Thursday, August 28, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—All Night Long (1963) ***

NR, 91 min.
Director: Basil Deardon
Writers: Nel King, Peter Achilles, William Shakespeare (play “Othello”)
Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Keith Michell, Marti Stevens, Paul Harris, Betsy Blair, Richard Attenborough, Bernard Braden, Harry Towb, María Velasco, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth, Charles Mingus, Bert Courtley, Keith Christie, Ray Dempsey

So for a few days now, I’ve been searching for a way to remember actor/director Richard Attenborough, who passed away earlier this week. Attenborough was a renowned actor and director.

As an actor he was best known in his early career as a military man in such pictures as “The Great Escape” (1963), “Guns at Batasi” (1964), “The Flight of the Phoenix” (1965), and “The Sand Pebbles” (1967). He also appeared in “Doctor Doolittle” (1968), “10 Rellington Place” (1971), Satyajit Ray’s “The Chess Players” (1977), and Otto Preminger’s “The Human Factor” (1979). He was perhaps best known to modern audiences, however, for his late career rolls as John Hammond in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” (1993) and “Jurassic Park: The Lost World” (1997), and as Kris Kringle in the 1994 holiday remake “Miracle on 34th Street”.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Ernest & Celestine (2014) ****

PG, 80 min.
Directors: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner
Writers: Daniel Pennac, Gabrielle Vincent (book)
Voices: Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Jeffery Wright

Here’s a word of advice. When you see the list of Oscar nominees for best animated feature each year, find the movie you’ve never heard of on it and that will be one of the best movies you’ve ever seen. Perhaps this year’s nominees aren’t the best exampl, because “Frozen” was the winner and in many ways deserved it. Also nominated this year was Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises”, so far unseen by me, but undoubtedly filled with his signature genius. With the fantastic French-Belgian anime “Ernest & Celestine”, this year brought three amazing candidates for the sometimes pointless prize.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Sanctum (2011) **

R, 108 min.
Director: Alister Grierson
Writers: John Garson, Andrew Wight
Starring: Rhya Wakefield, Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Crathcley

So “Sanctum” came out about a year after “Avatar” boasting James Cameron’s name all over it as an executive producer. I don’t really know what that means. It certainly doesn’t seem to mean that he came in and looked over the script or the editing process and offered his advice on how to make it better, because the distance between this movie and one written and directed by Cameron is as immense as the cavernous hole in which all the action of this movie takes place.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / ** (PG-13)

April O’Neil: Megan Fox
Vernon Fenwick: Will Arnett
Eric Sacks: William Fichtner
Bernadette Thompson: Whoopi Goldberg

Voice & motion capture performances:
Raphael: Alan Ritchson
Michelangelo: Noel Fisher
Leonardo: Pete Ploszek
Leonardo (voice): Johnny Knoxville
Donatello: Jeremy Howard
Splinter: Danny Woodburn
Splinter (voice): Tony Shaloub
Shredder: Tohoru Masamune

Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present a film directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Written by Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec and Evan Daugherty. Based on the comic book by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. Running time: 101 min. Rated PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence).

I’m gonna be honest here. I’ve never liked “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. When I first started collecting comic books in 1986, the independent comic book scene was on the rise, and leading the charge was Mirage Studio’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. I understood that it was meant to be a parody of popular comic books at the time, but I just couldn’t get into the humor and attitude of the book. As such, I am not the audience for any cinematic incarnation of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For / **½ (R)

Marv: Mickey Rourke
Nancy: Jessica Alba
Dwight: Josh Brolin
Johnny: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Gail: Rosario Dawson
Hartigan: Bruce Willis
Ava: Eva Green
Senator Roark: Powers Boothe
Manute: Dennis Haysbert
Joey: Ray Liotta
Mort: Christopher Meloni
Bob: Jeremy Piven
Kroenig: Christopher Lloyd

Dimension Films and Miramax present of film directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. Written by Frank Miller, based on his graphic novel series. Running time: 102 min. Rated R (for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity and brief drug use).

