Tag Archives: Chris O’Dowd

Love After Love

Warning: do not ask your spouse (or your friend or your kid or your brother) if they’re happy unless you’re really, truly prepared to hear the answer. Unless you’re certain the relationship, and your heart, can survive honesty. Happiness is a tricky thing, perhaps overvalued, perhaps not, but certainly contentious, perhaps elusive, always sought-after.

Brothers Nicholas (Chris O’Dowd) and Chris (James Adomian) are dealing with the death of their father, which was a rough one (or are they all?). Grief never exists in a vacuum. Death doesn’t wait for marriage, divorce, career, or even nervous breakdowns. It doesn’t wait to be convenient. Grief gets woven into the pastiche of life and it’s hard to watch these two mostly lovable guys flail about. But in some ways it’s even harder to watch their mother (Andie MacDowell. Andie MacDowell!) try to cope. She’s too young to be a widow and too vibrant to just curl in on herself. And too concerned about her children to not say what’s on her mind. Grief doesn’t make you a better person.

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Love After Love is a bold movie that refuses to put on a brave face. There are no easy answers and no Hollywood endings. Grief changes a person, distorts a family dynamic. It can be ugly and it can be cruel, and director Russell Harbaugh savours those moments like they’re precious, and I suppose in some essential way, they are. The film feels loose and untethered; a series of family gatherings reveal their struggle to return to stasis. It’s as messy as they are, and seeing these emotions portrayed so honestly and unflinchingly is bleak of course but refreshing – I almost felt a sense of relief to not have to buy into the normal Hollywood tropes.

The cast is wonderful because they’re fearless. I have loved Chris O’Dowd since I first laid eyes on him and in the past few years he’s shown incredible range (though I tend to believe that if you can do comedy, you can do anything – not true in reverse). But I’m also super glad to see Andie MacDowell because we never get enough and she’s as underrated as they come. Together, the three of them reflect an authentic experience that can be hard to watch because it feels personal. This kind of unraveling is meant to be private, or at least that’s what the death rites in North American tell us, and it makes us uncomfortable to witness it. This film delivers some very raw performances and if you can maneuver around the emotional minefield, I think you’ll be quite pleased that you did.

 

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Molly’s Game

I resisted watching this because of a distaste I have for Molly Bloom, the real Molly Bloom. She’s extremely self-involved and remorseless. So damn you Aaron Sorkin for getting nominated and forcing me to watch this. Well, okay, since it stars Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, it wasn’t a total boycott, but still, I was reluctant. Especially reluctant after being subjected to the trailer numerous times in which Molly asks a little girl “Do you know how many witches were burned at Salem?” and when the kid shrugs, she says none – they weren’t burned, they were hanged or drowned or stoned. But something in me rebelled angrily at this line; the answer is right, none were burned, but that’s because witches never existed. It was women who were burned or hanged or stoned.

Anyway, you may or may not know that Molly Bloom ran a bunch of illegal poker games, made oodles of money, and then get raided, her cash seized, and she was indicted. Facing court, and jail, she wrote a book about it, and named names.MV5BMTU2NjY4NjM2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDcyMzIyMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_

Molly isn’t particularly likable. She thinks she’s smart and she tells you she is constantly. She could have gone to law school, you know. And probably should have. But the money was so easy, and so plentiful! And movie stars played the poker (and the Russian mob, but never mind that). She’s guilty and she’s greedy but she’s also tough as hell. Chastain taps into her resiliency , her intelligence, her strength. Idris Elba plays her “not a little bit shady” lawyer, and he’s a perfect sparring partner. Aaron Sorkin’s scripts are meaty and lesser actors may be felled by them but Chastain and Elba are not just equal to it, they master it. It’s impressive.

Aaron Sorkin isn’t just the screen writer on this, he also steps into director’s shoes for the first time. Swinging for realism, he stacked the lesser roles with real poker players, wanting even the way they handled cards to look authentic. In between takes, the actors would play poker with the real players. Extras, usually paid about $90 a day, would often leave the set the best paid people there.

Sorkin is a smart guy with a lot of famous friends; he asked for and received great advice and support from David Fincher (a Social Network collaborator) and from Kevin Costner, who stars as Bloom’s father. The story is intriguing and well-suited to Sorkin’s abilities, but the movie runs a little long and isn’t terribly cinematic (there’s a lot of sitting in a lawyer’s office, which, not coincidentally, is located in the fictional firm of Gage Whitney, which fans of Sorkin’s will recognize from The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Newsroom.

