Monday, January 26, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Galavant, season 1 (2015) ***½

TV-14, 8 23-min. episodes
Creator: Dan Fogelman

Directors: Chris Koch, John Fortenberry, James Griffiths

Writers: Dan Fogelman, Alan Menken (music), Glenn Slater (lyrics), Kirker Butler, John Hoberg, Casey Johnson, Kat Likkel, Kristin Newman, Scott Weinger, David Windsor

Starring: Joshua Sasse, Karen David, Timothy Omundson, Mallory Jansen, Vinnie Jones, Luke Youngblood, Darren Evans, Ben Presley, Stanley Townsend, Genevieve Allenbury

Guest starring: Tim Plester, Sophie McShera, Rutger Hauer, Faith Prince, Weird ‘Al’ Yankovic, Hugh Bonneville, Michael Brandon, Michael Jibson, Rory Wilton, Ricky Gervais, John Stamos, Kenneth Collard, Anthony Head

I can’t tell you how happy I am that ABC was willing to take a risk like this on network television. A few years ago, who could’ve imagined a half-hour comedy musical set in medieval times in which the characters make fun of themselves, musicals, network television and all sorts of stereotypes? I think streaming services have a lot to do with the networks putting risks like this one out there.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

American Sniper / *** (R)

Chris Kyle: Bradley Cooper
Taya: Sienna Miller
Dauber: Kevin Lacz
Biggles: Jake McDorman
Dandridge: Cory Hardict
Marc Lee: Luke Grimes
Goat-Winston: Kyle Gallner
Jeff Kyle: Keir O’Donnell

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Jason Hall. Based on the memoir by Chris Kyle and Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. Running time: 132 min. Rated R (for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references).

I find myself approaching my review of Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” in much the same way I think the filmmakers approached the material themselves—vey carefully. “American Sniper” has been a runaway hit with audiences and grabbed a surprise 6 Oscar nominations after an awards season where it barely made an impression elsewhere. It tells the story of real life U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who is credited as the deadliest American sniper in history. It is based on his own memoir of the same name. A veteran he was trying to help killed Kyle on a shooting range in 2013.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Imitation Game / **** (PG-13)

Alan Turing: Benedict Cumberbatch
Joan Clarke: Keira Knightley
Hugh Alexander: Matthew Goode
Detective Robert Nock: Rory Kinnear
John Craincross: Allen Leech
Commander Denniston: Charles Dance
Stewart Menzies: Mark Strong

The Weinstein Company presents a film directed by Morten Tyldum. Written by Graham Moore. Based on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges. Running time: 114 min. Rated PG-13 (for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking).

There is a certain type of movie that has historically been a favorite of the voting body of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The Academy has always liked true stories with historical value about a real person. Movies about World War II and undermining the Nazis get some favor. They also seem to have a soft spot for topical issues, like homosexuality. While the more extravagant—and less typical—films “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Birdman: or (The Exquisite Virtue of Ignorance)” were busy racking up 9 nominations each for this year’s Oscars, the Weinstein Brothers quietly brought home 8 nominations for the more typical Oscar fare “The Imitation Game”. Always in the talk of the best movies of the year, but never really stirring up much passion from critics, “The Imitation Game” is a glowing example of the formula for bringing in Oscar nods. It tells an amazing story about a somewhat unknown figure who had a profound impact on the outcome of WWII and modern technology as we know it, and it tells it with layers of commentary more typical of genre films than your standard Oscar drama fare.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Million Ways To Die in the West (2014) **

Albert: Seth McFarlane
Anna: Charlize Theron
Louise: Amanda Seyfried
Clinch: Liam Neeson
Edward: Giovanni Ribisi
Foy: Neil Patrick Harris
Ruth: Sarah Silverman

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Seth McFarlane. Written by McFarlane & Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild. Running time: 116 min. Rated R (for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material).

I read a misguided article about acting recently that took the stance that many Oscar nominated performances thought to be great were somehow holding back and playing it safe. A much wiser friend of mine, and excellent actor in his own right, debunked this fool’s theories with a simple truth about the art of acting. He essentially said that what is required for a good performance is that the performer find some sort of truth in the material. This is really the case with all art. Including the entire effort of a film. Even good slapstick comedy is anchored in truth.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Inherent Vice / **** (R)

Larry “Doc” Sportello: Joaquin Phoenix
Lt. Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen: Josh Brolin
Shasta Fay Hepworth: Katherine Waterston
Coy Harlingen: Owen Wilson
Deputy D.A. Penny Kimball: Reese Witherspoon
Saunxho Smilax, Esq: Benicio del Toro
Hope Harlingen: Jena Malone
Jade: Hong Chau
Sortilége: Joanna Newsom
Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd, D.D.S.: Martin Short

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon. Running time: 148 min. Rated R (for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence).

