Posted by: greercn | February 14, 2015

Inherent Vice

A new genre has been invented. It’s not a whodunnit or a mystery or a thriller. This is a bona fide what-on-earth-is-going-on-here-anyway-it.

Based on a 2009 book by Thomas Pynchon, it’s straight out nuts, breathless and surprising, from the very first scene.

Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) is a 1970 detective who smokes a lot of marijuana. He lives on the beach in Los Angeles. His ex (Katherine Waterston) asks him to find her new boyfriend, who has disappeared and it may be because of his wife or his wife’s boyfriend.

Confused? You are just at the beginning of this convoluted and very long movie. Paul Thomas Anderson directs and scripts this funny yet serious stoner fantasy with even less clarity than “The Master” offered.

The feel of 1970 – when Anderson was just born – is awesome. Movies without smart phones and laptops are always welcome and you could probably get wrecked just by watching this and trying to work out what’s happening to whom, why and where.

Surreal and speedy, you get whizzed along with a wide cast of wonderfully-named people through the shaggiest of shaggy dog tales. Everyone is called “Japonica” or “Shasta” and the straightest character of all – it’s the fuzz, man – is called Bigfoot. Bigfoot is played straight by a glorious Josh Brolin.

It’s an enjoyable film which keeps up its weird 1970 drug-laden feel. Images stay in my head, but I am a long way from figuring out what happened, when, why or how it ends. I am puzzled, as was the very-full Stratford East Picturehouse audience.

If you miss 1970s values, this is a good movie to watch. I now have a slightly better chance of getting through a Thomas Pynchon book since I long to know what happened in “Inherent Vice”. Mind you, I might not end up any the wiser.

Inherent vice means that something has a fault that will come out, inevitably. The example used in the film is that chocolate will always melt. It’s used in insurance and law to mean a fault or feature that needs to be factored in. Clear? No, me neither.

The star-studded cast all look like they are having a blast. Original and sunlit, it looks good and has a wonderful soundtrack.

Just writing about it leaves you sounding slightly alternative and medicated.

It’s a far out trip. Peace out, man.

Posted by: greercn | February 14, 2015

Big Hero 6

Aimed at kids, adults will laugh a lot. Disney just moved the goalposts and combined comic, superhero and science genres to create an intelligent and gorgeous movie, full of charm and style.

Set in the imaginary city of San Fransokyo, young Hiro is an intelligent but aimless nerd. His big brother drags him to meet his classmates and their work inspires Hiro.

Most of the action is fast-paced and compelling but the biggest relationship here is between Hiro and his brother’s creation, a health robot named Baymax. Baymax is the Pillsbury dough boy on steroids. “I am not fast”, Baymax says, during a chase scene.

Others can argue about the science of the robotics and “microbots” shown here. Fred, Go Go, Honey Lemon and Wasabi are the classmates who share the ride and they are all beautifully-drawn and full of life.

Even if you dislike the current generation of animation, you’ll warm to this and long for the planned sequel.

It’s best to know as little as possible of the story going in as you will gasp at the twists and turns and be thrilled by the battle of good versus evil.

I saw it in 2D with a very full audience, but it’s also available in 3D. How that could make it more lovely is beyond me.

Stay after the credits for a special Stan Lee appearance.

Please, Disney, might I have the sequel right now? This was so much fun that I want much more, as soon as humanly possible.

Posted by: greercn | February 12, 2015

Selma

This perfect performance from David Oyelowo deserves an Oscar. As does Ava DuVernay’s direction of the marvelous movie “Selma”. It is weird that wasn’t even nominated.

Tom Wilkinson’s LBJ and Tim Roth’s George Wallace are career-defining turns and either would be worthy of Best Supporting Actor Oscars. Are memories of Ferguson too raw? Has Oscar gone mad?

It is notoriously difficult to film events that are known to older folks and seen regularly on YouTube by everyone. Yet within seconds, you forget that Oyelowo and Wilkinson are Brits.

Oprah Winfrey, Carmen Ojogo and Andre Holland are all wonderful in this. The whole ensemble is terrific.

After seeing this extraordinary film, I spent some time on Google maps exploring Selma, Alabama. I learned that Edmund Pettus – who gave is name to that iconic bridge crossed by Dr Martin Luther King and others marching for the right to vote – was a creature of his time. A judge and a Confederate general, he led the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.

Bearing in mind the tough issues of 1965 and of now, Paul Webb’s script rings true and flows well. The look of this, the music and the recreation of real events all have the power to shock the viewer, 50 years on.

