Tag Archives: Ewan MacGregor

An Idiot Abroad 3: The Short Way Round

An Idiot Abroad - Short Way RoundRicky Gervais has a pretty well sustained habit of only doing 2 seasons of his TV series. Two series and a special is his m.o., if precedent can be trusted. While this was technically billed as the third season of An Idiot Abroad, it is really more of a prolonged special.

Instead of sending Karl out on his own, Ricky and Steve have given him ‘a little pal’ in Warwick Davis.  I’m not sure if this idea came from Ricky working with Warwick on Life’s Too Short, or it emerged from the China episode of An Idiot Abroad–the very first episode, actually–when Karl visited a ‘dwarf village’ made up of little people who lived in very small homes and put on shows a few times per day for tourist tips.  Karl thought this was wonderful and really enjoyed it.  He said to the camera that ‘Ricky knows a little fella’ and he wondered what he would think of the village.  At this point, I remember asking my boyfriend if he thought Karl was talking about Warwick Davis.  He was, in fact.  Karl called Warwick and asked his opinion on the dwarf village.  Warwick did not think it was wonderful, something Karl couldn’t quite comprehend.  It’s one of the more interesting scenes in the original An Idiot Abroad series, and I sort of think that’s where this idea to put the two together came from.

If you’re wondering about the name (The Short Way Round), it’s an homage to a series of documentary (I use this term for want of a better one) films that Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman made.  The first was called The Long Way Down, where the boys rode their motorcycles from London to New York, by going East. The second was The Long Way Down, where they rode their bikes from the Northernmost tip of Scotland to the Southernmost point of Africa.  I’m not sure if The Short Way Round refers to the short nature of this special, the shortness of their trip, or is a nod to the shortness of Warwick.

In the first episode, Karl and Warwick go to Venice.  They are recreating Marco Polo’s trip to China, so they begin in Italy. It becomes apparent immediately that Karl and Warwick do not agree on anything. Their life views are completely different.  And the rest of this ‘series’ will remind you exactly how awful it is to travel with someone with whom you are not getting on.  The boys dress up that night for a costume party in the old Venetian tradition.  Karl really does not like this, and I can’t say I blame him.  One of the old-fashioned games is to be blindfolded and tickled with various things, etc., to experience different sensations.  As Karl explains, he could do without having an unknown someone’s halitosis blowing onto his face.  He complains, and then ditches Warwick on his own.

Karl and Warwick in costumeThe next day, Karl has picked something he wants to do–a jet pack.  The most hilarious part of this episode (and also the saddest), is that Karl is made entirely miserable by this activity that he has brought upon himself.  Oh, Karl.  The end of the episode has the boys move on to Macedonia, where they stay with a family of Romani (gypsies).  Warwick is made a bit uncomfortable–Romani consider little people to be good luck, so they make excuses to rub his head and touch him.  I would take a pass on that as well.  Later, the boys attend a religious ceremony where men stick metal rods through various body parts and then do some whirling dervish style dances.  Then Karl tries to be lifted by a bunch of helium balloons, but proves too heavy. He coerces Warwick into going up, and he sails very high in the air and feels a bit ill. But it’s good to see that the show will not just be making Karl uncomfortable.  It would feel too much like bullying if Warwick enjoyed the whole trip and Karl none of it.

Episode 2 takes the boys on to India, where each participates in activities they dislike.  Karl enjoys laughter yoga, and dislikes acting in a Bollywood film–partially because Warwick is acting a bit bossy now that he’s more or less in his own milieu.  They take a river cruise on the Ganges and then camp on its banks. They plan to stay for the night but some drunken locals annoy Karl so much he leaves for a hotel. The highlight for Karl is a trip to a nearby circus Karl and Warwick as clowns

 

 

and to visit the Spider Girls, a pair of conjoined twins featured there. The circus and its emphasis on showcasing the disfigured, disabled, and anatomically different, make Warwick very uncomfortable.  Karl is in his element here.  Everyone is a bit worried about Karl, but I think he’s very nice to them.  He asks them questions that would occur to everyone, about how they accomplish daily tasks.  He’s never disrespectful; only fascinated.  And if no one was fascinated by them, they’d have a much harder time making a living.  On the other hand, I can see why it would make a lot of people uncomfortable, especially Warwick.

