Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of February 8, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of February 8, 2021

Minari
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and a rude gesture
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
In theaters and streaming on VOD February 26

This beautiful family immigrant story took Sundance by storm in 2020 and could be the film to beat come Oscar season. Starring Walking Dead icon Steven Yeun, the film follows a Korean family who moves to Arkansas in order to start a farm and hopefully a prosperous new life. Of course drama and struggle follow at all turns, but to save the day is the wonderful Yuh-Jung Youn as the spry granny whose surprising words and constant unexpected actions bring on an often hilarious touch to the most serious of moments. It’s a wonderful little film that shows the greatness that comes from our immigrants rather than the narratives that have been pushed on America over the last five years by people that resent them. But it does so in a way that is neither preachy nor political. It shows an America that so many of us want to believe is the true heart of our country. It is so easy to fall in love with this story and will be nearly impossible to shake it once you’ve experienced it. A+

Judas and the Black Messiah
Rated R for violence and pervasive language
Roten Tomatoes Score: 98%
In theaters and streaming on HBO Max

In this perfect companion piece to The Trial of the Chicago 7, the FBI lures in an informant (LaKeith Stanfield) to infiltrate the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers in the late 60’s in order to take down their leader, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), who J. Edgar Hoover considered one of the biggest threats to the United States. Told as a modern-day Judas and Jesus parable, the film is a stunning example of government overreach and shows how bad things can be when corrupted power unchecked is allowed to run rampant within law enforcement. With a tight script and a phenomenal cast, the film helps us better understand how the past deeply effects the present and how we are still struggling to outrun the gravity of our history. More than that, it is a terrific drama where fact seems too outrageous to not be fiction. A

Let Him Go
Rated R for violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Available on disc and VOD

One of the biggest theatrical hits from 2020 (obviously hit is a relative term) is this family drama/thriller starring Kevin Costner and Diane Lane about a retired couple who go looking for their grandson after their son dies and his wife remarries. When they see that abuse might be occurring in their family, the two of them attempt to intervene, only to find themselves in a war with a family that doesn’t want them poking around. Funny enough, the film you get is exactly what you see in the trailer, with few surprises. But its intent is well enough and the fact that you get Costner and Lane, basically playing the same characters they did in Man of Steel, minus the little alien boy, proves to be a convincing enough revenge thriller from two actors that we love to see on screen. There is an extreme lack of character and story development, and perhaps this would have been better as a miniseries rather than a two-hour narrative, but fortunately it is satisfying enough to prove effective in its own way. In the end you get the film that is advertised and the film that many want to see. B-

Land
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, brief strong language, and partial nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%
In theaters

Robin Wright’s directorial debut stars herself as a woman trying to escape from the world after a horrible tragedy occurs in her life. So she moves to the Rockies into an isolated cabin with no phone and no car under the full assumption that she will figure it out. But when she fails to figure it out, a kind stranger (Damian Bichir) comes into her life to help her not only survive the harshness of nature but possibly learn to get over her extreme depression. We’ve seen this sort of story play out but this one is different enough and in spite of its immense sadness, manages to be both beautiful and engaging. I think many of us have dreamed of moving off to the mountains to live life as a hermit and this film will both feed that desire and scare you away from it. I wish the film had more character development for both Wright and Bichir, as the super short runtime makes the film feel like the CliffsNotes for a larger, more interesting story. But the immense weight of the material does seem that much lighter at 89 minutes than it would have at two hours or more. B-

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of January 25, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of January 25, 2021

The Little Things
Rated R for violent/disturbing images, language and full nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 52% at time of writing
Available in theaters and on HBO Max

From writer/director John Lee Hancock (Blindside) comes this period crime drama about a small town cop (Denzel Washington) who comes to Los Angeles for a routine visit, only to be asked to help with a serial killer investigation by the city’s hottest homicide detective (Rami Malek). Once they have jumped into the investigation, they find a suspect (Jared Leto) who they are certain is guilty but who has covered his tracks perfectly and seems to enjoy being hunted. For the first hour, this film pulls you in nicely and really engages. It starts out dark and gritty and seemingly full of surprises. But as soon as it hooks you, it lets you go with a manhunt that feels insincere at best and manipulative at worst. By the end, it is more than apparent that the promise of a great crime drama was just a ruse and that in spite of the stellar cast strutting their stuff, the film is just pretending to be smarter than it actually is. And rather than a scary, insomnia-inducing thriller, we get a forgettable drama with very little substance. C-

