Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

Sonoma County’s Competing Film Fests Plus New Releases

Competing Film Festivals 

For some poorly planned reason, Sonoma County hosts film festivals on both the Laguna de Santa Rosa and the Maycamas’ hillside next week.

The 8th Annual Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival launches Thursday night, March 26th with a film, food and wine gala at The Sebastopol Center For the Arts featuring the California premiere of the powerful and sometimes disturbing documentary How to Change the World which focuses on Greenpeace’s historic efforts to stop commercial whaling. Environmentalists and filmmakers will be on hand for a Q&A after the film. Festival director Jason Perdue suggests that for local interest check out On Her Own, Morgan Schmidt-Feng’s up-close-and-personal look at Sebastopol’s Nancy Prebilich’s fight to save her family farm. There is also a loving retrospective of a local documentary lion in A Life Well Spent: A Les Blank Tribute. Tickets and info at: sebastopolfilmfestival.org

The 18th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival begins it’s 5-day run at various downtown venues on Wednesday, March 25th. Offering 104 films and 200 filmmakers in attendance, previous years’ opportunities to rub elbows with name-brand movie stars has passed, so you will have to settle for the buzz of being “the first on your block” to see movies before they receive wide-release. Festival Executive Director Kevin McNeely suggests you try to snag tickets to Alan Rickman’s directorial debut in A Little Chaos where Kate Winslet plays Versailles gardens’ architect to Rickman’s King Louis XIV and Lunafest—eight short films by women. Documentaries include Dior and I about the fashion house, and Sold about a year-old Nepali girl sold into prostitution. Tickets and info at: sonomafilmfest.org

New Releases for the week of 3/20/15

Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem (NR)

Starring: Ronit Elkabetz, Menasheh Noy, Simon Abkarian, Sasson Gabay

Directed By: Sholmi & Ronit Elkabetz

In Israel, divorce is impossible without the husband’s consent. Nonetheless, the woman at the center of this film applies for a Gett (a Jewish religious divorce) for her loveless, 30-year marriage. Almost all of the film takes place in the claustrophobic confines of a single room, where the wife and neighbors offer testimony before the three rabbis sitting in judgement. At first, the husband refuses to appear, but the course of so-called justice takes years to come to a conclusion, so eventually, he gives in—more determined than ever to refuse his wife’s request.

3 and 1/2 pieces of patriarchy laid bare toast 

The Divergent Series: Insurgent (PG-13)

Starring: Shaliene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Soencer, Kate Winslett, Naomi Watts

Directed By: Robert Schwendtke

The need for each generation of teens to break away from the status quo is once again pandered to in this amalgam of Hunger Games and Maze Runner story lines. Problem is, non of the various “Factions” presented as alternatives offer viable options, so through a series of highly choreographed (and very loud) battles, the so-called heroine of this series becomes convinced that the only choice available is anarchic terrorism. Does anyone ever wonder what message having this single, pre-programmed choice, sends to its audiences?

2 and 1/2  pieces of a sequel slightly better than the original movie toast 

The Gunman (R)

Starring: Sean Penn, Iris Elba, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone

Directed By: Kike Mallo

The popularity of  Liam Neesen’s thrillers has apparently inspired filmmakers to search out stars of yesteryear and cast them in movies involving assassinations, women-in-peril, chase scenes and high-powered gun battles. Disguised with a thin veneer of anti-exploitation and humanitarianism, this film has the hit man played by Sean Penn go surfing—not only to show off his well-toned, 53-year-old’s body, but as a reminder of the star’s former incarnation as the surfer-dude, Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. We’ve seen most of these things before, but the final confrontation in Barcelona’s bullring does offer a different  venue for a duel to the death.

2 pieces of Sean Penn’s no Liam Neeson toast

Newly Released on DVD

Exodus: Gods and Kings (PG)

Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturo, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Do you believe Moses was more like Ben Hur or Batman? Did he speak English like he was born in Illinois or Wales?—it’s up to you to decide. The comparisons between Cecil B. DeMille’s 50-year-old film, The Ten Commandments and Ridley Scott’s new version of the Biblical flight of the Jewish people from ancient Egypt is almost impossible to avoid. It’s a case of reverential, old-time filmmaking versus modernist, box office receipt-driven entertainment, with the casting and story in both films sidestepping historical truths in favor of blockbuster profits. In the final assessment, Ridley Scott and his crew of actors and technicians have managed to create a film that is underwhelming in its predictability.

2 pieces of seen it all before 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