Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

Films Opening 3/14/14

The Girls in the Band is toe-tapping entertainment


The Girls In the Band (NR)

Directed by: Judy Chaikin

Anyone whos has watched Some Like It Hot knows about all-girl jazz bands (even if Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon are guys). In the 30’s and 40’s, jazz was a man’s world, and this great documentary looks back at the talented females battling sexism with panache. Narrated by some of the surviving “girls” themselves, and filled with beautifully edited, black and white film clips from the era, this is how docs should be made—informative, vivid, alive, not shying away from controversy, and filled with toe-tapping music. Cool!

4 pieces of a great music documentary toast 


Need for Speed (PG-13)

Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Ramon Rodriguez

Directed by: Scott Waugh

Based on a popular video game, the press notes say this is “an exciting return to the great car-culture films of the 60’s and 70’s,” and since the plot is a rip off from 1976’s competing cross-country car race movies, Cannonball and Gumball Rally, they are spot on.

2 pieces at least they’re driving real (not CG) cars toast 


Art of the Steal  (NYR)

Starring: Kurt Russell, Matt Damon, Terence Stamp

Directed by: Jonathan Sobol

This film has all the “caper movie” elements—former thieves recruited for one last heist (in this case a precious ancient book), lots of near misses, quick edits, dramatic music and a twist at the end. Only this one’s made in Canada, so everyone is super polite right?  That may be the only thing that the audience hasn’t figured out before it happens on screen. In short, imagine Snake from Escape From New York, is the Irish half brother of  Sam from Wild Things and General Zod from Superman II is an aging (but still respected) art thief. Now make them have long-winded verbal interactions between the various art thefts, and you get the idea. Not outstanding, but not awful either.

2 pieces of predictable caper movie toast


Spinning Plates (NR)

Directed by: Joseph Levy

Despite the title, this isn’t a variety show juggling act. Instead, it’s an insider’s look at three very happy restaurants (one nouvelle cuisine, one family style American, and one casa-style Mexican) where creative chefs create happy meals served by happy waitpersons. But don’t confuse these happy meals with anything dished out under those trade marked golden arches. This is great tasting stuff, served with pride (not that the McDonald’s gazillionth hamburger served isn’t, of course). But just as the audience sits back and loosens its belts, the fickle finger of fate arrives at each establishment—tongue cancer at one, fires at the next and an obvious lack of paying customers at the third. That’s when the plates really start to spin.

2 and 1/2 pieces of not a Gordon Ramsey in sight toast 


Better Living Through Chemistry (NR)

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan, Jane Fonda

Directed by: Geoff Moore, David Posamentier

Despite Monsanto’s (or is it Dupont’s) slogan as the film’s title, this is a morality tale about raiding the candy store. In this case, the “candy” is the drugs a pharmacist concocts to boost his libido and stamina for an affair with the arm candy wife of one of his customers, and the pill-based murder the two concoct to eliminate said husband. Narrated by Jane Fonda (yes, that Jane Fonda) this black comedy has a few clever bits, but mostly it’s not that good and the ending…well…the phrase “cutting room floor” comes to mind.

1 and 1/2 pieces of yes, that Jane Fonda 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


The Book Thief  (PG-13)

Starring: Sophie Nelisse, Ben Schnetzer, Emily Watson, Geofrey Rush

Directed by: Brian Percival

The message of this film is supposed to be that books can set you free. But… The reality of what is happening down the block and next door in 1938 Germany hovers over the film like unacknowledged Death Eaters. In this parallel universe version of the Holocaust, adoptive parents are kind and loving—even willing to have crippled Jewish boy live in their basement, and the mayor’s wife is willing to open her library of first editions to an orphan girl who just buried her brother. Perhaps it works on the page, but it comes across as disingenuous onscreen.

1 and 1/2 pieces of history rewritten toast 


Homefront  (R)

Starring: Jason Staham, James Franco, Winona Rider. Kate Bosworth

Directed by: Gary Fleder

Sylvester Stallone penned the original script way back in 1976 as the third in his Rambo series, but it sat on the shelf and mildewed instead. With all the Good-Ole-Boys characters on cable channel reality shows, there is probably a market for this film about an undercover DEA agent and a swamp-rat drug dealer—but this mish-ash of sociopathic revenge is completely unbelievable and unwatchable

1 piece of sociopathic gator bait 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