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Boxer Roberto Duran’s life story is highlighted by solid directing and on-point performances from Edgar Ramirez and Robert De Niro.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Part boxing movie and part biopic, “Hands of Stone” tells the story of Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez), a boxer who rose from poverty in Panama to become a world champion. Yes, you’ve seen this kind of movie plenty of times before, and the fact that this is based on a true story isn’t necessarily adding to the appeal. But this will: The fight scenes and training montages are edited in an engaging way, and the film is full of little moments and details that make it a truly lively and dynamic viewing experience.

Duran is an up-and-coming boxer when he hooks up with esteemed trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) in 1971. Through Arcel Duran learns both boxing technique and how to strategize, and when this is combined with his natural “ring sense” it makes him nearly unbeatable and world famous. His biggest rival is Sugar Ray Leonard, who’s nicely played by hip-hop star Usher Raymond as a mild-mannered guy who’s light on his feet and tough to beat in the ring. We also see Duran outside of the ring, mostly chasing a schoolgirl named Felicidad (Ana de Armas) and engaging with Panamanian locals after he becomes famous.

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The story of Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date meanders and never feels honest.

Is it worth $10? No

The tagline of “Southside with You” is inherently appealing, as it promises a candid look at Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date in the summer of 1989. What it actually delivers, however, is a love letter to the current First Couple, one that depicts them with copious positivity and uses negative topics, such as Barack’s negligent father, as sources of inspiration to make a difference. I’m not a betting man, but I’m willing to bet writer/director Richard Tanne is a Democrat.

Bias aside, the reality is almost the entire movie is fraudulent. Tanne researched the story by reading accounts given by the First Couple about their first date, but this only means the locations are accurate, not the conversation. The fictionalized discussion would be more tolerable if the dialog was interesting and about more than personal biographies and life philosophies, but it is not. Combined with low-budget production values and standard editing, the whole thing plays like a made-for-TV movie.

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“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Shane Black is one of those creative auteurs who is best off directing his own material. There’s a certain skewed way that he views the world that only he can translate from page to screen. He clearly loves buddy movies, and his big screenwriting break in 1987, “Lethal Weapon,” set the template for more to come. Richard Donner directed that one, and it worked because it was a more conventional mismatched buddy cop movie. His later efforts, such as 1993’s “Last Action Hero” and 1996’s “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” were also mismatched buddy action movies, but Black collaborated with others on the scripts, and those movies were directed by others. I personally think both of these movies are under appreciated, but even so, I will admit that they are flawed and uneven. There’s a certain balance of action and comedy in a Shane Black movie that is hard for other directors to comprehend. A director really needs to be inside of Black’s head in order to understand what he’s intending.

That’s why it’s good that he finally took the directing reigns of his own material for 2005’s subversively funny take on the film noir genre, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” with Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer as the buddies. After proving with “Iron man 3” that he can collaborate with other writers as long as he helms the movie, he continues his hot streak with “The Nice Guys,” which he directed and co-wrote with Anthony Bagarozzi.

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A wonderful work of art and one of the best movies of the year.

Is it worth $10? YES!

There is a distinct lack of originality in modern films. Sadly, that sentiment extends also to animated films. Why is that? Animation is free from physical restraints and is limited only by imagination, yet we are inundated by pap like “Ice Age: Collision Course,” the fourth(!) sequel from that lackluster series. Thankfully there still are animated films that push the envelope like “Kubo and the Two Strings,” an astounding, imaginative visual feast that delivers a strong story with mature themes, yet is still accessible to children without pandering to them.

In ancient Japan, Kubo (Art Parkinson), a young boy with magical powers that manifest when he plays his samisen, a three stringed lute, keeps a low profile in an isolated village where he takes care of his ailing mother, Kameyo (Brenda Vaccaro). They are hiding from Raider the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), a spirit angered by Kameyo years ago. Alas, Kubo is discovered by the Sisters (Rooney Mara), who are the creepy, masked daughters of the Moon King. With his two protectors, Monkey (Charlize Theron), an enchanted figure come to life, and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), an armored half man, half beetle with amnesia, and with the Sisters in hot pursuit, Kubo embarks on an adventure to retrieve his mysterious father’s suit of armor in order to vanquish the Moon King.

