Editor’s Notes: Now You See Me 2, Love & Friendship, Hard Target 2, Equals, Genius, & The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story are out today on their respective home entertainment formats.
Now You See Me 2
Now You See Me 2 (Summit Entertainment) reunites three characters from the original — chief magician Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) — and replaces Isla Fisher with Lizzy Caplan as Lula, retaining the team’s title of the Four Horsemen. Also returning from the first film are FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), and insurance executive Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).
A year after outsmarting the FBI and winning the public’s adulation with their Robin Hood-style magic spectacles, the illusionists resurface for a comeback performance in hopes of exposing the unethical practices of tech prodigy Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who threatens them into pulling off their most difficult heist yet. Their only hope is to perform one last unprecedented stunt to clear their names and reveal the criminal mastermind.
The fun of the original lay in the way the director created illusion on illusion to misdirect the audience and pull off a razzle-dazzle illusion. The second time around, the gimmick has lost much of its impact. Still, the film offers an enjoyable roller-coaster ride with lots of Mission Impossible touches in which details are key to making an elaborate trick work. Daniel Radcliffe looks as if he’s having a ball playing the geeky villain matching wits with the magicians to enrich himself and amass untold power. The role is as far from Harry Potter as you can imagine, and the casting against type is a clever touch.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack include audio commentary by director Jon M. Chu and three behind-the-scenes featurettes: “You Can’t Look Away,” “The Art of the Ensemble,” and “Bringing Magic to Life.” A digital HD copy in included.
Love & Friendship
Love & Friendship (Sony Home Entertainment) is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, in which a beautiful young widow, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), visits her in-laws’ estate to wait for social chatter about her personal indiscretions to abate. While there, the bright, flirtatious, egotistical Lady Susan decides to secure a husband for herself and one for her reluctant daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Enlisting the help of her old friend Alicia (Chloe Sevigny), Lady Susan attracts the attention of the young, handsome Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), the rich and foolish Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), and the handsome, but married, Lord Manuring (Lochlann O’Mearain).
Director Whit Stillman is not new to comedies of manners and makes this early Austen work very funny. Lady Susan is a woman with a “reputation,” but practically flaunts it as a badge of honor, pursuing her own desires despite the rigidity of her society. Way ahead of her time, she draws upon her femininity to turn men’s heads and excite them with her flirtations. The fact that they may be married doesn’t stop her.
The dialogue is lively and clever and a particular pleasure since so many movies have reduced dialogue to a bare minimum, letting visuals carry the story. Here, the stylish repartee, innuendos, and put-downs make for not only a funny, but also a highly satisfying, picture. Fans of Austen will love this film, as will those still suffering withdrawal from Downton Abbey.
The only bonus extra on the widescreen Blu-ray release is a behind-the-scenes featurette.
Hard Target 2
Hard Target 2 (Universal Home Entertainment) stars Scott Adkins as Wes Baylor, a fighter who has exiled himself to Bangkok after accidentally killing his best friend in the ring. A broken man — drunk and riddled with guilt — he gets by with low-level local bouts. His fortunes change when millionaire Aldrich (Robert Knepper) offers him a million dollars for a huge fight in Myanmar. When he arrives, however, Baylor learns he’s been tricked into becoming the target of a human hunt. To survive, he must outsmart the heavily armed group that has paid to hunt and kill him in treacherous jungle terrain.
Though the title suggests the film is a sequel to the original starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, it isn’t. It owes more to The Most Dangerous Game and The Naked Prey, films in which a human is hunted as the ultimate “big game.” The hunters are stereotypically differentiated: a tough-as-nails woman, a matador, a tech geek, and a father-and-son duo. Their function is merely to be knocked off one by one, so essentially they’re generic bad guys, but it’s interesting to see how the unarmed Baylor uses his wits and knowledge of human nature to turn the odds in his favor as the hunt progresses.
For a small-budget picture, Hard Target 2 delivers in the action category. The hunt doesn’t begin until about a half hour in, but once it does, the action doesn’t stop.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc, widescreen Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include commentary with director Roel Reine, stars Scott Adkins and Robert Knepper; deleted scenes; and the featurettes “A Fighting Chance: Behind the Scenes,” “Through the Lens,” “Thrill of the Hunt,” and “Into the Jungle: On Location.” A digital HD copy is included.
