Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast
Nothing New, So Here’s a Recap of 2014’s Best Films
4 PIECES OF TOAST
The Babadook (NR)
Jennifer Kent’s Aussie film of supernatural horrors artfully propels the genre into an entirely new realm. Do real beasties hide under the child’s (Noah Wiseman)bed or in his closet? Do cockroaches scuttle around at night? Do pharmaceuticals help or harm the patient? Do the police and child protective services have any idea how to handle families in crisis? Is the mom (Essie Davis) just trying to cope with the problems thrust upon her, or is she making it all up? The answers are (like the explanations we see onscreen), multi-fold, inventive and too perfect to give away in this column. You’ve just got to see this film.
When I talked with Michael Keaton at a film festival in the Sebastiani theater a few years ago, he was the epitome of the “whatever happened to?” actor, taking roles in independent films and doing voice-overs for animated features. So it is easy for Keaton to slip into the shoes of a character who also played a spandex-suited superhero onscreen. Under Alejandro G. Inarritu’s masterful direction and paired with master-class actors, Keaton shines in a film that is crisp, taut, and mind-blowingly creative. It revolves around a stageplay that the former movie superhero perceives as his shot at redemption—not only as an actor, but as a father and human being. This one is special, and it’s not too early to suggest that Keaton’s performance and the movie are Oscar-worthy
Director Richard Linklater is famous for the “long tale.” His Before Sunrise trilogy followed the same couple for nearly two decades, and his Boyhood, charts another cast’s maturation over a dozen years. It opens with the young title character (Ellar Cotrane) and his sister (Lorelli Linklater) laying on the grass and staring off into space. Their divorced dad (Ethan Hawke) is chasing rainbows in far-away Alaska, and their now-single mom (Patricia Arquette) is left with all the real work. We go along for the ride as the family moves to Huston so mom can finish her degree, and her courtship and remarriage—not once, but twice. And through all this the boy and girl we first met all those years ago grow and develop and blossom into amazing human beings. Slow paced? Yes. Original? Decidedly Yes. Entertaining? Yes, in the casually-paced way of real life (even though it’s not).
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 (Steve Carrell), that time-filler involves creating a training facility for Olympic wrestlers at his family estate in Pennsylvania. Director Bennett Miller makes sure 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 (Mark Ruffalo). Unfortunately, David is repelled by the strange vibes sent out by DuPont, so the “coach” shifts his attention to Dave’s younger brother Mark (Channing Tatum). 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.
Girls In the Band (NR)
Anyone who 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 Judy Chaikin’s 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!
The Imitation Game (PG-13)
Alan Touring, (Benedict Cumberbatch) the creator of the modern computer, and the code-breaker who Winston Churchill credited with the “greatest single contribution to the Allied victory,” was long buried in the dusty recesses of history simply because he was gay. In 20th Century Britain, (and most of the world, including the USA) being a homosexual was considered a criminal act. If you were a code-breaker with top-secret clearance who was gay, you would (at least in the mind of the powers-that-be) likely become a spy to avoid that secret being made public. This bio-pic tells the tale of the brilliant and very eccentric individual who almost single-handedly saved Democracy from destruction by the Nazis, yet was hounded and vilified by the British government’s “thought police.” The film starts after the WWII, when Touring’s home has been robbed, and the police think he is a Russian spy. We then flash-back to 1939 when Touring was hired to help decipher the clockwork intricacies of a captured German code machine (The Enigma), which resets itself every 24-hours. Touring’s personality is “off-putting” to say the least, and the chain-of-command is slow to understand that this strange man’s single-minded brilliance is just what is needed to crack the code. Director Morton Tydlum and everyone involved in this film is brilliant, but Cumberbatch’s brilliance is at the supernova level.
I Origins (R)
A geneticist (Michael Pitt) takes a photo of the unusual-colored eyes of a beautiful stranger (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) he meets at a party. Smitten in a way his scientific mind has difficulty comprehending, these two strangers quickly become a couple, and just as quickly, fate intervenes. The scientist, and his focused research assistant (Brit Marling) study the uniqueness of the human eye, and posit that the evolution of this amazing organ will prove, once and for all, that Darwin’s theory is actually, a fact. This plot summary doesn’t come anywhere close to capturing the truly amazing feeling this film conveys. It’s sci-fi without overblown CGI or soundtrack. A fascinating story, well written, well acted, well directed (by Mark Cahill) and hauntingly original.
4 pieces of trust your eyes toast
Life Itself (R)
Starring: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Martin Scorcese, Werner Herzog
Directed by: Steve James
The Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert is the center of Steve James’ documentary about how he transformed the genre into accessibility, discovered love in middle-age (with wife, Chaz Ebert), and valiantly fought the cancer that stole his jaw, face and life. It opens with a full on view of a visage ravaged by disease and repeated surgeries, but once the queasiness passes, the audience breathes a collective deep breath and comes to embrace the man—warts and all.
The Square (R)
It will be interesting to look back in fifty years and see if the so-called “Arab Spring” has any lasting effects. Jehane Noujaime’s superb documentary, The Square, chronicles the revolutionary events that occurred in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the Spring of 2011. Shockingly real, and visceral, this doc was shot on the streets in the middle of the emotional fervor, murderous reprisals, and clear-eyed determination of the actual participants. It is their faces, their voices, their blood we see—and feel.
3 and 1/2 PIECES OF TOAST
Before I Go to Sleep (R)
Big Eyes (PG-13)
The Giver (PG-13)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (R)
The Lego Movie (PG)
The Lunchbox (PG)
The Past (PG-13)
Mr. Peabody and Sherman (R)
Only Lovers Left Alive (R)