Just go see it. The very-packed Screen 1 at the Stratford East Picturehouse was stunned and wowed, in equal measures.

Posted by: greercn | February 8, 2015

Kingsman

Warning: This very violent film is for those with a strong stomach and an ability to see awful scenes as cartoonish.

If you’re okay with that, “Kingsman” is a hoot. Funny, fast-paced and full of love for spy movies, “Kingsman” is based on a graphic novel by the same author as “Kick-Ass”, Mark Millar.

Matthew Vaughn directs this homage to James Bond and the movie is at its best when Colin Firth and Taron Egerton are together.

The plot? An independent spy group is recruiting. Members of this group care about good clothes and world peace. A sinister bad guy (Samuel L Jackson) plots world domination with his sidekick Gazelle (Sofia Boutella).

Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Mark Hamill are all part of a cast and crew who act like they had a great time making this.

Is there a little too much that is sly, murderous and full of class war? Probably.

The audience at Stratford East Picturehouse enjoyed it as did I and my friend. It certainly hurtles along with only a few pauses for breath, during the middle bit.

But as it dashes towards its dazzling last 20 minutes, you may forget the body count and just sit back and enjoy the roller coaster.

I am a little concerned that this may be the future of British movies and I want more thoughtfulness and indie values in my movies.

Those thoughts came afterwards. At the time, I just enjoyed being dazzled by the bright lights, excellent music and pretty places.

Posted by: greercn | January 17, 2015

American Sniper

Absorbing, entertaining and gripping. “American Sniper” should be the perfect war movie.

Clint Eastwood has a long track record in being brilliant at showing the realities of war. “Letters From Iwo Jima” is one of the best ever films about battle, dealing with class and conscription as much as with events.

Bradley Cooper is amazing as the real-life Chris Kyle, who went from humble beginnings to become a record-holding official sniper. I knew nothing of the true story, which meant I got to be genuinely shocked by the twists and turns in this tale.

With no proper beginning credits, I was surprised to learn that Sienna Miller played the woman left behind. She is unrecognisable and terrific.

And Clint knows his guns. The worship of weapons will make for uncomfortable viewing for all those who are anti-war.

Each time Kyle goes out on another tour of duty, he loses part of his ability to relate to his family. It’s intriguing, but not fully explored.

I was left with the feeling that Clint tried to pack so much into this labour of love that he falls into the over-sentimental territory that marked “Flags Of Our Fathers” with a tad too much patriotic zeal.

It all makes for viewing that will have more meaning for gung-ho men than for women. Girls get to be on the sidelines, unless they are terrorist targets. In that case, they only get seconds on screen.

I saw it at a special free screening for members of Stratford East Picturehouse. The full house all enjoyed it and it rattled along through its fast-paced action to its dramatic conclusion.

If you like Clint, guns and war or even if you just like Bradley and Sienna, you’ll love it. If you don’t, stay away. I wanted a bit more heart and a bit less technique.

Posted by: greercn | January 11, 2015

Birdman

Surreal, wordy and visually amazing, “Birdman” features a magnificent Michael Keaton in a storming performance guaranteed to move you.

Keaton plays a movie star who had a big hit with a super-hero franchise, but now longs for credibility on the stage in New York. As his on-screen daughter, Emma Stone is superb. Edward Norton and Lindsay Duncan are just two more brilliant actors in an extraordinary cast that manages a range that swings from pathos to scary to comic, all in one scene.

Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu is a genius and you either love the weird excesses of “Babel” and “Biutiful” or you don’t care for his peculiar yet unique vision. I appreciate his genius, but I remain puzzled and intrigued by what it all might mean. I know it’s meant to mean something grand, but I just get pulled along in the pretty pictures and I can’t figure it all out at all.

You will be talking about this for a long time to come. Know as little as possible going in, as you will get much more out of it if you haven’t read detailed reviews.

The Stratford East Picturehouse audience was wowed. Do see it, but prepare for long discussions about it afterwards.

Posted by: greercn | December 29, 2014

Top 10 of 2014

It was easy to reduce the list to 20, but much harder to come up with a top 10.

Whether you agree or disagree, the films that won were the ones that provided me with fun, thought and also made me want to see them again, immediately.

1) Paddington: It’s just so full of heart, soul, character and humour that I love it. Kids of all ages love it, too.

2) Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel fans finally get a film that lives up to the comics. A science fiction film that’s easy to enjoy.

3) Pride: Modern history with a heart-warming plot abut tolerance and survival.

4) ’71: Jack O’Connell owns this film, playing a young soldier trapped in Belfast in 1971. Extraordinary and gripping.

