Tag Archives: 2013

Filth (2013)

Filth (2013)

In a sarcastic reversal of Renton’s “it’s shite being Scottish” monologue in Danny Boyle‘s Trainspotting (1996), Filth (2013, 97 mins) begins with a Scottish hagiography from Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy). The passion may be there in the voiceover but the images belie the conviction. And that’s how things go through the film, with all appearances being deceiving and nothing quite as it would seem.

As cops go, Bruce Robertson is as corrupt as they come. A thread of hedonism runs through his life as he drinks excessively, takes hard drugs, and, when not indulging his hyperactive sex drive with someone, indulging it alone. If that’s not bad enough for a lawman he’s also partial to a spot of blackmail and intimidation. He knows there’s a promotion to Detective Inspector in the offing and aims to get it, whatever the costs, even if that means playing his colleagues (Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell, Emun Elliott, and Gary Lewis) off against each other in what he refers to as “the Games”. What may help him get that promotion is solving the murder we see in the opening scene.

Like Trainspotting, Filth is also adapted from a novel by Irvine Welsh, however it spends its time away from Edinburgh’s junky class and embeds itself within the establishment. The police, Freemasons, courts, and businessmen take the limelight but there’s nothing rose-tinted about this tier of society. Certainly, with DS Robertson as our guide, there’s no respect afforded it either. This, after all, is a guy pestering the wife of Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), his only friend, with obscene phone calls (in the guise of Frank Sidebottom!) while simultaneously leading the case to uncover the culprit. Situations like this drive the narrative, with Robertson having his nefarious schemes going to plan while at the same time letting them spiral out of control.

Despite the gravity of scenes peppering Filth — underage sex, prostitution, drug usage, amongst many others — it’s all served up with a thick slice of dark humour. It’s hard not to laugh at the casual disregard for everything voiced in McAvoy’s narration. In fact, as roles go, it can clearly be seen that McAvoy relishes the possibilities of DS Robertson’s sheer breadth of character. One minute he’s sneaking out a casual fart, the next he’s all Bad Lieutenant. If he’s not being nice to the boss (John Sessions), he’s furiously masturbating in a cubicle. A role that offers variety to an actor is a gift and McAvoy practically oozes enjoyment here. Making a psychotic, sex-addicted, drug-using, hallucinating alcoholic a likeable character is no mean feat but somehow McAvoy achieves it.

What is perhaps less successful is the occasional trip into DS Robertson’s psyche, personified by Jim Broadbent‘s bizarre psychiatrist with elongated forehead and exaggerated Australian accent. While Broadbent plays it comical, and isn’t to be faulted, these sections don’t quite have the payoff one would hope. What they are is an an attempt to portray an element of the original novel (substituting a tapeworm with a cartoonish psychiatrist) that deserves a high score for effort but something more middling for the result. Someone, somewhere, must have deemed it relevant rather than finding a more innovative way to portray this. A tapeworm does appear in the film, spinning around in the ever-muddled Robertson’s head but, in the film’s context, it’s apropos of nothing.

While the aforementioned cast — joined by the likes of Shirley HendersonKate Dickie, and, in one weird scene, David Soul — perform well, the movie is dominated by McAvoy shouting, laughing, snorting, and sneering his way from scene to scene. With a murder to solve and a promotion to gain, he ploughs on as his world disintegrates around him. All his vices have becomes the filth that covers the truth he would rather not face. The truth about who, under all the bluff and bluster, DS Bruce Robertson really is. And even this, as sad as it is, doesn’t escape the bleak humour that undercuts everything.

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Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips (2013)

The humble shipping container is arguably the most important invention of the 20th Century. Without it the world would be far less connected and international trade would be slower and less valuable than it is today. The container is therefore a facilitator for globalisation and a modern success story. However, while globalisation can be good — in widening trade,  breaking cultural barriers, and making the world connected — it is not without its externalities. And the conflict in Paul Greengrass‘s Captain Phillips (2013, 134 mins) sees both sides of the globalisation argument come face to face where else but on a container ship.

