In 2010, British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon had an unexpected indie hit on their hands with “The Trip,” a road-trip comedy in which the actors played heightened versions of themselves — like Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” albeit not as extreme.
“The Trip to Italy,” opening at Liberty Hall today, sees the old friends off on another amiable trek for more food-tasting and soul-searching, and it’s the rare sequel that’s better than the first movie.
Both films have a loose quality and were originally filmed for a BBC TV series by director Michael Winterbottom. Like “The Trip,” the new movie has been cut down for theatrical release, but it even feels tighter and more focused.
Perhaps that’s because the cultural references Coogan and Brydon drop throughout their journey are tied more organically to the emotional state of their characters. Or perhaps it’s because “The Trip to Italy” is just funnier.
The conceit behind the film barely matters. The London Observer commissions the pair to write a food column while traveling to Italy’s most expensive and scenic coastal locales. Coogan immediately pooh-poohs the idea of another trip by mentioning that sequels are never as good as the original. Brydon’s retort? “Godfather II.” This is true, certainly, and it’s also an excuse for Brydon to trot out his over-the-top Al Pacino impression.
As a tribute to “The Italian Job,” they travel in a Mini Cooper. Most of the conversation — the real reason the film exists after all — takes place while the pair eat sumptuous meal after meal, kind of a “My Dinner with Andre.” Their meals are often filmed with the same formula over and over: set-up, punchline and a quick cutaway to kitchen. Repeat. As long as the jokes land (and most of them do), this repetition isn’t nearly as maddening as it sounds.
Both men have a deep knowledge and affinity for movies, music and theater, and the themes they skirt with are reflected in their subjects. Two of the most prominent are Romantic poet and literary egoist Lord Byron and Shakespeare’s death-haunted Hamlet.
“The Trip to Italy” is more than just two middle-aged comedians telling jokes and eating food. It’s a serious inquiry into looming mortality and the challenge of maintaining relationships — even as a serious attempt to undercut any serious discussion of either issue is mounted at every turn.
There’s something noble about the idea that laughing is the only thing to keep one from crying, and Coogan and Brydon’s dry wit is just the kind of remedy for too much introspection.
Cult classic ‘Raiders’ remake set to melt faces
It’s the ultimate fan film. Starting in 1982, it took an 11-year-old Chris Strompolos seven years to complete, but he and two other Indiana Jones-obsessed young friends remade “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in its entirety, using the original script and score.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation” was recorded on Betamax videotapes and lovingly reconstructed throughout Strompolos’ teen years without the aid of viewing the Lucas-Spielberg classic on home video. The actors — Strompolos himself plays Indy — vary greatly in age throughout the movie because it took so long to film.
Since its completion in 1989, “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation” has slowly gained notoriety, and Paramount Pictures has optioned the right to film Strompolos and friends’ story. As part of its annual film rally, Kansas University’s Film & Media Studies department will show this remarkable labor of love in its entirety at 8 p.m. Sept. 26 in Woodruff Auditorium.
Previously I profiled KU doctoral student Joshua Wille, whose “Watchmen: Midnight” fanedit improves upon the original Zack Snyder movie tenfold, and it’s no surprise to find that he was instrumental in bringing Strompolos and the film to KU.
As amazing as fanedit culture is, it is greatly helped along by the growing availability of digital tools to the average consumer. “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation” was made by a bunch of teenagers in a desert in Mississippi in the 1980s, before digital was even an option.
Strompolos will be on hand and his collaborator Eric Zala will Skype in after the screening for a filmmaker Q&A. At least part of the discussion will focus on a recent successful Kickstarter campaign that reunited the friends this summer to film the famous scene where a Nazi gets destroyed by an airplane propeller.
As if this weren’t all too remarkable and to be true, the entire event is also free and open to the public.