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On RBG, Laurel and Hardy

RBG, Laurel and Hardy

One of the finer documentaries of 2018 is RBG which covers the trail-blazing career of liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who turns 86 on March 15).  A multiple award winner, including being named best documentary by the National Board of Review, it’s a contender for an Oscar nomination to be announced January 22.
            Director Mimi Leder’s narrative takes a rather jaunty inspirational melodrama approach to its subject, focusing on the period from 1956, when Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) was among a handful of women admitted to the Harvard Law School, to the 1970s when she, representing a male client, won a groundbreaking case before a federal appeals court that hinged on overturning gender discrimination in tax legislation. From the outset, and in that seminal case, Bader Ginsberg, then a law professor, was strongly backed by supportive home husband and fellow lawyer Martin Ginsberg (Armie Hammer), who overcame cancer to become a partner in a prestigious law firm. Bader Ginsberg had to overcome many obstacles, notably skeptical men in high places such as the Harvard law school dean Erwin Griswold (Sam Waterston) who was Attorney General at the time she argued the celebrated 1970s case.  She also had to convince the reluctant male head of the American Civil Liberties Union to make common cause.
            On the Basis of Sex closes with a few clips of the real RBG from her Supreme Court tenure (she was pointed to the court by Jimmy Carter in 1980) but that’s all it shows from the last four decades of her remarkable career.  Within those limitations the film does a passable job.  However the documentary RBG is the one to see for a much deeper and fuller portrait.
            Justice Bader Ginsburg has had some serious health issues recently.  (She was released from hospital Christmas day after a cancer-related surgery.) So one has to hope she hangs in there and outlasts President Donald Trump who has already made two appointments to the high court, the last a controversial ultra-conservative male judge accused of sexual assault.  B

Stan & Ollie (UK/Canada/U.S.
This delightful, and candid, ode to the legendary comedy duo of Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) did not reach Canadian shores until this month.   
            Reilly has been a busy recently—in The Sisters Brothers, the voice of Ralph in the popular animated feature Ralph Breaks the Internet, and as Dr. Watson in Holmes & Watson, the latter and unfortunately rather lamentable pairing with funny man Will Ferrell as the famous fictional sleuth.  He fares much better here as Ollie, aided by prosthetics to portray the portly sidekick affectionately known as “Babe”.
            The film opens in Culver City, California 1937 as the pair stroll through studio sets and sound stages until performing a comic pose for the camera in front of a Western backdrop.  We then jump to a packed movie palace audience convulsed in laugher as the same black-and-white scene unfolds on the screen. It a glorious shot setup of movie make-believe and magic.  From this career highpoint the picture fast forwards 16 years to Britain 1953 and the duo’s twilight years doing a tour of variety halls as part of getting the production greenlight for a planned Robin Hood comedy.  (The screenplay is based on A.J. Marriot’s 1993 book Laurel & Hardy: The British Tours.)  At first audiences for their trademark stage routines are sparse but public- appearance promotions pay off in a sold-out engagement at London’s Lyceum theatre. Laurel’s bitchy Russian wife Ida (Nina Arianda) and Hardy’s wife Lucille (Shirley Henderson) join them at the swank Savoy hotel.
            While the longtime partners get past a tiff over part recriminations, and the news that the picture deal is off, Hardy’s collapse from a mild heart attack is a more serious blow.  Their devotion to each other is such that Laurel is unable to continue the show with another comedian, and Hardy, ignoring doctors’ advice, returns to the stage for a triumphant Irish tour. It will be their final act.  The movie recalls their comic genius, and brilliant performances by Reilly and Coogan bring to life the ups and downs of an era that appreciated their innocent form of standup humour.  A- 



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