Monday, December 31, 2012

Les Misérables / ***½ (PG-13)

Jean Valjean: Hugh Jackman
Javert: Russell Crowe
Marius: Eddie Redmayne
Fantine: Anne Hathaway
Cosette: Amanda Seyfried
Thénardier: Sacha Baron Cohen
Madam Thénardier: Helena Bonham Carter
Enjolras: Aaron Tveit
Éponine: Samantha Barks
Young Cosette: Isabelle Allen
Gavroche: Daniel Huttlestone

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Tom Hooper. Written by William Nicholson and Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. Based on the musical by Schönberg & Boublil and the novel by Victor Hugo. Running time: 157 min. Rated PG-13 (for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements).

I think perhaps it may be necessary to contextualize myself to fully understand my thoughts on the new film version of “Les Misérables”. I was a theater major in college. I was a unique theater specimen, as I didn’t really like watching theatrical productions. It seemed to be an unstated requirement, and a reasonable one, of the theater major to hold some degree of obsession over current theatrical trends. Growing up in the 80’s made the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel about the volatile times in France between revolutions, “Les Misérables”, one of the biggest obsessions among my contemporaries. I read the book but had little interest in seeing the musical. I never did see it. I think I might be the type of audience for which the film version exists.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Oslo, August 31 (2012) ***½

NR, 95 min.
Director: Joachim Trier
Writers: Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt, Pierre Drieu la Rochelle (novel “Le feu follet”)
Starring: Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava, Malin Crépin, Emil Lund, Kjærsti Odden Skjeldal, Øystein Røger, Renate Reisve

“Oslo, August 31” doesn’t really have as much to do with the city as it does with a troubled man and his addiction. I’m not even sure his addiction is so much his problem as it is a symptom of it. I suppose that’s the case with many addicts. The movie follows this man on a day leave from an intensive rehabilitation facility. He begins his day by filling his coat pockets with rocks and walking into a lake. Not a good sign for his progress.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Time Bandits (1981) ***½

PG, 116 min.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam
Starring: Craig Warnock, David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Malcolm Dixon, Mike Edmonds, Jack Purvis, Tiny Ross, David Warner, David Daker, Shelia Fearn, Jim Broadbent, Michael Palin, Shelley Duvall, Sean Connery, Ian Holm, John Cleese, Peter Vaughan, Katherine Helmond, Ralph Richardson

“I have a hard time with British humor.” — The Wife, while introducing our children to “Time Bandits”.

Not that she isn’t a fan of the film. She was just as excited as the kids about it, but British humor does run a little dry. The kids didn’t seem to care. They loved this adventure about a boy falling in with a time traveling band of dwarf thieves. The film features a who’s who of British comedians from the 70s; many of whom were frequently featured on the BBC sketch comedy show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Hope Springs (2012) ***

PG-13, 100 min
Director: David Frankel
Writer: Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell

The greatest strength of “Hope Springs”, beyond the monumental talents of Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones that is, is that its plot is never distracted by the typical Hollywood screenplay 101 junk. That’s not to say it doesn’t follow a formula. That would be too much to ask its target audience to endure. However, it doesn’t bother with all the superfluous junk that’s usually found in a Hollywood formula. There are no subplots, no extraneous characters, no false conflicts, no stupid misunderstandings. This movie is about one problem, and it concentrates on that problem with the same ferocity that solving that problem really takes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Django Unchained / **** (R)

Django: Jamie Foxx
Dr. King Schultz: Christoph Waltz
Calvin Candie: Leonardo DiCaprio
Broomhilda: Kerry Washington
Stephen: Samuel L. Jackson
Billy Crash: Walton Goggins
Big Daddy: Don Johnson

The Weintsein Company and Columbia Pictures present a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Running time: 165 min. Rated R (for graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity).

In many ways, the cinema of Quentin Tarantino is a cinema of manners. Often he deals in the manners of criminals. He also deals in the manners of filmmaking. His characters have to function with the proper manners to survive. They must manipulate the manners of others, and they must know when manners matter no more. This process also describes Tarantino’s filmmaking approach. He knows the rules better than anyone. He studies the rules established by other films. He uses those rules to tell his stories. He manipulates those rules and he breaks them to make the most original and entertaining films to be consistently produced by one filmmaker.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Lethal Weapon (1987) ****

R, 110 min.
Director: Richard Donner
Writer: Shane Black
Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitch Ryan, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Jackie Swanson, Damon Hines, Ebonie Smith

OK. Since I’m posting this after Christmas, I’m going to steer away from the Christmas tradition of this movie and look at a much smaller detail that has been starting to bother me about it in recent years.

