Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of August 17, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of August 17, 2020

Rated R for strong violent content, and language throughout
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 49% at time of writing
In Theaters

After COVID-19 hit, this little-known thriller with Russell Crowe made the move to be the first official theatrical release once theaters would open in early July. Of course that didn’t happen and now it will be the first big theatrical release now that theaters might be finally opening this week. The story follows a very angry and off-kilter southerner who, after being honked at while not moving at a traffic light, decides to take out all of his life’s frustrations on an unsuspecting woman and her son, in order to show her what a bad day really looks like. Upon first watching the trailer, I was immediately convinced that the timing couldn’t be worse for a film like this, which seemed almost politically-themed with two sides that can’t figure out their differences. But I was wrong there. This is a monster movie, with Crowe playing a creature almost like a land-locked Jaws, bound and determined to wreak mindless havoc and chaos to destroy the life of a single person, without any regard for his own. He envelops his character quite perfectly and turns out to be a terrifically scary force on the screen. The film turns out to be a fast-paced road rage thriller with a resounding message that should help us all the next time we consider either getting angry or accidentally exacerbating someone else’s anger on the highway. B+

The One and Only Ivan
Rated PG for mild thematic elements
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%
Available on Disney+

Originally slated for a theatrical release this past week, Ivan, based on the true story from the children’s novel by K. A. Applegate, stars Bryan Cranston as a circus owner and ringmaster who runs a small mall-based circus featuring a menagerie of talking animals including a silverback gorilla (Sam Rockwall) and an elderly elephant (Angelina Jolie). Struggling to fill their seats, the flawed but loving owner does what he can to keep the circus alive and the animals in his care. Honestly, the movie has a rough start and I was ready to give up pretty quickly, not thinking I’d be able to cut through all the cheese. But once you are into the meat of the story, the film converts into an interesting and thoughtful family film with a simple yet effective message and an unexpectedly poignant epilogue. So what I thought might end up a train wreck, wound up to be a sweet surprise. B

Rated PG-13 for violence throughout, language including racial epithets, and some disturbing images
Rotten Tomatoes Score: None at time of writing
Available on Disc and Streaming

Yet another film with theatrical aspirations whose dreams were crushed by COVID-19, is this little-know story about a slave named Shields Green, nicknamed “emperor” due to being an apparent descendant of African kings, who runs away after tragedy hits his life on his plantation, eventually finding himself fighting with a group of abolitionists during the Raid on Harper’s Ferry, the battle that is thought to have initiated the Civil War. Just as in the recent film Harriet, there is a great story here which I was thankful to learn about. As a character, Green seems like a hero whose tale needs to be told to a wider audience, and Dayo Okeniyi puts up a strong performance to represent him, thankfully overshadowing the unnecessary fluff like the cunning slave hunter hired to catch him. Unfortunately, this version of the story feels rushed at 99 minutes, and by the end it is too apparent that this is a highlights reel rather than the historical epic it might deserve. That being said, I’m glad I was able to get a little insight in this brief introduction to a seemingly important historical figure who most will want to learn more about after the credits roll. B-

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of August 10, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of August 10, 2020

Boys State
Rated PG-13 for some strong language, and thematic elements
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Available on Apple TV+

This Sundance documentary winner follows a group of over a thousand young men who descend upon the Texas State Capital for a week of teenage politics and other fun during its famous Boys State week. In true Cinéma vérité style, the filmmakers start off following a select number of boys, for whom I can only assume they had high expectations for, as the boys run for political positions and even the final prize of Governor. The film starts out as fun and frivolous as the parties discuss platforms such as standing up for things like state cessation and alien invasion defense (space aliens obviously). But as the more serious discussions head to abortion and second amendment rights, the politics get uglier showing the true colors of those who are willing to do anything to win and those with high ideals trying to create change in their communities and country. It is both deeply funny, yet also frightening, as you see what could be the future leaders of America and how much trouble we could be in if underhanded tricks and propaganda keep working on those casting their votes. But overall, this movie is so engaging and filled with hope as you see the young men work out in their heads, both in word and action, what they hope to accomplish today and tomorrow. A

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of August 3, 2020

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of August 4, 2020

The Secret Garden
Rated PG for thematic elements and some mild peril
Rotten Tomatoes Score: None at time of writing
Available on Paid Streaming

Originally bound for theaters but driven to On Demand due to Covid is this retelling of the classic story based on the 1911 book by Frances Hodgson Burnett about a young girl who, upon the death of her parents, is forced to move in with her newly widowed uncle and his sick child. To cut through the gloom, the girl is led by a bird and a dog to a marvelous secret garden with the power to heal everyone’s massive depression and ailments. There have been several versions of this story over the decades, including a terrific film in 1993 and an inventive Broadway show in 1991, so I’m not sure this version is entirely necessary. They made a slight change in the timeline, as this one occurs post WWII rather than in the turn of the century, but most of the beats are largely untouched. What the film does have going for it is a beautiful score by one of my favorite composers, Dario Marianelli, a lush production and some great special effects. It also helps to have Colin Firth and Julie Walters along for the ride. But in the end, I’m not sure we needed this reimagining, as it wasn’t nearly imaginative enough to stake its claim. B-

La Llorona
Not Rated
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Available on Shudder
In Spanish with English Subtitles

Not to be confused with the silly horror film “The Curse of La Llorona” which released earlier this year, La Llorona follows the struggle of the family of a genocidal Latin American general as the spirits of the Mayan people he has brutally killed start to encroach into their lives. Premiering on the new streaming site for horror films, called “Shudder,” the film is far less horror and much more riveting drama. The storytelling really stands out here and the acting truly enhances the flow as the performances are both organic and gut-wrenching. And while the folklore of La Llorona is somewhat touched on here, the biggest flaw of the film seems to be its title, which makes it out to be just another cheesy low budget wailing woman flick, when it is really so much more. A-

You Should Have Left
Rated R for some violence, disturbing images, sexual content and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 41%
Available on DVD and Paid Streaming

From writer/director David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man) comes this thriller staring Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried about a formerly successful businessman and his young actress wife as they rent a house in the Welsh countryside while she’s on a film shoot. But the house begins to feel like a trap as revelations are made about his past begin to make their presence known. This project seemed to be a promising one as its creator and cast are all mostly dependable. Unfortunately the whole thing seems off due to an overly predictable plot and a poor excuse for scares. There might be the bones of a decent little thriller here, but it just doesn’t come together. C-

Summer of Spielberg: Week Ten
Rated PG
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 28%
Available on Showtime and Paid Streaming

In 1991 Spielberg took on the story of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, by casting America’s favorite comedian, Robin Williams, as the adult version of that boy, now living in the regular world as a boring lawyer who neglects his children. But when Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his kids, Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts) takes Peter back to Neverland for an adventure to get them back. With a lavish and beautiful production, some terrific performances and a truly magical feel, Hook ends up being a fantastic journey and a lesson in not allowing the real world to overwhelm you and completely change who you are. Of all of the films I’m exploring in this summer series – this one certainly has the most detractors. Sure the script is a bit flawed and it feels a little theme-parky. And then there are the critics who seemed to pile on pretty sharply. Try to ignore that. This film is way better than its 28% Rotten Tomatoes score. The film received 5 Oscar nominations in a really tough year and it still remains fun and emotionally resonant to this day. Hook is a much better film than it has ever been given credit for.

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.