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Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

Films Opening 5/16/14

 

Godzilla (PG-13)

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche

Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Bryan Cranston plays the nuclear plant manager who first notices the seismic anomalies that will eventually fry Tokyo. He spends the next fifteen years tying to unmask “the coverup conspiracy.”  Flash forward a generation, and the arrival of Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTO) bent on destroying photogenic cities like San Francisco. Problem is, when Godzilla eventually arrives, I for one, missed the Japanese guy wearing lizard trousers kicking his way through an obvious model of downtown Tokyo. Instead, we have a typical Hollywood blockbuster ending with a Godzillion pyrotechnical effects while trampling on any feelings of empathy we may have developed with certain characters.

3  pieces of “It’s a big green lizard” toast 

 

Million Dollar Arm (R)

Starring: Jon Hamm, Asif Mandvi, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin, Madhur Mittal, Suraj Sharma

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Jon Hamm plays against type as a failing sports agent who recruits a cricket player and a javelin star from Mumbai to play Major League Baseball. The “fish out of water,” and “coming-of-age” sub plots should resonate with tweens, but the entire film is played “safe,” and the lack of edginess means the grown ups (who have seen all the sports-movie cliches before) could get bored easily.

3 pieces of Disneyfied baseball movie toast 

 

Belle (PG)

Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson, Sam Reid

Directed by: Amma Assabte

In this period drama, the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Navy Captain and a Negro woman is raised by the Captain’s family to “fit in” with a time and place that has nowhere for a mulatto to go—except servitude. When she is old enough to marry, suitors are attracted by her exotic beauty, her wit, and her wealth. But others have decidedly different aspirations for the young woman—involving the potential abolition of slavery in the British Empire despite the cataclysmic economic fallout this will cause. Well directed, acted, written and presented, this is a tale worth watching —and discussing.

3 and 1/2 pieces of complex layers of Jane Austenish toast 

 

God’s Pocket (R)

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturrro

Directed by: John Slattery

It is unlikely that Philip Seymour Hoffman would have chosen this to be his final film (although, you could argue that is exactly what he did). It is the story of a South Philadelphia loser whose gradual slide to the bottom suddenly speeds up. Problem is, the star and the the director obviously couldn’t decide how to play this guy, so the result is schizophrenic at best and totally unbelievable at worst. Too bad. There’s talent on both sides of the camera, but it’s a jumble sale of false starts and lack of payoffs.

1 and 1/2 pieces of actors improv style toast

 

Documented (NR)

Starring: Jose Antonio Vargas

Directed by: Jose Antonio Vargas

The focus of this documentary is the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who outed himself as an undocumented worker in the New York Times magazine. Philippines-born, he moved to the USA to live with relatives when he was a child. Raised in a working class family, he went to public schools, and discovered his immigration status when he applied for a driver’s license. Problem is, the star is the writer, director and producer. There are some amazing sequences in the move (especially those between Vargas and his estranged mother), but the rest is peppered with platitudinous voice-overs and repetitious diatribes that a professional director/editor would have fixed and made into t better film.

2 pieces of heartfelt but artistically amateurish toast

 

NEW DVD RELEASES

HER (R)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Amy Adams

Directed by: Spike Jonze

In the near future of Spike Jonze’s movie HER, people’s lives  change dramatically with the introduction of a new smart-phone operating system (OS1) which promises an empathetic artificial intelligence that will learn and grow to better meet the needs of their “owners.” Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) quickly becomes more and more infatuated with his new OS1, who has named herself Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johannson). The romance begins simply, with Samantha learning Theodore’s needs and interests and organizing his life: “You have over 2,000 articles you wrote for that weekly newspaper,” she tells him. “Only 83 are worth saving.” The lion’s share of making this futuristic fantasy come true is the consummate acting skill of Joaquin Phoenix. Through much of the film, his face fills the screen. Soulful eyes, wounded soul, puppy-dog vulnerable one moment, steely-spined angry the next, Phoenix takes the audience in hand and leads them down the rabbit-hole into a brave new world—a world instantly recognizable and not really that unthinkable.

3 and 1/2 pieces of clever and timely toast

 

Stranger By the Lake (NR)

Starring: Pierre Deladonchamps, Patrick D’Assumcao, Cjristophe Pauou

Directed by: Alaine Guiraudie

This French murder mystery is filled with explicit nudity and scenes of casual, gay sex on a lakeside beach. Although the participants leave each evening, the camera never does, as we watch the parking lot slowly fill up, the men taking their carefully choreographed forays nearer or farther from potential partners, and the single-time or longer term pairings being made. One particular skinny dip changes everything, as the audience realizes the horseplay in the middle of the lake has turned into something deadly when only one man leaves the water. It is several days before those on the shore learn what has happened—and what it means to them personally.

3 pieces of cruising at a gay, nude beach toast

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