Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

NEW RELEASES for 12/23/11

 

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (PG-13)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyquist

Directed by: Brad Bird

Brad Bird has managed to bring his Pixar perfectionism with him, and direct his mega-star to turn off the “cruise-control” and actually do something more than flashing his dimples. The result is an extraordinarily enthralling action movie—the best since “The Bourne Ultimatum.” As almost everyone knows, “the Secretary will disavow “ the IMF team if they go public, and after the Kremlin explodes, that is exactly what happens. Now the team must confront a Swedish megalomaniac as “rogue terrorists,” which puts an interesting spin on operating impossibly in this post 9/11 age of paranoia. Bird filmed many scenes with an IMAX camera, bringing incredible live-action feats up close and personal—a true Mission Impossible.

4 pieces of holiday action movie toast

 

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (R)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgard, Elodie Young, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright

Directed by: David Fincher

What could have been a tepid, Hollywood remake of a cold-blooded Swedish film manages to remain icily Scandinavian, and the result is astoundingly true to Steig Larson’s mega-bestselling novel. The girl in the title is the victimized product of abuse, rape and incarceration by the family and welfare system that should have been her protectors. To get revenge, this wizard of a hacker searches for and finds the perfect person to aid her quest—an investigative journalist recently hired to uncover the truth about the murder of a millionaire’s daughter.

3 and 1/2 pieces of iced leather and tattoos toast

 

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (R)

Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Benedict Cumberbatch

Directed by: Tomas Alfredson

You might want to read John LeCarres’s 1974 novel so you can better understand the enormity of the intricate and complex machinations of what you see onscreen. Secret agent George Smiley allows us entry into the dangerous and clandestine world of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, but don’t expect any Mission Impossible-style antics. Here things are tight-lipped, buttoned-up, and played close to the chest. The words in the title are code names given to suspected moles within the agency, and Smiley is plucked from retirement to ferret them from their dens. His methods are dull, interesting, methodical, and completely absorbing.

3 and 1/2 pieces of chess played with grey and gray pieces toast

 

The Artist (PG-13)

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius

Young people often tell me they don’t like watching silent movies because they don’t have sound and color and the acting seems staged and artificial. All of the above is true with “The Artist” yet it beguiles and entertains because of its archaic style. It is the tale of a 1920’s silent-film star caught in the rapidly evolving technology of a world obsessed with celebrities and technological innovations. His star quickly fades, and soon, his faithful chauffeur and dog are his only friends. All of this happens in scenes stolen from classic films like “Casablanca,” “The Thin Man,” “Seventh Heaven,” “Steamboat Bill Jr.,” and even “Citizen Kane.” The result is decidedly tongue-in-cheek below that pencil-thin-mustache.

3 and 1/2 pieces of mostly silent toast

 

The Adventures of Tintin (PG)

Starring the voices of: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Spielberg’s first animated film has allowed him to be comical, witty and wise. Using the classic Belgian comic books created by Herge’ in 1929, Tintin is a plucky young reporter who travels to distant lands with his faithful dog Snowy, and the constantly swearing, inebriated  seaman, Captain Haddock. They are on a quest to uncover the secret of “the Unicorn,” a sailing ship model coveted by the villainous Sakharine. Along the way they must survive murderous thugs, plane crashes, sinking ships, impregnable tanks, endless deserts, and bursting dams. The result, in motion-capture performances, is Spielberg enjoying making movies again.

3 and 1/2 pieces of Tintin triumphant toast

 

We Bought a Zoo (PG)

Starring: Matt Damon, Thomas Haden Church, Scarlett Johnsson, Patrick Fugit, Elle Fanning

Directed by: Cameron Crowe

Recent movies about someone running a zoo (0r aquarium, circus or museum) always seem include poop jokes and a critters acting like humans. Surprisingly, this film manages to avoid those clichés, and offers us heartfelt, family fare. The protagonist is a recently widowed newspaper columnist who decides all of the squabbles he has with his kids will be settled if they buy a zoo. So he does. Coming along with the animals, huge food bills and lots of biologicals, is a group of hippie-style workers including a beautiful female zookeeper. The resulting movie is fine. But with Cameron Crowe in the director’s chair, it’s surprisingly ordinary.