There is a misconception going around about Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie “Inherent Vice” that it is somehow similar to The Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski”. While both comedies center on a drug-addled character caught up in a noir plot the runs vastly out of their control, this is where the similarities between the two end. A better comparison for “Inherent Vice” might be to watching Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” as if you the audience were heavily sedated on barbiturates.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Oscar Nominations 2015

I’ve always found it confusing that it’s the year after the release year being honored for the Oscars, but the 2015 Oscar nominations were announced this morning for the 2014 cinematic release year. As is often the case with the Oscar—bowing at the end of the awards season—there was more predictability with this year’s nominees than surprises. The Academy never seems to get away with no surprises, however, and there are some notable omissions and inclusions in this year’s batch.

Announced as usual very early in the morning in Los Angeles by directors J.J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuarón and actor Chris Pine and AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, this year marked the first time ever that every category was included in the live announcement. This detail might seem insignificant to some, but it shows that the Academy has a little more respect than they’ve showed in the past for those categories that aren’t considered the major awards. The announcement was split into two parts, with the second installment certainly focusing more on the major nominations. The only categories that have been included in past live announcements to make it in the first section of nominations were Animated Feature, Documentary Feature and Original Song.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Fargo, season 1 / **** (TV-MA)

Lorne Malvo: Billy Bob Thornton
Molly Solverson: Allison Tolman
Lester Nygaard: Martin Freeman
Gus Grimly: Colin Hanks
Bill Oswalt: Bob Odenkirk
Lou Solverson: Keith Carradine
Greta Grimly: Joey King
Mr. Wrench: Russell Harvard
Mr. Numbers: Adam Goldberg
Chaz Nygaard: Joshua Close
Stavros Milos: Oliver Platt

MGM Television and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment present a television series developed and written by Noah Hawley. Directed by Randall Einhorn, Adam Bernstein, Colin Bucksey, Matt Shakman, and Scott Winant. 10 episodes, 2 90-min., 8 60-min. Rated TV-MA (for occasional mild to moderate sexual references throughout, violence & gore, mild language, drinking and some frightening/intense sequences).

We are now deep in the Television Renaissance. Who could’ve predicted the Golden Age of TV would bring zombies to the forefront? Perhaps if anyone could’ve, they’d have also predicted that one of the greatest independent films of the 90’s would find its revival here and be so successful in retaining the original’s spirit, while expanding it’s ideas into a longer running format. “Fargo” is easily the best new television series of 2014.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Trip to Italy (2014) ***½

Steve: Steve Coogan
Rob: Rob Brydon
Lucy: Rosie Fellner
Emma: Claire Keelan
Joe (Steve’s Son): Timothy Leach

IFC Films presents a film written and directed by Michael Winterbottom. Running time: 108 min. Not Rated.

“The Trip To Italy” might be the most unlikely sequel of the year. It follows the 2010 movie “The Trip”, which saw British comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan playing fictitious versions of themselves. When Brydon takes a job writing a food/travelogue column for a magazine visiting restaurants throughout England, he invites his friend Coogan along with him and they spend the time joking, doing impersonations, eating good food and making poor moral choices. Critics lauded the film, however, I felt it was a little uneven, couldn’t decide what it really wanted to be, and dragged a little too much to keep me interested.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Towering Inferno (1974) ***

PG, 165 min.
Director: John Guillerman
Writers: Stirling Silliphant, Richard Martin Stern (novel “The Tower”), Thomas N. Scortia (novel “The Glass Inferno”), Frank M. Robinson (novel “The Glass Inferno”)
Starring: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakley, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner, Susan Flannery, Sheila Mathews, Normann Burton, Jack Collins, Don Gordon, Felton Perry, Gregory Sierra, Ernie Orsatti, Dabney Coleman, Mike Lookinland

I think “The Towering Inferno” was the first movie for which I ever developed an obsession. It was a major score for the major networks—back in the day when they were the only three channels to choose from—to get this film on their “Movie of the Week”. I’m not sure which one had it first, but when it aired, it was a two-night event.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Team America: World Police (2004) **

R, 98 min.
Director: Trey Parker
Writers: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Pam Brady
Voices: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa, Daran Norris, Phil Hendrie, Maurice LaMarche

So in light of the critical failure of “The Interview”, many critics have been recalling the feature length puppet movie from “South Park” creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, “Team America: World Police” as a more satisfying skewering of a North Korean leader. While there are certainly aspects of that film that are more successful than “The Interview”, I believe these recollections are more like wishful thinking for what either of the films could’ve been rather than what they actually are.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Fourteen Albums for ‘14

Right from the start, it was clear that 2014 was going to be a remarkable year for music. I was astounded as great album after great album was released in the first few months of the year. Quite often the year starts out great and then sputters in the second half, but this year the hits just kept coming. I’ve spent the last month trying to catch up on all the great albums people have told me about and I’ve read about on “best of” lists. That type of listening spree normally doesn’t yield much quality listening, but I was able to cull out a few gems I would’ve otherwise missed. Without the time to really spend with that music, however, my list hasn’t changed much in the past few weeks. With another couple of months, I’m sure my list would look completely different except for a few that are undoubtedly my very favorite few albums of the year. So, these are my favorite albums of 2014… for the time being.