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Lots of films make their way to DVD this month

By Gary Clift

When looking at the recent movies to be released on DVD during the month of January, one sees that Hollywood no longer believes its customers give movies as Christmas presents. If they did, most of the long list of films new on home viewing media would have been out last month.

Not that every film on the list was a hit. “Blair Witch” was pretty much a repeat of the 2000 movie “Blair Witch Project” masquerading as a sequel. College age kids go looking in the Maryland woods for evidence of a haunting by a child abuser lynched by villagers. It only has one successful passage, about a girl crawling through a tunnel.

James Patterson wrote the book on which the film “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life” is based. It is a lot like the superior “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies, right down to the intercut animation. And “Middle School” has trouble maintaining its highly inflated tone.

“The Accountant” is a superior thriller with Anna Kendrick, Ben Affleck, and J.K. Symmons in it. The story has plenty of swerves, enough to distract viewers from one significant coincidence as it tells the story of an emotionally- damaged killer and bookkeeper who works for big time criminals while feeding information about their illegal doings to one specific Treasury Department investigator.

“Deepwater Horizon” recalls the events of the failure of the offshore drilling platform. If you remember the actual event at all, there doesn’t seem to be much the movie has to offer you.

Also a recapitulation of history is the new movie called The Birth of a Nation, not to be mistaken for D.W. Griffith’s great but racist silent film. The new movie retells the story of Nate Turner’s adulthood and his part in the slave revolt in Virginia in the 1850s. It is harrowing, but if you already know the history, why see the movie?

One doesn’t watch “Max Steel” to enjoy its fine story. But it has a lot of fast and well-filmed action sequences. It is small in scale, but has some good actors and some cranky details that prove memorable. It is an ad for a series of toys, but that doesn’t keep it from being good rough fun.

“Girl on a Train” may not be just like the novel, but it is a film that maintains audience attention through dozens of cuts back and forth in time. The mystery has to do with three women romantically involved with one man, and about what Emily Blunt’s character sees as she rides a commuter train.

The new horror film “Ouija” is also about three women, but these are members of a family living in LA in the 1960s and trying to make enough to send the two girls to parochial school. What’s their profession? Fortune telling. But then it turns out that the late head of the household’s home is haunted. This amused me.

So did “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” a movie about spies moving in across the cul de sac from a couple of comic suburbanites, played by Zac Galifianikas and Isla Fisher. The jokes may be a little subtle for this kind of date-night movie, but I found himself laughing as the film ran.

I wished I could laugh at “Inferno,” the third movie based on Dan Brown’s thrillers about papal conspiracies and evil manifest. How did Tom Hanks get hooked into doing all three movies?

“Light Between Oceans” is a little too serious in telling its story about an Australian lighthouse keeper and his wife finding a baby in a boat that has run ashore. This happens just after their own child died, and they decide not to report their informal adoption of the castaway, with unfortunate results.

Then there is nothing at all serious about “Boo: A Madea Halloween.” Tyler Perry’s huge, gray-haired Atlantan is trying to keep a great-niece from going to a fraternity party in this series installment.

And speaking of series, “Queen of Katwe” is the latest movie with the Rocky plot. This time we are asked to watch poor Ugandans learn to play chess. The movie is every bit as exciting as it sounds.

Contrast that with “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” the latest Tom Cruise movie.

Reacher, who got a better outing in an earlier Cruise film, is a former military policeman who lives “off the grid” and takes on crime problems that officials might never recognize at all. “NGB” is a fast action movie with some fine settings.

More complicated is “Masterminds,” made by MHS alum Jared Hess (who also directed “Napoleon Dynamite”) and starring Galifianikas. He plays a dupe who robbed an armored car company and then slipped away to Mexico where he expected his colleagues (Kristen Wiig and Owen Wilson) to meet him with his share of the pay-out. The movie is supposedly about a real crime, and it is funny.

And a couple of movies that didn’t play in MHK, “Denial” (with Rachel Weisz) and “The Monster” (with Zoe Kazan), are scheduled to be out on DVD this month, too. Couldn’t you have found a Christmas present off of that list?

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