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A lackluster sequel to the vastly superior (and more fun) 2017 hit. It’s bigger and more expansive, but not better.

Is it worth $10? No

“Jumanji: The Next Level” is bigger and more expansive than its 2017 predecessor, but that doesn’t make it better. While the added characters and, yes, levels, suggest director and co-writer Jake Kasdan (who also directed the 2017 film) has appreciably upped the stakes, this time the charm is lost.

High school friends Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Martha (Morgan Turner) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) went their separate ways for college, but reunite around the holidays. More accurately, three of them reunite; Spencer is busy putting the pieces of the Jumanji video game back together so he can once again go inside the game. His motivations are never satisfactorily revealed, which is one of the film’s many problems.

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“It: Chapter Two” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

As I sit here writing this review of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth (out of ten he plans on making before retiring from the director’s chair) movie “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” I have the soundtrack to it playing in the background. The music serves as my notes for the movie. I can clearly recall the opening credit sequence as former 1950s television western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and friend/stuntman/driver Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) take a drive through the Hollywood Hills in 1969 to the tune of “Treat Her Right” by Roy Head & The Traits. I can likewise recall the fun evening that Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), his wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and their friend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) had at the Playboy Mansion while listening to “Son of a Lovin’ Man” by the Buchanan Brothers. Tarantino is one of only two directors (Martin Scorsese being the other one) whose use of pop music is just as important to his movie has the visuals. In “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” the visuals and the sound are inextricably linked, including small bits like advertisements for Tanya Tanning Butter and Numero Uno Cologne.

The movie centers around the relationship between Dalton and Booth. This is easily one of the best, most accurate, most fleshed out, true to life male friendships ever committed to film—and I mean actual Kodak film, which Tarantino, ever the purist, uses for shooting. Booth is technically in Dalton’s employ, but he’s more than that—he’s a good friend and companion. Booth has a shady history and is having a hard time getting stunt work because of it. Dalton is a stalwart friend and in a flashback we see how he advocates for Booth to a stunt coordinator (Kurt Russell) on the set of the “Green Hornet” television show. Things look good for Booth until he rubs a braggadocious Bruce Lee (perfectly played by Mike Moh) the wrong way in a highly entertaining and funny scene. Likewise, Booth is more than grateful to Dalton—he genuinely likes him and cares about him and his career. As the narrator of the movie (also Russell) says at one point, these two men regard each other as a little more than a brother and a little less than a wife. That is a strong friendship, which shines through and is an absolute joy to watch.

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The performances, script and direction are terrific, making this one of the best films of 2019.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Heartbreaking, wonderfully acted, and a sure Oscar contender, “Marriage Story” is one of the best films of 2019.

For those who’ve been through a divorce, especially if a child was involved, it’ll feel like a horror movie. For others it’s a cautionary tale of the hardships divorce brings. For everyone, it’s a sad story that chronicles the faded love between two people who couldn’t keep their spark alive.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach’s (“Mistress America”) film begins as Charlie (Adam Driver) narrates a letter he wrote detailing all the things he loves about his soon-to-be ex-wife, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). It’s honest, touching and sweet, a reminder that so often it’s the little things, both good and bad, about our significant others that endear us to them. Flashbacks to their happier times highlight the narration, and when it’s over, Nicole narrates a letter sharing all the things she loves about Charlie. There may not be a dry eye in the theater, and we’re only ten minutes in.

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A South Florida family's opioid-fueled disintegration is depicted with clear-eyed compassion, and all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, in this impressionistic stumble from “It Comes at Night” writer-director Trey Edward Shults. An ambitious overreach.

Is it worth $10? No

“Waves,” a South Florida odyssey filled with distinctly South Florida iconography, begins on a note of invigorating elation. Tyler Williams, a popular student athlete poised to become a high school wrestling titan, is out and about with his girlfriend Alexa. Their car trip, lensed in a gung-ho 360-degree take, underlines their lust for life. The possibilities are endless, their futures brighter than the sun.

You see these happy lovebirds, writer-director Trey Edward Shults appears to ask viewers? Now watch as I deprive them of everything that brings them joy. In minute, agonizing detail.

It's a tall order for any filmmaker, but the Central Florida-based Shults, who, at 31, already has three features under his belt, is determined to pull off the herculean task of making this hard-hitting domestic drama come to life with kinetic flair. For a while, he does just that. Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and his seemingly harmonious family command your attention with lived-in immediacy.

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

It’s true what they say: The rich don’t live like the rest of us. This is obvious when looking at the lifestyles of those who can afford the best and most premium of what is available in the world. Less obvious is what they do when in private, shuttered from the prying eyes of the masses. Gatherings of the ultra-wealthy have long been rumored to be events full of orgies, sacrifices, and devil worship. The fictional Le Domas family, which made its fortune on games, is one of these families. So it’s not too surprising in “Ready or Not” when a game of Hide and Seek gets bloody.

It does come as a shock to new Le Domas family member Grace (Samara Weaving) though. She marries youngest brother Alex (Mark O'Brien) in a beautiful outdoor ceremony on the family’s estate. Some of his family, like brother Daniel (Adam Brody) and mother Becky (Andie MacDowell) are happy to welcome her into the fold. Others, like father Tony (Henry Czerny) and the scowling Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni), either think he could do better or regard her as a gold digger. Still others, like sister Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), her husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun), and Daniel’s wife Charity (Elyse Levesque) are fairly indifferent toward her and are just there because it’s a family gathering.

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It’s not perfect, but these types of movies are almost always good cheeky fun, and this fits the bill.