“2005’s “Sin City” represented the ultimate marriage of the two media formats [cinema & graphic novels]. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller combined their talents, with a little help from Quentin Tarantino, to near literally present a comic book on screen. Miller’s gritty noir graphic novel, upon which the movie is based, reads like some sort of noir hell where the characters are archetypes paying for the sins of all their ancestors in bullets and blood. “Sin City” proves how cinema can even enhance other forms of pop culture.”

I wrote that for my list of the past decade’s 25 best films. “Sin City” changed the way filmmakers conceived of how to make a movie. Nearly a decade later, Miller and Rodriguez finally hand us the long awaited and much talked about sequel to that amazing movie; and while I don’t think the style has played itself out, these filmmakers might’ve. As much as the first film felt fresh and uninhibited, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” feels tired and ready to give up.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Sabotage (2014) **½

R, 109 min.
Director: David Ayers
Writers: Skip Woods, David Ayers
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Olivia Williams, Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos, Joe Manganiello, Terrence Howard, Josh Holloway, Max Martini, Kevin Vance, Harold Perrineau

I loved David Ayers’ last film, “End of Watch”. I was excited to see what he could do with an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Sabotage” isn’t your average testosterone-driven action or heist movie, but it doesn’t quite work either.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Tiny: A Story About Living Small (2013) ***

NR, 66 min.
Directors: Merete Miller, Christopher Smith
Writer: Merete Miller
Featuring: Christopher Miller, Merete Miller, Daryl Gibson, Jay Shafer, Logan Smith, Paul Smith, William Smith, Tammy Strobel, Dee Williams

I hate, hate, hate home improvement shows. My wife loves them and invariably I will walk into the living room on a Saturday afternoon and one of the cursed things will be on my TV. However, there is one home designing phenomenon that I have to admit is a guilty pleasure of mine—tiny houses. I will click on any Facebook link that has anything to do with tiny houses. I love the ultra-simplification philosophy that goes into them. I like the lower environmental footprint they promote. But mostly, I just love to see how their designers find different ways to fit all the basics of living and even one or two luxuries into less than 200 square feet.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—American Horror Story: Coven (2013-2014) **

TV-MA, 13 50-min. episodes
Creators: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk

Directors: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Michael Rymer, Michael Uppendahl, Jeremy Podeswa, Bradley Buecker, Howard Duetch

Writers: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Tim Minear, James Wong, Jennifer Salt, Jessica Sharzer, Douglas Petrie

Starring: Sarah Paulson, Taissa Farmiga, Frances Conroy, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Emma Roberts, Denis O’Hare, Kathy Bates, Jessica Lange, Gabourey Sidibe, Jaimie Brewer, Angela Bassett

Guest starring: Josh Hamilton, Patti LuPone, Alexandra Breckenridge, Mare Winningham, Christine Ebersol, Alexander Dreymon, Leslie Jordan, Danny Huston, Stevie Nicks, Lance Reddick, Michael Cristofer, Mike Colter

I enjoyed the first two seasons of “American Horror Story”. They were bold experiments in long form horror. The first season took an original look at the haunted house story and season two examined a serial killer plot, with some religious and alien abduction elements thrown in. In its third season, AHS takes on the supernatural world of witches, and it just doesn’t work.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—her (2013) ***½

R, 126 min.
Director/Writer: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, Matt Letscher, Laura Kai Chen, Portia Doubleday
Voices: Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Wiig, Spike Jonze, Brian Cox

I’m not sure whether Spike Jonze’s latest movie “her” is telling us that relationships are necessary or not. It depicts a future where computer operating systems are able to develop personalities. It follows a writer who ends up falling in love with his operating system. While this is presented as an isolated event at first, the movie broadens its scope to show us that what this man is going through is happening all over this future world and in most ways these relationships differ little from relationships with real people. All that’s missing is the physical relationship, although at one point the man’s OS tries to fix that too.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Into the Storm / ** (PG-13)

Gary: Richard Armitage
Allison: Sarah Wayne Callies
Pete: Matt Walsh
Donnie: Max Deacon
Trey: Nathan Kress
Kaitlyn: Alycia Debnam Carey
Daryl: Arlen Escarpeta
Jacob: Jeremy Sumpter
Donk: Kyle Davis
Reevis: Jon Reep

New Line Cinema presents a film directed by Steven Quale. Written by John Swetnam. Running time: 89 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references).

