Friday, January 31, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Chariots of the Gods (1970) **

G, 92 min.
Director: Dr. Harald Reinl
Writers: Harald Reinl, Wilhelm Roggerdorf, Erich von Däniken (books “Erinnerungen an die Zunkunft” and “Zurück zu den Sternen”)
Narrator: Jean Fontaine

“Chariots of the Gods” is the holy bible for fans and followers of the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens”, a “reality” series that examines the possibilities that human civilization was cultivated by alien races. Structures like the Egyptian pyramids, the stone heads of Easter Island, and the Mayan temples of South America, seem to defy the technology available at the times of their building. Some people think this is because these cultures had extra terrestrial help.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Sharknado (2013) ½*

TV-14, 86 min.
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Writer: Thunder Levin
Starring: Ian Ziering, Cassie Scerbo, Tara Ried, Jaason Simmons, John Heard, Alex Arleo, Heather Jocelyn Blair

I don’t know what compelled me, but for some reason I just had to see this atrocity of a movie that was foisted upon the American public by the SyFy Channel. I’d seen “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus”, so I didn’t expect this thing to be any better than terrible. It wasn’t.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Shepard & Dark (2013) ***½

NR, 92 min.
Director: Treva Wurmfeld
Featuring: Johnny Dark, Sam Shepard

As a freshman theater major entering college, I really didn’t have a very broad knowledge of theater. Acting was the only thing I’d ever found any real passion for that I actually had any talent to do. Upon entering my first real theater environment, I was told by many that I reminded them of Sam Shepard.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) ****

PG-13, 132 min.
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Damon Lindelof, Gene Roddenberry (TV series “Star Trek”)
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoë Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Noel Clarke, Leonard Nimoy

Whenever I award four stars to a film, I anticipate naysayers. People telling me how preposterous it is that I could find this movie to be so good. When it’s a film that was made to be a blockbuster, rather than an award winner, that anticipation is even higher. In fact, that very rarely happens. “Star Trek Into Darkness” is one of the rare instances where a friend questioned my opinion. I think it’s important to point out that I don’t for a second think that the rarity of anyone vocalizing their opinions against mine means that my opinions aren’t constantly opposed. I’m just speaking about opinions that are actually expressed back to me. And this opinion in particular was expressed because so many people were praising the film, not just me.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Sherlock: The Sign of Three (2014) ****

TV-14, 90 min.
Creators: Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss
Director: Colm McCarthy
Writers: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Steve Thompson, Arthur Conan Doyle (works)
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves, Mark Gatiss, Louise Brealey, Amanda Abbington, Vinette Robinson, Lara Pulver, Alistair Petrie, Alice Lowe, Yasmine Akram

I don’t remember Sherlock Holmes’ adventures being particularly funny in my exposure to them as a child. Perhaps I just didn’t really pay attention, but it seems this new wave of Sherlock found on television and in the movies has a great deal of humor to it. The latest episode of the BBC’s series “Sherlock” is a pretty good example of that.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Square (2013) ****

NR, 95 min.
Director: Jehane Noujaim
Featuring: Ahmed Hassan, Khalid Abdalla, Magdy Ashour, Ramy Essam, Aida Elkashef, Ragia Omran, Pierre Sayoufr

“The Square” is the first of the Oscar nominated Best Documentary features I will be examining over the next month before the Oscar is awarded. Four of the nominated docs are available on Netflix Instant, which also include “Dirty Wars”, “The Act of Killing” and “Cutie and the Boxer”. Only “20 Feet from Stardom” will require a separate rental for me.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Red 2 (2013) **½

PG-13, 116 min.
Director: Dean Parisot
Writers: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Warren Ellis (characters), Cully Hamner (characters)
Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, Garrick Hagon, Tim Piggot-Smith, Brian Cox

