Two Different Takes on Vengeance (PG and R)

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What to Watch in the Theater:
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (PG) is in theaters now. This sequel features the whole gang from the previous two, but they’re now on a Monster Cruise vacation. Dracula isn’t thrilled about the trip, until he falls for Captain Erica, who harbors a dark family secret. There are plenty of fun gags as all the monster families enjoy their new surroundings, Drac explores his feelings, and a longtime rivalry finally comes to a head. Not as good as the original, but still a fun family film.
Our rating: 4.08 out of 5

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The Equalizer 2 (R) opens today. This time, Robert McCall’s vengeance is personal. As in the original, he’s still helping out strangers (which is great), using his special ops skills (violence) to teach people lessons and encourage them to make better choices. This time he’s a Lyft driver, which is a good way for him to meet people in some form of distress. He also still has a penchant for (less violent) mentoring. But when one of the only people he’s close to is killed, his training kicks into overdrive. This one has little more emotion than the original, and adds an element of suspense to the action.
Our rating: 4.25 out of 5

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
The Swap (TVG) is on DVD. This Disney Channel Original Movie is a new take on the body swapping theme. This time we’ve got gender-switching, along with athletic skill-switching. There’s a heavy dose of family drama on each side, which gives the characters a way to relate to each other. And, because this is high school, we’ve got mean girls as well. It’s certainly no Freaky Friday, but there are some likable elements here, and of course, some positive messages about helping others.
Our rating: 3.67 out of 5

The Great Wall (PG13) is on DVD. This historical fantasy film was largely overlooked at the box office. Filmed in China, with a mostly Chinese cast (and hence some subtitles), it examines one of the legends behind the existence of the Great Wall of China. In this case, it defends the country from large reptilian beasts with big teeth, that could easily wipe out the entire population during one of their feeding frenzies. Two European mercenaries (including Matt Damon’s character), in search of black powder, become part of the fray. It’s a preposterous movie with a huge budget and lots of CGI, but the premise is interesting, the weapons innovative, and the costumes magnificent. It’s a fun (but long) watch, if you suspend your disbelief and don’t worry about the quality of the acting (and Matt Damon’s come-and-go accent).
Our rating: 4 out of 5

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Holding on for Dear Life

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What to Watch in the Theater:
The First Purge (R) is in theaters now. This prequel shows that the original purge was a psychological experiment backed by political motivations. Set in Staten Island, the isolated event gave residents a chance to earn money for their participation. Given the socio-economic status of the area, there are clear race lines drawn here. When ordinary people don’t seem as into the violence as hoped, there’s suddenly an influx of hate groups to take up weapons and push the purge forward. As in the other Purge movies, we get to follow a small group of people who are determined to make it out alive. Violent, of course, but also an interesting backstory to the franchise.
Our rating: 4 out of 5

skyscraper

Skyscraper (PG13) opens today. This action film bears some similarities to both Die Hard and San Andreas. Dwayne Johnson’s Will Sawyer performs many amazing feats of strength and endurance, while defying the laws of physics at every turn, in an attempt to rescue his family from the world’s tallest building – which happens to be controlled by terrorists and and on fire! The suspension of disbelief helps, but you too will find yourself rooting for Will and applauding his preposterous stunts. Typecasting? Absolutely. And we’re buying every bit of it.
Our rating: 4.17 out of 5

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
I Can Only Imagine (PG) is on DVD. This Christian film, based on a true story, gives the inspiration behind MercyMe’s hit of the same name. It’s pretty well-acted, with Dennis Quaid a believable sourpuss as an abusive dad, and an impressive turn for Broadway’s Michael Finley as the lead, in his first Hollywood role. Of course there’s a message here, but it’s not heavy-handed. Not bad for a faith-based biopic.
Our rating: 3.83 out of 5

Terminal (NR) is on DVD. Margot Robbie is so good at playing crazy characters! This film skipped the box office in the US, which is a shame. It’s got some beautiful design, with a striking setting that’s simultaneously drab and stylish, and a complicated plot full of murder and revenge. It’s a deliciously complicated tale that also includes Simon Pegg, and the first cinematic appearance of Mike Myers in several years. There are lots of twists and turns to wrap your head around, but it’s a fun enigma to unravel, if you like movies that are a bit strange.
Our rating: 4.25 out of 5

