Posted by: greercn | April 15, 2014

Rio 2

With super 3D, “Rio 2″ goes for much more of everything that was in “Rio”. Bigger dances, deeper themes and catchy tunes bellowed by big crowds all compete to grab your senses.

The early scenes are in Rio de Janeiro, with all the Brazilian landmarks that you know, at least from movies.

Then, we are whooshed to the Amazon, where much of the action happens. You can see this without having seen “Rio”. The sequel stands alone.

Given that this is about cerulean Macaw parrots, maybe that should be squawkwel?

Blu, Jewel and their three children live with Linda in Rio. Their adventure up the Amazon leads to divisions between the domesticated Blu and the more adventurous Jewel.

Nasty Nigel is back and bent on revenge on Blu. Being a Disney film, the villains have British and or Spanish (and not Portuguese) voices while almost all the good guys are American.

The country that makes the movie gets to make the heroes, right?

There are lots of very charming characters and all is beautifully drawn and animated. I particularly liked the poisonous pink tree frog.

Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway reprise their parts as the voices of Blu and Jewel and Leslie Mann’s voice of Linda is as adorable as the story of the Amazon travel and troubles.

A rather wonderful ecology message, aimed squarely at small children, is also present.

Whole families all enjoyed this. The Stratford East London Picturehouse audience – including me – loved it.

If you’re looking for a treat that will entertain young children and your own inner child, this is for you.

Posted by: greercn | April 12, 2014

Divergent

Teenage fiction used to be about solving crimes, addressing problems and going through rites of passage.

Now, it’s all dystopian. At least Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy skips out the werevolves and vampires, although there are echoes of the “Hunger Games” in this brave new world. Life is brutal and exceptionally difficult.

Nobody seems to have things in the future. No phones, TVs, computers – except for big corporate-controlled screens. Teenagers don’t even have a change of clothes, unless these are given by Those In Power.

Gloomy times call for unhappy stories. “Divergent” as a book reminded me of Philip K Dick’s “The Clans Of The Alphane Moon” which, in turn, was based on his 1954 short story “Shell Gama”.

Basically, after a horrible war, people have been divided into factions. When you’re 16, you get to choose.

Most people choose their family clan. Some don’t. There’s a test which may or may not give you a wider choice.

You’ll enjoy this film much more if that’s all you know, going in.

I use to almost drool with glee when a female was the lead of a film aimed at young people. Now, there are so many “hardened outsider girls” that I fear few role models remain for the nerdy and the chronically shy.

“Divergent” benefits from a great soundtrack, a lovely and quite slow build-up and an imaginative use of a semi-ruined Chicago.

The performances are good, too. Shailene Woodley and Theo James are just fine, as the young leads. Kate Winslet looks almost unrecognisable and does a good American accent, which only occasionally slips.

Ashley Judd and Zoe Kravitz are the other stand-out performances in a movie populated by huge crowds of epic proportions.

The fights, stunts and chases all have that “Matrix” look.

The mainly-teenage audience at the Stratford East Picturehouse loved it and enjoyed the corny romance and grim feel of the film.

Me? I’m a little depressed at the idea that there is no audience for the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I enjoyed the movie once I suspended disbelief, got into a gloomy and bleak state of mind and just rolled along with the action and words on screen.

I needed a stiff drink and a cheery conversation, afterwards. I am incredibly grateful that I grew up in a world in which I felt things were getting better each year. Who’d be a teenager now, based on the stuff they like? I always feared that Philip K Dick was a prophet. But I hoped I was wrong and continue to wish that.

Posted by: greercn | April 9, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted

It’s one of the great British mysteries that “Muppet” is an insulting term, here. How did such adorable creatures become a bad name?

Next thing you know, they’ll be telling me that Miss Piggy, Kermit and Fozzie Bear are just puppets. How ridiculous! They are as real as Tinkerbell.

In becoming Disneyfied, a bit of magical anarchy has been lost. “Muppets Most Wanted” comes with loads of moral messages that are opposed to the essential chaos of the original shows.

Yet the true Muppet spirit of zany fun is at the centre of this film, which may be wasted on children. It’s hard to imagine what they might get out of gags about French working hours and comical battles for international police supremacy.

The plot is simple, but inventive. Miss Piggy’s beloved, Kermit, is impersonated by a master criminal called Constantine.

New Muppets manager Dominic Badguy (pronounced Bahjee) is played by Ricky Gervais who has ham acting nailed better than Miss Piggy does.

We romp around the world, while a sinister tale unfolds.

Actually, that’s all you should know, going in. More detail would spoil it.

In general, it’s a loveable mix of the Muppet “Caper” film and an early episode. Tina Fey and Ty Burrell carry their scenes rather nicely and the big music and dance numbers are gorgeous to watch.

Most of all, I just giggled most of the way through and laughed out loud a few times. There are lots of star cameos, too.

