(Ratings for each film begin with a "star'' rating -- one star meaning "poor,'' four meaning "excellent'' -- followed by the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and then by a family-viewing guide, the key for which appears below.)
"Night School": Resuming his education many years after he dropped out proves quite revelatory for a man (Kevin Hart) who needs a GED result for a job he wants in this comedy. Tiffany Haddish plays the night-school teacher, whom he manages to infuriate with his antics almost instantly, but she eventually takes a special interest in him and helps him toward making the grade, literally. Director Malcolm D. Lee also includes Taran Killam ("Single Parents''), Rob Riggle, Romany Malco ("A Million Little Things''), Keith David and Anne Winters ("13 Reasons Why'') in his cast. DVD extras: audio commentary by Lee; "extended cut'' version; deleted scenes; alternate opening. *** (PG-13: AS, P, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Bad Times at the El Royale": Writer-director Drew Goddard's moody melodrama draws a number of disparate characters together at a rundown motel on the border of California and Nevada in the late 1960s. Each has his or her own secrets to keep, but that becomes difficult in the face of bad weather and the arrival of someone else whose presence prompts some surprising revelations by the others. Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo ("The Color Purple''), Nick Offerman ("Parks and Recreation'') and Shea Whigham are among the stars. DVD extras: "making-of'' documentary; photo gallery. *** (R: AS, N, P, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Bad Reputation": The music-business journey of the influential and decidedly unconventional Joan Jett is traced in this documentary, a testament to how perseverance can pay off ... since she literally started her career out of her car trunk after facing rejection from numerous labels. The last laugh would be hers, since she became pivotal to two iconic bands (the Runaways and the Blackhearts) and released such enduring hits as "I Love Rock `n Roll,'' "I Hate Myself for Loving You'' and this film's title tune -- and she also has been an actress on occasion ("Light of Day''). Jett's own comments here are supplemented by those from many of her friends and associates including Kristen Stewart (who played Jett in the movie "The Runaways''), Pete Townshend, Iggy Pop, Michael J. Fox and Miley Cyrus. *** (R: AS, N, P)
Also Releasing This Week:
"Frontline: The Pension Gamble": This recent episode of the PBS series examines the shortage of funds for pension payments promised to government employees, with correspondent Martin Smith looking into the causes for the shortfall. He concentrates on the situation in Kentucky, but the point is stressed that it's not unique to that state, with the 2008 financial crisis having set the groundwork for the pension dilemma that exists currently. Questionable investments on Wall Street also have added to the problem over the ensuing years, with public employees such as teachers (some of whom comment here) also impacted. *** (Not rated)
"A-X-L'': The title character in this adventure is a dog, but certainly not an ordinary one ... it's a robotic canine that has been programmed as a potential weapon, but its destructive tendencies are altered by the new friendship it makes with a youth (Alex Neustaedter, ``Colony'') who discovers it. Its creators then want it back, but that could become a big problem when the situation reactivates the robot's original, dangerous instincts. Singer-actress Becky G, Thomas Jane, Ted McGinley and Lou Taylor Pucci also star. *** (PG: AS, P) (Also on Blu-ray)
"Shine": Salsa dancing is a big element of this drama about two brothers, one of whom has moved on while the other has maintained his own footsteps, quite literally. The sibling who has become a lawyer (Jorge Burgos) returns to his Spanish Harlem neighborhood in New York, which has been ravaged by a series of fires -- and where he is pitted against his still-dancing brother (Gilbert Saldivar). David Zayas ("Dexter'') and Alysia Reiner ("Orange Is the New Black'') also are featured. *** (R: AS, P)
"Hell Fest" (Jan. 8): Young attendees of a Halloween-themed event don't realize that a serial killer also is present; stars include Amy Forsyth and Tony Todd ("Candyman''). (R: AS, P, V) "Mid90s" (Jan. 8): Writer-director Jonah Hill's drama focuses on a youth (Sunny Suljic) who gets in over his head, in several ways, when he immerses himself in skateboarding. (R: AS, P, V) "What They Had" (Jan. 8): A woman (Hilary Swank) rejoins her Chicago family as her father (Robert Forster) tries to cope with her mother's (Blythe Danner) illness. (R: AS, P)
"Halloween" (Jan. 15): Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, who again must protect herself -- as well as her daughter and granddaughter -- from the lethal Michael Myers many years later. (R: AS, N, P, V)
"The Old Man & the Gun'' (Jan. 15): Robert Redford plays a veteran criminal determined to continue his illegal ways in the twilight of his career; Sissy Spacek also stars. (PG-13: AS, P)
"The Hate You Give" (Jan. 22): A young woman's (Amandla Stenberg) clashing worlds between home and school become even more divided after she witnesses a tragedy. (PG-13: AS, P, V)
Oldies But Goodies:
"Blown Away" (1994): A Boston police officer (Jeff Bridges) is tormented by a terrorist (Tommy Lee Jones) to whom he has a past connection. *** (Also on Blu-ray)
"Easy A" (2010): The Joan Jett tune "Bad Reputation'' is on the soundtrack of this comedy about a student (Emma Stone) who adopts a different image. *** (Also on Blu-ray)
"Think Like a Man" (2012): The ideas in Steve Harvey's same-named book are considered by several couples; the ensemble cast includes Kevin Hart and Taraji P. Henson. *** (Also on Blu-ray)
TOP 10 DVD & Blu-Ray Rentals
(Week ending December 9, 2018, Courtesy of comScore, Inc)
1) "Mission: Impossible - Fallout"
2) "Crazy Rich Asians"
3) "The Meg"
4) "Mile 22"
5) "Incredibles 2"
6) "The Nun"
7) "Christopher Robin"
9) "Ant-Man and the Wasp"
FAMILY VIEWING GUIDE KEY: AS, adult situations; N, nudity; P, profanity; V, violence; GV, particularly graphic violence