Saturday, November 30, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Prince Avalanche (2013) ***½

R, 94 min.
Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: David Gordon Green, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigur∂sson (film “Either Way”)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault, Joyce Payne

“Sometimes I can do things that aren’t really possible.”—Alvin, “Prince Avalanche”

Perhaps that’s what writer/director David Gordon Green thought when he decided to abandon his indie film roots and start making stupid big budget stoner comedies. Like most others, I very much enjoyed the stoner ramblings of “Pineapple Express”; but Green’s next two outings “Your Highness” and “The Sitter” were two of the worst movies of the past five years. What’s worse, Green seemed to abandon the ideals that had made him a unique and imaginative artistic force in his previous work. Because of this, “Prince Avalanche” is more than just a return to form for one of the most promising film artists of the Aughts, but it is a reassurance that he hasn’t totally lost his mind and bought into the Hollywood machine.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Forward Pass: A Football Life (2013) ***

TV-PG, 45 min.
Featuring: Chuck Klosterman, Boomer Esiason, Bill Walsh, Joe Namath, Steve Young
Narrator: Josh Charles

I’ve now reviewed three of NFL Network’s episodes of “A Football Life”. The first two I did out of my fanaticism for everything involving the New York Football Giants. This one I do out of love for the game, and this one seemed to be the most informative of any of the documentaries I’ve seen from the NFL. I actually learned a thing or two about football watching this doc.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Much Ado About Nothing (2013) **½

PG-13, 109 min.
Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon, William Shakespeare (play)
Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher, Nathan Fillion, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Ashley Johnson, Emma Bates, Tom Lenk, Nick Kocher, Brian McElhaney, Joshua Zar, Paul Meston, Romy Rosemont, Elsa Guillet-Chapuis

As an actor, I don’t often find myself drawing too much negatives to the performances in films. As an actor that specialized in Shakespeare, I might be a little tougher on the acting in a film based on one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire / ***½ (PG-13)

Katniss Everdeen: Jennifer Lawrence
Peeta Mellark: Josh Hutcherson
President Snow: Donald Sutherland
Haymitch Abernathy: Woody Harrelson
Gale Hawthorne: Liam Hemsworth
Plutarch Heavensbee: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Finnick Odair: Sam Claflin
Effie Trinket: Elizabeth Banks
Beetee: Jeffery Wright
Johanna Mason: Jena Malone
Cinna: Lenny Kravitz
Caesar Flickerman: Stanley Tucci

Lionsgate presents a film directed by Francis Lawrence. Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn. Based on the novel “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins. Running time: 146 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language).

When I was in high school, the last year I ever went to a bus stop to be picked up for school, I witnessed a gruesome accident. We were waiting for the bus in the morning. It was one of those sunny but crisp New England fall mornings. We could see the bus coming in the distance and two of the kids weren’t yet there. Whenever someone was running late, everyone at the stop would get nervous for them. So just about everybody at the bus stop looked back down the road from which they were coming at that very moment we saw the bus in the distance.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Aningaaq (2013) ****

PG, 7 min.
Director/Writer: Jonás Caurón
Starring: Orto Ignatiussen
Voice: Sandra Bullock

It was a scene that stood out in a movie made up of scenes that stood out. In the midst of the stress-filled events depicted in Alfonso Caurón’s space adventure “Gravity”, where an astronaut is stranded in space when a debris shower from a satellite explosion destroys her spacecraft and fellow crewmembers, Dr. Ryan Stone places a distress call from a Russian satellite down to the Earth’s surface. A man speaking a foreign language answers that call, but doesn’t understand what Ryan is saying. The man identifies himself as Aningaaq.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Umbrella Man (2011) ****

NR, 7 min.
Director: Errol Morris
Featuring: Josiah “Tink” Thompson

I’ve never dwelled much on the assassination of JFK. It’s not something that ever gained my fascination in the way it does many people. Certainly, I’m a fan of Oliver Stone’s film, but beyond that the only time I ever seem to think about it is every November 22, when everyone rolls the conspiracy theories back out for the anniversary. This year is the 50th.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—A Band Called Death (2013) ***