While we all can’t help watching a car crash, there’s something about the scale of destruction that comes along with tornadoes that makes me question the reverence involved in turning them into summertime entertainment. I wonder if there’s a way to make a movie about a tornado destroying a small town that would really seem appropriate in respect to the real life victims of such events. If there is, Hollywood has yet to find the secret ingredient. In 1996’s “Twister” there was a little too much of Hollywood formula silliness. Nearly twenty years and countless tornado disasters later we now get “Into the Storm”, which elevates the level of tornadic activity and attempts to elevate the level of realism, yet still feels silly in respect to real life disasters.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Dark Passage (1947) ***

NR, 106 min.
Director: Delmer Daves
Writers: Delmer Daves, David Goodis (novel)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead, Tom D’Andrea, Clifton Young, Douglas Kennedy, Rory Mallinson, Houseley Stevenson

Earlier this week, we lost two Hollywood legends. While Robin Williams dominated the media coverage, it was quietly announced the next day that Lauren Bacall had also passed away. She was 89. She died in New York of an apparent stroke.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Orca (1977) ***

PG, 92 min.
Director: Michael Anderson
Writers: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati
Starring: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Keenan Wynn, Peter Hooten, Bo Dereck, Will Sampson, Robert Carradine, Scott Walker

Certainly in many ways “Orca” is a ridiculous movie. It’s a shameless attempt by Hollywood to capitalize on the success of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” from two years prior. It’s taken from an Italian script—cleaned up for Hollywood by an uncredited Robert Towne—stars two British actors who were known to American audiences but far from the A-list, and it grossly misrepresents the behaviors of killer whales and the terrible practices of the industry involved in hunting them. However, it’s a surprisingly good revenge story.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—World’s Greatest Dad (2009) ***½

R, 99 min.
Director/Writer: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, Alexie Gilmore, Evan Martin, Henry Simmons, Geoff Pierson, Lorraine Nicholson, Mitzi McCall, Tony V., Naomi Glick, Zach Sanchez, Ellie Jamison, Michael Moore, Jermaine Williams

OK. First of all, it’s important that we get a hold of ourselves. Just because we’re worked up that a beloved comedian has been taken away from us, let’s not just jump to the conclusion that a three and a half star review of a movie of his that we’ve never heard of means that we’re going to get an actual good version of “Patch Adams”. “World’s Greatest Dad” is a very dark comedy. It isn’t Robin Williams running around in a dress and a wig putting out the fire on his fake grandma boobs. It isn’t the manic straight man making it seem OK to other straight people that gay people exist, because they’re funny. It isn’t another Mork from Ork teaching us the greeting “Nanu, nanu.” This is a movie that may inform us as to the dark nature of the thoughts that might’ve fueled the genius we all lost.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Comedian and actor Robin Williams has lost his lifelong battle with his own inner demons. The voice of the Genie in Disney’s “Aladdin” was found dead today in his California home of an apparent suicide. Williams’ acting and stand up was often characterized as manic, which may have been due to his battles with his own personality. It was no secret that Williams battled depression for most of his life. Early in his career this led to substance abuse, a hurdle he eventually overcame. It’s a shame that what fueled the comedy he used to bring joy into so many lives is probably what also took his life in the end.

I was first introduced to Williams through the “Mork & Mindy” television show in which Williams portrayed an alien from the planet Ork who crash landed on Earth and came to live with a single woman named Mindy. The series was a spin-off of the popular show “Happy Days” where Williams originated the character of Mork. Williams’ manic nature made him seem as if he really were an alien from another planet. For a time his alien greeting “Nanu nanu” became a cultural maker.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Cane Toads: The Conquest (2011) ****

PG, 82 min.
Director/Writer: Mark Lewis
Featuring: Henry Richards, Neil Young (not that one)

“Nature finds a way.”
                                                —Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Jurassic Park”.

