Saturday, March 31, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Castle in the Sky (1986) ***

PG, 124 min.
Director/Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: James Van Der Beek, Anna Paquin, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Richard Dyasart, Mandy Patinkin, Michael McShane, Andy Dick, Jim Cummings

“Castle in the Sky” is one of the minor efforts of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki. And, by calling it a minor effort of his, I mean it’s really very good. Like many of his cartoons (to use a term that seems crude in this context), “Castle in the Sky” combines high adventure with a story that has something to say about the environment.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Carnage (2011) ***½

R, 80 min.
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Yasmina Reza (also play “Le Dieu du carnage”), Roman Polanski, Michael Katims (translation)
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly

Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” strikes a bit of a different chord in light of the recent controversy over the rating of the documentary “Bully”. “Carnage” isn’t about teenage bullying, but that’s what inspires the events that take place in it, sort of.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Sudden Impact (1983) ***½

R, 117 min.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Joseph C. Stinson, Earl E. Smith, Charles B. Pierce, Harry Julian Fink (characters), R.M. Fink (characters)
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Sandra Locke, Pat Hingle, Bradford Dillman, Paul Drake, Audrie Neenan, Jack Thibeau, Michael Currie, Albert Popwell, Kevyn Major Howard

“No, this stuff isn't gettin' to me. The knifings, the beatings, old ladies being bashed in the head for their Social Security checks, teachers being thrown out of a fourth-floor window because they don't give As, that doesn't bother me a bit. Or this job, either. Having to wade through the scum of this city, being swept away by bigger and bigger waves of corruption, apathy and red tape. Nah, that doesn't bother me. But you know what does bother me? You know what makes me really sick to my stomach? Is watching you stuff your face with those hot dogs. Nobody, I mean NOBODY puts ketchup on a hot dog.”

                        —“Dirty” Harry Callahan, “Sudden Impact”.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Transsiberian (2009) ***½

R, 111min.
Director: Brad Anderson
Writers: Brad Anderson, Will Conroy
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Woody Harrelson, Ben Kingsley, Eduardo Noriega, Kate Mara, Thomas Kretschmann

Sometimes it’s the small films that seem big. “Transsiberian” was some international conglomeration production that probably couldn’t find funding in the States for some reason. I don’t think it’s because the film doesn’t have a commercial plot. It very much does.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

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

NR, 8 44-min. episodes
Creators: Michael R. Perry, Oren Peli
Starring: Joe Anderson, Leslie Hope, Bruce Greenwood, Eloise Mumford, Paul Blackthorne, Thomas Kretschmann, Daniel Zacapa, Shaun Parkes, Paulina Gaitan, Scott Michael Foster, Katie Featherston, Lee Tergeson

I don’t believe that network television is ready for a series like “The River”. By the time it is ready, network television will be done with as we’ve come to know it. “The River” was meant to be a series for cable. I don’t know if it was shopped to the cable networks. I don’t know why ABC thought they could pull it off on network television. I’m sure the success of Oren Peli’s cinematic productions of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise made it seem like something that might possibly be a surprise hit for the network. I think ABC bought it with a big “if” in their heads and no real hopes that it would work. It was a gamble that probably went exactly the way they expected.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Battle for Terra (2007) ***

PG, 85 min.
Director: Aristomenis Tsirbas
Writers: Evan Siliotopolous, Aristomenis Tsirbas
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson, David Cross, Brian Cox, Justin Long, James Garner, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, Chris Evans, Dennis Quaid

“Battle for Terra” is a surprisingly effective animated science fiction film. In some of the ways it’s conceived, it’s aimed at children; but it deals with some pretty heavy subject matter too. The story involves a benevolent species of aliens who have their tranquil existence interrupted by a planetary invasion by another race of aliens. That other race is human beings from Earth.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (2011) ***

PG, 80 min.
Director: Constance Marks
Writers: Philip Shane, Justin Weinstein
Narrator: Whoopie Goldberg
Starring: Kevin Clash, Frank Oz, Whoopie Goldberg, Fran Brill, Bill Barretta, Joan Ganz Cooney, Martin P. Robinson, Caroll Spinney

I was never a fan of Elmo. First of all, he was past my time as a “Sesame Street” watcher. By the time Elmo became popular, I was too jaded to accept his positive message. Yes, I was a jaded 14-year-old. Naw, not really. But, I wasn’t watching Muppets anymore.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Hunger Games / ***½ (PG-13)

Katniss Everdeen: Jennifer Lawrence
Peeta Mellark: Josh Hutcherson
Haymitch Abernathy: Woody Harrelson
Effie Trinket: Elizabeth Banks
Seneca Crane: Wes Bentley
Caesar Flickerman: Stanley Tucci
President Snow: Donald Sutherland
Cinna: Lenny Kravitz
Gale Hawthorne: Liam Hemsworth
Rue: Amandla Stenberg
Cato: Alexander Ludwig
Clove: Isabella Fuhrman
Claudius Templesmith: Toby Jones

Lionsgate presents a film directed by Gary Ross. Written by Ross and Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray. Based on the novel by Collins. Running time: 142 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense violence, thematic material, and disturbing images – all involving teens).