NR, 96 min.
Directors: Jeff Howlett, Mark Christopher Covino
Featuring: Dannis Hackney, Bobby Hackney Sr., David Hackney, Brian Spears, Mick Collins, Henry Rollins, Kid Rock, Elijah Wood, Wayne Kramer, Tammy Hackney, Don Davis, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, Heidi Simpson, Vernon Reid

Long time readers of A Penny in the Well know that I love music almost as much as movies. I offer a Best of the Year list for music each year. Last year my two loves merged when “Searching for Sugar Man” became an Oscar contender for Best Documentary. The film depicted the rediscovery of a musician phenomenon named Rodriguez, whom I had discovered only a few years before the movie. This year it’s happened again with “A Band Called Death”.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Castello Cavalcanti (2013) ***½

NR, 8 min.
Director/Writer: Wes Anderson
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Giada Colagrande

Jason Schwartzman is perhaps the perfect actor for Wes Anderson, who has used the actor in most of his movies and launched the Copolla-related actor’s career with his sophomore picture “Rushmore”. Schwartzman is the perfect Wes Anderson character. He delivers all his lines as earnestly as possible and yet some doubt always seems to linger under the surface of the confidence of everything he utters. He’s the human contradiction Anderson believes all his characters to be.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Only God Forgives (2013) ***½

R, 90 min.
Director/Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon

Nicolas Winding Refn’s second outing with star Ryan Gosling after their sleeper cult critical hit “Drive” is probably not what audiences expected, but it’s much richer than it’s been given credit. The title “Only God Forgives” suggests the relentlessness of the material here. Of course the implication is that God will forgive someone here, but he would be at a loss to find someone worthy of forgiveness.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Blancanieves (2013) *****

PG-13, 104 min.
Director/Writer: Pablo Berger
Starring: Maribel Verdú, Macarena García, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Ángela Molina, Sergio Dorado, Emilio Gavira, Alberto Martínez, Jinson Añazco, Michal Lagosz, Jimmy Muñoz, José María Pou, Sofia Oria, Ramón Barea, Inma Cuesta

Can I give a movie five stars? I mean, I work off a four star scale, but I think I need to award “Blancanieves” five stars on that scale. That’s right. It’s off the scale. This movie is just that good.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Bling Ring (2013) ***½

R, 90 min.
Director/Writer: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Georgia Rock, Leslie Mann, Carlos Miranda, Gavin Rossdale

Watching Sofia Copolla’s latest movie “The Bling Ring” brings two other movies to mind. The first is Copolla’s own freshmen movie “The Virgin Suicides”, about five sisters who commit suicide together after a failed attempt by one. The other is this year’s earlier film by Harmony Kormine “Spring Breakers” about four girls who get into crime in order to support their efforts to live the high life at St. Petersburg for a college spring break trip. “The Bling Ring” tells the true story of a group of teenagers, one boy and four girls, who get their kicks breaking into the homes of famous people and stealing their possessions.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why Many Critics Should Stop Writing

I often wonder to myself, just why do I do this? What’s the point of critiquing movies in an age when everybody and their great uncle has a blog about movies, in an age when the printed word is dying, in an age when the opinion becomes less and less pertinent as everyone feels free to offer theirs and listen to no one’s through the wonderful world of the internet. I don’t even get paid for this. I offer my time and my intellectual assets with no compensation. Why do I bother? Well, you’ve got to fight for something.

I read an article on OMG! of Yahoo! about Justin Timberlake’s recent article in GQ after being chosen as one of their Men of the Year. Timberlake gets rather harsh in the article about the critical bashing his acting career took after the disappointing box office for his recent film “Runner, Runner”. He’s mad and he’s not going to take it anymore. What he’s mad about gets to the heart of why I continue to fight the criticism machine that has become the hateful face of film criticism in the comment section age.