The third and last episode gets the boys all the way to China. They take a trip on the Yangtze river, where Warwick gets a private cabin and Karl is put in steerage with 5 other blokes and a non-functioning toilet.  This seems very cruel to me.  Unless Warwick is paying his own way, I can’t help but think this is just Ricky being a terrible person. Part of the humor of An Idiot Abroad has always been seeing Karl complain and rant about doing things that a lot of us would love to do–climb Machu Picchu, see the Pyramids, go whale watching, etc.–but this is him complaining about a legitimate slight. I didn’t enjoy that. Once they’re off the boat, they visit the Chengdu Giant Panda research facility to interact with Pandas–thereby making me incredibly and irrevocably jealous.

Karl and Warwick as Pandas

On their climb up Mount Emei, Davis is beginning to be exhausted and wants to rely on a chair that you can hire to carry you up the mountain.  Karl has a bit of a pep talk with him and it is one of the nicer scenes to show how traveling with someone can give you a more full experience than if left to your own devices. Then, Karl decides he has worked hard enough, and pays to have the men carry him up the mountain.  It doesn’t occur to him that this is strange, because he doesn’t think he has anything to prove by getting up the mountain. Warwick does make it up all the way, and is grateful to have gotten to the top. As a grand finale to the series, the boys are supposed to do a bungee jump or base jump or some other X-sport off the top of the Macau Tower.  Warwick does it, Karl chickens out.  In typical Karl fashion.

The thing about these shows is that Karl is the last person to enjoy traveling.  I think traveling is incredibly important to understand the vastness of the world and your insignificance in it, but some people do not enjoy it. Karl thrives on routine and convenience. In every situation, his only experience seems to be anxiety and irritation.  It really straddles a line between hilarious and sad.  With Warwick in the mix, that is still there, but I think the dynamic is a bit muddled.  There are points where it does seem like everyone is ganging up on Karl, forcing him to exist permanently outside his comfort zone, and trying to deny him the only parts of the trip that seem fun and exciting to him.  But at other times, when Warwick is made to try something new and scary, it feels less like schadenfreude…or maybe it’s schadenfreude that is more equally distributed.

I can’t say I enjoyed these 3 special episodes more than the original series, but they were still funny and interesting and made me think a lot.  Whenever I watch Karl, I think about his way of living.  He doesn’t think the way other people do, I suspect because he hasn’t had a lot of education.  At a certain point in school, everyone starts to think in the same way. Call it scientific method, or brainwashing, or logic, or whatever, but all of the educated persons on earth will use the same process to evaluate the world–even if they get vastly different ideas from that process, it is the same process.  Karl has a more intuitive grasp on the world, which means occasionally he says the dumbest things you’ve ever heard.  It also means occasionally he says something that will make you stop and re-evaluate the universe.  He honestly sounds like Confucius sometimes, blurting out things that might be riddles, or nonsense, or great truth.  I love listening to him talk because he doesn’t say what anyone else would say.  I will probably watch anything with him in, just to hear the things he says.

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Movie Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

This is another movie that I saw on the way home from London, on a plane. Yet again, it has a lot of visual appeal that probably would have been more effective on a screen larger than 7 inches. But I really enjoyed it regardless.

The plot is pretty simple: Emily Blunt works for a sheikh from Yemen, who wants to bring salmon fishing…well you get that part from the title. He has nearly unlimited funds, and wants to make fly fishing possible in his home country (as well as having a dam, etc. for agricultural development). Emily Blunt approaches Ewan MacGregor, a fisheries expert, to work on the project.

Ewan MacGregor’s part could easily have been played by a 60-year-old man, with no real differences in the script. He is not an old man, but he seems to be one inside. He wears argyle sweaters, he makes his own flies, he feeds his fish when he is upset.  He does have a sarcastic and cutting sense of humor, but other than that one aspect of his personality, he is almost emotionless. Emily Blunt’s character accuses him of having asperger’s at one point, because he doesn’t seem to respond to other people’s emotional states.  I think he’s just sort of stuck in a rut, letting life pass him by, before this opportunity comes in to shove him out of it. To say he is reluctant is an understatement. He thinks the project is impossible and even if it were possible, he thinks it shouldn’t be done. It’s ludicrous and a waste of time to even have a meeting about it.
Searching for a positive story from the Middle East to allay bad press over the Afghan war, the PMs Press Secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) pressures Ewan MacGregor and his boss into working on the project and getting it done, whatever it takes–that is when she isn’t swearing, threatening employees, chain-smoking, being a general despot, or playing video games with her son.  Her character is simultaneously incredibly un-likable and quite amusing.  So Ewan is forced to work on the project, to worth with Emily Blunt, to find creative solutions for problems like the fact that Yemen is hot and dry, and thoroughly unwelcoming to the salmon they’re hoping to introduce.

