Tag Archives: Chris O’Dowd

Calvary (2014)

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Calvary[ ˈkalv(ə)rē ]

 the hill outside Jerusalem on which Jesus was crucified.

The meaning of the title will become gradually more clear to you after viewing this film, which is directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother of Martin McDonagh, the critically acclaimed filmmaker of the well-received black comedies “Seven Psychopaths” and “In Bruges.” “Calvary” is something of a dark comedy too, though it is more soulful and melancholy than you might expect.

The plot concerns Father James (Brendan Gleeson, who played in John Michael’s previous effort, “The Guard,” and his brother’s film, “In Bruges”) an acerbic but well-meaning priest, widower, and father of a self-destructive adult daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly.) Fiona is fresh from a suicide attempt, and she and Father James are attempting to mend their broken relationship.

James tries to offer counsel to the locals of a small Irish village, whether they want it or not. Far from appreciating his much-needed advice, the townspeople spit bile in James’ direction, and are certainly quite weirdly sinister as a whole. Apparently the fallout between the general public and the Catholic Church is to be placed on Father James’ shoulders and his alone.

The story begins, quite literally, when Father James receives a death threat during confession from a man who was sexually abused by the clergy and believes that the act of killing a good priest will send a grander statement then that of killing a bad one. The speaker is quite direct; he is to meet his assassin at the seaside a week from then, but Father James does not act the way you might expect him to about this arrangement.

The plot unfolds a bit like a reverse mystery-thriller, with James knowing the killer’s identity but with us only finding it out at the climactic scene. And sometimes, the villagers seem a bit too malevolent, like something out of a horror movie. But as a whole, they’re very well-acted, with the exception of Owen Sharpe as gay gigolo Leo, who just needed to go away and get out of my sight. His voice alone was enough for me to request euthanasia from the person nearest-by.

Brendon Gleeson is an excellent actor though, and the movie is carried on his able shoulders. The relationship between him and his daughter seems real and touching. The movie has a lot to say about the declining relations between organized religion and the modern people, and the understandable anger and distrust that followed the Catholic sexual abuse scandals.

I recall a scene where Father James is walking down the road and strikes up a conversation with a young teen girl. Seething, her father pulls up in his vehicle and bawls his daughter out for speaking to this potential child-molester. Because he’s a priest or because he’s a man, I wonder? Either or, the scene has a lot of valid things to say about this jaded day and age.

“Calvary” is not my ‘new favorite movie’ or anything, not by a long shot, but I think the good outweighs the bad on this one. It’s very much a commentary on Ireland- the approach to Christ and Catholicism, the devastated wake of the troubles, and the financial disaster looming over this beautiful but impoverished country. Gleeson excels in the role he is given, and the film offers a few laughs as well as chilling commentary on this scapegoat’s journey and the audiences’ eventual realization perhaps the only person you can save is yourself, and sometimes not even that.

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Cuban Fury (2014)

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I’ve never been a big fan of Nick Frost. I think he’s mildly amusing at best, painfully average at worst, but the premise of “Cuban Fury” seemed cute and charming enough, so I watched it one night, despite the fact that the movie got very average critical reception. Screw the critics! What do they know? Well, in the case of “Cuban Fury,” they hit it right on the head. The movie is, as promised, cliched, unexciting, and featuring rather flat characters who are more caricature than person.

That’s what bothers me. At the very least, shouldn’t caricatures be over-the-top and engagingly outrageous? Instead they are dull and lifeless. I like Chris O’Dowd, but his antagonist, Drew, spends so much time being ridiculously chauvinistic and nasty that he fails to be much of anything else. No redeeming features, no vulnerable moments, just pure ugly, misogynistic assholery. It makes you wonder why Bruce (Nick Frost) gives Drew the time of day, when Drew’s entire purpose in life is to steal Bruce’s love interest and make Bruce feel like a fat, unlovable loser.

