The Best and Worst Films of 2021

The Best and Worst Films of 2021

By Danny Minton

Last year I found myself lamenting 2020 as an overall stinker year for movies, holding out hope that 2021 would deliver on all of the pre-pandemic promises. We are finally coming to the close of the year, movie-wise, and things are looking up at the box office. We are still seeing streaming platforms picking the pockets of the local multiplex, but with films like Spider-Man: No Way Home breaking the pandemic record in huge fashion, the hope is alive and well. That being said, audiences are being much more picky about what they are willing to risk going to theaters for. For example, while Spidey put millions of butts in seats worldwide, the highly regarded West Side Story landed with a thud. This was the case this year with many non-tentpole pictures. Perhaps this is because younger audiences are much more willing to risk getting Covid to see a movie or maybe its because older audiences are more willing to be patient now that the window between theatrical and home releases is shrinking so rapidly. Either way, things are shifting in the way the world is watching movies and so far, fortunately, the quality is still remaining relatively high. I will admit up front that many of the films on this year’s list are movies we were supposed to see in 2020, but were pushed off. I’m sure I’ll be able to say the same next year, but probably not to this extent. But regardless, I’m glad for many of the experiences I had this year and hope that I can say the same next. Without further ado, here is the cream of the crop from another interesting movie year.

1) Don’t Look Up (Streaming on Netflix). It’s been years since we’ve seen a great Hollywood satire along the lines of Dr. Strangelove and Network, and this one by writer/director Adam McKay (The Big Short, Anchorman) will go down as one of the best. With one of the most impressive casts of the year, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett and many more A-listers, McKay takes climate change deniers head-on with this loosely-veiled narrative about a comet that is heading towards Earth and how difficult it is to get people to care. It is incredibly smart but at the same time riotously funny and absolutely terrifying. But more importantly, it doesn’t demean its audience but rather tears apart the leaders and special interests that keep people purposefully in the dark in order to preserve their power and greed. Ultimately, it’s a brilliant comedy with an urgent and important message that I hope is able to get through to its target.

2) West Side Story (In theaters). When Spielberg announced that he would be remaking 1961’s Best Picture-winning West Side Story, the main question most folks had was why? Why would you recraft such a legendary and beloved classic? How can you possibly improve it? Well it turns out that Spielberg’s vision of what West Side Story could be is both stunningly beautiful and relevant. Telling such a complex story with a much more appropriate cast and a deeper dive into the characters and their motives proved to enrich the source material and provide for an amazing theatrical experience for a new generation. Unfortunately that new generation chose not to have that experience (or at least it appears that way so far), but hopefully it will have the home audience it deserves soon.

3) In the Heights (Streaming on HBO Max). I honestly thought that West Side Story and this less tragic but equally impactful musical from Lin Manuel Miranda and directed by Jon M. Chu would be the talk of the town during awards season, but while neither has really performed the way I thought they would, they are both equally important and thrilling to watch. The story follows a group of mostly hispanic characters, living their lives in the Washington Heights area of New York with encroaching gentrification and immigration struggles effecting their daily lives. With some of the best music and equally talented performers delivering the material, In the Heights will still remain a treasure for me, even though it feels like I’m one of the few lucky folks who sat through it.

4) Tick, Tick… Boom! (Streaming on Netflix). Not another musical! Yes another musical. This year it seems to be the category to beat. Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his directorial debut here with this big-screen adaptation of the Off-Broadway autobiographical musical from Jonathan Larson (played here by Andrew Garfield) about his struggles that led up to his Broadway-changing musical Rent and the tragedy that befell the world in the days before its release. The songs aren’t as catchy and memorable as Rent or the above two musicals, but the story and the heart behind the songs make for a remarkable film. But what really makes this movie work is the performance by Andrew Garfield, who should be a major awards contender this year.

5) Dune: Part One (Available on paid streaming and on Disc). Having been a sci-fi geek all of my life, the movie Dune has always held a place of regret and disappointment in my heart. That is until now. As soon as I learned that Arrival director Denis Villeneuve was tackling this massive project, excitement filled me once again. The story, much too complex to do it justice in this column, revolves around a gifted young prince (Timothée Chalamet in just one of his brilliant performances of the year) who is thrust into conflict when his family is put in charge of an important mining operation on a remote and dangerous planet. The differences between this Dune and the disastrous 1984 version are night and day. But mainly what makes this work is the attention to every little detail, ranging from production to actor choice. The only thing disappointing about this creation is that we have to wait two more years to finish the journey.

