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Alan Partridge

By: Addison WylieAPposter

North Americans have Will Ferrel’s Ron Burgundy, an on-camera anchorman who’s self-centred arrogance has him chewing down on his own foot often.  In Europe, the Brits have Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge.  Partridge is an egotistical radio personality obsessed with a celebrity image and a winning smile.

Where Burgundy can read on screen as a pompous jerk with a heart of gold steeped in spoof misogyny, Partridge is more endearing.  He always finds a way to slip into the spotlight, and try to have others sympathize with him or view him as an inspirational icon.  However, he’s just as easily flustered and frustrated when he isn’t included.

Steve Coogan’s amusing character takes a step away from real life airwaves and his UK Television show I’m Alan Partridge to star in his first leading vehicle self-entitled Alan Partridge.  The film is better known as Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa across the pond, but it’s a title that may have had others scratching their head over its otherwise silly meaning.

That adjustment is what’s going to make Alan Partridge’s overseas success interesting to observe.  I think it helps outsiders taking a chance on the film to know a little bit about Partridge before paying for a ticket.  His fumbled muttering, and his self-absorbed attitude may have the general North American movie going public growing irritated.  However, if they have that initial information or can quickly jive with the lead doofus, they may have themselves as good a time as us fans.

Personally, I found Alan Partridge to be a good comedy that met the goals it set out to achieve.  Director Declan Lowney manages to do what most SNL flicks have difficulty doing – taking a sketch character and having him carry a film all the way until the end.  It also helps that Coogan is still playing the cocky host splendidly.

Alan Partridge plays out as a movie Mike Myers would’ve jumped at the chance to star in.  I wouldn’t call Lowney’s film a laugh-out-loud riot as Myers’ past comedies have been (pre-Love Guru, mind you), but there’s a consistent flow of titters and chuckles that will have you pleased with most of the material.  Although, a scene featuring Alan getting caught with his trousers down will definitely shock you into hysterics.

The story of a disgruntled, newly fired radio personality taking the station and its employees hostage doesn’t feel rote, as does the decision to make Coogan the hero despite the role’s narcissism.  Partridge, being the unctuous goofball he is, manages to find fame in dire circumstances.  He completely understands the danger of the takeover, but is strangely complimented when he’s chosen as a messenger for the police and a co-host for a radio show during the malicious siege.

Lowney’s modest comedy will satisfy the Alan Partridge fan base as well as fans of Coogan’s dry wit.  The main question, however, still stands: how the hell is this going to perform outside the UK?

I won’t be surprised if Alan Partridge doesn’t drum up new anticipation during its North American theatrical release, but I won’t be disappointed if this type of movie finds cult life on VOD.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014: Saving Face

SavingFacestill

By: Addison Wylie

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival has made me exhale an astonished “wow” twice now.  That’s a compliment I haven’t admitted to in a while.  It’s absolutely true in the case of Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s harrowing doc Saving Face.

The mighty film, which deservedly won 2012’s ‘Best Documentary Short’ Oscar, shows audiences how disturbingly frequent and heartbreakingly affective acid crimes are.  Every year, numerous Pakistani women are dosed with different forms of acidic attacks.  The victims are left wondering what they did to deserve such torture and public humiliation.

Impressively, Junge and Obaid-Chinoy interview the alleged attackers – most of which are the husbands.  They give emotionless stories claiming they had nothing to do with the burns, and that they’ve been wrongfully accused.  The shiftiness in their testimonials as well as their unsupported proof doesn’t hold water – it’s blatant to see that.  The filmmaking duo don’t have an agenda to make all Pakistani men look like monsters.  They simply ask questions and let their cameras roll.  What they capture are sit downs with these apathetic, terrible contributors to lifelong injury.

The act of acid crimes gets lots of attention from those who want to bring justice.  A Londoner plastic surgeon, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, flies to Pakistan to survey the pandemic and offer his assistance to reconstruct facial features.  We see in every instance that he’s on screen how he tries to maintain his composure while his feelings of sadness and frustration seep out.

For a film that clocks in at under an hour (Saving Face is 52 minutes), the filmmakers pack a lot of development into the film.  Junge and Obaid-Chinoy select individual subjects and open their lives up to us.  The women, who embrace the filmmakers’ affection, show us what their living conditions are, take movie goers to the original spot where they were attacked, and explain personal barrenness.  Saving Face gives audiences a very intimate and utmost honest view behind the veils and burqas without anything feeling too intrusive.

Because these victims are worried that a similar attack will happen in the near future, audiences are also shown other resources where these women can seek protection.  We get an unbarred look at ASF – the Acid Survivors Foundation – and the kind saints who seek a change regarding the consequences the initiators face post-crime.

