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“The Maze Runner: The Death Cure” and “Dear Dictator” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

“Hostiles” is bookended by a tragic, yet all too true occurrence in the days of the frontier in the United States of America. This occurrence is the wholesale slaughter of entire families. For pioneer Wesley Quaid (Scott Shepherd), the slaughter is unprovoked and undeserved. He and his family are merely living their quiet, humble, peaceful existence when a vicious group of Comanche ride in to take their horses. For Cyrus Lounde (Scott Wilson), the reason is different. He and his three sons wind up dead due to Cyrus’s foolish pride in disobeying an order from the federal government.

The journey we take in “Hostiles” from the Quaids to the Loundes is the meat of the movie. This journey is led by Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale). He’s ready to retire after twenty-five years of service, and not a moment too soon. He’s battle-hardened and war weary. Bale’s performance is soft-spoken and low key. Yet he is forceful and sure of his convictions when the situation calls for it. The sense given is that buried deep inside of Blocker is a raging storm just waiting to be let loose, and anyone in the way had better watch out.

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“I Feel Pretty” has its heart in the right place, which is terrific, but as a comedy it lacks the consistency needed to make it a real delight.  

Is it worth $10? Yes  

Taking its premise from “Big,” “Shallow Hal” and others of its ilk, Amy Schumer plays Renee, a pleasantly plump career girl with low self-esteem in New York City. The opening moments set the stage for the kind of comedy this is: She unrealistically breaks her bike at spinning class, has a skinny clothing store attendant tell her she’ll need to shop online to find something in her size, and she literally makes a baby cry just by smiling at the tyke. What writer/directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein seem to be going for is that this is how women in general feel treated by society because of unrealistic norms related to beauty. That message gets lost in the humor, however; we’re supposed to be laughing at Renee’s misfortune, but I felt sorry for her. Or maybe I just saw the movie with an audience full of jerks.

Then, a revelation: Renee bangs her head, and comes to believing she’s the most beautiful girl in the world. Now instilled with confidence beyond measure, she’s more flirtatious, gets her dream job, and is treated better by others. Mind you, everyone else still sees the same old Renee. What a great message this is for everyone, not just women: The way you see yourself has tremendous value, and will lead others to see you in a better light regardless of physical appearance.

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“The Post” is also new to Blu-Ray this week

My sympathies went right out to Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) early on in “The Commuter.” After a montage in which several seasons and weather patterns go by and the passage of time is made clear, Michael is summarily dismissed from his job as an insurance salesman in Manhattan. It’s also clear from these opening moments that he loves his family and is good at his job. However, he is leveraged to the hilt and his family’s finances are hanging by a thread. This is devastating news. As he leaves the office building for the last time there is an extreme overhead shot looking down on Michael. My own thought about the situation was that I would be so incredibly enraged.

Michael takes it differently though. He’s upset, but rather than in an angry way, he is more upset in an anxious and depressed way. He is so unsure about his life at that moment that when his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) calls, he does not break the news to her. As his buddy Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson), an ex-partner of Michael’s from back when he was a cop, points out to him, that is not a good idea. The sooner he comes clean, the better.

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Yet another reminder that the only memorable game-turned-movie is "Clue"! 

Is it worth $10? No  

At some point in our lives, most of us have played Truth or Dare. The rules are simple: Choose “Truth” or “Dare,” then either tell the truth or complete the dare. In real life, not fulfilling your obligation will cost you nothing, except perhaps some fun points from your friends. In “Truth or Dare,” it will cost you your life.

It’s a clever premise, and being a thriller from Blumhouse Productions, the studio behind “Get Out,” there’s plenty to hope for here. And perhaps it’s this optimism that makes the lackluster movie all the more frustrating. The story is thin, the dialog is lazy, the acting…doesn’t really matter. This is by-the-numbers mediocrity for which the best compliment is that it’s only rated PG-13; we don’t need to see the grisly gruesomeness that’s implied, and thankfully the worst of it is left off screen.

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Jon Hamm negotiates a hostage release in war-torn Beirut in this uneven drama. 

Is it worth $10? No 

War-torn Beirut, Lebanon, in the early ‘80s saw tanks driving on beaches as kids played nearby. Hotels rooms had notes that insisted, in the event of an emergency, that guests stay in their rooms and “DO NOT ATTEMPT to take photographs.” Palestinian and Israeli discord, in addition to a decent-sized Christian population, made Beirut so unpleasant and hostile that it was more than unsafe – it was potentially fatal to be there if you didn’t have to be.

With such a setting numerous dramatic opportunities abound, and “Beirut” taps into a good one: An alcoholic former U.S. diplomat named Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) returns to Beirut to negotiate the release of his old friend Cal (Mark Pellegrino), who’s been taken hostage by terrorists. Skiles’ checkered past in Beirut (his wife died there, and his adopted Lebanese son was kidnapped and is still missing), coupled with the simmering tension omnipresent in the seedy underbelly of the city, makes for a compelling premise.

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"The Greatest Showman,” “All the Money in the World,” and “Phantom Thread” are also new to Blu-Ray this week

Most movies about card games focus on the players. We almost invariably see a group of men staring each other down in smoke-filled back rooms, looking for tells, calling, raising, and bluffing to win the big pot in the center of the table. It’s rare to get a glimpse, let alone an entire movie, about the person who put the game together. But we get one such movie with “Molly’s Game.”

The title character is Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), an ex-Olympic class skier who never made the team. Why she didn’t make the team is painfully recounted in the opening moments of “Molly’s Game,” as she briefs us on her childhood with her hard-nosed psychologist father (Kevin Costner) pushing her to be the best on the slopes. Molly, we learn, also had ambition to become a lawyer. Judging by her above average LSAT score and clearly high level of intelligence, she would have made a good one.