It’s a really beautiful and interesting movie about faith, hope, being a dreamer, going against the current, etc. etc. It can tend toward the cheesy of overly philosophical at times, but it’s not too detrimental. Ewan MacGregor’s character is really, truly adorable. I also think he has a lot of chemistry with Emily Blunt, so their relationship and friendship as it progresses is great to watch. The film has a great mix of serious, contemplative and funny, goofy without ever losing the point, the theme, the feeling of the movie overall.

My only complaint about it is the ending! I…I don’t want to give it away, but it made me sad. It picked up in the last moments, but the darkness sort of overwhelms the light.  I suppose that’s pretty realistic, in terms of our experiences in life.  But that doesn’t make it less upsetting.

Requisite Olympic Post

I’m not normally a person that gets super excited about the Olympics. One one hand, I like the multinational aspect of it, but on the other hand, it’s about sport. For the most part, I give it a pass.  Obviously, this time is different.  Every single event could feature scenes from my favorite city in the world. I watched over of bicycle road racing at the gym yesterday. I could not care less about cycling, but when they’re traveling through the English countryside and the race ends in front of Buckingham Palace, I’m happy to watch the whole thing just to watch the background go by.

So, let’s start with the Opening Ceremony.  Even in the past when I have watched Olympic events, I have never cared enough to watch the Opening Ceremony. That parade of nations thing is sooo boring, it negates any excitement you could get out of the rest of the ceremony.  This one was obviously a little different, though I still was bored to tears by the 2 hours of people walking by.

So my first pet peeve is the intro to the ceremony.  Here in the US, we got some rubbish with Ewan MacGregor and some unknown (to me) woman) doing voice-overs of footage of US athletes.  In the UK, however, they got this opening with Benedict Cumberbatch:


Which I thought was much better.
But lets ignore that for the moment. The video was created by the BBC, so the US networks didn’t have a legal option for airing it.  I will forgive them for now.  I cannot, however, forgive NBC for involving Meredith Viera in the thing. She is dumb as a post and seems to think her ignorance is something to be proud of.
Every time she talked, I just wanted her to shut up.

Okay, done with my complaining. What did I think of the ceremony itself?  Well…I think the idea behind it is really smart–instead of the biggest ceremony, you do a ceremony that focuses on something that is thrilling for the people in the stands, but is also choreographed specifically to be good for the cameras. I think you need that expertise in filmmaking, and I think Danny Boyle did a good job.  On the other hand, it definitely had its flaws. I liked the Agrarian start and the quick journey through the history of England, which according to Meredith Viera would teach people who didn’t know what the Industrial Revolution was.  So…people who haven’t yet reached 6th grade maybe?

But after the Agrarian start, it got a little too overly-conceptual.  The NHS tribute and the giant baby were especially weird and disturbing, and in many ways not relevant to an international audience. I haven’t had health insurance for two years, so I would love an NHS here in the states, but that doesn’t mean it was the best venue for that statement. I also think that the section with the boy and girl traveling through the last thirty years of British culture was a bit weird. I love British music, obviously, and enjoyed the cultural references within. At the same time, the digital world idea and the thanking of Tim Berners-Lee was a bit odd. Or maybe it was just due to the awkward and moronic commentary provided on NBC. Well…Bob Costas wasn’t bad, and Matt Lauer mocking Kim Jong-Il was pretty hilarious.

I think it’s very smart and very relevant to make a big part of the ceremony in reference to the cultural influences of Britain, because though they have very much declined as an imperial power, they have continued to be a cultural leviathan.  From the Beatles to Mr. Bean to reality TV, a lot of what has defined the last 40 years of life in America has come from Britain. Literature, in particular, is a huge part of that tradition of cultural exports.  Of course, I was thrilled beyond measure (though not entirely surprised) to see JK Rowling out in the thick of it. There are so many things about British culture that are beloved and respected, and between Paul McCartney, JKR, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Rowan Atkinson, and James Bond, they covered most of them. Also, who else wants a trampoline bed?!

And the torch ceremony itself I really liked. It seems very American to have the biggest name celeb you can lighting the torch, but I liked this more egalitarian approach to the idea. Plus, the actual mechanism whereby it is lit seems very cool to me and was really beautiful. And the fireworks!

Really beautiful!

The parade of nations…what can you say about watching thousands of athletes walk around a circle? It went quicker than normal? All I can say is that the US outfits are the most heinous things in the world. Are we headed to private school in 1994? What’s with the Berets?  Ralph Lauren should be deported.

All in all, I enjoyed it, but it definitely had its flaws.

