DVD Round-Up: 8/22/2014

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (8/5/2014)

8-5-2014AlanPartridge

This is a theatrical film based on the television character that made Steve Coogan a star in Britain. Leading up to its release I actually tried to catch up on some of the Alan Partridge TV shows, but didn’t see all of them and wouldn’t call myself an expert. Basically, Partridge is an egotistical and out of touch radio/TV personality. His various projects tend to fail miserably and deservedly so, but for all his unlikable qualities there is something kind of endearing about the way he keeps on trying. In this film version partridge finds himself in the middle of a hostage situation after one of his fellow radio hosts (Colm Meaney) is fired and comes back to the station with a shotgun. Because Partridge is of a similar generation, this gun toting nut trusts him, meaning Partridge must be responsible for helping to negotiate for the hostages safety. Of course being the asshole that he is, Partrige views this as an opportunity to raise his own public profile. This hostage situation is a good set-up to bring the worst out of this character, and it also provides a good medium to make some decent points about the over-corporatization of culture. However, I can’t say I found this movie to be as funny as I feel like I should have. There were plenty of lines that certainly seemed clever and which I could intellectually identify as “funny,” but I just wasn’t laughing. Maybe it would have worked better for me if I was watching with an audience, but overall it really just never quite worked for me.

**1/2 out of Four

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (8/7/2014)

One of the more popular breeds of documentary as of late has been what I call “the profile movie.”  These are movies that follow around a notable person for a few weeks during their daily routine and then intercut that with archive footage from their past and interviews both from the subject and their admirers talking about said subjects life and legacy.  One of the best of these was the film Joan Rivers: Piece of Work, and given that this was another profile movie about an old show-buisiness lady who swears a lot I felt like it would have a similar appeal.  I should probably note that I have almost zero familiarity with the work of Elaine Stritch (or any other Broadway actor for that matter), in fact I hadn’t even heard of her by name until it was reported that she’d died earlier this year.  Seeing her here I certainly thought she was an interesting figure and it was fun to watch her act as a public figure well into her 80s, but I can’t say that it gave me much appreciation for her work as an actress.  In fact, the movie seems to suggest that her success had more to do with her professionalism and her force of personality than with any real talent or craft.  Of course that likely isn’t true, but the film doesn’t do much to argue otherwise and generally seems to be made for audiences that are already convinced of her legendary status.

*** out of Four

8-7-2014ElaineStritchShootMe

Like Father, Like Son (8/9/2014)

8-9-2014LikeFatherLikeSon Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son has a very basic and seemingly classic set-up: a family comes to learn that their six year old son is in fact not their own and that he was switched at birth with another family’s child. I find it really hard to believe that this scenario hasn’t been done as a film before, and yet I can’t really pinpoint another straightforward drama that’s really done it before. The film made a pretty big splash at Cannes and is one of a string of well-regarded films from Kore-eda (a director whose work I have not yet really familiarized myself with). The film is shot and performed with a lot of class, but I found myself a little distanced from the material. The way these characters handle this situation just seemed a little odd to me. If I were in their shoes I would probably just say “you keep the kid you’ve been raising, I’m keeping the kid I’ve been raising, and I’m going to try to forget I ever heard this revelation” but the characters here actually consider and attempt to swap the children, which is something I just cannot relate to. Otherwise I respected but was never wowed by the film, it doesn’t play many false notes at all but never really tries to be more than the respectable melodrama that it is.

*** out of Four

Particle Fever (8/14/2014)

The first and last thing most people heard about the Large Hadron Collider was that there was supposedly some chance that it could open up a black hole and destroy the world.  This was of course ridiculous, but it says something about how poorly this monumental experiment was publicized that such silliness could completely overshadow the massive scientific discoveries the Collider was providing.  I never understood it either until now, as it’s all really well explained by the new documentary Particle Fever, which successfully manages to explain the science behind the Collider and paint a portrait of the human struggle involved in its creation.  Let’s start with the science.  The film uses some graphics to illustrate the various theories, but it doesn’t lean on them and the film never feels like it’s just an episode of “Nova.”  Instead it mostly relies on its subjects’ dialog to convey most of the difficult concepts and you can tell that they have a lot of practice at doing so.  As for the human story; the film has chosen which scientists to follow very well and also sets up the stakes that each of them have in the project.  The film perfectly conveys their passion for knowledge and also has some fun with their geekier personality quirks without ever seeming disrespectful.  Everything just seems to have come together perfectly for this project.  It doesn’t necessarily do anything revolutionary with the documentary form, and yet it executes on the traditional tools of the medium in a way the feels very fresh and interesting.

**** out of Four

8-14-2014ParticleFever

Noah (8/22/2014)

8-22-2014Noah Now that the rights to every major superhero have been snatched up and the whole fairy-tale action movie thing is kind of winding down Hollywood is looking for a new source for branded special effects movies and they seem to have settled on bible stories.  From my perspective this is not a good thing because, frankly, I’m a staunch atheist and I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid having all this stuff shoved in my face.  I get that religion is a part of the human experience that’s worth exploring, but all the same I’ve developed something of a knee-jerk negative response to positive depictions of faith.  I’m sure that the devoutly religious among us have a similarly strong disinterest in hearing anti-religious screeds as well, so I don’t feel too guilty about this.  So, when a great filmmaker like Darren Aronofsky makes a high profile biblical epic like Noah I’m left with something of a dilemma: do I swallow my pride and give money to its box office or do I stubbornly refuse to see it?  In this case I’ve split the difference and just waited until it hit blu-ray.

 

Fortunately I don’t think director Aronofsky is all that interested in preaching “the word” to people.  Rather he seems to approach the bible as a sort of fantasy/mythological text of the Homeric variety rather than as the word of God.  The film is set in a fairly oddly drawn vision of a pre-historic world filled with Canaanites and rock monsters.  The film has no interest in trying to explain or defend some of the more ridiculous elements of the story like fitting all these animals on a boat and keeping them well behaved.  It also doesn’t seem to concerned with some of the logical inconsistencies like why a world destroying genocidal deity needs to bother with a flood and human assistance when he should be able to just snap his fingers and have all the humans disappear.  The highlight of the film is probably Russell Crowe’s performance as a tough and driven Noah.  Aronofsky also has a handful of cool visual ideas, but I can’t say that the whole film was really the feast for the eyes that it probably needed to be.  Aronofsky tries, but I don’t think his epic grandiosity is really where his skillset lies.  He’s better at making these gritty personal stories and he doesn’t really have the eye of a James Cameron or Ridley Scott.  I was interested by Noah, but I never really connected with the story or the vision and I’m kind of glad Aronofsky got it out of his system and look forward to what he does next.

*** out of Four 

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