Stan and Ollie: Movie Review.


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What an unexpected joy this delightful ensemble piece is.  An ensemble, how can it be an ensemble when it’s a ‘biopic’ of arguably the world’s funniest double act?

The reason is because the supporting cast, principally the wives (Shirley Henderson as Mrs Hardy and Nina Arianda as Mrs Laurel) along with showbiz impresario Bernard Delfont, played beautifully by Rufus Jones, all add such colour and magic to what is already two show-stopping performances that the whole adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts.

It’s curiously unfunny actually, indeed it’s the opposite.  It’s a sentimental trip through the sad “where are they now years’ of Laurel and Hardy’s final variety theatre British tour in 1953, 16 years after their final movie in 1937.

The tour opens to empty houses (prompting notions of them being ‘has-beens’ and could have led to mawkish self pity but the writing team avoid that trap).

But the tour gradually builds momentum, through some pretty onerous publicity marketing stunts, and pretty much in the same way as the movie builds in its confidence.

I found the movie hard to get into initially – I think perhaps one is initially overly absorbed in Steve Coogan (Stan) and John C. Reilly’s (Olly) impersonations.  But once you’re over that, and have realised that their performances are actually magnificent, I  relaxed and became immersed in the story.

And, you know, it’s terribly, terribly sad.  Although the tour grows in its success their relationships and their health suffer considerably.

It turns out that Stan has been harbouring a grudge since the late 1930’s, when Olly made a film without him.  Hal Roach having contractually split the pair.  Did this mean they were just doing a job together?  After all it was Hal Roach that teamed them up.  they weren’t a ‘thing’ before that.  Indeed Stan had even performed with the great Charlie Chaplin.

This leads to some momentous moments of real emotion that had me choking back the tears.

It’s beautifully shot, with a lovely period feel, despite its obviously low budget.

The direction, by Jon S. Baird, is out of the top drawer, again surprisingly so because his CV doesn’t suggest this is his kind of thing at all.

The interplay between the two wives is actually the funniest part of the movie.  Henderson is kind and supportive to Oliver Hardy; Arianda is a Russian trophy wife, played for laughs, but contained.  She also has a great affection for her husband, Stan.  They are both brilliant and the movie wouldn’t be what it is without them.

All in all, an absolutely tremendous lesson in acting with Coogan putting in a career-best shift.

Very highly recommended.  Take Kleenex.

 

 

Can you ever forgive me? Movie review.


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In which we discover, if proof were needed, that Richard E. Grant (it’s Esterhuysen in case you wondered) only really does Richard E. Grant.

The literary fraud story is spun out a little too long but does make for an excellent vehicle to show off the acting talents of Melissa McCarthy who is almost unrecognisable.  Not to quite the same extent as Patricia Arquette in Escape at Dannemora, but not far off.

The movie cracks along at a fair old pace in Acts I and II but sadly outstays its welcome towards the end.  It tells the story of failed writer and drunk, Lee Israel, who stumbles into a career of writing forged letters by the likes of Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward.  Indeed she writes better Dorothy Parker letters than Dorothy Parker.

There’s several laugh out loud lines in a movie that passed the time but, apart from McCarthy’s excellent turn will quickly be forgotten.

 

 

 

If Beale Street Could Talk: Movie Review.


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Only 48 hours ago my wife and I belatedly watched the Oscar-winning Moonlight (a very odd choice for the best movie Oscar in my opinion), also written and Directed by Barry Jenkins.  Today we saw Jenkins’ follow up. Across the two movies it’s notable that Jenkins doesn’t do ‘action’,as both are glacially paced.  He also doesn’t do white actors.  There are none at all in Moonlight and only 3 or 4 in Beale Street.

Visually, Beale Street is stunning.  Jenkins is not left down by his cinematographer, James Paxton, who was also shot Moonlight.  This has moments of jaw-dropping beauty, and in Kiki Layne and Stephen James he has two faces that make for simply beautiful close ups.  In creating a love story Jenkins has certainly cast a couple that you truly believe are besotted with another, and that is both sweet and charming.

The movie also boasts am excellent soundtrack that has an epic central theme and a great deal of jazz to create mood where dialogue is in short supply.

