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A Petaluma360 Blog

Cinema Toast

Gil Mansergh reviews new movies and videos

Creative Horror Flick It Follows and Local Film Fests Are Best Bets

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The new movie It Follows, proves that talent can turn an old, tired formula into something much better than this critic expected. At the center, is a 19-year-old Detroit girl who enjoys swimming and sun tanning beside her family’s above-ground pool (included not only to have the girl in a bikini but also to show the socio-economic level of her parents). She goes on a date, only to be chloroformed and duct taped to a wheelchair by the guy so she can be killed by a ghostlike shape-shifter called “The Walker” and thereby let him escape the ghoul’s curse. Cue the girl’s friends, who become slightly older Nancy Drew-style detectives and vow to find out what has happened. The tension comes from unexpected, everyday going-on as well as the sudden juxtaposition of sound and fury. … Read More »

Sonoma County’s Competing Film Fests Plus New Releases

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Competing Film Festivals

For some poorly planned reason, Sonoma County hosts film festivals on both the Laguna de Santa Rosa and the Maycamas’ hillside next week.

The 8th Annual Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival launches Thursday night, March 26th with a film, food and wine gala at the Sebastopol Center For the Arts featuring the California premiere of the powerful and sometimes disturbing documentary How to Change the World which focuses on Greenpeace’s historic efforts to stop commercial whaling. Environmentalists and filmmakers will be on hand for a Q&A after the film. Festival director Jason Perdue suggests that for local interest check out On Her Own, Morgan Schmidt-Feng’s up-close-and-personal look at Sebastopol’s Nancy Prebilich’s fight to save her family farm. There is also a loving retrospective of a local documentary lion in A Life Well Spent: A Les Blank Tribute. Tickets and info at: sebastopolfilmfestival.org

The 18th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival begins it’s 5-day run at various downtown venues on Wednesday, March 25th. Offering 104 films and 200 filmmakers in attendance, previous years’ opportunities to rub elbows with name-brand movie stars has passed, so you will have to settle for the buzz of being “the first on your block” to see movies before they receive wide-release. Festival Executive Director Kevin McNeely suggests you try to snag tickets to Alan Rickman’s directorial debut in A Little Chaos where Kate Winslet plays Versailles gardens’ architect to Rickman’s King Louis XIV and Lunafest—eight short films by women. Documentaries include Dior and I about the fashion house, and Sold about a year-old Nepali girl sold into prostitution. Tickets and info at: sonomafilmfest.org… Read More »

Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo Missing In Live-Action Cinderella

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Cinderella’s time-tested fairy tale message that kindness, love, and tiny feet will bring happiness is alive and well in Disney’s live-action version of the studio’s 1950 animated classic. Bucking the trend to “re-imagine” a story, the archtypical step mother has a fine flair for fashion but (thankfully) she retains her “wicked” moniker. Prince Charming is blue-eyed and bland, the Fairy Godmother is endearingly klutzy (I miss Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo), and Cinderella has all the attributes needed to reestablish her rightful place as the “top” “Disney Princess.”… Read More »

Lots New, but Deli Man is Best Bet

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As Eric Greenberg Anjou’s documentary Deli Man shows us, Jewish delis are dying. In the 40’s, New York City boasted over 3000 temples of Kosher comfort (like matzo ball soup, cold borscht with sour cream, and hot pastrami on rye bread). Today, only 150 remain—and they are widely scattered across the country. ((My favorite is Sherman’s in Palm Desert and Palm Springs). Like the Romanian-Jewish invention, pastrami, this flavorful documentary is peppered with spicy factoids and celebrities recalling gustatory orgasms from a particular time, space, and taste. But it is the deli owners themselves who provide the “soul” to the film, like Abe Lowenthal of NYC’s 2nd Ave, Deli who says he is: “saving the world—one sandwich at a time.”
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Will Smith Runs Clever Con in Focus

