The Third Course: Michael Winterbottom on “The Trip to Spain”

Thumb trip to spain 2017 7

Michael Winterbottom blurs the line between reality and fiction in his “Trip” series, with Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan traveling through magnificent scenery, enjoying gorgeously prepared food, and needling each other, not always gently, about their talent and professional accomplishments. Brydon and Coogan use their own names and refer to real projects (in this third film, “The Trip to Spain,” they both have things to say about “Philomena”). But many of the details of their lives are changed and the other characters, including family members, are played by actors. In an interview with RogerEbert.com, Winterbottom talked about the lines between fiction and non-fiction and comedy and tragedy, why he doesn’t like jokes, and his favorite of his stars’ impressions. 

If you are going to change so many details of their lives, why use their real names?

I love films that play with or switch the versions of real events and real people. In this case it’s probably just simplicity of continuing what we’ve done before. It just felt like it kind of came out of their conversations. They had conversations about their career, about families, about their different views of the world and it just felt like it would be much richer and simpler if they were expressing those as themselves rather than trying to create a kind of character that explains who they are. We thought that it would be much freer, and funnier and actually engaging as well, playing the variations of themselves. I think it’s what a lot of comedians do anyway. With stand-up comedians there’s a big overlap between who they are really and the character they portray onstage. They’re talking and being funny and exaggerating but it overlaps very closely who they are.

Brydon and Coogan are very funny, as always, but there is a melancholy overlay to the film. Why do you include some sad and scary scenes in what is essentially a comedy?

The melancholy is just coming from two people at 50 who’re suddenly talking about 50 being a prime year but aware of getting older. I think they are talking quite honestly about their careers, their family and their hopes and in a way that hopefully people can recognize there’s always a slight melancholy to that once you get beyond a certain point.

That may be why they seem to be more comfortable in this one.

[Laughs] I’m not sure that it shows on screen but definitely making it was probably the most enjoyable in terms of their relationship. It is so tricky. The idea in the fiction that they have these different views of the world and that can be a conflict. In the real world they genuinely have their different views of the world but they’re not really in conflict. They recognize that both perspectives are necessary. Because what they’re saying actually overlaps quite closely to what they believe, that can be quite an interesting area when they move away from the lunch table then what bits hang over. It was definitely enjoyable to make so I hope it’s enjoyable to watch.

The food all looks so luscious. I love the shots in the kitchen with the sizzling pans and dots of sauce on the plates. Did you get to try it all? 

For me the food part of the trip is before we start filming. We did our driving and eating then, especially in Spain, where we required a lot of routes and journeys because we were not sure exactly which way we would go. So we had a lot of great food in the pre-production. Unfortunately we’re filming while they’re eating so there’s often the sad sight of the crew and even me at the end of a meal and diving in and eating the scraps.

The film is so intimate and natural. I wondered how big your crew was and where you all were?

We have a very small crew. We started with only two cameras and we now sometimes have three. We try to keep the restaurant open so the kitchen is running as normal.  They are told to behave as normal, which they really do, and we try and be discreet and keep out of their way. We bring actors into public spaces with ordinary people and we don’t try to control the other people.  

Coogan and Brydon are becoming a pair in the tradition of great movie comedy duos like Hope and Crosby.

I’ve worked with Steve quite a few times over the last 15 years. He is very intelligent and he has a lot of energy, a lot of strong views about the world. He wants to be serious as well as funny. Rob is just as quick, very, very quick, great improviser. He likes to pick up on ideas and play with them. He says he’s just trying to be funny and enjoy life and he’s happy in his family. They have to do hours and hours of hard work to sustain just the shooting of it let alone the watching of it and I think what helps them is they are very similar; they share a lot of cultural references and social interests but they have very different attitudes towards life. So the whole idea is keep playing around with different topics and two different attitudes and I think that allows them to keep the energy up.

I read that you don’t like jokes.

Rob says that as a complaint but I take it from Steve as a compliment. I don’t like the construction of a joke where you can see what’s coming. I’m a huge fan of Woody Allen movies, the mid-’70s films. He shows how things can be really funny without having to construct the film around a joke. Steve is much keener to inhabit the character, be honest about the character, be passionate about the character; genuinely wanting to explain about social issues or influences. Rob’s natural inclination is that as Steve is being serious and compassionate, Rob will try to find a way of making that funny.

