Saturday, August 17, 2013

AH-HA! Partrige flies to the big screen!

I was completely disinterested in Steve Coogan’s narcissistic chat show host turned radio DJ character Alan Partridge when I first encountered him in the mid-90’s. However once I heard that Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa was getting good reviews, produced by Armando Iannucci [who makes Veep on HBO] and as my friends twisted my arm, I said I’d best brush up on the whole phenomenon of the man himself before seeing his big screen debut.

In preparation for the movie event I listened to his early 1991 appearances written by Coogan, Iannucci and others on BBC radio on the comedy sketch series On The Hour, transitioning to TV with The Day Today in '94 where Partridge was the sports commentator, who apparently knew precious little about the sport he was covering. Then his famed radio chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You, which itself transitioned to Television where Partridge was the host to a show where he managed to insult almost every guest with everything from homophobic and racist comments to physically striking a small child and accidentally shooting his final guest dead, live on air. I took in both series of I’m Alan Partridge ['97 & '02] as well as his more recent webseries Mid Morning Matters [2010] and a host of numerous one-off shows and other TV appearances over the years before digesting Coogan’s seven-hour reading of the audio book version of “I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan”, Partridge’s ‘autobiography’ which I can only describe as an insane tirade of side splitting hilarity married with a dark depression, yet the product of pure genius.

As I mentioned my original encounter led to disinterest in Alan Partridge as a whole but it was obvious as I waded through some 32 hours of content last week, that I just hadn’t been ‘ready’ for it in mid 90’s. Not only did I look at it from a completely different perspective but digesting that much Partrige in such a short space of time suitably prepared me for what to expect from Coogan’s most famous character - in so far as it almost made me as unhinged from reality as he is. Let me be clear that I do not condone doing the same as I have done as I’ve received highly advanced military psychological training and so I’m able to deal with an audio/visual onslaught of that magnitude but a lesser man would’ve crumpled under the weight of such an abundance of Partridge.

But what of the movie itself, what of Alan’s transition from radio to TV back to radio, onto the web and now to the silver screen? Well I’m pleased to report that while it’s obviously a big screen comedy spectacle – it’s still just Alan Partridge - this is the movie’s greatest strength, but also it’s chief weakness. Partridge’s ‘adventures’ albeit never quite on this scale before [even his escape from a deranged superfan] have always been tight and consolidated ideas never veering too wildly in more than one direction and the same holds true for Alpha Papa. While this obviously allows Coogan’s comic genius to shine it does shoehorn the movie into a single trick – that Partridge is both a sad wanker and a self-congratulatory arsehole and thus comedy gold – and if you don’t like that trick [or prefer it in smaller doses] then you’re royally fucked about 40 minutes into the movie. However after 32 hours of Partridge from Sunday to Saturday afternoon, another 2 hours wasn’t going to kill me especially as I now in fact had seen in total, more Partridge than any of the group of people who had originally convinced me to go the movie.

Coogan is joined on screen by Colm Meany as Pat Farrell, an Irish DJ whom a modern digital communications conglomerate deem unnecessary when they take over North Norfolk Digital [Norfolk’s best… North Norfolk’s Best Music Mix]. Farrell has a fit, grabs a shotgun and begins an armed siege during the radio stations rebranding party. Sadly the police don’t realise what sort of trouble they are asking for when they enlist Alan Partridge to act as negotiator for the siege which of course puts him in the media spotlight – a place Alan has proved he is the most dangerous and unpredictable – with hilarious results!

Three major Partridge alumni reprise their prominent roles in the movie Simon Greenall [Michael the Geordie], Tim Key as Sidekick Simon, Phil Cornwell as troubled DJ Dave Clifton and of course where would the man himself be without poor Felicity Montagu as his assistant Lynn? The more eagle eyed patron [or at least someone who had just finished watching/listening to every Partridge appearence in the past 20+ years] will recognise several of the other actors as cops and hostages who have worked elsewhere in the world of Alan Partridge. Watch out for the great Sean Pertwee and our own Simon Delaney as the 'elite' firearms officers.

I'm not entirely sure if you should approach this movie with little or know foreknowledge of the character, I don't think it would work to the same effect, but if your a 'fan' then you're in for a treat as well as being served up the the best comedy of the year thus far. Anchorman 2, your bar has been set!

