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A Petaluma360 Blog

Cinema Toast

Gil Mansergh reviews new movies and videos

Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar Rules

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If you know a bit about Hollywood in the early 50’s, you know that Communism, stars and directors becoming free agents, and Television (with a capital “T”), panicked the Big Studios. Added to these historic events, are the continual “headaches” caused by stars and starlets (ie. pregnancy, risque photos, sexual orientation, acting ability, etc. etc.) and then dumped on a Hollywood-studio “fixer’s” desk. Adept at dealing with gossip columnists, “tell all” magazines, the cops, high-priced lawyers, and cowboy crooners, this “fixer” needs to handle the kidnapping of the star of the big-budget historical epic, Hail Caesar, and the ransom demands from a group that calls itself “The Future.” In between surrealistic goings-on, the Coen Brothers singularly literate script grapples with economics, existentialism, and theology as well as Lee Strasberg and the Stanislavsky method… Read More »

Kung Fu Panda 3 is really, really good

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“The times they are a-changing” is vividly illustrated by the fact that U.S.kids as young as 3 completely understand what it means when a villainous cartoon bull wants to steal the “chi” from all of China’s Kung Fu masters. That’s because the creators of Kung Fu Panda 3 have maintained a respectful approach to Asian belief systems, and done so with humor and perfect pacing. It is a given that our beloved, dumpling-loving panda, Po, will inevitably have a Kung Fu face off with the bull in slow motion animation inspired by Chinese paintings. Along the way, Po reunites with his long-lost father, and returns to his ancestral village where he is respected for his uniqueness. Yes, the film has a moral to tell, but what a joyous and imaginative way to share this wisdom. … Read More »

Charlie Kufman’s Anomalisa and Fredrick Wiseman’s In Jackson Heights are distinctive

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Based on his radio play, where the characters are only seen in listeners’ minds, Charlie Kaufman has pushed the envelope a little bit further with Anomalisa. In the movie version, Barbie-sized silicon puppets are animated in the same stop-motion process used in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Chicken Run, and Boxtrolls. The result is quite distinctive—especially since like all of Kaufman’s screenplays, what you see and hear may be different with each viewing. Essentially it is about a melancholy writer who hears a voice in the hotel hallway that’s astoundingly different from all the others in the movie. Knocking on door after door, he finally meets the woman with that voice, and invites her back to his own room—with all that implies. Whether this movie is down-to-Earth or fanciful, sad or hopeful, unrealistic or true-to-life is in the mindset of each viewer. In short, this is a film to see, talk about with others, and see again.… Read More »

As Usual, There’s Nothing Special the Week That Oscar Nominations Are Announced

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There’s not much here for the conservative pundits to chew on and spit out. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is only obliquely mentioned in Michael Bay’s “recreation of true events,” but the studio has made sure to include the red-flag-word Benghazi in the title, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Bengghazi. Using (sometimes conflicting) eyewitness accounts, it is the effete (and anonymous) CIA station chief who is the bad guy here—issuing confusing orders too late, and repeatedly placing people into harm’s way. In typical Michael Bay fashion, the soundtrack is cranked up to 11, with up-close and personal grunts, curses, and sounds of incredulous disbelief from members of the Navy SEAL team interspersed with explosions that turn the murky darkness into sensory-overloads of fire and fury. The 147 minute film is way too long, confusingly edited, and intellectually unchallenged, but if you liked Transformers, this one’s for you.… Read More »

See The Revenant and Mustang but avoid The Forest and The Masked Saint

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The Revenant (R)
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Dominhall Gleason
Directed By: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Some men are just too (pick one: ornery, mean, cursed or lucky) to die. That is indeed true for a fur trapper named Ace Glass Leonardo Di Caprio) in the snow and ice of 1823 Montana. His pelt-grabbing crew is attacked by a band of Native-Americans, and Glass is mauled (in vivid closeups) by a protective mother bear and left for dead. After another trapper kills Glass’ half-Native son, the badly wounded man refuses to die and faces repeated obstacles as he tracks down his son’s murderer. Beautifully filmed by Emmanuel Lubezki, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and acted by DiCaprio, The Revenant is not for the squeamish.
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Concussion good, but you should skip Hateful Eight and Daddy’s Home

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Quentin Tarantino’s stature has allowed him the conceit of filming a single-room movie in Ultra Panavision 70, an archaic film format best suited to the open ocean and billowing canvas sails in Mutiny on the Bounty and the chariot-race spectacle in Ben Hur. Stuffing eight murderous characters into a tiny stagecoach stop in the middle of a frontier Wyoming blizzard, the director then spends 187 minutes meeting and greeting each and every one of these truly hateful people. While recognizing Tarantino’s skill, I am one of the few critics who sees the misogynistic sadism the “man behind the curtain” throws in the audience’s face. The notes that accompany the R-rating summarize part of the problem: “R for strong, bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.” As the only female in the mix, Jennifer Jason Lee’s face becomes the literal punching bag—starting with a doozy of a black eye and ending with broken facial bones, blood and pus-seeping contusions and abrasions, and hair matted with spittle, splattered brain-matter (from one of the men) and vomit. Every male in the room believes she deserves such abuse—but worst of all, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character believes it too.… Read More »

Carol, Youth and The Big Short have Oscar-worthy Performances

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It’s love (or lust) at first sight when a New Jersey woman goes Christmas shopping. The attractive object that captures her attention is the shop girl in a Santa hat. “Nice hat,” she offers as she departs. The film is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, a comic-book writer and novelist who once brought a purse full of snails (and a head of lettuce) as her cocktail party guest. Her sequential love affairs were always short lived, and she wrote her banned lesbian romance, The Price of Salt, aka Carol, under a pseudonym (presumably because it includes scenes modeled on her own experiences). The filmmakers have chosen to emphasize the dream-like quality of love rather than focus on the complexities of the potentially happy ending that scandalized readers in 1952. Cate Blanchett plays the title character, and Rooney Mara the shopgirl in Oscar nomination-level performances.… Read More »

J.J. Abrams saves the Star Wars franchise!

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With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams has saved the franchise. Episode 7 from that galaxy far, far, away gives old and new fans what they wanted (and needed). The Empire’s latest group of baddies are called The First Order, and their single task is to destroy the Resistance and wipe out out all the Jedi. Females have slipped into roles that used to be male-only. For example, Rey (Ridley) scavenges on a desert planet while longing for the stars, and the mask-wearing face of evil is Captain Phasma (Christie). (I wonder if others expect the inevitability of Phasma uttering a future line “I am your mother!”) The most endearing bit is the reunion of fans with the aging stars from the original Star Wars, and the whiz-bang action sequences are state-of-the-art. You can breathe a sigh of relief. It all works.… Read More »

MacBeth and In the Heart of the Sea Flop

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Justin Kurzil’s mumbled and macabre MacBeth is like a Cliff’s Notes version that has come unglued and then been haphazardly stuck back together. This time, Shakespeare’s fabled “Scottish Play” opens with the burial of Lord and Lady MacBeth’s child on a moody hilltop and melts into a foggy battle scene where the future king proves his mettle as the three witches’ prophecies regarding MacBeth’s thanedom and kingdom swirl among the mists. Indeed, when compared to the minimalist sets, the atmospheric landscapes are treated like another character in the play. Students hoping to save time and brain cells by watching this movie instead of reading the play itself, will not fare well on their exams. Shakespeare’s carefully constructed pacing is shaken not stirred, and many of his lines are so mumbled and jumbled that you need subtitles. … Read More »