Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast
New Releases for the week of 4/01/16
Eye In the Sky (PG-13)
Starring: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi, Iain Glen, Jeremy Northern
Directed By: Gavin Hood
The fact that Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky focuses on the morally ambiguous dilemma faced by a British drone operation allows Helen Mirren to be the colonel-in-charge, and Alan Rickman (in his final role) to be the general. These fine actors ratchet up the thrill level to 11 as they respond to an “eyes only” situation which instantly becomes a “kill on sight” mission when the covert cameras focus on what appears to be suicide bombers donning explosive-filled vests. Ensconced in the safety of a Dr. Strangelove-style war room, launching the deadly Hellfire missile becomes a chess game as American and British politicians and warriors stake out their Yes or No responses—confounded by the realization that the missile will almost certainly kill innocent civilians (including a girl using her hula hoop in the adjoining courtyard). The ending is unsatisfying (I’m not going to say more, because to do so would be a spoiler), but until the last few moments, the audience is literally sitting on the edge of their seats.
3 and 1/2 pieces of an excellent cram course in situational morality toast
City of Gold (R)
Starring: Jonathan Gold, Alan Salkin
Directed By: Laura Gabbert
The City of Angels (Los Angeles) is the unlike site of the LA Times food critic’s City of Gold. Laura Gabbert’s doc follows Pulitzer-prize-winning columnist Jonathan Gold as he searches the LA Basin for exotic foods lovingly prepared by cooks using techniques they learned in their mother’s kitchens back in (insert whichever country-of-origin you want here). The journey is a bit haphazard (especially for those of us familiar many of the geographically distant places the camera visits), but one thing is sure—you are going to get hungry while watching Gold enjoy himself.
3 pieces of gustatory gratification toast
The Mountains May Depart (PNR)
Starring: Zhao Tau, Zhang Yi, Yang Jin Dong, Sylia Chang, Dong Zijian, Liu Li
Directed By: Zhanke Jia.
As this episodic film opens, a New Century is dawning in the Chinese city of Penyang. Economic and social reforms arrive with the New Year’s celebrations, and optimism reigns. Zhao Tau plays a young woman courted by two men—a hard-working coal miner, and an entrepreneur with a Mercedes. The two suitors are stand-ins for the seismic shift bursting forth in China. Old or new; traditional or modern; insular or international, government planned or profit-driven; love or money? Presented in three different eras (1999, to 2025), the last of the three episodes suffers from not having Zhau Tau onscreen, but this ambitious film is a brave creative statement by Tau and her screenwriter/director husband Zhanke Jia.
3 pieces of a brave look at China toast
I Saw the LIght (R)
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, E lisabteh Olsen, Bradley Whitford
Directed By: Marc Abraham
Partway into Jonathan Demme’s documentary film Heart of Gold, singer/songwriter Neil Young pauses before a duet with Emmylou Harris to share that the guitar he is using is a Martin D-28 once owned by Hank Williams. It is a fitting tribute, sing the duo are at the site of the Grand Old Opry—Williams’ favorite venue. Biopics of musicians often fall into a trap when trying to convey how talent can pour forth from individuals beset by demons they try to manage with booze, drugs, hedonistic excess, ending in an unstoppable death-spiral. Tom Hiddleston is a good choice to play Williams, and when we first see Elizabeth Olsen as the long suffering wife, we think they are a good match. Unfortunately, the lack of chemistry between these two stars makes the audience wonder why Mrs.Williams put up with all the sturm and drang. This mismatch (and the lack of dramatic tension), is only made worse by the sloppy screenplay.
2 pieces of a so-so Hank Williams biopic toast