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.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) ***½

R, 86 min.
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Derek Connolly
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Kristen Bell

“Safety Not Guaranteed” is one of those joyful movie experiences that just burrows into your soul and warms your heart. It isn’t some schmaltzy sugary piece of bubble gum pop, but it has a quirky fun premise, involving and interesting characters, and it doesn’t take you down a path you’ve traveled before. It’s like a childhood romp through the woods, where your instant whim becomes an aspect of the story and an element of the landscape.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—A Lesson with John (2012) **½

NR, 5 min.
Director/Writer: Michael D. Ratner
Starring: John McEnroe, Michael D. Ratner

What a strange little movie to find in the extra features of “Piranha 3DD” of all places. Perhaps The Weinstein Company put this short in the extras on several of their titles. It’s a five-minute flick starring John McEnroe as himself giving a tennis lesson to a nerdy jerk. The writer and director of the movie plays the nerjerk. He uses this forum to give McEnroe a chance to sound off in the way that made such a name for him during his days on the international tennis circuit.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Thunderball (1965) ***½

PG, 130 min.
Director: Terence Young
Writers: Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins, Jack Whittingham, Kevin McClory, Ian Fleming (novel)
Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Guy Doleman, Molly Peters, Martine Beswick, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell

There is something so raw about the first four Bond films. Bond is really a prototypical hero, and the casting of Sean Connery in the role was a masterstroke to capture that quality in the character. This was the last film to come out before the character really started to wink at himself and become aware of his own chauvinism and irreverence.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph / ***½ (PG)

Featuring the voices of:
Ralph: John C. Reilly
Vanellope: Sarah Silverman
Felix: Jack McBrayer
Calhoun: Jane Lynch
King Candy: Alan Tudyk

Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Rich Moore. Written by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee. Running time: 108 min. Rated PG (for some rude humor and mild action/violence).

I was never a big video game fan. I grew up in the era that brought video games out of the arcade and into the living room. I went to arcades as a kid, and that was a more exciting experience for me than playing them at home. It’s possible the filmmakers of the new Disney film “Wreck-It Ralph” are aware of how much more powerful an experience the arcade is than the home console since they set their adventure in an arcade. Whatever the thinking behind the setting of this movie, it was made with love, care and respect for the video games that have been popular throughout the 30 years that could be called the Renaissance of the video game. “Wreck-It Ralph” is a wonderfully affectionate adventure that works weather you’re a fan of video games or not.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Conspirator (2011) ***

PG-13, 122 min.
Director: Robert Redford
Writers: James Solomon, Gregory Bernstein
Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Justin Long, Danny Huston, James Badge Dale, Colm Meaney, Alexis Bledel, Johnny Simmons, Toby Kebbell, Jonathan Groff, Stephen Root, John Cullum, Norman Reedus, John Michael Weatherly, Marcus Hester, Chris Bauer, Jim True-Frost, Shea Whigham, David Andrews

I’m sure after today there will be many citizens contemplating the assassination of whichever candidate wins the presidency. I suppose our biggest comfort in the coming days will be that most people who oppose each of the candidates will be more afraid of their running mates becoming president than whoever actually winds up being our latest president. Small comfort, but consider that there were days in this country’s history when its citizens were even more divided about how it was being run.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Poliwood (2009) ***

NR, 90 min.
Director: Barry Levinson
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Rachel Leigh Cook, Alan Cumming, Tim Daly, Charlie Daniels, Robert Davi, Giancarlo Esposito, Anne Hathaway, Spike Lee, Josh Lucas, Matthew Modine, Susan Sarandon, Richard Schiff,

During the last Presidential Election filmmaker Barry Levinson made this documentary about the Creative Coalition to better understand how politics work in our modern age. Celebrities involving themselves in politics have long been a controversial topic. Many think that celebrities are abusing their raised position in the public spotlight when they back political causes and candidates. There is one scene in here where a woman attacks a group of celebrities who have invited her to a conversation on the topic with such vitriol you’d think she was talking about a group of 9/11 terrorists.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Cloud Atlas / ***½ (R)

