Monday, September 29, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Cropsey (2009) ***½

NR, 84 min.
Directors: Barbara Brancaccio, Joshua Zeman
Writer: Joshua Zeman
Featuring: Joshua Zeman, Barbara Brancaccio, Dr. Bill Ellis, Dorothy D’Elletto, Karen Schweiger, Donna Cutugno, Ralph Aquino, Bobby Jenson, Andre Rand, Jim Callahan, Theresa Doyle

So we open Horrorfest this year with a documentary about a real life horror tale of an urban legend that turned out to be true, however the truth of it all is impossible to determine. Growing up on Staten Island, the filmmakers remember stories of Cropsey, an insane killer that would snatch kids if they were out too late in places they didn’t belong. Only once they were adults did they learn that these were not merely stories designed to make sure kids were home and safe when their parents wanted them home.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Horrorfest 2014

Once again my favorite time of year has rolled around, and once again all my reviews over the next month will concentrate on the horror genre or variations thereof. That is about all that will be the same this year, however. This will be the first year I go into Horrorfest without a clear plan about what movies I’m going to watch over the next month. I’m a little excited about this prospect at going into it without a plan of attack. Of course, that makes it a little difficult to put together some sort of preview for it.

What fueled this change of format are some major life changes. At the very end of last year’s Horrorfest my family suffered a minor tragedy that uprooted many of the way things had been for quite some time. It didn’t affect last year’s Horrorfest as I’d finished watching all the films on my schedule before it happened. Immediately after Horrorfest ended, A Penny in the Well felt the changes. A movie a day was just no longer possible to keep up. I still do my best, but there is only so much time in a day and a week. The addition of my fourth child this past spring has made things even more difficult time wise and there are more important things to concentrate my energies on than movies. Movies are still important, however, and horror movies are my favorites. So Horrorfest will prevail.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Big Trouble in Little China (1986) ***

PG-13, 99 min.
Director: John Carpenter
Writers: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Catrall, Donnie Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Suzee Pai, Chao Li Chi

After finally viewing “Howard the Duck”, I felt I needed to cleanse my palate with another purely 80s flick that is much more satisfying. I had never seen “Big Trouble in Little China” either, but I was taking a bit less of a gamble, since unlike “Howard” this one holds a high cult status rather than a low one. I’d seen much of it throughout the years in bits and pieces, but never the entire thing. It is directed by one of the greatest and underappreciated filmmakers of the 80s, John Carpenter.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Maze Runner / *** (PG-13)

Thomas: Dylan O’Brien
Gally: Will Poulter
Newt: Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Teresa: Kaya Scodelario
Alby: Aml Ameen
Minho: Ki Hong Lee
Chuck: Blake Cooper
Ava Paige: Patricia Clarkson

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Wes Ball. Written by Noah Oppenheim and Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin. Based on the novel by James Dashner. Running time: 113 min. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images).

It must be a great time to be a developing reader. It seems the young adult fantasy/sci-fi/horror literature genre is gong through some sort of renaissance of late, if the movie adaptations are any indication. In truth, there have been a great number of romances and dramas to come out of young adult literature of late as well. As I get older I find it harder to get excited about these films, but I would imagine were I reading the material that inspires them, I’d be very excited about them. As Toby Maguire complained this past week, it seems young adult novel adaptations and superhero movies are the only options left in film for young performers.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Howard the Duck (1986) *

PG, 110 min.
Director: Willard Huyck
Writers: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Steve Gerber (Marvel comic book character)
Starring: Lea Thompson, Ed Gale, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, Paul Guilfoyle
Voice: Chip Zien

So the big credit cookie in this summer’s blockbuster Marvel hit “Guardians of the Galaxy” featured an obscure Marvel character who has already had his shot at a feature film. “Howard the Duck” has gone down as one of the worst flops in movie history. Executive produced by George Lucas, the late summer release in 1986 was panned by critics and ignored by audiences, for some pretty good reasons. The biggest of which is that it really is horrible.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Orange Is the New Black, season 2 (2014) ****

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

Directors: Jodie Foster, Michael Trim, Phil Abraham, Andrew McCarthy, Allison Anders, Daisy von Schuler Mayer, S. J. Clarkson, Jennifer Getzinger, Constantine Makris