But the movie is letdown by a pretty unengaging story, some very dense dialogue (it’s famine or feast in that respect) that is virtually indecipherable in places and central performances by the star struck lovers that are more lovely than moving.

The only performance that, for me, leapt off the screen was that of the mother of Kiki Layne, Regina King.  It is nuanced, engaging and powerful and she deserves the recognition she is getting.

This is a year of huge black movies: Black Panther, BlackkKlansman, Green Book and this, all of which have been heavily nominated at The Oscars and BAFTAs.  Of the four through it’s only Spike Lee’s terrific KKK movie that does it for me.

It’s slim pickings in the best movie department in 2019.  Roma is a terrible bore, The Favourite is excellent, but is Lanthimos’ third best feature.  For me the movie of the year is Cold War with The Favourite and A Star is Born close behind.  Not this, that’s for sure.

Free Solo: Movie review (documentary).


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The poster reads “in theatres this fall”. Let’s hope that’s not a prediction.

And breathe…

Leaving the film theatre finally allows your diaphragm to return to normality because the final thirty minutes of this monumental documentary is like being put through the worst nightmare Alfred Hitchcock could ever have dreamed up.

You see, you’ve just witnessed Alex Honnold attempt the first ever solo rope-free ascent of the 3,000foot high El Capitan cliff face in Yosemite National Park.

Apple Mac Users will know it as that home screen on a recent Mac Operating System.

This one!

os-x-el-capitan-mac-007.jpgBefore the attempt Honnold was a legend of free climbing in the mountaineering community.  Now, he is simply a legend.

This National Geographic Doc (that has been Oscar nominated for best feature length documentary) works on four levels;

  1. Understanding Honnold’s psyche
  2. Watching, slightly voyeuristically, the development of the relationship with his first relatively long-term girlfriend, Sanni McCandless. (He reveals the L word was never used in his family life and he struggles with it.)
  3. The climb
  4. The filming of the climb by his support team, led by director, Jimmy Chin.

Each component is critical in making the film add to up to more than the sum of its parts.

But it’s the climb that is the centrepiece, for obvious reasons, and the camerawork of Chin, Matt Clegg, Clair Poplin and Mikey Schaefer is like nothing you will ever have seen in your life.

And there, standing erect, brooding, terrifying, is El Capitan at the heart of it all.

Defiant.

This is boy’s own stuff on a truly grand scale, but it is a film with a heart too and I loved every second of it.  It will be some feat to beat this at The Kodak Theatre in March.

100% recommended. 10/10.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance: Book Review


6dd2691efe3dd93d052f16345fe4364badd03c26-book.jpgI wanted to like this ‘ornery Joe memoir.  I really did.

It started reasonably well with a recounting of JD’s childhood in Hillbilly country; Ohio and Kentucky specifically and in the Appalachian Mountains precisely.

Brought up in a small town called Middletown known locally as Middletucky, because it’s ‘in the middle of Kentucky’ this is a story about JD’s remarkably impoverished childhood with a narcotics abusing mother, a hugely aggressive grandmother and a series of stepdads.  It’s not easy.

JD had an unremarkable schooling largely due to the string of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that he had to endure. But several stars aligned to help him escape this awful childhood, firstly his grandparents, then the marines, then college and finally an unlikely entry to Yale where he studied law and walked into a high level job.

So it’s got to be a can’t put down page turner, right?

I’m sorry to say it isn’t.  The early momentum that Vance establishes gradually turns into a bit of a lecture about poverty, lack of opportunity and just downright dull storytelling.

It needs judicious editing because even though it’s not very long it becomes a Groundhog Day read with endless reploughing of the same old furrow.

By the end I was bored to tears and most of my sympathy had deserted me.

I can’t recommend this, although the sentiment is admirable.

Also, the front cover puff suggests insights into both Brexit (Brexit? It’s set in Rust Belt America) and Trumpism.  Trump isn’t even mentioned.

 

 

 

BlacKkKlansman: Movie Review. A spike Lee Joint.


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Kaboooooooom!

That’s the sound of Spike Lee returning with a bang.

Lee’s work has been lean pickings for me since his heyday in the late 80’s and early 90’s with movies like Do the Right Thing and She’s Gotta Have It.

But the rest of his cannon (maybe through ignorance on my part) has failed to engage me.

But this almost nails it.