Saving Face is a powerful, well made and competently justified piece of work.  The doc may seem quick, but nothing is ever cut too short.  It has an impact in both its emotional connection and its respectful representation that beefier films would be jealous of.  Just “wow”.

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Catch Saving Face at Toronto’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Sunday, March 2 at 3:30 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Solo

March 1, 2014 1 comment

By: Addison Wyliesoloposter

Solo starts out on an “A” game, but ends up finishing with a generous “C” grade.

Isaac Cravit’s independent thriller is a straight-up campfire story – and, the filmmaker knows it.  Gillian (played by former Degrassi: The Next Generation co-star Annie Clark) needs to prove herself to be a capable camp counsellor in order to obtain a summer job.  The newbie needs to pull a “solo”, a two-night experience on a secluded island that will test her survival skills.

Cravit, directing and writing his first feature film, is having a lot of fun playing with the conventions of a campfire horror.  The filmmaker even has fellow councillors telling Gillian rumours of haunted activity that took place on the island before she embarks on her trip.

These moments don’t feel like Cravit is pushing too hard for the audience to recognize what the film is trying to be and he sticks his landing well with these scenes of eerie dialogue.

When Gillian arrives at the island and is forced to investigate mysteries in the woods at night, Cravit nails the creepiness.  As the camera slowly moves around a freaked out Clark, we can’t help but get sweaty palms as we feel ourselves growing more anxious.  What’s better is that there aren’t too many of these moments, making these quiet pressure cookers enunciate strongly when they happen.

Cravit is also having a ball throwing red herrings at his audience, including possible antagonists that may have more to do with the island’s history than we realize.

Solo reveals more, including what’s overlooking Gillian.  The routes the film travels on is all a matter of subjectivity.  I watched Solo with my wife, who enjoyed where Cravit took his scary movie.  I, on the other hand, thought these decisions made the film less effectively stimulating and increasingly mundane.

Without spoiling the main course, Cravit’s screenplay makes the right choice to make delirium the main evil in Solo.  The problem is – for me, at least – he chooses the wrong type of crazy.  Solo would’ve been better off as something more psychological than being so literal.

Solo is typical enough to get by.  Some gory effects towards the end are appreciated and certainly help matters tonal wise.  But, part of the joy of watching these smaller scale horrors/thrillers is finding steady specialties that make movie goers gush to others about the film – resulting in consecutive views.  I just didn’t get that with Solo.

The Lego Movie

February 25, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison WylieTheLegoMovieposter

In any other situation, The Lego Movie would’ve been used as a promotional tool to shill out a new line of toys to wide-eyed youth while parents have premonitions of their wallet getting lighter by the second.  Luckily, filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – who were responsible for the surrealist Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs adaptation and the hilarious 21 Jump Street reboot – to shut down that possibility completely.

If you attend a screening of The Lego Movie, you’ll be treated to vigorous animation, roaring jokes stemming from an astute sense of humour, and unexpected sentimental messages that don’t feel prying.

Lego has always been adamant on following instructions to assemble a mass product, and the filmmakers (along with Dan and Kevin Hageman) latch onto this concept to build their movie.

Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is one of many who abides by a ritualistic lifestyle.  Everyone eats the same things, they drink the same expensive coffee, and everyone listens to the same upbeat tune that promises everyone that “everything is awesome”.

The Lego Movie is obviously simulating a society that’s been overtaken by materialism and consumerism that seems robotic but is ordinary and enjoyable to everyone – including Emmet.  It’s a projection that is not only plastic on the outside, but litters the inner workings of every action in this happy community.  President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) holds the power over the city, and knows perfectly well how everything is – pardon the pun – another brick in the wall.  And with this knowledge, he has bigger plans for ultimate destruction which will cause everything to never exceed being anything more than “normal”.

With that synopsis, there’s a slight worry that the film’s messages will hector us throughout The Lego Movie.  Fortunately for us, Lord and Miller are wise storytellers who have a fantastic sense of how to speak to audiences without making matters too conspicuous.  These pokes at shallowness go in for the kill in a humorous way, but stay away from being too flippant.

There was a moment where I held my breath.  Emmet soon meets a group of individuals who are living “off the grid” that tell our unlikely hero that rules are not always a necessity.  These moments made me scared that Lord and Miller were sprinkling anti-establishment ideas in the subtext during these vivid visuals and hearty laughs.  It’s a silly claim to get worked up about, but I can’t help myself when this film is targeted towards a young audience who soaks nearly everything up.