Writers: Jenji Kohan, Piper Kerman (book), Sian Heder, Tara Herrmann, Lauren Morelli, Nick Jones, Stephen Falk, Sara Hess, Hartley Voss, Alex Regnery

Starring: Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Michael J. Harney, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Kate Mulgrew, Jason Biggs, Kimko Glenn, Laverne Cox, Wanda Bell, Lea DeLaria, Joel Marsh Garland, Annie Golden, Diane Guerrero, Selenis Leyva, Matt McGorry, Adrienne C. Moore, Matt Peters, Jessica Pimental, Dascha Polanco, Alysia Reiner, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Nick Sandow, Yael Stone, Lorraine Toussaint, Samira Wiley, Vicky Jeudy, Emma Myles, Jackie Cruz, Maria Dizzia, Beth Fowler, Lin Tucci, Julie Lake, Barbara Rosenblat

Guest starring: Laura Prepon, Deborah Rush, Todd Susman, Lori Petty, Lauren Lapkus, Laura Gomez, Ian Paola, Pat Squire, Abigail Savage, Richard Gallagher, Constance Schulman, Yvette Freeman, Judith Roberts, Dale Soules, Michael Chernus, Tracee Chimo, Ramon Franco, Lori Tan Chin, Sanja Danilovic, Lolita Foster, Mary Looram, Alex Wraith, Nick Stevenson, Peter Rini, Alan R. Rodriguez, Stephanie Andujar, Pablo Schreiber, Germar Terrell Gardner, Ben Konigsberg, Jamie Denbo, Deirdre Lovejoy, Brendon Burke, Bill Hoag, Tanya Wright, Hamilton Clancy, Stephen O’Reilly, Aubrey Sinn, Tiki Barber, Ricky Garcia, Trey Gerrald, Donté Grey

There is really one word that describes the strength of season two of the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” which sets it apart from its previous season. That word is “Vee.” Of anything that was different about this show from the first season, it was the addition of the character of Vee, played spectacularly by Lorraine Toussaint, that brought it to a new level. Vee added an element to the Litchfield prison that really had been lacking in the first season—a villain.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Expendables 3 / ** (PG-13)

Barney Ross: Sylvester Stallone
Lee Christmas: Jason Statham
Drummer: Harrison Ford
Trench: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Stonebanks: Mel Gibson
Doc: Wesley Snipes
Gunner Jenson: Dolph Lundgren
Toll Road: Randy Couture
Caesar: Terry Crews
Bonaparte: Kelsey Grammer
Thorn: Glen Powell
Galgo: Antonio Banderas
Mars: Victor Ortiz
Luna: Ronda Rousey
Smilee: Kellan Lutz
Goran Vata: Robert Davi
Yin Yang: Jet Li

Lionsgate presents a film directed by Patrick Hughes. Written by Sylvester Stallone and Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt. Based on characters created by David Callaham. Running time: 126 min. Rated PG-13 (for violence including sustain gun battles and fight scenes, and for language).

Here’s the thing. I really wanted “The Expendables” franchise to be a great badass cheesey return to 80’s action flicks. I wanted this so bad that I returned to it every time they released a new one despite how bad the last one was. “The Expendables 3” is actually the best of the bunch, but these star-packed action debacles have obviously worn out their welcome.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Boyhood / **** (R)

Mason: Ellar Coltrane
Mom: Patricia Arquette
Dad: Ethan Hawke
Samantha: Lorelei Linklater

IFC Films presents a film written and directed by Richard Linklater. Running time: 165 min. Rated R (for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use).

“It’s like the moment is always right now.”
                                                            —Mason, “Boyhood”.

