For many, summer movie season is the best time of the year. Most of the high-profile sequels and spinoffs come at a time when it’s hot outside, cool inside, and the theater has new movies every week that you can’t wait to see.

No studio, of course, plays to the crowd better than Disney, which holds the record for the most money a studio has grossed in a single year, just north of $3 billion. It crossed that threshold twice, in 2016 and 2018. It may cross $3 billion again in 2019 – by the end of the summer!

Consider: “Avengers: Endgame” has already grossed more than $800 million, “Aladdin” just hit theaters, and “Toy Story 4,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and “The Lion King” (which is expected to have the highest grossing opening weekend of the summer) are still to come. With “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” arriving in October, “Frozen II” in November and “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” in December, the heretofore unheard of $4 billion is certainly within reach for the year.

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It has obvious flaws, including a weak villain and unimpressive singing voices from the male leads, but it’s full of color and imagination and energy, which makes it a real treat. 

Is it worth $10? Yes            

Recent Disney live action remakes have mostly been misfires (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Jungle Book,” “Cinderella”), so it comes as a wonderful surprise that “Aladdin” is a toe-tapping, crowd-pleasing winner. It has obvious flaws, yes, but it also has an unabashed joy that wins you over.

Fans of the 1992 animated hit, and/or the 2011 Broadway adaptation, know the story: Urchin Aladdin (Mena Massoud) struggles to survive and lives with his pet monkey, Abu. One day in the marketplace Aladdin happens upon Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and is immediately smitten. She, however, must marry a prince.

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“Isn’t It Romantic?” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Soft spoken, insecure Viking leader Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) is back with his trusty black-colored night fury dragon Toothless at his side in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” As the movie opens, he raids a ship of dragon trappers with the purpose of setting the captured dragons free so they can live with him and the rest of the rescued dragons in his village. Far from a loner, he embarks on his mission with the help of faithful friends Snotlout (voice of Jonah Hill) and Fishlegs (voice Christopher Mintz-Plasse), as well as twin comrades Ruffnut (voice of Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (voice of Justin Rupple). Given that this isn’t the most competent group of Vikings to ever go on a raid, it’s good that Hiccup’s comparatively smarter and more capable girlfriend Astrid (voice of America Ferrera) is also there, and the proceedings are carefully watched over by Hiccup’s dutiful mother Valka (voice of Cate Blanchett). 

This opening sequence is a great way to reintroduce all of the main characters and get re-acquainted with the world of the “How to Train Your Dragon” series. The only notable ones missing from the first few minutes are Gobber (voice of Craig Ferguson) and Eret (voice of Kit Harrington), who we see again in the Viking village after the raid, and Stoick (voice of Gerard Butler), who fans of the series will remember is now deceased, but shows up in some flashbacks.

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Good looking garbage is still garbage. 

Is it worth $10? No 

It’s all right there in the title: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. A title as unnecessarily long as the film it represents. Two hours and ten minutes. Two hours and ten minutes for what amounts to a whole lot of violence and nothing else. The word excessive was created for movies like this. But does excessive have to be this monotonous?

It’s strange. If you’d heard me in the theater during the film’s screening, you’d think I loved John Wick 3 Etc. I laughed and “OH!”’d quite a bit. But those reactions belied what I was beginning to feeling underneath, a creeping disappointment. Is this gonna be it? The same sh*t over and over? Not long after, boredom sunk in.

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It’s manipulative in the right way, with solid performances crafting a narrative that’s good for conversation with friends afterward. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 
In "Trial By Fire," the protagonist begins as a hateful man, a loser philanderer unworthy of our respect or attention. When he’s condemned to die, it’s no big loss. While on death row he evolves, though, and as he does he grows on us. We kind of like him, it turns out. Maybe he didn’t murder his kids after all.

Movies are always manipulating the audience, and “Trial By Fire” does it in the most obvious ways possible. However, the emotional roller coaster is highlighted by solid performances and the intriguing, discussion-starting question prompted by the ending, so the pros outweigh the cons here.

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“Happy Death Day 2U” and “Cold Pursuit” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Most parents would break up a fight between two siblings. Ricky and Julia Knight (Nick Frost and Lena Headey) are not most parents. He’s an ex-con and she once tried to commit suicide. They met each other at their lowest points and fell in love. Their common bond was wrestling, particularly WWE. So when their young children Zak (Thomas Whilley) and Saraya (Tori Ellen Ross)--whom Ricky and Julia imbued with a love of wrestling--have a row over the television remote in the opening scene of “Fighting with My Family,” it makes sense that it would be used as a teachable moment.

We quickly move forward a decade. Zak is now played by Jack Lowden and sister Saraya is played by Florence Pugh. Dad Ricky runs a local wrestling show in Norwich, England, and in an equal parts funny and painful scene asks wrestler Union Jack (Elroy Powell)--think Britain’s version of Haystacks Calhoun—if he’s willing to be hit with various objects in various body parts.

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Pokemon fans may appreciate the characters and in-jokes, but for someone previously oblivious to Pokemon, there’s not much here. 

Is it worth $10? No  

I know nothing of the worldwide phenomenon known as “Pokemon.” I have no idea who Pikachu is. The truth is, I’ve never cared. The question is, will I care after the 104 minutes of “Pokemon Detective Pikachu”?

