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

It seems like the term “movie magic” has been bandied about for as long as movies have been around. Using it so casually for so long has of course meant that it’s lost its impact. It tends to hit people’s ears with all of the force of a hum from a white noise machine and is easily shrugged off. I point this out only to emphasize that I mean it seriously and in no casual way when I say that director Sam Mendes created movie magic with his challenging and poetic “1917.”

It’s rare that a movie is so impactful and really, truly makes me say “Wow.” The technical aspects of “1917” are a whole level above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. The movie uses the most modern technology available to give the impression that is filmed in one long, two-hour unbroken shot. But this is more than just a gimmick. This is a righteous application of the meeting of art and technology. Mendes truly uses the tools available to him to tell a powerful and engaging story.

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Various story elements don’t resonate on their own, but as a whole the film grows on you, and is poignant in the end.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“The Etruscan Smile” opens with Brian Cox, one of the great character actors of our time, enjoying a naked morning swim in the chilly shores of Scotland. It’s not exactly an image audiences have been clamoring to see, but the fact that it’s obviously cold, and his character doesn’t react at all to the cold, says a lot.

Cox, who is part Scottish, is Rory, a brusque 74 year-old with health issues who knows his best chance for treatment includes a trip to San Francisco to visit his son, Ian (J.J. Feild). Though they’ve been estranged for 15 years, Ian and his eager-to-please wife Emily (Thora Birch) welcome Rory into their home with open arms. They have a 10-month old son, Jamie, as well. This is key, as it gives Rory a reason to live. Bonding with his grandson, and doing what he can to impact Jamie’s development, relaxes Rory, and allows him to be more open to the feelings of others.

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“Jumanji: The Next Level” and “Superman: Red Son” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Richard Jewell, from what I remember of him back in 1996 when the bomb went off at the Atlanta Olympics, was a humble man with a keen sense of observation and the ability to think and react quickly. He saved lives. Even when he was under suspicion for three months after the bombing, it didn’t feel right to me.

“Richard Jewell,” the movie, shares this portrayal of the falsely accused bomber (oh, how Alfred Hitchcock would have relished this story). It also delves deeper into the history of the man himself, played to perfection by actor Paul Walter Hauser. It shows how Jewell wanted to be taken seriously as a peace officer and in doing so, took things a bit too far. As a huge fan of law enforcement, he should know that jurisdiction should be respected and that university security guards should not pull cars over for speeding on the highway.

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It’s big, dumb and loud, but it’s also better than it has any right to be. If you’re in the mood for mindless entertainment, you could do a lot worse.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Bloodshot” is the kind of big, loud, in-your-face trash that Vin Diesel specializes in. It’s not good – at least in terms of traditional film standards – but it is entertaining. Perhaps the best compliment it can be given is this: It’s better than it has any right to be. If crazy action mayhem is your bag, by all means, go for it.

Diesel plays a soldier named Ray Garrison. To rescue a hostage in Mombasa, Kenya, he breaks down doors and single-handedly kills at least 10 bad guys with precise aim. Then he gets to the room where the hostage is held by one guy. Instead of shooting the bad guy in the head with the precise aim he’s already demonstrated, they chat. Ray gets shot. That’s on him. Characters acting logically isn’t a necessity in movies like “Bloodshot,” but man would it help.

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“Charlie’s Angels” and “Bombshell” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Adam Sandler can act when he wants to. The general problem with his career is that he does so many lackluster comedies that it is easy to forget that the annoying goofball/nice guy schlub from movies like “The Waterboy” or “Pixels” is the same guy who provided profound emotional gravitas in “Punch Drunk Love” (not affiliated with this Web site) and “Reign Over Me.” When those movies pop up amongst the comedies that he basically sleepwalks through it’s a revelation, though it really shouldn’t be.

“Uncut Gems” is one of those revelations. Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a New York City jewelry dealer who specializes in high end merchandise as well as cheap knockoffs, depending on the buyer. The movie points out that Ratner is Jewish, though if you ever walked down West 47th Street in Manhattan, you’d know that this goes without saying. Part of what I love about “Uncut Gems” is that being Jewish is a small part of who Ratner is as a character. He makes some Jewish comments here and there and attends a scripture reading with his family at Passover, but that’s it. In today’s identity politics driven Hollywood, it’s refreshing to see a high caliber independent movie such as this go deeper than the usual superficial level of the bigger budget productions. Ratner is a jeweler, a family man, a philanderer, and most importantly of all, a gambler. These are his most chief and relevant characteristics. Being Jewish is somewhere in the background. The movie’s directors, Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein, are aware of this and I give them major kudos for focusing on what is actually important about a character. Hollywood should learn a lesson from them.

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Onward! to mediocrity…

Is it worth $10? Yes, but $11 would be pushing it.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with Onward, the latest animated film from Pixar. It’s…nice? The movie’s well put together, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and features an appealing voice cast (Spider-Man and Star-Lord themselves, Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, respectively, co-star). But, while it has a neat central premise, it’s lacking something. It’s listless. It’s as generic as its title (me, at the screening: “Hi, I’m here for the screening of, ummmm, Inward? Upward? Over There?” Bored employee: “Theater 10”.)

