Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast
New Releases For the Week of 12/23/16

Lion (PG-13)
Starring: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham
Director: Garth Davis
The emotional minefield of an adoptee searching out his birth-mother is brilliantly portrayed in Garth Davis’ new film, Lion. Presented in two parts, the first section focuses on an India-born 5-year-old who boards the wrong train, and gets off 900 miles from home in a Kolkata slum where kids are snatched off the streets to be sold as slaves and sex workers. The boy ends up in an orphanage and actively participates in selecting his new Tasmanian parents. Flash forward to the second part where an Aussie-accented hospitality-management student uses Google Maps and other modern technologies to track down his birthplace—and his lost mother while his American girlfriend helps to keep his “new” parents in the dark. Astoundingly acted, directed, written and photographed, this is one of the year’s best!
4 pieces of “Black Hole of Calcutta” and “Tasmanian Devil” toast

La La Land (PG-13)
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, J.K. Simmons,
Director: Damien Chazell
It probably helps if you are familiar with some of Hollywood’s classic movie musicals—but people who aren’t will still have a good time. The story involves a “guy” (a jazz pianist who wants to open his own club) and a “girl” (an aspiring actress who works in the Warner Brothers Studio commissary) and opens with a boffo production number stealing “dancing on the overpass” movie tricks from Vincent Minelli, Stanley Donen and Busby Berkeley. The dancing creates a traffic jam and a meet-cute situation for the guy and girl who (as is required in musical films), hate each other at first sight. Next meeting is at a club whose owner “despises” jazz music, and then at a lavish party in the Hollywood Hills where city lights twinkle into the horizon. Emma Stone shines as the “girl,” and Ryan Gosling tries hard to keep in step with Mandy Moore’s flamboyant choreography as the “guy.” They used to advertise movie musicals as a “welcome escape from reality,” and who doesn’t need a 2 hour and 8 minute dose of escape nowadays?
3 and 1/2 pieces of “let’s put on a show” toast

Passengers (NR)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Directed By: Morton Tidlum
The previews for this film project a sense of wonder that quickly dissipates as the shiny white interiors first seen almost five decades ago in Kubrick’s 2001 are resurrected as a mega-mall of a spaceship with only one of the 5,000 passengers awake. He has all the amenities necessary to play solo basketball, eat Japanese and Mexican food by himself, and get exceptionally well-crafted cocktails from a robotic bartender whose top parts look and sound exactly like Michael Sheen. This Robinson Caruso-like loneliness is saved when the guy decides to wake up a pretty female “sleeper.” The furious reactions when the bartender tells the girl why she was “reanimated,” provide one of the strongest sequences in the movie. Once more we return to classic Scii-Fi films where the morality of “reanimating” a female to be Frankenstein’s “bride” should have been explored within the zeitgeist of 2016. Instead, the moviemakers chicken-out and wake up a co-pilot to “fix things” and get the ship working correctly. Unfortunately, this plot twist devolves into a so-so action thriller. Too bad. Audiences can think of a dozen better ways to end the film.
1 and 1/2 pieces missed opportunities toast

Assassin’s Creed (PG-13)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard
Director: Justin Kurzel
Stealing it’s back-story from the video game, a couple of very talented actors are thrust into playing a psychopathic killer who just “died” from a lethal injection and reanimated by a lady scientist studying ways to “cure the disease of violence.” In some graduate student’s thesis, the story could be seen as a mashing together of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. The rest of us will just see a guy thrown back to the time of the Spanish Inquisition (which, as all Monty Python fans know, “nobody expects”), to become a hooded assassin who fights for “free will” against predetermination (AKA Fate). Got it? No matter, the film manages to make us suspend our disbelief just long enough to eat a big bag of popcorn.
2 pieces of a video game scenario with great actors toast

Sing (PG)
Starring the voices of: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly
Director: Garth Jennings
The animated feature Sing has one gag—used over, and over and… In a singing contest, a cartoon animal lip synchs a popular song in a manner which goes against the audience’s first impressions (i.e. a German-accented fat pig dancing, an iguana playing the piano, a gangland gorilla who hopes singing will allow him to escape from the family business, etc. To get a handle on how unimaginative this is, 85 songs are used.
1 piece of these guys made Minions so we know than can do better toast

Why Him? (R)
Starring: Zoooey Deutch, James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Megan Mullally
Director: John Hamburg
This farcical roasting of the Silicon Valley culture that is engulfing the San Francisco Bay Area is encapsulated in a Meet the Parents-style culture clash when a Stanford senior invites her Michigan family to meet her boyfriend and “hang together.” Locals will delight (or squirm) at the broadly-acted skewering of pretentiousness, while inlanders will resonate with the overly-stereotyped denizens from Michigan. Good times are supposed to be had by all, but it never really “jells”.
2 pieces of mildly amusing but disappointingly ordinary culture-clash toast