Posted by: greercn | April 17, 2015

Dark Horse

Everyone loves an underdog story. “Dark Horse” is about how a few remarkable people in a small town in Wales decided to breed a racehorse.

It’s the engaging characters here and the very loveable horse, Dream Alliance, that grab your attention and hurtle you through a fantastic documentary.

It won the audience award at Sundance. Director and writer Louise Osmond has pulled together a mix of archive footage, reconstruction and interviews to create a memorable film.

Jan Vokes is the inspiring woman who had a dream. She enlisted 30 friends, including Howard Davies, to help fund the process.

Commentary on class exists here and the reality and ordinary nature of the real lives operate in sharp contrast to the high stakes of racing.

It all warms your heart. It was another free screening for members of Stratford East Picturehouse. It’s truly worth seeing and will lift your spirits and your day.

Posted by: greercn | April 17, 2015

A Little Chaos

Films about vast formal gardens are rare. “A Little Chaos” is the story behind the extraordinary work that went into building the greenery at Versailles in France, during the 17th century.

Matthias Schoenaerts is real-life leading gardener Andre Le Notre. Kate Winslet plays Sabine De Barra, who may or may not be a historical character. While they are making beautiful water features, will love bloom? What do you think?

Alan Rickman directs and stars as King Louis XIV. He reminds me of Geoffrey Rush, in this role.

If gentle historical tales with heaving bosoms and flouncy wigs are your thing, you’ll love this. They aren’t for me, but I enjoyed seeing this, as did my friends.

Having said that, it wouldn’t have appealed to us if it hadn’t been a free screening for members of Stratford East Picturehouse.

Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Ehle and Helen McCrory put in good performances in minor parts.

The people, scenery and plot all mesh together well. It provoked me to go out into my garden and do stuff. That’s no Versailles, but it looks much better for the mowing and weeding I did.

Posted by: greercn | April 13, 2015

Woman In Gold

“Woman In Gold” has flaws, but it’s still an engrossing true story that provokes the viewer to feel the tension and drama. Facts have been changed, despite the real events being more interesting than the screen version of events.

That’s probably done to make the emotions more manageable. I suspect I have a little swastika-movie fatigue syndrome, but I still cried twice, despite knowing what happened next. Art is an important part of my life and Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele” is a very beautiful and famous painting.

Helen Mirren looks nothing like Maria Altmann but that’s forgotten in minutes. And Ryan Reynolds brings a great deal of substance and style to Randol Schoenberg’s lawyer character.

Tatiana Maslany’s young Maria Altmann is incredibly moving. Daniel Bruel and Antje Traue stand out in key roles.

Director Simon Curtis (“My Week With Marilyn”) and co-writer Alexi Kaye Campbell create a great energy and superb lines and the pace never flags.

This is an important movie about art theft and the battle through the courts to get restitution. “Adele” is Adele Bloch-Bauer, Maria’s aunt and the normal family life – albeit one that could afford commissioning Klimt paintings – is beautifully done.

Similarities to “The Monuments Men” and “Portrait of Wally” abound. Even if you’re utterly fed up with World War 2 movies, you’ll find a great deal to enjoy here.

My friend and I enjoyed it and were touched by it. All of the Stratford East Picturehouse audience loved it.

Prepare to be quite affected by this. It’s an important film that should be seen by everyone.

Posted by: greercn | April 11, 2015

While We’re Young

Is originality possible and desirable? In an age of online sharing, have we all become copycats?

These two big questions are at the heart of Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young”.

I was only charmed by small sections of “Greenberg” and “Frances Ha” and this is a logical sequel.

Yet, it’s far more accessible and enjoyable to watch than either of those movies.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are fortysomethings in New York City. Being childless, they feel disconnected from their peers, who include a wonderful Adam Horovitz.

Enter hip twentysomethings Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried.

That vaguely annoying quality Ben Stiller has is put to good use. Naomi Watts has glorious comic timing. Driver and Seyfried are both perfect.

Charles Grodin is also here and just terrific as the voice of reason when everyone else gets zany and self-indulgent. And for those who spot that Horovitz was once a Beastie Boy, there is also joy at the casting of Peter Yarrow as a professor.

The problem is that Baumbach aspires to be Henrik Ibsen but only occasionally achieves the level of early Woody Allen. That’s not terrible; funny lines and hilarious moments happen.