Mason is the central figure in the boldest movie ever made by independent filmmaker Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”. Those are the last words spoken in the movie. They at once encapsulate the meaning behind the entire movie and the fact that there is nothing conventional about any movie that takes twelve years to film, depicting the childhood of a boy from age 6 to age 18. Mason speaks the words and they kind of peeter off toward the end of his sentence because he and the audience recognize the rather pathetic attempt at depth he is making, and yet as a line in this movie in particular, his thought is rather profound.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Sophie’s Choice (1982) ****

R, 150 min.
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Writers: Alan J. Pakula, William Styron (novel)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol

I saw Alan J. Pakula’s “Sophie’s Choice” as a child. It may have been my first real experience with The Holocaust. I don’t think I even saw the entire movie. Certainly if I did, the whole love triangle stuff between Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol flew far above my innocent mind. But, the choice Sophie had to make in the concentration camp. Well, that stuck with me. I was devastated that such a thing could be asked of a person.

Monday, September 15, 2014

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

PG-13, 117 min.
Director: José Padilha
Writers: Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier (also 1987 film), Michael Miner (also 1987 film)
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Samuel L. Jackson, Aimee Garcia, John Paul Ruttan, Patrick Garrow

“RoboCop” is the umpteenth remake of an 80’s classic in recent years. For the most part they haven’t been a half bad bunch of films. “RoboCop” might be the best of the bunch.

That may be because the original “RoboCop” wasn’t exactly a masterpiece of cinema, but it was based on some pretty profound social commentary. What held the original back was that it was more intent on becoming one of the hardest ‘R’ rated movies of the decade in terms of bloody violence.

So now comes “RoboCop” the reboot rated PG-13 for a public that has become totally desensitized to its violence. In truth, I believe this still should’ve been rated ‘R’ even though it isn’t nearly as graphic as the original. Its story is almost identical to the original, although its themes are quite different.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Muppets Most Wanted (2014) ***

PG, 107 min.
Director: James Bobin
Writers: James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Tony Bennett, Hugh Bonneville, Jermaine Clement, Sean Combs, Rob Corddry, Mackenzie Crook, Céline Dion, Lady Gaga, Zack Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hollander, Toby Jones, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, James McAvoy, Chloë Grace Moretz, Usher Raymond, Miranda Richardson, Saoirse Ronan, Til Schweiger, Danny Trejo, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz
Voices: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz

At the beginning of “Muppets Most Wanted” the entire muppet cast sings a musical number about the fact that they’re making a sequel. During the song they admit that sequels aren’t quite as good as the original. “Muppets Most Wanted” isn’t as good as its predecessor, simply titled “The Muppets”, but it retains the same spirit captured by that one, inspired by the original “The Muppet Show” television series.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Visitor (1979) **½

R, 108 min.
Director: Michael J. Paradise
Writers: Ovidio Assonitis, Lou Comici, Robert Mundy, Michael J. Paradise
Starring: Joanne Nail, Paige Conner, John Huston, Lance Henriksen, Shelley Winters, Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Sam Peckinpah, Franco Nero

I’ll admit it. I’m not above film snobbery. I’ve been known to praise movies that are a statement against the mainstream and nothing more. I like to see things in movies that I haven’t seen before. One of my favorite against the grain directors, Werner Herzog, has said that we are starving for new images. While many arthouse films are predicated on the ideal to provide these original images, not all of them do it well.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Longest Yard (1974) ***

R, 121 min.
Director: Robert Aldrich
Writers: Tracy Keenan Wynn, Albert S. Ruddy
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Michael Conrad, Jim Hampton, Harry Caesar, John Steadman, Charles Tyner, Mike Henry, Jim Nicholson, Bernadette Peters, Pervis Atkins, Tony Cacciotti, Anitra Ford, Michael Fox, Joe Kapp, Richard Kiel

Long before 7’2” tall actor Richard Kiel portrayed one of the most famous James Bond henchmen in “The Spy Who Loved Me”, he appeared in a smaller role in the Burt Reynolds prison football comedy “The Longest Yard”. You wouldn’t have noticed from his performance as Jaws in the two Bond films in which he appeared, but Kiel had a very clear speaking voice. Seeing him speak in “The Longest Yard” is somewhat shocking, because you’re really expecting him to sound a little more like he has marbles in his mouth.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Under the Skin (2014) ***½

R, 108 min.
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Writers: Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer, Michel Faber (novel)
Starring: Scarlett Johansson