Palmer
Rated R for brief violence, some sexual content/nudity and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58% at time of writing
Available on Apple TV+

In his new family drama not meant for families, Justin Timberlake is a former LSU quarterback turned criminal who comes home to live with grandma after a long haul in prison. Upon his return he befriends a lonely and neglected boy whose drug addicted mother tends to disappear for lengthy periods, leaving him and his grandmother as temporary guardians. As he spends more time with the boy, he begins to connect in a way that changes his life. But as the situation becomes more tense, his past reappears to haunt his present. I’ve always rather liked JT as an actor and while he doesn’t make many appearances on screen, he usually has great presence. This might be a small film, but it packs a punch, even if it is pretty manipulative. I’ll admit that the graphic sex scenes are way out of place and the film might have been better as a PG-13, but its doubtful they were looking for a younger audience anyway. As a foster parent who has seen this scenario first hand, I found it rather easy to be empathetic to his character and his motives, and equally frustrated at the helplessness one feels when faced with such a dilemma. B+

The White Tiger
Rated R for language, violence and sexual material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Available on Netflix

This new Netflix indie follows the life a poor young Indian man from a low caste who somehow finds his way into high Indian society. You see his life toward the middle of his journey before they take you to his lowly beginning, constantly wondering how he is able to elevate. It’s a well-written and well-acted picture with a relatively unknown cast that really pulls it off. It’s definitely westernized so as not to be mistaken for a Bollywood flick, for those who might be turned off by that. It’s more along the lines of Slumdog Millionaire, although not nearly as strong. But still, it makes for a great epic with terrific energy and verve, and many nice (and not so nice) surprises along the way. A-

The Best and Worst Films of 2020

The Best and Worst Films of 2020

By Danny Minton

This will, in almost all retrospective examinations, go down as the year of the asterisk. Sure we had sports, movies and many of our other pastimes, but they were all enjoyed in different ways and none in the way we wanted to see them. We did get to see a few films in theaters before March, but March is when all the good films start for the year and that was unfortunately when much of theater-going was finished. Back in January, I was most looking forward to films like Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, Steven Spielberg’s Westside Story and Dennis Villeneuve’s Dune, all of which have been pushed to deep in 2021. Did this hurt the quality of the year’s releases? Sure did. But I’m trying to see the silver lining here. Most of this year’s releases came to us via our streaming friends at Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, Apple, HBO Max and others, and only time will tell if that trend will continue or if people will start to once again flood theaters once they are vaccinated and the virus has gotten under control. Regardless, here are the films that I think are the gems in this turd of a year.

1) Soul (Streaming on Disney+). Pixar gave us two animated adventures this year. Onward was okay, but Soul, just release this past week, has proved to be one of Pixar’s best, once again showing that writer/director Pete Docter is a true master of taking an unconventional idea and making it sing. Here an aspiring jazz musician finally gets his big break, only to step into a manhole, sending him on his way to purgatory. But when given the chance to inspire a future soul, he gets the chance to discover his own. It’s a beautiful and surprising film that can be enjoyed and appreciated on many levels.

2) Palm Springs (Streaming on Hulu). This crazy sci-fi turn on Groundhog Day follows Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti as two people from a wedding party who get stuck in the same day, over and over and over again as they try to not only figure a way out, but also discover who they really are. Sure it riffs off of a very famous romantic comedy, but it does so in a way that is fresh, funny and poignant.

3) The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Streaming on Netflix). Originally written by Aaron Sorkin for Steven Spielberg to direct over a decade ago, Sorkin took on the directing role with an all-star ensemble cast to tell the story of the men who were put on trial for conspiracy to bring havoc and destruction to Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. With Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Frank Langella, as well as some great fresh talents, the film brilliantly helps you understand the protests themselves as well as their importance and relevance.

4) Minari (Coming soon to theaters). This quiet and gentle drama follows Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) as a Korean immigrant who moves his family to rural Arkansas in order to begin a new life and hopefully live the American Dream. The face of the immigrant family in America has been so greatly damaged over the last four years, but this film brings a different and loving image to a complicated and dramatic existence. It’s a joy to watch and its authenticity is its strongest power. If you didn’t recognize several members of the cast, you could easily mistake it as a documentary.

