The Films of Michael Winterbottom
Forget About Me
Under the Sun
Welcome to Sarajevo
I Want You
With or Without You
24 Hour Party People
In This World (March 4/04)
In This World is an odd hybrid of fiction and non-fiction, featuring a cast comprised mostly of amateur actors. It's hard to tell what's real and what isn't, and because director Michael Winterbottom's shot the film using digital cameras, there's a definite sense of immediacy in terms of what's happening on screen. The simple storyline follows two Pakistani men - Jamal (Jamal Udin Torabi) and Enayat (Enayatullah) - as they attempt to make their way to England via not-exactly-legal means. The two pass through countries such as Iran and Turkey, meeting different people along the way and trying their darndest to avoid deportation. According to the film's press notes, the majority of In This World was improvised - while the two central performers were caught genuinely reacting to the vastly different surroundings encountered on their journey. It's that aspect of the film that works best, as it's hard not to root for this pair to succeed (when they're deported from one country, for example, there's a distinct sense of anger towards the immigration officer). But Winterbottom's roving attention span winds up hurting the film, particularly when he introduces another family on a similar trek. Not enough time is spent on them for us to care one way or the other about their efforts, and it's hard not to wish that Winterbottom had remained focused on Jamal and Enayat. Likewise, the use of digital photography proves to be both a positive and a negative - it's great that Winterbottom is able to show us all these unusual places, but the darker sequences are virtually incoherent (this is particularly true of scenes on a mountain at night and in a cramped boat). Still, the film remains fairly compelling throughout, making it worth a look.
Click here for review.
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (June 21/11)
A typically rambling, freewheeling effort from Michael Winterbottom, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story follows a crew of actors and filmmakers as they attempt to adapt Laurence Sterne's notoriously complex and convoluted novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman for the big screen - with the movie subsequently detailing the many, many problems that crop up along the way. There's little doubt that Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story opens with a great deal of promise, as Michael Winterbottom kicks off the proceedings with a scene featuring hilarious banter between actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon - with the inevitable segue into the movie within the movie instantly establishing an atmosphere of palpable tedium. Winterbottom, working from Frank Cottrell Boyce's screenplay, offers up a broadly-played historical comedy that's lacking in both plot and character development, with the director's efforts at cultivating a vibe of consistent irreverence reflected in the inclusion of one pointless, disastrously unfunny interlude after another (eg an incompetent physician demonstrates the use of forceps on a piece of fruit). It's only as the film moves into its present-day midsection that it begins to improve (albeit slightly), as Winterbottom delivers a low-key look at the behind-the-scenes exploits of the various figures involved in the making of the movie - with the inherently compelling atmosphere heightened by several admittedly engrossing episodes (eg Rob worries about acting opposite Gillian Anderson due to his huge crush on the erstwhile X-Files actress). The movie demonstrably runs out of steam somewhere around its halfway mark, however, and there's little doubt that Winterbottom's exceedingly lackadaisical sensibilities ultimately prevent Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story from making any real impact on the viewer.
A Mighty Heart
Based on the infamous Daniel Pearl case, A Mighty Heart casts Angelina Jolie as Pearl's devoted wife Mariane - with the bulk of the film following her efforts to track him down after he goes missing in Pakistan. There's certainly no mistaking A Mighty Heart for anything other than a Michael Winterbottom effort, as the movie possesses precisely the sort of jittery, documentary-esque vibe that one has come to expect from the filmmaker. But unlike, say, In This World, A Mighty Heart manages to hold the interest of even the most politically apathetic viewer - primarily thanks to the emotionally devastating and flat-out compelling nature of Mariane's story (ie though we know how the movie has to end, there's still a palpable undercurrent of suspense running through the proceedings). One ultimately can't help but sympathize with the woman; Jolie's stunning, absolutely convincing performance certainly cements this feeling, and it's very likely that this marks the apex of her career. And although the film's midsection does become just a little too bogged down in the technical details of Daniel's search - ie the various agencies, both American and foreign, must contend with instances of bureaucratic red tape - A Mighty Heart is, in the end, an undeniably affecting look at an exceedingly familiar story.
