Sunday, September 30, 2012

Looper / ***½ (R)

Joe: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Old Joe: Bruce Willis
Sara: Emily Blunt
Seth: Paul Dano
Kid Blue: Noah Segan
Suzie: Piper Perabo
Abe: Jeff Daniels
Cid: Pierce Gagnon

TriStar Pictures and FilmDistrict present a film written and directed by Rian Johnson. Running time: 118 min. Rated R (for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content).

“Looper” is an ingenious science fiction thriller from filmmaker Rian Johnson. Writer/director Johnson is a specialist in sublime cleverness. He nearly outsmarts his own screenplay this time around as he did with his last effort “The Brothers Bloom”. His brilliant debut film “Brick” remains the benchmark to which he’s trying to return. However, if you just let “Looper” happen, it is a thrilling, twisting, unexpected ride down the all too often familiar territory of time travel science fiction. Johnson has turned that premise into something new here.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Wanderlust (2012) **

R, 98 min.
Director: David Wain
Writers: David Wain, Ken Marino
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman, Alan Alda, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Kathryn Hahn, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Lauren Ambrose, Michaela Watkins, Jordan Peele, Linda Lavin

I often hear about the poor choices Jennifer Aniston makes for movie roles. It’s true. She’s a gifted actress who can’t choose a worthwhile project to star in to save her soul. I think this might be a reflection of sexism in Hollywood, however. Not because she doesn’t get the chance to play good roles. She’s powerful enough to command her own career choices. But, how come no one is criticizing the equally talented Paul Rudd for the poor choices he makes in picking projects a good deal of the time?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Tom Coughlin: A Football Life (2012) ***

NR, 45 min.
Narrator: Josh Charles
Starring: Tom Coughlin, Judy Coughlin, Michael Strahan, Doug Flutie, Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil, Kate Snee

The year before Tom Coughlin was named the head coach of the New York Football Giants my dad wrote a letter to my brother and I about how bad times don’t diminish how great it is to be a Giants fan. His letter spoke of both the past and the future; not just what was, but what would be. I don’t know if my father realized how soon those good times would come back to being a Giants fan, but I think he had an idea when Coughlin’s name was announced. Coughlin was a Giants coach during their 1990 Championship season. Coughlin as head coach only meant more championships to come.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Horrorfest 2012 Preview

It has been a long hot summer, and to be honest, it is still far too hot outside going into my favorite month of the year. That’s right. October is about to roll around once again, and that can only mean that another Penny in the Well Horrorfest is about to invade my blog, my viewing habits, my life for the next 31 plus days. And, you my dear readers will only benefit from one of the most intense month long horror festivals on the Internet.

One new feature to this year’s Horrorfest is that I will revisit three classic zombie flicks from Horrorfests past with full-length reviews. My reviews of “Fido”, “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie” and “Shaun of the Dead” were recently featured in the new e-zine Zombie Apocalypse Monthly, a monthly survival guide for those preparing for the impending zombie apocalypse. You can grab your digital or physical copy here. I’ll also be screening the first season of AMC’s zombie television series, “The Walking Dead”. I’ll keep the zombie theme going by catching up with George Romero’s last socio-zombie commentary “Survival of the Dead”. The widely praised zombie flick “Pontypool” follows a shock jock on a Valentine’s Day that is started off when he runs into a crazy woman.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Chico & Rita (2012) ****

NR, 94 min.
Directors: Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, Fernando Trueba
Writers: Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Fernando Trueba
Voices: Eman Xor Oña, Limara Meneses, Mario Guerra

Sometimes when I see certain animated movies, I can’t help but thinking that animation is a medium that is largely untapped. It frees the filmmaker of so much, and yet they can tell the same types of stories as any movie. Take this year’s Academy Award nominated animated feature “Chico & Rita” for instance. It tells an adult love story amongst the backdrop of the Havana music scene as it was shaping the American Jazz scene in 1948. That sounds like something a director like Martin Scorsese might make into live action, but here some Spanish filmmakers have chosen animation for their medium to tell this story, and how much richer that does make it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Thieves Like Us (1974) **½

