Popcorn Perspectives – Week of July 27, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of July 27, 2020

Rebuilding Paradise
Rated PG-13
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Available Through Violet Crown’s Virtual Cinema

Once again using his time to make a documentary (his last outing explored the life of Pavarotti), Ron Howard sets out here to look at the town of Paradise, CA, where 95% of the city burned to the ground in 2018, killing 85 residents and displacing more than 50,000 lives. Through interviews with a variety of people from the town and being onsite through its rebuilding process, the documentary closely and delicately allows the people to tell their story as they struggle to not only keep Paradise alive, but also find a way to strengthen their devastated community. Rather than place himself into the narrative, Howard sincerely and skillfully stays out of the fray while allowing you to feel like a first-hand observer, making decisions along with Paradise’s resilient citizens, while at the same time empathetically traversing their path. The end result is a movie not about the fire, but rather about what it takes to survive and overcome an ordeal in modern America. As an aside, some arthouse theaters have created a way to watch important independent, foreign and documentary films virtually. In this case, National Geographic is working with Violet Crown out of Austin (and other small theaters nationally) to release content for home viewing so you don’t have to miss out during Covid. A

Summer of Spielberg: Week Nine
The Color Purple
Rated PG-13 for adult situations/language, violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Available on Hulu and Paid Streaming

When I was 13 years old, I was a bigger fan of director Steven Spielberg than I was of any movie star or athlete, so when he took on the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Alice Walker, I didn’t know anything about the story, the book’s pedigree or the cast. I walked into the theater by myself for the first time (none of my friends wanted to see the movie) to watch what would become my favorite film for the next 8 years of my life. The story revolves around a young girl named Celie (played by then newcomer Whoopi Goldberg), whose life during the early part of the twentieth century in rural Georgia is chronicled as she is impregnated by her father twice as a teenager, only to have her babies taken from her, and then given to a widower (Danny Glover) to raise his babies and clean his home as an unloved and battered wife. Told delicately but shrewdly by Spielberg, who had never shot anything like this previously in his career, it’s a torturous and painful story that breaks your heart into pieces while simultaneously building up a powerful spirit of hope and love. It was also responsible for catapulting the careers of its then unknown actors including Goldberg, Glover and Oprah Winfrey who steals every scene she is in. It moved me like nothing ever had moved me before in my young age (and still is as impactful today). There are those that dismiss Spielberg’s version of the book claiming that he shied away from the novel’s more brutal and sexual elements in order to make a box office friendly PG-13 film. But I’m so thankful he did. Had it been rated R, I probably would have missed that important experience at a pivotal age. An experience which was responsible for my love of film, and thus probably my writing about movies today. The Color Purple also marks the first time I paid attention to the Oscars as I sat patiently waiting for its first win of the night, which never happened. Although it got 10 nods, it was disappointingly shut out by Out of Africa (and a couple others). The movie was my primer to the Black experience in America and the systemic racism of the time. In retrospect, that night of the Oscars probably upset me so much due to also being introduced to the racism that existed in Hollywood, which they have only recently begun addressing. At that moment, my naive and innocent version of moviemaking began to abruptly evolve.

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of July 20, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of July 20, 2020

The Rental
Rated R for violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexuality
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Available in Drive-Ins, Select Theaters and Paid Streaming

There have been multiple news stories in recent years of people checking into their vacation rental, only to find out that their every move was being recorded by a pervy owner with a hidden camera. In this new psychological thriller, writer/director Dave Franco tells the tale of two young couples who rent a secluded beach house only to find out that they are being watched. Clocking in at a little less than 90 minutes, you get just enough character development to somewhat care about the characters, as well as their motivations and fears. It’s actually a really nice amount of tension laid out with honest reactions and a realistic-enough plot. And when the hammer finally falls, the horror action is swift and scary. As a first-time writing and directing gig for Franco, who we have seen plenty of times on screen as an actor in such films as Neighbors and The Disaster Artist, this is pretty good work. The film has an eerie feel and the plot is original, unnerving and topical being that these kinds of vacations are the simplest to be had during a pandemic. And while you won’t catch me in a theater right now, I love the idea of seeing this at a drive-in rather than renting at the house. It may not scare the socks off of you, but with a good script, great cast and fast pace, it will certainly give you the chills for now – and whenever you rent your next house. B

