Thursday, 31 January 2019

Film Review - If Beale Street Could Talk (15)

Love brought you here. If you trusted love this far, trust it all the way.
Remember the Oscar envelope mix-up of 2017, when everyone thought La La Land had bagged Best Picture, only to discovered that the winner was in fact Moonlight? Well Barry Jenkins, creator of that award-laden film (it also achieved no.1 on my Top Ten List that year, thereby acquiring a coveted Ed) is back with If Beale Street Could Talk, a tale of similarly quiet power and emotional intensity. It's another love story, but this love faces a whole other set of obstacles.
Adapted with pith yet sensitivity from James Baldwin's novel of the same name, Beale Street tells of Tish Rivers, a young woman in early '70s Harlem looking to make a future with her childhood friend Alonzo 'Fonny' Hunt. The romance between the two is palpable, but life and America's cruel racism shatter their happiness as Fonny - a talented carpenter and wood sculptor - faces trial for a crime he could not possibly have committed. Her partner languishing in jail, Tish then discovers that she is carrying his child. Her family must rally around both to support her in the pregnancy and to help prove his innocence - in the face of a court system skewed against them.
Rage and beauty are the words that come to mind looking back on this film. The former stems from Baldwin's writing (his memoir Remember This House inspired scorching 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro) via Jenkins' unsparingly honest screenplay. The anger isn't apparent at first, so absorbed is the camera in Tish and Fonny's romance, but it comes in flashes and then you feel it seeping from the characters' souls right into the celluloid. Not ranting anger either, but a softly expressed understanding of the ugliness that is dyed into the fabric of American society. 
As for beauty - the whole film is shot through with it, starting with the warm reds and golds of the colour palette that bathe both the central relationship and scenes with Tish's family. (Moonlight was correspondingly tinged with blue.) The cinematography is smooth, James Laxton's camera gliding slowly between characters during the film's many vignettes, or lingering point-of-view on their faces during deep emotional encounters. Meanwhile Nicholas Brittell jazz-classical score compliments all the story's shades of love and fear in gorgeous and unexpected ways. In short, the Oscar-winning team is back and helping put Jenkins' unique stamp on every scene.
It's all memorably acted too. Kiki Layne and Stephan James - both fresh faces to me - portray love and friendship with a conviction rarely attained on screen. He's charming and sensitive, she's innocent but with burgeoning strength and determination as reality bites. Together they're deeply affecting, whether physically expressing their love to Brittell's rich score or struggling to communicate through prison glass - and the camera loves them both whatever they're going through. 
The supporting cast have multiple moments to shine too. Colman Domingo is warm and hilarious as Tish's dad, Teyonah Parris feisty and protective as her sister, while Widows' Brian Tyree Henry reveals unexpected layers as Fonny's ne'er-do-well friend Daniel. But it's Regina King as the strong and compassionate Rivers family matriarch who walks away with the top supporting honour (as she may well do on Oscar night). A sequence where she goes on a very specific errand of mercy lifts her performance to greatness.
If you found Moonlight slow and ponderous, then it's unlikely Beale Street will win you over. While there are punchy moments of drama, this is an introspective and often dreamlike experience occasionally tipping into nightmare. It's a deeply felt and timely piece of work that confronts the pervasive and corrosive nature of racism, while celebrating bonds of love that the hatred only serves to strengthen. Barry Jenkins' film is an early valentine - with heart, guts and a visual poetry that's become his signature style.
Gut Reaction: Some out-loud laughter; less bodily contortion as during Beautiful Boy, but a lot of deep-down feels - both the agony and the warmth. 

Memorable Moment: Sharing baby-joy with the 'in-laws'. 

Ed's Verdict: 9/10. If Moonlight announced Jenkins' arrival to many, then this one confirms his standing as one of the great modern cinema auteurs. Now where's his Best Picture nomination?

Monday, 28 January 2019

Film Review - Beautiful Boy (15)

This isn't us. This is not who we are.

