Review: THE TRIP (NR)

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in "The Trip".

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in "The Trip."

U.S. Release Date: June 10, 2011

Running Time: 107 minutes

MPAA Classification: NR (Language)

Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Margo Stilley, Claire Keelan

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Producers: Andrew Eaton, Melissa Parmenter, Henry Normal, Michael Winterbottom


By STEPHEN EARNEST / December 27, 2011

At first look, The Trip may not seem like much, but once you get into it, it becomes something much more than you first expected. Now, by saying this, am I implying that a twist of fate occurs among the characters? That the plot takes a turn and becomes something different and more complex than the IMDb synopsis entails? Quite the contrary, actually.

For those of you that have read a plot synopsis on The Trip, you will know what I am talking about. For those of you that haven’t, allow me to explain.

Actor Steve Coogan (played by actor Steve Coogan) is assigned by the Observer newspaper to write an article on the cuisine of Northern England.  Unfortunately, his girlfriend can’t make it, so he invites an old friend, Rob Brydon (played by Rob Brydon) , to come along with him. From here, the plot does not deviate. Coogan and Brydon eat and converse with one another. That’s it. All of this is filmed in documentary fashion, so we get a sense that we’re just watching the lives of two actors. There are no hidden gimmicks or fight sequences or sex scenes. We watch two men go from place to place eating food. Simple enough.

This sounds boring, right? Well, it’s not. It’s actually quite entertaining, mainly because the two actors are such talented impressionists. Brydon (most certainly the funnier of the two) is constantly switching from voice to voice, mimicking a wide variety of famous actors, almost never using his own. In one hilarious instance, he and Coogan argue over who has the better Michael Caine impression, debating over whether or not his voice cracks when he gets emotional.

But while there moments of utter hilarity, there is a fair amount of emotional depth. We learn more about the Coogan character; about the underlying jealousy that exists between him and Brydon. We get a sense that there is some sort of rivalry going on between the two, because even though Coogan believes that he is the better and more well-known actor, Brydon is the one that gets stopped on the streets and asked for autographs.

There are various moments of truth here, such as when Coogan and Brydon decide to explore nature. Coogan spends the entire time explaining the cultural and historical significance of certain parts of the park, while Brydon is more interested in just observing it for himself. He doesn’t need to be told about something to enjoy it. Later on, Coogan is approached by a man who does the exact same thing to him (explaining how the rocks formed that way…) and he realizes how much of a pain it really is.

Ultimately, when we think that all of this character development is going somewhere, The Trip ends, without really resolving anything between Coogan and Brydon. Was it just a way to showcase the mimicking abilities of the two lead actors? That question plagues my mind so, but I think that the half-ambiguous ending makes it seem all the more like a documentary. It’s not a Hollywood movie with a happy ending; it’s real life.

In terms of direction, Michael Winterbottom doesn’t really have that hard of a job. Most of what appears on the screen is routinely executed. There are shots of the English landscape, shots of Coogan and Brydon talking in the car, shots of them eating and talking together, shots of the food being prepared, and shots of Coogan himself exploring the countryside, searching for cell phone reception. But to be fair, when has a documentary ever been that complex of a thing?

RATING: 3.5/4

Review: LOST IN LA MANCHA (R)

The genius behind it all, Terry Gilliam.

U.S. Release Date: August 30, 2002

Running Time: 93 minutes

MPAA Classification: R (Language)

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, Jean Rochefort

Director: Keith Fulton, Luis Pepe

Producer: Lucy Darwin

Screenplay: Keith Fulton, Louise Pepe

 

By STEPHEN EARNEST / November 25, 2011

Anyone who knows anything about Terry Gilliam knows about what it’s like to work with him. It’s not so much that the man is a difficult person; it’s just that he can’t ever stop thinking. Creativity fuels his productions. Now, that doesn’t seem like much of a problem, because it isn’t. The problem is that he has a mind unlike anybody else. It’s incredibly hard for other people to comprehend (let alone “imagine”) what he’s thinking, and it literally takes brute force to get him to stop. That’s just how complex of a guy he is.

Anyone who knows anything about Terry Gilliam also knows about his countless production problems. There have been disagreements over budget concerns, script issues, actor choices. Gilliam spent a length of time arguing with the studio over Brazil. Years later, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen grossed eight times less than what its original budget was. There was supposedly even an attempt by Gilliam to adapt Alan Moore’s popular Watchmen comic series into a film, but it failed.

The main reasoning behind the quarrels between Gilliam and studio is that his films are just too eccentric for a mainstream audience. Most are unwilling to fund his productions simply because it would cost a lot of money to bring his imagination to the screen, and they would be taking a huge risk, as not every everyone is accustomed to Gilliam’s off-beat style.

Such is the case for Gilliam’s planned feature The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which encountered nearly every production problem imaginable.

First off, there were debates over the budget. Due to financial indifference in America, Gilliam decided to produce the film using a European studio, but was still only able to get half of the amount that he actually needed to make the film.

Secondly, when the time to film finally came around, the crew discovered that the area in which they were filming was located right next to a NATO aircraft base. The deafening sound of planes flying overhead was a huge problem, and even worse, was unavoidable.

On the second day of actual shooting, a flash flood came and damaged a lot of the equipment. It would take at least a day for new equipment to be sent to them, and time was of the essence. Plus, they couldn’t use of the footage from the first day. The set was permanently changed because of the flooding — the dirt and hills were a different, darker color and there was virtually no sunlight.

The final straw was when the actor in the lead role of Don Quixote, Jean Rochefort, suffered from a herniated disc. He was in need of medical attention and had to be flown back to Paris, and there was no estimated date on which he was expected to return.

Eventually, all of this resulted in a cancellation of the project. It supposedly takes a lot to convince Gilliam not to go through with something and at the end of the film, he finally just admits that maybe the project is better off staying in his mind. And it’s a true shame. From what I saw in Lost in La Mancha, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote looked like a fairly enjoyable piece of work.

RATING: 3/4