Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Despicable Me 2 (2013) ***

PG, 98 min.
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Writers: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio
Voices: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Ken Jeong, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Moises Arias, Nasim Pedrad, Kristen Schaal, Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

While I enjoyed “Despicable Me 2” in theaters, it’s not really a movie that needs to be seen more than once. However, as the father of three children, multiple viewings for such shows are unavoidable. There are worse movies to have to sit through more than once.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—White House Down (2013) **

PG-13, 131 min.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer: James Vanderbilt
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Fox, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Richard Jenkins, Joey King, James Woods, Nicolas Wright, Jimmi Simpson, Michael Murphy, Rachel Lefevre, Lance Reddick, Matt Craven, Jake Webber, Kevin Rankin

The Greeks said there are only a limited number of stories to tell, everything else are just variations on a theme. Hollywood is notorious for recycling formulas over and over again. After “Die Hard” became a big hit, you’d hear comparisons like, “this movie is ‘Die Hard’ on a plane and that one is ‘Die Hard’ on a bus.” “White House Down”, like this year’s earlier movie “Olympus Has Fallen” is “Die Hard” in The White House. The main difference between the former film and this one is that this one quite literally lifts major elements of the “Die Hard” story and transplants them into its Washington D.C. setting. It isn’t merely its premise that is similar to “Die Hard”. Some very specific details are almost exactly the same.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

47 Ronin / ** (PG-13)

Kai: Keanu Reeves
Ôishi: Hiroyuki Sanada
Lord Kira: Tadanobu Asano
Mika: Kô Shibasaki
Witch: Rinko Kikuchi
Lord Asano: Min Tanaka
Chikara: Jin Akanishi

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Carl Rinsh. Written by Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini & Walter Hamada. Running time: 119 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and thematic elements).

Roger Ebert states in the introduction to his third book of only negative reviews, “A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck”, the second to his joy of writing about a great movie is his joy with writing about terrible movies. He says the movies that are really no fun to write about are the mediocre movies. He’s on to something there. In many ways, that also goes for the experience of watching them. With great movies, it’s almost like you’ve won the lottery. “Wow, that money I spent really paid off.” With a terrible movie there’s a sense of superior satisfaction that you’ve bothered to pay for such misery. “Ha! I saw it and I survived!” But, with a middle of the road movie, it just feels like that money and time could’ve been better spent.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Comedy Bang! Bang! Season 2 (2013) **½

TV-14, 20 25-min. episodes
Creator: Scott Aukerman
Director: Benjamin Berman

Writers: Scott Aukerman, Eva Anderson, Neil Campbell, David Ferguson, Mike Hanford, Tim Kalpakis, Erin Keating, Dan Pasternack, Seth Reiss, Paul Rust

Starring: Scott Aukerman, Reggie Watts

Special guest starring: Andy Samberg, Aziz Ansari, Anna Kendrick, David Cross, Zoe Saldana, Gillian Jacobs, Andy Richter, Sarah Silverman, Bill Hader, Casey Wilson, Rainn Wilson, Paul Reubens, Jessica Alba, Rashida Jones, Jim Gaffigan, Andy Dick, Clark Gregg, Jason Schwartzman, Cobie Smoulders, Zach Galifianakis

Guest starring: Jordan Peele, Nick Kroll, Ben Schwartz, Will Forte, Tim Meadows, Paul F. Tompkins, John Carroll Lynch, Jason Mantzoukas, Joe Lo Truglio, Adam DeVine, Bobby Moynihan, Thomas Lennon, Andrew Daly, Nat Faxon, Tony Hale, Dave Foley, Matt Besser, Phil LaMarr, Zach Woods

I really don’t know how much this show will appeal to people who aren’t really into the comedy or comedy podcast circuit. If you’ve heard of “Comedy Bang! Bang!” in any of its forms—I think it started out as a stage improv show, then became a podcast, then this IFC television show—then it may be something you’d like to check out. If not, it might just be a little too strange.

Friday, December 27, 2013

American Hustle / *** (R)

Irving Rosenfeld: Christian Bale
Sydney Prosser: Amy Adams
Richie DeMaso: Bradley Cooper
Carmine Polito: Jeremy Renner
Rosalyn Rosenfeld: Jennifer Lawrence
Stoddard Thorsen: Louis C.K.

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by David O. Russell. Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell. Running time: 138 min. Rated R (for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence).

