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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.

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The Selfish Giant

January 25, 2014 1 comment

By: Addison WylieSelfishGiantPoster

The Selfish Giant gives off an aroma of a film that will be remembered for a very long time.  The staying power of its troubled characters as well as the painfully realistic portrayal of a down-and-out community in Northern England are quite remarkable.

This directorial feature debut from British director Clio Barnard trails the life of two young troublemakers trying to make sense of their early teens.  Both boys always yearn to help either their struggling family or friends.  The loudest of the duo Arbor (played by Conner Chapman) hates to see his pal Swifty picked on.  In fact, it’s Arbor’s adamant roughness that gets himself and Swifty (played by Shaun Thomas) suspended from school.

Swifty, who is only asked to leave for 10 days, is Arbor’s rock.  Rather than enabling Arbor’s rowdiness, he’s usually helping the foul-mouthed rebel soothe down after adults treat the twosome with brash language and constant discipline.

It’s stupefying how natural Chapman and Thomas are in front of the camera.  Each line and pause all feel habitually motivated.  A large portion of the film feels as if we’re infringing on their hang outs.

The youngsters also decline any chance to beg movie goers for sentimentality or easy reactions.  These are two actors who understand that the story and reacting to those subtle beats are essential parts to making this viscerally moving film succeed.  These are old souls who are showing rather quickly that they have the hang of acting.

Some – if not all – of The Selfish Giant is tough going to watch.  Whenever families are the prime focus, there’s always chaos.  There’s always a collection of disarray happening in small spaces with blue language being whipped around.  It all looks and feels just as invasive as watching the leading boys by themselves.

Barnard hasn’t overdone the purity within these moments, which is a great sign of what’s to come with her filmmaking career.  We don’t find too many details about the different adults other than hearing local gabbing on the school yard and seeing visual cues that give us just enough to draw conclusions.  These scenes come at full force one after another during the first act – undoubtably disarming.  But, once we are sucked into these stressful environments, it’s hard to veer our interests away from the candid calamities.

As we watch Arbor and Swifty slowly enter a working man’s world as they earn money for collecting scrap metal, the lack of a concrete narrative never feels like a problem.  Arbor and Swifty dig through heaps and keep their eyes open for available wires to steal and sell.  Those illegal activities are what drive the film forward, adding extra nervousness while elaborating onto and reinforcing Chapman and Thomas’ characters.  Observing how Swifty becomes more outgoing and how Arbor develops jealousy towards him is a forceful dynamic.

For Arbor, the scrapyard is just the life for him that fits his hyperactive interests.  Swifty, on the other hand, finds his calling when he’s allowed to tame and tend to the horses around the scrapyard.  In a lot of ways, this free pace around unique symbols resembles Cilo Barnard’s film to Harmony Korine’s audacious directorial debut, Gummo.  What separates the two films, however, is that The Selfish Giant has more of a filmmaker’s professionalism to it.  It also has more of a direct focus on portraying youthfulness and less inclinations to shock the audience.

When an earth-shattering climactic event drops, the audience feels the impact from every possible direction in a matter of seconds.  It’s hard to take in.  Mostly because we don’t want to accept that it’s real.  Barnard handles the consequences that carry out in all the correct ways.  Her direction, along with her screenplay, is instinctive with the audience’s perceptions.  Just as the actors have shown, this filmmaker has shown – yet again – how strong she is at her craft.

As the end of the first month of 2014 grows near, I feel happy to know the bar is being set high for phenomenal indies.  The Selfish Giant has me excited to tell people about this accomplished work, and has me eager to see what Clio Barnard, Conner Chapman, and Shaun Thomas will do next.

Red Obsession

September 25, 2013 Leave a comment

By: Addison WylieRedObsession poster

It’s neat to watch a subject take on an evolution people didn’t see coming.  In Red Obsession’s case, that subject is wine – and it’s progression isn’t pleasing everybody.

Documentary filmmakers David Roach and Warwick Ross capture a timeline that shows how wine went from something that was considered an art, to a product that is more of a business decision than anything.

