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Woody Allen’s latest gives Kate Winslet a prime showcase but doesn’t surround her with much. 

Is it worth $10? No 

Kate Winslet is a fine actress, but she can’t do it alone. Writer/director Woody Allen’s “Wonder Wheel” showcases her talent in the plum role of an emotionally frail 1950s waitress whose prospects for happiness are quickly dwindling. However, neither the story nor her cast mates are worthy of her abilities. This is a visually splendid yet often mundane movie that’s neither funny nor dramatically interesting.
 
Winslet’s Ginny once aspired to be an actress, but is now a waitress at Ruby’s Clam House on the Coney Island boardwalk. She’s married to Humpty (Jim Belushi), an insensitive brute who runs the merry-go-round and loves fishing. Ginny hates fishing. In fact, she doesn’t seem to have much in common with Humpty at all.

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

The estate of the late singer/song writer John Denver must have had a deal on Channing Tatum movies that use his song, “Take Me Home Country Roads.” “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is the second Tatum movie this year, alongside “Logan Lucky,” to feature the song. This makes “Kingsman” the third movie this year, also including “Alien: Covenant,” to feature the song. It’s a great song, but I hope movies don’t become too saturated with it. Doing so would make movies less unique and make the song less of a joy to listen to. If it ever comes to the point where I hear the song and think to myself, “Oh, this again,” then I’ll know we’re in trouble. Three is okay though.

As for the movie itself, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” doesn’t exactly re-invent the wheel after the success of its 2014 predecessor, but it does what all great sequels do: It takes the best elements of the first movie and amps them up to be bigger, better, and more.

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James Franco turns the production of one of the worst movies ever made into a filmmaking triumph.

Is it worth $10? Yes

It’s fascinating, and deliciously ironic, that a terrific movie such as “The Disaster Artist” has as its subject one of the worst movies ever made, “The Room.” (No, not the Brie Larson Oscar winner; that was simply “Room.”) With the deft touch of James Franco as actor and director, and a brilliant script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, “The Disaster Artist” is a perfect marriage of humor and ineptitude that’s unexpectedly and surprisingly magnificent.

In July of 1998, aspiring actors Tommy Wiseau (Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco, James’ brother) meet at a San Francisco acting class. Greg is drawn to Tommy’s lack of inhibition, while Tommy sees an opportunity for a friend. They bond. Turns out Tommy has money, so they move to Tommy’s place in L.A. to break into showbiz. When it doesn’t go well, they decide to make their own movie. That movie, in all its incompetent grandeur, is “The Room” (2003), which is now considered “the greatest bad movie ever made” because of its DVD popularity and cult following. “The Disaster Artist” is about the making of “The Room,” and it pulls no punches (it’s based on a book of the same name by Sestero and Tom Bissell).

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“Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

There is one thing that is immediately striking about the opening scene of “American Assassin,” which takes place on a beautiful, sandy beach in Spain. This is that the hero of our story, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien), is a fairly average dude. With this being a mainstream movie, one would naturally expect a super-toned body with well-defined muscles. Not on Mitch. He’s in decent shape and not fat or anything, but he’s not particularly beefy either. Throw in the pale skin and—gasp!—chest hair, and Mitch’s look flies in the face of all of the muscle bound action heroes of recent decades. I like it and it’s refreshing—a great call back to the action heroes of yore, whose manliness relied less on muscle and more on grit and determination.

And oh boy, is Mitch determined. After the peaceful tranquility and happiness of the beach scene is ruined by terrorists with automatic weapons, Mitch’s girlfriend—who became his fiancée minutes earlier—is gunned down. Mitch is shot too, but he survives his wounds. This fundamentally changes him from a happy go lucky regular guy to a man whose life is dedicated to hunting down and killing the terrorists responsible for that fateful day.

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Great story, writing and acting make this one of the year’s best. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

In many ways “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” defies description, and that’s a good thing. Part dark comedy, part drama, it challenges expectations and convention and is richly better because of it. It’s Oscar season, and if you’re looking for a title likely to be on people’s lips over the next few months, look no further.

Frances McDormand stars as Mildred, a bitter woman with little hope for improvement. She has a right to be angry: Her ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) used to beat her and now has a 19 year-old girlfriend (Samara Weaving). More importantly, Mildred’s daughter (Kathryn Newton) was burned, raped and murdered seven months ago and the assailant is still free. Frustrated, and no longer capable of holding in her searing emotional pain, Mildred has an idea: Utilize the three unused, dilapidated billboards in her town to send a stern message to Police Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), whose made little progress on the murder investigation.

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

Time and place go unappreciated in movies. When people think of the characters in a movie, their thoughts tend to go to the living beings—humans and animals—whose story is being told. Oftentimes the setting is just a backdrop on which to tell the story. Occasionally, as with “Logan Lucky,” the setting is so crucial that it is not mere backdrop. In these cases, the setting not only supplies a time and a place for the character to inhabit, it is a character in and of itself.

