Friday, September 01, 2017

THE TRIP TO SPAIN: Third Time Is Not The Charm

Opening today at an indie art house near me:

THE TRIP TO SPAIN (Dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2017)



So, just like in the first two TRIP films (THE TRIP and THE TRIP TO ITALY), it begins with a phone call between Welsh comedian/T.V. personality Rob Brydon and the much better known British actor/writer/producer Steve Coogan.

“Let’s do a series of restaurant reviews - this time, a trip to Spain for the New York Times,” Coogan suggests to Brydon and off we go for another round of immaculate meals at posh restaurants, where the dinner conversation consists of dueling celebrity impressions.

The traveling fine dining duo trot out their comical takes on the voices of Michael Caine (one of their specialties), Mick Jagger, John Hurt, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, and Roger Moore, among others (this film is heavy on the Moore mimicry, which is interesting because it was shot in 2016, way ahead of the James Bond actor’s death in May of this year).

They take a road trip along the coast of Spain, stopping in villages and towns such as Getaria, Hondarribia, Santiago de Compostela, Sos del Rey Católico, Prejano, and Cuenca, Almagro, and Granada.

Now I had to look those places up (thanks to The Telegraph’s The stunning filming locations from the Trip to Spain), because they aren’t identified in the movie. Neither are the names of the restaurants they visit, which is odd because they are supposedly reviewing them, and they frequently cut to shots of the chefs preparing their food in the kitchen. Apart from that, there’s not many shots of the food either.

No, the scenery and foodie theme is just a backdrop to the impressions with each droll broke improving bits and skits with their exaggerated characterizations.

This can get pretty annoying especially when the impressions falter. We learn that Coogan does a better Jagger than Brydon (Brydon even does Jagger doing Michael Caine at one point), Brydon does a better Sean Connery than Coogan, but neither of their Roger Moore voices is spot on, though Brydon’s comes the closest.

This makes for most cringeworthy scene in the movie, where Brydon rambles on and on as Moore while Coogan, and their lovely lady guests (Claire Keelen, Marta Barrio) sit by awkwardly trying to converse.

They have these meals, then retire to their hotel rooms and have phone conversations – Coogan with his agency, son, and girlfriend; Brydon with his wife and an agent claiming he can make him a big star. These suggest conflicts and some sort of plot development but not much comes from them, it’s always back to the impressions.

This is frustrating because Coogan has a possibly juicy storyline about a project he’s working on – a follow-up to PHILOMENA, which he starred, co-wrote, and produced – getting green lit, but they want to bring in another writer. Coogan starts off the film on a high from his success with PHILOMENA (something that he brings up often), but there are hints that his star isn’t on the rise anymore, while Brydon, happily married with kids, may be on the verge of a breakthrough but these ideas never go anywhere.

Instead we get scenes of these guys dressing up like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza for a photo shoot, and making a stop at the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña in Jaca, Spain, which is fabled to be the resting place of the Holy Grail - something they, of course, riff on.

As with the previous films, THE TRIP TO SPAIN is the result of six episodes of the BBC TV series of the same name being edited together into a feature film. This makes me wonder if this material might be less tedious in its original format.

What we have here is a aimlessly talky travelogue, with these sad blokes doing endless impressions for an overlong running time (the film is one hour, 47 min). Despite some funny moments, such as Brydon’s Brando reciting Monty Python’s “The Spanish Inquisition” sketch, and incredible looking locations, this third time is not the charm.


More later...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Summing Up The Cinematic Summer Of 2017


Reportedly this summer was the lowest grossing at the box office in many years. The low turnout can be blamed on franchise fatigue (more ALIENS, APES, CARS, TRANSFORMERS, and PIRATES, anybody?), the abundance of big budget bombs (THE MUMMY, KING ARTHUR: THE LEGEND OF THE SWORD, DARK TOWER, VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS), and all the good TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Twin Peaks: The Return, Game of Thrones, and Glow competing for people’s attention. But whatever the case, despite several gems, it’s been an abysmal season crowded with bland blockbuster wannabes.

It started off promising last May with James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, a solid sequel to the big Marvel hit from three summers ago. GOTGV2 had a juicy role for Kurt Russell as the father of Chris Pratt’s character, Peter Quill (or Star Lord, if you prefer), a bunch of amusing action sequences and gags, and a stellar soundtrack going for it, and audiences responded by making it the third top grossing movie of the year. Read my review.


The next few sequels that followed - Ridley Scott’s ALIEN: COVENANT, David Bower’s DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL, and Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES came and went quickly, with only PIRATES turning a profit despite bad reviews (it’s at 30% on the Rottentomatometer). I only saw PIRATES of these three, and I'm pretty tired of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack schtick so I didn’t care for it (read my review: PIRATES 5: DEAD MEN TELL NO NEW TALES), but at least I enjoyed the Paul McCartney cameo.

I wanted to see the latest ALIEN sequel on the big screen, but didn’t get around to it. I’ll probably catch it someday on Blu ray or streaming, but I’m not really dying to.

