On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 6, 2016

2014's Now You See Me was an unexpected hit that made $351 million worldwide on a budget of $75 million and so here we are, two years later, with what is ultimately an unnecessary sequel. There is no need for this movie to exist, there was no reason for these characters to have another similar adventure to that of the one they experienced in the first film and yet, because the dollars dictate it, The Four Horsemen have returned to give us another trip through the secret world of magicians and to point out just how detached from reality they've become if they think they can trick us into believing magicians would ever garner the kind of media attention they do here. I digress, but I can't help but to be a little perturbed by the fact there is a sequel to a film that was a perfectly smart and entertaining one off story that will now forever be tarnished by the existence of this unnecessary successor. In short, NYSM2 is a whole lot of nonsense that doesn't necessarily go anywhere meaningful or comment on anything relevant, but in its defense is something of a crowd-pleaser. It is easy to see the broad appeal of what is at play here as all of the actors are engaging and clearly audiences enjoyed the first one enough to presumably show up and give what is essentially more of the same their money. NYSM2 is a sequel in the tradition of those retreaded sequels that used to be the norm, before the whole expanded universe thing came along, and thus could serve as an example under the definition of guilty pleasure. There is nothing particularly fresh this movie intends to do with the premise and character traits that were defined in the first film, but more NYSM2 desires to expand upon story aspects of the original to the point they no longer make as much sense or hold as much weight as they once did when this was a contained story. There might be new characters played by Daniel Radcliffe and Lizzy Caplan, but they aren't really new-they're just excuses to tread the same water the first film did with updated facades meant to trick the audience into thinking this sequel has something new and exciting to offer. Don't be fooled. There isn't much to see here. Though the film is more consistently funny than I expected and the rapport between the actors even smoother than before the final product still feels more like a magician blowing hot air at their audience for two hours rather than actually daring to dazzle us. Full review here. Video review here. C-

We may all be created equal, but we are certainly not all born into the same circumstances. In order for our system to work the way it is designed to things must remain this way. People must continue to fail or slip through the cracks of said system so that we not only have opportunities for exceptionally driven individuals to thrive, but also for those who are unable to make it past being the breakfast manager at McDonald's. We are all created equal, but it's what we do with that equality and the opportunity this state of mind affords us no matter how many advantages or disadvantages we 're born into. It is within this idea of equality that Jodie Foster seems to find an in to this story cobbled together by three screenwriters that seemingly wants to be about something, but in the end is more a slight encapsulation of the time we're living in than a piece of art that reflects or examines the time that has spawned it. Money Monster is Foster's fourth directorial feature and undoubtedly her biggest film to date, but it is this bigger feel, this corporate mandated aesthetic and approach that hinders more than helps in whatever Foster's actual objective might be. And so, it begins by Foster and her team of screenwriters (including Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf) looking at how the little man might take on the privileged and exploring equality from that perspective, but as we come to learn more details about the situation and the plot becomes more clear in that it is going to blame the downfall that was the catalyst for the outrageous (but not unbelievable) actions of one of our main characters, on a single bad guy who did a single bad thing instead of making this an amalgamation of bad choices and ethically wrong dealings there is a hint that it might become more about equality in the sense of taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions whatever they may be no matter where we fall in society's class system. Had Money Monster delved more into an idea Dominic West's character spouts near the end of the film and come to something of a less pleasant conclusion, but a more realistic one I imagine the film might have struck more of a nerve, but as it is and as it goes Money Monster is simply a neat little thriller that is consistently entertaining. Full review here. Video review here. B-

