To say my cinematic tastes have been drastically altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic would be an understatement. Before, I’d ventured to the movie theater every week for the last 15 years. The absence of the cinematic experience and a lack of Hollywood blockbusters has been strangely liberating. My choices have been relegated to the kind of video-on-demand platforms normally occupied by smaller, more intimate movies. At the same time, being in a state of perpetual quarantine has made me disinterested in seeing low-budget movies that are small in size and scope.
I yearn for sprawling vistas that remind me of the beauty that exists outside the house that has become my entire world. This thinking led me to the latest installment of Michael Winterbottom’s comedic “Trip” series, “The Trip to Greece.”
For those unfamiliar, the “Trip” films are personality-infused travelogues with comedic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing larger-than-life versions of themselves as they venture from one beautiful location to the next, all the while engaging in conversations about life, love, friendship, family, show business and celebrity impressions. The series is an excuse to get two very funny performers together to generate comedic friction, which leads to some amusing exchanges. In the newest installment, Steve and Rob venture through Greece while marinating on a number of facets of Greek culture, as well as on their own respective midlife crises.
This chapter (the fourth, for those keeping count) sees the established animosity between the two old friends turned up a notch. Enjoyment of this series will hinge on how much you like Coogan and Brydon, two friends who greatly enjoy raking each other over the coals. Brydon enjoys downplaying Coogan’s talents, while Coogan uses the many successes of his career to bludgeon Brydon’s ego. It’s a perfect portrayal of male friendship from two highly competitive people. Their appreciation for one another is buried beneath rivalry and conflict.
There’s something special about these outings, whether it’s the original, six-episode TV series that spawned the films in 2010, or the subsequent, smaller cinematic bites released every few years since. Watching this friendship endure and revisiting Coogan and Brydon’s caring and contentious relationship through gorgeous European landscapes is entertaining and fulfilling, especially during these claustrophobic, disconnected times.
“Blood Machines” is another kind of trip: a psychedelic, mind-blowing horror series that recently debuted on the streaming service Shudder. Director Seth Ickerman (a pseudonym for the French directing team of Raphaël Hernandez and Savitri Joly-Gonfard) has created a unique vision that feels both new and nostalgic, bringing the kind of wild and imaginative visuals that were once the sole province of talented artists like Frank Frazetta, Wojtek Siudmak, Boris Vallejo and Richard Corben.
The plot is a wonderful amalgamation of so many fantastic works of pulpy sci-fi: Two space hunters are in pursuit of a rogue machine that is gaining sentience. The artificial intelligence manifests in the form of a ghostlike woman who begins to tinker with the concepts of reality.
The film’s story functions as an excuse to thread together a toy box full of super-cool, computer-generated retro-futurism. The presentation is beautifully assembled. In a day and age where media is released with machine gun-like rapidity, finding something that feels unique is rare. Ickerman manages to make a sensory experience that is revolutionary as it is reverent.
One interesting aspect of all these streaming services is their ability to host artistic endeavors that don’t fit the traditional mold. “Blood Machines” is weird, wild and just under an hour in length. It’s well worth the time for those looking for a mind-altering sensory experience.