Review: Minions

Minions-2015

DIR: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda • WRI:  Brian Lynch • PRO: Janet Healy, Christopher Meledandri  • ED: Claire Dodgson • MUS: Heitor Pereira • Cast: Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Geoffrey Rush

 

While Minion’s predecessors Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 focused on the antics of Gru, the world’s greatest supervillain, this film focuses on, well, you can probably guess. Gru’s beloved little yellow henchmen are the be-all and end-all of this film, in their historic quest to find an evil master worthy of their service.

Things start off with the Minions’ evolution since long before mankind showed up and their insatiable desire to serve the biggest baddest creature around. From giant fish to dinosaurs and, eventually, to humans, the minions manage to mess things up for every master they serve and are forced into exile to live out their days in peace… and total boredom. When enough time passes, the minions are so depressed with their now meaningless lives that three brave/foolish minions, Kevin, Stuart and Bob, venture into the world on a quest to find a new master, and evil, villainous, despicable master.

When the three make their way to America, the year is 1968 and they manage to stumble their way to a supervillain convention where they seek out the most celebrated baddie the ’60s have to offer. The particular brand of the chaos that the minions specialise in follows them everywhere and the film rarely misses an opportunity to throw laughs at its audience.

Now, anyone familiar with the first two films will probably recall that the minions speak in a frenzied blend of different languages and actual gibberish, meaning that a great deal of the story relies on physical comedy and action to move forward. However, that doesn’t mean that this film should be written off as simply silly humour for kids. It’s fantastically silly humour for kids and some really intelligent cultural references and jokes which should sail right over younger heads and make some parents chuckle, if not laugh out loud.

The cast (yep, there’s a cast), includes some wonderful performances by Sandra Bullock as supervillain extraordinaire Scarlet Overkill, Jon Hamm as Herb Overkill, Scarlet’s husband, and Geoffrey Rush as a sombre narrator, with some wonderful cameos by Steve Coogan, and Michael Keaton. It also has to be mentioned that Pierre Coffin also manages to give the best voice performance (for all the Minions) where the words don’t carry any of the meaning since Vin Diesel broke our hearts as a talking tree. The performances all hit the mark and there are really no missteps in terms of story or entertainment. The biggest flaw I could find with this film is that the 3D effects were a little bit hit and miss, occasionally drawing attention away from what was actually happening and making it hard to focus.

The minions were easily the breakout characters from the Despicable Me movies and it would have been easy to tack on any cast and weak story to sell movie tickets and a lot of yellow toys with this film. What we got instead was a clever and hugely entertaining film with a lot of evidence of thought and effort put in. Minions is a film that tries to improve on its successors and, in many respects, it really does.

Ronan Daly

 

G (See IFCO for details)
90 minutes

Minions is released 26th June 2015

Minions– Official Website

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Northern Soul

Northern-Soul-1_MED

DIR/WRI: Elaine Constantine PRO: Debbie Gray   DOP: Simon Tindall   ED: Stephen Haren DES: Robin Brown CAST: Elliot James Langridge, Josh Whitehouse, Antonia Thomas, Steve Coogan, Christian McKay, Ricky Tomlinson, Lisa Stansfield

Elaine Constantine, a celebrated photographer of British youth culture who first came to prominence with her work for The Face, makes the leap into narrative filmmaking with the functionally titled Northern Soul, a drama set against the backdrop of the soul music craze that swept Northern England in the early 1970s. The leads are relative newcomers Elliot James Langridge and John Whitehouse, who play young friends John and Matt.  Bonded by their dedication to the Northern Soul scene, the duo track down rare soul records, aspire to become DJs, and plot an escape to America.  Most importantly, they go out dancing, first at the local youth club and later at Wigan Casino, a nerve-centre of the Northern Soul subculture.

 

Constantine’s affinity for this moment in British youth culture is apparent throughout the film, and she conjures a persuasive sense of time and place. The dreary Lancashire town from which John and Matt hail is captured to a fault, and the nightclub scenes are as potent as anything in Saturday Night Fever (1977), a clear influence on this film. One particular scene in Wigan Casino achieves a near hypnotic force, as the leads disappear into an amorphous mass of dancers, spellbound by the music. The music choices are excellent throughout, with an early scene putting Edwin Starr’s “Time” to effective use, while Frankie Valli’s taut gem “The Night” is a welcome addition to any soundtrack.

