Stan and Ollie: Movie Review.


stan_laurel_oliver_hardy_-_h_-_1930s.png

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.

 

 

The Favourite: Film Review.


the-favourite.jpg

I am a big, big fan of Yorgos Lanthimos whose two previous deadpan comedic features (The Killing of a Scared Deer and The Lobster) are outstanding movies.

The feature of both of these movies is Lanthimos’ extremely black humour delivered in a unique style.

However, for The Favourite Lanthimos has taken a big decision in abandoning the scriptwriting and handing the duties over to Deborah Davis (her debut) and Tony McNamara (lots of minor TV but no cinema history).  It’s  strange choice of writing team because they don’t bring any previous to the mix, and neither are fresh-faced youths.  But what they bring is an entirely different tonality to Lanthimos’ work and that leaves him to focus on direction, with cinematography provided by Robbie Ryan, who made a big contribution (in my view) to American Honey.  Indeed, the cinematography is a major talking point after the writing.  Gone is Lanthimos’ naturalistic, almost clinical, lighting of the Lobster and “Deer” instead, although we again go au natural, it’s through a gloom of candle and fire light that renders the screen largely black for a great deal of its 2+ hours.

His frequent choice of extreme wide angle (almost fish eye) lens to capture the scale of the huge palace rooms is highly unusual in cinema and is much more like stills photography. One scene, shot in a long corridor, makes it look like a u-bend when in fact it is completely straight – unlike the principal characters!

But the real meat here is this terrific all female star line-up.  In the #MeToo era this is a real vote of confidence in female actors with attitude and sheer quality.  Come March it is entirely possible that all of the leads; Olivia Coleman (national treasure that she is), Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone will be career Oscar winners because Coleman’s performance is quite brilliant.  The other two already hold this distinction and each has a good chance of adding to their trophy haul.

Although, As Queen Anne, Coleman (who gained 2.5 stone top play the gout-ridden Queen’s part) is the designated lead the film is essentially a three player ensemble with some ineffectual men put into bat to be made to look ridiculous and, oh, they do in Sandy Powell’s outrageous costumes and Beverley Binda’s even more outrageous hair and make up.  (“You look like a dead badger’ Weisz tells the Queen as she sets out on a royal engagement.)

The story echoes All About Eve as Queen Anne’s favourite lady in waiting, and lesbian lover, Lady Sarah Marlborough, The Wife of the Duke of Marlborough who is leading the war with France, is gradually pushed out of favouritism by one time lady and now servant girl, Abigail (Emma Stone).  Although she does not go without  fight.

This is where the scriptwriting team get the nod to create a bawdy and vicious rivalry set in a Draughtsman Contract-esque world.

Overindulgence, poisoning and illness leads to all three leads vomiting at least once each, reflecting this world of excess.

The music track is at times intrusive, but to my mind in a good way; it’s a sort of early 18th Century version of Atticus Rose and Trent Resnor’s soundtrack to The Social Network.

What everyone is talking about is the lead performances. Each is supremely talented and each is given so much scope to truly flex their acting muscles that what results is an acting master-class.  In the trailer it seems like a knockabout farce but in reality the movie is actually quite slow paced with moments of true hilarity and enough foul language to shock some of our more prurient audience members.  That said, my wife who abhors the C-word volunteered that it was used to great effect several times in this.

The lesbian relationships Queen Anne enjoyed are worthy of note. In a life that saw her lose 17 children (5 still born and many miscarried) her tipping of the velvet was, apart from a bulimic relationship with food, one of her few pleasures.  Both Lady Marlborough and Abigail are adept in their duty to pleasure their monarch.

Coleman comes steadily into her own as the movie progresses.  The first half belongs to Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone plays a beautifully judged and paced part in which she will do anything to get ahead but in the end it’s Coleman who wins the day with the last 20 minutes belonging to her as she suffers the vagaries of her life.  Her portrayal of Queen Anne as a stroke victim is as good a performance as you will see anywhere this year.

It’s a fascinating movie, although I’m not convinced it’s quite as good as its hype.  That said, for lovers of history and lovers of Olivia Coleman it has to be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

A War of Two Halves by Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow, produced by This Is My Story and Nonsense Room: Theatre review


42ed64ce9e448607fb0e0060189a31e05f958a71-original-LST303654.jpg

I am celebrating the centenary of WWI’s Armistice Day with some ‘enthusiasm’.

Peter Jackson’s ‘They Shall Never Grow Old”  which premiered at The London Film Festival got the ball rolling to incredible effect a couple of weeks ago.  It is a must see.

And on Sunday I shall be attending a virtually sold out Far From Ypres at The Usher Hall in which my good pal Gary West will be taking to the stage as part of a celebrated ensemble.

Last night was the turn of theatre in a site-specific production held at Tynecastle Football Stadium.