It was Steve Carell, not Timothee Chalamet, who got me sobbing at Beautiful Boy. That's not to say young Tim isn't excellent in this drug addiction drama - he absolutely is. (If you've seen Call Me By Your Name you already know how well this lad can act.) But Felix van Groeningen's film is doing something that the Trainspotting films only hinted at and that the terrifying Requiem for a Dream bypassed altogether. It's focusing as much on the addict's family as the user himself. The results are more powerful and affecting than anything I'd expected going in.
Beautiful Boy is based on memoirs written by David and Nic Sheff, a father and son who lived the devastating reality of what Carell and Chalamet portray on screen. The movie begins with the dad, a successful journalist, researching the effects of crystal methamphetamine. Flashing back a year we witness his discovery that his teen son has been experimenting with multiple drugs, falling prey to crystal meth in particular. David has brought up Nic largely on his own, before remarrying and starting a family with a new partner Karen (Maura Tierney). But the bond between him and his son, although intensely close, is now in danger of being destroyed by Nic's drug-related sickness and its grim effects.
This film does a quite remarkable job of conveying happiness shattered by addiction. Its San Fransisco locations take on a dreamlike quality at points - sun-dappled and gorgeous, with step-mom Karen's colourful artwork decking trees. It only serves, however, as a contrast with the darkness into which Nic is dragging his family. The same is true of the father/son relationship. The strength of their connection is established swiftly and touchingly, but acts as a painful reminder of all they've shared and lost. Then there's the fragmented quality of the narrative - jolting around in time, with two other actors playing younger versions of Nic. His is not the only broken life, it suggests, with his dad and others sucked into the disorienting cycle of drug-use, rehabilitation and relapse.   
Chalamet is formidably good here, both as the gregarious, loving son and gifted student we glimpse at points, and as the junkie shell he becomes - selfish, gaunt and self-hating. The performance is brilliantly nuanced and never played for effect. It simply is. Still for many it's Carell's character who will resonate. The father's bottled anguish as he tries to solve the conundrum of his son's addiction is gut-wrenching. He's disbelieving, angry and grief-stricken by turns, the torment underscored by a dark soundscape that draws you inexorably into the most hellish moments. An evocative soundtrack accompanies his desperate journey too - a bit obvious as devices go for some critics, but one that makes perfect sense given David Sheff's history in music journalism and how naturally certain songs would connect him to family memories. 
It's an actor's movie all round. Respect is additionally due to Amy Ryan as the estranged mother trying to reconnect with her child and for Tierney, who's heartbreaking in her own right - a tower of strength quietly holding things together, while that resolve is tested to its limit.
Beautiful Boy has sliced opinion in two, some labelling it preachy and others decrying its concern with middle-class white victimhood. Both criticisms are wildly shy of the mark. The film doesn't preach - it chronicles the son's stumbling progress and the dad's flailing attempts at understanding what the hell is going on. And as for the 'privilege' issue, that's the story's whole point. There's no family life so charmed that it can't be devastated by addiction - and when that happens, your privilege means zero. It's an unhappy thought, one brought vividly to life in this emotionally brutal but undeniably beautiful film.
Gut Reaction: Bodily contortions, gripping of chin/bridge of nose, tears - twice. Visceral experience throughout.

Memorable Moment: The toughest phone conversation a dad could have.  

Ed's Verdict: 9/10. When I say 'beautiful', I mean it. A paean to familial love, and pain when things go terribly wrong. If it weren't so tender, it wouldn't be so tragic.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Film Review - Mary Queen of Scots (15)