Equals (Lionsgate) is a science-fiction drama starring Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult as Nia and Silas, co-workers in “The Collective,” a futuristic society depopulated by war. To achieve a utopian world, The Collective has ended crime and violence by genetically eliminating all human emotions. Work days are dull and nights lonely. Despite this, Nia and Silas can’t help noticing a growing attraction between them, leading to a forbidden relationship that evolves into passionate romance. As suspicion begins to mount among their superiors, the couple is forced to choose between the safety of the lives they have always known and risking it all to attempt a daring escape.
Some help is available from an underground group of rebels including Jonas (Guy Pearce) and Bess (Jacki Weaver). It’s interesting to see how falling in love or even feeling attraction to another human being is treated as an illness, with techniques in place to “correct” the malady. Life in The Collective is one of rigid regimentation with sexual activity completely prohibited (procreation occurs only through artificial means).
Even though the populace appears placid, The Collective is troubled by something called Switched On Syndrome, in which citizens suddenly experience flashes that signal a reversion to emotion. This can lead the afflicted to the Den, essentially a torture chamber so brutal that sufferers often prefer suicide to undergoing its “treatment.”
The film reflects influence from George Orwell’s 1984, as instructions, warnings, and promises from those who rule are broadcast on omnipresent screens. The very theme of forbidden love is one of the main plot lines in both 1984 and Equals.
Bonus features on the widescreen Blu-ray release include three behind-the-scenes featurettes, and audio commentary with director Drake Doremus and the film’s cinematographer and editor. A Digital HD copy is included.
Genius (Lionsgate) tells the story of the almost father-son relationship between book editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth), who had published works by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). The film opens in black and white in 1929 with a street scene in the rain. It eventually transforms into sepia tones.
As a favor to a colleague, Perkins agrees to read a manuscript by the never-published Wolfe. The editor cannot put it down, and summons Wolfe to make him an offer in person.
Their personalities clash, but they are drawn together by Wolfe’s talent and Perkins’ expertise. Wolfe tends to pad his work. Perkins shaves excess description from his manuscript and the result is “Look Homeward, Angel,” a critical and commercial success. Wolfe’s influence on Perkins results in the editor’s becoming more open, less stiff, and more embracing of life beyond the publishing world.
As their relationship deepens, Wolfe’s mistress and patron, Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman), begins to feel as if Perkins is replacing her, providing Ms. Kidman with a showy scene in which she reflects the onset of madness. Laura Linney has a fairly thankless role as Perkins’ wife, Louise, who’s basically on hand as sounding board for Perkins’ thoughts about Wolfe and his uniqueness as a writer. Guy Pearce plays F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dominic West is Ernest Hemingway.
The subject matter is a tough one for a medium that relies on action and movement to tell a story. Although director Michael Grandage manages to convey the excitement of a long-time editor discovering a fresh literary talent, Genius might have worked better as a play. Law overacts terribly in his attempt to portray Wolfe’s wild manner and unbridled enthusiasm. He goes too far too often, reducing Wolfe to a near-caricature. Firth comes off better with a low-key, thoughtful performance as calm, reserved Perkins.
Bonus extras on the widescreen DVD release include the featurettes “Genesis of Genius” and “Painting a Portrait of the Lost Generation.” A digital HD copy is enclosed.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment), based on the best-selling book, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin, is a mini-series tracing what was referred to as the “Trial of the Century.” The series follows the facts of the case and is at its best when the lawyers discuss courtroom strategies.
The casting is terrific. Standouts are Courtney B. Vance as defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran, Sarah Paulson as prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark, Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey, John Travolta as the head of Simpson’s defense team, Robert Shapiro, and Kenneth Choi as Judge Lance Ito. Unfortunately Cuba Gooding, Jr., never really captures the essence of Simpson and mars an otherwise near-flawless production.
The length of the mini-series allows specific facets of the murder and trial to be explored in depth, providing information we didn’t see on TV or read in the newspaper. Even though many viewers will recall the actual televised trial, the series seems fresh as it probes to consider the jurors’ state of mind, the effect of media publicity, the question of race, Simpson’s iconic stature, and tactical blunders. The show is riveting because it features solid drama while it portrays the facts, thus being both entertaining and informative. Recreations of events are staged with remarkable attention to detail, and the dialogue reflects the distinctiveness of the various characters.
The three-disc widescreen Blu-ray set contains all 10 episodes, complete and uncut. Bonus extras include the featurettes “Past Imperfect: The Trial of the Century” and “Facts of the Case: An Interactive Timeline.”