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A Petaluma360 Blog

Cinema Toast

Gil Mansergh reviews new movies and videos

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 »

Avengers: Age of Ultron well acted

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It would be interesting to edit the overblown, digitally enhanced battle scenes out of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and appreciate the skills of the actors and the cleverness of the lines they are given. Of course, that would defeat the purpose of this franchise, which is is to lure as many people as possible into theater seats. So, this critic has taken it upon himself to take the time and energy needed to point out the mastery at work here, as perfectly timed one liners trip from the tongues of the Norse God Thor, the Mega-industrialist Tony Stark, the muscled greenness of The Hulk, the poisonous Russian spy Black Widow, and the numerous additional superheroes and supervillains who populate the Marvel Comics universe … Read More »

Immortality Considered in The Age of Adaline, and Ex Machina

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Like Dorian Gray, the beautiful Adaline never grows older in Lee Toland Kreiger’s film. But unlike Oscar Wilde’s tale, a pact with the devil isn’t the cause of agelessness. It is, instead a near-death plunge into an icy lake over 80 years ago. Adaline has, as she tells us, “buried generations of spaniels,” and she can’t bear to bury another lover. So the rich San Francisco do-gooder who woos her is repeatedly rebuffed without knowing Adeline’s secret. Then, when we think the film is nearing the end, Adeline’s parents arrive (Harrison Ford, Kathy Bates) looking ageless in their seventies. But wait, you ask as your mind adds up the years, how can that be?… Read More »

Animated film, Cheatin’, is a sophisticated choice

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The opening sequence of this animated extravaganza lets us follow along as a lithe female in a bright yellow hat wanders through a crowded carnival reading a book. Either oblivious to or purposely ignoring the attention of the males she attracts, she ends up humiliated, but eventually finds true love while being rescued from a bumper car accident. The couple share marital bliss in a decidedly carnal manner as bedsprings squeak, and the lovers sing what sexologist Alex Comfort called “birdsongs at morning.” He works at a gas station while she stays home, but both feature in the lustful thoughts and machinations of those they encounter—including a magician, a hit man, and a geographically challenged chicken. This is an animated film for adults who are also grownup enough to appreciate the artistry and imagination Bill Plympton shares with those lucky few who actually get to see Cheatin’ in a movie theater. … Read More »

Baumbach’s While We’re Young is worth watching

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Writer/producer/director Noah Baumbach has created his While We’re Young, with amusing poignancy as a childless 40-something couple ( Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts) connect with the vivacious 20-something couple (Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver) who keep a pet chicken in their apartment. Intergenerational yearnings on both sides fuel the nuanced interplay as the “what-might-have been” (or should have been?) couple revel in the “what-might-be” potentiality of the youngsters. The artist/professor world of documentary filmmaking stands in for any creator/teacher environment as the sometimes messy complications of mentor/student hero worship and the frissons of sexual attractions co-mingle.… Read More »

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is Clever

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When a Tokyo office worker discovers a waterlogged videotape buried in the sand inside a secret cave, she knows she must process the tape to uncover its secrets in Kumiko the Treasure Hunter. What she discovers are scenes of a bloodied Steve Buscemi burying a bag of money next to a snowy fence in far away Fargo, Minnesota. Unaware that she is watching the Coen Brother’s most famous film, Kumiko quits her job and spends all her money on a quest to find the cash—in the depth of a Minnesota winter. … Read More »

Creative Horror Flick It Follows and Local Film Fests Are Best Bets

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The new movie It Follows, proves that talent can turn an old, tired formula into something much better than this critic expected. At the center, is a 19-year-old Detroit girl who enjoys swimming and sun tanning beside her family’s above-ground pool (included not only to have the girl in a bikini but also to show the socio-economic level of her parents). She goes on a date, only to be chloroformed and duct taped to a wheelchair by the guy so she can be killed by a ghostlike shape-shifter called “The Walker” and thereby let him escape the ghoul’s curse. Cue the girl’s friends, who become slightly older Nancy Drew-style detectives and vow to find out what has happened. The tension comes from unexpected, everyday going-on as well as the sudden juxtaposition of sound and fury. … Read More »