“Mile 22” and “Alpha” are also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

Jason Statham puts aside his high-kicking, quick-punching escapades as Jonas Taylor, deep dive rescue expert. While this character may not snap kick faces with joyful aplomb as Statham characters often do, Jonas is no less brave and badass. Certainly more so than me. Put it this way: Midway through “The Meg,” he voluntarily swims up to the giant megalodon (fun fact: this means “big tooth”) shark of the title to shoot a tracking device on to its fin. I wouldn’t.

“The Meg” hits the ground running, showing the tragic event in Taylor’s past that forced him to retire to a life of steady beer drinking and shabby boat repair jobs in Taiwan. After things go pear-shaped during a deep sea expedition involving Taylor’s ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee), Taylor’s old friends--who are also part of the expedition--Mac (Cliff Curtis) and Zhang (Winston Chao) convince Taylor to go to their deep underwater facility to rescue Lori and her two crew members Wall (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) and Toshi (Masi Oka). He begrudgingly accepts, and lucky for all involved, five years of constant beer drinking didn’t give Taylor a beer belly or inhibit his senses in any way. This fact alone makes it clear that he is no mere mortal.

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A curiously uninvolving portrait of desperate lives set in small-town Montana in the early 1960s, Paul Dano's directing debut aims for kitchen sink realism but never quite overcomes a theatrical archness that's off-putting and consistently distracting. 

Is it worth $10? No 

What's it like to be the son of Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan? After seeing “Wildlife,” the glum and fussy domestic drama from versatile indie darling Paul Dano, I'm still left wondering. This fairly ambitious misfire, based on a novel by Richard Ford, asks viewers to buy the Oscar nominees as the parents of Ed Oxenbould, who played the insufferable brat with a penchant for hip-hop in M. Night Shyamalan's “The Visit.” Let's just say adolescence has not been kind to the burgeoning actor.

Oxenbould's conspicuously gawky looks, which make him look like Dax Shepard's love child, is not the only problem plaguing Dano's precious period piece, but it makes for a lousy first impression. He plays Joe Brinson (Oxenbould), recently relocated with Mom, Jeanette (Mulligan) and Dad, Jerry (Gyllenhaal) to Great Falls, Montana, circa 1960. One detects a certain fatigue from mother and son, trapped as silent witnesses to Jerry's inability to keep a job.

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It’s a colorful reimagining of the Dr. Seuss tale, but it plays tedious and uninspired. 

Is it worth $10? No 

If you’re going to remake “The Grinch,” you’d better have a good reason. There’d better be something more up your sleeve than a cash grab on a popular yuletide title. It’s imperative to bring something new, innovative, and imaginative to a story many of us already love. Otherwise, go away.

To their credit, the creative minds at Illumination Entertainment (which made the “Despicable Me” movies, among others) had some novel ideas for this latest incarnation of “The Grinch.” The problem is there aren’t many good ideas, so the whole thing falls flat.

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This mental illness drama has flaws, but it also has humor and warmth, and isn’t nearly as depressing as it may look. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

If we’re lucky, our parents grow old enough to see us off into the world, watch us graduate, get married, have kids of our own, etc. And if we’re especially fortunate, our parents will enjoy all of the above in good health. Thankfully, siblings Betty (Hilary Swank) and Nick (Michael Shannon) have enjoyed a loving, albeit a bit testy, relationship with their parents. But as we meet them in “What They Had,” their mother’s health has declined to the point that something must be done.

What’s fascinating about writer/director Elizabeth Chomko’s film is its perspective: We’ve seen many movies about Alzheimer’s (a word that is never spoken in “What They Had”) and dementia, but rarely do those stories focus on the effect the disease has on the afflicted person’s children. By taking this approach, Chomko has crafted a story that is relatable and touching, though occasionally heavy handed in ways you don’t necessarily expect.

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“Christopher Robin” and “Black KkKlansman” are also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

“Incredibles 2” is ostensibly a superhero movie. Undoubtedly, Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (voice of Craig T. Nelson), Helen Parr/Elastigirl (voice of Holly Hunter), Violet Parr/Invisible Girl (voice of Sarah Vowell), and Dashiell Parr/Dash (voice of Huck Milner), all make a great superhero team called The Incredibles—even if they don’t always get along as a family. However, the real gold to be mined in this movie has nothing to do with form-fitting superhero suits and dastardly villains. It involves something much more human and relatable.

The superhero shenanigans are fine, if a bit typical by today’s standards. Back in 2004 when the first “Incredibles” movie appeared, the cineplexes weren’t flooded with three to four movies per year of the same genre. In 2018, between the MCU, DCU, and whatever other CU is out there, we have a very saturated market. A lot of story lines have been done and done again. Take for example the fact that superheroes are “illegal” in the world of “Incredibles 2.” Right off the top of my head, “X-Men,” “Watchmen,” and “Captain America: Civil War” have all played notes on this same basic theme.

