Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast
Films Opening 7/25/14
A Most Wanted Man (R)
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright. Wilem Dafoe, Grigoriy Dobrygin
Directed by: Anton Corbijin
A significant shift occurred in transforming John Le Carre’s novel, A Most Wanted Man, from the printed page to the screen. In the book, we know little about the young, super skinny, Chechen Muslim who suddenly appears on the streets of Hamburg, Germany. Tiny clues begin to emerge—he was smuggled to Germany by a circuitous route through various ports from Turkey to Scandinavia. He has the untainted certainty of a true believer. He is protected by an illegal immigrant family with their own fears of arrest and deportation, and he hires a female human rights attorney to guide his request for asylum through the system. In the film however, his furtive swim from the freighter, his guilt-fueled prowl through unfamiliar streets, and most especially, his saturnine face hidden inside a dark hoodie immediately makes the audience suspicious. The instantaneous labeling of this fellow as a “terrorist” by the Hamburg secret police only compounds the racial profiling. Philip Seymour Hoffman is exceptional (in what is reportedly his final starring role) playing the Anglo/German policeman, and the rest of the actors are at the the top of their form as well. Only problem is the one I mentioned at the start of this review. The guy in the book is a character who you learn about in bits and pieces—some accurate, some far from that. The book works better because of this ambiguity, and the film became more ordinary by short-cutting the characterization.
3 pieces of good, but the book is more nuanced toast
And So It Goes (PG-13)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Sterling Jerins, Frances Sternhagen, Frankie Valli, Annie Parisse, Rob Reiner
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Looking more like his dad than ever before, Michael Douglas plays a widowed Connecticut realtor trying to sell his over-priced condo and retire to a balmier climate. The fly in the ointment is the sudden arrival of his granddaughter, who moves in. His neighbor is a lounge singer who must make pretty good tips to afford such a place. She looks and sounds a lot like Diane Keaton from her stylish but comfortable shoes to her trade-mark hat simply because she is Diane Keaton. Played in a Tracy/Hepburn style, the pacing is professional, the jokes predictable, and the smiles acceptable. It’s a good matinee date movie for those who want to catch the early-bird, senior dinner special afterwards.
2 and 1/2 pieces of Tracy/Hepburn style toast
Starring: Scarlett Johannson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked
Directed by: Luc Besson
The bloodied bodies literally pile up in this overly grotesque Kill Bill inspired Tarantino wannabe of a film. Scarlett Johannson plays a drug mule with the new designer-drug surgically placed in her intestines. Subject to a merciless beating, the drug begins to leak into her body, allowing her to have almost superhuman brain-power tracked by an onscreen chart from 10% of her brain to 20% to 40% etc. The director has made fine films before (La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element), but this one is just too full of gratuitous violence for me.
1 and 1/2 pieces of another Scarlett Johansson emotionless performance toast
Wish I Was Here (R)
Starring: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Joey King
Directed by: Zach Braff
Imagine that the ensemble cast from TV’s Scrubs has been reassembled for this tale of a Jewish/Shiksa marriage where the wife works to support the actor husband and two kids who they learn that his dad is dying of cancer. Now imagine that the clever one-liners from TV have become R-rated by including extraneous four-letter words. Then make everything fuzzy and sort of unfocused, where the 26-minute TV-sitcom segments work independently, but don’t combine into a cohesive story arc, and you’ve got the whole kosher enchilada.
2 and 1/2 pieces of Zach Braff style humor toast
NEW DVD RELEASES
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
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