David O. Russell’s latest film, “American Hustle”, is one of those 70s costume crime pieces that tells a somewhat true story about a New York grifter couple who graduate from small time embezzlement to the big leagues when an FBI ladder climber catches them with their hand in the cookie jar. It has all the glitz and hairpieces expected from the genre. It’s well made and contains some wonderful performances from its star-studded cast. However, it lacks some of the zeal for which it strives. It hits all the right notes, but never finds much of a purpose for itself beyond being an excuse to pull out some bad wigs and the wide collars. Told from several points of view, it feels like Russell is trying to make his own “GoodFellas”, but he lacks some of Scorsese’s kinetic gifts.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Holiday Thoughts ‘13—It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) ****

NR, 130 min.
Director: Frank Capra
Writers: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, Jo Swerling, Philip Van Doren Stern
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame, H.B. Warner, Todd Karns, Samuel S. Hinds, Mary Treen, Frank Albertson, Virginia Patton, Charles Williams, Sara Edwards, William Edmonds, Lillian Randolph

My father was an alcoholic. I’m not sure how much this impacted other aspects of his life. It only affected mine to a noticeable degree on a few occasions. One occasion was the last time he ever took a drink. He was pulled over and arrested for DUI in the early morning hours of my 13th birthday. Although this was the only time his drinking really disrupted anything in my life; it was strange and confusing, but not some sort of character crushing experience for me. For my mother, I’m sure it was the last straw. If he hadn’t changed then, my life would’ve been very different from there on out.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday Thoughts ‘13—The Family Man (2000) ***

PG-13, 125 min.
Director: Brett Ratner
Writers: David Diamond, David Weissman
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Téa Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven, Saul Rubinek, Joseph Sommer, Makenzie Vega, Jake Milkovich, Ryan Milkovich, Lisa Thornhill, Harve Presnell, Mary Beth Hurt, Amber Valletta, Francine York, Ruth Williamson

I’m pretty sure I’ve written this before, but like many, I wasn’t thrilled with “The Family Man” the first time I saw it. It was kind of a let down. It wasn’t as funny as I’d hoped. It wasn’t as happy as I’d expected. I think that’s because it never lets its main character off the hook.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Thoughts ‘13—National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) ****

PG-13, 97 min.
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Writer: John Hughes
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, John Randolph, Dianne Ladd, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Randy Quaid, Miriam Flynn, Cody Burger, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, William Hickey, Mae Questel, Sam McMurray, Nicholas Guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicolette Scorsese, Brian Doyle-Murray

So, Ed Helms has been cast to play the lead in Warner Bros. reboot of the “Vacation” movies. Rumor is he won’t be taking the role of previous patriarch of the Griswold clan, Clark, made famous by Chevy Chase. Instead Helms will be playing Rusty, Clark’s ever changing son from film to film, played in “Christmas Vacation” by Johnny Galecki of “The Big Band Theory” and in the original “Vacation” by Anthony Michael Hall.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Thoughts ‘13—Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) zero stars

NR, 81 min.
Director: Nicholas Webster
Writers: Glenville Mareth, Paul L. Jacobson (story)
Starring: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck, Bill McCutcheon, Victor Stiles, Donna Conforti, Chris Month, Pia Zadora, Leila Martin, Charles Renn, James Cahill, Ned Wertimer, Doris Rich, Carl Don

This movie is just awful. Of course, how could anyone expect it not to be? Like many awful movies however, it’s not as fun as you’d hope it would be to experience its awfulness. The main problem… it is oh so incredibly dull. I fell asleep on this movie twice before reaching the half hour mark. I tried one last time with a little more sleep and some caffeine and somehow made it through. I might’ve still nodded off a bit at one point.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Holiday Thoughts ‘13—A Christmas Story (1983) ****

PG, 94 min.
Director: Bob Clark
Writers: Jean Shepherd (also novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”), Leigh Brown, Bob Clark
Starring: Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, Tedde Moore, Zack Ward, Yano Anaya, Jeff Gillen, Les Carlson
Narrator: Jean Shepherd

What is left to say about “A Christmas Story”? It’s a holiday classic that many people watch over and over, every Christmas holiday season. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t watch this movie sometime before December 26th, and yet it continues to delight and please and bring newfound joy each and every year.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holiday Thoughts ‘13—Band of Brothers: Bastogne (2001) ****

TV-MA, 64 min.
Director: David Leland
Writer: Bruce C. McKenna
Starring: Shane Taylor, Rebecca Okot, Damien Lewis, Ron Livingston, Neal McDonough, Kirk Acevedo, Bill Armstrong, Ben Caplan, Doug Cockle, Michael Cudlitz, Tony Devlin, Dale Dye, Dexter Fletcher, Scott Grimes, Frank John Hughes, Robin Laing, James Madio, Donnie Wahlberg

