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

Denzel Washington returns as vigilante do-gooder Robert McCall in director Antoine Fuqua’s “Equalizer 2,” a slightly superior sequel to the 2014 hit. This outing takes more of a globe-trotting approach, with scenes set in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Brussels, Belgium. But before we get to any of that we see McCall, with shaved head and scraggly beard, on a train in Istanbul, Turkey, dispensing his own brand of justice in under thirty seconds and helping a Boston book store owner (Tamara Hickey) get her daughter (Rhys Olivia Cote) back from her abusive kidnapper husband (Adam Karst).

After that it’s back to Boston, where McCall is the city’s most concerned Lyft driver. His concern is for more than just the safety and well-being of his passengers though. He also checks in on the book store owner and her daughter to make sure they are okay. This makes McCall unique in that he is not just interested in punishing those who do bad things, he also wants to make sure that what he does is right and good and that things do in fact work out that way.

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Age is but a number in Julian Schnabel's vibrant exploration of the impulse to create art, anchored by an affecting Willem Dafoe, who makes us forget he's a sixtysomething actor playing thirtysomething painter Vincent Van Gogh. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

Vincent Van Gogh takes his shoes off. He looks at them, paired next to each other as if they were waiting for their Kodak moment. Minutes later, the Dutch painter turns hastily mixed splotches of paint into a still life, forcing us to look at his shabby footwear the way he sees it. This brief scene early on in “At Eternity's Gate” appears to be tossed in almost as an afterthought, but it's emblematic of what sets Julian Schnabel's latest screen biography apart in the midst of a very saturated biopic season: It's all about the process.

The film, which chronicles the final two years of the influential artist's life, seems at first glance to be your basic cinema-of-quality awards bait, an impeccably pedigreed profile of a tortured artist expertly calibrated to draw plaudits. But that's not the way it plays. If anything, Schnabel's consistent refusal to stick to the expected beats feels like the antidote to the genre's cobwebbed confines. The filmmaker, a painter himself, refuses to box in Van Gogh for middlebrow audience consumption, so instead he sets him free, content with showing the artist in his natural habitat.

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The visual effects are superb at times, murky at others. Ultimately it’s the twists on the story that you think you know that makes this worth a watch. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

If you're thinking, "Really, another "Jungle Book" movie?" in regard to "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle," it's understandable. After all, the two prior versions (Disney’s 1967 cartoon and 2016 live action remake) are satisfying enough to not make us crave more. So is "Mowgli," which is available on Netflix streaming Dec. 7, worth watching nonetheless? Marginally yes, because it is different enough to not feel like a cash grab retread.

Based on multiple Rudyard Kipling stories rather than just "The Jungle Book," and notably darker in terms of theme and mood, "Mowgli" is clearly for teens and adults (it's rated PG-13). The core story is narrated by the Python Kaa (Cate Blanchett) and remains unchanged: Baby Mowgli (an impressive Rohan Chand) is raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves led by Akela (Peter Mullan) and Nisha (Naomie Harris). Panther Bagheera (Christian Bale) and Grizzly bear Baloo (Andy Serkis, who also directs) also mentor Mowgli, which is kind but gives the boy identity issues: He grows up thinking he's a wolf, though he knows he doesn't look or act the same as the pack. Thirsty for Mowgli's blood -- possibly because he killed Mowgli's mother, which left the boy orphaned in the jungle -- is Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), who believes no man should live with animals. In the backdrop is a camp of humans that includes a hunter (Matthew Rhys) hired to kill Shere Khan who doesn’t care about collateral damage.

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“The Nun,” “The Happytime Murders,” and “Becoming Iconic” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

It’s a good thing Tom Cruise keeps up the cardio. As IMF agent Ethan Hunt in “Mission: Impossible—Fallout” he needs to rumble in hand to hand combat, sprint for long distances, and hang on to objects while dangling hundreds of feet in the air—usually after fighting or sprinting. Even with the magic of Hollywood cheating here and there, the man is in amazing shape. Director Christopher McQuarrie (who also wrote the screenplay) wants to make you aware of this as well, since many of the shots make it clear that Cruise is doing his own stunts.

