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A buoyant sequel/prequel to the movie adaptation of the smash Broadway musical leans heavily on its stars' undeniable charisma and splashy, expertly choreographed numbers, especially when it runs out of steam story-wise.  

Is it worth $10? Yes  

“Mamma Mia!” jived its way into the hearts of moviegoers across the globe back in 2008. It also gained a reputation among critics (and quite a few viewers) for the way it showed off some A-listers' pipes, whether they could actually carry a tune or not. In this regard, this reviewer refused to turn into a show tunes snob. Part of the charm of this disarming adaptation of the popular jukebox musical, driven by ABBA's irresistibly kitschy ditties, was to witness Pierce Brosnan warble his way through “SOS” and “When All Is Said and Done.”

If these are cringe-inducing memories you'd like to erase, fear not, dear readers. It's clear the makers of “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” were taking notes. The bouncy, jolly follow-up is slicker, grander and, when it comes to the performers' singing abilities, far more polished. As it turns out, a little too polished. It's a good thing writer-director Ol Parker (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) retains much of the joy that made the original a throwback treat, because he's gone too far in the other direction in stepping up the quality of the singing. There's something not quite right here when almost everyone who breaks out into song sounds like a professional talent.

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Minimal drama is a moving story of a father and daughter. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

At the start of “Leave No Trace,” Will (Ben Foster) and his 13 year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) peacefully co-exist in their home near Portland, Oregon. She’s home-schooled and academically advanced for her age, knows how to cook and provide for herself, and seems happy. To many, this is what a well-adjusted, admittedly socially awkward teenager should look like.

The problem, according to social services, is that they live in a tent in the woods, and are illegally occupying public land. When Will is arrested their situation changes drastically, which prompts two thoughts: 1) Why is anyone telling anyone how to raise their healthy and happy child? And 2) The “system” is rescuing a child who doesn’t need rescuing. If Will and Tom choose and want to live like this, why not leave them alone?

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"Rampage” and “Super Troopers 2” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

My main problem with some—certainly not all, but some—“dog” movies is they have this notion that to be pro-dog is to be anti-cat. These movies portray cats as only villains and dogs as only heroes. I was a bit concerned about this direction being taken in “Isle of Dogs,” the latest stop-motion animation movie from quirky visionary director Wes Anderson. In the opening moments, we’re treated to a backstory about how in feudal Japan, the cat-loving Kobayashi clan sought to banish dogs. They would have succeeded, too, if it wasn’t for a pesky young boy who beheaded the clan leader and saved Japan’s feudal pooches. But that’s all we really hear about cats. They are not vilified but rather are just the preferred pet of the Kobayashi. “Isle of Dogs” manages to be about dogs without being at the expense of cats.

That concern out of the way, “Isle of Dogs” proceeds with history repeating itself. In the future Japanese city of Megasaki, Mayor Kobayashi (voice of Kunichi Nomura), descendant of the clan, still bears a grudge against dogs. After an outbreak of dog fever grips his city, he seizes the opportunity to banish all dogs—domesticated and stray—to a small island filled with garbage. The first dog to go is the dog belonging to Kobayashi’s nephew and ward, 12 year-old Atari (voice of Koyu Rankin). We see the dog, named Spots (voice of Liev Schreiber), get dropped off in a cage. The logical minded amongst us are left pondering how he will get out.

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Throwback action pic that produces just enough gasp-inducing moments to keep us entertained throughout. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

In the marketing blitz prior to the release of “Skyscraper,” Dwayne Johnson released two “vintage” posters for the film, one an ode to “Die Hard” (see the comparison below) and the other paying homage to “The Towering Inferno.” The choices are appropriate, as “Skyscraper” is very much in the mode of those action classics, and to its credit is a fun watch in its own right.

This is not a movie for the faint of heart, nor the altophobic. Johnson stars as Will Sawyer, a safety and security expert hired to inspect the newest tallest building in the world, called the Pearl, in Hong Kong. The former FBI agent with a prosthetic leg takes his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell), daughter Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and son Henry (Noah Cottrell) along for the trip. Things are fine until Will is double-crossed by his ex-partner (Pablo Schreiber) and framed for setting the 220-story building on fire.

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

Hollywood is not known for taking big budget risks on small-scope, minimalist ideas. This fact alone makes it a miracle that “A Quiet Place” was even made.

To be sure, it helps that John Krasinski, most famous for starring in “The Office” on television, but making a name for himself in non-comedic roles since, is heavily involved. Not only does Krasinksi star in “A Quiet Place,” he also directs, co-wrote the screenplay, and has an executive producer credit. I don’t know the development history of this movie, but my guess is that it has been a pet project and labor of love for Krasinski for a long time, and he finally has the clout in Hollywood to see his vision come alive. That’s the way the story usually goes. Still, it is surprising that this was a major studio release and they didn’t instead put the entire budget for this movie toward an extra five seconds of digital effects for the latest pre-sequel reboot buddy cop superhero alien movie. Good on Paramount – I’m glad they took the chance.

