Movie Review: “The Program”
Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemmons, Dustin Hoffman, Lee Pace
Stephen Fears’ “The Program” is the rise-and-fall story we all expected from a Lance Armstrong biopic, and that’s the biggest issue with this overly familiar tale. Despite a committed lead performance from Ben Foster, Frears’ drama is an obvious and frustrating depiction of ambition and obsession.
We all know the story. Lance Armstrong (Foster) was one of the world’s most beloved heroes, until the cyclist was revealed to be a fraud. Armstrong wasn’t the biggest or fastest racer at the start of his career, but his luck soon changed after using performance-enhancing drugs, only to learn he had cancer following his first major victory. Armstrong ultimately made his grand return to cycling after defeating the cancer against all odds and went on to win more Tour de France titles, but journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) found the comeback awfully questionable.
“The Program” is basically a David vs. Goliath tale between Armstrong and Walsh. Both men love cycling, but Walsh believes that Armstrong is killing the sport, which pains him. To get to the truth, Walsh faces an uphill battle as he takes on the great and mighty Lance Armstrong. In the end, that’s all Frears’ film is really about.
Armstrong is portrayed in the movie as a shark. That’s fine, of course, but John Hodge’s script rarely slows down to let the audience fully empathize with the character. There is one great instance where the story is allowed to unfold more gracefully – when Armstrong comforts an ill child – that makes for a fantastic dichotomy; one of the biggest liars in the world couldn’t be experiencing a more truthful connection. It’s a superb scene that’s played with genuine emotion by Foster, showing Armstrong at his most vulnerable.
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SXSW Film Fest 2012: Day Three
This is my third year down in Austin for the South by Southwest film festival, and I think that I’ve finally figured out the science to covering the event all on my lonesome. Instead of past years, where I’ve done a mix of both full-length and shorter movie reviews, this time around, I’m going to be doing daily blogs with even shorter, capsule-style reviews of the films that I saw the previous day. I’m hoping this will make me more productive than usual, but as my schedule is constantly in flux, please bear with me. And if you can’t wait for my daily posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter @JasonZingale for more.
“Frankie Go Boom”
It’s hard to believe that a movie as terrible as “Frankie Go Boom” could boast such a great cast, but that’s what makes it so disappointing. Although there are a number of problems plaguing the film, the most detrimental one is the script itself, which fashions an idiotic plot around a rat race to track down a sex tape made by wannabe director Bruce (Chris O’Dowd) after he secretly films his brother Frankie’s (Charlie Hunnam) latest moment of humiliation in front of a cute girl named Lassie (Lizzy Caplan) that he meets while in town for Bruce’s release from drug rehab. With the exception of Frankie and Lassie, however, the rest of the characters veer dangerously close to parody by acting like complete imbeciles for the sole purpose of progressing the tale. It’s incredibly lazy storytelling on the part of writer/director Jordan Roberts, and as a result, you never really care what happens to anyone. That doesn’t stop the actors from playing along anyway – particularly Ron Perlman as Bruce’s former cellmate, who has since gotten a sex change operation (and believe me when I say that it’s every bit as disturbing as you might imagine) – but it’s all for naught, because no amount of acting prowess can change the fact that “Frankie Go Boom” never had much of a chance with a story as dull and stupid as this.
“The Raid: Redemption”
Action movies don’t get much cooler or more exciting than “The Raid: Redemption.” Whereas Welsh-born writer/director Gareth Evans’ first Indonesian feature “Merantau” had a few cool fight sequences but was an otherwise mediocre film, “The Raid” is an unrelenting, action-packed can of whoop-ass that delivers one of the most crowd-pleasing moviegoing experiences of the past decade. Iko Uwais stars once again, this time as a rookie member of a SWAT team on its way to take down a ruthless crime lord who operates out of an apartment complex populated with other low-life scum. But when the team’s cover is blown and they’re locked inside, the surviving members must shoot, stab, punch and kick their way through an army of thugs in order to get out alive. This is about as close to non-stop, wall-to-wall action that I’ve ever seen, and what makes it so jaw-droppingly awesome is the incredible fight choreography, including what is easily some of the best close-quarters combat ever committed to film. Though I was a little worried that the movie wouldn’t live up to all the hype that it’s amassed on the festival circuit over the last few months, “The Raid” is every bit as good as everyone says it is and not to be missed.
Nir Paniry’s directorial debut “Extracted” is a sci-fi film in theory, but like most indie movies in the genre, it takes a distinctly low-key approach to the material that actually works in its favor. Sasha Roiz stars as Thomas Jacobs, a scientist who invents a way to revisit someone’s memories from the inside. When his secret financier demands a premature demonstration of the device on a suspected murderer to determine whether he committed the crime, Tom reluctantly agrees, despite his moral trepidations. After the device malfunctions and Tom gets trapped inside the criminal’s consciousness, however, he spends the next four years trying to find a way to escape. It’s a really interesting setup that’s clearly been influenced by a number of other high-concept films in the genre – from “Pi,” to “Source Code,” to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – but Paniry does just enough to differentiate it from the pack. Though the acting is spotty at times (particularly from Dominic Bogart, who plays the heroin-addicted felon) and the twist ending feels a little too cute for its own good, “Extracted” is a smart and enjoyable sci-fi thriller/crime procedural that will eventually find an audience, whether it’s in theaters or on DVD.
Posted in: Entertainment, Movies
Tags: Charlie Hunnam, Chris O'Dowd, Extracted, Frankie Go Boom, Gareth Evans, Iko Uwais, Lizzy Caplan, Merantau, Ron Perlman, South By Southwest, SXSW, SXSW 2012, SXSW film, The Raid, The Raid: Redemption