Posted by: greercn | October 17, 2016

The Girl On The Train

When you love a book so much that it keeps you awake, it’s hard to imagine any movie could be as gripping.

And friends I normally trust said it was a turkey, with all the trimmings.

And yet, I really enjoyed watching this. Not all the 112 minutes, as it gets a bit wordy and off-key in the flabby middle section.

Emily Blunt is terrific. Her American accent slips a few times, but her alcoholic character slurs her words, so it’s all okay.

Knowing all the twists and turns from the book, by Paula Hawkins and seeing New York’s commuter suburbs substituted for London, England did not damage my enjoyment.

Tate Taylor’s direction is just fine and he judges the psychological moments well. Music heightens the feeling of threat.

And – bucking the trend – I thought Justin Theroux was pitch perfect as the lead’s ex-husband. Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson are good casting decisions and Luke Evans carried his scenes well.

Edgar Ramirez did not seem right as the psychiatrist. I can’t put my finger on why, as I normally really like his performances.

Lisa Kudrow has two key scenes, and is wonderful. But Allison Janney is just okay.

Sex scenes are just not sexy. You may wish to yawn, during these.

Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse really enjoyed watching this. As did I. But I’d love to know why so many people I respect don’t like it. For me, it does justice to the novel.

Posted by: greercn | October 17, 2016

War On Everyone

Swearing, drinking, drug use, bad driving and worse taste are all here. But everyone keeps asking me whether it’s as good as “Calvary” or “The Guard”.

No. It isn’t. But it does have some sparkling lines and reminders of how terrific a writer John Martin McDonagh is, at his best.

Directing and writing this, it feels like he’s straining to do an American version of his brother Martin’s film “In Bruges”. And “War On Everyone” is definitely not in the same league as that.

But there is fun in the joy Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena have in being rotten cops. The New Mexico setting is beautiful, ugly and distinctive. Tessa Thompson, Malcolm Barrett and David Wilmot stand out in smaller parts.

The audience at the Stratford East Picturehouse enjoyed it, as did I. But I had to agree with the guy who said “haven’t we seen all this before, in better movies”.

It gave me a craving to go and watch all Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry tales, again.

The soundtrack is fantastic.

This is fun to watch and has a great cast and some super lines, but it isn’t unmissable. Pity.

Posted by: greercn | October 3, 2016

Bridget Jones’s Baby

Unexpectedly deep and quite dark, at times, this is very funny but challenging to watch.

It’s almost as though youthful romps are out of fashion and hard times cause more provocative plot strands.

Bridget is slim and works in TV. Forget about the books. Bridget is back, but not as you knew and loved her. Of course, she is still adorable.

Renee Zellweger plays Bridget again and Colin Firth is Mark Darcy. New here is Patrick Dempsey, who plays a love interest and a dating guru.

Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent are Bridget’s parents. Emma Thompson is hilarious as the doctor. It’s great to see Neil Pearson, Celia Imrie and Sarah Solemani.

Singer Ed Sheeran features in a very funny scene.

And if you’re mourning the loss of Hugh Grant, he actually does feature in two very unexpected places.

It surprised me that the men at Stratford East Picturehouse loved it just as much as the women did.

You won’t regret seeing this. But be prepared that it may provoke a few dark thoughts, if you have such depths.

Posted by: greercn | October 3, 2016

The Infiltrator

Bryan Cranston repeats bits of Walter in “Breaking Bad”. This movie feels like a very superior episode of “Miami Vice”.

Stylish, dramatic and steeped in the world of big drug deals, Cranston plays an undercover agent going after Pablo Escobar and his associates.

Set in 1986, it’s based on former U.S. customs agent Ron Mazur’s book. But there are a couple of big scenes in which you are watching extra scenes filmed for “Breaking Bad” or “Miami Vice”.

If you never heard of “Breaking Bad” or “Miami Vice”, these are the TV shows that set the template for how Hollywood handles drug dramas.

You get lots of loveliness. You get sudden violence. And everyone wears really nice clothes and eats in superior restaurants.

There is splendid acting by John Leguizamo, Juliet Aubrey, Diane Kruger, Benjamin Bratt, Elena Anaya, Amy Ryan and Art Malik and many others.

At times, there are so many people involved in a scene that it’s hard to keep up.

