Stan & Ollie

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were one of the most brilliant comedy duos working in silent and early talking films. Those of us who have enjoyed their films will never forget Laurel and Hardy. Some of the most memorable moments are reproduced here with great care by American actor John C. Reilly and British actor Steve Coogan. While they are making their classic 1937 comedy Way out west, Stan refuses to renew his contract with producer Hal Roach and wants to sign with another studio. Oliver disagrees, and because of his refusal to follow his partner’s plan, Stan will feel betrayed and bitter for years. Jump forward to 1953 when they haven’t done a film in two years film. They have accepted a tour of British Music halls. The producer Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) has booked them in small second class theatres, and with no publicity, the comedians have to play to empty houses. To top it all they have to sleep in cheap hotels or bed and breakfast/ guesthouses. Delfont tells them that unless they do some publicity and public appearances, he can’t promise better venues or that they can even finish the tour. He was right, after small efforts from Stan and Ollie and word of mouth, they start filling the theatres and become a great success. Soon they are joined by their wives Lucille Laurel and Ida Hardy (Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda). Everyone gets along fine, if you don’t count Stan’s resentments from the past rearing its ugly head once in a while, and Ollie’s health. Oliver has gained some weight and at his age, life on the road has become difficult. John C. Reilly (helped by tons of make up) and Steve Coogan look so much like the real Laurel and Hardy and they worked so hard at their timing and the routines. When the two are on stage it’s a tour-de-force. It is less successful when they are seen doing comedy in their daily lives. Stan and Ollie checking in at the hotel and trying to impress an unimpressed the hotel clerk doesn’t quite work. But that’s a small problem that won’t spoil the joy of Laurel/Coogan and Hardy/Reilly. I should also note that Henderson and Arianda have worked out a pleasurable little comic duo of their own. This has been made for people like me who know and have enjoyed Laurel and Hardy, but also for the younger generations to discover them. That’s what I hope.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 8 – 14
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/stan-and-ollie

Stan & Ollie

Directed by:
Jon S. Baird

Screenplay by:
Jeff Pope

Starring:
Steve Coogan
John C. Reilly
Shirley Henderson
Nina Arianda
Rufus Jones
Danny Huston

97 min.

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At eternity’s gate

At eternity’s gate is about the last years of Vincent van Gogh’s life. Living in France with Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) at Auvers-sur-Oise, van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) shows early signs of mental illness. How do we know? We know because director Julian Schnabel’s camera is telling us in no subtle ways, by blurring and discoloring van Gogh’s point of view or overlapping images and dialogue tracks to imitate a sense of confusion (duh!). But he has other camera tricks. At eternity’s gate has the most unstable camera since The Blair witch project (remember?), and the cameraman seems unable to focus or keep his footing and takes extreme close-ups of van Gogh’s face, his nose, his mouth, his head and his scalp. (Oh no! It’s The Blair witch project part 3!) The painter’s disagreements with Gauguin seems to be the cause of all his anguish. He has a very loving relationship with his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) who helps him as much as he can. After spending some time in a mental institution, van Gogh is released and moves to Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône where he will spend his last 80 days and create 75 paintings. Yes Willem Dafoe is great, but his efforts are muffled by Schnabel’s patchwork approach to cinema. It’s annoying and a mess. Avoid!

And the nominees are… Willem Dafoe, who was nominated last year as Best supporting actor for The Florida project, is again nominated this year for Best actor.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

At eternity’s gate

 

Directed by:
Julian Schnabel

Screenplay by:
Jean-Claude Carrière
Louise Kugelberg
Julian Schnabel

Starring:
Willem Dafoe
Rupert Friend
Oscar Isaac
Mads Mikkelsen
Mathieu Amalric
Emmanuelle Seigner

