Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Rust and Bone (2012) ***

R, 120 min.
Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Craig Davidson
Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Marion Cotillard, Armand Verdure, Céline Sallette, Corine Massiero, Bouli Lanners

“Rust and Bone” is a French film that consists of material that were it made in Hollywood would be considered award fodder. In France I believe it’s just a movie. It involves a single father who has a lot to learn about being a father and a woman with a particular disability. Their paths cross before she becomes disabled and it is to him that she turns when she feels nobody she’s known throughout her life can understand he new state of being.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Chasing Mavericks (2012) ***

PG, 116 min.
Directors: Curtis Hanson, Michael Apted
Writers: Kario Salem, Jim Meenaghan, Brandon Hooper
Starring: Johnny Weston, Gerard Butler, Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer, Leven Rambin, Devin Crittenden, Taylor Handley

Gerard Butler is in a lot of movies. He produces most of the ones he’s in too, which means not only are these acting projects he’s choosing to do, these are productions he feels should be made. Most of the movies he makes are bad. Some are just plain bad. Some are good ideas that are poorly executed. “Chasing Mavericks” is the rare worthwhile picture that Butler gets behind.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pain & Gain / *½ (R)

Daniel Lugo: Mark Wahlberg
Paul Doyle: Dwayne Johnson
Adrian Doorbal: Anthony Mackie
Victor Kershaw: Tony Shaloub
Ed DuBois: Ed Harris
John Mese: Rob Corddry
Sorina Luminita: Bar Paly
Robin Peck: Rebel Wilson
Johnny Wu: Ken Jeong
Frank Griga: Michael Rispoli

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Michael Bay. Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Based on the magazine articles by Pete Collins. Running time: 130 min. Rated R (for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use).

With his latest, fairly low budget feature, “Pain & Gain”, Michael Bay appears to have dethroned Joel Schumacher as Hollywood’s big name director with the least imagination. He begins with what is a fairly unbelievable true story about three body builders who kidnap a powerful rich man to steal his money before advancing to double homicide, and he proceeds to imbue this story with blasé indifference, squandering the opportunity to produce a bitingly satirical black comedy. Bay’s ability to photograph a film is filled with style, while his ability to tell a story is stagnant.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ebert Thoughts ‘13—Kumaré (2012) ****

NR, 84 min.
Director: Vikram Gandhi
Featuring: Vikram Gandhi, Purva Bedi, Kristen Calgaro

“Kumaré” is a documentary about an Indian spiritual leader, who sets up in Arizona to build a following of people to teach his philosophy about the illusion of spiritual leaders. His philosophy is simple, as a guru he can enlighten you to nothing that isn’t already inside you. It is only his job to teach his followers how to reach happiness on their own, without a guru.

Ebert Thoughts ‘13—The Ballad of Narayama (1958) ****

NR, 98 min.
Director: Keisuke Kinoshita
Writers: Keisuke Kinoshita, Shichirô Fukazawa (stories)
Starring: Kinuyo Tanaka, Teiji Takahashi, Yûko Mochizuki, Danko Ichikawa, Keiko Ogasawara, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yûnosuke Itô, Ken Mitsuda

My final day of Ebertfest 2013 examinations brings us two films about ritual of sorts. The first is the Japanese film “The Ballad of Narayama”, a story that has been filmed twice. The more recent version is the better known of the two, but the first version is an incredibly unique film experience.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Ebert Thoughts ‘13—Julia (2008) ***½

R, 144 min.
Director: Erick Zonca
Writers: Aude Py, Erick Zonca, Roger Bohbot, Michael Collins
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Aidan Gould, Kate del Castillo, Saul Rubinek, Jude Ciccolella, Bruno Bichir, Horacio Garcia Rojas, Mauricio Moreno, Gastón Peterson

“Julia” provides the greatest stretch of the theme I am exploring in these recent Ebertfest entries. Where is the good in the titular character played by Tilda Swinton here? Julia is not a good person. She does not make good decisions. She does not do good things. She does not have good intentions. What she does to the little boy that she kidnaps for ransom made me uncomfortable at times.