As a lifelong Hibs fan attending a period drama that ‘celebrated’ Heart of Midlothian’s incredibly altruistic past had a degree of challenge.  It was clear that I was surrounded by a largely partizan audience.  But I’m bigger than that.  If these men could face ‘The Hun’ in the French trenches, I could pay my respect alongside my rivals.

And I’m very glad that I did.

45609693_10157260652699305_1280948402321883136_n.jpg

Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow’s play is a very fine thing indeed.  It was performed on the Fringe and has been timeously restaged in its original form for this monumental anniversary.

One of the potential problems this show faces is the way that some Hearts fans celebrate their team’s mass act of courage as a comparator.  No other team so unselfishly released their players from their contracts in such a way (13 players enlisted together to serve in McCrae’s Battalion, the 16th Royal Scots).

And that’s only part of the story.

Hearts were top of the league, having won 19 of their 21 games, when the mass exodus occurred.  They continued to play for the team, but on the back of strenuous army basic training that included long forced marches.  Their form inevitably slumped dramatically, through sheer exhaustion, and what should have been one of the greatest celebrations in Hearts’ history was dashed.

But what Beeson and Barrow have created is brilliant in this respect.  That achievement is duly noted but not at the expense of the competition.  It is far from vainglorious and largely avoids comparative narrative (indeed the contribution from other clubs is articulated clearly); rather it takes you into the souls of these young lads who fought for King and Country, sacrificing glory on the battlefields of Tyncastle, Ibrox, Celtic Park and Easter Road.

It’s beautifully acted throughout (although sadly no programme was made available so I have no idea who the cast was).

45665818_10157260833554305_6744926494016929792_n.jpg

A central character, one of the players and the narrator, leads us through the build up to the mass enlistment, glorying in Hearts’ impressive form.  This takes place in the new main stand to the sound of radio commentaries of the matches, before we traverse the stadium.  One scene is in the Home Players dressing room, another in the bar, several in the stands themselves before culminating in an achingly beautiful finale underneath the Gorgie Road stand in a makeshift bunker.  The final moments play out by the poignant War Memorial.

I’m sure, for many, this is an intensely moving experience. I found it highly dramatic and sympathetically presented.

There is no tub-thumping in this play.  There is a great deal of humour and the sound design and violin accompaniment by the sole female cast member is excellent and highly redolent of the time.

45743449_10157260957124305_8424924418093875200_n.jpg

Hearts, Hearts, Glorious Hearts features subtly (#HHGH) and is appropriate, without dropping the show’s standards..

The performances are roundly laudable, especially the leads but the ensemble do their part with merit.

This is another must see reflection on the Great War.  It has wonderful provenance, it’s superbly written and directed in what is both a stirring but challenging location.

Highly recommended.  But you’ll have to move quick if you want a ticket.

PS. The Last Days of Making featuring the Tiger Lilies at Leith Theatre (from Saturday) also looks pretty special.

They Shall Not Grow Old: Documentary Review by Peter Jackson.


They-Shall-Not-Grow-Old-still-1024x576.jpg

It’s only October and I have already seen two Oscar winning films.  This (for best documentary) and A star is Born for loads of things.

Months ago I bought a ticket for this special live (3D) screening of this BFI film from the London Film Festival featuring a post film interview between Peter Jackson (the most modest man in cinema) and Mark Kermode (the most adulatory)

I thought it would be special.

It was more than that.

It was a landmark.

It was actually a significant night in cinematic history, because what Peter Jackson has achieved here is unparalleled.

We’ve all seen colourised war footage.  It’s interesting, but in reality it’s a bit pants.

This is the real deal.  A step forward in technology driven by heart, emotion, passion, DNA.

In this truly remarkable documentary Jackson brings us footage from the WW1 front line trenches in a way that you can’t even begin to imagine.

First he restored hours of black and white footage to remove grain, scratches, burn marks etc.

Then he graded it.

Then he fixed all the film sprockets so they don’t jiggle about and blur.

Then, get this, he turned it all from a hotch-potch of 10/11/12/14/16 and 17 Frames per second into it all being 24 FPS.

This is not insignificant.

A 17 FPS film transferred to 24 frames needs to ‘find’ 7 frames.  It needs to create them, to fill in the gaps to make film flow as we expect.  How one does that I have no clue.  Frankly, neither does Jackson, but he knows people who were up to it and deliver on the challenge.

So, as Jackson puts it, we don’t see Charlie Chaplinesque war footage.  We see dignified film of soldiers in real time as our eye would compute it.  This is important because it makes it so real.

Then he, frame by frame, colourised the whole lot.

Then he put a team of lip readers onto it to work out what the soldiers were saying when they spoke to camera (in 1914-18 there was no film/sound recording).