Click here for review.
The Killer Inside Me (March 6/12)
Based on the novel by Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me details the murderous escapades of a sociopathic '50s cop named Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) - with the character's reign of terror ultimately impacting everyone from a local prostitute (Jessica Alba's Joyce) to a tenacious district attorney (Simon Baker's Howard) to his loyal girlfriend (Kate Hudson's Amy). It's a strong (albeit familiar) premise that's utilized to consistently underwhelming effect by director Michael Winterbottom, as the filmmaker, working from John Curran's screenplay, has infused the proceedings with an excessively lackadaisical pace that holds the viewer at arms length virtually from start to finish. (It doesn't help either that, at 109 minutes, the film feels at least a half hour longer than necessary.) The middling midsection, which is, generally speaking, padded-out to an absurd degree, further prevents the viewer from working up any interest in or sympathy for the characters' ongoing exploits, with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere effectively preventing the film's overtly shocking moments from packing the impact that Winterbottom has surely intended. It's worth noting, however, that The Killer Inside Me never quite becomes the all-out disaster that one might've expected, as the movie substantially benefits from Affleck's eye-opening and consistently mesmerizing turn as the fairly reprehensible central character - with the actor's stirring performance matched by a stellar supporting cast that includes, among others, Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, and Brent Briscoe. (Bill Pullman's third-act appearance as a shifty lawyer, on the other hand, doesn't fare quite as well, with the actor's gratingly over-the-top turn compounding the film's progressively uninvolving vibe.) The end result is an overlong adaptation that primarily comes off as a complete and total misfire, which is a shame, certainly, given the film's multitude of admittedly positive attributes (including the irresistibly pulpy landscape within which the narrative unfolds).
Picking up where Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story left off, The Trip follows Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they embark on a journey into the North of England to visit several restaurants for an article that Coogan is to write - with the excursion inevitably boiling down to a series of conversations and arguments between the mismatched pair. There's little doubt that Coogan and Brydon's palpable chemistry together plays an instrumental role in cementing The Trip's mild success, as the two actors step into their admittedly familiar roles - Coogan's uptight and ill-tempered, while Brydon is freewheeling and fun - with an ease that proves impossible to resist. The film's plotless structure is, as a result, generally not as problematic as one might've feared, and it's immediately clear that the movie is at its best when focused on the protagonists' loose, improvisatory shenanigans (eg the pair engage in a battle of Michael Caine impressions, Coogan expresses his desire to appear in a period piece, etc, etc). Filmmaker Michael Winterbottom's ongoing efforts at anchoring the proceedings with moments of drama - eg Coogan's ongoing relationship problems - unfortunately don't fare quite as well, although it's worth noting that the movie packs an unexpectedly potent emotional punch in its heartfelt final minutes. And although the film does begin to run out of steam after a certain point - the premise is, after all, inherently repetitive - The Trip boasts a pervasively agreeable atmosphere that proves instrumental in compensating for its flaws.
Click here for review.
The Look of Love (August 10/13)
Directed by Michael Winterbottom, The Look of Love tells the true-life story of Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) - an ambitious entrepreneur who parlays his gentleman's club into an empire of smut and sex. The Look of Love comes off as an extremely standard biopic that seems to have emerged directly from a template for such films, with the movie establishing its less-than-creative sensibilities right from the get-go - as the story transpires almost entirely in flashback as Raymond remembers his life as an old man. The movie is, admittedly, kind of watchable for a little while, as the period atmosphere has been suffused with intriguing little details that go a long way towards buoying one's precarious interest. And although Coogan is awfully good here, The Look of Love suffers from a dearth of compelling figures that slowly-but-surely proves disastrous (ie the absence of engaging characters ultimately exacerbates the film's conventional and run-of-the-mill atmosphere). There's little doubt, too, that Matt Greenhalgh's cookie-cutter script plays a significant role in the movie's downfall, as the narrative, for the most part, unfolds exactly as one might've expected - with Raymond's fractured relationship with his children, including his drug-addicted daughter, certainly the most egregious example of this. One finally can't help but wonder just what drew Winterbottom to this hopelessly stale material, and it does go without saying that some lives simply aren't compelling enough to warrant a biography of their own.
