Monday, September 30, 2013

Horror Thoughts ‘13—Room 237 (2013) **½

NR, 102 min.
Director/Writer: Rodney Ascher
Featuring: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner, Buffy Visick

For those of you unfamiliar with Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Shining”, Room 237 is the room in the haunted Overlook Hotel, where a beautiful woman, who then appears as an old crone in the mirror, seduces the caretaker. It is a room that supposedly holds the key to the hotel’s supernatural power. It is now also the title of a documentary that examines the many different theories that have grown throughout the years about the film’s hidden meanings.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Horror Thoughts ‘13—Prince of Darkness (1987) ***½

R, 102 min.
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: John Carpenter (as Martin Quartermass)
Starring: Jameson Parker, Donald Pleasance, Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard, Anne Howard, Ann Yen, Ken Wright, Dirk Blocker, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Peter Jason, Robert Grasmere, Thom Bray, Joanna Merlin, Alice Cooper

Horrorfest 2013 kicks off with one of my favorite horror flicks out there. It isn’t one of the best, but there’s something about John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness” that just gets me going into the horror mood. Perhaps it’s Carpenter’s signature minimalist electronic score. Perhaps it’s the nearly whispered impression of his delivery. Perhaps it’s just Carpenter’s stripped down style, giving the audience nothing but the essentials they need to understand the story without any extraneous photography or set up. He just gives us the horror of it all and nothing else.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rush / *** (R)

James Hunt: Chris Hemsworth
Niki Lauda: Daniel Brühl
Marlene Lauda: Alexandra Maria Lara
Suzy Miller: Olivia Wilde
Lord Hesketh: Christian McKay
Clay Regazzoni: Pierfrancesco Favino

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Ron Howard. Written by Peter Morgan. Running time: 123 min. Rated R (for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images, and brief drug use).

I’m not much of a car man, although I do watch “Top Gear” whenever I have a lazy Saturday afternoon to waste, but that’s more for the entertainment of it’s manboy hosts. I really don’t know much about car racing. I know NASCAR is pretty big stuff in the Kansas City area. I know nothing about the Formula One circuit. The new movie “Rush” isn’t exactly the best learning tool for the uninitiated, but it does tell the story of one of the sport’s biggest rivalries from the 70s between Austrian Niki Lauda and British driver James Hunt.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Mud (2013) ****

R, 130 min.
Director/Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Matthew McConaughey, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks, Michael Shannon, Joe Don Baker, Bonnie Sturdivant

Jeff Nichols has written and directed three movies, and he’s written and directed three masterpieces. I was blown away by his surprisingly funny family revenge drama “Shotgun Stories”. His “Take Shelter” was a harrowing journey into either madness or sorrowful enlightenment. Now, he gives us “Mud”. The most basic of the three and in some ways the most accomplished.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Tonight You’re Mine (2012) ***

R, 80 min.
Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Thomas Leveritt
Starring: Luke Treadaway, Natalia Tena, Mat Baynton, Kari Corbett, Sophie Wu, Gavin Mitchell, Ruta Gedmintas, Alistair Mackenzie, Gilly Gilchrist, Joseph Mydell

“Tonight You’re Mine” is a romantic comedy in one of the more unique settings I’ve seen. The entire movie takes place during the T in the Park rock festival in England, and it was actually filmed during the festival. It involves two musicians who get handcuffed together at the beginning of the festival and must remain cuffed until they can find the key or someone willing to help with the right equipment.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Amour (2013) ****

PG-13, 127 min.
Director/Writer: Michael Haneke
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert

Death is awful. That’s too kind. It fucking sucks. I apologize for my language. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I use foul language sparingly. For this subject it’s appropriate to capture my anger over this subject.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Prisoners / ***½ (R)

Keller Dover: Hugh Jackman
Detective Loki: Jake Gyllenhaal
Grace Dover: Maria Bello
Nancy Birch: Viola Davis
Franklin Birch: Terrence Howard
Alex Jones: Paul Dano
Holly Jones: Melissa Leo

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Denis Villeneuve. Written by Aaron Guzikowski. Running time: 153 min. Rated R (for disturbing violence content including torture, and language throughout).

School shootings. Child abduction. The gun debate. Religious zealotry. And People just trying to live their lives by doing what’s right. “Prisoners” is a new thriller made for the times in which we live. It doesn’t take sides on any of these issues, but it incorporates them all and more into a parent’s worst nightmare.