Rated PG for some action, language and rude/suggestive humor
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 49%
Available on Disc, HBO Max and Paid Streaming

Rather than continue the franchise in live-action, Scooby-Doo goes computer-animated in this new adventure that was bound for theaters until Covid killed its doggy dreams. Released first only on paid streaming, the film quickly made its way to the new HBO streaming service and now on disc. The opening gives a sweet little origin story before setting up its main mystery, which revolves around a dastardly bad guy, an army of robot scorpions and the learning of Scooby’s secret legacy and relationship to Alexander the Great. Quite honestly, none of it makes sense and by the end you feel like you just watched a prettier and slightly longer episode of the original show. But Warner Bros. pulled out all the stops with a killer cast including Will Forte, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Isaacs, Zac Efron and Amanda Seyfried, all of whose talents were completely wasted on the silly material. The film seems to be built simply for young kids who need a time killer or a 90-minute baby sitter. C-

Summer of Spielberg: Week Eight
Ready Player One
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%
Available on paid streaming

Spielberg’s latest theatrical outing is 2018’s Ready Player One, based on the best-selling sci-fi novel by Ernest Cline. Set in the near-enough future, the movie tells the story of a world that lives in their Alternate Reality game called the Oasis, which has consumed every aspect of modern life. The rationale for this all-consuming madness is that the creator and CEO, upon his death, left a challenge for its players with the gift of the entire company to the person who wins it. But when a young kid and his friends start to uncover the challenge’s mysteries, a sinister corporate organization, led by the amazingly evil and smarmy Ben Mendelsohn, tries to stop them at all costs. As someone who loved the book, I was super excited to see this film hit theaters, even though I was worried about it not living up to its expectations. But it turned out that hiring the novelist to write the screenplay was the perfect idea as he kept the books spirit while completely freshening up, and even changing, the plot points. And while the movie wasn’t just an 80’s nostalgia story any longer, the changes manage to thrill and excite in the same way. Notably missing here is a score by John Williams, but in its place is music by Oscar-winner Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future) which is one of the best substitutes you can hope for. Only a modest hit in the U.S., it was a monster overseas, pulling in one of the biggest box offices of 2018. And while it is fairly kid-friendly (they do throw in a completely unnecessary yet funny F-bomb) the film is a blast to watch with older children and teens, but just be prepared to pause the film at times to explain the references and nostalgia, and lovingly annoy them a little in the process.

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of July 13, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of July 13, 2020

The Old Guard
Rated R for sequences of graphic violence, and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Available on Netflix

Netflix’s newest big budget movie stars Charlize Theron as a modern-day warrior who leads a small group of mercenaries, with a strange inability to die, on a revenge mission after they are double-crossed on a rescue assignment. Based on the comics by Greg Rucka (who also wrote the screenplay) and directed by Love and Basketball’s Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film has some pretty fantastic action sequences with an interesting enough storyline. But at over two hours, the film feels like an extra-long origin episode to one of its series, and not like an actual feature film. Yes it was built for Netflix, but many of their films could easily be at home in a theater, and this one doesn’t fit that description. And while Theron does add some heft to the project, the material almost seems beneath her. In the end, I’m interested in what happens to this franchise, but I fear I may not remember it by the time I get to find out. B-

Summer of Spielberg: Week Seven
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and violent images
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%

Available on ShowtimeAnytime or paid streaming
One of Spielberg’s most under-appreciated films was this sci-fi take on Pinocchio which follows a young mother (Frances O’Connor) who, upon her biological son going into a coma, adopts a young “mecha” boy named David (Haley Joel Osment) in order to give her the love she so desperately misses from her actual son. But when her son comes back into her life, and her new robot son begins to interrupt her world, she sets him free into the universe where he begins to pursue his adventure to try to become a real boy. The project originated from legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who apparently had issues with his own ability to make the story work. But he enjoyed Spielberg’s previous pictures and, as legend tells it, allowed him to take it over in order to breathe life into it. During their collaboration, Kubrick tragically died, but you can see his spirit throughout the film, and while the brushstrokes are definitely Spielberg, the canvas is most assuredly Kubrick. As typical, the gorgeous Oscar-nominated score by John Williams provides an operatic wind beneath the film’s wings. But surprisingly, the film only took in a modest box office and was met with a thud come awards season. But in my opinion, the movie was way ahead of its time, and if you either haven’t seen it yet, or if you didn’t like it that much the first go around, I challenge you to take it in now. Like a good wine, the film has aged incredibly well and tastes much better than it did 19 years ago.

