Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

Films Opening 1/17/14

No Oscar contenders this week. The Nut Job is your best bet.

The Nut Job (PG)

Starring the voices of: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Kaherine Heigl, Liam Neeson, Mya Rudolph

Directed By: Peter Lepeniotis

Considering how cold and frozen the USA was this year, it’s a good idea that the squirrels, mice, moles, chipmunks and groundhogs have banded together to ensure that there is a sufficient pile of nuts stored away for the winter. But when the heist of the nut-vendor’s cart goes wrong,  Surly (voice of Will Arnett), is banished for messing up the seemingly “foolproof” plan. Things don’t look good for a squirrel on his own, until he discovers the nut factory where the cart came from. But when our fast-talking squirrel is thwarted by a gang of klutzy humans set to rob the bank across the street, the cartoon-style fun explodes.

3 pieces of not quite Looney Tunes but still fun toast 


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (PG-13)

Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightly, Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Costner, David Paymer

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Forget that President Reagan was a fan of Jack Ryan, the newest reboot has the multi-faced CIA analyst  joining the Marines after 9/11, and surviving Afghanistan only to be covertly set up as a Wall Street Banker. With the uncanny ability to see dastardly plots before anyone else does, our ageless hero uncovers a Russian plan to buy up U.S. Treasury bonds and then sell them at a loss to prompt rampant inflation in U.S. markets. In other words, with he Sochi Olympics only weeks away, the screenwriters reverted to having Jack Ryan battling his old nemesis—the Russians. It’s deva-vu all over again.

2 pieces of Jack Ryan rebooted toast 


Ride Along (PG-13)

Starring: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube

Directed by: Tim Storey

You can almost hear the Hollywood pitch: “A street-smart Atlanta detective and a bumbling school security guard share the front seat of a patrol car in a late-night ride along.” Visits to a donut shop and a strip club are guaranteed, and everyone in the audience knows what is going to happen before the lazy people onscreen. Since we also know that everyone involved can do better, we’re insulted, and want our money back.

1 and 1/2 pieces of lazy, buddy-cop-movie toast 



The Butler (PG)

Starring: Forrest Whitaker, Oprah Whinfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Robin Williams, Mariah Carey, David Oyelowo, Jane Fonda, Alan Rickman, Liev Shreiber, John Cusak

Directed by: Lee Daniels

Inside the beltway, the title character is referred to as a “White House staffer,” but his duties are similar to those of Downton Abbey’s white gloved stickler for tradition, Carson. It is based on the real-life “staffer” Eugene Allen who was first instructed to “Hear nothing…see nothing…only serve,” in Eisenhower’s White House and stayed on the job through six more Presidents. Writer/director Lee Daniels has created a distinctive insider’s look at the dramatic challenges that impacted our country and the world (the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy assassination, Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, Watergate, etc.) from the point of view of an African-American husband and father. Star-studded, the Oscar-winner Forrest Whitaker is astounding in the starring role.

3 and 1/2 pieces of well-served toast 


Fruitvale Station (R)

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Ariana Neal, Octavia Spencer

Directed By: Ryan Coogler

Grainy cellphone footage of the killing of Oscar Grant by a transit cop opens the film, and the rest is a flashback of the 24 hours before the fatal encounter. The interactions Oscar has with his girlfriend, daughter and mother ring true, but the scene where he tends to a dying dog seems contrived. Overall, the film manages to remain even-handed—showing a flawed but still humane young man lassoed into a tragic rendezvous with death.

3 and 1/2 pieces of life and death toast 


Enough Said (PG-13)

Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Katherine Keener, Toni Collette, Toby Huss

Directed by: Nicole Holofcener

The rationalizations and self-delusions of a middle-aged romance between two divorced parents form the core of this very likeable comedy. After a disatrous first meeting, the unlikely pair tentatively begin a relationship that is both burdened and lightened by the woman’s friendhips with other females. Like a female Woody Allen, writer/director Nicole Holofcener creates a distinctive and occasionally screwball-comedy of a world where searching for a soul mate is a real act of courage.

3 and 1/2 pieces of cleverly courageous toast


Twenty Feet From Stardom (PG-13)

Starring: Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Lisa Fisher, Mary Clayton

Directed By: Morgan Neville

“And the colored girls go ‘Doo do doo, do doo do..” Lou Reeds wrote in his classic song “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” and that sums up the recognition the vast majority of backup singers have received over the years. Now, in a fine documentary, a few finally get a chance in the spotlight. We learn that movie producers like Phil Spector saw these talented performers as interchangeable—putting in the names of backup singers he liked in the record notes even if they weren’t the ones singing. Most of the famous faces and voices interviewed for the film seem apologetic for the manner in which they treated their team members, but only Bette Midler truly appreciates them as her peers.

3 and 1/2 pieces of a vast twenty feet of geography toast


The Spectacular Now (R)

Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Directed by: James Ponsoldt

The final coming-of-age film this summer begins in a clunky manner with the male character typing his college essay on a computer. According to real world timing, that would make the guy about 17-years of age, but this guy has a plastic cup of booze seemingly super-glued to his hand. Based on Tim Tharpe’s 2008 novel, the story slowly evolves into a tale of a nice girl falling for a high school drunk. We’re supposed to swoon for their blossoming love, but the father in me just cringed with with the life-learned lesson that this can only end badly, and wished that the girl (who’s name is Aimee Finickey), had been more finicky about her boyfriend.

3 pieces of perhaps the father in me reacted too strongly toast