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The Thin Man on Blu-ray

It’s hard to believe that it’s taken Warner Brothers so long to release The Thin Man on Blu-ray. So many of the studio’s classic titles are still unavailable in the format, even though they’ve gone through at least one digital restoration over the years.

As a fan of The Thin Man series, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, I’ve been watching this title on DVD for years. The improvement in picture quality over the DVD is absolutely stunning. The opening scene, set on a snowy day, is so improved that it almost looks as if you could reach out and touch the falling snow, and all scratches and imperfections have been dutifully removed from the original celluloid.

Myrna Loy, Asta & William Powell

For those unfamiliar with the series, Powell and Loy play Nick and Nora Charles, a detecting couple so well-to-do that they seem to get involved in solving murders as a distraction from their humdrum, blue-blood life. Powell and Loy are the very definition of magic on screen, playing off each other as if they actually are a married couple. Astute fans are also able to spot instances where their chemistry resulted in improvised dialog and reactions that make them even more lovable.

With a supporting cast that includes Maureen O’Sullivan and reliable character actor Nat Pendleton, this film noir comedy is one of the very best. Hopefully, Warner Brothers will see fit to release the following four Thin Man movies in the series on Blu-ray. We’ve waited long enough!

D.P.

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Tomb Raider

I had meant to see the new Tomb Raider in the theater, but its time on the big screen was short-lived, and I missed it. Thankfully, Amazon Prime is currently streaming it, so I was finally able to see how it stacks up against the first two, starring Angelina Jolie.

Whereas Jolie’s Lara Croft spent her days using her millions to become a lethal adventurer, Alicia Vikander’s Lara is content to turn her back on her silver-spoon heritage, working as a nondescript bike messenger. When she’s informed by the family lawyer that her ancestral digs will be on the auction block if she doesn’t assume control of her late father’s assets, she relents and signs on the dotted line.

As part of her inheritance, her father has left her a puzzle box, which leads her to discover a secret room, hidden in her father’s crypt. Unbeknownst to Lara, her father had been researching the location of the tomb of Himiko, The Queen of Yamatai, who supposedly possessed the powers of life and death. Although a message left by the elder Croft begs her to destroy all of his research, she can’t resist the temptation of the mystery. She packs everything into a rucksack and heads to Hong Kong.

Swedish actor Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft

Vikander’s Croft isn’t the over-sexed, video game version that Jolie perfected in her two films. This Lara Croft is usually uncertain of her abilities, even as she finds herself more-than-capable at removing obstacles, whether mental or physical. This Lara Croft isn’t an already-existing legend, she’s a young woman somewhere on the path to becoming a hero. In my humble opinion, that’s far more interesting.

This Tomb Raider is less comic book and far more real-world in its approach. A lot of the action sequences create the same tension and release see-saw that we’re put on by movies in the Bourne and Indiana Jones franchises. While it may be predictable at times, it’s also exhilarating. Isn’t that the reason we go to see this type of action movie? I really like this Lara Croft and reimagination of her adventures.

While Vikander’s vehicle only raked in 53 million dollars in the U.S., it netted a respectable 273 million worldwide. MGM and Warner Bros. confirm that that’s strong enough to warrant a sequel, estimated to arrive in theaters in 2021. I’m looking forward to seeing where Lara Croft takes us next.

D.P.

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Mary Poppins Returns

I have to admit that I wasn’t all that thrilled to hear of a sequel to Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” starring Emily Blunt in the title role. My apprehension, however, was allayed as soon as I heard Julie Andrews talk about how much she loved Blunt, and thought that she was practically perfect in every way to fill her own button-down shoes.

It would be impossible to overstate just how much care Disney took over this production, getting absolutely every detail beyond just-right. Cherry Tree Lane and The Banks Family are alive and well, albeit in need of Mary Poppins’s saving graces once again.

Michael Banks is grown up and living as a widower in the house he grew up in, along with his three children and Ellen, the maid. Banks has had a string of bad luck, beginning with the passing of his dear wife, which has left him in the position of having the family home foreclosed on. This is a job for Mary Poppins, if ever there was one.

Just as in the original movie, Mary Poppins arrives on the wind via umbrella, with a discerning eye focused on setting right multiple family problems, including saving the Banks home. I won’t spoil the story for those who’ve not seen it yet, but it’s relayed through really wonderful musical numbers and dance sequences that really do live up to their legacy.

Blunt, Van Dyke & Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda is well-placed as Mary’s lamplighter pal, and with a bright smile and pleasant demeanor with the children, is instantly likable. His Cockney accent fares far better than Dick Van Dyke’s did in the original, so that what many have felt was a distraction (me, too) in the first film, is no longer. When Van Dyke puts in a cameo as the senior bank president near the end of the film, we happily find that his accent & dancing feet are both right where they need to be.

The closing scene of the movie is happy-tear-inducing, wrapping up an emotional sequel that hits all of the right marks. I haven’t ever seen a contemporary movie even come close to creating a sentiment and charm that so many golden-era movies do, until “Mary Poppins Returns.” Returning to Cherry Tree Lane is a dream come true.

D.P.

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Jumanji: The Next Level

I’m a little late to the Jumanji party, having completely missed the original installment. That being said, it’s not imperative for you to have seen the previous film, as it stands strongly on its own.

A mysterious game console from the ’80’s transports players into another world, where they inhabit the bodies of characters within the game, Jumanji. Therein lies the device for 90% of the comedy in this film, which, surprisingly, doesn’t wear thin.

Danny DeVito’s character Eddie, hilariously transforms into Bravestone, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson acting from DeVito’s viewpoint is amazing, and you don’t doubt for a second that the two are one and the same. Likewise, sidekick Kevin Hart’s Mouse character is inhabited by Danny Glover’s mild-mannered Milo, and the laughs seem to continually multiply.

