Archive for Steve Coogan

The Boys

Posted in Dance, FILM with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2019 by dcairns

Went to see STAN & OLLIE en masse — well, five of us did. Is five a masse?

Hmm. I know some people love this movie. I think the sparse audience didn’t help it catch fire at this particular screening. And there are a lot of good things to be said about it: nice long take at the start, good thirties locations/sets, and much more importantly, very good performances (enhanced by invisible, highly effective makeups).

We were all happy enough to have seen it, but a bit underwhelmed by the overall experience. We debated whether it fell between two stools — not accurate/insightful enough for people who know a lot about Laurel & Hardy, too nerdy for those who don’t. But I think it’s done fine with people who are fond of the boys but don’t know much about them.

I’ve tried to imagine what the film would seem like to people who don’t know anything at all about Laurel & Hardy, haven’t seen them (practically a whole generation). I guess they would get the impression that the boys were famous primarily for a little dance they did, which was charming and inexplicably caused audiences to roar with laughter. And for a scene where Ollie has a broken leg while Stan eats an egg.

I know — quite difficult to get across the breadth of what Laurel & Hardy did within one film while mainly telling a story about their real life relationship and their last days as performers. I think, though, at a minimum, the film should have shown, early on, the transformation that must have taken place when the boys shifted from being themselves — a comedy-obsessed genius and a meek actor — to being their characters — two idiots who don’t know they’re idiots. The lovely dance is actually in the way.

Director Jon S. Baird does some nice things, but his style as manifested in his previous film, FILTH, is modern and hyper-kinetic (quite effectively so). Applied to comedians doing visual comedy and dance on a stage, he’s both stifled by the lack of opportunities and practically Klingon in his insensitivity to the delicate pantomime in front of him. So he cuts everything into fragments, with continual reaction shots of guffawing audiences, which is a REALLY good way to stop the movie audience from laughing. And every time he tries to be “cinematic” in his narration, with flashbacks (picture or just sound), imaginary sequences, etc, it’s just horrible, in a way that makes me too tired to even break down why it’s so ineffective and ugly. I suppose “unnecessary” would be the word I would wearily reach for.

A shame, because there are touching moments — it’s much better at that than at reproducing or suggesting the comedy. And, around midway, the wives show up, and the film gets a tremendous lift. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda are terrific in these roles, and they have all the advantages. Unlike Steve Coogan And John C. Reilly, they’re not tasked with impersonating famous and beloved comics. And, while the men have to peel away the layers of performative artifice to show us what Arthur Stanley Jefferson and Norvell Hardy were really like, thereby making them not funny any more (the boys always wanted to be lit as flatly as possible, to keep their on-screen dimensionality to a minimum), the wives get to be stereotypes, well-formed characters with only a couple of traits, perfect for being funny. AND they’re more aggressive than the boys which is funnier, AND this ties them to the long tradition of the boys having domineering wives in any films in which they play husbands. Which makes the whole bit delightful.

“I wanted a film about them,” said Fiona.

I can’t predict whether you’ll love this film or not based on how you feel about Laurel & Hardy. Don’t take this as a consumer guide — don’t EVER take anything I write as a consumer guide. I’m more in the genre of eccentric dancing.

Advertisements

The Sunday Intertitle: Where the Worst Begins

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2018 by dcairns

WEST OF HOT DOG is a (1924) silent Stan Laurel comedy, produced by Joe Rock, where Stan plays a sissified city gent all at sea in the sagebrush. Seeing Stan in a carriage with a girl at the start made me wonder if Keaton’s OUR HOSPITALITY was an influence, but Stan being a character player where Keaton was a star, he takes the tenderfootedness a lot further — into full-on effiminacy in fact. As if the glasses and camp manner weren’t enough, he’s also (the shame of it!) reading a book, entitled Let Brotherly Love Continue.

 

When the stage is held up by desperadoes, Stan retorts, “I shall see my attorney about this.” Which is funny without making much sense, since he’s the victim of a crime, not someone accused of one. Banditry was rarely tried in the civil courts out west.