Also, can I just point out that now that the Olympics are underway, no one seems to be saying that the UK is unprepared. Everything seems to be going pretty smoothly, from my albeit incredibly limited knowledge. I can imagine the traffic and disruption to the lives of residents is pretty massive, but that is what happens when you try to host a 2-week long incredibly huge event of any kind. I think people underestimated two things in the run-up to these games: the organizational power of a society that loves to queue, and the cynicism of the same society. All you have to do is watch Bridge over the River Kwai and you will see how much they excel at getting the job done. Also, Brits love to complain about their own inadequacies, but that doesn’t mean those complaints are based on truth, relatively speaking.  And god help the non-Brit who tries to complain with them (looking at you, Romney).

On a final note, there has been a lot of Boris Johnson on TV lately, and can I just say I’m for it? I love him! He has definitely earned his place on my list of Conservatives that I Like.  It’s a hard list to get on.  There’s only one other person on there,  and he is a fictional character from Family Ties.

Ricky Gervais news

Yesterday, Ricky came out with some news that I’m honestly not thrilled about.  He’s said, on his blog, that he doesn’t plan to continue with the Ricky Gervais Show, Life’s Too Short or with An Idiot Abroad after this year.

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, as this past year was the first time he ever did any project that lasted beyond two seasons and a Christmas special.  As for the Ricky Gervais Show, which takes bits from his popular podcast with Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington, he claims he has gone through the best stuff from the original podcasts for the show, so it’s really about running out of material.

But I think it’s mostly about a fear of commitment.  He wants to have these perfect little runs with everything he does, so he backs out just as they’re sort of hitting their stride.  Going out on a high note I guess.  And I think some US shows could maybe take a page from his book (Veronica Mars, I’m looking at you), but it also is a bit annoying to constantly get attached to a project he’s doing and then it’s over two minutes later.

Ricky said he will do two specials to end An Idiot Abroad.  I’m not 100% clear on whether these specials are the same as the ‘Short Way Round’ project he is working on, where Karl and Warwick Davis travel about on a scooter. I suspect they are one in the same, because how long can you film those two on a scooter? First of all, it’s a scooter, so they’re not going to be traveling the world at a very high rate of speed.  It’s meant to be a spoof on the popular British shows Long way Round and Long Way Down, which featured Ewan MacGregor and his friend Charley Boorman on motorcycles doing epic trips around the globe.  But they could go a proper 80 miles per hour on good roads.  How’s a Vespa going to fair in the Sahara?  We’ll have to wait and see. Even if they’re epic trek is from London to the Cotswolds, I’ll be tuning in.

As for Life’s Too Short, they have confirmed a second season and Ricky said he has written a finale, so it will follow the two seasons and a Christmas Easter special pattern. To be expected, really.

Ricky did mention a lot of new projects he’s working on.  The main one is a show called Derek, which he shot a pilot for Channel 4 in the UK earlier this year, and he will be producing a few more episodes later in the year.  He has said he wants a US airing, and I’m sure it’s in negotiations.  My guess would be with HBO, as aired his comedy specials, Ricky Gervais Show, and Life’s Too Short. Plus, you can swear.

My only concern with this show is that it doesn’t seem as accessible to an American audience as the others he’s made.

The show features Ricky as Derek, a potentially intellectually sub-normal retirement home worker, and also has Karl in his acting debut as the janitor/handyman type at the retirement home.

There was a lot of controversy when it first came out because people have accused Ricky of playing up a mental disability for laughs, but Ricky says that Derek is not disabled, only a bit slow.  I think a lot of the criticism has died down since the pilot aired.

My concerns with an American audience are that:

a-it seems very entrenched in an aspect of British society that doesn’t usually make it to this side of the pond.  The lives of the uneducated, the decidedly not-posh, the poor.  The type of people you see in the supermarket or something and you know they are either not trying to live an active life, or they are unaware of the impression they’re putting out. Usually, the shows that make it to the US feature at least educated professionals, if not the out and out wealthy.

b-We are a lot more sensitive to p.c.-ness on this side of the pond.  I remember being absolutely shocked at the blatant sexual harassment in the Office, and I know that’s not something that would fly on an American show.  Ricky himself has said that for the US Office all the characters had to be much more likeable than they were in the original show.  So I think the controversy over Derek in the UK will be more of a big deal here.

Even if he is not purposefully portraying a disabled man, he is obviously portraying a man of sub-par intelligence, and he is walking a very thin line between making that character loveable and heartwarming, and playing up his stupidity for a laugh.  Ricky likes to toe that line in all of his work.  But I think there’s a big difference with this. In Life’s Too Short, you would find yourself laughing at Warwick Davis’ character.  You wouldn’t be laughing at him for being a little person, but for being a smart person doing incredibly stupid things.  In Derek, you have someone of normal intelligence playing someone of below average intelligence, and you are meant to laugh at him for being a bumbling moron. There’s a big difference in that, for me. You’re meant to care about him, and like him, but also laugh at him.  I think that we Americans find that much harder than the Brits.  Maybe that’s just me?