Hugh Jackman stars as Keller Dover, a God fearing man who lives life by the mantra “Pray for the best, prepare for the worst.” After watching his son make his first kill on a hunting trip in the opening scene, Keller tells the boy that when it comes down to the worst-case scenario, the only person one can rely on is himself. He’s proud of his boy for making a good clean kill, and he lets him know it. He’s a good man and a good father.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Penny Thoughts ’13—Microcosmos (1996) ****

G, 80 min.
Directors/Writers: Claude Nuridsany, Marie Perénnou
Narrator: Kristin Scott Thomas

“Microcosmos” is not one of those nature documentaries where some British professor-sounding man whispers into the soundtrack that such and such a creature can only be seen doing such and such a thing as such and such a time, and what you’re seeing is a rarity on film. I don’t doubt for a second, however, that you would be hard pressed to find a movie with images as unique as the ones you can see here. Instead of the traditional nature documentary narration, Kristin Scott Thomas introduces the setting and summarizes the imagery at the very beginning and the very end of the film. In between, is an exploration of nature—mostly insects and arachnids—unlike any you’ve ever seen.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Horrorfest 2013 Preview

A friend of mine noted recently that I hold my own personal Horrorfest every year. It’s nice to know that people pay attention. He also noted to my mother when he saw how excited I was that this year’s Horrorfest was so close that she had a perennially 14-year-old son. To say I’m giddy at this time of year is a bit of an understatement.

I don’t know if it’s really the horror genre that I’m so excited to get into, or if it’s the special direction my movie viewing takes during the month of October. Of course, I can’t control what is released in movie theaters, and as this is also the start of the awards season push for theatrical releases, there are some non-horror related titles I will surely be reviewing throughout the month, such as “Captain Phillips” and “Machete Kills”, “Rush” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2”. But, other than a few select theatrical releases, for the thirty-five days or so beginning this coming Saturday, every movie I watch with have some sort of horror bent to it. This year is no different.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Under the Dome, season 1 (2013) **

TV-14, 13 45-min. episodes
Creator: Brian K. Vaughan

Directors: Niels Arden Oplev, Jack Bender, Paul A. Edwards, Kari Skogland, Miguel Sapochnik, Roxann Dawson, Sergio Mimiaca-Gezzan, David Barrett, Peter Leto

Writers: Brian K. Vaughan, Stephen King (novel), Rick Cleveland, Adam Stein, Peter Calloway, Soo Hugh, Caitlin Parrish, Daniel Truly, Andres Fischer-Centeno, Scott Gold

Starring: Mike Vogel, Rachelle Lefevre, Dean Norris, Natalie Martinez, Britt Robertson, Alexander Koch, Colin Ford, Mackenzie Lintz, Nicholas Strong, Jolene Purdy, Aisha Hinds

Guest starring: Jeff Fahey, Samantha Mathis, Beth Broderick, Dale Raoul, John Elvis, Josh Carter, R. Keith Harris, Ned Bellamy, Leon Rippy, Andrew Vogel, Jaret Sears, Linds Edwards, Natalie Zea, Mare Winnigham, Ray Hernandez, Crystal Martinez, Jason Alexander Davis

I rarely stay on the fence about a television show for as long as I have with “Under the Dome”, the continuing series based on Stephen King’s best-selling novel about a small town whose citizens suddenly find themselves mysteriously trapped under an invisible dome. The premise is compelling and lends itself well to an extended series, rather than a two-hour movie. It should be a great series in this day of the mythology series as opposed to the episodic television of old. Truth be told, it even lends itself to some episodic exploration as well.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Naked City (1948) ****

NR, 96 min.
Director: Jules Dassin
Writers: Albert Maltz, Malvin Wald
Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor, Frank Conroy, Ted De Corsia, House Jameson, Anne Sargent, Adeline Klein, Grover Burgess, Tom Pedi, Enid Markey
Narrator: Mark Hellinger

Jules Dassin’s “The Naked City” seems as if it must’ve been a most unusual movie for its time. Yet, it also seems to be the first ever modern police procedural, a genre that has become so commonplace, its format is the only way to ensure a hit television program. It set the blue prints for all police procedurals to follow, from “Seven”, to TV’s “Law & Order” and even the supernatural-based “Grimm”; they all owe just a little of their successes to Jules Dassin’s “The Naked City”.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—An Affair of the Heart (2012) **½

