Popcorn Perspectives: Week of February 26, 2018

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of February 26, 2018

Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
In Theaters
This heavy sci-fi piece from Ex Machina writer/director Alex Garland stars Natalie Portman as an ex-military scientist who leads an all-female mission into an environmental disaster zone in order to try to uncover what happened to the all male team that preceded them. Once there, they discover a world that defies logic as well as the laws of nature. With a feel much like that of a cross between Arrival and Alien, you at once try to figure out both the importance of the characters as well as their mission and the extent of its danger. But once you are in the zone, you can’t help but be sucked into the secrets of the crazy and strange world on display. It is scary, thrilling, fascinating and beautiful – all at the same time. This is certainly some hardcore sci-fi, and thus not for everyone, but many will find this a weird and exhilarating adventure. B

Rated PG for thematic elements
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Available on Disc and Streaming
About the only Oscar that is a sure-thing this year will go to this Pixar hit about a young boy who enters the world of the dead on an adventure to find and gain the blessing of his grandfather. While Warner Brothers beat Pixar to the screen with its Dia de los Muertos-themed The Book of Life, Pixar one-upped them with this spectacular musical fantasy that simply blows the competition away with its storytelling and artistry. It is a true masterpiece that is equally enjoyable for both kids and adults. A

Darkest Hour
Rated PG-13 for some thematic material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Available on Disc and Streaming
There is so much to love with this remarkable film about Winston Churchill that it is hard to know where to start. The standout here is the brilliant performance by Gary Oldman, which is quite inspiring. It is also a product of one my favorite director and composer teams (Joe Wright and Dario Marianelli – Pride and Prejudice, Atonement), with work on par with their previous projects. But what will stick in your brain is the terrific story of how Churchill came to be the prime minister during WWII and the events that led up to the evacuation of Dunkirk, a story that so few Americans have a clue about since it took place before the U.S. entry to the war. It won’t win Best Picture this year, but it is surely deserving of its nomination and makes a great primer to watching one of the other great Best Picture nominees: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. A

The Florida Project
Rated R for language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Available on Disc and Streaming
One of the most under-appreciated films this year was this little indie about a precocious six year-old girl who lives in a hotel with her struggling mother who pays little attention to her as she plays and gets in trouble with her friends. I went to see this film without a hint to what it was about and I felt lucky because of it. I was most fascinated that I was 60 minutes into the movie asking myself “what is the story?” until I finally realized that I was already neck-deep into it. It has a modern-day 400 Blows feel to it and the little girl, played by newcomer Brooklyn Prince (winner of the Critics Choice Award for young actor) pulls off the role magically. But the best part of the film is the amazing performance of Willem Dafoe who plays the hotel manager and only thing protecting the children when their parents are no where to be found. A-

Murder on the Orient Express
Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58%
Available on Disc and Streaming
Sure it has one of the most amazing casts assembled in recent years (Branagh, Cruz, Depp, Dafoe, Dench, Gad, Pfeiffer and Ridley) and a lush production, but ultimately the story gets bogged down as a mystery, as it is arrogantly solved by writer/director/star Kenneth Branagh. I was so annoyed by the ego-driven performance and distracted by the horrible mustache that I wished someone would have simply pushed him off the train as they were traveling through the mountains. I rather liked the story behind the mystery but hated having to watch it unfold. C-

Popcorn Perspectives – Week of February 12, 2018

Popcorn Perspectives by Danny Minton

Week of February 12, 2018

Early Man
Rated PG for rude humor and some action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84% (at time of writing)
In Theaters
Aardman, the UK stop motion animation studio behind Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit, are now tackling caveman soccer in this new project about a tribe of neanderthals who are forced out of their valley by their technologically superior neighbors, only to challenge them to a football match to win back their land. While Pixar used to hold the trophy, I will throw it out there that Aardman is consistently the best quality animation studio running right now and their talent is certainly on display here. The storytelling is quite bizarre and unconventional, but the enjoyment is undeniable. And just like their other films, adults and kids will find this equally entertaining, but in different ways. I can’t think of a better way to spend two hours at the movies with my family. A-

