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Stan & Ollie

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Stan and Ollie

A shot of two very iconic bowler hats on a hatstand opens the film, kicking off a bravura tracking shot that introduces Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in Hollywood at the height of their success. Natural performers, they play up to their head scratching and finger twiddling big screen personas as they interact with passers by on their way to the studio set where Way Out West is being shot in 1937 and where they are about to perform their celebrated At the Ball, That’s All dance.

Stan_&_Ollie_on_set

They’re two of the biggest stars in the world, and everyone loves them. It would be hard, if not impossible, for the pair to imagine that sixteen years down the line they would find it difficult to make ends meet and have to agree to embark on a variety theatre tour of Britain, hoping to revive their careers and maybe improve the chances of Stan’s proposed Robin Good screenplay being greenlit.

As they arrive for dates in Newcastle, this begins to look increasingly unlikely. Despite their legendary status, tickets sales are poor. The rise of television is one reason for the relative lack of interest and their supercilious British promoter Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) concentrating his efforts on ‘blazing new young talent’ Norman Wisdom isn’t helping either.

Inspired by A. J. Marriot’s book Laurel and Hardy: The British Tours, Jeff Pope’s script concentrates on this late period in their careers, highlighting their on-going desire to make themselves and their audiences laugh, while also focussing on simmering resentments that can surface when the pressure mounts.

Stan_&_Ollie_hats

The film’s directed by Aberdonian Jon S. Baird, whose Filth I enjoyed – I also enjoyed the Q&A afterwards on the night of its Glasgow preview screening with Baird and Filth author Irvine Welsh making a pretty good double act themselves. That film featured an inspired piece of casting. James McAvoy was something of a left-field candidate for out of control cop Bruce Robertson, but he supplied a scorching performance that soon made it difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.

Here, the casting of the two leads is even more crucial – even today, Laurel and Hardy are immediately recognisible to a majority of the planet.

Baird has again chosen wisely. John C. Reilly must have been a fairly obvious choice for Ollie. An under-rated actor who has managed to appear in some of my favourite films of the last two decades or so – Boogie Nights and We Need to Talk about Kevin for starters – he naturally exudes likeability. He’s also a little chubby, though not obese like Ollie – that’s a fat suit he’s wearing here and very realistic it looks too.

Steve Coogan takes on the role of Stan Laurel. With his ears pegged back and artificially elongated jaw, he also resembles his fellow Lancastrian enough to convince. Both actors also capture the pair’s physical mannerisms and verbal tics masterfully.

Stan & Ollie

Although there’s a ‘darling new young Queen’, this is a drab post-war Britain where rationing still exists and where pea-souper fogs are commonplace. When Stan and Laurie step onstage, though, there’s fun to be had. The tour zigzags across the country including a date at the infamous Glasgow Empire – the site of which I walked past on the way to see the film – where they perform Shine on Harvest Moon. The shows go down well and when the duo partake in some additional promotional work, ticket sales shoot up. By the time they reach London, a theatre with a bigger capacity is required.

This gives both men a real boost and they’re both also delighted when their wives arrive from the States to join them for the remainder of the tour.

Nina Arianda as Ida Laurel and Shirley Henderson (Trainspotting, Filth) as Lucille Hardy are often as funny as their famous husbands, constantly aiming bitter little barbs at each other. You could easily imagine a movie where they were the two central characters. ‘Two double acts for the price of one,’ Delfont quips during one of their verbal jousts.

Stan and Ollie and Wives

Just when it looks like Stan and Ollie’s luck is on the rise, Stan’s film deal falls through and Ollie suffers a heart attack while about to judge a bathing beauties competition in Worthing, an event that will prompt another not so nice mess. ‘You cannot go on stage again in your condition,’ he’s warned by a doctor.

Dates will have to be cancelled, and Stan faces a dilemma over Delfont’s plan to foist a new partner on him in the shape of Nobby Cook. Laurel & Cook? That would never work, would it?

This is an undemanding, slightly cosy though very entertaining watch, an affectionate tribute to comedy’s greatest ever duo.

I’m not sure it knew when to end and I didn’t buy into the scene where a film production company receptionist fails to recognise Laurel and then repeatedly calls him Mister Lauren but watching Coogan and Reilly recreate some classic routines is such a joy that I left the cinema happy and in the mood to rediscover some Laurel and Hardy classics.

How the film will perform at the box-office in an age of fantasy epics, superheroes and Star Wars sequels, I have no idea, although the promising news is that it has been nominated for seven British Independent Film Awards, including Steve Coogan for Best Lead Actor, while Reilly has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

Stan_&_Ollie_onstage

Stan & Ollie premiered in October at the BFI London Film Festival. It will be released in America on 28 December 2018 and in Britain on 11 January 2019.

For more on the film: https://stanandollie.co.uk/

 

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Filth

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2013 – UK – 97 min – Certificate: 18

‘What the fuck was that just jumped off my back?’ Irvine Welsh asked in a tweet earlier in the year after a seeing a final cut of Filth. Answer: ‘Ah, it’s you Trainspotting monkey!’

Welsh is obviously chuffed to bits about the adaptation of his third novel and has been talking up the film at just about every opportunity ever since; he’s even been actively encouraging comparisons with Danny Boyle’s take on Trainspotting; in fact, he’s watched both films back to back and is unable to favour one over the other. And he is very proud of Trainspotting.

