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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The woman who loves giraffes

Documentary films are a perfect way to complete one’s education. It shows you worlds you did not suspect existed and can make you meet heroes ignored by history books. Anne Innis Dagg is such a hero. A Canadian hero. Born in Toronto, Anne Innis fell in love with giraffes after a first visit at the zoo when she was a small child. As a young woman Anne studied biology, genetics and animal behavior. At 23 she went to South Africa to study giraffes. That happened four years before Jane Goodall went to Africa for her famed chimpanzee studies. If Innis is not as well-known, is may be because Goodall was studying primates, considered more important. A young woman travelling alone to South Africa during apartheid in the mid 50s  was daring and bold. She could see giraffes up close and noticed some peculiar behaviors. She saw male giraffes tasting the female’s urine before mating, and she witnessed homosexual behaviors among giraffes. Back in Canada, after she successfully graduated, Innis couldn’t get tenure at any Ontario Universities. Why? Because she was a woman. She, a respected, published author of over 60 scientific papers and books could not find a job, while she saw male professors with less experience and fewer qualifications get hired. She filed a complaint with the Ontario human rights commission, but the commission ruled against her. She had a husband and children who loved and supported her, but still, it must have hurt. Later she wrote about the gender bias at Canadian Universities. Director Alison Reid is using films of young Anne’s first stay in South Africa and Anne’s diary entries and letters from her, friends and family are read by actors. Among them there is Victor Garber and Tatiana Maslany reading young Anne. Reid follows Innis later in life as she is finally recognized for her work. Reid is also there as Innis returns to South Africa more than 50 years later. Innis is today considered the world’s most influential expert on giraffes and animal behavior. A book on giraffes she wrote earlier in her career was, as the film claims, read by many young people who later considered a career studying, caring and loving animals. This film is a fitting tribute to Anne Innis Dagg, a Canadian hero.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The woman who loves giraffes

 

Directed by:
Alison Reid

Screenplay by:
Alison Reid

83 min.

Rated General

Letter from Masanjia

It all started in 2012 when a woman, Julie Keith from Oregon, unwrapped the Halloween decorations she had purchased from Kmart (the styrofoam black tombstone), and found a letter hidden inside. The letter writer was describing the human rights abuse and torture he had endured at the Chinese Masanjia labor camp. After some calls to officials that heeded nothing, Julie turned to a Oregon newspaper. Cable news picked it up and it became a big news around the world. In China, as a direct result of Julie’s actions, the prisoners are released from Masanjia and there are calls to reform the forced labor system. The author of the letter, Sun Yi, is finally free after years at Masanjia. Yi is a Falun Gong follower and activist who was persecuted, like many other Falun Gong followers, by the Chinese government for years. Upon his released, Yi reconnects with his wife, Fu Ning. Because of the dangers involved, their relationship is tenuous and it’s heartbreaking. But Sun Yi goes back to his activism, planning to do a documentary denouncing the Falun Gong persecution. Director Leon Lee shows us part of what Yi has filmed. When Lee interviews Yi about his ordeal at the camp, Lee has chosen animation to illustrate it. It’s a great choice. I would have hated to see some corny reconstitution with actor. But Sun Yi’s problems are not over. He has to go underground, and may have to escape the country leaving his wife in China. Letter from Masanjia is such a moving and compelling documentary. People like Julie Keith, Sun Yi and his wife Fu Ning make this one of the year’s best tear-jerker.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Letter from Masanjia

 

Directed by:
Leon Lee

Screenplay by:
Caylan Ford
Leon Lee

75 min.

Boundaries

It doesn’t take a very long time before you realize that road-movie Boundaries is one mother of a messy film. It’s a shame because I really like Vera Farmiga, Lewis MacDougall and Christopher Plummer, the film’s three main actors. Farmiga plays Laura Jaconi, a woman who finds comfort in picking up stray dogs and cats. There’s too many in the house, but every time she sees one, she can’t resist. Laura lives with her 13-year-old son, Henry (Scottish teen actor Lewis McDougall), who got kicked out of school for drawing his female teacher in a sexy pose…  naked. He does that to everyone including his mom lovers. And then there is Jack, Laura’s estranged father. She’s trying to avoid answering his insistent phone calls because she knows he’s trouble. And because she knows he never really loved her. But when she does answer he tells her that he’s been kicked of the retirement home because he was caught selling marijuana. He needs her help. She needs money to send Henry to private school. As played by Christopher Plummer, Jack has the air of a person you cannot help but love even though you damn well know you shouldn’t trust him. And of course he’s got perfect timing. The plan is to drive from Portland to Los Angeles (but it was filmed in Vancouver, BC), where Jack is supposed to stay with his other daughter JoJo (Kristen Schaal), who seems to occupy herself walking dogs. But Laura doesn’t know that in Jack’s luggage there is $200,000 worth of pot. To help him sell it he strikes a deal with Henry, his grandson. The pot is to be carried in adult diapers (Got it? As geriatric humour it’s not very subtle.). Along the way they visit some old friends (Christopher Lloyd and Peter Fonda) and Laura’s ex and Henry’s father (Bobby Cannavale). During the trip Laura starts to reconnect with her dad again. But the whole time he’s taking advantage of her, and enlisting her son to do the same. I found the film mean-spirited, and frankly not funny enough. Yes, I like Farmiga and Lewis MacDougall. and Christopher Plummer is great, as always. The characters are supposed to be quirky, but they are just messy people in a messy movie.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Boundaries

 

Directed by:
Shana Feste

Screenplay by:
Shana Feste

Starring:
Vera Farmiga
Christopher Plummer
Lewis MacDougall
Peter Fonda
Kristen Schaal
Christopher Lloyd
Bobby Cannavale

104 min.

