Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases 12/19/14

Steve Carrell outstanding in Foxcatcher


Foxcatcher  (R)

Starring: Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave

Directed by: Bennett Miller

The uber rich—those inheriting family wealth generated over a century ago, have to do something to pass the time. In the case of John E. Dupont, that time-filler involves creating a training facility for Olympic wrestlers at his family estate in Pennsylvania. The audience immediately senses that the motivations behind this are far from altruistic as Steve Carrell creates an onscreen persona unlike anything that has gone before—a self-anointed patriot who “wants to see this country soar again.” The soaring will by done by the members of the USA’s 1996 Olympic Wrestling Team, including Olympic champion David Schultz. Unfortunately, David is repelled by the strange vibes sent out by DuPont, so the “coach” shifts his attention to Dave’s younger brother Mark.  The millionaire brings Mark on board with the not too thinly disguised intent of convincing his older brother to join “Team Foxcatcher.” Based on events that fueled headlines in the mid 90’s this is a psychological thriller in the best sense. No, you think, John E. DuPont can’t be that insane—but he was.

4 pieces of psychological case study toast 


Annie (PG)

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhane Wallis, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz

Directed by: Will Gluck

This generation’s transformation of a redoubtable musical tale using the ploy of casting ethnic actors in the leads, is Annie. Based on the Broadway play, movie, TV show and countless high school productions inspired by a Depression-era comic strip, it tells the musical tale of an orphan girl (updated to “foster kid”) who is “adopted” by a cell-phone millionaire/mayoral candidate after his  likability quotient soars when he saves the little girl from injury in busy traffic. Originally conceived by Will Smith as a starring vehicle for his daughter, the film was recast with the talented young Oscar-nominated actress from Beasts of the Southern Wild. Now nine-years-old,  Quvenzhane Wallis acts up a storm but is only moderately successful in the singing and dancing department. As a result, the “Broadway” part of the story has been altered so that most of the musical interludes are moved offstage, and the select few that remain are heavily choreographed and “pitch corrected” to make them work. But the biggest problem is that in modernizing the tale, the grittiness of the Depression and the nastiness of the villains have been changed so that the third act lacks any real “payoff.”

2 and 1/2 pieces of the “sun already came out yesterday” toast  


Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (PG)

Starring: Ben Stiller, Dan Stevens, Dick Van Dyke, Owne Wislon, Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams

Directed by: Shawn Levy

The crew of stuffed museum displays and miniature figures from the original film return for a world tour as they track down the source of the mysterious tablet that brings the characters to life. The result is quite forgettable, even if some of the madcap scenes are fun in the moment. Saddest, of course, is that this is Robin Williams final onscreen performance and we already miss his creative genius.

2 and 1/2 pieces of another sequel toast 


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (PG-13)

Starring: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson swears that this sequel is the last of his trips to Middle Earth, so fans of The Lord of the Rings trilogy can give a collective sigh of relief. Jackson’s movie adaptations of Tokein’s short book, The Hobbit, were driven by a quest for big box office revenues into over-long, overblown, and often deadly dull theatrical “events.” Damning with faint praise, this film is the “Best” of the three LOTR prequels, simply because it opens with a great battle-to-the-death against the dragon Smaug, and a “defeat the enemy or die” finale battle of the Five Armies. In a strange maneuver to woo girls to the theaters, Jackson has inserted a guy and gal (actually elf and dwarf) romance at odd moments. He also brings in popular LOTR characters like Legolas, Galadriel and Saruman to please fans (even if they didn’t appear in the book version of The Hobbit). For my money, the part to savor is the bit with Steven Fry as Laketown’s cowardly king. In the end, the filmmaker could have made a far better movie by simply chopping 90 minutes from the current 134 minute running time.

2 and 1/2 pieces of faint praise toast 




The Maze Runner (PG-13)

Starring: Dylan O’Brian, Kaya Scodelalario, Thomas Brodie-Sangstra, Dexter Darden

With over a million copies in print, James Dashner’s dystopian YA novel, The Maze Runner was such a success that it is no surprise it was transformed into another of those multi-part movie series aimed squarely at the teen market. This one features the exploits of a quick-witted 15-year old named Thomas, who may be destined to save humankind either despite or because of WICKED (which is the chilling acronym for World In Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department). It opens with the lad riding an elevator up to the surface of a planet where other boys are trapped behind the walls of a compound accessible only by the elevator and a massive doorway that opens and closes sporadically to reveal The Maze of the movie’ s title.It takes awhile, but Thomas does eventually become one of the kids who attempts to escape by running through the maze while avoiding mechanized monsters.

3 pieces of the first of three or four films based on James Dashner’s YA trilogy toast 

Magic In the Moonlight (PG-13)

Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay HArdin, Hamish Linklater

Directed by: Woody Allen

For no particular reason except perhaps the weather, Woody Allen has set his latest film in the South of France. It’s the 1920‘s and in addition to hot jazz and flappers, the sophisticates of that time were fascinated with the mysteries of the occult. Fueled by tales of the recently excavated tomb of King Tut and the ancient Egyptian’s fascination with the afterlife, mediums who claimed they could communicate with the “dear departed” proliferated. A professional debunker arrives in Cannes to unmask an American spiritualist. Only, he doesn’t find any tricks, and instead falls under her spell, and courts her with long strolls, scenic outings to the countryside and a visit to an astronomical observatory. But the film’s title is the real charlatan, since it has very little magic in it’s 99 minutes.

1 and 1/2 pieces of bleh Woody Allen toast