Tag Archives: Chris O’Dowd

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.

 

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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?

 

Forgive Me Father, For I Have Sinned

I have a little ritual. Once a week, movie in, manicure kit out. Last week I wore 4-alarm blaze, this week I’m changing it up for Bahama Mama. It’s nice to know that in the crayon off-season, colour namers still have somewhere to go. A movie is a perfect length of time to do your nails, and wet nails are the perfect way to stop yourself from eating a whole bag of chips while watching the movie: win-win!

And truth be told, some movies require a modicum of distraction. I mean, this movie in particular is a little intense, and it’s nice to have somewhere else to focus when your senses start overloading. But for me, being a little deficient in attention, I tend to actually focus better if I’m doing 2 or 3 other things in addition to the movie watching, which is why I’m writing to you, while watching a movie, while painting my nails. At work.

calvaryI’m watching Calvary, which is a brilliant character study of a priest going through a rough patch. Father James (Brendan Gleeson, wonderfully) sits in confession one Sunday and a parishioner confesses that he was molested as a child, by a priest. His abuser is long dead; instead, he plans on making a good priest pay. That good priest, it would seem, is to be Father James. The date is set for a week hence – Father James will die for the sins of the church.

Father James goes about helping the people of his parish – a butcher (Chris O’Dowd) being cuckholded, his own daughter fresh from a suicide attempt, a cynical and atheistic doctor, and a young man in prison for killing and eating beautiful women, this last played by Gleeson’s son Brendan Gleeson and Chris O'Dowd in John Michael McDonagh's Calvary.Domhnall (of Ex Machina, you may remember). Their scene together is pretty disturbing, and pretty great. Actually, the whole thing’s pretty great.

All the while, we’re wondering if it’s one of these parishioners (we’re introduced to a nice, round, biblical 12) who has threatened his life, so the interactions are tainted with underlying hostility and suspicion. We may not yet know who the would-be killer is, but Father James knows him. He knows his fate but keeps walking toward it. The movie’s cleverly put together, with plenty of hints in retrospect, sometimes uneven in tone as the humour and the violence circle around each other. The film deals with a difficult subject – sexual abuse in the church – in a calvary_2circumspect manner; not so much head-on as from a spiritual angle looking into the black hole left by years of abuse and maybe worse still, its cover up.

I always like Gleeson but he’s top-notch in this. His weathered face fills the frame with truth and regret. Forgiveness, redemption, compassion, sacrifice: by the time you’ve done your penance, your nails will be dry and you’ll be free to sin again.

 

 

St. Vincent

Nominated both for Best picture and best actor (musical or comedy in both cases) at this year’s Golden Globes, St. Vincent stars Bill Murray as a lonely old alcoholic who just wants to be left alone until, needing the money, he takes a job as a 10 year-old kid’s babysitter. During their time together, Bill introduces him to a lady of the night, teaches him how to fight and gamble, and takes him to a bar. The two also develop an unexpected (at least to each other) bond while we ponder the true meaning of sainthood.

There’s almost nothing in the script or the direction that deserve the charm or emotional payoff of the finished product. The credit really has to go to the actors. The kid, played by Jaeden Lieberher, is too smart and grown up. The kind you only see in movies. But played by Lieberher, we can almost believe it. I don’t know where they found this kid but the way he plays Oliver as a kid learning to be more comfortable in his own skin is believable even if the lines he has to read aren’t. His troubles fitting in at his new school should be a chore we have to sit through while we wait for more misbehaviour with Murray but, because Chris O’dowd is so likable as his teacher, they are some of my favourites in the whole movie. Melissa McCarthy as Oliver’s mom plays it refreshingly straight.

But none of this would be nearly enough if not for Bill Murray. At this point in his career, Murray can play sad and aging with about as much effort as it takes Morgan Freeman to play old and wise or Johnny Depp to play Jack Sparrow but in the last half of the movie, he even shows aspects of his talent that we haven’t really got to see yet. It’s a performance that makes his Best Actor nomination a no-brainer, even if the Best Picture nomination is bizarre. I blame Murray for the lump in my throat I had at the end, with emotions that this script just didn’t earn.

See Jay’s review of St. Vincent.