Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

2015 #65
Declan Lowney | 85 mins | download (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK & France / English | 15 / R

Alan Partridge: Alpha PapaSteve Coogan brings his popular character to the big screen. When Partridge’s radio station colleague Pat (Colm Meaney) is fired, he takes a group of employees hostage at gunpoint. At Pat’s request, Partridge is sent in to negotiate.

Some claim the film hinges on in-jokes and references to the numerous Partridge series, but that’s poppycock: as someone who’s never watched one, I didn’t even sense I was missing something. Indeed, even as someone who’s never seen the character’s appeal, I thought the film was hilarious. A bit long, and it doesn’t really know how to end, but, otherwise, consistently funny.

4 out of 5

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa remains available on iPlayer until 10:45pm on Monday.

Tropic Thunder: Director’s Cut (2008)

2015 #24
Ben Stiller | 116 mins | DVD | 2.35:1 | USA, UK & Germany / English & Mandarin | 15

Tropic Thunder: Director's CutA bunch of obstreperous actors are too much to handle for the director of a Vietnam war movie, so he dumps them in the jungle to shoot it with hidden cameras. Things go awry; hilarity ensues.

Conceived by co-writer/director Ben Stiller in the ’80s when all his actor friends were in war movies, “struggling” with training boot camps that made them feel like they were “really in the army”, the idea of skewering pretentious actors hasn’t dated in the intervening decades, though the specific targets may have been updated. De facto lead is Ben Stiller as a cheesy action star looking to go legit with a serious movie, but best is Robert Downey Jr.’s Oscar-nominated turn as a Daniel Day-Lewis/Russell Crowe-type actor, who has an operation to dye his skin so he can play a black character. Less well-served among the leads is Jack Black, as the drug-addicted star of a series of ‘comedies’ based around fat suits and fart gags, who feels superfluous more often than not.

Following events from the safety of Hollywood are a pre-McConaissance* Matthew McConaughey as Stiller’s agent, and a Surprise Cameo™ as the film’s other best character, studio head Les Grossman (I imagine you’ve learnt who that is at some point in the last seven years, but in case not…) There’s an element of Hollywood-insider comedy to some parts of this, I suppose, but the characters are broad enough to generate laughs from a wider audience too.

Character buildingThe film may run a little long in the middle, though I don’t think that’s the fault of this extended cut. It adds just over 17 minutes across many little changes and extensions according to movie-censorship.com, but the most notable of these are character-building beats that struck me as fairly worthwhile. Nonetheless, it’s not so padded that it outstays its welcome, generating pretty consistent laughs.

While not all the gags or characters may land, there’s enough that works (mainly thanks to Downey Jr and Mr Surprise Cameo™) to render Tropic Thunder a jocular pillorying of The Movies.

4 out of 5

* I would like to apologise now for using that term. ^

Cruise of the Gods (2002)

2011 #92
Declan Lowney | 90 mins | TV | 16:9 | UK / English | 12

Cruise of the GodsI’ve debated in the past where the line between what counts as a film and what counts as a TV production falls in this day and age, when a one-off feature-length event programme on a major network could easily outstrip a small theatrical film in both filmic spectacle and budget. So it really comes down to intention and/or place of release: if it’s made for TV, it’s TV; if it’s made for cinema or direct-to-DVD, it’s a film; if it’s made for the cinema but doesn’t really get released and goes straight to TV, God alone knows.

Cruise of the Gods is a clear cut case: it was made for TV, it was shown on TV, it’s a one-off TV programme. But I’m going to say screw that and bend my rules a little, just this once*, because I’ve definitely seen ‘proper films’ that aren’t as good as this (naturally, that could be said of a lot of TV) and, well, because I really liked it and wanted to share.

Rob Brydon stars as the lead actor from a cheap ’80s BBC sci-fi show who’s now working as a hotel porter, while his co-star (Steve Coogan) is off in America starring in popular TV series Sherlock Holmes in Miami. (A modern-day TV series update of Sherlock Holmes? What a horrid idea only the Americas would do!) When he’s invited on a fan cruise (like a convention, but on a cruise ship — these things do exist), an initially reluctant Brydon accepts because he needs some money. There he meets fans of the long-dead show, played by the likes of a pre-Little Britain David Walliams and a pre-Gavin & Stacey James Corden. Events, as they say, unfold.

Happy familiesThough the film pokes fun (fairly good-naturedly) at sci-fi obsessives, the underlying story here is about a man overshadowed by his past. In this Brydon gives a strong performance — I think he’s a better actor than he’s normally given credit for — and he’s ably supported by Corden in particular, though to say what gives his role such quality might spoil a twist. He’s another one who’s actually a very good actor, but it gets hidden beneath a public persona that led to such dross as that sketch show with Mathew Horne.

The biggest twist, however, is that Coogan plays a nice character. There’s no surprise sting in the tail there, he’s just nice throughout. It’s weird.

As this is TV, the writer gets prominence over the director; indeed, the opening credits follow the title card with a just-as-big “by Tim Firth” credit, while Lowney’s name is relegated to the end credit scrawl. Such is the fate of many a TV director. Their careers have followed suit too: Firth went on to films like Calendar Girls, Kinky Boots and Confessions of a Shopaholic. (Before it he wrote, amongst other things, The Flint Street Nativity (which I probably last saw when it was on in 1999, but remember fondly) and Border Cafe, a forgotten mini-series which I’ve always vaguely remembered watching. I think this is the kind of thing that can happen with writers: they’re so often undervalued that you might end up seeing a lot of their stuff, almost to the point where it could be called following their career, Corden cruisingwithout ever realising all those disparate things were penned by the same human being. Poor writers.) Lowney, meanwhile, has stuck to TV, with episodes of Happiness, Little Britain and Married Single Other (amongst others) to his name, and most recently some bits of Glastonbury 2011. (Poorer directors.) None of this tells you much about Cruise of the Gods, I’d just observed it all.

There was talk of this being remade as a film, again starring Brydon and Coogan. I don’t know if that’s still going ahead. Really, there’s no need: I think it’s an entertaining comedy and engrossing character drama as it is, easily on a par with similar-feeling British films (and easily exceeding others — Beyond the Pole, for instance). The only benefit would be wider exposure: people seem prepared to visit old films in a way that isn’t felt for most old TV, which is still seen as disposable and transitory by many. Their loss — they’re the ones missing stuff like this, while the more open-minded among us can find and enjoy it.

4 out of 5

* May happen again. ^