Early June, the summer was shaken up by the major success of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN, the first actually good movie of the new DC Extended Universe. 

The gorgeous Gal Gadot portrays the iconic superheroine in the WWI era adventure, and with the help of Chris Pine, and a supporting cast including Robin Wright, Danny Huston, and David Thewlis, she lassoed up a satisfying piece of entertainment (read my review). Now, I’m just waiting for Zack Snyder to get the franchise back off track with JUSTICE LEAGUE (also featuring Gadot) this November. 

Another superhero favorite, Spider-Man, returned the next month, and restored the character to his former glory after Marc Webb’s forgettable THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN movies with Andrew Garfield. Featuring a likable kid in the form of Tom Holland, who was introduced in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, the extremely fun (and funny) experience of John Watts
 SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING was embraced by moviegoers to the tune of over $300 million, and critics to the tune of a 92 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Read my review.

Another sequel that did well at the box office was Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, and Eric Guillon
’s DESPICABLE ME 3 (though not great critically – 61% on Rotten Tomatoes), but not being a fan of the series or the whole Minions thing for that matter, I opted out.

Of the other summer sequels, I took a hard pass on CARS 3 as the CARS series is my least favorite Pixar franchise, but I took in Matt Reeves THE WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, and found it to be a good not great entry in the rebooted series. It contains some powerful visuals, the enjoyable comic relief of Steve Zahn voicing one of the few talking apes who calls himself “Bad Ape,” and Woody Harrelson as the villain, a sinister Colonel who wants to kill off Andy Serkis’ ape leader Caesar and his army, but it’s never been one of my favorite franchises, and I’m not really itching to see more APES movies after it. 

As for the fifth TRANSFORMERS movie, which made over $600 million yet is still considered to be an underperformer - I have never seen one of the TRANSFORMERS movies all the way through, and Im not considering changing that.

One of the worst, if not the worst, movies of the summer was Alex Kurtzman’s THE MUMMY, which was primed to kick off Universal’s Dark Universe series, but its commercial and critical failure (here
s my pan) may cause the powers that be to reconsider things. Tom Cruise is bound to do much better in the Doug Liman
’s upcoming AMERICAN MADE, which is getting some early buzz, so don’t worry about him - he’ll be just fine.

The comedy genre fared horribly during the summer months with flops such as Lucia Aniellos ROUGH NIGHT (saw it - lame waste of a talented cast headed by Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon), Jonathan Levines SNATCHED (didn’t see it, but it looked lame - sorry, Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn), Seth Gordons BAYWATCH (another I skipped for what should be an obvious reason), and Andrew Jay Cohens THE HOUSE (also didn’t see despite being a fan of both Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) which was savaged by critics and ignored by audiences.

However, in the world of independent film, there was a comedy this summer, a rom com no less, that did great business, and got critical acclaim to boot: Michael Showalters THE BIG SICK. The film, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan is the story of how Nanjiani met his later wife, and stuck with her while she was in a coma, while dealing with her worried parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. It’s a real witty charmer that has now played for over eight weeks at the Rialto Theater in Raleigh where I work part time. I haven’t seen a movie connect with audiences at our local indie arthouse like it has in a long time. My review.

A few other indies that didn’t connect as well: Trey Edward Shults’ IT CAME AT NIGHT and David Lowery’s A GHOST STORY. Of these, the former, starring Joel Edgerton as a man whose family is holed up in a house in the country while a plague ravages the land, had its edgy moments but was far from fully fleshed out, while the later, featuring Casey Affleck as a ghost - in a white sheet with eye holes, mind you – was just plain weird as I wrote in my review.

In the non franchise department, there’s Edgar Wright’s BABY DRIVER, a crackling crime thriller, with a great cast including Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx, and an even better soundtrack. It wowed crowds and critics, including me as I declared in my review that it was the best film of the summer.

Another non sequel that I enjoyed was David Leitch’s ATOMIC BLONDE, starring Charlize Theron as a kick ass MI6 field agent on a mission in West Berlin during the waning days of the cold war. It’s a bit uneven and wonky at times, but has some excellent set pieces including a stunning fight in a stairwell, a sharp lead performance by Theron, and a well chosen ‘80s soundtrack. Hmm, that’s three films this summer with great soundtracks – not bad.

Up there with BABY DRIVER in quality is Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK, an immersive war epic that I’m glad I saw in 70 mm. I had a few issues with its structure, which I discussed in my post, Notes on DUNKIRK, but was overall impressed by Nolan’s work, his best since INCEPTION. I bet we’re going to hear a lot more about it come Oscar season.

Lastly, I hate to say I was disappointed in Steven Soderbergh’s late summer entry, LOGAN LUCKY, which many critics have praised.

