Tag Archives: Danny Huston

Stan & Ollie

Better known to the world as Laurel & Hardy, two things are communicated with the title Stan & Ollie: 1. There’s another side to this comedy duo, a lesser known side, and we’re about to be privy; 2. This is a more intimate look at the team, an insider’s look as we are invited to know them by their first names.

In the 1930s, at the height of their career, Stanley Laurel (Steve Coogan) & Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) were like a 90s-era boy band and Hal Roach (Danny Huston) is their Lou Pearlman. Laurel and Hardy were as manufactured and packaged as any boy band; they started out as strangers, but when producers threw them together, their careers became inextricably combined. They became the most famous comedy duo on the planet, but the trouble was, they didn’t own any rights. Their movies weren’t their own. They drew salaries but never saw profits akin to their success. Producers and managers pocketed their millions.

When Stan’s contract was up (and Ollie’s was not), he saw it as an opportunity to 2negotiate – or leave. He got himself a better deal elsewhere, but the problem was, Ollie didn’t walk with him. Too afraid to risk his small piece of the pie for the whole damn dessert, Hardy stayed behind, and even allowed himself to be reteamed with someone else. Ultimately their careers tanked and that was the end, or nearly the end, of Laurel & Hardy.

Which, interestingly, is where the movie begins. It’s been 15 years since those unsuccessful contract negotiations, and the world has assumed that the pair have been retired.  Laurel & Hardy mount a comeback tour over in the UK, supposedly culminating in a movie deal. But the grueling tour is humbling, the small theatres not selling out, the world having moved on. Plus, Hardy’s health is no good. Can his body even do this anymore, even if the people showed up? Not to mention the resentments quietly roiling beneath the surface. Both are nursing hurt feelings.

This movie is a really interesting look at what it takes to forge a creative bond with someone. And what it takes to stay together! Though their job was to make the people laugh, it often came at a cost to them. This movie isn’t overly anxious to uncover dirt, it’s got a tread about as heavy as their soft-shoe routine. Small in scope, it’s actually better than the average biopic, focusing on the lows rather than the better-known highs experienced in the spotlight.

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are well-matched. They certainly make us believe in a shared history and an easy\uneasy rapport. They’re both a lot of fun to watch, despite this movie being more about their despair and their failings. Stan & Ollie is a peek behind the clown’s smile, and the truth is that grease paint is slippery and imperfect, but it makes a helluva compelling story.

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IO

Sam is a young scientist, writing to her boyfriend Elon who is worlds away, on a space station called IO, along with nearly all remaining humans. People fled Earth as it became uninhabitable. Now the IO colony has turned its sights toward another planet near Alpha Centauri, and they’re cutting ties with Earth in order to dedicate all resources to this new plan. Any humans still surviving on Earth have 4 days to catch the last of the shuttles, or forever be left behind.

mv5bmgzlyjc4yjutnjnhni00ytvhlwi3ztqtota1ody2ntkwngi0xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntc5otmwotq@._v1_sy1000_cr0,0,1364,1000_al_Sam (Margaret Qualley) has no way of making those shuttles until Micah (Anthony Mackie) shows up in a helium balloon. He’s heard the broadcasts from Sam’s father, a famous scientist who steadfastly remained behind in order to study Earth’s atmosphere and gauge whether life may once again be tenable on Earth. Micah is their only chance at escape, but he’s finding the last Earthlings to be pretty ambivalent about leaving rather than grateful for rescue.

IO is not breaking any new ground in terms of the apocalypse, or science fiction. Qualley and Mackie are totally lovely as the last people on Earth, but a story that keeps reminding us that human connection is the most important thing should remember that showing our heroes affectionately bonking gas masks is a little short on intimacy.

Truthfully, it’s a little short on story too. It’s retreading a very familiar path without engendering a single original idea. It was uninspiring enough that I felt myself embracing the apocalypse and actually wondering what the others were doing up on IO. It can’t possibly be as dull or as dusty as life on Earth.

The good news is, it’s on Netflix, streaming for “free” since you already have a subscription. So even a mild or passing interest can be indulged with no harm done. Temper those hot-air-balloon-sized expectations and instead anticipate something more akin to a birthday balloon, three days after the party.