Nope. Judging by the audience’s reaction at a promotional screening, Pokemon fans may appreciate the characters and in-jokes, but for someone heretofore oblivious to Pokemon, there’s little here. Director and co-writer Rob Letterman’s film is set in the fictional Ryme City, in which humans and Pokemons co-exist. Note: They do not co-exist anywhere else in the world besides Ryme City, and this is thanks to the scientific efforts of media moguls Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) and his son, Roger (Chris Geere).

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It could have benefited from more actual dance content, and it's hampered by a needlessly convoluted structure, but Ralph Fiennes' modestly scaled portrait of Soviet ballet icon Rudolf Nureyev is arresting arthouse fare that shows the Oscar nominee ought to stick to this directing thing. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

He was larger than life, on stage and off. He had an appetite for life and a borderline masochistic obsession with perfecting his technique. He was more than a little full of himself and prone to rather embarrassing, very public temper tantrums. How toxic were his mercurial outbursts? I suppose one should ask the men and women he invited to his bed. So how could one movie harness the unbridled force of nature that was ballet dancer and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev?

The answer, at least the one director and co-star Ralph Fiennes provides in his mighty fine biopic “The White Crow,” is simple: You don't. The Sony Pictures Classics release is not an all-encompassing, birth-to-death portrait of the influential dance icon. Rather, the Oscar-nominated thespian, stepping behind the camera for the third time, focuses on his formative years, using the dancer's fateful 1961 trip to Paris to perform with the Kirov Ballet as his main framing device. Call it the “Batman Begins” of arthouse dance films.

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“What Men Want” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

It seems to be a universal truth, at least in movies, that if society ever collapses due to some sort of apocalypse, the result would look a lot like a “Mad Max” movie. The landscape would be nothing but sand and dust. Throngs of people would huddle together in huge cities with barely enough resources for all of them to survive. The city, however, would provide protection to its citizens from roaming invaders. Or in the case of “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” invaders from outer space.

How did we get here? It’s five years since we last saw super cheerful, happy, and positive to the point where everyone wants to slug him Emmet Brickowski (voice of Chris Pratt), his edgy girlfriend Lucy (voice of Elizabeth Banks), Batman (voice of Will Arnett), who is also back from his solo adventure, space man Benny (voice of Charlie Day), pirate Metalbeard (voice Nick Offerman), and of course, President Business (voice of Will Ferrell). In that time, young Finn (Jadon Sand) has grown from a little boy into a young man and his sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince) has gotten old enough to play with Legos. This revelation led to a disaster in Bricksburg that destroyed the city. It now goes by the name Apocalypseburg. Since everyone in Apocalypseburg is dark and edgy, Lucy has to up her game and goes by the moniker Wyldstyle now.

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The romance may be far-fetched, but the movie is quite funny, and Charlize Theron more than holds her own with Seth Rogen. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

Can you believe someone who looks like Charlize Theron would fall for someone who looks like Seth Rogen? Neither do the makers of "Long Shot," for as much as the plot insists on bringing their characters together, the filmmakers never make it believable.

For Rogen’s Fred Flarsky, the draw is obvious. Theron's Charlotte Field is the U.S.A.’s secretary of state, and an aspiring presidential candidate. She also looks like Charlize Theron. Prior to announcing her candidacy, Charlotte reunites with old high school classmate Fred, a chubby, recently fired, hyper liberal journalist. Told by a focus group that she lacks humor, Charlotte hires Fred to punch up her speeches. They spend time together as she travels with assistants Maggie (June Diane Raphael) and Tom (Ravi Patel). Then Charlotte falls for Fred, which is a head scratcher. Sure, he allows her to feel human and let loose, but at this point in her career, there's no way a woman who's worked this long to be president would risk the public backlash that comes with dating someone the public would view as unworthy of her.

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Recent Articles

Summer Movie Preview 2019
For many, summer movie season is the best ...
Aladdin ***
It has obvious flaws, including a weak ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
“Isn’t It Romantic?” is also new to Blu-Ray ...
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum **
Good looking garbage is still garbage.  Is ...
Trial By Fire ***
It’s manipulative in the right way, with ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Fighting With My Family
“Happy Death Day 2U” and “Cold Pursuit” are ...
Pokemon Detective Pikachu **
Pokemon fans may appreciate the characters ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Teen Spirit

The story is predictable, but it’s also surprisingly peppy and well made by first-time director Max Minghella. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

We’ve seen the story of the ingenue from nowhere making it big in show business plenty of times, so a shoulder shrug at the next incarnation of this would be understandable. It would also be presumptuous. “Teen Spirit” excels at every predictable turn, gamely engaging us to root for the protagonist to triumph even though we already know she will.

Her name is Violet (Elle Fanning). She’s shy, and lives with her religious mother (Agnieszka Grochowska) on a farm in the Isle of Wight in the U.K. They’re poor – they sell eggs at a flea market, and Violet also works at a bar, where she moonlights as a singer. She loves to sing, in fact, and is pretty good at it according to Vlad (Zlatko Buric), a husky local who is not as he initially seems.

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