Sunday, November 30, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013) *

UR, 102 min.
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Writers: Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze, Jeff Tremaine, Fax Bahr, Adam Small
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Greg Harris

Perhaps it is fitting that I should follow up the documentary “The Final Member”, about the world’s only penis museum, with a movie produced by the Jackass crew. “Bad Gandpa” got surprisingly good reviews when it was released in theaters last fall. I have, up to this point, been fortunate enough to avoid anything and everything having to do with the MTV show “Jackass”, which somehow jumped from the small screen to the big screen with three theatrical releases based on its hosts’ stupid choices. Now comes what I guess is their attempt at a dramatic narrative.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Final Member (2014) ***

R, 75 min.
Directors: Johan Bekhor, Zach Math
Featuring: Sigur∂ur Hjartarson, Tom Mitchell, Páll Arason

“The Final Member” is not a documentary for those with weak stomachs. It really doesn’t try to be gory or gratuitous, but frankly I didn’t ever want to see the body part of its subject in the way we see it here.

“The Final Member” is a documentary about the world’s only penis museum. Sigur∂ur Hjartarson founded the Icelandic Phallological Museum from his own personal collection of penises. It features an amazing variety of penises, from some of the largest phalluses in the world to some of the smallest, but until recently the one species he couldn’t seem to obtain a specimen from was a human. This movie documents his efforts to obtain one.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Jurassic World trailer & Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer

The first time I met Roger Ebert I totally embarrassed myself by criticizing one of his colleagues, long time Today Show film critic Gene Shalit. I took a light-hearted shot at Shalit, suggesting that I could do his job, not realizing that Shalit was an alumnus of The University of Illinois along with Ebert. Ebert gently defended his friend and colleague without really demeaning my opinion.

I never really liked Shalit’s shtick of clever wordplay in his reviews. He never really seemed to get to the meat of the movies that way. Of course, his very short form television format hardly afforded him any depth to begin with. But it really ticked me off when instead of reviewing a new movie one week he reviewed the first trailer of the first Harry Potter movie. This was the week before I met Ebert, so it was fresh in my head. How insulting to the filmmakers who did have releases that week that their chances of promotion would be preempted by a review of a trailer.

That being said, the were two very high profile trailer releases this week, that I’ve decided not to let go by without dedicating one of my Penny Thoughts columns to them. The second was such a big deal that people might have already forgotten about the first.

In case you missed it, the beginning of this Thanksgiving week brought us the premiere of the first “Jurassic World” trailer. The fourth “Jurassic Park” movie has been in the oven so long, I figured the studio would eventually throw it out, or if they did finally make it, it would be burned to a crisp. Well, They did make it, and I was surprised to find that it actually looks pretty good.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

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

R, 126 min.
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Writers: Joon-ho Bong, Kelly Masterson, Jacques Lob (graphic novel “Le Transperceniege”), Benjamin Legrand (graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”), Jean-Marc Rochette (graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”)
Starring: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ah-sung Ko, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ewen Bremner, Ed Harris, Allison Pill, Luke Pasqualino, Vlad Ivanov, Adnan Haskovic

So, it’s the future. The world has been thrown into a frozen state following an ill-conceived solution to global warming. The only survivors of the human race have been living on a supersonic train that traverses the planet once very year. The train is sectioned off into social orders with the poorest passengers stationed at the back of the train, eating protein bars provided by the train’s administrators, while the upper class citizens live in luxury in the train’s front cars. The back passengers plan a revolt to gain control of the train.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey Thoughts ‘14—Addams Family Values (1993) ***

PG-13, 94 min.
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Writers: Paul Rudnick, Charles Addams (characters)
Starring: Raul Julia, Angelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, Joan Cusack, Christina Ricci, David Krumholtz, Jimmy Workman, Carol Kane, Peter MacNicol, Christine Baranski, Kaitlyn Hooper, Kristen Hooper, Carel Struycken, Christopher Hart, Dana Ivey, Mercedes McNab, Sam McMurray, Harriet Sansom Harris, Julie Halston, Barry Sonnenfeld, Nathan Lane, Cynthia Nixon, David Hyde Pierce, Peter Graves, Tony Shalhoub