Game Night

I’ve had such bad luck with comedies lately that I saw this trailer with nothing but dread and skepticism. Of course I saw it anyway, but only because many of my reliable film buddies made it sound relatively watchable. And I’m happy to say they’re right. This is no comedic gem, no future cult classic, probably not even a movie you’ll discuss or remember with any fondness or clarity on the car ride home. But it is a solid movie with some laughs and an unexpectedly great performance by Jesse Plemmons – that alone is worth the watch.

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Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) are famous among their friends for hosting ultra-competitive game nights. It’s the best part of everyone’s week, and the only blemish is having to hide them from creepy next door neighbour Gary (Jesse Plemmons) who’s been disinvited ever since he and his wife split up. But a new blemish has popped up in the form of Max’s big brother (and the source of his low self-esteem and sperm count), Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Brooks is rich and successful and has never lost at anything, ever. Max can barely stand to be around him. So when Brooks proposes the latest in rich-guy game nights, the incredibly realistic murder mystery, with Max’s dream car up for grabs by the winner, you bet every single one of them is raring to go.

Except of course it’s possible that the game gets intersected with some real kidnap and murder shit that’s all but impossible to sort out. And Annie and Max keep playing the game with criminals who really aren’t.

McAdams, nearly 40, and especially Bateman, who is pushing 50, are a little old to be playing the young couple who’s only now wondering about starting a family, but the directors are confident they’re believably 30-somethings, so go with it. It’s also kind of difficult to believe that their group of friends are actually somehow friends, but go with that too. Stick it out for Jesse Plemmons. Watch and see if he cracks a smile even once, though he’s playing the most absurd character on screen.

There’s some memorable flair to the direction (I liked the establishing shots), and it mostly stays away from the groan-inducing lowest-common-denominator stuff that seems to be the bulk of comedy scripts lately. The cast is solid (McAdams in particular looks like she’s having fun), the premise is fairly fresh, and it’s a pretty entertaining night at the cinema.

 

 

Do you and your friends get together for game night?

Wonder Woman

It pains me to say this so I’m just going to spit it out first thing: I hated Wonder Woman.

The film opens with young Diana, the only child living in idyllic Themyscira, a secret island free of men, where all the women are trained to be warriors strong in mind and wonder-woman-movie-gal-gadotbody. Her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) is the fiercest of them all, the greatest warrior the Amazons have ever known, and she’s in charge of training. Though Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) wants to protect her daughter and extend her childhood, Antiope teaches Diana in secret. Themyscira is hidden from mankind, but you never know when the enemy might arrive. Themyscira is lush and beautiful. Filmed on location in Italy, the production is fantastic. The opening scenes where the diverse population of Amazonian women are all training with Antiope are gorgeous. The fight choreography is top notch, with particular sequences slowed down to showcase athletic feats. But we all know utopia can’t last forever, and as soon as Diana (Gal Gadot) is grown, one man does penetrate their paradise: a pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is shot down in their waters. Diana saves him from the wreckage but they’re pursued by Germans. An epic battle between Amazons and Germans unfolds on the beautiful beaches of Themyscira. The Amazons fight unlike anything anyone has ever seen, but the Germans are armed with guns and the Amazons suffer loss. Steve Trevor tells the women that the world is at war (WWI to be exact) and that millions of lives have already been lost. Aghast, Diana swears to accompany him back to where he came from so she can help bring peace, as is her sacred duty.

What did I hate so much about these first 20 minutes that sound so well crafted? I hated that it made me cry, and more than once. I wasn’t prepared to feel so emotional seeing Themyscira, a mythical land only for women, where all these badass ladies are just going about their business. I’ve never seen that on the screen before, and I thought: so this is what men feel when they watch a movie, when they see images of themselves being heroes. I felt proud, and moved. Each woman is highly capable and specialized but in WONDER WOMANbattle, there is no ego; they work together. The costumes are not sexualized as I feared, but instead they highlight muscular shoulders and toned legs. There can be no doubt that the Amazons are capable of truly anything. The fight sequences are among the best you’ve ever seen, the hand-to-hand combat precisely choreographed with as much grace as intensity. And it made me cry to see it. And I felt ashamed to cry, as a woman in 2017, ashamed that it’s taken this long to see a woman successfully take up the mantle of hero, and a woman behind the camera as well, capably directing a tentpole film. Patty Jenkins has so much unfair pressure placed on her shoulders but she’s made a movie that’s close to perfection, that far surpasses anything the DC Extended Universe has produced so far.

