Sunday 12 January 2014


Sunday 12 January 2014
★★★★ (out of five)

Considering the awful track-record of UK TV characters given their own feature-films, I'm so relieved Steve Coogan's superlative Alan Partridge makes the transition this well. A project that's been rumoured for around a decade, it feels like the spectacular success of THE INBETWEENERS has made British TV production companies take the risk with a movie--knowing that even a UK-only hit will be enough to recoup low financial stakes.

ALPHA PAPA works because the situation is definitely something that suits cinema better than television (slightly), but it's not so grandiose that it betrays the character's small and specific pleasures. Alan Partridge has always been more verbally funny than physically hilarious, so it just makes sense to have a story set inside his radio station (North Norfolk Digital) on the eve of a corporate takeover that sparks a hostage crisis when colleague Pat (Colm Meaney) is sacked and loses his mind.

It's a predicament that puts Alan in a comfortable environment (literally "chatting for his life", as hostage negotiator and Pat's occasional cohort), but during an uncomfortable life-or-death week of craziness where he's suddenly a Very Important Person in the public mind. (I'm actually excited to see what the next Partridge product on television will be, as it would be logical for the character to get a career resurgence in the wake of ALPHA PAPA's events. He would at least get on CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER, right?)

I'm just so relieved this film doesn't get too much wrong. The jokes and hilariously overwrought dialogue is intact, Coogan's predictably excellent (in a role he's perfected over 20-years at this point), and fans will appreciate the nods to various Partridge-universe characters and events. I especially enjoyed seeing Alan's long-suffering agent Lynn (Felicity Montagu) and "best friend" Michael (Simon Greenall) again, for the first time since 2002's I'M ALAN PARTRIDGE (incredibly). Lynn gets a particularly nice sub-plot; enjoying being 'pampered' by the police, as someone with an insight into Alan.

★★½ (out of five)

It's OCEAN'S ELEVEN with all the fun sucked out (so, OCEAN'S TWELVE?), as it's aiming to be a prestige picture come awards season. The sad thing is that once AMERICAN HUSTLE allows itself to be funny, it gets more entertaining and just about passes muster.

I have no idea why this film opens with a wry joke (a caption reading "some of this actually happened") and the sight of a fat Christian Bale perfecting his character's terrible comb-over, then remains deadly serious for well over an hour. Despite some great performances, AMERICAN HUSTLE takes forever to find a clear direction and narrative weight. However, once some laughs are introduced (mainly from a deadpan Louis C.K and a brilliant Jennifer Lawrence), I found myself relaxing into it more.

Unfortunately, after two very long hours, the pay-off isn't worth that investment of time. Sure, there's a twist in the tale that's convincing, but it's a pretty standard one for a movie about con men, and nothing that means you can re-watch the movie with 'new eyes' (a la THE PRESTIGE). I guess the writer was limited in his ambition, as AMERICAN HUSTLE was inspired by a real-life case where the FBI mounted a sting with the help of two con artists, so he felt he couldn't take kick things up several notches. And that's a shame, because a 1970s OCEAN'S ELEVEN with this on-form cast would have been tremendous fun... but director David O'Russell almost grudgingly drops laughs into the mix, just to alleviate its stifling 'worthiness'.

(Oh, you never get a satisfying resolution to Louis C.K's fishing hole story, which becomes a good running joke, and that alone pissed me off.)

★★★ (out of five)

An entertaining late sequel to the 2004 cult hit, which is thankfully more AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME than ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS. In fact, I much prefer the storyline of this movie to its predecessor's battle-of-the-sexes angle, which affords the writers the opportunity to lampoon Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and jingoistic Fox News along the way. They're easy targets, but also fun ones.

Will Ferrell was also much better as Ron Burgundy than I remember him being in the first ANCHORMAN (especially as I was growing to hate Ron's 'real life appearances' to promote the film), but Steve Carell's outrageous simpleton Brick was sorely overused (a minor player in the first film, Carell's career ascent means he gets too much screen time here).

Time will tell if some of ANCHORMAN 2's many jokes and turns of phrase enter pop-culture like "I love lamp" and "I'm kind of a big deal". Nothing stuck out for me after one viewing, but comedy films like ANCHORMAN 2 only really sink their hooks thanks to constant TV repeats.
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