We’re all aware of Mel Gibson’s recent issues of anti-Semitism and his publicly released drunken phone calls to his girlfriend and altercations with the police. All this seems to have developed later in Gibson’s career. It may have nothing to do with some of my issues in “Lethal Weapon”. They might lie squarely on the screenwriter Shane Black. I really don’t know. But, having seen the film as many times as I have, I’ve come to notice there seems to be an anti-gay sentiment behind the Martin Riggs character played by Gibson. I may just be reading into his lines more than I should, which is bound to happen after you’ve seen a movie some 30 plus times. Nor have I studied the sequels for such evidence in the character, but he seems fairly homophobic.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) ****

NR, 130 min.
Director: Frank Capra
Writers: Frances Goodwrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, Jo Swerling, Philip Van Doren Stern
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame, H.B. Warner, Frank Albertson, Todd Karns, Samuel S. Hinds, Mary Treen, Virginia Patton, Charles Williams, Sara Edwards, William Edmunds, Lillian Randolph

I’ve watched Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year at Christmas since I was 14-years-old. This year I flipped that number. At 41 years of age, I’ve now seen the movie more than 27 times (including a few years in which I watched it twice between Thanksgiving and Christmas).

Monday, December 24, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Christmas Vacation (1989) ****

PG-13, 97 min.
Director: Jeremiah Chechik
Writer: John Hughes
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Randy Quaid, Miriam Flynn, Cody Burger, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, William Hickey, Mae Questel, Sam McMurray, Nicholas Guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Nicolette Scorsese, Brian Doyle-Murray

While “A Christmas Story” was a whole new experience this year, our screening of National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation” was something more typical. Two days before Christmas. We haven’t wrapped any gifts, so throw on a movie that we know and love, and lets crank these things out.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—A Christmas Story (1983) ****

PG, 94 min.
Director: Bob Clark
Writers: Jean Shepherd (also novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”), Leigh Brown, Bob Clark
Narrator: Jean Shepherd
Starring: Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, Tedde Moore, R.D. Robb, Zack Ward, Yano Anaya, Jeff Gillen

I can’t remember the last Christmas that went by without watching this Christmas classic. I know “A Christmas Story” as well as any movie I’ve ever known. Watching it has become routine. Yet, it’s one of those routines that is cherished, like the way you’ll eat your favorite ice cream sundae in exactly the same way every time.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

This is 40 / *** (R)

Pete: Paul Rudd
Debbie: Leslie Man
Sadie: Maude Apatow
Charlotte: Iris Apatow
Jason: Jason Segel
Barry: Robert Smigel
Desi: Megan Fox
Ronnie: Chris O’Dowd
Larry: Albert Brooks
Oliver: John Lithgow
Graham Parker: Graham Parker

Universal Pictures presents a film written and directed by Judd Apatow. Running time: 134 min. Rated R (for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language, and some drug material).

WARNING! This review contains adult language. If you have a problem with that, feel free to criticize me, but don't say you weren't warned.

“This is 40” is a far from perfect movie, and in many ways that is just perfect. I just ran the 40 gauntlet myself, which means I just turned 41. It’s hard not to break down and just say, “Fuck!” when I think about that. I’m sorry about the language. I usually make it a point not to use foul language in my reviews; but if you can’t handle that one, the hundreds of F-bombs dropped during this movie will come as a shock.

In many ways, that “F”-it attitude is what this movie is. It gives into those inhibitions that people normally carry around but can no longer, because they realize half their life has slipped away while they were busy making other plans. Thank you very much, John Lennon. Most of the time this approach works for this film; sometimes it doesn’t.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—White Christmas (1954) ****

NR, 120 min.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Writers: Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, Melvin Frank, Irving Berlin (songs)
Starring: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Dean Jagger, Mary Wickes, Anne Whitfield

Well, I guess since the end of the world didn’t happen, we should get back to some Christmas movies.

Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is one of those movies that is on many annual Christmas watching lists. It isn’t on mine, which makes it all the more special when I do watch it. This year was only the second time I’ve seen the movie, and it may just get added to the regular rotation.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Apocalypto (2006) ***

R, 139 min.
Director: Mel Gibson
Writers: Mel Gibson, Farhad Safinia
Starring: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernández, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Birdyellowhead, Carlos Emilio Báez, María Isabel Díaz, Raoul Trujillo, Gerardo Taracena, Rodolfo Palacios, Ariel Galvan

“The end is nigh!”  — Crazy person holding a sign on the streets of New York City.

I’m sure many other people said that throughout history, not the least of which being the Mayans. How frustrating it must be for an entire culture to be misrepresented in such a way, but such is the case when your civilization is responsible for a calendar that ends in the age of Facebook. Never the less, I feel obligated to give in to popular trends and submit a Penny Thoughts on a film that takes place within that former culture that made the date 12-21-12 such a trending topic.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) ***

UR, 126 min.
Director: Leo McCarey
Writers: Dudley Nichols, Leo McCarey
Starring: Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers, Martha Sleeper, Joan Carroll, William Gargan, Rhys Williams, Dickie Tyler

As a movie buff, I often don’t think I’ve seen enough older films. So in an effort to gain more knowledge of the classics, I decided to watch what is often noted as a “holiday classic,” but isn’t exactly a holiday movie or a classic. By that, I mean it isn’t one of Bing Crosby’s best, and it’s far from one of Ingird Bergman’s best. But, “The Bells of St. Mary’s” is good and is very appropriate for the holiday season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Backwater Gospel (2011) ***½

NR, 9 min.
Director: Bo Mathorn
Voices: Lucien Dodge, Zebulon Whatley, Phillip Sacramento, Laura Post

I’m sure I’ve expressed this before, but what a wonderful gift the Internet has been for the short film. YouTube and various other web outlets have opened up the world of short films to the eager consuming public. Thousands of short films that would surely never have been seen by more than a handful of people are now available for the all-consuming public thanks to online streaming. And so many wonderful cinematic gifts can now be passed on.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988) ***

NR, 43 min.
Director: Richard Boden
Writers: Richard Curtis, Ben Elton
Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Robbie Coltrane, Miriam Margolyes, Jim Broadbent

As every BBC fan prepares for the 2012 “Doctor Who” Christmas Special, and considering the network’s history of Christmas Specials, like the “Downton Abbey” Christmas Special, and the “Sherlock” Christmas Special, and the “Luther” Christmas Special. OK, I might’ve made two of those up. Needless to say, the BBC has a long tradition of Christmas Specials for their popular programming. I decided to go back in time and check an older one out.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Sin Nombre (2009) ****

R, 96 min.
Director/Writer: Cary Fukunaga
Starring: Edgar Flores, Paulina Gaitan, Kristian Ferrer, Giovanni Florido, Diana García, Gerardo Taracena, Fernando Manzano, Guillermo Villegas

“Sin Nombre” is a devastating film about two lives that intersect in one’s attempt to cross the Mexican boarder to the U.S. She is a teenage Honduran whose father has been deported from a family she doesn’t know in America. Her father is determined to bring her and his brother back to the States with him. The other is a Guatemalan gang member who may not be made for the life he’s chosen. We meet him as he recruits a young boy into the gang whose initiation involves a brutal beating by the other members of the gang.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey/ **** (PG-13)

Bilbo Baggins: Martin Freeman
Gandalf: Ian McKellen
Thorin: Richard Armitage
Balin: Ken Scott
Dwalin: Graham McTavish
Bofur: James Nesbitt
Bombur: Stephen Hunter
Fili: Dean O’Gorman
Kili: Aidan Turner
Radagast: Sylvester McCoy
Great Goblin: Barry Humphries
Old Bilbo: Ian Holm
Frodo: Elijah Wood
Elrond: Hugo Weaving
Galadriel: Cate Blanchett
Saruman: Christopher Lee
Gollum: Andy Serkis

New Line Cinema and MGM Studios present a film directed by Peter Jackson. Written by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo Del Toro. Based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Running time: 169 min. Rated PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images).

