Tripping Again with Coogan & Brydon

 DATELINE: Another Sequel, not Deja Vu

 tripping

No, you didn’t read this movie review last week here.

What more can you ask?  Beautiful scenery, lovely music, and witty conversation. Yes, those two British actors (one with 2 Oscar nominations) are back to delight us.

We have skipped the second trip to Italy for now and cut to the chase with Trip to Spain. These two marvelous performers can hit the road and still hit their marks. This is another followup to their British series, The Trip, condensed and made into a feature film. No, it’s not a mid-life crisis movie, despite what the New York Times claims.

They seem to make the films every three or four years, which is just about right. They are reality-based, as the stars play themselves, notable thespians and comedians on a journalistic journey for the New York Times as food critics, or culture commentators.

With each stop at a breathtaking locale, Steve Coogan foams at the mouth with his erudite knowledge. Heaven help you if you know more or have enough. Rob Brydon can match him every mile, and that makes them chemically compatible.

Each morsel is back-lit with some of the funniest conversations this side of reality. Coogan notes how sorry he feels for anyone who thinks this stuff is not scripted and fully ad-libbed. It’s likely a circle within a square is outlined and the two drop in their witticisms.

However, the impressions make all the difference over the meals. When they argue over who does the best Mick Jagger impression as he plays Hamlet, you have moments that will knock fans of Noel Coward into the aisle.

Coogan remains prickly, but Brydon manages to break him up several times this trip, which may not have been planned.

If Coogan reminds us of ourselves, then we have had a bittersweet lesson. Sheer delight awaits the viewer.

 

 

 

Out of Time and Out of Clues

DATELINE: Dean Cain & Denzel Back in 2003

Dean & Denzel

Like Bruce Willis, for twenty years or more, Denzel Washington has showed a knack for picking interesting films and character roles. One of these is called Out of Time, a hackneyed suspense drama.

In 2003, he tried his luck as a semi-corrupt small-town sheriff in the Florida Keys. The film has all the workings of film noir in the 1940s that Robert Mitchum could have played.

Denzel is an anchor among some flashy performers, and the opening wit is entertaining before it devolves into a mystery muddier than anything Raymond Chandler could dredge up.

You will enjoy seeing Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain as a couple of reprobates, but their general dubious crime associations are masked by their attractiveness. The first-half fun is replaced by a phony suspense device in the second half.

Eva Mendes as Denzel’s ex-wife and John Billingsley as his slob of a medical examiner are worth having their own pictures. Sanaa Lathan and Eva play ping-pong with Denzel’s balls.

Plot holes start to do in the viewer as the complications become less amusing and more ridiculous. It seems Denzel’s sheriff is a dope (self-admitted by film’s end) and must work to extricate himself from a set-up that, for unknown reasons, makes him a fall-guy.

Since he is a charmer and likeable, we figure that drug dealers have it in for him. We might be wrong, as usual. However, clever clues are not forthcoming to help armchair detectives figure out the thriller mystery. Yet, Dean Cain and Denzel are at the peak of their youthful good looks in this one, and they are highly watchable.

All your natural action ingredients are tossed in, and there is a time handicap that never really becomes a deadline of importance. The suspense is botched.

Yet, for Denzel’s fans, it is another masterful performance in a well-produced movie. For the rest of us, it’s a ho-hummer, beating the clock for an hour.

 

The Trip (of Light Fantastic)

DATELINE: Boon Companions

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Gourmet Wit & Impersonations on the menu!

We don’t know how we missed this film or its sequels. We are delighted to say we have found them now: epicurean wit and breathtaking scenery.

Two minor actors for reasons unclear are assigned to sample fancy restaurants in northern England. You may well ask if there any fancy restaurants in far-off south of Scotland. You may well ask yourself why two actors would be hired as journalists, not even TV journalists.

Yet, this light fare is sweet enough and fluffy around the edges. Steve Coogan is often insufferable and hardly worthy of spending five days in a long car ride. Rob Brydon is more pleasant and funnier. We do vote that Steve’s Michael Caine impersonation is better.

