Tag Archives: Rob Brydon

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.

Tramps Like Us

Blinded by the Light

by George Wolf

Warning: this article contains some serious pro-Boss bias. Like, copious amounts.

Because a Springsteen fanatic like myself reviewing Blinded by the Light is somewhere close to your racist Facebook friend from high school reviewing Fox News. Expecting a thumbs down is like, oh, I don’t know….

Trying to start a fire without a spark?

Cool, we understand each other.

But beyond the singer or the songs, the real joyous triumph of the film is how it unabashedly adores not just this one particular artist, but the entire concept of inspiration.

Based on the memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, the film rewinds to the late 80s when Javed (Viviek Kalra in an irresistible feature debut), a British teen of Pakistani descent, is trying to navigate high school amid the austere gloom of Thatcher conservatism and the ominous rise of far-right bigotry.

Drowning in a sea of synth pop, Javed’s life changes when his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) gives him some Springsteen cassettes.

As both a veteran of that awakening and a witness for others, I can tell you director/co-writer Gurinder Chadha nails it with a perfectly rockin’ bullseye. Bruce’s lyrics dance across the screen and around Javed’s head, his fist pumping and his face beaming with a newfound sense of purpose.

Though his father (a terrific Kulvinder Ghir) bemoans the influence of “that Jewish singer” (“He’s not Jewish – and that’s racist!”), Javed, bolstered by encouragement from a sincere teacher (Hayley Atwell) and a new girlfriend (Nell Williams), takes the first steps toward a future of his own – as a writer.

Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham) manages a wonderful tonal balance, juggling humor (watch for that hilarious Rob Brydon cameo), coming of age pathos, blaring 80s hits, a mighty timely social conscience and even extended dance sequences.

Cynicism doesn’t stand a chance. Chadha keeps the heart on Manzoor’s sleeve beating loud, proud and unmistakable, knowing this borders on cornball and not giving a toss.

For Springsteen (who has been notoriously shy about licensing his songs) to give this project his complete blessing lends an immense layer of gravitas for longtime fans. Until that next Bruce concert, we are a choir eager for the preaching.

But replace Bruce with Aretha, Kurt Cobain, Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift and the exuberant joy of Blinded by the Light still works.

Inspiration, wherever you find it, is worth celebrating. Embrace it, and it might even lead to your….glory days.

One, two, three, four!

Soccer Buddies

Early Man

by Hope Madden

There is something adorably British about Nick Parks’s latest plasticine adventure, Early Man.

No I am not being condescending. It’s animated. It’s supposed to be adorable.

This Aardman export—the Brit animation studio responsible for the Wallace & Gromit classics, among others—pits dunder-headed but lovable cave dwellers against greedy Bronze Age Euro-trash as it spoofs sports flicks.

We open at the dawn of time, when dinosaurs and cave men and giant, toothy mallards roamed the earth outside Manchester, England. Around lunchtime.

It’s silly. And sweet. And basically a 90-minute mash note to Manchester United.

When those posh bullies from the Bronze Age (led by Tom Hiddleston’s Lord Nooth) push Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his nincompoopy cavemen friends out of their fertile valley, Dug devises a challenge to regain his beloved home.

Like all great sports films, Early Man pushes the underdog narrative to epitomize more than simple foot-to-ball competition. Plus, you really do want these earnest faces, overbites and all, to learn to believe in themselves.

And why can’t a pig play soccer?

Dug’s quick trip into town square offers opportunities for the Aardman Easter eggs—be sure to scan the vendor booths for hilarious names. With voice talent to spare (Timothy Spall and Rob Brydon are among those with smaller roles), you’re assured the intentionally silly jokes are delivered expertly.

The problem is that Early Man would have made for a really hilarious short.

The story doesn’t benefit from a 90-minute stretch. The setting—mainly an imposing landscape littered with enormous rib bones—doesn’t offer enough opportunity for visual distraction and the characters are not memorable enough to keep your attention for the full run time.

Expect much of the familiar: googly eyes, enormous teeth, simple characters and kind-hearted laughter. CGI mixes with the stop-action to rob the film of some character, but Early Man has charm to spare.

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.