Without spoiling anything from the film, The Lego Movie does fix itself.  It doesn’t have a hidden agenda like some animated films shamefully tout (I’m looking at you, Lorax), and lets kids know that both their imaginations are appreciated while following guidelines.

Enough with the seriousness, however.  This is a movie called The Lego Movie after all! If we look past the morality groundwork, movie goers receive a spry outing that both kids and adults can equally lavishly watch.

The story that features many Lego characters – old and new – always finds itself moving in a helpful direction, allowing any type of high-speed pursuit or quippy riffs to take the wheel for an appropriate amount of time.

The film itself has a super imagination.  Franchise characters play pivotal roles in the film’s narrative and our heroes are always thinking about creative ways to get themselves out of a pickle.  The Lego Movie is not trying to sell us any crummy puns or play sets.  It’s here to educate viewers that playfulness and ingenuity is acceptable.  Most of all, Lord and Miller want to entertain audiences.  And, that they do.

By the final act, you’re satisfied with what the film has set out to do.  However, some last minute punches are pulled.  I try not to use the word “brilliant” too often for fear that the highly acclaimed word will lose impact.  But, when a film goes the extra mile to provide a new risky layer to its structure and manages to pull it off, then it deserves the praise.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller finish the film on an assortment of wowing inspiration, and manage to make their film much more than that film with “Lego” in its title or “just another kids movie”.

For me, The Lego Movie hits those same revolutionary tones the first Toy Story did in 1995.  To not say this ingenious film is brilliant would be robbing the movie out of the esteem it deserves.  Go.  See.  This.  Movie.  Now.

3 Days to Kill

February 23, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison Wylie3DTKposter

3 Days to Kill pairs action veteran Luc Besson with the imperious directing efforts of McG.  The two filmmakers have unmistaken love/hate relationships with movie goers, but it’s clear that these men have strengths in specific areas.  Besson has shown audiences how action can be exciting with jaw-dropping stunts, and McG knows how to capture an explosion.  The latter may sound underwhelming compared to Besson’s clout, but “flash” is McG’s forte.

Their newest cinematic contribution involves a secret service agent who’s long in the tooth within his career and can feel continual pulse-pounding palpitations while on duty.  His poor health is contributed by an aggressive sickness that is slowly eating away at agent Ethan Renner (played by Kevin Costner).

He’s given an experimental antidote by his aggressively sultry boss Vivi (played by a foolishly directed Amber Heard) in exchange for one last job – to kill a conniving villain named “The Wolf”.  Renner will, of course, have to keep his mission under wraps in front of his doubtful estranged ex-wife (played by Connie Nielsen) and his even more doubtful estranged daughter (played by Hailee Steinfeld).

3 Days to Kill sounds like the perfect vehicle for Besson and McG to bring out those referenced special abilities.  Instead, the film only brings out the worst in both action devotees as this tedious tease focuses on the weaknesses these two both share – straight family sentimentality and comedy.

Audiences will be surprised by how little action there is in a movie titled 3 Days to Kill.  I wouldn’t feel threatened to state that the grand total of casualties is under ten while McG’s explosion count stayed low at a measly one-and-a-half – two at the most.

For the most part, 3 Days to Kill directs its focal point on Ethan’s parental absence.  It’s a film that is much more interested in worrying about why his daughter is unable to ride a bike than to distress about life threatening crime.

Whenever Besson wants to develop troubling families in his past work, it doesn’t last long.  There’s just enough to convince audiences that these characters are human beings.  In 3 Days to Kill, there’s nothing but those preliminary scenes where Ethan tries to have heart-to-heart conversations with his child, or tries to convince her mother that he’s changed.

This film doesn’t show any growth from Besson in regards to writing a realistic troubled family, and the talks between Costner and Nielsen feel like direct pinches from Besson’s Taken screenplay.  He sure doesn’t get any help from his co-writer Adi Hasak either, who unconvincingly fleshed out another Besson story in From Paris with Love.  Both men are also guilty of stupidly stereotyping races, especially Besson who has done this incessantly in the past.  I don’t understand why he hasn’t put a stop to this.  His cultural missteps are unfunny and could easily be offensive.

I tried to figure out what exactly would draw the hyper-active McG to a project like this.  Then it hit me.  McG has obviously realized just how imbecilic his last feature film This Means War was.  This is his attempt to show audiences that his filmmaking can mature.  He’s much more than women in bikinis and fiery combustions.