Is it worth $10? Yes

"Knives Out" posits itself as a murder mystery whodunit, the likes of which we haven't seen in years. Indeed it is. There's a large gathering, a death, and a quirky inspector who deciphers the evidence, all done in a cheeky, entertaining way. There's a lot to like here, and plenty of potential. The fact that it goes awry in its second half shouldn’t detract from the joy that it exists in the first place.

Set in a vast suburban Massachusetts estate, the Thrombey family has gathered to celebrate the 85th birthday of its patriarch, best-selling mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). By midnight he's dead, and everyone is a suspect. Oldest daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) has had success on her own, but her husband Richard (Don Johnson) is a deadbeat and their son Ransom (Chris Evans) is an entitled trust fund brat. Harlan's son Walt (Michael Shannon) runs the family's publishing empire, and daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) fancies herself a "lifestyle guru." All are financially dependent on Harlan, and don't take it kindly when he threatens to cut them off. Harlan's only friends in the house are his maid Fran (Edi Patterson) and nurse Marta (Ana de Armas). Investigating Harlan's death are Lt. Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), as well as private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, imagining Hercule Poirot had a southern drawl), who literally doesn't know who hired him for the job.

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“Angel Has Fallen” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

In spite of the lack of a question mark at the end of the movie’s title, “Where Did You Go, Bernadette” is a good question. It’s also a good movie, both as a character study of a woman named Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) and the story of this same woman re-discovering her passion after two decades of malaise.

The question of the movie’s title can be applied both mentally and physically as well as personally and professionally. Let’s take a look at her in all four categories:

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It works as a touching story on its own terms, though viewers should know Rogers is merely a supporting character, and insights into what made him tick are few and far between. 

Is it worth $10? Yes

It should immediately be noted that “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is not a biopic about Fred Rogers, the children’s television star better known as “Mr. Rogers.” Yes the title is derived from Rogers’ signature song, and Tom Hanks is terrific as Rogers, but only in a supporting capacity. That’s right: In what will be an unpleasant surprise for many, Rogers is merely a supporting character, not the lead.  

Instead, director Marielle Heller’s (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) film centers on cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who works so hard he neglects his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) and infant son. Lloyd is also distant from his horrible father (Chris Cooper). Lloyd interviews Rogers for a piece in “Esquire,” and Rogers becomes a mentor/friend who comes in and out of Lloyd’s life, always with kind-hearted messages such as “There’s always something you can do with the mad you feel.”

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“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

“The Bad and the Beautiful” from 1952 starring Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas (in one of his most memorable roles) fits in nicely with the de-constructionist Hollywood movies of the time. It comes two years after 1950’s “Sunset Boulevard,” and around the same time as “The Star,” two movies that peel back the veil of glamour around the movie business to show a darker side. “The Bad and the Beautiful” does this as well, showing the chaos, craziness, and considerations that go into making a movie.

The structure of the Oscar-winning screenplay, from writer Charles Schnee and based off a story by George Bradshaw, creates a sense of comfort. At least it does for those versed in the classic three act structure of modern drama. We get a prologue in which we meet all of our main characters: Georgia Lorrison (Turner), a famous actress; Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) a talented award-winning director; James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), a respected and highly paid writer; and Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon), a penny-pinching executive producer. The only major player missing from the bunch is Jonathan Shields (Douglas), a rich and powerful studio mogul. Shields has fallen on hard times and wants Pebbel to convince the other three to make a movie with him to get him back on track. We then sit back and relax as the story of the director, actress, and writer are all told in flashback, comprising each of the three acts of the screenplay. A final epilogue then ties it all up, albeit in an ambiguous way.

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Spirited performances from Damon and Bale highlight the well-told story that is always dramatically compelling and has the right amount of timely humor. 

Is it worth $10? Yes

On its surface, “Ford v Ferrari” is about an unlikely duo trying to design a racecar to defeat the best in the world. It’s not exactly a universal topic. Yet Matt Damon and Christian Bale, under the direction of James Mangold, find a way to make it easily accessible, because it’s also a story about two guys with a shared dream attempting to conquer seemingly insurmountable odds. Indeed, one of the best compliments earned by “Ford v Ferrari” is that you don’t have to be interested in cars (let alone car manufacturing) to enjoy it.

After Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girrone) insults Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) and the Ford Motor Company, Ford owner Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) vows revenge. Knowing Ferrari’s claim to fame is winning the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, Ford charges Iacocca to build a team, and more importantly a car, that can beat Ferrari.

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Recent Articles

Jumanji: The Next Level **
A lackluster sequel to the vastly superior (and ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
“It: Chapter Two” is also new to Blu-Ray ...
Marriage Story ****
The performances, script and direction are ...
Waves **
A South Florida family's opioid-fueled ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Ready or Not
“The Goldfinch” is also new to Blu-Ray this ...
Knives Out **1/2
It’s not perfect, but these types of movies are ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Where’d You Go, Bernadette
“Angel Has Fallen” is also new to Blu-Ray ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Marriage Story

The performances, script and direction are terrific, making this one of the best films of 2019.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Heartbreaking, wonderfully acted, and a sure Oscar contender, “Marriage Story” is one of the best films of 2019.

For those who’ve been through a divorce, especially if a child was involved, it’ll feel like a horror movie. For others it’s a cautionary tale of the hardships divorce brings. For everyone, it’s a sad story that chronicles the faded love between two people who couldn’t keep their spark alive.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach’s (“Mistress America”) film begins as Charlie (Adam Driver) narrates a letter he wrote detailing all the things he loves about his soon-to-be ex-wife, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). It’s honest, touching and sweet, a reminder that so often it’s the little things, both good and bad, about our significant others that endear us to them. Flashbacks to their happier times highlight the narration, and when it’s over, Nicole narrates a letter sharing all the things she loves about Charlie. There may not be a dry eye in the theater, and we’re only ten minutes in.

Read more
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