Thursday, January 17, 2019

Stan & Ollie Review - 3½ Stars

I discovered Laurel and Hardy as a kid in the 1950s, one of the new generation who loved the TV reruns of of their 1930s comedy shorts and feature films. I still love their off-kilter relationship and slapstick comedy. "Stan & Ollie" opens with the team at the top of their popularity in 1937. John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy and Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel immediately establish their characters, while hinting at the sentimental story to come. We follow them on the backlot, as they discuss ex-wives, money problems and negotiating a better deal with Hal Roach Studios, even though Laurel's contract ends months before Hardy's. That established, we jump ahead 16 years to 1953, when the pair try to revive their career with a comeback tour of England. By this time, Hardy is old and more overweight with bad knees and heart trouble. Laurel continues to do the writing and producing, with lesser results. "Stan & Ollie" tells a backstage drama of a partnership less easy than it looked. Reilly and Coogan bring love to their roles, including some delightful recreations of Laurel and Hardy's greatest hits. The ending scenes bring a smile, and for many, a smile through tears. "Stan & Ollie," rated PG-13, 3½ stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Nostalgic tribute to beloved performances. Is it entertaining? Delightful. Is it worth the price of admission? A winner.

Cold War Review - 4 Stars

"Cold War" starts like a folk tale and ends as a nihilistic take on "Casablanca." Set in Poland after World War II, a team of producers and directors roam rural Poland in search of performers who can demonstrate the post-war Communist national spirit. Pianist/conductor Wiktor (Tomasz Kot)  discovers charismatic Zula (Joanna Kulig.) She notices his attentions, and takes a page from "All About Eve." Soon, Zula and Wiktor become artist & muse and the loves of each others' lives. "Cold War" never fails to surprise as it follows a tortured affair, playing out between thrilling musical performances. Shot in crisp black and white, "Cold War" feels ageless. It swept me away. "Cold War," rated "R," 4 stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Tortured love story. Is it entertaining? Beautiful and surprising to watch. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year's best.

Weekend Movie Guide

Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston (r) star in The Upside

Roma - 4 Stars. Alfonso Cuarón recreates his childhood in middle class Mexico City (during the early 1970s) and the nanny he & his family loved.

Cold War - 4 Stars.  Polish composer begins tortured love affair  for rural femme fatale.  Astonishing 90 minute "Casablanca" style romance shot in crisp black and white.  Stunning. 

If Beale Street Could Talk - 4 Stars. Award-worthy dramatization of James Baldwin's 1974 novel of struggle and injustice.

Stan & Ollie - 3 1/2 Stars.  John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan give wonderful performances as the comedy team on tour at the end of their careers.  Poignant yet funny.

Green Book - 3½ Stars. New York bouncer drives jazz pianist on a concert tour of 1962 pre-civil rights South. Each man emerges better for the experience.

Mary Poppins Returns - 3½ Stars. Disney's update of "Mary Poppins" delights. The musical numbers merit applause, and Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda fill the bill.

Vice - 3½ Stars. The story of Dick Chaney's rise, told with astonishing performances.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? - 3½ Stars. Melissa McCarthy nails the story of writer Lee Israel, who faked a series of celebrity letters, when her career sputters. Funny and charming.

Bohemian Rhapsody - 3½ Stars. Irresistible (but clichéd) celebration of Freddy Mercury and Queen.

Widows - 3½ Stars. Viola Davis must pay her dead husband's debt to the mob with one last heist. A thrilling, dense thriller.

A Star Is Born - 3 Stars. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga make this remake a charm.

Instant Family - 3 Stars. Surprisingly enjoyable comedy about a couple adopting a teen and her younger siblings.

Free Solo - 3 Stars. Climbing without a rope. Hold on to your seat.

The Mule - 2½ Stars. Clint Eastwood as a 90-year-old, driving drugs for the cartel.

The Favourite - 2½ Stars. Sex, power and petulance in Queen Anne's court.

Mary Queen of Scots - 2½ Stars. Showcase for excellent Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie drags, and gets hard to follow.