5) Sound of Metal (Streaming on Amazon Prime). I love it when I have no clue what a film is about only to have it wallop me over the head and heart. Such is the case with Sound of Metal. Here Riz Ahmed (Rogue One) is a drummer in metal band who one day very suddenly loses his hearing. Having to adjust in life-altering ways, he finds himself living in a commune where the ultimate goal isn’t to get your hearing back, but learning to live without it. You walk lockstep with Ahmed as every one of his decisions and actions is not only understandable but quite likely what you would do were you in his shoes. It’s an incredible tour de force from an actor who is quickly rising up the Hollywood ladder.

6) The King of Staten Island (Available to rent or buy on all streaming platforms). Judd Apatow’s comedy starring Pete Davidson as almost himself was one of the first films this year to take a chance by starting at home rather than in theaters. The bet paid off and the film found quite an audience. As funny as any other Apatow film is quite the compliment and this indeed was. But with the story about a young man whose father died a hero in 9-11, starring a talented young comedian whose father died a hero during 9-11, well, you probably understand the gravity. It gets you laughing and crying in equal measure.

7) My Octopus Teacher (Streaming on Netflix). One of the greatest nature documentaries in modern years is this treasure from Netflix about a filmmaker who makes friends with an Octopus off the coast of South Africa, and proceeds to visit with his friend every day for a year to learn the mysteries of her world. It is a beautiful, fascinating and mesmerizing movie that you will find unforgettable.

8) The Way Back (Streaming on HBOmax). One of the last films released in theaters before Covid shutdowns hit was this emotionally riveting drama starring Ben Affleck as a local high school basketball legend who is asked to come back and coach. But with demons born from a horrible tragedy in his life, he battles alcohol as the only thing standing in his way. Directed by Gavin O’Connor, whose 2011 film Warrior proved that he knows how to take a sports film up a notch, the film only looks like a basketball movie from the outside as it really delivers up a sobering examination of the human condition and the things that get in the way of our success.

9) The Trip to Greece (Streaming on Hulu). Writer/director Michael Winterbottom here takes British comedy legends Steven Coogan and Rob Brydon on their fourth culinary and cultural trip, this time to the Greek Isles, where for almost two hours we get to be a fly on the wall listening to their conversations about food, life, love and career. Having followed this concept for the last ten years from Britain to Italy to Spain and now to Greece, I found them all to be great, but this latest is the most impactful, especially given that most of the world’s vacations have been monumentally impacted and living vicariously through them, even though the events and dialog are scripted, served as an excellent two-hour replacement trip. Sure we didn’t actually get to eat at any of the Michelin three star restaurants enjoyed here, but there wasn’t a better replacement to be found this year.

10) The Social Dilemma (Streaming on Netflix). This uber scary documentary spends its time interviewing leaders of Silicon Valley to get a better understanding of how social media is adversely affecting the health of the country and the world. It’s a wake-up call that makes it easier to see how so many people could possibly say and do things that they would have been embarrassed about 5 years ago, but through manipulation and surgical propaganda, the world has seemingly been a victim of a chaotic monster that has been loosed. It might not be the best film you see this year – but it could be the most important. It emphasizes that when it’s not apparent what product the company you use daily is actually selling to raise revenue – rest assured that product is you.

The Worst:

1) Dolittle. Robert Downey Jr. butchers one of my favorite classic characters with this ridiculous waste of a ginormous budget. If they animals really could talk to him, even they would have begged him to avoid.

2) Irresistible. I firmly believed that John Stewart had the best of intentions for this Steve Carrell/Rose Byrne political comedy, but studio heads at Focus should have known better than to finance him on this one.

3) Antebellum. It looked like a smart sci-fi/horror vehicle about slavery and race relations from the trailer, but once deep enough in, the movie collapses under its own lousy, misleading plot.

4) Scoob! Warner Brothers assembled an amazing voice cast for this expensive Scooby movie, only to give audiences a pointless, thoughtless story that could have just been another mediocre tv episode.

5) Bloodshot. I had a hard time watching this Vin Diesel crapfast due to my eyes constantly rolling around my head. The pain in my head after watching wasn’t immortal like Diesel’s character, but it sure took its slow time going away.