Rated 14A

Hochelaga, Land of souls (Hochelaga, Terre des âmes)

Quebec writer-director François Girard’s Hochelaga, Land of souls is a spectacular film about Montréal’s history. The story starts in modern-day during a football game at Percival Molson stadium (located at the feet of Mount Royal), where a sinkhole opens in the middle of the field. It’s up to Mohawk archaeology student Baptiste (popular Algonquin rapper Samian) to start the archaeological dig. Six years later, Baptiste’s findings are unveiled during his doctoral thesis presentation. With each new discoveries, Baptiste tells the story of how it was found, its provenance and its meaning, and Girard (Thirty two short films about Glenn Gould, The red violin) flashbacks to a related historical event. A piece of metal from a stove goes back to an outbreak of typhus fever that killed 150 people in 1687, among them French trapper Étienne Maltais (Emmanuel Schwartz). During the Lower Canada patriot revolt of 1837, two men fleeing British soldiers seek refuge with supporter Lady Sarah Walker (Siân Phillips). But she’s unable to protect them from Captain Philip Thomas (Law & order‘s Linus Roache). But Baptiste greatest discovery is a crucifix, proof of a 1535 meeting between Jacques Cartier (French actor Vincent Perez) and Chief Tennawake (Wahiakeron Gilbert) at the Hochelaga Iroquois village. The whole thing could be too much, too big and too much of a history class. (and for some, maybe it is), but I found the experience profoundly moving. There are three moments towards the end that makes it gel: as Baptiste finds the crucifix, the figures from the past are standing up from the seats in the stadium, looking at him. Then later as the names of the ancestors are called out (Maltais, Thomas, Tennawake, Lacroix, Walker), their modern-day descendants are revealed. We are all linked together. Nicolas Bolduc’s award-winning cinematography and Terry and Gyan Riley’s score, and the importance given to First nations makes Hochelaga, Land of souls a must.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Hochelaga, Land of souls (Hochelaga, Terre des âmes)

 

Directed by:
François Girard

Screenplay by:
François Girard

Starring:
Samian
Vincent Perez
Gilles Renaud
Raoul Trujillo
Wahiakeron Gilbert
Emmanuel Schwartz
Tanaya Beatty
David La Haye
Sébastien Ricard
Siân Phillips
Linus Roache
Naïade Aoun
Tony Nardi
Karelle Tremblay
Paul Doucet

100 min.

Rated 14A

In French, Mohawk, Algonquin and English with English subtitles.

Never steady, never still

Judy (Shirley Henderson) suffered from advanced Parkinson’s disease. She lives with her husband Ed (Nicholas Campbell) and their 18-year-old son Jamie (Théodore Pellerin) in a house on the edge of Stuart Lake in British Columbia. It has been twenty years since Judy was diagnose with the disease and now she can’t even button her jeans. Ed will do it. It’s clear that they love and understand each other. Ed wants Jamie to go work in the oil fields of Alberta, to earn money of course, but also to give him some responsibilities. Once there though he has to deal the violence of his co-workers. When Ed dies, Jamie goes back home for the funerals. Although Jamie would like to stay to help her mother, she insists that he goes back to Alberta. Life is hard for Judy, but she manages without much problems for now. Jamie’s orientation is unclear. In the shower he is daydreaming being kissed by his best friend. During winter life gets harder for Judy who befriends the grocery’s delivery girl (Mary Galloway). It is actually very hard to watch Scottish actress Shirley Henderson and believe she does not have Parkinson’s. Her body is terribly bent and deformed. It must have been hard on her body.And she’s so thin. She looks like a fragile little bird. Physically Henderson has been perfectly cast. Pellerin, who is a popular actor on Quebec TV and film, is compelling to watch here as a confused, lost teen. Kathleen Hepburn’s film is based on her mother’s life. It is well photographed by Norm Li, who never let’s us forget the harshness of the Canadian winters. Never steady, never still can be depressing and slow, but it may be worth it for certain moviegoers simply because of the great cast. Henderson, Pellerin, Campbell and Galloway.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Never steady, never still

 

Directed by:
Kathleen Hepburn

Screenplay by:
Kathleen Hepburn

Starring:
Shirley Henderson
Théodore Pellerin
Nicholas Campbell
Mary Galloway
Lorne Cardinal

112 min.

Rated 14A

In English.

