Now Playing: ‘The Trip to Italy’ is Highly Unnecessary Comedy, But Not in a Bad Way

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in 'The Trip to Italy' (IFC Films)

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in ‘The Trip to Italy’ (IFC Films)

Two comics playing slightly tweaked versions of themselves, ravishing Italian scenery, phenomenal food, recitations of Shelley’s poetry, Tom Hardy impressions. That’s about all one needs to know about Michael Winterbottom’s nervy, gadabout sequel to the 2010 road comedy The Trip.

The Trip to Italy is playing now in highly limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

The Trip to Italy’s total lack of necessity has little bearing on its enjoyability. There’s nothing wrong with watching a pair of lyrical, spry, and acid-tongued comics lashing each other with barbed commentary while enjoying the operatic grandeur of a foodie junket through Italy’s more salubrious and sun-splashed districts. Does it matter that they’re not bringing much new to the party?…

You can see the trailer here:

Also, here you can check out one of the better clips: Coogan and Brydon on The Dark Knight Rises:

Now Playing: A Johnny Cash of the Soul in ‘Calvary’

Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson in 'Calvary' (Fox Searchlight)

Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson in ‘Calvary’ (Fox Searchlight)

Back in 2011, Brendan Gleeson played a cynical, caustic cop on the remote western coast of Ireland for John Michael McDonagh’s crackling black comedy The Guard. In Calvary, the two reteam for another dark-hued story about violence, morality, and modern depravity. There’s gags aplenty, but this is no comedy.

Calvary is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

In Calvary, Father James (Brendan Gleeson) begins the worst and possibly last week of his life when he’s threatened in the confessional. An anonymous penitent tells James that he was repeatedly raped by a priest starting at the age of seven. That priest is now dead, but the man wants to a kill a priest anyway. He prefers his victim be a good and innocent priest, like Father James, because that would make people pay attention. James has a week to live. “Killing a priest on a Sunday,” the voice muses with the jangled amusement of the insane. “Now that’d be something.”…

You can see the trailer here:

Now Playing: ‘Into the Storm’ Destroys Many Buildings

Look out! (Warner Bros.)

Into the Storm: Perhaps running away from the tornado would be wise. (Warner Bros.)

So there’s a big tornado coming. No, make that a lot of tornadoes. What to do? Well, maybe just run right into it with your cameras rolling. That’s the basic premise for Into the Storm, a rather disastrous disaster flick that tries to update Twister for the social media age.

My review of Into the Storm, which blows into theaters for a likely very brief stint starting tomorrow, is at Film Journal International:

Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but shout “Oh my God!” and breathlessly inquire “Is everybody okay?” That is just about the extent of memorable dialogue from Into the Storm, in which a desperate team of storm-chasers, some school kids, and a supersized tornado converge on a small rural burg whose McMansions and car dealerships are just kindling for the conflagration that everybody paid to see…

You can see the trailer here:

Now Playing: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Would Beat ‘The Avengers’ in a Dance-Off

Which of these Guardians of the Galaxy has an awesome mix-tape on their Walkman? (Marvel / Walt Disney Studios)

Which of these Guardians of the Galaxy has an awesome mix-tape on their Walkman? (Marvel / Walt Disney Studios)

It’s big, it’s everywhere, it’s somehow much better than your average Marvel output—even Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. Guardians of the Galaxy is playing now throughout the known universe; check it out.

My article “Guardians of the Galaxy out-Whedons The Avengers” is at Short Ends & Leader:

There’s a lot to appreciate—and maybe even love—about Guardians of the Galaxy. The oozing and eager-to-please sprawl of Gen-X references, from Mom’s ‘70s pop music mixtape to hero Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, surfer-dude sly) romancing the green-skinned assassin babe Gamora (Zoe Saldana) by referencing the “legend” of Footloose. Banter threaded slyly through the action instead of airdropped in by executive committee looking for humor beats. A talking raccoon skilled in jail-breaks and bomb-making. David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream”. A genocidal villain thwarted by a dance-off. The two-hour running time, practically unheard-of brevity for modern blockbusters. Howard the Duck…

You can see the trailer here:

Comics Corner: Hippies Hate Superman!

hippieolsen2

As one of the longest-surviving comics publishers in the business, DC Comics did so (like everyone else who made it) through a combination of quick turnaround, constant reinvention, and relentlessly squeezing every last penny out of their comics. In one of their less-inspired moves, in the 1950s, DC created a spinoff to their tentpole property Superman that came with the highly prosaic title Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.

hippieolsen1So far, so bad. However, in one of those granular moments of surreality that comes when publishers chase every cultural trend and damn the logic, that series produced one bona fide classic. We give you: 1969’s fabulous freakout Hippie Olsen’s Hate-In!

