Posted by: greercn | February 7, 2016

Spotlight

Fantastic acting, a crisp and well-written script and a quick pace make “Spotlight” a terrific film.

Child abuse is always a tough topic to tackle. The delicacy of the performances and writing here bring the best values of traditional investigative reporting to the story.

Is it hard to watch? Yes, but the sickening material is handled in a factual way. Sometimes, that makes it devastating to view.

In the real story, a team of journalists from the Boston Globe discovered that Catholic leaders had suppressed evidence of child molestation, by serving priests. There have been many similar stories from around the world, but this tale is led by people whose characters grew up Catholic in Boston.

Many personal accounts surface. It’s a movie that’s longer than two hours yet it seems to rush by.

Mark Ruffalo is the heart and soul of this while Michael Keaton is the brain. Liev Shreiber, Stanley Tucci and Rachel McAdams have extraordinary scenes. Everyone here is very good, especially Len Cariou and Billy Crudup, in smaller roles.

Tom McCarthy directs and co-wrote this with Josh Singer. I have no idea how much has been changed from the true tale, but it all feels very real.

People who have worked in newsrooms will feel nostalgic for how investigative teams used to work, before corporate culture slashed costs. It could be a real news team, if everyone weren’t so improbably pretty and articulate.

It deserves a few Oscars. Do see it. It’s moving, will teach you something important and it’s very entertaining.

Posted by: greercn | February 5, 2016

The 33

Poised in the area between TV disaster movies and inspirational tales, “The 33” lifts your spirits and entertains you.

There are script weaknesses. When a character says “you have just two weeks before retirement”, you groan. And there is real corniness here that gets in the way of Patricia Riggen’s taut direction.

Based on the true story of miners stuck underground in Chile in 2010, I thought knowledge of the original events might hamper my enjoyment of this.

Even though I remembered it all, the film was terrific. Checco Varese’s cinematography is very special.

And the acting is great. Antonio Banderas is fine as the leader of the trapped men and Rodrigo Santoro is equally compelling as a government minister who searches for a rescue.

Juliet Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Lou Diamond Phillips and James Brolin are all super but it’s the ensemble and the individual stories that make this stay in my mind.

“The 33” deserves to be seen widely. With a distinctive Chilean setting, it’s different and compelling.

The audience at Stratford East Picturehouse enjoyed it, as did I.

All two hours and seven minutes pass by very quickly. And the rather lovely soundtrack leaves you humming, as the end credits roll by.

Yes, it suffers from some Hollywood touches. There are bits of glitz when the reality is tougher. But the technical information around mining and drilling is fascinating and the performances, cinematography and direction are distinctive and stylish. Do see it, while you can.

Posted by: greercn | February 1, 2016

Room

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay give astonishing performances in “Room”.

As Ma, Larson is a prisoner in a shed. Her five-year-old son – Jack (Tremblay) – is with her. The viewer learns Ma has been held here for seven years and Jack is the son of captor “Old Nick”.

All this should be deeply creepy and it is. But the bond between mother and son and the delicacy of Emma Donoghue’s words are made very moving and uplifting by the deft direction of Lenny Abrahamson.

Donoghue wrote the book this is based on and I haven’t read it. But her warmth and skill make you like the characters and believe their situation.

The film sags a little when the second half gets going. Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Cas Anvar and Wendy Crewson are all very fine, yet the film loses some focus by moving away from the central mother and child plot.

There is lots of food for thought in the various musings on family, imprisonment, freedom and possibility. “Room” is always interesting to watch, but never quite lives up to the profoundly private world created in the early scenes.

“Room” was shown as a free preview screening for members of Stratford East Picturehouse. It’s on general release now. Everyone I saw it with was profoundly affected and it’s a great story with the feel of an independent film.

It’s already won some awards and it will win more.

Posted by: greercn | January 31, 2016

The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio may finally win an Oscar. He only has about 20 lines in “The Revenant”, but his body works hard and shows a range of emotions. It is an extremely physical and draining performance and it can be tough to watch.

The look of this is shimmery and artistic, despite graphic depictions of suffering. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu creates a new kind of Western and masters a distinctive visual tone, as he did with “Birdman”. Emmanuel Lubezki is the fine cinematographer who creates this with Inarritu.

Based on the true story of Hugh Glass, you probably already know there is a bear attack. Michael Punke wrote the 2002 book.

A “revenant” is “one who comes back, especially from the dead”.

At two hours and 36 minutes, much of the story feels true to life. Except for the ending. No spoilers here, but that ending goes on for way too long and feels false. This would have been a far better movie if 15 minutes had been shaved off the length.