They have an edgy friendship, Platonic as Steve claims, but Coogan is known for his gay-themed movies like Philomena and Ideal Home. Here, he plays himself: as a womanizing aging actor.

There are some hilarious moments in a largely improvised script. One wonders why Brydon would be willing to go along after being told that just about everyone else said, no, thanks.

After an hour with Coogan, we understand why everyone from ex-wives to children and girlfriends are loathe to go anywhere with him. Alexander Pope’s wit likely rendered him unpleasant too. Groucho’s did.

They eat delectable meals and seem to have no appreciation for the hard work that goes into their menu trivia.

They sing-along during boring rides in the countryside, and they stop off in famous literary haunts. Their witty impersonations of notable and not-so-notable British stars (Michael Caine, Sean Connery, yes; Michael Sheen, no) are lively and funny.

Ultimately, Brydon admits that Coogan was exactly what he expected during their trip, and Coogan turns down a chance to star in an American TV series about a British pathologist.

How much is reality? How much is fake? Well, they made a few sequels—and we will sign up to go along with them.

Coogan insists it is not reality at all. It is the epitome of entertainment.

 

Simpleton Luck of the Logans

 DATELINE:   Hunh?

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What have we got he-yah? When you go with a Channing Tatum movie, you never know what’s inside the movie box of chocolates. Logan Lucky is pot luck and a spin of the wheel of fortune.

In this film, paunchy Channing looks like he put on 30 pounds from eating boxes of chocolates. It might be a fat suit, but on him it is a shock.

A rather extraordinary cast dumbs down their typecast Hollywood looks. We’ve seen these actors playing sharper and more sophisticated roles than the denizens of Hooterville in the Hills.

It’s all in fun, though we aren’t quite sure if hayseeds will be offended by the sincerity of the actors.

Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play a couple of down-on-their luck dumb and dumber brothers who are disabled veterans and abused and neglected good ol’boys. One limps and one has a prosthetic hand.

Yes, it’s a comedy.

This is the story of genuine brothers who don’t need a bromance to seal the real deal.

You have to like them, even when Boss Hogg Daniel Craig shows up with a Southern drawl and platinum hair to tell them they are simpletons. They plan to break him out of the Big House to help them blow up a safe. For James Bond this is a grit of hominy.

It’s part of Tatum and Driver’s charm that they will use their abused lives to disabuse a race course speedway payroll. Hillary Swank is an investigating FBI agent.

Well, of course, we are in the deepest darkest land of speedway race-cars and going ‘round the bend means a life of watching cars careen around a track several hundred laps.

These hillbillies make nice folks like the Clampitts seem like rocket scientists. When the brothers seek a computer expert, he boasts he knows “all the Twitters” with a twang.

The plot holes are in the heads of the characters. It’s a caper movie with a twist of moonshine.

How could you resist this trifle truffle?

 

 

Trump on Candid Camera

DATELINE:    Pictures  of 1000 words             

warhol doubleDateNight?

President Bone Spurs, aka the draft dodger, and now liar emeritus, Donald Trump claims he has photos of James Comey and Robert Mueller up a tree, kissing.

If he has such pictures, they were obtained illegally at the least.

If he has made up this story, in the Mark Twain tradition, of great liars, then he is amoral and disgusting.

If he has seen fake photos from some odd Internet source, then he is a dupe.

Worst of all, if he believes that these two honorable men would allow photographs of themselves in compromising positions, then he is utterly deluded.

In short, he  is  totally  koo-koo.

However you  slice this baloney, Trump is a loathsome animal.  No surprises there.

There are likely a few Evangelicals who will defend this crap,

But Nazi punksters are everywhere in Trump’s  twisted world.

People  who live in White glass Houses should not cast aspersions before their first sin is revealed.

We have in our possession a photo of Mr. Trump in flagrante delicto with one Rudi Guiliani.   They have locked  lips   and Rudi is in drag.

On top of that, we also hold a photo of Mr. Trump out on a date with Andy Warhol on the way to Studio54 in their heyday.