At its best, you find that you care about what happens next. Detail about the process of making documentary films adds depth and interest.

My companion and I enjoyed it and discussed it afterwards. So, is originality possible? Baumbach seems to think it’s desirable and achievable.

The trouble is that I’ve had a little too much of smug and rich people going through angst about their art, in recent movies. It leaves me wanting to tell them they should just grow up and do more for others. Living in your own head can be surprisingly small, even given a big imagination.

It provoked me and prodded my ideas around. But I never really warmed to it and it won’t trouble my 2015 top ten list.

Posted by: greercn | April 7, 2015

Furious 7

Cars chase, buildings blow up and gorgeous people race between beautiful places.

You don’t watch these films for plot, dialogue or depth, do you?

I love the “Fast and Furious” franchise but I accept its visual merits act as a drug-free high. You just get whooshed along from set piece to set piece.

For fans asking how the film deals with Paul Walker’s death, the answer is respectfully. Yes, I wasted a few minutes trying to spot the CGI and doubles here, but decided to just suspend disbelief and tag along for the ride.

In the opening scenes, lots of people are killed and a hospital is blown up. Jason Statham plays Deckard Shaw, the brother of the villain in “6” and he’s out for revenge.

Vin Diesel’s Dom character has always been at the heart of this series and he’s terrific.

A long side-plot centres on an all-seeing surveillance system called God’s Eye.

Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster are sidelined for much of this. Nathalie Emmanuel plays a new member of the family. Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Lucas Black and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are all back.

Kurt Russell puts in a terrific turn but Djimon Honsou is under-used as a bad guy.

Director James Wan concentrates on the action and the stunts. It all moves very quickly through 137 action-packed minutes.

The very-full Stratford East Picturehouse audience all enjoyed it and I did too. Bring on “8”, please.

Posted by: greercn | April 1, 2015

Seventh Son

Jeff Bridges’ character Master Gregory swallowed a frog that had inhaled Sean Connery’s voice and dropped it by an octave. And there are adorable-looking people that turn into monsters of the Godzilla-lite variety.

This may be all that stays with you after seeing “Seventh Son”.

Young Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) follows the Master as an apprentice to confront and end evil. He gets help from his mother (Olivia Williams as Mam Ward) and from a lovely young woman Alice (Alicia Vikander).

Master Gregory? Mam Ward? Are we in olde times or rural Ireland? Julianne Moore (Mother Malkin) and Djimon Honsou (Radu) are among the baddies out to kill the master and his apprentice.

If you like fantasy and monsters, there’s good stuff to watch here. Lots of CGI makes for BIG monsters and the scenery is mostly British Columbia in Canada, so it’s all rather beautiful.

But that voice of Jeff Bridges. Who thought that would be a good idea! Why oh why?

Despite these complaints and (inevitably) based on a young adult novel that will never make it onto my reading list, I still enjoyed the experience of watching this movie.

All of the many, many production houses that made these creatures provided employment for many talented artists.

Which is good.

Posted by: greercn | March 30, 2015

Insurgent

Breathless action and sumptuous scifi visuals lift “Insurgent” and make it fun to watch.

The sequel to “Divergent”, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are on the run from Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and her army. It’s all based on a dystopian young adult book series by Veronica Roth.

At 119 minutes, the only long moments are the times when Tris and Four stop to hug and talk about their feelings. These provided a rare slowing down of the pace.

Naomi Watts is here as Four’s estranged mother and adds a lot of depth and spark to the film. There is thought about the factions, the factionless, a mysterious object in Jeanine’s possession and possible futures.

Yet the viewer is then whooshed through another chase or charmed by the 3D and CGI on offer, just as a concept is discussed.

I went with a friend who has not seen “Divergent” nor anything in 3D. He enjoyed it too.

Everyone watching at Stratford East Picturehouse stayed silent through the film, but started chatting afterwards. The ideas on offer about the various factions and the future lead to great conversations.

Shailene Woodley is becoming a truly great actress and she owns just about every scene.

There is so much shameless pandering to audience preferences here, which is just fine with me.

When the final scenes come, you want to know what happens next.

Posted by: greercn | March 20, 2015

X+Y

“X+Y” is utterly memorable. If a big American studio had made this, it would have been horribly sentimental and lingered on endless hushed conversations. As it is, “X+Y” is full of glorious insights and warmth and has a truly British spirit and understatement.