 

Problems arise, though, when Constantine turns her eye away from the Northern Soul scene in general and onto her specific narrative. Bluntly speaking, there’s nothing to it.  Each story beat in the forging of John and Matt’s friendship and its eventual disintegration feels heavily telegraphed and predictable as a metronome. This narrative flatness isn’t a problem in the opening scenes, when the potency of the atmosphere is enough to draw us in, but the film unravels when it takes a turn into melodrama that requires us to invest in the thinly drawn characters as more than mere tour-guides to a particular milieu. A final dive into the saccharine feels particularly contrived, as the film’s observational style gives way to an awkward magical realism.

 

Langridge and Whitehouse acquit themselves reasonably, and are equal to the physical demands of their roles. As Angela, the object of John’s unrequited affections, the talented Antonia Thomas is left short-changed, with Constantine apparently even less sure of what to do with her than her tongue-tied hero is. The film’s reluctance to explore how Angela’s individual perspective on Northern Soul might be distinguished by her bi-racial identity and dual nationality represents a missed opportunity to add complexity to an exceedingly linear script. Elsewhere, a slew of well-known faces appear in cameo roles that provide colour but disrupt the verisimilitude, most notably when Steve Coogan pops up in full “Alan Partridge” mode as a repulsive schoolteacher. As John’s mother, singer Lisa Stansfield is given a little more to work with and puts in a creditable showing.

 

David Turpin

16 (See IFCO for details)

101 minutes

Northern Soul is released 17th October 2014

Northern Soul – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Philomena

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DIR: Stephen Frears • WRI: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Valerio Bonelli • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Alan MacDonald • CAST: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Charlie Murphy, Simone Lahbib

Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), a “little old Irish lady”, enlists the help of cynical journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), to search for her son. Philomena gave birth to Anthony at the Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, from where he was given away for adoption without his mother’s permission.  Philomena kept his birth a secret for 50 years, and the time has come to tell her story and find her son.

 

Philomena, as a film, is a remarkable achievement by all concerned, balancing humour, unexpected of its bleak tale, with an appropriate sense of anger. It’s also unafraid to ask bigger questions. Where to begin, to sing its praises?

 

Steve Coogan co-wrote the excellent screenplay with Jeff Pope, adapting Sixsmith’s 2009 book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. Winning an award at Venice for their efforts, they have crafted a script that succeeds on many levels. It centres emotionally on Philomena’s longing to find out what happened to her son, her anguish at what might have become of him, worrying about whether or not he has ended up homeless, whether he might be alone or a junkie on the streets somewhere. This thread remains the heart of the film.

 

Philomena and Martin form an unlikely pairing as their inquiries take them back to Ireland and elsewhere. As a BBC correspondent working in Washington and Russia, Martin is used to hard news, travelling first class, and dealing with political horse trading. Philomena had worked as a nurse for 30 years and is used to a far plainer lifestyle. Martin’s cynicism contrasts with Philomena’s gullibility, and the clash of class, cultures and expectations provides much of the film’s warm humour.

 

Philomena’s story is, of course, a “human interest” piece, filled with heartrending drama. Not knowing what happened her son could end in tearful happiness or sadness. Either way, it will make good reading that Martin’s editor seeks to exploit. The film might also be accused of sensationalising its material, milking Philomena’s story for for its emotional worth, but the witty script acknowledges this in the way it incorporates Martin’s attitude both to his editor and to the distinction between hard and soft news. It’s a mark of the film’s ingenuity.

 

Steve Coogan contributes a commendable performance as Martin Sixsmith. The film opens with Martin attending the doctor, depressed following his dismissal as a government spin doctor, fired for something he didn’t say. His suggestion that he will write books on Russian history fails to impress his acquaintances, and he takes on Philomena’s story, seeing how easily and clichéd it would play out. As writer and performer, Coogan’s brings to his role aspects of his incarnation as Alan Partridge, sceptical and disparaging of popular journalism. But the film makes clear how such human stories are rooted in failures of institutions such as the Roscrea abbey. Martin’s anger as an outsider contrasts with Philomena’s more human approach to the Roman Catholic Church, its teachings and the nuns’ actions.