The setting as character in “Logan Lucky” is primarily the Charlotte Motor Speedway, home to a big NASCAR race on Memorial Day weekend. But more than that, director Steven Soderbergh creates a great sense of community in the lower West Virginia/upper North Carolina area of the United States. These people have a certain way of life and set of values—and pride—that is very clear from the get go. If anything, Soderbergh might take his characterization a bit too far—the backwoods, hillbilly, country bumpkin stereotype of some of the characters is less than flattering.

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“Coco” is Not Caca. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

“Coco” must be a good movie. Its screening was anything but ideal: screaming kids, loud preshow music, a late start, and all our phones confiscated beforehand, then returned in a completely disorganized manner afterward (mine was even given to the wrong person). Through all of that, though, I still ended up enjoying “Coco.” That has to mean something.

Taking place in Mexico, the story focuses on Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), a young guitarist who has to hide his musical passion from his extended family who, for generations, have banned music from their household. When Miguel needs a guitar to enter a local talent contest (his grandmother destroys his), he borrows one from the crypt of Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a legendary singer who secretly was Miguel’s great, great grandfather. But he does so during the Day of the Dead festival, and the theft magically sends him to the afterlife. Having only until sunrise to get back home to the world of the living (if he doesn’t, he will become a permanent resident), Miguel embarks on a voyage with the help of Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a drifter in the underworld and fellow musical talent, to find de la Cruz, as only a family member can send him back to the world of the living.   

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Irony: A movie about the creation of a Christmas classic isn’t very creative at all. 

Is it worth $10? No 

There are many problems with “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” and the first is its title. It rings false. You hear/see it and immediately think it can’t possibly be true. We learn director Bharat Nalluri is trying to suggest Charles Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol” created Christmas as we know it. That’s fine, but “Christmas as we know it” is darn different from “invented Christmas.”

The film endeavors to show Dickens’ (Dan Stevens) inspirations for the novella, and the hardships he faced in getting it done. For absolutely no good reason the movie starts in 1842 New York City, where Dickens is on a promotional tour. From this prologue we learn that Dickens is a popular writer. If you didn’t already know Dickens is a popular writer, you should go to high school. He did invent Christmas after all.

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“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

With a title like “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” you know the movie isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. Good thing, too, because it’s absurd almost to the point of all out comedy. The best thing about it is watching two incredibly charismatic actors—Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson—fight, shoot, banter, and in general appear to have a really good time.

Jackson in particular looks like he is having a blast as hitman Darius Kincaid. His infectious smile lights up many scenes, tipping off the audience that he’s enjoying this crazy ride just as much as they are. In comparison, Reynolds’ highly rated professional bodyguard Michael Bryce is more of the straight man, but with the usual Reynolds quips and witticisms thrown in to give him some laughs as well.

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DC Comics team up leaves a bit to be desired, but it’s just good enough to not feel like a waste of money. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

The opening scene in “Justice League” is, in a word, lame. Batman (Ben Affleck) stops a petty criminal, and then uses the criminal as bait to draw a large mosquito-looking demon to them. The sequence is dark, cartoonish, and doesn’t look impressive at all.

This is not a good start to a movie DC Comics fans can’t wait to see after the tremendous success of “Wonder Woman” earlier this year. Thankfully “Justice League” and its new characters grow on you over the course of its 121 minutes, making it a moderate success that gets better as it goes.

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Recent Articles

Wonder Wheel **
Woody Allen’s latest gives Kate Winslet a ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Kingsman: The Golden Circle
“Home Again” is also new to Blu-Ray this ...
The Disaster Artist ****
James Franco turns the production of one of the worst ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: American Assassin
“Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom” is also ...
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ****
Great story, writing and acting make this ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Logan Lucky
“Rememory” is also new to Blu-Ray this ...
Coco ***
“Coco” is Not Caca. Is it worth $10? Yes  ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Great story, writing and acting make this one of the year’s best. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

In many ways “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” defies description, and that’s a good thing. Part dark comedy, part drama, it challenges expectations and convention and is richly better because of it. It’s Oscar season, and if you’re looking for a title likely to be on people’s lips over the next few months, look no further.

Frances McDormand stars as Mildred, a bitter woman with little hope for improvement. She has a right to be angry: Her ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) used to beat her and now has a 19 year-old girlfriend (Samara Weaving). More importantly, Mildred’s daughter (Kathryn Newton) was burned, raped and murdered seven months ago and the assailant is still free. Frustrated, and no longer capable of holding in her searing emotional pain, Mildred has an idea: Utilize the three unused, dilapidated billboards in her town to send a stern message to Police Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), whose made little progress on the murder investigation.

Read more
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