My one overall criticism is that, at times, I’m not sure if Lee wants to make a comedy or a searingly monstrous docu-drama.

For me the hate he brings to the screen out punches the comedy 10:1.

Two characters in the movie should have been booted into touch: both are lampoons and detract from what is otherwise a great whole.  These are the hate-filled racist local cop (Officer Clay Mulaney) and the KKK sidekick Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser – hilarious in a similar slapstick role in I Tonya, but misplaced here).

They are minor distractions but become grit in your eye, detracting from the overall menace and subtle humour surrounding a subject that is far from humorous.

What Lee does with this is face up, full on, to the endemic prejudice that fuels the police force and the local white population in small town Colorado.

He creates a sense of time and place that is authentic and cool man. As you would expect from a Spike Lee Joint the black cast are dealt most of the best hands, but Adam Driver (as a Jewish cop – only one step removed from being black in this chapter of the KKK’s eyes) performs an excellent supporting role as the white man who infiltrates the KKK on behalf of his black colleague (John David Washington).

You’ll know the plot constuct by now so I won’t bore you with that.

What makes it a great movie is the sense of time, place and politics, the soundtrack and the unflinching ability of Lee to capture the racist poison that is encapsulated in the performance of Jasper Pääkkönen as Felix Kendrikson; by far the most committed and cynical of the Klansmen.  And yet it is underpinned by nice comedic moments (other than the slapstick I described earlier).

There’s a scene in which the Chapter watch a screening of Birth of a Nation where, although underpinned by some humour, that hatred really does come across compellingly.  It’s chilling.

It’s a great (true) story that is extremely well told.

At times the cinematography is truly outstanding – in particular the scene in which a visiting black political speaker (Kwame Toure, played by Corey Hawkins) addresses the local black student population.  Lee creates a montage of faces from the crowd that echoes Queen’s seminal Bohemian Rhapsody video but so stylistically and handsomely that it’s art on screen for just a few fleeting moments.

It’s seared on my mind.

Recommended.

Roma: Movie Review.


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Choices.  a) watch paint drying or b) fast forward to 75 minutes.

In the light of today’s BAFTA nominations I had to pull my socks up and watch Roma.

I started it before Christmas but I wasn’t in the mood, it seemed a little dull at the time. But that was probably the time of year I thought.

Nope.

Tonight I endured its full effect.  All 135 minutes of it.

The first 80 made some of the French New Wave’s slower stuff seem like Prodigy videos.

But it got better.

Seriously, I have had more fun in my first job, in which I spent 72 hours extracting staples from booklets.

It is colossally slow.

Literally NOTHING happens.

We see a lot of planes fly overhead and we see a lot, and I mean a LOT, of dogs wandering aimlessly; farm dogs, stray dogs, domestic dogs, stuffed dog heads (that was a good bit).  The star dog defecates in an unprecedented manner.

It takes us through Cleo’s – the main protagonist – pregnancy, seemingly in real time.

This is not new territory for Alfonso Cuaron.  Here’s what I wrote about his previous feature, Gravity, in 2013.

It is exciting from time to time.  But in between the exciting bits (whisper this) it’s a little bit boring.

Just a little bit.  But.  It. Is. A. Little. Bit. Boring.

But Roma takes boring to Golgothan proportions, to an art form that has no equal.  We’re talking stumbling into monochrome art films in art galleries that you walk out of, relieved that you aren’t obliged to sit through any more, after about 12 seconds.

But, heavens above, after about 75 minutes suddenly a great 50 minute featurette emerges from this torpid cocoon and transmogrifies into what a cinematic treasure.

It’s bewildering.

We’re talking games of two halves here like no other.  It’s like a football match that’s 0-0 at half time with no shots on target, no corners, throw-ins, bookings.

No anything,.

Followed by the first third of the second half with more of the same, until six substitutions are made simultaneously and the match ends 7 all.

The transition really is that dramatic.

I won’t bore you with the plot (there is none) or the technical details (Cuaron did everything except dolly grip operator – and I’ll tell you what, the Dolly Grip was a busy bunny as Cuaron has more pan shots than a series of Jamie Oliver TV shows).

Cuaron LOVES A PAN SHOT!

So, do yourself a favour.  Fast forward to 70 minutes and start watching from there.

You’ve only missed a pregnancy.