Possessor (Uncut)

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Well Go USA;
Thriller;
Box Office $0.75 million;
$29.98 Blu-ray, $34.98 UHD BD
Not rated.
Stars Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kaniehtiio, Horn, Raoul Bhaneja, Gage Graham-Arbuthnot, Gabrielle Graham.

Director Brandon Cronenberg, son of legendary body horror filmmaker David Cronenberg, follows in his father’s footsteps with an absolute mind-trip of a sci-fi thriller.

The film deals with assassins who can take over the minds of others and use their bodies to commit the crimes for which they’ve been hired. The hosts are typically people associated with the victim, allowing them to get close enough for the hit while covering the tracks of those behind it. The hosts are then made to kill themselves so the possessors return to their own bodies.

However, those who possess the victims sometimes lose themselves in the alternate identity, requiring a strict regimen of psychological monitoring.

One such assassin is Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), whose increasing emotional detachment leads her to struggle to remember how to be herself when with her husband and son, while her thoughts are dominated by violent imagery. Her boss (Jennifer Jason Leigh) would prefer she didn’t allow her personal attachments to interfere with her job.

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The film is presented in a sort of alternate 2008, where the only change from our world is the possession technology — a covert team subdues the intended victim and implants a device in their brains that allows the assassin to control their bodies remotely using a VR headset.

Vos’ latest mission is to take over the life of a man named Colin Tate (Christopher Abbot) in order to kill his girlfriend’s father (Sean Bean), a wealthy CEO. The attack is brutal — an ingenious use of makeup and puppet effects. However, Vos has trouble forcing Colin to kill himself, and as a result he begins to take back control of his body.

What follows is a visual whirlwind of filmed psychosis, as the struggle between Vos and Colin plays out both in his head through grotesque but memorable symbolic imagery, and in the real world as the company attempts to contain him while freeing her.

Loaded with violence and unerotic sex, Possessor is not for the faint of heart. The film has been marketed as “uncut” to indicate it’s the unrated version that ran at film festivals and is considered to be the definitive version by the filmmakers, distinguishing it from a slightly shorter ‘R’-rated version that played in some theaters and is available separately on Blu-ray.

The uncut Blu-ray is available on its own and as part of the 4K Ultra HD combo pack. The 4K disc includes just the unrated cut and no extras.

The Blu-ray includes three of the films’ trailers, plus three behind-the-scenes featurettes that run under 15 minutes each — one about the story, one about the psychological themes of the film, and one about the visual effects.

There are also three deleted scenes running a total of eight minutes that detail more about the possessor process and its psychological effects.

Mank

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Netflix;
Drama;
Rated ‘R’ for some language.
Stars Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard, Tuppence Middleton, Joseph Cross, Sam Troughton, Toby Leonard Moore, Ferdinand Kingsley, Tom Burke, Charles Dance.

David Fincher’s Mank is as much a rebuke of the politics of Hollywood as it is a peek behind the scenes at the creative process that led to Citizen Kane, which is often regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

The film’s look and feel is definitely an homage to Kane, from its black-and-white photography, to the framing of specific shots, to a time-shifting narrative structure, and a sound mix that seems to emulate classic films. The only thing Fincher seemingly didn’t do was crop the film to a 4:3 aspect ratio.

The docu-drama focuses on the career of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who won an Oscar co-authoring the Kane screenplay with Orson Welles. In the film, Mank (Gary Oldman) works on the Kane script while recovering from a car accident at a retreat in California’s Mojave Desert, and recounts to those around him who inspired the characters in it, leading to flashbacks to the events in question.

Citizen Kane, of course, is famously based on publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies, played here by Charles Dance and Amanda Seyfried. For Oldman’s Mank, Hearst’s coziness with Hollywood generated enough resentment to inspire him to pick him apart in his screenplay.

The inciting event in particular seems to be the 1934 California gubernatorial election, in which Hearst and Hollywood backed Republican incumbent Frank Merriam over the Democrats’ nominee, socialist author Upton Sinclair. Mank sympathized with Sinclair’s anti-poverty positions and took offense to Hearst’s bankrolling of propaganda films by MGM, Mank’s home studio.

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Fincher’s depiction of classic Hollywood will be catnip for film fans, particularly viewers with an affinity for Citizen Kane, but also history buffs in general. On the other hand, ruminations about Mank’s health, his alcohol dependency and frictions between him and the studio system tend to drag on a bit.

The depiction of Hollywood’s attempt to exert its influence over voters is one of those “the more things change, the more they stay the same” kind of moments, and certainly gives the film a timely quality despite its period setting. While some might see Mank’s moral stance as a left-wing defense of the little guy against the big bad corporate machine, it’s hard not to look at the unseemly alliance between Hearst and MGM chief Louis B. Mayer and not see parallels with the media and entertainment establishment’s distaste for Donald Trump (despite whatever message Fincher intended to relay).

The film’s relationship between politics and screenwriting in some ways brings to mind another recent film about a legendary screen scribe, 2015’s Trumbo, about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Oldman’s attempts to capture the affectations of a mid-20th-century Hollywood screenwriter are in many ways similar to Bryan Cranston’s efforts to do the same as Trumbo.

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The other aspect of Mank that will have historians poring over it is the question of how much of the Citizen Kane screenplay can actually be attributed to Welles. Mank seems to want to give most of the credit to its title subject, depicting Welles as a collaborator who earns a contractual credit but mostly calls to check in on Mank’s progress and edits the final product for being too long.

The screenplay for Mank was originally written in the 1990s by Jack Fincher, David’s father who died in 2003. He based the premise on an article from the 1970s that questioned whether Welles had anything to do with the Kane screenplay, a notion at Welles supporters have attacked vociferously.

The subject of the making of Citizen Kane was previously the focus of the 1999 HBO movie RKO 281 (a reference to Kane’s production number). However, that movie focused more on the collaboration between the two men, and attributed the rancor toward Hearst more toward Welles, while Mank, played there by John Malkovich, wanted to ease up — a stark contrast to Oldman’s version. Interestingly, the RKO 281 DVD is actually included as a bonus with some Citizen Kane boxed sets.

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.