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.

‘Shazam!’ Flying to Home Video in July From Warner

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the DC Comics superhero movie Shazam! digitally July 2, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray July 16.

The film tells the story of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a teenager in foster care who is empowered by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to become the superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi) to defend the realms of magic from the evil Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong).

The cast also includes Jack Dylan Grazer, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews.

The film earned $138.2 million at the domestic box office.

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The character first appeared in comic books published by Fawcett in 1940 under the name Captain Marvel, and was later acquired by DC.

To avoid confusion with the Marvel Comics character of Captain Marvel (whose own movie will be available for digital download May 28 and on disc June 11), DC eventually changed the character’s name to Shazam, the word Billy says to transform into the adult superhero (also the name of the Wizard who gives Billy his powers).

Shazam is an acronym derived from the names of the six mythological heroes from which the character draws his power: the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury.

The Shazam! Blu-ray and special-edition DVD will include an exclusive Shazam motion comic, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a breakdown of the carnival scene, and the featurettes “The Magical World of Shazam,” “Super Fun Zac,” “Shazamily Values” and “Who is Shazam?”

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of Shazam! will feature Dolby Vision HDR and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

A 3D Blu-ray is listed for preorder at WBshop.com as well.

Paramount Releasing ‘The Catcher Was a Spy’ on Disc and Digital Oct. 2

Paramount Home Media Distribution will release the stranger-than-fiction espionage thriller The Catcher Was a Spy on DVD and digitally Oct. 2.

Based on a true story, the film stars Paul Rudd as Moe Berg, a professional baseball player who became a spy during World War II. The cast also includes Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Jeff Daniels, Guy Pearce and Paul Giamatti.

Comcast Cable Getting Epix

Comcast May 22 announced it will afford Xfinity subscribers direct-access to Epix — the premium TV network recently sold by Lionsgate to MGM, beginning June 13.

Epix’s programming, which includes original series “Deep State,” and more than 2,000 feature films such as FencesArrival, and films from the “James Bond,” “Star Trek” and “Rocky” franchiseswill be available across all Xfinity TV platforms, including the voice-enabled X1 platform, as well as on devices in and out of home via the Xfinity Stream app and Web portal.

Epix joins Netflix and YouTube as major third-party home entertainment brands granted access within Comcast Cable’s walled ecosystem.

“Our goal has always been to offer our customers more choices and the ability to access all the programming they desire when and where they want it,” Daniel Spinosa, VP of video entertainment services at Comcast Cable, said in a statement.

Other original EPix programing coming to Comcast includes the second season of dark comedy, “Get Shorty,” starring Ray Romano and Chris O’Dowd, and season three of CIA drama, “Berlin Station.” In addition, a new version of the seminal competition series, “The Contender” from executive producer Mark Burnett, will debut later this year.