Brand keeps living the rock star dream in Hollywood

Get Him To The Greek
Cert: 15

As recent comedies have gone, 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall was a neatly plotted break-up movie that managed to produce a fair amount of laughs, most of them care of Russell Brand. The comedian’s turn as rock star Aldous Snow made him a star in America, with the result that this loose sequel – written and directed by Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Nicholas Stoller – gives the character a movie all of his own.

His foil is tubby Superbad star Jonah Hill, here playing a record label employee tasked by his boss (Sean “P Diddy” Combs) to come up with an idea to combat the company’s financial woes. Coincidentally it’s been ten years since Aldous Snow’s career pinnacle sell-out shows at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, since which his career has taken a nosedive, bottoming out with the release of African Child, a single written off as “the worst thing to happen to Africa since Apartheid” by the NME. Aaron’s big idea is to stage an Aldous Snow comeback show at the same venue, and he’s given 72 hours to get Snow from London to the Greek Theatre.

Predictably, things don’t run smoothly – cue scenes of rock‘n’roll debauchery, with Brand camping it up in his own Jack Sparrow-meets-Jagger style, and repeated shots of Aaron throwing up. It’s part spoof of the music industry and part road-movie, with humour of a kind that will appeal to those who liked last year’s The Hangover. Having said that, it all feels a little lacking in direction – while Stoller is rewarded for his confidence in Brand’s ability to hold centre stage, which he does with aplomb, too often we’re asked to assume that simply introducing Aldous Snow into a given scenario will somehow keep things moving along – it doesn’t. Still, when it’s funny it really is funny and Brand’s flirtation with Hollywood is looking more and more like a proper romance.

Whatever works
Cert: PG

Woody Allen’s latest film has been over thirty years in the making. Allen had originally written the part of misanthropic New Yorker Boris Yellnikoff for the actor Zero Mostel, only to shelve the script after his death in 1977. Now it is comedian Larry David – he of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld fame – who’s been given the role of surrogate Woody. Whilst it’s difficult to call a film so long in the making a return to form – and indeed, problematic to use that phrase with a director who’s unlikely to equal earlier classics such as Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters – fans of Allen’s films who’ve become used to the drivel he’s produced in recent years can relax. Whatever Works is a delight.

After his recent European-set films, it’s good to see Allen back in his spiritual home of Manhattan, as populated by bourgeois intellectuals. It centres on the uppity Yellnikoff, a physicist once considered for a Nobel Prize, whose obsessive musings on existential issues and contempt for humanity means he often forgets that some people have real problems. His equilibrium is upset by the arrivals of Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), a sweet but woefully naive runaway from Mississippi who Boris reluctantly takes in, and then her mother Marietta (Patricia Clarkson), a Southern dame. Under the influence of magical Manhattan, Melody and Marietta begin to blossom, in what is in large part another love letter from Allen to his hometown.

The key to the success here, though, is David, who instead of attempting to impersonate Allen, brings his own equally recognisable style to proceedings. Still, in its sharp writing and broad, clever humour, Whatever Works is unmistakably a Woody Allen film – it’s good to have him back.