26th Apr2016

Funny Girl (Theatre)

by timbaros

FUNNY GIRL by Styne, , Music - Jule Styne, Lyrics - Bob Merril, Director - Michael Mayer, Choreographer - Lynne Page, Set Michael Pavelka, Costumes - Matthew Wright, Lighting - Mark Henderson, Savoy Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/

Is there anything Sheridan Smith can’t do?

She’s now playing Fanny Brice in the new West End musical Funny Girl, but Smith has done quite a bit in her short 34 years. Already an OBE, Smith has won tons of awards for her work both on stage and on television. She’s won two Laurence Olivier Awards (Legally Blonde in 2011 and Flare Path in 2012) and one television BAFTA (Mrs. Biggs in 2013). Smith has also been featured in several films in the past few years, including the recent ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ and 2013’s ‘Powder Room’ and ‘The Harry Hill Movie.’ But it’s her role as Brice in ‘Funny Girl’ that’s bringing Smith more plaudits and acclaim.

In a role Smith starred in last year to sell out crowds at the Menier Chocolate Factory, it’s now transferred to the Savoy Theatre for a short 12 week run. Smith plays Brice, a role which made Barbra Streisand famous (and which won her a Tony and an Oscar), so Smith has huge shoes to follow. And does she fill them? Not even close.

Fanny Brice is the true story of a young Brooklyn born Jewish girl with huge stage aspirations. The real Brice was born in 1891 to Hungarian immigrants who had arrived to the U.S. as children but managed to make a life for themselves and their children in Brooklyn. So Smith’s job is to make you forget Streisand’s Brice and reinvent the character to make it her own. And she does in her own way. She’s charming and lovely and can sure belt out a tune. Songs made extremely memorable by Streisand – ‘People’ and ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ – are sung by Smith, good enough for this production, but not very memorable. And we’re supposed to believe that the handsome, debonair, charming (and con man) Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell – perfect in the role) falls in love with her and not for her money. She’s so in love with him that she certainly can put up with his gambling habits and dubious investments. But even Brice can’t figure why he’s fallen for her, and neither can the audience.

Brice does find fame and fortune as a performer, with a proud Jewish mother (Marilyn Cutts) by her side all the way, living her dream by being employed by the great Florenz Zlegfield (Bruce Montague). But the crux of the show is the relationship between Brice and Arnstein, it’s a volatile one but not quite believable, and it’s a shame that the show isn’t more about Brice’s talent and less about the relationship. Smith is given her moments, and she gives it all she’s got, a bit over the top at times (her Brooklyn Jewish accent is a bit over exaggerated at times). There are no amazing sets, and no showstopping numbers as in most musicals. But great costumes and an excellent supporting cast, with classic musical numbers, makes ‘Funny Girl’ worth a look. It’s not a very memorable production but it’s clearly a star vehicle for Smith, and she makes it her own.

23rd Apr2016

Friend Request (Film)

by timbaros

unspecified-3Be careful when you accept a Facebook friend request, because the person requesting might be a lunatic.

That’s the premise behind the new movie ‘Friend Request.’ In it, popular girl Laura (Alcia Debnam-Carey) briefly speaks to loner Ma Rina (Liesl Ahlers), who is a bit out of place at school with her unusual appearance and head always covered by a hoodie. In Ma’s mind they are now friends. So Ma sends a Facebook friend request to Laura, but Laura notices that Ma has zero Facebook friends. Laura reluctantly accepts the friend request much to the dismay of her boyfriend Tyler (William Moseley) and best friend Olivia (Brit Morgan). Ma then starts commenting on practically every post that Laura has ever written. Ma becomes more psychotic and weird when Laura has a birthday dinner but doesn’t invite Ma. When Ma sees photos of the party on Facebook, she becomes angry at Laura and goes from friend status to psycho bitch stalker status. Then it’s announced at school that Ma has committed suicide, yet someone is posting dark eerie video on her pages and on Laura’s page, and Laura is unable to unfriend her. And Laura’s friends are unable to deactivate their accounts as well, and one by one they are being killed off due to their association with Laura. While Laura’s 800-plus Facebook friends start unfriending her, who is behind the deaths and the constant Facebook postings? Will Laura be the next victim to Ma’s revenge from the grave?