The Maersk Alabama, an American-flagged feeder vessel routinely sailing between Oman and Kenya, made the news in 2009 when it was hijacked off the Somalian coast. While it’s well known that piracy is rife in the region this particular hijacking was notable for the size of the ship targeted. Her captain at the time was Richard Phillips and it’s his account of the incident, as told in his 2010 book A Captain’s Duty, that sees Tom Hanks step into his shoes.

Despite its maritime setting, the film sets two stories in motion. The first is the eponymous captain’s as he gets his briefing and packs his bags for the trip ahead. En route to the airport he references the current global downturn noting to his wife (Catherine Keener) that, back in his day you could walk into a job and work your way up the ladder. Not so now, with myriad applicants chasing every job, and, on the other side of the world, we see this first hand, as Somalian gang leaders demand a ship be captured. Those willing outweigh the eventual pirates.

When both parties finally meet we get a drawn out stalemate between crew and pirates, although the latter always have something of an upper hand…and guns. Chief among them is Muse (Barkhad Abdi), a skinny wretch who, perhaps because of his scrawniness, has something more to prove and therefore doesn’t need to think twice about violence to make himself understood. The performance is both engrossing and extremely intense; a real achievement for a first time actor. The much trailered moment when he commands Captain Phillips to “look at me” a perfect encapsulation of the portrayal overall. Also debuts, the remaining pirates (Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali) show themselves as more than capable too, both in capturing the ship and in the infighting that follows.

Hanks, as Captain Phillips, is superb in so much that it’s easy to forget that the man on screen is a character being acted. His performance feels natural, embodying as he does a man who is calm under pressure at all times. How heroic one takes him in the context of a true story is a personal choice —  while the movie is based on Phillips’s account, it’s something that others involved have questioned — it works within the film because it needs to be a single hero facing off against the pirates rather than a concerted crew effort. The latter is simply not Hollywood. While support does come via the US Navy, the focus is all on the captain. Come the final few minutes, Hanks dials up his acting a further few notches, all that stoicism converted into something deeply raw, emotional, and affecting.

What really brings the movie together is the style in which it is delivered. Greengrass’s camera is restless, swinging this way and that as it hunts the action. It’s like being inside a documentary as it happens, such is its immediacy. Thankfully, away from the claustrophobic closeness to the action, he also gives us moments of air in which we can see the larger picture, of ships at sea. But even here, with a container ship’s relatively slow manoeuvring speed, we get a sense of high octane action. Days become nights and become days again, hinting at a longer duration for the story, but with no mention of days passing, time becomes compressed to ensure we remain on the edge of our seats.

Despite the veracity of his account, Captain Richard Phillips will certainly heed the old captain’s duty that he will go down with his ship. In history, at least. But it’s not who did what that should lead the debate around Captain Phillips. Instead the effects of globalisation as discussed in the movie are where the real debate should lie. Is the west, in all its capitalist glory, responsible for the poverty elsewhere that drives people to become criminals against their nature? If so, what can be done about it? While there’s no answers, the questions are posed. All a movie like this can do is educate others on how the comfortable western lifestyle as typified by Captain Phillips is not without its victims who will bite back.

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Sunshine On Leith (2013)

Sunshine On Leith (2013)

Taking a popular band and making a musical of their most popular songs appears to be a trend now. It’s worked for Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You, their popularity on stage now surpassing ten years. However, the less said about the seven month run of Viva Forever! the better. Brothers Craig and Charlie Reid, better known as The Proclaimers, may not have enjoyed the international fame that ABBA, Queen or even the Spice Girls had, but their back catalogue contains songs that have ingrained themselves in the Scottish consciousness and, more crucially, is large enough to allow the creation of a jukebox musical. In Sunshine On Leith (2013, 90 mins) Stephen Greenhorn adapted his original 2007 stage musical for the screen and the result, under Dexter Fletcher‘s direction, is a jubilant celebration of a movie with just enough underlying drama to lift it above typical musical fare.

Three relationships are at the heart of the movie, capturing the challenges of love at varying stages (hooking up, potential engagement, and silver anniversary) portrayed within a single family. Hooking up are Davy (George MacKay) and Yvonne (Antonia Thomas); he recently discharged from the army and she working at the hospital. Also fresh out the military is Ally (Kevin Guthrie) who has been dating Davy’s sister Liz (Freya Mavor) and is considering the next steps. Then there’s Rab (Peter Mullan) and Jean (Jane Horrocks), the siblings’ parents, their twenty-five year marriage testament to the duration of love but not without their own problems.