“Bastogne” is probably my favorite episode of the HBO World War II mini-series “Band of Brothers”. I include it in my Holiday Thoughts this year because it happens have a scene in it that takes place on Christmas Eve 1944 with the German soldiers along the front line that surrounded the American soldiers singing “Silent Night”. And boy, does it look cold there. If you’re ever feeling bitter because of the cold outside, think about what our men in uniform did for us on those cold wintry nights in Belgium, without any gloves, with limited supplies, without hot meals, and having to bed down in a hole in the ground.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The To Do List (2013) **

R, 104 min.
Director/Writer: Maggie Carey
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Scott Porter, Rachel Bilson, Christopher Mintz-Plaase, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Adam Pally, Clark Gregg, Connie Britton

Maggie Carey’s “The To Do List” is another coming of age movie set during summer break. I don’t like how I’m getting to see these at Christmas time, but that’s just how things work out with a Netflix queue sometimes. Anyway, this coming of age story sets its focus on the teenage obsession with sex.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Thoughts ‘13—Hi-Life (1998) *½

R, 82 min.
Director/Writer: Roger Hedden
Starring: Campbell Scott, Katrin Cartlidge, Eric Stoltz, Moira Kelly, Peter Riegert, Carlo Alban, Daryl Hannah, Charles Durning, Saundra Santiago, Tegan West, Bruce MacVittie, Michelle Durning, David Aaron Baker

I found this movie in a list of obscure “Christmas” movies. It isn’t really a Christmas movie. It just takes place in December, so there’s a good deal of holiday references. It’s also not very good. I’d call it the cinematic equivalent of a bunch of friends getting together and throwing together their own stage production just for the heck of it. Each person gets to do something he’s always wanted to do, or really likes to do. There are cliché stories and some fairly inappropriate situations considering this is supposed to be a comedy. I mean is accidentally shooting someone really a good opportunity for some humor between friends. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a little too uptight about guns.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—42 Up (1998) ****

NR, 139 min.
Director: Michael Apted
Featuring: Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, Suzanne Dewey, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Susan Sullivan, Tony Walker

I post this review on my own 42nd birthday. Back in 1964, British television embarked on a grand social experiment that involved a group of children of varying social classes, 7 years of age. The filmmakers would return to this group of people every seven years to see where they had come in life in a series of films called the “Up” documentaries. Just this past year the most recent installment “56 Up” was released. I’m only on “42 Up”. I suppose that is fitting.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holiday Thoughts ‘13—Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) ***

G, 108 min.
Director: Norman Jewison
Writers: Melvyn Bragg, Norman Jewison, Tim Rice (book, lyrics, based on the rock opera by), Andrew Lloyd Webber (music, based on the rock opera by)
Starring: Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman, Barry Dennen, Bob Bingham, Larry T. Marshall, Joshua Mostel, Kurt Yaghjian, Paul Thomas

Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah. I know. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is not a Christmas movie. The birth of Jesus isn’t even mentioned in it. It’s all about his death. But, he’s not entirely unrelated to the subject of Christmas. In fact he’s the reason, as they say. So I’m counting it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug / *** (PG-13)

Bilbo: Martin Freeman
Gandalf: Ian McKellen
Thorin: Richard Armitage
Tauriel: Evangeline Lilly
Legolas: Orlando Bloom
Balin: Ken Scott
Fili: Dean O’Gorman
Bard/Girion: Luke Evans
Thranduil: Lee Pace
Master of Laketown: Stephen Fry
Radagast: Sylvester McCoy
Beorn: Mikael Persbrandt
Smaug/Necromancer (voices): Benedict Cumberbatch

New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer present a film directed by Peter Jackson. Written by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro. Based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Running time: 161 min. Rated PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images).

No thank you, O Smaug the Tremendous!" he replied. “I did not come for presents. I only wished to have a look at you and see if you were truly as great as tales say. I did not believe them.”
"Do you now?" said the dragon somewhat flattered, even though he did not believe a word of it.
"Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of the reality, O Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities," replied Bilbo.
—J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit”

I reproduce this passage from Tolkien’s seminal adventure in Middle Earth because much has been made about this new film trilogy of “The Hobbit” containing material that wasn’t in the original book. Bilbo’s handling of the dragon Smaug by appealing to his vanity in some way makes me think of an allegory between these two characters and the fans of Tolkien and Peter Jackson’s handling of Tolkien’s material. The fans worship Tolkien as if he is the treasure squandered away in the Lonely Mountain. Jackson is the current keeper of that treasure, and he’s pretty sure he’s the King of the Mountain. The fans are left as the scared Hobbit, awed by, but not knowing quite what to think of the overgrown mountain of abundance Tolkien’s words have become under Jackson’s rule.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Little Duck (2013) ****

