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.
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”.
Catch Saving Face at Toronto’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Sunday, March 2 at 3:30 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
By: Addison Wylie
I find myself in a predicament trying to review Harry Freeland’s documentary In the Shadow of the Sun. Prior to the film, I was oblivious to the subject matter and found myself perplexed by the harsh reality that stalks Tanzanian albinos.
In the Shadow of the Sun is a perfectly fine documentary, but I keep feeling as if I’m rating Freeman’s doc on the content represented rather than the film the material resides in. That isn’t the fault of Freeland’s wholehearted filmmaking, however. The subject is just that powerful.
After a rumour circulates claiming that albinos are a rare form of future fortune and wealth, impoverished individuals or those simply seeking a good luck charm set out to retrieve parts of albinos to keep – resulting in nasty slaughters and diminishing hope for those born differently. Besides the grisly tragedies, Tanzanian albinos are viewed as useless people who should be shunned.
You can see how it’d be easy to get sucked into this distressing situation, and shift focus away from the film itself. Fortunately, audiences will still be able to appreciate In the Shadow of the Sun’s picturesque cinematography and the valuable minimalist filmmaking.
It’s important to note that Freeland doesn’t shy away from any details. That description of the doc’s rawness shouldn’t entice you, but instead warn those who are faint of heart. Movie goers will see the lengths others will go through to obtain a piece of “luck”. Although, the uncensored look is helpful, these images are some of the most graphic content I’ve ever seen and will undoubtably make audiences queasy during their sympathizing.
The film’s core centres around Josephat Torner, an outspoken albino who wants to bring awareness to the effect this terrible rumour is having on his life and those around him. He bravely takes to the road and speaks to multiple groups about the issue. He gets them involved by asking questions and hearing them out before stating his opinion on the matter. Smartly, Freeman steps back and lets his camera roll on Torner and the crowds during these passionate talks.
The doc is a little too long as it reaches the homestretch, and – understandably – becomes a bit of a broken record as Freeman tries to figure out how to make the main message take forms that offer variety to his project.
Otherwise, In the Shadow of the Sun is clear, concise, and a mannerly marvel. Much like Josephat, Harry Freeman has made an meritable documentary successfully enlightening audiences around the world of these unfair circumstances.
Catch In the Shadow of the Sun at Toronto’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Friday, February 28 at 6:30 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
When the only bad thing about your feature film debut is its marble-mouthed title, it’s a sign that your ambitious film is close to being sublime.
When you get past that weak title, AKP: Job 27 is a really good time at the movies. It treads trodden ground by being centred around a private hitman on a mission in unfamiliar territory (the territory being Toronto), but its Michael L. Suan’s vision of the story that brings it into a league of its own.
Suan takes a leap of faith by making AKP: Job 27 a modern day silent film. The closest the film gets to using dialogue are screams when our shadowy lead is on the clock and firing off his gun. As the writer/director, Suan gives himself the task of justifying why the film is void of dialogue – he does a good job with doing so.
Very rarely does it feel like the silence is unmotivated. Early group confrontations make us wonder why these people aren’t breaking the ice. Same goes for quick questionings when our no-named hitman is looking to be rightfully directed.
That said, Suan actually covers himself quite well. Music accompanies the feature ranging from instrumental tracks to classics to contemporary remixes. When our lead is asking questions, we see his mouth move but club music drowns him out. This shows us that Suan isn’t senselessly feeding his audience. He knows there will be skeptics out there, and he confidently wants them to relax.
Aside from the tastefully and artistically portrayed violence, the hitman is constantly haunted by a lost love that he was responsible for. He tries to fill in the personal gap, but is always reminded why those prior feelings are irreplaceable. He does start falling for a wayward prostitute, who strikes an uncanny resemblance to his departed beloved.
That’s Roxanne Prentice playing both the roles of the unspoken love and the prostitute. Prentice does a fantastic job at balancing both key parts, and has an array of expressions to flawlessly communicate to the audience. She’s a natural in the silent film genre.