Photos tell quite a story.

                                                        

M/M: Sexual Identity Thief

DATELINE:  Weird Sex Thriller!

m:m M/M

Drew Lint is a director whose name we will watch in the future. His effort called M/M refers to Matthew and Mattias, two trendy young gay men in Berlin. However weird, this is not your usual gay love story. It is more a story of bizarre sexual obsession and identity theft. It’s Strangers on a Train on steroids.

If Jean Cocteau were still making movies, this would be his updated Beauty of a movie. If Rene Clair were making movies, this would be his update of a Highsmith story. Drew Lint writes and directs this film that rises far above the usual fare of gay-themed movies.

Hitchcock dared to make a movie like this, without overt sex in Rope.

Dialogue is sparse throughout the film, but it is definitely international with dollops of French, English,  and German, often in minor conversation or background.

Matthew is an artist, and Mattias is a bademeister (or glorified pool boy). Mattias wants to become his near twin, and there is a Patricia Highsmith Purple Noon quality here.

Stealing your life and sexuality may be more daring than taking your purse.

Whether parts of the tale are a dream (as Mattias notes in the opening, he dreams of statues come to life), you may be left guessing. Since Matthew may be involved in computer sculptures, you have a connection.

The dream twins become more and more alike, which may be why they both are devotees of techno music. How Mattias comes to take over Matthew’s life is intriguing and almost expected from stalking.

If you are not squeamish about sexual peccadilloes, the deeper psychological by-play between the characters sexually will be part of the sophisticated puzzle of the movie.

Prepare for a roller-coaster of creepy psychological games.

 

 

Odd Couple 2, Bittersweet Reunion

DATELINE: Original Stars, 30 Years Later

grumpy old odd couple

Grumpiness as a Joy to Behold!

The two men who single-handedly created a movie/TV franchise of Neil Simon’s comedy classic stageplay, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, returned twenty years ago, aged in the wood, to reprise their roles as Oscar and Felix.

We discovered Odd Couple 2 to cheer us so many years later.

We confess to having missed this event when it happened, and we were surprised to find it available now on streaming format. It is, however, a sad and bittersweet experience to behold. The two great stars keep their chemistry, but age has sapped them of vitality. It is like watching Laurel and Hardy in their final film.

Time is never kind.

Oscar and Felix have been separated for nearly twenty years, though they made the original film in the late 1960s, and the sequel is 30 years later. They are brought together by the marriage of Felix’s daughter to Oscar’s son.

Jokes about slobs and neatniks have been replaced with a series of old age jabs and dollops of humor.

More than ever these grumpy old men (Lemmon & Matthau) epitomize Oscar and Felix, as if the aging process has turned them into fine wine.

The storyline is filled with pratfalls and lowbrow situations as the two men battle each other’s foibles in the California desert, trying to make it to a wedding.

Though the situation is forced, you must see past that and simply enjoy the actors as they return to their beloved characters, not missing a beat, not letting age and time distract their timing and their experience.

 

 

 

The Business of an American Home

 DATELINE:  Wright House, Wrong Address

American home

Let’s face it: the city of Kankakee, Illinois, needs all the help its Chamber of Commerce can provide.

Enter director/writer Thomas Desch.  He has put together a fascinating centerpiece for reviving the city: its greatest single tourist and artistic point is the house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed at the turn of the 20th century.

An American Home has an unwieldy and ridiculous subtitle Frank Lloyd Wright’s B. Harley Bradley House, but don’t be daunted. You have here architectural history and how it is personally tied to the fates of real people who try to live and work within a building’s architecture.

Wright was a genius and his first example of the Prairie Home was in Illinois where the well-to-do young Bradley’s commissioned a house, stable, and accompanying residence for their family. Perhaps some places are benighted and cursed.

As amazing and beautiful as the house was—and now is again—it had a hard journey over 100 years. And, so did the cursed owners.

