Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Over the years many characters from TV and radio shows have made the leap to the big screen. Not all have been successful but then there is Alan Partridge.
While I am a big fan of Steve Coogan, I must admit that I have not seen very much of one of his most famous characters Alan Partridge. I have seen some clips and episodes of his TV series but for some reason I have not had a very devoted following. But I still really wanted to see this film. I must say I was really impressed with what I saw. Some characters from TV shows have trouble being on the big screen because they still have many of the qualities from the small screen which just don't work on a big one. Thankfully Alan Partridge is a big enough character for the cinema screen. Normally egocentric characters like this do not interest me but Alan is just so incredibly funny and comes out with so many witty one-liners that I was instantly charmed by him. Also part of the problem can be the plot. A hostage situation at a radio station does not automatically come across as big screen material but in the hand of this team of writers it is comedy gold. It was about 8 years ago that I stopped listening to the radio. Before that I would only listen to a comedy show by a comedian I admire named Tony Martin. One of the joys of his show was his constant battles with management over his shows content. Not so much the humour but the fact that they wanted more music and less talk. So when some of these issues came up in this film I was some what amused by the satire but also saddened to see that nothing seems to have changed. Music also  plays a big part in the film and to great comedic effect. Aussies will be pleased to see 'Your The Voice' by John Farnham used brilliantly in one hilarious sequence.
I probably do not need to tell you how great Steve Coogan is in this film. The man has such impeccable comedic timing that just about everything he says is hilarious. Even some of the more cruder jokes and situations are handled brilliantly. Alan is a character which Steve has been playing for so long that he has refined him to perfection. Also excellent is Colm Meany as the hostage taker. While Colm is mostly the straight man to Steve's more outrageous antics he still gets some very funny moments. The biggest delight though is Felicity Montagu as Alan's assistant. Alan may not treat her very well but you can't help but laugh at her.
You do not have to be familiar or even know who Alan Partidge is to get a good laugh out of this film. Just pure joy from start to finish.

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

**SPOILER ALERT** The new Star Trek film featured the return of one of the series most beloved villains. I decided to check out where that love came from.
While I am a big Star Trek fan, I did not become a fan until they started screening The Next Generation series. So I was not overly familiar with the Original series. I eventually did see a few episodes and all the films. I may get criticism for this but I did not enjoy them as much as The Next Generation.
The most successful of the Star Trek film series and widely considered to be the best is the fourth film 'The Voyage Home'. But a close second is the second film 'The Wrath Of Khan'. I think part of the reason for it's acclaim is that they had a great villain in Khan to give the story focus and drive. The first film 'The Motion Picture', was more existential and more like '2001: A Space Odyssey'. While successful it was not all that highly regarded. I think they went with a wise option of having a villain to give the story more action. As someone who is not much of a fan of this series I did quite like the film. It may not have as much action as some of its contemporaries (like 'Star Wars) but it still has a thrilling story with an interesting and philosophical theme.
William Shatner is probably not the greatest actor around but he has become so immortalized with the character of Captain James T. Kirk that it was hard to see anyone else play the role. The plot for this film has a more personal touch for Kirk so Shatner gets to show a more emotional side of which he does an excellent job. Also excellent is his second in command and side kick Leonard Nemoy as Spock. The moment they have at the end of the film perfectly captures the emotion of their relationship and both men are brilliant. The rest of the Enterprise crew do a good job in their small but serviceable roles. Bibi Besch and Merrit Butrick are also good as people close to Kirk. The real star though is the always impressive Ricardo Montalban. His character does come across as a bit theatrical but Ricardo makes him very fearsome and very memorable.
I agree that it is one of the best of the Original series feature films. I'm still a fan of later series and movies and these films always look more impressive on the big screen.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

