Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases 1/07/11
Season of the Witch (PG-13)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Clair Foy
Directed by: Dominic Sena
In 1957, Ingmar Bergman made “The Seventh Seal,” a film classic about a disillusioned knight returning from the Crusades only to discover his feudal holdings awash in the Black Plague. To bargain for his life and the lives of others, the knight literally plays a game of chess with Death. The great Swedish director didn’t show us the rapes,  decapitations, and wholesale Holy Land slaughter which caused the knight to reject Christianity. However when director Dominic Sena was “inspired” by Bergman’s film to make “Season of the Witch,” he choses to encapsulate twelve years of gruesomely bloody battles in a seemingly endless montage. There is so much excess here, that when two armor-wearing Crusaders look to each other and agree “This killing must stop,” we wonder why it took them a dozen years to reach this conclusion. The pair return to their superstitious home town where capturing, caging, hanging and drowning beautiful young witches is the reality show of choice. Nicolas Cage acts woodenly throughout. Ugh!
1/2 piece of caged toast
Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen  (NR)
Starring: Barbara Sukowa, Hannah Herzsprung, Lena Stoltze
Directed by: Margarete von Trotta
in the 1200s,  when some women who “heard voices” were killed as witches, young Hildegard, claimed these voices came “from God,” and was eventually beatified by the Catholic Church. Illiterate, this creative and indomitable Benedictine nun is remembered for the homilies she wrote in her own self-created alphabet, and the Gregorian chants she captured for posterity. But, as portrayed here, Hildegarde was also a strong and powerful woman at a time when Patriarchal Hierarchy controlled the religious and secular world. Contemplative, archaic and internal, writer/director Margarette von Trotte and actress Barbara Sukowa reveal Hildegard as an intensely personal but universal human being.
3 and 1/2 pieces of reverent toast
Made in Dagenham (R)
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Jamie Winstone, Miranda Richardson, Bob Hoskins
Directed by: Nigel Cole
In what turned out to be a world-altering event, in 1968, the female workers at the Ford assembly plant in Dagenham, England went on strike for equal pay for equal work. What starts as a simple protest, escalates into a battle of labor vs management, women vs men, wives vs husbands and England’s Prime Minister Harold Wilson vs the electorate. Playing like a cross between “Norma Ray,” and “The Full Monty,” this British import educates and enlightens while it entertains.
NOTE: This was originally scheduled for its Sonoma County premier on December 22nd, but was delayed until now.
3 pieces of “look for the union label” toast
New on DVD
Dinner for Schmucks (PG-13)
Starring: Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, Stephanie Szostak, Zach Galifanikis
Directed by: Jay Roach
In the original French farce, a group of mean-spirited executives invite a schmuck to dinner. The American version has the same premise but less anger as the aforementioned schmuck is Barry, (Carell) an IRS man who makes historical dioramas using little stuffed mice. Like Chance the gardener in “Being There,” Barry inhabits a slightly different world than the rest of us.
3 pieces of a slightly sentimental but still farcical toast
The Last Exorcism (PG-13)
Starring: Patric Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr
Directed by: Daniel Stamm
Using every film school technique possible to ratchet up the suspense (including the movie soundtrack), this demonic possession film manages to raise the  “jump in your seat” factor to a crescendo and then, sadly shudder to a disappointing climax in the last five minutes.
3 pieces of jumpingly scary toast
Case 39 (R)
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper
Director: Christian Alvart
Shelved for over two years, this improbable and over-acted tale of a kindly social worker who temporarily becomes a foster parent for a girl she rescued from being baked in an oven, quickly dissolves into bad-special effects stolen from dozens of better films about a child possessed by evil forces.
1 and 1/2 pieces of Zellweger terribly miscast toast