This week, two highly entertaining movies in two very different genres have been released on video. Both are definitely worth checking out at home, either on disc or via your preferred streaming service.
The story of the aging, down-and-out rocker is all the rage in Hollywood right now, but the ones to follow–Meryl Streep’s soon-to-be-released Ricki and the Flash and Bill Murray’s presumed Oscar bait Rock the Kasbah–will both have to live up the high bar already set by Al Pacino’s Danny Collins.
Pacino plays the titular character, a one-time rock superstar now in the waning days of his career. After yet another over-the-top drug-and-sex filled birthday party, his long-time manager and friend (played by Christopher Plummer) presents Collins with a rare gift: a framed letter from John Lennon. It turns out that decades earlier, a young Collins, at the very start of his career, had given an interview to TIME in which he professed a love for the Beatles, which had prompted Lennon to write him and wish him well, but also included some advice: “Stay true to yourself. Stay true to your music.” The letter also, incredibly, included Lennon’s home number and a request that the two could discuss how to navigate the perils of fame and fortune. However, the editor of the magazine never passed the letter on to Collins, so he never knew how close he might have come to meeting his idol. He also felt that he had not in fact remained true to either himself or his music, but instead had sold out.
(It’s probably worth noting that the movie is based on the true story of British folk singer Steve Tilston, to whom Lennon wrote a letter very similar to the one in the movie, and which did actually include his home phone number, that remained lost for 34 years.)
This revelation leads Collins to question just about everything in his life, but most importantly his decision to not have any ties to his son, the result of a one night stand with a groupie. Determined to mend the errors of his past, he cancels his current tour and flies to New Jersey to attempt to forge a relationship with the son (Bobby Cannavale), daughter-in-law (Jennifer Garner), and granddaughter (Giselle Eisenberg).
The movie follows a fairly predictable path, but is rescued from itself by stellar performances from Pacino, Annette Benning (who plays the manager of the hotel Collins stays in), Cannavale and Garner. The movie is well written, beautifully shot, and thankfully not overly long. It’s also just the kind of movie that is sure to work just as well at home as it did in the theaters.
On the very opposite end of the spectrum from the emotional drama Danny Collins is the raunchy comedy Get Hard.
Will Farrell plays James, an exceptionally wealthy hedge fund manager for whom everything seems to be going right: he lives in an almost grotesque mansion in Beverly Hills, is engaged to a beautiful woman (Allison Brie), and is one his way up in his company (helped by the fact that the owner of the company is his fiancé’s father, played by Craig T. Nelson.)
Everything falls apart, however, when the FBI raids his home and office and charges him with fraud. He is quickly tried and convicted and sentenced to prison. But of course, being wealthy, he’s given time to put his affairs in order before he has to report to San Quentin, and so he decides to spend that time learning how to survive behind bars. To that end, he hires Darnell (Kevin Hart), the man who runs the car washing service in his office building. Because Darnell is black, James simply assumes that he has been to prison. Needing money to buy a nicer house in a better neighborhood so that his daughter can go to a better school, Darnell decides to go along with James’ racist and completely wrong assumption about him.
What follows is a very funny movie where James learns about life and of course himself. Having never been to prison, Darnell concocts a series of scenarios of prison life based on movies and TV shows. There’s a lot of slap-stick, which isn’t my normal brand of humor, but I found myself laughing at the movie more than I thought I would.
The film falls apart in the last act, when the writers spin it into a by-the-numbers crime tale to show that James wasn’t in fact a bad guy, but it’s not enough of a letdown to spoil the fun from the rest of the movie.