Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases for the week of 3/06/15 

Deli Man (R)

Starring: Ziggy Gruber, Jerry Stiller, Larry King

Directed By: Eric Greenberg Anjou

In case you haven’t noticed, Jewish delis are dying. In the 40’s, New York City boasted over 3000 temples of Kosher comfort (like matzo ball soup, cold borscht with sour cream, and hot pastrami on rye bread). Today, only 150 remain—and they are widely scattered across the country. ((My favorite is Sherman’s in Palm Desert and Palm Springs). Like the Romanian-Jewish invention, pastrami, this flavorful documentary is peppered with spicy factoids and celebrities recalling gustatory orgasms from a particular time, space, and taste. But it is the deli owners themselves who provide the “soul” to the film, like Abe Lowenthal of NYC’s 2nd Ave, Deli who says he is: “saving the world—one sandwich at a time.”

3 and 1/2 pieces of bits of schmaltz (chicken fat) flavored toast 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG-13)

Starring: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Bill Nighy, Richard Gere

Directed By: Glen Ficarra, John Recqua

India’s fabled Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a haven for British retirees with limited incomes but distinctive tastes. We met this collection of nuts and flakes a few years ago, and this time, the not-quite-so-retired folks are involved in convoluted plot devices involving the hotel manager’s wedding, the purchase of an additional hotel, and the arrival of a silver-coifed novelist who is mistakenly thought to be a potential investor. In Indian cinema, a movie like this is labelled a “Masala Film”—combining action, comedy, music, romance and melodrama in one big stew. Unfortunately, the sequel is not as filling or flavorful as its predecessor.

2 and 1/2 pieces of mix of ingredients doesn’t quite work toast 

Chappie (R)

Starring: Sharlito Copely, Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver

Directed By: Neill Blomkamp

The South African director who brought us the fine sci-fi allegory, District 9, has thrown a collection of spare parts together and labelled it a film. Set in the near future where robots are built to assist the police in situations threatening to biological life forms (aka humans and dogs), competing engineers have developed prototypes with contrasting parameters—one robot is a nuanced, thinking, and perhaps even feeling entity, the other is a big, strong, fast, and almost indestructible piece of hardware that slavishly follows directions from its human master. It only takes the audience a few minutes to see what’s coming, but the filmmakers slow down the inevitable face-off with unnecessary side trips like a street gang’s kidnapping of the sentient robot for the apparent purpose of teaching him to spout four-letter words.

1 piece of should have been left on the junk pile toast

Leviathan (R)

Starring: Alleksey Serebryakov, Vladimir, Vdovichenkov, Elena Liadova

Directed By: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Russian themes of corrupted power explored by Kafka and Dostoevsky rumble through this Oscar-nominated film. It is focused on a house and beach perched beside the icy Barents Sea that has been inhabited by several generations of one family. When the local mayor seizes the place for a building project that will bring prestige and fatten his wallet, battle lines are drawn. Brooding images depicte family members seeking solace in vodka, chain-smoking, prayer, legal representation, sex, and stoic gazing at the roiling sea. In the classic Russian mode, this is a beautifully sad tale of misery, suffering, torment and tragic anguish—overseen by a government-issue portrait of Vladimir Putin.

3 and 1/2 pieces of Russian-themed toast

Queen and Country (NR)

Starring: Callum Turner, Caleb Landry Jones, Richard E. Grant

Directed By: John Boorman

John Boorman continues the semi-autobiographical recollections started in his award-winning Hope and Glory with a Korean-war-era tale that offers little hope or glory. The now older lad is obsessed with movies, and dreams of an adult career behind the camera. Instead, fate plops him into the army where his buddy is another fish-out-of-water, his role model is a “skivver” who creates complicated ways to avoid doing any real work, and his lustful yearnings are focused on an unobtainable girl he nicknames “Ophelia.” It is obvious that Boorman has antipathy towards this period in British history (and his own life). Scenes that should be full of exuberance and fun are muted and muffled, and scenes of the post-war mind-set are staged as unfocused, ration-imposed drudgery.

2 and 1/2 pieces of John Boorman’s melancholic toast

Unfinished Business (R)

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, Sienna Miller, James Marsden

Directed By: Ken Scott

Ignoring the”don’t go near there” lesson taught by the National Lampoon’s European Vacation debacle, when Vince Vaughn’s character is fired, he forms a new company and flies to Europe to steal a contract away from his former boss while participating in some “hilarious hijinks.” Unfortunately the tawdry, stolen from other, better films hijinks are never (and I repeat, NEVER), hilarious.

1 piece of recycled and regurgitated anti-humor toast