The Stratford East Picturehouse audience all enjoyed it a lot. Director and co-writer James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller will draw in new fans and give us oldsters great pleasure too. Please, might we have some more?

Posted by: greercn | April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The second installment of the Marvel “Captain America” story has a much stronger plot and better action than its prequel. Chris Evans seems much more comfortable as the captain and his ease with the role helps the audience believe in him.

Samuel L Jackson and Scarlett Johansson are back again. As are Sebastian Stan and Hayley Atwell.

It’s been three years since the first film, so you may have forgotten Sebastian Stan. He gets a meatier role here. Still, this film stands alone and you don’t have to have seen any of the others in this series to enjoy this.

Robert Redford should be in more movies! He is really terrific in this.

And fans of Jenny Agutter will spot her right away in a pivotal but small role.

Marvel’s own Stan Lee has his usual brilliant cameo.

I really won’t sell this to you. You either love Marvel comics and totally get it, or you don’t.

Most of the Stratford East Picturehouse audience had a great time. It’s long, at 136 minutes, but the big action, chases and stunts are all really awesome.

You do know enough to stay through the credits and get a sneak preview of the next film in this franchise, don’t you?

Posted by: greercn | April 6, 2014

Twenty Feet From Stardom

Merry Clayton, Darlene Love and Lisa Fischer may be names you know, if you read up on popular music. They are all backup singers who have wonderful voices. Yet, none of them has won the stardom they should have had.

This documentary asks why that is true. Director Morgan Neville has made movies about big stars and he cares about the history and sound of modern music.

Claudia Lennear also has her near-miss with fame chronicled here and there is some fascinating lore about the Waters family. The film is aimed squarely at those who study everything about the songs they love.

The only odd one out here is Judith Hill. Surely, given her age and history with Michael Jackson, she still has stardom ahead of her?

Just this once, the big names feel out of place, since this is a musing on missing out on the top ranks.

Still, it’s really engrossing and very entertaining. If popular music matters to you, this is a must-see film.

Posted by: greercn | April 6, 2014

Noah

God moves in mysterious ways. So does Darren Aronofsky.

“Noah” is the story of Noah’s Ark. Noah’s tale is told in Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible. Noah built an enormous boat, called an ark. Then, he took his family, two of each kind of animal and they sailed away when God made a big flood happen, to punish evil. Those on the ark were all saved and started the world again.

Everybody else in the world drowned. God is mean, in the Old Testament. He gets nicer, later on in the Bible.

As a child, I drove my Sunday School teacher nuts by asking unhelpful questions like: “How did Noah get the animals to not eat each other? If they didn’t eat each other, how did Noah feed them? Why did God save save Noah and his family and nobody else?”.

Darren Aronofsky has a reputation for being an offbeat director. This means I still have no idea what “Black Swan” might be all about. It was very pretty but completely bonkers.

For the first section of Noah, you get a standard telling of the story of Noah with some additions that missed out on being included in Genesis. You get a little of Adam and Eve. God is very cross about people missing out on the point of their creation.

Russell Crowe is Noah, channeling the kind of turn Charlton Heston used to do in Bible films. Jennifer Connelly is Mrs Noah. Although Jen is only six years younger than Russ, she looks way too young for the part. Mind you, Noah was really very old.

Then, the big flood comes. Truly, it is of Biblical proportions.

There are bad guys. Ray Winstone is very nasty. Anthony Hopkins is good, but very old. He makes some miracles.

Just when everything is starting to make sense – while looking rather beautiful – a few curveballs are thrown in. Emma Watson is Noah’s daughter-in-law and he has some issues with her.

I don’t want to spoil any of this for you, but you will spend the last part of the film wondering which turgid soap opera plots the twists come from since they are not anywhere in the Bible. Trust me. I checked.

The audience at Stratford East Picturehouse was happy. Everyone was wowed. It all looks lovely and the others were clearly untroubled by my fears that the original story had been skewered. They weren’t worried by Bible characters wearing denim clothes.

On the plus side, it’s great to see a big and unashamed epic. Please see it and join my puzzled state of being.

Posted by: greercn | March 24, 2014

Under The Skin

Weird, unsettling and beautiful, “Under The Skin” takes huge risks with its mixing of science fiction and thriller forms.

When it works, it’s provocative. Even when it annoys the viewer – there are very slow scenes – distinctive visual touches command attention.

Michel Faber’s Whitbread award-winning book is about an extraterrestrial who comes to northern Scotland to get human flesh. It’s a delicacy on her home planet.

Just one strand of the original tale is left here. You have to really, really like Scarlett Johansson because the camera is on her all the time. Despite her two dialogue coaches, her Londonish accent slips at times, but you won’t care about this like I did.

As one of my companions said, Johansson is A-list actress who can get any role she wants, so taking on a British small offbeat story and proving she is a brilliant actress is quite an incredible risk for her to take.