‘Friend Request’ is a film for the Facebook generation. It’s all about collecting friends, whether you really know them or not, and living your life, through Facebook. As the intensity of ‘Friend Request’ builds, it gets a bit sillier and sillier, especially with lines like when Olivia tells Laura to ‘unfriend the dead bitch.’ Then a policeman says – with a straight face – ’someone had a rough day,’ after the brutal death of one of Laura’s friends. ‘Friend Request’ echoes films like ‘Carrie’ and ‘Final Destination’ where friends are killed off one by one, so the body count is there but the suspense really isn’t. And some of the death scenes are a bit ridiculous and over the top. But should you accept this friend request? I say yes!

21st Apr2016

The Entertainment Website Readers Choice Best in Film

by timbaros

Better late than never, the winners of The Entertainment Website Readers Choice Best in Film 2015 have been revealed and it’s no surprise that some of the winners were also winners at the Oscars, BAFTA’s and Golden Globes.
images-424The Revenant was your Best Film of last year. It ecked out a win in this category, with Carol, Tangerine and 45 years not far behind. Shockingly, The Revenant lost out the Best Picture Oscar to Spotlight.

Leonardo DiCaprio was the overwhelming choice for Best Actor – taking 40% of the vote in this category – for his performance in The Revenant (which won him every acting award!). Tom Hanks for Bridge of Spies and Michael Fassbender for his performance as Steve Jobs were second and third, respectively.

images-425Brie Larson was chosen as your favorite performance by an Actress. The Room star, who also won the Oscar, barely won this category.  Cate Blanchett for Carol, Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years and Carey Mulligan for Suffragette were not too far behind.


Sylvester Stallone was your overwhelming favorite for  best performance by a Supporting Actor for his comeback role in Creed. Tom Hardy for the Revenant and Benicio Del Toro for Sicario were far behind in the voting.

Charlize Theron won Supporting Actress by the largest lead of all the acting categories – 60%. She won for her role in Mad Max: Fury Road. Alicia Vikander for Ex Machina and Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs were far behind.

Your choice for Best Director was Oscar winner Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu for The Revenant. He won with 100% of the vote, no other director received a vote.

There was a three-way tie for Best Animated Film – Inside Out, Maya the Bee and Raise the Flag. It’s a write-in category so each one received the same number of write-in votes.

Thanks to you, the readers, for taking the time to vote. We can’t wait to see your choices for next year!


21st Apr2016

The Divide (Film)

by timbaros

14601180655707a231dd9d7Seven people tell their story of their struggle to survive in a world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in the new documentary ‘The Divide.’

The 78-minute documentary weaves these people’s dilemnas into a film that’s tries to tell too many stories while providing too much information in a short period of time. One of the people interviewed is Leah Taylor who works at her local Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food restaurant. She lives from paycheck to paycheck, while another woman is in danger of losing her home because she’s got no money to pay the bills. Then there’s Alden Cass, a Wall Street psychologist who is living the dream. He’s got a well-paying job and a beautiful apartment with tremendous views, yet he wants more. Rochelle Monte, a UK careworker, complains that she doesn’t feel respected in her job of choice, and that she deserves more money (who doesn’t)? And Jennifer Cooper complains that no one speaks to her in her upscale gated community, not even in it’s park. Hey, at least her community has it’s own golf course!

‘The Divide’ also touches on the economic booms during the Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton years, to Wall Street’s buying, selling and repackaging of debt, which was one of the factors that led to the 2008 economic crisis. And more than ten commentators give their opinion on the divide between the wealthy and the poor, a divide that keeps on getting bigger and bigger. We’re also treated to footage of Lehman Brothers former chairman Richard Fuld having a hard time explaining his $480MM pay check to U.S. Congress. But it’s all too much to take in in a documentary that’s weaving too many personal stories with too many news video clips. It attempts to provide a psychological and tragi-comic picture of the haves and have nots but it would’ve been more effective if it just stuck to one topic, and not several topics.

THE DIVIDE is in UK cinemas from 22 April 2016


16th Apr2016

Tangerine (DVD)

by timbaros

TangerineTwo transgender prostitutes tear up Santa Monica Boulevard in the brilliant ‘Tangerine’ – one of the best films of 2015.

It is one of the most funny and original films of the year. and stars two transgender actresses in the lead roles, roles that will make them both stars.

