The Trip to Italy: written by Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, and Michael Winterbottom; directed by Michael Winterbottom; starring Steve Coogan (Steve Coogan), Rob Brydon (Rob Brydon), Rosie Fellner (Lucy), Claire Keelan (Emma), and Timothy Leach (Joe Coogan) (2014): Sequel to 2011’s The Trip sends British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing ‘themselves,’ on another restaurant-visiting road trip, this time in Italy. Highlights include more dueling Michael Caine impersonations, a hilarious take on the vocal problems of Tom Hardy and Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises, and some ventriloquism in Pompeii. All that and a colourful travelogue of food and scenery. Highly recommended.
The Best of Times: written by Ron Shelton; directed by Roger Spottiswoode; starring Robin Williams (Jack Dundee), Kurt Russell (Reno Hightower), Pamela Reed (Gigi Hightower), Holly Palance (Elly Dundee), Donald Moffit (The Colonel), M. Emmet Walsh (Charlie) (1986): American sports-movie maestro Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump) gets his big-screen debut here as a screenwriter. It’s a sharp, gently satiric look at small-town life and the American obsession with high school football, with winning performances from all the major players. Recommended.
Europa Report: written by Philip Gelatt; directed by Sebastian Cordero; starring Daniel Wu (William Xu), Sharlto Copley (Jame Corrigan), Christian Camargo (Daniel Luxembourg), Karolina Wydra (Katya Petrovna), Michael Nyqvist (Andrei Blok), Anamaria Marinca (Rosa Dasque), and Embeth Davidtz (Dr. Unger) (2013): Found-footage horror movie, or at least marketed as such. It’s really a found-footage science-fiction movie about a privately financed mission to Europa, that moon of Jupiter that may have an ocean of water (and thus perhaps life) hidden under an icy crust. Despite its low budget, there are some nice visuals and tense moments. Horrible things happen to people, but they’re mainly a product of bad luck. Though how anything is getting through several miles of ice to the surface of Europa is a question best left unasked. Lightly recommended.
Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story: directed by Jeffrey Schwarz; featuring comments by Terry Castle, Donald F. Glut, John Landis, John Waters, Stuart Gordon, Joe Dante, Leonard Maltin, Marcel Marceau, and others (2007): As someone who hasn’t watched a lot of William Castle’s gimmicky horror movies, I still found this genial documentary to be enjoyable. It’s an interesting look at the sort of showman who simply can’t exist in today’s movie landscape, about how and why he came up with gimmicks, and how those gimmicks made his low-budget thrillers wildly popular. Also, the clips of Vincent Price from The Tingler are priceless. So, too, Castle’s late-career attempt at a serious art-house film, Shanks, which starred mime Marcel Marceau. Stories of Joan Crawford’s behaviour on the set of Strait-jacket also fascinate. Recommended.
National Lampoon’s Vacation: written by John Hughes; directed by Harold Ramis; starring Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold), Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswold), Randy Quaid (Cousin Eddie), Anthony Michael Hall (Rusty Griswold), Dana Barron (Audrey Griswold), John Candy (Walleyworld Guard) and Christie Brinkley (Girl in Car) (1983): The first and best of the Vacation movies holds up remarkably well. There may be some culture shock at some of the jokes and set-pieces (dangerous black people in East St. Louis! incest among your country cousins! dead dog!) and at Beverly D’Angelo’s casual nudity in two scenes. Casual nudity isn’t something one sees a lot in non-R-rated comedies these days, and even there it tends to be pretty rare because of the need to placate the international market. How times have changed. Followed by four increasingly dire sequels, with another one on the way this summer! Recommended.