A movie where the earth is a garbage dump is, ironically, garbage itself.

Is it worth $10? No

Nearly 20 years ago James Cameron announced his intentions to adapt “Battle Angel Alita,” the Japanese cyber-punk manga (comic book), into a live action film. Almost two decades later, after many false starts and stops, we finally get that adaptation, except now it’s called “Alita: Battle Angel” and it’s directed by Robert Rodriguez of “El Mariachi” and “Sin City” fame (Cameron still produced and co-wrote the screenplay, along with Laeta Kalogridis and Rodriguez). Overlong, underdeveloped, and far south of exciting, Alita was definitely not worth the wait.

It’s hard to even describe the film’s plot. It’s less a narrative than a loose collection of occurrences. There’s nothing driving the story forward, no conclusion the film is moving toward. Probably deriving more than it should from the manga it’s based on, Alita is episodic, and those episodes aren’t terribly interesting.

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“The Front Runner” and “Nobody’s Fool” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

I’m a sucker for meta moments. I can’t help myself. At one point in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” director Bryan Singer’s biopic about rock band Queen’s front man Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), the band meets with a producer at EMI records. The producer is Ray Foster, and he is played by a heavily disguised Mike Myers. It’s 1975, and Foster tells the band that their new single, titled “Bohemian Rhapsody,” can never be played on the radio since it’s six minutes long (three minutes is the max for pop radio hits). Foster also tells them that it’s not the kind of song teens in cars will crank up and bang their heads to. I hooted with the laughter the instant he said it, thinking about the classic moment in 1992’s “Wayne’s World,” featuring Myers, where he and his friends are in a car doing exactly that. Too funny.

While that scene is one of the many highlights of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” it also illustrates the issue with it. During the discussion, Foster questions the band’s references and made up words, chiefly “Bizmillah!” Foster doesn’t know what it means, and frankly, neither do I. There’s a moment there where it looks like Mercury will explain it, but he doesn’t. My only conclusion is that the word is indeed nonsense and has no deeper meaning. This is fine—it is what it is--though a bit disappointing.

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"What Men Want" is certainly not this.  

Is it worth $10? No 

What DO men want? The general stereotyped consensus would read something like a glorified trifecta: sex, sleep, and sandwiches. This isn't exactly accurate, but neither are the gender-classifications in Adam Shankman's rom-com "What Men Want," a mind control comedy that reaches mind numbing extremes.

Mind control might be the wrong term. The gift, or rather, "the shine," gifted to our dutiful heroine Ali gives her the ability to read the thoughts of men. She is played by the luminous Taraji P. Henson. Ali is a success driven sports agent, and an agent for the grief stricken businesswoman trying to make it in a man's world. The only thing that seems to separate her from a much needed promotion are chromosomes. In other words, she works at a "boys club." An agency brimming with white men with whiter teeth, rambling like entitled frat-boys, practically worshiping the Larry Bird jersey seen hanging on the wall. But her ubiquitous problem is her inability to connect with men.

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It’s amusing for older kids and adults, and the self-aware humor is welcome, but the franchise is losing its luster. 

Is it worth $10? No 

“The LEGO Movie” (2014) was a breath of animated fresh air, a self-aware surprise that was appealing to kids and adults alike. After mixed results for two spinoffs (both “The LEGO Batman Movie” and “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” were released in 2017), here we are with “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part,” a sequel that’s as plain and uninspired as its title.

Set five years after the original, the Warner Animation Group film follows evil invaders from the Systar System who’ve destroyed our hero Emmet’s (voice of Chris Pratt) home of Bricksburg. It’s so desolate that it (intentionally) looks like the dystopian wasteland of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Emmet believes he can reason with the Systar leader, General Mayhem (voice of Stephanie Beatriz), but to no avail. If he can’t stop Mayhem, “Ar-mom-ageddon” is inevitable. Worse, Mayhem kidnaps Emmet’s friends Batman (voice of Will Arnett), Lucy (voice of Elizabeth Banks), Benny (voice of Charlie Day), MetalBeard (voice of Nick Offerman) and Unikitty (voice of Alison Brie), and intends to force Batman to marry her shape-shifting queen, Watevra Wa’Nabi (voice of Tiffany Haddish).

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"Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Not only was 2018 a great year for lead roles for women, it could be argued that it was too good. In addition to the five Best Actress Oscar nominees, there are other exceptional, stand out performances that didn’t make the cut. The one for me that stings the most is Toni Collette not getting nominated (I loathe use of the word “snub”—sounds way too entitled) for “Hereditary” in what I consider to be a career best performance. I also consider the performance of Rosamund Pike in her role as fearless war correspondent Marie Colvin in “A Private War” to be her career best—even better than “Gone Girl,” for which she was nominated four years ago.

“A Private War” opens with voice over from an interview with the real-life Marie Colvin playing over a swooping bird’s eye aerial shot of the blown out buildings in Homs, Syria,  in 2012. I use the word “fearless” very purposely in the above paragraph, because Colvin describes a state of being that is exactly that when she is in horrendous life or death situations. As she says: “Fear comes later.”

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The real soldiers of World War I come to vivid life in this doc from director Peter Jackson. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

We’ve seen plenty of World War I movies, but never one quite like “They Shall Not Grow Old.” Comprised of archival footage, propaganda, and photo stills that have been digitally remastered and colorized in 3D, the documentary is a fascinating look at the experiences of soldiers during World War I.

