Playing off the recent zombie craze, children turn their undead powers on the adults at their school in this campy comedy.

Kids are monsters. In “Cooties,” that notion is taken to a literal extreme.

After an opening montage that seriously has me questioning if I will ever be able to eat a chicken nugget again, an infection spreads throughout a schoolyard. The infection targets children only—anyone who’s been through puberty is immune. As a teacher named Doug (Leigh Whannell, who also co-wrote) explains, the disease attacks the brain and kills off the higher functions. In other words, the kids become ravenous zombies, hell bent on devouring human flesh.

This is especially bad news for Clint (Elijah Wood), who’s having a rough day as it is. He’s a failed novelist who moved from New York and now lives back home with his mother (Kate Flannery) in the aptly named suburb of Fort Chicken, IL. In order to make some money, he agrees to teach summer school at his former middle school. Things immediately get off to a shaky start after a mean-spirited, snot-nosed little brat named Patriot (Cooper Roth)—so named because he was born on 9-11—gives him a hard time in class. After the punk turns his attention to bullying a girl named Shelly (Sunny May Allison)--who is the one who ate the bad nugget and is patient zero--he literally yanks her pig tail off of her head. This does not sit well with Shelly, who reacts as you’d expect a vengeful zombie to react.

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A fitting — and surprisingly touching — return to the big screen for Rocky Balboa as he trains Apollo Creed’s son.

Is it worth $10? Yes

As the “Rocky” sequels declined in merit and craftsmanship throughout the ‘80s, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) became a joke, a clichéd punch line of meat-headed predictability whose movies struggled to find an iota of originality. It got so ridiculous that by the time the abominable “Rocky V” was released in 1990 the climactic fight took place on a street, not a boxing ring. At this point we thought we were saying goodbye to Rocky for the last time, and we were okay with that.

The tone changed, however, with “Rocky Balboa” in 2006, which was a smartly written drama that ended on a poignant emotional high. Rocky was older, wiser, and had a perspective on life that felt worthwhile and insightful. Turns out it was good to see the old lug one more time.

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Pixar’s latest has a strong family message and visuals but is ultimately underwhelming.

Is it worth $10? No

In Pixar we trust.

It doesn’t matter that “The Good Dinosaur” was in development purgatory for years, and even changed directors after production began. Or that the trailer looked “meh,” or that the dinosaurs inexplicably resemble Gumbi. Pixar, after giving us the “Toy Story” trilogy, “The Incredibles,” “Up” and more, has earned the benefit of the doubt. Surely “The Good Dinosaur” will be yet another triumph for the indefatigable masters of animation.

Well, nobody’s perfect.

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A solid yet modest biography about a true Hollywood legend.

Is it worth $10? Yes

With winning performances, especially by Bryan Cranston as the eponymous protagonist, and snappy writing, “Trumbo” entertains and educates. Despite being a solid effort, though, it never quite reaches greatness.

The film depicts the roughly 15-year period (mid-1940s to late-1950s) in which Dalton Trumbo was at the receiving end of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s wrath. This was a time of mass hysteria as the US got swept up in the “red scare,” a fear that soviet spies were secretly infiltrating the country in order to overthrow it. An American communist party member, Dalton Trumbo fell into the committee’s crosshairs as they zealously tried to weed out these “insidious threats.” In these paranoid times, Trumbo went from a successful career as the highest paid screenwriter of his day to being blacklisted and jailed for refusing to testify in front of HUAC. The movie goes on to dramatize how he managed to survive these times by writing under pseudonyms (though, sadly, “Heisenberg” was not one of them).

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The so-so "Ricki and the Flash" and "American Ultra" are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The acclaimed (and deservedly so) Japanese director Akira Kurosawa is known for two things: Inspiring American westerns with his movies “The Seven Samurai” in 1954 (made into “The Magnificent Seven” in 1960) and “Yojimbo” in 1961 (made into “A Fistful of Dollars” in 1964), and being inspired by Shakespeare to create some of his own movies--“Throne of Blood” from 1957 was inspired by “MacBeth,” and “Ran” from 1985 was derived from “King Lear.” Let’s also not forget the influence his movie “The Hidden Fortress” (1958) had on George Lucas’s “Star Wars” in 1977.

Kurosawa wasn’t all about samurais, shoguns, and daimyos though. He made modern tales like the excellent police story “Stray Dog” in 1949 and the kidnapping suspense thriller “High and Low” in 1963. For those who love a good twist ending, it doesn’t get much more chilling than the final moments of “I Live in Fear” from 1955. I still get goose bumps thinking about that one. One of his modern tales, a beautiful movie from 1952 called “Ikiru,” is seeing its release on Blu-Ray this week.

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A joyless, unemotional finale to a series that, until now, had featured strong performances, biting commentary, and unique action beats.

Is it worth $10? No

With “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” comes not only a lot of extra punctuation, but the end of one of the YA franchises that had filled the void left by “The Twilight Saga.” What had started as a fresh and horrifying depiction of a dystopian future that pitted children against children in a battle of survival in “The Hunger Games” has ended with an emotionally manipulating final act that maintained the same careless abandon for human life except void of any pathos.

Just as last year’s “Mockingjay Part 1” felt like a drawn out look at how to make war propaganda, “Part 2” continues to stretch the story (and the actors’ ability to care) nearly to its breaking points, yet somehow seeming to gloss over the parts of the story that could do with more screen time. Instead, we get a rehash of the last film, repeated conversations about duty, symbols, and just how badly Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) wants to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and a lot of shell-shocked emotionless brooding by Lawrence’s protagonist.

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A good cast and an interesting director cannot salvage this holiday “comedy.”

Is it worth $10? No

“The Night Before” is a disaster, a mess from beginning to end. It wants to be warm and sentimental, yet it tries to undercut that constantly with gross-out gags and a mean streak. The lighter and darker aspects are meant to complement each other, but they cancel each other out instead, and the film ends up accomplishing nothing. 

Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have been friends since high school. After a tragic accident takes the lives of Ethan’s parents right before Christmas, Isaac and Chris take Ethan under their wings. To cheer him up, the friends embark on an odyssey of partying and debauchery on Christmas Eve. This quickly becomes an annual tradition. But as the years go by, the boys naturally begin to grow apart. Realizing this, the group decides to make the coming Christmas Eve party their last one. And since it is their final night out, they’re going to make sure to go out with a bang.

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Recent Articles

Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Cooties
Playing off the recent zombie craze, ...
The Wonders ****
Drama with natural tone, humor, is a ...
Creed ***
A fitting — and surprisingly touching — ...
The Good Dinosaur **
Pixar’s latest has a strong family message and ...
Trumbo ***
A solid yet modest biography about a true ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Spotlight

A strong cast and extremely well told story highlight this surefire Best Picture Oscar contender.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Spotlight” is one of the best movies of the year; it’s a scorching drama about the damning sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church to its core in 2002 and still has reverberations to this day.

The film is excellent due to its narrative patience and superb performances. This is exactly how a great drama should be made, and take note that it eschews the histrionic crutches that many dramas rely upon and instead focuses solely on the quality of the storytelling, which is impeccable.

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