Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Some things get lost in translation. I’m not just talking about sayings and phrases here. Although the classic “raining dogs and cats” scene from Die Hard: With A Vengeance immediately springs to mind here. No, I’m talking more about humour, in its broadest possible sense. Each nation has its own particular sense of humour: some like it big and brash, some like refined and witty and some… just like hearing the word “poop”. As a Brit / Pommie / stuck-up S.O.B., we like to dabble with the darker side of humour and also love a bit of sarcasm and cringe-worthy inducing behaviour. We love it. Our TV series are littered with it. Some have transitioned to US TV screens (The Office, The Inbetweeners), whilst others haven’t. And I’m not sure why. But perhaps the forefather of all of these “cringey” British comedies comes from the mind of Steve Coogan… and that character is Alan Partridge.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Now, I’m going to take a few lines to explain to our US audience who the hell Alan Partridge is. You may be familiar with Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder, Night At The Museum etc.), but not Alan. Well, Alan Partridge is easily Steve Coogan‘s most famous character (he did stand-up for years as different characters). This may get confusing… but hold in there… and remember Alan Partridge is a character, not a real person – but he has one rich backstory. Alan used to “host” a BBC chat show series called Knowing Me, Knowing You. However, this was cancelled, resulting in his fall from grace. He then ended up presenting radio in a small region of the UK called Norfolk; always fostering the hope of returning to television one day. So far, so good? This was all put on television as “Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge” and “I’m Alan Partridge” –  a total of three series. That’s it.

But the character has returned time and time again, as he’s extremely watchable. Alan is neurotic, annoying, arrogant and a whole host of other negative adjectives. But we love him. I defy you to not go out and hunt down the old series and laugh at them. Especially “I’m Alan Partridge” – both series. So, with that rather lengthy preamble out the way… let’s get on to his first feature film shall we? Introducing… Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

We catch up with Alan (Steve Coogan) still presenting his radio show on North Norfolk Digital. However, the company’s just been taken over by a private equity group that wants to modernise the image and they’re looking to cull the deadwood. So either Alan or fellow “oldie” Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) must face the axe… and poor Pat suffers. But Pat won’t take it lying down… no siree, he takes the whole radio station captive with the help of a shotgun unless his demands are met. And his first demand? That Alan “Alpha Papa” Partridge be sent in as the chief correspondent. What prevails is nothing short of ludicrous, but consistently and thoroughly funny.

In case you can’t tell by now, I’m a big fan of Steve Coogan and Alan Partridge. By extension, I’m also a huge fan of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. It consistently made me laugh, fully owing to Coogan, Peter Baynham and Armando Iannucci‘s script and of course, Coogan‘s Partridge. Every mannerism and quip is laden with humour and consistently had me smiling from beginning to end. Sure, the plot got a bit bombastic and perhaps overstretched itself at some points, but I just can’t pick fault with Partridge.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

The humour is the pivot point of this film. You either “get” Coogan‘s Alan Partridge, or you don’t. If you tried to watch the television series all that time ago, or on Netflix, and didn’t get it… well, this film’s going to do very little to correct that for you I’m afraid. However, if you are a Partridgian… or whatever term you wish to make up, then you’re going to be lapping up every single second of Alan’s 90 minute outing, like I was. Even the bloody credits rolling up the screen will make you smile – it’s just that good.

As for the acting of Coogan‘s fellow cast members? All delivered with aplomb. Of course, Meaney‘s no amateur in front of the camera and that shows. It was interesting that the casting didn’t pull it any other “big name” UK actors to fill the ranks. It’s very much an “unknown” actor romp… except an always reliable performance by Sean Pertwee of course.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

As for the plotting… well, I’ve set up the basic premise, but to go into too much more depth would ruin any surprises the film has in store. Don’t for a second think this is a high octane siege movie though. There are no rocket launches, high speed chases or elaborate set pieces. And that’s part of the charm of the movie… it’s set in Norfolk! Sleepy Norfolk! Nothing big happens in Norfolk, so why make up some ridiculous premise. It’s all laughably small scale, and that’s the joy of the film. It doesn’t rely on flashy gimmicks… it lets Alan do the talking… and frankly, that’s all this film ruddy bloody needs!

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa will delight fans of Steve Coogan‘s Alan Partridge. He’s the exact same small-minded, neurotic and arrogant guy he’s always been, and we love him for it. Imagine this film as Speed… but minus Keanu Reeves, and a bus, and high octane fun. But add in lashings of humour and an oddly charismatic lead. You’re probably some way there to summing up Alan Partridge’s first big screen outing. Once again, the Brits have proved that it really is possible to make a small screen character “pop” on the big screen. Jurassic Park!