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A good time undermined by haphazard writing.

Is it worth $10? No

The original “Ant-Man” was a breezy and enjoyable surprise. I was hoping for more of the same with this sequel. After the heaviness of the last Marvel Universe film, “Avengers: Infinity War,” we could definitely use a lighter touch. On that front, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” delivers. With its winning humor and cheerful atmosphere, it’s an amusing and enjoyable two hours. But it has problems. Problems big enough that I ended up enjoying this movie less than its predecessor.

The story picks up a few years after the events of “Captain America: Civil War.” Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, magnificently droll)­­—ex cat burglar and titular Ant-Man, who can shrink in scale while gaining super-strength thanks to a super suit created by genius scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas)—having chosen the losing side in that stand-off of superheroes, avoids prison time after entering a plea-bargain that finds him at the tail-end of three years of house arrest.

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Cash grab sequel feels redundant and unnecessary. Cool visual effects though! 

Is it worth $10? No  

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” features more types of dinosaurs than in any previous “Jurassic” movie. Surely, you would think, that would mean more opportunities for writers Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (who directed “Jurassic World”), and director J.A. Bayona, to do something truly creative and unique.

How disappointing, then, that “Fallen Kingdom” is same old same old, and not in a good way. Yes this is a sequel to one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, and you have to give the audience what it wants. Doesn’t the audience also want, though, parts of it to feel fresh? New? Innovative? It’s a downer when you spend 128 minutes watching a movie and leave feeling like you’ve seen it before.

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A superb heist movie with a twist, just not the type of twist you’re thinking of. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

For worse, movies glamorize thievery. The bigger the heist the more fun it is, sure, but the moral component of robbery has always been dubious. Even if stealing for a righteous cause, it still includes taking something that isn’t yours.

When watching the grand thefts as entertainment (such as the “Ocean’s” movies), the characters rarely feel bad about what they’re doing. Just the opposite, in fact: Usually they’re on such a platitude about pulling it off that the consequences are rarely mentioned, let alone seriously considered.

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“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

I once watched an episode of “Judge Judy” where she admonished a woman for not reading the fine print before signing a contract. Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) in “Unsane” could have used the same advice.

Not that Sawyer is without issues. She was forced to move away from her hometown of Boston after an incident with a stalker. While she may be physically free of him, she is not mentally free of him. She still has flashes where she sees his face. These flashes come at inopportune times, like just as she is about to get into some love making with a random stranger.

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The fragile male ego is as daunting an obstacle as any of the other challenges faced by the women of a rural French community living in the shadow of World War I in this impeccably crafted period piece that's quietly absorbing, at least until some soap opera plotting threatens to derail it.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“The Guardians” is a film about the daily grind of farm life. It's about the sweat that trickles down the brow of an aging worker as she plows the field. It's about serene vistas that help take one's mind off faraway bloodshed from which loved ones may not come back. It's a film about wistful glances and emotional exhaustion. But most of all, this rigorous, old-fashioned wartime epic is about stamina and resolve in the face of adversity.

The latest feature from Xavier Beauvois, the director of the Cannes-winning faith-themed drama “Of Gods and Men,” follows the Sandrail household throughout World War I, as family matriarch Hortense (a nearly unrecognizable Nathalie Baye) and her daughter Solange (Laura Smet, Baye's real-life daughter) struggle to upkeep the Paridier farm while her two sons Constant (Nicolas Giraud), a former schoolteacher, and Georges (Cyril Descours) are off fighting “the Krauts,” as the pupils Constant left behind call them.

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Recent Articles

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again **1/2
A buoyant sequel/prequel to the movie ...
Leave No Trace ***
Minimal drama is a moving story of a father ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Isle of Dogs
"Rampage” and “Super Troopers 2” are also ...
Skyscraper ***
Throwback action pic that produces just enough ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: A Quiet Place
“Chappaquiddick” is also new to Blu-Ray ...
Ant-Man and the Wasp **
A good time undermined by haphazard ...
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom **
Cash grab sequel feels redundant and ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Leave No Trace

Minimal drama is a moving story of a father and daughter. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

At the start of “Leave No Trace,” Will (Ben Foster) and his 13 year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) peacefully co-exist in their home near Portland, Oregon. She’s home-schooled and academically advanced for her age, knows how to cook and provide for herself, and seems happy. To many, this is what a well-adjusted, admittedly socially awkward teenager should look like.

The problem, according to social services, is that they live in a tent in the woods, and are illegally occupying public land. When Will is arrested their situation changes drastically, which prompts two thoughts: 1) Why is anyone telling anyone how to raise their healthy and happy child? And 2) The “system” is rescuing a child who doesn’t need rescuing. If Will and Tom choose and want to live like this, why not leave them alone?

Read more