Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) ***


PG-13, 186 min. (extended edition)
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, J.R.R. Tolkien (novel “The Hobbit”)
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ken Scott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice), Cate Blanchett, Sylvester McCoy, Mikael Persbrandt, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, John Bell, Manu Bennett, Lawrence Makoare, Anthony Sher

For all of the excitement I had over the first “Hobbit” movie, the second one left me wanting more, and not in the way the second film in a trilogy should. Really, leaving them wanting more is exactly the purpose of a second in a planned trilogy; however, I felt I hadn’t gotten enough out of what was there. Not only did the film suffer from the new phenomenon of conveying an incomplete story, which is afflicting more and more movies these days as Hollywood has discovered a new way to milk book adaptations for money by splitting a single book into multiple movies, but what was there didn’t seem to carry the weight that all of the other Tolkien films have.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Hannibal, season 2 (2014) ****


TV-14, 13 45-min. episodes
Creator: Bryan Fuller

Directors: Tim Hunter, Peter Medak, David Semel, Michael Rymer, Vincenzo Natali, David Slade

Writers: Bryan Fuller, Thomas Harris (characters from novel “Red Dragon”), Steve Lightfoot, Jeff Vlaming, Jason Grote, Scott Nimerfro, Ayanna A. Floyd, Andy Black, Kai Yu Wu, Chris Brancato

Starring: Hugh Dancy, Mad Mikkelsen, Lawrence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park, Scott Thompson, Aaron Abrams, Raúl Esparza

Guest starring: Gillian Anderson, Cynthia Nixon, Jonathan Tucker, Martin Donovan, Patrick Garrow, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Maria Del Mar, Shawn Doyle, Eddie Izzard, Gina Torres, Kacey Rohl, Amanda Plummer, Anna Chlumsky, Ted Ludzik, Katharine Isabelle, Jeremy Davies, Chris Diamantopoulis, Mark O’Brien, Michael Pitt, Daniel Kash

There was a point about halfway through the second season when I though this series had finally run itself off the rails. It has always skirted on the precipice of going too far off the deep dark end. I’m sure there are some who feel that it started that way. However, the writing has always been incredible on this series. It is about the best written American television show out there. So how was it possible that things could go so wrong with the writing starting with S2E9 “Siizakana”?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Fountainhead (1949) **


NR, 114 min.
Director: King Vidor
Writer: Ayn Rand (also novel)
Starring: Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey, Kent Smith, Robert Douglas, Henry Hull, Ray Collins

I suppose I can see how at one point in time the philosophies of Ayn Rand might’ve held appeal to some, but at this point, her narrow minded ideals seem like a pretty tough sell to me. Back when King Vidor made her novel “The Fountainhead” into a film, with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal as her idealized leads, maybe her ramblings didn’t sound quite so elitist, although I would guess she wouldn’t have a problem with that term. That’s what is hardest to swallow from her for me, the way she sees “the people” as something lesser than her characters.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holiday Thoughts ‘14—Happy Christmas (2014) ***


R, 82 min.
Director/Writer: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Linskey, Joe Swanberg, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham, Jude Swanberg

Joe Swanberg’s “Happy Christmas” is not going to be the next holiday classic. In fact, I’m guessing it’s the type of movie people don’t really want to see for the holidays, which might explain its summer theatrical release date. And yet, it has come out on home video formats just in time to remind us of the things we don’t necessarily appreciate as much as we should during the holidays—our relatives.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) ****


PG-13, 182 min (extended edition)
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, J.R.R. Tolkien (novel “The Hobbit”)
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ken Scott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries, Jeffrey Thomas, Lee Pace, Manu Bennett

It seems “The Hobbit” trilogy hasn’t been as well received as “The Lord of the Rings”. It’s flown in a little lower under the radar and fueled less passion than Jackson’s first Middle Earth trilogy. Much of the dismay about it seems focused on the fact that it was one book that he’s making into three very long movies, instead of three slightly longer movies out of three books. I really don’t see the extension of the story as a negative, as long as what they come up with is good. Roger Ebert always said, no good movie is ever too long; no bad movie is ever short enough.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—River’s Edge (1986) ****


R, 99 min.
Director: Tim Hunter
Writer: Neal Jimenez
Starring: Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, Daniel Roebuck, Joshua Miller, Dennis Hopper, Roxana Zal, Josh Richman, Philip Brock, Tom Bower, Constance Forslund, Leo Rossi, Jim Metzler

Tim Hunter’s “River’s Edge” was such a staple of my teenage years that I was almost afraid to revisit it and possibly find that it was not as good as I had remembered. I’ve been trying to see it again for several years, I even considered purchasing it on a whim, something I gave up doing when my children started sucking up all my money. I found it on one of my streaming services and the mood seemed right, so…

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Holiday Thoughts ‘14—Kingdom of Heaven (2005) ****


R, 190 min. (director’s cut)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: William Monaghan
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Marton Csokas, Brendan Gleeson, Edward Norton, Velibor Topic, Alexander Siddig, Liam Neeson, Ghassan Massoud, Michael Sheen, Jouko Ahola, Kevin McKidd, Jon Finch

With “Exodus: Gods and Kings” in theaters for early preview screenings tomorrow, director Ridley Scott takes his shot at the biblical epic. This is hardly Scott’s first foray into Christian themes, however. Perhaps one of his most overlooked films, “Kingdom of Heaven”, takes a look at faith in the backdrop of the Crusades to restore the Christian lands around Jerusalem. It isn’t really a Christmas themed movie as it has little to do with Christ’s life on Earth, but I include it for this year’s Holiday Thoughts because it contains one of the best portraits of what it means to be a good Christian in times that most Christians lose sight of the teachings of Christ.