What is it that makes a great filmmaker? While range of subject matter and the ability to present different visions with skill can be a measure of greatness in this art, more often a filmmaker’s greatness lies within his ability to present one particular style with originality and power. The same can be said for great authors. There is no denying that the creator of Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien, was a great writer and storyteller. Even more so he showed an incredible skill to construct an entire world and mythology unique unto itself. Filmmaker Peter Jackson found his particular specialty in Tolkien’s Middle Earth as well. Jackson seems destined to be the visual chronicler of Tolkien’s creation. He does it with the same skill and artistry as Tolkien did himself.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Pina (2011) ****

PG, 104 min.
Director/Writer: Wim Wenders
Starring: Pina Bausch, Tanztheater Wuppertal Dance Company

I’m pretty sure that, in the event of an apocalyptic event where survival will be determined by the fittest among us, dancers will rise as the ruling class. These people are more than athletes. They are more than artists. They use everything there is of their physical instrument to express in an art form that a relatively small amount of people really pay much attention to.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Your Sister’s Sister (2012) ***½

R, 90 min.
Director/Writer: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mike Birbiglia

Lynn Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister” is one of those pleasant little gems that can often be found in the independent cinema scene. It has a plot the could almost be something like a Nancy Meyers rom com, but with younger actors and one little detail that just doesn’t fit into mainstream ideas. It’s charming and heartfelt, and I would recommend it ahead of 95% of Hollywood’s rom coms.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Eight Crazy Nights (2002) zero stars

PG-13, 76 min.
Director: Seth Kearsley
Writers: Brooks Arthur, Allen Covert, Brad Isaacs, Adam Sandler
Voices: Adam Sandler, Jackie Titone, Austin Stout, Kevin Nealon, Rob Schneider, Norm Crosby, Jon Lovitz

Here we are in the middle of the annual Chanukah celebration of the Jewish faith and after seeing Adam Sandler’s “Eight Crazy Nights”, I can see why some Jewish people might feel unfairly represented during the holiday season. Not only is their belief system even older than the Christians and yet they still play second fiddle to Christmas during the winter solstice, but they also have this atrocity to bear. Sandler felt it necessary to soil the Chanukah celebration with some of the most inappropriate humor of his film career, and that’s a bar he set pretty high for himself.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Safe House (2012) **

R, 115 min.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writer: David Guggenheim
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Rubén Blades, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham

“Safe House” started with a premise—have a green CIA agent in charge of a safe house where he’s to babysit one of the most dangerous men in CIA custody whose former CIA status gives him an advantage, and see if the rookie can keep him contained. Once they came up with that they seem to have ended the developmental process for the plot. It is an espionage picture that is content to be exactly what it seems to be and nothing more.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Machine Gun Preacher (2011) **½

R, 129 min.
Director: Marc Forster
Writer: Jason Keller
Starring: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Kathy Baker, Ryann Campos, Madeline Carroll, Souleymane Sy Savane

I don’t really know why, but this is a movie I was compelled to watch. I find the subject matter extremely interesting. The movie didn’t get good reviews upon its theatrical release, but still I was intrigued.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) *½

PG, 104 min.
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, Dr. Seuss (book)
Narrator: Anthony Hopkins
Starring: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Clint Howard, Josh Ryan Evans, Mindy Sterling, Rachel Winfree

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is what I call a “sheep movie.” I saw it when it was originally released on opening weekend, the first weekend in November of 2000. That’s a little early for a Christmas movie in my opinion. The theater was packed. It was the event of the season. Everybody watched and chuckled here and there, but there were no great reactions.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Casa de mi Padre (2012) ***

R, 84 min.
Director: Matt Piedmont
Writer: Andrew Steele
Starring: Will Ferrell, Diego Luna, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, Adrian Martinez, Gael García Bernal, Manuel Urrego, Nick Offerman

“Casa de mi Padre” has a lot to overcome, but if you’re willing to help it along, it’s a rewarding western spoof. The main hurdle is that it is a Will Ferrell comedy that is entirely in Spanish. Yes, it’s a foreign language film starring Will Ferrell. Nick Offerman, from “Parks and Recreation”, speaks English as an American DEA agent, but that’s about it for English speaking parts.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) ***

PG, 119 min.
Director: Leonard Nimoy
Writers: Harve Bennett, Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Catherine Hicks, Mark Leonard, Jane Wyatt, Robin Curtis, Robert Ellenstein, John Schuck, Brock Peters

If it were a “Friends” episode, it would be titled “The One with the Whales”. “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” was actually a mainstream favorite of the franchise. Employing the old time travel premise to place the Star Trek crew in present day San Francisco (well, present in 1986 that is); it allowed second time franchise director Leonard NImoy to better employ his budget by saving on building sets and shooting space sequences. I think the animatronics whale tales took a big chunk of the money he did spend.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Five-Year Engagement (2012) **½