NR, 93 min.
Director: Sylvia Caminer
Featuring: Rick Springfield, Sue DeVita, JoAnn Camporeale, Jill Antipas, Steve Antipas, Laurie Bennett, Rev. Kate Dennis, Linda Blair, Corey Feldman

No, I am not a huge Rick Springfield fan or anything, but he was big stuff when I was just coming into my music awareness. I mean, really, “Jesse’s Girl” is probably one of the greatest pop rock songs ever written. So, when I saw this documentary about Springfield’s legions of fans floating around on Netflix, I was intrigued. It seems the fan appreciation documentaries are becoming all the rage for aging rock stars of late.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Reefer Madness (1936) *

NR, 66 min.
Director: Louis J. Gasnier
Writers: Lawrence Meade, Arthur Hoerl, Paul Franklin
Starring: Dorothy Short, Kenneth Craig, Lillian Miles, Dave O’Brien, Thelma White, Carleton Young, Warren McCullom, Pat Royale, Joseph Forte

The fact that I had never seen the cult classic “Reefer Madness” until just recently speaks volumes as to its lack of necessity. I had friends that were totally obsessed with this movie. It has a huge cult following, especially among the drug culture, because of its ridiculously extreme stance against “marihuana” and its depiction of marijuana as a gateway drug. Stoners have adopted the film, originally intended to warn against the use of marijuana, as some sort of holy cinematic tome. It’s just not bad enough to be considered that good, even in an ironic sort of way.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Half Baked (1998) **

R, 82 min.
Director: Tamra Davis
Writers: Dave Chappelle, Neal Brennan
Starring: Dave Chappelle, Guillermo Díaz, Jim Breuer, Harland Williams, Rachel True, Clarence Williams III, Laura Silverman, Tommy Chong

Have I inhaled? I’m not running for office, so… yes. But, I was never any good at it. I tend to befriend people who believe in it as a way of life, however. Those people will probably be disappointed with my opinion of this movie (and tomorrow’s Penny Thoughts), but you can’t even please your friends sometimes when you’re in the criticism business.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Scarecrow (2013) ***

NR, 4 min.
Directors: Brandon Oldenburg, Limbert Fabian
Narration: Fiona Apple (performing the song “Pure Imagination”)

“The Scarecrow” is a little bit of message advertizing from Chipotle about modern farming practices of genetically modified foods. I can assume from this angle that Chipotle only uses truly organic foods in their restaurants. I don’t really want to get into that argument, however. I want to look at the short film as a work of art and entertainment.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Flashdance (1983) **

R, 95 min.
Director: Adrian Lyne
Writers: Tom Hedley, Joe Eszterhas Jr.
Starring: Jennifer Beals, Michael Nouri, Lilia Skala, Sunny Johnson, Kyle T. Heffner, Lee Ving, Rob Karabatsos

I’ve been doing this thing lately where I just can’t resist catching up on iconic movies available on Netflix instead of keeping up with more recent releases to home video. Notice I used the term “iconic” rather than “classic”. The latter term implies a degree of quality that I’m not necessarily seeking out in my retrospective viewing. So, I’m not necessarily consuming great cinema, but I am catching up on movies that made some sort of impact in my youth that I never had the chance to see for myself.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Papillon (1973) ***½

R, 150 min.
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Writers: Dalton Trumbo, Lorenzo Semple Jr., Henri Charriére (book)
Starring: Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Victor Jory, Don Gordon, Anthony Zerbe, Robert Deman, Woodrow Parfrey, Bill Mumy, George Coulouris, Ratna Assan, William Smithers

I never thought of Steve McQueen as much of an actor until I saw him in “The Cincinnati Kid”. Even in that film, his acting was on such a subtle level, that it would be easy to miss it if you weren’t a trained actor. He still plays pretty much the same type of character in that film as he usually does. In “Papillon” he really stretches his acting chops, and the results are surprisingly impressive.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Jersey Girl (2004) ***½

PG-13, 102 min.
Director/Writer: Kevin Smith
Starring: Ben Affleck, Raquel Castro, Liv Tyler, George Carlin, Jason Biggs, Stephen Root, Mike Starr, Jennifer Lopez, Will Smith