If one tends to keep up with things such as what type of films studios or production houses make or acquire it is possible to be excited for a film based solely on the people backing it. Whether it be the ever-reliable A24 or Megan Ellison at Annapurna Pictures if either of these studios are attached to an upcoming release I tend to be interested solely because they make interesting and diverse choices in the movies they choose to release. In the realm of horror-especially smaller, more independent horror-there has been one name that has risen above the rest in recent years and that would be Blumhouse Productions run by its founder and CEO Jason Blum. The guy has had a pretty strong track record as he's been behind some of the biggest recent horror franchises including the Insidious and Paranormal Activity films, even resurrecting M. Night Shyamalan's horror career last year with The Visit, but that isn't to say there haven't been a few stinkers along the way either. Every genre has them, but horror somehow seems to suffer the most. With The Darkness Blum and co. have, for some strange reason, decided it was a good idea to give the guy who's directed two Wolf Creek movies a nice enough budget to cast the likes of Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell in a screenplay (written by director Greg McLean and a couple of Shane/Shayne's) that is more than happy to go through the obligatory horror movie check list and mark off every cliché imaginable. The Darkness is a bad movie. There are no if's, and's, or but's about it-it flat out sucks and there is hardly anything to redeem its many, many shortcomings much less being worth anyone's time lest they might waste it on this schlock. Even worse, this outright terribleness is apparent right from the get-go. For some reason actors like Matt Walsh and Jennifer Morrison (who I assume are generally busy people) agreed to show up for what couldn't have been more than a two day shoot to capture what is the set-up and a handful of expositional dialogue in such strained and phony ways that there was no denying the quality of what was to come. When ones dialogue can't even be conveyed believably by someone as incredibly endearing as Walsh, there's a problem. Full review here. F

From the outset of director Whit Stillman's Jane Austen adaptation, Love & Friendship, it is apparent that this is unlike any Austen adaptation one has seen before and probably unlike any film one has seen set in the Georgian era as well. Joel Coen has said, and the sentiment has been repeated and discussed many times, that directing is more or less about managing tone and it is in this aspect that Stillman more than excels here by giving this distinguished era in British history a tinge of the sardonic. The Georgian era is most prominent for the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and how such changes brought about more tension between the social classes. Love & Friendship more or less capitalizes on such anxiety by putting our protagonist in a transitional stage between losing a wealthy husband and finding another suitor who might allow her to live out the rest of her days in comfort. This protagonist is the titular character of Austen's 1871 novella, Lady Susan, who has a duplicitous personality and a keen understanding of man's nature that makes such a transition all the more entertaining. And this is kind of the crux that allows for Stillman's latest venture to stand out in the way that it does as not only is it unlike any film one has ever seen set in this era or a similar one, but that it deals in its subject matter not as a Pride & Prejudice adaptation would, but rather with a tone that is sometimes screwy and a little eccentric, but always hilarious and maybe even more importantly-frequently impulsive. It can't help but to seem that films set during a time period such as this are met with preconceived notions that carry negative connotations by today's younger audiences, but Downton Abbey (though I haven't seen a single episode) has seemingly bucked that trend to a certain degree and it only seems Stillman has pushed these notions even further by creating a film of Victorian-like structure and style that resonates a certain freshness one would never expect from such material. I cannot emphasize enough how simply delightful Love & Friendship is if not for how surprisingly fun it is, but for the career best performance delivered by Kate Beckinsale. Full review here. A

A Bigger Splash is one of those sun-soaked independent dramas from a foreign director working with well-known Hollywood actors who wish to explore their creative desires outside the realm of the studio system. It is a perfect summation of indie values and studio aspirations as filmmaker Luca Guadagnino seemingly creates something a little more strange and a little more riskier than he could ever get away with were he operating within the system that values the dollar over artistic integrity, but doesn't mind using a few of its assets. Still, the film isn't strange or interesting enough to warrant the time and resources these people have clearly invested. Instead, A Bigger Splash is a melodrama that resorts to the formula of putting four people in a house and letting their emotions as well as the inherent human nature of the situation take hold. Given there are some interesting dynamics between the four individuals and that they are each portrayed by talented, credible actors there will be plenty of material to use to mount a good defense of the film, but just because Ralph Fiennes is clearly having the time of his life with this role doesn't mean we're having the time of our life watching his film, or even a slightly compelling time-which would have been fine enough. Rather, A Bigger Splash wades through two decades of emotions and mounting tensions for an hour and a half before becoming something even worse than the meandering character study that it is concealed as in-depth psychoanalysis which is that of being predictable. It is clear from the moment Belgium actor Matthias Schoenaerts sets his eyes on Fiennes' Harry Hawkes that there is an unresolved sense of anxiety between the two lending to an overarching sense of dread despite Harry's general exuberant attitude and the gorgeous backdrop that is the island of Pantelleria. In short, A Bigger Splash seemingly yearns to be more than it is and in presenting this facade of a laid-back European beach film where there's nothing to do but create your own drama Guadagnino's movie ultimately wants to be of huge emotional resonance, but that the characters bring as much upon themselves because they have nothing better to do creates little sympathy from viewers not of such privilege therefore leaving little care as to the outcome. Full review here. D