Ebert Thoughts ‘13—Oslo, August 31 (2012) ****

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

Today’s offerings are a little harder to find the good in, but it’s there. “Oslo, August 31st” starts almost like a documentary praising the Norwegian city. Voiceover provide memories of Oslo by is citizenry, and then the story begins with a man filling his jacket pockets up with stones, picking up a huge rock in his arms and walking into a river.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ebert Thoughts ‘13—Bernie (2012) ***½

PG-13, 104 min.
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater, Skip Hollandsworth (also article in Texas Monthly)
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Bradley Coleman, Richard Robichaux, Rick Dial, Brandon Smith, Larry Jack Dotson, Merrilee McCommas, Mathew Greer, Sonny Davis

Of all the films at Ebertfest this year, none is more obviously about a good man than Richard Linklater’s real life inspired “Bernie”. That fact that Bernie is also a murderer can hardly be held against him.  

Ebert Thoughts ‘13—Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh (1987) ****

NR, 105 min.
Director: Paul Cox
Writer: Vincent van Gogh
Narrator: John Hurt

Australian director Paul Cox was one of Roger Ebert’s favorite directors. Four of his movies have been featured at Ebertfest and he’s been a guest five times, once for a screening of “On Borrowed Time”, a documentary about him. This year he came with one of his documentaries, the very unique “Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh”.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ebert Thoughts ‘13—Days of Heaven (1978) ****

PG, 98 min.
Director/Writer: Terrence Malick
Starring: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz, Robert J. Wilke, Jackie Shultis

I’ve been reading Roger Ebert’s memoir “Life Itself”. In the chapter titled “My New Job”, in which he describes how he became the Chicago Sun Times film critic, he claims that one of the main aspects of a movie that appeals to him is the goodness of the characters. He claims that even Hannibal Lecter is a good person underneath all his psychosis. In “The Silence of the Lambs” he helps the police capture other serial killers because they disgust him. He just can’t control his own psychosis. So considering this notion, I’ve decided to examine several of this year’s Ebertfest films by looking at the good qualities of the characters in them.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ebertfest 2013: A Review of the 15th Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival

The Golden Thumb is Awarded to all special guests of Ebertfest.

There is no doubt that this year’s Roger Ebert’s Film Festival at the historic Virginia Theater in Champaign, Ill. was a sad event. The famed film critic’s death on April 4 of this year meant the 15th annual holding of this event last week, known to those who attend as Ebertfest, was only the second that Ebert was unable to attend and the first without his presence at all.

I’m going to stop myself right there, though, for I feel I’ve made an all too common mistake by journalists these days. I got my facts wrong. I have no doubt that Roger’s presence was felt beyond bounds at this year’s Ebertfest. At this point, he must be referred to as Roger in reference to this event in particular because all who attend it are friends of the man. It has been a place where one cineaste shares 12 to 14 of his favorite movies with 2000 of his friends. This year, I think Roger’s own personal stake in each film was clearer than ever.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Phantom Tollbooth (1970) *½

G, 90 min.
Directors: Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow
Writers: Chuck Jones, Sam Rosen, Norton Juster (book)
Starring: Butch Patrick
Voices: Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Candy Candido, Hans Conried, June Foray, Patti Gilbert, Shep Menken, Cliff Norton, Larry Thor, Les Tremayne

“The Phantom Tollbooth” reminds me of those days in elementary school when we’d watch a slide show and occasionally an actual movie. This would have been one of the movies we might’ve watched. Heck, I’m pretty sure it was.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Hitchcock (2012) ***

PG-13, 98 min.
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Writers: John J. McLaughlin, Stephen Rebello (novel)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Wincott, James D’Arcy, Richard Portnow, Kurtwood Smith, Ralph Macchio

“Hitchcock” isn’t a tribute to the master of suspense so much as it is a look behind the curtain. It looks at the making of arguably his most controversial picture and one of his most financially successful, “Psycho”. The thing is, nobody wanted to make it, even though it was Hitchcock. It’s really not so surprising, considering the unconventional nature of the plot. It was based on a real life serial killer, Ed Gein, whose crimes were particularly heinous for that time. The movie’s heroine is killed off before the halfway point. And frankly, it wasn’t crowd-pleasing material, like Hitch’s previous film “North By Northwest”. Yes, even 50 years ago Hollywood preferred repeating itself to producing new material.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Oblivion / *** (PG-13)

Jack: Tom Cruise
Victoria: Andrea Riseborough
Julia: Olga Kurylenko
Beech: Morgan Freeman
Sykes: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Sally: Melissa Leo

Universal Pictures presents a film by Joseph Kosinski. Written by Kosinski and Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt. Based on the comic book by Kosinski and Arvid Nelson. Running time: 126 min. Rated PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity).