Scarlett spends a lot of time driving a white man and picking up random men. She walks through shopping centres and forests. Glasgow and assorted other northern locations look threatening and alienating, yet normal. It’s an odd mix of regular daily events and sudden leaps to strange transformations.

Add motorcycles, dark houses and weird bus trips and it all makes for a peculiar but compelling tale. Long stretches have no dialogue, but weird sounds are heard throughout. I would have liked more of the shimmering effects and less of the wandering around.

Lots of male and Scarlett nudity is curiously unsexy.

A joint British Film Institute and Film 4 production, it’s taken Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast” and “Birth”) more than ten years and multiple changes of script before this version was released.

Does it work? The audience at Stratford East Picturehouse all seemed rapt in it. It’s making deep statements about the nature of modern life and is undoubtedly a work of genius, but I have no idea what it all means.

You need to see it because everyone will be speaking about it, everywhere. The visual effects are splendid. Does anyone have any idea of what it is all about? Please let me know. I am sure to come up with some sort of theory, given time.

Posted by: greercn | March 21, 2014

The Book Thief

This is a terrific story, beautifully made and full of deft touches, writing and performances.

It’s a great shame it didn’t do better at the cinema. It deserves your attention.

Even if you have read Markus Zusak’s super book, there is still plenty to enjoy here. Few changes have been made in Michael Petroni’s sensitive adaptation.

Liesel is a young German girl who goes to live with foster parents. Sophie Nelisse is excellent and believable as the young lead.

Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are fabulous as the strange new people Liesel goes to live with.

The whole cast is wonderful and features the least-annoying child actors ever.

Brian Percival directs with great sensitivity.

Death narrates and – as this is set in Germany in World War 2 – death is remarkably busy.

The love of books and the meaning they bring to many lives is at the heart of the tale. Scenery and interiors all look authentic, but it’s the passion about the written word that moves this to a superior level of film-making.

I saw it in a very empty Stratford East Picturehouse and I am told that other cinemas were similarly empty.

That’s a great pity. This very entertaining and moving film deserves to be seen by everyone.

Posted by: greercn | March 21, 2014

Les Salauds (Bastards)

Family secrets, hidden threats and painful reunions all are a part of Claire Denis’ compelling and visually-original revenge thriller.

Marco is a sea captain who comes home to help resolve a personal and financial mess for his sister.

Gradually, he is drawn into the lives and twisted arrangements of other people.

The timeline drifts backwards and forwards, in that marvelous and rather surreal trademark style of Denis.

I look forward to her films so much as they represent an entirely different point of view and an artistic camera style. Even when you are watching a difficult scene, there are still so many gorgeous touches that compel the eye to focus on varying objects and faces.

Her new film caused controversy when it was kept out of the mainstream Cannes competition last year and was placed in the “un certain regard” (a particular look) category of the festival.

Even by the unique standards set by Denis, this is a strange film.

Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse “Discover Tuesdays” screening enjoyed it and there were lots of conversations about what it all might mean, afterwards.

Vincent Lindon absolutely shines as Marco and Chiara Mastroianni brings extraordinary emotion to Raphaelle, Marco’s new neighbour.

Connections between individuals are drawn out gently and the twists and resolutions are genuinely shocking.

I could argue at length that the word “salaud” isn’t really translated as “bastard”, but I can’t think of a better, single-word title. In general – with a few exceptions – the English subtitles are just fine.

This is a great treat for fans of Denis, thrillers and film noir. Lindon’s utterly compelling presence and the distinctive style of Denis make this a movie that will linger in your mind.

Posted by: greercn | March 15, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is funny, original and beautifully acted. Many moments will stay with you. It’s a delight.

It’s just about the best shaggy dog story ever, filled with visual flair, stories within stories, art and escapes upstairs and down funicular railways. And there are exquisite cakes, all made near an Eastern European hotel that looks like a pink cake.

Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave H who manages the hotel on behalf of its owner. We are in the mythical country of Zubrowka (which is, in reality, a Polish bison-grass vodka). The inside jokes and slapstick laughs brought to mind the finest moments of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, with memorable and witty lines.

Fiennes does his leading man turn with such gusto and humour that you hope he gets more roles like this. He is wonderful.

And he is very ably supported by a gorgeous star-studded cast who all seem to be having a terrific time.

Relative unknown Tony Revolori manages to be an equal to every one of the famous stars. It’s a fabulous performance.

Based on the works of Stefan Zweig, it’s Anderson’s most populist film to date, although there are many of his familiar touches and motifs here.

Within all this humour, there is still a serious heart and comments on war, death and sadness. There are a few quite violent scenes.

Without spoiling the surprises here – and there are many – stay right through the credits for another guffaw.

The absolutely-packed Stratford East Picturehouse adored it and I must see it again.

Set during the 1930s and filmed in Germany, there are anachronisms but these only occur to you afterwards.

While you’re watching it, every frame and line of its 99-minute running time grabs your attention.

Do see it on a big screen, if you possibly can.

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