Thursday, August 10, 2017

“The Trip To Spain”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new comedy, “The Trip To Spain” starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.


When two long-time friends take an excursion throughout Spain, will the troubles in their personal life ruin their fun?


Steve and Rob are hitting the road again – this time, to Spain.  Instead of going to all the major cities you might expect them to visit, Steve decides to literally take the road less travelled and check out some of the lesser-known locales.  The excuse this time?  The New York Times has hired Steve to do restaurant reviews and The Observer has asked Rob to do likewise.  However, Steve is planning to use this opportunity to start writing the book he’s been otherwise too distracted to write.  As might be expected from these two, the minute they set off on their getaway, both try to impress the other in how much they know about their destination.

Sensing they might be starting to get on each other’s nerves, they instead try to concentrate on the extraordinary food they’re experiencing at some of the best restaurants the country has to offer.  Along the way, they attempt to challenge each other with jokes and celebrity imitations; of course, they only wind up criticizing each other rather than simply allowing themselves to be amused by each other.  Only the fine meals they have appear to be what keeps them from breaking into fisticuffs.  By this point, it’s hard to believe that Steve actually invited Rob to accompany him.

When the two men are alone, they are forced to deal with the exigencies of real life.  With Steve, this means he’s lost his agent and the screenplay he’s been peddling is getting a polish by an inexperienced writer.  As if that isn’t bad enough, Steve’s girlfriend breaks up with him and his grown son, who was supposed to join him on the trip, bails out at the last minute.  For the happily married Rob, things are quite different; he’s being pursued by Steve’s ex-agent with promises of big Hollywood opportunities.  Growing increasingly homesick for his wife and children, Rob returns home.  Will Steve be able to resume his writing or will he be consumed by his own loneliness?


A “silliot” is someone who is both silly and an idiot; don’t bother looking up the word, it’s totally made up.  In the best way possible, however, both Coogan and Brydon are the biggest pair of silliots.  When they share the screen, they are entertaining, informative and most of all very funny.  No doubt about it, it seems like it would be a ton of fun to hang out with these two, whether at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Spain or a dive bar in Brooklyn.  At least that’s true for most of the movie’s two hours; in the end, it takes a dark and rather disturbing turn.  

Much of “Trip To Spain” is a sheer delight, only occasionally broken up by more serious scenes that serve as each character’s subplots:  namely, the professional and personal life of both men.  For Coogan, it seems as though everything is falling apart all at the time time, whereas for Brydon, things couldn’t possibly be any better, both regarding his home life and career.  These subplots – and the way they are handled – are a useful device; without them, people would eventually grow tired of these men, if not find them both irritating.  The subplots serve to humanize them.

That third act is unsettling.  When Brydon returns home to his family, Coogan is left to work on his book; it is at this point, we see him melancholy without his friend around to distract him from his troubles.  Although Coogan is supposed to be writing, his brooding overcomes him, causing him to be blocked.  Was this the same movie we were laughing at earlier?  It comes across as a bit schizophrenic.  Without giving away the actual ending, it does come across as both unexpected not to mention startling.  One wonders if this is the final installment in the series.

The Trip to Spain (2017) on IMDb

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

“Ingrid Goes West”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new comedy-drama, “Ingrid Goes West” starring Aubrey Plaza (who also Produced) and Elizabeth Olsen. 


When a young woman stalks an internet celebrity, will they wind up being friends or will this celebrity find herself endangered?


Ingrid (Plaza) is a lonely and isolated young woman -- which has led to some rather disturbing behavior on her part.  Since her mother’s death after a long illness, she has been using various social media platforms as something of a crutch; having a dearth of real friends, she has been “friending” a considerable number of strangers on the Internet and “liking” their posts or photos in a rote fashion.  The problem comes when Ingrid reads way too much into these “relationships”, believing that these people are actually her friends.  This ultimately results in Ingrid having a mental breakdown and she is committed.  

Upon Ingrid’s discharge, she returns to her late mother’s house where she tries to figure out how to continue with the rest of her life.  One day, she’s struck with what she believes is a brilliant idea:  while reading a magazine article about Taylor Sloane (Olsen), a newly-minted Internet celebrity, she starts following her on Instagram; after considerable online interaction with her, Ingrid finally gets a response from Taylor.  It is at this point Ingrid believes she’s forming a real connection with this woman and makes a decision that will irrevocably alter both their lives:  she will move to Venice Beach, California, where Taylor lives. 

Taking the $60,000 in cash she inherited from her mother, Ingrid rents an apartment from Dan (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), an aspiring screenwriter and Batman aficionado.  After finding out where Taylor lives, she uses some rather extraordinary and duplicitous means to meet and then befriend Taylor and her boyfriend Ezra (Wyatt Russell).  At the outset, they appear to be turning into the very best of buddies, at least until Taylor’s brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) shows up; no model of stability himself, Nicky learns of Ingrid’s obsession with his sister and coerces her to keep him from revealing it to Taylor.  Ingrid’s reaction to this is to have Dan beat up Nicky.  When Taylor finds out what happened, she informs Ingrid their friendship is over.  Following a major meltdown, can Ingrid win back Taylor or will she have to find a way to move on without her?


