.

‘Requiem for a Dream’ Director’s Cut on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Oct. 13

Lionsgate will release Requiem for a Dream on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray for its 20th anniversary Oct. 13.

The combo pack will include the director’s cut of Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel about four people pursuing their visions of happiness through drugs, plummeting with their dreams into a nightmarish, gut-wrenching freefall.

The cast includes Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans.

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The 4K disc includes Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound with a transfer supervised by cinematographer Matthew Libatique, plus four new featurettes: “On Set: 1999,” “Transcendent Moments: The Score of Requiem for a Dream,” “Ellen Burstyn on Requiem for a Dream” and “Through Their Eyes: Revisiting Requiem for a Dream.”

The standard Blu-ray included in the combo pack includes legacy extras such as “The Making of Requiem for a Dream” featurette, the “Memories, Dreams, & Addictions: Ellen Burstyn Interviews Hubert Selby Jr.” featurette, deleted scenes with optional commentary by Aronofsky, and a marketing gallery

Both the 4K and regular Blu-ray discs include separate audio commentaries by Aronofsky and Libatique.

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Blade Runner 2049

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 1/16/18;
Warner;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $91.95 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto.

What’s remarkable about director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is how seamlessly it returns us to the dystopian future established in the original 1982 film. Set 30 years later, 2049 manages to both tell an engaging story in its own right while providing deeper context and reframing the narrative of the first film — no easy feat considering the landmark cult status it has achieved.

Harrison Ford returns as Deckard, the police officer in the first film tasked with hunting down rogue replicants — specially engineered not-quite-humans designed for labor in off-world colonies. While the character doesn’t appear until well into the running time and his role is relatively limited, his presence does provide a nice sense of continuity. And the lingering question of the ages about whether Deckard himself was a replicant is dealt with here in a way that makes sense for the story this film is trying to tell.

Another source of stability between the two films is co-writer Hampton Fancher, who also co-wrote the original film and clearly had more to say about this world, which was originally adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The sequel follows a new cop, Ryan Gosling as K, a replicant Blade Runner tasked with hunting down his own kind. K stumbles upon a 30-year-old mystery that suggests replicants can reproduce biologically, a fact that would have enormous repercussions on society. His discovery triggers a race to find the child, between a police chief (Robin Wright) who wants to eliminate any hint of the replicants’ humanity for fear it may lead to a revolution, and the replicants’ billionaire breeder (Jared Leto), who sees natural biology as the key to growing a replicant population big enough to enable mankind to achieve its true potential.

At the heart of the story is the question of identity and individuality, and whether true personhood can be achieved artificially. Can K truly find meaning in his life, or is he only programmed to think that he can? Contrasting K’s flesh-and-blood interactions is a companion hologram named Joi (Ana de Armas), who always comes across as the perfect girlfriend with just the right words of encouragement to push K forward. Is her sentience real, thus providing some legitimacy for K’s affection for her? Or is she merely a function of very sophisticated algorithms? Does it even matter?

While the film is set in 2049, it is not necessarily a vision of the future based on how things are now, but more of an extrapolation of the vision of the future of the original film from 1982 (where newspapers were still a thing in 2019!), with maybe a few real-world influences from the intervening time period.

Every character has a role to play in this parable, and everything they do has some connection to the film’s larger themes, even if they seem superfluous at the time. Villeneuve with Arrival established that he is a master of visual landscapes, and the settings here really allow him to indulge those instincts, embellishing the style that Ridley Scott established 35 years ago.

If there’s a major drawback to the film, it’s that Villeneuve is quite deliberate in his pacing, and his long establishing shots of the bleak future world are a primary contributor to the 163-minute run time, about 45 minutes longer than its predecessor. But there is splendor in the visual effects, and fans of the original will no doubt appreciate how the follow-up takes the time to breathe. It is certainly a unique feature of the home video formats that viewers who don’t find themselves enthralled by longer films can chart their own course through it.

The Blu-ray includes three short films (originally released online in the lead-up to the new film) that serve as prequels to 2049, filling in parts of the 30-year gap in the timeline. For those who picked up the disc for their first viewing of 2049, I’d recommend a rewatch of the “Final Cut” of the original first, followed by these shorts in chronological order.

The 2022 short is an anime that delves into a massive blackout that will have a profound impact on the events of 2049. This picks up with the 2036 short, which features Leto’s character waxing about why he wants to create a new breed of replicant. Finally, the 2048 short features Dave Bautista as a replicant defending a family from thugs, and leads into the opening scene of 2049.

The rest of the bonus materials offer about 50 minutes of short featurettes about the making of the film and the advancement of the concepts introduced in the original movie.