However, McG falls flat in a harsher way than how Rob Zombie did with Lords of Salem.  McG has married so much attention into making a more adult project that he’s forgotten to add personality or oomph to any of his characters or scenarios.  Scenes drift as bored actors try and stay awake amidst the wooden production and try to look alive when they’re bonded in feigned fodder; such as during a scene where Ethan teaches his needy daughter how to slow dance.

McG, along with Besson and Hasak’s uncooperative script, gets into a routine of setting up stirring situations and cheat the audience with lame outcomes.  Ethan is constantly getting interrupted by his daughter during torture sessions with baddies.  Just as Costner is about to prove his toughness, he’s knocked down by Steinfeld’s annoying pleas for attention.

This also opens the floor up for ill-timed comedy as Ethan uses his father figure persona to help save the day and to benefit his family.  An unfathomable sequence featuring the rough-and-tough Costner trying to get his flamboyantly Italian hostage to help Steinfeld with a recipe for pasta sauce is when 3 Days to Kill officially hits rock bottom.

I felt trapped watching this stupefyingly awful movie.  I couldn’t leave for fear I would miss a spurt of action, and I was never rewarded for my patience.  However, 3 Days to Kill turns out to be Bathroom Break: The Movie.  Every scene is expendable and as absent minded as the one before it.

The only other time recently that I felt invisibly braced to my seat was during this month’s Vampire Academy, and that still defeats 3 Days to Kill in a competition of deplorability.  But, McG’s inane, extremely lacklustre, never-ending action-comedy-drama-whatever is a wreck and always found a way to repel any sort of concern or interest – big or small.

Pompeii

February 21, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison WyliePompeiiPoster

By definition, Paul W.S. Anderson is a filmmaker.  In my eyes, he’s not a very good filmmaker, but he’s been able to create brainless successes.

His latest blunder Pompeii is by definition “mindless entertainment”.  The film follows similar conventions that were used in his Resident Evil adaptations, and he crosses his fingers hoping people will eat it up all the same.

It’s expected people will walk out of Pompeii passively shrugging off the film as “dumb, but passable fare”, and be perfectly indifferent with it.  For some reason, knowing that something is going to be “dumb, but passable fare” before going into the movie allows Anderson to do just that and not let down movie goers with those low expectations.  It’s how he was able to get away scot-free with most of his action flicks, and why people consider his work “critic proof”.

As I stated in my steaming review of Resident Evil: Retribution, audiences deserve better – even if it is just surface-level escapism.  Pompeii is another example of this filmmaker shafting movie goers in every single way, along with an added PG-13 rating restraining Anderson from showing any over-the-top violence.

The movie takes place in 79 A.D. preceding a monumental catastrophe.  It’s to no surprise that Anderson’s drowsy directing leads to borrowing beats from more enthralling epics such as Gladiator, Titanic, and miscellaneous disaster movies.  It never feels original because of these blatant rip-offs of other popular films.  Even so, Anderson can never sell us on his second-hand saga because of how little effort everyone involved has put forth.

Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington takes the role of the film’s brawny protagonist, Milo.  He fills out the part physically, but hasn’t done any further work to make this character into anything more than a cardboard standee.  This is merely a starring role to test the cinematic waters of whether Harington convinces audiences nationwide that he’s a tough guy on a bigger screen.  He may look the part, but with due time, he’ll realize sombre gazes and rippling abs don’t necessarily help develop a character.

The rest of the cast follows along similarly.  They’ve been cast based on looks alone.  The film’s logic behind its casting is that if you can look attractive while touting a wiry beard or filthy volcanic schmutz on your face, you can be a movie star.

The rest of Pompeii’s production is comparably unsubtle and shoddy.  Whether it’s caking make-up onto an increasingly scantily clad Emily Browning as Milo’s love interest, or showing Keifer Sutherland’s credit as he enters the scene articulating a ridiculous accent with overacting theatrics.  We’re constantly reminded that this is one big, loud, clumsy movie.

For a film carrying historical content, I at least expected Anderson to impress me with period detail.  It appears everyone is costumed in proper garb, but Anderson flatly shot his film as if he’s wanting to emphasize that everything’s been shot indoors on a sound stage.  There’s no movie magic here.  Just a bunch of clanging effects mounted on top of artificial acting.

It goes to show paying audiences that no one behind Pompeii cared to make a convincing product.  The general attitude was apathetic and as static as those inevitable post-screening shrugs.

It’s as if before a day of shooting, Anderson grouped the cast and crew together for a powerpoint rundown of “how to make a by-the-numbers money maker”.  It’s a list of steps dancing around the fact that the end product will also be defunct of any legitimacy amongst the reactions on screen and in the audience.  But, the filmmaker would remind his team that everyone would collect a hefty paycheque once the turkey was in the can – this would cause a cheerful uproar.

