Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscar 2015 Predictions

Each year I struggle with the notion of even doing a predictions list. It’s true that the Academy Awards is one of the most predictable awards show out there, mostly due to the fact that it comes at the very end of awards season, after everybody else has already handed out their awards, including some entities that make up the majority of the 6000+ voting membership of the Academy. With the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Producer’s Guild, the Writer’s Guild, the Director’s Guild and the British Academy of Film all posting their favorites of the year in the week’s leading up to the Academy’s award ceremony, it becomes pretty clear who will win what when all is said and done.

The Academy spends a good deal of time trying to fight its own predictability by changing their awards dates and their voting dates, and frequently changing voting rules and even employing such convoluted rules that most of the Academy voting membership don’t necessarily know how it all works; but as long as they insist on being the last of the bunch, this is a problem they will likely never resolve. That being said there are often a couple of surprises to be had here and there. Those who are good at this are good at identifying where the loop holes in the voting rules and good at ignoring some of the trusted patterns. I am not good at this. I pretty much stick with what I’ve seen throughout the awards process. So… what’s the point for me? To go on record with my understanding of the industry, I guess. So, with mere hours to go before the ceremony, here are my two cents, which are probably worth just about that much.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Louie, season 3 (2012) ****

TV-MA, 13 21-min. episodes
Creator: Louis C.K.
Directors: Louis C.K., Liz Plonka
Writers: Louis C.K., Pamela Adlon
Starring: Louis C.K.
Guest starring: Gaby Hoffman, Susan Kalechi Watson, Gary Wilmes, Melissa Leo, Allan Havey, Hadley Delaney, Ursula Parker, Larisa Polonsky, Miguel Gomez, Parker Posey, Maria Bamford, Casey Seimaszko, Robin Williams, Sarah Silverman, Marc Maron, Maria Dizzia, Michael C. Creighton, F. Murray Abraham, Rick Crom, Nick Di Paolo, Jim Norton, William Stephenson, Chloë Sevigny, Roderick Hill, Yul Vazquez, Jay Leno, Garry Marshall, Edward Gelbinovich, David Lynch, Chris Rock, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jerry Seinfeld, Todd Barry, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler

I know, I know, I know. I’m way behind here. The amazing thing is that I love this series and I started it just about two weeks after the first episode of the first season premiered, so I’ve been going through it very slowly.  This is, however, one of the best shows on television. Here’s why:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—And the Oscar Goes To… (2014) ***

TV-MA, 95 min.
Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Writers: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, Sharron Wood
Featuring: Ben Burtt, Annette Benning, Ellen Burstyn, Cher, George Clooney, Billy Crystal, Benicio del Toro, Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Hudson, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Janusz Kaminski, Kathleen Kennedy, Ben Kingsley, Liza Minnelli, Helen Mirren, Ve Neill, Robert Osborne, Jason Reitman, Phil Alden Robinson, Steven Spielberg, Bruce Vilanch, Jon Voight
Narrator: Anjelica Huston

Oscar fever is starting to catch for me. I feel like I’m a dying breed, however, as more and more of my peers seem to have grown bitter and critical of the Oscars. And yet, somehow each of them will find themselves tweeting their snide comments live during the Oscar ceremony this Sunday night.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Constantine, season 1 (2014-2015) ***

TV-14, 13 45-min. episodes
Developer: Daniel Cerone, David S. Goyer

Directors: Romeo Tirone, Neil Marshall, John Badham, Nick Gomez, T.J. Scott, Steve Shill, John F. Showalter, David Boyd, Mary Harron, Sam Hill, Thomas J. Wright

Writers: Daniel Cerone, David S. Goyer, Sneha Koorse, Brian Anthony, Christine Boylan, Jerry Siegel, Mark Verheiden, Cameron Walsh, Rockne S. O’Bannon, Carly Wray, Davita Scarlett, Jamie Delano (characters/graphic novel “Hellblazer”), Garth Ennis (characters/graphic novel “Hellblazer”), Alan Moore (characters/graphic novel “Swamp Thing”)

Starring: Matt Ryan, Harold Perrineau, Angélica Celaya, Charles Halford

Guest starring: Michael James Shaw, Mann Alfonso, Jonjo O’Neill, Jeremy Davies, Claire van der Boom, Emmett J. Scanlon, David A. Gregory, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Lucy Griffiths, Mark Margolis, James Le Gross, William Mapother

NBC very quietly entered the growing market of television series based on comic books this year with one of DC’s more obscure characters, the dark arts magician John Constantine. Although Constantine may not be as well known as many of DC’s tight-wearing superheroes, he’s long been popular with the more mature readers of the company’s Vertigo line of adult-targeted comic books. When DC revamped their entire lineup a few years ago Constantine jumped to the company’s regular line of superheroes, captaining the supernatural-based supergroup “Justice League Dark” and headlining his own title “Constantine”.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Romance Thoughts ‘15—Obvious Child (2014) ***½

R, 84 min.
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Writers: Gillian Robespierre (also short film), Karen Maine (also short film), Elisabeth Holm, Anna Bean (short film)
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacey, Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind, Polly Draper, David Cross