The Trip to Italy
More of the same, The Trip to Italy follows Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they reunite to eat and talk their way through a number of Italian hotspots. There's little doubt that the chemistry between Coogan and Brydon remains completely intact here, with the banter between the two going a long way towards initially sustaining the viewer's interest. It's just as clear, however, that The Trip to Italy suffers from a seriously meandering feel that grows more and more problematic as time progresses, as the movie, written by Winterbottom, contains a surfeit of underwhelming conversations and it is, to an increasingly palpable degree, difficult to work up much interest in the protagonists' ongoing encounters. It doesn't help, either, that the movie's digressions into Coogan and Brydon's personal lives are far from enthralling, with the continuing emphasis on the former's dealings with his son and the latter's decision to cheat on his wife unable to relieve the disappointingly uninvolving vibe. Of course, The Trip to Italy benefits substantially from the periodic inclusion of laugh-out-loud funny bits of comedy - with the pair's penchant for dueling impressions an obvious highlight within the proceedings. In the end, however, The Trip to Italy feels like a stale rehash of its demonstrably superior predecessor - which is a shame, certainly, given the tremendous appeal of the movie's two leading men.
The Face of an Angel
The Emperor's New Clothes (June 10/18)
Directed by Michael Winterbottom, The Emperor's New Clothes follows Russell Brand as he explores the tremendous disparity between the fabled 1% and everyone else - with the movie detailing the comedian's efforts at explaining just how this came to be and the possible solutions for making the financial landscape a little more fair. Filmmaker Winterbottom has crafted an informative yet persistently erratic documentary that benefits from an ongoing emphasis on personal stories (ie the folks that have been adversely affected by the economic issues being covered), as the movie, which runs a decidedly overlong 101 minutes, contains far too many sequences explaining how things have come to be this way - with such interludes, though kind of interesting, boasting all the flair and style of a garden-variety nightly news piece. It is, as such, not surprising to note that The Emperor's New Clothes is able to hold one's interest on a decidedly sporadic basis, with the movie at its best when focused on the aforementioned personal stories and Brand's entertaining back-and-forth banter with his subjects. Brand's affable demeanor certainly plays a key role in cementing the picture's extremely mild success, although there's little doubt that the choice to have the actor confront certain people, Michael Moore style, just doesn't work at all (especially given that he's accosting gatekeeper-type folks that are presumably earning very little money). The end result is a hit-and-miss documentary that stands as a decent primer on contemporary financial issues, with the movie's finale, in which Brand offers a whole host of quick (and not-so-quick) fixes, ensuring that The Emperor's New Clothes ends on a positive, empowering note.
The Trip to Spain
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon embark on another Europe-based trek in The Trip to Spain, with this journey following the reluctant friends as they eat and drink their way through some of Spain's most exclusive restaurants. As expected, The Trip to Spain suffers from a decidedly uneven vibe that doesn't become terribly problematic until somewhere around the halfway mark - as the movie is, prior to that point, rife with engaging interludes and laugh-out-loud funny conversations. (There is, in terms of the latter, a thoroughly hilarious bit involving an imagined feud between the Bonds that's as strong as anything within this rocky series.) The overarching problem here, though, is the narrative's terminal lack of forward momentum, with the movie's episodic atmosphere ensuring that it ultimately works only in fits and starts - with the film, in its wheel-spinning second act, threatening to become just as underwhelming and unimpressive as the lackluster second installment. It's the inclusion of a surprisingly compelling last-minute dramatic subplot that elevates the proceedings, as this somewhat incongruous digression, detailing Coogan's reaction to some news from his son, paves the way for a completely oddball yet entirely fascinating final shot (ie where is this series going to go from here?) - which, in the end, confirms The Trip to Spain's place as a decent endeavor that nevertheless can't quite live up to the comparatively stellar original picture.