Colonel Creedon rating: ****

Additional: Since I drafted the review, I have learned that Alpha Papa has reached #1 in the UK box office. Coogan [in character] exclaimed "Now is not a time for gloating or celebration, more a time for healing old wounds, a time to say, 'Let us join together in thanks that I am number one at the box office'. Halleluja."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tactical-level errors at nuke launch site

The U.S. Air Force’s Global Strike Command has reported that the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, has failed a recent safety and security inspection earlier this month after personnel made "tactical-level errors" during an exercise. "This failure resulted in the entire inspection being graded 'unsatisfactory,'" said commander Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski but stressed that it does not mean the safety of America's nuclear arsenal is at risk, and that the inspections are "designed to be tough."

Gen. Kowalski did not  discuss details of the failure or explain the exercise, citing security, except to say that it did not involve the crews who monitor the missiles from inside underground launch control capsules. That left open the possibility that it involved airmen responsible for security, weapons maintenance or other aspects of their highly sensitive mission. The 341st is responsible for 150 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles that stand on 24/7 alert for potential launch against targets around the globe.

This failure comes on top of similar events to befall Global Strike Command recently. Last spring the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, received weak grades on an inspection but did not fail it outright. The units performance was so poor however, that 17 officers temporarily lost their authority to operate missiles. "We are, in fact, in a crisis right now," the commander, Lt. Col. Jay Folds, wrote in an internal E-mail. At let us not forget the 2010 "engineering fault" at F.E. Warren AFB.

UNETIDA’s Missile Defence Commander Colonel “Rockets” Thompson was said to be “unhappy” with the incidents but despite the latest setback he described himself as “confident” that Global Strike Command would still be able perform under the direction of UNETIDA should it ever become necessary. The UNETIDA Missile Defence Department is responsible for calculating and providing targeting solutions for the worlds militaries to use against orbital extra terrestrial targets or those that engage in landing operations should conventional weapons be insufficient. Also if necessary in situations known as DEFCON-ZERO, they can assume complete control of all P5 nuclear arsenals. The department also has control of “The Armageddon Code” a ‘failsafe’ system designed to obliterate Earth should the planet ever face off against “an overwhelming force with absolutely hope of survival”.

Source AP / FOX News

Monday, August 12, 2013

Can the "B-Team" superheroes step forward?

DC Comics Superman and Marvel's Wolverine returned to the silver screen this summer and I can categorically say they were both substantially better then their previous respective outings. However when you remember that both Brian Singer's Superman Returns and Gavin Hood's X-Men Origins: Wolverine are considered to be next to the worst movies they appeared in [Superman IV and X-Men: The Last Stand taking those distinctions] that's not saying a lot.

Man of Steel

Man of Steel was certainly a different take on the 75 year old American cultural icon once immortalised by Christopher Reeve on screen. Zack 300 Snyder took the reigns to present a more modern-era Superman/Clark Kent [Henry Cavill] who must pursue his destiny as protector of the planet from the evil General Zod [Michael Shannon].

Interestingly, while Snyder gives the character an origin story once again, he does not dwell to much on the characters infancy favouring a considerable look at life on Krypton before and of course during it's destruction. Russell Crowe delivers an outstanding performance as Jor-El during this period of the movie and you regret that it can't be longer. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner step into the parental roles as the Kents with Costner himself shining as the father figure who instilled wisdom into a young Clark.

Cavill himself is "competent" as the man himself, easily surpassing a forgettable Brandon Routh but has nowhere near the charm Christopher Reeve displayed on screen. A complete lack of story development between him and the criminally underused Amy Adams as Lois Lane as well as their relationship being devoid of chemistry is one of the movies major failings.

Despite being a special effects spectacle and sporting the unique sounds of maestro Hans Zimmer the movie fails to reach orbital heights it's title character is able to. The beginning is so utterly superior to the rest of the movie, you want it to be longer and the finale is so completely dragged out and arse-numbingly overlong that it can only delight those with a worryingly short attention span. I'm all for explosions and collateral damage and supermen being through through buildings, but after it happens over a dozen times in the one sequence you want to shout "get on with it!"

There will be a sequel which has been revealed to feature Batman?! Hopefully they've got all the near-pointless destruction out of their system now and well see some character development or at least some semblance of a proper story in the next Man of Steel.