Here’s the plot (it’s a dancing underdog story, but “Billy Elliot” it’s not)- As an adolescent, Bruce Garrett was one of the most promising Salsa dancers, but he was attacked and insulted by some boys on the night of a defining performance and, just like that, ceased to be a dancer. Years later, Bruce is a washed up office drone, shy and unsure of himself, when he meets the beautiful (and salsa-dancing!) Julia (Rashida Jones) and decides to take up the dance again to impress her.

Alas, here comes co-worker and resident dickhead Drew to serves as a foil to good-guy Bruce, simply because the movie apparently needs an antagonist. That said, he’s not a very good one. Drew’s main function is to say outrageously sexist and conceited things in Chris O’Dowd’s lovely Irish accent. There’s no real human dimension to the character, though on the other hand, he’s not really evil either. He’s pretty much just there, which might be enough for the undiscriminating viewer, but made me go “What the fuck? Really?”

On the other hand Nick Frost, who I’ve always found underwhelming, proves to be doubly underwhelming in a lame comedy (instead of say, the hilarious “Shaun of the Dead.”) “Cuban Fury” just doesn’t have that many laughs to its name. Equally infuriating is that they put the amazing actress Olivia Colman (“Tyrannosaur,” “Broadchurch”) in the film as a second thought as Bruce Garrett’s fucking advice-spouting bartender sister. Olivia deserves a main role, and if not that, at least a juicy slice of the screen time. Here she is given a dull role where she exists only to advise Bruce on how best to get the girl.

Rashida Jones is very cute and everything, but I don’t find her particularly compelling. That’s not to say she’s a bad actress, but she doesn’t have a whole lot of screen presence. And what’s with the scene where Bruce says something to Drew like “I may not be as good-looking as you, but at least I have heart?” Thank you, “Cuban Fury,” for stating the message behind the movie with absolutely no subtlety or nuance whatsoever.

The movie also stars Ian McShane and Kayvan Novak, who try their best to bring a little life into the flat proceedings. Otherwise, it’s business as usual, with a not-so-winsome underdog and a big dancing contest that *GASP* could change everything for our hero. I guess the way I’m going on I sound like I hate this movie. I don’t. It’s utterly mediocre, which doesn’t warrant hatred; it warrants apathy, and apathy is the road I shall take. I don’t care about this uninspiring, unimpessive, unoriginal movie. And ultimately, neither should you.

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Bridesmaids (2011)

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Admittedly, I’m not really a fan of modern raunchy blockbuster comedies. It’s not a matter of faith or good taste or even sensitivity- so-called laugh-fests starring Seth Rogan or Will Ferrell and particularly directed or produced by a certain Judd Apatow don’t hit my funny bone; frankly, they drive me to ennui and frustration. That’s why it’s such a surprise that “Bridesmaids,” crude and risque and produced by Apatow himself (no Ferrell or Rogan in sight, though) made me laugh. a lot.

This is the film that arguably made star Kristen Wiig’s career. and it’s easy to see why. Although protagonist and anti-heroine Annie doesn’t possess a whole lot of redeeming qualities and behaves like an over-sized, menstrual teenager for most of the movie, Wiig makes her compelling, or at the very least, funny rather than completely infuriating. Which is more than Seth Rogan could do for any of his characters.

However, Annie is not a reprehensible lead, just self-pitying and childish, and she actually does show development by the end of the movie, instead of just waking up and finding her problems solved magically. When depressed, single-ish Annie is chosen to be a bridesmaid for her bestie Lillian (Maya Rudolph)’s wedding, she’s overjoyed, but trouble rears it’s ugly head in the form of Lillian’s overzealous and oh-so-perfect other best friend Helen (Rose Byrne.)

Helen, with her perfect complexion and incredibly fake facade of self-assurance and flawlessness, treads all over Annie’s already flimsy sense of self-esteem and initiates a an ugly competition between the two women. Helen seems to be specifically trying to undermine Annie, and although a flirty, funny cop (Chris O’Dowd) and a free-spirited fellow bridesmaid (Melissa McCarthy) both try to help and support Annie, Annie can’t seem to help and support herself as she makes a manic attempt to win back her best friend.