And there is one female part with one line and another with a ghostly presence. Don’t come here looking for strong women.

The American frontier wilderness of the 1820s and the business of fur trapping and trading probably was a club for boys only.

Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter and Forrest Goodluck are all very good and the whole cast assists in creating an engrossing story.

First Nations rarely fare well, in Westerns and this breaks no new ground. The music can be quite intrusive, but is mostly good.

But you’re here for Leo and for that individual vision of Inarritu and Lubezki.

The large audience at Stratford East Picturehouse all enjoyed it. And I did too, as it looks so lovely. But it’s too long. Leo deserves praise but is this really the best performance by a leading actor this year? I am not convinced.

Posted by: greercn | January 30, 2016

Creed

Boxing is painful and causes brain damage and death. Why do people do it? The “Rocky” films show the lure of fighting in the ring and are graphic about the traumas and the rewards.

These movies are great because they use boxing as a metaphor for life.

So, how good is “Creed”? It’s absolutely terrific. It should have been nominated in every main Oscar category. It was robbed.

Michael B Jordan is a revelation as Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo who was born after his father died.

Sylvester Stallone is very good, but Jordan matches his acting strengths in every scene they share. How could Stallone be the only Oscar nomination for this extraordinarily powerful movie?

Tessa Thompson is astonishing as the girlfriend who is a musician and suffering from progressive hearing loss. Several of Thompson’s excellent songs feature in a powerful soundtrack.

Equally, Phylicia Rashad is superb as Adonis’ mother. All the leads here should have been nominated and this should have had Best Picture, Director and Song nods.

Don’t let the trailer put you off. It highlights the boxing scenes and they are very wonderful.

The human struggles here are more interesting than the boxing. Ryan Coogler directed the excellent “Fruitvale Station” and he brings a huge and new energy to directing and co-scripting “Creed”.

The whole audience at Stratford East Picturehouse enjoyed this and I had several great conversations about it, afterwards. It provides plenty to discuss as it is so full of thoughtful intelligence.

I absolutely love this movie. I have no idea why Oscar couldn’t see what I see.

Posted by: greercn | January 20, 2016

Taxi Tehran

Utterly charming, intelligent and political, director Jafar Panahi has made a gorgeous film about life in modern Iran.

Using the device of being a taxi driver, he picks up various people and drives around the city, chatting with his passengers. The camera is always in the car. Panahi is usually driving, but glimpses of him just wandering around say a lot about Tehran.

I know very little about Panahi, although I love his movie “Offside” about girls trying to see a football match in Iran. I know he’s been banned from making movies in Iran and he has served time in prison and under house arrest, because of his films.

“Taxi Tehran”, also known as “Taxi”, pulls you in to the distinctive and humanist vision of Panahi. I will seek out his other films as my attention never strayed during my meetings with the extraordinary characters shown here.

As director, writer and star, Panahi acts as host and you feel that you are being driven around Tehran. It’s unusual to see such a pro-woman and pro-child point of view. Each scene is used as an opportunity to promote human rights.

Is the car acting as a metaphor for how the government represses artistic expression? Are the people here real, actors or acting as archetypes or symbols of the struggles of daily life in the city?

It doesn’t really matter although I’d love to discuss this with others who have seen the movie.

Stratford East Picturehouse showed this as part of its Discover Tuesdays programme. I love Discover Tuesdays as I get to see lots of quirky movies that don’t make it to mainstream release, but are worth seeing.

The subtitles let down the generally excellent standards here that allow viewers to follow the Persian-language words, at times. You can figure out that “loose” means “Lose”, but you’re sometimes scratching your head and looking for visual clues about what’s being said.

Do see “Taxi Tehran”, if you possibly can. It’s a breath of fresh air and utterly easy to love. It takes amazing bravery to make films when you’re banned from doing so. Panahi has great talent and his work deserves to be seen by all.

Posted by: greercn | January 18, 2016

The Big Short

Inventive, funny and fast-paced, “The Big Short” offers laughter, tears and education about the 2008 mortgage and financial crisis. Even if you’ve read Michael Lewis’ excellent book, the original approach, terrific writing and brilliant acting of this film will pull you in.

It’s quite a dazzling 130 minutes. The focus is on four people who foresaw the inherent weakness of the housing market in banking. Steve Carell is the heart of this but Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt are all impressive.

John Magaro and Finn Wittrock stand out. Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo are here too, but for very little screen time.

This is a tale of boy bankers and there’s not much here, for girls. But it’s still a heck of a great ride and entertaining. The music and the look of it all work well.

