Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

Films Opening 12/20/13

American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, and Inside Llewyn Davis are Oscar-worthy

American Hustle (R)

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Robert DeNiro, Michael Pena

Directed By: David O. Russell

David O. Russell’s American Hustle is a con job of a movie, the way The StingThe Thomas Crown Affair, and House of Games are movie con jobs. This means that because the audience has seen all the the short cons, the pay offs and the double and triple crosses laid out in front of them like a magician’s deck of cards, they think they know what is going to happen. But, it isn’t until the long con pays off (i.e. when they are leaving the movie theater), that a few will realize they have been played. Russell has a stellar cast working from his own script (co-written with Eric Singer) and the movers and shakers portraying the “me first” shysters of the 197o’s roll along with style and substance that may want you see the move for a second time.

4 pieces of so you think you know what’s going on? toast


Saving Mr. Banks (PG-13)

Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giammatti, Bradley Whitford. B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

When Walt Disney follows his children’s advice and buys the rights to Mary Poppins, the Australian-born, British author P.L. Travers comes along with the deal. Problems arise when Disney wants to “work his magic” by opening up the story with songs and animation—two concepts Travers strongly opposes.  There are, in fact several different stories going on here. One is about two strong-willed creative types butting heads, one is about how an author always carries personal history into their work (with all the good and bad this can bring) and the other is about how a classic movie—that most collaborative of artistic efforts—gets put together.

3 and 1/2 pieces of Disneyfied cinematic history toast 



Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (PG-13)

Starring: Will Farrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, David Koechener

Directed by: Adam McKay

The now married Ron Burgundy is back, as are all his sidekicks from the original news team as they transform the world with an entirely new 80’s concept…a 24-hour news channel. The film often deviates from satire into insanity, and I would have liked a stronger hand in the director’s chair or editing booth. Overall, it’s a raunchy comedy that doesn’t make any sense, but had me laughing (actually guffawing) in a few places. 

3 pieces of not as funny and creative as the original (but what could be) toast


Walking With Dinosaurs (PG)

Starring the Voices of: John Leguizamo, Justin Long, Tiya Sircar, Skyler Stone, Karl Urban

Directed by: Nell Nightingale, Barry Cook

This anthropomorphized 3-D documentary has the feel of being made for the side room in a children’s museum—the one with rows of chairs facing a pull-down screen. Only it’s way too long for that venue. According to the movie’s website, there are versions in lots of other languages, and if I saw it in Russian,  or Portuguese, I could have just enjoyed the astounding recreations and avoided hearing all those cutsey, bubble-gum package jokes, voiced by actors who probably thought this would be fun. It isn’t.

1 and 1/2 pieces of not worth paying to see it toast


Inside Llewyn Davis (R)

Starring: Oscar Issaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Long-time readers know that I love most of the Coen Brother’s films, and this is decidedly in the “love’ column. The Coen films often celebrate losers, and the musicians who want to break into the folk-music phenomenon circa 1961 includes more than its share of those who will never succeed. The frigid New York weather compounds the struggle to survive, but those tragic and comedic obstacles only help create greater and greater songs, and the movie is filled with very good songs “in the style of” Dylan and many others. More of a journey than a plot, the film won’t appeal to those who only understand Hollywood formulas, but the rest of us will enjoy the ride.

3 and 1/2 pieces of Coen Brothers folk music toast




Elysium (R)

Starring: Jodi Foster, Matt Damon, Sharlito Copely, Alice Braga, William Fichtner

Directed By: Neil Blomkamp

The South-African filmmaker who brought us the sci-fi parable District 9 returns with a film set in a much bloodier, much more class-structured 150 years later. The title is the name of a space station which circles the polluted and overpopulated Earth. In contrast to the planet-bound masses, Elysium’s residents are wealthy, relaxed, and healthy. This vibrance comes in part from a “healing bay” where residents can sit in a sun-tan-like device and emerge free of any diseases. When the hero of the tale is exposed to radiation and has only 5 days to live, he kidnaps a billionaire as part of a scheme to travel to the space station and get “cured.” But it’s Jody Foster as the single-minded defense official that brings shudders to audiences becoming complacent about our own “security” agencies quietly co-opting our personal freedoms.

3 and 1/2 pieces of intriguing toast 


Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (PG)

Starring: Logan Leman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson, Nathan Filloan, Mark Hamill, Stanley Tucci

Directed By: Thjor Freudenthal

Purists may cringe at the reworking of “classic” myths and characters, but the light-hearted parts of the movie work well. What doesn’t work. is the lack of dynamic tension. Nobody is at risk in these films—no life and death struggles occur, and the result is pretty flat. Local winemakers will identify with the introduction of a “new” character, Dionysus, the Greek God of wine in this humorous sequel. “Mr. D.” has offended the easily offended Zeus somehow, so every vintage bottle of wine turns to water as soon as the cork is pulled.

2 and 1/2 pieces of humorous mythology toast 


The Lone Ranger (PG-13)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Arnie Hammer, William Fitchner, Tom Wilkonson, Helena Bonham Carter

Directed By: Gore Verbinski

A couple years ago, when this production started coming together, Johnny Depp loudly proclaimed that he was “part Cherokee” and was going to “right the wrongs” of Hollywood’s portrayals of Native Americans. A couple weeks ago stories appeared about Depp’s DNA blood test showing nary a single drip of Native American heritage. Now the film reveals that Depp’s interpretation of Tonto is to play him as a mentally-addled shaman with a stuffed crow affixed to his head who he repeatedly offers birdseed. But my beef is with the portrayal of both the masked man and his trusted friend. The original radio show and long-running TV series was built upon a solid moral foundation expressed in the Lone Ranger’s Creed. Nowhere did the Creed say “scuttle everything—including common sense—to make lots of money at the box office.”

1 and 1/2 pieces of confused story telling toast 


Kick Ass 2 (R)

Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Directed By: Jeff Wadlow

The surviving dad in this sequel about costumed, wannabe heroes warns his son, “This is the real world…it has consequences.” Except it doesn’t.  The title character is repeatedly trashed in ways that would permanently cripple someone in our “real world.” His female sidekick, the revenge-fueled Ninja warrior trained by her tortured-to-death father to “be” the fist, bullet, blade (or stick with a sharp nail sticking out), was pruriently Manga-like as a preteen, but comes off as a sociopathic “Bad Girl” this time around. And despite the supposed bad guys maiming and killing hundreds of cops and innocent bystanders, “the system” doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about anything.

1 piece of needed some subtler hands behind the scenes toast