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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Winterbottom’

Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan

“THE TRIP TO GREECE” My rating: B- (Now available on IFC Films Unlimited)

104 minutes | No MPAA rating:

In a major break with tradition, neither Steve Coogan nor his comedy partner Rob Brydon do a Michael Caine impersonation in “The Trip to Greece.”

In all other regards, however, the fourth film in the series (after “The Trip,” “The Trip to Italy” and “The Trip to Spain”) hits its expected marks. Fans will find ample diversions, even if it seems that this time around the concept is running afoul of the law of diminishing returns.

The format, for those who’ve been living in a cave, finds the two British comedic actors once again playing lightly fictionalized versions of themselves. Coogan has been assigned to write a travel/food piece for a major publication; he and his bud Brydon get to traipse around the Greek countryside, stopping at quaint (and sometimes spectacularly fancy) eateries to sample the cuisine.

It’s not a bad way to travel: boats, islands, ancient ruins and 370-Euro lunches on an expense account.

Director Michael Winterbottom captures some scrumptious scenery and pays mouth-watering visits to the kitchens of the restaurants Coogan and Bryden patronize.

But the big attraction, as always, is the improvised comedy one-upmanship practiced by the leading men, whose hilarious star impressions and withering putdowns fuel the enterprise.

A discussion of Alexander the Great leads to the opinion that he was a ruthless gangster and a dead-on Brydon impression of Marlon Brando in “The Godfather.”

Brydon also sings the theme song from “Grease,” despite Coogan’s protests that the song is spelled differently than the country they’re traveling. This leads to innumerable falsetto Barry Gibbs/BeeGees impersonations.

A discussion of Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman’s work in “Marathon Man” segues into a rapid-fire series of scenes from Hoffman movies, with Brydon nailing the actor’s delivery in “Midnight Cowboy” (“I’m waaawwwkin’ here”) and “Tootsie,” finally returning to “Marathon Man” and the scene in which a sadistic Olivier bores a hole in the captive Hoffman’s incisor (our boys imitate the sound of a high-speed dental drill).

A discussion of the first Olympics inspires Coogan and Bryden to hum/whistle/clluck their own version of Vangelis’ theme to “Chariots of Fire.”

And of course there are riffs spawned by Greek history: “Spartan women had a reputation as the most beautiful women in the world. Yet the men were gay. Go figure.”

For all the laughs, the series has a history of dabbling in life’s darker undercurrents. The divorced Coogan has an ongoing sexual arrangement with the female photographer sent to snap illustrations for the article, and in one of the films family-man Bryden succumbed to the double-whammy temptations of travel and female companionship.

This time there’s a brief visit to a refugee camp (“Well, that was sobering”), and Coogan gets regular updates from his grown son back in England on the status of his father, who is in hospice. The film ends with a lovely little interlude in which Brydon and his wife are reunited for a long weekend on a Greek beach.

Does it add up to much?  Nah, but it’s an enjoyable 104 minutes even if this fourth iteration smacks of deja vu.

| Robert W. Butler

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Steve Coogan

“GREED” My rating: C+  

104 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Steve Coogan has portrayed so many supercilious asshats that many of us — including some of my fellow film critics — have come to the conclusion that he really is a supercilious asshat.

“Greed” is not going to change anybody’s mind.

In the latest from prolific writer/director Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People,” “Welcome to Sarajevo,” “Tristam Shandy” and “The Trip” franchise) Coogan plays a billionaire whose very existence sums up just about everything wrong with the “one percent.”

This is asshattery on a grand scale.

Sir Richard  McCreadie (Coogan) has made a fortune  in the fashion industry. Not that he knows anything about fashion — his talent is buying cheap and selling dear, and his financial history is an epic tale of acquiring brands (purchased with other people’s money), running them into the ground and selling off the corpses at a profit, leaving others holding the bag.

McCreadie is smug and entitled and vicious. He’s been hailed as “The Mozart of retail” and “The DaVinci of deal making,” but most people simply refer to him as “McGreedie.”