NR, 16 min.
Director: James Murphy
Starring: Nobuaki Kaneko, Katsuya

I’m not a follower of LCD Soundsystem, the band for which electronic musician James Murphy is most well known, but after seeing his debut short film I might give them a little more attention. If he’s as good a musician as he indicates he is a film director with this 16 minutes of film, it’ll be worth it. To the untrained eye, the movie “Little Duck” might seem incomplete, but it is accomplished in its style and its execution.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Sightseers (2013) ***½

NR, 88 min.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Amy Jump
Starring: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris, Richard Glover

“Sightseers” is so quintessentially British that it’s one of those movies you wonder if American audiences will get. “Get” is the right terminology, because it isn’t difficult to understand. Its plot is simple. The accents aren’t so think that subtitles are needed for American English speakers. But, it operates on a level of humor that is beyond us to some degree. American audiences rarely understand the humor of serial killers in our own movies, let alone those that take place in a foreign environment with cultural practices that are fairly unrecognizable to us.  But, if you can see past the grizzly and geographic details, there’s much to enjoy about “Sightseers”.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Way Way Back (2013) ***½

PG-13, 103 min.
Directors/Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Starring: Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, River Alexander, Zoe Levin, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

I asked my boys if they had any special word for the back row of seats in the minivan. They didn’t, and I felt the sense of loss that the summer movie “The Way Way Back” conveys at times. When I was a youth, “the way way back” referred to the back section of the station wagon—the minivans of the day. The back section held all the luggage, but many of them also contained a third seat row that faced the back of the car. The way way back was alternately the best place to travel and the worst. Since there was no well for your legs in the back, it was really a place only suitable for small children. Of course, safety tests eventually proved it wasn’t actually suitable for anyone. If you requested the way way back, it was the best place to be because you could just be in your own world where the road went backwards. However, if you were sent to the way way back, it was a condemnation. You weren’t fit to travel with the rest of the family.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Web is Alive with a Difference of Opinion

Ever since NBC broadcast its grand experiment “The Sound of Music Live”, the Internet has been abuzz with both the naysayers and those who have embraced the production as a new holiday monument. It is the most polarizing TV event I can remember in recent years. Initially, I had no plans to cover it on this blog, but when I found myself catching about half of it during the live broadcast and with the strong immediate reaction audiences were having toward it, I felt I had to weigh in, for my own sake if no one else’s.

Since I posted my negative review, which did not pull punches about my opinion on Carrie Underwood’s performance as the iconic character of Maria Von Trapp, I’ve seen a great many of my friends post reproaches against the negative reception of Underwood. One particular post that was written by one of the many who took to Twitter to bash Underwood live during the broadcast contained an about face of her negative views of the production and compared the critical hazing of Underwood to cyber bullying.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Omen (1976) ***½

R, 111 min.
Director: Richard Donner
Writer: David Seltzer
Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson

Even during the second Golden Age of Cinema in the 70s the studios often pursued successful trends in the box office. In 1973, Warner Bros. hit it big critically as well as with audiences with their Best Picture Oscar nominated “The Exorcist”. Other studios realized the horror format could contain serious dramatic entries; and in 1976, 20th Century Fox released “The Omen”, the first in a trilogy of films about the Antichrist rising to power to become President of the United States.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Holiday Thoughts ‘13—Love Actually (2003) ***½

R, 135 min.
Director/Writer: Richard Curtis
Starring: Bill Nighy, Gregor Fisher, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Chris Marshall, Heike Makatsch, Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, Martine McCutchen, Laura Linney, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Alan Rickman, Rodrigo Santoro, Lúcia Moniz, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Fitzgerald, Rowan Atkinson, Ivana Milicevic, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, Adam Godley, Claudia Schiffer, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards

It seems people have had more trouble than usual getting into the Christmas spirit this year. That’s certainly the case in my home. Our elf didn’t even show up until this past Saturday. We haven’t broken out the Christmas songs 24/7. We haven’t wrapped any gifts, and most importantly, we haven’t yet watched our regular Christmas movies. No “Christmas Story”, “Lethal Weapon”, or “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It just hasn’t felt right for them. In an effort to ease us into the Christmas Spirit this past weekend, my wife and I decided to go kidless for our first holiday film, “Love Actually”.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—At Any Price (2013) ***½

R, 105 min.
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writers: Ramin Bahrani, Hallie Elizabeth Newton
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Maika Monroe, Kim Dickens, Red West, Clancy Brown, Ben Marten, Chelcie Ross, Dan Waller

