Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

Films Opening 4/18/14

Jude Law and Scarlett Johansson play against type in Dom Hemingway and Under the Skin 


Dom Hemingway (R)

Starring: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bircher, Emilia Clarke

Directed by: Richard Shepard

A  Cockney safe cracker is released from prison with pay off, pay back and reconnection in mind. He wants money from the mob boss whose name he kept from the coppers. He wants to inflict grievous bodily harm to his ex-wife and her new husband for all the sex and freedom they have had while he was locked up, and he wants the daughter who he hasn’t seen in 12 years to love and respect him.  The fact that she is living with the Senagalese band mate and father of their bi-racial child, just isn’t in Dom’s carefully crafted scenario. Jude Law makes big bucks playing the stand-offish Dr. Watson in the latest Sherlock Holmes movies, but in this role he channels the anger-fueled, psychopathic violence mined by Joe Pesci in Goodfellas and Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. It’s an over-the-top, breakaway role.

3  and 1/2 pieces of  violent (yet likeable) psychopath toast 


Under the Skin  (R)

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Antonia Campbell-Hughes

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

This is a week of actors playing against type as Scarlett Johansson stars as an emotionless alien being who suddenly appears on a lonely stretch of Scottish highway. Director Jonathan Glazer (who made his mark with the remarkable mobster hit man film Sexy Beast) treats Scotland as one of the characters, with the indistinct, fogginess of the country’s landscapes, the almost indecipherable Scottish accents, and the creepiness of Glasgow’s back streets. The female, (at least the human body that has been co-opted is female), is on Earth with the single-minded purpose of a hunter/butcher, sent to gather food for the hungry mouths back home. She dispatches her human food sources with the dispassionate perspective of something “just doing my job.” The film is confusing as Hell, and if someone tells you the stylistic beauty and the nude Scarlett Johannson make it worth seeing, don;t believe them

1 and 1/2 pieces of very confusing nude alien killer movie toast 

Transcendence (PG-13)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman

Directed by: Wally Pfister

Someone who should have thought things through a little better, decided to tell this story of the near future in flashback. As a result, we already know that San Francisco is littered with the worthless detritus of the computer age (i.e. keyboards used as doorstops), and Johnny Depp’s character is long dead but still thinking and talking via a fading computer screen. Another mistake is to present the film as if the audience has never considered the dire futures projected in “eradicate all humans” movies like Terminator, or even the kinder gentler futures of a sentient user interface, like in Her. Considering the pedigrees of the actors and filmmakers involved, the ho-hum result is doubly disappointing.

1 and 1/2 pieces of what were they trying to do here toast 

Heaven Is For Real (PG)

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Thomas Hayden Church, Margo Martindale

Directed by: Randall Wallace

A 4-year-old boy wakes up after major surgery and tells his parents he has been to heaven. To lessen anyone’s doubt, he has met and conversed with people who are already there, and is able to tell stories about those people’s lives.  If any audience member wonders what a director does for a film, they should see this one. Randall Wallace, the same man who sat in the canvas-backed chair for Secretariat and We Were Soldiers, has wisely chosen to focus on the family at the center of this media-fueled event. It is a faith-based film (the boy’s father is a small town minister) but believers and non-believers alike can enjoy the well told tale of a family facing adversity by embracing the  universality of being a  close-knit, loving family.

3 pieces of  he talked with dead people toast 

Bears (G)

Narrated by: John C. Riley

Directed by: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey

We recently took a family outing to the Disney Museum in San Francisco’s Presdio Park, and part of the amazingly thorough display focused on Walt Disney’s so called “Nature Films.” The first one was called Seal Island, and mythology tells us that the directors were stumped over what to do with a mile of nature photography shot in Alaska. Originally conceived as a film about Eskimos (that’s what the native Aleut people were called back then), there was so much material, that a short film about Alaska’s wild animals was put together. Part of the footage, showed dozens of little sea pups being born, growing up and generally looking cute. Walt screened the outtakes, and said something like, “Too many characters. All the seals look alike, just tell the story of one seal pup using combined footage.” The point is, that same Disney magic is used to great effect in Bears. Even the most jaded movie watcher will be captured by the cub’s inherent adorableness, and if the one followed most closely is played by several “stunt doubles,” who really cares?

3 pieces of cute bear cubs toast





Philomena  (R)

Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Ruth McCabe, Mare Winningham

Directed by: Stephen Frears

The filmmakers have created just the right tone for uncovering the scandal of the Irish laundries. For decades, certain orders of Irish Catholic nuns would “protect” unmarried, pregnant girls by giving them “good jobs” in industrial laundries, and selling their babies to adoptive families in North America. This film tells the tale of one former laundress who is joined on her quest to find her now 50-year-old son by a journalist working for a tabloid newspaper interested in the headline-grabbing aspects of such a story. Judi Dench is truly amazing as the remarkably determined mother, Steve Coogan is perfect as the stand-offish, OxBridge-educated journalist, and Stephen Frears directs their quest for closure with a nuanced hand.

3 and 1/2 pieces of  a tragic true story toast 


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (PG)

Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt, Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn

Directed by: Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller directs and stars in this remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye comedy based on humorist James Thurber’s short story, however the CGI effects are so fast and furious, they get in the way. Essentially the tale about an “inconsequential guy” with a vivid imagination, has been modernized so that Mitty flies to Greenland to track down a cover photo for the final print version of Life magazine and then heads to other exotic locales to chase down an elusive globe-trekking photographer. So the imaginary secret life of the original becomes “realities,” like those experienced by jaded billionaires who travel to Himalayan mountaintops, blast into space or deep dive into Pacific wonderlands. I was reminded of the old TV commercial asking “what is real, and what is Memorex?”

2 and 1/2 pieces of misses Thurber’s “everyman” concept toast