Tyce Philip Phangsoa plays the hitman with preserved heartbreak while also maintaining focus on his acquitted tasks. It’s a performance that would be daunting to any actor. They have to convey a softer side while keeping their potent intimidation at the forefront. Phangsoa does so, masterfully.
Michael L. Suan’s flick starts off in Japan and fluently transitions to the Canadian environment. He doesn’t outdo himself with trying to make iconic Toronto landmarks evident, but is wanting to show that this crime underworld can be easily hidden and can exist anywhere. Movie goers will often forget that AKP: Job 27 takes place primarily in Toronto – that’s a good thing.
The film briefly gets carried away with itself. For example, the film’s look is stunning, but every so often the inky mood will make the visuals too dim. And, Suan (who is also the editor, along with Biko Franklin) could’ve trimmed some sequences. There’s ten minutes scattered in AKP: Job 27 that could’ve been easily shaven. Luckily, these instances always find a way to move onto stronger material.
I hope AKP: Job 27 isn’t the only project we’ll get to see from this filmmaking newcomer. Suan shows that he’s perfectly capable of representing hard-edged fortitude and tantalizing sexiness without overvaluing his talents. To make a silent film like AKP: Job 27 takes courage and stylistic spunk. Suan has succeeded with these attributes in – what’s sure to be – one of the greatest independent films you’ll see this year.
Personally, my knowledge of the Federal Reserve goes about as deep as a mall fountain collecting pennies and dimes. Naturally, Jim Bruce’s documentary Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve should be the perfect vehicle to educate people like me who need a bit more information about its history and the possibly bleak future it has ahead of it.
Jim Bruce seems like the right filmmaker for the job seeing that he’s previously worked on The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a fantastic documentary that includes everyone in the audience. Money for Nothing marks his directorial debut.
As much as Bruce has tried to make the content in Money for Nothing accessible through visual examples and interviews with financial intellectuals, he loses his audience too many times. During the first third, the filmmaker slows down his doc so everyone can catch up. However, he forgets who he’s pitching his film towards and gradually moves faster – leaving confused movie goers in the dust once again.
At one point, Bruce gets so far ahead of himself, that it’s almost as if he ignores the fact that his audience’s interest is dwindling. He shrugs his shoulders and takes off full speed ahead. Meanwhile, I’m trying to follow as best as possible, but sense a disconnect between myself and the content.
On that level, the doc fails. The main purpose of a documentary is to educate and inform. When the documentarian doesn’t show signs of compassion and gives up hope on rustier movie goers, the project becomes one-sided as it talks directly to those who have a clearer understanding of the topics at hand.
Even though I realized this doc may not be for me entering into Bruce’s film, I was an open book when I started watching. I’ve gone into documentaries before knowing very little about the topic at hand, and have finished those films feeling enlightened. With Money for Nothing, I feel embarrassed to admit I was led astray many times. Instead of filling my mind with new thoughts and opinions, it just reminded me about how little I know about this financial world, which in turn makes me feel glum and dumb. I can imagine other movie goers who are like me will feel the same.
What Jim Bruce’s doc has going for it though is its clean-cut presentation. Interviews have been shot competently, animated segments and the usage of different clips to generate comparisons or allegories are much appreciated and add a fresh change of pace, and Liev Schreiber’s narration is fitting and doesn’t draw attention to the celebrity.
At the end of the day, what matters most is the information to which the doc is built on. Bruce may have it locked down, but he unwieldy delivers it to his spectators.
For those viewers who are bonkers for dollar bills, you may find yourself enjoying what Money for Nothing has to offer – though most of this may be old news to you. Everyone else, however, may be finding themselves drawing nothing from the money they spent on admission.
By: Addison Wylie
The T24 project – a challenge in association with the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival – asks filmmakers to create, produce, edit, and hand in a short film within 24 hours. Teams are given a lengthy essay question about the chosen theme, and are then sent off into the city.
I remember the days of attending T24 screenings and feeling excited to tell others about the great shorts that screened. With prior screenings, teams have shown supreme amounts of creativity while impressing movie goers with their filmmaking techniques.
This time, I sat in the University of Toronto’s Innis Town Hall watching the disappointing collection of shorts and I felt disheartened. There’s something that’s been lost in translation between past teams and this new class of corner cutters.
