The theme for this month – Swan Songs

Theatrical Release

Stan & Ollie (2018)

Directed by Jon S. Baird (Filth, Cass)
Written by Jeff Pope (Philomena, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman)
Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston and Rufus Jones

“Coogan and Reilly do their best to keep the sentiment at bay. As Stan and Ollie, respectively, they make Laurel and Hardy’s collaboration on-stage and off feel appropriately lived-in, an old routine in both the figurative and literal senses. When they start touring England, the lousy venues and accommodations are a shock, compounded by the fact that their booker cannot even find a proper gig in London, where the would-be producer of their Robin Hood movie awaits. And while they slip in a few new lines and bits, they’re on a legacy tour, leaning heavily on classic material that appeals more to older audiences who experienced them in their prime.” Scott Tobias, NPR

“And yet, troupers that they are, they perform some of their most renowned routines with the same aplomb as if they were playing to a packed house. It is only when their manager (Jones) insists they engage in publicity stunts that things pick up and they move on to London.

“It is something of a showbiz truism that classic movie teams are not nearly as chummy in real life as they appear on screen: Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, Rogers and Astaire – the list is long. Stan & Ollie mines the dissension between the men, but what makes the movie more than just a revisionist exercise is that it also shows, without undue sentimentality, the love that bound these two men together.” Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor

“We watch the show, and then we watch the messy emotional reality that went into making those classic routines work in the first place. And everything we learn just makes us love them more.

“Stan & Ollie wisely uses the thin, almost imperceptible difference between the comedians’ lovable façades and their real, painful, personal squabbles to push the film forward. Stan Laurel is the businessman of the duo, the writer and director who’s always pushing the comedy act forward. Oliver Hardy keeps pace and makes his contributions but he’s more concerned with his life, his wife, and their relationship. At their lowest point, when Laurel desperately yells ‘I loved us!’ to his best friend, Hardy replies ‘You loved Laurel & Hardy, but you never loved me.’

“’So what?’ Laurel replies, apparently seeing no difference at all.” William Bibbiani, IGN

“Vaudeville’s inherent sweatiness is the only thing that can connect us to an otherwise completely alien comic sensibility and aesthetic; the sweatiness is what it shares with Elvis or Mariah or any given YouTube star. (Vaudeville is a direct ancestor of YouTube and Vine, obviously.)

“There are buckets of sweat in Stan & Ollie, an otherwise pretty antiseptic late-career biopic that follows a UK comeback tour of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, well past their prime. The setup would suggest a nearly unbearable display of slow-melting pathos, and while director Baird does give us some of that, it’s hard to feel too terribly sad watching the cannily cast Coogan and Reilly as the graying duo. This is too sunny a production to linger too long in the dark corners; even Laurel’s alcoholism is treated with a light touch when it comes up. Nevertheless, it still finds its way to some kind of profundity about the nature of long-term working relationships, something a little more complicated than the mere idea that the show must go on (which it must, and does — hence the sweat).

“The film, sensitively if didactically written by Philomena screenwriter Pope, appears to depict a kind of mashup of two historical tours: one UK tour in 1947, during which time they were trying to get funding for a new Robin Hood movie with a British production company, and another in 1953, which culminated with a heroes’ welcome in Cobh, Ireland. The prologue starts some 14 years earlier, with the duo making the fateful decision to part ways with longtime producer Hal Roach in order to have more creative autonomy — but their move to 20th Century Fox is less than smooth, and creates a lasting fissure between the two. Now, trundling from one half-empty small-town music hall to another, the duo tries to regain some of that old magic and turn themselves into a bankable concern once more. They’re successful to a point, but there’s an unspoken pain between them that is politely stepped around until it erupts to the foreground during a high-profile stop in London.” Emily Yoshida, Vulture

Archival films

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Directed by Stanley Donen (Charade, Two for the Road) and Gene Kelly (It’s Always Fair Weather, On the Town)
Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden (The Band Wagon, It’s Always Fair Weather)
Starring: Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse and Douglas Fowley.

“This superb film, called ‘MGM’s TECHNICOLOR Musical Treasure,’ was produced during MGM studios’ creative pinnacle. From the late 1930s to the early 1960s, producer Arthur Freed produced more than forty musicals for MGM. The creative forces at the studio in the Freed Unit – composed of Freed, Vincente Minnelli, Donen, and actor/choreographer Kelly – also collaborated together to produce such gems as Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Pirate (1948), On the Town (1949), Best Picture Oscar-winner a year earlier with director Minnelli – An American in Paris (1951), Royal Wedding (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), and Gigi (1958).

“Because the colorful, witty film is set in 1927, it humorously satirizes and parodies the panic surrounding the troubling transitional period from silents to talkies in the dream factory of Hollywood of the late 1920s as the sound revolution swept through. The film’s screenplay, suggested by the song Singin’ in the Rain that was written by Freed and Brown, was scripted by Comden and Green (who also wrote On the Town (1949)).

“The time frame of Comden’s and Green’s script, the Roaring 20s Era of flappers, was mostly determined by the fact that lyricist Freed (and songwriter Nacio Herb Brown) had written their extensive library of songs in their early careers during the 1920s and 1930s, when Hollywood was transitioning to talkies. The musical comedy’s story, then, would be best suited around that theme.” Tim Dirks, AMC Filmsite

This is Spinal Tap (1984)

Directed by Rob Reiner (Stand by Me, The Princess Bride)
Edited by Kent Beyda (Fright Night, Get Crazy) and Kim Secrist (Death Ring, Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann)
Starring: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, June Chadwick, Bruno Kirby and Ed Begley Jr.

“This is Spinal Tap is a double send-off on the world of heavy-metal rock and previous documentaries on rock bands. But you don’t have to be a fan of either to appreciate this hilarious chronicle of a fictional British quintet’s ill-fated U.S. comeback tour.” Yardena Arar, Associated Press

Stan & Ollie is at The Grand Cinema.
Singin’ in the Rain will screen at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 1 in the Center for Spiritual Living (206 N. J St).
This is Spinal Tap will screen at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8 in the CSL.

The TFC Discussion Night for these three films is Wednesday, Feb. 13 in the CSL.

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