I am suspect of reviews of science fiction films that complain of “meandering”, and many of the reviews of the movie “Oblivion” do. Somewhere along the line Hollywood confused the science fiction picture with the action picture, and now most audiences are trained to believe that science fiction is supposed to be filled with action, when it is really supposed to be filled with ideas. “Oblivion” isn’t a cornucopia of ideas, but it does take its time to allow the audience to think about what is happening and why.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 1 (1987-1988) ***½

TV-PG, 25 45-min. episodes
Creator: Gene Roddenberry

Directors: Corey Allen, Paul Lynch, Russ Mayberry, Richard A. Colla, Rob Bowman, Cliff Bole, James L. Conway, Richard Compton, Joseph L. Scanlan, Michael Ray Rhodes, Kim Manners, Michael Vegar, Les Landau, Whin Phelps, Robert Becker

Writers: Gene Roddenberry, D.C. Fontana, John D.F. Black, Katharyn Powers, Michael Baron, Herbert Wright, Richard Krzemien, Diane Duane, Michael Reaves, Michael Halperin, Worely Thorne, Larry Forrester, Maurice Hurley, Tracy Tormé, Lan O’Kun, Robert Lewin, Patrick Barry, Michael Michaelian, Hannah Louise Shearer, Robert Sabaroff, Karl Geurs, Ralph Sanchez, Sandy Fries, Richard Manning, Hans Beimler, Joseph Stephano, Deborah Dean Davis, Deborah McIntyre, Mona Clee

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton

Guest starring: John de Lancie, Michael Bell, DeForest Kelley, Colm Meaney, Brooke Bundy, Jesse Lawrence Ferguson, Karole Selmon, James Louis Watkins, Armin Shimerman, Jake Dengle, Tracey Walter, Mike Gomez, Stanley Kamel, Eric Menyuk, John Durbin, Brenda Bakke, Jay Louden, Josh Clark, Frank Corsentino, Douglas Warhit, Majel Barrett, Robert Knepper, Nan Martin, Robert Ellenstein, Carel Struycken, Anna Katarina, Lawrence Tierney, Harvey Jason, William Boyett, David Selburg, Karen Montgomery, Sam Hennings, Patricia McPherson, Leonard John Crofoot, Carolyn McCormick, Gene Dynarski, Katy Boyer, Alexandra Johnson, Clayton Rohner, Marsha Hunt, Michael Pataki, Jerry Hardin, Brenda Strong, Jandi Swanson, Walter Gotell, Elizabeth Lindsey, Gerard Prendergast, Mario Roccuzzo, Ward Costello, Robert Schenkkan, John Putch, Robert Ito, Stephen Gregory, Vaughn Armstrong, Charles H. Hyman, David Froman, Vincent Schiavelli, Marco Rodríguez, Vyto Ruginis, Julia Nickson, Judson Scott, Merritt Butrick, Richard Lineback, Kimberly Farr, Ron Gans, Michelle Phillips, Rod Loomis, Henry Darrow, Ray Reinhardt, Jonathan Farwell, Michael Berryman, Marc Alaimo, Anthony James, Leon Rippy, Gracie Harrison, Peter Mark Richman

I was told after I reviewed all three seasons of the original “Star Trek” television series, that I would enjoy “Star Trek: The Next Generation” even more. Although, I was a huge fan of “Star Trek” as a kid, I never watched “Star Trek: The Next Generation” when it was on TV. It was a matter of bad timing. It started airing at that period in my late high school life when extra curricular activities began to take precedence over television. It was also on one of those new channels that seemed to be forbidden on my father’s television. Then, I went on to college and pretty much stopped watching television all together. So, I was very excited to start watching this “new” ‘Star Trek” series 25 years after the fact thanks to Netflix.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

iSteve / *½ (NR)

Steve Jobs: Justin Long
Steve Wozniak: Jorge Garcia
Bill Gates: James Urbaniak
Melinda Gates: Michaela Watkins
Justin Long: Anthony Gioe

Funny or Die presents a film written and directed by Ryan Perez. Running time 79 min. Not rated. Contains language, depiction of drug use and brief sexuality.