R, 123 min.
Director: Robert Altman
Writers: Calder Willingham, Joan Tewkesbury, Robert Altman, Edward Anderson (novel)
Starring: Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, John Schuck, Bert Remsen, Louise Fletcher, Ann Latham, Tom Skerritt

There are a great many elements about this film the work very well. The Robert Altman touch is there and his greatness shimmers beneath the surface of this period film. Unfortunately, the whole thing also seems to drag along as if it’s waiting to make its point. I enjoy the film more in retrospect than I did watching it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012) ***

PG, 88 min.
Directors: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Writer: Gideon Defoe
Starring: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson, Ashley Jenson, Al Roker

I’d like to thank Aardman Animations for making a pirate movie. I’m a father of three and pirates are just about the coolest things these kids can think of. Lately, however, the only easily accessible pirates have come from Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, and many of the images in those movies are really too intense for the ages that seem to be the most pirate obsessed. It’s good to have a pirate movie out there I can trust my kids will enjoy and won’t have them waking up at 1 a.m. with nightmares.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

End of Watch / **** (R)

Taylor: Jake Gyllenhaal
Zavala: Michael Peña
Janet: Anna Kendrick
Gabby: Natalie Martinez
Van Hauser: David Harbour
Sarge: Frank Grillo
Orozco: America Ferrera
Big Evil: Maurice Compte
Wicked: Diamonique

Open Road Films presents a film written and directed by David Ayer. Running time: 109 min. Rated R (for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use.)

David Ayer’s new LA cop film “End of Watch” opens with a voice over as fascinating as the images that accompany it. We see a point of view shot from a police cruiser camera in a high speed chase with a car in front of it racing through the streets of South Central. We hear the voice of Jake Gyllenhaal, as peace officer Taylor, telling us of the passion of the police officer. He speaks of the officer’s motivation. His will. His duty to the law and to his fellow officers. “I am Fate with a badge and a gun,” he states of his relationship to the criminal. This is the portrait of a man who believes in his job.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Project X (2012) **

R, 88 min.
Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Writers: Michael Bacall, Matt Drake
Starring: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Dax Flame, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Brady Hender, Nick Nervies, Alexis Knapp, Miles Teller

“Project X” gets a lot of things right in its attempt to tell a—albeit—slightly unbelievable tale of a party gone supernova. What it doesn’t ever quite get is any sort of dramatic—or rather comedic—direction going. For a long time I sat witnessing this massive party wondering when it was gonna get crazy funny. It got crazy, to be sure. Then it occurred to me that maybe the filmmakers weren’t making a comedy. Maybe they were trying to make some sort of grand statement about the world we live in and our future’s generation in it. Then I realized once again that this was just movie about a birthday party blown horribly out of proportion. By the end, considering the sentimental and cliché conclusion, I was pretty sure comedy was intended, just never achieved.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Beverly Hills Cop III (1994) *½

R, 104 min.
Director: John Landis
Writers: Steven E. de Souza, Danilo Bach (characters), Daniel Petrie Jr. (characters)
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Hector Elizondo, Theresa Randle, Timothy Carhart, Stephen McHattie, John Saxon, Alan Young, Bronson Pinchot

What the hell happened here? I had never seen “Beverly Hills Cop III” when I stumbled upon the entire series on Netflix Instant last weekend. I remember upon it’s theatrical release that most people didn’t like the third installment, but I had no idea it was this bad.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) ***

R, 100 min.
Director: Tony Scott
Writers: Larry Ferguson, Warren Skaaren, Eddie Murphy, Robert D. Wachs, Danilo Bach (characters), Daniel Petrie Jr. (characters)
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Ronny Cox, Brigitte Nielsen, Allen Garfield, Jürgen Prochnow, Dean Stockwell, Paul Reiser, Gil Hill

I almost revisited this one a few weeks ago after learning about the death of director Tony Scott. “Beverly Hills Cop II” is kind of an anomaly in Scott’s career. I believe it represents his only foray into comedy, although “The Last Boy Scout” had some comedic elements. In retrospect, Scott is perhaps the least likely candidate to helm this follow-up in a franchise comedy vehicle. At the time, he’d only directed two feature films and was mega hot thanks to the success of “Top Gun”.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Beverly Hills Cop (1984) ***

