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Tense drama features strong performances and multiple surprises. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

“The Beguiled” is a dramatic exploration of morality during war, but it’s not told on the battlefield or anywhere near the front lines. Rather, director Sofia Coppola’s (“Lost In Translation”) visually drab film is set mostly inside a Virginia boarding school for girls during the Civil War. By zeroing in on the location, and with the knowledge that the audience is aware of what’s going on in the immediate vicinity, Coppola effectively heightens the danger and complexity of the narrative.

It’s 1864. While on a walk, young Amy (Oona Laurence) happens upon wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell), who’s been shot in the leg. Alone and dying, kind Amy brings John back to the seminary, which is run by Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). Being a good Christian, she instructs her colleague Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), as well as teenage Alicia (Elle Fanning) and the younger Jane (Angourie Rice), Marie (Addison Riecke), Emily (Emma Howard) and Amy to care for John, because “he’s never going to make it.”

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A few neat tricks don’t do much to liven up a rote actioner. 

Is it worth $10? No 

Summer officially began only a few days ago, but the summer movie season has been dragging on for months now, accosting us with tired sequels to tired franchises (“Cars 3,” and part fives of both “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Transformers”). “Baby Driver” should have been a breath of fresh air, an antidote to franchise fatigue. It’s a stand-alone movie, made with adults in mind, and directed by a talented, iconoclastic director (Edgar Wright). There’s only one problem: it’s just okay. 

Baby (Ansel Elgort…was “Cade Yaeger” taken?) is a getaway driver and he’s darn good at it. Left with permanent tinnitus from a childhood accident, he drowns out the ringing in his ears with a constant barrage of music (I actually have tinnitus; music does not always drown it out. But I digress…) that helps him focus his driving skills. He’s working off a debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey), a criminal mastermind. Then, Baby meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress at his favorite diner. The two fall in love and want to start a life together. But first, he has to extricate himself from Doc and his cadre of bank robbers (Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx).

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

The title says it all: “Power Rangers.” Even though this movie is based on the television series “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” created by Saban and aimed at children in the early to mid-1990s, this is a darker, more serious take on the source material. Getting rid of the words “Mighty Morphin” in the title also helps to separate “Power Rangers” from the hokey 1995 big screen adaptation “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie.” Smart move.

While “Power Rangers” may not be a cheesy kids movie, the premise is the same: Five high school misfits—Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler), Zack (Ludi Lin), and Trini (Becky G)—under the tutelage of giant head on a screen Zordon (Bryan Cranston), and assisted by little robot Alpha Five (voice of Bill Hader), come together to stop evil forces who are trying to destroy Earth. The villain of choice for the opening salvo in this franchise in the making is the not so subtly named Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).

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Sam Elliott is perfectly cast as a fading former movie star, but the rest of the movie, like his character’s career, leaves a lot to be desired. 

Is it worth $10? No 

One wonders how many celebrities feel like Lee Hayden in “The Hero,” a washed-up former movie star who had one role he’s proud of 40 years ago and has been coasting ever since. He’s a sad soul, estranged from his daughter and still desperately hoping for one more great performance to validate his career. He passes the days doing voiceovers for commercials, drinking and smoking weed. When he’s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer he has a look of resignation that understands the severity, but also suggests he doesn’t have much to live for. Again, sad.

How Lee (Sam Elliott, perfectly cast) handles this adversity is the crux of co-writer and director Brett Haley’s film, which strives for emotional highs in spite of being a tad underwritten and narratively unlikely. For example, Lee’s time with his buddy/drug dealer Jeremy (Nick Offerman) doesn’t advance the plot, as little they discuss is of consequence. In contrast, Lee’s daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter), is integral to the story yet she has notably less screen time than Jeremy. Seems it should be the opposite.

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Heated dinner conversation keeps getting interrupted for the sake of manners, and as a result is neither deep nor meaningful. 

Is it worth $10? No 

Ever sense that a movie has a lot to say, but never figures out how to say it? That’s “Beatriz At Dinner,” a topical social class commentary that never finds its message. This would be less sad if it wasn’t trying so hard to be meaningful.

Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a Mexican immigrant who has a goat and dogs in her modest Los Angeles home. She works as a massage therapist at a cancer center, and says she can feel her patients’ pain. For the viewer she’s supposed to be “everyone,” a hard worker just trying to make her way in the world.

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An incompetent mess of a moron movie. 

Is it worth $10? No. Stay home and watch your washing machine spin instead. 

In analogue film projection, the illusion of motion is created by a shutter that covers the projector’s lens as each frame advances. Without an intermittent shutter, the images fuse together and become a blur. “Transformers: The Last Knight” feels like it doesn’t have that shutter. It’s a blur of motion, a two and a half hour drone of constant noise and explosions without rhyme or reason. It’s such a sickening assault on the senses that it starts to feel like a fever dream…of poop.

Forgive me if the following plot synopsis sounds a little slap dash, but I have no idea what was going on. The movie starts in medieval times with a massive and incoherent battle. (It’s not clear who’s fighting whom and why. The armies keep shifting locations: they’re walking between the trees; no, now they’re on the battle field; nope, now they switched sides with the other guys. Huh?!). And the incoherence just continues unabated.

