Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Movie Minutes is moving (again)!

Hello, readers!

I am happy to announce that Movie Minutes is moving to Wordpress! Movie Minutes is a passion project of mine and my hope is to be able to expand and share this passion with as many people as possible. Unfortunately, this means having to say goodbye to the old Blogger site. You can catch all further updates at the link provided below and I hope you will join me as I begin this new chapter in my blogging life!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

KONG: SKULL ISLAND Non-Spoilers Review

Kong: Skull Island would make an interesting case study for anyone interested in making a good movie the wrong way. Much to the chagrin of this reviewer's monster movie-loving heart, this film has a lot of problems. Despite this sad reality, however, Kong: Skull Island still manages to dish out enough of what it promises (namely ungodly havoc at the unnaturally large paws of the largest primate ever put to film) for a good time at the theater. 

Whether you enjoyed Gareth Edwards' 2014 Godzilla reboot or not, many criticized it for a severe lack of the scaly antihero. Judging from the trailers for 'Kong,' you would think Legendary and Warner Bros. had learned a thing or two. Unfortunately, Kong: Skull Island boasts only a bit more screen time for its own titular behemoth. To be fair, Kong's excellently choreographed throw-downs are the best parts of the film. They're exhilarating. They're just too sporadically spaced out between the dull human melodrama.

The hollow script (co-written by Nightcrawler's Dan Gilroy, I'll have you know) does not allow its stranded characters (I use the term loosely) time to develop outside their ninety second introductions and none of them are given any arcs, none with a satisfying payoff anyways. This is all the more disappointing when you consider how well its superstar cast does with so little to go off. Alas, we are left to imagine what they could have accomplished with richer material.

On that note, it would be a miss if I did not mention John C. Reilly, who plays an Air Force vet who has been living on the island for almost three decades after crash landing there during WWII. Despite this nightmarish scenario, he perfectly embodies the film's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. While most jokes fall flat throughout, Reilly, much like his humongous humanoid co-star, is a constant source of unabashed enjoyment.

Even in the face of its mounting imperfections, this unabashed enjoyment ultimately rises to the surface. Whether you're jumping in your seat from the intensity of the monster mayhem, busting a gut at one of Reilly's self-referential jokes, or bobbing your head to any of the kick-ass 70s rock selections, Kong: Skull Island succeeds in being what it is: a fun monster romp. 

Grade: B

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Box Office Predictions (2/10/17)

Over the past few years, studio executives have been gleefully sliding the summer movie season further up each year, like that guy at the bar whose had too much to drink and doesn't think you'll notice if he scooches towards you a couple inches every few minutes. Movies one would expect to see between May and August are now starting to appear as early as February, which has recently proven to be as good a month as any for studios to plant a franchise tent pole.

This weekend is shaping up for a similar shakedown, with multiple, big franchises looking to stake an early 2017 claim. Such licenses include the second 50 Shades of Grey installment, the next chapter in the surprise John Wick storyline, and of course the first of many LEGO Movie spinoffs. These newcomers are set to square off against the reigning champ Split as well as the hot underdog (and Oscar Darling) Hidden Figures. By the looks of it, the box office could be in for quite a slobber knocker this weekend.

Here are my predictions for the match (ranked by predicted domestic gross):

#1: The LEGO Batman Movie
In February, 2014, The LEGO Movie grossed near $70 million its opening weekend and from there continued its box office marathon, earning into the millions every weekend until April 11th. Since then its popularity has only grown (though it failed to garner a mere nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars that year). What's more, there hasn't been a new family release since December. Oh! I almost forgot: It also has "Batman" in the title and Batman sells. Big time.

Predicted gross: $80 million

#2: Fifty Shades Darker
If the first 'Fifty Shades' film proved anything, it's that Americans like to get freaky. That's my rationale for predicting a second place slot for the sequel. Though a vast majority of its overall domestic gross was already accumulated by the end of its first weekend (a grand total of just over $93 million), it dropped more than 73% the following weekend. Many complained that the film did not live up to the promised promiscuity of its sexy source material. The disappointment may carry over from 2015, but if this film is freakier than the first (like its marketing campaign suggests), then this follow-up will have *ahem* better legs.

Predicted gross: $55 million

#3: John Wick Chapter 2
Sometimes franchises are built on low budget surprises. Such was the case with John Wick. When it came out in 2014, it didn't put up blockbuster numbers (raking in a little over $14 million its fire weekend out), but it also didn't have to. A relatively low budget coupled with high critical praise, including a pretty lucrative home video life. However, now the cat's outta the bag and people know what to expect from this retired-not-retired assassin.

