In an attempt to give readers my feelings on films as I plug away on a number of writing assignments, I’ll provide mini-reviews to give my succinct opinion on films and to give me time to finish my other projects.
No movie this year has made me laugh the way Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip did. It sounds pretentious and boring– two actors try to one-up one another as they take a tour of fine restaurants around Europe. The opposite is true, as Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s chemistry is unparalleled, their timing flawless, and their impressions of other celebrities absolutely hysterical. The movie, quietly, says something about the nature of artists, the war of ambition versus contentment, and the middle-age crisis in men settling in and eating away at their confidence. But mostly it’s about showcasing two funny men being funny, and it works wonderfully.
The premise is Steve Coogan, star of television and silver screen, played by Steve Coogan, is writing a piece for The Guardian about fancy restaurants throughout the continent. He had planned on taking this trip with his girlfriend, but she went to America on business, so he settles for taking his friend, fellow actor/impressionist Rob Brydon, played by Rob Brydon. Coogan is a ladies’ man, Brydon a family man; Coogan is seeking further fame, Brydon is happy to be known for his radio impressions (and happy to present them at any occasion at dinner). The two of them have fabulous gamesmanship, and the film is really well-structured considering it’s a trimming of a BBC series that’s 180 minutes long. Even more surprising are the few affecting moments where the characters show their heart, sadness, and depth. Find this film, take the trip, and enjoy the ride.
From Norway comes one of the most original takes on the “found footage” fake documentary genre in some time, Troll Hunter. You get exactly what you’re promised with the title– there are trolls, there is troll mythology, there is hunting of trolls, there is death by troll, there is troll death, there is government cover-up of the existence of trolls. They hurdle the biggest pitfall the genre usually falls prey to: spending too much time developing the characters. Here, we’re thrown straight into the action nearly immediately– eager college kids are doing a documentary on poachers when they find this man who is behaving in a peculiar fashion. They stalk him down, and we hit the ground running in the first 15 minutes. I, as well as anyone who’d get excited over the film’s title, was grateful that nearly everything in the film was troll-centric.
Of course, this does mean the film is a touch one-note. They do a good job introducing new trolls, new dangers, and keeping the stakes rising, but it follows a formula: hunt troll, escape, talk to hunter, hunt troll, escape, talk to hunter, etc. While the effects for this type of film are good, there is a comedic element to the trolls (they’re somewhat clumsy and dumb) that undercuts the suspense– we’re grateful for the laughs, but the movie’s never as scary as its first troll sequence when we don’t know what to expect. Finally, while the troll mythology might seem really cool to those familiar with trolls or to the Scandinavian way of life, some of the details seem a little superfluous; less talking about trolls and more hunting them might have helped us dive deeper into this world. Still, it delivers what we expect, is more original than most entries in this genre, and puts believable trolls on the big screen: not bad for a small Norwegian flick.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop:
I’ve idolized Conan for a very long time. The idea of a smart kid, working as a writer, crawling his way up into the talk show world, and making it as the host of the Tonight Show is a Cinderella story for smartasses everywhere. When the drama with NBC went down, I was firmly on Team Coco– Jay hadn’t been funny in years, and NBC had a rich history of screwing over talk show talent. This documentary, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, takes place after he has left NBC and is preparing to set out on his road show, The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour. It follows Conan through the work process, and documents his passion for comedy and his anger about how he was treated. It’s an interesting movie, intermittently funny… but it really only serves as pro-Conan propaganda and nothing more. It effectively preaches to the choir, but it’s a shame that the film doesn’t try to dig deeper.
We see that Conan is compelled by what can only be called a sick impulse to please everyone. And I mean EVERYONE. He stops and takes photos and signs autographs to the point where he’s physically worn out after shows… and then he signs some more. It’s easy to see how he’s gotten so far: even in the room with writers, he’s constantly trying to entertain and get laughs, to the point where if it’s even one person around, he’s still “on.” The movie only hints at a darker impulse driving this, as his style of humor around his co-workers tends to be to half-jokingly insult them and cut them down– could Conan be driven by ego, or perhaps a feeling of inadequacy that forces him to try to instill laughter in others? The movie never really goes farther. It shows clip after clip of Conan working hard for his fans, as if to say, “Look how swell he is!” Anyone who sees a Conan doc already likes him– it’s too bad Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop stopped before it dug deep into who Conan is.