The movie didn’t change my mind about Molly but it certainly cements Chastain and Elba as razor sharp, a cut above. If you like Sorkin’s zingy TV stuff, you’ll like this just fine. It’s not a best picture contender but it’s got some damn fine performances.

 

 

So, was Molly Bloom a witch, or just a woman?

Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent lives up to its name: a team of over 100 artists hand-painted each and every frame in this beautiful animated film. What better way to pay tribute to one of the most iconic artists the world has ever known?

The film takes place a year after Van Gogh shot himself and died of the wounds. In life, Van Gogh had painted a portrait of his post master. After his death, a letter of his, perhaps the last he’d ever MV5BNzFhNTMyYTYtYjBkNC00MTIwLWJhMDktZGI0NWZiNWIxYjYzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg4MjE2MzU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1383,1000_AL_written, was returned, so the post master sends his son to deliver it. The post master is fully aware of the special relationship between Vincent and his brother, Theo, and is adamant the letter be placed in his hands, or in the hands of the doctor who cared for him in the last months of his life.

The young man’s special delivery unearths the events that led up to Vincent’s death. His suicide seems to have caught most who knew him off guard – he’d seemed particularly well right before it happened. The story unfolds in beautiful images done in Vincent’s own familiar, fanciful style – over 65 000 oil paintings were made for the film over seven years. That’s quite an act of love, and the first of its kind.

The movie is augmented with excellent voice work by Saoirse Ronan, Douglas Booth, Aidan Turner, Chris O’Dowd and more. The neat thing is the artists have incorporated their likenesses into the film without losing the authenticity of the characters who peppered Van Gogh’s life. The actors actually were filmed playing their parts, and all of this informed the artistic process. This is a really lovely film that treats its subject reverently, with the same sensitivity embodied by the man himself. There was so much more to him than what history remembers, and this movie restores some of what’s owed to his legacy.

 

The Incredible Jessica James

Two broken hearts on the rebound: Jessica (Jessica Williams) is an aspiring playwright full of youthful energy and self-confidence; Boone (Chris O’Dowd) is recently divorced and somewhat bewildered by the dating scene.

When we first meet Jessica, I was a little repelled. She comes off brash and self-serving – not the kind of person you’d want to go on a blind date with, not the kind of person I’d really care to watch onscreen for an hour and a half. But by the opening credits, she’d MV5BMTA1NDM0ODY2MDdeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDc2NTgxOTAy._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1596,1000_AL_grown on me. She dances around her apartment so unselfconsciously I couldn’t help but see myself in her. By the film’s half way point, I quite agreed with the title: incredible indeed.

Jessica insists that the friendship between herself and Boone will be based on honesty, and this pact pulls no punches. They bond over their mutual obsession with their exes. They make brutal self-disclosures. As you can imagine, the intimacy grows between them and their relationship morphs more quickly than either of them are really ready for. But Jessica James isn’t just about boys, she’s a fully realized woman with a lot more going on. She doggedly applies to any theatre program that might accept her plays, she teaches theatre to children, she pursues her passions while supporting those of her friends.

Writer-director Jim Strouse wrote The Incredible Jessica James specifically for Jessica Williams, and I sincerely hope it’s a star-making role for her. She’s infectious and luminous and I want her to be in all the things. This movie is a rom-com for 2017: it is what it says it is. It doesn’t just pay lipservice to #feminism, it gives its leading lady a wide range of interests so that she doesn’t have to find fulfillment through love, she’s already got a lot going on. Williams and O’Dowd have a sparky kind of energy that’s gorgeous to watch and I LOVE me some Chris O’Dowd, so the fact that I was equally happy when he was offscreen says a lot about the kind of movie this is, and the star power that Williams shines upon us.

You don’t have to take my word for it: The Incredible Jessica James is streaming on Netflix right this very minute. It took me about 5-10 minutes to ease into it but I went from charmed to smitten pretty quick and here’s hoping that you do too.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Despite never having read the book(s?) upon which this movie is based, it still felt all too familiar to me while watching Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Could it be that we’ve finally seen the bottom of Tim Burton’s bag of tricks, and now we’re just watching the shadow of his talent?

Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) keeps the wards in her charge safe by keeping them in a 24 hour time loop, the 24 hours before their beautiful home is to be bombed by the Nazis, circa 1943. Neither she nor her peculiar children age while in the time loop, but to step peregrins-gallery10outside of it would have time catching up to them in a hurry. Inside their cozy little loop, they can be as peculiar as they like without repercussion. Or they could until a peculiar gone rogue (Samuel L. Jackson) invents monsters to hunt them. That’s why Abe (Terence Stamp) chooses to live outside the loop – true he has to leave behind his love, but he keeps her and everyone else safe by hunting the monsters in turn. But in his old age, Abe meets an ugly demise and his eyeless body is discovered by his teenaged grandson, Jake (Asa Butterfield ), the only one suspicious enough (or peculiar enough?) to avenge his grandfather’s death.

Once Jake discovers the time loop and the peculiars, Tim Burton is in his element. He’s excellent at creating worlds, giving them texture and meaning and magic, and populating them with loads and loads of white people. Oh, haven’t you heard? Tim Burton’s a racist now. Well, not so much “now” as always, it’s just that only now are we really paying attention. Tim Burton is visionary; he can conjure ghosts in cheap suits, demon barbers and talking caterpillars – but cast a person of colour as one of his peculiars? That would just be weird. That is too much of a stretch of Burton’s imagination.

If it was just the Peculiar Children who suffer from his pale proclivities, we might forgive him, but a cursory glance over his IMDB list has me horrified. Samuel L. Jackson is the firstperegrins-gallery9 black man he’s cast in a leading role EVER, and you know he’s playing a villain. Jackson aside, Tim Burton’s casting takes on a very pale shade of white. His sets may be designed in technicolour but Tim Burton himself only dreams in caucasian. And it’s not really Tim Burton’s fault. We’re the dummies who have accepted this unthinkingly for years. He’s had huge ensemble casts with not even a tan among them and I for one haven’t even thought to question it.

We’re awake now, though, and the cat’s not getting back into the bag, no matter how many claw marks Tim Burton accrues trying to stuff the fucker back in. His words, you see, have proven even more damning than his pasty casting choices. “Things either call for things, or they don’t” he’s said, meaning, if a script says “African American”, he’ll cast an African American. But if a script says “person”, Burton reads it as “white person.” And that’s exactly the kind of inherent bias we most especially have to watch for. White tends to be the default far too often in Hollywood (and in life). But audiences are not. Audiences are made up of real people, a whole rainbow’s worth. And in 2016, we demand to see that reflected on the screen.

Tim Burton is just another old white dude defending the old guard. He wants things to stay the same. Dude with scissors for hands? Sure. Obsessive candy man? Why not. Orphan in a rubber suit playing god? As long as he’s not black, have at it!

“I remember back when I was a child watching “The Brady Bunch”and they started to get all politically correct, like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black — I used to get more offended by that than just — I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.”

-Tim Burton, ladies and gentelmen

Of course his ignorant comments have done nothing but confirm the need for the very thing he’s eschewing. The truth is, for as long as this white default exists, we need to fight it consciously by countering it at every turn. If a script doesn’t demand it, society should. There is no room for lazy racism like Burton’s in 2016; it’s time to stop casting movies like they’re segregated.

Never mind that Blaxploitation movies were born in response to systemic racism and preached empowerment. Let’s just take his statement for what it is: white privilege, white ignorance, and an embarrassing amount of #alllivesmatter racist thinking. Tim Burton needs to pull his white head out of his white ass, and we all need to hold him accountable. And maybe while he’s at it he might also make a movie not so nakedly derivative of his old work. 😉

TIFF: Mascots

Christopher Guest has long since held an esteemed spot in my heart and my DVD shelf for his improv-heavy mockumentaries. He wrote and starred in the grandfather of them all, Spinal Tap, but came on as director as well for his classics Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show, and A Mighty Wind. He’s poked fun at small town theatre, dog shows, and folk music, and after an agonizing decade-long hiatus, he’s back with Mascots.

As you  might guess, Mascots does indeed take on the little-explored world of mascotery: you know, the guys at football games dressed up in the big fuzzy suits, trying to get the spectators to cheer and do the wave. The fun is more images.jpgsincere than scathing, but no less amusing for its kindness. Christopher Guest’s body of work is so aligned with what I find funny that Mascots was my number 1 pick for TIFF, ahead of La La Land or Nocturnal Animals or Loving. I was delighted to be able to attend the world premiere, but somewhere in a secret place down near my toes I was worried that perhaps his latest just wouldn’t measure up. With a ten year break, would the chemistry still be there?

