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Cinema Toast: Tame ‘Rampage,’ endearing ‘Itzhak,’ and more

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RAMPAGE (R)

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomi Harris, Malin Ackerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Directed by: Brad Peyton

Readers already know that I have a fondness for Dwayne Johnson’s tongue-in-cheek, lets-have-fun-with-this, onscreen persona. But in “Rampage,” The Rock plays second fiddle to a gigantic albino gorilla named George. To non-video gamers, this film is based upon the popular “Rampage” game where, in addition to George, genetic engineering has created a gigantic wolf and monster crocodile as well. All three mega-critters stage a Godzilla-style attack on Chicago, which is defended by Dwayne Johnson’s character and a few other puny-sized humans. If they gave an Oscar for Best Hammy Ensemble Performance, “Rampage” would be a sure winner.

2-and-1/2 pieces of ‘Not The Rock’s best movie’ toast

BEIRUT (R)

Starring: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Shea Whigham, Larry Pine

Directed by: Brad Anderson

In this “names-have-been-changed” version of the 1984 terrorist kidnapping of the CIA’s station chief in Lebanon, a retired U.S. diplomat is drafted back into service to negotiate the release. What we witness are groups of fatalistically jaded individuals on all sides (the U.S. included), who realize this historical conflict has raged for centuries and won’t stop in anyone’s lifetime. Don’t expect a Jason Bourne style shoot-em-up. John Le Carre would approve of the plodding one-step-forward, two-steps-back version of diplomacy portrayed onscreen.

3 pieces of ‘A short course in Mideast tensions’ toast

ITZHAK (NR)

Starring: Itzhak Perlman, Toby Perlman, Alan Alda, Billy Joel

Directed by: Alison Chernick

Although his polio-induced paralysis prevented young Itzhak Perlman from attending Julliard, he did appear as a 13-year-old on Ed Sullivan’s TV show. His talent as a “fiddle player” is legendary, but what Alison Chernick’s endearing documentary reveals is how much fun Itzhak has every day. We get to see him play the National Anthem at a Mets game, tag along on a visit to Tel Aviv, and delight in the joy of ordering pickles by phone.

3 pieces of ‘A portrait of a joyful human being’ toast

FINDING YOUR FEET (PG-13)

Starring: Timothy Spall, Joanna Lumley, Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, John Sessions

Directed by: Richard Loncraine

Audiences who delighted in watching British pensioners living and loving together in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” should like Richard Loncraine’s “Finding Your Feet.” The storyline involves Imelda Staunton’s snobbish character moving in with her hippie sister (Celia Imrie) in a council flat. The fish-out-of-water trope plays out for a while, until upper crustiness melts away as the neighbors turn out to be people rather than caricatures. This revelation is primarily based on the fine crew of top-drawer actors. In contrast, the screenplay is derivative and the direction quite ordinary.

2-and-1/2 pieces of ‘Predictability saved by fine actors’ toast

SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO (R)

Starring the voices of: Helena Bonham Carter, Gerard Depardieu, Logan Lerman, Jim Pharr, Jordan Beck

Directed by: Richard Lanni

The stray dog at the center of this animated WWI story was real - the only canine to be officially promoted to the rank of Sergeant for his trench-warfare combat duty. He fought in 17 battles, was injured in a mustard gas attack, and had a specially designed gas mask made for his protection. In addition to active combat (he once caught a German soldier by the butt), his superior hearing would warn his fellow doughboys of incoming artillery shells in time to take cover. In short, this guy deserves to be a movie hero. That said, this animated version of his story is hampered by the studio’s mission statement to make a family film intended to “entertain, innovate and inspire.” So instead of the comparative reality of the superior WWI film “War Horse,” we get “trench-warfare-light,” with sanitized battlefields so artistically rendered, they appear Zen-like … with lots of empty space.

2 pieces of ‘Sgt. Stubby deserves better’ toast

(To view trailers of the above films, check out Cinema Toast on Petaluma360.com. Any comments for Gil? Email him at gilmansergh@comcast,net)