Coogan & Brydon & Tristram Shandy

DATELINE: Early Teaming of Coogan & Brydon

 Cock & Bull.

If you truly want the roots of the duo of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, you need to go back to 2005 and the costume drama they almost made. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Storyis a fascinating Fellini-like motion picture. You will even hear music from Fellini’s 8 & a Half.

It is only ancillary about the Laurence Sterne novel. It is about trying to make a movie about it. From the opening scene of Rob and Steve in make-up having a witty repartee to the end of the film when they do their Pacino imitations after a viewing of rushes, you have the basic motif of theTrip pictures.

Tristram Shandy’s behind the scenes take over after nearly half-an-hour of the novel narrative. Debates brew about how to play it, amidst the personal crises of the actors. Roger Allam shows up as the thankless agent of Coogan.

Director Michael Winterbottom set the course five years before the first of the trip films. In Tristram, they argue over leading role status, their looks, and already Steve Coogan playing himself (in variation) has sex scandals brewing in the media.

Coogan plays Tristram and his father, as the film never really goes beyond his birth and early childhood. Rob plays his brother/uncle. When Steve arranges for Gillian Anderson to join the cast, it doubles Rob’s role. Steve’s ego is mortified at what he has done.

This is a semi-friendly rivalry that would be more fully studied in the four subsequent semi-fictional films in which they continued to play movie versions of themselves.

Cruise of the Gods

DATELINE: Early Coogan & Brydon Effort

 2002

At one point in Trip to Greece  (2019),  Steve Coogan disdainfully tells his son he has known Rob Brydon for eleven years. It’s somewhat of an underestimate. Coogan and Brydon made their first movie together in 2002. It was a BBC-TV comedy called Cruise of the Gods.

The first movie is actually similar to Galaxy Quest,the far more successful tale of a 1980s sci-fi series cast that is thrown together 20 years later. Indeed, Brydon is the dominant star in this film, but Coogan takes it away when he shows up.

They starred in a kiddie show as teenagers. Brydon has fallen on hard times outside the business—and Coogan is a big TV star (Sherlock Holmes in Miami).So, Brydon accepts a fan cruise for a week (and $2000 needed bucks). They don’t even ask Coogan, figuring he is too big to do such a ploy.

Yet, he is thrilled to meet his teen fans (now middle-aged nerds). James Corden is a teen in this, chubby and nearly playing a stalker of stars.

This all reminded this critic about his friend and cowriter, the late Jan Merlin, who starred in a sci-fi show for kids decades ago—and years later reluctantly went to fan shows (for which he was compensated).

The other point of interest is Rob Brydon who has not really aged at all in 20 years. He looks essentially the same as the teenager of 1982 and the 50-year old in the last Trip  movie. He may not be handsome, but he is consistent in looks. Coogan has aged (hairdos being his bane).

Though this is billed as an affectionate tribute to fans, it is bitter and cynical, with the two stars not quite in their hostile mode for subsequent features.

 

 

One Last Trip to Greece

DATELINE: Literary Road Trips

 Steve Coogan with Rob Brydon.

With great sadness we are saying goodbye to the highly intelligent, witty, charming series of movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their last is The Trip to Greece,all four civilized comedies were directed by Michael Winterbottom.

These have been four rarities of the modern age: witty as Noel Coward, beautifully locations, with amusing company. And they aren’t even gay. Two performers whose competition extends to out-imitating the other are sent on a fictional outing. Their job as journalists is to visit fine restaurants and write reviews.

The actors sort of play themselves in Brydon and Coogan (notable Oscar nominee for Stan and Ollie, as he was Stan). You often cannot tell where the fiction starts, as they play versions of themselves blending over into plot contrivance. Their litany of impersonations (Brando, Hoffman, Olivier, Caine, Pacino, Jagger) makes for a variety of dinner companions.

Four films feature hilarious riffs and impersonations over dinner and while driving around luscious countryside in Greece. Brydon sings the tune from Grease, and he crunches it to fit the country. Coogan is dutifully appalled.

They transform imitations of Laurel and Hardy over lunch into breath-taking jokes: Oliver Hardy morphs into Tom Hardy.

These little forays to gourmet restaurants have a price in this film (350 Euros).

The bittersweet last entry in the series showcases the performers to their greatest wish: Brydon becomes the epitome of the light comedian—and Coogan, as he likes, becomes the tragic actor of Shakespearean levels.

Their frictions and battles are nothing short of delightful wordplay. You don’t see that much anywhere in movies nowadays.

After visits to England, Italy, and Spain, this lap around the Aegean ends with a whimper. Brilliantly done, and hopefully there will be one more trip.

 

 

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

trip 2.jpeg

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.