Mya Taylor is Alexandra, and Kitana Kiki Rodriquez is Sin-Dee (yes, Sin-Dee), it’s Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, and Sin-Dee has just got out of jail after spending 28 days for holding drugs for her pimp boyfriend Chester (James Ransom). She finds out, from Alexandra, that Chester has been having sex with Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan), so Sin-Dee goes on a mission to find Dinah and then to confront Chester. And Alexandra is having her own drama – she’s performing at a local bar that night and has passed out fliers to everyone she knows. Meanwhile, she’s got one of her regular customers, Razmik (Karren Karaguilian), looking for her. Razmik has problems of his own, he’s attracted to transgender prostitutes, but he’s married with a young daughter at home. He’s also got his nosy mother-in-law visiting for the holidays.

Sin-Dee finds Dinah in a motel room with several other prostitutes and their naked male customers, so she literally kidnaps her and then heads to confront Chester. Alexandra, meanwhile, scuffles with a customer who doesn’t feel like he should pay her because he didn’t come. But she does have sex with Razmik in a brilliant uncut sex scene in a car wash. All these characters converge together at the local Donut Shop as they confront each other about infidelity in a very dramatic and hilarious ending. Tangerine is a Christmas tale not of the typical Christmas kind.

Shot on three iphone 5s’ on a $105,000 budget, Tangerine is not the sort of movie you would expect to be dazzling, funny, dramatic, adventurous and original, but it is. Thanks to the many elements that bring this 88-minute film to fruition which make it so; the guerrilla style filmmaking is excellently created by Director, Editor, Co-Cinematographer and Co-Writer Sean Baker (co-written along with Chris Bergoch). And the actors are fantastic. Baker initially met Taylor at the Los Angeles Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer Community Center, and she introduced him to all her friends, including Rodriquez, which is how ‘Tangerine’ came to be, and these two actresses more than carry the movie, they are the movie, you can’t take your eyes off them. The rest of the cast is also brilliant; especially Karaguilian (who is a professional actor) brings sympathy to his role as a man trying to do the right thing but who also harbours a secret, and O’Hagan as the ‘other’ woman who is literally dragged around Los Angeles by Sin-Dee in the search for Chester. The Los Angeles neighborhood where this film is shot feels like another character in the film; the hued and hazzy skies, cheap motels, strange people and very cheap fast food restaurants litter the area. And the music (and script) is cutting edge; pulsating, loud, sharp, a perfect match for a film with characters who are the same, who spew lines such as ‘He just went from half fag to full fag’ to ‘You forget I’ve got a dick too,’ and ‘you don’t have to Chris Brown the bitch’ with copious amounts of the word ‘bitch’ and ‘whore.’ ‘Tangerine is a smorgasbord of wit and sarcasm. It’s also brilliant and must be seen to be believed.

Tangerine is now out on DVD.

16th Apr2016

Haram Iran (Theatre)

by timbaros

IMG_4171nAbove the Stag Theatre in Vauxhall presents a show about the murder of two young men in Iran

Two young men were publicly hanged in a square in Mashhad, Iran on 19th July 2005. The new play ‘Haram Iran’ tells this horrific story.

Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari were both teenage boys who liked to hang out together. But it was suspected that these two young men had a homosexual affair, though the true nature of their crime had never actually been confirmed. But they were publicly executed after being convicted on the trumped up charges of raping a 13-year old boy. The Above the Stag theatre in Vauxhall has produced a play that re-enacts and tries to give credence and understanding to the story of these two young men, and their lives, and their execution. It’s an amazing and relevant play.

Ayaz (Viraj Juneja) and Mahmoud (Andrei Costin) play ball, study together and hang out at Ayaz’s house. They’re fast becoming good friends, enough so that it makes Fareed (Merch Husey) jealous. Mahmoud spends a lot of time at Ayaz’s house, in his bedroom, just hanging out. Ayaz is obsessed with books, books that his mother (Silvana Malmone) has illegally kept as she’s not allowed to have them because of Sharia law. Ayaz is most enraptured by The Catcher in the Rye, and he reads passages of the book to Mahmoud. Some of the passages are sexual, making the young men a bit turned on. One day Ayaz notices huge marks on Mahmoud’s back, caused by whippings inflicted on him by his father. Ayaz rubs oil on Mahmoud’s back, but it’s this act, witnessed by Fareed, which causes their downfall. Ayaz is initially charged with corrupting, and penetrating Mahmoud, is thrown in jail, and repeatedly raped by the prison guard (Fanos Xenofos). Eventually they are both charged with consensual homosexual acts and the judge (George Savvides) punishes them to death.