This week the website Funny or Die released “the first Steve Jobs movie” online streaming free on their website and other streaming media outlets. “iSteve” is the first of three proposed movies about the pioneering computer engineer and programmer and co-founder of Apple Computers who passed away in October of 2011. It is also a joke, as is everything produced by Funny or Die.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The New Normal, season 1 (2012-2013) ***

TV-14, 22 23-min. episodes
Creators: Ali Adler, Ryan Murphy

Directors: Ryan Murphy, Scott Ellis, Miguel Arteta, Max Winkler, Elodie Keene, Bradley Buecker, Wendy Stanzler, Paris Barclay, Burr Steers

Writers: Ali Adler, Ryan Murphy, Adam Barr, Mark Kunerth, Mike Scully, Aaron Lee, Moshe Casher, Erin Foster, Robert Sudduth, Karey Dornetto

Starring: Justin Bartha, Andrew Rannells, Georgia King, Bebe Woods, NeNe Leakes, Jayson Blair, Ellen Barkin

Guest starring: Michael Hitchcock, John Stamos, Ravi Patel, Isaak Presley, Sterling Sulieman, Jackie Hoffman, Michael Chernus, John Benjamin Hickey, Cheri Oteri, Barry Bostwick, Toby Huss, Kelly Keaton, Shannen Doherty, James Urbaniak, Kevin Christy, Stacie Greenwell, Marlo Thomas, Robert Reinis, Matt Bomer, Elisha Yaffe, Wendy Benson, Jackie Joyner, Kyla Kenedy, Lexi Jourdan, Anjini Azhar, Angela Matemotja, Sarah Stouffer, Mark Consuelos, Briana Lane, Jason Boegh, Sarah Burns, Erik Weiner, Jen Ray, Kerri Kenney, Phil Abrams, Nicole Richie, George Takei, Indrajit Sarkar, Lenny Jacobson, Greg Pitts, Mary Kay Place

“The New Normal” is yet another bold experiment by NBC that will most likely result in cancelation after only one season. They dared to ask the question: Can Americans accept a sitcom based on a family with a same sex couple at its core? Now of course, this is hardly the first time we’ve seen a same sex couple in a major sitcom. “Modern Family” has been a hugely successful sitcom that features a same sex couple raising an adopted daughter, but that couple is not the sole focus of the series. “The New Normal” decided to take on a great deal more social issues by making that family the primary focus of the series.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Here Comes the Boom (2012) ***

PG, 105 min.
Director: Frank Coraci
Writers: Kevin James, Allan Loeb, Rock Rueben
Starring: Kevin James, Henry Winkler, Salma Hayek, Bas Rutten, Charise, Mark DellaGrotte, Greg Germann, Joe Rogan, Gary Valentine, Krzysztof Soszynski

I honestly tried to give my heart to the movies of Adam Sandler. There was something about him that I was sure was genuine and slightly brilliant. I kept trying and trying to see it in his films, but it was often just out of the film’s grasp. That was until the movies didn’t even try anymore and therefore no longer could I. Maybe Kevin James will earn my new attempts to see something special from someplace you don’t really expect it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Sessions (2012) ***½

R, 95 min.
Director: Ben Lewin
Writers: Ben Lewin, Mark O’Brien (article “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate”)
Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Adam Arkin

If you look at movies today, you’d never know people had sex. Or at least you’d have no idea exactly what the physical act of love involved. “The Sessions” is a film that addresses sex in terms that even the filmmakers of the 70s never really explored. It tells the true story of a man in an iron lung who yearns to have a sexual experience before he dies. It’s really only natural.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen / ** (R)

Mike Banning: Gerard Butler
President Benjamin Asher: Aaron Eckhart
Kang: Rick Yune
Speaker Trumbull: Morgan Freeman
Forbes: Dylan McDermott
Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs: Angela Bassett
Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan: Melissa Leo
General Edward Clegg: Robert Forster
Leah: Radha Mitchell
Connor: Finley Jacobson

FilmDistrict and Millennium Films present a film directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt. Running time: 120 min. Rated R (for strong violence and language throughout).

