Posted by: greercn | August 17, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

It starts so well. Swirling space effects – with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” playing – as different species meet. There are glorious details. You anticipate the magic of Luc Besson is about to thrill your senses, just as “The Fifth Element” reinvented science fiction.

Not so fast. Hold on. After those first minutes wow you, you’re on a beach with Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne. Cara is to acting what Pinocchio is to wood. She is very pretty and wears her costumes beautifully. But she is a blank slate with great hair, eyebrows and bone structure, in that modern and slightly anorexic way.

Dane has had marvellous indie performances, most notably in “The Place Beyond The Pines”. But here? Cheesy blockbuster lines need an Arnie or a Bruce Willis to spit them out, with attitude. Dane mumbles.

What’s the deal with Cara bending and ducking so much? Ah. Cara and Dane are the same height, but she needs to look much shorter. I am reminded of being told about an actor from the Golden Age of Hollywood who had a wooden box to stand on so that he’d look taller than his leading ladies. It’s not good that I am thinking of this, as I watch.

Then, just as you’re thinking “give Dane and Cara a chance. This is Luc. He hired them for a reason. Surely that’s not a symptom of his male menopause?”

Irritation does not linger for long. You’re then thrown around on a gentle peaceful planet with characters who combine the incredible “Avatar” characters with heroin chic. The sand on the beach looks fat, compared to them.

Why the improbably stupid subtitle, which should be “Valerian and the Improbably Long Subtitle that Makes No Sense”. At least they didn’t annoy me with a colon.

The French comics were called “Valerian and Laureline”. But anyone can see that Cara’s Laureline fails to earn a name in the title.

Given that Bruce and Arnie are too old, who should have played the male lead? Tom Hardy or John Boyega could have owned this.

Rihanna totally steals the movie. Your mind has wandered, but snaps back as she entertains and acts so well. If only she, Elisabeth Moss, MyAnna Buring or Janelle Monae had played the lead in this. As I am watching, my mind wanders towards other possible leads that would have made this a fantastic film.

Clive Owen is always terrific, but you get the feeling that he has phoned in this performance. He’s menacing, but it’s all one note.

People at the Stratford East Picturehouse were restless. The light of apps and games flashed from their phones.

I will buy the DVD. There are so many gorgeous special effects and I’d like to fast forward through the scenes with the two leads to focus on the incredibly imaginative planet colours and shapes. Much is magical to look at.

It feels like Luc Besson has been browbeaten by Hollywood to tone down his essential French reworking of a French series of comics.

Hollywood, you should be ashamed. You made me suffer through 2 hours and 17 minutes, searching for the 90 minutes of sheer beauty.

I can’t even bear the idea that this bloated $177 million budget was all down to Luc. I want to blame bad choices in Hollywood. Please, let me be right on this?

And I can never see anything with Dane or Cara in it without thinking of high school chemistry and how that can go horribly wrong, when there is no chemistry at all.

Apparently, my high school teacher was right. Life and movies without chemistry might as well not exist.

I came to see a glorious and original and very French scifi epic. I left wanting lots more Rihanna. Rihanna rocks.

Posted by: greercn | August 1, 2017

Baby Driver

That sound you hear at the end of this movie is the progress of feminism being ground under the wheels of a fast car. Both the women in this cast are cartoons and they simply fold into girly gravel.

The car chase at the start of this is just terrific. The guy who came in late with the popcorn as he slowly walked across the whole row in front of me is very lucky I didn’t kick him.

Ansel Elgort is the baby of the title. Baby is an excellent driver, which makes him useful to bad guys planning bank heists.

Music is key to the action. Baby listens to a variety of really great music.

So, if the car stunts are fabulous and the tunes sizzle, why does this go into reverse as soon as the characters get out of their cars?

Perhaps the “one last bank job” theme has been done to death. If you watch movies, you know it’s always that last job that creates new problems.

CJ Jones is just terrific as Baby’s relative. Relatives are relative, after all. The actor is deaf, in real life and the scenes between him and Baby ring true.

Lily James as Debra and Elza Gonzalez as Darling play ornamental parts. Both are very pretty. Darling gets to wear great clothes. Debra has a few inconsequential lines.