It looks great and the music is perfect. I would have liked a slightly more real sense of danger in the undercover operations. The few very frightening scenes are the best, in this.

A very-full Stratford East Picturehouse oohed and aahed, at places. They were moved. I have probably seen too many similar films and I didn’t say “ooh” or “aah”.

Still, if you like Cranston, as I do, you’ll find much to enjoy.

Posted by: greercn | October 3, 2016

Hell or High Water

Set in Texas, this bank robbery tale feels like a superior Western. Jeff Bridges gives an outstanding performance as the Texas Ranger chasing after our good guys who are stealing for a good reason.

Gil Birmingham has a few great scenes as Bridges’ sidekick.

Shot through with subversive charm and sharp jabs at the banking crisis, brothers Chris Pine (Toby)and Ben Foster (Tanner) take from the rich to set right a wrong.

It’s very much aimed at the boys, but in the fast-paced action rests a big heart and spirit. The women I saw it with really enjoyed it. We all started rooting for the criminals.

Advertised as being from the writer – Taylor Sheridan – of “Sicario” and the director – David Mackenzie – of “Starred Up”, you’ll be gripped from start to end. It’s a refreshing 82 minutes long. Scenes don’t linger. They rush by.

Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse really enjoyed it. It’s intelligent and original.

The soundtrack, landscapes and towns are all just terrific. See it, if you can.

Posted by: greercn | September 17, 2016

Captain Fantastic

Enjoyable and heart-warming, this has scenes that are very funny and others that are incredibly sad.

But there is still a sense that the film is manipulating the viewer, in quite an arrogant way. That may only occur to you when you find you are uneasy, after watching it. Or it may not. Who knows?

A couple named Cash – get it – live off-grid in the Pacific state of Washington. They have six children, who are physically fit, kill their own food and can quote from Noam Chomsky and from many great works of fiction.

They all play instruments and make good music, too.

Viggo Mortensen is daddy Ben Cash and he brings a visceral and military sense of physicality to this part. We have no idea what mom used to do with the kids – except in brief flashbacks – but dad says he wants to create “philosopher kings”.

Mom dies, very early on. Mom’s family refuses to let Ben go to the funeral. But the kids want to go and philosopher kings get to rule the roost.

George MacKay as eldest son Bo has the most defined character, apart from Ben, although Frank Langella packs a powerful punch as Ben’s father-in-law, Jack.

Erin Moriarty has a very small moment that really stands out.

There are lots of insights that will be true of almost all families. So why do I still feel manipulated?

A philosopher king is not a philosopher queen and the girls do not get the character definition of the boys. Living off-grid and spouting egalitarian slogans does not allow for female equality. And while I don’t expect that from most movies (deep sigh) I do expect it from a movie that announces the values of equality, explicitly.

Living in the woods is very beautiful to look at. Clashes with others who live normally are sharply observed. Would you be as rude as Ben is to a relative who is feeding and sheltering you and your six children?

Our emotions are guided to side with Ben, but a scene of casual shoplifting made me nervous. Is this really how to live individually and, as the film says, to “stick it to the man”, meaning to get one up on a corrupt system?

Despite my misgivings, it’s a movie that will leave you with lots of lively thoughts about individualism and modern life. Those questions are good to discuss. I just wish there had been one strong female character. That would have been more revolutionary and enlightened.

Viggo looks terrific, naked. He owns this part, with or without clothes. So perhaps it’s just petty of me to notice that all the clothing here is well-ironed, even in the messy scenes. Off-grid people I know do not iron.

Matt Ross directs and writes a compelling film with a great role for Viggo and an interesting challenge to modern life. But I don’t think the League of Feminists will be sending him a welcome pack, just yet.

Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse enjoyed it and laughed and sniffled at the correct places. Me, I liked it a lot but still felt it lacked a strong female. Except for one brief moment for Erin, as a trailer park girl, this lacked any girl power.

Posted by: greercn | September 17, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings

A one-eyed boy who plays lute and makes origami figures lives with his mother, who is a terrific story teller and oppressed by depression. These are among the early and strong characters we meet.

It may not seem like the ideal recipe for an engaging English-language animated film about Samurai-era Japan. Yet, this story charms the viewer with music, magic and extraordinary images.

The originality of having a hero with a physical disability and a mother with a mental health challenge is winning and has an astonishing appeal. In an era of superhero epics, it’s refreshing to see.

