MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘The Current War’ less than electrifying

Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison in The Current War / Thunder Road Pictures

Even the most intriguing historical lore doesn’t necessarily make for the best source for big-screen drama. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s “The Current War” is the latest proof of that..

You’d think the 19th-century battle between celebrity inventor Thomas Edison and sturdy entrepreneur George Westinghouse for hegemony in the electrical business might be a juicy enough subject to render a decent film, but unfortunately faulty execution drains all the flash and substance out of the idea leaving a busy mess.

It’s a shame, too. The movie wastes the efforts of an excellent cast featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison, Michael Shannon as Westinghouse, and Nicholas Holt as Nikola Tesla. Tom Holland play Samuel Insull, Edison’s colleague and conscious. That’s enough star wattage to lift any film, but what else would you expect from a piece of cinema executive produced by Martin Scorsese.

Edison championed of low voltage direct current (DC) power for indoor lighting which seems safer than high voltage Alternating Current (AC), which Westinghouse backed. AC’s high voltage allowed it to be transported over longer distances through central generating stations than DC power, but it was more hazardous to contain.

Edison’s not above using his fame playing dirty to get ahead in the battle, while Westinghouse’s hands aren’t exactly clean — pirating a bit of Edison’s technology — Shannon and the script portray him as the more grounded of the the two. Hoult’s Tesla sides with Westinghouse and is given the moral high ground in the film. There is also a subplot about AC powering the way for electric chairs to supplant hanging as the United State’s preferred form of capital punishment that doesn’t totally gel.

Gomez-Rejon’s camera choices further confuses matters with his odd quick cuts and off-putting camera angles that suck the movie dry rather than adding energy as intended.

The movie was set to debut in 2017, but the allegations of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein left the film in limbo when his production company shut down. Maybe it should have been left there?

Considering his recent comments, it’s a bit ironic that Scorsese was involved with this dud that features four actors — Cumberbatch, Shannon, Hoult, and Holland — who have starred in comic-book themed movies like the ones Scorsese has recently been trolling in the press, labeling Marvel’s movies as thrill rides that lack the heart and empathy to speak to the human soul like authentic “cinema.”

“The Current War” is certainly not a thrill ride, and its off-kilter use of the camera drives a stake into whatever amount of heart its cast attempted to offer the movie.

If this is the type of “cinema” Scorsese is championing these days, I’ll be content with an E-ticket to the next Marvel movie, and let Scorsese have his “cinema” to himself.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 41 min.
Grade: C-

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Classic Corner – Halloween on TCM

Freaks (1932) / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

We’re entering the spookiest week of the year, and if you need some background images and sound for a Halloween get-togethers and passing out treats to the little goblins and creeps who come knocking on your door, Turner Classic movies has a hoary host of horror flicks programed for Oct. 31.

The horrific cinematic treats begin early Halloween morning with two of wildest and wickedest films of the 1930s — director Todd Browning’s “Freaks” at 5:45 a.m. and the 1932 version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at 7 a.m. (CST). You’ll want to set your DVR to capture these two films that are quite chilling considering their age.

“Freaks” offers images that I find uncannily disturbing to this day, and Frederic March was so effective in his duel role as Jekyll and Hyde that he actually won his first Best Actor Oscar for his performance.

The frightful films continue throughout the day with “The Bat” (1959) at 8:45 a.m., “The House on Haunted Hill” (1958) at 10:15 a.m., “Black Cats and Broomsticks” (1955) at 11:45 a.m., “From Beyond the Grave” (1973) at noon, “Black Sabbath” (1963) at 1:45p.m., “Chamber of Horrors” (1966) at 3:30 p.m., and “House of Wax” (1953) at 5:15 p.m.

The gold standard of Universal Studios’ monster films “The Bride of Frankenstein” plays at 7 p.m. with Colin Clive returning as the mad doctor and Boris Karloff as his sympathetically loathsome creation. Elsa Lanchester is featured as the Bride and as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the writer of the novel, in a brief epilogue. However the standout performance in the film is by Ernest Thesiger as the malevolent Dr. Pretorius who tempts Dr. Frankenstein back into the monster-making game even after his horrific first results. The film is a classic and is equal to if not better than the original.

The Devil-Doll” (1936) follows at 8:30 p.m. with “House of Usher” (1960) at 10 p.m., “Pit and the Pendulum” (1961) at 11:30 p.m., “The Haunted Palace” (1963) at 1 a.m., “Die, Monster, Die” (1965) at 2:45 a.m., “Curse of Frankenstein” (1957) at 4:15 a.m, and “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” (1965) at 5:45 a.m.