TFF 2020 Review: “The Trip to Greece”

THE TRIP TO GREECE
Directed By: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan
Runtime: 103 mins.
IFC Films

Through no fault of its own, The Trip to Greece is arriving on VOD today with some extra baggage. Seeing as this release comes at a time when the world doesn’t know how and when we might resume the kind of care free international tourism that stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon enjoy, it’s hard to judge how this film might hit you. Is armchair tourism at this juncture escapism or masochism? At this point in the series, given this is the fourth time around with this specific formula, that might be the only factor in your decision making. As with their first three trips–starting in England the duo then hit Italy and Spain–the vistas are gorgeous, the food looks delicious and the impressions are plentiful. What sets this one apart, fittingly for ancient Greece, is the injection of some tragedy within the film’s “plot” separate from the context of its release. The result of this turn is a film that is more an admirable finale than the hilarious joyrides that its predecessors were.

The setup is slim, as always, with the comedians ostensibly working on some article while retracing the trail covered in The Odyssey from modern day Turkey to Ithaca. Ten years of Odyssey condensed into six days of jet setting. The structure sets their agenda but then Brydon and Coogan’s conversations go off the rails as needed. This time around, Coogan has recently received dramatic accolades for his portrayal of Stan Laurel in Stan & Ollie and a lot of their comedic tension comes from Coogan trying to emphasize his newly minted dramatic chops while Brydon firmly still categorizes his buddy as a comedian. If there were an Olympics for negging, these two would surely medal. The guys are hilarious at oneupmanship whether it’s picking up on a Mick Jagger impression and doing their own take or attempting to turn the the mundanity of a restaurant check into a game show round. In these sequences this series always hits its stride and credit must go to director Michael Winterbottom and his editor Marc Ricardson for often wringing another laugh out of a moment by just cutting on the right beat.

The film does do that shift for the dramatic though by adding in ominous black and white dream sequences rooted in Greek myth for Coogan and introducing a family health crisis as well. I haven’t been able to suss out if that part was based on something in Coogan’s actual life or entirely fabricated for the film but if the latter, it seems an odd choice. At one point they also take a detour to a refugee camp after coming across a former colleague of Coogan’s who’s based there. While it is, as I said above, admirable that this series of extreme-first-world tourism actually takes a moment to observe the realities of a host country, it comes off more as momentary lip service rather than genuine reflection. Eventually the back home problem for Coogan split the comedic duo apart for the remainder of the film much to its detriment. Where the pair end up does have the air of finality, which this installment supposedly is, so I understand the choice. Overall I enjoyed Brydon and Coogan’s competitive company as I always have, just wish that this finale could have focused more on the series’ strengths as it headed off into the sunset.

Note: The Trip To Greece was due to make its North American premiere as part of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival’s “Spotlight Narrative” slate. Though the 2020 Festival was officially postponed due to ongoing pandemic precautions, online screeners and the fest’s press library mean we can still offer coverage of this year’s selections while looking forward to getting back to the fest in the future!

TFF 2020 Review: “Inheritance”

Note: Inheritance was due to make its world premiere as part of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival’s “Spotlight Narrative” slate. Though the 2020 Festival was officially postponed due to ongoing pandemic precautions, online screeners and the fest’s press library mean we can still offer coverage of this year’s selections while looking forward to getting back to the fest in the future!

INHERITANCE
Starring: Lily Collins, Simon Pegg, Chace Crawford, Connie Nielson, Patrick Warburton
Directed by: Vaughn Stein
Runtime: 111 mins.
Vertical Entertainment
Not Rated

Early on in Inheritance, the will of deceased banker Archer Monroe (Patrick Warburton) is read out to his district attorney daughter Lauren (Lily Collins) and her congressman brother William (Chace Crawford). While the campaigning son takes a massive twenty million dollars, his sister “only” gets one million. If you think that’s the main source of strife in this family then oh boy, strap in because that difference barely scratches the surface of Lauren’s problems. Director Vaughn Stein’s new thriller releasing on VOD this week after having been a 2020 Tribeca Film Festival selection, takes a hard turn into its potential-horror setup but doesn’t fully embrace it with leads who can’t sell it.

The monetary discrepancy between Lauren and her brother quickly gives way to Lauren receiving her actual inheritance in the form of a mysterious key and a video from her late father urging her to keep the truth buried. Not to be too cynical but it’s pretty expected that a wealthy family like these Monroes–populated with bankers, lawyers and politicians–is going to have its share of skeletons in its closet. Stein’s film does this cliché one better by Archer leaving his daughter a full grown man chained up in a bunker. Thanks, dad. The bunker man is named Morgan (Simon Pegg) and seems to know everything about Lauren who desperately wants to know the whys and hows of Morgan’s disgusting situation. More than that, Lauren must face a crisis of conscious whether to heed her father’s will, especially in the middle of her brother’s re-election or release the bedraggled, pitiable Morgan with his trove of family secrets.