Meditation park

One thing is certain, Meditation park will never pass as a cinematic masterpiece. But it is pleasant and heartwarming. One of the main attraction is veteran Chinese actress Cheng Pei Pei as Maria. Born in Hong Kong, Maria emigrated to Canada with her husband Bing (Tzi Ma) and raised a family. Maria’s devotion to Bing is such that she is still learning to speak English. Her interactions with the outside world has been kept to a minimum. One day she finds a pair of woman’s underwear in Bing’s pocket. At about the same time her daughter, Ava (Nepean’s Sandra Oh) brings the news that Charlie, her brother (Maria and Bing’s estranged son) is getting married. Maria knows very well that it is pointless to ask Bing to attend the wedding. But Maria has made up her mind. She tries to make money, meets new friends, learns to bike with the help of a neighbour, Gabriel (Don McKellar). And Maria even follows her husband to see if he’s having an affair. Maria is on the path to liberation. This is not a film with the greatest technical achievements, but it tells a story that is not often told about people who are not the usual movie characters. And with Cheng Pei Pei, Tzi Ma, Don McKellar and the exquisite Sandra Oh, it is worth seeing.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Meditation park

 

Directed by:
Mina Shum

Screenplay by:
Mina Shum

Starring:
Cheng Pei Pei
Tzi Ma
Sandra Oh
Don McKellar
Liane Balaban

94 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In English.

The breadwinner

The breadwinner is an animated film about Parvana, an eleven-year-old girl living with her family in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. After her father is arrested, Parvana’s mother is having trouble feeding her children. Women are banned from going out in public without a man and at home there is only Parvana, her older sister and a little brother. So Parvana cuts off her hair and pretends she is a boy. She is then able to earn some money and buy food. One day she meets Shauzia, a girl who also dresses as a boy. Shauzia and Parvana become friends and help each other. At home, Parvana helps her family cope by telling them the story of a young boy named Sulayman who must confront his fears and fight a giant elephant. There are then two types of anination. The more realistic drawings for Parvana’s adventures, and the animation for the Sulayman fantasy tale. It looks like a paper collage, is more colourful, and can be very funny at times. Based on the popular children’s novel by Deborah Ellis, The breadwinner is really for adults and older children. It is beautifully made with a lot of careful details and respect. One more plus: the main character is a fearless girl. It has great artistic integrity and it is charming.

And the Oscar went to… The winner for Animated feature film was the more mainstream blockbuster Coco.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The breadwinner

 

Directed by:
Nora Twomey

Screenplay by:
Anita Doran
Deborah Ellis
adapted from The breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

94 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world

Here’s a story that’s never been told. Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world is a new exciting documentary about the influence of Native Americans and Canadians in pop music. The film gets his tittle from Rumble, an 1958 rock instrumental piece by Link Wray & his Ray men. Rumble is one of the only instrumentals to be banned from radios. The sound was so raw for the period, with distortions, feedback and pulsating guitar playing, that some radio stations in New York and Boston were afraid that it might incite violence. Robbie Robertson, from The band, was born and raised in Toronto on the Six Nations Reservation. Like other rock guitar players, he was greatly influenced by Link Wray. Throughout the film we hear of other musicians and singers from Native descent. Charley Patton, an early recording artist, plays the guitar by hitting on it like a drum. Historians points out that people from the Reserves were not allowed to have drums, a very important outlet of their creativity as well as an instrument of communication. So Patton, and others, learned to play guitar. Mildred Bailey, a blues/jazz singer from the 30s and 40s, has been influential for singers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, who is interviewed for this film. African-American legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix is part Cherokee. And it was wonderful to see Canadian musician-songwriter-singer Buffy Sainte-Marie again. Her voice is as powerful and vibrant today as it has always been. The history lessons are important of course. But in Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world the music is taking the front row. It is time that we pay attention, listen and learn.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world

 

Directed by:
Catherine Bainbridge
Alfonso Maiorana

90 min.

Mermaids

Ali Weinstein’s documentary explores the unusual, almost cult appeals of mermaids for the women featured in the film. Mermaids are a myth that has been with us for at least three-thousand years, and its popularity has been renewed with the Disney animation film The little mermaid. Whatever it is that the women in the film have found in the mermaids community is helping them grow as human beings. For some, they feel accepted no matter who they are. That’s the case with Julz, a trans-woman living with her girlfriend and a young daughter. She tells us some of her hardships, when as a boy she realise there was something different about her. We meet elderly retired mermaids from Florida’s Weeki Wachee resort. They have remained friends since the 1950s, where they worked at the resort (film archives is proof). They go back again and swim together. They are mer-sisters. Still today, there are bars where professional mermaids swim for the patrons. We get to know a daughter who has brought her mother to become a mermaid. She’s a mer-mom. Then there is Cookie and her supporting husband. Cookie is able to manage her mental illness much better since she started putting on the fins. During the course of the film, Cookie marries her long time companion. The mer-wedding (?) takes place in a pool, with many of the participants, women as well as men, dressed as mermaids. But not the groom. It’s a surreal image, but there are many of them in Mermaids. As one with many passions, I can understand and appreciate passionate people. Whatever gets you through the day is fine by me.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Mermaids

 

Directed by:
Ali Weinstein

Screenplay by:
Ali Weinstein

76 min.

Parental Guidance