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An entertaining horror film with mass appeal, but the sum of its parts is greater than its whole. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

“Us” is writer/director Jordan Peele’s follow up to his critically lauded “Get Out,” a horror film that not only made a ton of money but also won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay last year. “Us,” therefore, arrives with a lot of hype, and naturally, a lot of scrutiny. So maybe I overanalyzed it, but what I saw was an entertaining horror film, but not much more.   

Things begin inauspiciously. An opening shot of a vintage television sandwiched by VHS tapes—all decade specific horror movies like “C.H.U.D.” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” et al.--makes the setting immediately clear: the ‘80s. As if that were not enough, the images on the TV reiterate the time period twice, “1986” repeatedly flashing on the screen. Yet, when we cut from that television to the next scene, a subtitle still appears, “1986.” Repetitive handholding doesn’t make a great first impression.

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The strong opening doesn’t hold up throughout, but it’s fun to see Dev Patel as a tough guy. 

Is it worth $10? No  

As “The Wedding Guest” opens, a man in a darkened room packs for a trip. He could easily turn the light on, but that would ruin the effect writer/director Michael Winterbottom is striving for, which is a sense of mystery and intrigue. As ominous music plays, we see him place multiple passports (among other things) in his luggage. We can’t help but wonder who this guy is, what he is doing, and why. It’s intense. Mystery and intrigue accomplished.

The answers to these questions are initially interesting: The man is Jay (Dev Patel), and he’s on his way to Pakistan. He’s ostensibly travelling for an old friend’s wedding, but in truth he’s planning to kidnap the bride, Samira (Radhika Apte). She’s to be part of an arranged marriage, and her lover (Jim Sarbh) has paid Jay to extract her from a lifetime of servitude. Jay does, but there are complications, and as the story progresses it becomes less compelling, culminating in a weak and anti-climactic ending. In fairness, it couldn’t have believably ended any other way, but that doesn’t change how unsatisfactory it feels.

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“Mary Poppins Returns” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The first thing “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” made me think of was 2004. This is because 2004 is the last year we got a great Spider-Man movie, with Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2.” While I didn’t exactly hate any of the installments of everyone’s favorite web slinger that came out in the interim, I wasn’t filled with the same awe and joy I felt watching Sam Raimi’s first two movies. That all changed with “Spider-Verse.”

For this outing, Sony Pictures decided to go the animated route and the movie credits three directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman (who also has a co-screenwriter credit). So often this is a sign that a movie will be a disjointed mess (the natural consequence of not having one singular vision), but that’s not the case with “Spider-Verse.” It’s as well made and executed as movies come, and fantastically paced enough so that the one hour and 57 minute run time breezes by in nothing flat. I can practically guarantee that you’ll want more of this visual delight by the time the credits roll.

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An interesting, albeit a bit depressing, black comedy that smartly explores uncommon questions about death. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

Religion and death have an odd, incompatible relationship. Many religions preach the comfort of the soul living on, of an afterlife being a better existence than the deceased knew on earth. That sounds great, but there’s no way to know for sure that it’s true, and surviving loved ones are going to mourn regardless. Within that grief comes anger, frustration, and questions.

In “To Dust,” a Hasidic cantor named Shmuel (Geza Rohrig, “Son of Saul”) has a question you may not have thought to ask. His wife recently died of cancer. He believes her soul cannot be freed until it is fully decayed, so he’s eager to know how long the decaying takes. Weeks? Months? Egad, longer? He initially consults his rabbi (Bern Cohen), who isn’t much help. He then goes to a funeral home, where he inquires about embalming and coffins. No satisfaction there.

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“Fantastic Beasts” and “Mortal Engines” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The choice of “Green Book” as a Best Picture Oscar winner is striking given that the premise of the movie is culled from off the shelf Hollywood movie parts. It’s an oil and water “Odd Couple” story and road movie. Stop right now and you can probably think of a few movies that follow that same formula.

The one aspect of “Green Book” that separates it from formula movies’ past is that this is based on a true story. For those who will object to the way some of the scenes are dramatically stereotypical and cliché, my answer is that when it comes to the phrase “based on a true story,” the wrong word tends to get focused on. Most people focus on the word “true” and get upset to find out that things in the movie didn’t happen exactly the way they happened in real life. This is a mistake. Instead, concentrate on the word “based.” This means that they took the true event and allowed creative license to make it more dramatically appealing. I have no doubt that many such liberties were taken with “Green Book.”

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Captain Marvel herself is a bit of a bore as a lead character, but the movie is good enough to get us even more excited for “Avengers: Endgame” next month.  

Is it worth $10? Yes  

Many times when you go out to dinner you’re looking forward to the entrée, but you’re hungry, so you start with an appetizer. And it’s just okay. It satiates but it’s not impressive. With many looking forward to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s main course of “Avengers: Endgame” debuting April 26, “Captain Marvel” is a so-so appetizer that fails to impress.

