Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On DVD/Blu-ray: ALAN PARTRIDGE (2014); CAPITAL (2013); and HAUNT (2014)

(France/UK - 2013; US release 2014)

British actor/writer/comedian Steve Coogan's (PHILOMENA) best known character is clueless and insufferably self-aggrandizing radio and TV personality Alan Partridge. Coogan's been playing Partridge off-and-on on numerous British TV shows since 1991, and it's proven so popular that he had a change of heart on his plan to retire Partridge some years back. Coogan's first stab at bringing Alan Partridge to the big screen resulted in a blockbuster hit in British theaters, where it was called ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA.  The second half of the title was dropped by US distributor Magnolia, but it makes no matter.  If you like snappy, misanthropic, foul-mouthed British humor in the vein of THE THICK OF IT and its big-screen spinoff IN THE LOOP (2009), you'll dig ALAN PARTRIDGE since it also features the contributions of co-writer Armando Iannucci, whose unique brand of biting humor has translated beautifully to American TV with HBO's blisteringly funny VEEP. Here, Partridge is the afternoon DJ at North Norfolk Digital, a small-time radio station that's just been bought out by a big-time media company run by the loathsome Jason Tresswell (Nigel Lindsay). Fearing for his job security, Partridge trash-talks veteran night DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) enough that Farrell is canned.  Later that night, at a party thrown at the station by Tresswell, a disgruntled Farrell shows up and takes everyone hostage.  Acting as a liaison between the police and Farrell, Partridge sees the siege and the inevitable media circus as his ticket back to the big time.

Even if you haven't seen much of Coogan's past work as Partridge, ALAN PARTRIDGE works just fine as a stand-alone film.  You'll be able to fill in the blanks, like Partridge's insensitive interaction with doting assistant Lynn Benfield (Felicity Montagu) or the antics of his Geordie friend Michael (Simon Greenall). Coogan and Iannucci assembled a summit of ALAN PARTRIDGE writers older and newer to put this together, including Peter Baynham, who worked on the early Partridge material and went on to write BORAT with Sacha Baron Cohen, plus twin brothers Neil & Rob Gibbons, who worked on more recent PARTRIDGE incarnations with Coogan.  Along with the writers, director Declan Lowney (a veteran of numerous British TV favorites like FATHER TED and LITTLE BRITAIN) approaches this in a fan-friendly fashion and doesn't fix what isn't broken, while at the same time making it accessible for the first-time viewer. Of course, if you know Coogan's style or have seen any of his work with Rob Brydon, you know what to expect. Whether he's being politically incorrect, extraordinarily self-centered, pretending to be on the phone to avoid talking to someone only to have it ring, or just being an outright coward (as someone's about to enter a room with guns blazing, Partridge tells one woman "I'll protect you" while sheepishly crouching behind her), Coogan is hilariously obnoxious throughout, and has a good foil in Meaney's ill-tempered Farrell.  Sure, the whole concept is more than a little reminiscent of the 1994 radio station hostage comedy AIRHEADS, but Coogan and Iannucci bring enough of their distinctive style to the table to make it very worthwhile. (R, 90 mins)

(France - 2012; US release 2013)

Though he's dabbled in various genres, the great Greek-French filmmaker Costa-Gavras is best known for his politically-charged films like the Oscar-winning Z (1969), THE CONFESSION (1970), STATE OF SIEGE (1972), MISSING (1982), BETRAYED (1988), and MUSIC BOX (1989).  He's never shied away from controversy, especially with 1983's HANNA K, a film whose perceived Palestinian sympathies got it yanked from theaters and probably had a hand in effectively ending Jill Clayburgh's run as a Hollywood A-lister. Costa-Gavras hasn't made an American film since 1997's ham-fisted MAD CITY, but he's been working fairly steadily in France over the last decade.  His latest--and first to get US distribution since 2002's AMEN--is CAPITAL, which finds the 80-year-old director taking aim at the global financial meltdown in sometimes heavy-handed ways, and while it's not essential Costa-Gavras, it's still worth seeing. It's hard to make financial thrillers thrilling (the recent MOBIUS is a great example of how not to do it), and while the characters and the subplots are fairly standard-issue, CAPITAL gets some genuine momentum going once all the pieces are in place.