Predicted gross: $19 million

#4: Split
After two consecutive box office successes, many are hailing the return of Writer-Director M. Night Shyamalan. After Split rocked three back-to-back-to-back weeks on top the box office while also pulling in positive critical praise, it's difficult to argue otherwise. With three heavy hitters joining the fight this weekend, a drop to the number four slot should still mean a pretty decent return for the defending champ.

Predicted gross: $8.3 million

#5: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures recently passed La La Land to become the highest domestic grossing Best Picture nominee this year. Based on general reactions from moviegoers and critics alike, there seems to be a thirst for a feel good theater experience and Hidden Figures definitely delivers on that front. Expect this true story to continue hanging around the top five for at least another weekend or two.

Predicted gross: $6.9 million

*All box office figures provided by Box Office Mojo & The Numbers.

Saturday, February 4, 2017


Lion: A Tale of Two Halves

It's a tale of two halves for Best Picture nominee Lion. Though both halves work together to tell the true life story of Saroo, an India native who was separated from his family for almost three decades when he was just five years old, the first half represents more effective storytelling while the second is cluttered and unfocused.

There are a couple reasons for this. First, the actual story of the first half is simply more engaging on a primal level. It follows five-year-old Saroo as he learns to survive on the streets of an unfamiliar India a thousand miles away from home. It's impossible not to viscerally react as this helpless child narrowly avoids abduction attempts, starvation, and a myriad of other threats. What's more, Sunny Pawar gives the best performance in the film as young Saroo. He never has a disingenuous moment and it never clicks that you're actually watching a movie.

The first half also has the luxury of a more narrowed focus. There are no subplots at this point so the audience spends their entire time with Saroo while he's figuring out the world. When we are introduced to supporting characters, they are never around for long. It is obvious that Director Garth Davis (also nominated for Best Director) took advantage of this half to highlight his technical talents as a filmmaker. The gorgeous cinematography captures the grandeur of the mysterious, sometimes beautiful world Saroo is lost in. Infrequently does Davis rely upon close-ups to convey the harrowing sense of confusion that pervades the small protagonist's mind.

Once the story jumps ahead twenty years we are introduced to Dev Patel (who you may remember as the kid from Slumdog Millionaire, which was also nominated for and eventually won Best Picture back in 2008). He plays older Saroo, who now lives in Australia thanks to his adoptive parents and is determined to locate his Indian family. Unfortunately, this is where things begin to clutter up and slow down.

A multitude of prominent characters are introduced, including Rooney Mara as Saroo's love interest, Divian Ladwa as Sarro's adopted brother, and many more. With these news characters comes the introduction of new subplots that crowd the film. Saroo struggles to hold his romantic life together after his wife begins accusing him of spending more time on Google Earth than with her. There are also a couple mild confrontations with his troubled adopted brother over the heartache he often causes their Australian mother. All the while we get intermittent montages of Saroo researching possible locations of the hometown he cannot seem to recall.

While these storylines sound ripe with dramatic tension, Davis gets lost in his own execution. Large jumps in time are made without much of a heads-up and are used for excuses to further relationships between characters without actually spending a lot of time on them. So while each actor does solid work here, it gets tough to invest in these relationships because most of them are not truly earned.

These disingenuous subplots eventually overshadow the main through line for most of the second half. The focus shifts to Saroo's relationships with the new people in his life instead of trying to find his original family. The result is mostly moping around over a lot of moot conflict. The main plot becomes so enveloped that Saroo's reunion with his Indian family feels like a forced 10 minute tag on at the end and ultimately kills the spirit of its inevitable happy ending.

The contrasting quality of storytelling between the two halves, while not exactly night and day, is still the deciding factor in my final verdict: B-.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: Split

Is Writer-Director-Producer M. Night Shyamalan back in the proverbial saddle? Many critics seem to think so. I, however, am not in any rush to declare a triumphant return to form for the filmmaker. Time will be the ultimate decider on that. What I am prepared to proclaim is that I thoroughly enjoyed Shyamalan's last film The Visit and was equally entertained by Split.

Let's be upfront right now. James McAvoy is the pulse of this film. His unabating commitment to each of the various personalities within his conflicted character is what drives the film. In fact, most of the tension derives from not knowing which personality is going to "step into the light" at any given time. One moment he is making sandwiches for the teenage girls that he's abducted and the next he is climbing on walls trying to eat them (not spoilers since this is all in the trailer). It's a performance as wild and creepy as it is enjoyable. Arguably a career best from McAvoy.