OMG! contributor Taryn Ryder speculates that what inspired Timberlake’s question of whether he should just quit acting because a film flops in the GQ article is due to another article that ran in Variety at about the time of the “Runner, Runner” release. The name of the article, written by the magazine’s film editor Ramin Setoodeh, is “Why Justin Timberlake Should Stop Acting”. Really? Is this what even professional film criticism has come to? True, the article isn’t a critical review, but an op-ed piece; and yet, there is a level of professionalism that has escaped the film criticism world here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Epic (2013) **½

PG, 102 min.
Director: Chris Wedge
Writers: James V. Hart, William Joyce (also book “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs”), Dan Shere, Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember, Chris Wedge
Voices: Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Beyoncé Knowles, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler

“Epic” was a great film for the kids. For me, it felt like something I’d seen a hundred times before. There was no spark to it. Nothing that called out, “I’ve got something new to say, and a new way to say it.” With the amount of movies I see, I hardly expect to see something new in everything, but there’s usually something that feels fresh about a movie worth seeing. This one didn’t really seem to have that.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thor: The Dark World / *** (PG-13)

Thor: Chris Hemsworth
Jane Foster: Natalie Portman
Loki: Tom Hiddleston
Malekith: Christopher Eccleston
Odin: Anthony Hopkins
Heimdall: Idris Elba
Frigga: Rene Russo
Sif: Jaimie Alexander
Fandral: Zachary Levi
Darcy Lewis: Kat Dennings
Erik Selvig: Stellan Skarsgård

Marvel Entertainment presents a film directed by Alan Taylor. Written by Christopher L. Yost and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeeley and Don Payne and Robert Rodat. Based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Running time: 112 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content).

If “Thor: The Dark World” proves anything, it’s that Marvel’s Phase 2 movies promise to keep up the quality escapism level just as high as their Phase 1 movies, including the ones that don’t involve Robert Downey, Jr. “Iron Man 3”, released earlier this year, has so far been the best of the Disney/Marvel outings and is possibly the best comic book superhero movie made yet, but the second solo outing of Marvel’s Thor also tops its predecessor. The Thor movies lack the depth of the Iron Man movies, but “The Dark World” keeps the entertainment level at “Avengers” velocity.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Movie 43 (2013) *½

R, 94 min.
Directors: Peter Farrelly, Will Graham, Steven Brill, Steve Carr, Griffin Dunne, Elizabeth Banks, Jonathan van Tulleken, Patrik Forsberg, Brett Ratner, Rusty Cundieff, James Gunn

Writers: Rocky Russo, Jeremy Sosenko, Ricky Blitt, Bill O’Malley, Will Graham, Jack Kukoda, Matthew Portenoy, Claes Kjellstrom, Jonas Wittenmark, Tobias Carlson, Will Carlough, Jonathan van Tulleken, Elizabeth Shapiro, Olle Sarri, Jacob Fleisher, Greg Pritikin, James Gunn

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Common, Charlie Saxton, Will Sasso, Seth MacFarlane, Mike Meldman, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Jeremy Allen White, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, JB Smoove, Kieran Culkin, Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Jack McBrayer, Aasif Mandvi, Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis, Uma Thurman, Bobby Cannavale, Kristen Bell, John Hodgeman, Leslie Bibb, Christopher Mintz-Plaase, Chloë Grace Moretz, Patrick Warburton, Jimmy Bennett, Matt Walsh, Gerard Butler, Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Halle Berry, Stephen Merchant, Terrence Howard, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Duhamel

“Movie 43” was advertized as a movie that could potentially ruin the careers of the big name stars involved in it. It very well could have, if anyone had bothered to see it in theaters. I suppose it’s an example of how film criticism does work for the public. The movie was panned (for good reason) and people ignored it. Now, if anyone bothers to rent it, it will be out of whimsy instead of anticipation, and they will be more forgiving of the actors involved.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Bridge, season 1 (2013) ***