Despite an opening fraught with nervous uncertainty as Davy, Ally, and their crew are transported across a war zone, the happiness soon starts to infect the movie as, back in Edinburgh, we see the friends walking along the street singing their way through I’m On My Way. It’s not so much the camaraderie of these two friends or that musical thing where people spontaneously burst into song, but the reactions of the others caught on camera. A man on his phone stares at them as if they are mad. Women walking their way smile; men passing look back bemused. Only the Proclaimers themselves, in a cameo, seem not to notice. What this opening does is let us know this is a world where breaking into song is something natural.

And so it continues, moments of drama segueing into song. Jane Horrocks already has a track record apropos singing (cf Little Voice (1998)) and with the rest of the cast providing capable delivery of their vocals the songs are well-served in this regard, although they do miss the somewhat comic emphasis that the Proclaimers bring to the songs in their originals. It’s worth mentionning that Peter Mullan’s gravel tones offer up something of a surprise as he tackles Oh Jean while  a crowd dances around him.

One of the problems with such films, as opposed to a musical with original songs, is that the storyline is partly dictated by the lyrics. Letter To America, a song about the Scottish diaspora, seems an obvious candidate for driving elements of the narrative and that is indeed how it’s used. But it’s the way the lyrics are portioned off to the characters that bring a new level of meaning so as to justify the song’s inclusion in the story. There are literal interpretations juxtaposed with others more figurative, and this is true for all those songs delivered by more than one cast member. To this end it’s a pleasure to see songs used in a meaningful context and not just there as a karaoke checklist. Plus, there are moments of subverted expectations (Let’s Get Married, for example) where the songs are used in a new context.

While it’s not the sort of movie that’s going to change the world Sunshine On Leith is at least going to light it up. It would be a cold heart that sits through it unsmiling and arms crossed as there’s enough toe-tapping goodness in the songs as well as decent enough coverage of relationships’ ups, downs, and ups again. As the final shot leaves Edinburgh behind (mirroring the opening journey in) we see the movie for what it is — a slice of life, entertaining and uplifting.

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Drinking Buddies (2013)

Drinking Buddies (2013)

Romance on screen usually ends with two mismatched people discovering how made for each other they truly are. They’ll meet, hate each other from the get-go, but their paths are destined to overlap across various set pieces until the inevitable romance blossoms. The central relationship in Drinking Buddies (2013, 90 mins) flies in the face of convention and introduces us to two friends — one male, one female — who are attracted to each other from the start although see themselves as just being friends.

Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) both work in a Chicago microbrewery. Their working day — apart from work — consists of joking, chatting, and drinking beer. When the working day is over the brewers head on a busman’s holiday to the pub where they play pool and down beers. The chat and jokes go on and it seems obvious, as Kate and Luke gravitate to each other, that the stars have their future all sewn up.

The problem is that both are in separate relationships. It’s early days for Kate and Chris (Ron Livingston), who seem slightly mismatched, his serious nature uncomfortable against her free spirit. Luke and Jill (Anna Kendrick) also appear wrong for each other as their wedding plans are in the process of becoming more concrete. During one weekend they stay at a beach house where these different personalities align themselves. Platonically, of course. But it sets in motion the impetus that buzzes along in the background of this film.

There’s little cinematic about Drinking Buddies. No big explosions. No thrilling twists. Instead it feels an intimate invitation into its characters’ world where we observe their minutiae. It’s a realistic take on relationships, the conversations between friends, colleagues, and partners delving into their thoughts and worries. Throw alcohol into the mix — and barely a chat goes by without a beer in hand —  and we get a loosening of tongues that allow the conversations to go beyond where they would sober. The beer may bring crazy impulses or thoughts to the forefront of minds, but the characters are never too drunk to overstep boundaries. The silences that pepper conversations as they hold back are both reflective,  real, and weighed down with truth.

