Familiar Stories Get Tweaked

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What to Watch in the Theater:
Robin Hood (PG13) is in theaters now. This big-budget retelling of the well-known Robin Hood story features some compelling stars, like Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx, with lavish costumes and scenery. It’s a dark story with modern styling – the costumes and weapons technology are amazing, and the fight choreography is brilliant. Some of us are not big fans of this historical time period in general, and most of us only have the comedy and animated versions of this story to compare. It’s a fun actioner with a bit heavier emphasis on political messages. We think audiences should give this new version of the classic story a chance.
Our rating: 4.33 out of 5

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The Possession of Hannah Grace (R) is in theaters now. This movie – about a former police officer and recovering addict who takes a night shift job at the morgue – has all the jump scares you need. But wait, there’s so much more. This is a seriously creepy movie, with an undead corpse that’s possessed by a demon. As if working at the morgue all alone, at night, isn’t bad enough? Megan, played by Shay Mitchell, meets challenges head on, even while doubting herself and trying to prove to herself and others that she can overcome her backstory. Strong female protagonist versus strong female (seriously creepy) antagonist equals a winner – not for the faint of heart!
Our rating: 4.25 out of 5

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
Life-Size 2 (TV14) is available on FreeForm and Hulu. Tyra Banks put her heart and soul into this long-awaited sequel, but took at G-rated movie and made it definitely not for kids. Fans of the original will love it or hate it, depending a lot on their age. The Eve doll character, played by Banks, is still fun and alternatingly clueless and deep, but with a more adult sensibility this time around. We’ve left the original storyline behind, so no Lindsay Lohan, and a different (now grown-up) girl brings the Eve doll to life. Of course this is a redemption movie, with Grace beginning the story as a spoiled party girl who can’t take responsibility for her own life, let alone run her mother’s company. It’s predictable, and there are some fun moments, but overall we just can’t get over going from squeaky-clean-fun to OMG-did-they-just-say-that? TV14 is a bit of a stretch here.
Our rating: 2.33 out of 5

Christmas Wonderland (TVG) is a Hallmark movie. This holiday film stars Emily Osment as Heidi, who left her hometown, and high school boyfriend, to pursue a career as a painter in the big city. She ended up working in a gallery, but not using her own art talents. When she returns to her small town as a favor to her sister, and gets stuck there for a while, she and the old boyfriend have to work together to throw the best Snow Ball dance ever. Of course they clash, and then rekindle, and she re-discovers her passion for painting. Oops – spoilers? Nah – it’s formulaic. You know the story already, the names, places and exact circumstances have just been tweaked to create yet another version of the same tale. And yet, it works. This is what Hallmark excels at – feel-good movies, at Christmas or any time of year.
Our rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Finding Something New

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What to Watch in the Theater:
Ralph Breaks the Internet (PG) is in theaters now. In this Disney animated sequel, Ralph and Vanellope journey through the Internet, and we’re along to share in their wonder and confusion. The friends’ relationship is tested, and they have to figure out how to make things work so that both can enjoy their lives. There’s so much to experience, we’ll have to see this one again to take it all in. There are some good messages here, along with a lot of familiar Disney and online references – great fun for the whole family!
Our rating: 4.83 out of 5

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Green Book (PG13) is in theaters now. This movie is based on the true story of Dr. Don Shirley, an African-American concert pianist who embarked on a tour of the deep south in the early 1960s. He employed Italian-American Tony Lip to drive him and help get him to his venues. As we observed the heartbreaking prejudice people of color were subjected to, we fought back tears through most of this movie. It’s a glimpse into a very difficult period in this country’s history, a moving story full of anger, violence, humanity, heart and hope.
Our rating: 4.83 out of 5

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
Upgrade (R) is available on DVD. This BH Tilt movie bears more than a passing resemblance to Venom. In a future where drones patrol the streets and criminals are getting weapons embedded in their arms, Grey and his wife are attacked – she is killed and he is left paralyzed. A reclusive billionaire offers him a secret implant that gives him the power to search for his wife’s killers. It’s not bad for a dystopian SciFi tale, with quite a bit of violence (though less graphic than some) and a couple of interesting twists.
Our rating: 3.67 out of 5

