Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases for the week of 9/11/15

Grandma (R)

Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garber, Marcia Gay Hardin, Sam Elliott, John Cho

Directed By: Paul Weitz

Grandma has just reordered her life by paying off all her debts, cutting up her credit cards, and sending her younger girlfriend packing so she can sit back, sip some wine and roll a joint without anyone messing things up. Of course, life happens, so her pregnant, curly-haired, 16-year-old granddaughter arrives needing money for an abortion. Instead of slamming the door in her face, Grandma loads her into a taped-together  car to hit up grandma’s friends for “donations” to pay for the procedure. Think of it as a short-distance road trip with the astounding Lily Tomlin front and center.

3 and 1/2 pieces of Tomlin as a grandma toast 

Learning to Drive (R)

Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Grace Gummer

Directed By: Isabel Coixet

A book critic whose husband has run off with a younger woman hires a NYC cabdriver to teach her to drive the cluttered streets of Manhattan, He is a turbaned Sikh concerned about his impending arranged marriage with a woman he has never met. The best parts of the film are set in the cab where the cabbie offers sage advice about driving. “You can’t always trust people to behave properly,” he advises her about other drivers and pedestrians. “Ain’t that the truth” she replies about a much larger context.

3 pieces of metaphorical driving toast 

The Visit (PG-13)

Starring: Kathryn Hahn, Olivia DeJonge, Ed Overbould, Deanna Dunagen, Peter McRobbie

Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan’s first film, The Sixth Sense, burst forth with a clever plot and an unexpected twist at the end. The director has been trying to capture that genie in the bottle ever since with very limited success. Audiences have grown to expect the surprise ending, so his latest film about two very strange grandparents and the kids who are visiting them for a week with their documentary-making mother has viewers looking for clues as to what the reveal will be. If this were a film by someone else it might work better, but as it is, Shyamalan’s tropes get in the way.

2 pieces of redundant filmmaking toast

Wolf Totem (PG-13)

Starring: Shaofeng Feng, Ankhnyam Ragchaa, Yin Zhusheng, Basem Zuaba

Directed By: Jean-Jacques Annaud

This is kind of like Chinese version of Dances With Wolves, but instead of Kevin Kostner as a cavalry officer, we have a Chinese intellectual assigned by Mao’s cultural revolution to work among Mongolian sheepherders. As is required in films like this, the man learns wisdom from a tribal elder. “We are descendants of Genghis Khan,” the wise man explains. “ The Mongolians are the resourceful wolves and the Han Chinese are the clueless sheep.” In a time when growing more food is every patriot’s first priority, the intellectual is tasked with reducing reducing the predatory wolf population by sneaking into their dens and killing the puppies. However one puppy is so endearing that the man adopts it as a pet. The nature photography exploring the symbiotic relationship between wolves, horses and sheep is beautifully done, but the Maoist directives enforced by the local Communist Party Boss remain inexplicable and completely unexplored.

2 and 1/2 pieces of wolves and hunters toast 

War Room (PG-13)

Starring: Priscilla Shier, T.C. Stallings, Karen Abercrombie

Directed By: Alex Kendrick

The Kendrick brothers gave up their jobs as Baptist preachers to become movie makers, but their latest faith-based film drives potential visitors to Charlotte, South Carolina to hastily search for other towns to see. That’’s because the residents (or at least the real estate agents) believe women should have a “war room” of their own to retire to and close the door and pray to God for ways to keep Satan out of her house and marriage. Which is fine if you like that sort of thing. Problem is, the “actors” say their lines like they are performing in a 5th grade Christmas pageant, and the camerawork and editing and sound are so sloppily done that even Ed Wood would disapprove.  Apparently Christian movie-goers don’t care. The box office for this film’s opening week was nearly $28 million on a $3.5 million budget.

1 pieces of of sloppily made Sunday school morality tale toast