‘Haram Iran’ is a very important play that highlights the brutality and injustice that these two young innocent men endured in Iran. While not every scene in ‘Haram Iran’ might not actually have taken place, what is fact is the murder at the hands of the Iranian government of these two young men. Directed by Gene David Kirk with brutal and emotional intensity, ‘Haram Iran’ was written by Lawyer Jay Paul Deratany, who happened to find the story online. And each member of the cast are excellent. Juneja and Costin are both very believable as Ayez and Mahmoud, young and innocent but punished nonetheless. Maimone as Ayaz’s mother is superb in her role. Xenofos is very scary (and a bit too believable) as the prison guard who shows no mercy, while and Savvides is downright cold, mean and heartless as the judge. ‘Haram Iran’ is a brutal yet delicate story of two young men who didn’t deserve to die because of who they were.

Haram means forbidden by Islamic Law

To buy tickets, please visit:

Haram Iran

Haram Iran is playing until May 1st.

09th Apr2016

Boulevard (Film)

by timbaros

A 65-year old man in great conflict makes a life changing decision in the new film ‘Boulevard.’

The late Robin Williams is bank branch manager Nolan Mack. He’s literally just going through life’s motions – working at a bank, with a longtime wife (Kathy Baker) and a very sick father in the hospital. Then one late evening after visiting his father, he drives through a derelict part of town and almost runs over a young man, Leo (Roberto Aguire), who turns out to be a male prostitute. Nolan checks to make sure Leo is fine, then out of the blue, invites him to go to a motel. This chance meeting opens up something inside Nolan who perhaps realized but didn’t accept that he has feelings for other men. While his relationship with Leo becomes more involved and more complicated, Nolan starts giving Leo money and starts acting like a surrogate father. Their relationship is not sexual but it’s intimate. Nolan tries and tries to his hide his encounters with Leo from his wife and his best friend Winston (Bob Odenkirk), but as Nolan becomes more and more involved and emotionally tied to Leo, his wife suspects that something is going on. But eventually Nolan comes to the realization that Leo does not feel the same way about him, but at this point it appears that Leo’s life will never be the same again.

Williams gives a delicate performance as the lonely and subdued Nolan. He’s a man whose conflicted, despondent and depressed until Leo comes into his life. Shot in 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee, Williams would eventually hang himself a year later. This story of a lonely and depressed man is eerily parallel to William’s life. Baker, known mostly for her parts on television, is very good as Nolan’s wife, who knows her 40-year marriage is slipping away and there’s nothing she can do to about it. Aguirre more than holds his own against seasoned veteran Williams, their scenes together are both calm and gentle. Director Dito Montiel (2013’s Empire State) does a great job in getting great performances from his cast, with a good script by Douglas Soesbe. But it’s Williams performance that will stay with you for a long time as it’s one of his last, ever.

06th Apr2016

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Theatre)

by timbaros

Sion-Dan-Young-Christopher-in-The-Curious-Incident-of-the-Dog-in-the-Night-Time-Photo-by-BrinkhoffMögenberg-2‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ is not your usual type of play.

First of all, look at the title – it’s a mouthful. If you knew nothing about what the play is all about, the title kind of sort of gives it away, but not really.
The show, based on the 2003 book of the same name by Mark Haddon, premiered at London’s National Theatre in August, 2013. It opened to more than rave reviews and won an incredible seven Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best New Play. The following year (2014), the play transferred to the West End, where’s it been playing to almost sold-out houses ever since. A production opened up on Broadway in 2014 and won a total of 17 theatre awards, including five Tony Awards. Just as the West End production, the Broadway production is still playing.

So what’s the fuss all about? As mentioned above, it’s not your usual type of play. There is not changing sets, no show tunes, no fancy costumes – it’s pretty much bare bones, what you see on stage is what you get. It’s about 15-year old Christopher Boone and an event that takes place that leads him to do some investigation work. He’s not just any typical 15-year old boy, he’s autistic and a mathematical genius. He’s so smart he can compute complex arithmetic calculations in his head. He’s not well equipped to interpret daily life, and he seem to be afraid of his own shadow. He doesn’t like to be touched by other people, and is suspicious of people around him.

‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ tells it’s story through Boone’s eyes. The events his experience, and his experience alone. And the relationships with his father, mother, teacher and neighbors are all unique to themselves. And with the stage all done up in lights, it makes for a very surreal and sensational theatre experience. On the recent night I saw it, Sion Daniel Young had the uneviable job playing Boone. But he nails it. It’s a bravura knockout performance that matches and or surpasses anything seen in the West End, or Broadway for that matter. So go and see what the fuss is all about and why people keep on talking about this play. It’s run at London’s Gielgud Theatre has been extended until 29 October 2016 – so there’s no excuse.

