Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

Films Opening 12/06/13

The Armstrong Lie (R)

Starring: Lance Armstrong, Betsy Andreu, Frankie Andreu, Johan Bruyneel, Reed Albergotti, Daniel Coyle

Directed by: Alex Gibney

This is the definitive portrait of a lying, drug-user named Lance Armstrong or of the wonder boy who inspired millions by surviving testicular cancer and going on to win cycling’s Tour-de-France. Both are true, and both are examined in detail in Alex Gibney’s overly-long documentary of the doping scandal. Some of the shots of top-speed cycling through countrysides and towns are artistically beautiful. Some are grittily grueling. But the repeated shots of Armstrong testifying in front of phalanxes of cameras and microphones becomes repetitive—especially since you know the guy is lying through his teeth.

3 pieces of hero with feet of clay toast 

 

At Berkeley  (NR)

Directed by: Frederick Wiseman

If you have a college-bound high schooler at home, you have probably seen more than a few YouTube videos provided by institutions of higher learning competing for your child’s time (and your money). Director Frederick Wiseman’s portrait of the University of California at Berkeley has stretched one of those short videos into a four-hour-long movie, and the low-key result is, in a word, interesting. We catch glimpses of various classrooms, and labs populated with earnest young adults studiously working to absorb the wisdom of the ages, and are a fly on the wall at a weekend retreat for the staff and faculty.  The Cal in this movie isn’t a party school. There is only the briefest mention of the football team and breaks from rigorous study seem limited to brief interludes spent sitting on a lawn on a sunny day. Wiseman made his mark with his expose of conditions in a prison for the criminal insane (The Titicut Follies) way back in 1987, and has created over 35 films about various institutions in the intervening years. He is a canny director, who knows what he is doing as he slowly builds a construction that reveals how Berkeley, and all other top-tier, publicly funded universities, are in peril, as costs rise exponentially, the admissions process becomes more competitive, and the very fabric of the commonwealth’s future is on the line.

4 pieces of a long, but worth your time toast

 

 

Out of the Furnace  (R)

Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Woody Harrelson, Wilem Defoe, Sam Shepard

Directed by: Scott Cooper

The age-old question, “Am I my brother’s keeper,” is at the core of this star-studded portrait of a Pennsylvania steel town in the final days before it rusts away. One of the brothers diligently works in the same steel mill that employed their father. The other keeps gambling his life by re-upping for tours in Iraq and gambles his (and others) money when he is home on leave. The problem is, that each of the actors must have been promised a scene or two which could earn an Oscar nomination. Nobody plays their part small. Bombast, fisticuffs, sly looks, mumbled words, and both scripted an improvised flashes of brilliance litter the screen. In the end, it’s all too much. For an audience to embrace a film, they have to like the characters and forget about the individuals portraying those made-up-people. This film never lets us forget about the acting.

2 and 1/2 pieces of  overly actor-weighted toast 

 

 

NEW DVD RELEASES

Drinking Buddies (R)

Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Jason Sudeikis

Directed by: Joe Swanberg

Although the title looks like a perfect double-bill with the zombie apocalypse farce, The Word’s End, this is a story about two drinking buddies who work for the same Chicago brewery. Thing is, they are guy and gal. She is the scrub-faced, no-nonsense marketing gofer who sets up tents at street fairs. He works on the production line. Soulmates, they both are in relationships with others. The pitfalls are obvious, the way things are handled are not, and the results offer a few delightful surprises for the audience.

3  pieces of don’t assume you know where this is going toast 
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (PG-13)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan
Director: Gavin Hood
There is an Iroquois tradition called the gauntlet, where a captured prisoner has to run between two lines of warriors while they strike at him with their weapons. If he makes it to the end alive and uncrippled, he is allowed to become an X-man. Oops, well that is what this movie made me think of when I wasn’t recalling the Bible story about the twin brothers Esau (he of the hairy hands) and Jacob (the evil one). It’s all too dirge-like, with the filmmakers working very, very hard (but not succeeding) in giving us a Dark Knight with adamantine claws.
2 pieces of the first half is better than the second toast

 

The Smurfs 2 (PG)

Starring: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris,Brendan Gleason and the voices of: Katy Perry, Chritina Ricci, Jonathan Winters, Alan Cumming, George Lopez, Anton Yelcihin, John Oliver

Directed By: Raja Gosnell

This feeble attempt to rake in some bucks from parents who were desperate to find a late summer movie to park their youngsters in before school started, is just plain dull. Forget the nasty kinkiness of a magician who kidnaps ,imprisons and tortures little blue girls to extract their Smurf Essence, only the magician’s CG cat is fresh and lively.

 1 and 1/2 pieces of Smurfly dullness toast