Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases for 8/17/12


ParaNorman (PG)

Starring the voices of: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck, Tucker Albrizzi, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Bernard Hill

Directed By: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
The setting is a creepy-looking hamlet called Blithe Hollow, which is threatened by 300-year-old curse of long-dead witches returning to destroy everything. So it’s a good thing that Norman, the stop-motion animated youngster star of ParaNorman can hear dead people, because they provide advance warnings about the invasion of these zombies. Masterfully crafted by the people who made Coraline and Flushed Away, this darkly humorous movie works for kids and adults alike with some genuinely spooky bits and lots of empathy and honest emotion.

3 pieces of animated spooky humor toast

Sparkle (PG-13)

Starring: Jordin Sparkes, Whitney Houston, Derek Luke, Mike Epps

Directed By: Salim Akil
As Whitney Houston’s final film, this movie already has a place in history. Sadly, the tale of three singing sisters who want to “make it big,” has such a predictable plot, that it almost sinks the whole thing. Sibling rivalries, avaricious males, murder, badly staged musical performances and a frankly drug-addled Houston just make bigger and bigger holes in this leaky old tub and the whole thing barely limps into port, Only Jordin Sparks manages to stay dry.

2 pieces of tarnished sparkle toast

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (PG) 

Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, Dianne Wiest, CJ Adams, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ron Livingston, David Morse

Directed by: Peter Hedges
There is a skill to making a family-friendly fantasy film that is sorely lacking  in The Odd Life of Timothy Green. The missing ingredient is empathy—we have to feel for the characters to actively suspend our disbelief. The set up is that a plucky but childless couple yearn for a baby and ritualistically write down the traits they would like the child to have and bury them in the garden. Voila, one dark and stormy night a naked, muddy, ten-year-old boy appears at their door. The story is told in flashbacks, and so we realize that the couple already know the inevitable end results of what they do. As a consequence, the question of who this boy with branches and leaves growing from his body might be is moot, and the audience doesn’t really care.

1 and 1/2 pieces of unengaging toast

The Expendables 2 (R) 
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Mickey Rourke

Directed by: Simon West

Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay for both films in this series, and the creaky plot points mimic the moans and groans of the over-the-hill former he-man actors who pepper the screen. Audiences who aren’t addicted to video games can only take so much testosterone and mayhem, but it seems everyone of these guys was promised a designated amount of screen time to flex his muscles, grit his teeth and get sweaty and blood-spattered fighting numerous bad guys. As a result, the movie quickly becomes tedious and repetitious. A certain age-group of jaded males may like this “Trackem, Findem, Killem” mind set, but the rest of us should keep our money in our wallets.

1 and 1/2  pieces of ridiculous revenge and carnage toast

The Queen of Versailles (PG)

Starring: David Siegel, Jackie Siegel, Virginia Nebel

Directed by: Lauren Greenfield
David Siegel became a gazillionaire selling time shares in and around Orlando, Florida and his wife Jackie spent his money as quickly as she could on all things tacky and tasteless. For example, when they decided to build the biggest private house in America, the $100 million price tag didn’t slow them down for a second. However, when the recession hits and time shares stop selling, the filmmaker’s movie about excess turns into something much more interesting—A “Beverly Hillbillies” with some real drama. The result is surprisingly entertaining.

3 pieces of maybe you can be too rich toast

Neil Young Journeys (PG)

Starring: Neil Young

Directed by: Jonathan Demme
We are literally in the driver’s seat with rock icon Neil Young casually talking to us from the back of an immense 1956 Ford as we roll around “a town in North Ontario.” This accessiblity is what sets Jonathan Demme’s collaborations with Neil Young apart from other concert movies. We stay close as Young sings some “classics” and some some “seldom  heards,” caching glimpses of the singer’s youthful roots as old, familiar landscapes trigger memories illustrated with family photos. As with Demme and Young’s 2006 documentary, “Hearts of Gold,”  old-man time is just off screen even though the 68-year-old Young sounds like he’s still in his prime. The music is timeless, some of the the solos are golden, and a marvelous piano-fueled balled “Leia,” is heard for the first time.

3 and 1/2 pieces of great musician/filmmaker collaboration toast


The Hunger Games (PG-13) 
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks

Directed by:Gary Ross

In a post-revolution North America, a feisty archer-girl named Katniss Everdeen saves her sister from death by volunteering to take her place in the televised annual “survival of the fittest” (and luckiest) called the  Hunger Games. 24 contestants begin the games, and only one will come out alive. We watch Katniss hunting for food before the games, see her waxed and styled and given fighting tips from a Games survivor, and then watch her run and jump, and empty her quiver as others die around her. The story-line, settings and costumes are re-hashed from films like “The Running Man, “The Most Dangerous Game,”  ”Logan’s Run,”and even “The Wizard of Oz,” but it will still be widely popular with this new generation of film-watchers.

3 pieces of perfect allegory for this generation toast

The Raid: Redemption (R)
Starring: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Yayan Ruhian
Directed by: Gareth Evans

The Welsh director has compiled a hundred minutes of  blood spattering punching, slapping, gouging, kicking, breaking, smashing, slashing, crashing, martial-arts mayhem that will raise the testosterone levels of fans of this genre. The story line shows what happens when a heavily armed Indonesian SWAT Team is assigned the task of clearing a drug gang out of a 15-story apartment building. When they battle to the fifth floor, the bullets run out, and they must go hand-to-hand against highly trained, machete-wielding bad guys.  Lots of slo-mo closeups of death and dying. Most of us can skip it
1 and 1/2  pieces of slash and burn toast