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Film round-up: January 10, 2019

MARIA DUARTE and ALAN FRANK review Stan & Ollie, The Front Runner, and The Upside

Stan & Ollie (U)
Directed by Jon S Baird
★★★★★

ONCE upon a time — and deservedly so — Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were the biggest film stars in the world, whose appeal was inimitable and enduring.

To understand why, don’t miss this recreation of Stan and Ollie’s desperate struggle to reignite their film careers by making a backbreaking variety theatre tour of a grim post-war Britain in 1953. In it, the perfectly cast John C Reilly’s Oliver Hardy is content to socialise, play golf and leave the creation of their classic comic routines to his enduring partner Stan Laurel.

Given Laurel was a genuine comic genius, Steve Coogan’s fine portrait of him is easily his finest and most memorable performance.

The story opens in darkest Hollywood, where the duo’s legendary producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston, in a chillingly convincing cameo) continues to exploit the duo by refusing to pay them what they deserve.

Eighteen years later, misused by equally exploitative British producer Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), the desperate duo embark on a tour of mostly half-empty British theatres and work hard recreating their classic comedy routines, notably their treasured soft-shoe shuffle Trail of The Lonesome Pine from Way Out West and we see too Stan bringing his unique gifts of hard-boiled eggs and nuts to a bed-bound Ollie in a sequence derived from the 1932 short County Hospital.

Unexpectedly, but utterly justifiably, the show’s a hit and Delfont engineers a transfer to London’s Lyceum theatre and the big time. The future finally starts to look bright until Ollie suffers a heart attack that torpedoes any chances of a return to fame and fortune.

Their relationship — “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into” — is brilliantly brought to life by Reilly and Coogan in what’s a comic and moving reminder of their cinematic immortality.

Full marks to them, director Jon S Baird, screenwriter Jeff Pope and everyone involved.

Alan Frank

 

The Upside (12A)
Directed by Neil Burger
★★★

USUALLY, Hollywood misses the mark when it remakes a critically acclaimed foreign film or television series.

But this adaptation of the French buddy box-office hit Untouchable, based on a true story and starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, proves a pleasant surprise.

Sticking closely to its French original, it features Cranston as the cultured and arrogant multimillionaire quadriplegic Phillip who hires the non-PC ex-felon Dell (Hart) as his live-in carer, who treats Phillip like any other person.

The chalk-and-cheese pair make an engaging duo and Cranston as usual is a class act who elevates any material that he touches. But it is Hart who is the total revelation, demonstrating that he has the dramatic chops in his most grounded performance to date.

He’s normally annoyingly over the top but here he’s reined in and, eschewing his usual comic schtick, delivers a true-to-life character who is innately witty and funny. Yet Nicole Kidman, as Phillip’s beleaguered right-hand woman, is somewhat wasted in a two-dimensional bit part which she nevertheless makes the best of.

Although the film lacks the gentle sophistication and that je ne sais quoi of the original French comedy, it captures its irreverent humour and the clash of two people from polar-opposite divides and worlds and their blossoming friendship beautifully, but with an edgier vibrant energy.

For those who loved the original, you need to see this with an open mind. But if you haven't seen Untouchable this will be an uplifting ride.

Maria Duarte

 

The Front Runner (15)
Directed by Jason Reitman
★★★★

THE OCCASIONALLY startling sex lives of such notable White House legends as FD Roosevelt, John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton were once shrouded over but now, in the Trump era, they’re apparently everyday media fodder.

Thus Ivan Reitman’s fascinating film about the extraordinary rise and fall of former Colorado US Senator Gary Hart when he ran for nomination as the 1988 US presidential candidate is a compelling, though justifiably depressing picture of media-driven political manipulation at the time.

Reitman vividly recreates Hart’s rapid media destruction in just a few days after the Miami Herald received an anonymous tip that Hart was having an affair.

While he denied that there was a “story,” the mass media pounces on him and campaign manager Bill Dixon (JK Simmons, first rate and a major dramatic driving force in the gripping narrative) battles to undo the mounting damage, while Hart’s wife Lee (Vera Farmiga, excellent) tries to come to terms with her shattered personal life.

Vividly staged scenes of the media laying siege to Hart’s home and anywhere else that he might be at the time may seem just a tad hackneyed by today’s standards but, in context, add genuine force to a narrative that still hits hard.

Impressive documentary-style direction, well served by Eric Steelberg’s naturalistic cinematography, adds power and conviction to a potent story that may be dated but is still gripping and relevant all the way.

AF

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