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of July 6, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of July 6, 2020

Rated PG-13 for war-related action/violence and brief strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74% at time of writing
Available on Apple TV+

Tom Hanks writes and stars in this fast-paced WWII picture about a U.S. destroyer captain in charge of a large convoy of ships crossing the Atlantic under the threat of a pack of Nazi U-boats. With very little in the way of character development, Hanks jumps into action in what appears to be a very realistic look at naval life during the Battle of the Atlantic. If you are looking for an experience like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers – you won’t find it here. But if you want to feel the pressure of trying to stay alive one more day so that you can complete your mission – this one is quite a historical thrill ride. Originally set for a June theatrical opening, Sony chose to sell the property to Apple rather than shelving it. Personally, I’m thankful for that as it’s a great little war film that might have been better on a big screen, but will find a nice place in home theaters as well. The most fascinating aspect of the film isn’t its historical accuracy and attention to detail, which are both impressive, but rather that they chose to make it so short, leaving out many of the things that would normally go into a story such as this. And what they did leave in, like the few minutes spent with his sweetheart, played by Elisabeth Shue, felt overly abbreviated and even unnecessary. At about ninety minutes, the film literally flies by, making it an easy enough watch, even if it doesn’t deliver the powerhouse performance you would expect from the legendary actor. The film feels like a labor of love, which isn’t a bad thing. B-

Summer of Spielberg: Week Six
Rated PG for adult situations/language, violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Available on Netflix

While officially directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper, this 1982 horror flick was written, produced and, according to people associated with the project, practically directed by Spielberg. Set in a peaceful new housing development, things turn for the worse when an evil force sucks a young family’s daughter into their television, forcing them to get next level help in order to get her back. Having not seen the film in quite a while, I was mesmerized all over again upon recently revisiting. The movie didn’t scare me as much as before, but then again I knew what was going to happen. I was surprised that the kids didn’t enjoy it as much as I was hoping, but with visual effect that you could tell were from the 80’s, its a bit of a stretch when you are used to everything looking so real using today’s capabilities. But in my head this film looks great and still gives me the chills I remember from my childhood.

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of June 29, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of June 29, 2020

Rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100% at time of writing
Available on Disney+

In 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda made Broadway history with this hip hop musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton. Since it’s premier, it has gone on to become the most successful Broadway show of all time, both critically and financially, and while COVID-19 has slowed it down for now, up until March it was still selling out every show in New York and on tour with third-party tickets going for hundreds of dollars for bad seats and thousands for the good ones. Personally, I have seen it three times, once with the original cast, and I will freely admit that it is worth every penny and I would spend it again gladly when given the opportunity. In June of 2016 they decided to film the original cast over a period of several days, in the hope of releasing it in theaters. But the newish streaming app Disney+ wanted content and subsequently made a deal to launch this Fourth of July weekend, allowing the world to experience what life is like sitting on the front row of this epic show. And while there is nothing like the joy of seeing it live, this particular version is breathtakingly spectacular and captivating, allowing you to take in all of its greatness and raw emotion without having to take out a second mortgage on your home. It’s everything I was hoping it would be and quite honestly a generous gift to the starving patrons of live theater in need of some inspiration and pure pleasure. And for those of you who just can’t understand why the show has so many rabid fans – you are about to find out. A+

Summer of Spielberg: Week Five
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Rated PG (before PG-13 came to be)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Available on Netflix and paid streaming

In 1981, with a couple of hits under his belt, Stephen Spielberg knocked it out of the park with this mega hit, which he says was inspired deeply by the 1948 Bogart classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. When Tom Selleck was forced to drop out as the infamous Indiana Jones due to his conflicting Magnum P.I. scheduling, Spielberg and fellow creator George Lucas went to Harrison Ford, hot off his role of Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back, thus solidifying his name as arguably the greatest action/adventure star of the twentieth century. Here, the hero is sent by the government to try to discover and procure the lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis can get their hands on it. Loaded with almost non-stop action and an incredible script by Empire writer Lawrence Kasdan, it’s just a marvelous motion picture that is a blast to watch, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. And as someone who just watched it with a room full of first-time young viewers, I can attest that it still has a magnetic pull for the kids, even if it is as old or older than most of their parents.

