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Films

Of alien invasions and aliens abroad

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Greece, an IFC Films release. Photo: courtesy of IFC Films

With indoor theaters shuttered, summer movie blockbusters may be on hold or bumped to later in the year. Don’t despair. Exciting new releases are available to stream at home. Here are two that will take you to other times and other places: a story to stretch your imagination and a mini-Hellenic odyssey to amuse you and pique your appetite.

THE VAST OF NIGHT

An elegant and minimalist take on the traditional 1950s sci-fi alien invasion movie, The Vast of Night comes along right when the U.S. government is declassifying files about the possible existence of UFOs. Coincidence? Maybe, but it’s definitely fortuitous for this impressive debut feature from director and co-screenwriter Andrew Patterson, who has come up with some creative twists and uneasy moments that elevate the genre and bode well for his future in the movie industry.

Set in a small New Mexico town, The Vast of Night moves like a sleek cat from location to location — a gymnasium, the local switchboard, a bare-bones radio station, and so on — as the camera follows Everett, a young, ambitious local D.J. and his teen sidekick Fay, a science-minded high school girl who works a solo evening shift as the area’s telephone operator.

Everett and Fay are ordinary people with dreams of bigger things. They feel constrained by being in the boondocks and both yearn to get out. But the world may be a lot more immense than they think. When a strange noise starts to interrupt telephone service and radio signals in the area at the same time that most of the locals are at a high school basketball game, Everett and Fay are the first to experience the anomaly. They try to figure out what’s what, and find themselves caught up in something potentially massive. Is the noise the result of a natural phenomenon, a secret government project, or reflecting the era’s Cold War paranoia, a Soviet attack? Or is it . . . extra-terrestrial? 

Jake Horowitz as Everett and Sierra McCormick as Fay are relative unknowns who handle the heavy and light moments with equal aplomb, like a couple old pros. It doesn’t take long to be invested in what happens to them, and uneasy as it plays out. One of the clever aspects of the movie is that it’s situated as an episode of a fictional late 1950s Twilight Zone-ish TV show, Paradox Theater. I can unequivocally say that Paradox Theater is a series I’d be happy to binge.

The Vast of Night is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

THE TRIP TO GREECE

With The Trip to Greece, actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon — both popular performers — embark on what might be their last comedy-fused culinary journey in the series of travelogues that started a decade ago. Coogan and Brydon, longtime friends in real life, bring great rapport to these chronicles of eating, sightseeing, and bantering through England, Italy, Spain, and now Greece. The concept of 2010’s The Trip was that two somewhat fictionalized versions of the entertainers were on a weeklong excursion to investigate the growth of gourmet eateries in the sylvan British countryside, because Coogan had been tapped to write a travel-and-dining piece about his adventures on the road. Brydon was along as a companion and fellow celebrity connoisseur.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Greece, an IFC Films release. Photo: courtesy of IFC Films
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Greece, an IFC Films release. Photo: courtesy of IFC Films

The Trip was so well received that it merited three sequels in different locales. Each trip was shot and edited into six half-hour TV episodes, then edited down even more to feature film length by director Michael Winterbottom for theatrical and, in the case of The Trip to Greece, streaming release. Although I prefer the more languid nature of the multiepisode format with more attention paid to gustatory and scenic treats, the movie versions have plenty to offer. All of the restaurants and meals are legit, while Coogan and Brydon channel past and present day pop culture, with plenty of references to their actual career landmarks. Ultimately, the joy of these excursions comes from keeping company with Coogan and Brydon as they spout witty takes on the tourist attractions they encounter, revel in the food and drink they consume, and play an ongoing game of “Can You Top This?” with pointed put-downs of one another. Their string of dueling impressions is a genuine delight, with The Trip to Greece including a face-off of Mick Jaggers and Brydon’s Marlon Brando countered by Coogan’s Robert De Niro.

Most of the trips seem improvised, but there are definitely arcs about personal growth, professional issues, and family matters alongside the usual hedonistic pursuits. The Trip to Greece — wherein the duo’s itinerary is intended to parallel the classical Troy-to-Ithaca journey of the Greek hero Odysseus — hits so many beats and rhythms familiar to the series that it might be prudent for Coogan and Brydon to end the run. The fact that it’s more concerned with aging and loss than any previous installment and ends on a somber note suggests that all involved know that the trips have run their course. Still, they’ve been a lot of fun — and, true to the old adage, more about the journeys than the destinations.

The Trip to Greece is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube, Google Play, Direct TV, Vudu, and others.

Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast, via GABnet.net, Roku, Spotify, and YouTube, and The Mark Thompson Show on KGO radio. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster.

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