To buy tickets, please click here:

03rd Apr2016

James White (DVD)

by timbaros

Tim_Baros-11889554_425649970960636_8216815950912637205_nAmazing performances and a very original story make ‘James White’ a must see film.

White, played to perfection by Christopher Abbott, is a young man who’s just lost a father he was never very close to. He’s into drugs, booze, and is confused about which direction his life is going in. His mother, Gail White (played by Cynthia Nixon in her best performance to date), is dying of cancer. So twenty-something James has all this to deal with, along with sorting out his own life.

James lives with his mom in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City. He sleeps on the couch, doesn’t have a job, and is burdened with the role of being his mom’s caretaker. He wants to get away for a while to clear his mind and promises his mom that when he gets back refreshed he will start looking for work. So he heads to Mexico with best friend Nick (Scott Mescudi). While there, he meets Jayne (Makenzie Leigh), who also happens to be from NYC, and they take a liking to each other. While in Mexico, James receives a call saying that his mother is getting sicker and sicker. So he heads back to NYC not knowing that his mom’s doctor recommended hospice care and not hospital care for her, she’s close to death and never really told James the truth about her condition. It’s up to James to deal with his mom’s condition while at the same time struggling to sort his own life out.

Abbott boldly portrays James as a young man in emotional anguish over not only his mother’s ailing health but also his lack of trying to be someone. Abbott, who is known as Charlie in the television show ‘Girls,’ is amazing. He’s poignant and realistic as James, it’s an amazing performance. Nixon is fantastic as James’ dying mother who starts deteriorating right before his eyes, all too quickly. Their relationship is a strong one, and we feel the slow loss of Gail as much as James does.

‘James White’ is Josh Mond’s directorial debut, and it’s an amazing one. He shoots the actors at very close range, enough so that we can see the lines on their faces. It’s a technique that allows the film to feel more emotional and real. James White is inspired by Mond’s own story of caring for his sick mother. The film has done the festival circuit where it’s won a few awards and has been nominated for several independent film awards. It’s an incredibly nuanced film that deserves a look.

‘James White’ is now available to buy on DVD.

02nd Apr2016

The Lobster (DVD)

by timbaros

IMG_0214.CR2Imagine a world where if you can’t find a parter in 45 days you will be changed into the animal of your choice. That’s what ‘The Lobster’ is all about.

Colin Farrell plays David. He looks like he could be an accountant; glasses, a bit overweight, squarish nerd type, and just been dumped by his wife. Him and a few dozen other people check into a hotel. It’s not just any hotel, it’s a hotel where men and women are expected to find a compatible partner during their stay there. They’re deemed compatible if they both have something in common; for instance a favorite color or a favorite pastime. And homosexual couples are also part of the mix in a world in the future where society has changed, and so has it’s requirements.

The hotel manager is played by Olivia Colman – she runs the hotel like it’s a prison. And in way it is. The rules are lengthy, complex and must be adhered to. All those detained are issued uniform clothes to wear so that no one stands out. They also must follow a rigorous schedule that includes eating meals at set times. And of course the one main rule is that the ‘guests’ must find a suitable partner amongst the other hotel guests by the end of their stay.

David instantly makes friends with two other men who are also staying at the hotel; John C. Reilly plays ‘Lisping Man,’ (lots of characters in ‘The Lobster’ don’t have proper names, just adjectives to describe them). He’s overweight and is a schlub. Ben Whishaw plays a character also known for his trait; Limping Man. These men form a friendship of sorts and it’s a bit of a race between them to see who can find a partner before ‘their time is up.’

It’s Limping Man who finds a partner first. She’s got a constant nosebleed (Jessica Barden – Nosebleed Woman). So in order for Nosebleed Woman to fall in love with him, Limping Man causes his nose to bleed by hitting his nose, thereby creating a characteristic trait that makes them both compatible. They get married and are ‘assigned’ a child to make their relationship stronger. Meanwhile, various animals walk around and near the hotel and at some point these animals were human beings who were not able to find a suitable partner.