110 min.
.
In English and French with English subtitles

A private war

Being a war correspondent is a dificult and dangerous occupation. Placing oneself in the middle of battle, in the trenches with the soldiers or meeting the affected population to shine a light on the attrocities of this world is no easy task. American journalis Marie Colvin was one of those fearless reporters. In 2001, While she is covering a conflict in Sri Lanka, Colvin (Rosamund Pike) loses the sight in her left eye and she starts wearing her trademark eyepatch. But she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder throughout the remainder of her life. There are images of the horrors she has seen that keep coming back to her. She has a horrific vision of a dead little girl that is recurent. Colvin is hospitalized for her PTSD, but she soon goes back to war zones as a reporter for British newspaper The Sunday times where her editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) is concerned about Colvin’s mental state. But she goes back again, and again. To cope Colvin drinks. A lot. Sometimes she comes home to get an award and have sex with “friend with benefit” Tony Shaw (Stanley Tucci, in a blink-and-you’ve-misted-it performance. Actually, to be fair if you blink a few times.) But Colvin goes back to report on wars, as if it was a cumpulsion, like she wants to bury the war in her head. Her last assignment was in the Syrian city of Homs in 2012. With photojournalist Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan), they showed photos and films of injured children being treatted under terrible conditions in makeshift hospitals and the grieving parents. On February 21 she is speaking via satelite with Andreson Cooper on CNN. The next day she dies in an attack by the Syrian government. Conroy survived. A private war is a harrowing reminder of the dangerous job of journalists around the globe. It is necessary because of the anti-media rhetoric coming from some. A private war‘s main draw is Pike. Here she gives an even more fierce and complex performance than she did in Gone girl. One of the producer is Charlize Theron and you wonder why she did not keep that juicy part for herself. But Pike is so powerful and moving. But A private war has very good production values and good direction by Matthew Heineman. It will be hard for some to watch, but it is worth it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A private war

 

Directed by:
Matthew Heineman

Screenplay by:
Arash Amel
Based on the Vanity fair article Marie Colvin’s private war by Marie Brenner

Starring:
Rosamund Pike
Jamie Dornan
Stanley Tucci
Tom Hollander
Corey Johnson

106 min.

The happy prince

The happy prince is an Oscar Wilde biopic about the last years of his life. After spending a few years of hard labour in British prisons for homosexuality, Oscar Wilde goes to Paris where he can live without fear under the name of Sebastian Melmoth. Although Wilde (Rupert Everett) is physically weaker as a result of his time in prison where he had to endure a lot, he also retains a bloated ego. He is shown going to a French tavern, standing on tables to sing with great panache. And there’s the young male prostitute who seems to be in awe of him. At home in England, his wife, Constance (Emily Watson), won’t allow him to see his sons unless he stops seeing his lover young Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas (Colin Morgan). But in Paris Wilde can’t wait to be reunited with Bosie. He gets a lot of support from his ex-lover Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas) or friends like Reggie Turner (Colin Firth). This great cast also includes Tom Wilkinson in a small if-you-blink-you’ll-miss-it cameo. As Oscar Wilde becomes weaker he starts having weird visions. In one stunning moment, a stoic Queen Victoria is staring at Wilde on his deathbed. Except for a few flashback snippets, most of the film shows Wilde at the end of life. On top of playing Rupert Everett playing Oscar Wilde, he also wrote the screenplay and directed the film. The film is all over the place and needed a bit more focus, but it’s excusable as Wilde had a big over the top persona. And Everett plays a complex, multifaceted character. One moment joyous, then depressed and depressing, jumping on tables to quietly singing a love song to some boy (it’s surely Bosie) or later self-pitying. The production values are excellent. What’s not to like?

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The happy prince

 

Directed by:
Rupert Everett

Screenplay by:
Rupert Everett

Starring:
Rupert Everett
Edwin Thomas
Colin Morgan
Colin Firth
Benjamin Voisin
Emily Watson
Tom Wilkinson
Béatrice Dalle
Anna Chancellor

105 min.

Colette

Gabrielle Colette (1873 – 1954) was one of the most important female writer. Wash Westmoreland’s exquisite Colette smartly sticks to the facts. She was born in the small country village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Burgundy. Gabrielle’s father was a war hero who lost one of his leg in battle. At the time she marries Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West) the family is so poor that they can’t give him a dowry. Fourteen years older, Gauthier-Villars was a publisher/author. In truth, published under the pseudonym of “Willy”, his novels were mostly all ghostwritten. This enterprise is not a great success until he asks Gabrielle (Keira Knightley) to write. She writes Claudine à l’école (Claudine in school) was loosely based on her own life as a schoolgirl. It is published in 1900 under Willy’s name and becomes very popular but creates a scandal because of the lesbian themes which further boosts its popularity. It is so popular that Willy locks Gabrielle in her room until she writes a follow-up: Claudine à Paris (Claudine in Paris). Again Willy takes all the credits and squander all the money gambling or on other women. When Colette tells her husband that she’s attracted to women, Willy does not seemed concerned in the least. She doesn’t know that one of her female lover is also Willy’s lover. Over the years Colette gained more independence, became an actress, fell in love with female-to-male cross-dresser Mathilde de Morny (Denise Gough) and divorced Willy. Wash Westmoreland has a great production team (costumes, sets, score, cinematography…). It is beautiful. And Keira Knightley as strong female icon Colette has never looked better and nuanced. Bravo! Colette is much fun to watch.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Colette

 

Directed by:
Wash Westmoreland

Screenplay by:
Richard Glatzer
Wash Westmoreland
Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Starring:
Keira Knightley
Dominic West
Denise Gough
Eleanor Tomlinson
Fiona Shaw

111 min.