You gotta sleep on your toes, and when you're on the street,/ You gotta be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed. /And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight, /You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking.
                                                                                                —Pink Floyd “Dogs”.

What makes “The Hunger Games” work is that—like all great science fiction—it raises many questions about the world we inhabit through its own imagined future world. What really separates the classes in our world? Who pulls the strings and why? Where does our morality lie and is how we get to it worth it? Are we dogs or are we sheep? How long will the human spirit stand for what is wrong? Is it harder to stand for what is right? These are merely some of the questions lying at the heart of this movie that is absolutely bursting with queries about how our society develops from one place to another.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—My Week With Marilyn (2011) ***

R, 99 min.
Director: Simon Curtis
Writers: Adrian Hodges, Colin Clark (books “My Week with Marilyn” and “The Prince, The Showgirl and Me”)
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Dominic Cooper, Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Zoë Wanamaker, Philip Jackson, Julia Ormond, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott

I’m a little unsure of what to say about “My Week with Marilyn”. I enjoyed it. The performances are excellent. I’m just not sure it really tells us much of anything about the American icon.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Young Adult (2011) ***½

R, 94 min.
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe

Screenwriter Diablo Cody seems to have a knack for telling it how it is. Whether she’s using the hyper-elevated hipster speech that fueled the charm behind “Juno”, or if she’s being a little more down to Earth with her sad character study of a high school witch returning to her hometown years later to reclaim the man who once was hers in “Young Adult”, Cody never strays from the hard facts about people.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Star Trek, Season 2 (1967-68) ****

NR, 26 50-min. episodes
Creator: Gene Roddenbery
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett, Arlene Martel, Michael Forest, Leslie Parrish, Antoinette Bower, Theo Marcuse, Roger C. Carmel, Glenn Corbett, Elinor Donahue, Jane Wyatt, Mark Lenard, Julie Newmar, Sarah Marshall, Stephen Brooks, Charles Macaulay, William Shallert, William Campbell, Anthony Caruso, Victor Tayback, Nancy Kovack, Michael Whitney, Diana Muldaur, Richard Evans, Valora Noland, William Marshall, William Smithers, Robert Lansing, Teri Garr

If “Star Trek” was a bold concept for its time in its first season, it only grew more bold and confident in its second. The second season saw a good deal of positive changes for the series. DeForest Kelley’s Dr. “Bones” McCoy was elevated to leading status and the trifecta of the driving character forces of the series were solidified. Walter Koenig made his first appearance as Chekov and quickly became a staple of the cast. James Doohan effectively became the fourth lead with the character of Scotty also stepping up his role on the Enterprise.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance / *½ (PG-13)

Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider: Nicholas Cage
Nadya: Violante Placido
Roarke: Ciarán Hinds
Ray Carrigan: Johnny Whitworth
Danny: Fergus Riordan
Moreau: Idris Elba
Methodius: Christopher Lambert

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Written by Scott M. Gimple & Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer. Based on the Marvel Knights comic book character. Running time: 95 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language).

I was originally shocked to learn of a sequel to the obscure Marvel comic book character inspired movie “Ghost Rider”. The first movie was so bad that it astounded me anyone could think there would be a reason to continue the series. Apparently, the first film didn’t under perform at the box office, and its star, Nicholas Cage, has a passion for the character. Upon seeing the trailer for the new “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”, I thought that possibly the makers of the original had realized the error of their ways and had fixed some of the problems from the first film. The previews showed both a grittier approach and a less serious one. One of the original film’s flaws was that it seemed to take its ridiculous premise with utter seriousness.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Alphaville (1965) *

NR, 99 min.
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Writers: Jean-Luc Godard, Paul Éluard (poem “Capitale de la douleur”)
Starring: Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamirof, Howard Vernon

OK. Let’s get something straight from the start. I’m not against the “avant garde” or anything like that. I’ve enjoyed plenty of abstract films. I don’t shy away from weird. But I’m not a fan of weird just for the sake of being weird. And I’m certainly not a fan of weird that eschews all values of entertainment.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Carnal Knowledge (1971) ****

R, 98 min.
Director: Mike Nichols
Writer: Jules Feiffer
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel, Ann-Margret, Candice Bergen, Cynthia O’Neal, Rita Moreno, Carol Kane