The price of wine keeps on climbing to a point where it’s becoming unaffordable in certain markets.  Namely the US and the UK.  However, China has been wanting to embrace Western civilized aspects and has gradually become more savvy with wine.

The high costs don’t serve as a problem as very wealthy people bid on and buy bottles for astronomical prices.  The effect overseas causes the cost to rise even more, taking the ever so extreme worries from North American and European countries with it.

The subject of wine has always been labeled with a snobby stamp.  As one of the subjects in the documentary states, it’s a terribly hard field to dive into and pick up on.  Roach and Warwick, however, have found a way to deliver interviews in a way that puts the average movie goer on the same level with someone who’s an avid collector.

The one-on-ones with vineyard owners and dedicated collectors speak a language that lets us in.  We understand why there’s an everlasting passion and how each bottle serves as a host to represent different periods and skills that have been worked into this classy beverage.  On top of these interesting and informative answers is the highly attractive cinematography.  It adds another alluring layer of sophistication.

The wine critics, on the other hand, are a bit harder to take in.  The interviewees don’t fault the documentary or the information Roach and Warwick have to offer, but the stuffy pretension in their answers runs deeper than any red wine stain.

Since we are listening to experts recall past events leading up to the present, Red Obsession holds its audience at the same distance a regular hour-long recapping doc would (think VH1’s Behind the Bordeaux).  In which case, audiences won’t get to feel that power of “being in the moment” other documentaries such as Charles Bradley: Soul of America or Skull World provided earlier this year.

However, for a film that tackles such a posh niche, asks its audience to care about rich people and raising wine retail, while speaking an easily digestible and relatable lingo and ends up winning us over is an achievement in itself.  Red Obsession warrants a watch.

The World’s End

September 24, 2013 Leave a comment

By: Addison WylieThe World's End Poster

The World’s End, the last outing in Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, yet again pairs the filmmaker up with actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to tell a tale of everyday men in monstrous peril.

This time, Pegg and Frost play former friends who had a falling out between their teenage years and adulthood.  Gary King (played by Pegg) hasn’t given up living the high life of booze and babes.  Meanwhile, Andy (played by Frost) and the rest of Gary’s gang (made up by British funnymen Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, and Paddy Considine) have grown up and left the past behind.

The elusive pub crawl named the “Golden Mile” has been a fond memory of Gary’s, but the regret of not completing the drunken mission to all 12 pubs has always stayed fresh in Gary’s hazy memory.  He haphazardly collects his bitter buddies, and the gang heads back to their childhood homestead of Newton Haven to settle unfinished business.

The camaraderie amongst the main men is contagious and supremely funny.  The small talk that takes place is sharp witted and observant, while the timing of each joke is on target.  Fans of Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz won’t be disappointed.  The co-writer/director is still very quick on his filmmaking feet and shows his comedic talent is still in tact behind the camera.

However, there’s a slight disconnect in The World’s End that hasn’t been apparent in his prior features – including work outside of this trilogy like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

Pegg and Wright are just as smart as their amusing screenplay.  But, when it comes to writing depth in the material focusing on friends growing apart and realizing how reunions at an older age have inelegant moments, it feels as if the two are penning a subject that is slightly out of their element.

I admire the duo trying to capture deeper emotions than the other two comedies have traveled to, but it feels less authentic here.  Almost as if Pegg and Wright are guessing as to what those interactions would feel like.  The World’s End is nowhere near as smarmy as Dennis Dugan’s Grown Ups films and it’s enormously better than the lager-logged buddy film Beerfest, but it isn’t as stable as it should be.

When science fiction makes its grand entrance into the story, it feels as if Pegg, Wright, and the rest of the production are back in a comfortable realm.  One that’s easy for this group to deliver happily hilarious results.

The effects are not as frenetic as we usually expect from Edgar Wright, but they’re just as attractive and wonderfully nerdy.  As our merry men face the evils of robotic “blanks”, the action picks up during well choreographed and impressively shot sequences.  Sometimes even taking place during extended takes.

There are even moments where Wright emulates the spontaneity and brilliance captured by Monty Python.  A revealing scene during the final stretch where the punch-drunk friends interact with a faceless, glowing leader is a prime example of this inspired memorability.