After screening “Ingrid Goes West”, one thing remains abundantly clear:  Aubrey Plaza can really play crazy … maybe a little too well … This movie has many laugh-out-loud moments, but it takes a sharp and very dark turn late in the story; despite this, the filmmakers are able to resurrect the humorous elements and the jokes eventually return.  Screenwriters Matt Spicer (who also directed) and David Branson Smith have concocted a very sagacious and unique script that hits the bullseye on cultural commentary in this era of social media – and more specifically, peoples’ obsession with social media. 

Curiously, this is a movie that may have a protagonist, but it lacks a hero; while it is obviously Ingrid’s story, this character is hardly heroic.  In fact, none of the characters in “Ingrid Goes West” are particularly likeable; Dan Pinto may come the closest, but given the fact that he deals coke on the side even he’s pretty shady.  Normally, all of this would result in an unwatchable film, but once again, the savior here is the comedy.  The relentless stream of jokes make this an eminently watchable motion picture.  You find yourself in a world that is simultaneously hilarious and frightening. 

If there is a criticism about this movie, it would be with respect to its ending.  Without giving away too much, the story’s resolution seems to suggest that Ingrid’s egregious behavior may have been rewarded.  This is dangerous as it could potentially be used as inspiration for further inappropriateness online (as if this society hasn’t seen enough already).  The motion picture apparently wants us to believe that its protagonist has suffered enough and as a result is now worthy of redemption.  Whether or not she is in fact worthy may depend on how you view her previous misdeeds.     

Following the screening, there was an interview with Plaza, Olsen and writer-director Matt Spicer.  Instead of attempting to summarize the discussion, a video of the conversation has been posted below (caution – it’s a half hour in length); the trailer for “Ingrid Goes West” is just beneath. 

Ingrid Goes West (2017) on IMDb

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

“Wind River”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new crime drama “Wind River” starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.


When a rookie FBI Agent is assigned to investigate a murder on a Native American Reservation, will a local hunter be able to help her solve the crime?


Winters in Wyoming are particularly brutal.  No one knows this better than game tracker Cory Lambert (Renner), a lifetime resident.  One day, he’s summoned to Wind River, the location of an Indian Reservation, where he’s asked to rid the community of a family of mountain lions which have been attacking (and in some cases killing) the steer that belong to the farmers there.  While following the paw prints of some animals, he happens upon an unexpected and unpleasant surprise:  the body of a young woman who has apparently died deep in the woods. 

After contacting the authorities, Lambert is introduced to Jane Banner (Olsen), a young FBI Agent who has been dispatched to look into the matter.  Before long, it is evident to all that her inexperience has her out of her depth.  Despite Banner’s severe disadvantage, she dutifully meets with the county Medical Examiner; after performing an autopsy on the deceased – an 18 year old, whose name was Natalie – the doctor informs Banner that although the woman appears to have been raped and badly beaten, her cause of death was actually exposure to the cold. 

Learning that Natalie’s boyfriend belonged to a crew of roughnecks working at an oil drilling site, Banner – joined by the local sheriff and his deputies – ventures out to the rig to ask some questions of the men there.  Panicking as they anticpate an imminent arrest, the roughnecks exchange gunfire with Banner, the sheriff and his men.  Banner is badly hurt and must be medevac'd out; when she tells Lambert that one of the roughnecks got away, he begins pursuit.  But can even a skilled hunter like Lambert find his prey in the vast snowy mountains of Wyoming?    


Almost exactly one year ago, this Web site reviewed the movie “Hell Or High Water”; its screenplay went on to be nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.  The writer of that screenplay was Taylor Sheridan, who both wrote and directed “Wind River”.  While this is not the first time he’s directed a film, it does mark the first time that Sheridan has directed his own screenplay.  It’s an impressive start for an aspiring auteur.  “Wind River” is both visually and dramatically a top-notch crime drama with solid action – some of which contains rather brutal violence (be warned).

Many of the same qualities that made “Hell Or High Water” such a compelling movie are visible in “Wind River” as well.  This well-crafted screenplay is buttressed by some fine acting from both Renner and Olsen, as well as Sheridan’s own directing.  He has chosen images that tell the story perfectly; in particular, the opening scene with Lambert where we see him protect a herd of sheep from a predatory pack of wolves.  It tells us exactly who Lambert is – both professionally and personally – as well as sets us up for the savage nature of the story. 

If there is a criticism about “Wind River”, it would be that late in its third act, it almost seems to be in a rush to fill in the gaps in its story so that viewers will fully comprehend the truth about what happened leading up to Natalie’s death.  On balance, while it does make the story more satisfying once we have this information, perhaps it might have been better to layer a bit at a time throughout the movie, with the big reveal coming at the end.  Granted, this might be quibbling on an otherwise deft script, which, we are told, was inspired by true events; its epilogue informs us that crimes regarding missing Native American women go severely underreported to the authorities.     

Wind River (2017) on IMDb