The Trip to Italy

September 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom (“The Trip,” “24 Hour Party People”)
Written by: Michael Winterbottom (“Everyday,” “9 Songs”)

British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are far from household names here in the U.S. Sharp-eyed fans who know Coogan from his famous-in-the-UK character Alan Partridge by way of Netflix may remember him popping up in stuff like “Tropic Thunder,” “Night at the Museum,” and the Oscar-nominated “Philomena,” but Rob Brydon? Who is this guy? I mean, other than the guy we saw teamed up with Coogan last time around in 2010’s “The Trip?”

Regardless, the duo is back together—again playing semi-fictionalized versions of themselves–in the TV-series-turned-film sequel “The Trip To Italy.” This time around Coogan and Brydon are set to tour Italy, following in the culinary footsteps of poets while eating some amazing Italian cuisine. Along the way they toss dueling Christian Bale Batman impressions at one another, listen to mid-’90s Alanis Morissette, and shoot an audition tape for a Michael Mann film. The whole affair is underscored by huge dollops of dry British banter and the occasional twinge of the creeping doubt of success in middle age.

Coogan and Brydon are pleasant enough and their incredible chemistry can’t be denied. “The Trip To Italy,” however, has the general sense of going through the motions. Did you like the Michael Caine impressions in the first film? Like a meal you enjoyed before, they’re back, but the thrill of being new has worn off. The movie threatens to go in interesting directions, yet the Michael Mann audition and a sweet, slightly desperate extramarital affair thread fizzle out to make way for more food and witty banter. The film’s origin as a TV series, like its predecessor, perhaps are a better vehicle for the sometimes plotless diversions featuring the two veteran entertainers bouncing off one another. Checking in once a week for 30 minutes at a time seems like a more agreeable serving size; at feature length, the film begins to resemble the soft music at a fine restaurant: nothing more than background noise.

The Killer Inside Me

July 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom (“A Mighty Heart”)
Written by: John Curran (debut)

It would be impossible to dismiss Michael Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me” wholeheartedly because of the solid albeit sometimes babbly performance by lead actor Casey Affleck or the stylish film noir environment created by Dutch cinematographer Marcel Zyskind (“A Might Heart”), but what little substance and emotional pull the controversial picture has is quickly lost even before Winterbottom’s intentions are fully revealed.

In “The Killer Inside Me,” Affleck, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing another killer in 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” stars as Lou Ford, a well-respected sheriff in the 1950s who is suspected in a string of killings in a small West Texas town. The murders begin with Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a known prostitute who Lou is having a sadomasochistic affair with after demanding she leave town.

Thorough flashbacks, we find that Lou’s mental problems stem from scarring events he experienced as a young boy. When he meets Joyce, who is open to violent sexual encounters, things start boiling over. Left waiting in the wings is Lou’s wife Amy (Kate Hudson), who is clueless to her husband’s indiscretions and psychopathic tendencies.

Intertwined in the sex, secrets, and sadism is a weak narrative about blackmail and corruption. Nothing, however, is as remotely interesting as trying to pin down what director Winterbottom is actually doing when he turns these curious fetishes into scenes of ultra-violent rage. If these scenarios are supposed to make viewers feel uncomfortable, they succeed. If they’re supposed to answer questions about Lou’s vicious character, they don’t.

What we’re left with is a thriller without much suspense and characterizations that fall by the wayside in favor of brutality that offers little to the script at hand. A film should never be penalized for being “too violent” especially if it enhances elements of the story. “The Killer Inside Me,” however, simply flaunts its ability to disturb, which makes it seem desperate to evoke some kind of sensation more than anything.