FlixChatter Review: STAN & OLLIE (2019)

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Review by Vitali Gueron

You don’t have to be a Laurel and Hardy expert to appreciate Jon S. Baird’s latest movie Stan & Ollie. The Laurel and Hardy biopic (released in late 2018 to qualify for OSCAR contention) is currently out at the Landmark Edina Theater in the Minneapolis area and further expanding in the coming weeks. The “picture” stars Stan Laurel (played by Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (played by John C. Reilly) as their careers have started to fade, and are being overshadowed by other acts i.e. Abbott and Costello, they embark on a music hall tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1953.

We first get a glimpse of Laurel and Hardy when they are making the 1937 Hal Roach picture Way Out West. Hal Roach (played by Danny Huston) refuses to give a fair contract to Laurel while Hardy remains tied to the studio on a contract that the studio refuses to terminate, forcing Hardy to make “pictures” without Stan Laurel but rather with other actors/comedians. Laurel calls Roach a “parvenu” meaning a person who got rich off others and has no class. As Laurel tells Roach in the movie; “look it up in the dictionary, Hall. There’s a picture of you!” Oliver Hardy is made to shoot the “elephant” film Zenobia with another comedian and Stan Laurel signs a new contract with Fox Studios, but without Hardy’s signature, the contact becomes null and void and leaves Laurel feeling betrayed by Hardy. Their bitter feelings would linger for years.

When we next see Laurel and Hardy in 1953, they are back together but are struggling to shoot another film together. The promise of the new film – a comedic adaptation of the classic Robin Hood made by a director impossible to get on the phone or find in person – is what gets the comedic duo in contract with producer Bernard Delfont (played by Rufus Jones). But Delfont’s poor pre-publicity means that their tour begins in almost empty theaters, ones that surely weren’t meant for the likes of Laurel and Hardy. Bernard Delfont was preoccupied with the publicity of his up and coming star Norman Wisdom, which caused Laurel and Hardy to have to create their own publicity while on tour. They made serval public appearances, which included judging a beauty contest in the UK seaside resort of Worthing. It is at this public appearance that Hardy collapses from a heart attack and is forced into bed rest.

The duo, having recently been reunited with their respective wives, Ida (played by Nina Arianda) and Lucille (played by Shirley Henderson), are set back with Hardy’s bed rest and Laurel’s refusal to perform the act with any other comedian. With the exception of all of the Lauren and Hardy scenes, the movie’s scenes with Ida Laurel, Lucille Hardy and Bernard Delfont are some of the most comedic scenes, pitting Ida and Lucille against each other and then Ida against Delfont whom she refuses to sit next to during shows and has to remind; “no touching!”

With Ollie Hardy having gotten some much needed rest, he decides that he must do one last show with Stan Laurel and the duo, along with their wives and Delfont, set sail for Ireland. As they arrive at the Irish harbor, they are arrived to great cheers and thunderous applause. Their show in Ireland is completely is sold out and their show is met by great appreciation and hailed as a triumph. While their Robin Hood movie is not meant to be, Laurel continues working on its script, even after Hardy’s death in 1957. As the “picture” reminds us at during the end credits, Stan continued to write sketches for Laurel and Hardy past Hardy’s death and also during the last eight years of his life.

The movie, even though a comedy, is full of bittersweet moments. They never get their happy ending by making one last “picture” and their lukewarm personal relationship is enough for the movie to end on a sorrowing note. While the acting of both Steve Coogan and especially John C. Reilly is masterful, the “what could have been” movements at the end of their careers make the movie much more dramatic than comedic. Both actors deserve to be recognized for their acting, but if there was any justice, Reilly should’ve been nominated for best actor by The Academy. Overall, this was a delightful “picture” of two comedic superstars in the sunset of their careers, filled with brilliant performances by the two leading actors.


Have you seen STAN & OLLIE? Well, what did you think? 

Animated Feature Spotlight: RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET + Interview with directors Phil Johnston & Rich Moore

Wreck-It Ralph AND Zootopia are two of my favorite recent Disney animated features, so when I got the chance to interview the filmmakers Phil Johnston and Rich Moore, I jumped at the chance!

Six years after the events of “Wreck-It Ralph”, Ralph and Vanellope, now friends, discover a wi-fi router in their arcade, leading them into a new adventure.

Ralph Breaks the Internet welcomes back to the big screen video-game bad guy Ralph and fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz. This time, they leave Litwak’s video arcade behind, venturing into the uncharted, expansive and fast-paced world of the internet—which can be both incredibly exciting and overwhelming, depending on who you ask.