 

As Philomena, Judi Dench triumphs in a performance of subtle brilliance. Early in the film, she has little to say, but her wrinkled face registers Philomena’s anguish and concern. Often, she has little more to do than stare through a window as she remembers her time in Roscrea, glances at her daughter, feigns a laugh at Martin’s odd humour, but, through such small gestures, Dench makes Philomena her own, conveying the depths to which her worries have taken her. Essaying a convincing Irish accent, Dench has fun recounting longwinded summaries of inane romantic fiction. Philomena’s decision to seek out her son conflicts with the shame and guilt she feels as a result of the sins she committed. She struggles with the sin of having a child in the circumstances that she did and the sin of then keeping it secret. Dench excels in such a complex role.

 

In The Snapper, director Stephen Frears successfully captured the wicked Irish sense of humour, telling the tale of Sharon Curley’s pregnancy. In Philomena, he deals with far weightier themes. Martin and Philomena discuss their beliefs in god, and Martin tries to understand Philomena’s continued Catholic faith despite the nuns’ actions. She realizes that the adoption may have meant her son lived a life that she couldn’t have provided for him, while Martin argues that the nuns’ may have done what they did in pursuit of a profit, exploiting Philomena’s labour in the Magdalene laundry. The film is a brisk 98 minutes, but it’s dense and packs in a lot in its short running time. Frears succeeds in combining the solemn dramatic undertones with seriously good entertainment.

 

The figure of the nun has recently become something of a cinematic trope, representing fear, terror and unjust behaviour. The Magdalene Sisters played more like a horror film with no trace of the musical innocence of The Sound of Music or Sister Act. In Philomena, the abbey, a stark white building, looms into view as Martin’s BMW drives into the gardens under an iron archway. Sister Hildegard cuts an ominous figure as she glares out of the window in flashbacks. The film allows Sister Hildegard to defend the nuns’ actions, but it is likely to provoke anger. The teachings and morals she professes may once have dominanted Irish society, but they now ring hollow. The film’s presentation of the abbey and “evil nuns” feeds into the prevailing conception of the laundries as the Irish gulag system.

 

Philomena clearly deals with heavy issues, but deft direction, a skilful script, and, above all, adroit acting make for sophisticated entertainment that manages to amuse as much as it will enrage.

John Moran

12A (See IFCO for details)

97 mins

Philomena is released on 1st November 2013

 

 

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The Evolution of Alan Partridge

Alan-Partridge-played-by-006

 

Matt Micucci traces the evolution of Alan Partridge from his early days as a sports reporter to his current stint on North Norfolk Digital.

It has been a long journey for Steve Coogan and Alan Partridge. A long and successful journey which has recently culminated with the Norwich broadcaster’s very first-big screen feature film. This success, however, is not accidental. Looking at the long history of the character and his different re-inventions, we can see that he has taken a life of his own, to the point of being almost a real human being rather than a fictitious personage. “It’s as if his ups and downs have been played out in real time,” co-creator Armando Iannucci recently told Sight and Sound magazine. “Whenever Steve and I meet up, even if we’re not working on Alan, we talk about what he’s doing. We’re privately continuing the biography.”

Alan Partridge, in fact, has been one of the funniest and indeed most interesting comedy characters since the beginning of broadcasting. I say broadcasting in a general term because while television is the medium that brought him to fame and indeed the medium that causes the character so much distress, Alan Partridge is neither a product of television nor the place where he first appeared.

Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci, created the character along with other writers of the BBC Radio 4 hit show On the Hour (1991-92). On the Hour was a memorable parody of current affairs broadcasting that featured Alan as a side character – an incapable, rude and overall incompetent sports correspondent. When On the Hour became a TV show called The Day Today in 1994, his presence was so imposing and charismatic that we would then find him on BBC 2 with a show of his own later that year.

In many ways, what Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge (1994) did was nothing short of groundbreaking. While there was no mistaking that it was a comedy show, it was a perfect ‘exploitation’ of the conventional TV chat show format, which ironically felt and still feels more real than most other chat shows around. This was mostly due to its use of a genuine air of impulsiveness and unpredictability that is associated with live television broadcasting. For instance, in the first episode, Alan has to deal with anything from noisy fountains and horse excretion right down to a no show of the night’s top guest Roger Moore. Right from the start, it is clear that we are watching a disaster in the making as we follow a man on a path of self-destruction mostly due to his own ineptitude. Alan cannot control his childish arrogance and short attention span. As well as that, he has an overall lack of regard or respect for his guests, with whom he openly fights with and contends for the spotlight. All this results in a great mix of humour and pathos, which culminates at the end of the final episode when he literally shoots one of his guests by mistake.