It’s based on a 2007 documentary about two young men with genius level mathematics but social awkwardness, due to autism.

“Beautiful Young Minds” brought out the stories of Jos and Daniel in their quest to be selected for the International Mathematics Olympiad. Morgan Matthews directed that and he brings the same skill to this film.

Edward Baker-Close plays the young Nathan – based on Daniel – while the older character is played by Asa Butterfield. Baker-Close is very moving as the younger Nathan and there is a seamless transition to Butterfield taking over the role.

Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall, Eddie Marsan and Martin McCann are all superb. Jo Yang, Jake Davies and Alexa Davies have truly beautiful moments as the young competitors.

This film celebrates difference and does so by being unashamedly intellectual, while entertaining the viewer.

Twists and turns keep the viewer’s attention. I might argue that James Graham’s ending to this is weaker than that of the documentary but I can understand the need to add some extra drama.

Do see it. My companion and I really enjoyed it. If you know a lot about mathematics, there are quite a lot of in-jokes that you will appreciate.

Several of the viewers at the Stratford East Picturehouse were in tears, at the end. My eyes were dry, but I was very moved by this super film.

Posted by: greercn | March 16, 2015

Suite Française

Every bit of “Suite” harks back to another and gentler time. There is death, drama and Nazi-occupied France, but it’s the sweet and plausible love story that will get under your skin.

Michelle Williams is Lucile, a bored young wife forced to live with her mother-in-law, played by a terrific Kristin Scott Thomas. Lucile’s husband is absent and out of contact and the two very different women have an uneasy alliance.

Into their lives comes the nicest and most gorgeous actor ever to play a Nazi officer. Matthias Schoenaerts (“Bullhead” and “Rust and Bone”) is billeted in the house and the actor’s portrayal of Bruno von Falk is terrific.

The mood, lighting and music all add to the extraordinary atmosphere of 1940 France, although it was filmed in Marville, Belgium.

If you’ve read the book, you may be annoyed by some of the liberties taken with key scenes. Yet the whole feels so very satisfactory to watch that you forget these changes until well after the final scene.

The end credits use the original manuscript to touching effect.

Sam Riley and Ruth Wilson are among the many actors who enhance the sense of period and place.

It reminded me of why I love old films so much as it captures a softer tone than modern and more graphic films do.

The Stratford East Picturehouse audience all enjoyed it.

Posted by: greercn | March 12, 2015

Chappie

The South Africa tourist board will never use these images to lure visitors to Johannesburg. And don’t go to the future. It’s best to stay in the present.

Those are just two of the messages blasting out at you from “Chappie”. Crammed-in concepts and themes include the nature of human consciousness, safety of robot police, parenting skills and fear of crime.

Part Robocop with dollops of crime, tattoos, piercings and weird science, this is Neill Blomkamp’s (“District 9″ and “Elysium”) very entertaining and thought-provoking take on Artificial Intelligence (AI) possibilities.

His big set piece explosions and gun battles are all present here too, along with an awful lot of swearing.

Dev Patel puts in a great performance as Deon, the inventor of “Chappie”. He works for a private company that supplies police robots to the Johannesburg police, in the very near future.

Hugh Jackman plays his sinister rival and Sigourney Weaver is the corporate boss. Sharlto Copley is the voice and movement of “Chappie”.

The corporate world is presented in sharp contrast to the crime world, represented by lots of people who escaped from “Mad Max” but mainly by South African rappers Die Antwoord, Ninja and Yolandi Visser. As you asked, Die Antwoord means “the answer”, in Afrikaans.

Blomkamp is from Johannesburg but has lived in Canada since he was a teenager. He wrote the script with his writing partner and wife, Terri Tatchell who brought so much to “District 9″ that was missing from “Elysium”, from which she was absent.

My companion and I thoroughly enjoyed it and had a lively discussion about all the ideas stuffed into the movie, after we saw it.

It’s a film that will probably annoy most critics as it buzzes to and fro in many different directions.

You really should see it. In the future, it will be seen as a great scifi classic.

As it’s a Sony/Columbia movie, you get lots of Sony gadgets, instead of that other company with the fruit logo who seem to own every computer and phone in the world, when you’re at the movies.

As a bonus for reading this far, I’m throwing in Blomkamp’s 2004 short film “Tetra Vaal”, which formed the basis of this. Sharp-eyed viewers will note the company name in the film is Tetravaal.

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