The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Rated R for violence and some language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Available on Disc and Streaming
Yet another decent Western this year, The Ballad of Lefty Brown stars Bill Pullman as the titular character: a cowboy who witnesses the death of his partner, only to be blamed for the crime and forced to both prove his innocence and bring the real criminals to justice. For those who like their Westerns a little less dark than the recent Hostiles, this might fit the bill perfectly. It plays more like an old fashioned cowboy film in both production and storytelling. The highlight here is most certainly Pullman who is just fantastic as Lefty. I’ve always liked the iconic actor, but with this film I have a new-found respect for his talent. B+

Blade of the Immortal
Rated R for bloody violence and carnage throughout
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
In Japanese with English Subtitles
Available on Disc and Streaming
In this newest sword fighting thriller from prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike, a samurai is cursed with immortality after a legendary battle and left for the centuries to kill off evil men until he can regain his soul, and hopefully meet his end. Determined to help a young girl seek revenge for the killing of her family, he hopes his deeds will lead to the end of his curse. If you enjoy uber-violent samurai flicks with a strange twist – this one is certainly for you. It’s a little long at 140 minutes and the story does get confusing at times (perhaps a little lost in translation), but it sure does pummel through its weak spots with tons of gore and an eerily fun and perverse sense of humor. B-

Not Rated
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Available on Disc and Streaming
For decades, Richard Turner has been one of the premier up close magicians at the infamous Magic Castle in Hollywood, wowing audiences with his unbelievable sleight of hand. What most audiences don’t realize, though, is that he is completely blind. This terrific documentary takes a close look at Richard’s fascinating life and how he overcame the bad hand that was dealt to him with extreme perseverance and determination. It will leave you, amazed, impressed and most definitely inspired. A

Popcorn Perspectives – Week of February 5, 2018

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of February 5, 2018

Rated R for violence, language, and some sexuality
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 28%
Available on Disc and Streaming
Years ago the Coen Brothers wrote this screenplay about chaos in the burbs during the late 50s. It sat unfilmed for years until George Clooney came along to ask for the project. It very much feels like a Coen Brothers film – but one that is incomplete. The story follows Matt Damon as a husband whose wife (Julianne Moore) succumbs to a tragedy during a home invasion. Her twin sister (also played by Moore) takes over the family duties and all is well again until the insurance investigation. There are some nice moments in the film with some good laughs and the quirkiness you’d expect from such a project. But there’s not enough story and the gaps are filled with shallow subplots like the town’s first black family moving into the neighborhood. Ultimately the whole thing turns out to be a failure for Clooney who saw something in the project that most people couldn’t and still don’t. C

24 Hours to Live
Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some drug use
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 38%
Available On Disc and Streaming
This practically straight to DVD release stars Ethan Hawke as an assassin who is killed, only to be brought back to life with only 24 hours to live before he will finally meet his demise. Choosing to right some wrongs, he goes on an uber-violent killing spree until he can find the dirty dog who is ultimately responsible for the mess. I love Ethan Hawke, but this is honestly just a sad waste of his talent. And he acts here like he knows it. The film is completely unoriginal and tedious to get through and leaves you wishing you hadn’t just wasted your time even watching the trailer. D

A Bad Moms Christmas
Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 29%
Available on Disc and Streaming
The three talented girls (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn) that disappointed us the last time around in Bad Moms are at it again with this mostly unfunny comedy about what happens when your mom unexpectedly drops in for the holidays. Hoping to weigh in on the Christmas film cannon, the project proves to be nothing more than a cheesy, stupid, overly-sentimental comedy with little heart and less brain. C-

Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton
Not Rated
Available on Disc and Streaming
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
From Oscar-nominated documentarian Rory Kennedy (Last Days of Vietnam), comes this high-octane thrill ride of a look at the life of one of the greatest surfers to ever grace pop culture. With tons of great footage of his miscellaneous surfing adventures, and loads of great interviews from those that know him, the doc gives a detailed chronicle of what drives him to push the limits of the sport he helped to put into the mainstream. B+

Popcorn Perspectives – Week of January 29, 2018

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of January 29, 2018

Last Flag Flying
Rated R for language throughout including some sexual references
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Writer/director Richard Linklater (A Boy’s Life) brings us this somber but touching comedy about three friends who served together in Vietnam (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne) who come together to help bury one of their sons who just died in Iraq. While some of the drama seems contrived between the military and the veterans, for the most part the script is well-crafted, as you would expect from a wordsmith such as Linklater. And it sure helps to have a powerhouse ensemble like this to deliver the dialog. That being said, the film is not as powerful as you think it would be and really survives only from the chemistry of the actors and not from the story they are delivering. This definitely falls in the liked it, didn’t love it, category. B-