R, 105 min.
Director: Martin Brest
Writers: Daniel Petrie Jr., Danilo Bach
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkoff, James Russo, Jonathan Banks, Stephen Elliott, Paul Reiser, Gilbert R. Hill, Bronson Pinchot

It’s always interesting to revisit a movie that hasn’t exactly reached classic status, but was a phenomenon at the time of its release. “Beverly Hills Cop” was far from Eddie Murphy’s introduction to audiences. He had already gained legions of fans and perhaps surpassed Chevy Chase as the most successful cast member of Saturday Night Live. His stand-up comedy concert special “Delirious” was one of the most popular concert films of all time at the time of its release. He had already proven himself to be an invaluable comedy co-star in the movies “48 Hrs.” and “Trading Places”. He’d even suffered his post SNL flop in “Best Defense”. “Beverly Hills Cop” was the first time he’d been given the sole leading role, however. In fact, it was one of the first films most people had seen a major release carried by an African American actor.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Big Miracle (2012) ***

PG, 107 min.
Director: Ken Kwapis
Writers: Jack Amiel, Michael Begler, Thomas Rose (book “Freeing the Whales”)
Starring: John Krasinski, Drew Barrymore, Ahmoagak Sweeney, John Pingayak, Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw, Tim Blake Nelson, Kathy Baker, Stephen Root, John Michael Higgins, Andrew Daly, Bruce Altman, James LeGros, Rob Riggle, Shea Whigham, Stefan Kapicic, Mark Ivanir

For me, “Big Miracle” was a big surprise. I have to admit I don’t remember the story of the grey whales trapped in the Alaskan ice from 1988. But then, as a sophomore in high school, I didn’t really pay that much attention to the evening news. I’m very happy to learn of their tale today, however, in sort of a classic style family friendly movie.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Possession / ** (PG-13)

Clyde: Jeffery Dean Morgan
Em: Natasha Calis
Stephanie: Kyra Sedgwick
Hannah: Madison Davenport
Tzadok: Matisyahu

Lionsgate presents a film directed by Ole Bornedal. Written by Juliet Snowden & Stiles White. Inspired by the article “Jinx in a Box” by Leslie Gornstein. Running time: 92 min. Rated PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences).

“The Possession” looks like a good horror film. It talks like a good horror film. It has vision. It has style. It’s well acted. Unfortunately, it falls victim to the same pitfall that so many of today’s horror movies suffer from. When all is said and done everything in it serves the shock factor, rather than the shocks serving the story and supporting the horror.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Dictator (2012) **½

R, 83 min.
Director: Larry Charles
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Jason Mantzoukas, Chris Parnell, Bobby Lee, Megan Fox, Kevin Corrigan

What struck me the most about Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film “The Dictator” is that it isn’t really all that shocking. Yes, he makes horrible jokes at the expense of different religious cultures, mostly Islam and Jewish. But he never really seems to take it as far over the top as he did in his previous films “Borat” and “Bruno”. It never gets as raunchy as those films did, and in turn it never gets quite as funny.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Streamers (1983) **

R, 118 min.
Director: Robert Altman
Writer: David Rabe (also play)
Starring: Matthew Modine, Michael Wright, Mitchell Lichtenstein, David Allen Grier, Guy Boyd, George Dzundza

Here’s my big confession. I hate watching theater. That statement might draw ire from a great many friends of mine. That’s because I was a theater major in college. I love acting on the stage. I just hate watching it. Perhaps I was spoiled at an early age by the cinema. While I can appreciate great acting and great writing, I always like seeing things on a grander canvas. The stage is too restrictive for my viewing taste. I’m sure many would argue that I haven’t opened my eyes fully to what the theater can offer, and they’d probably have some damn good points. That doesn’t change the fact that I love cinema.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Caddyshack (1980) ****

R, 98 min.
Director: Harold Ramis
Writers: Brian Doyle-Murray, Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney
Starring: Michael O’Keefe, Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, Sarah Holcomb, Scott Colomby, Cindy Morgan, Dan Resin, Henry Wilcoxon

