DVD & Digital

DVD review: Stan & Ollie


Even if you aren’t overly familiar with the work of Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy, the duo’s distinctive image is synonymous with comedy and cinema. Jon S. Baird’s latest feature pulls back the curtain to explore the men behind the slapstick public personas. Years after their Hollywood heyday, Stan (Steve Coogan) persuades Ollie (John C. Reilly) to hit the road, and the pair embark on a live theatre tour of post-war Britain.

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DVD & Digital

DVD review: Ideal Home


Writer and director Andrew Fleming explores a complex yet colourful relationship in comedy drama Ideal Home. The plot follows flamboyant celebrity chef Erasmus (Steve Coogan) and his temperamental producer and husband Paul (Paul Rudd), who enjoy a lavish lifestyle together in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Their turbulent marriage is complicated further when Erasmus’ estranged ten-year-old grandson Bill (Jack Gore) arrives at their door in need of a home.

The developing dynamic of the dysfunctional family unit carries the plot, bringing a gamut of emotion to the heartfelt story. Paul is the grumpy ‘straight man’ in the beginning while Erasmus is brilliantly bonkers in comparison, but they’re equally outrageous. The introduction of ‘the kid’ throws a spanner in the works of their quarrelsome relationship, and hilarity ensues. Coogan and Rudd are both on fine form, pairing together remarkably well and enjoying their share of the sharply written jokes from Fleming’s terrific script.


DVD & Digital

Film review: Shepherds and Butchers


Steve Coogan may well be best known for his comedic beginnings and his recurring reincarnations as television and radio presenter Alan Partridge, but from more recent roles, in particular his part in Oscar nominated film Philomena, we now know he can do serious seriously well. In courtroom-drama Shepherds and Butchers, written and directed by Oliver Schmitz, he plays compassionate defence lawyer Johan Webber. When seven black men are callously shot and killed by 17-year-old prison guard Leon Labuschagne (Garion Dowds), Webber is given the impossible task of defending him at the trial. Set in 1987 South Africa, he is pitted against prosecutor Kathleen Murray (Andrea Riseborough), who argues that Leon should be sentenced to death. An intelligently told story unfolds, exploring and dissecting the conflicting views on capital punishment; a system which was abolished just eight years later.

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DVD & Digital

DVD review: Philomena


Based on an incredible true story, ‘Philomena’, directed by Stephen Frears, tracks a mother’s search for her long-lost son nearly fifty years after he was brutally taken away from her, with the help of a disgraced journalist. Judi Dench stars as Philomena Lee who was sent to the Sacred Heart convent in Roscrea after falling pregnant at a young age, and was forced to sign away parental rights. After keeping her first born a secret for decades, believing she had committed an unforgivable sin, she meets former Labour party advisor Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) who is seeking a fresh new direction after very publicly losing his political position due to his controversial words being taken out of context, and they embark on an investigation which takes them further than they could ever imagine. Exploring themes of religion, forgiveness and redemption, the factual account is beautifully told, helped by a strong script and even stronger performances.

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DVD & Digital

DVD review: What Maisie Knew


A modern adaptation of the Henry James novel of the same name, which looks at the break up of a dysfunctional relationship through the perspective of their neglected  young daughter. Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan star as rowing rich couple Susanna and Beale, an ageing rocker and wheeler art dealer respectively, going through a turbulent marriage where their six year old girl Maisie (Onata Aprile) is used as a bargaining chip, passed from pillar to post. She only finds occasional solace through nanny turned stepmother Margo, expertly portrayed by Joanna Vanderham, and surprisingly also with Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) who Susanna marries soon after the divorce in a selfish ploy for sole custody. Directed by  Scott McGehee and David Siegel, ‘What Maisie Knew’ is beautifully made, full of top drawer performances, great humour and has a heart wrenchingly touching narrative.