The Square
Rated R for language, some strong sexual content, and brief violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
In Swedish and English with English subtitles
Available on DVD
This well-received Swedish import follows a modern art curator (Claes Bang) who finds himself stuck in compromising and uncomfortable situations as he attempts to bring a new and controversial art exhibit into his museum. Living as a wealthy, out of touch high-society sort, he struggles with trying to understand the less fortunate world around him as he jumps from strange adventure to stranger adventure. The result is a quirky and complex comedy that will most likely have you scratching your head at the rather unforgettable and enjoyable foreign film you just took in. A

Popcorn Perspectives – Week of January 22, 2018

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of January 22, 2018

Thank You For Your Service
Rated R for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Miles Teller leads a relatively unknown but talented cast in this drama based on a true story about U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq only to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder as they attempt to integrate back into civilian life. Like other movies of its kind, this one is extremely challenging to keep your eyes on. It is certainly well-acted and there is an air of authenticity abounding that makes the film feel almost too real, which is great for those who want that, but tough for those who aren’t wishing for such reality programming. That being said – it’s an important film about an important subject that serves as a reminder of the very real sacrifices our veterans make and what many go through when they return home from war. B+

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, some graphic nudity and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Yorgos Lanthimos, who brought us the very strange movie The Lobster, has teamed up once again with Colin Farrell in this equally wild creation, that upon a little online research, appears to be a remake of an ancient Greek tragedy set in modern times. The tale follows the life of a heart surgeon (Farrell) who introduces his wife (Nicole Kidman) and children to a teenage boy with which he is developing a mentor-like relationship with. But when this boy haunts his family in deplorable ways, he is forced to make decisions with disturbing results. Some will like this movie, just like some liked Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! earlier this year. But most will hate the fact that this film is not on the level and is instead symbolic of a different story that requires behind-the-scenes work to reveal the true intent. Just like The Lobster and Mother!, I couldn’t take my eyes off the film as I couldn’t wait to see where the heck the thing was going. But I am also fully aware that this is not a movie for the masses, in spite of its A-list stars and horror-skewing trailer. C+

Popcorn Perspectives – Week of January 15, 2018

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of January 15, 2018

Blade Runner 2049
Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
While I’m a huge sci-fi lover, I have never been a big fan of the original 1982 sci-fi classic by director Ridley Scott. But I went in to this sequel, more than three decades after the first, with a very open mind – and I’m glad I did. The story takes place decades later where Ryan Gosling plays an LAPD Blade Runner who unearths a big secret that could change the fate of the entire planet. Just like the original, the plot is a little hard to decipher and understand, especially on first viewing, but there is no doubt to the mastery of the storytelling and vision. Sure you want to uncover the mystery, but more than that you want to take it all in and absorb its dreamlike existence. The special effects and overall production are off the charts here and when you throw in a terrific performance by Gosling and the small but impactful role of Harrison Ford, you get a really mind-blowing experience. A-

Happy Death Day
Rated PG-13 for violence/terror, crude sexual content, language, some drug material and partial nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In 2014 Tom Cruise bombed (relatively speaking) at the box office when trying to apply the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day plot to science fiction, but this year, Happy Death Day reached a minor level of success by applying the same plot to low-budget horror. Here, a young girl wakes up the same way every day and then reaches her demise when a masked killer takes her out in many horrible ways. So she puts on her detective hat to figure out her killer in order to possibly move forward in time. The plot kind of writes itself, but the script and the cast are good enough to pull it off with a high enough level of entertainment to keep you engaged for 90 minutes. And for much of its teenage audience, it’s probably a very thrilling original story which they will enjoy watching on sleepovers for years to come. B-

Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Certainly one of the biggest box office surprises of the year was this horrifying recreation of the classic Stephen King novel which follows a group of young friends who are haunted by the scariest clown to ever grace a movie theater. While there is much more story to come, this first chapter was so smart to play it like Stand By Me and Stranger Things rather than go straight by the book. You quickly become engaged in the kids’ lives and find yourself cheering for them rather than just waiting to see their various fates. The production, script, score and acting are all top-notch, deriving a frightening product that will stick to your memory. A-