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The writing and story struggle, but the visual effects are so stunning that the overall experience is enjoyable. 

Is it worth $10? Yes

The writing is lazy, the story is trite and saccharine. And yet, boosted by dazzling visuals and Angelina Jolie’s contained performance, “Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil” somehow works.

After “Maleficent” earned $758 million worldwide in 2014, a sequel was inevitable. The problem the filmmakers had going into the sequel was figuring out what to do with the misunderstood Maleficent (Jolie). By the end of the original, no longer was she the hated villainess who cast a spell on Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) that could only be lifted by true love’s kiss. No, she was Aurora’s godmother, and proved to not be so bad after all.

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With the iHorror Film Fest recently concluding in Tampa, contributor/horror enthusiast Matthew Kaiser takes us behind the scenes to share what you missed.

There may not be a chill in the air in the sun drenched city of Tampa, but if you attended the 1st annual ihorror.com film festival on October 5th, you just may have gotten a chill to the bone. I about jumped out of my skin when I turned around to see a girl dressed just like Samara, from the movie “The Ring,” hovering over my shoulder, watching every move I made. This was the perfect scene setter for a horror film festival that honors new, up-and-coming, and seasoned horror filmmakers alike. It provides not just a place to view and reward them, but make more connections in an industry in which that can be difficult.

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“Crawl” and “3 from Hell” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

I’m not sure what planet “The Art of Self Defense” takes place on, but it’s not Earth. Or if it is Earth, then it’s an alternate reality Earth that is very offbeat to human behavior as we know it. Sure, everything looks and sounds like reality in present day USA, but there is something not quite right about it—in a fun, quirky way.

It took me a good portion of the movie to put my finger on it, but it has to do with the way emotions are expressed. While the characters definitely feel emotions, they express their emotions through words rather than behavior. Everyone is very even-keeled and fairly well-tempered, even when one character is saying they are going to kill the other one, or occasionally, actually killing another one. It’s all done in a charmingly matter of fact way.

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It’s visually magnificent, as Smith convincingly plays a younger and older version of himself, but the story lacks heft.

Is it worth $10? Yes

An actor fighting another version of himself on screen has been done before, with Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Double Impact” being the first example that comes to mind. Usually body doubles and creative camera angles provide the illusion, but that’s not the case in “Gemini Man,” director Ang Lee’s (“Life of Pi”) latest in which Will Smith fights a “Fresh Prince”-age version of himself.

Henry (Smith) is a 51 year-old assassin for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). He has 72 confirmed kills, including the one that opens the film, in which he shoots from an adjacent field to kill a man riding in a train moving at 148 mph. To be sure, Henry is an impressive marksman and with no wife and kids, has no strings attached to do his job at the highest level.

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“Toy Story 4” and “Midsommar” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

It was shortly after the release of the first “Annabelle” movie in 2014 that I learned the truth about the doll. First and foremost, it’s actually a Raggedy Anne doll and not the uber creepy porcelain monstrosity we see in the series. Second, that the drive home for Ed and Lorrraine Warren, played then and in “Annabelle Comes Home” by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, was a troubled one, complete with their car breaking down.

It’s one thing to think about what that might have been like—creepy doll in the back seat, dark, barely lit road, evil spirits abound, and having to get out and fix the car. It’s another to see it dramatized by director Gary Dauberman, who wrote the screenplay from a story by James Wan. The fact that the car breaks down in front of some cemetery gates and Lorraine, who is a magnet for the spirit world, draws the spirits roaming the graveyard to her, is I am sure a bit of Hollywood creative license. However, it is effective, and sets the right mood and atmosphere for the rest of “Annabelle Comes Home.”

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The joke’s on us.

Is it worth $10? No

One of the most striking aspects of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was its refusal to give its Joker a back-story. The message was this: The Joker is more menacing if we don’t know anything about him before he becomes the clown prince of crime. I wish somebody had told that to Todd Phillips, the co-writer and director of Joker, which gives us an origin story for the popular, villainous Batman character.  Shallow and repetitive, this Joker is a waste of time.

The movie takes place in a filthy, dilapidated Gotham City of 1981, brought to life by Lawrence Sher’s gritty cinematography. Crippled by a garbage strike and a brewing class war, it’s the perfect place to trace the downfall of a disturbed outsider like Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). In and out of mental institutions, he’s a nebbish, lonely creep, who’s just a little too into his day job as a party clown. On a myriad of useless medications and assigned a social worker who’s about as helpful as his meds, Arthur’s mental state deteriorates even further as society crumbles around him.   

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There’s plenty of philosophy here regarding sound and how it affects us, but not much happens with the story.

Is it worth $10? No

The creators of “The Sound Of Silence” have a fascinating premise, yet never figure out what to do with it. The 87-minute run time is comprised of plot and character points that mostly go nowhere and mean nothing. It’s a shame, because the conceit is intriguing.

In New York City, soft-spoken Peter (Peter Sarsgaard) works as a “house tuner.” Drawing from his background in music theory, his clients invite him to detect the otherwise unheard sounds that affect the tranquility of their homes. For example, in the opening scene Peter tells a client (Adit Dileep) that his radiator and kitchen appliances are emitting a B-flat noise, which is creating anxiety. Given that New York is “the city that never sleeps” and there is constant noise wherever you go, this niche career is a clever one, and potentially highly profitable.

