Stan & Ollie (Britain, Canada, USA 2018)

This is a portrait of two icons of film comedy, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. However, most of the film deals with their later years, an eight month tour of Ireland and Britain in 1953, presenting performances on stage in music halls based on their famous routines. It was a success at the time and now offers a combination of celebration, humour and nostalgia. The film is screening this Wednesday [April 6th] at 9 p.m. on BBC 2. Since it is, in part, a BBC production it should be featured on the iPlayer for some time.

The film is well put together and has a fairly straightforward narrative. The stand out aspect are the performances as Stan / Steve Coogan and Ollie / John C. Reilly. For fans like myself it was as if watching the duo once again. The supporting cast is excellent, especially their two partners: Ida Laurel / Nina Arianda: Lucille Hardy / Shirley Henderson. In fact the actual tour, organised by impresario Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), is more or less played in reverse. At the opening the audiences are small and lukewarm; the reverse of actuality. The intention it would seem is to develop a rising narrative ending with a highly successful performance and a delighted audience.

It is not all humour. The tour ended when Oliver suffered a heart attack and following the tour they were unable to work again. So there is also a disconsolate note at the conclusion. The film also shows in flashback how Stan and Ollie ended their association with Hal Roach (Danny Huston). Continue reading

Black Mountain Poets UK 2015

On 20th April – 11.00 AM [BYOB]On 20th April – 9.15 PM

BLACK_MOUNTAIN_POETS_6Strictly speaking this is a wry Welsh film comedy. It is uneven but engaging. If you have seen writer and director Jamie Adams’ early films [Benny & Jolene and Christmas Time, 2014)  you will know if it is your sort of comedy. The basic story is set on a weekend rural ‘Poet’s Poetry Society’ event. In fact there is only  a limited amount of poetry, with two complete poems, one in Welsh. The film is really interested in the characters. At the centre are sisters Lisa (Alice Lowe) and Claire (Dolly Wells). They are excellent, as are the supporting cast which includes another pair of sisters. The event and the attending poets are whimsical and slightly absurdist.

The film has an improvised quality, it was shot over five days. The continuity is not so much full of holes as coming and going as the whim takes the film. The editing has a fragmentary quality, it is as if the audience are listening in to the characters as they wander round. But there is a definite trajectory in the relationships over the four days. Bizarrely the poetry event includes camping on the Welsh hills. This provides innumerable settings for very fine widescreen cinematography by Ryan Owen Eddleston.

The film is unconventional and rarely formulaic. There is quite a lot of music on the soundtrack, sometimes unnecessarily so. But the film provides a warm and quietly humorous 85 minutes.

The Lady in a Van UK 2015

On 30th January – 2.30 PM and on 31st January – 3.10 PM 


Much comment on this film has focussed on the lead performance of Maggie Smith. She has garnered nomination for Best Actress at both the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, [though to be honest Charlotte Rampling’s in 45 Years is finer]. Smith characterisation in the film is a crowd pleasing and vastly entertaining act. It is also an interesting variation on her well-established persona. However the film actually offers two ‘national treasures’. This is another fine work from  the pen of Alan Bennett. He not only is the shrewdest writer on the English culture but is also something of modernist. In this film we get the ‘actual’ Bennett and his own imagined double.

The pair at the centre of this very funny but also occasionally moving film are equally well served by the production. Director Nicholas Hytner has marshalled his team with excellence. The music by George Fenton is judicious, the  Cinematography by Andrew Dunn is fine, and the  Film Editing by Tariq Anwar and Production Design by John Beard both serve this well.

This is the type of film that British crafts do so well. Adapted from a successful stage original it also has a very good co-star in Alex Jennings and a fine supporting cast, with some delightful cameos.

Scalarama, 2015

Various venues between September 1st and 30th.

Scalarama heading

This ‘unofficial month of cinema’ runs throughout September. Following the mantra ‘Go forth and fill the land with cinemas’ there are a varied range of events in major urban areas in England and in Scotland: there is also an event listed in the north of Ireland. To help punters there is a free Newspaper which includes listings which can be found at the various venues: in Leeds I picked one up at the Hyde Park Picture House and at the Arch Café.

As well as listings the Newspaper includes a range of articles on the various forms of cinema. The filmmaker Peter Strickland looks back at his experiences, including visiting one of the key venues for alternative and counter cinemas, The Scala. I remember many fine screenings there, including great all-nighters. Other writers sing the praises of 35mm, digital and [even] VHS. This is cinema in all its shapes and guises.

At the Hyde Park on Saturday September 12th at 11.00 p.m. we will have La Grande Bouffe (Blow-Up, France, 1973), a film that rather puts John Waters in the shade. And there is a Scalarama Special on Saturday September 26th themed round Creatures of the Night.

There will be two more of the excellent films from Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. On Sunday September 13th at 3.00 p.m. we have Provincial Actors (Aktorzy prowincjonaini , 1979). The film was co-scripted and directed by Agnieszka Holland. She worked in Polish film as a writer, director and occasional actor. The film is set in a small town, [partly filmed in Lodz] as a theatre company prepare a classic play for performance. On September 22nd at 6.30 p.m. there is The Illumination (Iluminacja, 1973) written and directed by Kryzstof Zanussi, another major filmmaker drawn to moral concerns. The protagonist in the film works as a physicist and the film explores his search for identity: his personal life affected by the larger social world.

On September 27th there is a double bill of films by US independent filmmaker Shirley Clarke. One film is a must for jazz enthusiasts, Ornette – Made In America (1985). Alongside this is her early and rarely seen The Connection (1961), a fine film adaptation of a ‘beat generation’ play. You can read about her in the profile in the Festival newspaper.

Other film venues in Leeds are also participating in the Festival. There are several screenings at Minicine, at the Oblong Cinema, and individual screenings at Little Reliance Cinema and Leeds Queer Film Festival. And there are events at The Heart and the Arch Café. You can check events here and in other cities on the Scalarama website, impressively put together. Note, fresh events are being added, so check the website and do check individual events, I have discovered a couple of minor errors. If you going to the Hyde Park over the next week you may enjoy among the trailers a showreel of the films on offer. It make September a great month for film buffs.

Mistress America, USA 2015

Screening from Friday August 14th.
Leeds Movie Fans Meetup Group on Monday 17th at 8:45pm

mistress america2

This is a new comedy directed by Noah Baumbach and starring his frequent collaborator Greta Gerwig. An earlier outing for the pair was the excellent Frances Ha (2012). Baum is an astute purveyor of offbeat comedy whilst Gerwig is a distinctive and intelligent on-screen presence.

Gerwig plays Brooke, a New York street-wise mentor to newly arrived Tracy (Lola Kirke). The trailer suggests that Gerwig brings her customary slightly cookie but engaging personality to the role. The Sight & Sound reviews draws parallels with the screwball comedies of the 1930s. This was one of the great Hollywood genes and it has frequently provided echoes in the better comedies of contemporary Hollywood. It was also a genre that provided strong women’s roles for stars like Katherine Hepburn. It is not offering undue praise to Gerwig to suggests that she possesses some of the qualities of the earlier icon.