Monday, March 10, 2014


Alan Partridge, as played by Steve Coogan, is one of my favorite characters. He's the sort of third rate celebrity that always makes me giggle, utterly full of himself, slightly dumb, yet bright enough to keep himself in an ever diminishing spotlight. In a way, he's a hybrid of  Ted Knight's old Ted Baxter character on the Mary Tyler Moore show, and Ricky Gervais' David Brent of The Office.  I prefer Partridge to those other characters because, unlike Knight and Brent, Partridge is actually a bit talented and suave, yet completely oblivious to most things going on around him. Coogan has played him on British television off and on for years, and in Declan Lowney's excellent Alan Partridge, we find that not only has Partridge not matured or gained any wisdom now that he's in his mid-50s, but is just as much of a snake as he's always been. I wouldn't want Partridge any other way.

The film finds has-been TV presenter Partridge still working as a disc jockey in a small market radio station in Norwich, which looks about as bleak and empty as a middle American mill town. But even Partridge's little radio station is in the clutches of those who would try to modernize it and capture a younger audience. The result is that another DJ is sacked. Pat (Colm Meaney), the victim, is the sort of DJ who talks about farm reports and and opens his daily program with 'Roll out The Barrel.' It's no wonder he's replaced by a couple of loud-mouthed younger DJs. Pat isn't one to take his layoff lightly, though. He arrives one night at the station with an arsenal and takes the place hostage. While he takes over, the police send in Partridge to help defuse the situation.

Ultimately, the movie plays out like a padded-out episode of Coogan's old show, and one could say there's too much  emphasis on the siege dramatics and not enough Partridge-like comedy. Partridge has some fantasy sequences where he imagines himself a hero, but they're jarring, rather than funny. The film works best when Partridge, who had a hand in the sacking of Pat, tries to speak calmly to him and keep him from opening fire. The film loses a little steam as it goes along, but ends with Pat in prison, and Partridge back at his DJ's desk. A more interesting film might have seen Partridge being fired, or dealing with being an older man in a younger man's field, but maybe we'll get that someday. Coogan is smart. Partridge is his masterpiece. I'm sure there's more of the story to come.

Eugenio Mira's Grand Piano is the sort of well-intentioned fluff that can almost fool you into thinking it better than it is.  Elijah Wood plays a famous concert pianist suffering from nerves as he attempts his first concert in years. As he fumbles through his sheet music, he sees that someone has written threatening messages to him along the lines of I AM GOING TO SHOOT YOU IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE.  Since the pianist is known for flubs, this is supposed to create for viewers an Alfred Hitchcock type of suspense. And it would, if not for the film being so dumb. I could list a number of silly contrivances, but the most basic one is that we're supposed to believe that a world famous pianist is known for flubs. That's like a world famous chef being known for burning stuff.

Wood has a nervous, rat-like demeanor which makes his character believable as a paranoid wreck (but less believable as someone married to a beautiful, world famous actress played by Kerry Bishe, which is another odd, not especially compelling plot point). John Cusack, in what feels like the 10th movie I've seen of his this week, gives a nice, rough edge to the would-be assassin. There are some fairly well-directed fight scenes high up in the concert hall, with Cusack and Wood slugging it out, and the film has a beautiful, red velvet, art deco design, but ultimately, Grand Piano feels like Hitchcock for pre-schoolers. If you don't think Miro and screenwriter Damien Chazelle have a jones on for Hitch, consider that Woods' name in the movie is Selznick, a likely nod to David O. Selznick, the producer of Hitchcock's first American film Rebecca.  Oh well, at least these guys are paying homage to Hitch, rather than aping Michael Bay or some other comic book/disaster guru. For that, we should be a bit grateful, eh?

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