Firstly, there’s the issue that Jimmy Olsen looks here more like a bearded dandy from the Edwardian era than hippie (details). Then there’s Jimmy’s tendency throughout the entire series to want to kill Superman. Blog into Mystery notes:

…You don’t have to be Freud or Jung or whoever to see that he has some issues with the most important people in his life. He has no problem with dreaming about punching them, tripping them, or KILLING THEM, without a whole lot — let’s be honest – of provocation for any of those deeds.

This strikes me as a problem.

It seems that Superman has always had this problem. Unlike some superheros—Batman, Spider-man—whose enemies have wanted to do away with them for interfering with their dastardly plans, Superman’s very existence appears to be the driving force behind the hatred, from friend and foe. The very indestructibility that makes him so powerful a force for good and (unfortunately) so uninteresting as a character also engender some very mixed feelings in the all-too-weak people (villains and not) who surround him.

Must make for a lonely life.

Reader’s Corner: New Edition of ‘Stardust’

Even though he hits the Times bestseller list on a regular basis these days with novels like American Gods and The Graveyard Book, back in the 1990s Neil Gaiman was not on the mainstream reading public’s radar. He was still mostly known on the fanboy circuit as the guy who created the stunning, magical graphic novel series Sandman (which, reports now have it, he’ll be returning to in 2013).

Then in 1998, Gaiman published Stardust, a beautiful fable about love, other worlds, and — most importantly, and like all good fairy tales — the dangers of magic. It also came with these gorgeous, early 20th century-style illustrations by Charles Vess that aren’t available in every edition. Fortunately, this fall you will be able to buy a nifty gift edition with new artwork and a gorgeous new cover that was designed to Gaiman’s specifications:

I wanted it to look and feel like something from 90 years ago, like the books I treasured as a kid that I found in the school library (the ones I’d buy for a penny in the school library sales, and loved ever after).

Gaiman (aka “British Fonzie” when he had his cameo on The Simpsons) has done plenty of great and magical writing since then, but decades from now this novel (you can read an excerpt here) — and the collected volumes of Sandman – might well end up being the works that endure.

From the Vaults: Will Eisner’s Rifle Manual

In 1968, the United States Army decided to try and different tack for its largely conscripted force: instead of relying solely on telephone book-thick manuals and the barking of staff sergeants, the Army would pass on policies and training by utilizing a then still-disreputable art form: the comics.

At the same time, Will Eisner, one of the cornerstones of the American comics industry (also credited, incidentally, with essentially creating the graphic novel: 1978’s autobiographical  A Contract with God), was doing a lot of industrial work. One of the assignments he took on was the creation of one of these comic training manuals, which had the less than illustrious title of: “US Army Preventive Maintenance Manual for the M161A Rifle.”

While the subject might have been prosaic, the treatment was certainly not. As  you can see, Eisner doesn’t just slap images into a traditional A-B-C kind of manual, he breaks up the narrative into a visual and dynamic flow, spiked with jaunty dialogue rippled with colloquial language. It’s a wonderful piece of work.

You can see it displayed in full by Retronaut.

New in Books: ‘Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City’

Key to Guy Delisle’s easygoing, self-deprecating approach is this all-access take on his artistic endeavors. In theory, this should be a painfully navel-gazing type of thing; the artist trying to create his art generally being one of the most enervating brands of narrative. He makes this quest a running theme of his newest and likely greatest work, Jerusalem, looping it neatly into his explorations of this uniquely fractured city. In between his threading the needle of transportation, whether braving the epic traffic jams or just trying to find a cab that will take him to East Jerusalem, he is always stopping to note an especially spectacular site. Like most Westerners new to the Holy City, it’s nothing like what he expected. Unlike many of those visitors, fortunately, he takes everything in stride and eagerly experiences everything that he can…

The graphic memoir Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is on sale at better bookstores and online emporiums everywhere. My full review is at PopMatters.