Some new film DVDs are pretty big deals

By Gary Clift

April is an odd month for new movies released on DVD. There aren’t that many new titles coming out. But the ones that previously appeared on screens in the Little Easy’s two commercial theaters are pretty big deals.

For example, we start off with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” The Carmike chain, which at the time owned the local theaters, thought this movie would draw people to their new building in the south end of the Town Center mall.

So they opened the new 13-plex on the weekend “Rogue One” was released. And it did do considerable business. But it also suggested for the first time that the Disney way of making the final movies in the Star Wars series may be sufficiently unimaginative that they will be even more disappointing than were the films in the second trilogy.

“Rogue One” gives us repeated variations of a formula. A good guy or two arrives on a desert planet, creeps up on the local knot of civilization, sets off or is surprised by an explosion or series of explosions, and then makes a dangerous escape to be picked up by a small ship which spirits them away. No life lessons in this one, kiddies.

Less anticipated was “Office Christmas Party” with its “Saturday Night Live” alum cast. But the movie had amusing sequences in it as a hapless but lovable branch-office boss tries to save the business by hosting a wild party that may entertain one client enough to get him to give them his business. Pairs of characters have secondary problems that also get resolved. Some of the party action is imaginative.

Octavia Spencer used to be in the “Groundlings” comedy improv company, along with Dax Shepard, among others. Recently she’s made a solid living playing under- estimated women in the 1960s. This year she’s followed up her success in “The Help” with a turn as an early NASA employee in “Hidden Figures.”

Her character and a couple of carpoolers have great personal success during the run-up to our first manned orbit mission. Unfortunately for them, they are working in segregated Virginia where an African-American woman has to run near half a mile to find a legal rest room. This film is fairly high class stuff and doesn’t exist just to capitalize on the support of the Institutionalized Civil Rights Movement—it is also a good story about space and about characters one comes to like and admire.

In comparison, “Monster Trucks” is only sort of dumb fun. It asks what would happen if an evil oil company unintentionally allowed three over-sized, oil-eating octopi to reach the surface. As one hides out from their retrieval efforts, he befriends a high school kid and becomes the driving force beneath young McGuiver’s pick-up. The movie’s own studio lost faith in it before its release. But then the movie made money at the box office, especially in Asia.

“Split’s” popularity is difficult to explain. It is about a schizophrenic who kidnaps young women and who may be able to alter himself physically when he takes on new personalities. This suspense movie was made by M. Knight Shyamalan and stars James McAvoy.

Action fans will enjoy “Sleepless,” a Jamie Foxx movie with Michelle Monaghan. The two of them play Las Vegas police detectives working on a cop corruption case. Most of the film is set inside a cassino hotel, and the movie does everything it can with the possibilities of its setting.

“The Founder” is something like “fake history” about Ray Kroc, who for years ran the McDonald’s drive-in business. The movie makers have decided the Mc-Donald brothers were genial but hapless when associated with the grasping Kroc. This interpretation may not be fair, but the film, which stars Michael Keeton, is interesting enough.

Kate Beckinsale is back in the new “Underworld” movie “Blood Wars,” which probably has more fighting between secret nations of evolved werewolves and vampires than has been the case in earlier films. The competitors fight and bite and kick, their eyes glow, droplets of their blood are preserved in necklaces, and they have odd new ways of treating serious injuries. Fun in the way the John Wick movies are.

Nothing is fun in the way of “La La Land.” This musical for the screen would be more like the great ones of the 1950s except that its good songs are very much original. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are a little light as singers, but they get the job done, and Gosling can really dance. The generous-hearted story is a throw-back about getting one’s dreams. Just about anybody who gives the movie a chance will be amused by it.

That’s not a lot of new movies on DVD in one month. But they are pretty good movies. Enjoy them before the sundown comes too close to your bedtime.

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