Posted by: greercn | January 15, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Huge action scenes and reminders of all the great people and creatures in the older Star Wars movies meant that I enjoyed this much more than I expected to.

Felicity Jones is superb as the heroine in a hurry to save many worlds. Diego Luna is also great.

Somehow, the plot manages to pander to the tastes of those who only really liked “Star Wars” and the two sequels as well as to those who liked the clone wars stuff.

Director Gareth Edwards aims this squarely at the fans. You could literally hear people saying ooh and ahh as each character, robot or situation reminded us of other movies in the franchise, just before we were zoomed off to another scene on another planet.

I found it helpful that I knew nothing of the plot as the film started. Afterwards, I read everything I could to identify references that others cheered, but I had forgotten about.

Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker and Jimmy Smits are the standouts in a terrific ensemble.

The two hours and 13 minutes running time felt a bit stretched out, in the middle, but the last sequence was just wonderful and left me longing for more.

Truly, the Force is strong, in this film.

Posted by: greercn | January 15, 2017

A Monster Calls

Intriguing and full of beautiful animation and art, “A Monster Calls” is based on a Young Adult novel about a boy who is dealing with his mother’s treatment for cancer.

Sigourney Weaver is extraordinary as the boy’s grandmother while Lewis MacDougall gives a very moving performance as Conor, the boy.

Liam Neeson’s distinctive voice gives weight to the remarkable tree monster who visits Conor. Is the monster real? Or are the illness, bullying at school and difficult relationships with both his father and grandmother driving him to bad dreams?

Felicity Jones plays the mother, but she doesn’t have much to do, except in flashback scenes to happier times.

Yes, your emotions are manipulated as they are by so many films. But the quality of the art and the original ideas on offer here make it intriguing to watch.

It wins bonus points for being a refreshing watch that’s under two hours long.

If you’re interested in art, there are many visual joys here.

The audience at Stratford East Picturehouse all appeared to be very moved by it, as was I.

Posted by: greercn | January 15, 2017

Silence

Torture in a real and mental form is central to Martin Scorsese’s 161-minute tale. It follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests on a mission to 17th century Japan.

Roman Catholic points of view are rare in films. Directors tend to go for the broadest possible appeal.

No easy answers are given, here. Instead, the viewer is given a set of ambiguous questions and situations. There is a distinctive provocation in how the narration veers between the priests and the Japanese authorities.

Adding to the difficulty is the sense that the Japanese are other and foreign, when the priests are working in someone else’s country.

Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver being style and intensity to their roles as priests. Liam Neeson is only here briefly, but is impressive.

All of the main Japanese actors have great moments.

However, Japanese words and English subtitles jar. Portuguese sections of “Silence” take place in English, so why create such a challenge? I would welcome comments by Japanese speakers who can tell me what they think about the quality of the words and subtitles.

Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel has been brought to the screen twice before but Scorsese brings his signature visual style and the villages – filmed in Taiwan – feel gloomy and void of hope. Did the novel place the Japanese as “other”?

With the torture of the priests and converts come questions about faith, apostasy, conversion and the meaning of religion.

This is a great and difficult work of art. Like with so many paintings, whether you like it or not will depend on your ability to follow a number of tricky situations posing theological challenges.

Most of the people at Stratford East Picturehouse enjoyed watching this and did so in respectful silence.

It’s not a fun watch but it does have meaning. I just wish I knew what that might be. “Silence” is distinctive and individual, but it just leaves me uncharacteristically silent.

Posted by: greercn | January 10, 2017

Top 10 of 2016

My list is all about the movies that wowed me. Would I want to see a film again, if I could? Did I look at my watch, when I first saw it?

There were fewer movies on the long list than there were in previous years. Unexpected and guilty pleasures get special mentions.

I have delayed posting this but I won’t get to see “Moonlight”, “Manchester By The Sea” or “La La Land” in time to consider them, as the UK release dates are later this month. North American friends have loved those and I look forward to seeing them, very soon.

1) Queen of Katwe: It’s a wonderful African story of hope and faith. Yes, there is a Christian message and it’s a Disney movie. I have seen it three times and can hardly wait to see it again.

2) American Honey: Andrea Arnold’s astonishing and perceptive story sums up the disconnected feelings of young adults. It made me ache, with the memories it evoked. Sasha Lane is a superb actress and the whole ensemble is terrific. It’s not for those who can’t handle swearing.

3) A United Kingdom: You may already know the real story. It’s still incredibly well done and very moving.

4) Train To Busan: It’s a horror/zombie tale, but it’s engrossing. Yes, there are subtitles but I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what happened next. And I am not normally a fan of this genre.

5) Ghostbusters: I loved it. I didn’t love the original movies as much as I love this. I laughed a lot and I fail to understand the criticism of this, by others.

6) Creed: This had a heart that went way beyond the rest of the Rocky franchise. I don’t like violence, but the boxing makes sense and the performances are excellent. (2015 but released in the UK in 2016).

7) Trolls: It made me smile, sing along and dance. It will lift your spirits.

8) Spotlight: With incredibly difficult subject material – historic child abuse – this combines journalism and recent history in an engrossing way. (2015 but released in the UK in 2016).

9) Arrival: Amy Adams is extraordinary. Denis Villeneuve is a genius. And it’s great to see so many Montreal settings. It asks important questions about what it is to be human and to communicate.

10) Julieta: It has the most beautiful opening scene of the year and it is moving and gorgeous. My female friends liked this a lot more than my male friends did.

You should probably skip “Julieta” and “Arrival” if you are dealing with bereavement, on any level.

I also loved “Kubo and the Two Strings”, “When Marnie Was There”, “Zootopia/Zootropolis” (why the silly change of name for Europe?), “Eddie The Eagle” and “The Secret Life Of Pets”.

My guilty pleasure is the foul-mouthed animation called “Sausage Party”. I have been unable to have a hot dog since.

It’s been an extraordinary year for animated tales.

A big thank you to all at Stratford East Picturehouse.

2017 – bring on more movies. Thank you, dear readers, for continuing to read, comment and subscribe. 2016 was a very bad year, for me. You, the readers and watching films, kept my sanity.

Posted by: greercn | December 29, 2016

Passengers

Do you love infinity pools? “Passengers” features one that has a view of infinity and is truly awesome.

We’re on a spaceship on a 120-year journey. Crew and passengers are frozen and will be revived a few months before landing on another planet, far, far away and in another galaxy.

Jim (Chris Pratt) is woken up. He is alone and it’s 90 years too soon. After amusing himself for a year, he starts to look like Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors, just before he died.

Writer Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) is woken up and joins Jim (not Morrison, but our hero). Don’t look up how that happens or you will spoil one of the most worrying points in the plot.

Gradually, our hero and heroine realise that they have to do stuff to fix a problem on the spaceship.

The effects in this film are utterly gorgeous. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are both great, but it’s their environment, the views of space and that infinity pool that will stay with you.

Laurence Fishburne steals his all-too-brief scenes.

My Very Intelligent Friend pointed out that some of the science is just plain wrong. I am sure he is correct, but I really enjoyed the story and the homage to “Star Trek”.

The audience at the Stratford East Picturehouse all appeared to be enjoying it and my Very Intelligent Friend and I liked it a lot. It’s entertaining.

See it if you love movies about outer space.

Posted by: greercn | December 29, 2016

Moana

It’s pronounced “Mo-ah-na”. Not “Mona”. Just in case you didn’t know.

This Disney movie has a great story, a big heart and a heroine who is not anorexic.

Everyone has amazing hair. Moana’s hair flicks to and fro and represents a big leap for Disney and for big hair, everywhere.

Based on Polynesian legends, the character Moana has a magical link to water. Her pet chicken and trickster/god Maui join her on her quest to save her people.

Just this once, in a tale of adventure aimed at children, the parents get to stay alive. Yay.

It’s all vey beautifully drawn. Once you’ve seen it, we can have a lively chat about cultural appropriation and the Disneyfication of important and regional mythology.

But I still really enjoyed it. The younger kids were a little scared and the older kids were a little bored. All the adults at the Stratford East Picturehouse were as enthralled as I was.

Don’t read up on it, until after you’ve seen it. Just enjoy the fact that there isn’t a single white face in a distinctly Polynesian story. All the lead actors grew up with this culture and that’s positive news.

The songs are fun although I just recently saw “Frozen” and I reckon those are better. Yet the work done to use songs in other languages has to be applauded.

With this and “Queen of Katwe”, Disney has begun to bend its princess template to reflect real lives of ordinary people.

See it if you love the ocean, chickens, coconuts and boats. And if you can appreciate the sheer bravery and heart of a plucky heroine.

Posted by: greercn | December 20, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Looking for fantastic beasts? You’ll find them on screen, when you watch this.

Does it fill that Harry Potter hole in your life? (I am assuming you have one. I don’t.)

Yes and no. Eddie Redmayne is energetic and fun to watch. And the creatures are wonderful to watch.

But they aren’t dragons or dinosaurs and those are the creatures I like best.

From the title, I was hopeful that the movie would show me where to find extraordinary creatures.

Alas, reader, I was disappointed. My companion – my beautiful daughter – was a die-hard Harry Potter fan and she was happy to have another chapter in J.K. Rowling’s series that paid so much homage to Harry’s world of magic.