I’ve never done a Thanksgiving themed review before, so it might seem strange that I’m starting with “Addams Family Values”, which could seem off topic beyond the fact that it was a Thanksgiving eve release when it was originally released in theaters. The plot actually does touch upon Thanksgiving, however.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 / *** (PG-13)

Katniss Everdeen: Jennifer Lawrence
Gale Hawthorne: Liam Hemsworth
Plutarch Heavensbee: Philip Seymour Hoffman
President Alma Coin: Julianne Moore
President Snow: Donald Sutherland
Peeta Mellark: Josh Hutcherson
Haymitch Abernathy: Woody Harrelson
Beetee: Jeffery Wright
Boggs: Mahershala Ali
Primrose Everdeen: Willow Shields
Finnick Odair: Sam Claflin
Effie Trinket: Elizabeth Banks
Caesar Flickerman: Stanley Tucci

Lionsgate Films presents a film directed by Francis Lawrence. Written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong and Suzanne Collins. Based on the novel “Mockingjay” by Collins. Running time: 123 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material).

We’ve seen to two Hunger Games now and it is time for the revolution of Panem. But, before we get to that let’s pause to consider just what we’ve done and what it is we are calling upon ourselves to do. It is rare that an action franchise will take the time to consider its own ramifications, however, this first part of the exciting franchise finale might just be more about making money from four movies instead of three. I believe if its final chapter weren’t split into two parts, Katniss probably wouldn’t have quite this much of a chance to prepare herself to be the symbol of change she becomes here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Force 10 from Navarone (1978) ***

PG, 118 min.
Director: Guy Hamilton
Writers: Robin Chapman, Carl Foreman, Alistair MacLean (novel)
Starring: Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford, Edward Fox, Carl Weathers, Franco Nero, Richard Kiel, Barbara Bach, Alan Badel, Michael Byrne, Angus MacInnes, Philip Latham

My wife and I have always been pretty protective of our children when it comes to exposing them to mature content in movies. I believe it depends on the person as to what they can handle by which age. Some kids will handle things better at an earlier age than others. By this point both of our older boys (13 and 9) have long since been exposed to all sorts of violence through video games and playing with their friends. Seeing “Fury” recently, I was reminded how much war movies helped to form my tastes as a cineaste and I realized that I have never shown my boys a real war movie. So, I decided to start them on the one I believe my father started me on, Alistair MacLean’s follow up the “The Guns of Navarone” and early Harrison Ford flick “Force 10 from Navarone”.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Interstellar / ***½ (PG-13)

Cooper: Matthew McConaughey
Murph: Jessica Chastain
Murph (10 Yrs.): Mackenzie Foy
Murph (older): Ellen Burstyn
Brand: Anne Hathaway
Professor Brand: Michael Caine
TARS (voice): Bill Irwin
Donald: John Lithgow
Tom: Casey Affleck
Tom (15 Yrs.): Timothée Chalamet
Doyle: Wes Bentley
Romilly: David Gyasi
Getty: Topher Grace
Dr. Mann: Matt Damon

Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures present a film directed by Christopher Nolan. Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Running time: 169 min. Rated PG-13 (for some intense perilous action and brief strong language).

“You're familiar with the phrase ‘man's reach exceeds his grasp’? It's a lie: man's grasp exceeds his nerve.”
                                    —Nikola Tesla, “The Prestige”.