By the end of the series, it was plain to see that Coogan and Iannucci had created a monster. Indeed, it was as if Coogan and Partridge were leading separate parallel lives. Coogan himself would appear as Partridge as a guest in other TV shows and even present awards as ceremonies as him. The chat show format was revived shortly for a Christmas special in 1995. Slightly longer than an average episode of the 1994 show, in this special it became clear that Alan’s chances of getting a second series were slim to none. Here, we witness his disastrous attempts to convince chief programmer of BBC Tony Heyers (David Schneider), whom he ends up punching in the face with a stuffed partridge at the end of the show. This was bad news for the Norwich man but good news for the audience who, two years later, would see him on their TV sets again.

This time, he would be the lead character of his very own sit-com. I’m Alan Partridge was a behind-the-scenes look at the titular character years after his talk show fiasco. We meet Alan at a difficult standstill stage of his life. Relegated to the graveyard shifts at Radio Norwich, divorced by his wife, who left him for a fitness instructor and living in a travel tavern, there seems to be no hope lying ahead for his career as a TV broadcaster. In other words, he leads and empty lonely life. The only support he gets comes from his hard-working assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu). Alan, however, has little appreciation of her work and releases his frustration and anger on her by insulting her with every chance he gets. I’m Alan Partridge is hilarious car-crash comedy, picking up from British TV comedy classics such as Fawlty Towers and predating The Office, the Ricky Gervais show which would be even more brutal in its depiction of arrogance and delusion.

In the years that follows the 1997 series, Coogan did the right thing and concentrated on his own career, between stand-up comedy, TV work and even trying his luck at cinema with a vehicle, which he co-wrote; the underwhelming The Parole Officer (2001). The following year, however, was arguably the year in which Coogan finally achieved another level of credibility with his lead performance in Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People (2002). Chronicling the rise and fall of Tony Wilson’s music career as founder of the revolutionary Manchester record label Factory records, the film was an invigorating biopic halfway between the comical and the art-house approach that was very successful at recreating the spirit of music scene in those days.

That same year saw the return of Alan Partridge to the TV screen, with a second series of I’m Alan Partridge. Here, the show did not pick up from the last episode of the previous show and throughout the season there was plenty of background story hinted at – such as a chocolate addiction brought on by depression. However, he is in slightly better shape. He is still as discourteous and spiteful as before, but he has picked himself up a little boasting about his show’s minor successes and his military based quiz show on digital television, famously claiming that terrestrial TV ‘is a dead duck’. In many ways, this philosophy on TV reflects his future career, intended as the aforementioned ‘parallel career’ with his actor Coogan. Once again, the show was successful with audience and critics alike.

The year after that, in fact, Partridge returned with the excellent special Anglian Lives: Alan Partridge (2003), a mock retrospective on the career of Alan Partridge made for the BBC. This came across as yet another exploration of comedic character depiction, which added more depth to the character of Alan Partridge and would be used again in other similar ways in other specials.

With Coogan’s film career finally taking off, alternating lead roles in British comedies like A Cock and Bull Story (2005) and support roles in big Hollywood ones like Night at the Museum (2006) and Tropic Thunder (2008), along with the occasional stint in more art house films like Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) and Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006). TV remained a constant refuge for Coogan’s creativity, with a new show called Saxondale (2006-07).

In the meantime, however, British TV had created two other ‘monsters’ in the form of Ricky Gervais and Russell Brand. It is particularly hard not to see Gervais as Coogan’s biggest rival. Gervais made it big with the genial TV show The Office as the annoying and hopelessly delusional David Brent. The Office too exploited a conventional format by convincingly mimicking reality TV documentaries. After that, everything Gervais has touched, at least in television, has turned to gold – from Extras to An Idiot Abroad, not to mention his incendiary stints as host of the Golden Globes.

