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

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of May 11, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of May 11, 2020

The Photograph
Rated PG-13 for sexuality and brief strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%
Available on Disc and Streaming

When a famous photographer dies, she leaves her estranged daughter (Issa Rae) upset and full of questions. But when one of her photographs is discovered, it sets her off on a journey into her mother’s past, of self-discovery and a romance with a promising journalist (LaKeith Stanfield) covering her mother’s story. I had never heard of this film before, so going in blind, I didn’t know what to expect. But as I traveled through the story with Rae leading the way, I found myself moved and empathetic to all of its large cast of characters and their plights. It is a beautiful romance that might be more attractive to female audiences than male, but still worth a watch from anyone who in in the mood or those who enjoy the genre. While it might be a little on the quiet side, it is certainly not boring, but rather just incredibly thoughtful. A-

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Available on Disc and Streaming

When we were first introduced to Margot Robbie’s version of Harley Quinn back in 2016’s Suicide Squad, I think most of us loved the actress and the character, but the material wasn’t exactly a great opportunity to shine. But with her new R-rated solo project, she is given the chance to prove there is something there worth watching. Here Batman villain Harley Quinn has just broken up with Joker and, telling the story herself, turns unlikely hero as she attempts to protect a young thief from the even worse villain Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) when he puts a target on her head. As expected, Robbie is exceptional as Harley Quinn. With a vibe much like Deadpool, she is a welcome addition to every scene, with a huge over-the-top presence that sparks joy. But while her character works, the other female fighters of her group pale in comparison with underwhelming abilities that only occasionally impress, and then only with the writing. The only teammate of hers I actually enjoyed watching was her pet Hyena. But still – there is a good time to be had here, even if it is fleeting. B-

Rated R for language and some sexuality
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Available on Disc and Streaming

In 2019 Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots teamed for the extremely weird indie “The Art of Self Defense.” Now they are back together in an even stranger drama, and if you didn’t know better, you would swear this tale came from the same writer and director. Vivarium tells the tale about a young couple who move into a nightmare cookie cutter house only to find out they are completely alone with nothing but the same house and view eternally stretching out in all directions. Along the way a fast-growing baby appears whom they must raise, along with questions of purpose, reality and sanity. At first this appears to be biblical allegory, much like Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” And while not quite as alienating or upsetting, Vivarium still comes off as almost too uniquely bizarre to be enjoyed by a wide audience. That being said, it is at least memorable and another nice showcase for the duo. I didn’t hate it, but at the same time I wasn’t exactly dying to tell anyone about it afterward either. C+

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of May 4, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of May 4, 2020

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, some suggestive material and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 30%
Available on Disc and Streaming

Vin Diesel stars in this comic book adaptation about a soldier who dies in battle, only to wake up as a government super-solider who is almost unstoppable. The movie hit theaters with a thud in mid-march due to COVID-19 and immediately went to streaming for $20 a pop to try to help recoup its large investment. Technically the film looks great, with bigger than life set pieces and decent effects. It also helps to have a supporting cast like Sam Heughan and Guy Pearce. Where the movie ultimately fails is its inability to deliver a final product on footing with its dark tone. In order to make this a genesis story for a hopeful big franchise, the studio decided to make this a PG-13 picture, probably to pick up a younger audience. But it’s not PG-13 material and that really hurts it in the end. Also, it so desperately wants to be Iron Man (and even scored the Iron Man 3 villain in a similar role) that it becomes overly predictable throughout its entirety. But in the end, it almost works, and just might find an audience with such a small amount of competition out there. C

Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%
Available on Netflix

We may not be getting a string of big theatrical releases priming us for a big tentpole summer, but Netflix surely threw out a surprise with its new big-budget actioner starring Chris Hemsworth as an Australian mercenary who is hired to retrieve a drug lord’s kidnapped son in Bangladesh. The film looks and feels like it could have been a moderate hit in theaters, as it is original and interesting enough to keep you engaged throughout. Personally, I loved the setting and the villains, as they both felt new and different from what we are used to, giving the film a novel edge, even though we’ve seen this story before many times. And you can’t beat the leading man as Hemsworth is perfect in this role, delivering a flawed hero worthy of spending two hours with. By the end, it is basically still a mindless and extremely violent action film, but one that many folks will enjoy, especially since they get to watch from the comfort of their own home. B