Man, that Nicholas Hoult really likes himself some Romeo & Juliet stories, doesn't he? If you recall, he made a little subversion of the zombie genre back in 2013 that also borrowed from Shakespeare's doomed story of young lovers. While Warm Bodies at least had the sense to have a sense of humor about itself Equals is not that kind of movie, but instead plays it completely straight allowing it to end up completely boring. From the outset of the film it all feels familiar. One can see where this thing is going from a mile away and I'm not even sure how anyone read Nathan Parker's (Moon) script and thought it was a good idea to make this movie again. Again you ask? Yeah, do you recall a little 2005 Michael Bay film by the name of The Island? Remember how that film was accused of ripping off another movie? Well, I'm sure the makers of the 1979 film, Parts: The Clonus Horror, found inspiration from another source (George Lucas?) and their source before that (George Orwell?). This happens all the time. I'm not saying Equals has done anything wrong as far as copyright infringement goes, but I am saying it feels like they took out the clone aspect of The Island, added in some aspects of The Giver and threw in a third act Romeo & Juliet twist and called it a day. Director Drake Doremus made a nice little examination of young love with his breakout hit in 2011, Like Crazy, but this utopian set version of that story yields nothing fresh or interesting. Full review here. D

Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne star in this dramedy I'd originally planned to see at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, but didn't end up being able to fit into my schedule. Sarandon plays an aging widow from New York City that follows her daughter (Byrne) to Los Angeles in hopes of starting a new life after her husband passes away. The Meddler received somewhat middling reviews so I never felt the urgency to rush out and see once it finally arrived at my local art house theater, but I enjoy most of what Byrne chooses to do and though I will again feel in no rush to rent the movie I can certainly see myself catching up with it at some point in the near future.

This now infamous biopic of the late Nina Simone received a huge amount of backlash for casting the Puerto Rican and Dominican descendant Zoe Saldana in the title role. Making things even worse was the decision to significantly darken the actress' skin in order for Saldana to better resemble Simone. While Saldana may have invested a lot of time and energy into the role the film was met with as harsh a critical reception as it was controversy over the casting. Given the film also featured David Oyelowo (Selma) as Simone's manager Clifton Henderson and was written and directed by industry veteran Cynthia Mort I expected more from this music biopic. Though I never made it around to seeing if all the fuss was worth it from the scathing reviews alone it seems it more productive to simply catch the Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? Rather than waste any time on Nina.

David Morrissey and Clémence Poésy star in this what looks to be take off of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle as The Ones Below tells the story of a couple expecting their first child who discover an unnerving difference between themselves and the couple living in the flat below them who are also having a baby. The film received solid reviews upon its premiere last fall and I was tempted to rent the film on VOD as I knew it was unlikely to show up in any of my local theaters, but time never permitted. I may try to correct this procrastination as I'm interested to see how the film explores this familiar premise, but we shall see as I always forget how many new films September tends to hold despite the idea that with the summer dying down so do the movie releases. If anything, it seems there are more smaller releases rather than just the weekly tentpoles we receive during the summer months.

Bryan Cranston plays Lyndon Johnson as he becomes President of the United States upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. All the Way chronicles one of Johnson's first acts as President in reaffirming the US government's intention to pass the Civil Rights Act. The Act, drafted while JFK was in office, gives people of all races the same rights, including voting rights, access to education and access to public facilities. However, he faces strong opposition to the bill, especially from within his own party. The HBO film also features Anthony Mackie in the role of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey, Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson and Stephen Root as J. Edgar Hoover in what sounds like the can't miss pick of the week that has more or less flown under the radar since its premiere this past summer.

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