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

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Movie Review: “The Light Between Oceans”

Starring
Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown
Director
Derek Cianfrance

In the summer of 2011, I had a brief gig with a gigantic movie database, tagging films with certain key words. Under the ‘Plot’ category was my favorite tag: “Hide the Body!” It brings to mind movies like “Very Bad Things,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Shallow Grave,” films where someone dies under gruesome or mysterious circumstances and the remaining characters keep the death a secret because it benefits them somehow. “The Light Between Oceans,” a period piece set off the western coast of Australia, is a Hide the Body movie. Gotta say, didn’t see that coming.

This aspect of the plot wreaks havoc on the rest of the story, too. Try as they might to make a tasteful art film about love and betrayal – and for a few stretches, they succeed – the thriller angle of the story disrupts the tone once it comes to the forefront. There is clearly a lot going on between the ears of the main characters (grief has many layers), but very little of it is translated on screen for the viewer.

After serving his country in the Great War, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) enlists to man a lighthouse on an island off the western Australian coast. Before he leaves for the island, he meets cute with Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander). When Tom receives an extended contract to stay on the island, he asks Isabel to marry him, so she can be with him on the island. The two try to start a family, but Isabel’s first two pregnancies end in miscarriage. Days after the second miscarriage, a dinghy washes ashore and inside it is a dead man and a live newborn baby. Isabel convinces Tom not to report the encounter, and then they bury the dead man and claim the newfound baby as their own.

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Best of the Bombs: Finding treasure among Hollywood’s trash

best_of_bombs

This month marks the 30th anniversary of “Howard the Duck” hitting theaters in 1986. That film was a large commercial and critical failure, offering up bad puns and a convoluted plot that audiences simply weren’t interested in seeing. However, sometimes the box office doesn’t tell the whole story, and those films deemed as flops are actually worth taking a second look at to discover an enjoyable, if weird, movie. Here are 15 films, in chronological order, that deserve to be rediscovered despite their terrible performance with ticket buyers.

“Pennies from Heaven” (1981)

Audiences weren’t ready for Steve Martin in anything but wacky comedies in the ’80s and probably weren’t exactly primed for a subversive musical drama that is caked in cynical darkness, either. But Herbert Ross’ Pennies from Heaven” (based on the UK miniseries of the same name by Dennis Potter) is an astounding achievement that juxtaposes the lively musical numbers of the day with the bleak existence many faced in the 1920s. It has incredible performances from Martin, Bernadette Peters and Christopher Walken, features some impressive song and dance sequences, and really hits the emotional core of broken dreams.

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Blu Tuesday: Arrow, The Jungle Book 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.

“Arrow: The Complete Fourth Season”

WHAT: After defeating Ra’s al Ghul in battle, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) leaves behind his vigilante persona and moves to the suburbs with Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) to live a normal life. But when Star City is threatened by a terrorist organization called H.I.V.E., Oliver returns as the newly dubbed Green Arrow to stop the group’s leader Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) – a man with mysterious magical abilities – from destroying what he’s worked so hard to protect.

WHY: The fourth season of “Arrow” is a real low point in the show’s history; it’s as clunky and poorly conceived as Diggle’s awful new helmet. Though past seasons have certainly had their share of criticisms, it’s never been quite this bad. The flashbacks are more pointless than ever, persisting with a plot device that’s no longer necessary, while the Oliver/Felicity romance is horribly mishandled. Even Damien Darhk’s involvement doesn’t seem very well-thought-out. Not only is he too powerful for Oliver and his team, but he only appears when it’s convenient for the plot, going through the same motions over and over until his lame defeat in the finale. However, the biggest problem with “Arrow” (and to a lesser degree, “The Flash”) is that there isn’t enough story to warrant 23 hours of television, resulting in a lot of unnecessary filler. That’s never been more true than in Season Four, and with any luck, it’ll lead to the show receiving a much-needed reset, or at the very least, a return to its grittier, humbler roots.

EXTRAS: In addition to the 2015 Comic-Con panel, there’s a trio of profiles on Damien Darhk, Vandal Savage and Hawkman and Hawkgirl, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

september

September is an odd time in the cinematic schedule, no longer part of the summer blockbuster season but still too early for the prestige awards bait of later months. It doesn’t even have a particularly well-known holiday like Halloween to gear towards programming. With that being said, the September slate is a mixed bag of some very promising films, most of them original (only two sequels and one remake in the bunch). Can “Blair Witch” live up to the original and the hype that’s been steadily building for it? And what about true-life stories like “Sully,” “Snowden” and “Deepwater Horizon?” Is there enough in each of those to tell a gripping tale? Only time will tell.

“Morgan”

Who: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Brian Cox
What: A corporate risk-management consultant has to decide and determine whether or not to terminate an artificial being’s life that was made in a laboratory environment.
When: September 2nd
Why: Made by Luke Scott (music video director and son of Ridley), this sounds like an intriguing, original sci-fi film that will be both entertaining to watch and actually grapple with some heavier, headier stuff. Also, the cast is pretty much stacked with talent, including Anya Taylor-Joy, who has proven to be an incredible actress at a young age with her performance in “The Witch” and whose role as the AI in question should be suitably captivating. This may be a retread of “Ex Machina,” but considering that was a brilliant film, that’s no knock on “Morgan,” which looks to be a mix of Alex Garland’s thriller, Luc Besson’s “Lucy” and an especially engrossing episode of “Black Mirror.”

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