“Bridesmaids”‘ humor is uncouth, brazen, and incredibly embarrassing, much like it’s main characters. There’s a stoned heroine acting out on a plane, projectile defecation in a bridal shop, and cat-fighting galore, but there seems to be a heart behind the antics. Also, other than Annie’s idiotic and uncaring sex partner (I won’t justify him by calling him a ‘boyfriend’ here) Ted (John Hamm) and also Annie’s weird n’ creepy roommates (British comics Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson,) there’s really no antagonists, and certainly no downright villainous ones.

Even Helen is inwardly so self-conscious and needy that one has to just feel sorry for her at the end. The use of ignorance and embarrassment rather than nastiness and cruelty (like the similarly themed comedy “Bachelorette”- same world, different planet) as humor makes it awkward and funny rather than mean and ugly (and therefore, unfunny.) All the actors play their parts well, all the characters have value in the script. No one seems overused or underused or unnecessary.

Most of these kinds of comedies are male-centered, so it’s nice to see a movie that focuses on women’s’ sexual desires and frustrations and female friendship. You probably know already if you’re the audience for this movie based on whether you enjoy sex and potty humor. The middle-aged Mormon is probably not going to like this movie. People who like humor that is crude and at times painfully embarrassing probably will. But like me, you might find yourself surprised, especially after being disappointed by this kind of stuff before, to find just how many belly laughs “Bridesmaids” offers.

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Vera Drake (2004)

Mike Leigh’s 2004 effort, Vera Drake, is sure to be controversial, but not for the reasons you might expect. Instead of providing shock value (and the blood and guts of franchises such as Saw and Hostel,) Vera Drake takes a hot-button topic and views it from a much-maligned perspective. It may make you uncomfortable or angry, but the well made status of the film is hard to deny. The eponymous Vera is a jolly 1950’s housewife who lives in post-war Britain and works cleaning other people’s homes. She is the proud mother of two adult children, sarcastic Sid (Daniel Mays) and excruciatingly shy Ethel (Alex Kelly) and wants to find a eligible bachelor for her isolated daughter. She is happily married to mustached mechanic George (Richard Graham).

In secret, Vera is an abortionist, terminating women’s pregnancies for no pay. She uses the same soothing rhetoric for every incident and is never caught. The procedure is relatively clean and safe, and as far as she is concerned she does no wrong. I didn’t always like Vera. She was blind to the implications of her acts and cheery to a fault. Yet she always tried to do the right thing. I think something horrible happened in her past, but it was never fully explained. Yet, life goes on. Vera and George find a possible “eligible bachelor,” Reg (Eddie Marsan), an introvert highly affected by the war. Vera continues her operations with women who have been  put into contact with her friend Lily (Ruth Sheen), who has untrustworthy motives. But when a near tragedy occurs, Vera is put out in the open and ages ten years in a strenuous couple of days.

Possibly more interesting than Vera are her kids Ethel and Sid. Ethel holds herself hunched and quiet, with zero self-esteem. She meets her match with Reg, who seems as unsure of the courtship as she is. I wasn’t quite sure where their relationship would go. Sid and his friend Ronny (Leo Bill) discuss post war issues and try to score a dance at a party, and Sid is the one to reasonably question his mother when the doody hits the fan.

The film has a strong sense of place. A rape scene occurs, and it is handled tastefully (as tastefully as a rape can be). Imelda Staunton gives a great performance, going from a cheery, confident woman to a slumped person who can barely drag her feet across the floor.

Vera is not a liberal Wonder Woman, a superhero who keeps her powers of cheerful strength no matter what. She is vulnerable and fallible, and she can be and will be broken.  But somehow, I wasn’t as involved the second time I watched it as I could have been. I think the director was pushing me too hard with the tragedy of it all and what a great person Vera is. That never helps. You’ve got to hand it to Sid though. With everyone else referring to  the center of the operations as “trouble” and “problems,” Sid is the first to offer the humanizing word “babies.” (Rated R.)