I don’t know if there’s anymore angst targeted on Washington by the American people than any other period in our nation’s history or not, but it certainly isn’t one of the most amicable periods of time between the Republic and those elected to represent them. I think the success of a movie like “Olympus Has Fallen” is probably a result of that. Oh, it’s filled with all the American pride and respect for the institution you can expect from a patriotic Hollywood establishment, but it gives us the satisfaction of seeing the symbols of our government blown to smithereens.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Cargo (2013) ****

NR, 7 min.
Directors: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke
Writer: Yolanda Ramke
Starring: Andy Rodoreda

There’s a certain economy to the short film that a feature length movie can never provide. As such, the overly popular zombie horror subgenre has become a perfect fit for the format. We don’t need to be told the rules of the zombie life anymore. We know how someone becomes a zombie. We know how someone avoids becoming a zombie. We know how zombies work, and we now how the survival of society must work.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Bully (2012) ***½

PG-13, 98 min.
Director: Lee Hirsch
Writers: Lee Hirsch, Cynthia Lowen
Featuring: Ja’Meya Jackson, Kelby Johnson, Alex Libby, David Long, Tina Long, Kirk Smalley

Why are people so cruel to each other? As far as I know, nobody’s really figured that out yet. I’m certainly not the one who will crack the code. How sad it is to observe such cruelty. That’s what the documentary “Bully” does. Mostly it observes the aftereffects of such cruelty, which is hard enough to take; but it is most powerful when it actually catches glimpses of its subjects being victimized.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Kid (2000) ***

PG, 104 min.
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Writer: Audrey Wells
Starring: Bruce Willis, Spencer Breslin, Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin, Jean Smart, Chi McBride

Disney’s “The Kid” is a charming little movie that comes as an anomaly in the career of perennial action star Bruce Willis. It’s the rare touchy feely movie in Willis’ high profile career. It’s Disney touchy feely, though, so it connects on a kid level rather than a more serious adult one. However, watching it for the first time since it’s theatrical release in 2000, I was struck how it seemed to be made more from an adult perspective than from a kid’s.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Pink Panther (1963) ***

NR, 115 min.
Director: Blake Edwards
Writers: Maurice Richlin, Blake Edwards
Starring: David Niven, Peters Sellers, Robert Wagner, Capucine, Claudia Cardinale, Brenda de Banzie, Colin Gordon, John LeMesurier

I grew up watching “Pink Panther” movies. It would make more sense to refer to them as Inspector Clouseau movies, though. I remember seeing “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” in the theater. I reveled in the bumbling dance of Clouseau. He was just too funny. I consumed so much Clouseau as a child, I had always thought I’d seen every Clouseau movie. It turns out I never saw the first two as a child.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) ***½

PG-13, 105 min.
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Pierre Boulle (novel “La planéte des singes”)
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, Tyler Labine, Jamie Harris

When I initially saw “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” in theaters, I was going through some bumpy stuff. I think I undervalued what I was seeing. I registered the cleverness in how Rupert Wyatt and his screenwriters were setting up the history of the “Planet of the Apes” story from Pierre Boulle’s science fiction classic, but I took points away for the action sequences that close out the movie. I liked how they tied the evolution of the apes to our own search for a cure for Alzheimer’s. I liked how the plague that was created from the drug also explains how humans could’ve diminished to the point where they were forgotten in the ape history books as a species of equal intelligence.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Political Animals (2012) **