You know how there’s that Hollywood cliché about the dad who chooses work over family all the time and the kids or the wife or the parents don’t think that the father really appreciates his kids the way he should. There’s always a big recital or a big game or something at the end of the movie that the father promises the kid that he’ll be there for, but something comes up and it looks like he’s going to miss the kid’s special moment yet again for the final time, because this time is the last straw and if he really doesn’t make it the kid, or the wife, or the whole entire family is just giving up on him for good. At the beginning of the event he has yet to arrive because after finally making the right choice instead of the wrong one, he has run into traffic, or his car won’t start, or he can’t find a cab, or he runs into a parade route. The child is looking for him, but she doesn’t see him and is sad. The show goes on even though he has yet to arrive. But, before the end, right before the really big moment for the kid, he walks in through the back. Even though he’s in the back of the crowd, or in the wings of the stage, the kid spies him and a smile creeps across her face, and everything is right in the world again. I’m sure you’re familiar with this cliché, because is has happened in literally hundreds of movies and TV shows. Well, guess what? It’s a cliché for a reason.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Trance (2013) **

R, 101 min.
Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge
Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani, Matt Cross, Wahab Sheikh, Mark Poltimore, Tuppence Middleton

“Trance” is what I call a ‘jerk around’ movie. It spends all of its time jerking the audience around with a plot that depends on one person pulling all the strings in situations that they could neither predict nor control, yet somehow they do. This is a dangerous trap in which filmmakers often ensnare themselves when they try to make a heist picture with an original twist. The movie becomes all about the twist and starts to unravel under the slightest scrutiny.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01 (2002)

NR, 62 min.
Featuring: Rudolph W. Giuliani

I lived near and in New York City for seven years of my life. I left NY in 1997. I have a great many friends who reside there. If the world were a perfect place, I’d still live there. I loved the city. It just didn’t fit into the other plans in my life. If I could work it in there, I would. There’s no greater place on Earth.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Roller Town (2012) ***½

NR, 76 min.
Director: Andrew Bush
Writers: Andrew Bush, Mark Little, Scott Vrooman
Starring: Mark Little, Kayla Lorette, Scott Vrooman, Adam Robert Bayne, Jordan Talbot, George William Basil, Brian Heighton, Pat Thornton, Evany Rosen

Perhaps my mind is just a little too warped, but I liked this movie much more than it might seem to deserve on its surface. “Roller Town” is a Canadian spoof of… what? I can’t exactly say. The 70s? Roller skating? Hollywood formula? I don’t know, but it’s funny as hell.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Saturday Night Fever (1977) ****

R, 119 min.
Director: John Badham
Writers: Norman Wexler, Nic Cohn
Starring: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Donna Pescow, Bruce Ornstein, Julie Bovasso, Sam J. Coppola

Every time I see “Saturday Night Fever” I’m impressed by how good it is. Having been a child at the time of its release, I remember the disco craze that surrounded it. The movie was huge. Its impact was felt on television as the networks entered a war of the dance competition shows. John Travolta was catapulted into the spotlight as a megastar. The Bee Gees’ soundtrack album became one of the best selling albums of all time. The movie even received a rerelease with a PG rating that allowed people like my parents to drag kids like me to it and wrap everyone up in the disco craze.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Crow: City of Angels (1996) *

R, 84 min.
Director: Tim Pope
Writers: David S. Goyer, James O. Barr (comic book series and comic strip)
Starring: Vincent Perez, Mia Kirshner, Richard Brooks, Iggy Pop, Thomas Jane, Vincent Castellanos, Thuy Trang

So “The Crow” wasn’t really a great movie, but it came at the right time to be a not so great movie. Everybody was trying to capture the comic book blockbuster bucks that rained down on the “Batman” movies in the 90s. “The Crow” was cheaply made and turned a profit, so the studio quickly churned out a sequel, despite the tragic death of the first movie’s star. Then the direct-to-video sequel craze hit the studios, and somehow they were able to justify two more sequels.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Riddick / *** (R)

Riddick: Vin Diesel
Santana: Jordi Mollá
Boss Johns: Matt Nable
Dahl: Katee Sackhoff
Diaz: Dave Bautista
Moss: Bokeem Woodbine
Lockspur: Raoul Trujillo
Luna: Nolan Gerard Funk
Vaako: Karl Urban

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by David Twohy. Written by Twohy and Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell. Based on characters created by Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat. Running time: 119 min. Rated R (for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity).

