In Michael Winterbottom‘s miniseries/film The Trip, a publication assigns Steve Coogan (Coogan) to do a piece on fine restaurants all over England and Wales. Needing a plus one and seeing that his family and/or girlfriend are unavailable, he reluctantly calls Rob Brydon (Brydon), who is apparently the Jen Bunney of British actors. Hilarity ensues.
The film tackles the usual tropes of multi-generational British drama with reverence, beauty and humour. Steve plays Joy Division on his stereo to shut Rob up. They try to best each other’s impressions of other actors. They make fun of medieval war period pieces, producing one of the film’s funnier lines. Steve and Rob encounters an old man who takes away the silent romance of the countryside’s rock formations. All of those parts show the film’s improvisational nature that, sometimes uncomfortably, blurs the line between fact and fiction. Rob’s impressions are less spot-on that Steve’s and he is grating when other characters come into the mix, but Brydon, playing himself, is an optimistic delight to watch.
Although the next few parts in the film aren’t particularly nor intentionally funny, there’s a bit of dialogue about the complex British freeway system that makes me feel lucky that I live in North America. They also take a stab at food criticism that sounds either vile or pedantic and purple-prose-y, the words Rob read out can also be mistaken for film criticism. There’s also the lack of reception in the English countryside, possibly hinting at that hole in these places’ customer services or how these characters aren’t that connected with technology or the other characters with whom they want to communicate. Rob indulges in funny phone sex with his wife, Steve talks to his editor, agents, girlfriend and son and these conversations show how distant and different he is from those people.
But seeing this as a comedy, I’m going to be depressing in this blog post about it. Speaking of Jen Bunney and last resort friends, the comedy and the drama intersects within Steve and Rob assessing the latter’s recent dearth of acting roles. Coogan, as Rob says, is ‘brilliant’ in his leading and supporting roles, but the movie does remind us that he might just be a B-grade afterthought and yes, it makes us worry about his career a bit. He has dreams about the hyperpositive and negative that go with recognition (Ben Stiller makes another cameo in a British film). He works with a photographer that he can’t remember ‘meeting.’ Rob asks him if he’ll want to win an Oscar in the condition that his son falls ill.
The film also shows Coogan compared to his peers. His British and American agents call him about TV roles that were too late to be offered to Hugh Laurie. He resents that people recognize Rob over him or that agents choose Michael Sheen over him. Thinking of himself as the last resort also involves Steve and Rob’s contest of impressions including Michael Caine – apparently doing Caine is the trendy thing now. He doesn’t see the silver lining however, as Caine himself was probably as existential when he was making Jaws 3. The actors they imitate have had good early and later years, but since Steve is in the middle. And yes, it’s eye-roll worthy to watch two middle class white men complain while they’re living in contemporary style condos and work-vacationing while eating high-class, gourmet-cooked food. But this is only a week in their lives, and an actor’s fine life is understandably precarious and fleeting.
The Trip makes sense as a cut film as much as it does as a I imagine a longer miniseries would be. It’s a great meditation of career and age, as one man’s glee becomes infections to the other, and we’re left in the end to wonder whether this week has changed them. 4/5.
- The Trip (boston.com)
The State of Movies Today
Just after work, I run into a coworker my mom’s age who’s waiting for a bus taking her down to the subway line. I tell her ‘I have the choice of watching a 1960’s movie about French guys teaching a loose woman a lesson or a new movie about alien sex.’
She oohed and replied, ‘Good luck with that.’ Then we talked about how useful her sons are in the kitchen. I tried to steer back the conversation to my topic. ‘I was thinking about this yesterday, that I’d rather be the new school film lover who says “Fuck Citizen Kane, 2010 is a great year” instead of the one who says “Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever, get off my lawn.” But then I feel like the latter right now.’ She laughs.
I’ve always been the kind of person who thinks that good movies are there if you find them, but with financial constraints, it’s really hard to do that now.
I then look at my other choices, eventually becoming entertainment for the both of us. ‘On Etobicoke, there’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. You should have read how Norah Ephron made fun of the lead character. “I’m gonna smoke intensely because I have small breasts.” ‘
‘Poor girl. Small breasts are nothing to be ashamed of.’ We get off the bus into the station, walk down to the platforms.
