Tag Archives: Michael Winterbottom

Greece Is the Word

The Trip to Greece

by George Wolf

“Exhausting? Me? You should meet you!”

Yes, the boys are at it for the fourth time on the big screen, enjoying exotic locales, savoring sumptuous cuisine, and critiquing the finer points of each other’s celebrity impressions.

Since taking The Trip around England ten years ago, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have also toured Italy (2014) and Spain (2017), reviewing restaurants and juggling their slightly fictionalized lives while director Michael Winterbottom documents it all.

This time out, they’ve also adopted more of an interest in history. They journey from Troy to Ithaca, following in the footsteps of the Odysseus, checking the tour book when they aren’t quizzing each other on historical timelines or Bee Gees tunes (Brydon’s bit with “Stayin Alive” is a scream).

The sarcasm is thick and the barbs sharp per usual, but while the overall hilarity level may be down a notch, this film boasts the most impressive vistas and enticing recipes of the entire series. Sure, it might be the quarantine talking, but less than an hour in I was ready to call either a travel agent or a Greek restaurant. Maybe both.

And in what might be a nod to the end of the franchise, the whiff of mortality pierces the air. Steve calls home often for updates on the health of his dad, and the levity of the “at our age” references carries an added layer of wistful resignation. You get the feeling these guys are finally giving up chasing youthful ghosts and embracing the time they have now.

These trips have always been about appreciating old friends, great food and often uproarious conversation. But while this isn’t the franchise high point, there’s a poignancy here in Greece, underneath Aristotle’s ashes and all the painful falsetto harmonies, that would make it the most satisfying finale.

Money, It’s a Hit


by George Wolf

Greed is a film with a big, timely target and a handful of well-groomed darts. But as much as it consistently lands shots on the board, it never gets close to the bullseye.

To be fair, landing a knockout satire is no easy trick. That writer/director Michael Winterbottom can’t manage it is one problem, but you’re never quite sure he’s fully committed to trying, which is the bigger issue.

He did land a stellar cast, starting right at the top with Steve Coogan, who plays retail fashion mogul Sir Richard McCreadie to pompous perfection.

McCreadie, Britain’s “Monet of Money,” is ready to celebrate his 60th birthday with a huge, Gladiator-themed blowout on the coast of Greece, complete with a recreated Coliseum, a live lion, and entertainment from Elton and Coldplay.

Those Syrian refugees camped out on the public beach, though? Yeah, they’re ruining the view, so they’ll have to go.

While McCreadie’s mother (Shirley Henderson), his ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher), their son (Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield, all grown up!) and various employees and hangers-on dodge his frequent outbursts, official biographer Nick (David Mitchell) is trying to make sense of it all.

Winterbottom, writer and/or director for all of Coogan’s The Trip franchise, uses Nick’s fact-finding as the catalyst for plenty of time hopping. From a ruthless young McCreadie (Jamie Blackley) building his empire to a well-scripted episode of “reality” television filming alongside the party planning, Greed unveils a surface-level social consciousness in search of a clear direction.

There’s absurdity, clever amusements and some outright laughs (especially McCreadie haggling over the prices for big-ticket entertainers and a financial writer explaining the illusion of money), but Winterbottom doesn’t seem to trust himself – or his audience- enough to get off the pulpit and commit to satire.

The unveiling of shady business deals, the folly of the “self-made man” and the distance between wealth and consequence is all valid terrain, but Greed is content with paths less challenging and more obvious.

And on one occasion, the film’s timing works against it, because as great as this cast is at dry humor and glossy obnoxiousness, hearing someone label McCreadie a “parasite” only underscores how vital this class warfare theme can be with more inspired execution.

Third Course

The Trip to Spain

by George Wolf

“I’m asking you if you’ll come with me.”

Steve Coogan may be inviting his travel buddy Rob Brydon to join another tasty road trip, but he may as well be asking us if we’re game to ride shotgun.

Once again it’s a witty, breezy, sometimes utterly hilarious getaway.

If you’re hip to The Trip, The Trip to Italy or even the original The Trip TV series, you know what’s coming. For the uninitiated, it’s Steve and Rob playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves as they tour a particular region to sample the finest restaurants and write reviews for the U.K. Observer.

This time out The New York Times is in on the action, too, as our boys are off on The Trip to Spain. They’ll eat well, deliver sarcastic barbs (Rob: “We welcome Philomena back to the conversation, it’s been a good 5 or 6 minutes.”), and of course try to one up each other with dueling celebrity impersonations from Bowie to Brando and Mick Jagger doing Shakespeare.

But in Spain, Roger Moore becomes the new Michael Caine. After trading rapid-fire imitations, Steve detours into a lecture on the Spanish history of the Moors while Rob continues on as Roger.

It’s LMAO funny and the film’s most uproarious bit.

Director Michael Winterbottom is back for this third go ’round as well, and while you’re right to expect more of the same, all involved sense a need to deepen the characterizations.

Understandable, but ultimately a bit of a double edged sword.

There’s bittersweet humanity mined from how Steve and Rob have settled into separate lives, but as the running time begins to feel bloated, the sense that this premise is treading water makes the slightest of appearances.

Not enough to derail the journey, mind you. These boys are still good fun, and so is The Trip to Spain.



Second Helping


The Trip to Italy

by George Wolf


Yes, they do the Michael Caine bit again.

If this news brings a knowing smile to your face, you’ll have a fine time taking The Trip to Italy.

For the uninitiated, the “bit” involves Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon trying to one-up each other in a hilarious battle of Michael Caine impressions. It was a highlight of the 2011 film The Trip, which chronicled their travels to some of the finer restaurants of Northern England. Playing fictionalized versions of themselves, they engaged in joyously witty banter during a stint as food critics for the UK paper The Observer.

As you might guess from its title, the sequel takes the pair on a similar assignment in Italy, where they try to keep tabs on their respective acting careers while enjoying the picturesque locales and tempting cuisine of the region. And, of course, bickering about everything from Alanis Morrisette’s music to Jude Law’s hair.

Director Michael Winterbottom is back at the helm, with good instincts for what this film needs to equal, and often better, the first go round. The simple novelty of the premise may be gone, but there is a subtle deepening of character development, and an all-around breezy warmth that is contagious.

But, those are just tasty side dishes supporting the main course:  two likable chaps given plenty of room to match razor-sharp wits. They display a wonderful chemistry, and complete command over the process of turning droll, deadpan humor into some uproarious moments.

Sporting plenty of laughter, wonderful scenery and delectable looking dishes, don’t be shocked if you leave The Trip to Italy with an urge to call your travel agent.