Rated 14A

Don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot

Gus Van Sant’s new film is a biopic of paraplegic, alcoholic, politically incorrect cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix). At 21, after a day of drinking with his new buddy Dexter (Jack Black), Callahan’s life is changed forever by an auto accident. The cruel irony is that Dexter (real name? don’t know), who was driving Callahan’s car and fell asleep at the wheel, comes out of the accident without a scratch. At the hospital Callahan has a hard time facing the news that he won’t walk again. The only thing that calms him is physiotherapist Annu. Rooney Mara is Annu, and the way Gus Van Sant films her (in close-up, surrounded by sunshine and pastel colors) she looks more like a dreamy angel than a physiotherapist. Once out of the hospital and in a wheelchair, Callahan resumes his drinking and his whining. Most of the time he’s in a state of self-pity because his mother gave him up for adoption, and he drinks. A lot. That’s until he goes to an AA meeting at age 27 and stops drinking. His sponsor is Donnie, a gay, AA’s 12 steps guru. With a beard, hippie-like long blond hair and having lost some weight, Jonah Hill gives the best and most surprising performance of his career. After sobering up, Callahan starts his career as a cartoonist. Some of his cartoons were called racist by some while others found them funny. He also made fun at the physically disabled, and sometimes himself, as can attest the title of this film (also the title of Callahan’s book). It’s not an entirely satisfying movie experience. The screenplay and Van Sant’s direction makes it impossible to follow. It is confusing because it goes back and forth in time. Is it before he joined AA or did he relapse? A scene where he is sober is followed by one where he is drunk without any clue for the audience. It’s a shame. But you can still enjoy the superior performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black. You could not find better casting.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot

 

Directed by:
Gus Van Sant

Screenplay by:
John Callahan
Gus Van Sant
Jack Gibson
William Andrew Eatman
Based on Callahan’s memoir

Starring:
Joaquin Phoenix
Jonah Hill
Rooney Mara
Jack Black

114 min.

Rated 14A

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti (Gaugin – Voyage de Tahiti)

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti is about Paul Gauguin’s first trip to Tahiti. Gauguin (Vincent Cassel) left Paris in 1891 in the hopes of coming back a rich man. But soon after he gets there he becomes very sick. The doctor (Malik Zidi) orders him to stop smoking and change his diet. He doesn’t, but instead he falls for a local girl, and with her parents consent, they move together in a small hut. And with her love he is now cured. The girl is known today as Tehura, Tehamana or Teha’amana. In the film she is played by Tuheï Adams. Tehura will become one of Gauguin’s most important Polynesian model. (his painting D’où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? is thought to be his most beautiful Polynesian work) But Gauguin is unable to sell his paintings and they get so poor that they can’t feed themselves. So he goes to seek work. By that time Tehura is in love with Jotépha (Pua-Taï Hikutini), a boy closer to her age. Gauguin is jealous and he locks her in the house while he’s gone to work. I found the film to be too slow and, beside the splendid French Polynesian landscape, it did not have anything interesting to say. In doing my research I learned that Tehura, who really existed, but in the film is probably a composite of all of Gauguin’s Polynesian “wife”, was only 13 years old, while Gauguin was 43, and all his companions were about the same age. While it is probably consistent with the mores of Tahiti at the time, today that information is not good material for a biopic. The filmmakers knew it and there is no mention of Tehura’s age. Neither did they tell us that Gauguin suffered from syphilis, probably a deadly disease at the time. In the film the disease is diabetes. I found the filmmaker to be dishonest. Was Gauguin a great artist? Yes. Should his paintings be seen by more people? Yes. But there is no reason to mask the truth. We should see a person for what they are and were, warts and all. Plus the film is a bore.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti (Gaugin – Voyage de Tahiti)

 

Directed by:
Édouard Deluc

Screenplay by:
Édouard Deluc
Étienne Comar
Thomas Lilti
Sarah Kaminsky

Starring:
Vincent Cassel
Tuheï Adams
Malik Zidi
Pua-Taï Hikutini
Pernille Bergendorff

102 min.