I’m going to ask you a really difficult question; who does the best Michael Caine

They’re both very good so I’m not getting into trouble by picking one.

All right, fair enough, then which is each one’s best impression?

My favorite is Mick Jagger and David Bowie

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Kickstarter Highlight :: Piorama The Adjustable Backpack

Crowdfunding is fast becoming the world’s go-to platform for new releases. But do you ever find it hard to cut through the noise and pin down the ones worth your hard-earned? Well, that’s where this new sponsored series comes in. We’re vetting carry Kickstarters for you, digging up the facts, and shedding light on the ones we think are worth a closer look.

This week’s selection: Piorama and The Adjustable Backpack.

Recognizing a carry problem

When your travel bag is already full, trying to squeeze in that last-minute souvenir can be tough. Of course, you could get a larger bag for trips…but you may find yourself hauling a lot of excess bag bulk when you don’t need to pack as much. Then there’s other carry needs too. A bag to carry your EDC essentials. A trail companion for a local day hike. A gym buddy to stash your workout gear in. You could pick up a variety of bags for different needs, but you’ll quickly find your costs adding up and your storage space shrinking. Or you could turn to The Adjustable Backpack for a versatile one-bag solution.

Piorama The Adjustable Backpack

Getting more out of one bag

The Adjustable Backpack from Piorama gives you carry flexibility across various loads and environments. Instead of many bags for some uses, the pack offers one bag for many uses. So, how does it do it? Through a versatile cinched design on either end that allows the bag to expand or contract depending on your needs. A choice of three volume sizes lets you adjust the bag to 31L, 46.5L, or 62L. Expand it when you need to haul a lot on your travels, or cinch it down to a compact EDC pack for carrying work supplies, gym gear, or groceries.

Piorama The Adjustable Backpack

Useful features for multiple uses

The Adjustable Backpack is constructed with durable and water-resistant 900D Nylon, complemented by weatherproof zippers for added protection against the elements. The pack includes top and side grab handles which come in handy when you need to move the bag over short distances or in awkward spaces. Use it every day, for weekend trips, in the outdoors or on longer travel excursions. Wherever you need to carry gear, this pack can help you get it there.

Piorama The Adjustable Backpack

Lockable zippers on the main compartment are a useful security deterrent if you need to check the bag in during your travels, while quick-access front and side pockets are convenient for stashing small travel essentials or EDC items within easy reach. And the bag doesn’t forget about your tech either, with dedicated storage for a 15″ laptop.

Piorama The Adjustable Backpack

Another successful campaign in the bag

This is not the first time that Piorama have stepped into the carry ring. They successfully crowdfunded The Adjustable Bag. And with that valuable experience under their belt, they’re ready to deliver again with The Adjustable Backpack. The campaign runs until 24 September 2017 so there’s plenty of time to get in on the action. Check out the Adjustable Backpack Kickstarter campaign to add great adaptability to your carry setup.

Piorama The Adjustable Backpack


Note: this is a sponsored series, but only the best candidates are given this feature placement.

Above are the facts, but there’s always a little risk when backing a crowdfunder, so keep that in mind before you decide to back/purchase.

The post Kickstarter Highlight :: Piorama The Adjustable Backpack appeared first on Carryology – Exploring better ways to carry.

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Worldcon 75 Wraps

Worldcon ended on Sunday, and as a way of saying farewell, I thought I would post this picture of my daughter drawing my attention to the welcome sign.

I had a Kaffeeklatch on Sunday that was well attended, and included attendees of various ages from countries all over the world. They had come to drink coffee and ask me questions, so that meant I did a lot of talking. They all seemed to enjoy it, and I know I did. One local fan (I think he said he was Finnish, but it all blurs) did a little video interview with me afterward. I suppose that might end up on youtube someday.

And here’s a picture of one of the highlights for me in terms of programming I watched from the audience. It’s NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren giving a presentation on space medicine based on his experiences on the International Space Station.