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

Let’s start by stating the obvious: “Avengers: Endgame” is no easy act to follow. Anything coming after will be on a smaller scale and pale in comparison to the epic, universe-shaking events of the last Avengers movie. So, who better to bring things back to Earth than Peter Parker (Tom Holland), AKA the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?

Though, he doesn’t stay in the neighborhood for long in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” After dealing with both his newfound fame during a guest appearance in his Queens, NY, neighborhood, and learning that his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his watchful guardian Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) are getting romantic, it’s off to Europe. It’s supposed to be a science tour, but it seems more like a sight-seeing vacation. The chaperones also leave something to be desired. Both Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) and Mr. Dell (JB Smoove) are weak, inept, and silly. They’re both a far cry from Shan Omar Huey, the man who played the teacher at the beginning of the 2002 Sam Raimi “Spider-Man.” He was a bit strict, but was also watchful and kept the students in line and paying attention. I can’t help but think how much different this movie would be if this teacher took the class to Europe and not the two dolts in this movie.

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It’s dramatically uneven, but Zellweger superbly captures Garland’s voice and gestures.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Judy” begins on the set of “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). A young, scared Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) is overwhelmed by the production and wants to quit. MGM studio exec/bully Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) pulls her aside, and promises her a life of fortune and grandeur, all the while besmirching the alternative of quiet domesticity. We of course know what Garland chose, and have enjoyed her songs and performances ever since. But that doesn’t mean it was the best decision for her.

Based on actual events and dramatically uneven, most of director Rupert Goold’s film takes place in the winter of 1968, during which Garland (Renee Zellweger) travels to London for a series of concerts at The Talk of the Town. Flashbacks to her younger days at MGM provide the seeds for unhappiness that fester during this trip to London: Rejection from men, including frequent co-star Mickey Rooney (Gus Barry); not being allowed to eat because she has to stay thin; being forced to take pills to wake up, then to sleep, in a vicious cycle; being forced to perform on demand, per the studio’s schedule; and more.

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“Anna” and “Shaft” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The premise of “Yesterday” raises an interesting question. Is the music of The Beatles timeless because they are cherished classics from 50-plus years ago, or are they intrinsically classic to the point where it doesn’t matter when they’re released, i.e. songs like “Yesterday,” “Let It Be, ”Eleanor Rigby,” etc. are destined to always be classics?

The answer director Danny Boyle’s (“Slumdog Millionaire”) movie “Yesterday” provides is that the songs are intrinsically classic. That’s because the screenplay by Richard Curtis, about a struggling musician named Jack (Himesh Patel) who is hit by a bus on the evening of an unexplained worldwide blackout and wakes up to an alternate reality where The Beatles never existed, is essentially a love note to the Fab Four.

This is all well and good, but you have to come to terms with the notion that the music of The Beatles would be as popular in today’s music scene as it was 50 years ago if no one had heard the songs before. In today’s banal pop music culture, with almost every hit song written in 4:4 time with a 1-4-5 chord progression as the standard that seemingly no one is brave enough to deviate from, it’s hard to swallow. Add to this the modern day computer help of autotune and click tracks, and pretty much all of the humanity is stripped from today’s pop music. The Beatles, with their willingness to experiment and soulful, human playing, would be too far to the extreme. Or, as Beatles drummer Ringo Starr so perfectly put it in an interview on being asked to use a click track while making “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” in the mid-90s: “I am the fookin’ click.”

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Recent Articles

Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil **1/2
The writing and story struggle, but the ...
iHorror Film Fest
With the iHorror Film Fest recently ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Art of Self Defense
“Crawl” and “3 from Hell” are also new to ...
Gemini Man **1/2
It’s visually magnificent, as Smith ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Annabelle Comes Home
“Toy Story 4” and “Midsommar” are also new to ...
Joker **
The joke’s on us. Is it worth $10? No One of ...
The Sound Of Silence **
There’s plenty of philosophy here regarding ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Ad Astra

Sci-fi at its best. It’s good; It’s so good.

Is it worth $10? Yes!

When a heady science fiction film comes out, I wait for it, like waiting for the bass drop in a dance tune: the inevitable comparison to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yes, Ad Astra, the new sci-fi adventure starring Brad Pitt, has shades of that seminal film. Luckily, though, it is no mere pastiche, standing firmly on its own two feet. A gorgeous spectacle that speaks to our brains as much as it does to our adrenaline pumping hearts, Ad Astra is one of the year’s best movies.

In the near future, man colonizes space. Stations are built on the moon and on Mars, but the push into our solar system ends at the angry red planet after a failed mission to Neptune. Years later, strange energy bursts emit from deep space causing deadly surges on earth. In a spectacular opening sequence, one of those surges almost kills the film’s protagonist, astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), while performing routine maintenance on a massive communications antenna that scrapes the edge of earth’s atmosphere. The surge causes explosions that send Roy spiraling through the sky, with the whirling visuals, especially on an IMAX screen, thrusting you into every queasy moment of Roy’s unexpected descent to earth.

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