Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases for 6/22/12

 

Brave  (PG)
Starring the voices of: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Waters

Directed by: Brenda Chapman (and Mark Andrews)

Brave is Pixar’s first attempt at providing a strong female lead character, and despite being directed by a strong female, the attempt is marginal at best. First off, the heroine is a princess, albeit a feisty Scottish redhead who can ride horses and shoot arrows better than any male. But that’s not really saying much. For the males in this animated tale are over-caricatured to the max. Her suitors are a dim-witted drooler, a temper tantrum thrower, and a doltish giant, and her father and his advisors are all bombast buffoons who repeatedly display what a Scotsman wears under his kilt. The usual Pixar simplicity has been confounded by stealing too many plot points from previous Disney Princess fairy tales—the distraught mother, the witch’s curse, etc.” Behind the scenes, “creative differences” were given as the reason Mark Andrews replaced Chapman during the last few months of production. He quickly scrapped most of the “magic elements” explaining that these “affected the environment”—whatever that means.

On the distaff side, my wife loved this feisty girl and didn’t think the guys were any more of a caricature than those found in other Disney Classics (i.e. “How the Emperor Got His Groove”). So I upped the pieces of toast.

3 pieces for feisty girls everywhere toast 

 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (R)
Starring: Steve Carrell, Keira Knightly, Connie Briton, Adam Brody

Directed by: Loren Scafaria

What would you do if the street corner prophet turned out to be correct, and the end of the World is nigh? This question has provided rich background material for dozens of doomsday sci-fi movies, including several that include the same “meteor will soon destroy Earth” scenario as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. But this is supposed to be a romantic comedy with all of the requisite meet-cutes, and misinterpreted snatches of overheard conversations and intentions. Unfortunately, there are no zombies around to distract the audience’s attention, and the morbid inevitability derails any comic mood. Take for example, when a friend tells the Steve Carell character “You’re going to die alone,” and her husband says “No he’s not. He’s going to die with everybody else.” Does the audience laugh at this punch line—or cry?

1 and 1/2 pieces of the end of the world just ain’t funny toast

 

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer (R)
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell

Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov

As a writer of historical fiction myself, I appreciate the cleverness behind Seth Graham-Smith’s novel featuring Abraham Lincoln wielding his fabled ax to smite black-eyed vampires before and during the Civil War. But the novelist penned the screenplay, and the devil, as always, is in the details. The book was structured with excerpts from letters, speeches, and biographies included to place the reader more firmly in a parallel universe. But onscreen, the dialogue just sounds corny and stilted, especially from the actor playing at being the “Great Emancipator.” Sadly miscast, all you can say about Benjamin Walker is that he fits Lincoln’s self-description “I am, in height, 6’4″, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing on an average 180 lbs.; dark complexion, with coarse black hair and gray eyes.” For this film to have worked, they needed much, much more.

1 and 1/2 pieces of four-score (and seven years ago) toast

 

Lola Versus (R)
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Joe Kinnaman, Zoe Lister Jones, Bill Pullman, Debra Winger

Directed by: Daryl Wein

This indie rom-com feels like it was specifically made for the Sundance Festival and Film Channel. Set in New York, Lola (Greta Gerwig) is a perky blonde whose face is in constant motion. She is saddled with the requisite snarky, one-liner spouting, best friend, the unable to commit fiance, and the sensitive guy-pal who clearly loves her. Add in the former hippy parents, and a series of lusty one-night stands for most of the people involved with this boiler-plate of a movie, and you get exactly what you expect.

1 piece of Indie deja-vu toast

 

NEW ON DVD

Jeff Who Lives at Home (R)
Starring: Jason Sigel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon, Rae Dawn Chong
Directed by: Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass
The brothers who made this film, have a penchant for brotherly foibles, and in this movie the siblings onscreen are a cocky, Porsche-driving paint salesman and a slacker, pot-smoker who still lives in their mom’s basement. The basement dweller has become obsessed with the notion that everything is connected in some way, and he just has to decipher the “signs” to understand what’s going on. For example, when he learns that the angry guy on the other end of the phone who dialed the wrong number is looking for “Kevin,” the slacker goes on a quest to follow anyone with that name. The actors, script, direction and chemistry in this film are a marvel to behold.

3 and 1/2 pieces of brotherly magic toast

Project X (R)
Starring: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Brown, Dax Flame
Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh, Jonathan Kaplan
A text invitation goes viral by promising free booze and “girls, girls, girls’ when a boy’s parents unwisely leave him home alone. The result is like an adolescent’s wetdream as quick-to-disrobe women magically appear and tweets and sexting messages call in the News-at-11:00 helicopters and the backyard party threatens to destroy property values. Minus a plot, real actors, direction or any redeeming social value,  this film will probably be a big hit on video where under-age boys can guzzle beer, fantasize to their heart’s content, and throw up when the film is over.

1 and 1/2 piece of puerile toast

Wanderlust (R)
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, Alan Alda, Kathryn Hahn, Ray Liotta, Malin Ackerman, Joe Lo Truglio

Directed by: David Wain, Ken Marino

If you expect a beginning, middle and end, look elsewhere. This film is a collection of short skits and lots of improv set in a time-warp where nudist communes dot the northern Georgia countryside. Like a Saturday Night Live drenched in patchouli oil, the story revolves around a couple who lose their jobs and fancy New York apartment and head south to live with the brother-in-law. The couple stops at a place called Elysium where the wife is captivated by the zany characters, freedom and openness, while the husband feels uncomfortable and foolish.

3 pieces of hippie-commune-style toast

 

Big Miracle (PG)
Starring: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinsky, Ted Danson, Kristen Bell
Directed by: Ken Kwapis
This is a bit like the old Northern Exposure TV show with a big, big budget and different stars, and the result is quirky and predictable. It’s based on a true incident from 1988 when three grey whales got trapped in a rapidly shrinking ice lake near Barrow, Alaska. The local TV reporter breaks the story, it’s a slow news day, and the rest—including the international rescue mission, the Greenpeace vs. politicians grandstanding, and and the yokels vs city folk jokes—is history.
3  pieces of shmaltzy toast