Coogan and Gervais are both intelligent, talented and hilarious comics, yet the general opinion is that Coogan’s reputation as a party animal is what prevented him from making it as big as Gervais. Given that, it is no wonder that a few years later he was frontline with Hugh Grant in opposing the phone hacking tactics employed by the News of the World for their gossip columns. Furthermore, while Gervais is constantly on the ball being his funny and entertaining self when off set, Coogan is more serious and less outrageous in that sense.

While he moved on, however, the shadow of Partridge lurked over Coogan’s career. However, unlike most ‘shadows’ in the show business, this was a benevolent one. Also, it neither seemed to threaten or take over Coogan’s credibility as a comedian and actor, nor did Coogan show any need to shake it off him. Indeed, every now and again, Coogan returned to fill the shoes of the man that made him a household name. However, it did not feel as if he did it out of thankfulness or even respect for his own creation but rather out of fun. Partridge, in fact, re-appeared in videos for the Teenage Cancer Trust interviewing Roger Daltrey, presenting ‘the cream of British comedy’ and choosing five favourite songs from his teenage years. In 2008, Coogan even released a DVD of his stand-up comedy tour named Steve Coogan Live: As Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters (it is a matter of opinion whether the title’s self-deprecation was a good choice or not), in which Patridge was re-invented as a life coach.

In the last season of I’m Alan Partridge, Alan promotes his autobiography ‘Bouncing Back’. This element in the show’s storyline anticipated another ingenious evolution in the character’s lifespan, which took place in 2011 and saw Coogan as his alter ego bounce back and forth between talk shows (as a guest this time), promoting another autobiography written by Coogan, Iannucci, Rob Gibbons and Neil Gibbons – or ‘with the help of…’ To promote the book, Coogan was even interviewed in character on The Jonathan Ross Show. A while later, he would return as his true self to promote Winterbottom’s The Look of Love and announce an upcoming Alan Partridge film.

But first, getting back to our timeline, things were once again exciting for Partridge. He was suddenly not only re-invigorated, but it also genuinely started feeling like his career was bouncing back. All of a sudden, his words of terrestrial TV being a dead duck started resonating as he became the subject of two specials on satellite TV and was being taken more seriously than he had his whole career. Furthermore, he embraced digital radio at his new post in Norfolk Digital Radio and starred in a series of videos. The result was an online series called Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge, funded by the Forster’s beer company and initially broadcast on Foster’s Funny website before landing on YouTube and eventually being airing on Sky Atlantic.

Mid Morning Matters was yet another successful experimentation. The web series was rightfully praised for its minimal approach, a stylistic choice that let the character of Partridge ‘breathe’. In fact, we could argue that Coogan has never been more comfortable playing him. While he still suffers from the same flaws which made him comically irresistible, he has also mature in his own way and we even see him sharing his broadcasting knowledge with Sidekick Simon whom he mentors, though sometimes too severely. Taking Partridge to a completely new modern medium was also a smart move. In the internet age, Mid Morning Matters probably reached a wider audience than Knowing Me Knowing You ever did when first aired.

Taking the character to new and unfamiliar grounds was also an intelligent move that further ensured his longevity. However, the key to the success of Alan Partridge is the connection with his interpreter. “There’s bits of me in it, there’s bits of my dad,” he recently stated. “The things he does are affectionate and kind of mad. Things I put in myself, that I know that are stupid and obsessive. Also, there’s things – I can’t tell which – that he might say and that are not politically correct. He gives me a chance to say things I’d sometimes like to say as well as things that you really hate that people say.”

The trials and tribulations of Alan Partridge inevitably led to his consecration to the big screen. His popularity, which always remained quite stable, called it and almost demanded it. Yet, it was strange to see him take such a huge step after the ‘claustrophobic charm’ of Mid Morning Matters. Furthermore, there was always that risk that cinema, where everything is grand scale and artificially structured, would inevitably betray the Norwich presenter as we knew him. Furthermore the storyline, which sees Partridge step in to save the day after a colleague (played by Colm Meaney) holds up the radio station after unceremoniously getting the sack, strengthened the fears that anyone may have had of seeing Coogan sell his soul to the box office devil, much like Sacha Baron Cohen had with Ali G Indahouse (2002). Well, there was nothing to worry about. Coogan and Iannucci knew what they were doing when they planned the drastic move. Despite the farcical macho title, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa retains the intimacy of the previous formats while the gags unravel with the usual cathartic finesse.

