I’ll admit, I’m a bit of an Anglophile – at least, when it comes to humor – so I’m heavily skewed towards clever British film and television. Specifically, I’ve watched two films in the past month, both of which are British, and both of which are brilliantly funny. But aside from those two facts, they really couldn’t be more different.
The first: Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip.”
I’ll also admit that I have yet to find a Steve Coogan film or TV show that I don’t love. I adore both “Alan Partridge” and “Saxondale,” his BBC shows, and the movie “Hamlet 2” should be a cult classic, if it isn’t already. “24 Hour Party People” is one of my favorite films of all time. OK, yes, “Around the World in 80 Days,” but everyone is allowed to make a few crap films in their careers. “The Trip” features Steve Coogan at his most Steve Coogan-y; cynical yet vulnerable, fast, off the cuff, and almost excruciatingly clever. Here, he’s paired with Rob Brydon, a British comedian who takes the art of the impression to a new level. They’re tasked with traveling the English countryside, going to fancy restaurants and reporting on them for The Observer; much hilarity and personal revelations ensue. Coogan and Brydon are one of the most engaging on screen duos I’ve seen in years. Their repartee is beyond compare — the Michael Caine impression scene alone is among the best comedic scenes of the year, no question. I literally laughed through the entire film. If you’re at all a fan of whip-smart British humor, then you will absolutely love this movie. I did. But then again, I’m probably biased. You can watch it on Netflix streaming, or on Amazon.com, or hopefully rent it from your local video store.
The next film, which I watched just last night: “Attack the Block.”
That trailer does NOT do the film justice. In fact, I get the sense that it was marketed totally wrong in the U.S., as more of a sci-fi horror film, except with weird accents. Well, actually, it IS a sci-fi horror film, and there ARE thick, sometimes difficult South London accents to contend with — but it’s also a fast, imaginative teen action flick, with loads of charming young actors and intelligent, appropriate humor. The first 5 to 10 minutes of the film are a bit slow, so don’t get the wrong idea. It picks up the pace right away. The story: a gang of teenage thugs in a lower-income neighborhood in London have to step up to the challenge when a savage alien species attacks their block. The performances from these young actors — especially from lead character Moses, played by John Boyega — are spot-on, played with great humor and energy. The special effects are mercifully unobtrusive; by making the aliens nothing more than pitch black shapes with gaping, glowing jaws, it makes them all the more menacing, and they don’t intrude on the story. I like a movie that starts out with you disliking the lead characters, but by the end turns it around, and makes you root for them. And the action is superb. It’s telling that a low-budget British film does action better than 90 percent of the big dumb blockbusters fouling up the cinemas. “Attack the Block” is somewhere in between “E.T.,” “District 9” and “Shawn of the Dead,” and it’s all awesome. Now streaming online on Amazon.com.