The steps on Anderson’s play-by-play include pausing the film to spill countless pages of spoken exposition, drawn out buddying between Milo and his oppressive cell mate Atticus (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and silly romance with forced chemistry in tow between Browning and Harington.  Plus, you can’t forget those choppy fight sequences that have been hacked to death by autopiloted editors, and their collection of odd pandering zooms to highlight intensity.

Of course, if you’re going to make a big blockbuster involving lots of flying debris from a natural disaster, it has to be in 3D.  If Pompeii’s 3D is what counts as today’s standard for the groundbreaking technology, I’m in the wrong business.  Apparently, in the case of Pompeii, all you have to do is make a few ashes float towards the viewer and have credits punch out.  With an entire two thirds dedicated to droning dialogue in darkly lit settings, it’s the laziest and most unnecessary use of the technology since Thor.

Pompeii is the junk food everyone knows is loaded with carbs and sugar, but they give in because they’re jonesing for the occasional juicy treat.  Trust me, there are better ways for those movie goers to indulge in mindless entertainment.  If they’re patient, they can hold out for that movie that understands the trick to trashy thrills.  Eager audiences shouldn’t feel the need to count on Paul W.S. Anderson’s stale bargain bin tidbits to get their fill.

Odd Thomas

February 12, 2014 Leave a comment

By: Addison WylieOddThomasPoster

Odd Thomas is certainly an odd case indeed.  Stephen Sommers’ adaptation of Dean Koontz’s novel has good things about it, yet it has difficulty coming together as a whole.

Anton Yelchin stars as Odd Thomas, a sweetly distraught hero with an ability to avenge the deaths of others.  He’s approached by silent spirits who then lead him on paths, and it’s his duty to right whatever wrongs he faces.  The local police chief Wyatt Porter (played by Willem Dafoe) knows very little about the extent of Odd’s visions, but knows enough to believe him.  With the additional support of his bewitching girlfriend Stormy (played by Addison Timlin), this particular mission Odd Thomas is exposed to could be his biggest challenge yet.

Yelchin has recently been in this horror/comedy realm with the underrated remake to Fright Night.  He’s shown in other vehicles that he does a solid job as a performer showing that growth from an awkward bystander to a stronger, more protective character.

With Sommer throwing Yelchin immediately into the rugged role of Odd Thomas, the first couple of scenes are jarring and hard to take seriously.  Yelchin, being an easily adaptable and talented actor, eventually stands his own in this off-kilter flick.

Everyone has a good relationship in Odd Thomas, and that helps the film tremendously.  Although, the dialogue Sommers has written for the characters tends to be a bit too snappy for the film’s own good.

The rapport between Porter and Thomas is charming, and its a nice change seeing authority giving the cuckoo lead the benefit of the doubt.  The chemistry between Odd and Stormy is very cute, as is the compatibility between Yelchin and Timlin.  The quirky couple can sometimes push the limits of being too adorable with Stormy also being too accepting of Odd’s oddities, but these hiccups don’t take away from an especially emotional conclusion.

I even enjoyed the design of the invisible creatures known as bodaches.  They slither around unbeknownst pedestrians as they seek evil to feed on.  The film frequently resembles a Sunday night movie on a family oriented television network, but the film is not afraid to get bloody and the bodaches’ shapeshifting quickness will give audiences the willies.

The faults at hand are caused by Sommers’ overstuffed and baggy script.  It’s clear to see the filmmaker was wanting to capture a noir feel to the mysteries surrounded by fantastical beings with Odd Thomas being our slick sleuth.  We’re supposed to hear this through Yelchin’s narration, but Sommers accidentally mistakes inner monologues with long-winded expository narration.  And, we get lots of it.

I haven’t read Koontz’s work, but it seems as if the author is grabbing hold of a variety of different tones amongst the weirdness.  When Sommers applies all of these different moods to a film, it feels as if the filmmaker is trying to cover too much ground as he digs a hole that becomes deeper and deeper with each scene.  A strenuous climax is the perfect example of the screenplay piling on more stuff to the point of exhaustion.

We do, however, get plenty of high-flying battles; showing that Sommers hasn’t lost his touch to deliver clamouring action pieces.  Except this time, it’s set in a lower budgeted movie.

Odd Thomas is adequate, I suppose, but even that feels like I’m trying too hard to be optimistic.  By the end, I was sort of glad the film had ended; which is too bad considering before my sigh of relief I was finding enjoyable spurts inside this yarn.