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A Petaluma360 Blog

Cinema Toast

Gil Mansergh reviews new movies and videos

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 »

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 »