This Is a Movie Review: Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly’s High Regard for a Couple of Screen Legends Makes ‘Stan & Ollie’ a Gently Heartwarming Affair

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Danny Huston

Director: Jon S. Baird

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG for A Few Adult Arguments

Release Date: December 28, 2018 (Limited)

If you’ve ever thought that Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly should team up to play legendary screen duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, then you must be their biggest fans or their close friends. Stan & Ollie very much feels like a passion project, and it also has the vibe of a secret present, because who in 2018 would have ever thought to ask if anyone wanted to make this movie? Coogan and Reilly have their subjects’ signature gestures down pat, and various real life scenes play out with a charming blend of misanthropic physical comedy in the vein of heavy luggage sliding down a staircase. The year is 1953, and Laurel and Hardy’s cinematic glory days are well over and never to re-emerge, though Stan is hard at work writing a screenplay about Robin Hood and incessantly tracking down a producer. But to actually make some dough and earn some new laughs, they head out on a tour of live shows in Britain and Ireland.

The primary, low-key charm of Stan & Ollie is the culmination of two longtime companions realizing the depth of their connection. The pressures of the road lead to simmering resentments being aired out, but those blowouts clear the way for these two to reaffirm that they are more than just partners but are in fact true and loyal friends who might as well put on one more show for as long it can last. Their relationship is mirrored by that between their wives, who are often at odds with each other as they stand firmly in their husbands’ corners. It is the third marriage for both of them, but it appears that the third time’s the charm. Stan’s wife Ida (Nina Arianda) is a bit of a brassy steamroller, while Ollie’s wife Lucille (Shirley Henderson) is mousy but just as formidable. There is one especially heartwarming moment in the middle of a show when Ollie’s health troubles look like they will incapacitate him, but he looks at Stan for support and they are able to carry on; meanwhile in the audience, Ida and Lucille become a unified front as they lock hands. That is the sort of unity of spirit you hope to find in any major personal endeavor.

Stan & Ollie is Recommended If You Like: The real Laurel and Hardy presumably, Low-key showbiz biopics

Grade: 3 out of 5 Top Hats

This Is a Movie Review: Bong Joon-ho Wants ‘Okja’ the Super Pig to Be Your New Best Friend

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This review was originally published on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, Shirley Henderson

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: Not Rated, But Watch Out for Factory-Grade and Mano-a-Mano Violence

Release Date: June 28, 2017 (Theatrically in New York and Los Angeles/Streaming on Netflix)

There are some people who are perfectly fine with consuming animal products, and then there are others who are staunchly vegan. If a multinational conglomerate were to engineer adorable giant pigs to cure world hunger, I do not imagine that most people would change their stances. Nor, if his latest film Okja is any indication, does Bong Joon-ho. But we are not here to focus on the masses (save for a decadent prologue that establishes that they are here to lap up whatever innovation/new species is fed to them). This is a story about a girl and her super pig, and all the zany, brainy, insane-y forces of the world that get in her way.

It might be possible to find Okja – who looks like a land-dwelling hippo with big ol’ floppy ears and a stretched-out porcine face – completely adorable and still be okay with eating bacon. I know I certainly do. Or perhaps this film will convince to swear off all pork products forever. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, it cannot be denied that Okja’s young farmgirl companion Mija (newcomer Ahn Seo-hyun) has been done wrong in so many ways. Her grandfather sells Okja to the Miranda Corporation, which will purportedly parade her around as the winner of a Super Pig contest, but of course that is just a distraction away from how the sausage is made. A visit to the factory makes it look practically genocidal. A group of activists known as the Animal Liberation Front teams up with Mija to expose Miranda for what it really is, but their motives may not fully align with each other, as Mija just wants to take Okja back home. And taking it all back to the beginning, Okja and Mija’s friendship was practically engineered by Miranda for its marketability.

Despite how grossly its animal characters are treated, Okja is not about shaming its audience. Its purpose is holding up a cracked funhouse mirror to global capitalism. Or is it just a normal mirror? In which version do we ravenously consume faces and anuses? (They’re American as apple pie!)

Befitting a Bong Joon-ho film and a world in which people feel that they can get away with anything, the production design is a beautiful and lavish rainbow, but also probably extravagantly wasteful. The characterization is similarly outsized, with the heroes, villains, and half-hero/half-villains alike displaying a range of delectable behavior. As the braces-wearing Miranda CEO, Tilda Swinton is an anxious mix of demonstrating her power and proving that she does in fact have power. Her underlings include the preternaturally calm Giancarlo Esposito and the bizarrely squeaky-voiced flibbertigibbet Shirley Henderson. Jake Gyllenhaal is deep in character work as usual as a sweaty, shorts-sporting zoologist TV host. And as the head of the ALF, Paul Dano offers up scary commitment. His brand of ethics is admirable, but not above violent enforcement. Okja asks: do we really want to free the animals if it requires such militancy?

When the film gets into specifics, though, the questions are never that simple. It all rests on the shoulders of little Mija, who has the most clear-cut motivation of anyone. Her focus and resolve allow her to achieve her purpose, but it is not clear that that result makes the world a better place. What do we make of life when every individual story is a MacGuffin?

Okja is Recommended If You Like: Orphan Black, Free Willy, The Hunger Games

Grade: 4 out of 5 Magical Animals