TV-14, 6 45-min. episodes
Creator: Greg Berlanti
Directors: Greg Berlanti, Bethany Rooney, Michael Morris, David Petrarca, Tucker Gates
Writers: Greg Berlanti, Molly Newman, Phil Klemmer, Brian Peterson, Kelly Souders, Speed Weed, Geoffrey Nauffts, Nicholas Wootten
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Carla Gugino, James Wolk, Sebastian Stan, Brittany Ishibashi, Ellen Burnstyn, Ciarán Hinds
Guest Starring: Dylan Baker, Dan Futterman, Adrian Pasdar, Roger Bart, Meghann Fahy, LaMonica Garrett, Eric Mabius, Vanessa Redgrave, Chris Ellis, Madchen Amick, Wes Chatham, Ming Lo, David Monahan, Linda Powell, John Bedford Lloyd, Blair Brown

I think I decided to finish “Political Animals” in order to prep myself for Netflix’s “House of Cards”. I watched the first episode when it aired last summer. I liked what I saw; my wife didn’t. We didn’t try it again, but it was sitting there in my DVR, the five remaining episodes. I spent the winter catching up on a lot of shows—“The Walking Dead”, “American Horror Story”, “Louie”, “Archer”, “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret”. Some of these were via Netflix, some were on my DVR. After I finished all those off, I couldn’t just let “Political Animals” sit there anymore. I’d consumed so much television over the winter months that it seemed a shame just to delete them, so I watched them.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Army of Darkness (1992) ***

R, 81 min.
Director: Sam Saimi
Writers: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Grove, Timothy Patrick Quill, Michael Earl Reid, Bridget Fonda, Patricia Tallman, Theodore Raimi

“Army of Darkness” is the third of Sam Raimi’s original “Evil Dead” series, and probably the least significant of the entire series. In it he pretty much abandons any semblance of genuine horror for a sort of homage to the mythical adventure films that made visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen famous. Like the classic B-pictures “Jason and the Argonauts”, “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”, and even “Clash of the Titans”—released the very same year as Sam Raimi’s original “The Evil Dead”—“Army of Darkness” is basically a sword and sandal picture where the hero from the “Evil Dead” films fights the denizens of Hell in an ancient time.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Evil Dead / ** ½ (R)

Mia: Jane Levy
David: Shiloh Fernandez
Eric: Lou Taylor Pucci
Olivia: Jessica Lucas
Natalie: Elizabeth Blackmore

TriStar Pictures presents a film directed by Fede Alvarez. Written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues. Based on the 1981 film “The Evil Dead” by Sam Raimi. Running time: 91 min. Rated R (for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language).

If there’s one thing for sure that the latest version of “Evil Dead” has to say, it’s that detox is a bitch. In this movie, which appears to be more of a sequel/reboot than a remake, the soon-to-be-dead teenagers have a more serious reason for visiting that sad looking cabin in the woods than the people in Sam Raimi’s 1981 original ultra low budget “The Evil Dead”. Mia is a drug addict trying to kick her habit, so her brother and three friends take her into the woods for a much needed cold turkey detox. The result is a much more serious approach to material which once distinguished itself by not taking itself so seriously.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Evil Dead II (1987) ****

X, 84 min.
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Theodore Raimi, Denise Bixler, Richard Domeier, John Peakes, Lou Hancock

The first time I ever saw Sam Raimi’s cult horror comedy classic “Evil Dead II” it was one of those rush jobs that really only seem to happen in college. “You haven’t seen ‘Evil Dead II’? We must watch it, right now!” one of my friends insisted.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Roger and Me

In 1989, a then unknown documentary filmmaker named Michael Moore released his first film about his attempts to sit down and have a conversation with then GM CEO Roger Smith about his decision radically downsize the auto manufacturing company’s Flint, Michigan plant in Moore’s hometown. Moore’s earnest style and his signature of breaking the documentarian’s rule of placing himself into the facts of the subject matter marked the birth of a new major filmmaker. As a teenager growing up in Topsham, Maine at the time, it might’ve seemed unlikely that I would care about such a film let alone even know about it. But I did. The reason I did is because of another man named Roger.