6) CODA (Streaming on Apple TV+). This surprise hit from Apple follows a young girl (Emilia Jones) who is the only member of her family (played by deaf actors Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant) who isn’t deaf. If she wanted to be in the fishing business with her family, a job for which they rely greatly on her ability to communicate with the outside world, then she would be fine. But when an aggressive music teacher (Eugenio Derbez) tries to convince her to pursue her singing in college, she must make the decision to follow her dreams with a talent her family could never fully appreciate or stick to her current responsibilities and forget about her future. What could have been a cheesy movie of the week is elevated by great material and even better performances. It is a bit manipulative (at least my tear ducts would tell you that), but its beauty and ability to draw empathy make it rather special.

7) The Worst Person in the World (Available February 4th in theaters). This dark romantic comedy from Norway tells the story of a young woman (Cannes Best Actress winner Renate Reinsve) whose quest for love and fulfillment in the modern world is creatively explored in chapters filled with joy, heartache, laughter and sadness. Structurally reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally, the movie moves around a lot, but with purpose and meaning behind every action. The marvelous performance by Reinsve is my favorite female performance of the year and in it you can see the makings of star.

8) Belfast (Available on paid streaming). Writer/director Kenneth Branagh shares this semi-autobiographical representation of his childhood through the eyes of a young child (Jude Hill) whose family (Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe) must make tough decisions when civil war between Catholics and Protestants begins to wreak havoc upon their community. This beautifully told story is dark yet still pleasant due to Branagh’s clever script which doesn’t allow the material to ever succumb to the darkness it explores. But while the film takes place in the late 60s and is told in black and white, its relevance shines as a warning as to what can happen when people start to allow tribalism, rather than a sense of community, to take over their decisions and actions.

9) Pig (Streaming on Hulu). One of the biggest surprises of the year was this little indie starring Nicolas Cage as a former chef who has become a hermit, with only his truffle-hunting pig to keep him company. But when someone makes a move to steal his pig, he will do anything in his power to get his friend back. It’s such a weird little film, yet memorable and lovely also. The trailer makes it look like a revenge thriller, but it turns out to be quite the opposite, filled with heart and resonating in empathy.

10) King Richard (In theaters and available January 4th on paid streaming). Biopics are so hard to do and are often so poorly delivered that you have to be willing to the mental gymnastics to accept a good performance from a bad film in many cases. But in this project, Will Smith knocks it out of the park in a really good film about the father of Venus and Serena Williams and how he inspired them to tennis greatness in spite of his flaws and lack of resources. This could have been just a feel-good flick that is quickly forgotten, but the talent behind the production just makes Smith even better in this juicy role.

Honorable Mention: Candyman, The French Dispatch, House of Gucci, Licorice Pizza, The Lost Daughter, Mass, No Time to Die, Parallel Mothers, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

The Worst:
1) Tom & Jerry. This mess of an irrelevant film didn’t even have a clever premise to lean on. The live-action actors are phoning it in and the cartoon actors make you wish you didn’t hold some sort of nostalgia for their antics.

2) Cry Macho. This project has been floating around Hollywood for a long time but why Clint Eastwood decided to direct it now is confounding. What is worse is that he so badly miscast himself in it.

3) Space Jam: A New Legacy. When Michael Jordan starred in the first Space Jam 25 years ago, it seemed kind of cool and clever. Unfortunately LeBron can’t fill Michael’s Air Jordans in this cringy sequel.

4) The Woman in the Window. In spite of having one of the best actresses in Hollywood (Amy Adams), best actors (Gary Oldman), best directors (Joe Wright) and best writers (Tracy Letts), this psychological thriller manages to fall apart before it can get going.

5) Eternals. I hope Marvel has better plans for this new group of strange super heroes because their first foray falls flat. It might not wreck Marvel’s newest phase, but it sure does provide quite a big speed bump.

