Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Penny Thoughts: Week of Dec. 28-Jan.4

A Penny in the Well introduces a new feature for 2010. For the past year, I’ve been writing mini, or “thumbnail”, reviews of my home video viewing for friends on Facebook. While these are hardly in depth criticisms, they do provide a flavor of the movies and a summary of my feelings for these flicks. Sometimes I write an entire paragraph about these movies; sometimes it’s only a line or two. Either way, they are intended to be entertaining themselves and hopefully will help my readers find some good quality entertainment for their home viewing pleasures. This will be a new weekly feature for the site, which I call “Penny Thoughts”. Enjoy.

Fast & Furious (2009) PG-13 **
Dir. Justin Lin
Starring; Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, John Ortiz

Not as good as the original, which wasn't great. But a whole lot better than the other two sequels. Awfully fast, not all that furious.

Paranormal Activity (2009) ****
Dir. Oren Peli
Starring: Katie Featherson, Micah Sloat

If you aren't scared by this movie, you aren't normal. In other words, it’s a damn good scare.

District 9 (2009) ****
Dir. Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope

A surprisingly clever addition to the sci-fi canon that approaches aliens as less of a fantasy-based problem, but one that is of our own reality. The socio-economic parallels to our society are worn on its sleeve, but the action is gritty and unpredictable. Possibly the most solid sci-fi entry of the decade.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982) ****
Dir. Nicholas Meyer
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalban, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols

Still the best movie of the franchise, it delivers on all of the signature Star Trek sci-fi elements, some of which are missing from the 2009 movie. It provides thought provoking insight into the human condition through its themes of morality, aging, and the concept of creation vs. destruction. It's also the only Trek that can bring a tear to my eye. "Of all the souls I've encountered in my travels, his was the most... human." How could no one realize that man could act until he was in his 60s?

When Harry Met Sally... (1989) ****
Dir. Rob Reiner
Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Bruno Kirby, Carrie Fisher

One of the best romances of all time. Seeing it today makes me wonder just where the artistry of the romantic comedy has disappeared to in the past couple of decades. This one is timeless. Can that be said about anything in the 20 years since this one? Yes, there have been a couple of memorable rom coms recently from camp Apatow, but those aren’t in the grand tradition of the Hollywood style romantic comedy.

Blazing Saddles (1974) ****
Dir. Mel Brooks
Starring: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks

One of the best genre spoofs ever made. This raunchy riot takes the issue of racism as its primary target with the many forms it took in our society at the time and the forms it took in one of the most popular of American genres. Brooks quickly followed it with another of the greatest spoofs ever made “Young Frankenstein” released in the same year.

For Your Eyes Only (1981) ***½
Dir. John Glen
Starring: Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet, Topol, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Julian Glover

One of the better and more underrated of the James Bond franchise. The Moore Bonds seemed to embrace the shtick and campy humor much more than the other Bonds have, but this one seems to be an attempt to take Bond more seriously for Moore. It makes for the most effective of the Moore films in the series.

Che, Part One (2008) ****
Dir. Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Benicio Del Torro, Demian Bichir, Santiago Cabrera, Vladimir Cruz, Julia Ormond

An enlightening portrait of the Argentinean revolutionary who played an instrumental role in Fidel Castro’s rise to power in Cuba. The first part of this two-part movie deals primarily with Castro’s revolution and dives deep into the philosophy of these revolutionaries and their strategies for taking the island nation of Cuba for the people.

Jennifer’s Body (2009) **
Dir. Karyn Kusama
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons

I’m going to have to give this an ‘E’ for effort, but ultimately it doesn’t pass. Diablo Cody’s quirky dialogue and imagination are there in the screenplay; but either she just didn’t find the structural foundation to support this odd horror flick about a girl whose best friend is inhabited by a flesh eating demon, or Karyn Kusama just couldn’t translate the words to screen in her direction of the script. Either way there’s a great funny and scary flick lurking in this one that never finds its way out.

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