What is it about the characters of Ralph and Vanellope that called for an encore? “Ralph and Vanellope are imperfect characters,” says Academy Award-winning director Rich Moore (Zootopia), who directed the original film.

“But we love them because of their flaws. Their friendship is so genuine—the chemistry between them so engaging—that I think we were all anxious to know more about these characters.” – Rich Moore

Phil Johnston (co-writer Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia,” writer of Cedar Rapids) was one of the screenwriters on Wreck-It Ralph and is back as a writer and also a director. “Ralph and Vanellope had only known each other for a short time, yet they became best friends and we love them for that,” says Johnston. “But it didn’t feel like their story was over—there were more adventures to be had. And Vanellope, in particular, was starting to come into her own.”


Ruth Maramis’ review:

I had just seen the movie a couple of days prior and I enjoyed it immensely! Ralph and Vanellope (voiced by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, respectively) are just as adorable and entertaining as ever, and they introduced a new key character Shank (Gal Gadot) a tough and talented driver in an intense online racing game called Slaughter Race. Setting their new adventure inside the crazy world of the Internet is absolutely brilliant. It makes for a surreal, dynamic and funny moments, but also gave the filmmakers opportunity for social commentary (even a satire) of the darker side of online activities and internet addiction, obsession of being the next viral star, and addiction to ‘likes’ on social media.

I love the character Yesss (voiced by Taraji P. Henson, the head algorithm of a trend-making website called BuzzzTube) which is obviously based on YouTube. The adventure really tested Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship, especially as Ralph’s insecurities gets out of control (literally). So yeah, I love that the movie doesn’t shy away from the bad side of the Internet, but still doing it in a non-preachy way. In the end, it’s still a fun family movie with a really good and relatable message about what friendship truly means. Visually it’s absolutely stunning, the colorful world of the Internet universe is mesmerizing, and the way the characters are ‘transported’ from one site to another is so fun and clever!

Oh and if you grew up watching Disney princess movies, you’ll definitely get a kick out of their scenes that turn the Mouse House’s legacy completely on its head! [see my last question about that very scene below] 😀

It was a ton of fun meeting both Phil Johnston and Rich Moore in person for a roundtable interview. They’re both really warm and cordial, and they’re so passionate about their work and the characters they’ve created.

So fun meeting Phil Johnston (left) and Rich Moore (right)

I’m including the Q&A from fellow interviewers Jared (from Man Versus Movie) and Chrysa (from Thrifty Jinxy). They’re clearly marked below as well as color-coded.


1. Jared: Aside from the established characters, there were new characters created specifically for this new universe Ralph and Vanellope are going into. Was there a concerted effort to go beyond the proven formula instead of falling into the trap of treading the same route of the original?

Taraji P. Henson voiced the character Yesss – the head algorithm of a trend-making website called BuzzzTube

2. Chrysa: I love the Internet as a physical place. How did you go about building that place?

3. Ruth: I’m curious about your background as voice actors – how did that experience affect you as writer and director of animated features? I know you worked together before in Zootopia, and I believe you also voiced some characters here in Ralph Breaks the Internet?

Rich: We do all the scratches

Phil: Yeah when we’re making the movie, we did it in storyboard form before things start getting animated so Rich and I do all the male voices and our co-writer Pamela Ribon and head of story Josie Trinidad did all the female voices. So when we showed things to our colleagues in the studio, it’d be just us.

Rich Moore elaborated further on his collaboration with Phil Johnston and why he should get directing credit in this sequel:

Inside the world of Buzzztube

5. Chrysa: I know you started writing this a while ago, after the first one (in 2014 was the first draft). Has there been a ton of changes and evolution to the story since then?

5B. Ruth: In relation to Chrysa’s question, I heard there was a version where Vanellope became a huge star on Buzztube?

6. Ruth: Ok here’s my actual question for you… You’re able to tackle something that dark and deep like racial prejudice, racism in Zootopia but packaging it in something entertaining. The same here with the world of the internet where it can be fun and lively but you also didn’t shy away from exposing the darker side of the internet like the dark web and all that. How did you work on those themes?

Rich elaborated about how that Comment Room scene inside Buzztube is so universally-understood.

The new characters of Slaughter Race

7. Jared: You’ve created these beloved characters in the previous film. What’s the thought process for you when you revisit them for the sequel. Are you nervous you’re going to be doing The Fox and the Hound 2 as opposed to Toy Story 2?

Phil: Rich always say there are more Jaws 2 than Godfather 2.