Laika studio’s stop-motion – that’s stopping and starting the camera repeatedly, to create movement – creates a truly unusual look.

Dario Marinelli’s impressive score mixes in with George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” so even the sound soars and sounds fresh.

Kubo, our young hero, goes on a quest. Monkey, voiced by Charlize Theron and Beetle, voiced by Matthew McConaughey are also original creations. But it’s Art Parkinson who makes Kubo sound stronger, weaker and utterly believable, even as he faces many obstacles.

When you learn what the two strings are, you’ll be moved although a lesser set of talents would have made it sentimental.

Director Travis Knight crams a lot into this and I will rush to see anything else he makes. The writing team owes nods to Kurosawa, manga and anime but it all feels true and warm-hearted.

Frank Passingham’s cinematography and Christopher Murrie’s film editing are very special.

Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse was won over by it.

The creatures and challenges faced may be a bit much for younger viewers. I’d urge caution in taking children under 10, unless they play a lot of murderous video games and are not easily frightened.

Do stay through the credits as you get terrific insights into how Laika made and used the largest stop-motion model ever.

Posted by: greercn | September 13, 2016

Finding Dory

Pixar makes the ocean shimmer and the fish act like people.

If your child – or the child in your heart – loved “Finding Nemo”, this will give you more of that joy.

And you get to know Nemo and Marlin better. But the main story centres around the adorable Dory.

Dory has problems with short-term memory. She tells you this, often. Even as she forgets a lot, she knows that she has parents and that she has lost them.

Sloane Murray is the voice of the young Dory and her voice is perfect. The seamless switch to Ellen DeGeneres, as the older Dory, is admirable. Ed O’Neill’s voice also stands out as Hank, a rather wonderful octopus.

Being Pixar – and Disney – you are meant to feel these fish are people. And your emotions are manipulated and toyed with, as notions of family, friendship and persistence are introduced.

It all stays just the right side of preachy. Visually stunning, every frame is endearing.

You’ll love it. It’s terrific.

Posted by: greercn | September 9, 2016


An opening sequence features a very beautiful red object. It’s not clear what it is. Gradually, the viewer sees the movement behind the red. It is the most exquisite opening moment of a movie, this year.

Pedro Almodovar then proceeds to tell a moving and heart-breaking story. It will resonate most painfully for those who have faced family estrangements.

The acting, clothing and sets are all gorgeous. It’s strong stuff full of real choices, deaths and even the ocean gets to be a key character.

I only just got home before I started crying. The Stratford East Picturehouse audience gasped, at the end.

An unusual love affair and a close bond between mother and daughter are the key relationships. Almodovar directs the acting of the entire ensemble in a wonderful way. I didn’t much like “I’m So Excited”, but I really love this.

Although I never, ever want to see it again.

Posted by: greercn | September 7, 2016

Café Society

A middle-aged man is having a secret affair with a much younger woman. A young man moves from New York to Hollywood, hoping to make his fortune. It’s Los Angeles in the 1930s. You might need sunglasses.

If you’re hoping Woody Allen has one more original tale in him, abandon that hope. Stunning sets, beautiful costumes and cars all offer visual treats.

Moments remind you of quite how great Woody used to be. The New York family and nightclub scenes feature some sharp writing and performances. Studio scenes and parties pull the viewer in. And, as always, Woody gets a very talented group of actors together.

Jesse Eisenberg is Bobby, who goes to work for his uncle Phil, played by Steve Carell. Kristen Stewart wears beautiful clothes and has some great lines, but she suffers from the rather cartoonish quality given to women in Woody movies. I long for someone of the strength of Annie Hall.

Bobby’s parents have some of the funniest lines and Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott have real warmth and style. Cory Stoll is very entertaining as Bobby’s brother Ben and Blake Lively, again, has a half-formed person to act as.

Sheryl Lee’s character disappears partway through, never to be heard of again. This is irritating as she does engage my emotions.

And that’s the real trouble. I never really care about what is going to happen to any of these people. It all feels sombre and even the laughs are of the rueful type.

The Stratford East Picturehouse was full and we enjoyed it. But it is shallow stuff. Maybe Woody should live as a poor man in New York City for a bit and see if that inspires him to tell stories that matter.

Go see it if you have to see everything Woody does and if you love the look and feel of 1930s luxury.

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