Blu Tuesday: American Crime Story, Now You See Me 2 and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson”

WHAT: A dramatic retelling of the O.J. Simpson case, in which the former NFL superstar turned actor (Cuba Gooding Jr.) was tried on two counts of murder for the 1994 deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.

WHY: There’s been a lot of great television this year, and FX’s “American Crime Story” is right up there at the top. Though most people of a certain age remember the media circus surrounding the so-called Trial of the Century, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” manages to feel like an entirely fresh experience, revealing things about the case you may not have known before while also recapturing all the infamous moments. Told largely from the perspective of the lawyers, the show examines topics like race, gender, celebrity and the criminal justice system and how each one affected the outcome of the trial. There’s hardly a dull moment throughout the show’s debut season, including the excellent bottle episode “A Jury in Jail,” which details the mental and physical strain placed on the jurors throughout the lengthy court case. At its core, however, “American Crime Story” is just a really excellent actor’s showcase that features award-worthy performances by Sarah Paulson (as lead prosecutor Maria Clark), Courtney B. Vance (as flashy defense attorney Johnny Cochrane) and Sterling K. Brown (as Clark’s second chair, Christopher Darden), among others. The series is so engrossing and expertly cast that it’s like watching the murder trial all over again, only this time, with an unrestricted view of the chaos and drama.

EXTRAS: There’s a retrospective on the real-life trial featuring interviews with the cast, crew and show consultants, as well as an interactive timeline.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Now You See Me 2”

WHAT: One year after taking down insurance mogul Arthur Tressler, the Four Horsemen – J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and newcomer Lula May (Lizzy Caplan) – come out of hiding for their latest act of social justice. But when they’re kidnapped by tech prodigy Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) and forced into stealing a data-mining chip from his former business partner, the Horsemen must pull off an impossible heist in order to clear their names.

WHY: One of my biggest issues with Louis Leterrier’s “Now You See Me” is that the Four Horsemen are sidelined for a large part of the movie in favor of Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent. Thankfully, those roles have been swapped in “Now You See Me 2” (with Ruffalo relegated to supporting player status), which allows the film to focus more on the group’s winning camaraderie and dazzling (but still ridiculously fake) magic tricks. The new additions to the ensemble are great – Lizzy Caplan is a worthy replacement for Isla Fisher, while the casting of Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, was a stroke of genius – and Jon M. Chu is the perfect director for a movie that places style so far ahead of substance. Unfortunately, the sequel has many of the same problems as its predecessor, not the least of which includes the nonsensical plot and disappointing finale. “Now You See Me 2” is entertaining for what it is, but much like the first film, it had the potential to be so much better.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director Jon M. Chu and featurettes on the cast, visual effects and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Money Monster”

WHAT: When an angry investor (Jack O’Connell) who lost his life savings due to a bad stock tip takes financial guru Lee Gates (George Clooney) hostage during a live broadcast of his TV show, Lee and his producer Patty (Julia Roberts) must work against the clock to uncover the truth behind the alleged computer glitch that caused the crash.

WHY: “Money Monster” is the kind of movie that Hollywood rarely makes anymore – the mid-budget adult thriller – and while its A-list talent is likely the reason it was made at all, it also plays a big part in its success. Director Jodie Foster squeezes every drop of tension out of the nervy standoff between Lee and Jack O’Connell’s blue-collar bomber, constantly upping the stakes with each new bit of information. Once the action ventures outside its claustrophobic, single-location setting in the final act, however, it begins to lose steam, resorting to the usual genre conventions. Fortunately, the film survives on the back of its three leads, who are all excellent in their roles. It’s nice to see George Clooney playing a quasi-bad guy for once (even if he eventually reverts to a more traditional hero), while O’Connell proves yet again why he’s a star in the making. Although its criticisms of Wall Street aren’t quite as hard-hitting as intended, “Money Monster” is a really well-acted and well-paced thriller that fans of classic movies like “Network” and “Dog Day Afternoon” will enjoy.