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of December 21, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of December 21, 2020

Soul
Rated PG for some language and thematic elements
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Available on Disney+

Rather than to keep pushing back the release date of this major property from Pixar, Disney has opted to use its uber-successful streaming platform to release what will most likely be the top Oscar contender for best animated feature. Written and directed by Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out), Soul tells the story of a school band director (Jamie Foxx) who dreams of being a great jazz pianist. But when he finally gets his big break, he falls through a manhole and finds himself on the way to the great beyond. There, he is charged with inspiring a young soul (Tina Fey) before being transferred to a baby human. If I’ve learned something from watching Docter’s films, they always tell unconventional tales in a complex way that engage the mind and the senses. The man is a brilliant animated storyteller and this new creation is just further proof. Think you know what the movie is all about from the trailer? Think again. My poor synopsis is purposefully obscure as the journey is both intense, inspiring and full of surprises. Helping the story along is a top notch production including an amazing ensemble of voice talent and a nearly perfect score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross with jazz provided by Jon Batiste. While their earlier 2020 release Onward was pretty good – this one is truly great and inline with the studio’s top masterpieces. A+

News of the World
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some language, disturbing images and violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
In Theaters

Bravely opening in theaters on Christmas is this innovative and relevant western directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) starring Tom Hanks as a traveling news reader. Taking place five years after the Civil War, retired Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks) discovers a young orphan girl, who doesn’t speak English, on the trail near Wichita Falls, TX who desperately needs help to find her aunt and uncle in hill country. So traveling through both the somewhat civilized cities and the treacherous regions of Texas, he must find a way to keep himself and the girl alive while evading the scoundrels that mean to harm them. While the film appears to be on the level and works as a straight-out story to those who don’t want to put too much thought into it, ultimately the movie comes off as way more figurative and poetic than literal. In my mind I saw something completely different. As a news reader trying to factually inform people of what is happening at home and abroad, Hanks can be seen as truth, trying to deliver America (in this case the innocent girl) safely with threats of violence and propaganda attacking from all sides. This deeper meaning to the film gives it a less that subtle complexity that is well-driven by Greengrass and Hanks. While filmed in New Mexico, the story was that much more interesting for taking place in cities and towns (in name only) which most of us, as Texans, are very familiar with. While it had some story elements that seem a bit out of place, the many different facets make for an excellent movie-going experience, and maybe, if you are interested in it, an education and enlightenment. A-

Wonder Woman 1984
Rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
In Theaters and on HBO Max

Originally meant for theaters several months back, HBO and Warner Brothers recently announced that the much-anticipated Wonder Woman sequel would simultaneously hit theaters and their streaming service, in order to draw a wider audience to both preferences. The story takes place decades after the events of the first film, as Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is living in Washington DC in 1984. When a robbery of antiquities goes wrong, her team is asked to identify some of the pieces discovered. One said piece grants users their wish, either if made on purpose or accidentally. Originally destined for a corrupt and greedy businessman named Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) who is able to recover it, and inadvertently bestowing powers on one of the scientists examining the pieces (Kristen Wiig), the power of the wish gets out of hand on a global scale. I can only guess that when Captain Marvel aced a 90’s super hero film, Warner Brothers got the idea to do the same for Wonder Woman in everyone’s favorite decade. While it adds a unique and fun design to the film, I’m not sure it really carries over that well. What does work is Kristen Wiig as Cheetah, who does an admirable job of becoming a crazed villain. Unfortunately, the main baddie Max Lord comes off as rather lame, like a bad supernatural Bond villain. And when your villain comes off weak, it only magnifies the film’s many other problems. It is at times a fun film to watch, but the cheese tends to overwhelm the entertainment throughout. Still, it manages to be big and loud to tries desperately to hide its silliness, and I’m sure many will have a great time watching it. C+

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of December 14, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of December 14, 2020

Tenet
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, action, intense sequences of violence, some suggestive references
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%

Available on Disc and Streaming
After months of theaters practically shutting down from Covid-19, Warner Brothers decided to experiment with reopening by launching this highly-anticipated action/thriller from Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar) in September. Holding their breath, Hollywood was hoping that it was still possible to release their slate of tentpoles and this was the ultimate litmus test. Unfortunately, the film did not do well, Hollywood pulled back, and theaters were left to struggle until the country can get vaccinated. Does this lackluster box office have anything to do with the film? Not really. But this is 2020 and this context is one of the most important stories of the year.

