(France/UK - 2013; US release 2014)
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)
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)
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)