“Red 2” isn’t really a good movie. It isn’t trying to be. Now, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t try to be a good movie; but at this point, for these filmmakers, do they really even need to care? Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Malkovich doing his best John Malkovich impersonation. I mean really… they don’t care. They’re still better than many. So you have to decide, am I going to hate this, or am I at least going to try and enjoy it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Spectacular Now (2013) ***½

R, 95 min.
Director: James Ponsolt
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Webber, Tim Tharp (novel)
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Masam Holden, Dayo Okeniyi, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Andre Royo, Bob Odenkirk

As I get older, I often wonder if these coming of age type of movies will still speak to me in the same way they once did. They don’t. That doesn’t mean they don’t speak to me in powerful ways, however.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—War Horse (2011) ***½

PG-13, 146 min.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Lee Hall, Richard Jones, Michael Morpurgo (novel), Nick Stafford (stage play)
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Celine Buckens, Toby Kebbell, Patrick Kennedy, Leonard Carow, David Kross, Matt Milne, Robert Emms, Eddie Marsan, Nicolas Bro, Rainer Bock

When I initially reviewed Steven Spielberg’s cinematic version of “War Horse”, I second guessed my conclusions and questioned if it was really as good as I said it was. So, since it came out on BluRay, it has been sitting on my “movies to watch” shelf. I was worried that another look would prove my fears correct.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Europa Report (2013) ***

PG-13, 90 min.
Director: Sebastián Cordero
Writer: Philip Gelatt
Starring: Daniel Wu, Sharlto Copely, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist, Anamaria Marinca, Embeth Davidtz, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Dan Fogler

It’s indies like “Europa Report” that prove that most of the science fiction stories told by Hollywood could be told less expensively with just as satisfying results. It depicts a space mission to find life on one of Jupiter’s moons. We learn early on that the mission of Europa One did not go as planned with Earth losing contact, long before it even reached its destination.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Sleepy Hollow, season 1 (2013-2014) ****

TV-14, 13 45-min. episodes
Creators: Phillip Iscove, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Len Wiseman

Directors: Paul A. Edwards, Ken Olin, Douglas Aarniokoski, Ernest R. Dickerson, Liz Friedlander, John F. Showalter, J. Miller Tobin, Len Wiseman, Adam Kane, Romeo Tirone

Writers: Phillip Iscove, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Len Wiseman, Mark Goffman, Heather V. Regnier, Chitra Elizabeth Sampath, Melissa Blake, Damian Kindler, Jose Molina, Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, David McMillan

Starring: Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones, Katia Winter, Lyndie Greenwood, Nicholas Gonzales, John Cho, D.J. Mifflin, Clancy Brown, Richard Cetrone, John Noble

Guest starring: Jahnee Wallace, Joelle Vick, Jill Marie Jones, Amandla Stenberg, Michael Roark, Derek Mears, Jeremy Owens, David Fonteno, Marti Matulis, Onira Tares, Patrick Gorman, Jackson Beals, Louis Herthum, Erin Cahill, James Frain, Neil Jackson

“Sleepy Hollow” should not by any rights work as a television series. It involves the resurrection of Ichabod Crane, from the fantasy horror book by Washington Irving “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” in modern times. His nemesis from that book, the Headless Horseman has appeared in modern day upstate New York, in the city of Sleepy Hollow back to his old habits of cutting off people’s heads. Soon after Ichabod Crane appears, still in his Revolutionary War apparel, to assist the police in this strange case that has something to do with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Sherlock: The Empty Hearse (2014) ****

TV-14, 90 min.
Creators: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Director: Jeremy Lovering
Writers: Mark Gatiss, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (works)
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves, Mark Gatiss, Andrew Scott, Louise Brealey, Amanda Abbington, Jonathan Aris

“Sherlock” returned to U.S. television last night and Benedict Cumberbatch returned in all of Sherlock’s abrasive magnificence. Picking up two years after the events of “The Reichenbach Fall”, in which Sherlock apparently killed himself in order to thwart Jim Moriarty’s plans to hurt the only people he cares for, we find that although Sherlock himself hasn’t changed much, John Watson has.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit / **½ (PG-13)

Jack Ryan: Chris Pine
Cathy Muller: Keira Knightley
Thomas Harper: Kevin Costner
Viktor Cherevin: Kenneth Branagh

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Kenneth Branagh. Written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp. Based on characters created by Tom Clancy. Running time: 105 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language).