But I have watched the pilot, which is up on YouTube.  I’m not sure the legality of that, but I’ll risk incarceration to give you my opinion.

I really love the Hannah character, who is sort of a female Tim (Martin Freeman from the Office UK)–the everyman of the show that we can relate to and we genuinely root for.

Karl Pilkington’s ‘character’ seems to me to be just him being himself, with a bit of fake hair and some glasses.  He complains a lot, likes to fix things, doesn’t know why he’s friends with Ricky.  Check, check, check.

I did find it very difficult to laugh at Derek, because he is obviously a bit odd and not very clever.  What shocked me the most, I think, is that I cried. I cried more than I laughed, which is certainly a departure from a lot of stuff like An Idiot Abroad.

I think the bottom line is that I trust Ricky as an auteur, as a story-teller.  I don’t think that Derek will be a huge hit here, but I do hope it airs on HBO or similar. I will definitely watch it, but I’m sad that all of his other projects are ending, all in the next year. And I’m going to miss Stephen Merchant being on my TV!

Julian Fellowes’ Titanic miniseries

This miniseries aired last weekend, on Saturday and Sunday nights on ABC. For some reason, ABC chose to air three of the four episodes on Saturday night, and only one on Sunday night.  I am not sure if that was a great idea, as each episode was structured to start before the ship sailed and end as the ship went down. So watching three in a row was like taking 3 steps forward and then 2 back, again and again.

So, my thought on this miniseries, are sadly more in line with Gosford Park than with Downton Abbey. From the depths of my heart, there is a resounding sentiment of ‘meh’.

For one thing, it took way too long to comprehend who people were, and by the end I still had a hard time remembering who was who.  In typical Fellowes’ fashion, we are confronted with 20 or so characters with a quick and perfunctory introduction to each. It works in Downton Abbey because a-he went a bit slower introducing everyone and b-there is more time to learn about people. But for a big ensemble cast, 4 hours just wasn’t enough time to go slowly or to let characters evolve and develop.  We, as the audience, didn’t have enough time to bother to care about most of the people.

The other problem I had, and this is a problem I really have with a lot of Fellowes’ work, is the women.  The men are smarter, more compassionate, and more capable than the women.  All of the women are sheltered, moronic, incredibly catty and prejudiced, and not very fun to watch.  I don’t understand why Fellowes does this, or what particularly makes him do this.  The women in Downton Abbey aren’t like this–even O’Brien, who is the true bitch of the piece, has had a redemption of sorts and is, from that point on, very empathetic.  But his novel that I read had a really skewed set of women as its stars.  So I’m really not sure what to say, except Downton Abbey is his one-trick pony, at this point.  All of the rest of his stuff seems to just be a disappointment to me.

I will say that there were a few parts that I enjoyed: Gli Italiani (Paulo and Mario) and Annie the cabin steward were cute and sad.  Also, I got to use my deteriorating Italian language skills, which is always a plus.  I also liked the Wideners, or their son at least.  But the real key moment for me was when John Jacob Astor (IV) freed the dogs from the bottom of the ship.  That made me love the man so much! I would have a-never taken a trip where my dog had to be in steerage in a cage for days on end, and b-punched anyone in the face if they tried to keep me from saving him. If I’d ended up in the water, I would have been holding my dog above my head to keep him dry.  But those are just my priorities.  So, needless to say, JJA is my new hero.

Since that was a short and unsatisfactory review of an unsatisfactory miniseries, I am going to share some great news I discovered today.  Apparently this was announced months ago and I am just very slow to hear about it.  But, I’m thrilled regardless.  Ricky Gervais’ next project, instead of a third series of An Idiot Abroad, is something called The Short Way Round.  This is, essentially, a spoof of The Long Way Round, which was an awesome documentary that followed Ewan MacGregor and his friend Charley Boorman as they rode motorcycles from London to New York, going East. So, this show of Ricky’s will feature Warwick Davis and Karl Pilkington riding a moped around the world.  According to Ricky, the plan is to have Warwick ride in a basket on the front, but I’m hoping this is a joke.  I don’t think they’ve started any filming yet, since I heard about this from a tweet Warwick …tweeted about getting preparatory inoculations. IMDB has air dates for this in December, but I’m not certain if that will be in the US or just the UK. Still, it’s something to look forward to.  Unlike Julian Fellowes, Ricky Gervais has never put out a show that I didn’t like.