With its stunning stained glass, lead-lined windows, largely sold at auction, and its furniture and tables bought for exorbitant prices by celebs like Barbra Streisand over the years, the Wright house has been decimated.

The owners have variously committed suicide and been kidnapped and murdered (one during renovation of the structure).

Yet,generous patrons have thrown millions of bucks into refurbishing the Yesteryear Restaurant of 50 years (bankrupt in the 1980s) and fallen into disrepair, to save it from demolishing.

Its stable was an afterthought that was saved only by large protests. You may be shocked to learn 20% of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs have been destroyed.

So, we have no issue with the Kankakee people who are proud of the most impressive building and home of their city. Interesting history and biography.

 

 

 

Coke & Pepsi: 100 Years of Marketing War

DATELINE: Bottoms Up!

cola

Well, it’s not exactly the War of the Roses. You might be surprised at the back and forth of the fates and fights of the two soda pop giants. A documentary entitled Coke and Pepsi: the Marketing Battle of the Century offers to eliminate your six-pack with caloric intake.

It seems like much ado, full of sound and fury but signifies billions of dollars and millions of lives over the empty bottles, cans, and soda fountain glasses.

Many factoids emerge from their origins in the time after the United States Civil War. Coca-Cola arose in the 1880s out of battle scarred Georgia, and a few years later in South Carolina, you had the birth of the purer Pepsi. Coke was originally laced with cocaine, long-since discontinued. Both were overly laced with sugar.

Both started small:  like six ounces in a bottle, not like today’s mega-drinks that are three times the size and deadly to the human diet and nearly a diabetic shock in one swallow.

In the 1930s, Pepsi made great strides by selling itself at half the price of Coke. It became the drink of poor people and disadvantaged Americans and reinvented itself as the drink of the elite.

The Colas are as political as you might expect. They created marketing: red and blue ribbons of their banners. Santa Claus drank Coke. And, Coke was the patriotic American thirst-quencher. It was a staple of World War II and had to be discontinued in the Third Reich (where Coca-Cola became Fanta for the duration).

TV appeals and musical ditties permeated the 1950s: you are who you chose to drink with. When Joan Crawford became Pepsi’s spokesperson, Bette Davis drank Coke.

Nixon drank Pepsi and tried to force it down the Russian throats. But Coke went for the Red Chinese market.

When health fanatics became their enemy in the 21st century, the colas teamed up against the political forces of the health industry and the diet Puritans.

Which tasted better? Which one shot itself in the foot and became a classic? Which one is more akin to rot your gut? This documentary may be for you if you want to learn the answers.

 

 

Westworld 2.8 Ghostly Nation

 DATELINE: Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

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If you’re not in Oz, and not in Delos’s Westworld 2, you must be in Ford’s Ghost Nation where you live in some kind of digital memory bank.

We’re heading down the homestretch of conundrum, east of chaos and southwest of confusion. Our GPS coordinates on the series are sending us down one-way streets that are closed to thru-traffic.

Those Indians in black and white war-paint may seem like a throwback to old TV westerns. In fact, we are in one old Western in particular. Welcome to the Lone Ranger.

Hiyo, Silver horse, running through the dreams of the Noble Savage, Tonto, or in this case, Ake.

Yes, we re-live Tonto saving the Lone Ranger at least three times in this episode. He saves Ben Barnes, left for dead in the desert last season. He saves Ed Harris, left for dead like the last ranger, this season. And he may even save Thandie Newton.

Two of the scenes are right out of the original production of the Lone Ranger-Tonto playbook. Our last surviving member of his tribe comes across a massacre and makes a ghost who walks for revenge.

It seems the Noble Savage is another bad robot, spreading his discontent, looking for a door to escape being an automaton. A touchstone with one key backstory motivates them to a better world.

And, now it seems that Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) has been all for it. We are moving toward truth, as all the characters seem to be realizing. We stand in awe of Jonathan Nolan pulling this three-ring circus together in the final episodes of the season.

