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

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of February 8, 2021

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-

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-

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

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

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-