During the opening moments of Mike Nichols’ “Carnal Knowledge” my wife was convinced this had to be a Woody Allen movie. The way Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel talk about their desires to meet women and have sex is much like a Woody Allen dialogue where the characters are so sure of their ideas, yet not really all that sure of themselves.  As the movie goes on, these two men don’t really change in the way they define themselves by their sexual conquests.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Ondine (2009) ***

PG-13, 111 min.
Director/Writer: Neil Jordan
Starring: Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Alison Barry, Dervia Kirwan, Tony Curran, Emil Hostina, Stephen Rae

There’s nothing like a good Irish fairy tale for St. Patrick’s Day. This one actually involves the Scottish fairy tale of the selkies, seals who can take human form. Oddly, the possible selkie in this Irish movie is neither Irish nor Scottish. She isn’t French either, although the name, Ondine, which she gives herself, is.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—No Robots (2011) ***½

NR, 6 min.
Directors/Writers: Kimberly Knoll, Yunghan Chang

The simplicity of the very short film cannot be matched by any other format. The advent of streaming video has given new life to the short film, and I am very thankful for it. I always have trouble criticizing a short short like this one, and that only adds to the things I like about them.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009) ***½

UR, 101 min.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Writers: Michel Hazanavicius, Jean-François Halin, Jean Bruce (characters)
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Louise Monot, Rüdiger Vogler, Alex Lutz, Reem Kharici, Pierre Bellemare, Ken Samuels

Whatever problems they had with the first “OSS 117”, they solved them with the second. This movie sees Best Actor Oscar winner Jean Dujardin return to the role of the French secret service agent that may have inspired James Bond. He’s a cross between the good looks of Bond, the stupidity of Inspector Clouseau, and the retro spoofery of Austin Powers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Modern Football (1951) ***

NR, 26 min.
Director/Writer: Robert Altman

This little movie has been sweeping the web over the past few days. What makes an instructional industrial designed to recruit kids to play high school football in 1951 that was sponsored by Wheaties and Wilson Sporting Goods so special? The simple reason is that it may very well be the first movie ever directed by master filmmaker Robert Altman.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Life, Above All (2010) ****

PG-13, 100 min.
Director: Oliver Schmitz
Writers: Dennis Foon, Allan Straton (novel “Chanda’s Secrets”)
Starring: Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Lerato Mvelase, Harriet Manamela, Aubrey Poolo, Tinah Mnumzana

“Life, Above All” was South Africa’s entry for the Foreign Film Oscar in 2011. I can’t imagine how it didn’t get nominated. It tells the harrowing story of a girl forced to fight to keep her family together after her infant sister dies. Fear, paranoia and prejudice fuel the town in subtly forcing her family apart with unspoken rumors and an unsympathetic misunderstanding of one of the greatest heath threats to ever ravage that so beleaguered country.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—In Time (2011) **½

PG-13, 109 min.
Director/Writer: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Alex Pettyfer, Collins Pennie, Johnny Galecki, Olivia Wilde, Matt Bomer

The films of Andrew Niccol are bold commentaries on our world told through genres in which he builds distinct worlds. His two most successful films are the sc-fi noir “Gattaca” and the Peter Weir helmed “The Truman Show”. Like those films, his latest “In Time” gives us a not too distant future in which some major part of our society is severely altered from what we know today—although the reality show obsessed world of “The Truman Show” seems dangerously close to becoming a reality now.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

John Carter / *** (PG-13)

John Carter: Taylor Kitsch
Dejah Thoris: Lynn Collins
Sab Than: Dominic West
Matai Shang: Mark Strong
Sola: Samantha Morton
Tars Tarkas: Willem Dafoe
Tardos Mors: Ciarán Hinds
Tal Hajus: Thomas Haden Church
Sarkoja: Polly Walker
Edgar Rice Burroughs: Daryl Sabara

Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Andrew Stanton. Written by Stanton & Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon. Based on the novel “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Running time: 132 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action).

I remember running around in the woods growing up in Maine during the summer months when I had all day to fill with my imagination. I would throw myself through dead branches and jump small ravines, pretending I’d been transplanted on some far away planet battling hordes of aliens to save the alien queen I’d come to love. Today, I often find my own son flinging himself around the house, with the sounds of explosions coming from his mouth. If he sees me spy him, he’ll stop and move to a room where I can’t see him. Surely, to preserve the illusion that whatever battle he’s fighting is happening far from the world he knows.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) ***½

R, 91 min.
Director/Writer: John Carpenter
Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis

There’s something about B-movies that makes them somewhat untouchable to criticism. They’re audacious, and it’s hard to argue against that. It doesn’t matter if the dialogue isn’t quite award material, or if the movie isn’t lit especially well. There’s a rawness to them that can’t be matched by any amount of production value.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Restless (2011) **

PG-13, 91 min.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Jason Lew
Starring: Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase, Schuyler Fisk