When the old-school CEO (Daniel Mesguich) of France-based Phenix Bank has a heart attack and gets an overly symbolic testicular cancer diagnosis (that's right--he doesn't have the balls for this business anymore), he nominates his protege Marc Tourneuil (Gad Elmaleh) to replace him. The board isn't happy, but figure Tourneuil is enough of a yes-man that they can bully him around and get what they want anyway. Tourneuil proves to be a hard negotiator and a driven businessman and immediately makes a number of bottom-line decisions that are so unpopular that even his mentor wants him fired. Phenix is in dire shape and in order to turn things around, Tourneuil forms an uneasy alliance with an aggressive Miami-based hedge fund overseen by ruthless financial titan Dittmar Rigule (Gabriel Byrne, who had one of his earliest major roles in HANNA K). Rigule plots an insider trading scam to drain Phenix's assets through a secret corporation, then overtake it with his own hedge fund, essentially using Phenix's money to buy themselves out.  Tourneuil is promised a fat payday out of it and the first step is firing 10,000 Phenix employees worldwide to aid in shareholder (and Rigule) profit. Of course, Tourneuil's mind isn't always focused on Rigule's junkyard-dog act or the deceptive machinations of his own underlings, since his newfound power predictably turns him into a total asshole, ignoring his devoted wife (Natacha Regnier) and growing obsessed with a manipulative supermodel (Laura Gemser lookalike Liya Kebede), even blowing off meetings so he can fly to Tokyo to go down on her in an airport restroom.  The relationship between Tourneuil and the supermodel is the most problematic element in CAPITAL, taking up too much time and going nowhere, and their final scene together is just unpleasant and bizarre. Costa-Gavras pulls no punches in his depiction of the high-rolling sociopaths that inhabit the financial world:  even from the beginning, when the old CEO collapses on a golf course, Tourneuil is already grinning at the prospect of being put in charge. He's not a nice guy corrupted by power.  He's an asshole who was patiently waiting for his turn. In the end, CAPITAL's points are simplistic and obvious, but the financial cat-and-mouse game between Tourneuil and Rigule (it's great fun watching Byrne turn from a smooth operator into a bloviating prick as the film goes on) provides some well-handled dramatic tension.  It's no Z, but Costa-Gavras, still looking spry, energetic, and a good decade younger than his age in the DVD's making-of doc, still has a little gas left in the tank.  (R, 114 mins)

(US - 2014)

It's probably easier to just list the movies HAUNT rips off rather than attempt a review.  Another in an ever-increasing (and ever-annoying) line of slow-burner horror films that mistakes "long stretches of lethargically-paced nothing" for "building tension" (thanks, Ti West!), HAUNT offers yet another dull and oblivious family moving into a cursed house because it's impossibly cheap thanks to all of the murders that have taken place under its roof.  The Ashers--dad (Brian Wimmer), mom (Ione Skye), oldest daughter (Danielle Chuchran), son (Harrison Gilbertson), and younger daughter (Ella Harris)--relocate to a spacious Iowa home where the the previous family all met horrific ends except for the matriarch (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK'S Jacki Weaver), who ran a pediatrics practice from a home office. The ghostly activity starts with an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) machine that's been left behind in a secret room next to Gilbertson's. Gilbertson meets a troubled teen (Liana Liberato) who lives down the road with her abusive father, and soon she's sleeping over with him, which is totally cool since his folks are the hippest and most easygoing parents around.  Gilbertson and Liberato mess around with the machine and a voice tells him to "Get out of my room!"  Soon enough, they're haunted by the usual apparitions out of nowhere, shadows lurk in hallways, wet footprints lead nowhere, and the youngest Asher is having long conversations with her dolls, standing in doorways in a catatonic stupor, and scratching the eyes and faces out of family photos.  Might it all have something to do with a clumsily-placed flashback with Weaver helping out a young mother with a screaming baby girl?  Gilbertson is so preoccupied playing savior with Liberato that he doesn't even notice the weird stuff going on with his little sister, which is fine since director Mac Carter and writer Andrew Barrer completely forget about her anyway. Instead, they just restage elements of INSIDIOUS, WHITE NOISE, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, SINISTER, and of course, once they unleash the angry spirit of Weaver's teenage son, Gilbertson briefly becomes possessed and starts doing the herky-jerky JU-ON/GRUDGE shuffle.  With no scares, thoroughly cardboard characters, and an egregious wasting of two-time Oscar-nominee Weaver, HAUNT (not to be confused with the recent and much better HAUNTER) is an instantly forgettable trifle that almost wears its half-assed laziness like a badge of honor, its only concern being how many movies it can crib from on its way to the $5 DVD bin at Wal-Mart. I guess the only good thing you can say about it is that no one in the family seems to own a video camera. (R, 86 mins, also available on Netflix Instant)

No comments:

Post a Comment