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of June 22, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of June 22, 2020

Corpus Christi
Not Rated (But would be a solid R)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
On Disc and Streaming
In Polish with English Subtitles

This Oscar nominee for best foreign film follows the life of a young man, who upon leaving a detention center for committing murder, wants to be a priest, but is denied due to his criminal background. But when opportunity presents itself, he fakes his way into a small-town parish in a city that has just faced a horrible tragedy. At first glance you begin to think that this is going to be the Polish version of Sister Act without the humor, but it quickly shows you its true colors, allowing you to invest yourself more deeply in the main character’s flaws and strengths. At times, it is a very challenging and uncomfortable to watch, but it is hard to take your eyes off of it as the film takes a non-conventional pathway rather than conforming to its expected formula, which would have only served up a disappointment had they gone that direction. The end result is a disturbing film at times, but one that leaves you empathetic and interested in its hero’s plight. B+

South Park: Season 23
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 50%
Available on Disc and Hulu

This rather short and disjointed season of this Comedy Central staple tries to be as topical as previous seasons, but ends up with more misses than hits due to way too much time spent with the adventures of Randy and his Tegridy weed farm, which has more than worn out its welcome. But while there are some lame episodes here, there are some gems thrown in that are truly thought-provoking in their satire, like Mexican Joker which isn’t very funny, but uses the film Joker to show the real possibility of our recent border policy malfunctions. And then there is Shots!!! which is one of their all-time greats as Cartman turns into a squealing and elusive pig every time someone tries to give him his vaccinations. That one still has me in stitches. My advice – watch them all, but don’t expect too much and appreciate the good times when they pop up. B-

Summer of Spielberg: Week Four
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Rated PG for adventure action violence, some drunkeness and brief smoking
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%

Looking at his body of work, it appears that most of Spielberg’s movies are geared toward an American audience. But while Tintin, based on the comics of Belgian cartoonist Hergé, is an almost unknown character in the states, he is an icon in Europe, where the film launched months before it was introduced here, and took in the vast majority of its moderately large international box office haul. This collaboration between Spielberg and Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) follows a young journalist who, along with his faithful dog, follows a lead to a mystery that takes him around the world to stop a mad villain and discover a hidden treasure. For most of its 107 minutes, the film is a constant rollercoaster ride that barely lets you up for breath, and the action feels like it comes straight from the Indiana Jones franchise with dozens of close calls and convenient saves that, while highly unbelievable, offer up a gigantic amount of fun. While it is Rated PG, the film is way more violent than its rating, and also contains a surprising amount of adult-themed content, while still being fairly kid-friendly. If you are one who skipped this (and that is many of you considering its low U.S. box office), now is a great opportunity to catch up on one of his lesser-seen adventures.

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of June 15, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of June 15, 2020

Summer of Spielberg: Week Three
Minority Report
Rated PG-13 for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content
Available to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime

Celebrating its 18th birthday this week is this seminal sci-fi detective flick where Tom Cruise plays the head of a police force called Precrime, responsible for arresting and locking up people who would have committed murder if it weren’t for the prediction that they would be committing it. But things go wrong when it is predicted that he will commit a murder, forcing him to escape his department’s clutches long enough to try to find out why they think he will do what he is predicted to do. It’s a real mind bender and Spielberg is in pure action mode with this one as there is hardly a moment’s rest to catch your breath. Based on a story by Philip K. Dick, the movie also does an admirable job at predicting, or maybe inventing, targeted advertising, self-driving cars and all forms of likely and believable future technology. And all this time later, it finds itself relevant due to our current exposure of the need for criminal reform. And while not among John Williams’s most notable scores by popularity, I urge you to find a more lovely melody than the main theme, which has a constant rotation on my movie scores playlist. While it might be a little rough for the little kids, I watched it with my family and they were glued for two-and-a-half hours without making me feel too guilty about the content.