2 Guns

Not all films based on comic books are about comic book action heroes. We can get more realistic stories.
While there is a certain amount of realism to the story in that there are no fantasy elements. The plot for the film is pretty outrageous. And that is a good thing. There are certain conventions the film observes but it is done in a very light hearted way which borders on the silly at times. But that's a good thing. The film is really a lot of fun and does not seem to be taking itself too seriously. Many action films these days seem determined to be so serious and earnest that they forget to let themselves go and just have fun.
Mark Wahlberg is playing pretty much the same character he does in all his films which is the loveable rogue. Some may find this a bit tedious but I haven't got there yet and found him to be fun. The best thing about the film is Denzel Washington. I've not been one of his biggest fans and part of the reason for that is that he plays lots of serious roles. While this is not the outrageous comedy I was hoping for it is more light hearted than many of his other films. Together they make quite a good duo.
It's no where near the greatest film ever but is quite an enjoyable action film.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Director Ron Howard has made some excellent films based on real life stories. So he was the best choice to make this film about Formulae 1 race car drivers.
For those who know me will know that I am not a sporty person. Yet I do enjoy sporting movies. The way movies are made and the film making techniques used, to me make sport far more exciting than actually watching the game in real life. That is very much the case with race car driving. I've never understood the interest in watching these races live. I once heard someone describe them jokingly as not a race but a parade. Only certain cars will make it to the front of the pack and they will stay there for the whole race. Plus watching it live means you do not get to see the whole lap but only one small section.
Surprisingly for a film about two race car drivers I got the impression that the film was less focused on this aspect of the story. The actual races seemed to be glossed over and only certain aspects were highlighted. Quite rightly the focus of the story is the rivalry between these two very different men. It is a fascinating look at how two men can have varying views on the same thing. James Hunt's skill was driving a car where as Niki Lauda was more focused on the car itself. It makes you think that if they were not rival and had perhaps teamed up then they would have been a more formidable team. This rivalry is what makes the film great for me. You get the sense that while they were rivals on the race track that they still had a deep respect for each other. Peter Morgan's script does a good job of highlighting these differences and similarities. But it still does sink into cliché sometimes which seems to be what all sporting films tend to do. Ron Howard also brings his skill as a director to the racing scenes and makes them quite thrilling.
I admire Chris Hemsworth for making films like this to prove he is more than just a hunky action hero. While this type of character is probably not that much of a stretch for him he does manage to bring more complexity to his character than you might expect. He also works well with his partner in the rivalry Daniel Bruhl. Daniel got the more interesting character and does a brilliant job with it. The way Niki uses James as a way to drive him in his driving is interesting, especially when Niki was injured. The rest of the cast are merely hangers on to the central story of this rivalry. Olivia Wilde is lumbered with a character who is merely a minor plot point and she does not do anything interesting with the character except look good. As Niki's love interest Alexandra Maria Lara gets a more interesting character to work with and so Alexandra gives an excellent performance.
Even if you are not a sports fan there is still a lot to like about this film. An entertaining look at a fascinating rivalry.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

About Time

I think we have all worked out what Rachel McAdams likes in her men. The ability to time travel. Be it unconsciously or unconsciously.
Writer Richard Curtis is one of my all time favourite writers. I first fell in love with his work when I saw the TV series 'Blackadder'. For me that is not only of the funniest TV series ever written but one of the most perfectly written TV series ever made. He then went on to write some of the best romantic comedies ever seen with one 'Notting Hill' being one of my all time favourite. He did however become less than perfect when he made the film 'Rock The Boat'. He is on safer territory here with a move back to safer ground in the romantic comedy arena. While the film does deal with a romance the love story is not just about a man and a girl but a relationship between a man and his father.
Time travel is one of those plot devises which is prone to disaster. You need to be a really skilled writer to write a completely flawless story involving time travel. Sadly as skilled as Richard is he has not been completely successful. For me the problem is that he has taken the easy route with using the time travel element. There is not enough jeopardy in the story to make it very interesting considering the time travelling. I expected with this type of plot to have our hero go through some more difficult hurdles. Despite that the film has a great deal of charm and sweetness. There is lots of trademark Richard Curtis wit but maybe not as much as I'd have liked.
You may not be familiar with lead actor Domhnall Gleeson but he makes a very charming hero of the story. He has great comedic timing and you can't help but car about him. Rachel McAdams is her usually delightful self. While her character is what drives the story she does not have an awful lot to do. Bill Nighy gives his normally brilliant performance. He lights up the screen each time he is on. Also providing much of the film's humour is Tom Hollander.
It misses the cutting edge elements you would expect from a film about time travel but is still very delightful and charming. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013