Sadly, it doesn’t look like it’ll ever hit the US audience, which is a loss, because if you’re a fan of our British sense of humour, this film would delight you. If our (fantastic / superior) sense of humour doesn’t appeal to you… then you’re probably best off rewatching Grown Ups 2. I hear Kevin James falls over a couple of times. You guys dig that right? Fat guys falling over? I know – pretty damn funny… And isn’t Adam Sandler THE funniest guy recently? Oh, I know… tell me about it!!

Phage Factor:

4.5 Stars

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Argo (2012)

In previous reviews I’ve talked about how true stories are sometimes more intriguing and exciting than those dreamt up by a writer supping malibu by his pool in Malibu. The Imposter, for instance, was a riveting film that was made all the more enjoyable because you knew it was true. Although Argo is very much dramatised, with genuine actors unlike The Imposter, it still sits in the same vein. And it also comes with Ben Affleck both in front of and behind the camera – a guy who’s seeming like he can do no wrong any more. Add to that it’s a spy story, at a time when James Bond is dominating the box office, and you’ve got to wonder if Affleck can romance the crowds against the bang and bravado of Skyfall… So… can he?

Affleck vs Craig: One Spy To Rule Them All.

Firstly, if you’ve read my review of James Bond’s latest, Skyfall, you’ll be aware that I thought it was OK, but overall was very underwhelming. Especially against the backdrop of all the hype and fanfare it’s receiving. Argo is a different customer entirely. It doesn’t feature a slick British agent cavorting around the world, nor does it feature a “super-villain” in the same pantomime way as Bond. What it does offer is perhaps the best spy-related film of the year.

Argo, which is based on a true story, follows the attempts to rescue a set of US embassy workers that are trapped inside of a revolutionary Iran, where the Great Satan (aka USA) is vilified and hated by all. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) of the CIA concocts a way to evacuate them: by getting them to pose as a Canadian film crew that are doing reconnaissance for a sci-fi film known as Argo. Whilst in the US, Mendez puts together a team of  Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and John Chambers (John Goodman) to set all the wheels in motion for this film that will never be made. Whilst liberties have been taken (such as Lester Siegel being fictitious), the plot follows the actual events of the 1979-1981 crisis.

Affleck & Cranston: Two of a fantastic cast.

I’m tempted now to throw down a list of all the brilliant actors in this film, such as Bryan Cranston and Zeljko Ivanek, but I’ll have to resist. Needless to say you’ll be seeing faces you will and won’t recognise. Some with a keener eye for cinema may spot actors from this year’s Killing Them Softly (Scoot McNairy) and 1998’s The Faculty (Clea DuVall), all donning very late 1970’s attire and hair. There are no weak links in this acting chain.

If you don’t know where I’m going with this, then let me explain: the characters and acting are fantastic. Ben Affleck yet again shows us that he’s a truly talented guy, both in front and behind the camera. It seemed for a while that his old buddy Matt Damon may have truly ridden away into the sunset in terms of great roles and great performances, but boy… Affleck is good. Really good. Kudos also has to go to the screenplay writers here too. The movie has tension in spades, but also has some guffaw-inducing humour – normally coming from either John Goodman or Alan Arkin. Both are on top form and their comic “old school Hollywood” personalities really shine through on that script. Also providing a not-safe-for-children’s-eyes catchphrase that you’ll no doubt utter as you leave the screening.

“Argof’yourself!”

Although I can’t talk much about the plot, as it’d spoil everything, I can say that I found the film riveting. I didn’t ever find myself bored or distracted. I was fully absorbed for the full 120 minute runtime. Also, with the events occurring a few years before me even being born, I can’t quite comment on the accuracy of events. I could go and read all the documents that were declassified by Bill Clinton back in the 1990’s, but I think I’d prefer to have “this” version of events as my canon. I’m sure that the film has been bent and adapted to make it more appealing to cinema-goers, but I’d genuinely believe this is “based on a true story”… and not in the same way that Paranormal Activity is “based on a true story”. That and it’s actually really good.

Skyfall may be what all the press and your friends are talking about right now. They may all be heaping praise on the film too. But Bond’s been beaten hands down by Ben Affleck‘s Argo. There’s no hamfisted plot twists, no weak characterisation and no product placement. What Argo delivers is a captivating true story with some of the best performances we’ve seen in this end of 2012. It also features far funnier lines than anything in Bond’s recent repertoire too.

If this is spy season at the cinema (after the summer’s superhero season, and mid-October’s animated-horror season), then there can only be one film you’ll need to see, and it’s not the one featuring a guy who likes his Martini “shaken, not stirred”. Once again, the truth is way more exciting than fiction.

Phage Factor: