Posted by: greercn | August 19, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

They lost THRUSH. THRUSH was the evil spy network that tried to destroy U.N.C.L.E. Boy, do I miss THRUSH.

As the biggest fan of the old series that ran in the 1960s, this was the blockbuster I wanted to see the most, this summer.

It’s a good movie, but it has flaws. As a prequel – yawn – it just doesn’t fit with the old characters.

Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo misses the suave and wry charm of Robert Vaughn’s acting, but has brawn and a pout of great verve.

Armie Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin lacks David McCallum’s beatnik posture and dress. Hammer seems to be on an anger management binge, while McCallum was a love god for most of my teenage friends. I can’t see that fate in Armie’s future.

Unusually – I was always contrary – my favourite was Mr Waverly, played by Leo G. Carroll. Hugh Grant is wonderful. I missed Leo, but only for a second. Hugh Grant is getting better and better with every picture he makes.

Alicia Vikander is the obligatory female sidekick and she sure can kick. She wears the fashion well, too. Elizabeth Debicki is a good bad gal.

Huge plaudits should go to the set and costume designers as even the phones look real, given we are in the 1960s.

And the plot is okay. You may find the idea that an American and a Russian spy must unite to save the world from nuclear doom plot to be just a tad familiar. On the other hand, it’s a good premise.

Excellent chases, decent explosions and great escapes are all present and correct.

And the 120-minute running time only has a few saggy bits.

The problem is that director Guy Ritchie and his team of writers lack subtlety. Too much that was winsome and adorable, in the original, is just plain bashed, here.

I shudder to think what they might make of the Girl from U.N.C.L.E. I am amusing myself thinking of who might play her. And in these modern times, she’ll probably be The Woman, which will be more correct but a lot less fun.

Everyone at the very-packed Stratford East Picturehouse enjoyed it, as did I and my Very Intelligent Friend.

Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic and wonderful theme in barely used here, which is a real pity.

So, big kudos on style. May the inevitable sequel have a bit more substance.

Posted by: greercn | August 17, 2015

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Yet again, Ethan Hunt is the only hope of saving the disbanded IMF. Bad guys in The Syndicate long to destroy peace and freedom and our Ethan (Tom Cruise who has been working out) must destroy them.

You spot holes in this repeated plot? You believe peace and freedom are a long way away, on this planet?

Stop being a killjoy. Just enjoy the ride.

It’s a pretty good ride, too. We are whooshed from London to Washington to Morocco and Vienna through lots of set pieces that pay homage to the old TV shows while making the most of modern special effects and chase scenes.

You want a big plane stunt? You’ve got it. Motorcycle chases? Check. Oodles of violence? Present and correct, with bells on.

Jeremy Renner is just terrific as Ethan’s ally. Simon Pegg is hilarious as a techie secret agent.

And it’s great to see Rebecca Ferguson handling big stunts and fights in a thigh-high dress.

Ving Rhames, Sean Harris and Simon McBurney bring additional menace and depth to their roles.

Director Christopher McQuarrie brought out the best of Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow” and he works around the fact that Cruise may be getting a tad old for these action parts. But I’ve said that before and been proved wrong by Cruise’s endless box office appeal.

Tom Cruise has charisma and little boy charm. I don’t get it, but you clearly do as you keep buying the tickets.

Just for fun, spot the number of times the camera shoots Tom to make him look taller.

But these quibbles shouldn’t put you off seeing a very good action film.

The Stratford East Picturehouse was full of very happy people. They were all gushing about it as they left the cinema.

At 130 minutes, I felt like a bit more judicious editing would have been helpful.

But Tom Cruise and the IMF will go on and on. And on. He’ll probably find a way of making action movies when he’s in a wheelchair. The IMF will keep getting shut down. And Tom will keep rescuing it.

It just is.

And Alec Baldwin will probably still be there and grumpier than ever.

Some things and people are eternal.

Posted by: greercn | August 17, 2015

Fantastic Four

Fans of the comic characters will be annoyed by how far this strays from the originals.

All you’re expecting is whiz bang special effects and stuff getting blown up, right?

People I respect said it would be dreadful. Those who had seen it told me not to bother watching it.

I liked “Chronicle” and “The Kill Point” so I wanted to check out what director Josh Trank made of these characters. The 2005 film is still easy to remember, but Miles Teller and Jamie Bell are intriguing casting choices.

So, is it worth seeing?

Well, I didn’t hate it. Many of the effects and the lovely CGI do create an interesting new world to look at.

The early scenes are the best. The high school teacher who sneers at the nerd and the unlikely friendship between very different boys create scenes that feel raw and moving.

Kate Mara has an interesting presence and Toby Kebbell, Michael B Jordan and Reg E Cathey all have gripping moments.

It passed the time very nicely and the superhero effects are terrific.

A very busy Stratford East Picturehouse audience seemed to find it easier to chat to each other than to watch the screen.

Do you like big fires? Are you interested in science, even bad science? Are you an obsessive fan of Miles Teller, Jamie Bell or Kate Mara?

Are you related to anyone connected to this film?

Those are all good reasons to see it. I enjoyed it while it was on, but it won’t trouble another moment of my life after I finish this piece of writing.

How bored are you? I’ve seen worse films and spent a pleasant 100 minutes thinking of not very much.

It’s Marvel-lite with lofty ambitions that fall as flat as the dust from the other world the Fantastic Four travel to.

Posted by: greercn | July 30, 2015

Inside Out

Pixar’s big message is that joy and sadness need to work together, for an ideal life. It may seem corny or too basic a psychology lesson, yet it gives “Inside Out” the same depth that permitted “Up” – also by director Pete Docter – to reduce adults to tears.

I’ve been trying to get my Very Intelligent Friend to appreciate animation more than he does. I have cherry-picked my suggested viewing. I think I am winning, as he agreed easily, this time. Either that, or I am wearing down his resistance.

Riley is an 11-year-old girl. Her parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco. This sound great to me, but Riley’s whole life is rural bliss full of memories curated by Joy, one of five emotions in Riley’s head.

Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust all live inside us, according to this movie. In Riley, Joy (Amy Poehler) is firmly in charge as we see from the affecting memories Joy has planted in Riley.

Just this once, parents get to stay alive throughout the movie. Phew.

San Francisco is muddy looking, Minnesota is pastel and the big vibrant tones are reserved for the tiny emotional controllers of our destiny. It’s all beautiful and very moving. I was on the edge of tears, three times.

Phyllis Smith’s Sadness voice is utterly brilliant.

Too often, I get annoyed by the use of psychology in films. Just this once, everything from tone to colour to music feels pitch perfect.

Loads of celebrity voices are here, if you care about that.

Riley’s inner and outer adjustments and a creative use of hockey combine to make this a rare treat.

We both loved it as did everyone at Stratford East Picturehouse. Adults may well get more out of the superb script than their children. The younger kids here looked puzzled as older folks cackled at puberty jokes.

Pixar, I love you al.

Posted by: greercn | July 23, 2015


Marvel’s universe often featured the rebel character, in a way that DC comics didn’t. DC villains were allowed quirkiness, but this formed part of their downfall.

This energy and quest of the outsider remains part of the big attraction for Marvel fans. It’s been a little sad to see the revived movies feature so few of those flawed but fascinating beings.

So, hooray for Ant-Man! Convicted thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) teams up with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to prevent evil from ruling the planet. Scott’s journey to the costume is refreshing and moving.

Original director Edgar Wright dropped out and Peyton Reed stepped in. My worry increased as stories came out about new writers being added. Despite all the chopping and changing, some of which shows up as continuity flaws, I enjoyed this movie and felt it stayed true to the real spirit of Marvel.

Evangeline Lilly and Corey Stroll are just fine as the other two main characters, but it’s Judy Greer as Scott Lang’s estranged wife who drew my attention most, whenever she was in a scene. Why isn’t she a major star? She shines and stands out, whenever I see her in one of these small and key character parts she seems to get stuck with.

Bobby Cannavale is just fine as the policeman/boyfriend. Anthony Mackie as Falcon has a few very special moments.

Michael Pena is not on screen enough but when he is there, he’s wonderful.

The laughs, warmth and action all worked just fine for me. The 3D and the extraordinary shrinking and expanding scenes, along with some inventive chases managed to amuse me and my Very Intelligent Friend.

You can argue about some of the choices made, comparing them to those of the old comic stories, but this is a credible Marvel universe. You feel you are inside some of the extraordinary visual treats and the 3D enhances, without adding darkness.

Lovers of Thomas The Tank Engine may recoil in horror during the end climax.

Everyone at Stratford East Picturehouse enjoyed the experience, as did we.

That Stan Lee cameo you’re waiting for is very near the end of the two hours. Stay right until the end of the credits as you get two teaser trailers.

Posted by: greercn | July 15, 2015

Hitchcock’s Home

For three nights only, Alfred Hitchcock is coming home.

The master of suspense was born just up the road from where I live. His parents ran a shop in Leytonstone High Road in the southern bit of the E11 area of east London.

It’s not there now. A garage and a chicken shop have a blue plaque, telling you he was born here. In a rather lovely act of homage, there are birds painted on the adjoining building and along the walk, just to the north.

Tomorrow (16th), Friday (17th) and Saturday (18th), three Hitchcock films will be shown in the graveyard of St John’s Church, Leytonstone, E11, as part of the Leytonstone Festival.

“Dial M For Murder” (16th), “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (17th) and “The Lady Vanishes (18th) will be shown as dusk falls each evening, at about 9.30pm.

These events are being run by the clever and talented Dee Wood, who has invited me to speak on how Hitchcock influenced other directors. That was the subject of a long paper I wrote at McGill University, about a million years ago, when I first programmed film festivals and learned more about the movies and why I love them all, so very much.

There will be food and drink vans and the doors open at 6.30pm, each night. Bring blankets and a folding chair.

Cost is £15 per night or £30 for all three nights.

If you’re in London, you should come along. The weather – touch wood – should be fine and these will be terrific events.

Join us. I attach the link to all the details and to buy tickets. Thursday is selling out fast.

If you’re coming via Leytonstone tube station on the Central Line, stop to take a look at the glorious murals which line the walls of the walkway out to Church Lane. They show scenes from Hitchcock’s films.

Posted by: greercn | July 15, 2015

Song Of The Sea

I cried real tears. My Very Intelligent Friend looked away, in disbelief. This is a movie for little kids, right?

Apparently, adults who are easily moved by Irish folklore and the death of mothers may sob, more than a little.

Controversy arose at the Oscars when “Big Hero ” won best animated feature, over this film and the excellent “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”.

I love animation and this was a great year for films aimed at kiddies that were equally adored by adults.

The music, drawing and voicing of this have a very special and distinctive sense. It just feels unusual.

You need to be comfortable with supernatural themes and with mythology, but there’s an unmistakable charm at work here.

I knew very little about the plot going in and that helped my sense of wonder.

My Very Intelligent Friend and I both enjoyed it very much. You will too, if you have a soul.

Posted by: greercn | July 10, 2015


Lovers of language, rejoice. This movie will float your boat.

“Minions” is a prequel to “Despicable Me”. If you like animation, Gru and “Despicable Me 2”, you’ll adore this.

You don’t have to have seen either of those films to enjoy those fascinating minions.

The plot follows our tiny yellow friends from prehistoric times in their quest to find an evil master.

Friends have complained that they found the British “Swinging Sixties” plot, which occupied much of the second half, frankly laughable.

But I just suspended disbelief and got involved in the adventures of Kevin, Stuart and Bob as they try out various villains and whoosh from New York to Florida to London.

Do stay after the credits as there is a very funny song performance.

Are you a big kid? I am. I long for the box set of all three films so I can laugh out loud again and again, in private.

The little kids seemed to be more entertained than the adults. With the exception of me.

Famous voices and silly scenes are here, but all I really cared about was deciphering the wonderful language and enjoying the ride.

How much you like this will depend entirely on how big a kid you are.

Posted by: greercn | July 10, 2015

Slow West

Modern reinventions of the Western remind me of why I loved them so much when I was a child. “Slow West” gives you a real sense of wide open spaces, full of danger.

Kodi Smit-McPhee plays innocent Jay, traipsing across the Wild West in search of his lost love. Jay, his girl and her dad are all meant to be Scottish, yet their accents are all over the place. Don’t let this bother you.

Michael Fassbender is Silas, an outlaw who decides to protect Jay. His motivation is getting the bounty placed on the heads of Jay’s girl and her dad.

Ben Mendelsohn has a striking small role as Payne, another outlaw.

There are loads of striking scenes that pull at your emotions. It’s beautifully filmed and director and writer John Maclean is worth watching out for, in future.

The audience at Stratford East Picturehouse all stayed respectfully silent and seemed to enjoy it.

My Very Intelligent friend liked it. For me, sections worked beautifully yet certain scenes lingered too long.

This is a movie that will work well on TV. The twists and turns will give you plenty to talk about.

It’s a brave attempt to capture the spirit of exploration and the romance of travel, in difficult conditions.

Viewers who are easily affected by violence may feel uncomfortable, at times. I did.

It may or may not bother you that the light is wrong, for the American West. It’s filmed in New Zealand.

Posted by: greercn | June 24, 2015

Mr. Holmes

My Very Intelligent Friend really likes this movie. He believes “Mr. Holmes” is a worthy musing on old age and a welcome addition to the Sherlock Holmes stories.

The period detail, the look of the house and gardens and the bee plot all appeal to him.

I am unconvinced.

Heresy first: I don’t like Ian McKellen. He’s the man who ruined Gandalf and Magneto for me.

You probably believe he excretes rainbows. With sound and progressive views, Sir Ian has a great big presence. I just don’t get his (almost universal) appeal. Sorry.

Perhaps I have been comprehensively Cumberbatched.

Laura Linney plays the housekeeper to the Great Old Man and young rising star Milo Parker plays her precocious son, Roger. There is musing on old cases and the music, cinematography and costumes are all superb.

I was annoyed that Linney’s accent veered all over the place and I resented being told I was in Sussex when I was in Kent. When I go all fussbudget about details that annoy me, I’m not very engaged with the movie, am I?

However, my Very Intelligent Friend points out that one place I was certain was Kent is actually Sussex. I looked it up – he’s right – but I am sticking with feeling slightly annoyed. I am looking for reasons I was annoyed by “Mr. Holmes”.

The trains are terrific. The visit to Japan is very moving. The sad case from the past is present and correct.

It’s not “Mr. Holmes”. It’s me. Everyone else at the Stratford East Picturehouse adored it. You will love it.

Perhaps I ought to order one of those little medical bracelets that says “allergic to Sir Ian McKellen”? I may consider therapy.

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