Roger Ebert is universally thought of as the pioneer of modern film criticism. Without his efforts it is unlikely a seventeen year old in Topsham, Maine would ever have sought out a documentary about the economic downturn of a Michigan city that he’d never heard of. I hadn’t yet fully developed the obsession with film that Ebert had a very large part in cultivating, but I did watch “Siskel & Ebert & The Movies” almost every Saturday morning to find out what was opening and if it was any good or not.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Evil Dead (1981) ***½

X, 85 min.
Director/Writer: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York

The remake of Sam Raimi’s cult classic “Evil Dead” opens in theaters this Friday. The remake is produced by Raimi and has been given full blessings by the original’s star Bruce Campbell, who became an underground cult acting hero through his work on Raimi’s original horror/comedy trilogy. What strikes me about the trailers of the new movie is that there doesn’t seem to be any hint that the movie retains any of the comedic elements that made the first films underground hits. In revisiting the original film, with a title that include a “The” that was somehow dropped through the mysterious ways that film’s take on their own lives, the more serious tone that may encompass the new version makes a little more sense.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—1600 Penn, season 1 (2012-2013) **

TV-PG, 13 23-min. episodes
Creators: Josh Gad, Jon Lovett, Jason Winer

Directors: Jason Winer, Jennifer Getzinger, Ken Whittingham, David Grossman, Gail Mancuso

Writers: Josh Gad, Jon Lovett, Jason Weiner, Mike Broyce, Joe Port, Joe Wiseman, Peter A. Knight, Sanjay Shah, Laura Gutin Peterson, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Bridget Bedard, Ryan Raddatz

Starring: Josh Gad, Jenna Elfman, Martha MacIsaac, Andre Holland, Amara Miller, Benjamin Stockham, Bill Pullman

Guest starring: Miguel Sandoval, Jay Leno, Willie C. Carpenter, Peter Jason, Mika Brzezinski, Joe Scarborough, Willie Geist, Stacy Keach, Susan Park, Constance Towers, Mary Pat Gleason, Savannah Guthrie, Rene Auberjonois, Robbie Amell, Rebecca Wisocky, David St. James, Missi Pyle, Jane Edith Wilson, Bruce Campbell, Mary Hart, Chuck Todd, Tim Bagley, Lucia Vecchio, Mike Moonves, Matt Corboy, Henry Winkler, Hannah Simone, Adam Shapiro

The future doesn’t look good for this freshman sitcom centered on a new First Family in the White House. The brainchildren of the series are star Josh Gad and his writing partners Jon Lovett and Jason Winer, I’m slightly aghast that it got on air to begin with. With not much pedigree behind the curtains here, NBC went full bore into putting the pedigree on screen. Nabbing big names Jenna Elfman and Bill Pullman as the FLOTUS and POTUS to back up Gad’s antics would’ve placed this mid-season replacement series on the top of any other network’s visibility scale.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Walking Dead, season 3 (2012-2013) ****

TV-14, 16 45-min. episodes
Creators: Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman (graphic novels), Tony Moore (graphic novels), Charlie Adlard (graphic novels)

Directors: Ernest Dickerson, Bill Gierhart, Guy Ferland, Gregory Nicotero, Dan Attias, Daniel Sackheim, Lesli Linka Glatter, Seith Mann, Tricia Brock, David Boyd, Stefan Schwartz

Writers: Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, Glen Mazzara, Nichole Beattie, Evan T. Reilly, Sang Kyu Kim, Angela Kang, Scott M. Gimple, Frank Renzulli, Ryan C. Coleman

Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Norman Reedus, Steve Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Emily Kenny, Scott Wilson, Michael Rooker, David Morrisey, Dallas Roberts

Guest starring: Irone Singleton, Lew Temple, Theodus Crane, Nick Gomez, Markice Moore, Vincent Ward, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Alexa Nikolas, Lawrence Kao, Chad L. Coleman, Sonequa Martin-Green, Donzaleigh Abernathy, Tyler Chase, Daniel Thomas May, Melissa Ponzio, Travis Love, Lennie James, Jon Bernthal

Season three of the AMC phenomenon series “The Walking Dead” is the longest and most devastating yet. Is this what we would come to during the zombie apocalypse? Probably more likely than we’d like to admit.