Ralph Breaks the Internet - 2½ Stars. The further adventures of the video game character and his best friend, transferred to the net.

The Upside - 2 Stars. Wealthy quadriplegic Bryan Cranston hires ex-con Kevin Hart as his aide. Cute, sometimes funny life lessons ensue.

On the Basis of Sex - 2 Stars. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's early triumph for equal rights can't compare to the documentary "RGB."

Ben Is Back - 2 Stars. Addict Lucas Hedges comes home too early from rehab. Julia Roberts enables. Hard to watch, with a sappy ending.

Aquaman - 1 Star. Underwater superhero origin story drowns in a sea of clichés. Super long. Don't hold your breath.

Glass - 1 Star.  Three characters from two movies face off for a superhero showdown.  Yawn.

Destroyer - 1 Star. Nicole Kidman as burnt out L.A. cop. Slow, painful to watch parade of clichés from the past.

Capernaum - 1 Star.  Lebanese boy, growing up on the streets, sues his parents for the crime of giving him life. Unsubtle and difficult to watch, the change of tone finale feels false.

Glass - 1 Star - Opens January 18, 2019

Fans of M. Night Shyamalan's previous head-scratchers "Unbreakable" and "Split" might get a tingle from "Glass." The new thriller combines Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson of "Unbreakable," with James McAvoy of "Split."  Willis doles out vigilante justice after surviving a train wreck devised by Jackson's character Mr. Glass in "Unbreakable."  James McAvoy returns from "Split."  He has double digit personalities including "The Beast," a sort of incredible hulk character with even more anger issues.  The role lets McAvoy improvise like a first year drama student, changing from personality to personality and then pumping up for the superhuman strength of "The Beast."  The three characters converge in a maximum care facility run by a no nonsense Sarah Paulson.  Anya Taylor-Joy returns as one of McAvoy's survivors in "Split" and Spencer Treat Clark plays Willis' protective now grown up son from "Unbreakable." "Glass" crawls for two slow hours, often stopping for mind numbing dialog and explanations.  It ends with too many false starts and a final twist that fizzles.  I see my glass as half full but this one's empty.  "Glass" PG-13 1 Star.  Does it deliver what it promises?  Stitches together characters from earlier movies.  Is it entertaining?  Slow.  Is it worth the price of admission.  Fans only. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Upside Review - 2 Stars

Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston make a pretty good mismatched team in "The Upside." Cranston plays a mega-rich business genius, paralyzed after a paragliding accident. Hart's an ex-con, who needs a job and thinks he's applying for janitorial work. He becomes Cranston's medical aide. Naturally, the street dude and the rich guy learn life lessons from each other. "The Upside" is based on the 2011 French film "The Intouchables." The remake is standard-issue, feel-good studio programming, destined for cable in six months. Nicole Kidman makes a nice appearance as a meek executive assistant and Julianna Margulies as a possible love interest. "The Upside," 2 stars, rated PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? Mismatched buddy movie. Is it entertaining? Predictable fun. Is it worth the price of admission? Cable bound.

Destroyer Review - 1 Star

Nicole Kidman keeps busy. She shows up in a half-dozen recent films, including "Boy Erased" and "Aquaman." She has wonderful range, talent and big screen beauty. Her latest, "Destroyer" works hard to erase that beauty, in favor of letting the inner actress shine. Kidman plays a burnt out L.A. detective. She flashes back to her youth as an undercover member of a gang of thieves, when the leader turns up dead by the side of the road a generation later.  Now Kidman must settle old scores.  "Destroyer" makes Kidman so gritty, it turns distracting. She has bad teeth, cracked skin, a dysfunctional life and does a lot of drinking. I get it: The character's had a hard life. The result becomes painful to watch. I pass. "Destroyer," 1 star, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Gritty L.A. cop mystery, but hard to watch. Is it entertaining? Kidman's look actually distracts. Is it worth the price of admission? A tumble. One of this year's award contenders (Regina King of "If Beale Street Could Talk") played a similar role to greater effect in the TV series "Southland." Just sayin'.