Behind the camera, M. Night Shyamalan is as sure-handed as he has been in a long while. His cinematography is consistently dark and drab (with the exception of a few contrasting flashback sequences). The pacing is deliberately plodding despite immediately plunging into the narrative. Familiar Shyamalan-esque themes such as trust and redemption are woven in throughout the script, even if some are more subtly hinted at than others.

With Split, Shyamalan seems to trust his audience a bit more than he had this past decade. The film appropriately allows the story to breath at different moments, allowing viewers to extrapolate on certain things while giving concrete details on the more important narrative elements. There are sparsely any instances where exposition is handed heavily through clunky, unnatural dialogue.

And then of course there is the signature plot twist that will likely isolate large portions of the audience. To say much more than that would be giving too much away. What I can say is that Split is a step in the right direction for Shyamalan's on hi supposed comeback tour.

Grade: B+

Monday, January 16, 2017

Favorite Films of 2016 (Part 2)


Marvel Studios' latest simultaneously plays it safe and takes big risks. After almost a decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have grown accustomed to its familiar origin beats. Those same beats have a home in Doctor Strange; however, Director Scott Derrickson brings a fresh eye to the formula. Much like Agamotto himself, Derrickson is a natural fit for the mystical realm and crafts some of the most fun, fantastical, and visually dazzling action sequences in the MCU thus far. Derrickson also works his magic on his cast, drawing out terrific performances from everyone as if he were summoning their astro-form. Doctor Strange proves that Marvel can turn any of their characters into cinematic gold.


2016 may have been a great year for superhero movies but it was a great year for animation as well . With the likes of Zootopia, Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two Strings earlier in the year, expectations were high for Moana. Thanks to charismatic, infectious performances from crowd-favorite Dwayne Johnson and newcomer Auli'i Cravalho, as well as a wonderful soundtrack from Hamilton Star Lin-Manuel Miranda, Moana sailed past expectations and right into the pantheon of classical Disney animation. It's funny, fun, and endearing no matter your age. 

Before stepping behind a camera, Director Tom Ford was a designer and it shows. Nocturnal Animals is aesthetically hypnotic frame to frame. It's also one of the strangest, boldest films of the year. Simultaneous storylines, both equally fascinating and heartbreaking, are driven almost entirely by stirring performances, most notably by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Michael Shannon. It's not a particularly pleasant watch-- though there are frequent moments of much-needed levity- but it is a captivating one.

This film deserves more buzz. It's a powerful coming of age tale about a young boy learning to grieve in the face of one of life's harshest realities (I'm tearing up just writing this). Lewis MacDougal is spellbinding as said young boy and Felicity Jones gives an Oscar-caliber performance as his mother. Liam Neeson lends his thunderous tones to the titular Monster, who is dreamed up by the boy during his greatest time of need. Director J.A. Bayona seamlessly fuses fantasy with actuality to tell a story that at some point everybody can relate to. Bring tissues. The tears will flow.  

Personally, I was not expecting great things from this film. I was never a huge fan of Star Wars. I enjoyed it fine enough: the movies, the games, the toys, but I was never into it like a lot of people. I was also not a fan of Director Gareth Edwards' last film, the recent Godzilla reboot. That said, Rogue One was a pleasant surprise! Everything, from the characters to the action and even the frequent Easter eggs, served the purpose of the story. It also manages to carve out a niche for itself in the larger Star Wars universe by being a full-fledge war film for adults. For the first time we get to experience the "Wars" element of "Star Wars" and all the ambiguous politics motivating both the Empire and the rebels. What's more is the talented roster in front of the camera. They make it easy to invest in the headlining band of rogues.

Honorable Mentions:
The Neon Demon
Kubo and the Two Strings
Hello My Name Is Doris
Eye In the Sky
10 Cloverfield Lane
Edge of Seventeen
The Lobster

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Bye Bye Man review

Though The Bye Bye Man lifts a number of familiar elements from superior films (The Amityville Horror, A Nightmare On Elm Street, etc.), Director Stacy Title manages to mesh those elements together to shape an intriguing mythology that attempts to explain why sometimes seemingly normal people snap and commit awful atrocities. The film's captivating first scene proves that the Bye Bye Man is a horror flick with franchise potential; unfortunately, this first entry is severely restricted by its PG-13 rating and struggles to overcome subpar acting and cheap special effects.

There were many points in The Bye Bye Man where I was taken out of the film because of a lack of basic realism. For example, the lack of blood during the more brutal moments kept reminding me that I was watching a movie. Obviously the film is intended to be PG-13 but the story calls for a more mature rating.

