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A Petaluma360 Blog

Cinema Toast

Gil Mansergh reviews new movies and videos

The Stanford Prison Experiment is sobering

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I had the chance to interview Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo on my Word By Word: Conversations With Writers radio show on KRCB-FM a few years ago, and he was unrepentant about running one of the most unethical social-psychology experiments ever conducted. Back in 1971, Zimbardo recruited two dozen male volunteers for a week-long “study.” Half of the young men were rousted out of their beds by Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies and brought to prison-like cells in the basement of a university dorm. The other volunteers had been randomly assigned to be the prison guards. Within hours, the “guards” abused their authority, and in a day, conditions like those recorded in the notorious Abu Gharib prison unfolded. None of the visiting “experts” (including a priest) voiced their concerns until Zimbardo’s own girlfriend told him it had to stop. Using the “found-footage “ technique, The Stanford Prison Experiment accurately portrays the ratcheting up of verbal, emotional and physical abuse to a sadistic level in a very short period of time. … Read More »

Paper Towns is this week’s top choice

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The creative team behind the tear inducing, ill-fated teen-love flick The Fault In Our Stars has brilliantly adapted John Green’s YA novel Paper Towns into a satisfying tale of teen romance, hero’s quest and amateur sleuthing. When estranged next door neighbors reunite for a prank-filled night, the girl mysteriously disappears in the morning. No one except the guy seems surprised by the mercurial young woman’s absence. He, however, decides to find out where (and why) she has gone, and how she captured his heart. The third act is a little contrived, but savor everything that comes before then… Read More »

Schumer’s ‘Trainwreck’ funny, McKellen’s Holmes droll

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‘Trainwreck’ (R)

Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson

Directed By: Judd Apatow

Imprinted as a young girl by her philandering father’s mantra “Monogamy is impossible,” a young woman breezes through her pleasure-seeking life as an obnoxious jerk in ‘Trainwreck’. So it is no surprise that the girl who “never” actually sleeps next to the males she beds, gets involved with a decent sort of guy and somehow ends up in (gasp!) a “relationship.” Judd Apatow’s direction, the actors’ pitch-perfect comic timing, and Amy Schumer’s voice-over commentary as the “relationship” progresses offers a nice counterpoint to the traditional rom-com shenanigans that transpire.
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Amy and Infinitely Polar Bear are depressing but good

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Like he did with his award winning documentary, Senna, director Asif Kapadia has made an masterful story of a great talent’s meteoric rise and explosive finale. In Amy, he focuses on the little girl with the soulful voice, Amy Winehouse. Octogenarian crooner Tony Bennett recorded the song “Body and Soul” as a duet with Amy in what proved to be her last recording. “What an incredible voice,” Bennett says about her short, substance abuse dictated, life and death. “I should have shared [with her] the phrase that turned my life around: ‘Don’t sin against your talent.” Except for Bennett, the men in Amy’s life were like leeches sucking out her life force to line their pockets and inflate their egos. Her lover, manager, father and friends encouraged the antics that inflamed the paparazzi, and placed profitability above Amy’s mental and physical health. The ride is rough, but the archival footage of the singer as a little girl and young star almost make it palatable—almost.… Read More »

“British WWI drama” competes against “American sex comedy”

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This theatrical film version of Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain’’s memoir about her life as a (female) student at Oxford before WWI, and her coming-of-age as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment nursing the war wounded in Britain and Germany may seem overly familiar. The BBC originally broadcast their 5- part adaptation of the book (starring Cheryl Campbell) in 1979, and many PBS stations rebroadcast it this summer. Even with this sense of deja-vu, it’s a well done historical drama … Read More »

Me & Earl and the Dying Girl is something truly special

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In Me & Earl and the Dying Girl, a Pittsburgh teen and wannabe filmmaker is saddled with the thankless summer task of “visiting with” a neighbor girl who has cancer. The boy would rather be making 2-minute sock-puppet parodies of famous films with his best friend, and the girl would rather be anywhere but where she is. This is a boy-meets-girl-meets-his-camera type of movie that blissfully breaks all the Hollywood stereotypes and creates a freshness that captured Sundance’s biggest awards. You’ve got to see it. (By the way, the narrator is quick to tell us that despite the title, this film has a “completely happy ending”). … Read More »

Pixar’s Inside Out is a winner

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Pixar’s Inside Out could be subtitled “Childhood’s End,” for in addition to portraying the conflicting internal emotions (joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust), in the head of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, the film’s resolution embraces the critical role sadness plays in our psyche. Residents of the Bay Area may grumble about the catalyst for sadness being the family moving from Minneapolis to San Francisco, but “relocation” is a major cause of emotional distress for youngsters. The press notes tell us this colorful, creative and soulful tale is a combination of feedback from “market research” (a tween girl who plays hockey, and shuns dresses and anything pink) and the personal experiences writer/director Pete Docter had with his own family. The phantasmagorical trip into human emotions was created with support from two psychologists, a team of master animators, a story crew that is half female (an animated film first), emulating the glitz of a 50’s Broadway musicals, an expressive soundtrack by Michael Giacchino, and a single-minded determination to create something that had never been done before. It all works.… Read More »

Spielberg Produces Jurassic World

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In Jurassic World, the jaded teens of the near future aren’t content with carnivorous dinosaurs as night terrors personified. So the theme park developers follow chef Emeril Legasse’s advice to “kick it up a notch,”and the critter isn’t just a T-Rex, but a T-Rex that has been genetically modified with a bullfrog. (I guess the genetic designers didn’t see the obvious flaws of placing a high jumping T-Rex behind an “escape-proof” fence). The film spends way too much time pointing fingers at corporate types more interested in profits than safe-and-sane amusement. Perhaps this was the seven script writers’ (yes, seven script writers)not-so-subtle satire of their movie studio executives, but one of them should have added some humor along the way. The end result is shaking leaves paired with less than scary, not John Williams music, followed by hungry beasts with big nasty teeth and screaming victims. Then, talking heads, more talking heads, CGI beast sequence, screaming victims, followed by talking heads tut-tutting over the “incident.” Can the next sequel be far behind?… Read More »

Brian Wilson musical biopic Love and Mercy best bet

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There are several different Brian Wilsons (of Beach Boys fame), and two of them are presented (by different actors) in the musical biopic Love and Mercy. Paul Dano plays the young Brian fueled by sun, surf and bikini-girls as he transforms the signature sounds in his head to the records we still sing along with today. But we also see the sadistically abusive father, Brian’s escapes into booze and drugs, and the mental breakdown that “instant” success (and the constant pressure to create something new and fresh) can bring. The older, post-breakdown Brian is played by John Cusack (playing John Cusack). Still talented, still mercurial, looking for love, he found it when he answered a “For Sale” ad for a used Cadillac. And through all this is the music. The incomparable, instantly identifiable music.… Read More »

I’ll See You In My Dreams Is This Week’s Must See

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Brett Haley’s I’ll See You In My Dreams subtly frames the question: “How will you live your so-called “Golden Years?” It does this by showing us the ordered existence of an independent widow (Blythe Danner), whose only regret is she doesn’t have grandchildren. Little things happen to shake her up—a rat in her kitchen, the pool man who helps her chase the rodent, senior-style speed dating, a handsome older man with a cowboy twang and life itself. The “this is it” mood is also optimistic and wryly humorous, and the screenplay, direction and performances are masterful. … Read More »