Gladiator: 4K 20th Anniversary Edition
Rated R for intense graphic combat
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Available on Disc and On Demand

Until 2000, Australian actor Russell Crowe was just building up a nice acting resume when he was suddenly catapulted into superstardom with this role of a lifetime as Maximus, a Roman General whose life was all but stripped from him after the corrupt prince (Joaquin Phoenix) murders the emperor. But with his life still barely in tact, he becomes the slave that would defy an empire as he rises through the Gladiator ranks in his ultimate thirst for revenge and justice. Wining an Oscar for both actor and picture, the film now serves as a man cave favorite, with regular viewing whenever the urge comes over, which is fairly often. And while the movie is undeniably great, the character of Maximus is so fantastic that I even named my son after him. This new set comes with both the theatrical and extended versions in beautiful 4K, along with more bonus content than you could ever hope to watch.

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of June 8, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of June 8, 2020

The King of Staten Island
Rated R for language and drug use throughout, sexual content and some violence/bloody images
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74% at time of writing
Available On Demand

Comedian and SNL cast member Pete Davidson has been semi-controversial figure for years now as his personal life is almost better-known than his comedic abilities. But all of that is about to change, kind of. Two of the things Pete is best-known for, aside from his dating and break-up with Ariana Grande, is that he still lives at home with his mom and that his dad, a hero fireman, died on 9-11. So seemingly playing himself, Pete is now Scott, a young loser living at home with mom, constantly joking about his deceased dad. But then the story becomes so much more as the movie evolves into a carefully thoughtful comedy about our society, mental illness, millennials and complex relationships. The movie almost seems to be a therapy session for Pete as he tries to work out his own personal issues on screen. And in the end, regardless if it’s really acting or not, Pete is quite perfect for the part and the whole thing ends up packing a nice punch. When the credits roll, you want to give the guy a hug, and you might feel as if you just had. Of course it helps to have a director and co-writer such as Judd Apatow behind the project. Judd has done similar work Adam Sandler in Funny People and Amy Schumer in Trainwreck, where the characters play facsimiles of themselves to the point where we feel we intimately know them, even though their real lives are likely very different and we see what they want us to see. Real or fake, Judd is brilliant at making this kind of film, because he doesn’t try to exploit the characters, but rather helps us to understand their perceived strengths, weaknesses and flaws. Here in The King of Staten Island, the comedy is rich with huge laughs throughout, but the drama gives it a gravity you just don’t expect. And while I’m sure this film would have been a huge hit had it been released in theaters this summer, as I’m sure was the original intention, it’s the first film for adults this summer that I can heartily endorse as you consider paying a little more to watch what should have cost you a small fortune to see in theaters. A-

Summer of Spielberg: Week Two
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Rated PG
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Available on Netflix and On Demand

Celebrating its 38th Anniversary this week is this most captivating of Spielberg’s films, and, in my opinion, the movie that made him an icon. It certainly was the film that created my love for movies, as it was for many of my fellow critics if you ask them, especially those in my age group. For those of you who skipped or missed the 80’s, here a young boy named Elliott discovers an alien in his backyard who has been left behind on Earth. Forming an inseparable connection, the two have quite the adventure until the government discovers E.T., threatening their relationship and their lives. It is a purely magical experience, and while I have probably seen the film literally more than a hundred times, it never gets old. Along for the ride with Spielberg again, towards the beginning of their long-lived synergy, is composer John Williams who created here, again in my opinion, the greatest piece of orchestral music since Gershwin’s April in Paris. My suggestion: buy a family size Reese’s Pieces, along with some hot popcorn, crank up the sound, and watch your kids get blown away as you bike down memory lane.

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of June 1, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of June 1, 2020

One thing that COVID-19 is hugely responsible for is limiting what a film critic can review. When films are delayed in theaters, that eventually spreads to home entertainment which leads us to finding something else to write about. Just as you are probably having troubles entertaining your brood – I’ve had to resort to history for mine. So starting this first week of June, I think it’s time to revisit the ultimate summer director: Steven Spielberg. Sure, this isn’t exactly looking to be a magical summer – but Spielberg is movie magic personified, so maybe for two or more hours at a time – it’s worth revisiting, or, even better, introducing your family to the magic we grew up with.