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of December 13, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of December 13, 2021

Don’t Look Up
Rated R for Language Throughout, Graphic Nudity, Drug Content, and Some Sexual Content
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%
In Theaters Now and on Streaming on Netflix December 24

Writer/Director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, The Big Short) assembles the cast of the year (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet and many, many other big names) in this dramedy about two astronomers who discover that a comet is going to end life on Earth in 6 months – and no one really cares that much. Meant to be a sarcastic view on how our world has reacted to the climate crisis, the movie only thinly disguises its true mission of trying to get people to think about how we got to where we are and what is the ultimate price our children will pay if don’t pull our heads out. But I digress, if you just take the film at surface level, you might not understand all of the jokes, but you will laugh. This film is downright hilarious and provides for the best comedy we’ve seen this year. To elevate the hilarity, the film has a frenetic and crazy energy, helping you suspend belief enough to imagine there is a real comet coming to kill us, making much of the laughter of the nervous type. It is staggering to believe that McKay has gone from his mindless (but still funny) work on Anchorman to high brow pieces like this and Succession, and honestly, it thrills me that we have such a talented and twisted artist who can make us laugh while also making us think. And with this newest creation, we get what I can only describe as the most entertaining film of the year, full of heart, pain, humor, wit and frustration. It’s a madcap yet meaningful experience handled with chaos and love. Its biggest problem is that due to its perceived political agenda (climate change is in fact not political but has been perverted to that level) the film will probably be adored by 60% of the country and loathed by the other 40. Unfortunately, that is inevitable. But I do believe that it has an honest intent of moving the needle in that regard and convincing the holdouts to at least think about the subject for a couple of hours. A

Nightmare Alley
Rated R for Some Sexual Content, Nudity, Language, Strong/Bloody Violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
In Theaters

Since I saw my first Guillermo del Toro film years ago at South by Southwest, I’ve always known that he is one of the best at bringing out the darkest parts of your imagination, causing chills and scares like no other in the industry. In this remake of the 1947 film of the same title, Bradley Cooper stars in the Tyrone Power role of a grifter who happens upon a traveling circus, landing a job that helps him develop better skills to help him make a good living ripping off a wealthier clientele once he leaves the circus behind. Setting his sights on a dangerous tycoon (Richard Jenkins), he uses his relationship with a sophisticated therapist (Cate Blanchett) and all the tools at his disposal to try to make a truly big score. There’s a lot to like about this film including a rich and beautiful dark palate with all sorts of interesting characters sewn throughout. The production is classic del Toro with a macabre vibe and a sinister overtone. But what the film lacks is what he is most famous for – the chills and scares. The story is sort of intriguing, but it’s not very frightening and the hair didn’t stand up on my arms one time. By the end it’s just sort of a bland piece of filmmaking, like a nice-looking wagyu steak covered in the wrong seasoning. And most unfortunately, at two-and-a-half hours, it’s a bit of an unexpected bore. C+

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of December 6, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of December 6, 2021

West Side Story
Rated PG-13 for some strong violence, brief smoking, strong language, suggestive material and thematic content
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
In Theaters

When it was announced several years ago that Steven Spielberg would be re-making the 1961 musical West Side Story for his next picture, I just couldn’t understand why he would do that. It was such a classic and winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture. I figured he could do it, but why would he. This has been looming over the movie for a while now, especially since its release was delayed an entire year due to the pandemic. But after experiencing this new version, I feel like I understand the why, and am glad he did. The story, based on Romeo and Juliet, revolves around post-WWII New York City as a gang of white hooligans named the “Jets” attempt to protect their turf from the ever-growing population of Puerto Ricans by rumbling with their gang, the “Sharks”. But when the former leader of the Jets falls in love with the sister of the Shark’s leader, the violence between the two becomes impossible to control, resulting in inevitable tragedy. While the original more than touched on issues of racism and fear of immigrants, the movie was largely white-washed (with white actors playing some of the lead roles of the Puerto Ricans) and could only go so far with its adult theme. Now, decades later, Spielberg is able to not only put up a fantastically talented race-appropriate cast, but he is much more able to examine the xenophobia from the day, making it even more relevant to today. In addition, Tony-winning screenwriter Tony Kushner changes and enhances many of the elements of the original material in order for their to be more coherence and to add color to the backstories of the well-known characters. And while the songs are largely left the same here, the choreography is much more dynamic and less distracting. Equal to the original are some really terrific performances by a young and vibrant cast. I can easily see a full list of Oscar contenders with Rachel Zegler as Maria, Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo and Mike Faist as Riff. To make things even more interesting, Rita Moreno won the Oscar as Anita in the original, and it is very possible we might be seeing her name mentioned in the running again in this new version as she replaces the white male shopkeeper and employer of Tony (Ansel Elgort) in a new pivotal role created for her. I won’t go as far as to say that I lost faith in Spielberg after hearing about this project, but I am now certainly glad he did it. I found the movie to be an electrifying experience and am thankful I got to relive it in this fantastic new visionary creation. A+

