- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2019

Two films now on the Blu-ray format pay tribute to some classic comedians from the silent era of cinema.

Stan & Ollie (Sony Picture Home Entertainment, rated PG, 98 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $24.99) — Director Jon S. Baird’s biographical drama-comedy about the later years of a legendary 1920s comedy duo offers a bittersweet portrait of two lifelong friends, their eccentricities and occasional excesses and disagreements.

Covering the pair’s declining stardom in the 1950s and their live European tour, they work hard to survive each other and their sniping wives as they wait for the next motion-picture opportunity that never materializes.

The film thrives, thanks to the uncanny transformation of Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, respectively.

Their physicality, timing and facial expressions are uncanny as they perform some classic bits such as the dance from  “Way Out West,” the hospital scene in “County Hospital” and songs including “Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia” and “Shine on Harvest Moon.”

Supporting the actors are Nina Arianda as Laurel’s wife Ida and Shirley Henderson as Hardy’s spouse Lucille, who are both also pretty amusing especially when sniping at each other.

The high-definition transfer offers a crisp presentation of the period piece showcasing views of Britain, Scotland, Ireland and a fledgling Hollywood, California, while also never betraying the seamless prosthetics and makeup applied to Mr. Reilly by Mark Coulier.

Best extras: Almost as informative as an optional commentary track, a 30-minute, question-and-answer session moderated by Variety editor Jenelle Riley offers words from Mr. Baird, Mr. Coulier, Mr. Coogan, Mr. Reilly and Miss Henderson.

Production fodder discussed include Mr. Reilly never losing patience with the enormous make-up job he endured every day; the director getting appendicitis the week before shooting began; and the appreciation of the long, single Steadicam shot that opened the film.

The Great Buster: A Celebration (Cohen Media Group, not rated, 101 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $30.99) — Director Peter Bogdanovich almost dives too deep in honoring one of the legends of Hollywood cinema covering Buster Keaton’s entire career.

The satisfying documentary, narrated by Mr. Bogdanovich, offers plenty of background on a young Vaudevillian star breaking from his family act and becoming one of the greatest filmmakers and slapstick comedians of the silent era.

Offering many of the Great Stone Face’s most famous onscreen bits including a house frame falling down around him (from “Steamboat Bill Jr.”), the effort mixes the laughs with Keaton’s rough times including a mental breakdown, alcoholism and being abandoned by major studios.

However, the piece excels in the last 30 minutes or so when Mr. Bogdanovich simply covers a rundown of his best works, a collection of 10 feature length films that where shot between 1923 and 1928.

That Keaton decade, so named, included classics such as “Three Ages,” “Sherlock Jr.,” “The Navigator,” “College” and his most notable work “The General.” The later, about the Civil War, was classified as a dark comedy and featured a $40,000 train wreck.

Each movie gets a brief synopsis, a few notable memories, but, most importantly, showcases some of his greatest stunts and slapstick.

Fans will also appreciate the creators’ work in commercials for such products as Alka Seltzer and his TV appearances on “Candid Camera” that allowed him to shine later in his life.

Supplementing the varied history of Keaton are welcomed interviews with legends such as Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Werner Herzog, Quentin Tarantino and, best of all, 102-year-old “Limelight” costar Norman Lloyd.

Less-welcomed interviews with Bill Hader, current Spider-Man director Jon Watts and “Jackass” franchise creator Johnny Knoxville seem more opportunistic than informative.

In particular, Mr. Knoxville was a poor choice considering the guy made his money physically hurting his friends and himself. I think Keaton would have disapproved of his dangerous and sophomoric stunts rather than feel like a kindred spirit.

Best extra: Well, the only extra is a poorly produced interview with the director in a 30-minute segment called “Conversations from the Quad.”

First Mr. Bogdanovich rambles a bit before screening the film remarking, “Oh boy, I’m tired.” Then he sits down (rather slumps down) for a conversation after the film with moderator Richard Pena covering what they saw and more about Keaton.

The entire segment offers pretty bad audio quality, an annoying flashing on a film screen behind the pair and some shaky camera.

I would have preferred a full version of any of Keaton’s works.

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