I needn’t have worried. Biiiiiiiig sigh of relief. It’s funny! So funny I’m in immediate need of a re-watch. The laughs from one joke often drowned out the next – and what a pleasant problem to have! Mascots is vintage Guest, and he’s got a lot of the old troupe assembled for more.

Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr, and Don Lake play judges at this year’s Golden Fluffy awards. They’re former mascots themselves and are pleased to judge this year’s finalists in a cut-throat competition. Chris O’Dowd is “The Fist,” hockey’s bad-boy mascot. Parker Posey is a dancing armadillo. Tom Bennett is a football club badger. Christopher Moynihan is a plush Plumber. It sounds absurd and it absolutely is, but that’s what has always worked so well in Guest’s movies: he takes a hobby that exists on the fringes and is practiced mascotswith total obsessiveness, and he shows us the incredible underbelly. It’s fascinating. Like a car wreck or a wonky boob job, you can’t help but stare.

In the case of Mascots, Guest seems to take a particular interest in the proceedings, giving ample screen time to the “performances.” This is way more earnest than we’re used to seeing from him, but it works, largely because the actors commit with such deadpan abandon. It takes a lot of guts to make a movie the way Guest does – he doesn’t know what he’ll end up with until the camera stops rolling and he starts cutting in the editing room. He relies on a deep pool of talent – too deep, as most only get to shine for a line or two. I want more Balaban, more Willard. And definitely more Corky St. Clair, a role Guest reprises from Waiting for Guffman. If we can’t have it all, though, Guest and company still give us a pretty fair shake. I left the theatre with rosy cheeks and a bounce in my bottom.

The good news is that just two films into my Toronto International Film Festival experience, I’d already found a film to love. The even better news: you’ll love it too, and soon – it’ll be out on Netflix October 13th.

The Program

Lance Armstrong: hero or villain?

A liar and a cheat, that’s for sure.

And that’s what this movie is about: one man’s relentless, ruthless pursuit of the only thing that matters to him – winning. And it’s not just that he was willing to cheat to keep up with the others, no, you have to cheat the best to be the best. He didn’t just cheat, he hired a whole team of cheaters in order to boost his performance while cloakitheprogramng his dishonesty. And he flaunted his power and prestige (that he largely earned being “The Face of Cancer through his Livestrong foundation) to intimidate and coerce others into staying silent.

Ben Foster stars as Lance Armstrong, and it’s a good fit. He does the smarmy bravado well, with glimpses of vulnerability that humanize him. Jesse Plemmons (the low-rent Matt Damon) co-stars as his team-mate, and Chris O’Dowd, my Irish boyfriend, as the sports journalist who MTMzMTA1NDUyODAzMjEzMzIythinks he smells a rat.

The script is the problem. It has to race through more than a decade of doping, and it does so pretty frenetically, not really dwelling on much other than his downfall. The story doesn’t seem to know if it’s about Lance Armstrong’s power-hungry cheating or David Walsh’s (the journalist) determined reporting, or about generalized ambition and abuse of power in the sports world.

Lance Armstrong is not a nice guy. He lied, repeatedly, unapologetically. He cheated in pursuit of fame and money and all things deplorable. He also beat cancer and raised a lot of money for its research. But it’s likely the reason he got cancer in the first place was all his doping. But his doping and his subsequent winning led him to rejuvenate his sport, and imagesthe Tour de France, inspiring many. So who is this man? Don’t look to The Program for the answer. It has little in terms of insight – it’s mostly a scrapbook of Lance’s greatest hits and David’s best articles about them, and questioning them.

The only part of this movie I found interesting is when Dustin Hoffman briefly appears as an insurer. U.S. Postal sponsored Armstrong’s team and paid him out bonuses for each win, and an insurance company backed them up. Armstrong won a LOT of Tours de France, and they owed him a LOT of money…except what if he cheated, then he didn’t really win, did he? Armstrong is prepared to throw EVERYONE under the bus to keep his lie alive, but we all know how that ended up. The truth is, there is little in this movie that we don’t already know. And with scattered story-telling and shoddy characterization – well, what’s the point?