‘Better Watch Out’ a surprise gift of holiday-themed horror

I give a soft recommend to "Better Watch Out" – now available to stream for 99 cents on Amazon Prime – for anyone who hasn't seen the trailer. The twist is great, and the rest of the film is unusual enough to be compelling. But those who have seen the trailer can skip it, as they already know the whole movie, just in condensed form.

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‘Chuck’ a lightweight portrayal of the boxer who inspired ‘Rocky’

Available via streaming and Redbox, "Chuck" was quietly in and out of theaters in 2017. The biopic's titular character, Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), is also under the radar: He was a local legend in Bayonne, N.J., and had a brush with national sporting fame in 1974 when he made it into the 15th round against Muhammad Ali before losing via TKO. This inspired Sylvester Stallone when writing "Rocky," and for a time it was well-known that Wepner inspired the film's boxing arc and Rocky's job as a debt collector, but the public's knowledge faded with time.

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No X-Men in this ‘Gifted,’ but it is a sweet little family drama

Not to be confused with TV's "X-Men" series "The Gifted," "Gifted" made a blip in movie theaters in April (it's available via Redbox and streaming), but it's worth checking out for those who enjoy sweet little family dramas with good performances, dashes of humor and beautiful Savannah, Ga., settings as a stand-in for Florida.

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Taut thriller ’47 Meters Down’ a respectable addition to pantheon of shark terror

1975's "Jaws" invented the killer-shark subgenre of horror, but it didn't invent sharks. As such, plenty of movies through the years have been spiritual sequels to "Jaws," and most of them have been much better than "Jaws 3" and "Jaws: The Revenge." "47 Meters Down," which snuck in and out of theaters in June and is now available via streaming and Redbox, is the latest.

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‘Life’ is another ‘Alien’ ripoff – but it’s one of the better ones

It's hard to review "Life" (March 2017) -- which I recently saw via Redbox – without entering into apologia. It is undeniably in the "Alien" ripoff subgenre. But it strikes me as odd that "Gravity" (2013), for example, has a 7.8 on IMDB and "Life" has a 6.6. Both are about accidents on a modern-day space station, featuring all-star casts and a mission statement to be realistic. Maybe the monster in "Life" is the difference-maker in that rating, but to me, the monster is a positive, not a negative.

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Music-driven ‘Baby Driver’ cranks up the directorial creativity

At one point in "Baby Driver" -- now available via Redbox and streaming -- the gunshots are in perfect sync with the beats from the song in Baby's (Ansel Elgort) earphones. It's one example of the clever conceit behind the latest film from Edgar Wright, known for helming Simon Pegg's funny British films like "Shaun of the Dead."

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Wondrous settings and epic monster fights shine, but ‘Kong: Skull Island’ also has depth

I didn't know if we needed another "King Kong" reboot per se, especially since Peter Jackson's 2005 version was pretty great. And there are indeed some been-there, done-that moments in "Kong: Skull Island," which hit theaters in March and is now on HBO. But darn it, this is such an amazing-looking movie that I have been won over. It's even better-looking than "Alien: Covenant," which was likewise filmed in seemingly untouched areas of Australia, and it also shot in Vietnam and Hawaii.

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You’ll ‘Wish Upon’ a star, or whatever gods you pray to, for a more creative movie

In "Wish Upon" -- now available via Redbox and streaming -- young Clare (Joey King, from Season 1 of "Fargo") comes upon an ancient Chinese box that grants seven wishes. She makes a wish, it comes true, and there is a consequence. Repeat six more times until the movie ends.

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‘Annabelle: Creation’ tells the origin story of that creepy-as-hell doll

For about $370, you can get an Annabelle doll from Mezco Toys, and unlike most movie memorabilia, this piece won't just sit around and collect dust. If it's anything like the real deal, it'll move around your house, offering daily surprises and laughs.

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‘Valerian’ serves up grand adventure while showing how its source material influenced ‘Star Wars’

I consider myself to be an amateur "Star Wars" historian, but until recently, I didn't know about the influence of the "Valerian and Laureline" comics on George Lucas' saga. Pulling the 1997 "Magic of Myth" book off my shelf, I don't find "Valerian" or its creators -- writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières – in the index. Maybe it's because it was a French rather than American creation, but at any rate, it's clear that "Star Wars" borrowed from "Valerian," which began in 1967 and is still going today.

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