‘On the West end, there’s a movie where Michael Caine shoots a bunch of teenagers.’
‘Yeah, I’ve heard of that.’
‘There’s a probably old movie called What I Learned from LSD, playing in some guy’s living room. I’ve been there -‘
‘That’s the kind of place you only go to once. Promise me you won’t go there,’ she says in her best mother-like tone.
‘Fine. That reminds me of a short experimental film playing tomorrow afternoon at the Harbourfront called The Power of the Vagina.’ She then reverses her motherly tone by making jokes about vaginas and barbells. Don’t worry, I wasn’t freaked out. We’re close. And I’ve said a lot of stuff to her that’s too much information for her. Or anyone.
ph. Whitney Seibold
‘On the east end, there’s the Tom Cruise movie.’
‘I can’t stand looking at his face. It’s like with Angelina Jolie.’
The train stops at St. George. My coworker asks, ‘Is this your stop?’
I answered ‘It would be if I was watching the French orgy movie. I’m gonna go with the weird alien sex one.’
‘Ok, have fun.’
I get off at Bathurst. I dig down my pockets for my phone. There’s two messages, the first from a friend who has the hat I lost on a birthday party. The second is from Lars, who told me about the End of Youth Triple Bill on TVO, with The Last Picture Show, Y Tu Mama Tambien and River’s Edge. I gratefully replied ‘Thanks for the heads up, I was almost gonna see Splice.’
By the way, how much are prices at the Carlton these days?
Inception and the Bechdel Test
Christopher Nolan’s Inception has garnered a lot of discussion, mainly about ‘is it real or is it a dream’ by Brad Brevet. The film made me think about other categories, and I’ll go with the most coherent. Spoilers ahead. (p.s. And fine, just in case don’t wanna read everything, just scroll down until you see Joe Levitt’s picture.)
So does Inception pass the Bechdel test, a test that Nolan’s earlier works like “The Dark Knight” or ‘The Prestige” have failed?
Inception has a reputation of becoming inscrutable, or most critics believe this. What most hyped, inscrutable films can legitimately be criticized about is its depiction of gender, since women in films are underrepresented after the era of Julia Roberts. Nolan could do a lot better in writing roles for women, since they’re mostly at the back seat, but I’m grateful enough for what he’s given us. From “Memento,” Natalie (Carrie Ann Moss) avenges her husband’s death by playing cruel tricks on Leonard (Guy Pearce). In “The Prestige” are Sarah (Rebecca Hall) and Olivia Winscombe (Scarlett Johannson), well-written polar opposites of tragedy and survival (p.s. Actually, let me retract that. If Sarah was gonna kill herself, at least show her relationship with her child and nephew before she does so. Or at least show said relationships more blatantly. Great performances though. I’ll defend Scarlett’s performance but not with my life). His two Rachel Dawes have either given us tough love or sunshine.
But before we put check marks on the Bechdel test, let’s now discuss the characters in question.
There’s Mal (Marion Cotillard), Dom Cobb’s (Leonardo di Caprio) wife who commits suicide, believing that doing so is just another kick up from the dream world back up to reality. And as Mr. Pattern Ramin Setoodeh has pointed out, this is suicidal wife number 3 for Leo.
(p.s. As Cobb says, Mal as a femme fatale is his projection, man’s projection. Cobb incepts an idea within Mal’s head that her world isn’t real, an idea that she carries through the dream levels then up to the real world. If we take the plain interpretation of the film, the negative ideas the female might have and the consequences of said ideas is because of man’s doing. Mal That either makes men monsters or women passive or both, take from that what you will.
Here’s Bilge Ebiri‘s piece that reminded me of the ideas within the paragraph.)
Another theory about Mal’s presence in Cobb’s dreams – she functions as Cobb’s antibodies, separating Cobb’s subconscious from the subconscious of his marks. She prevents him from stealing Saito’s (Ken Watanabe) ideas. She stabs Ariadne (Ellen Page) for breaking the rules. She shoots Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy) so Cobb won’t do an inception on him like the latter did hers. In essence, she’s protecting Cobb from himself. If this is correct, Ariadne’s plea to Cobb to forget Ariadne might have been the wrong move.
