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.