Perhaps much of the real feel comes from its lack of script. While director Joe Swanberg knew where he was going with his story (scenes, development, etc) the dialogue was left to the actors to improvise. Wilde and Johnson have an obvious chemistry as they improvise and it helps with warming to their characters. Best of all is how we gradually see the disintegration of our expectations. While we expect Kate and Luke to shake off their complications and come together what we are instead given is more information that helps us see how unsuited they actually are (Luke’s life is structured while Kate seizes the day) even if they don’t see it themselves.

While Drinking Buddies may be boring to some, it has enough happening in its story to hold interest. Although billed as a romantic comedy it plays as nothing of the sort, instead coming across as a slice of life (well, lives) at crossroads and the decisions that need to be taken, be they grasped by the characters themselves or forced by circumstance. Its focus on relationships forces us to consider whether men and woman can truly just be friends without the sexual attraction that inevitably bubbles under. That line is definitely blurred but there’s an ironic twist in that, through alcohol, things come to seem much clearer.

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Escape Plan (2013)

Escape Plan (2013)

When The Expendables (2010) was released, there was much trumpeting of how both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, stalwarts of 1980s action movies, would come together on screen. It was going to be big; it was going to be iconic. The result, however, was a single scene in a very disappointing film. They appeared together once more in The Expendables 2 (2012), garnering plenty of screen time, but Schwarzenegger was still mostly incidental. Now, in Escape Plan (2003, 115 mins) the double billing actually sees the two both play main characters in an action movie. This could have been that iconic meeting that The Expendables promised. Alas, it’s just another meeting.

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man who, for his own hokey reasons, makes his money by being imprisoned and then escaping in order to point out security flaws. He has literally written the book on the subject. When the movie opens we see his skill in this domain, first breaking out from a high security prison and then recounting his escape (for the audience’s benefit) to the prison’s warden in all its convoluted, improbable glory. After that, an offer comes in that would see him enter another prison, this one off the grid, and in an unknown location. His fee is double the going rate, and he accepts.

Of course, this is a trap. Someone somewhere actually wants Breslin imprisoned. And the prison, we learn, has its design (all glass cells and no natural light) in the flaws pointed out by Breslin’s book; it should therefore be impossible to escape from. Thus Escape Plan has its premise, and Stallone quickly finds an ally in Schwarzenegger’s Emil Rottmayer. If these two are aligned, antagonism comes by way of Warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel) and sadistic prison guard Drake (Vinnie Jones). What follows is a series of prison riots and reconnaissance missions as Breslin gets the measure of his new prison and works out how to escape, making use of the objects, skills, and flaws in the system that he uncovers.

With names like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Jones attached, expectations aren’t high but the movie is paced well enough and the majority of scenes come across as functional. Certainly, for all the hyperbole on the film’s two stars, the direction isn’t in awe of them. While this can be good, as story should ultimately go before the cast, it somehow feels as if more could have been made of the pairing. Not so much in the characterisation (that was always going to be thin) but in the imagination around how they are filmed. What action there was felt unmemorable. Certainly Schwarzenegger’s most memorable moment would be a scene where he rants, insanely, in his native language. Beyond that, it’s a string of limp one-liners and crazy smiles.

For all the plot and action it would at least appear as if the film has its basis in matters more philosophical. The notion of the panopticon, a prison where all captives are under permanent supervision (or at least have no way of knowing if Big Brother’s eye is on them) is a direct lift from the work of Jeremy Bentham, albeit modernised to suit contemporary technology. But a warden called Hobbes brings to mind Thomas Hobbes, who in his Leviathan wrote of the social contract. Breslin, in Escape Plan, willingly secedes from civil society and therefore finds himself in a prison that bears much in relation to a world outside the Hobbesian notion of civilised society:

…no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

But, given the content of the movie, it’s probably best not to read too deep into any message it may wish to deliver. It’s a foregone conclusion that Breslin is going to escape this inescapable prison and therefore consideration need only be given to how he plans to do it. Some elements are logical, based on observation and timings; while others, although not stretching credulity, are convenient. Sometimes, instead of knowledge, escape can be about relationships and, in that respect, crucial support comes from Dr. Kyrie (Sam Neill) and some of the inmates who riot to create distractions or take on particular favours.

