(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.)
"What They Had": Solid acting by an expert cast does much for writer-director Elizabeth Chomko's drama, featuring Hilary Swank as a woman drawn home to Chicago at her brother's (Michael Shannon) urging. Their mother (Blythe Danner) is in failing health, and their father (Robert Forster) is having a hard time accepting the situation. Naturally, emotions run high as the returnee tries to manage the feelings and concerns of all involved. Taissa Farmiga ("American Horror Story''), Josh Lucas and Aimee Garcia ("Lucifer'') also appear. *** (R: AS, P)
"Hell Fest": You can see a lot of the plot coming from a mile away -- even if its central characters can't, of course -- but this horror tale was ideally timed for its pre-Halloween theatrical release. The setting is a seasonal exhibit at a theme park where so many people seem to fall victim to evil, it's hard for those in attendance to tell the difference between the staged show and a killer's actual crimes. Amy Forsyth ("Rise'') plays the main person among the potential targets, and genre staple Tony Todd ("Candyman'') also is featured in the story that includes Gale Anne Hurd ("The Walking Dead'') among its executive producers. DVD extras: theatrical trailer; "making-of'' documentary. ** (R: AS, P, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"mid90s": Quite familiar for his acting, Jonah Hill makes an impressive debut as a director with this drama, which he also wrote. He spares himself the often-obligatory cameo appearance -- though comic Jerrod Carmichael does have one -- in telling the story of a youth (Sunny Suljic) whose troubled home life leads him to get in over his head, in several ways, when he immerses himself in skateboarding. The film goes to some very dark places emotionally, something that might not be expected from Hill ... making his achievement here that much more impressive. Lucas Hedges (who's had a big movie year, also in "Boy Erased'' and his father Peter's "Ben Is Back'') plays the Suljic character's brother, with Katherine Waterston as their mother. DVD extras: audio commentary by Hill and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt; deleted scenes. *** (R: AS, P, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
Also Releasing This Week:
"The Purge: Season One": Like its source, the USA Network series, spun off from the suspense-movie franchise, makes crimes legal for a specific period of time. The focus here is on a small American town where supposedly disconnected characters face perils and plot their survival as the politically approved free-for-all unfolds. Pivotal to the action is a Marine (played by Gabriel Chavarria) who returns home, on what happens to be the night of the Purge, after receiving a troubling message from his sister (Jessica Garza). The ensemble cast also includes Lili Simmons ("Westworld''), Lee Tergesen ("Oz''), Amanda Warren ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri''), Colin Woodell and Hannah Emily Anderson ("Jigsaw''), with William Baldwin and Fiona Dourif ("True Blood'') in recurring roles. *** (Not rated: AS, P, V) (Also on Blu-ray)
"Castle Rock: The Complete First Season": Stephen King-inspired characters and situations found a streaming home with this Hulu series, set in a fictional Maine town that gives the show its title. King's "The Shawshank Redemption'' is invoked as Bill Skarsgard (who also played Pennywise in the movie version of King's "It'') portrays a prison inmate wanting the help of a lawyer (Andre Holland) who returns to Castle Rock after having left under difficult circumstances. Melanie Lynskey also stars as a mind-reading realtor, with Sissy Spacek (who was King's "Carrie'' on film) and Jane Levy ("Don't Breathe'') -- the latter as the niece of "The Shining's'' Jack Torrance -- prominent in the cast as well. Scott Glenn, Terry O'Quinn and Frances Conroy are among recurring players; a second season of the series has been ordered. *** (Not rated: AS, P, V) (Also on Blu-ray)
"A Chef's Life: The Final Harvest": Vivian Howard brought her Carolinas-based PBS series to a close with this special edition, which sees her tackle the preparation of certain dishes she hadn't gotten around to making during the five seasons of the show ... making for quite a feast to wrap things up with. The finale also features footage not shown in earlier episodes, plus a retrospective compiling memorable clips. Along the way the series received Emmys and (for its first season) a Peabody Award, and though this venture is over now, Howard will be back on public television in the near future with an exploration of recipes popular in the American south. *** (Not rated)
"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)
"Johnny English Strikes Again" (Jan. 22): Rowan Atkinson returns as the inept British spy, who seeks the hacker responsible for revealing the true identities of other secret agents. (PG: AS, N, P, V)
"Kidding: Season One" (Jan. 29): Jim Carrey stars in the Showtime series as a children's-show host whose real life impacts his on-screen persona. (Not rated: AS, P)
Oldies But Goodies:
"Candyman" (1992): A legendary, lethal killer (Tony Todd) is summoned by accident by a student (Virginia Madsen) in the thriller that started the series. *** (Also on Blu-ray)
"Million dollar Baby" (2004): Hilary Swank earned her second Oscar as an aspiring boxer under the tutelage of a world-weary trainer (Clint Eastwood, also the director here). **** (Also on Blu-ray)
"The Purge" (2013): In the original thriller in the franchise, crimes are permitted for a 12-hour period; stars include Ethan Hawke. *** (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