Being the Ricardos
Rated R for language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%

In Theaters December 10 and Streaming on Amazon Prime December 21
From writer/director Aaron Sorkin comes this story about the iconic actress Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman), focusing on how she came to be America’s most loved actress and how she protected herself from the accusations of her being a communist in the 50’s. As an impersonation flick, this succeeds pretty well. Kidman is about as close as we’ll get to Ball in looks and charisma. I was also very impressed with J.K. Simmons who played William Frawley, the actor who played Fred Mertz. Here he has such command over his character as he becomes the most believable and memorable member of the cast. Unfortunately, Javier Bardem is terribly miscast as Desi Arnaz and becomes quite a distraction as the film evolves. As far as the story goes, the material is at times interesting, but the flow is incredibly confusing. There is quite a bit of time travel throughout the movie and it is hardly clear when in time we are watching. And because there are so many narratives going on, the focus of the picture comes across as vague. This ends up being a huge and surprising mistake coming from one of Hollywood’s greatest storytellers. Overall, this might be a film for all of the Lucy fans that are still out there, but for most it will be a forgettable disappointment. C+

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of November 29, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of November 29, 2021

House of Gucci
Rated R for some sexual content, language, brief nudity and violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 62%
In Theaters

House of Gucci tells the story of Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) and how she met, fell in love with, split up from and then hired someone to kill her husband Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). Set in the 70s, 80s and 90s in the world of the Gucci family, we get to witness the drama that came close to bringing down one of the greatest names in the fashion industry. Going in to the movie, I knew nothing of Gucci aside from their name, and I was surprised that the campaign to gain interest for the film depended largely on giving away the ending. I can’t recall a film ever doing that in order to sell itself. But here it is deeply important that that seminal moment looms over the entire picture. But what becomes more important than the actual story are the multiple fantastic performances from its star-studded cast, especially that of Lady Gaga. While you can make a little fun of her accent, you can’t deny that she knocks this one out of the park, just like she did in A Star is Born. Also worth mentioning is Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci, Maurizio’s cousin. Leto is campy as all get out, and apparently not even close to the actual Paolo in character, but he adds a much needed flair to the film, almost as comic relief delivered by a sad, pathetic clown. Ultimately, this is far from a perfect film, but it is very watchable, and at two hours and thirty-seven minutes, it surprisingly doesn’t come off as boring or long-winded. It is a fascinating look at events that might have shook the fashion world, but never really had an impact outside of New York and Italy. And while I still can’t even conceive of spending thousands of dollars for their over-priced leather goods, shelling out ten bucks to watch this over-the-top family implode here is totally worth it, even if it is a fantastical adaptation of the actual events. B+

King Richard
Rated PG-13 for brief drug references, a sexual reference, some violence and strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
In Theaters and Streaming on HBO Max

In this unconventional biopic, Will Smith plays Richard Williams, the father to Venus and Serena Williams, two of the most celebrated athletes in the sport of tennis. From the moment his daughters could hold a racket, Williams set out to execute on an elaborate plan that he put together to help them achieve success. Although they were a poor, hard-working black family from Compton, he found creative ways to not let their lack of finances get in the way of pushing his daughters to live up to their potential. While I can’t speak to the accuracy of the script, I can tell you that Will Smith is a juggernaut in the role. The story is as compelling as any I’ve seen this year and with his ownership of the character a great synergy is achieved. And while Williams and his methods are definitely flawed at times, he, through Smith’s portrayal, serves as an inspiration to fathers everywhere. With rare exceptions, the film also makes for good family entertainment and should be just as inspirational for kids as it is adults. If there is one fault, it’s the lack of substance in the supporting characters. This is the Will Smith show and everyone else in it is just there to help him along. That being said, I can easily see him winning the Oscar this year for best actor, not only because of the merit of his performance but also because it just might be his turn in the Hollywood popularity contest. A-

The Beatles: Get Back
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Streaming on Disney+

