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“The Boss Baby” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

The title “Ghost in the Shell” derives its name from the description of its heroine, Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), who is simply known as Major. As explained to her by the kindly Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche)--who pieced her together, so to speak--Major is a living brain inside of a cybernetic body. That is, Major was once a living, breathing, full flesh and blood human being until she was involved in a terrible accident. In order to save her spirit, i.e. her ghost, she was put inside of a robotic body, i.e., a shell.

Such begins one of the major debates within “Ghost in the Shell,” and it’s one that is even more relevant today than it was when the original animated movie, based on the same Manga, came out in 1995. The main question of the debate is this: At what point does a human stop being human and start being a machine? The world of “Ghost in the Shell” is one that is inhabited by people like Major, who are mostly robotic, to people like her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk), who have minor cybernetic enhancements, to those who are not enhanced at all.

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A sometimes charming sci-fi that never reaches the stratosphere it’s aiming for. 

Is it worth $10? No 

“40 minutes in and I don’t give a [FLOWER!] about anything that’s going on,” I scribbled in my copious notes for “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” At an egregious runtime of 137 minutes, I had plenty of time to take notes, and with its idiosyncratic but flawed vision, I had plenty to write about. For the first hour or so, I hated the movie. Hated it! A slowly developing headache and an oddly warm movie theater weren’t helping either. I couldn’t wait to rip off my stupid 3D glasses and get out of the theater.

Directed by Luc Besson (“The Professional,” “The Fifth Element”), “Valerian” is set 400 years in the future. Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are government agents who are sent to Alpha, a huge, ever-expanding space station where aliens from across the universe converge to share knowledge. They’re called in to solve the mystery of a deadly radiation cloud expanding from the base’s center. Soon after, their commander (Clive Owen) is kidnapped by a mysterious alien race, and the two agents follow in hot pursuit. As the chase intensifies, they begin to uncover a larger conspiracy tied to the cloud, the aliens, and the commander. 

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Christopher Nolan is in expert form in this dramatization of the important WWII battle.  

Is it worth $10? Yes 

Dunkirk, France, 1940. Roughly 400,000 Allied soldiers are trapped on the beach of this northern enclave, surrounded and dominated by German firepower. The only hope for survival is evacuation, and that becomes less likely by the hour.

In a Hollywood story, these underdog Allies would fight their way out. But writer/director Christopher Nolan (the “Dark Knight” trilogy) isn’t interested in a Hollywood story. Instead, “Dunkirk” focuses on the sometimes heroic, sometimes selfish, and always-brave actions of individuals on land, at sea and in the air, and how each contributed to the evacuation of more than 330,000 men.

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“Free Fire” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

This is probably not how Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of “Kong Skull Island,” wants a review to begin, but I have to say, this movie cracked me up. From the opening shot of young World War II fighter pilot Hank Marlowe (Will Brittain) tumbling out of the sky, to the big moments toward the end in which the typical tough guy/hero tropes are flipped on their head, as well as many moments in between, this movie made me chuckle. I couldn’t help but find it incessantly entertaining and a total joy to watch.

Not that it’s a comedy. Far from it. The movie is an action/adventure film through and through, with sequences chock full of stunts and special effects to show for it. The shots of giant ape Kong swatting at Army helicopters and sending bodies flying is an awesome sight to behold. The fact that as one of the helicopters goes down, there’s a shot of a Richard Nixon bobble head rapidly bobbling away turns it a bit comical.

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Third part of the new “Apes” trilogy is just as mediocre as the first two. 

Is it worth $10? No  

There’s not much war in “War for the Planet of the Apes,” which is a problem given that it’s called “War for the Planet of the Apes.” A better, more accurate title would’ve been “Failed Diplomacy on the Planet of the Apes,” though of course that wouldn’t get anyone excited. “War” though, YEAH! An apes fighting humans summer blockbuster – give me some of that!!

It opens well, as an army battalion closes in on an ape stronghold. The humans think they’re at war, the apes just want to be left alone. Humans attack. Apes defend themselves. It’s a nicely staged, edited and performed sequence, and gives hope for positive things to come.

And then…nothing.

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Throwback comedy tickles the funny bone with innocent souls and innocent fun. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

“Lost In Paris” is an effective throwback to the great physical comedies of the silent era, which makes it a welcome respite from the crass comedies so often released today. This is pure, innocent silliness with a hearty soul; it’s not for everyone, but for those who appreciate its craft it’s an absolute delight.

Fiona (Fiona Gordon) is a librarian who’s never ventured far from her snowy Canadian home. One day she gets a letter from her elderly Aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva), a former dancer now living in Paris, asking for help because her caretakers want her to move to an assisted living facility. So Fiona goes to Paris to help – but can’t find Aunt Martha!