'England does not look so different from Scotland.'
'Aye, they are sisters.'
Lordy but historically-based films get people's knickers in a twist. Earlier this month it was all about The Favourite being too weird with those low-angled shots and random acts of spite. Now Mary Queen of Scots, a much more conventionally-made period movie, is coming under fire on grounds of historical accuracy. You see Mary Stuart never did meet her sister Elizabeth I, to our knowledge, in all the years they were in conflict. Yet here - no great spoiler - they do. It's almost like the film-makers are trying to deliver an entertaining drama with a powerful final-act payoff rather than a history lesson. Outrageous! They should have had them writing letters like happened in reality, because - you know - that'd be cinematic.
Thing is, director Josie Rourke doesn't simply keep the scene so that two of the strongest film actresses around today (watch Lady Bird and I, Tonya if you think I'm lying) can share a bit of scintillating screen time. The dramatic licence taken by the script is rooted in how both main characters are presented, and makes the story all the more resonant as a result. This movie is simultaneously steeped in the sixteenth century and very much of today.
The opening alludes to Mary's eventual sad fate, before flashing back to her arrival in Scotland as a young woman, having lived out her girlhood married to the King of France. Now a widow she assumes her rightful position as Queen of Scotland and is welcomed - initially at least - by her half-brother and Catholic followers, who support her claim to the English crown. But Mary is also viewed by some as more pawn than queen in the game of thrones being played with Elizabeth I; her independent spirit clashes with even her closest advisors, many of whom are prone to conspire against her. Meanwhile her sister Elizabeth is similarly hemmed in by the men of her court, while both fearful and fascinated by the sister who would oust her. 
And that is what makes this version distinctive, based as it is on John Guy's 2004 revisionist history Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart. Rather than pit good queen against bad queen, it presents two women who, were it not for the powerful men surrounding them, might just come to an accommodation. Saoirse Ronan is tremendously strong in the central role of Mary. Strikingly attired and sporting a fine Scots accent (yes, historical pedants, I'm aware the real Mary's accent would have been French), she's spirited and life-embracing - never more so than in the company of her ladies-in-waiting - but gradually worn down through attrition with her so-called allies. Margot Robbie provides a fine counterpoint as Elizabeth - a lonelier figure and with little of Mary's warmth, but equalling her single-mindedness and determination. The intention in Beau Willimon's screenplay is clear - these women, if they only knew it, are the least of each other's problems.
Mary Queen of Scots is a handsomely crafted film too. It revels in its stunning Scottish locations, while director Rourke's theatre background provides a sense of dramatic sweep and grandeur. There's theatricality likewise in the intimate moments, serving to freshen well-worn historical details of love and betrayal. Inevitably certain characters are sketched rather than fully realised; David Tennant is entertaining as Reformist preacher John Knox, but he's never more than a two-dimensional sectarian ranter (Jack Lowden gets to realise Mary's husband Lord Darnley, for example, much more fully). And the politics occasionally becomes muddled, slowing things down at the expense of the drama. It takes Ronan's stirring central performance to keep things on track.
This Mary retelling works best as a portrait of two queens - neither of them perfect and neither a monster, both strong and fully human. By portraying them as fiercely purposeful women in a male world that would shape them into the image it prefers, the story takes on a sharp contemporary edge. Nor does it lose any of its period flavour in the process. So, a few liberties are taken with historical fact to explore these characters in a fresh way, to indulge in a bit of 'what if...'. Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor have been figures of historical obsession for centuries. Surely they deserve a bit of screen time together.
Gut Reaction: A bit of wishing I'd read up on my history prior to the cinema visit, but mostly active enjoyment, particularly at Saoirse and Margot strutting their royal stuff.

Memorable Moment: Sister meets sister, queen meets queen, Lady Bird meets Tonya. Irresistible.

Ed's Verdict: 7.5/10. Never less than gorgeous, this is a solid film-making debut for Rourke and a great showcase for Ronan and Robbie. Let them share the crown.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Film Review - Glass (15)

Everything extraordinary can be explained away - and yet it is true.
Here's a quick heads-up if you're going to see Glass. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's new puzzle-box of a film acts as a sequel to two others. Not in a linear way either - it forms a kind of triangle. 2000's Unbreakable and the more recent Split, each a self-contained story, form a base with Glass at the apex. Your enjoyment of the new movie may well hinge on how well-acquainted you are with the previous ones. Oh - and how willing you are to embrace Shyamalan's distinctive brand of crazy.
Catch-up time. In Unbreakable Bruce Willis's David Dunn discovered that he was a street-level Superman impervious to injury, and that his nemesis was Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah Price, aka Mr Glass - a self-styled evil genius with a brittle bone condition. In Split, James McAvoy played Kevin Wendell Crumb, a young man with an extreme form of Dissociative Identity Disorder, whereby he would physiologically change depending on which of his multiple personalities took control; the most formidable of these was The Beast, a scarily evolved predator and serial killer.
Now Glass brings all these leads together, courtesy of Sarah Paulson's Dr Ellie Staple. Working at a high security psychiatric facility, she already has multiple-murderer Price under her care. Then dramatic events result in both Dunn and Kevin coming into their orbit to make up arguably the most bizarre support group in the history of psychiatric medicine. Dr Staple's field of expertise (a strikingly modern one) is super-hero delusions. Her mission is to convince these apparently extraordinary men that they are in fact - ordinary. But could the chance uniting of the three lead to different, darker consequences than those she had intended?
Here's the thing about M. Night Shyamalan: even in his better films, he runs the risk of toppling over into the preposterous. Located in a muted real-world setting (as were Unbreakable and Split), Glass continually threatens to tip into absurdity, but just about succeeds in keeping its balance. The committed and irony-free performances help a lot with this. Willis is solid as the self-doubting hero, but he's eclipsed to some extent by the more showy turns. Jackson takes a while (due to heavy sedation) to blossom into Mr Glass's full steely-velvet malevolence, but it's worth the wait. And McAvoy builds on his outrageous physical performance from Split, revisiting the multiple personalities we know and adding a handful more for show. (Virtuoso stuff - a bit too showy for some, but I enjoy it.)
The interactions of the three inmates is a source of fun that's weirdly comic (in more than one sense of the word), and it's enhanced by Ocean's 8 star Paulson as their doctor. Rather than simply a disbelieving foil, she brings depth of conviction that helps shape some of the movie's strongest scenes. There's a welcome return also of support characters from both previous films, grounding this one in a satisfyingly dark and mysterious universe, and developing the theme - modern mythology and its roots in something more mundane - that the director introduced long ago in Unbreakable.
Shyamalan is clearly in love with his storytelling ideas; he relishes the opportunity to draw strands together while expanding the whole, even if he risks stretching audience credibility too far. His other abiding flaw is a painstaking quality that slows the narrative to a crawl at times, one almost stubbornly at odds with other films in the same genre. Fortunately the brooding visuals always provide interest - accentuating performance quirks and delivering some stand-out moments of drama. Add to that superb shot composition and use of colour. And West Dylan Thordson's score is mesmerising.
It all makes for a darkly beautiful trilogy-closer, one that you'll either dismiss ultimately as nonsense, or embrace all the way to its lunatic end. I went with the latter option. After all, what's the point in disbelief if you can't suspend it?
Gut Reaction: A bit of 'Get a move-on, Night', but more pleasure at the off-kilter imagination on view and all that lovely cross-referencing (aside from one ill-judged director's cameo). 