Then he recorded both battleground sound effects, by enlisting the NZ army, and the words these soldiers were saying, through actors, and lip synched and background-noised the whole thing.

Then he launched it.

The man is a genius.

The result is beyond words incredible.

On many occasions I gasped out loud, not least when he moved from the first reel, which shows unmodified footage of the preparation of enlistees for WWI, into the reality of war.

In a stunning coup de theatre the screen changes shape.

The audiences audibly gasps.

We are in a new reality.

Now, this all makes it sound like this is simply an exercise in technological show-offery.

No.  this focuses on soldiers.  Poor.  Young.  Men.

With terrible teeth, but with opinion, with humour, with dignity, with resolute spirit.

And not just young British men.

Perhaps the most affecting part of this film is where German POW’s muck in and join the Brits.   It’s clear that in those days this was duty and honour for one’s country, absolutely NOT hatred of the enemy.

This is a truly remarkable film experience.

It’s important.

Find a way of seeing it.

It’s much more than a cinematic landmark.

It’s a historical one, because the legacy Peter Jackson’s 14-18-Now and Imperial War Museum commission gives the world is new technology that will allow all sorts of ancient film archives to become living history.

In this case the 100 minutes that are committed to film are actually backed up by a further 100 hours of monochrome footage that Jackson’s team has restored (free of charge) for his commissioners.

See when international honours are handed out (I think Bono has a knighthood for example) Peter Jackson needs to be number one on the list for this real and important achievement.

I assume a further Oscar is in the bag.

Cyrano de Bergerac at The Lyceum. Thoughts.


MB2_3637-815x525.jpg

There are two monumental reasons to see this production.

The first is the performance of Brian Ferguson in the title role.  People will be talking about his extraordinary commitment, humour, bravado and energy for many years to come.  It was a pleasure to congratulate him on his performance afterwards.  A complement he accepted with wonderful grace and modesty.

In a dense and complex piece of theatre he carries the show along on shoulders as broad as the Clyde.

That’s not to underplay the ensemble’s performance but the eruption from the audience when he took his solo bow said a lot.

Cyrano de Bergerac | Teaser from National Theatre of Scotland on Vimeo.

The second is the equally extraordinary costumes by fashion designer Pam Hogg.  It looks like this is her first ever theatre commission having dealt with fashion and music – Kylie, Gaga, Siouxsie – for the majority of her much celebrated career.  Some of the costumes in this production simply take the breath away, in particular Roxanne’s, and often they are brilliantly lit by Lizzie Powell to intensify the impact.

They range from the spectacular and dazzling to the brilliantly understated. (When did you last see a Pere Ubu tour T shirt?)

The production is dense, often spectacular, funny, charming and interestingly musical, although unlike the recent Twelfth Night the music here plays a more background role.  I like that in David Greig’s tenure music has moved way up the agenda at The Lyceum.

I’d like to see CDB again because, unlike film adaptations of the play that I have seen, it has far more substance and much more is made of the war which unites the male characters of the cast; the Gascon battalion who are fighting on the Spanish front line.

It’s a five act play (that is often truncated) which means you need to prepare for three hours in the theatre making it something of a feat of endurance – particularly given the fine Scots adaptation, by Edwin Morgan, of what seems almost Shakespearean in its rhythmic verse form.

It’s impossible to catch every nuance and meaning and some of its delight is latching on to Scottish colloquialisms that are entirely out of time and place but wonderfully clever.

This is bold, assured and brave theatre that deserves to be seen.

 

 

 

 

Charlie is my darling.


Can you even begin to imagine the excitement I felt when I popped into Whitespace today and was met with this canvas of our dearly beloved Charlie Robertson created by fellow advertising guru, none other than MT Rainey, herself.

charlie's me darling.jpg

It’s one of the canvases I’ll be auctioning next Thursday at the NABS Art Auction (it has 76 compatriots, with plenty more in transit, many of which have outstanding artistic merit, but none of which quite hit the emotional trigger quite as effectively as this one does, created, as it was, less then ten days after Charlie’s untimely death.)

I’m hoping it will be something of a centrepiece of the auction and that it might attract some fairly hefty bidding.  Indeed I will specifically take bids on it if you email me direct at Markgorman@btopenworld.com.

I’ll let bidders know what the state of play is rather than playing this one out in public.

It’s called “Charlie is me Darlin'” and it’s beautifully printed direct onto the canvas.  The words that make up the image conjure up, for me, the eloquence with which Charlie thrilled and seduced the world of advertising for forty years.

I believe it deserves to be shown somewhere that Charlie’s many admirers might be able to see it for themselves and I hope it can play its part in a memorable night at Whitespace next Thursday 25th October, from 6pm.  There will be a bar and a lively evening of badinage and bidding.  Please let me know if you’d like to attend.

MT.  You’re amazing.  What a superb memory of Charlie’s life.

Slantie.