Victor’s dad (Gary Farmer!) leaves, never comes back, dies a decade later. So sullen teenage Victor takes an interstate trip to see where he died, collect his ashes, meet dad’s girlfriend (Irene Bedard), that sort of thing. He is joined by an overenthusiastic nerdy neighbor Thomas, and they mostly ride by bus on the way down, and drive dad’s truck back.

References: Gary Farmer asks Victor who’s his favorite Indian, Victor repeatedly yells “Nobody“… and Thomas is said to be obsessed with Dances With Wolves, which featured Victor’s mom Tantoo Cardinal. A journey/road trip/family secrets drama that sometimes feels standard-issue, but has some standout technical moments (moving from the lead actors to their flashback-younger-selves without cutting, indicating that the past is always present) and an unusually strong ending, with Gary unforgiven and Victor dealing with a mess of emotions.

Simple, straightforward, obvious movie full of affable people, a pleasant diversion with some delicious-looking food but probably not even as great/interesting as something like Waitress.

Favreau’s smallest film in over a decade, but probably didn’t feel small since he was writer/director/producer/star/cook. Although it might’ve been ghostwritten by Twitter. His movie star friends come along – Avengers Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. play his restaurant hostess and ex-wife’s ex-husband. Sofia Vergara (vengeful brothel mistress of Machete Kills) is the still-friendly ex-wife, Dustin Hoffman the chef’s boss, Oliver Platt the restaurant critic who sends Favreau on a road-trip journey of self-discovery, starting from scratch and remembering what he loved about cooking (alongside longtime assistant John Leguizamo) and reconnecting with his favorite regional dishes and his 10-year-old son and ex-wife and finally making up with the critic (but not with Dustin Hoffman) and opening his own place and getting remarried.

Steve Coogan’s possibly-ex-girlfriend is in the States, so he gets fellow TV comic Rob Brydon to join him for a would-be-romantic road trip to high-end northern England restaurants. Along the way, Steve makes anxious calls to his girl, to his agent (an American cable series is offered, with a seven-year commitment) and to his ex-wife and son. Rob’s only phone usage is for a nightly phone-sex appointment with his wife. Steve fusses over his career, wonders why he’s not the star he considers himself to be, and constantly puts down and one-ups Rob.

The fun of the six-episode series (which I watched since the movie version isn’t out yet) is in the often hilarious, somewhat bitter but always ultimately comic conversations between Steve and Rob, plus the great scenery and food. The movie aspires to more, though, and it’s more successful with its portrayal of a complicated friendship than with the time given to Steve’s personal and professional unhappiness. Each episode ends with him sighing heavily after an unpleasant phone call, looking unhappily into the distance, trying to make himself look younger in the mirror, and imitating Rob’s TV characters which he derides in public. I get the intent, to make Coogan a deep, sad character, but it comes off as repetitive and slightly self-indulgent. Brydon is given less depth, just a satisfied family man who loves doing the celebrity impressions that made his TV career. Coogan has a point that Rob gets annoying in large doses, but Rob confidently holds his own against Steve’s constant jabs.

The AV Club reviewers liked the film version in general, had some complaints I can’t disagree with. N. Murray: “While I liked the movie, there’s no reason why this couldn’t have been something I loved.” S. Tobias: “The choices [Winterbottom] makes in the editing room (and perhaps on set, too) seem off here … there are scenes that are allowed to go on too long or repeat a scene earlier in the film.”

Slant: “Its wry pricking of supercilious egos suggests a more self-aware version of Sideways.”

A long, strange trip. Well, not that strange compared to other Japanese movies I’ve seen, but didn’t go in any direction I expected. The beginning (which I’ve watched before) shows a hijacker killing off hostages before getting taken out by the police, leaving only the bus driver (the great Kôji Yakusho, who himself played a kidnapper in Tokyo Sonata) and two kids alive. Now we’ve got over three hours left to follow these three depressed individuals as they do nothing much. Oh, and it’s all b/w sepia-toned, which I thought was supposed to correlate to the survivors’ sense of distance from the world around them, the current moment already seeming like a faded postcard, confirmed when it turns to color as the girl lightens up in the final scene.

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Anyway, after the incident bus driver Makoto is disappearing for months at a time and working low-ambition jobs, while the children (Kozue and her older brother Naoki) are on their own after one parent leaves and the other dies… so Makoto moves in with them, soon joined by the kids’ older cousin Akihiko (Yôichirô Saitô of The Mourning Forest) on summer break from classes. Nothing happens, so Makoto buys a bus and the four tour the countryside where nothing continues to happen. Except young women are getting murdered wherever they go. Makoto is suspected, but he catches Naoki red-handed and turns him in. Akihiko, pretty much the only one of them who ever says anything, says that past traumas always cause people to contemplate murder (a dubious theory), but he makes M. angry and gets kicked out of the bus. Cathartic ending, Kozue speaking for the first time in ages, turn to color, etc.

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Weird, the young girl Aoi Miyazaki seems to play the same character in Aoyama’s Sad Vacation, as do a couple other actors. After watching this and the director’s made-for-TV Mike Yokohama flick, I don’t think I’ll be renting Sad Vacation in a big hurry. Got nothing against long, slow, monochrome movies about sad people (hello, Bela Tarr), but Aoyama’s particular sad people aren’t doing it for me.

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