The triumph of the film with audience and critics also shows that Coogan as Partridge really can do no wrong. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is particularly remarkable when placed alongside previous cinematic attempts at strengthening the legacy of popular TV characters like Ali G and Mr. Bean. Furthermore, it was revealed in the last few days Magnolia Films would distribute the film next year in the States. This means more exposure and a whole new mainstream audience. So now the question is will success spoil Alan Partridge? Will Coogan and Iannucci give into the glimmer of Hollywood and standardise their unique vision? Of course, more optimistically we may simply wonder what is next in store for us Partridge fans.

In the meantime, there seems to be nothing stopping anyone from giving credit where credit is due. While sometimes in a quiet manner and other times more uproariously, Coogan and Partridge have anticipated and even directly influenced many of the comedy traits that we see in a lot of the media today. For instance, Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgandy seems a very dumbed down version of Alan Partridge. They share most of the same goals and even some of the same character traits, but Anchorman was released in 2004 while the debut of Partridge dates back to ten years previous. Even Gervais, once again must have been inspired by the web renaissance of Partridge when he recently decided to shake the dust off his David Brent for a few short videos on YouTube.

All this can be summed up by Coogan’s own words. “You have to risk failures,” he told The Irish Times. “In America they have these machines like, say, Friends that can keep ticking for ages. We are more like a cottage industry. You have to risk failure. And you do that by changing the format.”

A-Ha!

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Cinema Review: What Maisie Knew

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DIR: Scott McGehee, David Siegel • WRI: Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright •  PRO: Daniel Crown, Daniela Taplin Lundberg , William Teitler, Charles Weinstock • DOP: Giles Nuttgens • ED: Madeleine Gavin • DES: Kelly McGehee • CAST: Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgård, Joanna Vanderham
 

What Maisie Knew is based on the 1897 Henry James novel of the same name. The story details the divorce of two supremely selfish people through the eyes of their young daughter. Directors David Siegel and Scott McGehee update the story for the screen.Set in contemporary Manhattan, we meet Maisie, an innocent young girl made lonely by the divorce and arguments of struggling artist parents Susanna (Julianne Moore) and Beale (Steve Coogan). Maisie’s saving grace comes in the odd form of instant stepparents Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) and Margo (Joanna Vanderham).The story is a slow burner as we simply follow Maisie throughout her daily routines. It is a masterful use of the “show, don’t tell” ideology as Maisie is a quiet presence throughout. This is a simple film without any of the usual tricks. What makes this movie special is that we are positioned entirely in Maisie’s viewpoint.  Events escalate, leaving us wondering why we are missing out on major moments. This might be frustrating if it weren’t for the fact that we are alongside Maisie. We don’t see and experience the adult changes in the story because Maisie doesn’t, we are positioned as a childish bystander on the periphery in the same way that she is.The standout performance here is that of our tiny protagonist. Onata Aprile is a revelation as Maisie. Whilst Onata might technically be too young to truly understand the nuances of the story she tells, it doesn’t show. Her performance betrays a talent far beyond her years.Alexander Skarsgård’s Lincoln seems almost as lost in the adult world as Maisie yet he is utterly spellbinding with her. We find ourselves entirely trusting that Maisie is safe with him even if his ignorance at the beginning does threaten to get her knocked down. Joanna Vanderham’s Margo is charming enough but it seems as though she holds something back. Whilst Skarsgård throws himself entirely into the role of Lincoln, visually embodying his nervous fish-out-of-water status, Vanderham sometimes seems static. We witness her love for Maisie, yet there is something business-like about her attitude that prevents us from fully falling in love with her character. It seems as though Margo cannot let go of her ‘nanny’ status and adopt a more natural maternal role.

Julianne Moore gives a good performance as self-centered mother Susanna, who consistently finds herself in court demanding custody of a child she abandons at any opportunity. Unfortunately her apparent aging rock star status is contrived and utterly impossible to believe. Moore does shine with Susanna’s single moment of clarity in which she sees herself through her daughter’s eyes. This is one of the film’s most powerful moments. It is just a shame that the rest of Moore’s performance is peppered with strained references to her implausible musical prowess. Steve Coogan has some funny moments as self-absorbed Beale but is largely an absent figure for us in the same way he is an absent father figure for Maisie

What Maisie Knew is not a spectacle; it is an introverted film that is in danger of slipping by largely unnoticed. Heart-warming from beginning to an ending that on paper might seem implausible or even legally questionable but somehow works. What Maisie Knew might just be the most heartfelt and genuine movie of the year with some stellar performances.