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Tense thriller features an intelligent alien and not the most intelligent humans.  

Science can be a beautiful, wondrous thing. A scientific breakthrough can lead to a treasure trove of innovation and discovery that propels mankind forward. Science can also be tragically devastating and destructive, unleashing horror that destroys mankind. The crew of the International Space Station (ISS) in “Life” experiences both extremes.

The movie wastes no time in getting right to it, as the station’s chief (and only, for some reason) research scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers a microscopic life form in a sample of the dirt on Mars. After a heroic save of the sample by hot shot pilot Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the sample is brought on board and is examined by Derry.

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This return to the racetrack should’ve been left in the garage. 

Is it worth $10? No 
 
Aging is inevitable, but to see it manifest in a talking car? That’s different. Not that “Cars 3” is reinventing the wheel or anything, but its serious themes do suggest Pixar isn’t worried about the movie being too “grown up” for kids. Perhaps it should be.

“Cars 3” is recycled adult drama mixed with action and flaccid attempts at humor. It reminded me of “Rocky IV” in that it features an aging champion who’s about to be overtaken by younger, faster entries in his profession. This leads to learning experiences, adapting, a meaningful talk with the significant other, training in a new/different way, and of course the climactic showdown in the finale. If this sounds predictable, well, it is, though there are a few (somewhat unbelievable) surprises toward the end. 

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Strong performances guide an intriguing but cluttered story.  

Is it worth $10? Yes 

“The Book of Henry” is going to be a divisive movie. When films are lauded on being tonally bipolar, audiences leave unsure of how to feel. “The Book of Henry” falls squarely into this category. At times, light-hearted and funny, others heartbreaking and tense, the movie changes dynamics often but in a way that seems logical, based solely upon terrific performances by the main cast.

Henry (a brilliant Jaeden Lieberher) is the eleven year-old genius caretaker for his infantile mother Susan (an earnest Naomi Watts) and younger brother Peter (the equally strong Jacob Tremblay). Henry caters to the family's finances, reproaches his mother on how she should set an example for Peter, and acts as self-appointed guardian for the girl next door Christina (Maddie Ziegler). He is very highly advanced and mature but shows the vulnerability of a child his age as well; one who wants a bedtime story from his mom, one who is imaginative and playful, one who has a crush but can't articulate the feeling, and one who develops conspiracies and develops plans to solve them. As Henry discovers that all is not right next door, he begins investigating and taking studious notes in his red book. His mother takes up his cause and, in the process, lets go of the grief in her life, finds her purpose as a parent, and matures to be the mother Henry always needed. The plot takes several twists along the way, leading to the tonal shifts, and which I won't reveal here. There are arguably three stories at play. Henry's story, Susan's path to maturity, and Christina's abuse at the hands of her step-father, the police commissioner.

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The action-packed “John Wick: Chapter 2” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Many a writer has pointed out how Batman and Joker are two sides of the same coin, and in a weird symbiotic way, each one feeds off of the other. This theme was of course most famously explored in Alan Moore’s legendary 1988 comic “The Killing Joke.” But that comic stopped short at actually exploring the relationship between the hero and the villain.

Thank goodness we have “The LEGO Batman Movie” to fill in the gap. It may be animated using LEGO blocks, but that doesn’t mean its story should be dismissed. After an inventive, high-flying opening sequence in which Joker (voice of Zach Galifianakis) and his cohorts hijack a plane full of a ridiculous amount of explosives and threaten to blow up Gotham for the umpteenth time, the citizenry of Gotham remain unfazed. This is because they know that Batman (voice of Will Arnett) will show up and save the day (or night, as it were). They’re right. In a high octane, slam bang action sequence – complete with some pretty funny gravel-voiced singing by the Caped Crusader himself—he plows through Joker’s minions like they’re made from plastic bricks.

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Recent Articles

The Beguiled ***
Tense drama features strong performances and ...
Baby Driver **
A few neat tricks don’t do much to liven up ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Power Rangers
“CHIPS” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. ...
The Hero **
Sam Elliott is perfectly cast as a fading ...
Beatriz At Dinner **
Heated dinner conversation keeps getting ...
Transformers: The Last Knight NO STARS
An incompetent mess of a moron movie.  Is it ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Life
Tense thriller features an intelligent alien ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Wonder Woman

Girl power, great action, solid story -- "Wonder Woman" soars on the big screen!   

Is it worth $10? Yes 

Finally!

“Wonder Woman” is the movie the suits at Warner Bros. have been yearning for, and at long last have figured out how to get. After the gloomy, hyper-stylized and unfulfilling DC Comics misadventures “Man Of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” “Wonder Woman” feels like a breath of fresh air, and not a moment too soon.

Director Patty Jenkins’ (“Monster”) film is bright, vibrant and engaging. It’s an origin story. Born to a tribe of female warriors on a remote island hidden from mankind, Diana’s (Gal Gadot) aunt (Robin Wright) teaches her how to fight while Diana’s mother (Connie Nielsen), a queen, worries for her safety. Before Diana realizes the extent of her powers and becomes Wonder Woman, an American officer named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes near the island and Diana rescues him – the first of many times she (the female) saves his (the male’s) life. This twist on traditional gender roles in action movies could not be more welcome.

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