In 2006, Christopher Nolan released a movie called “The Prestige”, about how magicians create their illusions. Real life electrical engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla appeared as a character in the fictional film as a mentor to one of the magicians. While Tesla was a legitimate innovator in science, he gained a reputation as a “mad scientist” through his showmanship and some of his more outlandish experiments that never gained mainstream support. He provides a science-based version of the magicians work in that movie in a way that somewhat bridges the gap between art and science. This could describe much of what Nolan seems to do as a director. His latest epic space adventure “Interstellar” could be his grandest work of art and science yet.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Pompeii (2014) *½

PG-13, 105 min.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Writers: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Bathler, Michael Robert Johnson
Starring: Kit Harrington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jared Harris, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sasha Roiz, Jessica Lucas, Joe Pingue, Currie Graham

I’m not sure what I did wrong to be subjected to two Paul W.S. Anderson movies in one week. Truth is it’s my own fault. I voluntarily watched both of them and I should know better. I couldn’t shake “Event Horizon” from my head after seeing “Interstellar” for some reason and then “Pompeii” came through the mail from Netflix. I didn’t want it sitting around without something good coming to replace it, so I watched it. True, I’m the one that put it in my queue, but I thought a movie about Pompeii would be really interesting until I learned that Paul W.S. Anderson had directed it. By that point, it was already in my queue, and I was a bit curious as to just how much he could screw it up.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mike Nichols (1931-2014)

If someone were to create a cineaste major for higher education (which may have been done), the introductory courses would most certainly contain a few movies from Mike Nichols. The renowned director redefined cinema with movies like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966), “The Graduate” (1967)—for which he won his Best Direction Oscar—and “Carnal Knowledge” (1971). In fact, Nichols’s films would populate every level of such an education trajectory.

He dabbled in nearly every genre, including broad comedy “The Birdcage” (1996), tragedy “Silkwood” (1983) and “Wit” (2001), political satire “Primary Colors” (1998) and “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007), war “Catch-22” (1970), science fiction “The Day of the Dolphin” (1973), confidence “The Fortune” (1975), horror “Wolf” (1994), heart-wrenching drama “Regarding Henry” (1986), satirical melodrama “Postcards from the Edge” (1990), farce “What Planet Are You From?” (2000) and even stand-up/sketch comedy “Gilda Live” (1980). He helped lead the cinematic feminist movement by directing the female-led, Oscar-nominated “Working Girl” (1988). He directed a couple of terrible movies, but an inordinate amount of his films are masterworks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Event Horizon (1997) **

R, 96 min.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Writer: Philip Eisner
Starring: Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Kathleen Quinlan, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee, Jack Noseworthy

Having just watched Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (review coming in the next couple of days), I had a hankering for some space adventuring. For some reason, I felt compelled to re-watch the 1997 space/horror flick “Event Horizon”. This was a particularly strange urge since I didn’t like the movie when I saw it in theaters. I saw it a second time on video some years after that, but no time recently, and I still didn’t like it. Something made me connect this movie with “Interstellar”.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) / **** (R)

Riggan: Michael Keaton
Sam: Emma Stone
Mike: Edward Norton
Lesley: Naomi Watts
Jake: Zach Galifianakis
Laura: Andrea Riseborough
Sylvia: Amy Ryan
Tabitha: Lindsay Duncan

Fox Searchlight presents a film directed by Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu. Written by Iñárritu and Nicolás Giacobone and Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo. Running time: 119 min. Rated R (for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence).

I think I was about 8 years old when I determined that most people are assholes. Don’t read that the wrong way. I didn’t think at such a young age that there was no good in the world or that it was useless to make friends. I included myself in that group of maybe 99 percent of people that are essentially selfish pricks. It is just part of being human. Even for those of us who want to be good to and for others, we spend most of our time struggling to find our way through it all to benefit ourselves as much as possible. Although, that group who desires to benefit other includes a much smaller amount of people. This concept of our human nature seems to be at the heart of the remarkably entertaining movie “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Rocketeer (1991) ***

PG, 108 min.
Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Danny Bilson, Paul de Meo, William Dear, Dave Stevens (graphic novel)
Starring: Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton, Paul Sorvino, Terry O’Quinn, Ed Lauter, James Handy, Robert Guy Miranda, John Lavachielli, Jon Polito, Eddie Jones, William Sanderson, Don Pugsley, Nada Despotovich, Margo Martindale, America Martin

“The Rocketeer” is a rip roarin’ good time! That’s what I would imagine reviews of this movie would read like were it released during the golden age of Hollywood in which it takes place. It’s a fitting review. It doesn’t lie, and it could very well stand as my review of it in this day and age.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nightcrawler / **** (R)

Louis Bloom: Jake Gyllenhaal
Nina Romina: Rene Russo
Rick: Riz Ahmed
Joe Loder: Bill Paxton

Open Road Films presents a film written and directed by Dan Gilroy. Running time: 117 min. Rated R (for violence including graphic images, and for language).