At the end of the day, a movie like Escape Plan is never going to be anything other than sheer escapism and its two hours whizz by without ever seeming to drag. It has its questionable moments (e.g. Hobbes shooting a prisoner when keeping him alive is the profitable option) but works well enough as a vehicle for two movie tough guys, once standalone action heroes, to work together under a double billing. Given their advancing years, it had to happen at some point, although it doesn’t quite carry the hype that, say, Heat (1995) did in pairing Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen for the first time. Perhaps because in Heat, the two stars worked against each other and the question was which would come out on top. Or perhaps because Stallone and Schwarzenegger  are no longer the draw they once were. Either way, while it’s fun to see them work together, it’s hard not to think a better movie could have packed more of a punch.

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Blue Jasmine (2013)

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Now into six decades of making films, Woody Allen is showing no signs of slowing down. Some recent films have name checked and featured European cities — Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Midnight In Paris (2011), and To Rome With Love (2012) — but Blue Jasmine (2013, mins) sees Allen return Stateside and delivering a story spanning both coasts.

Cate Blanchett plays the eponymous Jasmine (real name Jeanette Francis), a New York socialite who has never had to want for anything in life thanks to Hal (Alec Baldwin), her high-flying husband, more in the Bernie Madoff mould than genuine businessman. However, as the film opens we see her land in San Francisco, moving in with her sister (they were both adopted, although from different biological parents) in order to get her life in order. What has happened between this extravagant lifestyle, funded by the dreams of others, and an almost desperate need to start over is what gradually unravels throughout Blue Jasmine.

Jumping between two timelines (the New York backstory and the west coast present) Allen aligns them not just with Jasmine as uniting thread but through looking at the women’s relationships. While Jasmine had Hal, her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), has Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a loose-tempered mechanic who, were it not for Jasmine’s visit, would be moving in. As if this doesn’t cause tension enough, Jasmine’s class snobbiness comes to the fore, berating her sister for her choice in men, somewhat rich coming from a woman who’s own husband was a crook.

If money corrupted Hal, it has also corrupted Jasmine, albeit in a different way. As someone living a life of parties, designer brands, and never having to worry about anything the descent to Ginger’s level — of poor neighbourhood, hyperactive kids, and actually having a job — is difficult to comprehend and adjust to. Deep in debt, thanks to Hal’s fake companies in her name, she still flies first class without quite knowing how.

Regardless of adaptability to her new situation, she does try — a job as a dentist’s receptionist, with the dentist heavy handed in his amorous after-hours approach; a computer class at college to learn how to study interior design from home (rather than just study interior design at college). Life, when you have concerns, is difficult and, rather than be strong she opts instead to jump on the first chance she gets back into her old life when she meets diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) at a party who thinks her the ideal trophy wife for his senatorial aspirations.

Almost every scene in Blue Jasmine sees Blanchett’s anti-heroine play some part, and the superlative performance dominates the movie. She flits easily between her superficially smiling socialite, her claws-out disdain of the lower classes, and the broken, fragile woman whose world has spun out of control. Whether it has spun out of her control is one of the many ambiguities Allen provides throughout the movie as much is made of Jasmine’s ability to see only what she wants. Was she, therefore, complicit in Hal’s Ponzi schemes or, like so many others, an innocent victim?

What one can read, if anything, into the eastern-flavoured names of our San Francisco trio — Jasmine, Ginger, Chili — is perhaps open to debate, but what’s certain is that the result is a fragrant broth of light-hearted comedy with darker moments. Interestingly, the comedy comes not from the two stand-ups Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay that take supporting roles, but from its mocking of the superficial elite thrust into the real world and its alien nature. What this new world holds for Jasmine is uncertain, but it’s that way for us all.

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We’re The Millers (2013)

We're The Millers (2013)

Take four disparate people, dress them up as a family unit, and send them off to Mexico for a spot of drug smuggling. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of We’re The Millers (2013, 110 mins), and for a comedy it need not be more complicated than that. However, in order to get around the simple story what a comedy does need is plenty of laughs to drive it along. There are laughs to be had here, but this ham-fisted tale of crime not paying (much) is more likely to split opinion than sides.

