The last few weeks of January are usually a dumping ground for studios to unload movies they don't quite know what to do with. But once every so often, a gem will be buried among the muck. And despite early predictions expecting a fairly weak box office this weekend, there is one film that is absolutely worth checking out.
Here are reviews of the new films opening in theaters this weekend, Jan. 25, 2019:
"Stan and Ollie"
The famous cinematic comedy duo Laurel and Hardy finally get their due, in the heart-warming, touching, "Stan and Ollie."
Steve Coogan plays Stan Laurel, the comedic brain behind much of the duo's most famous work. John C. Reilly - under heavy-prosthetics and a fat-suit - plays his loyal confidant Oliver "Babe" Hardy. While the movie begins by giving us a glimpse into their lives at the height of their fame, it focuses mainly on the later stages of their career, far after their Hollywood stock had fallen, with the pair dealing with the realities of life after stardom.
For those not in the know, Laurel and Hardy were the most famous comedic actors of their time, appearing in over 100 films together from the late 1920s and into the 1950s. They most famously worked with producer Hal Roach (portrayed in this film by Danny Huston) on many of their classic films. But what makes them unique is not just what they managed to accomplish on-screen, but how their friendship endured and deepened off-screen as well, all the way until Hardy's death in 1957. Laurel would die eight years later, during which time he made zero films and had zero performances because he refused to work without his lifelong professional partner. In fact, as this film points out, Stan Laurel continued to write material and bits for Laurel and Hardy up until the time of his death.
It was a great choice to set "Stan and Ollie" at a time late in their career, where the two signed up for a tour of performances across Europe, with the hopes that they would be able to raise enough money to fund one more picture, a Robin Hood-themed comedy. By focusing on this part of their lives, the movie is able to more closely examine the relationship between the two men, and even the dynamic between the two men's wives (Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda, respectively). While the movie is a love letter to the duo at its center, it also shows that things were not always smooth sailing. For as much as the film honors the legacy of Laurel and Hardy, it also points out their shortcomings and their dependency on one another both personally and professionally.
"Stan and Ollie" manages to fit in several - if not all - of their most famous comedic moments, and it's the sort of film that will leave you smiling for hours. John C. Reilly is magnificent as Hardy, but Steve Coogan is equally and subtly brilliant too...his performance as Stan Laurel goes way beyond imitation, and he is the emotional heart of the film. While it may feel a bit too light and slight at times, "Stan and Ollie" is a fitting tribute to the classic comedians, but it's also a timeless tale of friendship, love and bonds between us.
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama. Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes.
Starring: John C Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Rufus Jones.
Directed by Jon S. Baird ("Filth," "Cass").
Sometimes there is good reason that a film gets a late January release date, in the midst of winter where films often go to die. A great example of this is the new thriller "Serenity." Rarely has such a star-studded cast been devoid of any sparkle.
Matthew McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a sea captain of a tour boat, who is singularly focused on reeling in his personal Moby Dick, a giant tuna he dubs "Justice." When his ex-wife (Anne Hathaway) shows up, she tries enlisting him in a scheme to murder her new husband (Jason Clarke), who is verbally and physically abusive to not only her, but to Baker's estranged son (Rafael Sayegh). Rounding out the cast is Diane Lane as Baker's current love interest, Djimon Hounsou as his first mate, and Jeremy Strong, as a mysterious business man who keeps showing up, trying to track down Mr. Dill for reasons we aren't quite sure of.
Despite the star-power, "Serenity" is lost at sea. It relies heavily on a major plot twist that is revealed about half-way through the film, but it feels more like narrative manipulation than anything else. To properly critique the film, one would have to dive into the implausible framework of the story, but no spoilers here. Let's just say that it makes little to no sense, and instead of the twist deepening the film's meaning or shedding new light on the characters we've come to know, it ends up rendering the entire premise completely meaningless.
"Serenity" tries to reel you in, but this one is just dead in the water.
Genre: Drama, Thriller. Run Time: 1 hour 46 minutes.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong.
Written and Directed by Steven Knight ("Locke," "Redemption").
"The Kid Who Would Be King"
This movie was not reviewed but is in wide-release this weekend.
Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy. Run Time: 2 hours.
Starring: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Denise Gough, Tom Taylor, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.
Written and Directed by Joe Cornish ("Attack the Block").
All of these movies open Friday, Jan. 25th, 2019. Check here for show times.
Movies opening next weekend include: "They Shall Not Grow Old" and "Velvet Buzzsaw."
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