[Disc Reviews] New period dramas and feline oddities grasp this week’s Blu-ray entertainment

0

Preston Barta // Features Editor

All the days of the week may be bleeding into each other at this point, but if you notice new movies becoming available online for home entertainment, it’s probably Tuesday.

LITTLE WOMEN (2019)

Rated PG, 135 minutes.
Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse RonanEmma WatsonFlorence PughEliza ScanlenTimothée ChalametLaura DernLouis GarrelChris Cooper, and Tracy Letts
Available today on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.

There have been several film adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1868 novel Little Women (read Courtney Howard’s theatrical review here). Many treatments have hit obstacles in bringing the tale to the big and small screen, including changing numerous story elements for the sake of brevity. Some steered away from showcasing the March family’s growth and instead focused more on the romances of central protagonist Jo.

While each adaptation has its strengths and charms, it’s Greta Gerwig’s iteration that hits the closest to home and advances Alcott’s work for the better.

Through a jigsaw coming-of-age narrative told in flashbacks, Gerwig follows the March sisters — Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Amy (a knock-out Florence Pugh) — who live with their mother (Laura Dern) during the Civil War. After a series of hardships test them, they each search for a path to build happiness for themselves.

Gerwig has had an amazing career crafting original projects, such as the equally-as-great Frances HaMistress America and Lady Bird, the latter of which she made her feature directorial debut. With Little Women, Gerwig delivers an original take that gives this much-adored story the punch that it needs to inspire the next generation of creative minds.

Rather than shackle herself to the novel’s blueprint, Gerwig shakes up the order of events and begins on another foot. It operates similarly to the way memory works, weaving in and out of the later moments of the narrative to elevate the story’s impact. When a particular image or thought enters the mind of a character, we are suddenly thrown into the earlier years without ever breaking our engagement. How Gerwig maintains focus is an astonishing feat — utilizing sight, sound and emotions to travel across time.

So, if you’re looking for the ideal family movie to during quarantine, Little Women will move you to tears and widen your smiles. Order it, and love it.

Extras: While the movie itself is perfect in my eyes, the box art for Sony’s Blu-ray release is atrocious. It completely misrepresents the film. However, the 45 minutes of bonus content make up for the botched appearance. A commentary would have stamped this Blu-ray as exceptional, but what is there offers much to stew on and be absorbed by.

Special features include a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes such as:

“A New Generation of Little Women” – a series of interviews with the cast and filmmakers about how the times have changed and warrant a new interpretation of the classic story.

“Making a Modern Classic” – a segment that centers on the kinetic camerawork, overlapping dialogue, various locations and costumes. It’s in this part that you get to see all the aspects of the film come together to tell the same story.

“Greta Gerwig: Women Making Art” – an interview with Gerwig, as she talks about the inspiration she took from Alcott’s life to construct this new take. She describes the film being more personal of a movie than her directorial debut, 2017’s Lady Bird. Where it gets fascinating is when she talks about how she viewed the two parts of Alcott’s books as twins, ones where if you were to place them on top of each other, the adult section would reveal answers to questions from their childhood. This led Gerwig to a parallel editing style.

“Hair & Make-up Test Sequence” – a spotlight on the costumes, hair and make-up for the feature. It’s one of the lesser specials in the lot. You get a better perspective of the character looks and the intentions behind them in the “Making a Modern Classic” segment.

“Little Women Behind the Scenes” – a traditional EPK file that restates a lot of what has already been said in the others. It’s mainly here to busy of the extras to make them look fuller.

“Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott” – a detailing of the author’s real-life home that served as the story’s setting and where Alcott penned the story. Similar to the behind the scenes featurette, it covers thoughts mentioned in other extras. But it does offer some more facts of interest.

THE CURRENT WAR: DIRECTOR’S CUT

Rated PG-13, 102 minutes.
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Cast: Benedict CumberbatchMichael ShannonNicholas HoultTom HollandKatherine Waterston and Tuppence Middleton
Available today on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.