Adepero Oduye makes the most of her lines and is really interesting to watch.

I went to a very packed free preview for members of Stratford East Picturehouse. Everyone was engrossed and laughed loud at the funny lines, while staying quiet through the sobering scenes.

Adam McKay directs briskly and efficiently. The explanations of complex concepts never get preachy. And you never forget the human pain that resulted from the mistakes of the bankers.

I really enjoyed it. You will too.

Posted by: greercn | January 14, 2016

Daddy’s Home

Never work with children or animals, W.C. Fields said. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg ignore that advice in the utterly ridiculous, stupid and entertaining comedy of “Daddy’s Home”.

Will Ferrell is Brad, stepfather to two children who loathe him but adore their absent dad, Dusty (Wahlberg). Dusty is effortlessly cool while Brad is earnest.

Dusty moves in with Brad and Sara. Linda Cardellini is underused as Sara, which is a shame.

Dad and stepdad fight for the right to be the real dad to Megan and Dylan who are acted by Scarlett Estevez and Owen Vaccaro. Both children are especially annoying, as is a dog called “Tumor”.

Displays of macho pride and ill-advised competitions follow.

Thomas Haden Church, Bobby Cannavale and Hannibal Buress steal their scenes and are hilarious.

If you’re looking for intelligent and thoughtful film, don’t go see this. This is beyond dumb and into “Hangover” territory.

For me, the 96 minutes passed very quickly and I laughed a lot. The Stratford East Picturehouse was full of happy people who enjoyed it.

It’s vulgar, brash and just plain silly. Do see it if that appeals to you.

Posted by: greercn | January 8, 2016

In The Heart Of The Sea

I had a whale of a time. If you share my love of the sea, tall ships and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”, you’ll adore this.

Director Ron Howard and actor Chris Hemsworth teamed up for the excellent “Rush” and this very different period piece shows how much depth Howard can get from Hemsworth’s performances. Who knew? I was just happy that Hemsworth is easy to look at.

Based on a true story of the whaling ship Essex, it passes its two hours very quickly. The crew set out from Nantucket in 1819. It’s best viewed if you know very little of the history as this book informs the events of “Moby Dick” and if you’ve never read that, you’re in for a treat.

Hemsworth is excellent as Owen Chase, the passionate whaler. Benjamin Walker is terrific as Captain George Pollard.

Chase and Pollard had been on whaling expeditions before the Essex and this is not shown in the film. Instead, an antagonism is created between the two, from the beginning.

It’s told in flashback. Ben Whishaw is Herman Melville, visiting the older Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) and trying to learn the reality behind the myths about the Essex.

So much detail here describes class differences, race and the hardship of whaling. Honestly, I was enthralled.

Cillian Murphy and Tom Holland are among many superb actors here. But when Hemsworth is on screen, you can’t look away from him. And Gleeson’s scenes show the pain of his memories and the depth of the struggle of the Essex crew.

Since I first read “Moby Dick”, I’ve had a clear picture of that whale in my mind. No movie has ever captured that. This one gets the visuals absolutely right, for me.

It’s a pity that this came out at the same time as the new Star Wars episode. But if the subject matter appeals to you, please see it. It’s a gorgeous and fascinating movie.

Everyone at Stratford East Picturehouse really loved it. You feel you are on board the Essex. And you see that whale. And the acting and direction are really very special.

Posted by: greercn | January 5, 2016

Joy

Jennifer Lawrence has undoubted charm and charisma. As Joy Mangano, Jen leads a cast of amazing women as she overcomes obstacles and starts a successful business.

That’s about it. I may be the only person in the whole world ever who never bought a product from a TV shopping channel and never heard of the Miracle Mop.

With Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen and Elisabeth Rohm, there is a super family on display here who may all be crazy. However, they are loving people.

Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper are also here and Brad and Jen have unbeatable screen chemistry. Their scenes together fizz with energy and warmth.

The soundtrack is great fun. David O. Russell directs and there are lots of laughs in the script. It moves along its two hours plus at quite a snappy pace.

I am certain that Joy Mangano, like Jen, is a marvellous person. But I just don’t get why this story matters, at all.

The invention of lots of useful gadgets that improve household management is a great achievement.

But I never really cared that much about what happened next. Joy’s relationship with ex-husband Tony, played with great flair by Edgar Ramirez, is a terrific example of how to co-parent and support others.

Everyone at Stratford East Picturehouse liked it. But I couldn’t find anything here that I loved or that stays in my mind after I left the cinema.

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