Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases for the week of 7/31/15

The Stanford Prison Experiment (R)

Starring: Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, Olivia Thrilby

Directed By: Kyle Patrick Alvarez

I had the chance to interview Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo on my Word By Word: Conversations With Writers radio show on KRCB-FM a few years ago, and he was unrepentant about running one of the most unethical social-psychology experiments ever conducted. Back in 1971, Zimbardo recruited two dozen male volunteers for a week-long “study.” Half of the young men were rousted out of their beds by Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies and brought to prison-like cells in the basement of a university dorm. The other volunteers had been randomly assigned to be the prison guards. Within hours, the “guards” abused their authority, and in a day, conditions like those recorded in the notorious Abu Gharib prison unfolded. None of the visiting “experts” (including a priest) voiced their concerns until Zimbardo’s own girlfriend told him it had to stop. Using the “found-footage “ technique, The Stanford Prison Experiment accurately portrays the ratcheting up of verbal, emotional and physical abuse to a sadistic level in a very short period of time.

3 and 1/2 pieces of why does Zimbardo trim his beard to look like Lucifer? toast

Borrowed Identity  (NR)

Starring: Tawfeek Barham, Yael Abecassis, Michael Moshonov, Ali Suliman

Directed By: Eran Riklis

Late in the 20th Century, the math-whiz son of an Arab fruit-picker attends a prestigious Israeli school on a scholarship. He falls in love with s self-centered Jewish girl which causes a rift with his long-time friend with muscular dystrophy. The film adopts a languid, slow moving pace that quickly becomes annoying.  The audience has already foreseen the inevitable conflicts, and is impatient to see them unfold.

2 and 1/2 pieces of stylistically elegant but slow-moving toast 

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet  (PG)

Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, Callum Keith Rennie, Kyle Catlett

Directed By: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

This picaresque tale of a young Montana lad obsessed with maps began a while back when his twin brother died in a shooting accident. The currently alive twin invents a perpetual motion machine and wins a Smithsonian scholarship. Without telling anyone, the lad hops aboard a freight train for his trip to Washington D.C.  The grief of losing their first child, and the sudden disappearance of their second, devastates the family and permeates the movie with too much grief and misery for young people (and older people) to enjoy it.

1 and 1/2 pieces of moody, grief-infused toast 

Vacation  (R)

Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo

Directed By: Jonathan M. Goldstein, Tracy J. Brown, Francis Daley

Perhaps I’m just showing my age, but the suits who decided to remake National Lampoon’s Vacation as this R-rated fiasco should be duct-taped to theater seats and forced to watch this film for 24-hours straight. Peppered with the F-word and a father-son bonding moment where the youngster asks his dad about analingus, it completly foregoes any charming, “I remember a trip like that” moments for cheap laughs, cameo appearances that bomb, and opportunities to show what a slut the mother used to be and a dweeb the dad was (and still is).  Family fun?—Not!

1 and 1/2 pieces of how to defecate on a comedy classic toast 

Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary (G)

Narrated by: Jason Bateman

Directed By: Daniel Junge, Keif Davidson

In the interest of full disclosure, Legos hold an important position in our house. They are the only plastic “toy” periodically pulled out of storage to be spread across the table, carpet or oak floor for a day or two to capture the imagination of any “builders” who pass by.  The documentary filmmakers who created this movie, approach the ubiquitous Danish building block with its seemingly infinite number of assemblages in a variety of clever ways—including meeting with the ardent fans labelled AFOLS (adult fans of Legos) who congregate for brick-athons. As we learned in The Lego Movie, builders fall into two distinct groups—those who follow the artfully printed instructions and the pictures on the boxes to re-create, brick-by-brick, the castle, pirate ship, steam shovel or Millennium Falcon, and those who design, construct and re-imagine their own multi-tiered wonders. In this film we meet artists, architects, psychologists, and a few (really unnecessary) celebrities singing Lego’s praises. It is also nice to learn the the company has already begun plans to phase out the non-biodegradible plastic with an ecologically friendly replacement while maintaining the structural integrity and connectivity of the current ABS bricks.

3 pieces of fun for all ages toast 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (PG-13)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg

Directed By: Christopher McQuarie

The IMF team has been (gasp) defunded by the same government that “disavows any knowledge of its existence,” so they are left to their own devices. If this sounds a lot to you like the Bourne movies, then you should have no difficulty identifying the various “classics” the filmmakers have stolen everything else from. Torture in a dungeon? Check. Motorcycle chases through exotic streets? Check. Assassination during an opera performance? Check. The list goes on and on. The films’ only saving grace is its sense of humor. Pithy one liners? Check. Tom Cruise gritting his teeth? Check.

2 pieces of probably the worst of the franchise (but still packed with laughs) toast