She was one of the most beloved women of all time. We have had a film about how people reacted to her death and now get a film about her life.
Much like Steve Jobs, Princess Diana was a much beloved and respected person who have had films made about their lives. And like Steve, Diana's film is a lackluster effort which fails to capture the greatness of the person they are trying to honour. The plot for this film while interesting in a way that we get to find out about an aspect of Diana's life we may not already know about. On another level it is not told in an interesting way as it feels like every other story we've heard about a famous person falling in love with a not famous person. There is no freshness to the story and so does not reach the heights of greatness you would expect of someone so highly regarded. I like to consider myself a very romantic person and I'm a fan of love stories but I think I'm beginning to become a bit more discerning about how they are told.
Naomi Watts is an excellent actress but she has been unable to bring the majesty of Diana to the big screen. Part of the problem for my feelings that this is an average film is Naomi's performance. I did not get any sense from her of why people loved Diana so much. I think she lacked the presence of the character she was playing. One other thing I found odd was that in scenes which were recreations of public footage, like TV interviews, Naomi very closely mimics Diana's voice. However for the rest of the film she does not try to mimic her. Obviously Naomi has watched these scenes extensively as research and perhaps unconsciously began to imitate those scenes. I found it rather amusing. We have not seen Naveen Andrews in film for a while so it was nice to see him back. He does a decent job here but I found his character a bit dull and not sure exactly why Diana falls for him.
I expected more from a film about someone to great. For someone who evoked so much love, this film manages to destroy it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

One Direction: This Is Us

One of my all time favourite documentaries is 'Super Size Me'. I felt I should check out his latest film. Honestly that is the reason I saw this.
I think it was very delusional of me to think that this film would be nothing more than a fan film for the massive hordes of One Direction fans. I did though have some tiny hope that with the Morgan Sporlock directing it that it might be a bit different to the run of the mill fan films you see about famous music artists. That was one of the many things that surprised me about this film. Why do you hire someone like Morgan, who has a slightly anarchic quality, to make such a generic film. My hope was that we might at least get some of that anarchic behavior which Morgan is famous for. Which brings me to my second problem with the film. The group mention several times that they are trying to not come across as a typical boy band and I get the impression that this is the reason they hired Morgan but it has not worked. For all their efforts to make them not seem like a boy band they come across as like every other boy band we have seen. Their songs are just like every other boy band and so are the boys themselves. The one interesting thing is trying to guess which one is gay. Which brings me to another problem with the film and that is the fans. I don't think I saw one male fan in the entire film when they showed crowd shots. They were always teenage girls. Is it possible that the only male fans they have are gay boys? Are the managers that control the boys so afraid of showing those male fans, that it might imply the boys are gay too? And in therefore loose their female fans because they no longer desirable. That would have been the one thing to make the film dramatically more enjoyable.
Definitely only for those who are die hard fans of the band One Direction. Not even those with a passing interest would be interested.  

Monday, October 14, 2013


Films come along that receive lots of critical acclaim and you often wonder if it is warranted. In the case of this film it is.
The Script: I'm sure that the script for this film will be extensively studied at films schools all over the world as an example of the perfect script. The way it sets up the characters and then establishes an incident for them to over come then continually ramps up the action at each turn to make that a hard thing to achieve. The simplicity of the films plot and characters is one of the many elements that makes it so great. But writers Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron have taken this simple idea and made one of the most exciting and thrilling films I think I have ever seen. I was continually amazed at how they were able to create so many disasters for our astronautts to go through. I'm quite sure they did extensive research on what being in space would be like and the film feels very authentic. Although a few experts have come forward to say that certain aspects could not happen. But that does not detract from your enjoyment. 
Cinematography: This would have to be one of the most beautiful looking films I have ever seen. I saw it in IMAX so that added to the films beauty. Seeing the massive screen filled with images of earth from space, completely took my breath away. I think there needs to be a rule that only certain directors are allowed to use 3D when making films and Alfonso is one. He does not use the 3D as a gimmick but rather a way for us as the audience to become fully amerced in the environment of outer space that our characters inhabit. You definitely feel like you are truly there with these characters. Well worth paying the extra money to experience it in 3D.
Direction: All these great elements are brought together by one of the greatest directors working today, Alfonso Cuaron. The artistic majesty he brings to this film is nothing short of amazing. We take for granted things like 3D and special effects in films because we see them used so often and sometimes not very well. Then along comes an accomplished director like Alfonso who takes them to a whole new level of mastery. I loved the way he keeps the audience tense throughout the entire film. There are only a few moments for brevity before we are right back on the edge of our seats. Part of the reason he keeps that tension so high is because the film has a short duration. Many film makers seem to think that they need to take time to tell stories when really they don't and Alfonso knows that brevity is important when it comes to thrillers.
Performances: I lost interest in Sandra Bullock after 'The Blind Side'. A film which I think was over hyped and not one which I think she deserved all that acclaim for. She gave a decent performance in 'The Heat' recently but was largely overshadowed by Melissa McCarthy. But she is pretty much on her own for most of this film and carries it all so incredibly well. If she ever deserves an Oscar it is for this film. I suppose it is because of their heroic job that we hold astronauts in such high regard. Sandra does many heroic things in this film but she establishes her character as a very ordinary person. This makes her relatable to the audience and so we feel for her each time something goes wrong. George Clooney has a small but pivotal role. He is essentially playing himself and does not bring that much more to the role than he does in many of the other films he has been in. I did quite like the casting of the voice for mission control too.
I cannot encourage you enough to see this film. It is a film that needs to be seen on the big screen. And the bigger the better. Also see it in 3D too so you experience the film as it was meant to be seen.   