With the IVs involved with sharing dreams, it might just be biologically possible that Mal with her own free will actually exists within Cobb’s head. As Cobb tells his father(in-law?) Miles (Michael Caine), Mal is powerful enough to interfere with Cobb’s work and ability to structure other people’s dreams.
And we go to Ariadne, Miles’ student in architecture. I’ll go out of my way to say that Ellen Page’s performance is more geared towards reaction instead of original action, as written for her role. Nonetheless, Nolan beautifully misdirects us with Ariadne, since I viewed her inquisitiveness with suspicion. Red from Brad’s discussion, among others believe that she’s Miles’s spy. Cobb opens up to her, she’s genuinely concerned about his mental well-being, there’s a bit of sexual tension between them that thankfully didn’t get more blatant. She uses the information to hustle herself into Cobb’s team and as far as we know, hasn’t told any other character within or outside the crew.
In Devin Faraci‘s ‘Inception as metaphor of filmmaking’ post, he posits Mal as the muse and Ariadne as the screenwriter. As I said earlier, Ariadne adapts this predilection of telling Cobb what to do, in a sense, directing him. Ariadne and Cobb both feed off each other – he exposes, she regurgitates, he practices what she preaches.
Mal is Cobb’s conscience since she stops him for what he shouldn’t do or Ariadne is his conscience for telling him what to do, or if you believe Virgil in Brad Brevet’s site, Mal and Ariadne are the same person. Under this interpretation, the female’s function is to help the male, no matter how much Cobb tries to make it look like the other way around. Nathaniel Rogers uses the phrase ‘window dressing,’ and I’m seeing that in other reviews too.
Now that that’s over. Check one – Mal and Ariadne have names, overtly symbolic ones and no family names but names nonetheless. Check two – They meet three times. The last time is in the fourth dream level, where they don’t even talk to each other. The second time they meet is in Cobb and Mal’s dream basement/anniversary suite and talk. Their conversation, check three, is where it gets complex, especially since there’s no script/DVD of this movie that’s readily available to me. I don’t recall either of them saying Cobb’s name nor a masculine pronoun. If we take the plain interpretation of the film, it’s obvious that they’re talking about him, and even struggling to have him on their respective side. I don’t wanna sound like an apologist but they’re talking about themselves too, a battle between Mal, the dream world and Ariadne, a detached, outsider symbol of reality.
Then there’s the aspect that they always meet in someone’s dream, whether Cobb’s or Fischer’s.
Lastly, Mal stabbing Ariadne is the first time they meet. If that’s not interaction, I don’t know what is.
Pre-Thoughts: Harry Brown
My friend Matt once talked to me about this cinematic trend of old people beating the shit out of everyone. Awesome.
But the critics are supposed to our older brothers, holding our hands through contemporary culture and tell us that “Harry Brown” is either an accurate portrayal of the changing social mores of Britain/the West. Or talk to us like A.O. ‘Call Me’ Scott and Michael Philips in “At The Movies,” who threw around the words ‘gratuitous’ and ‘dumb’ in describing the movie. I’ll respect that. “Harry Brown” continues to be a divisive film for the critics from its festival runs last year until its theatrical release last week/today.
The two camps of opinions about this movie and the two ways of seeing it make me ambivalent. These days I just wanna sit back and let the movie happen, but at the same time I don’t wanna be manipulated.
It made the trailer rounds last week, and it looks decent. It shows Michael Caine talking to people who sound like grime rappers. ‘Bout time.
Speaking of Michael Caine, he’s made crap after making masterpieces, but he’s been the go-to British guy since “The Quiet American,” well, at least for those actors who had their first outing in the 60’s/70’s. He can pull of looking upper class but has a little Cockney tinge making him versatile. His status will probably stay with him no matter how this movie turns out. It’s the last round for the ‘go-to British guy’ battle to be honest, and I don’t know what the likes of Ian McKellen or Michael Gambon can do to surge ahead.
So I’m probably gonna get paid by the time this post goes on the interwebs but I do have bills. So will I see this? Sure.