“The Upside” is a wonderful feel-good flick. It isn’t a two-hanky event but you might want to have one handy just in case.
Bryan Cranston plays Phillip. He’s fabulously wealthy. A parasailing accident left him a quadriplegic. As such, he needs care 24/7. Enter Kevin Hart’s Dell. He’s on parole and needs to find work or he’s going back to the slammer.
Phillip isn’t happy with his care, or his condition and wants to die. He thinks maybe hiring the obviously not qualified Phillip will get him his wish. But the two men bond and each offers the other things missing from their lives.
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Nicole Kidman — who’s in a lot of movies these days — plays Phillip’s business manager who is adamantly opposed to Dell’s hiring. Predictably, she thaws. Also needing thawed is Dell’s ex-wife and estranged son.
Cranston, Hart and Kidman have incredible chemistry. It’s a big part of why the movie works. We all know that Cranston has incredible acting talent. The same knowledge applies to Kidman. However, Kevin Hart is mostly seen in unfunny comedies. Like contemporaries Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, when given a chance to actually act, Hart comes through.
As it turns out Hart has outstanding dramatic acting chops. He’s so good at a straight role that he ought to fire his agent the next time the suggestion comes up to do a dumb comedy.
Insert groan here. There isn’t a downside to “The Upside.” At the same time, it’s not quite as good as the 2011 French flick upon which it is based.
“The Intouchables” is the title. It’s a bit more serious, and a little darker. While “The Upside” is a bit more Hollywoodized, the two films are essentially the same, based-on-truth, story. Both also — once the credits roll and you learn the two men remain friends — leave you with an ear-to-ear smile.
▪ Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It’s playing at the AMC Kennewick Classic 12, the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
▪ Rating: 4 out of 5
‘On the Basis of Sex’
In the 1960s, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was at the forefront of the push to get rid of discrimination based on sex. The film’s focus is on one of her early victories. She and her husband Marty did battle on behalf of Charles Moritz who was denied a tax credit for hiring health care help for his ailing mother.
The Ginsburg’s won the case in the U.S. Court of Appeals. How they won it is the subject of this movie.
Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”) stars as Ginsburg, Armie Hammer (“Call Me by Your Name”) plays Marty and “Bad Times at the El Royale’s” Cailee Spaney gets the nod as their daughter Jane. It is her dedication to feminism, and how things were changing in the streets in the 1960s, that inspired Ginsburg to find a way to move that change along.
Or so says the movie.
As you know, movies are often pumped up for dramatic purposes. That might — or might not — be the case here. The film is written by Daniel Stiepleman. He’s Ginsburg’s nephew and ought to know.
Or at least he has inside family information.
Jones is a very good actress. Stiepleman’s script and director Mimi Leder (“Pay it Forward”) don’t give Jones much to do but look like she just popped out of an episode of a 1950s sitcom. She’s way too up, way too smiley and way too stylized.
Articles I’ve read say Ginsburg likes the movie but argues that she didn’t freeze during the oral arguments in court. The brain-fart is done — no-doubt — for dramatic effect and the expected rousing, victorious climax.
In court, I might argue “On the Basis of Sex” is predictably schmaltzy. It never misses an opportunity to look and sound cliche. By the time you — and the film — get to the court scenes, your own judgment will likely be to declare the movie a mistrial.
▪ Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Queensgate 12 and at the AMC Kennewick Classic 12.
▪ Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5
‘If Beale Street Could Talk’
“If Beale Street Could Talk” is set in early 1970s Harlem and is the story of 19-year old Tish Rivers and her 22-year old boyfriend Fonny Hunt. Their relationship blossoms during the heavy racial tension of times. At the point where it looks like they’ll marry, he gets arrested for rape and is jailed.
Fonny is innocent and framed for the crime by a crooked cop.
On a visit to Fonny, Tish tells him she’s pregnant and promises he’ll be out of jail and at home by the time the baby is born. The wheels of justice — especially for a young black man in 1970s New York City — turn slowly.
The film points out in the 1970s black meant automatically guilty so when justice turned, it often turned negative.
By the way, while the struggle of Tish and Fonny and their families is told with the ugly racial tones of the times lying underneath, “If Beale Street Could Talk” is a love story. It is brilliantly told in a series of flashbacks and flash forwards by writer/director Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”).
His script is based on a 1974 novel by James Baldwin.
Jenkins’ sophomore effort is even more impressive than the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning Moonlight. Jenkins has a restless camera. In parts of the film he shoots closeups of his actors and then moves the camera from one to the next and back. It focuses attention on the deeper parts of his dialogue.
Those scenes and others are done in a way that feels more like a play on a stage than a movie. They — like the dialogue — offer up a powerful picture.
On Sunday night, Regina King — who plays Tish’s mom — won the Golden Globe for best supporting actress. The film picked up a best motion picture drama nomination and a best screenplay nod for Jenkins. I agree King is very, very good but the best acting in film is done by KiKi Layne who plays Tish.
She quietly and skillfully runs up and down an emotional ladder. Tish is quiet, reserved, strong on the surface but underneath the uncertainty of what will happen to the love of her life and their child is an enormous struggle.
It’s a performance that deserved more notice. The movie ought to get more notice, too. No doubt it will get an Oscar nomination for acting, the screenplay and maybe even the directing. Is it the best film of last year’s crop. No. But yes.
Like Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” once you see it, the movie is one of those that stays with you and that you can’t get out of your mind. You’ll have to decide but to me, that’s best picture territory.
▪ Rated R for mature themes, language and brief nudity. It’s playing at the AMC Kennewick 12.
▪ Rating: 5 out of 5