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“Jason Bourne” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

I’ll be honest right up front: the main reason I enjoy “The Secret Life of Pets” so much is because of the headbanging poodle. This poodle was featured in the trailers for the movie, and shows up at three different times during the course of the movie itself. Each time is funnier than the previous one. In all we’re talking about a total of maybe fifteen seconds of screen time, but it generates such good will with me at just the right moments that I can’t help but love the whole movie because of it.

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Wonderful drama deserves its Oscar buzz and all the attention it can get — it’s a great movie.

Is it worth $10? Yes

There’s something to the barren cold and whistling winds of “Manchester By The Sea.” They represent, no doubt intentionally, the bitterly harsh reality endured by the film’s main character, handyman Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), whose life is inundated with death and despair. Like the cold, Lee’s emotional pain is something he must persevere through until the eventual spring, when conditions are restored to a more natural state.

It wasn’t always bad for Lee. We learn he had a loving wife named Randi (Michelle Williams) and three kids. Things were good, then tragedy struck and Lee had to move away from his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, to Boston, which is about an hour away. He settles in, miserable and dwelling on the past because he doesn’t know how to move on. Then a phone call: His brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) died, and he now must become the caregiver of his 16 year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

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Scattered Shia LaBeouf-starrer about the dangers of PTSD is largely a misfire, but strong performances and a solid ending make it worth a look.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Man Down” doesn’t start well. Soldier Gabe Drummer (Shia LaBeouf) is seen rescuing his captive son in an abandoned building as helicopters fly overhead. Why he has to rescue his son, why there’s danger, and the identity of the antagonists are all unknown, which means it’s an action scene without context, which means it’s pointless. And no, it’s not so expertly staged and executed that it’s good enough to exist on its own.

Thankfully, director Dito Montiel’s (“Empire State”) film gets progressively better as it goes, culminating in a substantial ending that is good enough to make the movie worth recommending.

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Children’s movies “The BFG” and “Pete’s Dragon” are also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

Most movies that follow a character arc of a mean or evil character becoming friendly or good involve an epiphany for that character. That is, on their journey from being a morally bankrupt person to becoming a just and righteous person, there are events that show them that what they’re doing is wrong and they have a change of heart. In the spirit of the Christmas season that is now upon us, think of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch or Charles Dickens’ Ebeneezer Scrooge. “Don’t Breathe” gives us no such character arc, yet by the end of the movie house burglar Rocky (Jane Levy) comes out as the slightly lesser than two evils when compared to the man (Stephen Lang) whose house she’s robbing.

Rocky, her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), and her friend Alex (Dylan Minnette) are all raising money to move away from their depressing Detroit neighborhood to start life anew in California. They do this by robbing houses that are alarmed by the company Alex’s dad works for and that he can disable, and Money knows the fence who can turn the goods into cash. After an unimpressive haul, Money gets a tip on a man who is the only one living in an empty neighborhood. The man is an ex war vet whose daughter tragically died in an accident, and he received a bundle of money in the settlement. He keeps this money in the house. All they have to do is go in and take it.

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Disney’s latest is a visually stunning feast for the eyes.

Is it worth $10? Yes 

Disney animation made a big comeback a few years ago with “Tangled” and the even more popular “Frozen.” Those films rebooted the “Princess” line of Disney films that featured strong heroines as protagonists, a tradition that goes all the way back to Walt Disney’s (and the world’s) first feature-length animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” (1937). Now comes “Moana,” which is the studio’s latest addition to these “Princess” films. But how, if at all, does it match up to them? Short answer: Quite well, actually.

Taking place in the Pacific isles and involving Polynesian folklore, the story focuses on Moana Waialiki (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho), a chief’s daughter being groomed by her father (Temuera Morrison) to take rule of their idyllic island nation. Their peaceful lifestyle is disrupted after the island’s crops and fish begin to die out. It turns out that the actions of a demi-god, Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), from a 1000 years earlier are to blame. Moana sets out on an epic(-ish) adventure across the ocean, and, with the eventual help of Maui, attempts to course correct his wrong-doing. 

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Terrible sequel is unfunny and unpleasantly hostile. 

Is it worth $10? No

“Bad Santa 2” is a bad sequel. It’s a vile, offensive and unfunny movie that does little to build on the hilarious 2003 original, and as a result plays like yet another Hollywood cash grab that would’ve been better off not existing.

Wait a minute, you’re thinking: The first movie was vile and offensive and it was great, so what’s the problem here? Director Terry Zwigoff’s “Bad Santa” was uniquely subversive while somehow still channeling the spirit of Christmas. We didn’t necessarily like Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and Marcus (Tony Cox) as they plotted to steal from a shopping mall, but we pitied their sad souls enough to laugh at their brazenly vulgar insults. And because we laughed so much at the inappropriateness, many (including me) loved the movie.