If you can suspend disbelief, you’ll love this much more than I did. There are lots of lovely costumes, settings, beasts and performances. Ezra Miller and Carmen Ejogo grab your attention in key scenes.

Colin Farrell is wasted here and he is one of my favourite actors. Pity. He just curls his lip, like a classic villain.

Jon Voight fares better and it’s great to see him in such a strong role.

Katherine Waterston and Samantha Morton are very good. But best of all and very nearly stealing the picture from Redmayne is Dan Fogler. He is very funny as the non-magical baker who teams up with Redmayne’s wizard character.

The Stratford East Picturehouse audience adored this but the fans who loved Harry Potter more than anything enjoyed it more than the rest of us.

The special effects are really wonderful. See it if you long for more Harry Potter and if you watch those movies again and again.

Posted by: greercn | December 8, 2016

A United Kingdom

David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike sparkle in this incredibly enjoyable film. The real-life love story of the leader of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and his white English wife sparked a political scandal, in Africa and in England, during the 1940s and 1950s.

Curiously, although I knew a lot about the story – and David and Rosamund look nothing like the people they portray – I still got an awful lot out of this and never even peeked at my watch.

Amma Asante is an extraordinary director with an artist’s gentle touch. Her “Belle” was moving, but “A United Kingdom” also tells an important chapter in history in a very entertaining way.

Filming in Botswana and using local actors adds to the viewer’s feeling of seeing a real rather than a fictional situation.

The two leads own their scenes, but I was most impressed by Vusi Kunene, who has such strength in his part.

“A United Kingdom” is one of the nicest history lessons ever. From dismal post-war London to the machinations of politics, it grabbed my attention and kept it.

Curiously, some of the facts were changed and I am puzzled. If it bothers you – and if you know what I am talking about – please comment and we can be nerdy.

Considering the enormous and positive changes this couple brought to Botswana, it’s impossible to imagine that they faced so much opposition, at home and in England, just because she was white and he was black.

Everyone at a very-full Stratford East Picturehouse seemed utterly in love with it. It’s an extraordinary movie and will definitely make my Top 10 of the Year list.

I want to see it again. And I want Asante to make many more beautiful and engrossing films. Please, could you make more movies more often?

Posted by: greercn | December 8, 2016

Allied

Paramount has inhaled “Casablanca” – an infinitely superior movie – and put Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in gorgeous clothes that they get to wear at very pretty places.

Both these actors are so good-looking and charismatic that you may get cross when mundane pimples dare to intrude on their faces. Really. How rude.

It’s World War II. Brad is dropped into Morocco. He meets Marion. They have a special secret mission.

The trailer offers so many spoilers that you should skip watching that. Or maybe just skip this film?

Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse oohed and aahed and you do feel surrounded by a general aura of gorgeousness, while you are watching this.

London during wartime looks yummy. And the weather and air raids never stop Marion from wafting around in the same fabulous kimono-style robe she wore in Casablanca. It’s odd that everyone else is wrapped in wool.

If you are addicted to WW2 stories and/or adore Brad and/or Marion or you are obsessed by Brangelina, you’ll find much to enjoy here.

There is quite a sexy sex scene, but you might have fallen asleep during the rather long section leading up to it. Despite all this, you never get a sense of sizzling romance between the two leads. They appear to be great friends, even as they say loving words.

So, I never really believed the love story. But those pretty pictures will stay in my mind.

A lot of it was filmed in the Canary Islands. Robert Zemeckis directs several outstanding action scenes. Don Burgess takes cinematography to new heights.

And references to Quebec and Canada will amuse those who seek out such things.

Lots of terrific actors are here, in smaller parts. But you really don’t look anywhere else, except at the two leads.

Posted by: greercn | November 23, 2016

Arrival

Amy Adams gives the best performance of the year as a linguist who is called on to communicate with aliens.

Denis Villeneuve makes extraordinary and original films and “Arrival” highlights communication, nationalism and paranoia. All of this feels relevant to our troubled times.

The less you know about the story going in, the better off you will be. You should experience the shock, awe and twists of this without background information.

Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker stand out in a great cast.

Ted Chiang’s amazing “Story of Your Life” won a bunch of awards in 1999 and 2000. I am sorry I read it then as it meant I knew too much about the story, going in.

That meant I could concentrate on Amy Adam’s mesmeric control of the screen. She is truly extraordinary.

It was filmed in locations in Quebec that I know well, and that enhanced my enjoyment. One of my friends noticed that the academic office of the linguist in the film is a bit light on books, compared to my linguist father’s former office. Fair enough, but nobody ever had as many books as my dad. Not even me.

Go see it. Everyone at Stratford East Picturehouse adored it. And so did I.

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