Kevin Spacey is usually terrific but he seems to be phoning in this performance. And Jamie Foxx appears to be in a completely different film, channeling Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”.

Jon Hamm and Jon Berthal are just fine.

Unless you love fast cars and faster music (and I do) there is very little to attract women to this tale.

It’s all the more puzzling in that Edgar Wright makes wonderful and very funny movies. This appears to be aimed squarely and cynically at young men who buy popcorn. I expected more plot and meaning.

Should you see it? How do you feel about women being occasional and purely decorative? Is there space in your life for purely random action scenes?

The audience at Stratford East Picturehouse perked up when the cars were racing, but slumped back during the talking while playing with guns scenes.

Watch the trailer. If you love that, you will enjoy this. And I liked it, but didn’t love it as much as I expected to. I felt like I’d dropped into a 1950s bank heist movie, with those values.

Posted by: greercn | July 27, 2017

Despicable Me 3

All the adorable elements are here. Gru! Lucy! The kids! Pharrell Williams!

Minions and their superb language either seal the deal for you, or you’re shaking your head and muttering something about movies for children.

As a recent Facebook quiz proved – because we all know that Facebook quizzes are always accurate – I am 15-years-old.

No, I am actually most old but I am a little too in touch with my inner child. So there.

The adults were laughing more than their kids, at the Stratford East Picturehouse. The boys laughed at the minions and the girls laughed at the unicorns.

Bring on another movie about the minions, please. And when will “Despicable Me 4” be along?

If you don’t feel like that and you don’t adore 1980s pop music or Pharrell Williams, just stay away. There is nothing for you here.

For the rest of us, yay!

Posted by: greercn | July 27, 2017

The Big Sick

Are you ready for a joke about 9/11? One’s on offer, here.

How you react to that will determine whether you love or hate this movie.

Aimed at millennials, a clash of cultures and work as a comedian are key strands.

You should stay away if you have recently had any medical dramas. The hospital scenes are airbrushed for the squeamish, but the emotions they provoke may feel like too much.

Based on a real story, the plot is basically boy meets girl, problems result, girl gets sick and is this love and will it triumph?

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon wrote their own story and while Kumail plays himself, Zoe Kazan acts the part of Emily.

I saw it at a free screening for members of Stratford East Picturehouse and the young crowd all warmed to it. Still, you could see the little lights of Candy Crush as some of the l-o-n-g scenes in the middle of this two-hour film slowed down the pace. Otherwise, the audience slurped their drinks and crunched their popcorn but did not speak at the same time. This, readers, is respect at the movies.

Holly Hunter, Adeel Akhtar and Ray Romano have great scenes. Everyone in this is very good, although you may note that feminism is not high up on the agenda.

It’s nice to see a rom-com with an edge that’s aimed at youth, without it straying into young adult territory.

I might argue that the sex is antiseptic and the values are middle-class American and that both the young protagonists are shielded by rich parents. Who else but the young rich could possibly get movies made, in the current economic climate/

Despite misgivings about the class bias and lazy racism on show, many of the jokes and scenes were entertaining.

With a few qualifications, I liked it.

Posted by: greercn | July 27, 2017

Dunkirk

All 106 minutes of Christopher Nolan’s extraordinary movie attack your ears and eyes. With few words, you are swept on and off the beach, water and air.

It’s like being on one of the crazier Disney rides. Only after you have left the cinema do you reclaim your normal breathing and ask yourself questions.

Where are the French? At least they are hinted at. The Germans are planes, bombs and absence.

Even the Belgians fare better than the women. Did you know that military telephonists – all women – were among the last to be evacuated from Dunkirk’s beach?

According to this, it’s a gathering of men. There are no women at all in the acting credits.

World War 2: I am just plain sick to death of you being present in just about every movie I watch. WW2 fatigue is a thing and I have it. With so much war in the world, you’d think current events might make it onto the big screen?

Having said that out loud, this is lavish and starry. You get Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy in key roles. Michael Caine’s voice gives information and instruction to the pilots in the sky.

And Harry Styles is credible, in that I didn’t recognise it was him, at all.