R, 124 min.
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Writers: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Mimi Kennedy, David Paymer, Jacki Weaver, Jim Piddock, Dakota Johnson, Rhys Ifans, Mindy Kaling, Randall Park, Kevin Hart, Brian Posehn, Chris Parnell

“The Five-Year Engagement” is the latest bittersweet romantic comedy from the actor/writing/director team of Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. They’ve left muppetland behind and return to more adult waters similar to their previous laugh riot rom com “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. “The Five-Year Engagement” is a little more grown up than that effort and so I guess must be a little more depressing? Well, I don’t think it must be, but it is.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) ***

PG, 104 min.
Director: Leonard Nimoy
Writers: Harve Bennett, Gene Roddenberry (tv series)
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Robin Curtis, Merritt Butrick, Christopher Lloyd, Mark Leonard, Judith Anderson

“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” is the middle part of what turned out to be a story trilogy beginning with “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and ending with “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”. Fittingly, it seems to be the middle child of the three. It doesn’t really tell a pleasant story. The crew of the Enterprise is all out of sorts due to Spock’s death. Bones doesn’t act like Bones. Kirk has to steal the Enterprise and ends up destroying it. And the triumvirate at the heart of the original cast series is MIA due to Spock’s (and McCoy’s sort of) absence. It also seems to have the smallest budget of the three.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) *

PG, 107 min.
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Writers: David Newman, Leslie Newman
Starring: David Huddleston, Dudley Moore, Christian Fitzpatrick, Carrie Kai Heim, John Lithgow, Judy Cornwell, Jeffrey Kramer, Burgess Meredith

“Santa Claus: The Movie” is a terrible movie, but it may be a pretty good example of the power of a producer. Like many people, I’ve always been a little foggy about just what type of input a producer has in a movie. Sometimes they seem to be moneymen who don’t really contribute much to the artistic product of the film. But then, it’s the producers who collect the Best Picture awards, which would indicate a good deal of artistic input.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) ****

PG, 113 min.
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Writers: Jack B. Sowards, Harve Bennett, Gene Roddenberry (tv series)
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Kirstie Ally, Ricardo Montalban, Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield, Ike Eisenmann, John Vargas

Every time I watch this movie, I’m amazed by how much it still grips me. That sounds like such a fanboy thing to say. Perhaps I am a fanboy. I don’t know. I certainly don’t invest as much time in worshiping the “Star Trek” universe as what I would categorize a fanboy doing, but then I have seen “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” enough times to say “every time I watch this movie.”

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Walking Dead, season 2 (2011-12) ****

TV-14, 13 45-min. episodes
Creators: Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman (graphic novels), Tony Moore (graphic novels), Charlie Adlard (graphic novels)
Directors: Ernest R. Dickerson, Gwyneth Horder-Peyton, Phil Abraham, Bill Gierhart, Guy Ferland, David Boyd, Michelle McLaren, Clark Johnson, Gregory Nocitero
Writers: Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, Glen Mazzara, Scott M. Gimple, Evan Reilly, David Leslie Johnson, Angela Kang
Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride, IronE Singleton, Lauren Cohan, Scott Wilson, Emily Kinney, Jane McNeill
Guest starring: Madison Lintz, Pruitt Taylor Vince, James Allen McCune, Brian Keith Hillard, Michael Rooker, Adam Minarovich, Michael Raymond-James, Michael Zegen

I really enjoyed season one of this popular cable series. It placed the zombie subgenre of horror into an ongoing format, which promised a deeper exploration of character and situation than is normally found in a zombie flick. Fans of the series may have been disappointed with my three and a half star review, as their feelings for the show tend toward the passionate. The reason I held back on a four star rating was that I didn’t see anything in the first season that I hadn’t seen in the zombie genre before. It was very well done but did not transcend the genre, becoming something more than just a story about the zombie apocalypse.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Red Dawn / *½ (PG-13)

Jed Eckert: Chris Hemsworth
Matt Eckert: Josh Peck
Robert Kitner: Josh Hutcherson
Toni Walsh: Adrianne Palicki
Erica Martin: Isabel Lucas
Daryl Jenkins: Conner Cruise
Tom Eckert: Brett Cullen
Captain Cho: Will Yun Lee
Tanner: Jeffrey Dean Morgan

FilmDistrict presents a film directed by Dan Bradley. Written by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore. Based on the 1984 screenplay by Kevin Reynolds and John Milius. Running time: 94 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence, and for language).