If the Jack Ryan franchise gets rebooted much more, we’re all going to find out what really happened on his first grade playground. As it is, the producers and writers of the new “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” clearly realize that the biggest threat to the United States is no longer a nuclear bomb, but a financial one. In updating the series for a new generation we get a new Ryan with a very different world of problems to face. While the fifth installment in the franchise—the first in twelve years—tries to stay true to the notion of Ryan as a hero made more out of brains than brawn, the new ideal of the Dumbing Down of Hollywood can’t help but rear its ugly head with unnecessary action peppered throughout a plot more clever than its execution.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) ***

R, 140 min.
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Eva Mendez, Mahershala Ali, Ben Mendelsohn, Olga Merediz, Gabe Fazio, Rose Byrne, Harris Yulin, Robert Clohessy, Bruce Greenwood, Ray Liotta

“The Place Beyond the Pines” was a fairly anticipated indie drama that reteamed writer/director Derek Cianfrance and actor Ryan Gosling for the second time since their Oscar nominated 2010 film “Blue Valentine”. It seemed to disappoint critics once it finally arrived in theaters. Perhaps this was because of the unique nature of the story, which spans a number of years and involves two generations of two families who seem fated to have a negative impact on each other.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Sum of All Fears (2002) ***½

PG-13, 124 min.
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Writers: Paul Attanasio, Daniel Pyne, Tom Clancy (novel)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Ken Jenkins, Bruce McGill, John Beasley, Philip Baker Hall, Dale Godboldo, Lee Garlington, Jamie Harrold, Alan Bates, Bridget Moynahan, Josef Sommer, Colm Feore, Ciarán Hinds, Michael Byrne, Liev Schreiber, Ron Rifkin

For the fourth and final Jack Ryan installment to celebrate the release of Paramount’s latest Jack Ryan adventure “Shadow Recruit” in theaters today, I present to you evidence for Batfleck haters out there that Ben Affleck is a cool and collected choice to play Bruce Wayne in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman cinematic enterprise. Just a few years before the walls came crashing down on Affleck’s career, thanks to some very poor film choices and an ill-fated relationship with movie star/pop singer Jennifer Lopez, Affleck was on a rocket to the top of a promising leading man career with two excellent Paramount movies in release during 2002. The first was a surprising thriller, overlooked by most, “Changing Lanes”. Perhaps I’ll review that one in anticipation of his sure to be next critical hit this fall “Gone Girl”.

The second was a strange move by Paramount that involved the handing down of a cinematic mantle that the studio hoped to parlay into a James Bond style ongoing franchise of movies, “The Sum of All Fears”. After only four films, Ben Affleck was the already the third actor to take on the role of CIA American spy hero Jack Ryan. I don’t know if the studio felt Harrison Ford was too old to do with the character what they wanted to, or if Ford himself did not wish to return for a third film; but Paramount’s approach to this fourth Ryan installment was one of the earliest “reboot” concepts that I can remember.

Whenever MGM and United Artists introduced a new actor in the Bond role, it was always pretty much business as usual. There was a new face, but it wasn’t like they went back to the drawing board, at least until Sony eventually ended up with the property and cast Daniel Craig in the role for “Casino Royale”. But that was well after Paramount decided to bring the character of Jack Ryan back to his origins while sticking with their plan to adapt the next book in the series after “Clear and Present Danger”. This entailed quite a bit of reworking of the details of the plot in order to account for Ryan just starting out with a CIA desk job as opposed to holding the director’s seat as he did in the book.

