Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of August 30, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of August 30, 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
In Theaters

I grew up a huge Marvel comic book fan, accumulating a rather large (and retrospectively rather worthless) collection that brought me hours and hours of enjoyment at the cost of doing dishes, mowing lawns and whatever else it took to keep buying more. For the first 3 phases (everything up to Spider-Man: Far From Home) I was very familiar with the heroes and their villains and the last two decades have been rather nostalgic and awe-inspiring with the amazing attention to quality and art from the MSA. But now we are entering Phase 4 and I have to admit, my familiarity is waning, especially with this new hero, Shang-Chi. I’ve actually never even heard of him. If he appeared in any of my comics, his memory has faded. So I was shocked to hear of this major tent-pole release. And to make it more intriguing, they were hiring an unknown actor, Simu Liu, with Awkwafina, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Yeoh and Benedict Wong as the only familiar faces on the screen. The audacity. I only point this out because it just shows that faith in overlord Kevin Feige and his vision is very well-placed. Shang-Chi is just a seemingly simple San Franciscan who, along with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina), valet cars for a living. But when his past is forced into the light, he must finally face his family and his destiny, ultimately revealing his amazing powers to the world. This film works on so many levels. As a superhero film, it is an excellent and vibrant origin story, setting up a new narrative that we can’t wait to see play out. As a martial arts picture it has spectacular fighting and beautifully choreographed sequences that look like they belong in a Zhang Yimou film instead of the MCU. While I’m sure Feige can take some of the credit for this, its writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton who really delivers. Destin’s 2013 Short Term 12 (starring Captain Marvel’s Brie Larson in the role that made her a star) was one of the best films of that year and proof that he is a great visual storyteller. But with a big budget, he has assumingly made Disney proud with such a stellar accomplishment as this. It is a complex and memorable story, stunningly told by a top-notch production team and an impressive cast of actors who I can’t wait to see again in their next adventures. A

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%
Streaming on Netflix

Former The Joy of Painting icon Bob Ross seems to be everywhere these days, as his image almost neutralizes negativity and bad thoughts when there is so much of it floating around, pervading the very air we breathe. But now, of course, someone is possibly trying to taint that icon slightly with this documentary about the artist and his legacy. Before you jump in, if you don’t want your image of him to be tarnished in your mind, then you will still probably be okay. The film will make you sad as you learn about his private life, and more importantly, his death and after-math, but he is largely still the same lovely man at the end as he was in the beginning. The drama comes from his business partners, the Kowalski’s and how they basically screwed his biological son, Steve Ross, out of his birthright. It’s essentially a one-sided hit piece on them, that could all be true, but only a few parties were willing to elaborate and corroborate because apparently everyone they tried to get on the doc were afraid to get sued by the old couple. Again, that might be true, but we might never know. What truths we do get to learn about are the happy and sad times that surrounded Bob Ross and that 26 years after his tragic death, he is still bringing his joy to people world-wide, and I do hope that doesn’t end anytime soon. B-

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of August 23, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of August 23, 2021

Rated R for language, bloody horror violence and some sexual references
In theaters

On the surface this looks like a remake of the original 1992 slasher pic about a man with a hook and a swarm of bees who pops out to kill you if you say his name five times in a mirror. And if you want, this can be just that. But look further and you’ll see that this is no ordinary horror film. Written and produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) and directed by newcomer Nia DaCosta (who has already been assigned to direct the next two Captain Marvel films), the legend of Candyman takes on new meaning and context, with a deep dive into systemic racism in America in a style that has never been used before to do so. What is most interesting about this project, is that once you can start to tell that the meaning is largely symbolic, the film becomes far less scary and just plain good. I had a similar experience while watching Peele’s previous film Us. While I was slightly disappointed that the film wasn’t the nightmare-inducing pic I expected, I was more fascinated at the brilliance behind it. But not only was the story on point, but the production was top-notch as well. It is quick to see why DaCosta has been enlisted as a top director, but even things like cinematography and sound design pop boldly off the screen, giving the film a real sense of art, rather than just genre. And while the stars aren’t huge names yet, you have no doubt that one day they will be. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Aquaman, Us) and Teyonah Parris (If Beale Street Could Talk, Wandavision) really shine on screen, giving us lead characters that we really care about in a story that would normally not provide this kind of attention. A

