Few directors have CVs as diverse, edgy and interesting as Michael Winterbottom, who over the years has spanned genres ranging from comedy and romance to thriller and sci-fi with effortless grace and consistently unique (and often divisive) results. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is a surreal comedic effort from 2005 that reunited Winterbottom with the great Steve Coogan (his star in 2002's excellent Madchester pic 24 Hour Party People), and the result is reliably batty, rather messy and often terrific fun.
Coogan plays both himself—or rather, a pastiche of himself as actor, star and recovering party boy with a fictional wife (Kelly Macdonald) and baby, trying to stay on the straight and narrow—and the title character, the lead in the supposedly “unfilmable” novel by Laurence Sterne that he and his cast and crew (Dylan Moran, Jeremy Northam, Naomie Harris, Ian Hart—all excellent) are attempting to shoot. They do, sort of: the narrative bounces back and forth as the production stops, starts and stumbles, and though the result is a bit schizophrenic, nearly every set piece is a winner. The very funny Welsh comedian Rob Brydon, as Coogan's nervy, eager co-star, steals every scene he's in, but Coogan delivers a number of times with his trademark brand of discomfiting humor. (Mostly dialogue-based, but there are a few good physical gags, particular a corker involving a hot chestnut. Ouch.) And get a load out of Gillian Anderson—blond, slightly spacey, yet quite fetching—playing herself as the marquee name sent in to bail out the failing production at the last minute. Extras on this week's DVD release include a commentary with Coogan and Brydon, deleted and extended scenes, and interviews.
Also recommended this week: 30 Days: Season 1; Chaplin Mutual Comedies (Restored); ER: Season 5; Masters of Horror: Homecoming; Reno 911!: Season 3; Weeds: Season 1.