Sick of those formula driven romances? “Obvious Child” provides a fresh alternative to those highly predictable rom coms while remaining truly romantic and pretty consitently funny throughout. It’s a little more serious than your average rom com fare because it deals with realistic people and some subject matter that is decidedly unromantic, but it hits home as a positive romance with roots in the reality of relationships that we’re used to dealing with in an actual love affair.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Nymphomaniac, vol. II (2014) ***

NR, 123 min.
Director/Writer: Lars von Trier
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Christian Slater, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Michael Pas, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier, Ananya Berg

While Lars von Trier found a pretty good natural breaking point in his story to end the first volume of his erotica effort “Nymphomaniac”, he doesn’t have quite so natural a starting point for volume 2. The truth is it’s really intended as one epic movie, not two episodes. And now, Criterion has put out extended cuts of both volumes. Yeesh!

Anyway, “Nymphomaniac, vol. II” took a lot of heat as being one of the worst films of last year. I quite enjoyed the first half, and while I didn’t enjoy the second half as much, that is mostly because it is a second half rather than a second story. You’d think it would be difficult not to repeat yourself in a sexposé about the life of a nymphomaniac that was over four hours in length, but von Trier does a very good job of staying on fresh ground throughout.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Frank (2014) ***½

R. 95 min.
Director: Leonard Abrahamson
Writers: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, François Civil, Clara Azar, Michael Fassbender

OK. So, tonight is the Grammy’s. “Frank” is a movie about a band that would most likely never win a Grammy or even be invited, for that matter. But, let’s give it a whirl anyway.

So, there’s this kid who dreams of being a musician. He works his cubicle job during the day and waits in his room for inspiration to write songs whenever he’s not at work. I don’t think that’s really how it works, and from the fact that most of the songs he’s inspired to write are actually other songs that he’s heard from popular bands, well… I’m guessing I’m right.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Favorite Films of 2014

I find I’m having trouble putting 2014 away and moving on to 2015. That’s one of the reasons my Top Ten list of movies for the release year is coming so late. It was the best year for movies I can remember since I’ve been doing this. Plus, there are so many movies I’ve yet to get to—most notably the Oscar nominated “Selma”, “The Theory of Everything”, “Whiplash” and “Foxcatcher”. There are so many others I missed, but there were oh so many great ones I didn’t.

It also seemed to me to be one of the most diverse years in movies, where the mainstream seemed to move away from the mainstream. Yes, there were some great mainstream returns, like “Guardians of the Galaxy” returning to the sci-fi space adventure movement. But even some of the biggest successes of this year, like “The LEGO Movie”, would’ve seemed inconceivable—both in execution and content—before this year. True, the box office was way down, most likely as a result of the diversity. And, someone predicted that this would be the least watched Oscars ceremony in ages. That is probably true—again due to the very independent nature of this year’s nominees—however the specialty market box office had a banner year with film after film breaking art house records.

I’m very happy for the diverse and truly original content in this year’s nominees and the entire market in general. Comic books are still dominating the mainstream box office, but I think it is their influence that has lead the rest of the market toward more original programming. Expanding the minds of audiences is catching. I do fear that 2015 will be a let down with its sequel-heavy schedule; but in general, my outlook on where cinema is heading has done a 180 over the past year, and I can’t wait for the future.

Here are my 10 Favorite Films of 2014…

Monday, February 02, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Groundhog Day (1993) ***½

PG, 101 min.
Director: Harold Ramis
Writers: Danny Rubin, Harold Ramis
Starring: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray, Marita Geraghty, Angela Paton

So the time has come once again for us all to have our annual existential comedy experience and relive the same day over and over until we get it right. Perhaps we could all use the unexplained peril of Bill Murray’s self-centered hero from one of the unlikeliest of cinematic comedy successes of all time. “Groundhog Day” was released in February of 1993 to a Valentine’s Day crowd most likely expecting nothing more than another romantic comedy that seemed slightly off target release date wise considering it was the wrong holiday by a couple weeks. Instead they got a comedy with a brain that really wanted to tackle the deep issues that lay at the core of its otherwise silly premise.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Black Sunday (1977) ***

R, 143 min.
Director: John Frankenheimer
Writers: Ernest Lehman, Kenneth Ross, Ivan Moffat, Thomas Harris (novel)
Starring: Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, Marthe Keller, Fritz Weaver, Steven Keats, Bekim Fehmiu, Michael V. Gazzo, William Daniels, Walter Gotell, Victor Campos, Joseph Robbie, Robert Wussler, Pat Summerall, Tom Brookshier

Perhaps the most powerful element of John Frankenheimer’s 1977 thriller “Black Sunday” today is how topical it remains. On this Super Bowl Sunday, I look back at the movie based on Thomas Harris’s novel inspired by the harrowing events of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, during which members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September took Israeli athletes hostage in a situation that ended in a confrontation in which all the hostages were killed. Harris’s novel imagined a new plot that saw Black September attacking the U.S. during another sporting event—the Super Bowl—with much a grander massacre plot.