The performances from the two supporting actors is also distracting. Douglas Smith does a fine job as the lead teenager who stumbles upon a long-suppressed, evil secret in his new house; however, Cressida Bonas is bland as his girlfriend and Lucien Laviscount is annoying as their live-in friend. Though the psychological torment that develops among the trio is truly horrifying, the obvious acting made it difficult for me to truly immerse myself into the world of these characters.

The cheap special effects also made it difficult for me to get immersed. In particular, the Bye Bye Man's C.G. dog-creature-sidekick-thing is so cartoon-ish looking that when I first saw it, I laughed out loud in my seat. Judging by the pup's poor production and laughably short screen time, I got the impression that nobody working on this film wanted viewers to even take notice of it.

Had the studio allowed The Bye Bye Man to be the film it obviously wants to be, it could have been something much more memorable. As it stands, the film merely serves as a potential step in the right direction: bright ideas blackened by the typical flaws of a January horror flick.

Grade: C-

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Movies Everyone Should See Before Kicking the Bucket

There are movies and then there are movies everyone should see before they die (to put it bluntly). The thing is, everybody has their own list of movies they think everyone should see and many of those lists include a lot of the same films (aka: the "classics"). You know the ones: The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Casablanca, etc, etc. Well, I've thought long and hard about the films I would recommend to everyone and I've come up with a list that includes many different types of films from various genres in order to hit on something for everyone not concerned with seeing "gold standards." Most of these films have made a home in the deepest valves of my heart but find themselves on this list because either they are technicality brilliant, unique, emotionally powerful, address important issues, or just pure fun. Without further ado, here is my list of movies everyone should see before kicking the bucket (writer holds the right to tweak this list as he sees fit anytime between now through eternity):

(500) Days of Summer
12 Years a Slave
127 Hours
American Beauty
American History X
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
The Babadook
Back to the Future
Batman Begins
Being John Malkovich
Black Swan
Blade Runner (Master Cut)
The Blair Witch Project
Blow Out
Body Double
The Cabin in the Woods
Carrie (1976)
Cinema Paradiso
Citizen Kane
A Clockwork Orange
The Color Purple
The Dark Knight
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Departed
The Descent
Die Hard
District 9
Django Unchained
Drag Me to Hell
The Drop
Donnie Darko
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Event Horizon
The Evil Dead
Evil Dead II
Ex Machina
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The Exorcist
The Fifth Element
Fight Club
Finding Nemo
Forest Gump
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Food Inc.
Fruitvale Station
Galaxy Quest
Goodnight Mommy
Gran Torino
The Grey
Grizzly Man
Groundhog Day
Hell or High Water
The Help
Hidden Figures
The Hills Have Eyes (Both original & remake)
Hot Fuzz
How to Train Your Dragon
I Love You, Man
In Bruges
The Incredibles
An Inconvenient Truth
Independence Day
Inglorious Basterds
Inside Out
Into the Wild
Jurassic Park
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
The Last Exorcism
The LEGO Movie
Little Shop of Horrors
The Lord of the Rings
Man on the Moon
The Matrix
Million Dollar Baby
A Monster Calls
Monsters Inc.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Muppets
Mother (Korean)
Neon Demon
Night of the Living Dead
A Nightmare On Elm Street
No Country for Old Men
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
The Prestige
Pulp Fiction
The Raid: Redemption
The Raid 2
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Rear Window
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Roger & Me
Rosemary's Baby
Room 237
Saving Private Ryan
Schindler's List
Seven Psychopaths
Shadow of the Vampire
Shaun of the Dead
The Shining
The Silence of the Lambs
Silver Linings Playbook
Singin' In the Rain
The Sixth Sense
Stand By Me
Star Wars
Straight Outta Compton
Stranger Than Fiction
Some Like It Hot
Son of Saul
Swiss Army Man
The Terminator
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
There Will Be Blood
The Thing
Titicut Follies
Toy Story
The Truman Show
Tropic Thunder
The Usual Suspects
Waiting for Superman
West Side Story
When Harry Met Sally
The Wizard of Oz
Young Frankenstein
You're Next

Underworld: Blood Wars review

Believe it or not, Hollywood has been dishing out Underworld movies for almost fifteen years now and critics have been panning them for just as long. That doesn't stop them from making money, which means there is still a market for these films. While I cannot speak for an entire market, I can admit these films are a guilty pleasure of mine. I enjoy action set pieces, the ridiculous leather getups, and I yearn to uncover more of the mythology behind these vampire and werewolf factions. Then, of course, there is Kate Beckinsale, who is a credit to any film she is in.