As for the film, Tenet (notice the palindrome) follows John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) as he is brought into a secret government organization which manipulates what is called “inversion” to thwart a mastermind criminal (Kenneth Branagh) who is set to destroy the entire universe with its principals. Inversion essentially uses time travel on a controllable scale and welding it has its plusses and minuses. Along with Washington’s suave sidekick Robert Pattinson (Twilight), the pair do an excellent job of making the whacky premise come alive and seem believable. Even if all of the movies meant for theaters this summer had actually made it, this would have still, most likely, been the biggest and loudest of them all. It is a bombastic force, full of humongous set pieces and intense, sometimes crazy action sequences. It is most certainly a lot of fun to experience. But it is also incredibly confusing and strange. Once in, you will understand what inversion is, but the very concept is so ludicrous that you question its validity in a film. But boy do they go for it and that must be respected. They set up an insane central concept and as long as you don’t ask a lot of questions, you’ll be fully engaged as you go on the adventure. Nolan has done this over and over, so no surprises there. But if you thought Inception was hard get your head wrapped around, Tenet blows it away. Still, the film must be appreciated for what it is and even more so what it tried to do, as the world attempted to put back a glaringly missing piece of its existence. Yes it missed the mark, but I’m going to guess that it will at least recoup a much bigger chunk of its cost now that it is entering American homes. B+

The Wolf of Snow Hollow
Rated R for violence, bloody images, some drug use, language throughout
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Available on Disc and Streaming

From writer, director and star Jim Cummings comes this unexpected critical hit about a stressed-out police officer who must solve a string of murders which have convinced the entire town to be wary of a giant werewolf on the loose. Darkly funny and filled with some great performances from its largely unknown cast, the movie is a fun little jaunt that is built more to entertain than to scare. In one of his very last performances, Robert Forrester plays the town sheriff and steals the show in line after line. If you are in the mood for a fun little indie with several great surprises, you can do no wrong here. B-

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of December 7, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of December 7, 2020

The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone
Rated R for violence and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93% at time of writing
Available on Disc and Streaming

When the Godfather Parts I and II came out in 1972 and 1974, respectively, they each slew at the Oscars and to this day are considered two of the finest movies ever made. But upon its release in 1990, Part III was met with a golf clap and a lot of people wishing for a vastly different film. At close to three hours in length, it seemed like it had decent bones, but it sorely needed a big edit as the pacing wasn’t great, with some scenes famously dragging on for what seemed like forever. Thirty years later, director Francis Ford Coppola and Paramount are re-releasing the film with a brand new edit and the original title that Coppola and writer Mario Puzo intended in the first place. Many of the scenes are there, but rearranged, with a different feel that, while at roughly the same length, is fresh and more appropriate for the franchise. Where the original feels rough, this one feels right. Could it have beat Dances with Wolves to give the franchise the Oscar trifecta? Probably not. But at least now there is a more fitting end to this legendary saga. A

Popeye
Rated PG
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%
Available on Disc and Streaming

Forty years ago, Robin Williams, fresh off his mega success on his new series Mork and Mindy, made his theatrical debut as the infamous Popeye the Sailor in Robert Altman’s strange little musical about an odd seaman who happens upon a weird little town only to steal the eccentric Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall) from her fiancé and town bully, Bluto. I remember seeing this when I was 8 and I instantly fell in love with not only Williams, but the style of the movie and its eclectic but fitting musical numbers. Because it was built to look out of place and time, the movie still holds up quite well. And in his squinty little eyes, you can see the legend to come as Williams looks ready to take on the world as a budding young comic in his late twenties. Having not seen in it in decades, I was worried that I had outgrown it, but happy to know that I could still really enjoy both its unique vision and the trip down memory lane that it gave me. A-

Popcorn Perspectives – Week of November 23, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of November 23, 2020

(from left) Phil Betterman (Peter Dinklage) and Grug Crood (Nicolas Cage) in DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods: A New Age, directed by Joel Crawford.