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The sleight-of-hand-artist and self-described “gentleman thief,” Apollo Robbins shared a few of his tricks to add authenticity to Focus, a film about a con man who begins to teach his girlfriend the tricks of the trade, but breaks it off when she expects a long-term commitment. Flash forward three years to Buenos Aires where the ex-girlfriend has become the Femme Fatale in a convoluted long-con for mega bucks.… Read More »

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is empowering

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She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is a blast-from-the-past focus on the times that were supposed to be a-changin’. Mary Dore’s inspiring documentary about women’s (continuing) struggle for equal rights captures the hopes, dreams and certainties shared by the women and men who gather together to create equality for themselves, their children and grandchildren. The fact that only a portion of the agenda has been realized and that many of the “rights” established by legislation and court decisions could be instantly reversed, adds a nostalgic and fragile sensibility to the thoughts and wishes articulated by the powerful women we see onscreen. Many of the voices and faces (i.e. Susan Brownmiller, Rita Mae Brown, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Vivian Rothstein), are people I met creating empowerment programs for the YWCA-LA in the 70’s and 80’s. I sincerely appreciate how the filmmakers don’t shy away from the splinter-prone fault lines in the Feminist movement as multiple hyphenations are added to the cause.… Read More »

Julianne Moore astounding in Still Alice

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Alzheimer’s is insidious enough when you are elderly, but early-onset Alzheimer’s attacks people in the prime of life and quickly robs them of their unique self. In Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays the title character (a dynamic professor researching the astonishing language acquisition ability of infants) who just turned 50. She starts forgetting little things like where she put the car keys or the passwords to her online banking accounts, but in a very short time, these lapses in memory become more distressing —like struggling to recall her pregnant daughter’s name. Fearing a brain tumor, she sees a doctor who diagnoses early-onset Alzheimers. Alice doesn’t need to Google the disease to know she has only a year or so to retain her short term and long term memory functions. She also knows that a miracle cure is very, very unlikely, and the best she and her family and co-workers can do is to live life as completely as possible in the brief time she has as “Still Alice”. … Read More »

Timothy Spall Brilliant in Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner

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Mike Leigh likes to work with actors he knows, and, starting in Secrets and Lies (1996), Timothy Spall is (to my mind) the “best” of these. Usually cast in a secondary role, this time, Spall gets top billing and almost all of the screen time. The fact that he works with a script bereft of words (I wonder if they wrote down the grunts and whistles and grumbling sounds Spall constantly utters). He plays the part of British Romantic landscape painter, William Turner, in the last quarter of the man’s life. His increasingly eccentric behavior has the effect of shrinking his circle of friends and family while at the same time providing him various women to bed whenever he feels the need. It is a fascinating portrait of both the man and his time produced by the hands of a master director and actor and Mr. Turner is worth every one of its 149 minutes.… Read More »

Costner and Spencer spar in Black Or White and Cotillard does the same in Two Days, One Night

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“We had a bad night, last night,” the white granddad tells his bi-racial granddaughter, and eventually lets her know the grandmother who cared for her since she was an infant has died. This grandma and grandpa are White while her other grandma is a proud African American, who thinks thinks her granddaughter “isn’t being raised black enough”—and sues for custody. The issues raised are complex (to put it mildly), and many will argue that a melodrama with a Hollywood ending is too glib a vehicle for the subject matter, but I say, see Black and White with someone whose point-of-view you respect, and talk about it afterwards.… Read More »

A-list Stars Can’t Save This Week’s Movie Mistakes

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In Cake, The role of Claire, a woman in debilitating pain after a car-crash, was supposed to have propelled Jennifer Aniston to multiple awards. Instead, we have a “dressed down” star (i.e. no makeup, unwashed hair, rumpled PJs and T-shirts, a scarred and wrinkled face) accepting the challenge of being likable as her character defensively alienates people to chase them away. Unfortunately, the script is a mess. With the exception of the Latino housekeeper, other actors are thrown into the mix for the sole purpose of providing illogical plot developments. For example, the ghost of a friend who committed suicide seems to be included to allow Anniston’s character to consider (and reconsider) that possibility. However well-intentioned, it’s a messy film that’s difficult to watch.… Read More »