Appalling Holmes & Watson

 DATELINE: Elementary, School That is.

elementary school.jpeg 

We were warned, and now you are warned.

The Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly remake of a comic Conan Doyle couple is not exactly a blue-plate special. It is going for .99 cents on Amazon streaming video. You know that price is rock bottom for rock bottom quality. This is a step down for the Step Brothers.

The film is horrific in terms of anachronisms. There are references to killer bees, protein shakes, and headlines that smell of National Enquirer in the 1950s.

Worse yet are the fake British accents on our traditional heroes, showing that they cherish good acting as much as a paycheck. The actors playing them as children speak with American accents (as do all the kids in London).

Mrs. Hudson is a trollop—and not from the British pages of classic literature.

We almost expected Judi Dench was likely offered the role as Queen Victoria—and that would have set us off on a tangent. Instead, we have Ralph Fiennes acting in a separate movie as Moriarty.

He has no flair for comedy.

Perhaps the most surprising couple in the film are the Road Trip movie stars: Rob Brydon as Lestrade and Steve Coogan as the one-armed tattooist.

We almost wish they had played Holmes and Watson. Of course, this may be the only version in which Lestrade is smarter than Holmes.

The movie moribundly moves from one witless encounter and set-up to another. Killer bees are inexplicably in a glass case at 221b Baker Street, allowing for a madcap moment without suspense.

Another stupid setup is Holmes surprise birthday party thrown by the Queen.  Who wrote this drivel? Mindless is the Zeitgeist of the age: and if this is you, you will be in your element.

Yes, it’s elementary.  Elementary school.

Stan & Ollie: Imitation or Acting?

DATELINE: Bittersweet Docdramas

Stan & Ollie

The resemblance to Laurel and Hardy is uncanny.

Stan & Ollie has a resurrection quality to its stars.

You might credit makeup masters, but there is also the subtle posture and gesture of the two stars as they mimic the familiar comedic personalities of the great movie team of the 1930s.

You have likely seen these two stars doing star turns in popular movies with tepid reviews: this is their best work and may end up being their least viewed movie. Laurel and Hardy belong to aficionados of film. Young people (meaning anyone under 40—or even 50—may be in the dark about the great comic duo).

John C. Reilly plays Babe Hardy, Mr. Oliver Hardy to you. And Steve Coogan plays Stan Laurel. A Brit and a Southern gentleman were an unlikely partnership but were created by studio chemists. It was a team that clicked so well it became legend.

The movie starts in 1937 at their pinnacle of success, doing Way Out West and their amazing little dance routine. It is repeated several times for good measure. Badly paid, with little artistic credit, Stan Laurel feels slighted as Chaplin and even Buster Keaton received more accolades.

By 1953, on the down-slide with age and television co-opting their earlier films, they embark on a tour of the British Isles to re-kindle their magic. Alas, the movie turns bittersweet, with far more bitter than sweet. Breaking up is never easy.

Bad blood, old age, and festering antagonisms, seem to dog the two stars. The movie replays their famous routines as if it is part of their real lives. And, they are pure show busy folks: the show must go on, and they are always on. Poor, dear souls.

Fans may find this hard look harder to take than a Hal Roach (Danny Huston) cheapskate contract. As oldsters, they had to work; no fortune followed fame.

Younger viewers may well be advised to go back to movies like Way Out West, or shorts like Their First Mistake, for seeing comedy genesis. This movie, like old age itself, is anticlimactic.

 

 

 

 

Mid-Trip Crisis

DATELINE: Coogan & Brydon in Italy

Italian job

The Trip to Italy is the middle piece of the trilogy of mockumentaries by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. The Trip to Italy is directed by Michael Winterbottom again, and he condenses the film to the best bon mots uttered during the two-week business holiday.

These minor British TV stars are on the verge of making it big in American movies, and they are thrown together for another series of adventures by the media. They are temperamental actors who seem not to enjoy each other’s company.

However, they are amusing together. It’s said that Abbot and Costello were not friends but were a business association. So, it is here. This is the business of growing older with wit and aplomb.

The conceit of the journey is to visit great Italian restaurants and trace the expatriates Byron and Shelley along the way.

Coogan and Brydon compete over everything, especially to show which one has more talent and is more successful. They do imitations of Hugh Grant, Roger Moore, Michael Caine, and Sean Connery, over dinners to die for in exotic coastal Italian tourist spots.

Not much is sacred here in their barbs, not even the dead at Pompeii.

You may not be used to intelligent conversation like this. You certainly wonder how they could not enjoy their mid-life crises while living La Dolce Vita.

Not everything is fun, as there is a downbeat inner core to the cavorting. They might die happy in one of these spots, but we doubt it. They sabotage their own trip, their friendship, and seem to have a grand time of indifference, their personal existential crises.

We are happy to have a chance to be a fly on the walls of their discontent.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Philomena’s Hard Lessons

 DATELINE: Movie Mashup

PhilomenaJudy Dench, Steve Coogan

Stephen Frears has directed a heart-wrenching movie that criss-crosses two diametric reactions: righteous indignation and blind faith.

Philomena tells the true story of a mother whose search for her lost child seems like something out of medieval times. The Roman Catholic Church, as late as the 1950s, and as recently as the 21st century, prevents the reunion of a mother and son by preventing prior to adoption information.

There emerge a half-dozen startling moments of discovery in this fully realized human drama. Journalist Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan who also doubled on the screenplay) is a prig and elitist who only deigns to a human interest story about Philomena Lee (Judy Dench) when he has no other options. His journey of discovery grows more poignant as the film proceeds on its path.

Small victories make for compelling story-telling. The anxiety of Philomena about what happened to her son when given to the Sisters of Mercy (or Less Mercy, as Sixsmith dubs them) may become an inkblot test for each viewer. Some will react like Philomena, and others like the journalist.

Dench always plays tough (whether as James Bond’s M, or as a queen). Here she seems vulnerable, but you can’t keep a good woman down for long. Fans of Bond films may wonder what happened to Barbara Jefford, but she shows up here in a scene-stealing performance that will make you want to kick in the screen.

This extraordinary film flies in the face of modern audiences who may find its mental cruelty and anguish belonging to another era.