Memorable Moment: Therapy session in the big pink room. 

Ed's Verdict: 7/10. Despite its sometimes plodding pace, Glass is a satisfyingly inventive follow-up to its two precursors - with its distinctive new direction, vivid characters and that infuriating, unpredictable Shyamalan factor. I liked it.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Film Review - Vice (15)

I want you to be my VP. I want you. You're my Vice.
Vice is a timely reminder that the American madness of the modern era didn't begin with Donald Trump. There's a tendency to look back now with a kind of ironic fondness on the George W Bush days and forget that they had an insanity all their own - one that helped rearrange world politics beyond recognition. Adam McKay's film takes us through the whole global shit-storm in the wily company of Dick Cheney, Vice President in the Bush administration and the man universally considered to be the power behind that throne. It's a wild, darkly funny and - for those who didn't live through it - genuinely shocking ride, where the head-spinning decisions being made in the White House are matched by those of the writer-director on the screen.
The film takes us back to the '60s, when college drop-out Cheney (Christian Bale) is in danger of self-destructing even before his career has begun. Knocked into shape by his formidable girlfriend-soon-wife Lynne (Amy Adams), he heads for Washington DC and establishes himself in successive Republican administrations, with experienced operator Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) showing him the ropes. But it is during Bush Jnr's run for the Presidency that Cheney gets to demonstrate his full political skill-set, becoming - through cunning and quiet force of will - the most powerful man in government and a ruthless decision-maker at a time of national and worldwide crisis. The hijacking of US conservatism by extremist thinking, this movie suggests, happened long before a certain TV reality host took the Oath of Office.
Vice is five decades' worth of US political history put through a satirical meat-grinder. McKay, who skewered the US financial markets in 2015's The Big Short, learned his craft on Saturday Night Live, and those comedy roots show here. Not that the players are SNL-style stereotypes (there are some meaty dramatic performances), but the director takes that raw material and forges it into the maddest, most irreverent history lecture you've ever experienced. Voice-over, captions, razor-sharp edits, bursts of surrealism, fourth-wall-smashing and a few other directorial flourishes way too brazen to spoil here - McKay uses it all to lampoon to increasing gall of Cheney and his associates as they rewrite the Washington rule-book. Laughter and dread are fused together as events turn more serious, not least when the future-VP starts toying with the Unitary Executive Theory, an idea truly taken from the Dark Arts of US political thinking.
Beneath all the visual craziness (along with increasing layers of convincing prosthetic) is Bale's movie-grounding performance. Its brilliance comes from portraying manipulative genius in a character who's also a charisma-vacuum. His Cheney is inscrutable throughout, hinting at all the machinations going on beneath an impenetrable surface. Adams brings all the nuance and ambiguity you'd expect to wife Lynne, a woman who inspires admiration one moment and then appalls you the next. Their family life serves as a normalising counterpoint to all the political intrigue, though even that can't remain entirely uninfected. Carell's Rumsfeld is chilling beneath a rakishly jokey surface, while Sam Rockwell skillfully brings George W. Bush back from the world of SNL caricature and makes him real again, however gullible and out of his depth.
What is absent from this tale is any clear sense of what pushes family-man Cheney to the extreme measures he takes in office. One recurring metaphor suggests how he operates, but not his motivation. Is it political ideology, a craving to exert power, or a twisted marriage of the two? Ultimately McKay leaves the answers locked deep in the man's mind, focusing on what was done, rather than why. And the what - seeing it all unspool with such devastating results over two short hours - is quite mind-blowing. It truncates modern history mercilessly, sure, and some conservatives will brand it liberal propaganda. But Vice still carries out one hell of a dissection of the Bush/Cheney administration, along with its study of the man who pulled the strings. As political cinema goes, it's grim, hilarious and essential. And yes, that is Christian Bale.
Gut Reaction: Entertained and appalled. At the same time. That'd be enterpalled, then.  

