Film Reviews: Alan Partridge, Almost Human, Child's Pose, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
Frontiers Staff

Starring Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Felicity Montagu
* * *

Alan Partridge, released as Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa in the U.K., fits firmly in a long line of shambolic, ludicrous and fitfully hysterical film comedies. It opened at number one in August in Britain, and though he has his rabid fans here in the United States, Steve Coogan’s latest foray playing this narcissistic gloryhound of a title character will be strictly for his cult or Anglophiles. Partridge, a failed TV host and now radio personality on a local station in Norwich, is beyond self-involved, and whether you respond to the movie or not depends on how much you can stomach Coogan’s acerbic and often cruel humor. (He wrote the screenplay with Peter Baynham, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbon and Armando Iannucci. It’s a mess yet chock full of fantastic individual scenes.) I prefer Coogan to his closest American counterpart, Will Farrell (specifically as Ron Burgundy), because though he may be a naked comic trying to get us to laugh, he’s never desperate. The asides and throwaways here are often funnier than what’s front-and-center, and the operatic flights of physical comedy are inspired. (One long scene, with a pants-less Partridge, is especially tickling.) The film’s cult status awaits it, and it is well-deserved. —Dan Loughry

Starring Graham Skipper, Josh Ethier,
Vanessa Leigh
* *

Almost Human is almost good. This Saturday night splatterfest, written and directed by Joe Begos, shares the problems of many low-budget, independent horror films—inconsistent acting; functional dialogue. But for connoisseurs of the genre—and I’m one—it has plenty to recommend it. Though he has a heavy hand with the actors, Begos gets good visual mileage out of rural landscapes and claustrophobic interiors; there’s more than one “boo” scare over the course of its short 76-minute run time. The plot—about aliens abducting and then returning a changed man to recruit a better species—is solid enough as these things go (there are nods to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing). And there’s a high count of graphic killings—ax in the skull, throat-slitting, bullet to the head, snapped neck, giant rock smashing into face. If you came upon it on late-night cable, you’d probably watch and jump and guffaw—and that’s not damning the movie with feint praise. There’s also some alien/human procreation that’s a kinky kick to watch. It’s not great art, but it’s great fun, and I hope Begos gets to work again with a bigger budget and better actors. —Dan Loughry

Starring Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Ilinca Goia
* * * *

Does mother know best? In this staggering Romanian film, Cornelia (Gheorghiu) gets a call that her son Barbu (Dumitrache) has killed a teenager in a car accident. The upper-class Cornelia, who is both well-informed and well-connected, is a “meddler.” She sets about arranging things—correcting her son’s speed in his police report, bribing a witness to the accident and agreeing to do a favor for a needy cop. Child’s Pose also chronicles the compromises Cornelia makes to save Barbu. She has a candid chat with his lover, Carmen (Goia), as well as a revealing talk with her son and the parents of the victim. Each scene is freighted with meanings about acceptance and responsibility. Director Calin Peter Netzer films the action like a documentary, with intimacy and urgency. A scene in which Cornelia mounts her prostrate son to administer a salve for his wounded back is both tender and creepy, but it shows the unconditional love this mother has for her son. Gheorghiu gives a phenomenal performance. Her eyes reveal exactly what she is thinking and planning at any given moment. Child’s Pose ends on a slightly ambiguous note, and this, like every scene before it, has an unsettling effect. —Gary M. Kramer

Starring Elaine Stritch, Alec Baldwin, James Gandolfini
* * * *

Elaine Stritch, the incomparable Broadway legend, is a spitfire—perhaps even more so at age 86. She makes an indelible and ingratiating impression rehearsing a new show of Sondheim favorites, or guest starring on 30 Rock as Alec Baldwin’s mother. (Baldwin executive produced this doc.) As Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me shows, the actress is almost always in rare form. Just marvel at her feisty exchange with a makeup artist, or her singing with an elevator operator. Her candor about her drinking, her diabetes and her relationships—she dated JFK once, loved Ben Gazzara and befriended the late James Gandolfini—also provides moments of intimacy about this larger-than-life performer. Shoot Me features excellent footage and photos of Stritch throughout her career. A clip of her performing “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company for Sondheim is a highlight. There are moments of poignancy as the singer is worried about forgetting lyrics, battling health issues and contemplating leaving New York. But her indomitable spirit is what comes across as she finds truth in her life and the lyrics she sings. If the film hints at her “difficult” reputation, Stritch’s no-bullshit attitude prevents this entertaining portrait from becoming a hagiography. —Gary M. Kramer

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