“Restless” starts out in a promising manner. Henry Hopper, son of Dennis, is a promising new star who engages the audience with his outcast loner who likes to crash funerals. The young man is obsessed with death for reasons that will be revealed later in the film. At one funeral he meets a girl named Annabelle, played by Mia Wasikowska of “Alice in Wonderland” fame. They immediately relate to each other’s atypical views on life.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Certified Copy (2010) ****

UR, 106 min.
Director/Writer: Abbas Kiarostami
Starring: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell

“Certified Copy” is one of those movies that I fear writing about, because I feel I cannot express what is good about it without making it seem like the type of movie that only a few people will appreciate. It’s a romance of sorts, but nothing that you’d expect from one. It’s a philosophical movie. It’s philosophical about art, about life, and about love. See, I’ve just lost half my readers.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) **½

NR, 98 min.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Writers: Jean-François Harlin, Michel Hazanavicius, Jean Bruce (novel)
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, François Damiens, Khalid Maadour, Aure Atika, Youssef Hamid, Arsène Mosca, Constantin Alexandrov, Claude Brosset, Laurent Bateau, Saïd Amadis, Eric Prat, Abdallah Moundy, Philippe Lefebvre, Richard Sammel

Michel Hazanavicius. Jean Dujardin. Bérénice Bejo. Where have I seen those names before? They are the director and stars of this year’s Academy Award winning Best Picture “The Artist”. Apparently they’ve done this filmmaking thing before. “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” is no silent film, however it does homage a cinematic style from a bygone era.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax / *** (PG)

Featuring the voice talents of:
Ted: Zac Efron
The Once-ler: Ed Helms
The Lorax: Danny DeVito
Audrey: Taylor Swift
Mr. O’Hare: Rob Riggle
Grammy Norma: Betty White
Ted’s Mom: Jenny Slate
Once-ler’s Mom: Nasim Pedrad

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda. Written by Ken Duario and Cinco Paul. Based on the children’s book by Dr. Seuss. Running time: 86 min. Rated PG (for brief mild language).

“Drill, baby, drill!”
            —Popular GOP chant during the failed Republican bid for the U.S. Presidency in the 2008 election.

Many will be very vexed to see a children’s movie turned into a political platform. Several nationally recognized political commentators were even able to denounce the environmental and “anti-corporate” messages within the new animated movie “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” before they even had a chance to see it. I have to ask, however, what is so wrong with it? Why not involve our children in a political discussion that has great repercussions on the future of the planet they inhabit? Shouldn’t we try to educate our children on the problems they will face as they grow older? Isn’t teaching them how to fix a problem before it gets out of hand part of our responsibilities as parents?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Rum Diary (2011) **½

R, 120 min.
Director: Bruce Robinson
Writers: Bruce Robinson, Hunter S. Thompson (novel)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi

I’ve only read a couple of Hunter S. Thompson’s books. The ones that I’ve read fully embody the manic nature in which Thompson was famous for living his life. His work is fueled by his anti-authority, drug-induced need to dig at the underbelly of establishment. His words come off the page like the workings of a frantic rodent set out to expose the monsters in us all. And he’s funny, too.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Titan A.E. (2000) ***

PG, 94 min.
Directors: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
Writers: Ben Edlund, John August, Joss Whedon, Hans Bauer, Randall McCormick
Starring: Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo, John Leguizamo, Ron Perlman

“It’s like an animated ‘Star Wars.’”
 – Jackson Wells upon viewing “Titan A.E.” for the first time.

I didn’t point it out to him that there already are animated “Star Wars” movies and television shows, a fact he’s well aware of when he’s watching them.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Take Shelter (2011) ****

R, 120 min.
Director/Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker

I’m not sure that watching “Take Shelter” is really the best idea heading into severe weather season in the Midwest. The film follows a family man who begins to have vivid nightmares about impending disaster, all of which begin with a severe storm. He’s a blue-collar worker with a good job, enough financial security not to worry about paying for an annual vacation to Myrtel Beach. His daughter is deaf, but it looks like a surgery exists to correct her hearing problem.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Jack Goes Boating (2010) ***

R, 91 min.
Director: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Writer: Robert Glaudini (also play)
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega

I often wonder why every romance that isn’t a tired Hollywood formula has to be so pessimistic about love. There is such thing as real love, true love. There are people who just love each other. It isn’t a fairy tale. Life is always getting in the way of happiness, but it’s the other elements that get in the way, not the love. That love isn’t always tested. Often it’s the strength that gets you through.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—In the Mood for Love (2000) ****

PG, 98 min.
Director/Writer: Wong Kar Wai
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung

Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” is elegance itself. Rarely has such a beautiful movie been photographed. Yet its beauty is contained to the intimate relationship of it’s two main characters, a man and a woman who are neighbors and come to the conclusion that their spouses are having an affair. This sends them on their own timid affair that observes careful measure and elegant dresses.