Memorable Moment: So who is the mystery narrator? Oh that's who! 

Ed's Verdict: 8.5/10. Grandly ambitious, this has the spliced and diced quality of Oliver Stone, with the demented spin of the guy who created Anchorman. Yet so much of it rings horribly true. Compelling, treacle-dark stuff. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Film Review - The Upside (12A)

Have you ever taken care of anybody?
I'm at a disadvantage here, inasmuch as I've yet to see the French original on which The Upside is based. Hollywood's history of adapting successful European films is checkered at best, and fans of 2011's Les Intouchables are apparently not best pleased at the result. Something other than the language, they insist, doesn't translate. Me, I'm not placed to make that comparison. Taken on its own terms this comedy-drama, while problematic at points, is far from the catastrophe some are claiming. It's not perfect, but it is perfectly enjoyable.
Kevin Hart plays Dell Scott, an unemployed ex-convict with a hefty chip on his shoulder and a cavalier attitude to providing for his ex-partner and young son. Forced to apply for jobs in order to avoid return to prison, he attends interview for the position of 'care auxiliary' to Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston), a millionaire businessman who was rendered paraplegic by a paragliding accident. He is shocked - as is Phillip's business secretary Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) - to find himself actually hired. Thus begins an unlikely relationship and even odder friendship between novice under-class carer and his wealthy, cultivated charge, with each discovering they have a lot to gain from the other.
You can tell from that outline that this is the kind of story lending itself to one of those personal development story-arcs full of caring/sharing/learning moments - the kind that only truly work when treated with a really deft touch. If The Upside has an issue it's that the plot beats are predictable and their delivery rather too heavy-handed. These are complex issues being dealt with - class and race division, poverty versus privilege, disability and the failure of the able-bodied to see beyond it - and they need to be delivered organically through the drama rather than shoved right into the audience's face. It's an undeniable failing in what might otherwise have been a terrific film.
Elsewhere the work is strong. Neil Burger directs it all solidly and the cinematography has a raw digital feel to it rather than high-definition gloss, something that works with the edgier elements of the screenplay. The performances are excellent, with sparkling chemistry between the two leads. Hart has an enjoyably loose comic style that's capable of elevating weaker material than this (I'm looking at you, Night School) and here he gets to demonstrate some proper dramatic chops as well. Cranston brings his customary class and depth to the role of Phillip, whatever rumblings there are regarding whether or not a disabled actor should have been cast in the role (now that's a whole other topic for a whole other blog entry). A genuine sense of connection exists between them - laugh-out-loud vitality that brings the relationship to life. Kidman is good too, investing the devoted but brittle Yvonne with real dimension in what could have been a cipher of a role. The household becomes a weird but strangely functional family and it's undeniably good fun.
Remember all that when you read some of the more scathing reviews on offer. True things fall into place rather too easily in a story fraught with tough situations - the movie could do with more real-life raggedness rather than those smoothed-off Hollywood curves and easy cliches. But it's also well-intentioned, energetic and makes some worthwhile observations (even if it hammers them home rather too hard). I do want to watch Les Intouchables, so I can make fair comparison, but I'll endeavour to steer clear of that 'other-is-better' snobbery that infects some film criticism when it comes to reviewing Hollywood product. Even English-language remakes deserve to be considered for their own merits. Including this one. 
Gut Reaction: Irked by the more obvious plotting, but I also laughed heartily more than once. 

