Tag Archives: Chris O’Dowd

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?

 

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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.

 

 

Thursday Movie Picks: Dance Movies That Aren’t Musicals

Matt

As usual, Wandering Through the Shelves has given me an excuse to catch up on movies you TMPprobably wouldn’t believe that I have missed- movies that I probably never would have sought out without this weekly challenge. The most crucial check off of my bucket list this week was Footloose, which until this week all I knew of was the Kenny Loggins song of the same name and Chris Pratt’s summary of the plot in Guardians of the Galaxy. I now know that Kevin Bacon understood what no one else in Beaumont did; that dancing has a way of helping you blow off steam like nothing else can. Not even Tractor Chicken.

Footloose may not be my favourite movie about dancing but it shares a philosophy of dance with some that are. My first pick is Billy Elliot (2000), whose main character is an 11 year-old boy with lots of reasons to want to blow off steam. His mother is dead, his father is distracted by the 1984 Miner’s Strike, and boxing doesn’t seem to be working out for him. It’s only when a no-Billy Elliotnonsense ballet teacher (Julie Walters) takes him under her wing that he finds his voice, confidence, and an outlet for his frustration. (Like Kevin Bacon, he does a lot of angry dancing). It’s touching and very funny.

Taking a page from Billy Elliot, inner city New York fifth graders learn several styles of ballroom dancing in the 2005 documentary Mad Hot Ballroom. The film follows a pilot project with the NYC Department of Education that aims to expose students to dances from around the world including the tango, foxtrot, and merengue. Like Billy Elliot, it’s surprisingly funny, with lots of Kids Say the Darndest Things Moments. Plus, it’s hard not to crack up seeing the discomfort of 10 year-old boys having to mad hot ballroomdance with a girl for the first time. Just as importantly though, the documentary lets us bear witness to a program that gives these kids a unique opportunity to learn about the arts, other cultures, and the opposite It may just make you want to dance too. At the screening I attended ten years ago, I passed a couple swing dancing right there in the theater.

Not every movie about dancing will make you want to get up and dance though. My third pick is Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008), which to me follows two kindred spirits who whose bodies are exploited in one way or another for the entertainment of others. As the title the wrestlersuggests, Marisa Tomei’s aging stripper is not the central character in The Wrestler but it’s a memorable one, especially when contrasted with Mickey Rourke’s aging wrestler. Both characters are seeing signs that it’s time to make a clean break. She manages to walk away by the end, getting a chance to see what else life has in store for her, even if the wrestler isn’t so lucky.

 

 

Sean

Footloose – My favourite scene in this movie is and will always be the tractor scene, which is one of the few in this movie not involving any dancing or head-bobbing at all.  Even before I saw the movie the soundtrack was part of my life – a kid on my bus had the soundtrack and insisted that the driver play it every single day.  Which would have been fine except that every day I heard the same two songs before my stop  so it got a little bit repetitive.  But the movie and especially the tractor scene are still great.

Black Swan – this movie is creepy and crazy and awesome.  I don’t even know how to describe it or do it justice.  It’s a must see and it’s about dancing so that works out really well.

 

 

House Party – it is because of this movie that I knew in 1990 who Kid ‘N Play were even though I housepartyhad never heard any of their songs.  It was everything a white kid needed to know about house parties and rap battles and b-boy dancing.  And everything I needed to hold a (brief) conversation with all the white kids in my high school rocking fades and Raiders hats and jackets.  We watched it recently and I really didn’t remember any of it but it’s fun and it has a few recognizable faces in addition to Kid ‘N Play, including both Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell, pre-Martin.

Jay

Sean doesn’t know how to describe why he likes Black Swan? Let me give it a try, and I only need two words: Lesbian sex. But sure, let’s call it “dancing.” I prefer “dancing” to dancing myself, but I am quite partial to Billy Elliot, that little scamp! I was a bit of a mean little knock-kneed ballerina myself, once upon a time, and I relate to the toe-tapping need to dance although admittedly I’m not much of an angry dancer these days. Angry baking? Sure. Angry showering? All the time. But dancing I save for the happy times.
Cuban Fury – Bruce (Nick Frost) was a child salsa prodigy but gave up the swivelling hips when bullies tore the sequins from his chest and taught him a valuable lesson in humility: salsa’s for pussies. He hasn’t danced in 25 years. He lives a lonely life, bullied at work by his manager Drewcubanfury (Chris O’Dowd). But then the office gets a new boss, Julie (Rashida Jones), who happens to be a dancer herself and suddenly his passion is reignited. All three of these people are comic heroes of mine, and the movie works purely on that level alone. But I also really love the atypical-dancer motif, which is only acknowledged by others in the film. Salsa may have you thinking more Antonio Banderas than Nick Frost (are you picturing Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley doing their Chippendales act right now?) but Frost does the legwork (and the foot work!) to make the dance come alive. Although I’m not sure I needed to see him wearing quite so many silk blouses, I’m a sucker for Latin music (and Latin music mixed tapes!), and I go absolute batshit crazy for a dance-off.

Waiting for Guffman – One of Christopher Guest’s genius mockumentaries, this one tells the tale of Corky St. Clair, a fabulous wannabe-Broadway director trapped in small-town Missouri, where he gets to put on a low-budget historical musical for the town’s anniversary. As usual, his talented cast mostly ad-lib their way through the movie, which makes for crazy good times, but guffmanmy favourite is when Christopher Guest is attempting to teach choreography to a bunch of bozos. Corky’s patented dance moves are irresistible and I dare you not to smile. Eugene Levy couldn’t do it – he had to be hidden way in the back during filming because every time Guest danced it would set him off into a fit of giggles that took too long to recover from. It’s so earnest and deadpan I don’t know how any of them ever make it through a scene – I know I never do.

Gotta Dance – This documentary follows a for-true-real experiment by the New Jersey Nets – one year they put together the NBA’s first-ever all-senior (as in citizens! 60+ and creaking hips all the way) hip-hop dance troupe. I suppose this is a pretty good counter-point to Matt’s documentary GottaDancePhoto1with the kids since this one introduces us to a crowd of people who thought their ship had sailed. Some are discovering dance for the first time, others have enjoyed a little soft shoe in the kitchen for so many years the linoleum’s worn out. Two of the troupe’s over-80 members are grandmothers of Nets cheerleaders, and their stories are among my favourites. We get to know all of them, including one dowdy school teacher who develops a Beyonce-like Sacha Fierce alternate ego for performing. They’re fun to watch, even as some let their 15 minutes go to their heads, but they’ve all got commendable energy and spirit…but when they’re out on the court at half-time with thousands of people half-paying attention as they pee and get hot dogs, will they even remember the moves? Or will the racy Jay-Z lyrics trigger seizures? Anything can happen, folks!

Bonus Pick: Happy Feet The songs are great and the feet are happy…and so am I when I’m watching this.
happyfeet

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.