Sadly, my interest in this franchise has been waning with the last couple installments, 'Blood Wars' included. They have been bland and Director Anna Foerster seems more interested in rehashing old plot points than in exploring the material and taking the sort of risks that may invite intrigue.

Another aspect I admired about the original Underworld was its large reliance upon practical effects, most notably for their werewolves. Unfortunately, as the series progresses, those practical effects are increasingly replaced with CG monstrosities and the result is decreasingly engrossing. 'Blood Wars' in particular lacks any standard, let alone impressive, digital effects.

On the other hand, Kate Beckinsale continues to hold up as the series' backbone. She seems just as committed as ever to her role as the Death Dealer Selene (still no last name) even though her scripts seem to grow thinner by the entry. There are also a couple of solid action sequences that made the gothic horror fan in me grin like a giddy school boy.

Grade: C

Friday, January 6, 2017

Favorite Films of 2016 (Part 1)

Another year, another wrap-up. It sounds boring and mundane but the truth is I enjoy this time of year. Despite the difficulty of narrowing down my favorite films of the year (which feels like picking my favorite child), it's fun to reflect back on the year in movies and see how different films moved me. It's even more fun to compare that list with others and to engage in spitfire debates with friends and colleagues. That said, here are the first six of my twelve favorite movies of 2016 (in no particular order):

In recent years Writer-Director Mike Flanagan has come on as one of Hollywood's most exciting talents in horror. Frankly, I struggled between Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil (both by Flanagan, obviously) and which to include on this list. Both films rejuvenate their respected subgenres, but ultimately I gave the edge to Hush because of its scope. Flanagan does more with less with this unique cat-and-mouse thriller. He relies on intelligent characters and creative twists to scare his audience and the result is deafening.

Originally, I had Swiss Army Man pegged as "the farting Harry Potter corpse movie (I'm not the only one, right?)." And while it is undoubtedly one of the stranger films released this year, nothing could prepare me for this profound adventure. Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano give heartfelt performances in this quirky pic helmed by a duo known simply as Daniels. Exploring the importance of self-acceptance, not only is it one of 2016's most sincere films but it is also one of the year's most important films. It also features one of the most apt kisses in cinema history.

We now live in a world where comic book movies often transcend the tired phrase "popcorn flick" and become something much more impactful. Such is the case with Captain America: Civil War. Brilliantly choreographed action sequences accent long stretches of psychological warfare that ultimately fracture Cap and Tony and all the other heroes we have come to love over the last decade while naturally introducing exciting, new Avengers like Black Panther and Tom Holland's Spider-Man. It is a well-rounded film that capstones arguably one of the best trilogies in movie history. The twenty minute airport sequence alone is worth the price of admission (or, at this point, at least a rental).

If the Academy recognized Best Ensemble Cast(as they should), no doubt Hell or High Water would see a nomination. As it stands, Jeff Bridges will see a nod for Best Supporting Actor along with his co-star Ben Foster, but the film is full of wonderful performances. Chris Pine arguably gives his best performance as a desperate Texan who, along with his brother (Foster), turn to robbing banks. Meanwhile, a veteran Texas Ranger (Bridges) seeks to bring the boys to justice before his impending retirement. Equal parts funny, heartbreaking, and thrilling, Hell or High Water is a strong, enjoyable Western that makes the old feel new again.

With Deepwater Horizon, Director Peter Berg has crafted one of the most spellbinding disaster flicks in recent memory. His slow-burn approach to the tragic B.P. oil disaster of 2010 allows the crew to take front and center well before any literal sparks fly. Once they do though, the action cranks past eleven while everything aboard the doomed vessel goes up in flames. It's not played for simple thrills, however. Mark Wahlberg leads a tremendous cast including Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, and Kate Hudson, all of whom bring a grounded humanity to the calamity of the Mexican Gulf through compelling performances which serve as constant reminders that this is a true story suffered by real people. I found my jaw stuck to the sticky theater floor the entire time.

Stephen Lang deserves (but won't get) an Oscar nod for his performance as the Blind Man in Fede Alvarez's stylish horror flick. His deft performance is chilling, the way he sneaks and slinks around in the darkness, wreaking hellish torment upon the young burglars who've invaded his home. But Lang is simply one element of this frightful vision. Alvarez slowly stacks the suspense with shrewd scares that relentlessly push the boundaries of what horror can be. Not only is this film one of 2016's scariest but it also made for one of my favorite theater-going experiences of all time.