The adventure that the the players set out on, along with Jack Black and Karen Gillan, is chock-full of absurd circumstances, like nearly getting trampled by a herd of ostriches in the middle of a desert. Without giving any of the plot away, I have to say that it’s a good, old-fashioned thrill ride, a la the Indiana Jones films.

My family watched Jumanji about two weeks ago, and last night, my daughter said she’d like to watch it again. I’m in.

D.P.

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Knives Out!

Speaking as someone who loves the mystery genre, I couldn’t wait to see “Knives Out.” Set in an old Victorian mansion with a star-studded cast, the trailer firmly set the hook.

From the press kit: “The circumstances surrounding the death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey are mysterious, but there’s one thing that renowned Detective Benoit Blanc knows for sure, everyone in the wildly dysfunctional Thrombey family is a suspect. Now, Blanc must sift through a web of lies and red herrings to uncover the truth. From acclaimed writer-director Rian Johnson comes this suspenseful, twist-filled whodunnit with an all-star ensemble cast including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Martell, and more.”

Harlan Thrombey, who has accumulated a fortune writing mystery novels, realizes that he’s spent his life coddling his children and their families. Thrombey, played to perfection by Christopher Plummer, decides to cut all financial support, and leaves his estate to his kind nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), who is truly as coy as she seems.

As you might expect, Thrombey’s family is livid, and the lot turns on Marta, when Thrombey’s body is found in his study, throat slashed by a dagger. This is where the tribute to mysteries past ends, twisting more times than Chubby Checker in 1960.

Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a private investigator with an accent more ridiculous than Foghorn Leghorn, is on the case, but it’s not all that clear who hired him, or if he is even capable of unraveling the case to expose the murderer. His main suspect is Thrombey’s son, Ransom, played with prickly delight by Chris Evans. 

This is the best mystery I’ve seen since 2017’s “Murder On The Orient Express,” Kenneth Branagh’s brilliant interpretation of the classic novel. “Knives Out” edges it out, however, because it’s impossible to see the end coming. What could be better in a mystery?

D.P.

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Now Showing: Abominable

Chloe Bennet stars as Yi, a young girl, who lives in a small Shanghai apartment with her mother and grandmother. Yi spends her days doing the worst of odd jobs, and secretly stashes her earnings away for an adventurous trip across China. Her nights are spent on the apartment’s roof, playing the violin that her father gave her before he passed away.

One night, she discovers that a yeti, on the run from the captivity of the evil Mr. Burnish, is hiding in her rooftop sanctuary. Yi feeds him, tends to a wound on his arm, and decides to call him Everest. Everest becomes the friend that she’s always needed, and the duo set out to return him to his family home in The Himalayas.

Along the way, friends Jin (Tenzing Trainor) and Peng (Albert Tsai) join them. Through the various legs of their journey, their friendship is strengthened, and they learn of all the wonderful, magic qualities their yeti friend holds. They also begin to consider the importance of their friendship, and the relationships with their families back home in Shanghai.

As you’d expect, the showing that I saw was mostly families with small children. It was a joy to hear them laughing throughout this movie, which clearly showed that the target audience was pleased. The adults laughed quite a bit as well, myself included, making this family film a real winner. I wish I could elaborate on some of the funniest parts, but I really don’t want to be a spoiler.

Beautifully rendered, Abominable finds DreamWorks giving Pixar a serious run for their money. There were a couple of flying sequences that had such depth, they almost seemed three-dimensional. I would highly recommend this film for families spanning all ages, as there is nothing objectionable for younger eyes or ears.

D.P.

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The Beatles – Abbey Road

The Beatles

Abbey Road Remastered (Apple)

http://www.thebeatles.com

“Abbey Road” is the latest Beatles’ record to get the deluxe remaster treatment, and it’s a dilly. The version I’m reviewing is the two-disc set. All tracks have been lovingly restored by the late George Martin’s son, Giles Martin. Disc one contains the original record remastered, while disc two is a track-for-track match-up of alternate versions.

I’ve given several of these Beatle reissues a listen, and this one is hands-down the best. It’s bare and in your face when it needs to be, and dramatically-lush at other times. Martin has created new depth with these tracks, and some, particularly “Here Comes The Sun” and “Because,” are brilliant beyond words. It’s a shame that John Lennon and George Harrison aren’t here to take it all in.

D.P.

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Now Showing: The Mandalorian

Nothing could be more exciting to a kid who grew up in the 1970’s than a new entry into the Star Wars saga. It was from that vantage point, that I excitedly waited to watch The Mandalorian.

From Disney, “After the stories of Jango and Boba Fett, another warrior emerges in the Star Wars universe. The Mandalorian is set after the fall of the Empire, and before the emergence of the First Order. We follow the travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.”

While that official description might not elicit excitement in Star Wars fans, the serial itself will. It does play like a futuristic western, and the character of The Mandalorian (played with Clint Eastwood dryness by Pedro Pascal) is humanized far more than the Fetts. In his quest to obtain multiple bounties, he’s warned by Greed Karga not to bite off more than he can chew. Played with weightiness by veteran Carl Weathers, Karga offers up a bounty that must be done off of the books, and the adventure begins.

Created by director Jon Favreau, clearly a fan of A New Hope, this serial puts the viewer back into the worn-out galaxy that Han Solo and Luke Skywalker came from. The future shown isn’t covered in shiny stainless steel and glass, it’s full of underworld miscreants and horrible weather. 

In a nutshell, that’s the thrill for me. As a fan himself, Favreau completely understands our need to not only see new Star Wars stories and characters, but the need to escape life for an hour or two and actually go to the places they inhabit. I’m in.