Dr. Lindgren is a wonderfully entertaining speaker, and a gracious ambassador for the space program, based on a brief chat we had in the corridor. He’s also a science fiction fan. (At the Spokane worldcon, he presented one of the Hugo awards via Skype from the space station.)

Here’s a picture of him zipped up in his zero-g sleeping bag. Cozy!

Farewell, Worldcon!

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Nevertheless She Persisted: Den of Iniquity

Den of Iniquity

My story in this anthology started with this:

There are photos of many similar hearths floating around the internet. Some of them more sinister than this. As cool and imaginative as they are, I’m not certain I’d want one in my house, or even a thematic bed and breakfast. I had to ask myself, where would I encounter such a thing and not be bothered by whatever demon it harbored?

A bar maybe. A bar that guarded a hellmouth? A bar that served a special beer that helped save the patrons from their own sins.

A story was born.

Lilith is a perennial favorite of mine. She like King John and Richard III of England were much maligned, demonized, by those who followed them. Those who shout loudest and longest have to be right, despite the facts. But, in my mind and according to my research they are really victims.

In an unfinished and unpublished book that will always be in progress, Lilith keeps coming back, time after time, to counter the wrongs that were heaped upon her because she was a woman who would not remain a passive doormat for the louder males in her life. Who else should own the bar guarding the hellmouth? Who else would gather together the four archangels to aid her in protecting humanity from their own folly?

Who else would own such a marvelous fireplace? And the bar could have no other name but Den of Iniquity.

This story first appeared in the anthology How Beer Saved the World 2 that I was editing at the time I first discovered this demonic hearth.

When Mindy Klasky came up with the idea for Nevertheless, She Persisted this story came to mind. For me Lilith is the personification of persistence.

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A Tricoastal Woman: Charlottesville

My voice teacher in college, Aldrich Adkins, was an African American man about the same age as my father. He served in the Army in World War II.

When he was stationed at a base in the south during the war, they assembled all the soldiers for a speech. They put up a fence, put the white soldiers on one side and the Black ones on the other, and then some general proceeded to talk about freedom and democracy and the American way.

The Black soldiers came with in an inch of a riot.

When well-meaning people say of the horrific events in Charlottesville “I don’t recognize my country any more,” I think of stories like that told by Mr. Adkins. Unfortunately, I do recognize my country in the hate of white supremacists.

I grew up in the Jim Crow south. My high school was integrated my senior year – a long time after Brown v. Board. That was the same high school where I learned in American history class that the Civil War was fought between us and them.

I knew – I tried cases with – the first African American woman licensed to practice law in Texas. I knew the first Black graduate of the University of Texas law school – he was a friend of my father who represented Freedom Riders in Houston in the 1960s. I followed the brutal attacks on Civil Rights activists on television and in the papers.

And, for that matter, my father sang “Dixie” at a Confederate veterans reunion when he was five years old. Most of my ancestors fought for or supported the Confederacy. My family history and the white history of the United States are fully intertwined.

The hate demonstrated by the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville surrounded me as a child. Fortunately, I was taught at home that it was wrong. I do not know how my parents managed to move beyond the racism they grew up in, but they did. My own understanding of the issues has become deeper over time, but it helped a lot to start from the premise that racism was intolerable.

The white supremacists were quieter for awhile, though the hate they preached still showed up in many places. Now, though, they are coming out of the woodwork again, emboldened by the politicians who use hate to get elected.

We must stop them. To do that, we must recognize that the hate they spew has always been here in our country. It goes back to slavery and to the many years of Jim Crow laws, lynchings, white race riots, segregation, and criminal laws designed to keep Black people down.

We can’t stop this unless we deal with all of that. Just driving the current set of white supremacists back into hiding is not enough.

Yes, protest them. Sue them. Stop them any way you can. They represent a great danger to us and we must all come together to rid ourselves of their hate.

But we must go farther than that, look at the bad associated with our country as well as the good. It might be possible some day to have the democratic country we’ve always pretended to have, but only if we start telling the truth in history class. And to each other.

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A Tricoastal Woman: Charlottesville

My voice teacher in college, Aldrich Adkins, was an African American man about the same age as my father. He served in the Army in World War II.