In 1969, The Beatles recorded what would be their last album (Let it Be was recorded before Abbey Road but released after) and gave their last live performance at the end of their session. A documentary film (also titled Let it Be) was released in 1970 and showed more of a dark side to the end of the Beatles. Decades later, director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) got his hands on the original material and started to put together a new project based on the 60 hours of video and 150 hours of audio newly discovered. Using the same film restoration techniques his team developed for his WWI documentary ‘They Shall Not Grow Old,’ he was able to narrow the material down to around an eight hour event, airing on three episodes on Disney+. Imagine being a fly on the wall for the weeks the Beatles spent together making Let it Be and you’ll have an idea of what this project is like. Some may just not get it. It’s long and there’s little in the way of a narrative (Jackson apparently started with an 18 hour cut if that makes you feel better). But for those who love The Beatles and want to know them more intimately – there is not a better opportunity than this project. Its is basically a Master Class on The Fab Four and you will hit the credits feeling like you really know them so much better than you ever could have before. It is thrilling and exhilarating and rewarding to the right audience. If you find watching the studio work a little too much, most of us would forgive you, but do yourself a favor and check out the last hour where The Beatles give their final performance on a rooftop concert that will blow you away. Parts of this were featured in the 1970 doc, but not in this way and with this much authenticity. It’s pure electricity. A

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of November 15, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of November 15, 2021

Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some suggestive references
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%
In Theaters

In 2016 Ghostbusters attempted a reboot with a very funny but ultimately failed attempt using a female-led cast. With an apparent attempt to forget about that chapter, Jason Reitman (son of the original director Ivan Reitman) is now attempting another, very different kind of reboot. Taking place in the year 2021 in a small Oklahoma town, the daughter and grandchildren of Dr. Egon Spengler (the now deceased Harold Ramis) have moved into his farm after his demise which was brought on by evil spirits in the opening minutes of the film. As they discover the secrets he left behind, they uncover an apocalypse about to happen as they try to figure out what they can possibly do to prevent it. If you’ve seen the trailer you’ll probably be of the general opinion that this new addition to the franchise is creative and has a slick new vibe. Using kids to be the new Ghostbusters gives the project a Goonies, Stranger Things feel that ultimately works well here. I especially loved Mckenna Grace and Paul Rudd who give the film its much needed flair and humor. Unfortunately they just can’t provide enough humor to overcompensate for the rest of the cast and the rest of the project. What made the original Ghostbusters work so well was how funny and fun it was, and this film sorely needs help in that regard. The movie has some of the right ingredients, but they are not balanced, which gives the constant feeling that something is missing. And while I won’t give away the ending, lets just say that it ends up being a big copout, lacking in creativity and energy. That being said, there is a lot to like here, but a lot to dislike as well. I wouldn’t say the potential completely goes to waste, but it certainly doesn’t evolve into the great picture that it could have been. B

Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, brief sexuality and some language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 47%
In Theaters

Based on the Marvel comic and now part of the Marvel’s latest phase of new heroes and stories, Eternals tells the story of a unique group of ancient aliens who were assigned at the dawn of man to protect humans from an evil breed of monsters known as Deviants. But when the plot thickens revealing their true purpose on Earth, they attempt to unite to do what they consider to be the right thing. Or at least that’s what I think the film is about. The least accessible film in the Marvel universe thus far, the movie is a confusing and rather boring cross section of exposition and action that just kind of trods along, daring you to attempt to make sense of it and give it greater meaning. Being that this was such a minor title for Marvel Comics, there really isn’t a lick of familiarity with the characters for most audiences, and there is a lot to learn about them. And by the time we do learn about them, it’s hard to care about them. It feels ambitious at times, but it feels like it’s a stretch at others. This kind of project has worked before for Marvel as Guardians of the Galaxy and Shang Chi were relatively unknown before their movie adaptations. And while Eternals brought in a stellar writer/director (Chloe Zhao just won the Oscar last year for Nomadland), she just couldn’t translate the material well enough to make the film compelling or enjoyable. I’m hoping that in the future all of this material somehow makes sense and we look back at it in fondness, but right now it feels more like a chore that I’m guessing is a necessary step to get to the next chapter of this phase. C-

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

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of November 8, 2021

Rated PG-13 for strong language and some violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
In Theaters