My wife and I watch the morning news just about everyday. It’s the only newscast we watch regularly. I don’t think we’re any exception to the rule. In this 24-hour news cycle that began close to 30 years ago, the local morning news is about the only outlet that can continue to compete against the CNNs, MSNBCs and FOX News teams. The new thriller by Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler” might have you thinking twice about the morning news as a reliable news source.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) ***

PG, 114 min.
Director: Ben Stiller
Writers: Steve Conrad, James Thurber (short story)
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine, Kathryn Hahn, Adrian Martinez, Patton Oswalt, Sean Penn

The Hollywood process is broken in some major places and a film like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a perfect example of the effects of the failings of the Hollywood system. Ben Stiller’s dramedy, based on the James Thurber short story, was released during the ridiculously busy Christmas awards season last year. On any given Christmas Day each year there are 7 to 8 major releases that find their way into the metroplex. That’s more major releases than on any other weekend of the year. In a system that is do or die on that opening weekend, that doesn’t give a movie much of a chance.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Dumb & Dumber (1994) **½

PG-13, 107 min.
Director: Peter Farrelly
Writers: Peter Farrelly, Bennett Yellin, Bobby Farrelly
Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly, Mike Starr, Karen Duffy, Charles Rocket, Victoria Rowell, Teri Garr, Hank Brandt, Cam Neely

Tonight, the 20 years in the making sequel “Dumb and Dumber To” will open with early screenings across the country. While the original “Dumb & Dumber” may be responsible for the wave of what I call “stupid” comedies that populated the 90s and launched the careers of Bobby and Peter Farrelly, it really wasn’t all that impressive. I remember thinking that when I saw it at that time, and I wondered if maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset for it then. Nah. That wasn’t it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

St. Vincent / *** (PG-13)

Vincent: Bill Murray
Oliver: Jaeden Lieberher
Maggie: Melissa McCarthy
Daka: Naomi Watts
Brother Geraghty: Chris O’Dowd
Zucko: Terrence Howard

The Weinstein Company presents a film written and directed by Theodore Melfi. Running time: 102 min. Rated PG-13 (for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language).

Hollywood has done its best over the years to teach us that we need other people to point out our flaws and help us grow toward being better. There have been countless movies where some old curmudgeon has his heart chipped away by the innocence and beguiling purity of a child. The child in turn learns the ways of the world from the crotchety so-and-so and takes his first steps toward maturity. The latest entry into this time-tested formula is first time writer/director Theodore Melfi’s “St. Vincent”. The affable film casts Bill Murray in the role of the childish adult mentor and Jaeden Lieberher as the child forced to grow up due to the separation of his parents. Despite its formulaic nature, “St. Vincent” proves worthwhile with a cast that’s enjoyable to watch.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Dark House (2014) ***

R, 102 min.
Director: Victor Salva
Writers: Charles Agron, Victor Salva
Starring: Luke Kleintank, Alex McKenna, Anthony Rey Perez, Zack Ward, Lacey Anzelc, Ethan S. Smith, Lesley-Anne Down, Tobin Bell

Well, we get an unplanned Horrorfest entry with “Dark House”, which is a good thing since I like it better than any of the final three films I watched as official festival entries.