Once again, I think they chose well in their actor to play Ryan. Affleck hadn’t really handled an all out action role yet. Despite his good looks he was part of the geek core Hollywood that was introduced through micro-budgeted independent films like those he starred in for Kevin Smith. Of course, unlike the aging Ford, Affleck had the potential to take the character of Ryan into a much more action-oriented arena, which I believe was the full motivation behind Paramount’s reboot move.

The story itself makes for a very similar one to the franchise’s masterful first film “The Hunt for Red October”. The difference being that the Cold War was over and terrorism had become the focus of all threats against America. Of course, using a new power structure in Russia to misdirect the apparent threat to a man that only Ryan truly knows is what really draws the parallels to that first film. It still works here. Replacing one omniscient powerfully voiced black man with another might make it difficult to distinguish the two as well.

The most powerful element of the movie, however, may have been its timing. With a release date less than a year after 9/11, its plot involving a successful terrorist attack on American soil, struck a chord that many people couldn’t handle at the time. It’s easier to watch the movie today. The nuclear bombing of a crowded sports complex in Baltimore doesn’t quite leave the pit in your stomach it once did. Despite the CGI assisted devastation of that aspect of the plot, the story is still driven by Ryan’s brain more than anyone’s brawn.

This is what I think Tom Clancy had initially intended when he created this hero. He wanted to shine a light on how much the efforts of these American heroes is driven by the think tank foundation of the CIA rather than the G.I Joe mentality that is generally portrayed as espionage in Hollywood. I’m glad to see that Paramount has returned to its franchise with this new movie starring a fourth actor, Chris Pine, in the potentially iconic role. I just hope they don’t forget that it’s Ryan’s brainpower that made the first four films work, rather than his ability to shoot bad guys who can’t aim.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Best Movies of 2013

Honestly, 2013 wasn’t a very good year in movies. That’s a phrase I’ve been trying to avoid in the intros to my Best of the Year lists for quite some time. For the past couple of years, the notion hasn’t even crossed my mind. We’ve been lucky to experience several great cinematic years of late. It had to turn around some time. For the first time in a while I was worried that I wouldn’t even see enough great movies to make a list.

Now, that doesn’t diminish any of the films that are on this list. When the movies were great this year, they were really great, including one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. A slim year like this one also helps to diversify the list a little more than usual. When a year is filled with great films, many of the films seen on other lists are often repeated right here in The Well, with only a few stray bullets. This year I think I’ve got something from just about every genre and style out there, and very few that made other people’s lists.

Of course, another reason why this year was kind of slim on best of entries for me was that I had a hell of a time getting to the movies in this second half of the year. Some family emergencies kept from a few of the big award contenders, plus availability has been a problem for me this year. Living out in the middle of nowhere in the Midwest has kept some of the more controversial contenders from coming anywhere close to me.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Iron Lady (2012) **

PG-13, 105 min.
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Writer: Abi Morgan
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Coleman, Alexandra Roach, Susan Brown, Harry Lloyd, Iain Glenn, Nicholas Farrell, John Sessions, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant

Why would you make a film about an historical figure and make it mostly about her life as an old woman with dementia after her retirement from public service? I don’t know how accurate the details about Margaret Thatcher’s dementia are here, but the movie treats her time as a pioneering female politician in British Parliament and as the first female Prime Minister as a highlight reel, while concentrating mostly on her as an old woman who hallucinates her long dead husband as she finally tries to let him go.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) ***

G, 144 min.
Director: Ken Hughes
Writers: Roald Dahl, Ken Hughes, The Sherman Brothers (songs), Ian Fleming (novel)
Starring: Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Lionel Jeffries, Gert Frobe, Anna Quayle, Benny Hill, James Robertson Justice, Robert Helpmann, Heather Ripley, Adrian Hall

I grow more and more proud of my children every day. I have many reasons to be proud of my children, as many parents do. However, one thing that makes me proud of them is probably something that many parents don’t value in their children. They are extremely open minded about movies. I can show them a movie from any era, and they’ll watch it. This is not the case with many children. It’s not the case with many adults.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lone Survivor / ***½ (R)

Marcus Luttrell: Mark Wahlberg
Michael Murphy: Taylor Kitsch
Danny Dietz: Emile Hirsch
Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson: Ben Foster
Shah: Yousuf Azami
Gulab: Ali Suliman
Erik Kristensen: Eric Bana
Shane Patton: Alexander Ludwig

Universal Pictures presents a film written and directed by Peter Berg. Based on the book “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10” by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. Running time: 121 min. Rated R (for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language).