TV-MA, 13 47-min. episodes
Creators: Elwood Reid, Björn Stein, Meredith Stiehm

Directors: Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Alex Zakrzewski, Norberto Barba, S.J. Clarkson, John Dahl, Chris Fisher, Keith Gordon, Bill Johnson, Sergio-Mimica-Gezzan, Gerardo Naranjo, Charlotte Sieling

Writers: Hans Rosenfeld (creator original series “Bron”), Måns Marlind (creator original series “Bron”), Björn Stein (also creator original series “Bron”), Elwood Reid, Meredith Stiehm, Dario Scardapane, Fernanda Coppel, Patrick Somerville, Esta Spalding, Chris Gerolmo

Starring: Diane Kruger, Demian Bichir, Annabeth Gish, Thomas M. Wright, Ted Levine, Matthew Lillard, Johnny Dowers, Emily Rios, Eric Lange

Guest starring: Carlos Pratts, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ramón Franco, Alejandro Patino, Diana Maria Riva, Alma Martinez, Brian Van Holt, Daniel Edward Mora, Stephanie Sigman, Juan Carlos Cantu, Larry Clarke, Don Swayze, Arturo del Puerto, Ellie Araiza, Karen Sours, Jon Gries, Lyle Lovett, Lee Garlington, Alex Fernandez, Chris Browning

“The Bridge” is far from a perfect show. It’s a police procedural that shows us the crime-laden world found at the U.S./Mexico border in El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Chihuahua. It begins with a murder scene staged halfway across the bridge that connects the two communities. It is the beginning of a series of killings that appear to be some sort of protest over the disparaging law enforcement qualities between the local U.S. and Mexican authorities. Juarez is known for it’s inordinate amount of young female disappearances each year, something that would never be allowed on the U.S. side of the border.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Michael Strahan: A Football Life (2013) ***

TV-PG, 47 min.
Featuring: Michael Strahan, Gene Strahan, Louise Strahan, Jay Glazer, Kelly Ripa, Tom Coughlin, Howie Long

During a season like the New York Football Giants are having this year, a fan like me needs specials like “Michael Strahan: A Football Life” to keep us going. It allows us to remember better times. It reminds us of the passion we hold for a game that has become a punishment of late. And, it shows us that everything comes around.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Phantom (2013) **½

R, 98 min.
Director/Writer: Todd Robinson
Starring: Ed Harris, David Duchovny, William Fitchner, Lance Henriksen, Jonathan Scheach, Jason Beghe, Dagmara Dominczyk, Derek Magyar, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jason Gray-Stanford, Julian Adams, Kip Pardue, Jordan Bridges

“Phantom” is a satisfying submarine thriller in the vein of “The Hunt for Red October” that should please audiences of such fare, until the final five minutes, when it is likely to lose most of its audience with some trickery that just doesn’t quite fit the mood of the piece. It’s not a totally devastating misstep, but a misstep that is sure to distract from the rest of the movie experience.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Big Chill (1983) ****

R, 105 min.
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, Barbara Benedek
Starring: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, Jo Beth Williams, Don Galloway

“The Big Chill” was the movie that taught me that my parents were more than just my parents. I remember their reactions when they saw it in the theater. It spoke to them in a way I’d never noticed anything speaking to my parents before. The characters struck them. The events in the film meant something to them. Even the music was a powerful element for them.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Daily Interruptions

It seems my grand experiment that began a little over a year ago of posting a new review every day has run into its first major hiccup. No, it has not run its course just yet, hopefully; but events have occurred in the Penny in the Well family that have made it impossible for me to keep up such an intense schedule for the time being. I will still review movies on a regular basis. In fact, I imagine that there will more often be a review posted on any given day than not. I cannot, however, justify the time required to watch and review a film each and every day.