Colonel Creedon Rating: ***1/2

The Wolverine

The Wolverine is a loose adaptation of the mutant's first solo outing by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller from 1982 in which Logan travels to Japan and has a grand adventure featuring The Silver Samurai, lots of Ninjas, Yukio the ronin and of course Mariko his true love.

The Wolverine, like the majority of comic-book movies, does not stick too rigidly to it’s source material. Claremont’s tale provided a framework for Mark Bomback and Scott Frank to craft a screenplay[something that was sorely lacking in the character’s previous solo instalment] and through DP Ross Emery, director James Mangold recreated some of Frank Millar's visceral visuals. If you appreciate a dose of Japanese culture, martial arts, Ninja/Samurai and all that lark in your modern popular culture then you’ll appreciate the type of action on offer here, and I’m confident the movie will go down well in Asian markets.

Hugh Jackman is given a great opportunity to flesh out the character of Logan and I believe the audience is drawn to truly empathise and relate with the character like never before. Given that he’s a roughly 130 year old self-healing mutant that can eject razor sharp claws from his hands, that’s not an inconsiderable writing/acting feat and kudos to all involved. It has escaped previous movies to adequately portray his internal battle as well as his external ones and this is the closest I've seen so far.

Jackman is joined on screen by Famke Janssen reprising her role as the late Jean Grey appearing in a series of haunting dreams and seems adamant that an increasingly depressed Logan join her in death as soon as possible - a feat made difficult due to his longevity and healing factor. Logan is intrigued by the offer made to him by Yashida whose life he saved during WWII, who through medical science may be able to allow Logan to age and die. Naturally, things in such movies are never so simple but if they weren’t then it wouldn’t be much of a movie.

I was certainly happier at how faithful Fox/Marvel were to the character, far more than the previous instalment and sadly a visibly greater effort that than WB/DC achieved with their own hero above.

Colonel Creedon Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

RIP Michael Ansara 1922-2013

Michael George Ansara, a Syrian-born American stage, screen, and voice actor best known for his portrayal of Commander Kang on three different Star Trek series has passed. He was 91.

Ansara began acting in the 1950's and appeared in westerns - including The Lone Ranger [1956] - on both the big screen and small before starring in his own TV show Law of the Plainsman playing Native American U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart, a spin off character from The Rifleman.

Ansara appeared in the biblical movies The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Story Ever Told as well as the 1953 adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar but he had a more distinguished career on TV appearing in many Television series in production throughout his career. These included The Untouchables, The Fugitive, Hawaii Five-0, The Streets of San Fransisco, Shaft, Mission: Impossible, The Rockford Files, Kojak, CHiPs, The Fall Guy, Mike Hammer and Murder, She Wrote.

Despite a career forged in the dust of westerns, it will be through the genre of science fiction that Ansara's name will be remembered. In 1961 he played scientist Miguel Alvarez in Irwin Allen's groundbreaking movie Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and followed the role by appearing in the later spin-off series. His career in sci-fi continued with an appearances on Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and as Killer Kane in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. He also played the title role in the acclaimed The Outer Limits original series episode "Soldier", written by Harlan Ellison and later in his career he portrayed the Technomage Elric in an episode of Babylon 5.

In 1968 Ansara took on the mantle of arguably his most memorable character, the Klingon Commander Kang in the 3rd season Star Trek episode "Day of the Dove". To the delight of fans, Ansara reprised his character some 25 years later in "Blood Oath", an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and even later in "Flashback" an episode of Star Trek: Voyager making him one of only seven actors to play the same character on three different Star Trek series. Ansara also appeared [sans Klingon makeup] as Jeyal, Lwaxana Troi's husband on the Deep Space Nine episode, "The Muse".

Ansara also lent his voice to various animated productions including Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends and Thundarr The Barbarian. He later portrayed General Warhawk in the Rambo animated series but it was for his work on various incarnations of Batman's animated adventures that his voice work will be most regarded. In 1992 Ansara began voicing Victor Fries/Mr. Freeze on the Batman animated series, later in the 1997 The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond in 1999 and the video game Batman: Vengeance. Ansara bestowed a level of humanity to the villain, allowing the audience to empathise with Fries' plight which no other medium even attempted.

Ansara married actress Barbara Eden in 1958 and appeared with her in an episode of I Dream of Jeanie. He died following a long illness at his home in Calabasas, California and is survived by Beverly, his third wife for 36 years.