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The movie without a heart in its chest. 

Is it worth $10? No 

There’s a thin line between creepy and disturbing. “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” has no idea where that line is. Ostensibly a family film set in a world in which magic exists, “House…” aims to be a fun and dark rollercoaster ride. Instead, it’s a joyless, poorly developed movie that leaves you exhausted.

Set in 1955, “House…” kicks off promisingly enough with young Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), tragically orphaned, coming to live with his estranged uncle, Jonathan (Jack Black) in New Zebedee, Michigan. Jonathan is jovial and a little weird, but the house he lives in is even weirder. Jack-o-lanterns are kept at the entrance year-round, the furniture seems to have a life of its own, and did that stained glass window just move? They’re joined by Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), Jonathan’s neighbor and best friend. She accesses hidden stairways in the house and silences an organ playing on its own with a quick shush. At night, Lewis hears a constant ticking coming from somewhere in the house, but where?

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Michael Moore's highly anticipated foray into the path that took Donald Trump to the White House is an overstuffed disappointment that tries to cover too much ground, making for an exhausting ordeal. 

Is it worth $10? No 

Among some circles, Michael Moore is a hero with a camera. In others, an acquired taste best experienced in short doses. And for a sizable demographic that leans right of center, the Flint, Michigan native is a pariah, a charlatan who distorts the truth for his purposes and besmirches what it means to be a documentarian.

So when I say that “Fahrenheit 11/9,” his long-awaited dissection into how Donald Trump became our commander in chief on Nov. 9, 2016, is an unwieldy mess, it's coming from someone who unabashedly falls in the first category, someone who understands where Moore's detractors are coming from, but who is also fond of pointing out that what makes the Oscar winner special is not what he says but how he says it. The man is a born entertainer, the kind of political satirist who marries his brand of rabble-rousing with a salt-of-the-earth humanism that sweetens the pill in all kinds of disarming ways. In other words, his documentaries are a fun time at the movies.

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Salacious story oddly plays as a dull and timid character study, and it doesn't work. 

Is it worth $10? No  

The mythology surrounding Lizzie Borden’s alleged murder of her father and stepmother has become the stuff of legend, to the point that her name is often associated with the most gruesome murders ever recorded. Given how ripe Lizzie’s story is with sensationalism, scandal and money, it’s a surprise it’s taken this long to become the subject of a feature film.

It should’ve taken a little longer.

Director Craig William Macneill’s “Lizzie” is a tedious bore, with only a few moments of titillation to relieve the monotony. Sure, the pace of life was slow in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1892, but that doesn’t mean the pace of the film needs to be the same. It’s as if the script wants to be more of a character study than a crime drama, and the characters just aren’t that interesting.

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“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is also new to Blu-Ray this week

It’s a shame that Michael Crichton’s “Looker” is not better known. It’s perhaps because Crichton, who only directed six feature films and wrote the screenplay for this one, created movies that were ahead of their time. It’s possible that the ideas and technology put forth in “Looker” were too far ahead of their time in 1981. Today in 2018, the technology itself—with its colorful buttons and knobs, flashing lights, and black and white screens—is dated, but the ideas are more relevant than ever.

“Looker” stars Albert Finney as Dr. Larry Roberts, a prominent Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. Problems arise for the doctor when three of the four super models he recently worked on die in mysterious accidents. Dr. Roberts takes it upon himself to keep the last patient, Cindy Fairmont (Susan Dey), alive while also solving the mystery of who is killing his patients and why.

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Intriguing crime drama is a winner thanks to Paul Feig’s sure-handed direction and spirited performances from Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

If it feels like good crime dramas are few and far between, it’s because they are. Most movies of this genre try to be twisty and fun and keep us guessing, only to fail to hold up through the end. Not “A Simple Favor,” though. The twists and turns of the clever story, along with strong performances from Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, make this a definite winner, great for a date night or evening out with the girls.

“A Simple Favor” isn’t a psychological thriller so much as it is a psychological drama. Widowed perfect mother Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is loving and attentive to her young son Miles (Joshua Satine). She also has no friends. One day after school she meets Emily (Blake Lively), whose son Nicky (Ian Ho) is friends with Miles. After a few (strong) martinis, and in spite of Emily telling her “You don’t want to be friends with me, trust me,” within a few weeks they’re best friends.  

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Entertaining enough, but still just another footnote in a franchise that never seems to get off the ground. 

Is it worth $10? No 

With a nod toward nostalgia, “The Predator” opens with the same credit font as the original “Predator” from 1987 and even uses some of that film’s memorable music cues. But this new movie feels a little different, at first. Whereas the original had a relatively slow burn (well, for an ‘80s, testosterone-fueled, action movie), and a simple premise, this “Predator” has an overstuffed plot, an overabundance of characters, and a breathless pace that tears through its runtime like a bullet train. It’s different, yes, but in the end, still not different enough.

There’s so much going on in the first half of the movie it’s hard to take in and harder to explain coherently, something the movie only does marginally well itself. A plethora of disparate characters are folded together by the plot, chasing/being chased by the titular Predator, those pincer-faced aliens who cross interstellar space to hunt (humans, mostly) for sport/honor.

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Rural upstate New York in the 1980s is the setting for this episodic, self-consciously lyrical coming-of-age drama that's too enamored of its aesthetic and too timid about its subject matter to get into the head of its young protagonist of mixed parentage.  