The “Mission: Impossible” franchise has made a name for itself with impressive, suspenseful, death-defying stunts. “Fallout” is no exception, delivering the goods from start to finish with a hair raising high altitude skydive by Hunt and CIA partner August Walker (Henry Cavill) early on to a harrowing helicopter chase through a narrow canyon for the movie’s climax. There is also a mid-movie motorcycle chase. It isn’t a “Mission: Impossible” movie without motorcycles.

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It’s a compelling tale of a talented politician’s downfall, and a chronicling of the media’s turn from covering up for philandering politicians to exposing them. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

"I swear this is true," The Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee (Alfred Molina) says midway through "The Front Runner." "New Year's Eve after Jack died, Lyndon Johnson sits down with a whole bunch of us, pulls us in close and says, 'Boys, you're going to see a whole lotta women coming in and out of my hotel suites. I want you to pay us the same courtesy you did Jack.' And we did."

Oh, how times change. The largely friendly "understanding" between press and politician has become equally adversarial over the last 30 years, in part due to the proliferation of news outlets. It's interesting that as the media has grown Americans' values have also evolved, often reflecting the values of their news source. The byproduct is that it is harder to assess what morals, if any, truly matter to the country as a whole.

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It’s too long and not funny enough, but the visuals and creativity offer much to be admired.  

Is it worth $10? Yes  

“Ralph Breaks The Internet” is full of bold imagination, bright colors and wonderful messages. It’s a movie that approaches its subject matter with inquisitive reverence, daring to ask about the Internet, “what would that actually look like?” and then answering the question(s) in wonderfully inventive ways. This is “Inside Out”-level animated excellence here, and it’s a marvelous visceral pleasure. It’s not a perfect movie – it needs more laughs, and runs tediously long at 112 minutes – but oh is it a treat for the eyes.

Ralph (John C. Reilly), heretofore best known as a wrecker of arcade games, is still the same big loveable doof he was in “Wreck It Ralph” (2012). He and friend Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) hang out all night inside the power strip that gives life to the games in Litwak’s Arcade. All is well in their world until something new is plugged in: A Wi-Fi router. With Vanellope’s game broken and Litwak wanting to throw it away rather than fix it, Ralph and Vanellope venture inside the Internet to find the replacement part on ebay.

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“Rocky” fans take note. The rest? Not so much. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

For many people, “Rocky” is their “Star Wars,” a movie that captured their hearts growing up. For me, “Star Wars” is my “Star Wars.” I’m more of a casual acquaintance of Sylvester Stallone’s long running boxing franchise. Still, “Creed,” the spinoff and continuation of that series, impressed me, and I looked forward to its sequel. “Creed II,” it turns out, is a perfectly okay continuation. As a fan of the series, you should get your money’s worth. But it’s a great example of the law of diminishing returns.

“Creed II” continues the story of Adonis Creed (an impressively bulked up Michael B. Jordan), the son of Apollo Creed, deceased rival/best friend of Rocky Balboa from the (seemingly hundreds of) “Rocky” movies. Adonis’ life is going great; he’s still boxing, fighting for the world championship title in the film’s opening match; Rocky is still his coach, Bianca (Tessa Thompson) still his girlfriend. But a specter from the past comes into their lives: Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the Russian boxer whose ruthlessness killed Apollo in the ring thirty years prior. Eventually vanquished in the ring by Rocky in a follow-up bout, a shamed Ivan has been living in obscurity, raising his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), to be a vicious boxer himself. Drago wants payback, redemption for the humiliating defeat he suffered at Rocky’s hands all those years ago. He aims to get it through his son, who challenges Adonis to a boxing match for the ages, as the next generation grapples with shared tragedy.    

