Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Hat Squad, The Trip, and The Napoleon of Crime

The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as themselves (2011): British comedians Coogan and Brydon, playing themselves, tour some haute cuisine restaurants in Northern England for a week in service to a newspaper article Coogan has been contracted to do, comedically one-upping each other all the way. This terrifically funny movie was originally a six-part BBC miniseries, edited down here for tehatrical distribution. Along with Bridesmaids, it's the funniest movie of 2011.

Coogan plays the somewhat aloof, Byronic comedian, mocking Brydon's schtick as the Rich Little of Great Britain. Brydon plays the devoted family man who seems content to entertain through comedic mimickry. Coogan is a bit of a blowhard; Brydon is a bit socially awkward. Together, they make a great comedic duo. There's even a bit of character development, though it's wisely kept muted, without the 'big' moments that would probably occur in an American film.

One of the running competitions between the two involves trying to do the best Michael Caine imitation while also explaining how one does this, and how Caine's voice has changed over the years. Others involve James Bond imitations and various bits of jazzy riffing on assorted pop culture topics.

The food -- elegantly prepared and often hilariously precious -- also supplies moments of wit and counterpoint, especially early on when Brydon gets Coogan to admit that he actually isn't much of a foodie, and that the only critical insight he can offer about a bowl of soup is that it's very tomato-y and very soupy. I wish this were longer. Highly recommended.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, written by Michele and Kieran Mulroney, based on the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; directed by Guy Ritchie; starring Robert Downey, Jr. (Holmes), Jude Law (Watson), Stephen Fry (Mycroft), Noomi Rapace (Simza Heron) and Jared Harris (Moriarty) (2011): Guy Ritchie's Holmes is basically a twitchy Victorian James Bond with more brain power than 007. Here, Holmes must foil a massive plot by his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty, a respected mathematics professor and political consultant who is secretly "the Napoleon of Crime."

The plot itself isn't new to Holmes pastiches and homages: Moriarty is trying to foment a World War in 1891. Oh, and Watson is getting married. Downey and Law keep it all fairly light; Stephen Fry plays Holmes's older, smarter brother Mycroft as a more politically committed Oscar Wilde; Noomi Rapace (Lisabeth Salender in the Swedish adaptation of the Millennium trilogy) doesn't have a lot to do as the only Romany fortune-teller in history with a Swedish accent, though she does look great in a variety of hats. Weightless, escapist fun with some nice set-pieces. Recommended.


The Adjustment Bureau, written and directed by George Nolfi, based on the story "Adjustment Team" by Philip K. Dick; starring Matt Damon (David Norris), Emily Blunt (Elise Sellas), Anthony Mackie (Harry Mitchell), John Slattery (Richardson) and Terence Stamp (Thompson) (2011): Hollywood tends to like Philip K. Dick for the bare bones of a plot and not much else. Dick's novels and short stories don't exactly teem with people as good-looking as Matt Damon and Emily Blunt playing characters with sexy, exotic and/or world-shaking jobs. With The Adjustment Bureau, it's as if the makers of Blade Runner had changed Rick Deckard's character from a private detective to the Man Who Would Be King of All the Popes.

So the movie-makers of this extremely loose adaptation of a ten-page Dick short story called "Adjustment Team" (loose in the sense that it makes Minority Report look like a staged reading of the Dick short story it was based on) take a basic idea that isn't entirely peculiar to Dick (vaguely magical, behind-the-scenes bureaucratic types actually decide everybody's fates down to the most minor of details if necessary -- this is the Adjustment Team, whom the movie renames the Adjustment Bureau probably simply because Hollywood screenwriters will rename or rewrite anything given half a chance, and generally fuck it up while loudly declaiming how they improved the original narrative. Stephen Zaillian, I'm looking at you and about half your adaptations).

Then they add a mushy spiritual element that is decidedly not in the original story, and have Matt Damon be a US Presidential hopeful and Emily Blunt the most important modern dance person in, like, ever. But only if The Plan is followed, shepherded by the behatted army of Adjustment fellas.

None of this works at all well with Dick's recurring focus on ordinary people in extraordinary situations, often just trying to get along. Because it's Matt Damon! The powers that be want him to be President! The Chairman, ie. God, wants him to be President!!! Who needs ordinary people in a baffling world of shifting realities when Jason Bourne is available to run like crazy at the climax?

Oh, and the various members of the Adjustment Bureau wear hats. Because hats allow them to teleport from location to location. Despite the fact that the members of the Adjustment Bureau are supernatural beings of some sort. They still have to have those hats! And their precognitive powers don't work in rain or near water. Basically, they're a really incompetent Green Lantern Corps. At least a ring can't blow off your head in a stiff breeze! At least the colour yellow doesn't cover 2/3's of the Earth's surface!

Matt Damon's fate gets screwed up because the guy micro-managing that fate, Anthony Mackie (in the unfortunate role of The Saintly, Super-powered Negro), falls asleep on the job. History will apparently fall apart if Matt Damon doesn't become President of the USA. The Adjustment Bureau apparently doesn't have back-up plans. It's all one plan, baby! Much pointless running around and stuff later, everything works out fine. The End. Not recommended.

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