The Croods: A New Age
Rated PG for peril, action and rude humor
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76% at time of writing
In Theaters

This sequel to the 2013 animated film follows the continuing adventures of the Croods, a prehistoric family in search of a better life consisting of food, shelter and safety. Lucky for them they discover a beautifully walled-in single-family commune with a more evolved family, named the Bettermans, who have figured out a much more sophisticated way of living. While at first the Croods are welcomed, the two families’ differences quickly cause problems that escalate into a big feudal mess. While I wouldn’t say the movie is a big evolution from the first one, it’s actually still a lot of fun and crazy creative. Originally slated for a 2017 release, the studio changed the story direction by hiring Dan and Kevin Hageman (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) to re-craft for a much later release this Thanksgiving. Is it worth venturing into theaters during Covid? Not sure about that one. But it is a fun little comedy with some big laughs and a welcome familiarity. Sure its more like theatrical comfort food than fine dining, but sometimes that is okay. Whether in theaters or in what I’m sure will be a relatively fast trip to home entertainment, kids will obviously enjoy, as I’m sure many of the adults will too with its wacky, random humor and nicely-paced story. B

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Rated R for some sexual content, language and brief violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100% at time of writing
Available on Netflix

Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman put on an acting masterclass in this film from Netflix based on the play by August Wilson and produced by Denzel Washington. The story follows a famous black singer named Ma Rainey (Davis) and her band as they attempt to record some new songs at a studio in Chicago in the 1920’s. Tensions flair as a young trumpet player (Boseman) and the rest of the band argue and fight over the direction of their music and their lives as black musicians in white America. The movie very much feels like a play as it moves between its music and its narrative. And while the story itself isn’t overly compelling, the stories of the characters, along with the fantastic ensemble cast playing them, give the film a memorable and satisfying journey as you learn about each of them and what has gotten them to that moment. And depending on when we actually see awards for this year, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Boseman and Davis were both major front-runners for best actor and actress when we eventually do see the trophies handed out. For Boseman especially, his potential posthumous win will be an emotionally charged campaign to reward the great talent which we lost way too soon. A-

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of November 16, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of November 16, 2020

Hillbilly Elegy
Rated R for some violence, language throughout and drug content
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 29%
In theaters now, on Netflix November 24

Director Ron Howard takes on the novel by J.D. Vance which explores the life of a young man whose grandmother (Glenn Close) raises him while his mother (Amy Adams) struggles though her drug addictions in rural Kentucky and Ohio. From the get-go, this film takes you into the darkness of white rural America as you authentically witness a timeline back and forth between now, then and wayback in order to try to help you better understand not just how our storyteller got here, but how America got here. In the story, in spite of severe obstacles in his way, author J.D. Vance arose from his humbling circumstances to eventually get into Yale law school and a thriving career. But it’s a story that most kids don’t recover from and much of America deals with every day. Here it feels real and Howard carefully moves through the narrative in a way that explains the world J.D. is in without exploiting it. Of course it helps to have actresses like Glenn Close and Amy Adams who very realistically inhabit their characters in a sensitive and empathetic way. The end result is a tough film to watch, but one worth watching nonetheless. Why it’s getting bad reviews I have no idea. Perhaps many critics just don’t want to visit this part of our country’s failure. But personally, I have been there and deem it important to show the nature of the beast, and the hope of eventually getting past it. A-

The Last Vermeer
Rated R for violence, some language, nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
In theaters

After WWII, many important works of art surfaced after being acquired or hidden by the Nazi party. During the year following the war, artist Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce) was arrested and tried for selling unknown Vermeer paintings to high ranking members of the Nazi party and this movie explores that complex and dangerous relationship between doing what it takes to stay alive during a tumultuous period and profiting from it. While a little hard to get into, the movie quickly turns interesting as you follow its subject down his dark path and possible road to salvation. Using the soldier responsible for the journey as the catalyst is a bit boring, but ultimately the narrative is compelling and extremely fascinating. It might not be for everyone, but if you are an art or history lover – this movie will hold your focus hard, not only for its historical significance, but also for its largely unknown consequential magnitude upon the art world. B+

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of November 9, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of November 9, 2020

Freaky
Rated R for sexual content, language throughout, strong bloody horror violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79% at time of writing
In Theaters

Blumhouse loves to experiment with genre-crossing and in this newest fright fest, writer/director Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day) fools around with the classic Freaky Friday switcheroo. In this case, a high schooler named Millie (Kathryn Newton) changes places with a serial killer (Vince Vaughn) when he attempts to murder her. Waking up the next day in the others’ bodies, they each have to find a way to cross back over without getting themselves killed in the process. With quite a lively sense of humor throughout, the extreme violence, while at first unsettling, quickly turns to fun as you get into the meat of the story. And while it is a fairly predictable tale, with Vaughn pretending to be a high school girl for much of the film, you become much more interested in the comedy than the direction of the plot. Vaughn is a riot here, and I can’t imagine more perfect casting. B