In French and some Polynesian languages with English subtitles

The young Karl Marx

After his powerful documentary I am not your negro, Haitian director Raoul Peck seems to be happy taking difficult and arduous topics. Case in point is this biopic about Karl Marx, the father of communism. We first meet journalist Marx (August Diehl) in 1844 at 26, fleeing German censorship to go to Paris. It’s there that Marx and his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) meet Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske). Engels is coming from Manchester, England where he reluctantly helps is father run a textile factory. Engels can see that the workers are exploited, overworked, underpaid and he decries the child labour. at the factory. Together, with the help of Jenny and Engels’ companion, Mary Burns (Hannah Steele), they will write The Communist manifesto. That means lots of meeting with socialist philosophers. Since I know nothing about the birth of the movement, I’ve never heard of them. Two of the most well-known at the time seems to have been Pierre Proudhon and Wilhelm Weitling. The young Karl Marx is a most talkative film. Although the acting from the four leads and the production values are excellent, the subject matter makes this film, unless you are familiar with the subject matter, a bit of a boring affair. Still, it’s intriguing. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The young Karl Marx

 

Directed by:
Raoul Peck

Screenplay by:
Raoul Peck
Pascal Bonitzer

Starring:
August Diehl
Stefan Konarske
Vicky Krieps
Olivier Gourmet
Hannah Steele

118 min.

In German, French and English with English subtitles.

Final portrait

In 1964 Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti wanted to paint a portrait of his American friend and biographer James Lord, and asked Lord to pose for him. Lord met Giacometti in his dirty and dusty studio in Paris. Lord (Armie Hammer) thought it would only take a few days, but Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) only paints a few strokes, stops, looks at what he’s done, swears at it and smears the painting with some white paint. So he has to start again. And that’s not all. Giacometti’s private life is complicated by his love for his wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud) and his model, Caroline (Clémence Poésy), who is also a prostitute. Lord has to cancel his flight back to America several times, hoping in vain that Giacometti will be able to one day finish the portrait. Happily he has Alberto’s brother, Diego (Tony Shalhoub), to keep him company. Final portrait is a mess. Where do I start? Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, as always, is overacting and repetitive. When Giacometti is swearing at his canvas, you would expect a good actor to do some variations. But Rush says the same swear word the same way every time. That action is replayed so many times during the film that it becomes annoying. And several scenes of Giacomett and Lord walking in what looks like the Père Lachaise cemetery are also repetitive. The film is ugly. Everything looks gray (dirty and dusty?) and I could not believe we were really in Paris. And lastly, I found the whole film and the story to be uninteresting. To avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Final portrait

 

Directed by:
Stanley Tucci

Screenplay by:
Stanley Tucci

Starring:
Geoffrey Rush
Armie Hammer
Clémence Poésy
Tony Shalhoub
James Faulkner
Sylvie Testud

90 min.

Rated 14A

In English, Italian and French with English subtitles.

Film stars don’t die in Liverpool

In Film stars don’t die in Liverpool, Annette Bening plays Gloria Grahame, a Best supporting actress Oscar winner in 1952 for The bad and the beautiful. The film is based on the memoirs of Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a young British actor who became Grahame’s lover in the late 70s. There was close to 30 years difference between them. In 1981, soon after their break-up, Turner gets the news that Grahame is ill. She collapsed in her dressing room as she was about to go on stage in The glass menagerie. Turner goes to see her and he learns that she refuses to go to the hospital and does not want chemotherapy. All she wants is to go to Peter Turner’s house in Liverpool where she knows that Peter’s family will take care of her. Peter’s parents, Bella and Joe (Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham) are happy to help their friend Gloria but, along with Peter’s brother, Joe Jr. (Stephen Graham), they think that she should call her children and her doctors in New York. As Peter is making the decision to call them, he remembers the beginning of their love affair. Director Paul McGuigan’s flashbacks are so compelling. It’s like Turner sees his memories. He peeks through a door and peeks, literally, into his remembrance. You don’t often see the “young man in love” as very compelling characters. Those are usually the most boring characters. But there is such an emotional investment, both physical and intellectual, from Jamie Bell that we can’t help cheering for Peter Turner. The film is conceptually quite beautiful. I was surprised to see several scenes with rear projections matte paintings, methods that were in use in movies until the 1960s. It’s as if McGuigan wants to underline that Gloria Grahame was a 40s and 50s movie star. In 1981 her best year are behind her, that’s true. But the way Bening plays her, she’s still a star. Actually, Bening is a star playing a star. Whether she’s dancing disco with Peter or dying of cancer in bed, Gloria Grahame was a star. At some point Matt Greenhalgh’s screenplay switches the flashbacks from Peter’s point of view to Gloria’s. At that moment Annette Bening becomes a tragedienne. A tour-de-force acting from both Bell and Bening.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Film stars don’t die in Liverpool

 

Directed by:
Paul McGuigan

Screenplay by:
Matt Greenhalgh
Based on the memoir by Peter Turner

Starring:
Annette Bening
Jamie Bell
Julie Walters
Vanessa Redgrave
Kenneth Cranham
Stephen Graham

105 min.