“Dark House” is a unique horror flick. It has some of the signature standbys of the genre, like and isolated location and a select number of cast members to be taken out one by one in bloody fashion. However, its story is a little more unique than the cookie cutter elements that generally inhabit most horror flicks these days.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Need for Speed (2014) *½

PG-13, 132 min.
Director: Scott Waugh
Writers: George Gatins, John Gatins
Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Harrison Gilbertson, Dakota Johnson, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Michael Keaton

“Need for Speed” is a very well made bad movie. There is nothing in this movie to distinguish it from countless others about fast cars and explosions. This is “Fast & Furious” for the slick-as-shit set. What it doesn’t have are personalities for its characters, good motivations for its plot, or anything of interest beyond very expensive cars blowing up in slow motion. And, it actually has surprisingly little of that considering its long running time.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) **

PG-13, 109 min.
Director: James Wan
Writers: Leigh Whannell (also characters), James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson

I was a fan of the original “Insidious”. I very much enjoyed the way director James Wan played with lighting and sound to create a film where it was impossible to escape the frights it contained. I liked its unique take on the haunted house story by presenting a different kind of poltergeist that haunted individuals instead of merely their dwellings. It did a good job handling the horror standby of the child in peril. It had a nice smattering of humor to prevent it from becoming overly oppressive. And frankly, I had trouble getting its images out of my head when I went to bed that night.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Sinister (2012) **

R, 110 min.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransone, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley

*sigh* There is so much misguidance in today’s horror filmmakers. Remember how in art class you were taught that you had to learn the rules before you could break them? Yeah. Nobody ever told Scott Derrickson that one, apparently.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—You’re Next (2013) **

R, 95 min.
Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Starring: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Sarah Myers, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton, L.C. Holt, Simon Barrett, Lane Hughes, Kate Lyn Sheil, Larry Fessenden

I was surprised with “You’re Next”, because it had received pretty universally positive reviews. It doesn’t deserve them. I can’t imagine what impressed so many reviewers who are often in contention with the popular acceptance of horror movies. I suppose the fact that the villains of this horror movie are fallible is a slightly different take on this type of torture porn approach, but I felt the movie wasn’t really sure what it had to say about anything.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Kill Baby… Kill! (1966) ***½

PG, 83 min.
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Romano Migliorini, Robert Natale, Mario Bava, John Davis Hart
Starring: Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Erika Blanc, Fabienne Dali, Piero Lulli, Max Lawrence, Micaela Esdra, Franca Dominici, Giuseppe Addobbati, Mirella Pamphili, Giana Vivaldi

With every Mario Bava movie I watch, I enjoy his filmmaking and stories more. The acting leaves something to be desired, but Bava saturates every film with such atmosphere that the performances hardly matter.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Fury / **** (R)

Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier: Brad Pitt
Norman Ellison: Logan Lerman
Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan: Shia LaBeouf
Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia: Michael Peña
Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis: Jon Bernthal
Captain Waggoner: Jason Isaacs

Columbia Pictures presents a film written and directed by David Ayer. Running time: 134 min. Rated R (for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language).

“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.”
                                   —Sgt. Don Collier, “Fury”

French filmmaker Francois Truffaut is often cited as having said, “There is no such thing as an anti-war film.” I’ve always had a problem with this notion. I’ve been a fan of war films almost my entire life. I suppose it’s a statement like that one that would inspire Truffaut’s belief that to make a war film is to glorify war. Most critics of war films cite Hollywood’s insistence upon some sort of sentiment as the glorifying factor. But it is sentiment that allows us an entry into the human aspect of war. While war films have given me an appreciation for what it takes to be a soldier and a pretty good appreciation of history, what they have never done is make me want to be a soldier or experience war in even the most peripheral way. There is a degree of sentiment to the new war film “Fury”, but it would be hard for anyone to argue that it glorifies war.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Steadfast Stanley (2014) ***

NR, 5 min.
Director/Writer: John Kim

“Steadfast Stanley” tells the story of the as yet untold during the inevitable zombie apocalypse—the story of the family dog, the ever-devoted bastion to the family dynamic. We’ve seen families broken up by zombie apocalypses before, but how often have we followed the travails of the tiniest members of the family. I say tiny, because in this zombie flick our hero is the family dog, in this case a Pembroke Welsh Corgi.