“At Any Price” is the first sign I’ve seen in a Ramin Bahrani film that there may not be hope for humanity. The son of Iranian immigrants, Bahrani makes movies that are quintessentially American. They all involve some version of The American Dream. “Man Push Cart” follows an Iranian rock star who has immigrated to New York City and now reaches for his American dream by pushing a food cart around the city. It’s a hard life, but better than what he left. “Chop Shop” looks at the world of the chop shops located in the shadow of Mets Stadium through the eyes of a young boy who makes the best he can out of nothing with his sister. “Goodbye Solo” follows a Senegalese cab driver in North Carolina trying to earn enough to buy his own cab. An old bitter man solicits the cabbie to drive him to a specific place on a specific date and leave him there. Concerned for what the old man plans the cabbie decides to befriend him. Even Bahrani’s short film “Plastic Bag”, which imagines the inner monologue of a plastic bag has a dollop of the American Dream contained within it.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Sound of Music (2013) *½

TV-PG, 180 min.
Writers: Richard Rogers (music), Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics), Howard Lindsay, Russell Crouse 
Starring: Carrie Underwood, Stephen Moyer, Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, Christian Borle, Michael Campayno, Sophia Anna Caruso, Peyton Ella, Michael Nigro, Ariane Rinehart, Grace Rundhaug, Ella Watts-Gorman, Joe West

Ho hum, ho hum. How to review this movie without getting snarky or downright cruel? I'm not sure it can be done.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it’s important to know that I did not watch the entire production. That being said, I could’ve. I just had better things to do. Well, that does sound nasty. What I mean is, I didn’t hate it so much that I just had to turn it off. But then, I like watching bad movies sometimes too.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Wind (2013) **½

NR, 4 min.
Director/Writer: Robert Loebel

I think there’s an interesting critical phenomenon that happens when people stray away from the typical format of anything. Everybody becomes more forgiving. We watch feature length films in general. We judge our movies on how 90 to 150 minutes can be filled. When we start looking at different lengths, especially when those lengths are as short as 3 or 4 minutes, we think everything is great.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) ***

PG, 110 min.
Director: John Badham
Writers: Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins, William Brashler (novel)
Starring: Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor, Rico Dawson, ‘Birmingham’ Sam Brison, Jophery Brown, Leon Wagner, Tony Burton, John McCurry, Stan Shaw, DeWayne Jessie, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Sam Laws, Alvin Childress, Ken Foree, Carl Gordon

Richard Pryor was born December 1, 1940. He died December 10, 2005. He has the reputation of revolutionizing the stand up world by breaking race barriers and turning several of his later stand up concerts into successful feature films in which he opens up to his audience in extremely personal terms, speaking frankly about his drug abuse and many other personal problems. What is often ignored is his film acting career. His collaborations with Gene Wilder in several films is often praised, and he had several successful films, including the hit “The Toy”, but his acting is never much talked about.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Frances Ha (2013) ****

R, 84 min.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Charlotte d’Amboise, Grace Gummer, Patrick Heusinger

You’ll hear a lot of comparisons to Woody Allen when people speak of the Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig movie “Frances Ha”. Certainly there must have been some conscious choice on the filmmakers’ parts to have their fresh film match the look and feel of some of Allen’s films, especially his black and white “Manahattan”. Gerwig is also one of the closest things in the female form to Allen in her ability to just let her self go and yet convey a self-consciousness that informs her comic being. But, I hesitate to leave this wonderful film at Woody Allen comparisons alone. It deserves more credit than homage.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Captain Phillips / ***½ (PG-13)

Captain Richard Phillips: Tom Hanks
Muse: Barkhad Abdi
Bilal: Barkhad Abdirahman
Najee: Faysal Ahmed
Elmi: Mahat M. Ali
Shane Murphy: Michael Chernus
Andrea Phillips: Catherine Keener

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Paul Greengrass. Written by Billy Ray. Based on the memoir “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea” by Richard Phillips & Stephan Talty. Running time: 134 min. Rated PG-13 (for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use).

When you hear that director Paul Greengrass is attached to a project, you know you’re going to get more than a movie; you’re going to get an experience of some kind. In 2006, Greengrass directed “United 93”, which remains to this day an unequaled experience in filmmaking, by recreating the events that took place on 9/11/01 on United flight 93 in harrowingly realistic detail despite the fact that there were no survivors to corroborate any of those details. That film tapped into a national need for understanding and hope about events that scarred the nation forever. His new film “Captain Phillips” captures another set of real life terrifying events that also played out in the national media, but on a much more personal level.