Jason Sudeikis plays David Clark, a small-time self-centred drug dealer. One day he gets involved in a street scuffle and sees both stash and cash stolen so when the local drugs tsar (Ed Helms) provides an opportunity to make far greater amounts if he does a drug run over the border he accepts. His only problem is how to make himself inconspicuous to border guards. When the eureka moment comes he is lucky to have three reluctant accomplices to hand. Neighbour Rose (Jennifer Aniston), a stripper struggling with money; the virginal and naïve teenager Kenny (Will Poulter), and runaway Casey (Emma Roberts), whose struggle with David’s muggers started the whole farce. Driving an RV and becoming the Millers (after their street) they set off for Mexico.

The duration of the film is not so much about the initial collection but getting an obscene amount of weed back to David’s paymaster. Along the way there’s all manner of obstacles such as corrupt cops, an over-friendly family, and the border itself. But sometimes the biggest issue is their own familial cohesion — they’ll bicker about anything. Not the image David wants to portray if he wants to deflect attention. If all these conflicts aren’t enough, the film also throws in another drug lord intent on catching them before they reach their destination.

The whole thing is horribly contrived. The characters are mostly two-dimensional cartoons given flesh although Poulter by far does the best with what he’s got by virtue of getting the greater percentage of jokes. Roberts chips in some glum teen posturing and Aniston never really convinces as a stripper. Their efforts are passable, however Sudeikis plays David as an all round wise-cracker, emotionally impervious to the threats around him. In something more serious it could be construed as a defence system, but not here. Real crimes to acting come as Ed Helms cranks the ham up to eleven as if he’s performing in some other film. His megalomaniac drug lord spoofs classic James Bond villainy, but comes up shorter than Nick Nack.

The majority of the humour in We’re The Millers can only be described as gross-out light. Body parts and sexual antics see the greater share, helped some way by comic performances, especially Nick Offerman‘s Don Fitzgerald, patriarch of another family coming home from Mexico. The saddest part is that the jokes, far from being laugh-out-loud funny, are barely groan-out-loud funny. Ultimately the film feels like a lazy patchwork of juvenile ideas that don’t quite work as a whole. A bit like its Millers

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Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

When comedy shows reach a peak of popularity, a big screen adaptation can’t be far off. The premise is invariably to remove the situation that makes it popular and to put the characters into new similarly invariable situations. Thus On The Buses went on holiday and Kevin and Perry went large. Borat and Mr Bean went Stateside; The Inbetweeners went to Crete. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013, 90 mins.) is the little piggy that stayed home.

From his first appearance as an inept sports desk reporter in On The Hour over twenty years ago, the character of Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) has seen his popularity grow inversely proportional to his broadcasting career. Despite having had his own BBC chat show — the ABBA-flavoured Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge — he is now working at North Norfolk Digital. Despite his ups and downs (downs, mostly) one thing hasn’t changed — he’s still as egotistical as ever. And in this first big screen outing for the character — set, as ever, in his beloved Norwich — this self-obsession makes itself visible throughout.

The aforementioned North Norfolk Digital has now been swallowed up by a media conglomerate and renamed Shape. Through-the-night broadcaster, Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), has bore the brunt of cost cutting and has found himself dumped from the station. His response is to take the station hostage at gunpoint and,  refusing to negotiate directly with the police, makes clear that he will only speak to them via Alan. This situation, as it develops in the media, sees Partridge become its face and in this he senses the opportunity to exploit the goings on in the name of his career.

While the movie is set in an English city, its premise is more Hollywood than Pinewood. However, this being a comedy, the British knack for self-deprecation undermines the convention throughout. A high stakes affair in regional England may not be glamorous, but it serves two purposes. It both provides plenty of opportunities for humour and makes the film’s story more plausible. In the case of Alan Partridge this is important as Coogan’s development of the character has seen him grow increasingly complex; more tragicomic than simple comedic cypher. To put him in a new fabricated situation purely to generate laughs would be to betray the character’s inherent capacity for eliciting them unaided. Thus Alan makes his way through the movie, doing and saying things that are typical Partridge.