2 and 1/2 pieces of animals act like animals instead of humans toast

 

War Horse (PG-13)

Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Benedict Cumberbatch

Directed by: Tomas Alfredson

The soul of this film, and the book that inspired it, is the love of a boy for his horse. Problem is, history intercedes with a cast of thousands. The story opens in Pre-WW1 Britain when a father buys a colt for his son, but when war is declared, the horse is bought by an appreciative Army officer. A horrible cavalry charge, places the horse in clutches of animal-hating Germans, and eventually into the care of a French farmer’s daughter. Set pieces along the way play like scenes from movies made when the people on the battlefields were flesh and blood, not CG images, and the true horror of medieval-style armies facing machine guns, tanks and mustard gas, comes across strongly. But, and this is a big but, the Spielburgian pathos comes across as audience manipulating sentimentality and the result is very disappointing

2 and 1/2 pieces of I expected better toast

NEW RELEASES FOR 12/25/11

 

The Darkest Hour (R)

Starring: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Mimghella, Rachel Taylor

Directed by: Chris Gorak

This made in Russia, 3-D sci-fi film focuses on a small group of young people who must fight for survival during a devastating attack on Moscow by space aliens who dissolve buildings and people into ash that blows away with the wind.

Unavailable for preview

 

Shame (NC-17)

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dalle, Mary-Ange Ramirez

Directed by: Steve McQueen

If the subject matter doesn’t prevent it, the star of this voyeuristic examination of sex addiction deserves an Oscar nomination. His bottled-up character is all about about sex as power, sex as a commodity, sex without love, sex male or female, sex bought and paid for—and the childhood experiences with his promiscuous, exhibitionist sister that established the parameters of this addiction. FYI, the last scenes are frustratingly ambiguous, leading to thousands of interpretations online. My impression is that McQueen wants audience members to see it through their own set of personal experiences—a Rorschach test of their own psyche.

3 and 1/2 pieces of not for most movie-goers toast

 

NEW ON DVD

 

Midnight In Paris (R)

Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Adrian Brody

Directed by: Woody Allen
Reprising elements from his “Purple Rose of Cairo,” and “Bullets Over Broadway,” writer/director Woody Allen lets characters cross the line between what is real and what might have been. In this case, the hero is an American screenwriter who resides in Paris with his Southern California fiance and her parents. Fueled with an overwhelming desire to chuck everything and become an expat novelist in the mold of Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald, he willingly boards an ancient limousine filled with costumed revelers, and finds himself in 1930‘s Paris where Gertrude Stein welcomes Picasso and Salvador Dali to her Salon.

3 and 1/2 pieces of Woody Allen still has it toast

 

Straw Dogs (R)  

Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard, James Woods

Directed by: Rod Lurie

In a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s classic 1971 movie,  a young married couple travels to her Mississippi hometown to sell off the family home. Culture wars begin to take their toll when locals are hired to make much-needed repairs and lust and violence increasingly become more visible. It leads to the inevitable bloodbath when the husband finally fights back. If possible, you may want to view the original version after you see the new one and compare the stylistic nuances directors and decades add to the tale.

3 pieces of remakes can be good toast

 

The Tempest (PG-13)

Starring: Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones, Ben Whishaw, Chris Cooper, Djimon Hounsou

Directed by: Julie Taymor

Noted for her exceptional effects, director Julie Taymor has succumbed to the Terry Gilliam syndrome, where the just-for-the-heck-of-it special effects overwhelm the performance. Filmed as a gender-bending version of Shakespeare’s classic play, a group of exiled aristocrats are trapped on island populated by the spirits of the air and the earth. When a shipwreck strands the king who banished these people from their native land it also provides for romance and foolery. The actors, bellow, whisper, and drone the poetic lines but are often drowned out by the rock-guitar soundtrack.
Noble gesture, badly executed.

1 and 1/2 pieces of trying too hard toast

 

Dolphin Tale (PG)  

Starring: Harry Connick Jr. Ashley Judd, Nathan Gamble, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Freeman

Directed by: Charles Martin Smith

A young female dolphin severely damages her tail escaping from a trap, and  when the tail has to be amputated, rescuers know she will die soon. Incredibly, a band of disparate individuals come together to create a prosthetic tail for the animal which will let her swim and survive. The director who chased wolves and ate prairie dogs in “Never Cry Wolf” knows how to pull our heartstrings in a shamelessly manipulative, family-friendly way—but it works.

3 and 1/2 pieces of this ain’t no Flipper movie toast