Ciara O’Brien

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details) 

98 mins
What Maisie Knew is released on 23rd August 2013

What Maisie Knew – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

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DIR: Declan Lowney WRI: Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons DOP: Ben Smithard ED: Mark Everson DES: Dick Lunn Cast: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Felicity Montagu, Sean Pertwee, Simon Delaney, Simon Greenall

If you were to analyse it from a critical standpoint, you would have to come to the conclusion that the history of British TV comedies transferring to the big-screen has been rather patchy. While there have been plenty of successes down through the years – the various films by the Monty Python crew being obvious examples – there have also been plenty of failed attempts to embody the spirit that was initially captured in its original format.

2002’s Ali G Indahouse was a misfire, and as recently as last year, we had Keith Lemon: The Film, which featured prominently on the ‘Worst Of 2012’ lists for many notable film critics.

Whenever films of this nature are released, there is always a huge amount of expectation from the loyal fans who helped to make the television series so popular in the first place, and it is no surprise that they are met with such derision when the finished product falls below the standards that were originally set.

The same sort of anticipation surrounds the arrival of Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan’s most celebrated creation, to the silver screen for the first time in the intriguingly titled Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, which finds the narcissistic Norwich broadcaster hosting Mid Morning Matters alongside his trusty ally, Side-Kick Simon (Tim Key).

Unlike films like Bean (the first of two cinematic outings for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean), Borat and Bruno (the latter two proving more successful for the aforementioned Sacha Baron Cohen), Coogan and his team of writers have resisted the temptation for sending Partridge to America (and thus making this a ‘fish out of water’ tale), and have instead kept him in the familiar terrain of his home city.

Indeed, much of the film (which is perfectly paced and constructed at 90 minutes) takes place within the confines of the Norfolk Digital Radio station, which is being re-branded as ‘Shape’ by a new multinational conglomerate. As a result of this takeover, late-night Irish DJ Pat Farrell (played by our own Colm Meaney) finds himself surplus to requirements, and after receiving his P45 from the station, he arrives at an office party armed with a shotgun, and proceeds to keep the employees of the station (and some members of the conglomerate) hostage.

Despite initially fleeing the scene, Alan Partridge is forced to re-enter the station, as he is the only person that Farrell is willing to speak to, and as a media frenzy starts to develop around the siege, Partridge finds himself thrust back into the media spotlight, with the former Knowing Me, Knowing You host only too willing to capitalise on a unique opportunity to boost his flagging profile.

Along with the return of the titular character, Felicity Montagu is also back as Partridge’s long-suffering assistant Lynn Benfield, while Simon Greenall’s Michael The Geordie has progressed from being a hotel worker and petrol station attendant in I’m Alan Partridge to the position of security guard at Norfolk Digital.

Side-kick Simon was also established in the recent web-based Mid Morning Matters mockumentary series, and with these much-adored characters back in the saddle, there is plenty for Partridge devotees to love about Alpha Papa. The wit and humour of his TV incarnations have also remained intact, but the filmmakers have worked overtime to ensure that they aren’t simply re-capping old material, and have made a film that is accessible to punters who have limited knowledge of a character that has been in the public domain since 1991.

By now, Coogan is so comfortable in his role as Partridge, that it doesn’t even seem like he is acting. He has shown in his other work (particular under the direction of Michael Winterbottom) that he is a fine actor with plenty of range, but this is the one role that he will always be remembered for. The new additions to the cast all adapt to the environment with a great deal of gusto, none more so than Meaney, who has to hold his own as a jilted, dinosaur Disc Jockey.

The former Star Trek star isn’t the only Irish involvement in making of Alpha Papa, however, as Wexford native Declan Lowney (who is best known for his work on Father Ted) is in the director’s chair, and there is also a supporting turn from Simon Delaney as one of the special forces operatives who are aiming to bring the siege to a satisfactory conclusion.

With jokes and set-pieces coming thick and fast at the audience, it is unsurprising that not everything in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa comes off in the way that you might hope, and though a huge effort has been made to ensure that the style of the film is cinematic, there are still some televisual touches to the overall product.