There are a perhaps a couple of notable risks in elevating a television character to the cinema. The first is expanding the usual small situations into a feature-length story, where the audience expects a beginning, middle, and end. The second is a question of accessibility. Despite prior successes, a new audience inevitably comes to the character without that knowledge. The first few minutes are their introduction and in the opening credits we see Partridge driving to work, singing along to Roachford‘s Cuddly Toy. Coogan’s delivery is excellently exaggerated, but in each gesture — as Alan — you can see he means it. It’s both comedic and creates some common ground for the audience. Who, after all, doesn’t sing along to their favourite songs or at least know someone who does? And since scant reference is made to Partridge’s past career in the film, whatever baggage he displays on screen comes solely within the movie’s scope.

As adaptations go, the team behind Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa appear to have nailed it. Given that in the past he has appeared on radio, television, and in print, the step up to film seems simply natural. Although it certainly feels as if he’s been toned down for the movie, this doesn’t detract from what makes him a genuinely funny character.  Laughs come thick and fast and there are enough supporting characters given space to breathe and assist in subplots. Alan may be an unlikeable person — awkward, pedantic, oleaginous, tactless —  with ultimate consideration only to Brand Alan, but it’s this brilliant dramatic irony that makes him loveable.

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The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring (2013)

Typically, when a film begins by stating it’s based on a true story then you expect some grounding in the truth. When it comes to the supernatural and the skepticism that runs parallel, it feels an injustice to describe the film so. A true account, perhaps. But a true story? No. However, in a movie that delivers spooky goings on as fact, its veracity is always going to be questionable. Such is The Conjuring (2013, 112 mins.), a movie by James Wan that takes on the haunted house horror trope and delivers a sturdy but generic scarefest that rises above other horror offerings by virtue of their lesser quality.

After an opening gambit involving a possessed doll that serves as introduction to main protagonists, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, the story quickly moves on to the Perron family, a couple (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) with five daughters and a dog. It’s Rhode Island, 1971, and the family have picked up an old farmhouse at auction and are in the process of moving in. Minutes barely pass before secret areas are discovered and the dog, exercising a sixth sense, refuses to come inside. Thereafter the disturbances come thick and fast — unnatural bruising, clocks stopping in harmony, doors opening unaided — although the pace never feels rushed. Eventually it all becomes too much for the Perrons, now sleeping communally in the living room, and they call in the Warrens to help.

Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson), a demonologist and clairvoyant wife, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), whose case files inform the story, move in with the family, seeking evidence of the supernatural so as to convince the Vatican that an exorcism is more than certainly necessary. Some research on the house provides back story to all things bumping in the night. And from there it’s event after event, either supplementing the back story or ratcheting up the frights until the denouement.

Areas where The Conjuring succeeds are twofold. First is the main cast, in so much as they put on convincing displays. Even the children, when experiencing the horrors around them, are individually given time to let their distress shine. When the actors believe, the audience believes too. As a result of this, the quality of acting is greater than can typically be expected from a horror film — perhaps because as a franchise stretches itself thin, with its stars long since abandoning it, roles are filled with lesser actors. Secondly, the scares, while not original, are for the most part solid. While the unsteady camera roams the house, offering up unnerving angles or the sense of always watching or being watched we get traditional scares such as ghosts reflected in mirrors, whispering voices, and doors slamming shut. We’ve seen them all before in countless horror movies. For the most part, they just work better here.

The steadfast focus on scares works however to the movie’s detriment. In looking to frighten his audience Wan neglects to offer a deeper thread that can resonate with the viewer long after the end credits. Perhaps that’s just wishful thinking but it’s a consideration that shouldn’t be brushed aside. With the current slew of horror remakes and spin-offs mostly treading familiar ground, there’s a need for an The Exorcist (1973) to suit our times. A film that goes deeper into exploring the nature of horror. The Conjuring is definitely not that film. Its characters go no deeper than being involved in its action. Possibly because, being angled from the Warrens’ point of view, the Perrons are just another case. What they do and where they go from here is not their concern. But even the Warrens, for all the actors’ efforts, need an extra dimension to truly flesh them out.

In one early scene, while the Warrens lecture a university crowd on their investigations, they suggest that people refer to them as both ‘ghost hunters’ and ‘kooks’. The Conjuring takes a side on this debate, opting for the former description. However, while it’s risible to suggest that the supernatural events depicted in this movie actually happened, a willing suspension of disbelief works in the movie’s favour. It’s a finely seasoned stew of horror tropes that too many kooks don’t spoil.