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Tepid remake lacks the performances and storytelling needed to make it worth seeing.

Is it worth $10? No

It’s not that a remake of one of the greatest movies of all time can’t be good, it’s that it has no chance to be good when you butcher the story, write ham dialog and don’t have nearly enough action. So let it be known: The 2016 version of “Ben-Hur” is how not to remake a bona fide classic.

Film aficionados recognize the irony here, as the 1959 version of “Ben-Hur” that won 11 Oscars was itself a remake of a 1925 silent film based on the Lew Wallace novel. The ’59 version did exactly what a remake should do: It took the basics of the original, expanded the story, amped up the action and drama, and was such a well-received epic that it won Oscars for Picture, Director (William Wyler) and Lead Actor (Charlton Heston). The 2016 version, in contrast, improves nothing and is a pale imitation of its predecessor; the only Oscars these filmmakers will see will be on TV as they watch from home. 

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The women of Wall Street deserve better.

Is it worth $10? No

There’s something about stories involving finance, business, trading, and Wall Street that lend themselves to drama. Much like stories that involve courtrooms, there are natural adversarial relationships. Instead of a plaintiff and a defendant, there is a seller and a buyer, or usually something to that effect. The seller tries to sell high and the buyer tries to buy low, and the conflict is in seeing where they will wind up.

The main crux of the problem with “Equity” is that there is none of that tension. It is almost entirely absent as everyone talks about how good the IPO that banking hot shot Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) is providing for Cachet, the privacy/social network company run by long-haired Mark Zuckerberg wannabe Ed (Samuel Roukin). Sure, there is pressure on her from her Jenga-loving boss (Lee Tergesen) since her last deal was a disaster. He shows up now and then and reminds her with a snarl and scream or two. There is also her VP Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas, who also has a story credit), who hides her pregnancy—among other things—from Naomi. Then there’s her co-worker boyfriend Michael (James Purefoy), a take no prisoners shark of a trader who doesn’t respect rules and boundaries.

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“Hell or High Water” is a slow burn, tense and sublime American drama that is superb in every way. It’s highlighted by fantastic writing and even better performances, and is one of the best movies of the year.

Is it worth $10? Yes

If the Old West told stories of good vs. evil and the protection of civilization against all who threaten it, this “New Western” adapts those principles for the present day with noticeably blurred lines. Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are as smart as can be when robbing numerous branches of Texas Midlands banks: they wear masks, always use a different car, only take low denomination bills (because 100’s and above are traceable), and they max out at less than $10,000 each time. This keeps them below the radar of the FBI, but puts them in the sights of retiring Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham).

In addition to Toby and Tanner’s methodology being smart, their reasons are valid, albeit selfish. Toby knows the bank is ready to foreclose on their family’s land, and he wants to leave it in a trust for his two sons. So he and Tanner are stealing from the bank only to give the money back to the bank to pay off debts.

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The addictive app gets the big screen treatment and it's darn entertaining!

I’m used to being angry at birds. As I write this, some annoying little feathered miscreant is making a god-awful sound right outside of my window. It’s not a chirp as much as it is a whine. One of my all-time favorite movie moments is in “Funny Farm” when Chevy Chase chucks coffee at a particularly annoying bird that is interfering with his concentration. I can relate and am tempted to do the same.

But this movie isn’t called “Angry Humans” and it’s not about us targeting birds with our warm cups of java (though I’d play that game). This movie is called “The Angry Birds Movie,” and it’s based on the phone app game of the same name. The premise is simple: Evil pigs have captured your fellow birds. It’s up you you—using your finger on a touchscreen, some strategy, and a ton of luck—to sling shot other birds into the pigs’ fortress and break the cages to free your captured brethren.

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It has an insane premise, but it’s a laugh riot that’s wildly outrageous and great fun.
 