When he was stationed at a base in the south during the war, they assembled all the soldiers for a speech. They put up a fence, put the white soldiers on one side and the Black ones on the other, and then some general proceeded to talk about freedom and democracy and the American way.

The Black soldiers came with in an inch of a riot.

When well-meaning people say of the horrific events in Charlottesville “I don’t recognize my country any more,” I think of stories like that told by Mr. Adkins. Unfortunately, I do recognize my country in the hate of white supremacists.

I grew up in the Jim Crow south. My high school was integrated my senior year – a long time after Brown v. Board. That was the same high school where I learned in American history class that the Civil War was fought between us and them.

I knew – I tried cases with – the first African American woman licensed to practice law in Texas. I knew the first Black graduate of the University of Texas law school – he was a friend of my father who represented Freedom Riders in Houston in the 1960s. I followed the brutal attacks on Civil Rights activists on television and in the papers.

And, for that matter, my father sang “Dixie” at a Confederate veterans reunion when he was five years old. Most of my ancestors fought for or supported the Confederacy. My family history and the white history of the United States are fully intertwined.

The hate demonstrated by the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville surrounded me as a child. Fortunately, I was taught at home that it was wrong. I do not know how my parents managed to move beyond the racism they grew up in, but they did. My own understanding of the issues has become deeper over time, but it helped a lot to start from the premise that racism was intolerable.

The white supremacists were quieter for awhile, though the hate they preached still showed up in many places. Now, though, they are coming out of the woodwork again, emboldened by the politicians who use hate to get elected.

We must stop them. To do that, we must recognize that the hate they spew has always been here in our country. It goes back to slavery and to the many years of Jim Crow laws, lynchings, white race riots, segregation, and criminal laws designed to keep Black people down.

We can’t stop this unless we deal with all of that. Just driving the current set of white supremacists back into hiding is not enough.

Yes, protest them. Sue them. Stop them any way you can. They represent a great danger to us and we must all come together to rid ourselves of their hate.

But we must go farther than that, look at the bad associated with our country as well as the good. It might be possible some day to have the democratic country we’ve always pretended to have, but only if we start telling the truth in history class. And to each other.

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Review: ‘Brigsby Bear’ is a True Love Letter to Fandom & Filmmaking

Brigsby Bear Review

The beloved sketch comedy group Good Neighbor was originally formed in 2007 by Kyle Mooney, Beck Bennett, Nick Rutherford, and Dave McCary. The comedians racked up millions of YouTube hits with their offbeat and uncomfortable sketch videos, including such notable standouts as "My Mom’s a MILF", "Is My Roommate Gay?", "420 Disaster," and "Unbelievable Dinner," based on Steven Spielberg’s Hook. In 2013, Mooney and Bennett joined Saturday Night Live as featured players along with McCary, who stayed behind the camera as a segment director. Now Mooney and McCary are transitioning to the big screen with the indie comedy Brigsby Bear, a feature-length narrative about friendship, family, and nostalgia that deftly blends humor and heart to create something that is both odd and oddly affectionate.

Directed by McCary and co-written by Mooney and their childhood friend Kevin Costello, Brigsby Bear stars Mooney as James, a sensitive young adult living in an underground bunker with his over-protective parents, Ted and April Mitchum (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). Sheltered since childhood, James’ only connection to the outside world is a VHS-era educational children’s show called Brigsby Bear, a bizarre but endearing amalgamation of Teddy Ruxpin and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. James has grown up with the live-action fantasy series, and Brigsby Bear‘s mythology has grown with him, becoming more and more intricate with each new VHS tape that is delivered to the subterranean shelter.

One night, while sneaking out to hang out on the roof, James sees a fleet of police cars approach his desert dwelling. James is taken away from Ted and April, who are arrested. At the police station, Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) and Deputy Bander (Bennett) inform James that Ted and April are not his birth parents. Even more shocking to James is the fact that Brigsby Bear isn’t real. The children’s program was created and produced by the Mitchums, with Vogel explaining that the police found the studio where the show was made. Everything James thought he knew was a lie, and his most treasured possessions – a treasure trove of Brigsby Bear VHS tapes & memorabilia – are taken as evidence, leaving him without a coping mechanism.

