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Is it worth $10? No

It is an insult – an appalling, avaricious insult – to ask moviegoers to pay hard earned money and give them nothing in return. So little happens in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” that it should be skipped altogether without a second thought. This movie is deplorable. I hated every second of it.

This is not the first time a mega-franchise has split the final installment of its finale into two parts, and it will not be the last (the third “Avengers” movie will do the same). But this strategy didn’t work for “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part One” nor “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One,” so there’s little reason to think it would work here. And it doesn’t. Oh boy it doesn’t.

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Is it worth $10? Yes

He has one of the most extraordinary minds of the 20th century, yet he can’t lift a fork to his mouth to eat. Stephen Hawking is, simply and complexly, a paragon of inspiration and tragedy. How ironic, and cruel, that a man with extreme intelligence is afflicted with a disease that shuts down his muscles but doesn’t affect his mind, leaving him a prisoner inside himself.

In “The Theory of Everything” we first meet Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) at Cambridge University in 1963, where he’s a PhD candidate in physics. He’s racing to class on his bike with his friend Brian (Harry Lloyd) – both are youthful, vibrant, alive. Later they go to a party and Stephen meets Jane (Felicity Jones), a fellow Cambridge student studying medieval Spanish poetry. They click, but soon Stephen learns he has motor neuron disease and is given two years to live. Jane chooses to stick by him; they marry and have children.

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Life is precious and fragile. It’s important to live in the moment and make each one count as much as it can, because in an instant, it could be all over. This is the central message of “If I Stay,” one that director R.J. Cutler delivers in a powerful way.

I admire the structure of the screenplay. This type of narrative arrangement is very difficult to pull off, but screenwriter Shauna Cross does it brilliantly, based on the novel by Gayle Forman. “If I Stay” starts off with a snow day in Portland, Oregon. The Hall family—mom Kat (Mireille Enos), dad Denny (Joshua Leonard), son Teddy (Jakob Davies), and daughter Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz)—go for a drive. An oncoming truck loses control on the icy road and there’s a terrible accident. Mia wakes up outside of her body. She can see herself lying on the ground and can see and hear all of the people around her and everything that’s happening, but they can’t see or hear her. This is the starting point. From this moment, the story continues forward as Mia and her family are rushed to the hospital and family and friends come by for support. We also flashback to Mia’s past experiences, mostly centering around her expertise in playing the cello and applying to Julliard, and her relationship with up and coming local rocker Adam (Jamie Blackley).

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Imagine waiting twenty years for your comatose friend to wake up and when he finally does, he reveals that it was all a big joke. You, for sure, feel duped, perhaps a little angry, perhaps a little impressed, but ultimately confused. Why wait so long for a humorous payoff? Now imagine that you are the duper, the one who has committed themselves so completely to their gag that they wasted twenty full years of their life for one single solid laugh. The Farrelly brothers surely felt that there was a good chance that the sequel to 1994’s “Dumb and Dumber” might be perceived by its audiences as just that: a twenty year build-up to a quick laugh. After all, “Dumb and Dumber To” is the sequel that should have happened eleven years ago rather than the non-canonical prequel “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.” 

But it wouldn’t have been as good eleven years ago. It wouldn’t have had the same level of commitment behind it. This sequel has been wanted for years; wanted by the directors, the audience, and by at least half of the original stars. The problem? Jim Carrey didn’t want to do it until it was worth doing. Had he signed on to reprise his role as Lloyd Christmas at the first talk of a sequel, the studio would have surely churned out whatever they could as quickly as possible regardless of whether it measured up to the original or not. That’s generally how sequels work.

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Timing is everything, and it just so happens that kidnapped journalists in the Middle East have recently been all over the news. The truth is it’s been happening for years, so to have a new release about a tortured journalist in Iran is serendipitous indeed. The fact that it’s a serious drama written and directed by comedian Jon Stewart (“The Daily Show”) makes it all the more intriguing.

Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) grew up in Tehran, Iran, but is now based out of London working as a journalist for “Newsweek.” It’s June 2009, and he leaves his pregnant wife (Claire Foy) behind to head to Tehran to visit his mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and cover the election between incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir-Hossein Mousavi. After Ahmadinejad wins in controversial fashion, Mousavi’s supporters protest, prompting Bahari to submit street riot video footage to the BBC. Shortly thereafter Bahari is arrested by Revolutionary Guard police and interrogated by a “specialist” (Kim Bodnia) who smells of rosewater, hence the film’s title. The charge? Bahari is suspected of being a spy. For 118 days, he’s asked about his writing, travel, Facebook page and more, never knowing if he’ll survive. 

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Every once in a while a sequel comes along that positively answers the age old movie question: Can a sequel be better than the original—or at least just as good? “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is one such movie.

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is back—minus the part of his leg he lost in the first movie. But don’t fret—he and his faithful dragon Toothless, who lost part of his tail in the first movie, both have prosthetics that make them as good as new. Or better, since both prosthetics are mechanically made to interact with one another, making Hiccup better able to ride and steer Toothless. The opening sequence featuring Hiccup and Toothless exploring new areas and pushing the limits of what they can do together in the air is breathtaking, as is the dragon race that his friends Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Tuffnut (T.J. Miller) and Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) are competing in.

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Central New Mexico isn't much for creative nomenclature. Near the town of Socorro, a very large array of radio astronomy antennae is named the Very Large Array (more technically the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array). Similarly, up Route 60 a piece, a town where a dust-bowl era baker named Clyde Norman set up to make great pies came to be known as "Pie Town." When a city-slick surveyor came around, suggesting a less whimsical official name, Clyde told him "It's Pie Town, or you can go to hell!" Apparently, that fixed slick Willy good--Google up "Pie Town" and you'll see it's official alright. Nowadays, a lady makes the pies in Pie Town. Guess what they call her. 

"Pie Lady Of Pie Town" is a straightforward, charming short documentary (30 minutes) that centers on Kathy Knapp's journey from radio advertising in Dallas to pie baking in... well, you know. The relaxed filmmaking style of debut writer/director Jane Rosemont fits well both Knapp's approach to her work and the easy community spirit of Central New Mexico. Rosemont also exhibits a taste for the weird and a knack for making the locals (she's a New Mexican herself) feel comfortable in front of the camera.

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Is it worth $10? Yes

“Interstellar” is, in a word, overwhelming. In a good way.

This is a thought-provoking, substantial work on a grand scale, superbly combining big budget effects and action with a story that dares to answer questions people are often too afraid to ask. The scope of the story takes us from earth to outer space to wormholes and galaxies we cannot possibly imagine. Themes deal with love, betrayal, and redemption. “Interstellar” is one of the most ambitious movies you will ever see, both in terms of visual dazzle in the enormity of it all.

The scientific and existential tale takes place in the future. Earth is dying. Dust is everywhere, wheat and okra are gone, and the only farmable food left is corn. Former NASA pilot and engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) lives on a farm with his son Tom (Timothee Chalamet as a boy, Casey Affleck as a man), daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy as a girl, Jessica Chastain as an woman) and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). Their existence is simple and, they increasingly believe, futile.

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