Dr. Henry Goose/Hotel Manager/Isaac Sachs/Dermot Hoggins/Cavendish Look-a-like Actor/Zachry: Tom Hanks
Native Woman/Jocasta Ayers/Luisa Rey/Indian Party Guest/Ovid/Meronym: Halle Berry
Captain Molyneux/Vyvyan Ayers/Timothy Cavendish/Korean Musician/Prescient 2: Jim Broadbent
Haskell Moore/Tadeusz Kesserling/Bill Smoke/Nurse Noakes/Boardman Mephi/Old George: Hugo Weaving
Adam Ewing/Poor Hotel Guest/Megan’s Dad/Highlander/Hae-Joo Chang/Adam/Zachry Brother-in-law: Jim Sturgess
Tilda/Megan’s Mom/Mexican Woman/Sonmi-451/Sonmi-351/Sonmi Prostitute: Doona Bae
Cabin Boy/Robert Frobisher/Store Clerk/Georgette/Tribesman: Ben Whishaw
Kupaka/Joe Napier/An-kor Apis/Prescient: Keith David
Rufus Sixsmith/Nurse James/Archivist: James D’Arcy
Talbot/Hotel Manager/Toona-939/Rose: Xun Zhou
Autua/Lester Rey/Duophsyte: David Gyasi
Madame Horrox/Older Ursula/Yusouf Suleiman/Abbess: Susan Sarandon
Rev. Giles Horrox/Hotel Heavy/Lloyd Hooks/Denholme Cavendish/ Seer Rhee/Kona Chief: Hugh Grant

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by The Wachowskis & Tom Tykwer. Written by Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer & Andy Wachowski. Based on the book by David Mitchell. Running time: 172 min. Rated R (for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use).

The first ten minutes I spent on this review was researching various quotes and definitions about history, repeating the mistakes of the past, and how everything is connected. Normally, I would begin a review for a movie such as “Cloud Atlas” with a famous quotation that sums up the ideas expressed in its epic scope. I chose not to with this film because a part of its effectiveness comes from trying to figure out what it all means as you go. It is important however to know that it deals with different historical periods—past, present, and future—how they connect with each other, and how mankind seems either doomed or blessed to repeat its mistakes.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Horror Thoughts ‘12—Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) ***½

R, 84 min.
Director: Jalmari Helander
Writers: Jalmari Helander, Juuso Helander
Starring: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen, Per Christian Ellefsen, Ilmari Järvenpää, Peeter Jakobi

Everyone knows that after Halloween, we all move on to Christmas. It doesn’t matter that Christmas is still two months away or that in America there’s still another major holiday that falls in between the two. The retailers dictate that once we’re done scaring each other, we must then start buying each other gifts. “Rare Exports” is a movie that crosses that divide between Christmas and Halloween by giving us a frightening, yet quite comic, look at the legend of Santa Claus through glasses of a color no one ever imagined in this country.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Horror Thoughts ‘12—The American Scream (2012) ***

NR, 91 min.
Director: Michael Stephenson
Starring: Victor Bariteau, Tina Bariteau, Matthew Brodeur, Richard Brodeur, Manny Souza, Lori Souza

I’ll admit it. I didn’t get the title at first. It’s a documentary about amateur house haunters, people who spend most of their time throughout the year creating a haunted house on their private residence for people to visit on Halloween. It took one of the film’s subject’s entire story to drive the title home for me. It is his “dream” to turn his obsession into a professional career. It’s his personal American “scream.”

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Horror Thoughts ‘12—The Woman (2011) ***½

R, 101 min.
Director: Lucky McKee
Writer: Lucky McKee, Jack Ketchum
Starring: Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers, Lauren Ashley Carter, Angela Bettis, Zach Rand, Shyla Mulhusen, Carlee Baker

I can always count on Horrorfest to present me with story lines I never could’ve imagined without the filmmakers. In Luck McKee’s “The Woman” we meet a man with some serious issues. We know he has some serious issues when he finds a feral woman in the woods while hunting one day, captures her, and chains her in his family’s storm shelter. This event is a family affair. He doesn’t hide what he’s done from them. He involves them in his “training” of the woman to be civilized.