Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Trip

A-HA!!! The Trip might end up being the funniest and saddest film of the year that will capture audiences if they are fond of impersonations, pop-culture references, food & drink, nature and buddy-movies that display scenic routes. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play semi-real versions of themselves in this great hang out movie, who go on a road trip throughout northern England, wining and dining in countryside restaurants and taking rest in cosy bed and breakfast hotels...but there is more to it than that.

They are similar to Neil Page and Dell Griffith in John Hughes' Planes, Train and Automobiles. Brydon is upbeat and irritating with his relentless and sometimes spot on impressions, while Coogan is more reserved and dry-witted. Coogan, who is best known for possibly the greatest British comedic character ever (Alan Partridge) is having a mid-life crisis. He has had considerable success, but is desperate to break into the American mainstream. Brydon, in a way Coogan's protege, is content with his career as an impersonator and really does get pleasure out of doing them. There is also another major difference between the two. Coogan is having relationship difficulties with his American girlfriend and is evidently distant from his son, whereas Brydon is actually happily married with an infant son. Brydon and his wife call each other every night to check up on each other and humorously attempt phone sex. 

Although Coogan can seduce women easily, which he does twice on the trip, it doesn't make him happy and he is clearly lonely and unhappy. He is torn between attempting to make it in American film, his relationship with his girlfriend and fathering his son. Brydon and Coogan tolerate each other through humor, but there is evident tension between them at some stages, although we are not bogged down with   it because this is a genuinely very funny film. The dialogue is fresh and they bounce insults off each other with great comedic timing. There is also two extremely funny sequences that involve an average Joe, a newspaper and the word "cunt", and a huge Hollywood A-lister and Coogan's dreams. Coogan wants to be taken seriously as an actor and try dramatic roles, if this corresponds to his actual life ambitions then he has succeeded because Brydon might actually steal the comical performance, Coogan in reality has proven that he can truly play a serious role and evoke a performance that is moving.

Among the humor and seriousness of the film, director Michael Winterbottom gets many excellent scenic shots that portray the landscape of the northern English countryside beautifully, enhancing mountains, rivers, lakes etc... And he doesn't have to do it ambiguously like Malik did with The Tree of Life, but subtly so the audience could appreciate it and then move on with the character on their journey, laughing all the way.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tree Of Life

To save your money, rather then going to see Terrence Malick's new sci-fi/fantasy/drama epic just stick on National Geographic, play some beautiful classic music,  place a lava lamp beside your television  and ponder the wonders of the universe and life. For probably thirty minutes I watched Sean Penn and the universe flirting with each other through random images with no plot. Finally the childhood of Jack (Sean Penn's character when eleven years old: played very well by Hunter McCracken) is portrayed on screen and the film improves. 

Although there is no real plot or storyline, on the surface anyway, Tree Of Life does convey a fascinating document of Jacks upbringing and his relationship with his strict father (Brad Pitt) and gentle mother (Jessica Chastain). There are many situations and emotions that Jack finds himself in or expressing that the audience can relate to such as family conflict, peer pressure and guilt. Brad Pitt is excellent as the head of the household, who tries to teach his three sons how to fight, work ethic and becoming strong, ruthless men in order to succeed and survive in life. The boys are terrified of him and his short temper...but its set in 1950s middle class America so it was the style at the time.

Jack like all of us attempts to understand the reason of being, life, death and his place in the universe, but we all know where this is going. Its a mystery, but lets enjoy the extraordinary beauty and power of life and the universe...fucking blah blah blah.  Its true that Malick does relate to the audience by evoking thoughts of existence, God and the afterlife, but personally those thoughts frighten me and I turn to cinema or television to escape from those daunting ideas. People might say "aww but you see this is visual cinema". Yeah, Hitchcock was the master of visual cinema and hated continuous dialogue, but his films were more challenging to make because he used simple visuals to drive the story forward, where Malick has just mashed together a bunch of extraordinarily complex images to manipulate the audience into bewilderment: "oh wow doesn't that look nice...wonder what its all about hey?" Any nerd can post that on Youtube. At least when Hitchcock manipulated the audience it was fun, creative and had a classic story with a beginning, middle and end.

The film is shot beautifully with striking images, but without any true story. Blade Runner, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and Malick's own Badlands  were all visually stunning, but had a great narrative and interesting characters. It  also seems like Malik couldn't even decide, which random beautiful image to end the film with so went with a bridge and finally the credits came up. In Cannes they booed, in New York they sighed...this is no masterpiece...deadly trailer though.