A whole bunch of very talented actors have key moments. It all runs at a breathless pace and faster than you can say Hans Zimmer (who wrote the slightly intrusive music) and Hoyte Van Hoytema (cinematographer), you’re left wanting more. As a bonus, you’re bottom isn’t numb.

It was a very full Stratford East Picturehouse and the only sound you heard was me, squeaking “ooh, Michael Caine’s voice” and I was, quite correctly, shushed.

There is lots to challenge here, historically and structurally. But you will enjoy it, while it’s on the big screen. It’s original, stylish and offers a new approach to the genre of war movie. Even if, like me, you’ve had enough of WW2 this summer to last you a lifetime.

Posted by: greercn | June 15, 2017

Wonder Woman

Pacifist, female-centred and very entertaining, DC has finally made a film that challenges the dominance of Marvel, in the comics translated to live action genre.

You get three movies in one. Wonder Woman’s early years are shown as part of an idyllic female-only land of Themyscira. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright are here and both are very good.

Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey are outstanding as the young Diana and smooth the transition to Gal Gadot as the adult Wonder Woman.

The accents of the adults are all over the place and I found this irritating.

Once Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor crashes into the world of women, Diana decides to go fight war. The next section is set in London.

Then, we are off to occupied Belgium during WW1. Sidekicks played by Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock add laughter and thoughtful comments.

Elena Anaya is moving and sinister, in a smaller part.

Patty Jenkins directs a cast that is so enormous that it took me a second viewing to tell everyone apart. It feels radical to see a comic hero story based on a strong woman. This will lift the aspirations of younger women and that’s an unusual achievement.

It’s a shame it’s all written by men, but you can’t have everything. Could I hope that the sequel will be written by women?

The very-packed Stratford East Picturehouse audience all loved it and there were far more women present than is usual for new films.

Much will be written about the feminism, science and poison research, political decisions and war. Each is worthy of a long piece of writing.

I have a few issues. The costumes seem to owe more to “Xena: Warrior Princess” and to “Game of Thrones” than they do to traditional and modern reworkings of “Wonder Woman”.

In addition, the decision to relocate the action to World War One creates problems, for me. The most famous Wonder Woman stories featured World War Two.

And that Belgian village is clearly in England. You can CGI scenes with a heavy hand but you still can’t disguise locations.

It’s the first of a new franchise and it’s setting up a whole raft of situations. I am willing to give the sequel a chance. You don’t get enough messages that are kind and aspirational for women and I welcome the ideas here, even if the reality occasionally feels crowded, clunky, male-written and overly dependent on technology.

Posted by: greercn | June 15, 2017

The Other Side Of Hope (Toivon Tuolla Puolen)

Funny, tragic and utterly moving, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki has made another terrific film.

How can a story about a Syrian refugee, seeking asylum in Finland and his meeting a salesman turned restaurant owner be so extraordinary and compelling to watch?

It’s certainly not because of the soundtrack, although the music fits the story.

“Le Havre” is one of the best films I have ever seen. This new Kaurismaki tale shifts straight to the best film of the year position, in my view.

Two excellent performances from Sherwan Haji and Sakari Kuosmanen kept my attention throughout. I actually forgot it was subtitled as so much of what happens is communicated through looks and movements.

As the screening ended at Stratford East Picturehouse, everyone looked happy and thoughtful. All the comments I heard were positive and that’s very unusual.

Don’t read too much about it. I knew very little so the story just unfolded in a thoroughly magical way.

Images from this are staying with me. See it. It’s original, fantastic and timely.

Posted by: greercn | June 15, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

POTC5 (to keep it simple) is also known as Salazar’s Revenge. Salazar and the Dead Men should have been in a much shorter and better film.

There are three possible reasons you might see this:

1) Your name is Depp or you’re part of his family.

2) You have seen all the other instalments in this franchise and you wish to complete viewing the set.

3) Disney can do no wrong, in your view.

It starts well. A terrific chase scene is followed by fights at sea.

Then, it just goes on and on, covering old ground without any real progress. Tangents are followed and odd rehashings of the past films form most of the plot.

The last 20 minutes appear to be tacked on as an afterthought.

At two hours and nine minutes, it feels much too long. Kaya Scodelario and Golshifteh Farahani add great scenes, but their presence seems to say “women can save this movie”. They can’t and they don’t.

Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem and Paul McCartney appear to be in an entirely different and far more compelling film.

We are promised this is the last in the franchise. Please, let this be true.

Johnny Depp’s Captain Sparrow is at the heart of this and he is in almost every scene. By the end of the first hour, he looks like he’d welcome a quick hanging.

Depp’s energy is key to the success of “POTC”. Too often, that energy flags and your attention wanders away.

The Stratford East Picturehouse audience seemed restless. Did anyone out there enjoy watching this?

It’s possible that this might work better on a small screen. I might try to watch it again, when it is shown on TV.

Posted by: greercn | May 20, 2017

Mindhorn

If you loved those old cop shows that had their heyday in the 1970s, you’ll adore this. It has a lot of fun with the concepts of detective on TV, technology, cars, sidekicks and the women who featured in these shows. Hint: Few Nobel prizewinners were characters.

Set on the Isle of Man and featuring some of the team from The Mighty Boosh, I laughed a very great deal. “Mindhorn” is hilarious.

Years after the fictional show “Mindhorn” ended, the washed-up actor who played him is called in by the Isle of Man police. A serial killer is on the loose and he believes that Mindhorn is a real person.

With great reluctance, the police call in the actor who played Mindhorn.

The fictional detective had a surgically-attached eye that could tell the truth.

Julian Barratt stars in this and he co-writes, along with co-star Simon Farnaby. Barratt is in every scene and he manages the neat trick of taking himself very seriously while being utterly hilarious.

You get Kenneth Branagh, Simon Callow and David Hasselhoff, in smaller parts. Steve Coogan, Essie Davis and Andrea Riseborough all bring style and humour to this terrific ensemble.

If you loved “Bergerac”, “Starsky and Hutch”, “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “Knight Rider”, you’ll find much to enjoy here. And if you hated the genre, you’ll enjoy seeing it made fun of.

Sean Foley directs and it all passes very entertainingly, with scenes that whoosh past.

The Stratford East Picturehouse wasn’t very full, but we all laughed enough to fill the room. It’s a refreshing 89 minutes long and squeezes much originality and cheesy reminiscence into its time.

I really enjoyed it. You will too.

Do stay after the credits to get the Mindhorn detective’s “hit” single (in Europe) titled “(You Can’t) Handcuff The Wind”. Or, just watch that song on YouTube.

More movies should be set on the Isle of Man. It’s beautiful.

Posted by: greercn | May 20, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Everyone is back and a whole load of new characters join this. You may get confused as you attempt to keep up with who’s who.

The adorable Groot has a different form, but is still voiced by Vin Diesel and retains that “I am Groot” catchphrase.

Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and baby Groot bring new charm to the sequel. The original 2014 film offered unexpected Marvel pleasures so this movie comes with great expectations.

Is it as good as that? Yes and no.

Special effects and fight scenes ratchet up the tension and the visual joy. New information on the history of each character adds depth.

However, as a staff member at Stratford East Picturehouse said, none of this really moves the Guardians forward in their story.

It feels a little too long at two hours and 16 minutes. I peeked at my watch a couple of times.

Having “Vol 2” in the title really annoys me and I made a funny clucking sound as I typed it.

Overall, it’s an attempt to make a big blockbuster out of a small story. Therefore, that intimate feel I love about the Marvel comics feels lost in the attempt to make everything big and important.

Stan Lee’s cameo is one of his best. The music will all feel familiar and comforting to those of us who grew up with Marvel.

I liked it but I wasn’t as wowed by it as I was by “Guardians”. Lots of stars have super moments, but I never experienced that warm and fuzzy feeling that was part of watching “Guardians” in 2014.

Stratford East Picturehouse was full of people who clearly loved it, unconditionally.

I have now reached the milestone of 620 reviews on this blog. When I started it in late 2009, I gave it a year. It’s provided me with so many great contacts, new friends and delightful experiences.

It makes me a bit sad that the dear friend who encouraged me start doing this died in 2010. Thank you, Ken d’Albenas. We’ll never have that experience of wrestling with Zimmer frames in the home for old folks that we used to joke about. You taught me so much and I am grateful that I knew you so well and for so long.

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