By Robin E. Simmons


I laughed out loud at THE TRIP, Michael Winterbottom’s initial foray into northern England’s best rural restaurants with semi-fictionalized versions of comic actors Steve Coogan and Michael Brydon. The best bits were the extended, improvised, conversations that allowed for their fragile egos, insecurities and one-upmanship to fully blossom culminating in a Michael Caine impression duel in a classy eatery.

This witty sequel of sorts is more of the same as the two middle-aged comics trace the steps of the Romantic Poets Byron and Shelly in a grand culinary tour of Italy. I laughed again as the two friends philosophized and made revealing small talk while traveling to mouth-watering restaurants in beautiful settings from Liguria to Capri. This time, there’s a pronounced poignancy in their musings with the recognition of one’s inevitable mortality as they share personal concerns and trade insults. I loved the small talk about Christian Bale’s vocalizing in the various Batman movies and the true meaning of Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill.”


BBrydon___Cooganrydon gets more attention on this trip, but the personal lives of both men are exposed as they come to terms with careers and family. Brydon has a Hollywood movie offer and asks Coogan, who has come off a big hit film, to help him make an audition recording on an iPad. Later Brydon’s tempted to engage in a dalliance with a pretty deckhand on a yacht. This movie is ostensibly about friendship and masculinity and ageing but mostly it’s about the fantastic chemistry between Brydon and Coogan. And that makes it a trip well-worth taking. Now playing at Cinemas Palme d’Or. Recommended.



In 1971, two years after the gruesome murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate and friends by the Manson family, Roman Polanski’s compelling, bloody and unsettling MACBETH was released to a skeptical audience that for the most part interpreted the film as an x-ray of Polanski’s strange and dark psyche. Especially in the scene with Macbeth’s brutal assassins butchering MacDuff’s wife and children.

This first film funded by “Playboy” founder Hugh Hefner, with a modest but adequate budget of under two million pounds, went on the fast track with a script begun by critic and Shakespearean buff Kennth Tynan and Polanski in March, 1970, started production less than seven months later. Polanski and Tynan wanted the film to have a naturalistic feel and an expansive visual palette.

Polanski cast youthful, brooding Jon Finch as the ambitious Scottish Lord Macbeth. It was his first film. Polanski met Finch on a plane and immediately cast him. (Some critics insisted Finch bore an intentional resemblance to Manson!) Beautiful, young Francesca Annis schemes as Lady Macbeth – sometimes in the nude.

MacbethFor me, this visceral, gritty version of The Scottish Play is by far the purest of all Macbeth movies. In fact, if truth be told, it may be the best of all Shakespeare’s filmed plays. There’s an existential feel to the events as the two lead characters live their lives merely trying to hasten what they assume has already been predestined. (How often do we feel entitled to a destiny or job or mate and make choices, or take short cuts or foster deceptions that are doomed to curse our course?)

Shakespeare famously said “the plays the thing” and leaves it to us to make it meaningful. This great film is about much more than murder and madness and Polanski_Macbeth1deserves to be experienced anew in a pristinely beautiful 4K digital restoration. Among the bonus material, there’s a fascinating new 60-minute feature that explores the making of the film with interviews from Polanski, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw (Banquo) producers and others. There’s also a terrific segment Dick Cavette in conversation with co-writer Kenneth Tynan. This is one for the digital library. Criterion. Blu-ray.


Godzilla_3DDirector Gareth Edwards, whose previous film was the $15,000 MONSTERS, takes the reins of one of cinema’s great monsters and does justice to the Toho legend. Godzilla has been incarnated numerous times but this past summer he rose from the abyss in a form we recognize as adhering to his mythic movie past.

This is a faithful origin story that lays the groundwork for a reboot of the franchise. Modern computer created assisted effects can make anything photorealistic and Godzilla’s size and roar will not disappoint. Warner Bros. already has another in the pipeline — with new monster opponents. (Will Rodan be spreading his leathery wings?) The 3D is not necessary but mostly never the less effectively creates a somewhat deeper verisimilitude to the monstrous rampages. I was personally saddened to see Hilton’s Waikiki “Rainbow Tower” destroyed. It was a favorite place for family vacations.

BCranston_Godzillaryan Cranston goes way over the top in his extended bit as engineer Joe Brody overseeing a Japanese nuclear reactor where a terrible accident costs his wife (Juliette Binoche) her life. But the forced human drama pales when the Godzilla dominates the screen. It’s easy to forget that Godzilla is both Savior and Destroyer. His strength is in his ambiguity, apparently. On the latest, large, flat screen home entertainment system, this 3D extravaganza delivers an amazingly faultless look and bold enveloping sound that will satisfy even the most technically critical fan.
Legendary/Warner Bros. Blu-ray 3D.



Documentaries about artists living and dead have long fascinated me. I enjoyed the recent PBS doc on James McNeill Whistler: THE CASE FOR BEAUTY. He was a flamboyant personality and a supremely gifted painter. Charlie Paul’s beautifully crafted but laid-back portrait of eccentric illustrator and political cartoonist Ralph Steadman nicely serves his subject. Steadman, perhaps as much — if not more — than any contemporary artist has a fierce, often urgent and distinctive style that is immediately recognizable.

Most people if they know of Steadman at all, think of him as a collaborator with “gonzo journalist” Hunter S. Thompson. That is partially true and much of this film is taken up with their association and friendship — two polar opposites who shared an artistic vision.

The nice looking film covers 15 years in the life of the acclaimed illustrator’s remarkable career and offers a glimpse into Steadman’s vivid imagination and technique. Revealing interviews with Johnny Depp, Terry Gilliam, Richard E. Grant, Tim Robbins and others offer further insight into the man behind the iconic art. A special treat is the inclusion of CHERRYWOOD CANNON, a short animated film based on Steadman’s drawings brought to life for the first time. Sony. Bly-ray.


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