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Yes, it's too long and bites off more than it can chew, but Luca Guadagnino's brilliantly staged and impeccably acted reimagining of Dario Argento's giallo staple is a slow-burn marvel, a witches' brew haunted by all-too-real demons. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

It doesn't look like much from the outside, just another unremarkable building in Stasi-era West Berlin during a particularly turbulent time. Behind the doors of the Markos Dance Academy, however, malevolent forces dwell in plain sight. Yes, we all know dance instructors are evil incarnate put in this world to inflict pain and misery, but the teachers in this school are real witches. No, really, they're bonafide sorceresses. Dark magic, dastardly spells, naked rituals, the ability to invade your dreams. You get the picture.

But to new arrival Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson, a revelation), Markos marks an escape from her devoutly rigid upbringing in a Mennonite family in rural Ohio that always resented her being the malcontent misfit. The wide-eyed ingenue becomes our eyes and ears into this walled-off world of spooky hallways, power plays and retaliatory mayhem, but part of what makes “Suspiria,” an ambitious spellbinder based on Dario Argento's 1977 influential supernatural tale, stand out is director Luca Guadagnino's insistence in tying the disturbing events at the school with the political realities of the time period.

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Disney somehow tries too hard and not hard enough, resulting in a well-intentioned snooze. 

Is it worth $10? No

From the moment “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” faded in, I became restless. When it faded out, I felt no different. The movie is an uninvolving bore.

Based on both the short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E. T. A. Hoffmann and Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet (and Christmas staple) The Nutcracker, this reinterpretation focuses on Clara (a strong, attention grabbing Mackenzie Foy), the middle of three siblings growing up in London of the late 1800s. It’s Christmas Eve, but having recently lost her mother, Clara doesn’t feel the holiday spirit. Her father (a severely bored Matthew Macfadyen), reveals that their mother, before she passed, left presents for each of them. Clara’s gift is a Fabergé egg along with a note stating everything she needs is inside. But the egg’s locked; the key to open it not included.

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A solid drama with a nice performance by Melissa McCarthy.  

Is it worth $10? Yes 

When successful actors known predominantly for comedy decide to do drama, a natural curiosity is peeked. “Can they pull it off?” we seem to ask, as if the two are oil and water. With “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Melissa McCarthy does just that, jumping over from a string of comedic hit films to something character-based and sedate. The result is a good performance in a solid, if unspectacular, movie.

A fact-based story, “Can…” stars Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, a writer barely eking a living in New York. It’s 1991 and the author has had minor success with biographies of famous people like Tallulah Bankhead and Dorothy Kilgallen, the last of which made it onto the New York Time’s bestseller list. But Lee has fallen on hard times. She lost her wage slave job because of her hard drinking and acidic personality, the combination of which basically makes her unemployable. With rent due and unpaid vet bills stacking up for her only companion, an aging cat, Lee resorts to drastic measures.

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Any scene involving music is electric and captivating; any scene involving personal drama is ho-hum by the book. The music was enough for me. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

There’s an odd duality in “Bohemian Rhapsody” that is a testament to the enduring power of the rock band Queen’s music. Any time we see Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), Brian May (Gwilym Lee), John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) creating their now iconic tunes, and/or in concert, the film is electrifying. Much like the music itself, these scenes are dynamic, intense and captivating. Even better, moments in which Queen develops the songs “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Another One Bites The Dust,” “We Will Rock You” and more are inherently fascinating – who wouldn’t want to be in the room when some of the most iconic ballads in rock history were created?

So yes, the reason many will go to “Bohemian Rhapsody” – the music – is satisfyingly well done. This is a 134-minute movie, however, and the rest of the time it focuses on Mercury’s personal life with decidedly mixed results. We learn he is actually Indian/Parsi, and from Zanzibar even though he grew up in London. His conservative father disapproves of his lack of direction, his mother is more understanding, and he falls in love with and marries Mary (Lucy Boynton) just as his career is starting in the early ‘70s.

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“Slender Man” and “The Spy Who Dumped Me” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Titling a movie “An Actor Prepares” is a bold move and a bit misleading. This title also belongs to a famous a famous acting training book from 1936 by Konstantin Stanislavski, which has influenced generations of method actors since its publication. It’s easy to assume that a movie with this title would be an adaptation of sorts that delves deep and explores what it means to be a method actor.

Well, if that is what you assumed, you’d be wrong. “An Actor Prepares” is a road trip movie about an estranged father and son. The father is Atticus Smith, played by Jeremy Irons. He’s a chain-smoking, hard drinking womanizer whose decades of fast living have finally caught up with him. Early on, we see him get drunk at a party in his honor and have a heart attack. This is bad news for his agent Jimmy (Ben Schwartz), who just got Atticus cast in a role playing God. The part is in danger if he doesn’t get timely heart surgery. Adding to the deadline pressure is the fact that his daughter Annabelle (Mamie Gummer) is getting married in New York. One problem: He is in Los Angeles and cannot fly across the country due to his heart condition.

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Recent Articles

Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Meg
“Mile 22” and “Alpha” are also new to ...
Wildlife **
A curiously uninvolving portrait of ...
The Grinch **
It’s a colorful reimagining of the Dr. ...
What They Had ***
This mental illness drama has flaws, but it ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Incredibles 2
“Christopher Robin” and “Black KkKlansman” are ...
Suspiria ***1/2
Yes, it's too long and bites off more than ...
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms **
Disney somehow tries too hard and not hard ...

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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