From writer/director Kenneth Branagh comes this deeply personal story about a young family in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1969 as protestants and catholics are violently clashing, forcing them to make a life-changing decision about their futures. All told from the viewpoint of a 9 year old boy (newcomer Jude Hill) who has a rosy outlook on life in spite of the violence surrounding him and the financial struggles his family faces on a daily basis. Told in vibrant black and white, the film is a lovely piece of art, and due to its simplicity, should find a wider audience than most awards-worthy indies we see nowadays. The story itself might not be deeply complex, but it proves that it doesn’t have to be. It gives us a view of a turbulent time but because everything starts and ends with home, it makes you feel safe even when danger lurks. That being said, it is sneaky. It shows us how fragile that security can be as there was no middle ground to be found during that time. While catholics and protestants had to live, work and go to school together, they were, in many homes, taught to hate and hurt the other side. I simply loved the many discussions between the young boy and his father (Jamie Dornan) as the dad tries to convey upon the son that tolerance and understanding need to win out as the son tries to understand why there is so much dissonance. In this way it is incredibly relevant to America today as these same conversations are being had in homes in regard to our heated political strife as we are hoping and dreaming that the polarity declines as we watch the divide get larger and the potential for civil violence grows. Sure to be a big player in the upcoming awards season, the cast is full of terrific performances from not only Hill and Dornan, but also from Judi Dench, Ciarin Hinds and Caitriona Balfe who all deliver memorable and impressive turns. When you add in the amazing production and music from Van Morrison, what you get is a love letter to Belfast that most viewers will appreciate as a warm and cozy memory of their own homes and what is most important in life. A

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of October 25, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of October 25, 2021

The French Dispatch
Rated R for language, graphic nudity and some sexual references
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
In Theaters

Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) is best know for his eclectic stories told with amazing casts, and with the French Dispatch you get what you expect and more. I say more because not only is this perhaps the quirkiest of all of his movies, but the cast might be his biggest ever as well. The story takes place over three distinct narratives written for a newspaper in Liberty, Kansas, all from the writers at that Newspaper’s Parisian office. With an almost anthology feel, the movie is his least accessible picture, but with Bill Murray, Timothée Chalamet, Benicio Del Toro, Frances McDormand and so many others that my column length could just contain the names of famous actors if I put them all in, the project is also a little slice of heaven for Anderson’s fans. I found it enjoyable, funny, poignant, brave and of course very strange. And even though the story structure is whacky, Anderson’s style and confidence are impressively portrayed here. There is no doubt that he couldn’t care less if you like the film or not. It’s his playground and we get the pleasure of watching him work in it. One item of note that I must mention, this year hasn’t been the greatest years for orchestral scores, but this one by Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water) is worth diving in to. It makes for a perfect backdrop to the idealized world of 1960’s Paris. B+

My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission
Rated PG-13 for bloody images, violent material and some language
In Theaters

I have to be honest here – my eleven-year-old made me watch this. When he found out that I was asked to screen it, he about lost his mind that he would get to see it early with me. So I’m glad I got to make the kid happy for two hours. For the rest of you – I’ll try to explain what you need to know. This is the third film in the franchise and it’s about to get a really big U.S. theatrical release, which makes it more than relevant, especially for its rabid fan base. Based on the fairly new manga series, a large percentage of the planet has a quirk, not the Wes Anderson kind but rather a special gift. Those with big gifts become heroes and a team of said heroes attempts to stop a tyrannical leader with a plan to rid the planet of quirks and the humans who possess them. Compared to the other major anime film that scored a big box office earlier this year, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (which grossed half a billion world-wide), this is a far less confusing film to watch, and thus less painful. That being said, the animation seems lazy at times and the music will leave you smothered in cheese. Perhaps they are just going for the show’s style (I wouldn’t know since I’ve never watched), but I would have put some more effort into the production. With the absolute profitability of these films, you’d think they’d put a little more quality up front. C+

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of October 18, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of October 18, 2021

Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, sequences of strong violence and suggestive material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
In Theaters and Streaming on HBO Max