After such a soundly convincing start, I could relax and enjoy the rest of the film as intended, feeling confident that my entire gender wouldn’t be blamed if this movie was anything less than spectacular. It is fucking spectacular. Wonder Woman, though never called that in this movie, is a sight to behold. Gal Gadot is well-cast, which has proven to be of utmost importance in these franchises. We have to believe that she is a hero. Her comedic timing works just as well as her dramatic turns. And she’s got great chemistry with Chris Pine.

Wonder Woman is long overdue for a stand-alone movie as she is truly a phenomenal Chris-Pine-and-Gal-Gadot-in-Wonder-Woman-moviesuperhero. The action sequences in this film are among the best, a delight to watch, full of energy, strength and ferocity, as good and frankly better than the stuff we we’ve seen from other comic book movies lately. And arguably, the reason she’s so strong is because she welcomes her softer side. Believing in fighting honourably, while looking your enemy in the eye, Diana never picks up a gun. She runs toward machine guns with only a shield and her cuffs to protect her. And she fights from a place of love. Not duty, not fury, not patriotism or revenge. She fights because she loves. Male superheroes seem to think that love is a weakness, but Wonder Woman knows better: love is the greatest motivator you could ever have.

TIFF: All I See Is You

All I See Is You is a movie I wish I could unsee.

Blake Lively plays a woman blinded in a childhood accident. Her husband dotes on her, and in the first few scenes of the movie, director Marc Forster wants to experience her perceptions. Film is of course a visual medium, but as she and her husband have sex, we focus on different sensations – on the all-i-see-is-you-review-blake-livelysheets, on his hands, their breathing, the sounds drifting in from outside, the memories that keep cropping up. It’s a strong enough start but when she becomes a candidate for surgery that would restore her eyesight, things start to shift.

The story shifts. It’s not just her life that changes as a seeing woman, but his as well. Both struggle to redefine themselves. But now that her vision is restored, I found the film harder to follow. In fact, I didn’t follow it. Afterward, momentarily blinded by the sun upon exiting the dark theatre, Sean and I compared notes and found that neither of us could account for some strange occurrences in the movie. I was willing to believe that I was just tired and bored and inattentive, but since both of us failed I’m more inclined to blame it on bad film making.

As Blake’s vision begins to focus, she sees cracks in her marriage. Neither she nor her husband (Jason Clarke) could have anticipated the cobwebs they’d find in the corners of their relationship. And as much as she’s maybe not digging the dynamic in her marriage, she’s definitely into what she sees in the mirror! A dye job and a push-up bra are top priorities, and I’m sure her corneal transplant surgeon (Danny Huston) feels very gratified. The film continues to present images that are a little surreal, paired with incongruous sound that represent the disparity in her experience. Some of it is a little too obvious and some of it’s way out of left field. Like if you take a left at the hot dog cart behind left field, keep going pass the overflowing garbage can with all the bees buzzing around it, and head for the 3rd red Buick in the parking lot, that’s maybe where this stuff came from. And that’s me being generous because in my hard little heart I still believe some of this stuff was slotted in just to see if we were paying attention.

Her husband definitely prefers her submissive and dependent, and things crumble when she’s suddenly strutting her hot stuff all by her lonesome. But I can’t quite feel a lot of empathy such a vain and selfish character. There’s nobody here to root for, not even the dead bird stuffed mysteriously down a glass bottle in the refrigerator (?). I don’t think there is any saving this movie, but Lively definitely doesn’t have the chops for it. If I’d had an inkling that Sean was finding All I See Is You just as painful as I was, I would have organized a walk-out.