 

 

John Waters: The Filthy World Auteur

 DATELINE:  Standup for Smuttiness

young waters, old warhol Young Waters, Old Warhol

About ten years ago, John Waters filmed one of his so-called lectures on a college campus, but it’s more like social media commentary about porn in the modern age done as standup comedy. It’s now streaming:  John Waters: The Filthy World.

He emerges on a live stage to chat with the audience, stepping from a Catholic Church confessional to stand amid garbage cans and bouquets of flowers. Yes, it is pure John Waters, director of Hairspray (an all-family movie) to ultimate disgust (Female Trouble).

Even before an audience of alleged cult fans, he is too smart for them. He mentions how he’d like a tattoo of Joseph Losey on his arm—and the rapt audience is unwrapped in silence. Losey is one of the titans of directors. Who knew? Not this audience.

Indeed, when Waters discusses the invention of “tea-bagging” in one of his movies, audience members of young men look most unhappy, like they were sold a bill of goods.

Not so much funny as appalling in bad taste, he argues for all-Lesbian army soldiers, and discusses Michael Jackson’s spotted private junk.

He tells many stories about the overwrought Divine, the man behind the Hairspray star turn. No one else could epitomize Miss Edna.

Waters notes how he used to go to children’s movies, but mothers always moved the kids away from him, thinking he looked like a perv. He said he isn’t.

One of his long-time hobbies is to attend court proceedings of famous or notorious cases, especially in his hometown of Baltimore, where he proudly defends the nation’s ugliest people.

Having worked with an eclectic group as actors in his movies—the likes of Patty Hearst, Traci Lords, Sonny Bono, and Johnny Depp, he has tales about all of them.

He started out as a guerilla filmmaker and has become the Establishment outre star.

 

 

 

Westworld 2.6 Goes to Hell

DATELINE:  Westworld 2.6

  who's Arnold? Who’s real?

You have now entered Robot Hell in Westworld’s Season 2.

The dirty little coward Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) has shot the Jesse James Western story into a moldering grave. You can’t tell the guests from the hosts without a scorecard, and staff may be just as confused as the audience.

We may be wondering after 2.6 just who the true villains are. Those who were rotten for the entire series show too much heart as we come to a climax. And, those Dopplegangers from Shogun World are gone, thank heavens. However, we are seeing William (Ed Harris), head honcho of the Westworld operation having a change of heart.

Since no one ever really dies in a Jonathan Nolan series, we know everyone will return in some shape or form. You can probably expect that there are host versions of everyone, and you can’t tell them apart without one of those fancy tablets Elsie (Shannon Woodward) plays like a Chopin nocturne.

If there is a theme here, it is that pursuing a dream is the stuff tragedy is made of. Bernard, or is that Arnold, dreams of returning to the past, or is it the present?

The more the storylines change, the more they remain the same. We know that guests and hosts are converging on the Pearly Gates of the grande finale of season 2.  What we don’t know is how hell-bent they are to have a Last Supper.

In this episode we see one robot “crucified” with spikes by uncaring humans in an effort to learn what is truth. Good centurion Luke Helmsworth stands by in growing horror, as Nolan unravels his gospel according to a Person of Interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kinky Puss’n Boots

DATELINE:  A Really Big Shoe

 kinky boots Kinky-Dinky!

Kinky Boots may kindly be called an old-fashioned character drama. The difference is that it’s about drama queens in men’s shoes. It was later turned into a smash stage show, but the 2006 version is one of those working class British angry young man movies (except the young man dresses like a woman).

The two characters in juxtaposition are, first, the son of a shoe factory heir facing bankruptcy for making traditional footwear for men when disposable sneakers are the rage.

The second young man likes to wear high-heels and becomes a cabaret star in drag shows.

Under normal circumstance, you almost would expect the two men to slip into each other’s loafers at some point. Thank heavens, Kinky Boots keeps us in our own lanes and avoids any moments with glass slippers.

Joel Edgerton is the scion of shoemakers who learns that market niche for men’s boots with stilettos is high end. He meets Chiwetel Ejiofor in a career-busting role as Lola, the giant man in glitter. They kick up the story. Chiwetel also sings us a torrid version of “Whatever Lola Wants.”