“Under the Skin” is one of those cerebral sci-fi flicks that leave the majority of viewers cold. It’s meant to. I’m sure many people will go into this film expecting something like Scarlett Johansson’s recent “Lucy”. After seeing this bleak film set with the backdrop of a beautiful but bleak Scotland winterscape, many will wonder what they just saw. Some will complain that it was slow and depressing and that nothing happens. This opening paragraph is for those people who will feel that way. You can stop reading now.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Bad Words (2014) ***

R, 89 min.
Director: Jason Bateman
Writer: Andrew Dodge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand, Philip Baker Hall, Allison Janney, Ben Falcone, Steve Witting, Rachael Harris

Jason Bateman’s “Bad Words” isn’t the shot of shock and awe it purports to be. It is an enjoyable adult comedy, though. It involves a grown man who participates in a national spelling bee through a loophole in the rules. It is about how his presence angers everyone involved in the bee, including parents, organizers, and even a journalist whom he drags along in order to threaten the contest organizers with the law and have some unhealthy sex under the promise of an exclusive story about his motivations for participating in the bee. The other contestants, however, seem singularly unphased by his participation, except when he sabotages them with inappropriate implications just before they’re supposed to spell. And one of the other contestants rather likes him.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Anaconda (1997) *

PG-13, 89 min.
Director: Luis Llosa
Writers: Hans Bauer, Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer, Vincent Castellanos, Danny Trejo

For a moment, I actually considered giving this a half star more for the guilty pleasure factor of the film. But, like the ridiculously successful SyFy flick “Sharknado”, bad just doesn’t make it good.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Welcome to Sweden, season 1 (2014) ***

TV-14, 10 21-min. episodes
Creator: Greg Poehler
Director: Carl Åstrand
Writers: Greg Poehler, Josephine Bornebusch, Niclas Carlsson, Peter Arrhenius, Jesper Harrie, Martin Soneby
Starring: Greg Poehler, Josephine Bornebusch, Lena Olin, Claes Månsson, Christopher Wagelin
Guest starring: Per Svensson, Amy Poehler, Basim Sabah Albasim, Will Ferrell, Aubrey Plaza, Madeleine Martin, Hanna Ahlström, Claudia Galli, Illeana Douglas, Patrick Duffy, Björn Ulvaeus, Björn Ranelid, Marques Ray, Malin Åkerman, Gustav Roth, Pam Murphy, Matt Oberg

When I was about 10, my family hosted an exchange student from Sweden. It was like having an alien coming to live with you. Well, it was for a ten-year-old. He was tall, devastatingly handsome. He played futball. He had no idea how to play football. He listened to strange music (Pink Floyd). He smelled funny (cologne). And, by the time he left some nine months later, he was a member of the family. He attended my wedding. He’s held an open invitation for any of us to visit him in Sweden. Like the fools we are, we’ve never made good on this. Perhaps now I will.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Joan Rivers (1933-2014)

I became aware of Joan Rivers as I did most celebrities as a child; she was on TV. It didn’t matter if they were a movie star or a television star, a comedian or rock star. I saw them on TV. Rivers was a TV presence. I knew she was a comedian, but I never seemed to catch her act when I was young. Today I know why.

Word came today from River’s daughter and business partner in some endeavors, Melissa that the comedy legend had passed away at the age of 81. The television host went into cardiac arrest during a medical procedure on September 3. She had been rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York after experiencing complications during throat surgery at New York Medical Clinic on August 28. Accounts on what had occurred had been vague, but Melissa updated fans with a statement today after her mother’s death. “She passed today surrounded by family and close friends,” Melissa continued, “My mother’s greatest pleasure in life was to make people laugh.”

Although my own personal experience with the comedian was peripheral in my youth—with her performance as Dot Matrix in the Mel Brooks “Star Wars” skewering “Spaceballs” comprising most of my knowledge of her—I would later in life come to appreciate her contribution to the entertainment industry as a whole. Rivers was the first female to sit in the host chair of “The Tonight Show”, having filled in on several occasions for longtime host Johnny Carson. It was long assumed that Rivers was being groomed to replace Carson when she was offered her own late night program on another network. Her show failed, and the incident went down in the annals of the dramatic late night history as resulting in NBC “banning” the comedian from appearing on any of their shows for multiple decades. On a recent appearance on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon”, Rivers down played the history as water under the bridge.