STAN & OLLIE *** Pleasant. Nothing more

THE BIG QUESTION that hovers over this well acted, efficiently directed movie is “why bother”?

It’s a charming tale about love and friendship; and (Stan) Laurel & (Olliver) Hardy are certainly part of comedy history. But there’s nothing here – that’s noteworthy or breakthrough or insightful – to really earn our engagement.

It’s Laurel & Hardy. The movie is big of heart, but that’s really not enough to answer that question

The movie is based on their last few years. At this point (mid nineteen fifties), the comic duo, who had their heyday just before the war, are playing to half empty music halls in England. Why? The suggestion is that a combination of (relatively) poor salaries, multiple alimonies and spendthrift ways have forced them to keep on performing, rerunning old routines to devoted if sparse English audiences. Almost as a sop to their egos, they fool themselves that they’re only in England as a stop-gap measure before filming a Robin Hood story.

But beyond the need for cash, the idea that runs through the movie is their need to keep performing as if somehow this would act as a brake on the flow of time. Ars longa, vita brevis and all that. Their ars will not be longa for long: comedy is evolving and new performers – Norman Winston, Abbot and Costello – are grabbing the headlines. But Stan and Ollie and their audiences seem to live in a bubble where nothing has changed, where time stands still; where only the ghosts of the past – performances, audiences, old grievances – still exist

Except of course time doesn’t stand still. Their bodies are aging. Ollie’s heart, like his knees is weakening. And behind the staged bonhomie, their friendship, still shaken from an event seventeen years before over a money issue (forcing Hardy to appear in a movie without Laurel) is fraying.

The tension between their obvious love for each other and their irritation with each other gives the story the feel of one long drawn out therapy session. Will they recover their lost mutual affection? Will Ollie’s heart and knees survive for one last hurrah?

Do we care?

Both actors – John C Reilly as Hardy and Steve Coogan (Philomena) as Laurel – are superb. Coogan in particular (who fortunately didn’t have the handicap of playing in a fat suit and under tons of prosthetics) channels Stan Laurel stunningly well. Director Jon S. Baird (Filth) manages to avoid schmaltz and conjure up the kind of childlike silliness of their routines with great affection. Perhaps there’s a meta fiction at work here: a nostalgic evocation of a lost time…a fond remembrance of things past in a world less divided.

The idea is as silly as their routines…a piece of froth to enjoy for ninety minutes before getting back to movies that matter


STAN and OLLIE. Dir: Jon S Baird. Writer: Jeff Pope (Philomena). With: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson (Happy Valley), Nina Arianda (Goliath), Rufus Jones (W1A and the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine). Composer: Rolfe Kent (Downsizing). Cinematographer: Laurie Rose (Journeyman)



KONG: SKULL ISLAND** Why? Why? Why? Oh Why?

THE CGI IS great. Or perhaps I should say, at least the CGI, led by veteran SFX veteran, Chris Brenczewski, is great. And a buff Tom Hiddleston tries hard (unconvincingly) to beef up his Bond credentials in this unnecessary, forgettable, often risible monster movie.

The fundamental problem with “Kong: Skull Island” is that though the director (Jordan Vogt-Roberts) assaults us with mega monsters, an ape the size of a ten story building, thunderous explosions and helicopters piloted by silly pilots who fly into certain death, he makes no attempt to build suspense, create interesting characters or even terrify us out of our wits. Perhaps, I am therefore concluded to suggest, all directors, or the producers who green-light monster productions like this, should be made to sit a written exam after studying the genius of Spielberg’s original “Jurassic Park.”

Now here’s a movie that fully shows up the awfulness of “Kong: Skull Island” when you remember all the magnificent touches it had that “Kong: Skull Island” is too lazy and too cynical to bother with. Remember the hold-your-breath tension when the two kids are in the kitchen hiding out from those toe-tapping velociraptors? No such tension here. Remember the multiple and very human relationships between the flawed adults and the kids…the greed (and wonderful cummupance) of the would-be thief? No such human-kind lives on this movie planet. Kong’s people are mainly gorilla food or very fast runners (with tight shirts), with a stock in trade bad guy (Samuel L. Jackson in full-bore cartoon role) and a pretty girl in a very tight top (Brie Larson really slumming it after “Room”). Remember Spielberg’s effort to lull our disbelief in the actual do-ability of recreating dinosaur DNA and the thoughtful sub-plot about not messing with nature? No such effort here. It’s a big ape living among big fantasy monsters. Take it or leave it.

So…it lacks tension, lacks scream out loud moments, lacks likable or evenly hisssssably nasty people and offers instead a storyline that shreds any semblance of logic…It lacks the pretence of making any sense. It seems that it’s also lacking a good return on the $325m it took to get it to our screens.

And all of that could have been avoided had director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (no past movies of any repute to mention) writers Dan Gillroy (“The Bourne Legacy”), Max Borenstein (“Godzilla”!), Derek Connolly (“Jurassic World”) and John Gattins (“Flight”) and the ten producers, taken the simple “Follow these Jurassic Park Rules” exam before cameras rolled and Tom was made to make such a fool of himself in public


KONG:SKULL ISLAND. Dir: Jordan Vogt-Roberts. With: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman. Cinematogapher: Larry Fong (“Batman v Superman”). Production Designer: Stefan Dechant (his first movie as head of production design). Special Effects set coordinator: Chris Brenczewski (“Jurassaic World” “Avengers Assemble”)