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"The Fate of the Furious" is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

Human beings are curious creatures. I mean that not only in the sense that the human race is quite peculiar, but also in that humans have an inherent curiosity. We need answers and seek to know. For some, the ambition to know and have definite answers is the driving force of their entire lives. Colonel Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), the real life British Army officer and intrepid explorer at the heart of “The Lost City of Z,” is one of those people.

While knowledge eventually becomes Fawcett’s pursuit, that is not his original goal. The movie opens with then Major Fawcett making a name for himself on a hunting excursion. As he gets ready for the big party that evening to celebrate his triumph, he laments to his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) that he will be the only man of his rank without any medals on his uniform. This feeling of inadequacy prompts him to accept a dangerous mission form Sir George Goldie (Ian McDiarmid), head of the Royal Geographical Society. Fawcett is to go to the jungles of South America to map out a region that’s in dispute between Bolivia and Brazil. Should he succeed, awards and commendations are in his future.

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The latest “Spider-Man” is a joyful thrill ride and fitting installment into the MCU. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the third iteration of “Spider-Man” in the last 15 years, which is ridiculous and surprising and kind of sad. It’s also irrelevant to whether or not “Homecoming” is any good, and thankfully, because of a strong villain and a winning lead performance from Tom Holland, this is the best “Spider-Man” yet.

Far too often, superhero movie villains are underdeveloped, lack motivation, and are more caricature than character. Not so in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” The villain is Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), who eight years ago was tasked with cleaning up the mess of New York City left behind by The Avengers. That is, until a government bigwig (Tyne Daly) fired him and his staff, leaving them jobless with families to support. In the present, Toomes takes the alien technology found in the wreckage and makes black market munitions, which has led to a pretty comfortable life. His motivation is clear: He needs to provide for his family, and there are few other jobs available. So he becomes the Vulture, a winged creation that steals alien weaponry and combines it with human technology, then sells it to low-level hoods.   

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A solid, well-written comedy that’s an antidote to summer blockbuster glut. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

“The Big Sick” is being sold as a romantic-comedy. That description is only half-true. If you go in expecting Cary Grant and Irene Dunne (if you’re old school, like me) or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (if you’re newer school, like, err, me also) you might leave the theater disappointed. But if you know that it’s more of a comedy-drama, you’ll probably end up enjoying it.

Situation-heavy, instead of plot-heavy, the movie details the real-life relationship between screenplay co-writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (who also stars as himself). Kumail is Pakistani born and American raised. He’s also a comedian, and one night, during his set, he makes a connection with Emily (Zoe Kazan), who is in the audience. They hit it off, a relationship ensues, but Kumail’s strict Muslim parents (Zenobia Schroff, Anupam Kher) are busy trying to set up his arranged marriage.

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The third time is not the charm for this Minion-dependent franchise that’s growing stale. 

Is it worth $10? No 

After two hugely successful movies and a “Minions” spinoff, Universal’s Illumination Entertainment still found a way to get “Despicable Me 3” wrong. Obviously the filmmakers couldn’t put all the focus on the beloved Minions (we have to wait until “Minions 2” in 2020 for that), so instead they decided to give Steve Carell more to do. Or perhaps he demanded more to do. Regardless, having more Carell translates to “more of the same,” which is unfortunate because the new elements are fairly entertaining.

At the start, Gru (Carell), his significant other Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and a few Minions are trying to stop villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) from stealing a precious diamond. Bratt is a former ‘80s child star whose hit TV show was yanked from the air when he hit puberty. Poor kid, all he did was grow up. The rejection deeply scarred him, and now he vows revenge on Hollywood for suppressing what he believes is his rightful stardom. Accordingly, he wears an ‘80s purple jump suit, sports a mullet, rocks Reebok “Pumps” and comes with a personal soundtrack of ‘80s rock classics, including Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” Van Halen’s “Jump,” and more.

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Recent Articles

Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Ghost in the Shell
“The Boss Baby” is also new to Blu-Ray this ...
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets **
A sometimes charming sci-fi that never ...
Dunkirk ***1/2
Christopher Nolan is in expert form in this ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Kong: Skull Island
“Free Fire” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.  ...
War for the Planet of the Apes **
Third part of the new “Apes” trilogy is ...
Lost In Paris ***
Throwback comedy tickles the funny bone ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Lost City of Z
"The Fate of the Furious" is also new to ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is in expert form in this dramatization of the important WWII battle.  

Is it worth $10? Yes 

Dunkirk, France, 1940. Roughly 400,000 Allied soldiers are trapped on the beach of this northern enclave, surrounded and dominated by German firepower. The only hope for survival is evacuation, and that becomes less likely by the hour.

In a Hollywood story, these underdog Allies would fight their way out. But writer/director Christopher Nolan (the “Dark Knight” trilogy) isn’t interested in a Hollywood story. Instead, “Dunkirk” focuses on the sometimes heroic, sometimes selfish, and always-brave actions of individuals on land, at sea and in the air, and how each contributed to the evacuation of more than 330,000 men.

Read more
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