Simon Pegg has long been one of my favorite actors, whether in leading the “Cornetto trilogy” or popping up in larger fare like Star Trek or even better the Mission: Impossible series, but saddled in this film with the heavy wig and grime of Morgan’s imprisonment and, worse, a ropey American accent, and he is utterly wasted. The main tension in Inheritance should come from whether Lauren can muster enough pity for Morgan to release him or Pegg can be sufficiently menacing in his blackmail of the Monroes to achieve his ends. But in their contained scenes, the dynamic never coalesces into real tension. Where you’re expecting someone to actually strike, they just keep talking in circles. And I can’t underscore enough how badly Pegg’s US accent hobbles how threatening his character could have been. There are later parts in the film where I imagine Pegg was really having fun with it, but too much of the runtime for his character is leaden stuff. Collins, 31, for her part as a DA in Manhattan is much too young to hold such a role and comes off as someone playing dress up. It was hard to take either of them seriously in these parts.

For a movie where the crux of the problem is a man chained up in a basement, Inheritance is just overall way too bland. Outside of Pegg and Collins, the Monroe family and their posse come off as stock soap opera characters. Chace Crawford, so good on “The Boys,” is as ridiculous as a hot-shot congressman as Collins is as the DA. Ultimately their rich people problems–and secrets–aren’t as shocking as the film wants them to be.

Inheritance is available on DirectTV and releases on VOD on May 22nd

Giant Pictures Set To Release Sci-Fi Thriller “Volition”

Giant Pictures has acquired the U.S. rights to the sci-fi/thriller VOLITION. The film will be released in theaters, on Apple TV, Prime Video and other Digital Platforms on July 10, 2020. 

VOLITION is the feature directorial debut for Tony Dean Smith (Rakka), who co-wrote the script with his brother and producing partner Ryan W. Smith (Next Gen).  The film stars Adrian Glynn McMorran (The Revenant), Magda Apanowicz (You), John Cassini (The Possession), Frank Cassini (Watchmen), Aleks Paunovic (War for the Planet of the Apes), and Bill Marchant (Godzilla).  It was produced in association with Paly Productions and Smith Brothers Film Company.

“A great debut for the Smith Brothers, VOLITION is sure to deliver thrills and a mind-bending experience to sci-fans everywhere,” said Courtney Cox, Manager of Content Acquisitions & Marketing at Giant Pictures.  “We are thrilled to be bringing it to digital platforms.”

VOLITION is a time-bending cerebral science-fiction thriller where a man afflicted with clairvoyance tries to change his fate when a series of events leads to a vision of his own imminent murder. Awarded as best feature at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival, among a slew of other awards and critical acclaim, VOLITION is a tightly-wound puzzle of a ride.  

The deal was negotiated by Courtney Cox, Manager of Content Acquisitions & Marketing from Giant Pictures, and Smith Brothers Film Company and Paly Productions on behalf of the filmmakers.

ABOUT GIANT PICTURES:

Giant Pictures is a boutique digital distributor based in NYC and Los Angeles, which is dedicated to elevating the digital experience. We work directly with filmmakers and rights owners to distribute movies and TV shows to VOD & OTT platforms in North America and worldwide. Giant is a division of Giant Interactive, an award-winning digital media and technology services company. Giant is an iTunes Preferred aggregator and encoding house. Recent movie and documentary releases include: ‘Love, Antosha’ (Dir. Garret Price, Sundance 2019), ‘Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.’ (Dir. Steve Loveridge, Sundance 2018), ‘In Reality’ (Dir. Ann Lupo, LAFF 2018, Austin FF 2018). Visit us at: www.giant.pictures

ABOUT PALY PRODUCTIONS:

Paly Productions, Inc. is a U.S.-based investment fund, focused on high-quality artistic projects for the world market.

ABOUT SMITH BROTHERS FILM COMPANY

Smith Brothers Film Company is the creative partnership of brothers Tony Dean Smith & Ryan W. Smith.  As an independent film company, it produces high-quality, character- and story-driven film and television content for the global market.

Available in Theaters and On Digital Platforms on July 10, 2020

Film Review “Valley Girl (2020)”

Who knew that we needed a remake of the 1983 Nicolas Cage starred cult classic “Valley Girl”, let alone a musical remake of it…but very glad we did. This long delayed film which was originally scheduled to be released in 2018 finally gets a release date available in select Drive-Ins and on Digital on May 8, 2020. Packed with 80’s nostalgia, great songs and a solid cast, this film definitely did not disappoint.

Official Premise: Julie (Jessica Rothe) is the ultimate ’80s Valley Girl. A creative free spirit; Julie’s time is spent with her best friends shopping at the Galleria mall and making plans for senior prom. That is, until she falls hard for Randy (Joshua Whitehouse), a Sunset Strip punk rocker, who challenges everything the Valley and Julie stand for. Despite push-back from friends and family, Julie must break out of the safety of her world to follow her heart and discover what it really means to be a Valley Girl.  

Jessica Rothe, known best for the “Happy Death Day” horror franchise, stars in this musical remake. She does have musical experience after co-starring in “La La Land” and definitely can sing. Also co-starring singer/actress Chloe Bennett (“Marvel’s Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and even Alicia Silverstone (“Clueless”) makes an appearance in a “Princess Bride” story-telling role. Wrapping up the cast, Judy Greer (“Jurassic World”) and Rob Huebel (“Children’s Hospital”) play Julie’s parents.

The songs in the film include Queen “Under Pressure”, a-ha “Take on Me”, The Go-Go’s “We Got The Beat” and Cyndi Lauper “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” just to name a few. They are backed by fun all-out dance sequences with choreography by none other than Mandy Moore (“This is Us”, “Tangled”). The music is so fun, fresh and gets you re-living the 80’s.

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