It’s an origin story, told in a convoluted way, with a bland performance from Brie Larson in the lead. She’s first known as Vers, a Kree warrior who still has a lot to learn from her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). After a mission goes awry she crash lands on earth in a Blockbuster Video. It’s 1995, and she soon meets a young Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), whose only function is to allow people to say “hey look, it’s Coulson!”, and a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who still has two eyes. The villainous Skrulls, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), follow her to earth, needing something only she can provide.

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

The portrayal of Great Britain’s Queen Anne (played by freshly anointed Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia Colman) in “The Favourite,” as well as the various fops and dandies that comprise her court, are the worst kinds of upper crust nobles: Detached from reality and uncaring about the common people whom they so callously send off to war. The only decent one among them is Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who knows that doubling taxation to continue fighting a war against the French will lead to a revolt in Britain. He is deeply concerned about this course of action. The rest of them are content to either race or shoot ducks for sport—whatever strikes their fancy.

While the orders on how to proceed may come from Anne’s mouth, the thoughts behind them are not her own. Rather, they are the opinions and directives of Anne’s close friend and advisor Sarah (Rachel Weisz). Sarah knows that Anne is cognitively and temperamentally unfit to make such important life or death decisions, so she takes it upon herself to make them. As long as she has Anne’s ear, and as long as Anne is so easily manipulated, Sarah is comfortable with things exactly as they are.

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Foreign language films often struggle for recognition at the Oscars, but that was not the case this year. Foreign films earned 15 total nominations outside of the Foreign Language Film category, including two for Director and three for Cinematography, which is perhaps a reflection of the Academy’s diversity drive finally bearing fruit.

The fact that only “Roma” took Oscars home – for Foreign Language Film, Director and Cinematography – shouldn’t dissuade you from thinking the other nominees were not worthy. Below is a capsule review of each of the five Foreign Language Film nominees, along with how you can see them now.

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"Roma," "Black Panther," and Best Picture winner "Green Book" took home three Oscars apiece, while crowd favorite "Bohemian Rhapsody" led the way with four wins. All of the Best Picture nominees won at least one Oscar, with the biggest shock of the evening coming as Olivia Colman from "The Favourite" won Best Actress instead of Glenn Close for "The Wife."

During each commercial break, I noted what struck me while watching the 91st Annual Academy Awards:

-The opening of the show was safe but enjoyable. Queen and Adam Lambert didn't quite bring the energy one would expect, in part because that energy is hard to convey to a home audience, and in part because it's odd to open the Oscars with such well-known rock ballads. A little riffing from Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph is always good for the soul, but I was surprised to see tradition break as they presented Supporting Actress to Regina King for "If Beale Street Could Talk" (usually last year's acting winner presents to the opposite gender). Kudos to the filmmakers of Documentary winner "Free Solo" -- it's risky filmmaking at its finest.

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Headline: "Fighting With My Family" packs an emotional punch. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

Two kids wrestle for the T.V. remote. A young boy wants to watch his idol Dwayne Johnson, back when he had a surplus of hair and was the sans pareil of the wrestling world. The sister, a fighting spirit herself, isn't going to give up her beloved "Charmed" without a few punches thrown. It's a wonderful opening scene, made all the more charming by the interference from dad. "Zak... what the bloody hell do you think you're doing" he bellows. (Nick Frost plays the mohawked father with unswerving compassion). "If you really want to choke her out, go like this" he passionately instructs his son, who now has his little sister in a choke-hold. Most parents wish for their kids to be lawyers, but the Knights have other plans. These two proud parents want nothing more than for their kids to kick ass in the wrestling ring.

We are never told who won, but it's the sister who steps out of life's ring triumphant. In Stephen Merchant's tender underdog story, a rare sub-genre example that boasts brains and brawn, you will get the chance to watch a luminous soul transcend lofty lows to achieve soaring highs. It's your basic underdog formula, but even the formula here seems fresh.

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Recent Articles

Us **1/2
An entertaining horror film with mass ...
The Wedding Guest **
The strong opening doesn’t hold up ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
“Mary Poppins Returns” is also new to ...
To Dust **1/2
An interesting, albeit a bit depressing, ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Green Book
“Fantastic Beasts” and “Mortal Engines” are ...
Captain Marvel **1/2
Captain Marvel herself is a bit of a bore ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Favourite
“Creed II” is also new to Blu-Ray this ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

A loving end to a lovely trilogy.  

Is it worth $10? Yes  

There's an age old saying that goes like: teamwork makes the dream work. You have certainly heard it before, and probably for its peerless veracity. So it only makes sense that it has become the unsung motto for DreamWorks Animation, whose success is predicated on filling the screen with as many cute and flashy characters as the frame will hold. Whether it's talking donkeys in "Shrek" or dancing penguins in "Madagascar" (smile and wave boys, smile and wave), the studio has always had a fire in its belly when it comes to characterization. And no one evokes this better than the fire-breathers themselves “How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.”

Picking up where the second "Dragon" left off, Jay Baruchel's Hiccup now has a beard, as well as his late father’s kingdom (they grow up so fast!), where the colorful scales of dragons take the place of clouds in the turquoise sky, and the humans dance about in their Swiss Family Robinson-like forts below. It's paradise, if only for a little while.

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