Vacation Friends
Rated R for crude sexual references, language throughout and drug content
Streaming on Hulu

One of the things I love most about going on vacation as a couple are the friends we meet and sometimes even hang on to. But taking this to an extreme is the subject of this newest comedy from Hulu that very much took me by surprise. Here Lil Rel Howery and Yvonne Orji are a young couple looking forward to their intimate little beach-front resort getaway when they unwillingly become connected to John Cena and his girlfriend Meredith Hagner. While they have no interest in the new friendship, they go along with it any way and manage to have fun. But after the vacation, they want to pretend it never happened, only to find that their new friends won’t have any of that. This project kind of came out of nowhere for me. I had never heard of it before last week and honestly, if I wasn’t low on material to cover, I would have ignored it. But I remembered that one of my favorite movies of last year (Palm Springs) was a Hulu original and maybe I should give this a chance. And I’m glad I did as I found myself laughing out loud throughout. Especially great was John Cena, who just keeps on impressing me with his comedy chops. The dude is way funnier than he gets credit for. While some of the plot points and jokes don’t exactly work, the film manages to keep finding a way to sneak up on you with unexpected humor. What most surprised me is that I enjoyed this film sober. With an old fashioned or two in me, I might have missed a major chunk of dialog from my own laughter. B

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and brief strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 36%
Available on Disc and Streaming

As a child I loved the Hasbro action figures and the corresponding Saturday morning cartoon, but as an adult I had trouble making sense of the world of G.I. Joe and the various movies over the years failed to rectify this. And now the prequel that no one asked for is hitting home theaters. Replacing Ray Park in the role of Snake Eyes is Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) who does an admirable job of holding this thing together but it is quick to see that this is overall a low-quality production with a lousy script, worse directing and ultimately an attempt to make a cash grab due to its familiarity. By the credits you will have already forgotten the movie, or at least wish you had. D

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of August 16, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of August 16, 2021

The Suicide Squad
Rated R for drug use, brief graphic nudity, language throughout, some sexual references, strong violence and gore
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
In Theaters and on HBO Max

In 2106, The Suicide Squad was met with a critical and audience thud, delivering a great concept with lousy execution and a completely mediocre product. Now five years later, they are kind of rebooting with some of the same cast, a completely different vibe and Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn in the captain’s chair. Gone is Will Smith and Jared Leto and returning are Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman and Viola Davis, with Idris Elba and John Cena coming along for the ride. The story is similar enough. The U.S. government needs an expendable army with super powers to take care of a bunch of dirty work, so they recruit imprisoned super villains who want to wipe a few years off their sentence. In this case, they are sent into a fictitious South American country in order to infiltrate a secret project which poses a risk to the world. But this time out, the movie doesn’t work because of the plot, which is way better than the last one, but rather because of the outrageous sense of humor that pervades the entire movie. From the opening seconds, it becomes clear that it will be rather difficult to stop laughing. I know I couldn’t. Much like Deadpool, which I’m assuming was a major influence, the movie works more as a comedy but is enhanced with some serious action, and in this case even some sci-fi. It helps to have a talented cast that looks like it is having a blast with the material. For pure entertainment value – you can’t beat it. A

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard
Rated R for some sexual content, pervasive language and strong bloody violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 25%
Available on Disc and Streaming

In 2017, The Hitman’s Bodyguard didn’t exactly win over critics (it scored a 43% Rotten Tomatoes score), but it managed to eke out enough box office to greenlight a sequel. This time out, Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek add in Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas to the mix as everyone double-crosses their way through an ultra-violent adventure with roughly the same lame jokes as the first outing and a completely inconsequential plot. Like Suicide Squad, this new adventure tries to match its action with humor, but the humor is nowhere near strong enough and all you are left with is a charismatic cast making a movie that turns out to be more tedious than fun. It does have its moments where you think there is potential, but those moments are fleeting and ultimately forgettable. C-

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of July 26, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of July 26, 2021

Jungle Cruise
Rated PG-13 for adventure violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70% at time of writing
In Theaters and on Disney + Premium

