Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases for the week of 4/17/15

Cheatin’ (NR)

Starring the voices of: Sophia Takal, Jeremy Baumann, Alex Markowitz, Sita Steele, Jacob Steele

Directed By: Bill Plympton

The opening sequence of this animated extravaganza lets us follow along as a lithe female in a bright yellow hat wanders through a crowded carnival reading a book. Either oblivious to or purposely ignoring the attention of the males she attracts, she ends up humiliated, but eventually finds true love while being rescued from a bumper car accident. The couple share marital bliss in a decidedly carnal manner as bedsprings squeak, and the lovers sing what sexologist Alex Comfort called “birdsongs at morning.” He works at a gas station while she stays home, but both feature in the lustful thoughts and machinations of those they encounter—including a magician, a hit man, and a geographically challenged chicken.  This is an animated film for adults who are also grownup enough to appreciate the artistry and imagination Bill Plympton shares with those lucky few who actually get to see Cheatin’ in a movie theater.

3 pieces of animated Plymptoons toast 

True Story (R)

Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Gretchen Mol

Directed By: Rupert Goold

Watching this, I found it difficult not to flash on scenes from the movie Capote where Philip Seymour Hoffman played an ambitious writer who “befriends” a sadistic murderer to write his book In Cold Blood. We have a similar dynamic in True Story, where Jonah Hill plays Michael Finkle, a disgraced NY Times reporter. Finkle has a lot more riding on this interview than Capote did, especially since this particular jailed killer (James Franco) is also the identity thiefwho stole Finkle’s life. The biggest problem here is that the filmmakers want to toy with the audience about the jailed man’s guilt or innocence. It doesn’t work.

2 and 1/2 pieces of  Capote wannabe toast 

Child 44 (R)

Starring: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, online casino Noomi Rapace

Directed By: Daniel Espinosa

Already banned in Russia for “distorting history,” this bloated film is scuttled by the filmmaker’s overambitious attempt at presenting all of the convoluted stories found in Tom Rob Smith’s 444-page, bestselling novel. Ignoring the less is more adage, audiences are drowned in the paranoid details of post WWII, Soviet Russia—a place and time where a child’s sadistic murder is officially classified a train accident (despite additional bodies showing up on the same stretch of tracks), and everyone (even those in the secret police) is fearful they will be the next to be denounced and shuttled off to Siberia. I suppose the train car fist fights and mud puddle wrestling matches at the end are supposed to leave audiences in a positive frame of mind, but it doesn’t.

2 pieces of muddled and muddied Soviet history toast

Monkey Kingdom (G)

Narrated by: Tina Fey

Directed By: Mark Linfield, Alastair Fothergill

It must have been difficult for the Disney scriptwriters not to name the cute little Sri Lankan monkey Cinderella in the Studio’s latest Earth Day true-life adventure film. That’s because poor, bedraggled Maya only gets the scraps while her step-sisters get the dry sleeping quarters, the best parts of the figs, mushrooms and other vegetation that makes up a macaque monkey’s diet, and the chance to “marry” the tribe’s alpha male. Soon after Maya reaches adolescence, she becomes pregnant by a traveling salesman who quickly departs for parts unknown. The story then shifts to a single mom’s constant struggle to protect her child from the dangers that surround them. Beautifully filmed, the musical interludes featuring songs like “Hey, Hey We’re the Monkees” only detract from the story.

3 pieces of nature in the raw toast 

Unfriended (R)

Starring: Shelley Henning, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Pelz

Directed By: Levin Gabriedze

The younger generations will easily adapt to the  so-called “revolutionary” film style utilized here, as a static computer screen image is interspersed with snap chats, text messages and smartphone videos to tell a tale of horror. Hyped as being creatively innovative with the revenge-fueled, evil entity embedded in the cloud, to me, the film is a little late with its attempt to be “cutting edge”—kind of a Blair Witch “found footage” mode using techniques recently aired on TV’s Modern Family. Then there is the European Union’s headline-grabbing assertion that Google is the true “evil entity” stalking cyberspace. Maybe the film makers missed a bet in casting the bad guy.

2 and 1/2 pieces not as innovative as they think toast