Sunday 16 June 2019

Film of the week: Stan & Ollie

Cert: PG; Now showing

Steve Coogan and John C Reilly in 'Stan and Ollie'
Steve Coogan and John C Reilly in 'Stan and Ollie'
Nicole Kidman in 'The Upside'
Samuel L Jackson sits it out in 'Glass'

It's 1953, and Laurel and Hardy's stock value has fallen dramatically from its Hollywood heyday. Struggling to get a new film financed, they embark on a theatre tour of the UK and Ireland. The jaunt is initially a thankless one, with pitiful audiences turning up to the undersized venues.

The bubble of being on the road and the crossroads the world-famous duo are at, means that Ollie (John C Reilly) and Stan (Steve Coogan) are also in a reflective mood and can't help but examine their changing fortunes through the years.

Some raking over of old coals is bound to take place, but rather than constantly resort to flashbacks, Jeff Pope's screenplay is able to stay largely in the now and spark off elements swirling around the comedy titans. These include the arrival from the US of wives Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson) and Ida Laurel (Nina Arianda).

While gentle of pace and prone to slight dips in wattage, affection drips off the screen in this biopic from Jon S Baird (Filth) without things ever feeling saccharine or cloying.

A musty, faded charm pervades in the cinematography (as you could only expect), while there are moments of exquisite subtlety in Pope's screenplay as the pair's undulating relationship is projected on to the various dance and comedy routines they perform.

Naturally, the core duet taking place between Coogan and Reilly is the axis on which the whole film spins, and it is a sublime one indeed.

Coogan arguably does his finest acting work to date, while Reilly, heavily made up with extra poundage, locates a particular twinkle in the eye that will be instantly recognisable to fans. A masterful double-act in its own right.

★★★★ Hilary A White

The Upside

Cert: 12A; Now showing

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Nicole Kidman in 'The Upside'

French films can get away with things that just don't make the cut elsewhere - and this is a prime example. On its initial release in 2011, Gallic gadabout  Intouchables was a huge success - despite its inherent race and class cliches and some full-on mawkishness.

Now given the Hollywood treatment, this US remake works on the level of its central bromance and some of the humour - but falls harder at the cliche and emotional hurdles.

Dell (Kevin Hart) is a parolee who almost accidentally gets the job of carer to depressed and rich quadriplegic Phil (Bryan Cranston). Phil is suicidal so an unqualified carer seems perfect to him, if not to his friend and defender Yvonne (Nicole Kidman).

The two very different men become friends and learn from each other, and on this level it works. The leads are good and good together. But despite a long run time, other issues are not developed in what is very much a remake and not a reworking.

★★ Aine O'Connor

The Front Runner

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Some say the US media's obsession with the private moral fibre of presidential hopefuls - or incumbents, in the current case - can be traced back to the dropping out of the 1988 race of Democratic runner Gary Hart.

Before Hart, there was an understanding with journalists that a politician's private life was out of bounds and policy was really all that mattered.

Following revelations of his extramarital affair with model/actress Donna Rice in 1987, Hart and his ilk became fair game, and a new normal in political reportage was inducted in.

Hugh Jackman is ideal as the Senate Adonis refusing to play the game, naively thinking he can swat away questions about the sex scandal and get back to matters of office. Trying and failing to limit the damage is JK Simmons's superbly huffy campaign manager.

What makes this tale so compelling is how it handles the moral conundrum. Hart clearly does wrong by devoted wife Lee (Vera Farmiga), but in-turn he is preyed upon by a bored tabloid media looking for dirt on an immaculate bib.

What sealed his fate however was when the broadsheets were forced to also run with the story.

Philosophical arguments aside, waves of relevance lap against today's shores, resulting in intelligent, thought-provoking political drama.

Underpinning it all is classy filmmaking from Jason Reitman (Juno, Tully) who gets a fine ensemble cast moving to the same beat.

★★★★ Hilary A White

Glass

Cert: 15A; Opens Friday

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Samuel L Jackson sits it out in 'Glass'

Few careers in Hollywood are as hit-or-miss as that of writer/director M Night Shyamalan, who shot to fame with 1999 smash The Sixth Sense. Since then, he's been responsible for a series of stinkers, but what kept him in the game was box-office takes falling the right side of the ledger, before fun recent thrillers The Visit (2015) and Split (2016) suggested that there might be life in Shyamalan yet.

We spoke too soon.

Glass, Shyamalan's attempt to conclude a stop-start superhero trilogy that began with 2000's overrated Unbreakable and was added to with Split, is a disaster.

The plot: The three core characters from those films - super-strong good guy David (Bruce Willis), evil genius Mr Glass (Samuel L Jackson), and multi-personality monster Kevin (James McAvoy) - are held in a psychiatric facility to be studied by Sarah Paulson's doctor. Origins will be revealed, before a big showdown clears the air.

You quickly find it hard to get enthused about characters last encountered 16 years ago. If you missed the first two films entirely, however, expect to be completely at sea with background and motives as little attempt is made to fill you in.

It doesn't end there. At times, you wonder was any serious forethought put into Glass. Misplaced attempts at humour fall flat. Bizarre characters make bizarre decisions and yet we're asked to believe this is a superhero tale firmly grounded in reality. Willis and Jackson look bored, while McAvoy pushes the very limits of hamminess.

★ Hilary A White

Sunday Independent

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