Fatman
Rated R for bloody violence/language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 38% at time of writing
In Theaters and On Demand

In this newly imagined Christmas film, Mel Gibson plays Santa Claus and things are getting bad for him in the North Pole. Kids are losing their belief in him and the military is stepping in to change his business and to take advantage of his hard-working elves. And when he puts a lump of coal in a nasty rich kid’s stocking on Christmas, the kid hires a Santa-hating hitman (Walton Goggins) to take him out. If this sounds dark, that’s because it is. Don’t get any thoughts in your head that this might turn out to be a heart-warming tale that will leave you feeling fuzzy in the end. While it does have dark comedy undertones, you probably won’t be spending much time laughing here. That being said, there is humor in the characters’ nastiness, which is on full display here. And its edginess makes it interesting enough to keep you engaged and satisfied. It probably won’t go down as a holiday classic, but it ends up being entertaining enough to be worth a watch during the upcoming Christmas season. B-

Spontaneous
Rated R for Bloody Images Throughout, Teen Drug and Alcohol Use, Language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

In this very timely high school horror/comedy, a young couple in love try to treat every moment like it could be their last, especially since many of the kids in their graduating class keep inexplicably blowing up. With equal amounts of funny and gory, the film is original and thought-provoking in a perverse yet sweet way. For the first half of the film, I thought this might end up as one of my favorites of the year. But unfortunately the premise wears thin and the story loses direction in the third act as it just doesn’t know where to go. But its a great attempt for what it is and the first hour is worth getting invested in the movie, in spite of its late flaws. B+

Schitt’s Creek: The Complete Series
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Available on Netflix and DVD

One of the most watchable television series in recent years is this lovable comedy about a formerly wealthy family who lose everything except a deed for the town of Schitt’s Creek, which was bought as a joke. But they begrudgingly move to their new home in the hope of starting over and doing it better than they did before. What begins as a frivolous little one-note comedy evolves over six seasons into a masterpiece of love and laughter. My friend who got me into the show originally described it as her “happy place”, and I can’t agree more. With all of the drama and darkness in the world right now, these short little episodes serve as a bright light to remind you of all the good that is still out there. After you’re all done with the final season, or if you want to better understand what all the buzz is about and why the show took home so many Emmys this last year, check out the documentary “A Schitt’s Creek Farewell” which goes into great detail about all of the brilliant little details that you might have overlooked. A+

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of October 26, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of October 26, 2020

Spell
Rated R for disturbing/bloody images, violence, language
Available on video on demand

In this relatively low-budget black horror film from Paramount, wealthy lawyer Omari Hardwick (Being Mary Jane) and his young family make a trip to his father’s funeral in rural Appalachia in their private plane, when an intense storm brings them down. When he awakens, he discovers he is in a small remote town and being held captive in the attic of a not-so-normal older woman. And worse, he is about to be the victim of a voodoo ceremony. For what it is, the movie turns out to be a moderately creepy tale with an excellent cast and creative team. Imagine if Jordan Peele recreated Misery and that’s what you’ll get here. At 91 minutes, it doesn’t possess a lot of exposition and character building, but honestly, it doesn’t need it either. It would have probably been a profitable hit in theaters, especially considering its budget, and it does the trick if you just want a short Halloween scarer. It would have certainly elevated the film to take a deeper dive into the unusual world on display, but its production and style can still lure in a thrill-seeking audience if it is marketed right. B-

Host
Unrated – but would easily be an R
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Available on the Shudder horror streaming service

After noticing its perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, I felt compelled to request a screener for this new original horror film from the new streaming service Shudder. Taking place in our current Covid world, the story follows a group of friends on Zoom who schedule a group seance. But when they fail to take it seriously, they accidentally invite in the wrong spirits into their homes. With the entire film taking place on Zoom, the movie ends up being a relevant and creative way to tell a story that should attract enough people to take a closer look at Shudder’s service and offerings. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it inspires aspiring filmmakers who come to the realization that they can make a decent movie with a platform they know all too well and without much of a budget at all. At just under an hour, it’s not really a full-length feature narrative and the film definitely lacks the dialog and character development that might have helped to round it out in a way that could have benefited its popularity and marketability. But as is, I was still happy with its rather scary, hair-raising brevity. B