Memorable Moment: The braving of the catheter.

Ed's Verdict: 6.5/10. Too soapy and predictable to be truly great, there's still good entertainment here - largely due to that spirited central dynamic.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Film Review - Stan and Ollie (PG)

'Well, that went well.'
'It certainly did.'
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy - I watched their films during school holiday mornings when I was little, and no one has ever matched them. Simply put, they were the greatest comedy double-act, in any medium, in the history of the world. Fact. Abbott and Costello, you say? Morecambe and Wise? French and Saunders? Sorry, all wrong. Talented though those pairings unarguably were, no duo has matched the divine inspiration of Laurel and Hardy. Which is why it's wonderful that this new movie biopic is truly worthy of their talents. 
The story largely takes place during the pair's tour of UK theatres from 1953-54. Their movie-making heyday is past, following Stan's falling-out with producer Hal Roach, and the partnership has dissolved. Now broke - due to alimony demands and the shocking fact that they received no residual payments for their on-screen work - they have reunited to recreate their old slapstick routines as a vaudeville act, while Stan struggles to negotiate them both a new film contract. (Ollie's problems are more health-related.) Existing tensions only increase once their wives join them on the tour. Whatever their chemistry as performers, the boys' real-life relationship is under strain, personality differences and past choices threatening to cause a permanent rift between the two old buddies. 
Stan and Ollie is a lovingly crafted and poignant period drama benefiting from screenwriter Jeff Pope's canny choice - to view the entire Laurel and Hardy story from the perspective of that problematic latter-day tour. As a result the film sidesteps the pitfall from which biopics tend to suffer, namely trying to tell too much and ending up a kind of greatest hits tick-box. This becomes less the story of the duo's screen relationship and more an exploration of the friendship that existed beneath, one which deepened significantly in those twilight years. The dialogue is astute as well as funny; sure there's conjecture involved regarding how the pair addressed their differences in private, yet the script cleverly mines details of their real-life story to provide emotional authenticity. If we can't know these conversations took place, it makes sense to imagine that they did.
At the movie's centre are two frankly astonishing performances from Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Stan and Ollie respectively. Their pairing captures the symbiotic perfection that existed between the original duo, so it's odd that one or the other has gained a separate nomination from certain awards bodies. That each works so well is due to the chemistry achieved between the two. There's also a sense of who these guys were in real life - Stan the creative brains behind the operation, Ollie the charming bon viveur - while aspects of their movie personas, whether a style of walking or a nervous thumb-twiddle, keep showing through. (Kudos too to the make-up department, particularly for Reilly's convincing prosthetics as the heavy later-life Hardy.) It's all immaculately observed, as are the pair's recreation of classic Laurel and Hardy routines - like the iconic song and dance sequences from Way Out West or a joyous excerpt from County Hospital. ('Hard-boiled eggs aaand nuts! Hmph!')
And if the elegiac tone threatens to makes things too sedate, a whole new momentum is achieved when Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson arrive as the comedians' wives Ida Kitaeva and Lucille. Protective of their husbands in different ways and just as inclined to bicker as the boys, they're a comedy injection in their own right, resulting - as Rufus Jones' slippery theatrical agent puts it - in 'two double-acts for the price of one'. The interaction between the girls is scintillating (Ida imperious and Lucille determined to bring her down a peg), while that with their husbands only adds to the story's pathos.
Ironically for a movie dealing with two of the funniest men ever to grace a cinema screen, Stan and Ollie is more likely to inspire the other kind of tears. There's some lovely humour here, not least when the pair riff on their own routines for members of the public, but there's as much melancholy in the harking back to glories of old. Ultimately though this is a warm-hearted and immensely moving tribute - not only to the comedy couple who made successive generations laugh till they cried, but to the depth of the friendship that defined both their lives. A triumph then? It certainly is, Stanley.
Gut Reaction: The laughter of recognition, and more tearing-up than at any film I saw in the previous twelve months. 

Memorable Moment: Classic improv on the cross-channel ferry. (The movie's funniest and most touching moment all in one.)

Ed's Verdict: 8/10. The real Stan and Ollie needed two genius performances to do them justice. Coogan and Reilly deliver, in one of the most touching cinema bromances you'll ever see.