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.

Posted by: greercn | September 7, 2016

Sausage Party

Swearing, drug use and food that acts like Disney animals are all present. If the idea of watching any of those makes your nose wrinkle, skip this.

I was charmed by the subversion of stereotypes and won by the originality of this tale of assorted supermarket food and drink looking for heaven. Being chosen is the goal of each hot dog and bun. They form romances, while they are waiting, on the shelf.

Your emotions are shamelessly manipulated. I felt sorry for the expired items, casually flung into oblivion.

After a summer of remakes, reboots and endless predictability, the energy of this makes me (almost) overlook scenes that made me cringe. Put away your ideals of political correctness and you might enjoy the religious commentary on offer here.

Yes, this is a film with a big message of tolerance that warms your heart, when you’re not wondering if there will be a full sentence without profanity.

Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse laughed a lot. If you are offended by the trailer, don’t go see it. If you – like me – are amused by the drawing and the ideas, do prepare to be pleasantly surprised by the depth of the ideas here.

Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Salma Hayek, James Franco, Bill Hader and Nick Kroll are among the many celebrity voices.

I may never be able to eat a hot dog again.

Posted by: greercn | August 30, 2016

War Dogs

Arms dealing has an awful lot of laughs, as work goes. Who knew?

I always assumed you died young, if you took that job. You certainly caused a lot of needless deaths.

But here, it’s all a great romp. The cast is dominated by excellent performances by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill. They play real-life druggies David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli who met at a synagogue in Miami and ruled the world of small-scale arms dealers, for a few years.

David Packouz has a brief scene acting as a singer at a retirement home.

“War Dogs” plays fast and loose with the truth of the case, to make us love these guys. And having two very charming and funny guys in the leads is meant to make us see the lighter side of death and of the Pentagon’s buying systems.

Yes, I laughed a lot. Todd Phillips of “Hangover” fame directs this with quick-moving action and laddish laughs.

Bradley Cooper is only here briefly but adds great menace to the mix. Ana de Armes is very charming as Packouz’ love interest.

Patrick St Esprit, Shaun Toub, JB Blanc and Gabriel Spahiu shine in smaller parts.

All of us at a very-full Stratford East Picturehouse enjoyed it. It is an incredibly entertaining movie.

Guy Lawson wrote the Rolling Stone magazine article “Arms and the Dudes” that “War Dogs” is based on.

But it doesn’t feel like a salutary warning about the damage done by drugs, guns and war. It feels like a romp among the rich, with a few icky bits in nasty places that have actual criminals. Packouz got seven months of house arrest for his crimes.

Perhaps I should reconsider my future. There’s just one problem. My ethics would never permit me to do such things. Oh well.

Posted by: greercn | August 28, 2016

Bad Moms

Thanks to American TV and film dominating the world, we know that “mom” is “mum” in Britain and parts of Canada. We all agree a “mummy” is in the Egyptian section of the museum.

I laughed myself silly and so did my friend Layla. Mila Kunis shows serious comedy skills as Amy, a working mother who has had enough of the alpha female behaviour of the head of the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association).

Directed by the writers of “The Hangover” (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore) – not really a recommendation for me – it’s mostly just hilarious.

Kathryn Hahn as sexy Carla steals every scene she’s in. Kristen Bell is terrific as put-upon Kiki. Christina Applegate is the PTA bully Gwendolyn and Jada Pinkett Smith is almost wasted, albeit very pretty.

You get a silly supermarket scene and an even sillier drinking section. And there are heartwarming feminist touches, as when Amy explains to her son why he should grow up to be a good man.

Amy’s husband is caught up with cyber-porn and her boss is another half-drawn character. And there’s the sexy dad, played by Jay Hernandez, who makes all the moms drool.

I have qualms about this. Do women just behave like the men in “The Hangover” when we are angry? And my friend Layla observed that one particularly horrible injustice done to one of Amy’s children is never properly addressed or redressed. From “Bridemaids” to “The Heat” to “Ghostbusters”, we are meant to accept bad behaviour with no real justice being served up to the bad guys.

So, I still look forward to a movie that isn’t independent or foreign language that actually addresses how women are and how justice can be achieved, when wrong is done. And I’d really like that film to make me laugh.

I am not holding my breath until this happens.

Everyone at Stratford East Picturehouse laughed a lot and even the guys who’d been dragged along liked it.

But it shies away from tough issues it raises about life being unfair and children being powerless.

Expect vulgar giggles and nothing else. Blessed is she who expects very little, for she will not often be disappointed. And “Bad Moms” is slyly observed on expectations of motherhood, food fads and internet porn. For most viewers, that will be more than enough.

Posted by: greercn | August 23, 2016

David Brent: Life On The Road

David Brent and I have a strange relationship. There are bits of “The Office” that make me laugh, smile and fight back tears. And yet, whole episodes grate my nerves to shredding point.

I used to work in an office full of people who loved it, when it was first shown on British TV. As time went by, I warmed to it.

Ricky Gervais has the knack of making the viewer feel uncomfortable. This thoroughly enjoyable film is Gervais at his best. You cringe, giggle and feel the pity that Brent elicits from the viewer.

Compared to the other films based on TV shows, this feels like a superior effort. It may even spawn a dreadful Christmas song.

One intelligent decision made here is to surround Brent with an office of people who don’t think he’s funny but insist that he should be more politically correct. Compared to the indulgent crew of the old office, that moves the comedy with the times.

Brent is convinced that a rock tour will make him a rock star. He hires a young hip band who wince as they listen to his lyrics.

My one criticism is that few of the characters feel fully-formed. Ben Bailey Smith aka Doc Brown is an exception as you warm to the young rapper who accompanies Brent on tour.

Yes, you will think of “This Is Spinal Tap” as much as of “The Office”. Gervais has made the wise decision to keep the tour as pathetic as possible.

And the tattoo scene is very funny.

Everyone at the packed Stratford East Picturehouse had a great time, watching this. And I did too. And if there is anything about Gervais’ writing that you like, you’ll enjoy it.

Posted by: greercn | August 23, 2016

Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods

Asterix and Obelix are adored by French children and adults alike. The comics feature the wonderful inhabitants of a small village in Gaul which resists the Roman Empire, thanks to a druid’s magic strength potion.

When I saw this in French, I was impressed by the comic dialogue, hilarious names and sly digs at modern life in France.

The new English-language version of the film works surprisingly well. I watched it with a mixed audience of people who had never heard of Asterix and those who knew every detail. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.

If you’re used to highly-sophisticated animation, this will seem to hark back to a simpler age, but that’s not a bad thing.

Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse, adults and child alike, laughed until it hurt.

There are clever comments on strikes, shopping and house construction. I noticed a few things in the plot that had been added from the original story and some that were missing, but the 85 minutes went by very quickly and it was entertaining to watch.

It’s lovely to see Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s comic heroes still providing a lot of fun, all these years after their invention.

It might be aimed at the kiddies, but there is plenty here for adults, too.

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