Brigsby Bear Review

Vogel introduces the shell-shocked James to his actual parents, Greg and Louise Pope (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins), and their teenage daughter Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins). As his family tries to help him transition to a new life, James can’t stop thinking about Brigsby Bear. He can’t start this new chapter of his life until Brigsby’s story is finished. The superfan decides that he will bring closure to his childhood hero’s epic adventure, and his own traumatic past, by writing and directing a Brigsby Bear movie. In the process, James meets new people and makes the kind of meaningful connections his life has lacked.

On its surface, McCary’s absurdist comedy film is about a man-child who uses filmmaking to overcome his loneliness and give life meaning. On a deeper level, it’s about innocence lost, and how we often seek comfort in replicating the joy we once felt as children. I’m talking, of course, about nostalgia. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past,’ nostalgia is a kind of melancholy – a quiet heartache that leaves us longing to return to a time when things were simpler. For children of the ’80s, nostalgia is a fundamental human emotion these days.

Pretty much all of us grew up obsessing over pop culture, searching for something greater than ourselves in that passionate pursuit. Childhood, after all, is when young, impressionable minds are most susceptible to the mesmerizing power of storytelling. We can all remember connecting with a movie or television show that ignited our imagination. For me, it was Star Wars. I spent my childhood, and the better part of my adulthood, consuming and collecting as much Star Wars stuff as possible. I read every Expanded Universe novel – every magazine, comic book, technical journal, and essential guide I could find. I found meaning in that galaxy far, far away. Its mythology was my religion, and its fantasy became my reality.

Because of my intense fandom for Star Wars and my inherent need for nostalgia, I immediately connected with Mooney’s sensitive if somewhat naïve character. I didn’t grow up in an underground bunker in the desert, but a small town in the Appalachian Mountains – 30 miles from the nearest mall or movie theater. I wasn’t held captive, but I spent a lot of time indoors, in my room, playing with Star Wars toys. To see Mark Hamill, my childhood hero Luke Skywalker, play the man behind James’ obsession, brought about an overwhelming catharsis. Who better to portray Brigsby Bear than Hamill, an icon who represents fandom and nostalgia so hugely in pop culture? Hamill’s work here is fantastic, and he manages to imbue Ted with a kind of gentle empathy, despite the man being a criminal who brainwashed him with a fabricated TV show.

Brigsby Bear Review

Mooney was born just a few months before me in September of 1984, and it’s very clear that we had similar experiences growing up. Our generation was spoiled in the sense that there were so many insanely imaginative and fully realized worlds to explore. Star Wars, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Thundercats, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – the list of popular ’80s and ’90s properties that are still household names today is astounding. Brigsby Bear is a reminder of that era, a kindhearted and uplifting examination of the power of storytelling and how embracing your inner-child isn’t a sign of immaturity, but an attempt to reclaim some of the innocence lost in adulthood.

I loved this movie. McCary, Mooney, and Costello have created a comedy drama that deals in the kind of awkward, absurdist gags you might expect from a Good Neighbor sketch video or even an SNL bit, but is a wonderful piece of personal filmmaking. There’s an emotional depth to this story and its characters that resonates me with – I find a kind of truth in this story, the same way I found truth and meaning in Star Wars. Mooney’s performance is pitch-perfect, and the script does an amazing job at keeping the various supporting characters tethered to James’ life in meaningful and impactful ways. Together they form a new mythology for James – a shared universe of experiences and connections that will inspire James to continue creating long after Brigsby Bear’s journey comes to an end. That’s all we could hope for, right? To be so inspired by something that we are driven to create, and hopefully inspire others to do the same? By that measure, not only has James succeeded, but McCary, Mooney, and Costello have, too. This is a film that will leave you inspired and hopeful – it’s something I desperately needed to see, given current events.

A love letter to storytelling that taps into the childlike wonder that still exists in all of us, McCary, Mooney, and Costello’s Brigsby Bear is one of my favorite films of the year and shouldn’t be missed.

Adam’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Follow Adam on Twitter – @AdamFrazier

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