Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast
New Releases for 12/07/12
“Good Evening” for Hitchcock, Smashed faces alcoholism head on
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirrin, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Ralph Macchio, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy
Directed by: Sacha Gervasi
Alfred Hitchcock earned the title, “The Master of the Macabre,” by making over 50 movies involving murderous death and mayhem, and his signature techniques are still powerful today. I often give talks illustrated with clips from Hitch’s films, and it doesn’t matter if the audience is made up of high school students, teachers, writers, psychotherapists, or film buffs, they all react to classic suspenseful scenes like the out-of-control carousel from Strangers on a Train, the discovery of the farmer’s body in The Birds, the chase across the faces of Mt. Rushmore in North By Northwest, or the voyeuristic scenes from Psycho. The Psycho film is the centerpiece of the new biopic Hitchcock which not only showcases the director’s fears and foibles, but also his manipulation of women, collaborators, the press, and Alma Reville, his wife, co-writer, editor, script girl, and mother of his daughter, Patricia. This film places a little too much emphasis on the “McGuffin” of having Paramount Studios be unwilling to bankroll a black and white movie, when the truer story is how Hitch wanted to make more money off his films, and by being his own banker/producer, he reaped a huge profit. But you don’t have to be a film buff to delight in all the great work by the actors personifying Hitch, Alma, Janet Leigh, Tony Perkins, Vera Miles, composer Bernard Hermann and screenwriter Josef Stefano. Just sit back, relax, and be prepared to scream (and laugh, too).
3 and 1/2 pieces of Hopkins playing Hitchcock toast
Playing for Keeps (PG-13)
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thuman, Judy Greer, Dennis Quaid
Directed By: Gabrielle Muchino
This film could be shown in a seminar about how NOT to make a rom-com. The script stinks, the director fumbles, the entire thing is misogynistic, and the stars must cash their paychecks with their heads held low. The set up is that an international soccer star wants to reconnect with his ex-wife and their 9-year-old son, so he coaches his son’s team. The bleachers are lined with the sexually starved mothers of the other boys kicking the soccer ball, who literally fight over the tousle-haired, Scottish hunk of a man who suddenly appears in their midst. This so-called comedy is contrived, uninspired, demeaning to women, and a total waste of time and money
1/2 piece of truly worthless toast
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Mary Kay Place
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Functioning alcoholism is the centerpiece of this wisely directed film. The first grade school teacher and the music critic who are “the couple” we see onscreen, are addicted to alcohol, but (most of the time) manage to keep their drinking “under control” through lies, excuses, and self delusion. After a single horrific incident makes the teacher realize she must get sober, she discovers that standing up in front of strangers, and admitting to them, the world, and herself that “I am an alcoholic,” is very, very difficult. One value of this film, is showing how almost everyone adds to that difficulty, and the ending is remarkable in its honest simplicity.
3 and 1/2 pieces of avoids preaching, and makes it’s point toast
NEW DVD RELEASES
Beasts of the Southern Wild (PG-13)
Starring: Quevenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper
Directed By: Benh Zeitlin
Burdened with a terrible title, this truly original film takes place in a Louisiana backwater called Bathtub. Growing up in this singular place, is a wide-eyed six-year-old named Hushpuppy (Quevenzhane Wallis), who lives alone with her father (Dwight Henry) in a couple of ramshackle trailers. Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on them, and the “Guvment” (with a “capital G”), is forcing Bathtub’s inhabitants to “evacuate” to a safer place. Hushpuppy narrates the film in such a way that we hear her inner thoughts—and the thoughts of a six-year-old are often wild and mysterious. Lets take, for example, the aurochs. Hushpuppy’s first-grade teacher introduced her to these extinct ancestors of modern-day cattle, and the youngster is convinced that the storm will somehow release these long-horned beasts from some frozen, underground imprisonment, so they will once again walk the Earth. In fact, much of Hushpuppie’s world may (or may not) be a dream. In addition to the aurochs, there is the ancient fisherman who pilots his boat to a floating island where a mother-like woman resides. But this island, boat, fisherman, and Madonna, and the dynamite-filled alligator may all be will-of-the-wisps.
3 and 1/2 pieces of truly wondrous and magical toast
Hope Springs (PG-13)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carrell
Directed By: David Frankel
Vanessa Taylor’s great script non-judgementally showing things as they are is the secret behind the success of Hope Springs. A suburban Nebraska couple married for 31 years have settled into familiar patterns and routines, but underneath, rekindled intimacy awaits. At least that’s what the wife (Meryl Streep) hopes when she signs them both up for a week-long couples therapy session—in Maine. The husband (Tommy Lee Jones) resists (after all, it’s a rom com), she heads off by herself, and he boards the plane at the last moment. The therapist (Steve Carrell) is earnest but insistent—the couple will try some new things together—and the resulting transformative process is surprisingly insightful—for the couple and audience alike.
NOTE: Some readers have pointed out that the “let’s follow the book’s suggestion and have oral sex in the darkened movie theater” scene made Meryl and Tommy appear embarrassed and disgusted some viewers. I suggest you can skip the scene at home, and enjoy the rest of the movie.
3 and 1/2 pieces of Can This Marriage Be Saved? 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 lacks charm toast