(Trump haters will want to identify McCreadie with our current President; well, both men employ the same dubious business model, but in truth Coogan’s character is vastly more witty and charismatic.)

Winterbottom’s screenplay has pretty obviously been inspired by Orson Welles’ great “Citizen Kane.”  As preparations are underway for McCreadie’s big blowout 60th birthday celebration, a hack journalist (David Mitchell) hired to write the Great Man’s authorized biography conducts a series of interviews with McCreadie’s battle-axe mother (Shirley Henderson in old-age makeup), his ex wife (Isla Fisher) and a slew of McCreadie lovers and haters.

These moments are interspersed with flashbacks from McCreadie’s young adulthood (he’s played as a scheming young man by Jamie Blackley).

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Dev Patel

“THE WEDDING GUEST” My rating: B-

97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Since breaking onto the world cinema scene as a struggling Indian Everyman in “Slumdog Millionaire,” Deval Patel has been methodically expanding his repertoire, from broad comedy (the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” franchise) to straight drama (“Lion”).

With Michael Winterbottom’s “The Wedding Guest” he takes a detour into genre, portraying a ruthlessly efficient man of mystery.

As the film begins Patel’s Jay flies from London to Pakistan.  That’s he’s not your usual tourist quickly becomes apparent: Jay has multiple passports, goes shopping for a small arsenal of handguns and rents two cars.

An anxious pall hangs over the film’s opening sequences.  Is Jay a terrorist bent on mayhem?  A paid assassin on assignment?

Things get a bit clearer when he begins keeping tabs on Samira (Radhika Apte), the daughter of the local gentry preparing for an elaborate arranged marriage. Jay tells people he encounters that he’s one of the wedding guests, but In the dead of night he slips into the family compound and kidnaps the girl, gunning down an armed guard to make his escape.

Samira is at first terrified. Then Jay explains that the kidnapping was arranged by her London-based lover, who hired Jay to spirit her away from her tradition-bound family.

Now the two are on the run, moving across Pakistan and into India toward a rendezvous with Samira’s squeeze. (On one level “Wedding Guest” is practically a travelogue.)

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Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon...eating their way through Italy

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon…eating their way through Italy

“THE TRIP TO ITALY”  My rating: B (Opening on Aug. 29 at the Glenwood Arts and Tivoli)

108 minutes | No MPAA rating

Fans of the 2010 buddy  film “The Trip” will feel right at home with the sequel. There are no surprises here.

Once again we have Brit comic actors Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan portraying slightly fictionalized versions of themselves on a cross-country trek, this time through glorious Italy.

Once again they spend much of their time eating scrumptious food and engaging in chatter that looks suspiciously like the conversational version of hand-to-hand combat. When these two egomaniacs square off, it’s a virtual comedy competition.

Early on, Coogan warns Brydon that he will tolerate no celebrity imitations this time around. This pronouncement may momentarily dampen our enthusiasm (watching the two trying to upstage each other by mimicking Michael Caine was one of the first film’s great wonders), but it soon becomes apparent that Coogan’s dictate has no teeth.

Because for the next 90 minutes we see the two of them (mostly Brydon this time) comically conversing in the voices of Caine, Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Christian Bale, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Woody Allen, Hugh Grant, Dustin Hoffman, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and Humphrey Bogart.

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Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon take "The Trip"

“THE TRIP” My rating: B (Opening Aug.  5 at the Tivoli and Rio)

101 minutes | No MPAA rating

“The Trip” seems a very casual, largely improvised movie — the sort of thing the British refer to as a “toss off.”

Certainly it appears a lightweight affair to bear the name of director Michael Winterbottom, whose output (“Welcome to Sarajevo,” “The Claim,” “24 Hour Party People,” “A Mighty Heart”) trends toward the heavily meaningful.

But don’t let its shaggy-dog demeanor fool you. Despite its simplistic setup, this is one extremely clever and entertaining film. Heck, it even has moments of depth. (more…)

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