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

I must confess, most movies I watch with an all-Asian cast that take place in locations like Shanghai, Taiwan, or Singapore, usually involve said Asians beating the ever-loving crap out of each other. So it was certainly something different for me to watch “Crazy Rich Asians” and not have a high octane, expertly choreographed fight scene break out every ten minutes or so. That said, while these Asians may not be physically assaulting each other, their words and actions are pretty brutal in their own right.

Receiving the brunt of the abuse is Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American woman living in New York. Rachel is seriously dating Nick Young (Henry Golding). What she knows about Nick is that he is handsome, humble, and charming. What she doesn’t know is that his family is one of the wealthiest land owners in Singapore and that Nick’s every move—especially in regard to who he’s dating—is juicy page six fodder in the Asian community.

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Joel Edgerton was hardly the best choice to bring this true-life account of a young man's experience at a gay conversion therapy facility to the screen, but even as his flavorless direction keeps a respectful distance from the characters, fine performances from Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe force you to care. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

The white dress shirt is starched and neatly ironed, but it might as well be a straitjacket. As “Boy Erased” opens, Jared Eamons is getting dressed to head over for his first day at Love in Action, a program that aims to stamp out any trace of same-sex attraction from those who choose (or are firmly prodded) to take the plunge. With a little help from the Good Book, of course.

It's evident that Jared, played by Lucas Hedges, wants to do right by his family. There has to be a way to make these urges go away. He was a jock in high school, for chrissakes. Girls found him cute. But when you spend Sunday mornings staring at your dad on the pulpit, it makes this situation even more delicate. Here he is, taking steps to make it all go away. This has to work, right?

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Six short films from Joel & Ethan Coen set in the Old West. If that sounds appealing, you might just be able to forgive its numerous flaws. 

Is it worth $10? No  

There are few filmmakers better than the Coen Bros. at their best (“Fargo”). There are also few more frustrating filmmakers than the Coen Bros. at their most mediocre (“Inside Llewyn Davis”). “The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs” is thoroughly mediocre.

Netflix is hedging its bets with “Scruggs” by releasing it online and in select theaters at the same time, and understandably so: It lacks the bite, sharp writing and social commentary that comprise the brothers’ best work. And because it’s composed of six unconnected vignettes set in the Old West, it also lacks cohesiveness – nothing binds these stories together except the setting, which isn’t enough.

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Recent Articles

Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Mission: The Equalizer 2
“Peppermint” is also new to Blu-Ray this ...
At Eternity's Gate ***
Age is but a number in Julian Schnabel's ...
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle **1/2
The visual effects are superb at times, ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Mission: Impossible--Fallout
“The Nun,” “The Happytime Murders,” and ...
The Front Runner ***1/2
It’s a compelling tale of a talented ...
Ralph Breaks The Internet ***
It’s too long and not funny enough, but the ...
Creed II **1/2
“Rocky” fans take note. The rest? Not so ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: A Star Is Born

It’s a good remake, and has multiple options that could contend for the Best Song Oscar.  

Is it worth $10? Yes  

There are moments in “A Star Is Born” that give you goose bumps – Lady Gaga belting out a powerful solo, the tender and frail love story on display, the emotional climax that resonates with warmth and beauty. With Gaga starring opposite Bradley Cooper as the leads, it’s easy to see why the film has such pre-release buzz, why it has been dubbed an Oscar contender by some, and why it is considered the best version of this story by others (more on this later).

Those eager to tout its greatness may want to slow down a bit, but the film is undeniably good, especially the chemistry between Gaga and Cooper, and the real emotional stakes that comprise their characters’ relationship. He plays Jackson Maine, a burned out country music star with a crippling drug and alcohol addiction. She’s Ally, a waitress and aspiring singer yet to be discovered. One night after a show, in a bar, he sees her singing “La Vie En Rose” in French and is immediately transfixed, mesmerized by her voice and beauty. As they spend time together they fall in love, and she becomes a star while his stardom fades.

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