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A Petaluma360 Blog

Cinema Toast

Gil Mansergh reviews new movies and videos

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 »

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper earns Oscar noms

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Directed by Clint Eastwood like it was a recruitment film for the Navy, and nominated for a Best Picture and Best Actor Oscar before it arrived in Sonoma County, audiences may be disappointed with American Sniper’s third act. Burdened by telling the story of the real-life solider, Chris Kyle, the director shies away from forming a judgement about the sniper credited with 160 confirmed kills (out of a potential 250). Like the Russian sniper in the superb WWII film Enemy at the Gates (2001), Kyle learned to shoot by hunting wolves to protect his family’s sheep, and ends up pitted in a duel to the death against the enemy’s best sniper. Raised on an American cowboy’s morality code, Kyle enlists to become a Navy SEAL, and is trained to be a deadly accurate sniper. Problem is, God-fearing certainty doesn’t prepare the guy for the moral ambiguities of the battle field, the late-night PTSD terrors, nor the day-to-day challenges of being a loving husband and father “stateside.”… Read More »

Selma and Inherent Vice are brilliant slices of time

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On my Word By Word KRCB-FM radio show this Sunday, I honor the Martin Luther King holiday, by talking with local writer Waights Taylor Jr. about his historical memoir (Our Southern Home: Scottsboro to Montgomery to Birmingham–The Transformation of the South in the Twentieth Century) and murder mystery (Kiss of Salvation). Both are set in the segregated Deep South, and Waights shared some anecdotes on air about readings he gave at the University of Alabama where African-American college students came up to him and thanked him for letting them hear how things “used to be.” This new movie, Selma, is a vivid and visceral presentation of the specific “used to be” time in and around what has come to be called the 1965 Civil Rights March. Well directed by Ava DuVernay from a script by Paul Webb, the movie includes historic figures like MLK and LBJ, whose names were featured on front pages, and lesser-known people, who, we learn were just as important to this sea-change in the Nation’s zeitgeist.… Read More »

Indies The Imitation Game and Big Eyes soar, but Big Studio Christmas Releases Are Uninspired

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Until The Imitation Game, Alan Touring, the creator of the modern computer, and the code-breaker who Winston Churchill credited with the “greatest single contribution to the Allied victory,” was long buried in the dusty recesses of history simply because he was gay. In 20th Century Britain, (and most of the world, including the USA) being a homosexual was considered a criminal act. If you were a code-breaker with top-secret clearance who was gay, you would (at least in the mind of the powers-that-be) likely become a spy to avoid that secret being made public. This bio-pic tells the tale of the brilliant and very eccentric individual who almost single-handedly saved Democracy from destruction by the Nazis, yet was hounded and vilified by the British government’s “thought police.” The film starts after the WWII, when Touring has been tried and convicted of “criminal indecency,” and must make the choice between chemical castration or imprisonment. We then flash-back to 1939 when Touring was hired to help decipher the clockwork intricacies of a captured German code machine (The Enigma), which resets itself every 24-hours. Touring’s personality is “off-putting” to say the least, and the chain-of-command is slow to understand that this strange man’s single-minded brilliance is just what is needed to crack the code. Everyone involved in this film is brilliant, but Cumberbatch’s brilliance is at the supernova level.… Read More »

Steve Carrell outstanding in Foxcatcher

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The uber rich—those inheriting family wealth generated over a century ago, have to do something to pass the time. In the case of John E. Dupont, that time-filler involves creating a training facility for Olympic wrestlers at his family estate in Pennsylvania. The audience immediately senses that the motivations behind this are far from altruistic as Steve Carrell creates an onscreen persona unlike anything that has gone before—a self-anointed patriot who “wants to see this country soar again.” The soaring will by done by the members of the USA’s 1996 Olympic Wrestling Team, including Olympic champion David Schultz. Unfortunately, David is repelled by the strange vibes sent out by DuPont, so the “coach” shifts his attention to Dave’s younger brother Mark. The millionaire brings Mark on board with the not too thinly disguised intent of convincing his older brother to join “Team Foxcatcher.” Based on events that fueled headlines in the mid 90’s, Bennet Miller’s Foxcatcher is a psychological thriller in the best sense. No, you think, John E. DuPont can’t be that insane—but he was.… Read More »

The Babadook offers inventive supernatural horrors

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The Aussie film of supernatural horrors, The Babadook, artfully propels the genre into an entirely new realm. Do real beasties hide under the child’s bed or in his closet? Do cockroaches scuttle around at night? Do pharmaceuticals help or harm the patient? Do the police and child protective services have any idea how to handle families in crisis? Is the mom just trying to cope with the problems thrust upon her, or is she making it all up? The answers are (like the plausible explanations we see onscreen), multi-fold, inventive and too perfect to give away in this column. You’ve just got to see this film.… Read More »

Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman and documentary Glen Campbell” I’ll Be Me, are both good

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Opportunities for “good” women in the Old West were severely limited. In Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman, existence on Nebraska’s spare and sun-seared prairie country has already driven three pioneer wives mad, and it falls to a former East Coast schoolteacher to transport the trio via covered wagon to far-off Iowa for professional care. She recruits a hard-drinking drifter to accompany the wagon as a sort of “cover” so the females have protection. Directed by the male star in his signature, plain-spoken style, it is remarkable in its simplicity and ambiguity.… Read More »

Horrible Bosses 2 and Penguins of Madagascar are so-so sequels

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As local Pearls Before Swine cartoonist Stephan Pastis knows, a good pun is artfully constructed from a series of seemingly non-connected parts into a groan (and chuckle) inducing whole. Puns also have to grounded in this century. Unfortunately, the filmmakers who made this “Penguins of Madagascar do Mission Impossible” rip-off, have completely ignored this sage advice and have crammed the not particularly original goings-on with outdated puns. The result will amuse easily entertained youngsters long enough to allow their moms and dads to do some holiday shopping (if the parents use roller skates). In addition to some very cute penguins, the script is filled with pithy messages about teamwork, how scientists in lab coats are evil, how wild animals shouldn’t be trapped in zoos or marine parks, and how puns scuttle this franchise. … Read More »

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is only for fans

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This is a Do-It-Yourself review. Pick one of the following as the one-word synopsis of the third in the Hunger Games quartet, Mockingjay Part 1:: 1. Grim, 2. Dark, 3. Dull, 4. Foggy, 5. Worthless. Whichever you chose, it is a fair summation of a film designed as a money-stealing, for-fans-only, time-waster (as well as for movie-goers who believe jumpsuits are fashion’s future and a bow and arrow can bring down a hover-copter).… Read More »