Maisie’s isolation is shown effectively through the cinematography, by putting her petite figure in gaping wide shots, a microcosm highlighting her minor significance in the sensationalist lifestyles of her parents. Also, when holding hands with a grown up, we, as the audience, are continuously placed at Maisie’s head height, the faces of her elders often left unseen, illustrating the flimsy nature of her upbringing and letting us into her world. This is a recurring theme, the story allowing us into Maisie’s way of life, through use of neat close ups of her drawings, toys and games of tic-tac-toe, but not shying away from her inner trauma, the built up sadness and torment expressed perfectly in a memorable scene with one single tear. There are zoom fixations on Susanna and Beale, as if the camera represents her gaze and what makes her tale so heartbreaking is that she clearly adores her parents yet her love is unrequited. There are one or two tender moments in which we see that she may well be loved by her mum and dad, but not in the right way.

What aids this success are the magnificent performances from all concerned. Veterans Moore and Coogan are both great in the parenting roles. We see a lot more of Moore’s reckless rock mum which she has down to a tee but Coogan is equally effective in a very Coogan-esque smug but funny role. As with all the actors, they excel in scenes with the amazing Onata Aprile. With shades of Mara Wilson in Matilda, Aprile is impeccable in the titular role. Co-star Vanderham stated that even when Aprile is in neutral mode, her facial expression suggests sadness which works brilliantly, giving off an effortless aura. She not only plays sadness well, she brings a lot of humour, delivering excellent observations on the people around her. Scenes at the school really help to offer a nostalgia of childlike humour, in particular in a hilarious moment when she introduces her new step dad Lincoln to her class like a show-and-tell piece. Vanderham and Skarsgård are really good and their characters are also mistreated and used by Maisie’s parents and through this neglect they form a bond with Maisie.

I have nothing but praise for ‘What Maisie Knew’, and was instantly drawn into the story and the likeable, and relatable characters. Onata Aprile steals the show, evoking a hugely emotional response and the clever direction and camera work links us to her viewpoint. It is interesting to see a feuding break-up film through the eyes of the child, who is inevitably affected the most, their outlook deserving of its showcase. Last year, nine year old Quvenzhané Wallis was showered with award nominations for her work in Beasts of the Southern Wild, showing young stars can now be recognised in the same way as adult actors. It is easy to fall into the trap of saying she was amazing ‘for her age’ but she was incredible for any age and makes this film a faultless masterpiece.


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DVD & Digital

DVD review: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

To take a much loved British sitcom and transport it to the silver screen is always an unenviable risk and many have seen their best efforts fail in the past. How do you stay true to the qualities of the series so as not to lose your fan base but create enough interest and intrigue for cinema-goers who aren’t as familiar? It would be too easy to get carried away writing a narrative which could become too distanced, alienating the audience altogether. In recent years, screenwriters have proved it can work with the biggest notable success of late being The Inbetweeners Movie which saw the four hapless teens embark on their first lad’s holiday to Malia. This year, beloved face for North Norfolk radio, Alan Partridge portrayed by the brilliant Steve Coogan, has been called up for his cinema debut over a decade after the regular television series although he has made numerous guest appearances since then. When a firm of suits step in to take over Alan’s beloved station, the hierarchy is restructured leaving Partridge caught up in a hilariously gripping siege after a former colleague DJ Pat Farrell hits out against the corporation.
  The secret to Alpha Papa’s success is the admirable lack of plot ambition, as it stays in Alan’s home city of Norwich throughout. By not getting carried away with a complex narrative and staying loyal to its origins, it shows more ambition in relying on the setting as the backdrop of a feature rather than the standard half an hour slot, and the time is filled well without overstaying its welcome. Visually, there is a noticeable step up though, with Alan taking on a strangely hipper attire than previous years with a nods to his touched up image in the script. It is shot well, and the action sequences are sharply edited giving a deserved cinematic upgrade. The humour is much the same as in the television series with blink-or-you’ll-miss-it gags crammed in, Coogan brimming with charisma and lapping up the resurrection of his best creation. The jokes are frequent, and often brilliant, with numerous laugh out loud moments particularly in the first half of the film. As it develops, there is less natural opportunity for trademark one-liners and for me, he is always best relaxed on air interacting awkwardly with his listeners. Supporting cast all hold their own with Tim Key as the highlight as sidekick Simon while Felicity Montagu and Simon Greenall offer nostalgia as Lynn and Michael the Geordie respectively.
  If you didn’t like the show originally then I advise that you stay well clear as this is one for the fans, and is a real treat for the cult following it has. Coogan impresses without overdoing it, flexing his acting chops once again after a run of big screen performances this year following the magnificent What Maisie Knew and Winterbottom’s The Look of Love with whom he has worked with on more than one occasion in the past. So now that we know Alan Partridge still works as a character, still as funny as he ever was and adapting with the times, will this spawn another film, or perhaps new series? Or should he quit while he is ahead, leaving this as a fond and fitting farewell to a true gem of British comedy? Either way, this is a worthy addition to the back catalogue.
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DVD & Digital