However, Coogan and co-writer Armando Iannucci (who has past form in transporting a TV series into the medium of cinema with The Thick Of It spin-off In The Loop), as well as the remaining three contributors to the finished script, have far too much affection for the character of Partridge (and indeed for the city of Norwich itself) to let their guard down, and with many quotable lines – “I am siege face” being one of the memorable – as well as some moments of genuine poignancy, Coogan & Co. have managed to deliver the goods on a project that had been in the pipeline for close to a decade.

Daire Walsh

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details) 

90 mins
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is released on 9thAugust 2013

 

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Cinema Review: The Look of Love

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DIR/WRI: Michael Winterbottom • PRO: Melissa Parmenter • DOP: Hubert Taczanowski • ED: Mags Arnold • DES: Jacqueline Abrahams • Cast: Imogen Poots, Anna Friel, Matt Lucas, Steve Coogan
 

There was a time when Steve Coogan seemed to have unbridled potential to conquer Hollywood, but it never happened. Ricky Gervais is probably to blame. Coogan’s career cracked along with passable minor appearances in American films while, with the exception of revivals of his human faux pas Alan Partridge, his only shining moments came in his collaborations with Michael Winterbottom. Having caricatured himself in their previous two films together, The Trip and A Cock and Bull Story, Coogan is back playing another morally clouded media type in The Look of Love.

After triumphantly playing Madchester impresario Tony Wilson in Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People back in 2002, an unaging Coogan is here cast as British nightclub and pornography mogul Paul Raymond, who ruled the striptease scene in London’s Soho district from the 1960s until the 1990s, when he was believed to be one of Britain’s wealthiest men. A showman by nature, Coogan plays Raymond with all the smarmy wheeler-dealer skills his characters have shown previously, although Raymond is far more successful at this kind of enterprise than many of Coogan’s other roles. Learning early on that while lion taming and scantily clad women sell tickets, scantily clad women and more scantily clad women sell more tickets, The Look of Love traces the rise and rise and occasional dips of Raymond’s bizarre career. He seduces press and clergy to keep his clubs open. He enters into theatre and publishing, both with their share of female nudity. But the film is far more concerned with Raymond’s private life, tracing his affair with his star attraction Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton) and the collapse of his marriage to wife Jean (Anna Friel), who would later re-enter his life as one of his covergirls.

The focus however is more on Raymond’s unhealthy relationship with his daughter Debbie, played by the ever-on-the-cusp-of-stardom Imogen Poots.  As with Michael Corleone and his daughter Mary (and by extension Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia), Raymond’s affection for his daughter is crippling and blinding – he sets her up as the star of one of his musical shows despite her very limited singing capabilities. Debbie is anointed her father’s business successor, but her developing drug addiction begins to get in the way.

Winterbottom playfully shoots his film in the style of each decade, beginning in crisp black and white before dissolving into the bleached colour palettes of the ’60s and ’70s. The production design is superb, but there’s a staleness to the imagery despite its quality. 24 Hour Party People was beautiful in its ugliness, but The Look of Love is often dull in its gloss. Coogan brings his A game to a character who is not quite as deep as Control writer Matt Greenhalgh’s script wants to believe he is. We never truly get inside Raymond’s head, and he is never quite as morally repugnant nor as fiendishly brilliant as the drama would hope. He is however regularly amusing, and Coogan’s rapport with Chris Addison as his number two keeps much of the film aloft.

Anna Friel plays spurned wife and saucy MILF with equal relish. Cameos range from the superb: David Walliams’s vicar; to the downright disappointing: The Inbetweeners’ Simon Bird wearing a beard so false you can practically touch the blobs of glue holding it on. What makes The Look of Love a moderate success is how well it captures the shifting styles and attitudes of Britain over more than three decades, but also in the chemistry between Coogan and Poots. As unlikely an onscreen father and daughter pairing as there might be, the two find a tragic sweetness in their decidedly creepy relationship, that makes for uncomfortable yet touching viewing.

The least satisfying of Winterbottom and Coogan’s collaborations so far, The Look of Love is still a fine production that’s only real failing was believing its subject was a more interesting character than he truly was.

David Neary

18 (see IFCO website for details)

100 mins
The Look of Love is released on 25th April 2013

The Look of Love – Official Website

 

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