The filmmaking wasn’t lazy. The audience could see these teams went the distance to find excellent locations and stay consistent to their atmospheres. Also, the shorts that really focused on the more technical side of their production impressed with special effects and funky lighting. This was evident with Adrienne Knott’s Hinterland and Maikol Pinto’s Futurity Lost. There were some really gorgeous shots in these two.
When it came to the overall finished product though, each short reeked of easy filmmaking – too easy.
The theme this year was “the end”, which meant lots of teams took advantage of shooting at night on the desolate streets of Toronto. This choice did make for a fairly effective post-apocalyptic mood and it also helped that on this particular day, there was a drizzle of ominous snow.
However, the shorts didn’t go any deeper than that regarding the doomed, end-of-the-world essence. For the most part, it felt as if I was watching lots of people shuffle around emptiness with “poetic” narration accompanying them.
The aforementioned Hinterland and Futurity Lost may have looked good, but the shorts were the equivalent of that hippity-dippity guy who brings his acoustic guitar to house parties. There was a level of self-proclaimed significance.
The filmmaker who executed the “walking around a silent purgatory” approach correctly was Greg Fox with his short Peaches. Fox was the only one who was able to bring development to his characters and to his narrative. It’s a bit too anti-climactic when everything quickly wraps up, but Hannah Gordon’s performance anchors each scene well.
Two other filmmakers that tried to bring emotion to their work but ended up slipping up were Anne Phitsanoukanh and Jacky Vuong.
Phitsanoukanh’s Stiffilis took on a fictitious pandemic causing people to freeze on all fours. It brought insight as to how social media would look at a situation like this, which was an interesting idea. However, these instances didn’t necessarily go anywhere other than being brief references to pop culture. And, was it Phitsanoukanh’s intention to make the overall message about this post-apocalyptic society sarcastic and cynical?
I like Vuong’s The Drought, but I wanted to love it. I think the mumblecore approach served the short and its actors well, but this film severely needed an editor or a multi-camera setup. As characters try and figure out a widespread libido disappearance, the scenes roll on with no end in sight; which triggers the scrambling performers to start talking like no person would. Hourmazd Farhadi made me giggle sporadically, but there’s no way anyone would talk to bedroom partners like he does.
Jamie McMillan, a T24 regular, returned with yet another strange short that’s a bit hard to fathom or embrace. With Gag, McMillan showed he still has skills regarding his shooting style and he certainly isn’t afraid to make the audience deliberately uncomfortable. I just wasn’t too hot on the script that was lacking a purpose, and the leading scientist character was too awkward to muster. It was also another short that left the audience with a cynical, off-putting aftertaste.
An example of a short film that suffered from way too much melodrama was Ryan Liu’s All We’ve Got. I thought some of the camera angles were well composed – including everyone in the lens without making the shot look crammed. However, Liu has his actors overacting and beating every hint of fear into the ground. I would like to see how leading man Paul Dods performs with different material and sensible direction. He’s got the goods!
I’ve left my least favourite short – Chelsea Chen’s Apocalypse Now? – for last because I don’t want to spend too much time on it. I’m pretty sure after juror Bern Euler’s public dismemberment of the film’s questionable title, Chen knows her short wasn’t exactly a winner.
To give the filmmaker the broad strokes of my criticisms: Apocalypse Now? was a silent film with title cards that needed more screen time, and the audience could never jive with the humour since the film never opened itself up to the notion of others finding it funny, other than to those involved with the project. As a filmmaker, Chen needs to apply more thought towards her audience. Maybe then she’ll find a way for her work to, well, work.
I’m being rough with the latest T24 challenge because I know what this project is capable of. It bothers me to see others pitch away an opportunity loaded with possible career growth and produce something that hardly qualifies.
Another thing that bugs me is when people use the 24 hour deadline as a crutch. I can understand if some of the continuity is choppy because of rushed scheduling, but it doesn’t take long for a filmmaker to add variety to their shot list or give an actor a bit more motivation. If these filmmakers realize how to think on their feet and nimbly expand their creative horizons, they’ll eventually see progress.
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