Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases for the week of 1/16/15

American Sniper (R)

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller Max Charles, Lew Grimes, Sammy Sheik

Directed By: Clint Eastwood

Directed by Clint Eastwood like it was a recruitment film for the Navy, and nominated for a Best Picture and Best Actor Oscar before it arrived in Sonoma County, audiences may be disappointed with American Sniper’s third act. Burdened by telling the story of the real-life solider, Chris Kyle, the director shies away from forming a judgement about the sniper credited with 160 confirmed kills (out of a potential 250). Like the Russian sniper in the superb WWII film Enemy at the Gates (2001), Kyle learned to shoot by hunting wolves to protect his family’s sheep, and ends up pitted in a duel to the death against the enemy’s best sniper. Raised on an American cowboy’s morality code, Kyle enlists to become a Navy SEAL, and is trained to be a deadly accurate sniper. Problem is, God-fearing certainty doesn’t prepare the guy for the moral ambiguities of the battle field, the late-night PTSD terrors, nor the day-to-day challenges of being a loving husband and father “stateside.”

3 pieces of constrained by using a “real soldier” as the hero toast

 

Blackhat  (R)

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wang Wei Tang

Directed By: Michael Mann

In this film, we learn that a “blackhat” is a hacker who uses his creative talents for evil. These hackers use the tactics of cyber-terrorists to extort money, so the good guys (I guess we can call the “whitehats”), recruit a Robin Hood-kind of a nerd who went to prison for ripping off banks (forget the fact that the money in those banks is owned by depositors like you and me). The guy who plays Thor is horribly miscast here (bulging muscles are a rare attribute among hackers), and the “evil villains” he confronts are as memorable as a single piece of toilet paper. The film’s premise may be timely, but without good acting, characters, plot, dialogue, or action sequences, that’s not enough.

1 piece of wasted effort toast

 

Spare Parts (PG-13)

Starring: George Lopez, Carlos Penevega, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marisa Tomei, Jose Julien, Oscar Guiterrez

Directed By: Sean McNamara

We’ve seen movies about underdog teens competing as various sports teams, marching bands, dancers, singers, and electric car builders, so why not a team of undocumented kids building robots that fight underwater?  There always needs to be a threat in this kind of movie (the school is being shut down, the band losing it’s accreditation, the teacher being fired, etc. etc.) so this time it’s the constant fear undocumented families face in Arizona of being arrested and deported.

2 and 1/2 pieces of everything you expect to see in an “underdog teen movie” toast

 

Paddington Bear (PG-13)

Starring: Ben Whishaw’s voice, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent, Nicole Kidman, Peter Capaldi, Julie Walters

Directed By: Paul King

Like an ursine Curious George, Paddington is a bear much loved by generations who read of the Peruvian transplant’s exploits when they were kids. Today’s  younger set will probably enjoy the slapstick, bear-out-of-forest sequences in the bathroom and kitchen, and I suppose the taxidermist who wants Paddington as a stuffed specimen is no worse than Cruella Deville’s desire for a Dalmatian fur coat, but… The biggest “but” for me is the annoyingly inconsistent versions of the bear we see on screen. Decidedly skinnier and less cuddly than the book’s illustrations, most of Paddington’s scenes are CG animated, but I spotted bits where a puppet-like head and paws and even a man in a bear costume seem to have been used.  Most unsettling is that the filmmakers couldn’t agree how tall Paddington will be. Like King Kong of old, his height changes from scene to scene.

2 and 1/2 pieces of doesn’t quite make the grade for me toast

 

Wedding Ringer (R)

Starring: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Ken Howard

Directed By: Jeremy Garelick

This Wedding Crashers and Hangover wannabe is based on the premise that men today are too shallow (or busy) to have friends who they can tap to be their best man, so they hire Jimmy (Kevin Hart) to stand beside them in the church, read the speech at the reception, and arrange the bachelor party. The fellow has done so many weddings, for so many cultures, he has learned to sound like he has known the groom since childhood—but there is a clause in the contract that prohibits the groom from contacting Jimmy after the wedding day. Sort of lonely as a result, we feel sorry for Jimmy when he agrees to be best man for a man rich enough to afford the “golden tux,” full service treatment. The results are mostly amusing, as comic Kevin Hart manages to keep his use of the F-bomb to the minimum.

2 and 1/2 pieces of mostly amusing and occasionally really funny toast

 

Newly Released on DVD

Gone Girl (R)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry

Directed by: David Fincher

Based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling murder mystery, on a couple’s 5th wedding anniversary, the husband calls the police to tell them his wife is missing. Maybe it is because we have suspicious minds, but it seems that things may not be a idyllic as the husband tells the police and reporters. Is he the causal agent in his wife’s disappearance? Or, since this is a film noir, maybe, just maybe, it is the Femme Fatale getting her revenge on her abusive husband.  

Caution: The graphic murder scene is one of the bloodiest ever filmed.

3 pieces of David Fincher toast