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

1 Comment

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: ‘Despicable Me 3’ Plays to Its Strength Just Often Enough

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Universal and Illumination

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

Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Pierre Coffin, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel

Directors: Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: PG for Off-Color Minionese Jokes

Release Date: June 30, 2017

“I miss the Minions,” Gru laments about halfway through Despicable Me 3. Ever since the 2010 release of the first in this series, missing the Minions could only ever be relative. But when those little yellow pills are not on screen, you feel it. They may be divisive, inspiring just as much ire as they do unbridled joy, but there is good reason why they have been the breakout characters. As much as they inspire little kids (and some adults) to babble incessantly in Minionese, they are not lacking in ingenuity. Indeed, their moments in the spotlight continue to be the most imaginative, inventive, and playful in the DM-verse. When in DM3 they stumble into a live singing competition and are forced to come up on the spot with a signature babbling version of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” their versatile ability to think on their feet is as inspiring as ever.

Alas, this buoyancy is not present throughout, as directors Pierre Coffin (also the voice of most of the Minions) and Kyle Balda and writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio commit the cardinal sequel sin of splitting up their characters into dispersed storylines. Gru (Steve Carell, having a ball as always), Lucy (Kristen Wiig), and the girls all head out to the European mash-up/Marx Brothers reference country of Freedonia to meet Gru’s long-lost twin brother Dru (Carell pulling double duty), but everyone has their own thing going on. The much more outwardly charming Dru tries to pull Gru back into a life of villainy to fulfill a family legacy, while Lucy is more focused on getting the girls (who have their own subplots that have essentially nothing to do with anything else) to really truly think of her as a mom.

The Minions’ storyline succeeds the most by following an instinct of loyalty and getting everyone back together. Dru is not the only one trying to drag Gru back to a life of crime, as his little yellow assistants commence an insurrection that results in a mass resignation. They ultimately wind up imprisoned (if you love the Minions, you will love seeing them become the ruling jailhouse gang), where they see the error of their ways and craft an impromptu aircraft out of prison toilets and washing machines. There’s that ol’ Minion ingenuity, implemented for the purpose of absurd goodness.

This is a busy movie, leaving little room for its ostensible villain to make much of an impression. This series has never really needed strong antagonists, as its most interesting conflicts have been more internal. But with the heroes all now mostly on the side of good, it would help if diamond thief Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) were more of a complementary counterpoint. Instead, he is just a bizarre presence sticking out like a sore thumb, with his defining characteristic being his fetishization of the ’80s.

There is a weird tension at the heart of Despicable Me 3. So much happens, but so much is left teased. The ending suggests that this has been one 90 minute-long trailer for the next real Dru-centric adventure. But really, the problem here is that there is not a strong enough capitalization on this series’ enduring sweetness. The girls are adorable, they love Gru, Gru’s a great dad, Lucy never needed to try so hard to be accepted, and the Minions are so, so loyal. Everyone is on the same side, thus why it is such a shame that they are not all in the same scenes as often as possible.

Despicable Me 3 is Recommended If You Like: Cramming as Many Plotlines as Possible Into 90 Minutes

Grade: 3 out of 5 Minions Blowing Raspberries

This Is a Movie Review: If ‘The Dinner’ Has Its Way, You Will Lose Your Appetite

Leave a comment

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

Starring: Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Rebecca Hall

Director: Oren Moverman

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for Children Getting Up to No Good and Their Parents Yelling About It

Release Date: May 5, 2017 (Limited)

Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, and Rebecca Hall invite you to a very special evening. Coogan and his wife Linney are on their way to meet Coogan’s brother Gere and his wife Hall at the fanciest restaurant in town. Coogan is dreading the evening and would much rather stay home, but alas, there is no wiggling out. This is family, and there is an outstanding issue that must be addressed. Coogan is caught snooping around his son’s cell phone, so that should tell you something about what sort of father he is. It should also be noted that Gere is a politician in the middle of an all-consuming campaign, so that just gobbles everything in its vicinity.

The deal is that both couples’ teenage children have gotten themselves into extraordinary trouble. Far be it from me to reveal any specifics, as the film’s whole raison d’être is gradually revealing the details. But suffice it to say that the event in question has legal and ethical implications that are unavoidably disturbing. They are the kinds of consequences that no child should ever force their parents to face, especially when mental illness, the public eye, and years of seething resentment are in the mix. The formula is set for the most unpleasant outing ever for this foursome and for the audience. It is thrilling to watch a quartet of thespians like The Dinner’s volley vitriol back and forth, but ultimately this meal is more frustrating than anything else.

The Dinner is designed to be challenging, as any story with a clinically depressed character at its center should be. It is unreasonable to expect a cheerier arc, or even necessarily some possibility of relief. But what there ought to be is a chance for understanding. The structure consists of frame devices within frame devices, as flashbacks fill out the motivations forged over the past several weeks and the past several years and lifetimes. When in the outermost frame, The Dinner is naggingly difficult to pierce, but when it opens up to its deepest core, the viewer can say, “I accept you for who you are.”

The Dinner is Recommended If You Like: Having Your Stomach Knotted Like a Fist

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Courses