The Christmas Chronicles (TVPG) is a Netflix original movie. This holiday film sees Kurt Russell as Santa, who is grounded on Christmas Eve, after a couple of sad kids try to film him, and things go awry. Now they’re in it to save Christmas, and learn a few lessons a long the way. It’s a blend of the Santa Clause movies, Elf, and much more. Not an instant classic, but definitely a fun ride, with lots of cool new Santa tech, and a fun portrayal of the big (not so big) man with the bag (which you’ll never look at the same way). Our rating: 4 out of 5

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Discovering a New Reality

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What to Watch in the Theater:
Instant Family (PG13) is in theaters now. This comedy shows the struggles of new foster families, focusing on the difficulties one couple has adapting to their new family, which now includes a teen girl and two younger siblings. Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne deftly communicate the highs and lows of this tale, which is based on a true story. Isabela Moner is great as the angsty teen, and there’s lots of comedy relief provided by other characters, like family members and other couples in the foster parents group. It’s a fun film full of laughs and a big dose of heart.
Our rating: 4.33 out of 5

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? (R) is in limited release. This movie is based on the true story of Lee Israel, a down-on-her-luck author who finds she can make a decent living by forging literary letters, and then selling them. She takes great pride in her work, but unfortunately runs afoul of the law. It’s an interesting tale, and although it’s a different type of role for Melissa McCarthy, we enjoyed her turn in this dramatic role.
Our rating: 4 out of 5

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
Three Identical Strangers (PG13) is available on DVD. This documentary brings to light the real-life saga of identical triplets who discover each other, completely by accident, at age 19.  Although they’re ecstatic to find each other and share their story with the world, their reunion brings up a lot of questions. We learn all about the adoption agency and their deliberate choice to separate the boys and adopt them out to different families. It’s an eye-opening story about manipulation and the bonds of family.
Our rating: 4.17 out of 5

The Princess Switch (not rated) is a Netflix original movie. This holiday movie has a Prince and the Pauper meets Parent Trap storyline, with Vanessa Hudgens playing the dual roles of Duchess Margaret, from fictitious Montenaro, and Stacy, the baker from Chicago. Even though the story is incredibly predictable, it’s fun to watch the two romances – and cases of mistaken identity – play out.
Our rating: 3.83 out of 5

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Fantasy Takes Many Forms

nutcracker

What to Watch in the Theater:
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (PG) is in theaters now. Loaded with lavish scenery, costumes and CGI, this story walks the fine line between an homage to the original Nutcracker story and beloved ballet and the invention of something new and original.  This story takes Clara on a much bigger journey, where she plays a more active role in the new lands she discovers. The visuals are stunning and the cast is captivating, but Disney took a big risk with this film’s overblown budget. We found the blend of old and new to be just right for a new take on a very old tale, with strong female characters and important messages.
Our rating: 3.67 out of 5

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (PG13) opens today. This sequel has a bit more action and fewer creatures than the original, with Newt and friends almost taking a backseat to the larger characters of Dumbledore, Grindelwald and Hogwarts itself. There are even more players, all searching for Creedence and his origin, which makes it difficult to tell who’s on which side. The set up for a sequel is more obvious with this one. And although we liked the first better, we look forward to seeing what’s next, and hope to spend more time in Newt’s magical suitcase next time.
Our rating: 4.17 out of 5

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
Daphne and Velma (G) is available on DVD. This prequel shows us how the female half of Mystery, Inc. came to be. It’s fun to celebrate the brains and ingenuity of these two, as their partnership (and friendship) develops. There’s something strange happening to the smartest kids in school, and Daphne and Velma have to work through some of their own issues before they can solve the mystery. It’s a fun origin story, without a lot of the stereotypical Scooby Doo stuff (other than the girls’ outfits).
Our rating: 3.5 out of 5

Hotel Artemis (R) is available on DVD. This is the story of a fictional hotel, where criminals have memberships that allow them to stay and receive medical attention, while laying low. Jodie Foster and Dave Bautista are perfect as The Nurse and Everest, respectively, the only staff at the hotel. An interesting group of characters fills out this very violent story, as we learn how they are connected to each other. It’s a compelling premise that would make a good episodic.
Our rating: 4 out of 5

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