Skip to main content

We're asking, "What is the worst monger?" Iron, fish... rumour... or war?

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
(2013)

Heresy though It may be, I’ve never been the greatest Alan Partridge fan. Maybe it’s just that I’m lukewarm on Steve Coogan, a comedian who can be very funny but you’d be hard-pressed to describe as personable. Partidge worked best for me back in The Day Today, when he was part of an ensemble. While his solo outings raised a smile I could take him or leave him, which is why I wasn’t in a huge hurry to see this mobilisation to the big screen. What’s most surprising is how successful a transition it is; not in terms of scale, since involving Alan in an international spy ring would be the kind of buffoonery to be expected from a Rowan Atkinson persona. Rather, in terms of plot; there’s more than enough here for 90 minutes, and it doesn’t feel as if Partridge has been stretched beyond his limits.


Declan Lowrey makes his feature debut, having plied his trade on TV (including Father Ted, Little Britain and a number of other Coogan collaborations). Despite shooting widescreen he doesn’t utilise the frame in an especially grand matter, but that seems part of the point; this is a siege movie set in Norfolk.


Maybe it’s down to the demands of movie demographics, but there’s definitely a sense that Alan has been reconceived as a more traditional protagonist. Sure, he is instrumental in causing the siege when he persuades his new bosses to sack fellow North Norfolk Digital DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney). Since Alan’s is the other name on the list, it’s inevitable (“Sack Pat!”). But he’s also given a taste of heroism brought on by ego (the crowds, the publicity) and even a love interest. Alan’s still inept, self-serving, objectionable, but he’s also a more palatable version of Alan, right down to the subtler make-up (he was surely in his mid-‘50s when Coogan was making I’m Alan Partridge, the age he is here, and he looks younger in Alpha Papa). Alan doesn’t shit himself for very long at the prospect of being sent into the hostage situation as a mediator and soon enough he’s exchanging gags with a police officer over favourite sieges (“Iranian Embassy”). If I were an aficionado, I might level the accusation that the character has been sold out, and consequently it may be the sanitised Alan I’m responding to in enjoying this so much.


I would have said there wasn’t much left to mine in the piss-taking of crap DJs. Smashy and Nicey about had it covered, but as a side dish, as it is here, the subject feels almost rejuvenated. Alan’s introductions (“soft rock cocaine enthusiasts Fleetwood Mac”), his music choices (“This is the theme from Ski Sunday”), his banter with sidekick Simon (Tim Key; “Never, never criticise Muslims. It’s only Christians. And Jews, a little bit”), the irritating young upstart breakfast DJs. Once Pat and Alan are co-presenting, in-siege, the incongruity really helps the material to fly. Whether it’s unwelcome phone-in guests (“Kill them all, Pat, and shoot the women first!”) or Alan playing to the gathered crowd like they’re a road show audience, the writers have hit on a very solid premise. And Meaney delivers just the right level of straight man playing, allowing Coogan to run off with all the best lines. Sure, some of the choices are very obvious (bonding over youtube video “Fat woman falls down hole”), but for the most part this is lively and engaging, and there are a number of laugh-out-loud sequences.


In particular, Alan miming to Roachford’s Cuddly Toy is sublime, The scene where he loses his trousers and pants (“What are you doing? It’s weird”) has become something of an instant classic. I probably laughed most at anti-terrorist unit’s response to a suspect package that comes flying out of an open window (“I’m really sorry. I done a shit in the box”).  The gag of a tiny British version of a big Hollywood climax goes all the way back to Father Ted’s Speed-on-a-milk-float, and the spirit lives on with a road show bus chase and a shoot-out on Cromer Pier. Alan’s escape from said bus is especially inventive (“It’s a septic tank”). It’s probably fair to say I found the toilet humour funniest, but the Partridge movie is just as amusing when it takes in random targets; Alan getting carried away with Nazi-esque glove action (“Schweine!”), his response to Angela finishing his poem (“Why would a sock be on the moor?”) and encounter with death (“Hallo, Mr Seagull. Have you come to take my spirit away?”)


Alpha Papa did sufficiently sterling business that a sequel has already been announced. It looks like it will arrive in time for Alan’s 25th anniversary celebrations in 2016. No plot details have been announced, but it would be little surprise if they devise a scenario plunging Partridge into another life or death crisis. Alan as a drug mule?


***1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

You killed my sandwich!

Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
(SPOILERS) One has to wonder at Bird of Prey’s 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I mean, such things are to be taken with a pinch of salt at the best of times, but it would be easy, given the disparity between such evident approval and the actually quality of the movie, to suspect insincere motives on the part of critics, that they’re actually responding to its nominally progressive credentials – female protagonists in a superhero flick! – rather than its content. Which I’m quite sure couldn’t possibly be the case. Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) isn’t very good. The trailers did not lie, even if the positive reviews might have misled you into thinking they were misleading.

Afraid, me? A man who’s licked his weight in wild caterpillars? You bet I’m afraid.

Monkey Business (1931)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers’ first feature possessed of a wholly original screenplay, Monkey Business is almost brazenly dismissive towards notions of coherence, just as long as it loosely supports their trademark antics. And it does so in spades, depositing them as stowaways bound for America who fall in with a couple of mutually antagonistic racketeers/ gangsters while attempting to avoid being cast in irons. There’s no Margaret Dumont this time out, but Groucho is more than matched by flirtation-interest Thelma Todd.

Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour – which is probably more than she ever did.

Duck Soup (1933)
(SPOILERS) Not for nothing is Duck Soup acclaimed as one of the greatest comedies ever, and while you’d never hold it against Marx Brothers movies for having little in the way of coherent plotting in – indeed, it’s pretty much essential to their approach – the presence of actual thematic content this time helps sharpen the edges of both their slapstick and their satire.

You’re a disgrace to the family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible.

Horse Feathers (1932)
(SPOILERS) After a scenario that seemed feasible in Monkey Business – the brothers as stowaways – Horse Feathers opts for a massive stretch. Somehow, Groucho (Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff) has been appointed as the president of Huxley University, proceeding to offer the trustees and assembled throng a few suggestions on how he’ll run things (by way of anarchistic creed “Whatever it is, I’m against it”). There’s a reasonably coherent mission statement in this one, however, at least until inevitably it devolves into gleeful incoherence.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

Bad luck to kill a seabird.

The Lighthouse (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Eggers’ acclaimed – and Oscar-nominated – second feature is, in some respects, a similar beast to his previous The Witch, whereby isolated individuals of bygone eras are subjected to the unsparing attentions of nature. In his scheme of things, nature becomes an active, embodied force, one that has no respect for the line between imaginings and reality and which proceeds to test its targets’ sanity by means of both elements and elementals. All helped along by unhealthy doses of superstition. But where The Witch sustained itself, and the gradual unravelling of the family unit led to a germane climax, The Lighthouse becomes, well, rather silly.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…