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Bravery Means Taking Chances

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What to Watch in the Theater:
Hearts Beat Loud (PG13) is in theaters now. This is a touching story about a dad dealing with his daughter leaving for college. The daughter, played by Kiersey Clemons, is the more mature of the pair, so she’s eager to get started at UCLA pre-med. The dad, played by Nick Offerman, is also closing his record store, and uses his love for music as a last-ditch effort to keep his daughter from leaving. They produce some music together, which could change things for both of them… The father-daughter dynamic is familiar, yet different, in this heartwarming film about facing challenges and making good choices.
Our rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Ant-Man and the Wasp (PG13) opens today. This sequel picks up in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War. Scott Lang has a pretty routine life, trying to run a security business and keep his young daughter entertained, all while on house arrest. He re-connects with Hank and Hope on the sly, to help them find Hope’s mom in the quantum realm, and fight off a strange entity and mobster, who both want to steal their lab. The film is just as fun as the original, and the miniaturization effects and chase scenes are even more spectacular. Humor is a key element here, just as it was in the origin story. MAKE SURE YOU STAY THROUGH THE CREDITS to see where this film fits in Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline!
Our rating: 5 out of 5

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
Only the Brave (PG13) is on DVD. This film, based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, builds slowly toward its tragic conclusion. We see the backstories and camaraderie of the group, and how they build their team to become an elite squad that fights wildfires head-on. While some elements are dramatized, the basic story elements align with the real story, which you don’t need to be familiar with to enjoy the movie. As the action builds (albeit slowly, over 2+ hours), so do the emotions, leading to a powerful finish.
Our rating: 4.17 out of 5

The Open House (TVMA) is a Netflix original. We love Dylan Minnette, but this film is more horrible than horror. On top of financial woes, a mother and teen son are dealing with the death of their husband/father. They relocate to a fancy house in the woods, which is on loan to them with the caveat that they leave every Sunday for open houses. When weird things start happening, there are some good scares and general creepiness, but this 90-minute film feels incredibly slow, and then wraps up quickly with a lot of violence. The premise has promise, which it never fulfills.
Our rating: 2.75 out of 5

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Doing Good Things for the Best Reasons

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What to Watch in the Theater:
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (PG13) is in theaters now. This documentary about Fred Rogers and the programming he created for children really hits home, whether you were in his audience or not. His programs were simple, thoughtful entertainment. He brought important messages to kids, in a kind and gentle way, so they could easily absorb them. “Inspiring” and “impactful” are the best words to describe this film. Missing that beautiful day in the neighborhood, we could really use a little Mr. Rogers in our lives right now.
Our rating: 5 out of 5

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Hereditary (R) is in theaters now. This horror film starts out as a drama about a family living through tragedies, and escalates into a nightmare full of confusion and terror. It’s a bit long and a little slow to build, but that gives us a chance to examine the characters and their relationships. For a long time, we’re left guessing what strange entity the family is dealing with – paranormal, demonic? There’s some disturbing and confusing stuff early on, then a return to the slow build. Once the strange plot reaches its final act, the story goes completely off the rails.
Our rating: 4 out of 5

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
Set It Up (TV14) is a Netflix original. This is a romcom about two personal assistants that plot to get their bosses together romantically, so they can have more free time. It’s a fun, somewhat realistic story, with (mostly) likable characters with good chemistry. Although it was a bit predictable, we enjoying the journey. Note: Although rated TV14 there is some seriously adult language and a lot of references to adult situations. Parents may not be comfortable watching with teens.
Our rating: 3.67 out of 5

The Equalizer (R) is on DVD. We wanted to watch the original, which is based on a TV series, before the sequel comes out next month. Denzel Washington is Robert McCall, a man with a low key life working in a home improvement center. He decides to help a girl who’s in trouble, and gets himself in deep with the Russian mob. It’s clear he has a mysterious past, which provides him with the skills he needs for this situation. There’s a serious good samaritan vibe here, as Bob does good (sometimes very violently) to help those who have no one else to help them. Despite the blood and body count, we look forward to the sequel.
Our rating: 4.5 out of 5

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