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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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“Frozen II” and “Color Out of Space” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The opening shots of writer-director Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” set the stage appropriately for a classic murder mystery. We see a large mansion on a green, well-manicured lawn with fog creeping in lowly behind a bare tree with fallen leaves all around it. The coldness of mid-Autumn in Massachusetts can practically be felt. Violins play ominous, minor key tones as housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) brings breakfast to rich and famous crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), only to discover him dead from an apparent suicide. But there is more to this grisly scene than meets the eye and, as super sleuth Sherlock Holmes would say, “The game is afoot.”

There are indeed games afoot in “Knives Out,” and the one called in to figure them out is Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). In spite of the French, Hercule Poirot-sounding name, Blanc speaks with a southern drawl. He’s there because he was paid by an anonymous source to look deeper into Harlan’s supposed suicide. Once again in classic murder mystery set up, the suspects—Harlan’s family who were there that evening celebrating his 85th birthday—are introduced. There’s Harlan’s oldest daughter Linda (Jamie Lee urtis), her husband Richard (Don Johnson), daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), and youngest son Walt (Michael Shannon) along with his wife Donna (Riki Lindhome). Then there is the next generation of his grandchildren: Linda and Richard’s prodigal son Ransom (Chris Evans), Joni’s daughter Meg (Katherine Langford), and Walt and Donna’s son Jacob (Jaeden Martell). Through flashbacks we see how some of them had a strong motivation to kill Harlan, while others are there to provide crucial pieces of information.

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Dog lovers may enjoy it, but it’s clunky and uneven overall, and the CGI-created Buck doesn’t always mesh well with the natural surroundings.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Ah, the great outdoors. The cool, crisp air, the crunch of the snow beneath your feet, the beauty of a sunset beyond the mountains at the end of a perfect day. To be sure, one thing “The Call of the Wild” does well is embrace its location, the beatific Yukon territory of Alaska circa the 1890s.

There’s something off about the film, though, an incongruity that never feels right and gets worse as it goes. It is this: The main character, a boisterous St. Bernard and Scotch Shepherd dog named Buck, is computer-generated. From a production standpoint this is understandable given the things Buck is required to do. From the viewers’ standpoint it doesn’t work. The setting is a raw, unspoiled natural environment, yet we have this insufficiently realistic looking dog romping through it as a hero. Director Chris Sanders’ film is therefore an odd combination of beautifully real and frustratingly fake.

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How does a brooding 20-year-old, just released from juvie, convince the residents of a remote Polish village he's a Catholic priest? By marching to the beat of his own drum, with the expected consequences. Anchored by a galvanizing central performance, this Polish Oscar nominee works best when it keeps shopworn story beats at bay.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Corpus Christi,” the hot priest drama from Poland that sneaked into the race for the Best International Feature Film Oscar over more high-profile contenders, asks for a cathedral-sized suspension of disbelief. No, not a suspension of disbelief. A leap of faith.

How else to buy the notion of a young drifter weaseling his way into the good graces of grieving townsfolk by pretending to be a man of the cloth? It borders on high concept, and if this were a studio release, the story would be turned into a riff on “Groundhog Day” or “Doc Hollywood” with a sunny crowd-pleasing ending. Thankfully, director Jan Komasa has other ideas. He has crafted a grim and bruising character study that doesn't pull any punches. It stealthily gets under your skin, as long as the focus is on its protagonist's transformation.

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“Jojo Rabbit,” “21 Bridges,” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The title of the movie may be “Midway,” and it may be about the pivotal battle between the naval and air forces of the United States and the Empire of Japan from June 4 to June 7, 1942, that turned the tide in favor of the U.S., but that’s not all it’s about. The movie begins in 1937 with the uneasy peace between the United States and Japan, with a warning from famed Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) to U.S. Navy Intelligence officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) to not put Japan in an economic corner.

Layton lays out the dangers to his superiors in Washington and in the Navy, and four short years later Pearl Harbor is, as President Franklin Roosevelt so eloquently put it, “suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” This attack sequence in “Midway” is our first look at the fantastic special effects. There are impressive shots of fleets, and from what I know of how events went down that fateful Sunday morning in 1941, the movie was going for as much historical accuracy as possible, particularly in regard to the horrible fate of the U.S.S. Arizona battleship. The sequence, much like the movie, is remarkably well paced, yet takes the time to shoot its action in a clear and concise manner, giving the sequence of events a clear through line and the characters in the scenes a clear relationship to the setting. Or to put it more simply: no shaky cam nonsense. That was a trend that I could not wait to see go away, and I am glad it has pretty much died out. Director Roland Emmerich’s camera is focused on clarity, even when there is chaos happening on screen.