But, it all leads up to an ambitious ending that feels completely out of place.  It comes off as Wright and Pegg playing chicken with the movie studio regarding what they can get away with, leading to the studio calling out their bluff.

Looking at the trilogy as a whole, this entry is definitely the weakest and the post-screening reception certainly isn’t lasting.  It does, however, have “cult classic” written all over it.  Expect this sucker to be quoted at colleges a decade from now or be the inspiration for similar real life “Golden Mile” adventures.

The World’s End is a solid enough comedy that delivers on most of everything it promises.  For what it’s worth, I had this same middling feeling leaving the theatre when I saw Hot Fuzz.  A couple of years later, I revisited the cop comedy and found it absolutely hysterical.  I look forward to watching The World’s End again and seeing if it follows suit on a second viewing.

My Brother the Devil

June 29, 2013 1 comment

By: Addison WylieMBTDposter

A film flying in from the UK called My Brother the Devil is sure to catch North American audiences off guard.  It’s a compelling piece of work and an exceptional feature film debut from writer/director Sally El Hosaini, providing plenty of challenges for her characters as well as for her audience.  Movie goers will be glued to the screen as a pivotal event changes the lifestyles of those driving Hosaini’s story.

Brothers Rashid and Mo (played incredibly well by James Floyd and Fady Elsayed) may live in the same house, but they both live their lives in different ways.  Rashid hangs with a tougher crowd who protects their territory from other gangs, while Mo imagines what life would be like to walk in his older brother’s shoes.  Mo tries to get himself involved with the dealings Rashid dabbles in, but his older kin refuses.  Rashid loves Mo too much to involve him with his social life.

When a gang member is killed, Rashid and Mo observe the situation from two different perspectives.  Rashid realizes the level of frightening danger in his life while Mo feels the need to step up, assist in getting even, and fill the voids his shocked brother isn’t tending to.

The two actors take their characters down unsuspected paths, offering lots of ideas and motivations for the audience to breathe in.  Mo’s progressive aggressiveness becomes alarming and scary and Rashid’s retrospective leads him to invite other unfelt emotions towards others.

I find it hard to call these surprises in the screenplay “twists” because they aren’t there to game change in a gimmicky way.  Each choice feels concrete and while the results may be jarring in Rashid’s case or upsetting in Mo’s case, we believe why they would feel the need to do the things they do.

This film is very careful with how and when it uses violence and realistic bloody effects.  Hosaini only utilizes these moments a few times, which adds to the discomfort when they all of a sudden take place – just as writer/director David Lynch did with obscenities coming out of antagonist Frank Booth in Blue VelvetMy Brother the Devil’s sporadic moments of provoked rage is the proper dose of reality existing behind the tough guy personas.  A dose of reality that these angry adolescents forget is there.

Hosaini’s film looks at male machismo and that instinct to prove something.  Given the rough nature of the subject matter, Hosaini handles her characters delicately and highlights the innocence and curiosity beneath the tough guy, go-getter attitudes.  She shows that while these thugs are tough in large groups, they’re very vulnerable when left by themselves.  Even Mo – who starts off very naïve and skimming on becoming a loner – has these same unguarded moments, but instead, these instances show how lost he is without his guiding brother.

The film deals with a focused, authentic brotherly relationship.  However, I didn’t pull a hard hitting story of brotherhood from My Brother the Devil.  I think that’s the point though, and that’s what I liked about Hosaini’s film.

The cinematic route of “brothers stick together through anything and everything” is a well known track to follow.  To present a story of two comfortable people who are trying to figure out the direction of their lives while making drastic adjustments they were unprepared to make is a real gem of a story featuring lots of risks.  Hosaini could’ve taken a very run-of-the-mill approach to her own material, but the allure of these two contrasting personalities in these shady settings makes My Brother the Devil stand on its own.

Sally El Hosaini and her skilled cast and crew should all be extremely proud of themselves.  My Brother the Devil is absolutely gripping with every turn in this character study that’s an offspring of Stephen Chbosky’s winner The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Shane Meadows’ unruly This Is England.