There was something about the 80s that just got comedy right. “Caddyshack” was one of the decade’s first R-rated early gross out flicks. It doesn’t really contain a whole lot of gross out, but it’s a great example of the formula. Its plot is a very basic premise. A kid works as a caddy at a high-class golf club to earn enough money for college. During his time there he learns a lot about life and sex, and must navigate greed and avarice to find a moral center on the side he doesn’t expect to find it—with the crazies instead of the fine upstanding citizens.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Raid: Redemption (2012) *½

R, 101 min.
Director/Writer: Gareth Huw Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Doni, Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Ray Sahetapy, Tegar Satrya, Iang Darmawan, Eka ‘Piranha’ Rahmadia, Verdi Solaiman

“The Raid: Redemption” has been touted as “one of the best action movies in decades!” according to it’s promotional poster. It does have some pretty damn good action sequences in it. It’s also completely silly, utterly ridiculous and downright stupid. Let’s put aside the fact that it’s U.S. distributor felt it was necessary to add the word “Redemption” to the title for no apparent reason. This movie is not only preposterous to the degree that it’s nearly laughable, it is executed with utter seriousness. It is needlessly and pointlessly dark, poorly written, and acted as if every moment were an urgent dash to the exit, which is what it would’ve inspired in me had I seen it in theaters.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—M|W 9|11 (2011) ****

NR, 1 min.
Director: James Kelly

This image is not from the film “M|W 9|11”. Image courtesy of
I don’t believe there will be a year when September 11 is not a painful day. It is a day we all feel the need to reach out to each other and let each other know that we remember the horrors that occurred in 2001. It was the day the Towers fell, the day we seem to have lost our final innocence. Perhaps, that’s too dramatic. Innocence is something born into the world every day. However, even kids who weren’t yet born on that fateful day seem to have some knowledge of it and the darkness it cast over our nation.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—A Separation (2011) ****

PG-13, 123 min.
Director/Writer: Ashgar Farhadi
Starring: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sarina Farhadi, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Kimia Hosseini

“A Separation” was this year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. It is a unique film coming from Iran, one of the best producers of quality filmmaking in the world. Considering the restrictions the country has a reputation for having against humanitarian acts, this might seem like a surprise. I believe it can be explained by the fact that if you have to fight harder to be heard, what you have to say will be more poignant and profound.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) ***½

PG-13, 133 min.
Director: Brad Bird
Writers: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, Bruce Geller (television series)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Anil Kapoor 

OK. I feel “Ghost Protocol” is easily the best of the “Mission: Impossible” movies. In director Brad Bird, JJ Abrams and Tom Cruise have finally found the perfect director to perform the action ballet they’ve always tried to attain with the series. You can read more of my analytical thoughts in my original review.

I’d like to bring some attention to the fact that somehow the IMF always seems to find it necessary to disavow Ethan Hunt, who is obviously their best agent. In the first film Hunt is disavowed for falling under suspicion of sabotaging his own team and selling the identities of all of IMF’s agents to the highest bidder. In order to prove his innocence he assembles an entire team of disavowed agents and breaks into IMF headquarters in Langley to steal the list of names so he can smoke the real traitor out with them.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Three Stooges (2012) *

PG, 92 min.
Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Writers: Mike Cerrone, Bobby Farrelly, Pater Farrelly
Starring: Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Chris Diamantolpoulos, Jane Lynch, Sofia Vergara, Jennifer Hudson, Craig Bierko, Kirby Heyborne, Stephen Collins, Larry David, Kate Upton, The cast of The Jersey Shore, Brian Doyle-Murray, Isaiah Mustafa

In their heyday, Moe, Curly and Larry were seen on the big screen in 20-30 minute shorts. Famously, Moe Howard complained to the studio that they deserved a feature-length movie like other comic teams of the time, such as Abbott and Costello. The studio never granted them their feature-length film. Now, almost 80 years after their first film appearance, along comes “The Three Stooges” to prove the studio’s point.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—House of Pleasures (2011) ****

NR, 122 min.
Director/Writer: Bertrand Bonello
Starring: Noémie Lvovsky, Hafsia Herzi, Céline Sallette, Jasmine Trinca, Adéle Haenel, Alice Barnole, Iliana Zabeth

