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A Petaluma360 Blog

Cinema Toast

Gil Mansergh reviews new movies and videos

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

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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

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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 »

Pixar’s Inside Out is a winner

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Pixar’s Inside Out could be subtitled “Childhood’s End,” for in addition to portraying the conflicting internal emotions (joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust), in the head of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, the film’s resolution embraces the critical role sadness plays in our psyche. Residents of the Bay Area may grumble about the catalyst for sadness being the family moving from Minneapolis to San Francisco, but “relocation” is a major cause of emotional distress for youngsters. The press notes tell us this colorful, creative and soulful tale is a combination of feedback from “market research” (a tween girl who plays hockey, and shuns dresses and anything pink) and the personal experiences writer/director Pete Docter had with his own family. The phantasmagorical trip into human emotions was created with support from two psychologists, a team of master animators, a story crew that is half female (an animated film first), emulating the glitz of a 50’s Broadway musicals, an expressive soundtrack by Michael Giacchino, and a single-minded determination to create something that had never been done before. It all works.… Read More »

Spielberg Produces Jurassic World

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In Jurassic World, the jaded teens of the near future aren’t content with carnivorous dinosaurs as night terrors personified. So the theme park developers follow chef Emeril Legasse’s advice to “kick it up a notch,”and the critter isn’t just a T-Rex, but a T-Rex that has been genetically modified with a bullfrog. (I guess the genetic designers didn’t see the obvious flaws of placing a high jumping T-Rex behind an “escape-proof” fence). The film spends way too much time pointing fingers at corporate types more interested in profits than safe-and-sane amusement. Perhaps this was the seven script writers’ (yes, seven script writers)not-so-subtle satire of their movie studio executives, but one of them should have added some humor along the way. The end result is shaking leaves paired with less than scary, not John Williams music, followed by hungry beasts with big nasty teeth and screaming victims. Then, talking heads, more talking heads, CGI beast sequence, screaming victims, followed by talking heads tut-tutting over the “incident.” Can the next sequel be far behind?… Read More »

Brian Wilson musical biopic Love and Mercy best bet

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There are several different Brian Wilsons (of Beach Boys fame), and two of them are presented (by different actors) in the musical biopic Love and Mercy. Paul Dano plays the young Brian fueled by sun, surf and bikini-girls as he transforms the signature sounds in his head to the records we still sing along with today. But we also see the sadistically abusive father, Brian’s escapes into booze and drugs, and the mental breakdown that “instant” success (and the constant pressure to create something new and fresh) can bring. The older, post-breakdown Brian is played by John Cusack (playing John Cusack). Still talented, still mercurial, looking for love, he found it when he answered a “For Sale” ad for a used Cadillac. And through all this is the music. The incomparable, instantly identifiable music.… Read More »

I’ll See You In My Dreams Is This Week’s Must See

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Brett Haley’s I’ll See You In My Dreams subtly frames the question: “How will you live your so-called “Golden Years?” It does this by showing us the ordered existence of an independent widow (Blythe Danner), whose only regret is she doesn’t have grandchildren. Little things happen to shake her up—a rat in her kitchen, the pool man who helps her chase the rodent, senior-style speed dating, a handsome older man with a cowboy twang and life itself. The “this is it” mood is also optimistic and wryly humorous, and the screenplay, direction and performances are masterful. … Read More »

Best Bets are the films from Sweden and New Zealand

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Disneyland’s 60th anniversary is a good time to imagine what today would be like if it emulated what visitors found inside Tomorrowland all those decades ago. Would we be riding monorails and submarines from here to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, or using people movers and a skyway to travel around Santa Rosa? Could we take scheduled rocket rides to the moon? Or, more importantly, would we live in plastic houses (by Monsanto) with General-Electric kitchens and Crane bathrooms. Unlike Disney’s original Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which included visual homages to portions of the beloved amusement park ride, Tomorrowland, the movie, eschews amusement park tie-ins in favor of location shooting in the futuristic portions of Valencia, Spain and the waving wheat fields of Alberta, Canada. In interviews, director Brad Bird says his intention was to offer an “antidote” for the plethora of sci-fi movies predicting a catastrophic dystopian future. Here, things are intended to be be sunny and bright—sort of a “happiest place on Earth” kind of feeling. Unfortunately, the muddled story line, shifting times/places, curmudgeon of a hero (George Clooney), increasingly jaded heroine (Britt Robertson), and bore-you-to-death villain (Hugh Laurie) have movie audiences leaving theaters with puzzled looks on their faces. “What did we just see?” they collectively ask each other. … Read More »

Best Bets are the films from Sweden and New Zealand

Disneyland’s 60th anniversary is a good time to imagine what today would be like if it emulated what visitors found inside Tomorrowland all those decades ago. Would we be riding monorails and submarines from here to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, or using people movers and a skyway to travel around Santa Rosa? Could we take scheduled rocket rides to the moon? Or, more importantly, would we live in plastic houses (by Monsanto) with General-Electric kitchens and Crane bathrooms. Unlike Disney’s original Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which included visual homages to portions of the beloved amusement park ride, Tomorrowland, the movie, eschews amusement park tie-ins in favor of location shooting in the futuristic portions of Valencia, Spain and the waving wheat fields of Alberta, Canada. In interviews, director Brad Bird says his intention was to offer an “antidote” for the plethora of sci-fi movies predicting a catastrophic dystopian future. Here, things are intended to be be sunny and bright—sort of a “happiest place on Earth” kind of feeling. Unfortunately, the muddled story line, shifting times/places, curmudgeon of a hero (George Clooney), increasingly jaded heroine (Britt Robertson), and bore-you-to-death villain (Hugh Laurie) have movie audiences leaving theaters with puzzled looks on their faces. “What did we just see?” they collectively ask each other. … Read More »

Big Bird, Mad Max and Several Other Fine Choices This Week

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With as little fuss and feathers as possible, in I Am Big Bird, we get to meet the genius who brings America’s beloved giant yellow bird to life. Hidden from view, with his hand held high in the air as he makes the 8-foot puppet walk and talk and receive hugs from fans of all ages, Caroll Spinney is now 81-years-young. We also see inside Big Bird’s alter-ego, Oscar the Grouch, the green-furred curmudgeon who resides in a garbage can. Fans who remember Jim Henson may get a little teary-eyed as Spinney recalls his mentor’s cautious approach to having him wear the yellow feathers, and that same crew will “remember where they were” when we hear about a part the puppeteer didn’t get. It’s also fun to meet “Mrs. Big Bird,” the kindly, former fan who shares Spinney’s “nest.” … Read More »

In a week of Hollywood dreck, Wim Wenders’ Salt of the Earth stands tall

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For the millions of us pondering a gluten-free existence, it is jarring to realize that thousands of humans scrabble in mercilessly difficult conditions to coax a living from the bowels of the Earth or find enough water to allow their children to exist for a few more hours. Still photographer Sebastian Salgado’s life work has been to share the faces of those toilers and marginal survivors, and Wim Wenders Oscar-nominated documentary, The Salt of the Earth lets us meet this extraordinary artist of the human condition. But chronicling all this misery has taken its toll. As Salgado says after his last visit with Rwandan refugees: “What is there left to do…after you’ve stared into the heart of darkness and decided mankind doesn’t deserve to exist?”… Read More »