Sunday, October 13, 2013

I'm So Excited

The arrival of a film by Pedro Almodovar is a big event that should be celebrated. Such is the greatness of this acclaimed film maker.
While I am a big fan of Almodovar, I am willing to admit that this is not one of his best films. Most of his films are usually pretty serious and dramatic but this time he has made a very light comedy. When I say light I am talking very light. There is not a lot of deep meaning in the film which is what you normally find in his movies. The plot is very simple and not unlike that of one of the greatest comedies of all time 'Airplane' (aka 'Flying High'). While there are a few implausibilities it does not detract from the enjoyment. Almodovar's films usually have gay characters and this film is no exception but it does make the film very camp. Despite that the film is largely a lot of fun and quite funny.
As our three central characters, Carlos Areces, Javier Camara and Raul Arevalo are excellent and make a great comedy team. They provide many of the film's funniest moments. Lola Duenas is an Almodovar regular and is very good as the shy passenger. That changes when she breaks out of her shell and is featured in a scene which we don't normally see in film which is a woman raping a man.
This is a very short review but the film it's about is very slight. Perhaps more for the die hard Almodovar fans, but still quite enjoyable for those who are not.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Harold And Maude

Usually in films we see relationships between older men and younger women. But back in the early 1970's we had one that was the other way around.
This is another one of those films that I had heard of from its reputation but never actually seen. So I was pleased to get the chance to see it on the big screen. Being a black comedy it appealed to me quite a lot. I cannot imagine one of the major film studios making his film today. The morbid nature of Harold would not survive the focus groups or marketing people. The film opens with Harold trying to kill himself so that would not be the best way to start a film. The plot is the fairly typical one of a young rich kid who feels underappreciated by his parents (in this case a mother) and so lashes out. Most of the humour in the film is derived by Harold's mother and the way she responds to Harold's various suicide attempts. They are especially funny when he attempts them while she is trying to set him up with women. My favourite was when he set himself on fire. In amongst all these funny suicide attempts Harold begins a very sweet relationship with a much older woman. At first it seems to be just a friendly relationship but then develops into something more. Director Hal Ashby manages to make the relationship feel natural and not sleazy like you would expect some film makers to do.
As Harold Bud Cort is excellent. His performance is very subtle and not over stated. He really brings out the melancholy nature of Harold. His body language and facial expressions also make him more expressive. I mostly know Ruth Gordon from the Clint Eastwood films 'Every Which Way But Loose' and 'Any Which Way You Can'. I was not familiar with many of her other films so was pleased to see her performance here. Ruth definitely gives older people a good name, even if she is doing some bad things. Her zest for life makes the film very enjoyable. Also enjoyable in a humorous way is Vivian Pickles as Harold's mother. As mentioned above her scenes provide most of the films humour and she is very funny in her apathetic view to Harold's suicide attempts. The film's other funniest performance comes from Charles Tyner as Harold's uncle. While he does play the character over the top and a bit clichéd he is still very funny.
Just your old fashioned unconventional romantic comedy. A wonderful black comedy about a relationship we don't see much of in cinema.