It was 1965 when American author Frank Herbert published the epic science fiction novel Dune and since that released it has plagued Hollywood as filmmakers struggled to bring it to the big screen. The first, and last, attempt was in 1984 when David Lynch released his awful vision of the story to a sorely disappointed audience. But when Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 director Dennis Villeneuve announced his intention to tackle the famed work, cries of joy were heard from sci-fi fans everywhere. The story takes place largely on the desert planet of Arrakis, also known as Dune, where the most valuable substance in the universe, known as spice, has been assigned by the emperor to the Atreides family to protect and mine. The Duke of Atriedes (Oscar Isaac) and his special son (Timothée Chalamet) find themselves in over their heads when the forces of the desert and powers from other worlds work against them. I don’t want to give away too much, as I hate spoilers, but I must start with a revelation that I wish I had: Dune will be a two-part motion picture and this movie covers only the first half of the book. I found the lack of this knowledge an unnecessary distraction and wish I had it going in. That being said, I enjoyed everything about this project aside from that tidbit. Dune proves to be a grand, ambitious project, this time done right. The cast is big and quite perfect, filled with A-listers who take the project very seriously, all performing from an excellent screenplay that cleverly hides the massive amount of exposition needed to simplify this massively complex story. But ultimately it’s the production that impresses the most. This is a creation that needs two things to come to life: advanced special effects and the vision to wield them. Villeneuve and his production team do a masterful job of bringing this world to life. The most relevant comparison would be to Peter Jackson with his Lord of the Rings films. As for its release, my recommendation would be to watch it on HBO Max the second time you see it. The first view should be on a big screen, preferably IMAX. Anything less than that could leave you underwhelmed. A

Halloween Kills
Rated R for language, grisly images, some drug use and strong bloody violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 39%
In Theaters and Streaming on Peacock

In 2018’s Halloween, we leave the iconic baddie Michael Myers as he appears to be trapped in a burning house. But of course, since there’s this sequel, we know that his demise doesn’t happen and he goes on another rampage of terror, this time with a monumentally higher death count including all kinds of horrible and gruesome murders. To change things up a bit, a mob of mad neighbors, including Anthony Michael Hall as recurring character Tommy Doyle, seek out Myers in an act of vengeance. I wasn’t as enamored with the 2018 take on the franchise (it scored an impressive 79% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I didn’t hate it either. But I did expect an elevated sort of horror flick with this one and was surprised when it turned out to be a huge ball of torture porn. It is simply just one gross-out scene after another that ultimately provides nothing but nonsense to the franchise. Apparently this will be the middle film of a trilogy that will see its next chapter, Halloween Ends, as soon as next year. But what could have been an interesting and scary thriller turns out to be a long joke with no punch line. Not once does it really shock or scare its audience but instead it just desensitizes to the extreme. Perhaps once we’ve seen the final chapter we will better understand why we had to put up with this chapter, but for now I’m just a disappointed fan wondering why the filmmakers don’t seem to take their audience seriously. D

The Green Knight
Rated R for some sexuality, graphic nudity and violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Available on Disc and Streaming

This fantasy epic stars Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) as Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew, who, in order to prove himself to his king, goes on a quest to confront an other-worldly Green Knight after it challenges the court. Facing ghosts, giants, thieves and more, he finds himself on a journey of inner turmoil as he attempts to discover himself in all of the madness. This film never really found an audience in theaters and for good reason, it is interesting on the eyes, but incredibly hard to follow and too deep for most viewers. It tries to sell itself as a lush fantasy, but while it may look like Game of Thrones, it’s narrative is confusing and its characters aren’t approachable. We never really get a chance to like our hero and thus are disengaged from his plight. He’s not unlikable, but rather he’s just a dude on a weird journey. And the supporting characters don’t do much to help here. For example, Alicia Vikander (Oscar winner for The Danish Girl) gives one of the most blasé performances of her career as two different characters which are neither particularly interesting or compelling. The movie has the movement of a dream. It is not a happy dream nor a nightmare, but rather just a strange flow of thoughts with nice production values. C

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton – Week of October 4, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of October 4, 2021

No Time To Die
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, brief strong language, some disturbing images and some suggestive material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
In Theaters