Summer of Spielberg: Week One
Jaws: 45th Anniversary Limited Edition
Rated PG (but not really since ratings weren’t what they are today)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

It’s only fitting that the one movie that most people are comparing to the Coronavirus (since some of us are oh so cautious to get back in the water) is this classic about a great white shark that wants a piece of a small town in New England. 45 years ago started our fear of sharks that has only grown to this day. The great thing about this film is not what you see, but what you don’t. When the film was being made, the studio was sweating it because the mechanical shark was supposed to chew up some major screen time. But when the shark didn’t work correctly, day after day, week after week, it forced the filmmakers to sit around and rewrite a killer script that relied much more on suspense than violence, only helped by John William’s Oscar-winning score featuring two notes that live in our worst dreams. It’s a magnificent summer frightener that only gets better with age. And with it now in a beautifully-restored 4K release, its perfect for sending your kids to bed knowing they might not get the best sleep. I’m kinda kidding. But not really.

Top Gun: 4K
Rated PG (once again – ratings have changed)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 54%

Also now available in a new 4K cut is this high-flying action pic starring Tom Cruise from way back before we knew he was crazy. Here he stars as a young hot shot in pilot training who wants to be the best flier in the navy. With amazing aerial effects and an iconic soundtrack which seems way louder on this new version, it’s a perfect time to revisit this classic movie (can’t believe I’m saying that) before the long-awaited sequel comes out this December, after being pushed back from June 24. Sure its the not the critical darling you probably thought it was, and it is indeed super cheesy and contains tons of plot holes (ever wonder why there weren’t hundreds of pilots who would have graduated Top Gun Academy in the preceding decades that couldn’t have taken on the Russian threat), but that punch you remember it packing before is still there, and aside from the love scene that doesn’t seem very PG-rated, it is a fun one to remind the younglings that lots of big tentpole movies actually used to be quite entertaining back in the day when they didn’t need computers for effects.

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of May 18, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of May 18, 2020

The Trip to Greece
Rated NR (but equivalent to an R)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86% (at the time of writing)
Available on Streaming

Until a few months ago, I was going to be in Greece this summer, but, like most of you, my plans were suddenly cancelled. So as a consolation prize comes this fourth comedy in the series by writer/director Michael Winterbottom about two friends (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon), playing themselves, who take a trip to Greece together to take in the food and the culture, while discussing their careers, lives and favorite movies. Having traveled with them to England, Italy and Spain, this new voyage is much of the same, which is a wonderful thing. Their vulnerabilities, passions and ego on full display, make us feel like we are not only just sitting at the table with them, but getting to know them as well, even if the film is scripted. And while they aren’t always likable, they most definitely come across as humans with a story that is believable, beautiful and heartbreaking. I loved this one as much as I did the first three, and hope to travel with them again in the future, hopefully when we are all traveling again ourselves. For now this will have to serve as an escapist fantasy. A-

Rated PG for brief partial nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Available on Disc and Streaming

Having been done many times over, this Jane Austin classic about a young matchmaker who gets into many pickles while trying to manager her own love life, gets a vibrant facelift with this new adaptation. With an unknown director and writer (Autumn de Wilde and Eleanor Catton) and a relatively unknown cast including Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma and Johnny Flynn as George, the film had a long road to haul even without COVID-19, which killed its theatrical run. At first the film seems to shock the system when expecting a traditional Jane Austin flick. But the movie grows on you as the talent becomes apparent and the incredible production values start to shine. By the end, I liked the story, but I absolutely loved the costumes, sets and panache on display, to the extent that I will predict that the movie might just take home a couple of Oscars come next year. I found myself evolving in thought about the film, while I was watching, until I walked away smiling and feeling enriched. A-

The Way Back
Rated R for language throughout including some sexual references
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Available on Disc and Streaming

Once upon a time, Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) was a legendary high school basketball player with a bright future deflated. But when his former high school asks him to come back to coach their losing team, he must find a way to pull himself out of his alcoholic depression to not only save a team destined to be failures, but maybe save himself as well. Affleck reminds us here that there is substance to his ability while at the same time bringing a tremendous amount of empathy to a character he admittedly has a real-life connection to. But it helps to have a such a tremendous director in Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Miracle), who knows how to tell a story using sports as merely a vehicle to put humanity on full display. Without a lot to show for 2020 thus far (this week is pretty awesome admittedly), The Way Back is still the best movie I’ve seen this year. A