Onward takes place in a fantasyland complete with elves, dragons, and wizards. There’s a twist, of course; it’s a contemporary world with gleaming high rises and modern conveniences. Magic was abandoned long ago since it was elusive and hard to control (nevertheless, the film’s intrepid hero masters it in less than 24 hours. Go figure). Elements of the former world still remain. The suburban homes, for instance, are giant mushrooms. I guess even magical beings can’t quite shake the past.  

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It’s supposed to be a comedy, but it’s not funny; it does moderately work, however, as a social commentary on the disparity between the rich and the middle class.

Is it worth $10? No

At the heart of “Greed” is a scorching social commentary on the gaping disparity between the uber-rich and the middle class. It’s also about how the priority of wealth can corrupt a soul, and what happens to that soul when it grows rotten to the core.

It’s not a documentary, nor a drama. It’s a comedy, a social satire full of absurdities and infuriating malfeasance. You never like the main character, Sir Richard McReadie (Steve Coogan), and you quickly realize that almost everyone around him is an enabler. Thus the great failing of “Greed” is that it gives you no one to like, and therefore no one to root for, which means humor is all the movie really has, and…it’s not that funny.  

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“Queen & Slim” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Stories like “Dark Waters” are such a mixed bag for me. On one hand I really like “David and Goliath” stories about the so-called “little guy” taking on an entity with a lot of power—either corporate or government—and scoring a victory not just for themselves, but for community and humanity as well. The flip side of coin, however, pushes the bile to the tip of my tongue. I despise greed and corruption as well as the greedy and corrupt people who knowingly harm others for their own selfish needs.

So it seems that “Dark Waters” was tailor-made for me. It gives me a hero in attorney Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), a man who in 1998 sued chemical giant DuPont for poisoning the water at its dump site in West Virginia. This is the kind of role that would have been well-suited to either James Stewart or Gregory Peck back in the golden age of Hollywood. Ruffalo does a great job at stepping into those shoes and becoming the everyman who fights for all men. Humble though his demeanor may be, there is no mistaking his resolve. Bilott is a tireless fighter, and the latter part of “Dark Waters” highlights the family and health consequences to Bilott for engaging in this fight.

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So good, you won’t see it coming.

Is it worth $10? Yes

"The Invisible Man" is an effective thriller. Based (very loosely) on the H.G. Wells novel of the same name, this new version of the oft told story is elevated by a strong visual style and an unconventional (for the genre at least) subversion of the “final girl” horror trope, which allows the female protagonist to take control of her own narrative.

Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is trapped in an abusive relationship with her controlling boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who also happens to be a scientific genius and an expert in the field of optics. Weeks after Cecilia narrowly escapes his castle-like mansion by the ocean, she’s coping with the trauma of the experience, worried he’ll track her down again. Then word comes that Adrian has committed suicide. The relief is short lived, though. Soon weird things start happening, things that make her family and friends question her sanity. But is Cecilia going crazy or is Adrian somehow finding a new way to destroy her life?

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A pensive post-Holocaust tale that more than anything is about healing. It’s superbly acted, and well told by co-writer and director Barnabas Toth.

Is it worth $10? Yes

"Those Who Remained" is a quiet, sensitive drama about grief and overcoming devastating loss. On its surface it's about a Holocaust survivor and an orphan in 1948 Hungary, but on a deeper level it will also resonate with anyone who lost a loved one and had to move on.

The film, which was Hungary's submission for the Best International Film category at the 2020 Oscars (it made the short list, but was not nominated), begins symbolically, with a birth. The doctor is 42 year-old Aladar Korner (Karoly Hajduk), and although the mother and child are irrelevant to the rest of the story, the newborn represents new life and new opportunity. Later that day Aladar meets Klara Wiener (Abigel Szoke), a spunky 16 year-old who insists her parents are still alive, they just haven't made it home yet. Little does Aladar or Klara know they will become the most important person in the other's life.

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Recent Articles

Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: 1917
“The Grudge” is also new to Blu-Ray this ...
The Etruscan Smile **1/2
Various story elements don’t resonate on ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Richard Jewell
“Jumanji: The Next Level” and “Superman: Red ...
Bloodshot **1/2
It’s big, dumb and loud, but it’s also ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Uncut Gems
“Charlie’s Angels” and “Bombshell” are also new to ...
Onward **1/2
Onward! to mediocrity… Is it worth $10? ...
Greed **
It’s supposed to be a comedy, but it’s not ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: The Invisible Man

So good, you won’t see it coming.

Is it worth $10? Yes

"The Invisible Man" is an effective thriller. Based (very loosely) on the H.G. Wells novel of the same name, this new version of the oft told story is elevated by a strong visual style and an unconventional (for the genre at least) subversion of the “final girl” horror trope, which allows the female protagonist to take control of her own narrative.

Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is trapped in an abusive relationship with her controlling boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who also happens to be a scientific genius and an expert in the field of optics. Weeks after Cecilia narrowly escapes his castle-like mansion by the ocean, she’s coping with the trauma of the experience, worried he’ll track her down again. Then word comes that Adrian has committed suicide. The relief is short lived, though. Soon weird things start happening, things that make her family and friends question her sanity. But is Cecilia going crazy or is Adrian somehow finding a new way to destroy her life?

Read more
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