As I walked into the theater to see “Lone Survivor”, the true story of what happened to Seal Team 10 on an Afghanistan mission that went wrong, the theater’s owner told me I needed to be thankful for what the men depicted in the film have sacrificed for our country. I am. This resonated again with me yesterday evening as I watched The Golden Globe Awards, one of a half a dozen awards shows you see throughout the year where the stars of Hollywood come out and praise each other for the great work they’ve done. Two things struck me about the relation of this film and these Hollywood award events. One is that, although during a show like the Golden Globes it may appear as if the people involved with filmmaking do it for the glory, they really aren’t in it for any more glory than the soldiers who give their lives in the name of freedom. Two is that without this Hollywood glitz and glamour—this PR machine that is designed more to sell the movies involved than to truly honor the work of making them—we’d never know much about the fate of Seal Team 10.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The East (2013) ***

PG-13, 116 min.
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Writers: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Aldis Hodge, Danielle Macdonald, Hillary Baack, Patricia Clarkson, Jason Ritter, Julia Ormond, Jamey Sheridan

Eco-terrorism might be a window into the general terrorist mindset that so few of us seem to understand, since terrorism involves such violent acts against people we perceive to have little to do with causes of said terrorists. There was an excellent documentary on eco-terrorism a couple of years back called “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front”. Nominated for an Academy Award, it gave the accounts of actual eco-terrorists who had been involved in the deaths of innocents and brought light to the fact that this is a real form of terrorism that takes place right here on our shores. Now comes “The East”, a dramatic thriller that turns its focus on a group of eco-terrorists who go too far despite the validity of their philosophies.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Cloud Atlas (2012) ****

R, 172 min.
Directors: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Writers: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, David Mitchell (novel)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Ben Wishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant

“Cloud Atlas” is a monumentally good movie that was overlooked in a year saturated with great cinematic efforts. Upon my initial screening at the time of its release, I really liked it; but upon a second screening, I believe it is a masterpiece.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The History of Future Folk (2013) ***

NR, 83 min.
Directors: John Mitchell, Jeremy Kipp Walker
Writer: John Mitchell
Starring: Nils d’Aulaire, Jay Klaitz, Julie Ann Emery, April L. Hernandez, Onata Aprile, Dee Snider

“The History of Future Rock” is like a Tenacious D song, except instead of being about Jack Black and his bandmate Kyle Gass’s sexual exploits and defeating of Satan it’s about two aliens from another planet sent to Earth to destroy it to save their own planet, who are sidetracked by forming a band that sings songs about being aliens on a mission to save their planet by destroying Earth. I know, not only did that resemble a run on sentence, but also it sounds incredibly weird. The truth is it’s incredibly sweet and charming.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Blackfish (2013) ***

PG-13, 83 min.
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Writers: Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Eli B. Depres
Featuring: Tilikum, Suzanne Allee, Kim Ashdown, Samantha Berg, Dawn Brancheau, Daine Brancheau, Kelly Clark, Dave Duffus, Dean Gomersall, John Hargrove, Nadine Kallen, Lori Marino, Ken Peters, Estefania Rodriguez, Mark Simmons, Jeffrey Venture