Unfortunately, to walk a mile in one man’s shoes, or high-heels, may be a stretch too far. The movie makes its points early and often but keeps on giving us more. The climax on the runways of Milan for shoe biz is too much glitz for our own good. Hero and audience fall flat.

Lessons in what defines masculinity and manhood are made a few times too many. It’s always hard to figure out British men anyhow since, to American eyes, they all look ready to put on a feathery boa and dancing shoes.

Reel History: 1960’s Damned Village

DATELINE:  Creepy Kids

 Stephens & Sanders

Martin Stephens & George Sanders

We know they could not call it by the John Wyndam title of the original novel, The Midwich Cuckoos.

The marvelous little low-budget sci-fi thriller, Village of the Damned, was only 70 minutes of brilliant detail.

Only George Sanders would be not intimidated by holding his own with a bunch of British child actors who occasionally use the special effect of glowing eyes.

After the movie’s opening 15 minutes, you are utterly hooked. It’s so brilliant that what follows doesn’t matter.

With no budget, this George Sanders movie had the most chilling opening of any film of its time. Camerawork is so effective by the director Wolf Rilla.

You see charming little British village in which everyone collapses in place, into a faint for several hours. Camera pans slowly over the entire village. Chilling.

Without the benefit of science’s discovery of DNA and genetic engineering, the story proposes that during the time in which the village is knocked out, all women of child-bearing age become pregnant. It leaves for puzzled and befuddled attitudes among many.

The script uses only several incidents to indicate how dangerous these alien children are: of course, since the children are adult-like Brits, they are creepy anyhow. Add in their mental powers and you have horror. Oh, kids grow up so fast in movies.

The children admire Sanders who is professorial and so unemotional like them. He even becomes their tutor.

In the Soviet Union, a similar community is bombed with an atomic weapon. There are nests of alien children planted around the world, we learn.

George Sanders must resort to his cold-blooded manner to save the day by using his own mind tricks.

Marvelous little gem.

 

 

Proud Mary: Person of Interest Undone

DATELINE: Taraji Firepower

 taraji

We should enjoy Taraji P. Henson while we have her. Her new movie Proud Mary is a throwback to her work on Jonathan Nolan’s hit show before Westworld.

Our initial discovery was on the TV series Person of Interest, where she played police detective Joss Carter, part of the secret organization saving people in vigilante fashion.

In her latest movie incarnation as Proud Mary, a mob hit woman, she has become her partner John Reese (who was played by Jim Caviezel), but has stolen the wardrobe of Miss Shaw, the deadly assassin in black.

The new film echoes the old TV show in so many ways. Mary has a closet hideaway full of armaments, like her pal John Reese, retired government assassin.

The film, produced by Henson, had its problems, including Taraji smashing up the Maserati she drives in a scene in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and John Fogerty who wrote the tune used in the film complaining he was not consulted.

This mob hit squad movie is different: mainly because of Taraji Henson, giving a softer touch, the maternal thing.

Yes, she feels some guilt about leaving a 12-year old boy as an orphan and takes him in. You know when he finds out that she caused his predicament, there will be trouble.

Danny Glover plays the mob leader and Billy Brown his son. Taraji is adopted unofficially as a child and raised to be a killer. History may repeat itself with her new ward (Jahi Di’Allo Winston—a delightful young actor as the orphan with a ridiculous name to his disadvantage).

The film was shot in Greater Boston on the waterfront (with Chicago standing in now and then). The locations are not exactly your favorite tourist spots, though Taraji jogs near the Paul Revere statue on the Boston Common.

When Proud Mary starts acting up to the Tina Turner version of the song (lyrics altered), you know everyone ought to duck. The mob hitmen she takes on are out of the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, another Boston crime tale. If you give her 100 to 1 odds, they will miss every time.

Taraji puts just the right amount of sentiment into her role to make this film contrast favorably with so many trite mob killer stories. We lost count of her shoot’em up tally, but it had to be approaching Clint levels.