Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tuesday double feature: Alphaville & Alan Partridge

One of the side effects of going to a film festival is that even though I've just seen a bunch of movies, and might want to do something else for a little bit afterwards, I can't. I wouldn't be trying to see twenty movies in a week if I didn't want to see as many interesting movies as I could on the big screen while I had the chance, and that means that I'm going to want to catch as many other things that have limited runs and showtimes. That includes Alphaville, which is just booked for the one week, and Alan Partridge, which played a full schedule the week of the festival but was splitting a screen afterward, meaning I would have to catch a 9:30pm screening during the week.

The good news: They were at the same theater, which meant a double feature was going to be pretty easy. I almost wish that they were scheduled the other way around, so that I could say I was doing my catch-up alphabetically. Not quite the case. Heck, I actually managed to go further back by seeing Aberdeen a few days later.

It did actually turn out to be something of a thematic double feature, though, in that both Alphaville and Alan Partridge are built around characters who had been around a while before the movies. I hadn't realized that Alphaville's Lemmy Caution was actually an established character before Jean-Luc Godard did this peculiar genre-bending movie. It's the equivalent of CSI suddenly taking place on Mars with no explanation, and then everyone forgetting that it was ever not science fiction.

Admittedly, I was aware of Alan Partridge, though I can't remember any of the shows that featured the character ever playing on PBS or cable such that I was aware of them. I may see if they're kicking around on Hulu when I get a few spare half-hours at some point, because Coogan's a funny guy. It was kind of amusing that the sign at the box office read "Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa", which makes me wonder just how late in the game Magnolia decided to remove the subtitle.

Alphaville, une ├ętrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (Alphaville)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 May 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (re-issue, DCP)

Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville has the official subtitle "A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution", but some of the other informal titles listed on the IMDB are even better, especially now that is far more famous than the series whose hero Godard appropriated. There's "Dick Tracy on Mars" and "Tarzan vs IBM", an indication of the genre bending that has its distibutor billing it as Godard's "new wave film noir sci-fi masterpiece" for its re-release. And while there's a bit of pretension to stringing that many adjectives together, it is an enjoyable movie when it gets out of its own way.

Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) has come to Alphaville from the Outer Territories under the name Ivan Johnson to accomplish a twofold mission: Find missing agent Henri Dickson (Akim Tamiroff) and engineer Leonard Nosferatu (Howard Vernon), operating under the name "von Braun", with daughter Natasha von Braun (Anna Karina) there to guide him, although she seems to be as strange as everybody in this city controlled by the computer Alpha-60.

It's funny; the smallest things done to establish that it's the future or another world or that things are somehow out of whack can sometimes throw an audience more than all the CGI world-building filmmakers do fifty years after Alphaville had Anna Karina shake her head "yes" and nod "no". Whenever she does that, the audience stumbles for a bit, and it can leave us wondering if this is Godard doing a good job of making us feel off-center despite a familiar-looking world or him just being too clever for his own good. There are plenty of attempts to play with expectations like that throughout the movie - a computer that croaks its words like a dying man, Lemmy being more prone to shoot first and ask questions later than any pulp character, scenes where characters discuss the way that language itself is under assault or ask the deep-sounding sci-fi question of just what love is - that often come across more as a filmmaker wanting to be seen to be smart and philosophical than one who gets that reputation as a result of what he actually does and says.

Full review at EFC

Alan Partridge (aka Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 May 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run, DCP)

Based on the original British name for this movie ("Ala Partridge: Alpha Papa"), I expected it to be doing more - for instance, for there to be some sort of subplot about Partridge and his kids. Fortunately, that's not the case; instead of trying to do too much, it lets a bunch of funny people make the most of one crazy situation.

That crazy situation? A siege, with recently laid off radio host Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) holding the rest of the station hostage - that is, except for Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan), another host whom Pat insists on having as his go-between with the police. Partridge is happy to do so - less out of any sort of innate bravery than the fact that his show is probably next on the chopping block after Pat's, there are better jobs out there, and a little extra publicity never hurts.

When someone doesn't recognize Alan during all this, he's hurt, saying it hasn't been that long since he was on the telly. That's just about the only obvious indication that Steve Coogan has been playing Partridge off and on for roughly twenty years, making this vapid creation the signature role of an actor best known in America for snobbish intellectuals. No previous knowledge is necessary - I've never caught any of Coogan's previous TV shows - which is probably a good decision. For all that this is Coogan's character, he's also kind of universal in that every area probably has a radio personality or ten who have stuck around forever by dint of being familiar despite not actually offering that much once you try to figure out their appeal. And yet, for all that the likes of Alan Partridge and Pat Farrell are eminently replaceable, they gain our sympathy in party because we know that the consolidation of radio stations that is apparently as prevalent in the UK as it is in America, and we all know that the efficiencies and economies of scale driving it offer listeners very little, and take away what charms these guys have (I idly wonder if the Alan Partridge franchise provided a satirical-yet-telling history of the British broadcast business over the last twenty years).

Full review at EFC

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