I’ve reviewed a couple of erotic movies that were praised by other critics, and have found myself sorely disappointed by such films. When the French film “House of Pleasures” made its way stateside last year and was lauded by critics, I figured it was another one of those art house erotic films that looks darn good, but has little to offer beyond the scenery. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Bernie (2012) ***½

PG-13, 104 min.
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater, Skip Hollandsworth (also article)
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughy, Rick Dial, Sonny Davis, Bradley Coleman

Richard Linklater’s “Bernie” is one of the year’s hidden gems. This is such a wonderful movie about a wonderful person, who just so happens to have murdered the wealthy widow who has left everything to him. This is a dark comedy that embraces the light of its story and that light is Bernie himself, played perfectly by Jack Black in his best performance to date.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—America’s Game: The Superbowl Champions: 2011 New York Giants (2012) ***

NR, 45 min.
Narrator: Alec Baldwin
Starring: Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin, Justin Tuck, Victor Cruz

After the 2008 Super Bowl victory against the New England Patriots, it never occurred to me that the same situation could arise again after only four years. It certainly never occurred to me in the middle of November last year when the Giants looked like their late season implosion would occur even earlier than normal. But, even once the team had made it to the playoffs, no such thought ever entered my head.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—This Means War (2012) **

PG-13, 97 min.
Director: McG
Writers: Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg, Marcus Gautesen
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, John Paul Ruttan, Abigail Leigh Spencer, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris 

Today is my 13th wedding anniversary with the most wonderful woman on Earth. My wife is a fan of movies like “This Means War”. I don’t mind them, despite the fact that as a critic I really can’t get behind them as quality entertainment. Every once and a while, it’s fun to turn your brain of for an evening and just watch silly things happening on the screen.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Breaking Bad, season 5, part 1 (2012) ****

TV-14, 8 45-min. episodes
Creator: Vince Gilligan
Directors: Michael Slovis, Michelle MacLaren, Adam Bernstein, Rian Johnson, George Mastras, Colin Bucksey, Thomas Schnauz
Writers: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Sam Catlin, George Mastras, Gennifer Hutchinson, Thomas Schnauz, Moira Walley-Beckett
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Christopher Cousins, Steven Michael Quezada, Jim Beaver, Larry Hankin, Laura Fraser, Michael Shamus Wiles, Matt Jones, Emily Rios, Jesse Plemons, Mike Batayeh, Franc Ross, Charles Baker, Todd Terry, Bill Burr, Louis Ferreira, Chris Freihofer

They’re calling it a mid-season finale, but it sure feels like the end of a mini-season, especially since the 5th season won’t resume until next summer with the final eight episodes of the series.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Lawless / *** (R)

Jack Bondurant: Shia LaBeouf
Forrest Bondurant: Tom Hardy
Howard Bondurant: Jason Clarke
Maggie Beauford: Jessica Chastain
Charlie Rakes: Guy Pearce
Bertha Minnix: Mia Wasikowska
Cricket Pate: Dane DeHaan
Floyd Banner: Gary Oldman

The Weinstein Company presents a film directed by John Hillcoat. Written by Nick Cave. Based on the novel “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant. Running time: 115 min. Rated R (for strong bloody violence, language, and some sexuality/nudity).

People don’t tend to spend time thinking about thier own mortality. We go through life mostly embracing blissful ignorance about the many possibilities of our own deaths and how little control we have over the inevitable. Most of us will die in unspectacular ways, and that’s as it should be. But, there were times in our country’s past when death was less of a background that we didn’t bother to think about. There were times when spectacular deaths walked brazenly down the streets wearing designer suits and fedora hats wielding Tommy guns.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Dead Pool (1988) **

R, 92 min.
Director: Buddy Van Horn
Writers: Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, Sandy Shaw, Harry Julian Fink (characters), R.M. Fink (characters)
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Patricia Clarkson, Liam Neeson, Evan C. Kim, David Hunt, Michael Currie, Michael Goodman, Jim Carrey

Maybe he thought he could scare that chair so much it would just spontaneously produce President Obama. That’s a little more plausible than having a major car chase take place between a veteran iconic police officer and a radio controlled bomb car. “Make my day.” Indeed.