5) The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson’s most accessible film is full of silliness, shaggy dog stories and great performances.

6) Calvary: The second in an intelligent and warm-hearted trilogy can stand all by itself.

7) The Edge of Tomorrow: Mix Groundhog Day, sci-fi, war story and action.

8) The Imitation Game: World War 2 code-breaking and the fascinating story of Alan Turing.

9) All This Mayhem: A small Australian story about skateboarding that rivets your attention and packs a big punch.

10) Gone Girl: Hugely entertaining although I disliked it later. But every single frame grabbed me and held my attention.

Posted by: greercn | December 29, 2014

Whiplash

Hands bleed a lot when you are studying drumming at a top American music school. Be grateful you don’t do anything that requires regular buckets of ice and bandage materials.

This clever little film contrasts the highest-powered of creative drive with ordinary life. “Fame costs and right here is where you start paying” said that “Fame” film although those kids looked like they were having fun when they danced around the school.

Feet bleeding from ballet were usually kept off-screen or tastefully referred to as having happened, in the past.

Here, you get all the visceral details plus genuine twists and turns that will shock you. These kids are all about work and pain.

Miles Teller as student Andrew and J.K Simmons as teacher Fletcher give utterly brilliant performances in Damien Chazelle’s unusual story. Chazelle directed and wrote this and he is someone to watch out for.

Ably supported by an ensemble cast, Melissa Benoist also has a distinctive part, in among a largely male group.

Questions are asked about whether teaching excellence ever crosses the line to bullying. There is lots to make you think.

I saw this at a special free preview for members of Stratford East Picturehouse. There were lively discussions after the end credits screened and genuine gasps when the twists and turns happened, during the movie screening.

Posted by: greercn | December 29, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Smaug is an amazing dragon. Martin Freeman is an engaging hobbit. But three different movies? From one little book?

If you’ve seen all three films and read the book, you’ve probably spent more time watching the story unfold than you spent reading “The Hobbit”. And that just seems wrong.

The opening scenes pick up about 20 minutes before “Desolation of Smaug” ends. There are a bunch of new perspectives on that dramatic conclusion and – given the whopping and bottom-numbing 144-minute length of this – careful cutting could have been considered.

But it is what it is.

Dwarves, elves, orcs, wizards, humans and hobbits are all present and the visual details of each shine out. It feels like you are watching a proper epic. Howard Shore’s portentous music enhances the action.

The battle scenes are truly weird and wonderful.

Peter Jackson directs and everyone in the cast and crew went off to New Zealand for 14 months to film in extraordinary locations.

Of the enormous cast, Freeman’s Bilbo, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy (ex-Doctor Who), Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett and Aidan Turner elicit your feelings while Richard Armitage and Luke Evans have great moments. It’s a terrific ensemble.

Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse enjoyed it, albeit the length provoked that flashing light of people playing games on their phones.
This hurts my eyes. Please stop that, okay?

Scenes and actors designed to add humour felt forced, as if a pantomime scene was suddenly being introduced to a more sombre tale.

There is just so much CGI everywhere that I had to slip off the 3D glasses, occasionally, to actually see what was happening.

It’s all overkill, but works as a bridge to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

If those are your favourite films ever, you’ll be very happy watching this. For me? I like my films to tell a simple story and get it all wrapped up within two hours. I didn’t mind watching the whole thing. but it won’t make my Top 10 list of 2014.

Posted by: greercn | December 14, 2014

Paddington

“Paddington” the movie is just unbearably good. With swipes at anti-immigration politics, nods to language learning and lashings of marmalade, it’s aimed at children but adults will leave entertained and happy.

Keeping many of the characters and settings from the much-loved Michael Bond books, purists may frown at some of the liberties taken here. For me, these changes bring the story a fresh and modern feel.

There’s an enormous heart and warmth in this tale. You start out in Peru, although these scenes were filmed in Costa Rica. The Notting Hill settings are delightful and Paddington Station looks clean and gorgeous and very unlike its usual grubby reality.

Action builds up to a marvellous and utterly satisfactory encounter in the Natural History Museum. You even get homage to Hitchcock.

All the actors, especially Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters and Nicole Kidman are terrific.

Peter Capaldi and Jim Broadbent have lovely moments, too.

But the star is Paddington and the bear has been given a makeover that is great to look at and sounds good too, thanks to Ben Whishaw’s talent.

Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse was oohing and aahing and we were all smiling afterwards.

Truly, it’s the most fun I’ve had watching a movie this year. I loved every minute of it and you will too.

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