The Current War, about the competition between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) to light the world, is equally a performance and storytelling showcase.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) faced many obstacles in getting his third feature to the big screen (including the Harvey Weinstein scandal and narrative meddling). Still, after two years of headaches and five additional scenes, Gomez-Rejon powered through with one of 2019’s best films.

What so easily could have been a standard account, Gomez-Rejon uses all components of filmmaking to work in tandem. The kinetic movement of his camera, the razor-sharp editing style and pulsing musical score (that sounds like a combination of classical music from the Golden Age of cinema and a hum from an electrical current) fasten your seatbelt for an emotional roller coaster. The film’s theme of sacrifice and the subtle way it weaves those ideas throughout its story generates sparks.

All that hard work and dedication on Gomez-Rejon’s part has paid off. Don’t let The Current War fall off your radar. It’ll give you a rewarding amount of views on family versus passion for mulling over.

Extras: The Blu-ray release of the film comes with deleted scenes and a feature commentary with Gomez-Rejon. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, a physical release was not made available for me to cover. I reviewed the digital release.

Related Articles:

CATS (2019)

Rated PG, 100 minutes.
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Francesca HaywardIdris ElbaJudi DenchIan McKellenLaurie DavidsonRebel WilsonJames CordenJennifer HudsonJason DeruloTaylor SwiftRay Winstone and Danny Collins
Available today on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.

Aside from the Tim Burton-esque production design and lighting, Cats (read Courtney Howard’s theatrical review here) is a harrowing experience where happiness goes to die. It’s so unfathomably weird and nonsensical that it’s miserable.

I could not tell you what the movie is about. I had to look it up. Apparently, it’s about singing and dancing cats who, each year, decide who will ascend to the heavens and come back with a new life. But watching these cats (portrayed by Francesca Hayward, Robbie Fairchild and Laurie Davidson, among others) move about is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Thankfully, there are a few refreshing gags when James Corden and Rebel Wilson appear. They don’t save the movie from losing itself in the litter, but they at least provide some humor and deconstruct the absurdity of what they’re doing. However, such moments are too few and far between.

I cannot express how weird this movie is. There’s a scene where cats eat cockroaches who have human faces on them. If it weren’t for the upbeat music, you would think you’re watching something dark on the level of Pan’s Labyrinth when the Pale Man eats the fairies. Parents should proceed with caution. Cats might confuse your children, and you won’t even know where to begin in your explanation.

Extras: Like The Current War, I reviewed a digital release. But the Blu-ray copy comes loaded with supplemental materials, most of which focus on the music, dance and the cast.

Sadly, none include the supposed cuts of much-rumored animated nether regions digitally added to their feline characters. Weird, but it would have made this release oddly exciting.

Special features include a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes such as:

  • Making Music – Andrew Lloyd Webber conceived this iconic musical almost 40 years ago. The stars of Cats will talk about the maestro’s artistry and how his music has stood the test of time.
  • Singing Live – Hear from the star studded talent and filmmakers as they explore what it was like to sing, dance, and act for live performance in front of the camera.
  • Cat School – Enroll in animal academics at Cat School. Step behind the scenes and watch as the cast speak about their experiences learning how to move and embody their roles as felines.
  • Making Macavity – Navigate your way through an immersive 360º video as the conniving cat duo, Idris Elba and Taylor Swift, master the iconic “Macavity” musical number.
  • 9 Lives: The Cast of Cats – Get whisked away into the biggest numbers in CATS. Watch as our A-List cast enjoy their time on set among some rich, colorful worlds that the filmmakers brought to life at Leavesden Studios.
  • The Dancers – Come along as we meet some of the world renowned, most talented dancers of Cats with host “Frankie” Hayward of the London Royal Ballet.
  • The Art of Dance – Andy Blankenbuehler choreographs stories that leave his audience wanting more. Watch as he was able to make dance a language in and of itself for the cast of Cats.
  • Scaling Up – The world of Cats is scaled 2.5 times to that of our human perspective. Tom Hooper and his team describe the challenges they faced as they created a larger than life reality.
  • A Director’s Journey – Listen to the cast and crew as they share how director, Tom Hooper, truly captured lightning in a bottle throughout this film.
  • A Little Magic
About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.