The whole thing seems to be happening in the 1920s (note the cloche hat), but an alternate universe ’20s in which stagecoaches and stick-ups still characterised the wide-open spaces. But the enclosed space of Stan’s head has no room for such concepts. This temporal confusion reminds me of the Scottish cartoon strip Desperate Dan, which always seems to be set simultaneously in the Wild West, 1950s Dundee and, occasionally, contemporary Dundee. The ’50s thing is just because the writers and artists at DC Thompson got stuck in a time-warp of their own, deep in the shadowy confines of Scotland’s first reinforced concrete building.

Titles written by future director Tay Garnett. Some great “special effects” when Stan hits his thumb with a hammer — scratches on film for cartoon effect. When he’s shot in the bum, a huge white question mark whorls out of him like a tail, or escaping gas.

And yes, I’m tentatively interested in the forthcoming biopic STAN & OLLIE. Having seen some brilliant impersonation/embodiment of the boys onstage in Tom McGrath’s play Laurel and Hardy, I have high standards, and Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly will have to not only make us see the characters, but erase all trace of their own familiar selves. Coogan is an impersonator of genius, so Reilly will be the big unknown factor here, but he’s an excellent actor and comic…

Schnooks on a Plane

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2011 by dcairns

In-flight movies — perhaps these are the ultimate justification for Hollywood pabulum. Anesthetic for the tense traveler. When you’re cramped in your seat and anxious about your untenable position hurtling through the stratosphere, it would be nice to be rapt out of yourself by dramatic catharsis, but it AIN’T HAPPENING (although I would welcome with keen interest and incredulity any stories of mid-air catharsis you have to offer) so you settle for the numbing tedium of badly thought-out genre bullshit —

PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF

Not only have they made a Harry Potter rip-off based on a rip-off novel, they’ve got Christopher Columbus who made the first two HARRY POTTER films to direct it. That’s just like stamping the word SAP on the forehead of every child who buys a ticket, isn’t it?

Terrible dross, and all I can say in my defense is that I’m working on a project with some mythological elements so I wanted to see what the kids are thinking about myth these days. Some cute moments — using an i-phone camera to observe the Medusa without getting petrified is neat. Uma Thurman has gone from Venus in BARON MUNCHAUSEN to Medusa in this — a pithier charting of the leading lady’s career arc than even Sondheim has given us.

There’s something irresistibly hilarious about the idea of Pierce Brosnan as a centaur, something the film is completely unaware of. None of the actors playing gods make much impression except Steve Coogan, doing what he does. Zeus is Sean Bean, who made Tolkien sound credible but is screwed when he has to say “You have done well,” as opposed to “Well done.” Look, it’s Kevin McKidd — as with 300, you can’t do ancient Greeks without casting a Scotsman. Now, I’ve never seen a real ancient Greek but I’ve seen the modern variety, several times, and none of them looked like Scotsmen. “It’s the magic of the movies!” you cry.

CAPTAIN AMERICA THE FIRST AVENGER

Perfectly adequate up to the two-third mark: this Chris Evans fellow is quite sweet, and the wimp-to-ubermensch narrative is engaging, the action lucid (oh, you mock Joe Johnston, don’t you, but in his fight scenes you can SEE WHAT’S HAPPENING — feel the nostalgia!) and the supporting players mainly do what they’ve been contracted for. Tommy Lee Jones is gruff, Stanley Tucci is solemn, Toby Jones is short. For a while, Haley Atwell is suitably prim, but when called upon to restage the start of A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, her inability to pull off anything else except pulchritude punctures the pathos. Hugo Weaving provides the entertainment with a Werner Herzog impersonation and hilarious little facial reactions, soon subsumed in a splurge of CG as he rips his own face off to become The Red Skull.

THE INFORMANT!

Continental Air likes to provide a couple of oldies and a couple of indies to its transatlantic clientele, so we get this recent-ish Soderbergh (it was this or GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? and I was actually up for that, but then I felt that I wanted to actually do it justice). Matt Damon always seemed kind of a schlub-in-the-making, and here he gets to play an actual Philip Seymour Hoffman role, and he’s splendid. I haven’t followed Soderbergh religiously — asides from his Spalding Gray bio last year, AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE, I haven’t seen anything since half of THE GOOD GERMAN (it wasn’t good) and bits of OCEAN’S TWELVE. I should catch up sometime, this was funny and clever. Soderbergh’s ludic side (cf SCHIZOPOLIS) is allowed just enough room to breath by the quietly demented voice-over, a calm recitation of delusions, non-sequiturs and stray pub facts.