New York Film Festival capsules: ‘Alan Partridge’ and ‘Stray Dogs’

Steve Coogan (oppposite Tim Key) brings his most famous character to the screen in "Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa." Credit: Magnolia Pictures
Steve Coogan (oppposite Tim Key) brings his most famous character to the screen in “Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.”
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’
3 Globes
America has never fully embraced — nor been terribly made aware of — Alan Partridge, the boorishly egomaniacal radio DJ who is actor and writer Steve Coogan’s most famous creation. (After the version of himself he plays in films like “The Trip,” that is.) Newbies need not necessarily delve into the character’s many shows to get lots out of his long-planned spin-off. It’s a thoroughly self-contained episode, where Partridge — a major inspiration on “The Office”’s David Brent — finds himself at the center of a hostage situation. That’s by his own force: Once booted from his own TV show for accidentally killing a guest (plus poor ratings), he hopes to steal back the limelight when his tiny digital radio station is taken over by a fired DJ (Colm Meaney) with a gun.

Quotables inevitably run wild, though the comedy can be a bit too broad. (Coogan almost makes a de-pantsing scene work, but it feels like a desperate bid to placate mass audiences.) At the same time, it’s a bit too modest, setting up a vicious satire along the lines of the great, bitter Billy Wilder film “Ace in the Hole” — in which Kirk Douglas’ journalist exacerbates a mining disaster to milk it for extra press — only to stop before it draws blood. Still, funny’s funny, and most is forgiven when Partridge (to cite one example) callously introduces Neil Diamond as “far as I’m concerned, the real ‘King of the Jews.’”

‘Stray Dogs’
4 Globes
It’s been a few years since we’ve heard anything prominent from Taiwan’s deadpan minimalist Tsai Ming-liang (“What Time is it There?,” “The Wayward Cloud”). His latest at first blush sounds (and even feels) like a work of Importance: a look at the homeless, trying to eke by in an unforgiving city (and later unforgiving urban wasteland). Tsai regular Lee Kang-sheng plays a human billboard caring for two kids. Tsai’s camera stares unblinkingly as he stands in tableaux shots, sometimes amidst terminal downpour and while muttering to himself. Around the hour mark things start getting weird and more traditionally Tsai-esque (albeit without the usual leftfield song-and-dance numbers). Characters shift, multiple women come to the children’s aid and if you think this won’t end with a few career-topping epic long takes, then you’re wrong.


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