Is it worth $10? No  

Ma and Paps fight a lot. Their screams reverberate through the modest house, making it difficult for Jonah and his two older brothers to get a good night's sleep. And so Jonah, about to turn 10 but having witnessed things no child his age ought to, escapes in his drawings. As the half Puerto Rican/half white artist scribbles away, skies form in a burst of blue, people stretch across the page as black forms in constant motion. And Jonah? Shh, don't tell anyone, but Jonah can fly.

“We the Animals,” an adaptation of Justin Torres' semi-autobiographical novel about self-discovery and growing up poor in upstate rural New York in the 1980s, yearns to take flight along with its young protagonist, but it's held down by an aesthetic that can be described as indie Terrence Malick. Director/co-screenwriter Jeremiah Zagar has created an attractive, free-flowing look in an attempt to convey Jonah's thoughts visually, but it ends up blocking the viewer's access into the boy's emotional journey. What could have been a potent portrait of familial strife remains surface deep, a tone poem whose visual pirouettes congeal into a wearying drone.

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“Superfly” is also new to Blu-Ray this week

Yup—“Ocean’s Eight” is an “Ocean’s” movie all right. It’s a sleek and stylish heist movie with a hip vibe and a diverse cast, all of whom bring something to the table. The story is full of twists and turns to keep you guessing—and grinning—and overall the movie is a well-made, polished to a shiny product that’s entertaining in a shallow yet satisfying way.

This wouldn’t be an “Ocean’s” movie without an Ocean in charge. Good thing there is Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), the never before seen or talked about sister of Danny Ocean (George Clooney) from the previous trilogy. As “Ocean’s Eight” opens, Debbie is in prison and Danny is dead. Even Irish folk songs don’t begin this somber. But soon she’s out on parole and visiting him at his mausoleum wall grave—crafted from some fine quality polished Arabescato marble, so he’s well-kept even in death. That is, if he’s actually dead. Debbie has her doubts. A surprise visit from Reuben (Elliott Gould) doesn’t provide any definitive answers and his cameo serves as nothing more than to tie the Clooney movies to this one.

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Racist. Stupid. Lazy. An oozing slimeball of a movie. 

Is it worth $10? Absolutely Not 

I have no interest spending any more time than I have to on ”Peppermint,” a movie so straight-faced and lazy in its use of vigilante movie clichés that it almost feels like a parody. Almost. It’s way too stupid to pull that off. Plain and simple: “Peppermint” is garbage.

Riley North (Jennifer Garner) is an everyday mom, raising her young daughter, Carly (Cailey Fleming), with her mechanic husband, Chris (Jeff Hephner). Struggling to make ends meet, Chris agrees to a friend’s hairbrained (and barely explained) idea to rip-off a local drug lord whose name, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), is straight out of some perverted “Generic Screenwriting for Dummies” manual. Chris backs out of the plan, but Diego, having gotten wind of it anyway (how is not explained. Sense a pattern here?), makes an example out of Chris, having him and his family gunned down. But Riley survives.

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Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder reunite for their fourth joint big-screen outing, but this asinine insult comedy gives fans no reason to celebrate. The charismatic stars struggle with earache-inducing dialogue that reduces their characters to bile-spouting losers.  

Is it worth $10? No  

For moviegoers who grew up in the 1980s and '90s, their film diet would be incomplete without Keanu Reeves or Winona Ryder. Going through their body of work, what stands out is the actors' refusal to stick with one genre. Reeves' range as a performer, for instance, might not be wide, but the kinds of projects he's selected run the gamut from bone-crunching action to period dramas. And in addition to being Tim Burton's muse, Ryder has worked with some of the most iconic filmmakers, effortlessly shifting from pedigreed undertakings to lowbrow popcorn flicks, with often memorable, if uneven, results.

Say this for “Destination Wedding,” an insult comedy masquerading as a rom-com that marks the stars' fourth collaboration in front of the camera: It doesn't attempt to milk their distinct screen presence for nostalgia's sake. This is not a trip down memory lane that keeps winking at viewers “Stranger Things”-style. As it happens, it's one of the only positive things that can be said about this rancid groaner.

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Recent Articles

The House with a Clock in Its Walls *1/2
The movie without a heart in its chest.  Is ...
Fahrenheit 11/9 **
Michael Moore's highly anticipated foray into the ...
Lizzie **
Salacious story oddly plays as a dull and ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Looker
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is also ...
A Simple Favor ***
Intriguing crime drama is a winner thanks to ...
The Predator **
Entertaining enough, but still just another ...
We The Animals **
Rural upstate New York in the 1980s is the ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Leave No Trace

Minimal drama is a moving story of a father and daughter. 

Is it worth $10? Yes  

At the start of “Leave No Trace,” Will (Ben Foster) and his 13 year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) peacefully co-exist in their home near Portland, Oregon. She’s home-schooled and academically advanced for her age, knows how to cook and provide for herself, and seems happy. To many, this is what a well-adjusted, admittedly socially awkward teenager should look like.

The problem, according to social services, is that they live in a tent in the woods, and are illegally occupying public land. When Will is arrested their situation changes drastically, which prompts two thoughts: 1) Why is anyone telling anyone how to raise their healthy and happy child? And 2) The “system” is rescuing a child who doesn’t need rescuing. If Will and Tom choose and want to live like this, why not leave them alone?

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