The first thirty minutes or so of “Riddick” depicts just one man trying to survive in an alien wilderness where every creature seems designed to destroy him. This man is Richard B. Riddick. If you are unfamiliar with the character of Riddick from the previous films “Pitch Black” and “The Chronicles of Riddick” than this sparse period of story will serve as a wonderful introduction to who he is and what he is about. In fact, even if you are familiar with those two movies, this is a better introduction than the character has ever received before.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The New Social Cinema

I don’t know. I’m having some sort of convergence of ideas or something. I don’t know if it’s all very profound or not. Perhaps not, but a series of coincidences seem to keep me on a particular subject matter this week—that strange urge to consume what we already know.

It’s really been a while since I watched a lot of movies with which I’m already familiar. But this past week, I’ve just flooded my head with a bunch of movies I want to see again. I started pursuing this urge last weekend when I took in two Clint Eastwood movies (and almost a third) and then I moved on to “Rocky”. I also watched a very particular genre movie this week, which is so particular each and every entry is pretty much the same. I decided not to watch a couple of other movies in that genre that I was familiar with, but I might be moving into them this weekend.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Rocky (1976) ****

PG, 119 min.
Director: John G. Avildsen
Writer: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Thayer David, Joe Spinell

I’ve placed “Rocky” on my list of 10 Best Sports Movies. I’ve never formally reviewed the movie. I think it is a wonderful movie. It’s as much, if not more, a romance than it is a sports flick. It doesn’t succumb to cliché. It created them. But, I don’t really want to talk about what a great movie it is. I want to talk about why we watch movies that we already know very well.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Von Ryan’s Express (1965) ***

UR, 117 min.
Director: Mark Robson
Writers: Wendell Mayes, Joseph Landon, David Westheimer (novel)
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard, Raffaella Carra, Brad Dexter, Sergio Fantoni, John Leyton, Edward Mulhare, Wolfgang Preiss, James Brolin, John Van Dreelen, Adolfo Celi, Vito Scotti

Every once and a while I just get an urge for a certain type of movie. One of the most frequent genre urges I feel is for the pre-“Apocalypse Now” war flick. When war wasn’t quite so heavy. When war was more of an adventure than a horrific reality.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Lust For Life (1956) ***

NR, 122 min.
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Writers: Norman Corwin, Irving Stone (novel)
Starring: Kirk Douglas, James Donald, Anthony Quinn, Pamela Brown, Everett Sloane, Niall MacGuinnis, Noel Purcell, Henry Daniell, Madge Kennedy, Jill Bennett, Lionel Jeffries

Vincente Minnelli’s “Lust For Life” reminded me a great deal of the recent biopic “Jobs”. It’s pretty much a CliffsNotes version of the great painter Vincent Van Gogh’s life with a powerful performance by Kirk Douglas at its center. Much like it could be said about Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs, Kirk Douglas looks remarkably like Van Gogh, but his performance doesn’t depend on his similar likeness.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Every Which Way But Loose (1978) ***½

PG, 114 min.
Director: James Fargo
Writer: Jeremy Joe Kronsburg
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Geoffrey Lewis, Sondra Locke, Beverly D’Angelo, Ruth Gordon, Roy Jenson, James McEachin, Bill McKinney, William O’Connell, John Quade, Dan Vadis, Gregory Walcott, Hank Worden, Walter Barnes, George Chandler, Manis the Orangutan 

My Dad has been gone for over two years now, and I keep on running into movies that he gave to me. “Every Which Way But Loose” was the rare comedy from Clint Eastwood, but it was a comedy done only as Eastwood would do one. It’s laid back, spontaneous, populated by simple (but intelligent) blue collar characters, who have a basic morality and a near naiveté about the world in which they live. This one also happens to have an orangutan as one of the main characters.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) ***

R, 155 min.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: John Lee Hancock, John Berendt (novel)
Starring: John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, Jack Thompson, Irma P. Hall, Jude Law, Alison Eastwood, Paul Hipp, The Lady Chablis, Dorothy Loudon, Anne Haney, Kim Hunter, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Heard, Leon Rippy, Bob Gunton, Sonny Seiler, Patrika Darbo, Michael Rosenbaum

“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is one of those movies that slowly grows on you every time you see it. When it first came out in theaters—like most people—I was disappointed with it. The book was a very hot commodity. There was a great deal of hype surrounding the film, and it underperformed in the box office and critically. It was a let down from what everyone expected it to be. There weren’t really any fingers to point either. Clint Eastwood’s direction is solid and captures the beauty of the Savannah, Georgia backdrop. The performances are top notch, especially in the leads held by Kevin Spacey and John Cusack. It seemed the film’s major problem was the laid back nature of it all, which was in perfect character for its setting in source material, so… what can you say?