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“Kubo and the Two Strings” and “War Dogs” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

“Don’t mess with Texas.”

It’s a slogan most of us have heard at one point or another. For “Hell or High Water,” it’s more than a slogan, it’s a theme.

Take bank robbing brothers Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively). They’re from Texas, so they have to know better. But after their family ranch is put into danger through the unscrupulous dealings of the Texas Midland Bank, payback—in the literal and figurative sense of the word—clouds their better judgment. Toby, the younger and more level-headed one, convinces his older and more reckless ex-con brother that to pay back the money they owe to the bank, they should rob local Texas Midland branches throughout the state. Provided that they don’t get caught or killed, they will pay the bank back with its own money. It’s also Toby’s idea to bury the get away cars so they’re never found. Nice touch.

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A worthwhile return to the world of Harry Potter that tells a separate story set in 1920s New York City.

Is it worth $10 Yes

It’s been five years since audiences last got to visit J.K. Rowling’s cinematic Wizarding World, but unlike other properties with a semi-long hiatus, Potter Mania is just as strong as ever thanks to Theme Park expansions, Rowling-written essays posted to the website Pottermore, and the recently released eighth book “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

Now comes a whole new franchise set within the same universe, and it begins with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which is itself based on a small textbook published by Rowling for charity. This new franchise is set half a century before the events of the original Harry Potter films. Written by Rowling (her screenwriting debut) and assembled by much of the same team as the previous films, the film walks a fine line of being familiar yet entirely different, a necessity given that “Fantastic Beasts” is just the first in a five-film deal. Simply retreading old ground would not be worthwhile, but distancing itself from the Potter fan base would also prove to be a major marketing challenge.

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Mostly a by-the-books boxing pic, but a jarring injury to the protagonist and solid performances from Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart make it a winner.

Is it worth $10? Yes

For its first 45 minutes, “Bleed For This” is a typical boxing movie: Talented fighter Vinny Pazienza (a game Miles Teller) has talent and determination, but a lot to learn. He teams with down-on-his-luck trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), works hard, and finds success.

What comes next, however, is anything but typical: Vinny breaks his neck in a horrific car accident. He opts to wear a “Halo” on his upper torso that literally screws into his head. The idea is for the neck to heal itself as it’s held in place for six months. Everyone tells him he’ll never fight again. Heck, he’ll be lucky just to walk again.

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Colorful aquatic cuteness returns in “Finding Dory,” the sequel to the 2003 Pixar animated smash hit “Finding Nemo.”

It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice, and while “Finding Dory” may not elicit the sense of awe and wonder of the grand ocean journey from the first film, the big heart and sense of great adventure into the unknown are very much there.

As the title suggests, Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres) returns and this time it’s her story. Much like in “Nemo,” there is a prologue in which we see young Dory (voice of Sloane Murray) being taught by her parents Charlie (voice of Eugene Levy) and Jenny (voice of Diane Keaton) how to deal with her short term memory loss. Next thing we know, she’s swimming alone in the ocean, looking for her parents. Years go by, she meets Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks), and we’re caught up to speed to present day. After the events of “Finding Nemo,” Dory, Marlin, and Nemo (voice of Hayden Rolence) all live together in the Great Barrier Reef as one big, happy family.

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Recent Articles

Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Secret Life of Pets
“Jason Bourne” is also new to Blu-Ray this ...
Manchester By The Sea ****
Wonderful drama deserves its Oscar buzz and all ...
Man Down **1/2
Scattered Shia LaBeouf-starrer about the ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Don’t Breathe
Children’s movies “The BFG” and “Pete’s ...
Moana ***
Disney’s latest is a visually stunning ...
Bad Santa 2 *
Terrible sequel is unfunny and unpleasantly ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Hell or High Water
“Kubo and the Two Strings” and “War Dogs” are ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Doctor Strange

The best visual effects of the year highlight the latest from Marvel Studios.

Is it worth $15 (3D)? Yes

You know you’ve seen jaw-dropping action scenes in movies. What you don’t know is how jaw-droppingly awesome the action is in “Doctor Strange.” Please, dear reader, if you enjoy grand visual spectacles that push modern visual effects to new limits, do not miss this movie.

Director Scott Derrickson (“Sinister”) takes the sidewalk and road bending of “Inception” to the next level and then some. Characters fight on the side of buildings, open portals to different dimensions, skyscrapers split in half, floors change shape and size, and more. So much more. These aren’t just exciting action scenes, these are fantastic visual sequences that truly have to be seen to be believed.

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