A Petaluma360 Blog

Cinema Toast

Gil Mansergh reviews new movies and videos

Teen Sex, Shouting Pundits and South Sudan—Everything is R-rated this Week


I doubt if setting this film in the Free Love era will mollify any conservative pundits, but since Diary of a Teenage Girl is about a sexually-active 15-year-old girl named Minnie Goetz (Bel Powley) and is told from the female perspective both in front of and behind the camera, it offers a decided change of pace. The concept that teen girls are just as horny as their male counterparts is a sea change in American filmmaking, and the combination of naivete and body-image uncertainty makes this film fresh and alive. Forget the smarminess of Larry Clark’s forays into teendom, director Marielle Heller says: “I [had] sexual thoughts and feelings [as a teenager]. I thought there must be something wrong with me because girls like me were not portrayed in the media.”… Read More »

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is transcendent


A select group of master animators and name-brand actors have come together to create a retelling of Kahill Gibran’s epic trilogy, The Prophet. Ostensibly a tale of an imprisoned poet and his wife and daughter, the books’ lush lyrics and sensual imagery have captivated readers for generations —including the talented people involved in the creation of this movie. The end result depends upon your individual reactions to the sights and sounds on screen—profound and enlightened to many, spiritual and transformational to others, and beautiful and evocative to all but the most jaded. … Read More »

Doc Starring Brando’s Own Words Is Compelling


The audio recordings method-actor Marlon Brando used like a diary have been transformed into an often entertaining and occasionally white-washed tale of a talent unlike any other in Steven Riley’s Lilsten to Me Marlon. The filmmakers have edited the tapes thematically rather than chronologically and some material, such as Marlon’s attempts at self-hypnosis to help him lose weight, are surprising. Other segments, most notably the realities of the murder-suicide involving Marlon’s son Christian shooting his pregnant sister Cheyenne’s lover and her suicide in Tahiti five years later, have been heavily redacted—but if this was by Marlon himself or by the film editors, we are left in the dark. … Read More »

Gambol with Shaun the Sheep


I’m a great fan of Aardman’s stop-motion Wallace and Gromit movies, and am delighted that Shaun the Sheep has his own feature-length film. The idea is simple. Shaun convinces his flock to con the Farmer into allowing them a day off—after all, a sheep’s life is a very busy one. Much like the feathered critters from Chicken Run, the complicated, Rube Goldberg convolutions the wooly flock comes up with are crazy inventive. But when the Farmer gets amnesia and is hauled off to the hospital, even Blitzer the sheep dog joins the plan to spring their shearing-mad employer from his bed. Wordless, and fun for all ages, we Anglophiles will get an extra delight from the quirky British humor of it all.… Read More »

The Stanford Prison Experiment is sobering


I had the chance to interview Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo on my Word By Word: Conversations With Writers radio show on KRCB-FM a few years ago, and he was unrepentant about running one of the most unethical social-psychology experiments ever conducted. Back in 1971, Zimbardo recruited two dozen male volunteers for a week-long “study.” Half of the young men were rousted out of their beds by Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies and brought to prison-like cells in the basement of a university dorm. The other volunteers had been randomly assigned to be the prison guards. Within hours, the “guards” abused their authority, and in a day, conditions like those recorded in the notorious Abu Gharib prison unfolded. None of the visiting “experts” (including a priest) voiced their concerns until Zimbardo’s own girlfriend told him it had to stop. Using the “found-footage “ technique, The Stanford Prison Experiment accurately portrays the ratcheting up of verbal, emotional and physical abuse to a sadistic level in a very short period of time. … Read More »

Paper Towns is this week’s top choice


The creative team behind the tear inducing, ill-fated teen-love flick The Fault In Our Stars has brilliantly adapted John Green’s YA novel Paper Towns into a satisfying tale of teen romance, hero’s quest and amateur sleuthing. When estranged next door neighbors reunite for a prank-filled night, the girl mysteriously disappears in the morning. No one except the guy seems surprised by the mercurial young woman’s absence. He, however, decides to find out where (and why) she has gone, and how she captured his heart. The third act is a little contrived, but savor everything that comes before then… Read More »

Schumer’s ‘Trainwreck’ funny, McKellen’s Holmes droll


‘Trainwreck’ (R)

Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson

Directed By: Judd Apatow

Imprinted as a young girl by her philandering father’s mantra “Monogamy is impossible,” a young woman breezes through her pleasure-seeking life as an obnoxious jerk in ‘Trainwreck’. So it is no surprise that the girl who “never” actually sleeps next to the males she beds, gets involved with a decent sort of guy and somehow ends up in (gasp!) a “relationship.” Judd Apatow’s direction, the actors’ pitch-perfect comic timing, and Amy Schumer’s voice-over commentary as the “relationship” progresses offers a nice counterpoint to the traditional rom-com shenanigans that transpire.
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Amy and Infinitely Polar Bear are depressing but good


Like he did with his award winning documentary, Senna, director Asif Kapadia has made an masterful story of a great talent’s meteoric rise and explosive finale. In Amy, he focuses on the little girl with the soulful voice, Amy Winehouse. Octogenarian crooner Tony Bennett recorded the song “Body and Soul” as a duet with Amy in what proved to be her last recording. “What an incredible voice,” Bennett says about her short, substance abuse dictated, life and death. “I should have shared [with her] the phrase that turned my life around: ‘Don’t sin against your talent.” Except for Bennett, the men in Amy’s life were like leeches sucking out her life force to line their pockets and inflate their egos. Her lover, manager, father and friends encouraged the antics that inflamed the paparazzi, and placed profitability above Amy’s mental and physical health. The ride is rough, but the archival footage of the singer as a little girl and young star almost make it palatable—almost.… Read More »

“British WWI drama” competes against “American sex comedy”


This theatrical film version of Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain’’s memoir about her life as a (female) student at Oxford before WWI, and her coming-of-age as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment nursing the war wounded in Britain and Germany may seem overly familiar. The BBC originally broadcast their 5- part adaptation of the book (starring Cheryl Campbell) in 1979, and many PBS stations rebroadcast it this summer. Even with this sense of deja-vu, it’s a well done historical drama … Read More »

Me & Earl and the Dying Girl is something truly special


In Me & Earl and the Dying Girl, a Pittsburgh teen and wannabe filmmaker is saddled with the thankless summer task of “visiting with” a neighbor girl who has cancer. The boy would rather be making 2-minute sock-puppet parodies of famous films with his best friend, and the girl would rather be anywhere but where she is. This is a boy-meets-girl-meets-his-camera type of movie that blissfully breaks all the Hollywood stereotypes and creates a freshness that captured Sundance’s biggest awards. You’ve got to see it. (By the way, the narrator is quick to tell us that despite the title, this film has a “completely happy ending”). … Read More »