We’ve had to wait for almost two years to see this latest James Bond flick as Covid was very unkind to the original release dates, but this long-awaited project is finally seeing the light of day (or darkened theater in this case) in what is being rumored as Daniel Craig’s last outing as 007. After a flashback sequence and a heartbreaking and heart-stopping rollercoaster ride that finds Bond breaking up with his sweetheart (Lea Seydoux), we find Bond hiding out in Jamaica years later, in no hurry to return to the spy game. But when his CIA friend Felix (Jeffrey Wright) asks him to help find a missing scientist, he finds himself deeply connected to a sinister plot, led by a strangely calm maniac (Rami Malek) that could kill off most of the planet. But at the same time he is trying to save the world, his own personal universe starts to interfere when he discovers an important secret being hidden from him. While not all of Craig’s Bond films have been stellar, they have certainly exhibited stronger scripts and better acting than any of the previous films in the franchise. While 2015’s Spectre was a low point, this one quickly makes you forget about the problems of the past. The script here is complex and deep, allowing for Craig to deliver a performance much more similar to Skyfall than his other outings. In fact, I’d put this at the top of his run. There is a different look and feel to this Bond and I for one like it. I also need to mention the fantastic reenvisioning of the iconic music from composer Hans Zimmer who delivers here one of the best scores of the year. If there is a weak point in the movie its in the villain played by Rami Malek, who is creepy and dangerous, but we really don’t get a sense of what he’s trying to accomplish and why so many android-like minions blindly follow him. I guess that makes him a typical Bond villain, but I think they could have done better. Regardless, this new outing is worth the wait and definitely worth sitting in the theater for almost three hours wearing a mask. A-

The Many Saints of Newark
Rated R for sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and strong violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
In theaters and streaming on HBO Max

This highly-anticipated prequel to HBO’s iconic television series The Sopranos follows the early years of Tony Soprano, both as a kid and a teenager, as he tries to figure himself out in the volatile climate of 60’s and 70’s New Jersey. Rather than trying to emulate his harsh father, he gravitates towards his uncle (also mafia) and you begin to see the forces that shape him into the man we know so well from the series. While there is a well-known cast present with Vera Farmiga, Jon Bernthal, Leslie Odom Jr. and Ray Liotta, most of the cast is relatively unknown but hold their own well. James Gandolfini’s real life son Michael is probably the most talked-about aspect of the film, and justifiably so, but Alessandro Nivola puts in a star-making turn as Anthony’s anti-hero uncle, a man that seems decent most of the time, except for all that murder and crime stuff. The problem with the film is its relevance. It’s been almost too long since The Sopranos controlled our water cooler talk and much has been forgotten. As a stand-alone film it almost works, but it is not a stand-alone film. If you haven’t seen the show, you might enjoy much of the movie, but you will be a little confused at references and thoughts that are meant to be floating around your head. If you have seen the show, it will probably also confuse you because you should have remembered everything, in detail. It would have been an Emmy-winning, memorable two-episode flashback series if it had aired in 2005, but now it becomes a game of “which character is that” and “what did he do again” as you spend an equal amount of time looking at your phone researching as you do watching the actual movie. That doesn’t mean its bad, but it sure is distracting. Overall, the plot is fascinating and it is certainly a well-conceived mafia movie, but it is at least a decade out of place. Perhaps if you take the time to revisit those fantastic six seasons of the show, this might hold its own as canon and help define what follows for Tony and family years later. B

Popcorn Perspectives – Week of September 27, 2021

Popcorn Perspectives with Danny Minton

Week of September 27, 2021

Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Rated PG-13 for disturbing material, action, intense sequences of violence, some strong language and suggestive references
In Theaters

The first Venom film was deeply disappointing, and frankly not worthy of a sequel. But Sony was invested and even teased a next chapter with Woody Harrelson as the promised villain at the end of the movie. So here we are with the next in the series and Harrelson plays a murderous psychopath named Cletus Kasady who is destined for lethal injection. But first he wants the good alien Venom’s owner, Eddie Brock (again played by Tom Hardy) to tell his story in the newspaper. But when an altercation takes place with Eddie in prison, Cletus gains Venom’s powers and becomes Carnage, a giant red alien parasite. Breaking out of prison and wreaking havoc around the city, Eddie and Venom must find a way to stop the new baddie Carnage before things get more out of hand. Here’s the good news, the movie isn’t nearly as crappy as the original and actually manages to provide some decent entertainment. My synopsis above sounds like some serious sci-fi horror, but, in actuality, the film almost makes for a better comedy than it does any other genre. Sony made some smart changes for this film with a giant infusion of humor as well as a cast which looks like its having fun with the ridiculous material. I’m guessing part of the fun is having Andy Serkis as director. As you’ll recall, Serkis played Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies and is a master of CG multiple personalities, which I can only assume helped this project make more sense. Also he does a great job keeping the storytelling fast-paced and thrilling, not allowing you to think too much on the problems, which are many. But even though the script is weak and the project is frivolous, it manages to be surprisingly fun at times. Not to give away any spoilers, but the one thing that people will be talking about the most with this film takes place after the initial post credits. So stick around for a few minutes after they start rolling. B