As Disney looks find content by giving a backstory to more of their old rides, Jungle Cruise seems to be an obvious choice for a fun and rollicking adventure. For this tale, Emily Blunt plays an early 20th century archeologist who recruits Dwayne Johnson, a cheesy river boat captain, to take her to a hidden spot in the Amazon to search for a mysterious tree with miraculous healing powers. But hot on their trail is a wealthy Eastern European baddie in a submarine (Jesse Plemons) who wants to also find the tree and set loose some evil conquistadors who have been trapped in the jungle for hundreds of years. For years, various iterations and ideas of a jungle cruise movie have gone into production, but until now, none have graced the screen. Going in I wasn’t even remotely enthusiastic about watching, after all, from the trailer it looks like pretty much like every other film that Disney has put out like this, but I have to admit that I was completely on board once it started. Blunt and Johnson are both so uniquely charismatic that they give the film a strong and crazy energy that helps you forget about the films’ many flaws and instead allows you to be whisked away on their nonsensical journey without a care in the world. The film is one fun set piece after another with a little romance thrown in for good measure. Yes its a formulaic Disney film meant to capitalize on a theme park ride, but more than that – it is as entertaining a film as you will see this year, and it’s even kid-friendly. If you miss films like The African Queen or Romancing the Stone, this should bring back happy memories and maybe even give you a new one. A-

Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, brief strong language, partial nudity, strong violence and suggestive content
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 51%
In Theaters

M. Night Shyamalan’s newest twisty psychological thriller stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps as a couple who take their young kids on a vacation to a secluded beach resort, only to find out that the secret beach they are taken to forces them to age their entire lives in a single day. Much of this plot you quickly ascertain from the trailer, but thankfully, once you get into the meat of the picture, it develops into a strange but thoughtful expose on human relationships, aging, disease, and love. The story evolves in ways both expected and not, and even manages to throw in a big surprise or two. As a big ensemble piece, the acting is strong enough to carry the plot through, and when the twist actually happens, it doesn’t exactly hit you like some of his other films, but rather finds a way to nicely layer itself into a tale that simply needs to make more sense. By the end it manages to be a satisfying narrative worthy of the two hours spent watching it. B

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of July 19, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of July 19, 2021

Rated R for language and some violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
In Theaters

In this quiet little drama, Nicolas Cage plays a reclusive truffle hunter in Oregon who lives a life of solitude with just his truffle pig to keep him company. The only human contact he has or abides is with his truffle dealer, Alex Wolff, and even that is limited. But when someone breaks into his house to steal his pig one night, he forces his dealer to help him uncover the trail that might lead to getting his only friend back. There was a time when Cage was red hot, and then his career suffered as his filmography took a drastic turn for the worse. Aside from a few indie gems, the last fifteen years or so has been a rough go, critically, with very little evidence of the shining star he was. In Pig, he plays a once-brilliant chef who turned away from society, and you could say the same is true with his career, making this film seem not just personal, but darn-near autobiographical. And on that note, it is a gentle masterpiece. Rather than the revenge-fueled caper the trailer suggests, the film is merely about a desperate man who wants the one thing back that gives him peace in the world. And the detective work to make this happen is absolutely fascinating and quite riveting. Equal credit here goes to relative newcomer Michael Sarnoski whose writing and directing tell a tight little story with fantastic ambience and terrific pacing. While it might not win over the biggest box office of the year, it is sure to take Cage off the list of forgotten actors and give old fans, and new, a memorable journey to absorb. A

Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain
Rated R for language throughout
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
In Theaters

In his latest documentary, Oscar-winner Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, 20 Feet From Stardom) takes on the rise and fall of rock-star chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, showing how he made it famous and how his world came tragically to an end with his suicide in 2018. Although we’ve had some very high-profile deaths over the last several years, none has hit me as hard as Bourdain’s, as I followed him and his adventures closely for many years. He was highly influential to my own personal food tastes and when I traveled around the world, going to the places he went, I loved following in his tracks, making sure to book the same restaurants and visit the same sites. Making sense of his demise though is the hardest part about his life and legacy, and this documentary does a great job of not only helping explain why people came to love him but also what brought him to his ultimate act of helplessness. More than that it doesn’t worship him but rather shows us his imperfections and the animosity left behind by his friends for committing such a selfish and horrible act. And while it really makes a strong case for blaming his recent girlfriend, Asia Argento, for ultimately causing the pain that brought him down, the one bit of controversy is that the documentary doesn’t exactly give Argento a chance to defend herself from what will look like to the audience as just a hard truth. A-