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Sharknado (2013)

Sharknado (2013)

In 1975 when Spielberg’s Jaws hit cinemas, it came with the tagline “Don’t go in the water!”. That warning is no longer applicable thanks to Sharknado (2013, 86 mins.) as the sharks now come to you. So crazy is the film’s premise — a tornado filled with sharks! — that its tagline opts out of any promotional pretence and blatantly acknowledges its daftness with ‘Enough said!’ It’s just as apt as the premise certainly leaves one speechless.

The film opens with a dodgy deal going down on a boat. Two men eye each other suspiciously as one hands over the money. Does any of this matter? Not really, as the scene is never referred to again. If anything, it’s solely a means to show the brewing storm before we make landfall with the main cast and to seed the notion that sharks could possibly be capable of the Fosbury flop. Needless to say the deal goes awry and the bloody scenes that follow set the tone: ridiculous ideas played straight.

When the movie starts proper we are treated to a typical west coast beach scene. Here it’s all volleyball, surfing, skateboarding, and blatant posing. It’s not long though until the storm comes inland, bringing sharks in its wake. More blood. While the sharks take bites out of those in the water, the storm — dubbed Hurricane David — exercises its power with the local pier. The wind picks up, the waves lash in. A ferris wheel becomes unhinged and rolls into a nearby building. There’s mass hysteria.

From this display of nature’s power emerges the merry band that will be our companions for the duration. Led by the best surfer ever, Fin Shepherd (Ian Ziering, playing it completely straight), the crew consists of friends Nova (Cassie Scerbo) and Baz (Jaason Simmons). With the radio providing them with regular weather updates — as is always useful in disaster movies — they set about first picking up Fin’s estranged wife (Tara Reid) and his daughter before heading on to rescue his adult son, whether they need rescued or not. All the while the water levels rise, sharks swim along the streets, and all manner of silly set pieces occur.

Where the comedy comes from is in equal part the seriousness of the premise and then its subsequent execution. The CGI is quite poor, but given the low budget is acceptable. Many a film has endured on less. The characters are fond of cheesy, knowing wisecracks. “Need a lift,” Fin asks after abseiling off a bridge to rescue kids from a school bus he wasn’t sure was even populated. Apart from the chances of having abseiling gear to hand, it’s the realisation that the scene is really only there to both provide a shark-related dramatic moment and to introduce a new character that, like most others that aren’t in Fin’s gang, become fish fodder almost straight away. Almost, because they really need to get a joke in first.

The continuity is all over the place, too, which likely adds to the movie’s ironic appeal. Stock footage is spliced with the film’s, meaning the sky’s temperament is prone to rapid changes between scenes. An airport is destroyed by the freak weather, only for the planes to appear unscathed in a later scene. A house atop a hill is flooded with water only for the water to be nowhere near during an external shot. Away from continuity, it’s also mildly amusing to see the economy wrung from the repeated shot of a bomb’s fuse alight. Or to witness some strange perspectives in the CGI. Or even to listen to a girl reeling off dumb questions so as the guys can exposit their plans to target the latest developments with the sharknado.

The plans are just as dumb as the girl’s questions. We can’t go up in the helicopter due to the storms, it’s made clear, so the solution is simply to go up in the helicopter because Nova will help. There’s a nod to Jaws when it’s suggested that they are going to need a bigger chopper. With a plan of action to end the weather — seriously! — Fin talks of standing and fighting. It’s unclear who he sees as the enemy here. Is it nature itself, with its brutish tornado wreaking havoc on his city? Or is it the poor sharks innocently caught up in the local weather? When the denouement comes — all chainsaws and gore — there’s a striking set piece notable both for its ridiculousness and its unforgettable imagery. It sort of makes you wonder why surfers don’t fend off shark attacks with a chainsaw.

Yes, it’s B-movie schlock and its laughs come from the straight-laced approach to its ridiculousness. It’s a triumph of imagination over execution, certainly. You’ll laugh at all the wrong places. You’ll cringe at the lines delivered. But it is an empty kind of enjoyment. With announcements having been made about producing a sequel, the question of how to better Sharknado must be one of special effects than storyline as the premise is quite rigid. The team behind this are probably already thinking they are going to need a bigger budget.

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