I loved its premise – a hillbilly heist centered around robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway in my homestate of N.C. – and its cast including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and especially a bleach blond Daniel Craig – but the job is pulled off with very little conflict, the stakes don’t feel very high as folks can be broken out of and back into jail for the caper with ease, and none of these people are believably related to each other – Driver and Tatum sure don’t look or act like brothers, nor do Craig and the two hayseeds (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) who are supposed to be his kin. Still, there were some amusing moments, and I appreciate the effort by Soderbergh to do a variation on his OCEAN’S ELEVEN movies, even if I’m not a fan of those either.

So that’s the summer of 2017 at the movies. One could argue that a season that boasts the likes of BABY DRIVER, DUNKIRK, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, WONDER WOMAN, and THE BIG SICK can’t be completely written off, but that’s only six films out of over 40, so sadly they weren’t enough to save the summer from sucking. The fall, where historically the films get better, can’t come soon enough.


More later...

Thursday, August 24, 2017

And Now, The Top 10 Celebrity Diets Throughout History

Editor's note: This is a sponsored guest post by pop culture maniac Allan Dayfold:

The Top 10 Celebrity Diets Throughout History


A
s long as there have been celebrities, there have been diets. Whether it's for a movie role or simply to look good in the public eye, these ten celebrities have all taken different paths to take the weight off and keep it off.

10. Beyonce: The "Queen Bee" herself has recently taken to social media to proclaim herself (and her husband Jay-Z) a newly-born vegetarian, but that's hardly been the only diet she has gone on throughout the years. To prepare for her starring role in the 2006 hit film DREAMGIRLS, Beyonce famously went on a "Master Cleanse" diet, drinking an all-liquid diet of water flavored with cayenne pepper, with a cheat day of pizza and wine thrown in occasionally as well.

9. Marilyn Monroe: The curvaceous blonde bombshell that dazzled the media throughout the 1950s absolutely hated lunches. So much so, in fact, that she skipped it entirely. Her diet regularly consisted of two raw eggs in warm milk for breakfast, followed by a dinner of broiled liver, steak, or lamb plus five carrots. Monroe loved her desserts, however, usually polishing off a scrumptious hot-fudge sundae to finish her night.

8. Elizabeth Taylor: Famously called, "the most beautiful woman in the world," Liz Taylor certainly had a unique approach to diet. She regularly dined on things like cottage cheese with sour cream over fruit, or a peanut-butter smothered steak sandwich, to name a few. She even reportedly had what she called "controlled pig-outs," where she once consumed an entire pizza and hot-fudge sundae by herself.

7. Sarah Michelle Gellar: Talk about self-control! To keep her physique, Sarah Michelle Gellar went on an extreme diet that restricted most foods except cabbage soup. Sound bland? Not to worry, she made sure to spice it up with vegetables, fruit, milk, and yogurt, and even added lean meats and brown rice towards the end of the week. Yum?

6. Kate Middleton: To get ready for the royal wedding, Kate Middleton employed the Dukan Diet, a plan modeled by the French that incorporates straight protein and vegetables at the beginning, and then slowly gets less strict in the following weeks. Fortunately, the Dukan Diet allows you to customize your diet based on how many pounds you would like to shed.

5. Lady Gaga: If fad diets don't work, you can always return to your roots. I mean, way back to your roots, like pureed peas and carrots. Lady Gaga allegedly eats baby food for her first two meals of the day, followed by a health-conscious dinner. Originally developed by Tracy Anderson, other adherents include Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

4. Madonna: You might not be able to afford it, but for the "Material Girl" herself, eating a strenuous macrobiotic diet may just be the key to the fountain of youth. Good luck trying to afford it, much less hold to it, as the macrobiotic diet consists of eliminating all wheat, eggs, meats, and dairy completely, and only consuming "sea vegetables." I can only assume those don't come cheap.

3. Gwyneth Paltrow: After struggling with food allergies earlier in life, Gwyneth Paltrow has decided to eliminate everything "bad" such as bread, red meat, cow's milk, eggplants, and even tomatoes from her diet. To compensate, she starts every day with a green juice and eats a gluten-free, somewhat vegan diet.

2. Megan Fox: After exploding onto the scene in 2007's Transformers, Megan Fox has remained in the spotlight ever since, in part due to her athletic physique and chiseled body. She credits drinking copious amounts of apple cider vinegar for keeping her fit, but also leans heavily on The Five-Factor Diet, pioneered by Harley Pasternak. In case you haven't heard of it, the diet consists of making five-ingredient meals in less than five minutes. Perfect for the health-conscious, time-sensitive movie star.

1. Victoria Beckham: Leave it to Posh Spice to leave dieting up to science. Beckham is a fierce proponent of the alkaline diet, which aims to keep the body at an ideal pH level: somewhere between 7.35 and 7.45. Beckham claims it's not that difficult, and that by following a simple 80/20 rule of more vegetables and less grains and proteins. Although, if you really want to go full-on alkaline, it's best to get a urine test to check your optimal pH balance first. Hey, it seems to be working for her.

Of course to avoid the fad diets, a lot of people are turning to pre prepared meals. Services like Blue Apron are becoming more popular, as well as their diet variants like Nutrisystem for men which Pure Healthy Living breaks down here.


More later...