My children will probably never experience the joy of a SeaWorld show. I went to a couple as a kid and even one in San Diego as an adult. My wife and I have discussed taking a trip to the closest SeaWorld for the kids. However, for a long time now, I’ve been aware of the questionable practices of these animal habitat places like SeaWorld that specialize more in depriving the animals of their natural habitat rather than preserving them in it. After watching the new documentary “Blackfish”, I think the final nail has been hammered into that coffin.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Clear and Present Danger (1994) ***

PG-13, 141 min.
Director: Phillip Noyce
Writers: Donald Stewart, Steven Zaillian, John Milius, Tom Clancy (novel)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe, Anne Archer, Joaquim de Almeida, Henry Czerny, Harris Yulin, Donald Moffat, Miguel Sandoval, Benjamin Bratt, Raymond Cruz, Dean Jones, Thora Birch, Ann Magnuson, Belita Moreno, James Earl Jones, Greg Germann, Ellen Greer, Ted Raimi

It is during “Clear and Present Danger” when Tom Clancy’s CIA hero Jack Ryan finally realizes his purpose. Ryan is Clancy’s own fantasy of the pure CIA heart of honor righting the wrongs of American politics and corruption while staying true to his roots as a soldier. This is the movie in which all that has come before finally reaches its fruition.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013) **

PG, 106 min.
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Writers: Marc Guggenheim, Rick Riordan (novel “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters”)
Starring: Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Douglas Smith, Leven Rambin, Brandon T.  Jackson, Jake Abel, Anthony Stewart Head, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Fillion

So, like, “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” is, like, so trying to be so cray-cray amazes that, like, it’s like a pre-teen losing his… a-hem before he a-ha’s. This movie tries so hard to be good that it creates a secondary entertainment in spotting all the clichés and failed attempts of depth that it can possibly produce.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Orange is the New Black, season 1 (2013) ****

TV-MA, 13 60-min. episodes
Creator: Jenji Kohan

Directors: Michael Trim, Andrew McCarthy, Phil Abraham, Uta Briesewitz, Jodie Foster, Constantine Makris, Matthew Penn

Writers: Piper Kerman (book), Jenji Kohan, Sian Heder, Sara Hess, Nick Jones, Lauren Morelli, Marco Ramirez, Liz Friedman, Tara Herrmann, Gary Lennon

Starring: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Dascha Polanco, Jason Biggs, Pablo Schreiber, Michelle Hurst, Taryn Manning, Michael Harney, Danielle Brooks, Natasha Lyonne, Kate Mulgrew, Emma Myles, Alysia Reiner, Nick Sandow, Lauren Lapkus, Joel Garland, Lea DeLaria, Samira Wiley, Matt McGorry, Yael Stone, Uzo Abuda, Catherine Curtin, Selenis Leyva, Constance Shulman, Annie Golden, Nick Stevenson, Laverne Cox, Vicky Jeudy, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Maria Dizzia, Lolita Foster, Beth Fowler, Abigail Savage, Jessica Pimentel, Kimiko Glenn, Madeline Brewer, Matt Peters, Lin Tucci, Tamara Torres, Michael Chernus

“Orange is the New Black” was one of the great pleasures of television in 2014. I do feel a little funny calling a Netflix show television, since it’s only available through streaming, but I guess there isn’t anything better to call it. HBO isn’t TV. It’s HBO. Netflix is just mind blowing.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Patriot Games (1992) **½

R, 117 min.
Director: Phillip Noyce
Writers: W. Peter Iliff, Donald Stewart, Tom Clancy (novel)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Patrick Bergen, Sean Bean, Thora Birch, James Fox, Samuel L. Jackson, Polly Walker, J.E. Freeman, James Earl Jones, Richard Harris, Alex Norton, Hugh Fraser, David Threlfall, Alun Armstrong

“Patriot Games” has always been the weakest Jack Ryan entry in my eyes. The plot doesn’t seem to have the world affecting scope of the others, and therefore doesn’t seem worthy of the attention of a character of Ryan’s capacity.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Hunt For Red October (1990) ****