8. Chrysa: Besides the story being so good but visually it’s also really stunning. Seems that with every new Disney animation it goes up a step. Was there anything you wanted to do that wasn’t done before or was there anything you were inventing that was hard to actually get on to the screen?

9. Ruth: Given that I grew up watching Disney Princesses, I have to ask about that scene where the conventional themes are being turned in on their heads because now the princesses are the ones saving the big strong man. Did that storyline come up organically as you were developing this or did someone specifically say ‘we should comment on that?’

So congrats Phil and Rich! Ralph Breaks The Internet is definitely a great sequel that delivers an astute social commentary in a heartwarming, fun and delightful way!


Hope you enjoyed the interview! Have you seen RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET? If so, I’d love to hear what you think!

 

FlixChatter Review: The Lobster (2016)

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When I first heard of the premise of this film, I was already sold. Then I saw the trailer and I knew it’d be a bizarre film, but nothing could prepare me for how bizarre it turned out to be. The film is set in a dystopian near future where it’s unlawful to be single according to the laws of The City. So they’re taken to The Hotel where they have to find a romantic partner in 45 days or they’d be transformed into a beast of their choice and sent off into The Woods. You’d think that’d be easy but they have to find partners who share their unique characteristics.

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We first see David (Colin Farrell), a recently divorced architect and his dog who’s actually his brother who didn’t make the strict 45-day rule. Even the conversation with the hotel clerk is so off the wall you can’t help but laugh. Later on I realize that David is the only one who has a name in this film, the other characters are only credited with their unique traits, or you could also say affliction. Ben Whishaw is the Limping Man, John C. Reilly is the Lisping Man and so on. The fact that the film is played straight with the actors delivering the weirdest dialog in a deadpan way makes it so hilarious. I find myself chuckling at the sheer peculiarity of it all, but yet I know there’s more to this than just a series of outlandish scenarios.

The film is inherently a comedy but it’s not just frivolous silly movie, but it’s a clever and unique way to make you think of relationships. The first half of the film shows the strict rules and customs of The Hotel, managed by the always-entertaining Olivia Coleman. Then the second half takes place in The Woods where single-dom is celebrated and romantic/sexual activity is severely punished. I have to admit that the film seems to lose its footing a bit in the second half as it’s not as engrossing. It also grows more sinister and there’s a pretty violent scene that made me wince. In the Woods is where we meet its leader (Léa Seydoux) and the Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) with whom David forms an attachment.

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Now, to say more would be a disservice to those who haven’t seen this. I think it’s best going into this not knowing much about it other than the basic premise. The way things unfold is so amusing and it’s open to your own interpretation. Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos who co-wrote the script with Efthymis Filippou doesn’t spoon-feed you what he thinks about relationships. He doesn’t take sides on couple-dom vs single-ness, but he presents things in such a way that make you ponder about it for days. I really don’t know how I could survive in either scenario as there are dire consequences for your actions in both places. I appreciate Lanthimos’ style and this is certainly one of the most original concept I’ve seen. I’ve loved sci-fi concepts that’s more grounded in its presentation and the world the characters inhabit in this movie certainly looks plausible. The cinematography is beautiful with natural light and has a rather somber ambiance that stops just short of being morose. 

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The acting is brilliant all around. I’m most impressed with Farrell who’s perhaps at his most understated here. He looked so pudgy with a huge belly, a physical look I haven’t seen before as he’s not quite the shape-shifter like say, Christian Bale. His character is mostly passive and reflective, as he internalizes everything as he observes everything that’s going on around him. It’s quite interesting to watch his journey through the film, going from compliance to defiance to rebellion, right down to its ambiguous conclusion. Rachel Weisz is wonderful as always, she’s got many intriguing projects recently and she’s an actress I’ve grown to respect even more.

The finale proved to be rather frustrating and I think that’s what the filmmaker intended. It seems as if David was set out to do something really drastic, but the film ended before we know if went through with it. [SPOILER ALERT – highlight text to read the following sentence] As David brought a fork and knife, it seems to suggest he was going to blind himself so he’d share the same characteristic as the now blind Rachel Weisz, though I wonder why as he’s already escaped the strict confines of both The Hotel and The Woods.

Despite my frustration with some aspects of the film, I still have to give it top marks for originality and thought-provoking ideas. This is the first film from Lanthimos I’ve seen so far, but his previous films (Alps, Dogtooth) also have a peculiar concept. This is definitely unlike anything I’ve ever seen and I’m glad we have a filmmaker like him that pushes the envelope. I’d say if you don’t have an aversion to strange films, I highly recommend this one and you’d be glad you did.

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Have you seen ‘The Lobster’? I’m curious to hear what you think!