Reenactments in documentary film need to be done carefully without looking like a cheesy TV production — or omitted altogether. Errol Morris set a standard for the former in The Thin Blue Line, and Ken Burns for the latter. Three Identical Strangers misses the mark and would better have left them out.
Which points to the weakness in the film — I think better documentarians might have presented the material more poignantly. Still, the content here is powerful and profound. 7/10; sandwich between Crazy Rich Asians and Thoroughbreds on the 2018 List.
Comparison Notes (all recommended and better): The aforementioned Thin Blue Line, Making a Murderer, The Civil War, Searching for Sugar Man
First, a paean to Laurel & Hardy as the shining binary star of early Hollywood. I have fond memories going back to childhood of their short films, though they were much harder to come by on broadcast television than the ubiquitous Stooges. Laurel & Hardy were utter genius, and every time I think of them it still makes me smile.
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For Stan & Ollie to work, Coogan and Reilly had to nail Oliver Hardy & Stan Laurel. And — to the extent that it is knowable without consulting a scholar — they did. No easy task.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch Stan & Ollie, but I revisited the trailer and sensed that as well as providing insight into the legendary duo, the film would be touching — and it was, especially in the finish, which raised the film from a mostly-7 to 8/10. And I am happy to do so. I’m glad I went to the movies. It’s nice to watch a movie that makes you think and makes you feel. 2019 has set off on the right left foot. 8/10
UPDATE: Scratch that about 2019 setting off on the right left foot. Apparently Stan & Ollie is a 2018 film, which puts it in 5th place, behind Upgrade on the 2018 List. Never mind where and when it might have been released (see 2016 End Note).
My only issue with Welcome to Marwen is that it’s boring. Promulgating a scant storyline is the only crime I see being committed. The prurient choices so disturbing to many critics are, to the contrary, highlights of the film. Still, this disappointment from Robert Zemeckis is an easy skip-it. 4/10
Gus Van Sant has been an important figure in Hollywood going back nearly 30 years to Drugstore Cowboy, and made the Cinematic Greats Good Will Hunting and Elephant. Two Cinematic Greats by one director is quite an accomplishment. His latest movie, the biopic Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, contains some touching moments, but misses some obvious opportunities in telling its story — like focusing more on making the comics. The performances are terrific and spirited. A marginal recommendation with an extra helping of caveats, as this movie borders on being a slog and contains significant factual lapses that could only have improved the picture had they been correctly dealt with. 6/10
Hacksaw Ridge was directed by Mel Gibson, whose last two features were the remarkable milestones The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto. By comparison, this latest work ten years later falls short. It is overlong and a little sappy, but also does a decent job telling a compelling true WWII story with a bonus romantic set-up. An extra serving of caveats to go with my marginal recommendation; 6/10
Comparison Note: Saving Private Ryan
City of Gold is a fun film for foodies, and a refreshing chronicle of the ever-fascinating, eternal city of the angels. A nice little follow-up to last year’s Tangerine, if you will. From a documentary filmmaking point of view, no ground is broken, but the content is amply strong enough to propel the picture. Bethany Jean Clement for The Seattle Times:
It’s a testament to his (Jonathan Gold’s) prowess that the voice-overs of his writing are riveting; you may want to stop watching and just go read everything in his Los Angeles Times author archive. …While the film’s formula gets repetitive, little revelations peppered throughout keep it engaging. Gold’s the unlikely hero with the golden palate, but his work also involves obsessive scholarship and research, and if you don’t know about his background, surprises await.
I concur about this movie making you head over to LATimes.com to read his articles. A great little character study, and a nice break in the otherwise vapid movie season we find ourselves in. 7/10
Best of Enemies is a good documentary, but not a great one. Based on the production values alone, I might render a thumbs-down, but the content lifts it, and, by the end of the film, we realize it was all something of a sad affair, as both men pass on in bitterness. I’m not sure exactly how to have made the film better, but showing more of Buckley and Vidal duking it out might be a good start. Still though, if you like the trailer, you’ll find this worthwhile — and good for a few hearty laughs. 7/10
Comparison Note: Frost/Nixon