Through interviews with British soldiers whom we hear but never see, director Peter Jackson (“Lord Of The Rings”) takes us through the life of a soldier before, during and after the Great War. Culled from more than 700 hours of footage (much of which has never been seen before) that took Jackson and his team roughly a year to catalogue at the Imperial War Museum in London, then whittled down to a 99-minute run time, the doc is a testament to those who had no idea they were sacrificing so much for the freedom of others.

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"The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

As a fan of Dario Argento’s strikingly colorful 1977 horror fairy tale “Suspira,” I went into the 2018 remake by Luca Guadagnino with cautious optimism. Guadagnino in interviews has stated that he wanted to create a modern day experience similar to what he experienced when he first saw Argento’s movie. A daunting task indeed. One of the reasons that Argento’s movie has stood the test of time is because it taps into primal fears and has some genuine surprises guaranteed to shock first time viewers, no matter what decade they’re watching it in.

On both of these points, Guadagnino succeeds—some would even say that he succeeds to excess. I think he hit the shock and gore level just right, without going to excesses. That said, there is a fair bit of it as the movie kicks into overdrive for its sixth and final act (as we’re told at the opening, “Suspiria” is told in six acts and an epilogue).

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It’s a fun reimagining of the King Arthur legend that has a nice message for early teens who aren’t the most popular kid in school.  

Is it worth $10? Yes 

How do you make an old story new? Keep the structure, change the setting, and reimagine the characters. That’s what writer/director Joe Cornish (“Attack The Block”) has done with “The Kid Who Would Be King,” and to his credit it’s an effective update to the legend of King Arthur.

Set in modern England, the film starts with a focus on Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), two tween losers who regularly get bullied. One night while escaping bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), Alex runs into a construction site and comes upon a sword in a block of concrete, err, stone. He pulls the sword out, not thinking anything of it. Come to find out Alex is a descendant of King Arthur!

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“The Hate U Give” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The engine strains as it’s pushed to its limit. The thin steel shell of a vehicle shakes and buckles under the pressure. Inside, a mortal man tries to remain cool, calm, and collected, monitoring various indicators that ensure him that all is well and he is not going to suddenly die in a fiery heap.

Yes, I am describing what it was like to drive my first car over 50 miles per hour. However, I am also describing the experience of test pilot/engineer/future astronaut and American hero Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as he pilots the experimental X-15 jet through the various layers of the Earth’s atmosphere in the opening moments of “First Man.” I was luckier than Neil in that I wasn’t 140,000 feet from the ground and didn’t have to worry about “bouncing” off of said atmosphere. For a perspective in how sickeningly high up this is, note that commercial jet liners cruise at an average altitude of 30,000 feet. Neil was up to nearly five times that height.

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It’s not awful, but most should give “Glass” a pass. 

Is it worth $10? No 

Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan built his career with a solid set of patient, slightly off kilter thrillers (“The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” and “Signs”). But I got tired of his shtick--gimmicky twist endings, a distracting visual style that bordered on incompetent, etc., a while ago. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed his last film, “Split,” and as “Glass” is his direct sequel to that movie, I was optimistic. But was that hope misplaced? For better or for worse, “Glass” is definitely a Shyamalan movie, a superhero story as seen through his esoteric lens. It has its moments, but it’s not particularly exciting or rewarding.

Picking up after “Split,” itself a stealth sequel to the Bruce Willis starring “Unbreakable,” “Glass” throws together the main characters from those films, creating a real world-esque “Avengers” team-up movie. David Dunn (Willis), 19 years after his journey into discovering his powers in “Unbreakable,” has aged but is still a mostly invulnerable vigilante with incredible strength, roaming the streets of Philadelphia, do-gooding with the help of his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). As the movie opens, he’s searching for The Horde (James McAvoy), the murderous antagonist (antagonists?) from “Split,” who has 24 distinct personalities, one of them with superpowers of his own. This early portion of the movie plays best as we catch up with these characters, some of whom we haven’t seen in a long time, and watch them interact/intersect for the first time.

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Recent Articles

Alita: Battle Angel * 1/2
A movie where the earth is a garbage dump is, ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Bohemian Rhapsody
“The Front Runner” and “Nobody’s Fool” are ...
What Men Want *1/2
"What Men Want" is certainly not this.  Is ...
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part **
It’s amusing for older kids and adults, and ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: A Private War
"Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” is also new to ...
They Shall Not Grow Old ***
The real soldiers of World War I come to ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Suspiria
"The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is also ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: If Beale Street Could Talk

It’s a beautifully made film from director Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), as the music, narrative structure and performances (especially Regina King) are outstanding. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

What a heartbreaking film “If Beale Street Could Talk” is, in all the best ways a movie can be heartbreaking. None of it is melodramatic – all the emotions are earned, be they for pain, desperation, or yearning. What’s more, the love we see on screen is pure, and the challenges to that love are tragic.

Based on the 1974 James Baldwin novel, it tells the story of Tish (newcomer KiKi Lane) and Fonny (Stephan James), childhood friends who in 1970s Harlem fall in love. She’s shy, introverted, reserved. He’s a bit more outgoing, gentle and strong. We easily see why they love one another, and it’s clear that if you’re going to root for any couple to succeed, it’s them. In flashbacks we see their initial moments together are tender and awkward, as many first dates and sexual encounters can be. This also makes them relatable and real. Soon, she’s pregnant. They’re ecstatic, her family is ecstatic. Here they are, these young, impoverished kids, makin’ a go of it in this crazy world.

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