DVD review: The Look of Love


 Having previously worked together on a number of projects, including ’24 Hour Party People’ and ‘A Cock and Bull Story’, the friendship between director Michael Winterbottom and leading man Steve Coogan is evident. The latest collaboration ‘The Look of Love’ displays this wholeheartedly, both clearly enjoying themselves in their representation of Soho’s seedy seventies backdrop, following porn mogul Paul Raymond , revolutionising the sex industry, whilst juggling relationships with wife Jean (Anna Friel), mistress Fiona (Tamsin Egerton) and beloved daughter Debra (Imogen Poots). In a tale with more tits than a birdwatcher’s handbook boasting flamboyant British style, it offers a glossy insight into his world, but without getting fully beneath the cracks.
  Starting off with an aged weather beaten Raymond, reflecting on his life and legacy, we are given a more human look at the character, who throughout the majority of the film seems rather one dimensional. Moving from woman to woman, Raymond is flashy in his Ringo Starr designed apartment, getting countless rounds of champagne (house champagne), confidently building his empire, the tycoon shows no mercy as long as he is making money. One heartless scene stands out where he is tracked down by illegitimate son Derry, the meeting with the formalities of a job interview, his business mind getting in the way of his personal life. His daughter Debbie is his biggest weakness, giving him more grey hairs than any lawsuit thrown at him by the media or his suffering wife. and it is moments when the film gets behind the persona and touches upon the father/daughter relationship that it evokes the most emotion, but these moments are unfortunately too few and far between. Nonetheless, as compelling as the low points are, the highs are carried off with real charm, the excellent soundtrack, adding to the nostalgia, capturing a sense of the scene at that time. The documentary style segments are also fun, and pleasingly informative to those who are unfamiliar with his rags to riches story.
  Coogan is great as the starring man, his usual comic timing at a high standard though he lets his own personal charisma as well as his most successful creation Alan Partridge’s goofy wit disturb the depiction of the figure this supposed biopic is meant to be about, asking questions of the historical accuracy. He even squeezes in his trademark celebrity impersonations, which were used so heavily but brilliantly in Winterbottom’s mockumentary ‘The Trip’, with self indulgent disregard to his character. Aside from this, he is entirely watchable and he’d have to be alongside the leading woman. Friel is fiery as the scorned Jean, contrasting with the slick performance from Egerton as Amber turned Fiona Richmond, her stunning good looks assisting her in nearly stealing every frame she is in. Poots should be the best of the bunch, as wild child Debbie, her multilayered character offering an opportunity to excel but I felt irritated by her presence, and was disappointed that she never offered more weight to Debra’s tragic path. In a supporting cast with the established names of Fry, Walliams and Lucas, the most used is strangely Chris Addison, who is even more grating that he is on ‘Mock The Week’ as junkie magazine man Tony Power who on paper would be a exciting prospect to see on screen.
  Unfazed by flops, Raymond quotes Oscar Wilde’s ‘the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’, makes you wonder how closely tied he is with the man portraying him as with the full frontal nudity on show here, earning the 18 certificate, this film will certainly be talked about. Controversial and garish, ‘The Look of Love’ is no doubt a very enjoyable watch but as a biopic of such a complex and interesting personality, you would imagine a sense of fulfilment in seeing his rich life played out cinematically but here, the aesthetic pleasures outweigh the study of the man, failing to delve deep enough into his sordid psyche.

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