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on production, the film’s climactic showdown and George Clooney, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Flash: The Complete Second Season”

WHAT: Six months after saving Central City, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) now operates alone as the Flash in order to protect his family and friends from danger. But when Zoom, a fellow speedster from a parallel universe called Earth-2, threatens to steal Flash’s speed and destroy his world, Barry (Grant Gustin) must rely on his team to help stop Zoom’s evil plans.

WHY: Season Two may not be as strong as its debut season, but “The Flash” is still the best superhero show on TV thanks to its deft blend of action, comedy and drama. Although the main villain feels a little too familiar to Reverse-Flash, and the show spends too much time spinning its wheels to pad out the season-long story arc, it retains much of what makes the series so entertaining. One of the many highlights is the addition of the Earth-2 doppelgangers, which provides actors like Danielle Panabaker (whose turn as Killer Frost is perhaps the most interesting of the bunch) and Tom Cavanagh the chance to do something completely different. There’s hardly a weak link in the cast; Grant Gustin and Carlos Valdes continue their reign as the show’s joint MVPs, while Shantel VanSanten deserves special mention for her short-lived turn as Barry’s uber-charming love interest Patty Spivot. Though her unceremonious departure will likely go down as the season’s biggest mistake, “The Flash” manages to push through that clunky bit of storytelling to end on a high… and with the door left open just wide enough for Patty’s possible return.

EXTRAS: In addition to the 2015 Comic-Con and PaleyFest panels, there’s a series of visual effects featurettes, character profiles, deleted scenes, a gag reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Equals”

WHAT: In a dystopian future where human emotions have been eradicated and coupling is strictly prohibited, a young illustrator named Silas (Nicholas Hoult) becomes infected with a disease called Switched on Syndrome that allows you to feel again. When he develops a secret romance with a co-worker (Kristen Stewart) who has the same condition, the pair devises a plan to escape the totalitarian state before their relationship is exposed by the government.

WHY: Drake Doremus’ latest film is yet another dull and mostly uneventful romantic drama that plays like it was made by someone who’s watched a lot of Andrew Niccol movies. This isn’t the first sci-fi film to present the idea of an emotionless utopia where its subjects behave like robots (which makes the casting of Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult, who are hardly the most exciting actors in the business, all the more perfect), and it won’t be the last. But while “Equals” draws influences from a number of films/stories including “Romeo and Juliet” and “THX-1138,” it doesn’t have a whole lot to say of its own. There are flashes of brilliance peppered throughout, especially in the way that Doremus visualizes the sensation of love (like the first time Hoult and Stewart’s characters touch hands), but it never amounts to much beyond some pretty imagery. Although the movie’s hopeful, love-conquers-all epilogue saves it from being completely forgettable, “Equals” fails to be as gripping or emotionally investing as it needs to be to sell its message.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director Drake Doremus, cinematographer John Guleserian and editor Jonathan Alberts, as well as some production featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“All the Way”

WHAT: In the wake of John F. Kennedy’s tragic assassination, newly sworn-in president Lyndon B. Johnson (Bryan Cranston) strives to continue his predecessor’s civil rights work alongside Martin Luther King Jr. (Anthony Mackie) while also dealing with the worsening conflict in Vietnam and his own campaign for re-election.

WHY: Director Jay Roach has reinvigorated his career making political movies for HBO, and his latest feature for the network is a conventional but solid adaptation of Robert Schenkkan’s Tony-winning play that features a superb performance by Bryan Cranston, who originated the lead role on Broadway. Though the movie comes on the heels of 2014’s similarly themed “Selma” (it could even be viewed as a prequel of sorts, albeit from the other side of the LBJ/MLK partnership), “All the Way” is mainly about the political high-wire act that Johnson performed in order to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed into law. While Cranston’s turn as LBJ is the obvious highlight, the actor is surrounded by a buffet of talent – including Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, Frank Langella and Bradley Whitford – all of whom deliver great work in their roles. The movie is overly long at 132 minutes, especially considering it only covers Johnson’s first year in office, but thanks to a top-notch cast and Roach’s no-nonsense direction, it’s a worthwhile drama about one of the more underappreciated presidents in American history.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and a behind-the-scenes look at Bryan Cranston’s transformation into LBJ.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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