Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases for the week of 7/31/15

Shaun the Sheep (PG)

Voices of: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalill, Kate Harbour

Directed By: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

I’m a great fan of Aardman’s stop-motion Wallace and Gromit movies, and am delighted that Shaun the Sheep has his own feature-length film. The idea is simple. Shaun convinces his flock to con the Farmer into allowing them a day off—after all, a sheep’s life is a very busy one. Much like the feathered critters from Chicken Run, the complicated, Rube Goldberg convolutions the wooly flock comes up with are crazy inventive. But when the Farmer gets amnesia and is hauled off to the hospital, even Blitzer the sheep dog joins the plan to spring their shearing-mad employer from his bed. Wordless, and fun for all ages, we Anglophiles will get an extra delight from the quirky British humor of it all.

3 and 1/2 pieces of Baa-Baa good toast 

Irrational Man (R)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey

Directed By: Woody Allen

I tried hard to avoid making a connection between the title of this movie and the filmmaker—but I failed. Woody Allen churns out a film every year—some of these work, and others don’t. This one pretends to be more profound than it is. At the core is a newly hired college professor who arrives on campus with an oversized reputation as an irresistible womanizer, while he is really a neurotic self-doubter and a despicable human being. Sound like Mr. Allen himself? Only his die-hard fans will care.

1 and 1/2 pieces of Woody Allen’s psychotherapist’s notes toast

Fantastic Four  (PG-13)

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Miles Teller, Jamie Bell

Directed By: Joshua Trank

Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four are Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and Thing. If you do’t know any of those names, then you can skip this movie. The comic books featuring the Four are filled with self-deprecating humor and evolved into a sort of dysfunctional family that bickers and squabbles through the pages. But this film is decidedly lacking in those qualities, and scores at the bottom on any measure of wit or intelligence. It’s like watching an extended trailer for a movie that never appears—all set ups and no payoffs.

1/2 pieces of soon to be labelled the worst film in the history of the Marvel Universe toast 

Dark Places (R)

Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Corey Stoll, Chloe Grace Moritz

Directed By: Giles Paquet-Brenner

Based on a novel by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, and studded with great actors, the pedigree is here but the film is fatally flawed. The problem is that the Hitchcockian McGuffin propelling the action is a mystery that is solved too soon. The rest of the film then drags on until we simply lose interest in the characters.

1 and 1/2 pieces of Hitchcock must be rolling over in his grave toast 

The Gift  (R)

Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton

Directed By: Joel Edgerton

Jason Bateman breaks free from his fictional Bluth family to extend his range in new directions and Rebecca Hall continues to shine in her signature, roll up your sleeves, powerful female persona while director Joel Edgerton  plays an onscreen weirdo named Gordo in this stylishly creepy psychological thriller. Get ready for some surprises as you slowly come to understand which actor is the true face of evil that the neighbors and family will insist was just “a nice, quiet sort-of guy” until…

3 pieces of good creepy doesn’t need all that fake blood toast 

A Poem is a Naked Person (NR)

Starring: Leon Russell, Maureen Gosling, Willie Nelson, Harrod Blank, George Jones, Eric Anderson

Directed By: Les Blank

Harken back to the early 70’s when country blues rocker Leon Russell invited documentary filmmaker Les Blank to Oklahoma to turn his camera on the tuneful goings on. The result is any thing but a Blank slate. We watch masterful musical moments, backstage ramblings, roadie rumblings, and instead of a film about Russell, we see a film about a tumbling, twisting, and colorful creativity including Jim Franklin painting a mural in Russell’s empty swimming pool. Contract disputes over permissions (Russell and his co-producer Denny Cordell parted ways soon after the film was completed) prevented this movie from being released during Les Blank’s lifetime, but his son, Harrod, figured out a way to let us see it. The result is like entering a time warp. Where were you in ’74? (if you were here at all?)

3 pieces of Les Blank’s take on Leon Russell’s universe toast 

Ricki and the Flash (PG-13)

Starring: Meryl Streep, Marnie Gummer, Kevin Kline, Rick Springfield

Directed By: Jonathan Demme

Meryl Streep will probably earn another Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Ricki, the over-the-hill rocker who abandoned her family for a stardom that never came. In the opening scene’s phone call, Ricki is called back to “attend to” her daughter’s post-divorce breakdown. Streep’s own daughter, Marnie Gummer, plays the emotionally fragile woman, Rick Springfield plays Streep’s lover/bandmate. and Kevin Kline Streep’s ex-husband. With a script by Diablo Cody, and directed by Jonathan Demme, the melodramatic goings-on mostly avoid the melodrama cliches. Problem is, I kept seeing Streep “act” onscreen. Its as though playing opposite her own child was a little too realistic, so she had to don a theatrical mask to keep track of what is real, and what is artifice.

3 pieces of a well-acted and directed melodrama toast