Tag Archives: StudioCanal

The Program (2015, Stephen Frears)

The Program does not tell a particularly filmic story. It doesn’t have a rewarding dramatic arc. Telling the story of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, with Ben Foster in the role–and as the film’s main character–does not offer many moments of joy. Foster’s spellbinding. He humanizes the sociopath enough to make him understandable in his cruelty. The Program is not a mystery, it starts with Foster figuring out how to cheat. At no moment is he playing the hero, not even when he does something heroic. It’s nearly a biopic, albeit an inspiring one, but it’s also a condemnation of character.

Rightly so too. But it does mean having an “anti-hero” in the lead position of the film and that situation holds The Program back. There’s a lot of historical footage used for the bike racing. While director Frears and cinematographer Danny Cohen do shoot some excellent cycling sequences, this film isn’t about the sport. It’s not about the thrill of it. It’s not even about the cost of fraud, if only because the subject isn’t capable of feeling guilt. Foster’s performance is phenomenal in the third act, when things come crashing down, because he’s got to collapse silently. It’s a tour de force performance (no pun) without a great defining scene. He never faces off with the people he’s tried to ruin. He’s a snake. He has a lawyer do it. And Foster’s perfect at it.

In the antagonist positions are Chris O’Dowd as the reporter who tries to figure out why Armstrong has to brake while going uphill. For a while, O’Dowd has a lot to do. Then he disappears. He’s excellent, but the film just doesn’t have enough for him to do. The same goes for Jesse Plemons as one of Foster’s teammates. He’s great, he has a complex arc (sort of), but he doesn’t have a lot to do. Again, history fails to provide the necessary melodrama.

Once things get legal, Cohen and Frears employ some odd spherical lenses to create claustrophobia in the Panavision frame. It’s not successful, but Frears is more about his actors, more about the way the film conveys its narrative than its visual sense. In many ways, The Program is just watching to see what Foster is going to do next, just like the viewer.

Good support from Guillaume Canet and Denis Ménochet. Cohen’s photography, spherical choices aside, is strong. The same goes for Valerio Bonelli’s editing. Except the historical footage. It might have made sense if it were a metaphor for O’Dowd waxing poetic about cycling turned into a fraud, but it isn’t. It’s mostly an expository shortcut, a budget requirement.

The film starts strong, but it’s obviously relying on its actors and on John Hodge’s sturdy, methodical, somewhat thankless script. Frears takes the time to set up expectations, then lets Foster surpass them all. The Program doesn’t want to answer all the questions its raises, it’s happy to just come up with some good questions. It might limit the film’s overall potential, but Foster, O’Dowd, Plemons, Cohen and Frears all do excellent work here.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Frears; screenplay by John Hodge, based on a book by David Walsh; director of photography, Danny Cohen; edited by Valerio Bonelli; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Alan MacDonald; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tracey Seward and Kate Solomon; released by StudioCanal.

Starring Ben Foster (Lance Armstrong), Jesse Plemons (Floyd Landis), Chris O’Dowd (David Walsh), Guillaume Canet (Medecin Michele Ferrari), Denis Ménochet (Johan Bruyneel), Lee Pace (Bill Stapleton), Edward Hogg (Frankie Andreu), Elaine Cassidy (Betsy Andreu) and Dustin Hoffman (Bob Hamman).


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Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015, Mark Burton and Richard Starzak)

Shaun the Sheep Movie runs just under ninety minutes. There’s a lot impressive about the film (not least being writer-directors Burton and Starzak never using dialogue, just vocal inferences), but the second half moves at a startlingly great pace. Shaun is the finest physical comedy in years, with the directors figuring in not just inventive plot developments, but perfectly timed jokes. Given it’s stop motion, the timing doubly has to be perfect.

The story has Shaun (the titular Sheep) having to go to the big city to rescue his farmer, who’s ended up in the big city due to Shaun’s shenanigans. The style of Shaun–it’s a spin-off of Wallace and Gromit–allows for some great suspensions of disbelief, the easiest being the evil animal control guy falling for a sheep in lady clothes and the most difficult being Shaun and company being able to read.

Or vice versa. That mileage may vary, but there’s never much time spent on that disbelief because the animators capture perfect human moments. Often in animals.

The first half is a little bumpy and has a couple too on the nose music montages, but the montages always recover.

It’s beautifully made–great photography from Charles Copping and Dave Alex Riddett, great editing from Sim Evan-Jones. And the Aardman animators, no surprise, do a fantastic job on the stop motion.

Shaun the Sheep Movie is simultaneously precious, small, outlandish and rambunctious. Burton and Starzak deliver a rather special, rather spectacular motion picture.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak; directors of photography, Charles Copping and Dave Alex Riddett; edited by Sim Evan-Jones; music by Ilan Eshkeri; production designer, Matt Perry; produced by Julie Lockhart and Paul Kewley; released by StudioCanal.

Starring Justin Fletcher (Shaun / Timmy), John Sparkes (The Farmer / Bitzer), Omid Djalili (Trumper), Richard Webber (Shirley), Kate Harbour (Timmy’s Mum / Meryl), Tim Hands (Slip), Andy Nyman (Nuts), Simon Greenall (Twins) and Emma Tate (Hazel).


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Tales of the Night (2011, Michel Ocelot)

Tales of the Night is a visual masterpiece. It’s computer generated silhouette animation, usually two dimensional (though director Ocelot does branch occasionally into the third), about what seems to be a futuristic theatre company. Late one night, two young actors (and costume designers and writers) and the guy who seems to be their director, sit and adapt a bunch of fables and folk tales for the stage.

Except the stage is never clear-the viewer just sees these adaptations as part of the film; one of Night‘s major failings is the lack of emphasis on the actors. Its other major failing is related-the female actor invariably takes the backseat. Even when she protests she hates a role… she has to do it. Even when she says this role will be her strongest, it’s not. The boy-in the fable-is always the hero.

Ocelot keeps misses his chance to do something interesting with a female protagonist in a fable; by the last one, it’s more annoying than disappointing.

The fables involve a werewolf in Burgundy, an African one, a Caribbean one featuring the afterlife (sort of), a Tibetan one, one about the Aztecs (or Mayans). The final one is just a standard fairy tale. I may have forgotten one, but I don’t think so.

The African one might be the best, though the Caribbean one is hilarious. They’re all often touching. The stumbling starts with the last two.

Still, Ocelot makes a magnificent film. Shame about his gender issues.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michel Ocelot; edited by Patrick Ducreut; music by Christian Maire; released by StudioCanal.

Starring Julien Beramis (Boy), Marine Griset (Girl) and Yves Barsacq (Théo).


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