I was a teenager when the original “Red Dawn” was released in 1984. It was a big deal. “Red Dawn” was the first movie ever released with a PG-13 rating. Glasnost was not yet visible on the horizon of The Cold War. The early 80’s brought a great movement against nuclear war with many movies about the devastating effects it would have on life as we know it. It was a novel idea to think that we might actually participate in conventional warfare. And, not only was I a peer of those teenagers that were depicted fighting against a Russian invasion of mainland America, I was also “an American, Damnit!” and we just weren’t going to stand for it!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Spaced (TV series 1999-2001) ***½

NR, 14 24-min. episodes
Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson
Starring: Jessica Stevenson, Simon Pegg, Julia Deakin, Nick Frost, Mark Heap, Katy Carmichael, Aida the Dog
Guests: Theo Park, Lucy Akhurst, Anna Wilson-Jones, Bill Bailey, James Lance, Peter Serafinowicz, Clive Russell, Rowena Cooper, Michael Smiley, Jonathan Ryland, Reece Shearsmith, Olivia Williams, Ricky Gervais

Many fans of the movie “Shaun of the Dead” are quite aware of this BBC television series that launched the careers of actor/writer Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright. For a long time, I thought “Spaced” was a sci-fi spoof. It does spoof many sci-fi movies, and many other movies as well. In reality, “Spaced” is a British slacker series about a twentysomething guy and a twentysomething girl who pretend to be married in order to share a flat they can both afford after they each experience tough breakups.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) ***

PG-13, 124 min.
Director: John Madden
Writers: Ol Parker, Deborah Moggach (novel “These Foolish Things”)
Starring: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Tena Desae, Lillete Dubey

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a great title. It’s an enjoyable movie. It’s exactly what I expected it to be. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lincoln / **** (PG-13)

Abraham Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis
Mary Todd Lincoln: Sally Field
William Seward: David Strathairn
Robert Lincoln: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
W.N. Bilbo: James Spader
Preston Blair: Hal Holbrook
Thaddeus Stevens: Tommy Lee Jones
Fernando Wood: Lee Pace
George Pendleton: Peter McRobbie
Alexander Stephens: Jackie Earle Haley
Ulysses S. Grant: Jared Harris

DreamWorks, 20th Century Fox, Reliance Entertainment and Touchstone Pictures presents a film directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Tony Kushner. Based in part on the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Running time: 150 min. Rated PG-13 (for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language).

The political process is struggle. It’s really amazing we’ve ever been able to accomplish anything in this democracy. If Steven Spielberg’s latest film “Lincoln” has anything to teach us other than some history, it’s that however inefficient we feel our government is today, it is only a reflection of what it has always been.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Wrath of the Titans (2012) ***

PG-13, 99 min.
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Writers: Dan Mazeau, David Leslie Johnson, Greg Berlanti, Beverly Cross (1981 screenplay)
Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike, Édgar Ramírez, Toby Kebbell, Bill Nighy, Danny Huston, John Bell

I was underwhelmed by the 2010 remake of “Clash of the Titans”. Although I felt it was a better movie than the campy 1981 original, it was too much of a special effects extravaganza that didn’t concentrate enough on the story it was trying to tell. It felt choppy to me. The sequel “Wrath of the Titans” is once again much of a muchness; but its story is simpler, allowing for an easier balance between the heavy effects and the clothesline story those are hung on.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Trading Places (1983) ***½

R, 116 min.
Director: John Landis
Writers: Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod
Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denholm Elliott, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Paul Gleason, Frank Oz, Kristin Holby, James Belushi, Al Franken, Tom Davis

Here’s what strikes me when watching John Landis’s 1983 comedy “Trading Places” after having analyzed it’s biting social criticism a few other times before. Why wasn’t Jamie Lee Curtis in more movies throughout her career?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Life of Pi / **** (PG)

Pi Patel: Suraj Sharma
Adult Pi Patel: Irrfan Khan
Pi Patel (11 years): Ayush Tandon
Pi Patel (5 years): Gautam Belur
Santosh Patel: Adil Hussain
Gita Patel: Tabu
Writer: Rafe Spall
Cook: Gérard Depardieu

Fox 2000 Pictures presents a film directed by Ang Lee. Written by David Magee. Based on the novel by Yann Martel. Running time: 127 min. Rated PG (for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril).