It’s amazing the amount of wisdom you can find about nature in the movie “Jurassic Park”. I would like to suggest to the residents of Northern Australia that they should heed Ian Malcolm’s words in their quest to squelch their problem of the advancement of the population of cane toads in the region. My guess is that the people featured in the movie “Cane Toads: The Conquest” are probably extreme cases and the reason their government hasn’t heeded their cries for control is because the problem isn’t quite as devastating as they’re making it out to be. I would also guess that the gifted documentarian Mark Lewis is aware of this fact, however he just can’t help but indulge them. It’s so much fun.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 4 (1990-1991) ****

TV-PG, 26 45-min. episodes
Creator: Gene Roddenberry

Directors: Cliff Bole, Les Landau, Rob Bowman, Gabrielle Beaumont, Robert Sheerer, Jonathan Frakes, Corey Allen, Chip Chalmers, Robert Wiemer, Tom Benko, Weinrich Kolbe, Robert Legato, Marvin V. Rush, David Livingston, Patrick Stewart

Writers: Gene Roddenberry, Michael Piller, Ronald D. Moore, Susanne Lambdin, Bryan Stewart, Rick Berman, John Whelpley, Jeri Taylor, Ralph Phillips, Lee Sheldon, Joe Menosky, Thomas Perry, Jo Perry, Brannon Braga, Drew Deighan, J. Larry Carroll, David Bennett Carren, Kacey Arnold-Ince, Hilary Bader, Alan J. Adler, Vanessa Greene, Harold Apter, Stewart Charno, Sara Charno, Cy Chermak, Philip LaZebnik, William Douglas Lansford, Bruce D. Arthurs, Dennis Bailey, David Bischoff, Marc Scott Zicree, Maurice Hurley, Thomas Kartozian, Pamela Douglas, Shari Goodhartz, Timothy De Haas, Ira Steven Behr, Randee Russell, Peter Allen Fields, Ted Roberts, Michel Horvat, Rene Echevarria, Ken Schafer

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Majel Barrett (voice)

Guest starring: Elizabeth Dennehy, George Murdock, Colm Meaney, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeremy Kemp, Samantha Eggar, Theodore Bikel, Georgia Brown, Cory Danziger, Adam Ryen, Sherman Howard, Chad Allen, Barbara Townsend, Eric Menyuk, Bill Erwin, Beth Toussaint, Suzie Plakson, Robert O’Reilly, Patrick Massett, Charles Cooper, Jon Steuer, Andreas Katsulas, Chris Demetral, Carolyn McCormick, Patti Yasutake, Todd Merrill, April Grace, Nick Tate, Kim Hamilton, Mary Kohnert, Kim Braden, Rosalind Chao, Sierra Pecheur, Alan Scarfe, Shelly Desai, Marta DuBois, Paul Lambert, Marcelo Tubert, Pamela Winslow, Rhonda Aldrich, George Coe, Carolyn Seymour, George Hearn, Michael Ensign, Steven Anderson, Sachi Parker, Bebe Neuwirth, Susan Gibney, Lanei Chapman, Jana Marie Hupp, John Vickery, Duke Moosekian, Craig Hurley, Brian Tochi, Maryann Plunkett, Amick Byram, Jim Norton, Kay E. Kuter, Saxon Trainor, Page Leong, Dwight Shultz, Jennifer Hetrick, Clive Revill, John de Lancie, Bruce French, Spencer Garrett, Henry Woronicz, Earl Billings, Jean Simmons, Ann Shea, Majel Barrett, David Ogden Stiers, Michelle Forbes, Terrence E. McNally, Carel Struycken, Barbara Tarbuck, Nicole Orth-Pallavicini, William Newman, Franc Luz, Larry Dobkin, John Feck, Edward Wiley, Michelle Scarabelli, Tony Todd, Barbara March, Gwynyth Walsh, Ben Slack, Nicholas Kepros, J.D. Cullum

Going into it’s fourth season, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” finishes perhaps its most influential storyline of the entire series as we learn of the fate of Captain Picard, who was assimilated into the hive culture of the Borg race under the identity Locutus. The show runners wisely follow that episode up with an epilogue episode to deal with the ramifications of Picard’s capture and rescue.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014) ***