Hopes for Filth are almost ridiculously high and have been ever since a genuine buzz emerged as filming started in 2011 and now just prior to its release, its star James McAvoy and director Jon S. Baird seem every bit as upbeat as Welsh about the movie.

Sometimes, though, I prefer seeing a film without these levels of expectation. Indeed, a good example of why this is Danny Boyle’s Trance which actually also starred McAvoy, a very decent effort but which struck me as slightly disappointing after the blaze of hype that preceded it.

Several other nagging doubts remained before I set out to Cineworld last night to see the first Glasgow preview screening. Baird’s only film before this had escaped my notice up till now and hadn’t been lauded by those who did see it, and while I certainly enjoyed the novel Filth, I don’t rate it as highly as some of Welsh’s other work.

The ensemble cast is unquestionably top flight, including (in addition to McAvoy) Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Shirley Henderson, Joanne Froggatt, Iain De Caestecker, Martin Compston and Kate Dickie but McAvoy in the central role of Bruce Robertson just didn’t strike me as the right choice, just like when John Hannah was chosen to portray another fictional Edinburgh cop in the original series of Rebus.

Maybe it’s because I saw Filth performed as a one man play over a decade ago in a cramped tiny studio space in the Citizens Theatre with a tour de force performance from Tam Dean Burn that made me suspect McAvoy was too fresh faced and young, too small and too good looking for the role of Robertson. Baird and Welsh both apparently had big reservations too over his suitability but these vanished the moment the Glasgow born actor began his audition. He was offered the part that same day.

McAvoy has described taking on the part as the riskiest thing he’s ever done.

The risk though has paid off.

He’s a revelation. And I would never make a casting editor.

Cops onscreen are often mavericks, too fond of bevvy, willing to break the odd rule and usually at odds with their superiors but Bruce is something else, something way beyond that, Bruce is Edinburgh’s outrageously Bad Leiutenent – Bad Detective Sergeant actually – utterly corrupt, sociopathic, and racist, sexist and homophobic too, in fact, the misanthropic Bruce doesn’t really like anybody, and even his fellow Mason and supposed best buddy Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), who accompanies him on a three day walk on the wild side in Hamburg, isn’t immune from his bullying and grotesque scheming.

How does he treat his mate? Well, for starters, Bruce makes sinister, sexual prank calls anonymously to Bladesey’s wife Bunty (Shirley Hendson), putting on a Frank Sidebottom. Before taking things further.

I didn’t mention that Bruce exhibits all the tell-tale signs being a sex addict, did I? A sex addict who is also a heavy drinker and even heavier drug user with a penchant for wreaking havoc on everyone around him.

Dixon of Dock Green he is most definitely not. Although importantly, he is, very occasionally, also capable of doing the right thing.

Filth draws the viewer in quickly. The script is very pacey, relentless even at times and as you may have already worked out, there’s depravity a-plenty on display. Filth is completely in yer face, or maybe since it’s set in Scotland that should be ‘in yer coupon’ and like Trainspotting it’s absolutely hilarious at times.

The plot?

Our anti-hero is hoping for a promotion, which he is convinced would help him win back his departed glamorous wife Carole (Shauna Macdonald) and daughter, Stacey.

He’s enlisted to solve the brutal murder of a Japanese student in an Edinburgh underpass, the solving of which would make him heavy favourite to make the step up to Detective Inspector but rather than concentrating his efforts into the investigation, Robbo spends the bulk of his time ruining the promotion chances of his rivals such as his younger sidekick Ray (Jamie Bell), Gus (Gary Lewis, Bell’s dad in Billy Elliott), Peter (Emun Elliott), Dougie (Brian McCardie) and perhaps his main threat, the very capable and by the book cop, Amanda (Imogen Poots).

Initially his Machiavellian plots go to plan but Bruce’s spiralling wildly out of control addictions aren’t his only problems and very soon surreal hallucinations make an appearance and a disintegrating Bruce, increasingly haunted by personal demons, becomes more erratic by the hour.

Robertson is obviously fast becoming a one man disaster area but is he beyond repair?

I’ll not reveal the answer to that question and I definitely won’t give away the ending – which is the way I believe the film inevitably had to go out on but I will just fully recommend you see Filth and see it on the big screen in a cinema full with others laughing and squirming as the increasingly splenetic and desperate cop finds himself drawn further and further into his outrageous webs of deceit.

Is Filth as good as Trainspotting? As much as I liked it I don’t think it is but how many British films are? I found some of the hallucination scenes with Doctor Rossi overcooked and I’m still mystified by the animation in the end credits but my only real complaint about Filth is that since watching it I’ve had David Soul’s Silver Lady stuck in my head, involuntarily repeating itself again and again. And Lust for Life that song most definitely ain’t.

So far into 2013 this is the most gripping British film I’ve watched by a distance and McAvoy’s performance is also easily the best, in fact, it just edges his turns in The Last King of Scotland and Atonement as his career best to date and an obvious contender for awards. One Scottish bookmaker has offered 33/1 on Filth winning the Oscar next year for Best Film which I’m not particularly tempted by but I really wouldn’t be remotely surprised if McAvoy picked up a Bafta. He would undoubtedly deserve it.

Opens Scotland Sept 27/Rest of UK & ROI Oct 4.