Is It worth $10? Yes
 
Many years ago, a fledgling animation studio introduced the world to a film where toys were actually alive and subject to be no more than play things for their human hosts. In some cases this relationship fostered mutual admiration and, in some, the toys were made to suffer. "Sausage Party" takes that latter idea of anthropomorphic suffering to a whole other level. Food is meant to be consumed. By people, by animals, by waste bins. Food does not live a happy life. This animated feature by the guys who brought you "This Is the End" flips the good-natured talking toy (or bug or car or emotion) movie on its head, and boy does it get dark. 
 
The film starts with an extravagant musical number composed by Alan Menken, the celebrated songwriter behind "The Little Mermaid," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and "Beauty and the Beast," about how various supermarket foods cannot wait to get to the "Great Beyond." Make no mistake, this is not a Disney musical number as it features, among other things, a line delivered by angry sauerkraut involving exterminating the "juice." From there, we meet Frank (Seth Rogen) and Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a sausage and a bun who cannot wait to be joined together as one, figuring that once they are chosen, as all the foods believe, they will be together. Frank starts to suspect that something about the great beyond may not be right and as a horrific accident occurs, he and Brenda set off to find out the truth while the rest of Frank's package-mates soon discover the truth first-hand. Frank must try to convince the rest of the food at the grocery store to realize the truth before it is too late all while being pursued by an evil Douche (Nick Kroll).

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A graceful, intelligent family film that does its formula proud.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Growing up, I saw the original “Pete’s Dragon” once. All I remember is a musical number with a super close up of a neighing horse (frightening little me at the time), and a bleary eyed, drunken Mickey Rooney in a bar (still frightening big me today). The movie didn’t interest me then, and over the years, I was never tempted to revisit it; a remake, therefore, held little to no interest for me. I gave it a chance, though, and am glad I did. This new “Pete’s Dragon” is a wonderful movie that is also remarkably thoughtful and subtle.

On a road trip through the Pacific Northwest,  five year-old Pete (Oakes Fegley) is tragically orphaned. Alone and terrified in the middle of a deep forest, he comes into contact with the fantastical, a dragon. The two lost souls become a surrogate family, and years pass happily until Pete makes contact with a forest ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). Unaware of Elliot (even dragons have names), Grace attempts to solve Pete’s mysterious survival with the help of her father, Meacham (Robert Redford), and her boyfriend, Jack (Wes Bentley). Meanwhile, Jack’s brother, Gavin (Karl Urban) has a run in with Elliot and, in an act of hubris, attempts to hunt him down. 

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Recent Articles

Hands of Stone ***
Boxer Roberto Duran’s life story is ...
Southside with You **
The story of Barack and Michelle Obama’s ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Nice Guys
“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is also new to ...
Kubo and the Two Strings ****
A wonderful work of art and one of the best ...
Ben-Hur *1/2
Tepid remake lacks the performances and ...
Equity **
The women of Wall Street deserve better.Is ...
Hell or High Water ***1/2
“Hell or High Water” is a slow burn, tense ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Hell Or High Water

“Hell or High Water” is a slow burn, tense and sublime American drama that is superb in every way. It’s highlighted by fantastic writing and even better performances, and is one of the best movies of the year.

Is it worth $10? Yes

If the Old West told stories of good vs. evil and the protection of civilization against all who threaten it, this “New Western” adapts those principles for the present day with noticeably blurred lines. Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are as smart as can be when robbing numerous branches of Texas Midlands banks: they wear masks, always use a different car, only take low denomination bills (because 100’s and above are traceable), and they max out at less than $10,000 each time. This keeps them below the radar of the FBI, but puts them in the sights of retiring Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham).

In addition to Toby and Tanner’s methodology being smart, their reasons are valid, albeit selfish. Toby knows the bank is ready to foreclose on their family’s land, and he wants to leave it in a trust for his two sons. So he and Tanner are stealing from the bank only to give the money back to the bank to pay off debts.

Read more
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