PG, 134 min.
Director: John McTiernan
Writers: Larry Ferguson, Donald Stewart, Tom Clancy (novel)
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery, Sam Neill, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Courtney B. Vance, Tim Curry, Joss Ackland, Richard Jordan, Peter Firth, Stellen Skarsgård, Jeffrey Jones, Timothy Carhart, Larry Ferguson, Fred Dalton Thompson, Daniel Davis, Ned Vaughn, Anthony Peck

Later this month Jack Ryan returns to the big screen in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”. Over the next couple of weeks I will return to the four previous films featuring this original CIA action hero. I say “original” because Ryan has never really been an “action” action hero. He’s an analyst, and the franchise has always been pretty good about emphasizing this fact about the character. I fear the new movie will turn him into a full-blown action hero.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Breaking Bad, season 5, part 2 (2013) ****

TV-14, 6 45-min. episodes, 2 60-min. episodes
Creator: Vince Gilligan

Directors: Bryan Cranston, Michelle MacLaren, Michael Slovis, Sam Catlin, Rian Johnson, Peter Gould, Vince Gilligan

Writers: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz, Gennifer Hutchison, Sam Catlin, George Mastras, Moira Walley-Beckett,

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ MItte, Bob Odenkirk, Laura Fraser, Jesse Plemons

Guest starring: Matt Jones, Charles Baker, Lavell Crawford, Steven Michael Quezada, Bill Burr, Louis Ferreira, Michael Bowen, Kevin Rankin, Emily Rios, Ian Posada, Adam Godley, Jessica Hecht, Carmen Serano, Robert Forster

So in the end, “Breaking Bad” is simply one big cautionary tale. I promise that I will never turn to the manufacturing and distribution of drugs as a solution to my family’s financial problems. No, I don’t want to end up like Walter White, no matter how good I am at being a ruthless cold-hearted drug kingpin. It isn’t worth it once the dust settles. There really is no way to make it all good.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Sherlock: Many Happy Returns (2013) ***

NR, 8 min.
Creators: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Writers: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Rupert Graves, Jonathan Aris

“Sherlock” season 3 made its British premiere New Year’s Day to the highest ratings the series has ever pulled. It doesn’t premiere here in the States until January 19, but a couple of days before its British premiere this webisode hit the internet as a teaser for the whole world.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Best Music of 2013

There is no misnomer quite like the Best Music of the Year list. So much music is released each and every year, there’s no way any one individual can listen to it all, let alone listen to all of it enough to judge with any authority which of it is the best. What the “Best of the Year” lists really are is each individual’s favorite music of the year. Each of us who contribute these lists each year also reads many others for two reasons. 1) To see if we agree with any of the albums or bands on the list. 2) To get ideas on more music that needs to be checked out. This is truly one of the greatest times of year.

When it comes to music, 2013 was a banner year. There were oodles of great music to be found out there, even well beyond my own tastes. Within those tastes there was a great deal of anticipation for a number of albums before they even came out this year. 2013 saw the return to the studio for many bands that had taken long hiatuses. Among them were long player efforts by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Peter Gabriel, my bloody valentine, Kavinsky, Daft Punk, Queens of the Stone Age, Mazzy Star, and extended plays by Fleetwood Mac and The Pixies. I’m sure there are many I don’t even know about.

The were also a plethora of new discoveries and current standards from the likes of bvdub, Broadcast, Endless Boogie, The Devil’s Blood, SubRosa, The Besnard Lakes, Atoms For Peace, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, The Lonely Island, David Lynch, Kings of Leon, Pop. 1280, Tree, Lil Herb & Lil Bibby, Russian Circles, White Hills and Wooden Shjips. 2013 also saw some of the most unique collaborations of artists working together. Ben Harper and Charlie Musclewhite teamed up for an ultimate blues album, Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood mixed up their blues with some beats, Mark Kozelek went electronic in his team up with Jimmy LeValle, and Elvis Costello got down with The Roots.

2013 was just a stunning year for music. Here are my favorites of the year in the order I like them right now.