Space Jam: A New Legacy
Rated PG for some language and some cartoon violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 32%
In Theaters and on HBO Max

25 years after basketball legend Michael Jordan starred in the first Space Jam, current superstar LeBron James joins forces with Bugs Bunny and the Loony Tunes to play a basketball game within a computer simulation in order to get his son back from an evil presence that lies within the Warner Bros servers. While the special effects are decent enough, the film is a jumbled mess with a contrived and ridiculous plot. On top of that the game itself doesn’t make a lick of sense and every minute spent on it drags the film down. I like LeBron and Bugs a lot, but this is a mediocre kids film that does more to embarrass than to inspire. C-

Wrath of Man
Rated R for strong violence throughout, pervasive language, and some sexual references
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%
On Disc and Streaming

With the exception of his amazing live-action version of Aladdin, writer/director Guy Ritchie is best known for his edgy, highly-stylized crime dramas, and his latest is true to form. Here, Jason Statham is a new employee at a an armored car company who proves to be a fearless warrior when anyone attempts to rob them. But of course he has a hidden motive and we learn it as the film evolves into a revenge thriller. It may not be as good as his recent “The Gentlemen” or his first films “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” or “Snatch,” but it is a decent all-out action film with unique storytelling and definitely worth checking out if you are a Ritchie or Statham fan. B-

Spiral: From the Book of Saw
Rated R for grisly bloody violence/brief drug use, pervasive language, some sexual references and torture
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 37%
On Disc and Streaming

Chris Rock is a cop who is put in charge of a serial murder case when a killer copycats the famous Jigsaw murders from the original franchise, but this time with just cops. Normally I skip these kinds of films as I hate torture porn and this most definitely fits that category. But with a cast including Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella, I assumed the pedigree would overcome the content, but alas it did not and the film is just a messy, gruesome mediocre horror pic, and while the plot is interesting, the poor acting and the violence you have to suffer through to get through it are not worth the journey. C-

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of June 28, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of June 28, 2021

The Boss Baby: Family Business
Rated PG for rude humor, mild language and some action
In theaters and streaming on Peacock

Taking place years after the events of the first Boss Baby, Tim (voice of James Marsden) and his little brother Ted (Alec Baldwin) are now adults who have drifted away from each other. Tim now has a young family and Ted is a lonely billionaire (as expected). But when adults become endangered by the whims of a maniacal school master (Jeff Goldblum) the brothers combine forces (having been magically converted to their original young selves) in order to take on the threat. Honestly, I expected so much less from this project. I found the original rather dumb with only an occasional clever reference, and the basic premise just didn’t make enough sense. Luckily, the story here is much more universal, and although the plot, and much of its points, are absolutely ridiculous, due to its crazy frenetic energy and pure confidence in its own silly directive, the movie finds a way to work without being overly irritating to the adults in the room. B

The Forever Purge
Rated R for strong, bloody violence and language throughout
In theaters

This 5th movie in The Purge franchise goes to Texas where we find two families who both find a way to survive the night of The Purge (where murder is legal once a year for twelve hours), only to discover that the purgers have developed an underground coalition to keep reaping havoc across America, long after it is no longer legal. In order to survive further, the two families have to come together to protect each other and possible make it to Mexico where the Mexican government is allowing American asylum seekers. Just like the other major release this week, Boss Baby, I expected so much less than what we got here. Immediately it becomes easy to be impressed by the cast, featuring Josh Lucas, Ana de la Regular and Will Patton, who all do an admirable job given this material. And while there are plenty of cheap scares and scenes of overly-gratuitous violence, it is far more of a political commentary than torture porn flick, which makes the film way more interesting than it deserves to be. All of the films have had that edge to them to date, but this one takes it in a much more real-feeling scenario as tensions within America are hotter than ever. That being said, I’m not sure this kind of film is what we need to bring people together. It might have quite the opposite effect as it is easy to see who the monsters are in the plot, and I’m betting that will cause more anger from the right rather than the desired fear of what they might become if things don’t calm down. C+