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Entertaining and fun, probably the best thing with Michael Bay’s name somewhere in the credits (he only executive produces, thankfully).

Is it worth $10? Yes

Jump scares. I hate them. “A Quiet Place” is full of jump scares, cheap ones too. I was apprehensive about the movie. But by the end, even though I jumped more than I’m comfortable with (which is more than zero), I had a good time with it.

As a whole, the movie is slightly slight. Story-wise, there’s not much to it. In the near future, humanity is decimated, cut down by alien monsters. A family tries to survive the apocalyptic scenario.

It’s the details, though, that make the movie more interesting. The invaders are not smart, intergalactic travelers with superior weaponry. They’re wild animals; fast, aggressive, and naturally armored wild animals that are impossible to kill. But there’s another hook, and it’s a good one: These aliens can’t see, at all. They hunt their prey solely by sound.

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The story of American royalty doing anything it can to keep its power, even after killing someone. Good stuff here. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

Edward “Ted” Kennedy was the youngest son of business tycoon Joseph Kennedy, a man who valued money, power, and the prestige of the Kennedy name above all else. Ted no doubt felt immense pressure to follow in the footsteps of his highly successful (and tragically assassinated) older brothers John and Bobby, and to his credit, Ted was a United States senator for more than 47 years before he died in 2009.

And yet in his father’s eyes, Ted was a disappointment. “Chappaquiddick” tells the story – and tells it well – of how it all went wrong for Ted.

In July 1969, Ted got into a car accident in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, and lost two things: The life of his companion in the car, Mary Jo Kopechne, and his chance to become president of the United States. What happened, how it went down, and who was responsible for Mary Jo’s death forms the core of "Chappaquiddick," a solid drama that wisely doesn’t take sides. Instead, director John Curran’s film presents the events that led to Mary Jo’s death in a way that feels straightforward given all we could possibly know without being there, which is as much as we could ask.

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Director John Curran dishes on the Kennedy family, its legacy, and not worrying about making it look good in this candid interview.

"It cost him the presidency" is the common refrain from those who recall the "Chappaquiddick" incident of July 1969, in which Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car off a small bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, and killed Mary Jo Kopechne in the process. What happened, why did it happen, and afterward, the question of what really happened?, has been debated for years. 

In "Chappaquiddick," director John Curran isn't trying to set the record straight. One of the best things about it is its determination to take the facts and present them as objectively as possible, which is not an easy thing to do given the disparate information and theories out there. To his credit, Curran has crafted an effective and engaging drama that hits all the right notes.

I recently sat caught up with Curran over the phone when he attended the Miami International Film Festival in March 2018. We discussed the curse of being a Kennedy, whether Ted would've been president if the events in Chappaquiddick never happened, and why the production took them to Mexico for a key scene. Note: Only the sound of the interview is heard; images are from the film and courtesy of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures.

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

It’s a nice treat when studios decide to trust the director they hire to direct a horror movie. Most of the time, they don’t. That’s why so many horror movies have annoying soundtracks that employ cheap jump scare tactics. Frankly, I get it. I’ve seen my fair share of bad horror movies that needed to be punched up a bit. I still argue against the jump scare tactic, in which something suddenly happens and an ear-bustingly loud noise plays on the soundtrack, but I understand the concern. The trick for studios is to be savvy enough about horror movies so they can differentiate between when there is a need to use low brow fright tactics and when there isn’t.

This puts “Insidious: The Last Key” in an odd position. It sits between two worlds, much like the dark and limitless “The Further” for which these movies are known (this is the fourth movie in the “Insidious” series). In the beginning of the movie, jump scares abound. The setting is a town called Five Keys, New Mexico, in 1953. It’s there we see where young Elise Rainier (Ava Kolker) grew up. Even at the age of about ten, she was able to see spirits from the other side. The director, Adam Robitel, creates a wonderful close quarters setting, involving a room she shares with her brother Christian (Pierce Pope). The two sleep on a bunk bed, with Christian on top and Elise on the bottom. Her bed is covered by a curtain, creating yet another opportunity for the unseen to be lurking anywhere in the dark. The camera stays tight, moves at the right pace, and the music is low. This is what’s called creating mood an atmosphere, and Robitel does a great job. The chintzy jump scare moment on the soundtrack is totally unnecessary. The moment it is used was plenty shocking and scary enough—it did not need to be cheapened in such a crude way.

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Recent Articles

Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Hostiles
“The Maze Runner: The Death Cure” and “Dear ...
I Feel Pretty **1/2
“I Feel Pretty” has its heart in the right ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Commuter
“The Post” is also new to Blu-Ray this week ...
Truth or Dare **
Yet another reminder that the only ...
Beirut **
Jon Hamm negotiates a hostage release in ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Molly’s Game
"The Greatest Showman,” “All the Money in ...
A Quiet Place ***
Entertaining and fun, probably the best ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Ready Player One

Easily Spielberg’s best action movie since “Minority Report,” and so much fun! 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

What a blast!

From the moment Van Halen’s “Jump” greets us in the opening credits to the very end, “Ready Player One” is as smile inducing as movies come. It’s full of pop culture references and wonderfully creative action, often to the beat of ‘80s rock music. This is director Steven Spielberg at his finest, reminding us that he created the summer blockbuster (“Jaws”) and pure action extravaganzas (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”). We’ve missed this type of greatness from him.

The year is 2045, and society is in ruins. People live in stacked housing in Columbus, Ohio, because it’s the fastest growing city in the world, even though the only direction it can grow is up. To escape the doldrums of reality people enter the “Oasis,” a virtual reality play land created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) in which individuals can be anything they desire – the only limit is one’s imagination. 

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