Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast

New Releases for the week of 1/29/16

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG)

Starring the voices of: Jack Black, Seth Rogan, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Randal Duk Kim, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, J.K. Simmons

Directed By: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh Nelson

“The times they are a-changing” is vividly illustrated by the fact that U.S.kids as young as 3 completely understand what it means when a villainous cartoon bull wants to steal the “chi” from all of China’s Kung Fu masters. That’s because the creators of this series have maintained a respectful approach to Asian belief systems, and done so with humor and perfect pacing. It is a given that our beloved, dumpling-loving panda, Po, will inevitably have a Kung Fu face off with the bull in slow motion animation inspired by Chinese paintings. Along the way, Po reunites with his long-lost father, and returns to his ancestral village where he is respected for his uniqueness. Yes, the film has a moral to tell, but what a joyous and imaginative way to share this wisdom.

3 and 1/2 pieces of keeping this series fresh and alive toast 

The Finest Hours (PG-13)

Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, Josh Stewart, Ben Foster, Holiday Granger, John Ortiz

Directed By: Craig Gillespie

In this Disney Studios mishmash of Wolfgang Peterson’s foundering fishing boat in The Perfect Storm. James Cameron’s sinking ocean liner in Titanic and Andrew Davis’ Coast Guard Rescue Team in The Guardian, a broken-in-half oil tanker fights monstrous computer-generated seas while a water bucket-soaked crew of actors playing Coast Guardsmen come to their rescue. In short, it’s a series of trite cliches complete with the Coast Guard captain making wedding plans on dry land before the “storm of the century” strikes the green-screen behind him.

2 and 1/2 pieces of ernest but unimaginative toast

Jane Got a Gun (PG-13)

Starring: Natalie Portman, Ewen McGregor, Jel Edgerton, Noah Emmerich

Directed By: Gavin O’Conner

In this western-style tale of revenge, the distaff sides picks up the gun to fight the gang of bad guys who shot her husband, then searches out her former lover to stand by her side. The production of this film is riddled with as many bullet holes as the victim, with actors Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper and Jude Law leaving for other roles, director Lynne Ramsey being replaced, and several writers called in to “polish off” the script. Originally set to release in August 2014, followed by February, April, and September dates in 2015, when bankruptcy prompted the distribution rights to shift, the late January 2016 date was finalized. Despite rumors that Natalie Portman moved to France to avoid this movie’s release, the film’s debut was actually held in Paris. Expectations of a $1 million first weekend are exceptionally low for a $22 million production. Wannabe screenwriters and directors could use this film as a prompt for how many ways it could be better than it is.

1 and 1/2 pieces of the actors try hard to save this somber and melancholy toast

Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts (NR) 

Starring: Lauren Cohen, Rupert Evans

Directed By: William Brent Bell

In this rare opportunity to see all the five short (under 40-minutes) documentary Oscar nominees:

Body Team 12—Ebola victim clean up in Liberia.

Chau, Beyond the Lines—The long-term effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Last Day of Freedom—An animated doc about the execution of the filmmaker’s brother for murder.

A Girl In the River: The Price of Forgiveness—When a 19-year-old Pakistani girl is secretly married, her  uncle and father shoot her in the face, bag her, and throw her in the river. Yet she survived.

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of Shoah—A profile of the director who made the 10-hour holocaust survivor documentary Shoah, and the effects this had on his life.

3 pieces of not the best year of nominations, but still good toast

Fifty Shades of Black (R)

Starring: Marlon Wayans, Kali Hawk, Fred Willard, Mike Epps, Jane Seymour, Kate Miner, Florence Henderson

Directed By: Michael Tiddes

It is highly doubtful that any of the roles played by African-Americans in Marlon Wayans’ parody of the Fifty Shades of Grey books and film will appear on the short list for a Best Actor Oscar. The plot is very familiar, as a college student lands an interview with a reclusive billionaire who offers her a BDSM contract. (if you don’t know what BDSM stands for, this movie’s not for you). Along the way, Wayons incorporates headline news stories and scenes lifted from the male stripper movie Magic Mike, and the talented drummer movie Whiplash. Then he has The Brady Bunch’s Florence Henderson play a character named Mrs. Robinson (now what movie reference might that be?), and casts white folks as his parents for all the shuck-and-jive comedy this inspires.

1 and 1/2 pieces of so timely the expiration date has already passed toast