PG-13, 90 min.
Director: Frank Pavich
Featuring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H.R. Giger, Diane O’Bannon, Jean-Paul Gibon, Nicolas Winding Refn, Brontis Jodorowsky, Gary Kurtz, Chris Foss, Amanda Lear

I always felt that David Lynch was a very strange choice to direct the 1984 sci-fi epic “Dune”, an adaptation of the lauded novel by Frank Herbert. Now, I’ve never read the book, but it would seem that anyone attempting to capitalize on the success of “Star Wars” would place Lynch’s name on the bottom of the list. Well, maybe not the bottom. I would think his name would be placed only above Alejandro Jodorowsky’s.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Crossbones, season 1 (2014) ***½

TV-14, 9 45-min. episodes
Creators: Neil Cross, James V. Hart, Amanda Welles, Colin Woodard (book “The Republic of Pirates”)

Directors: David Slade, Ciaran Donnelly, Stephen Shill, Dan Attias, Terry McDonough, Deran Sarafian

Writers: Neil Cross, James V. Hart, Amanda Welles, Colin Woodard, Blake Masters, Michael Oates Palmer, Elizabeth Sarnoff, Josh Friedman

Starring: John Malkovich, Richard Coyle, Claire Foy, Yasmine Al Massri, David Hoflin, Chris Perfetti, Tracy Ifeachor, Peter Stebbings, Julian Sands, Ezra Buzzington, Aimee Mullins, Lauren Shaw, Natalie Hoflin, Kevin Ryan, Michael Desante, Henry Hereford, Reema Sampat

“Crossbones” was a surprisingly good summer television experiment by NBC. It’s too bad no one watched it.

OK. So check this. You cast John Malkovich as the infamous Edward Teach, a,k,a, Blackbeard. You set the story in 1715 near Jamaica. Teach has “settled” down in an island colony he built that is designed to be a true democracy. Most of the island’s inhabitants are thieves and pirates, but not all. Many are survivors from the pirate raids on their ships who have chosen to stay on the island as part of this supposedly free society.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Dark Knight Rises (2012) ***

PG-13, 165 min.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, Bob Kane (characters)
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Ben Mendelsohn, Burn Gorman, Nestor Cabronell, Brett Cullen, Reggie Lee, Chris Ellis, Juno Temple, Thomas Lennon, Rob Brown, William Devane, Joey King, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Hines Ward

I was one of the disappointed when I originally saw the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises”. I know that much of that had to do with the tragic events that occurred in Colorado, which I found out about as soon as I got home from the screening. It was also due to the fact that the movie seemed to meander to me.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy / ***½ (PG-13)

Peter Quill/Starlord: Chris Pratt
Gamora: Zoe Saldana
Drax the Destroyer: Dave Bautista
Ronan the Accuser: Lee Pace
Yondu Udonta: Michael Rooker
Nebula: Karen Gillan
Korath: Djimon Hounsou
Corpsman Dey: John C. Reilly
Nova Prime: Glenn Close
The Collector: Benicio Del Toro

With the voices of:
Rocket Raccoon: Bradley Cooper
Groot: Vin Diesel

Walt Disney Pictures and Marvel Studios present a film directed by Peter Gunn. Written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman. Based on the comic book by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Running time: 121 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and for some language).

Here’s the genius of the Marvel movie model—it keys into the entertainment memories from childhood of the adults who are now responsible for helping their children to make childhood memories.  The people consuming and writing about movies today are the people who developed their passion for movies consuming the very types of movies and comic books that Marvel’s are based on. They are also using filmmakers who had similar experiences as children.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfreind (2013) ****

NR, 75 min.
Director: Seth Barrish
Starring: Mike Birbiglia

Mike Birbiglia’s stand up concert film “My Girldfriend’s Boyfriend” should go down as one of the great stand up films. Along with Richard Pryor’s “Live on the Sunset Strip” and George Carlin’s “Carlin at Carnegie” and even a little bit like Spalding Gray’s “Swimming to Cambodia”, Birbiglia’s comedy concert transcends mere stand up comedy and ventures into performance art and autobiographical enlightenment.