You may have gathered from the promotional materials for the new movie “Life of Pi” that much of the film’s action involves a boy surviving on a life raft with a Bengal Tiger. The boy is the Pi of the title. His name makes for an interesting story. The tiger’s name is more cumbersome. The tiger’s name is Richard Parker, which is explained in another interesting story, but it doesn’t seem like a name that will take once you’re aware of it. By the point that the boy cradles that large beast’s head in his lap as he realizes the tiger is dying of starvation and thirst, the tiger’s name is Richard Parker even to us and could be nothing else.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—A Cat in Paris (2012) ***½

PG, 70 min.
Directors: Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol
Writers: Alain Gagnol, Jacques-Rémy Girerd, Michael Sinterniklaas (English adaptation)
Voices: Marcia-Gay Harden, Anjelica Huston, Steve Blum, JB Blanc, Matthew Modine

“A Cat in Paris” is the second of the two foreign made animated features nominated for an Oscar last year. American animation has a long tradition of never straying from the standard styles of animation that are popular with children. Foreign animators seem to be less afraid of truly exploring the artistic possibilities of the format, less afraid of trying something different, less afraid of scaring audiences away. That frees them to make original looking films that are both entertaining and artistically satisfying.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) **

R, 101 min.
Director/Writer: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightly, Mark Moses, Adam Brody, Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, Melanie Lynskey, Patton Oswalt, William Peterson, T.J. Miller, Gillian Jacobs, Bob Stephenson, Derek Luke, Martin Sheen

It’s hard to give a negative review to such an intelligent film, but sometimes intelligence cannot replace entertainment. The movie is about exactly what its title says it’s about, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”. It suggests that in our society, that might be more difficult than we might imagine.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) ***½

R, 93 min.
Director/Writer: John Hughes
Starring: Steve Martin, John Candy

A few months ago, I posted a rare Penny Thought about a movie I hadn’t watched in a while. I did it because I was without a Penny Thought due to a severe set of travel circumstances that didn’t allow me time to screen anything. The incident reminded me of the movie “Planes, Trains & Automobiles”, starring Steve Martin and John Candy as a pair of cursed travelers trying to get home for Thanksgiving. My post related my own travel experiences and really didn’t have anything to say about the movie. Here are my thoughts on the movie.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Raven (2012) **

R, 110 min.
Director: James McTeigue
Writers: Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin R. McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Sam Hazeldine

The whole great American poet as action hero thing just doesn’t work. The occupation of the villain makes him an even less likely candidate for his role in this action/mystery than Edgar Allan Poe as the hero. I suppose “The Raven” is a descent enough thriller, I just had a problem watching Poe race through the woods in a gun fight with this villainous mastermind who apparently inspired the V character in director James McTeigue’s earlier film “V for Vendetta”, at least with his fashion sense.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—That’s My Boy (2012) *

R, 116 min.
Director: Sean Anders
Writer: David Caspe
Starring: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Milo Ventimiglia, Vanilla Ice, Blake Clark, Meagan Fay, Tony Orlando, Will Forte, James Caan, Rachel Dratch, Nick Swardson, Peggy Stewart, Luenell, Ciara, Ana Gasteyer, Eva Amurri Martino, Justin Weaver, Susan Sarandon, Todd Bridges, Dan Patrick, Rex Ryan

Adam Sandler is like that kid you have who just doesn’t perform as well as the others. As the child’s parent, you don’t give up on him even though everybody else only sees this failure of a human being. You know he has potential. You’ve seen it. You just wish he could show it to the rest of the world.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) ***½

PG, 136 min. (director’s edition)
Director: Robert Wise
Writers: Harold Livingston, Alan Dean Foster, Gene Roddenbery (tv series)
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Majel Barrett, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins, Grace Lee Whitney

The best thing about watching all of the “Star Trek” television series on Netflix Instant streaming is that it gives me an excuse to go back and watch all of the “Star Trek” movies too. I’ve written about them in Penny Thoughts before, a couple of years ago when I showed them to my boys for the first time. I’m not sure I’ll have anything new to say about them, but I’ll still enjoy saying it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Flight / **** (R)

Whip Whitaker: Denzel Washington
Nicole: Kelly Reilly
Hugh Lang: Don Cheadle
Charlie Anderson: Bruce Greenwood
Ken Evans: Brian Geraghty
Harling Mays: John Goodman
Margaret Thomason: Tamara Tunie
Ellen Block: Melissa Leo

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Robert Zemeckis. Written by John Gatins. Running time: 138 min. Rated R (for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence).

“Funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’/ for a little while”
                                    —Jeff Bridges, “Fallin & Flying”, from the movie “Crazy Heart”

I wanted to start my review of the new film “Flight” by relating how much we all fear being in a plane crash, but plane crashes aren’t really what this movie is about. It begins with a spectacular plane crash, one of the most harrowing I’ve ever witnessed on the big screen. It’s one that has you sucking the wind in through your teeth and grabbing on to both armrests as if you can somehow stop what it unfolding in front of you. The truly amazing accomplishment of this movie, however, is the fact that it continues to inspire this behavior when its main character is on the ground and bounding through his life on a self-destructive course like no other seen on screen before.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—True Skin (2012) ***

NR, 6 min.
Director/Writer/Star: Stephan Zlotescu

There’s a lot of buzz around Hollywood about this short film. It’s a sci-fi that imagines a future where body parts are sold as technological upgrades that prevent people from aging and succumbing to disease. In it, the hero obtains an upgrade that is supposed to be some sort of government secret, and he must go on the run.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-75) ***

TV-Y7, 22 24-min. episodes
Creator: Gene Roddenberry
Director: Hal Sutherland, Bill Reed
Writers: Gene Roddenberry, David Gerrold, Len Janson, Stephen Kandel, Chuck Menville, Margaret Armen
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, Majel Barrett

“Star Trek: The Animated Series” is a surprisingly good entry into the annals of the Star Trek canon. It’s held back only by the animation limitations of the time period in which it was made.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Skyfall / ***½ (PG-13)

James Bond: Daniel Craig
M: Judi Dench
Silva: Javier Bardem
Gareth Mallory: Ralph Fiennes
Eve: Naomie Harris
Sévérine: Bérénice Lim Marlohe
Q: Ben Whishaw
Tanner: Rory Kinnear
Kincade: Albert Finney

MGM and Columbia Pictures present a film directed by Sam Mendes. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan. Based on the character created by Ian Fleming. Running time: 143 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking).

James Bond has now been thrilling audiences for 50 years. “Skyfall” marks the 23rd official Bond film and is the third starring Daniel Craig as the British secret agent, having been awarded the role for the redefining “Casino Royale” in 2006. In many ways this film is a kind of reconciliation between the Bond films that came out that redefinition of the character and the Bonds that came before it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Lockout (2012) *½

PG-13, 95 min.
Directors: James Mather, Stephen St. Leger
Writers: Stephen St. Leger, James Mather, Luc Besson
Starring: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun, Lennie James, Peter Stromare

“Lockout” is one of those big, muscley, testosterone driven sci-fi flicks that hasn’t the slightest clue what science fiction is supposed to be about. It thinks that sci-fi is just an action subgenre that has more spectacular opportunities for things to blow up because it takes place in the future and the things that go boom look slightly different than they do in our time, and the things that make them go boom look different too.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Arthur Christmas (2011)**½

PG, 97 min.
Directors: Sarah Smith, Barry Cook
Writers: Peter Baynham, Sarah Smith
Starring: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Ashley Jensen, Marc Wootton, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria

“Arthur Christmas” was last year’s big Christmas movie; and now that Christmas is rolling around again, it finds its way to the home video market. The movie seems to be a British anomaly in a genre generally dominated by American productions. It’s nice to see a slightly different take culturally on what is dominated by what seem to be American holiday ideals. However, the movie isn’t really different enough in its plotting and themes to distinguish it from the annual Christmas entries.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Neil Young Journeys (2012) ***

PG, 87 min.
Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Neil Young

This summer I was determined to get together with a couple of old friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. In trying to find a date, we discovered that Neil Young was going to be playing a concert with his long time collaborating band Crazy Horse at about the time we were planning to get together. Seeing Young is kind of a bucket list item for me, so we set the date. I never made it to the concert, however, due to a serious injury to one of my children.