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It’s mildly amusing, but for kids only. Discerning adults will not be able to forgive the massive gaps of logic.

Is it worth $10? No

“Sonic The Hedgehog” is inspired by one of the most popular video game franchises ever created. Its central premise follows Sonic, a blue hedgehog, who’s extraordinarily fast. For a film adaptation, one might presume director Jeff Fowler would take us on a high-speed action-adventure that’s full of great peril, close escapes, and a smattering of world-saving to keep the global audience on edge.

Nope.

Instead we get a “Smurfs” movie crossed with stupidity. After leaving his homeland, the otherworldly Sonic (voice of Ben Schwartz) lands in the fictional town of Green Hills, Montana (shot on location in Vancouver). For ten years he remains hidden, as he was told to do by his mentor.

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

Sports are one of those things that are a natural fit for drama. The essence of drama is conflict, and with the competitive nature of sports, there is an automatic conflict. It’s all in the title: “Ford v Ferrari.” Though that same title could also be used for a courtroom drama—another thing that lends itself very well to the genre with its pre-set conflict.

There are no courts in “Ford v Ferrari,” though there is some contractual negotiation between future legendary American CEO Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), representing Ford, and already legendary Italian race car company founder Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) —no points for guessing which side he represents. Given the title of the movie, it’s no spoiler to report that the negotiations do not go well. The sticking point: If Ferrari agrees to the buyout by Ford, there is potential that their ability to race in the Le Mans in France—a race they’ve won four years in a row—could be taken away. After insulting Ford’s factory, executives, and president Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), Ferrari storms out of the meeting.

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No surprises in acting categories. No surprises at all, really, until three hours in when Bong Joon Ho won Best Director. Kudos, as "Parasite" is an awesome movie, and he topped it off by giving a terrific and humble acceptance speech. Then it took Best Picture as well!

Highlights:

-Elsas around the world singing "Into the Unknown" from "Frozen II."

-Bong Joon-Ho admiring his Screenplay Oscar as his co-writer Han Jin Won speaks.

-Funny as Will Ferrell and Julia-Louis Dreyfuss confuse the job of a cinematographer with a production assistant.

-Great that the Academy Museum in Los Angeles is finally -- FINALLY! -- opening in December 2020.

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

Even if I went in to “Doctor Sleep” with no knowledge that it is a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” it would be apparent right from the start. The booming music, the swooping camera—it takes us right back into the opening of its famous predecessor. The year is 1980; instead of a drive through the snow covered mountains of Colorado, we move through a camp site in Florida and meet Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), leader of a group of Shiners called the True Knot. They seek out other Shiners and either recruit them or kill them, depending on their needs.

The True Knot are more than just a group of killers, though. They seek out other Shiners to get their Steam, which as far as I can tell is the essence inside of Shiners that gives them the ability to shine. They feed off of it like vampires need blood. The Steam is more potent if the victim is young and in a state of shock and fright, which brings to mind rumors regarding the extraction of a drug called adrenochrome. The similarities are certainly uncanny.

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Recent Articles

The Invisible Man ***1/2
So good, you won’t see it coming. Is it ...
Those Who Remained ***1/2
A pensive post-Holocaust tale that more ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Knives Out
“Frozen II” and “Color Out of Space” are also ...
The Call of the Wild **1/2
Dog lovers may enjoy it, but it’s clunky and ...
Corpus Christi **1/2
How does a brooding 20-year-old, just ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Midway
“Jojo Rabbit,” “21 Bridges,” and “A ...
Sonic The Hedgehog **
It’s mildly amusing, but for kids only. ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: 1917

The entire 118-minute film looks like it was done in one long take, which heightens the sense of urgency and suspense. It’s one of the best films of 2019, and certainly the most technically impressive.

Is it worth $10? Yes

A simple premise meets technical mastery in "1917," a World War I drama that's as gripping and heart-pounding as they come. It's not full of emotion, but it has enough heartfelt energy to keep us invested, and those who know will find deep appreciation for the technical elements that greatly enhance the storytelling.

In the midst of The Great War, two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are given a seemingly impossible but essential task: To carry a message through enemy territory that will stop an impending attack. Fail and Blake's brother, as well as 1,600 other soldiers, will almost certainly die. Succeed and you're a hero. The journey finds them climbing through mud, across barbwires and over dead bodies as they desperately strive to stop the attack.

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