The Maid of the hotel (Ariane Labed) takes an intense liking to David. Their relationship turns sexual and emotional, and since she can’t leave the hotel, she helps David to escape. He escapes into the woods and is soon in the hands of the renegade Loners. They’ve dedicated their lives to everything that the Hotel isn’t. But this group has rules as well – it’s everyman for himself. There is no coupling of any sort, and actually there’s very little freedom amongst the members of the group – with it’s leader (Lea Seydoux) being very dictatorial, and cruel and cold. David has run away from an authoritarian society to another. And when he falls in love with a fellow Loner member Short Sighted-Woman (Rachel Weisz), the rules that they have to adhere to make it harder for them to live the lives that they want.

The idea for the very unusual script for ‘The Lobster’ came about through discussions with the writer and director and about how people feel like they always needs to be in a relationship; how other people see those who can’t make it; how you’re considered a failure if you can’t be with someone; and the lengths people go to in order to be with someone. Director (and co-writer) Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth), with fellow co-writer Efthimis Filippou, tells a tale of two different worlds; one where couples live, and one where singles (loners) live, it’s a parallel world, one that takes a look at how we are as a people. ‘The Lobster,’ which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is a highly unusual film – one with great humor, and with great sadness, and with some violence. It’s unusual and that’s what makes it unique.

The Lobster [DVD] (DVD)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen
Rating: Suitable for 15 years and over

United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 0 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Dolby Digital 5.1 ), English ( Dolby Digital Stereo ), English ( Subtitles ), WIDESCREEN (1.85:1), SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the scenes, Featurette, Interactive Menu, Scene Access, Trailer(s), SYNOPSIS: Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, John C Reilly, Lea Seydoux, Michael Smiley and Ben Whishaw, THE LOBSTER is a darkly funny love story set in a near future where finding love is a matter of life or death... According to the rules of The City, single people are arrested and then transferred to The Hotel. There they are obliged to find a matching mate in 45 days. If they fail, they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into The Woods. A desperate Man (Farrell), escapes from The Hotel to The Woods where The Loners live and falls in love, although it is against their rules. Unconventional, original and hilarious, The Lobster is one of the must-see film releases of the year. SCREENED/AWARDED AT: BAFTA Awards, British Independent Film Awards, Cannes Film Festival, European Film Awards, ...The Lobster (2015)
New From: £5.32 GBP In Stock
Used from: £2.19 GBP In Stock

02nd Apr2016

The Program (DVD)

by timbaros

the_program_132489Director Stephen Frears brings us the rise, and fall, of cycling champion Lance Armstrong in the new film ‘The Program.’

We all know Armstrong’s story: winner of the Tour De France for a record seven times after surviving what was supposed to be a fatal diagnosis of stage 3 testicular cancer; and suspicion and later a confession by him that yes, he did dope on every tour that he had won. Based on the book called ‘Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong’ by Sunday Times Journalist David Walsh, ‘The Program’ takes us through Lance’s career highs, and eventually, his very low lows. But for being a cycling film about competition, stamina, drugs, celebrity, and money, its not a very exciting film.

Walsh is played by Chris O’Dowd, and ‘The Program’ is his story told through his eyes and how he uncovered what is the biggest doping scandal in sports history. It’s about how he pursued and investigated Armstrong and was persistent in finding evidence that Armstrong was doping.

‘The Program’ begins in France in 1993 where 21-year old Armstrong (played by a determined Ben Foster) is riding his first Tour de France. He’s young, cocky and confident, but two years later he’s diagnosed with cancer. Determined to come back better than ever, Armstrong pushes himself to the limit, and he fully recovers enough to go back to professional cycling. But he starts taking EPO (Erythropoietin), a drug that makes athletes go faster. It’s a drug that he procured from a French pharmacy and later from French doctor Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet). But Armstrong makes one mistake while he’s in the hospital for his cancer treatment; he tells the attending doctor about all the drugs he is taking or taken, including the EPO. His friends, fellow rider Frankie Andreu (Edward Hogg) and his wife Betsy (Elaine Cassidy) overhear this and Betsy questions Andreu who has told her that he as well has taken EPO. During this time a team doctor has been caught with performance enhancing drugs, which leads the police to raid the Tour only to discover that drug use is normal.

Armstrong fully recovers and is asked to be part of the U.S. Postal Tour de France Team. Armstrong, and the rest of team, are blatantly doping. In ‘The Program’ we see deliveries to their trailer, needles put into shoes and, after injected, put into soda cans. Meanwhile, Walsh is hot on the tails of Armstrong. He tries to convince his editor that his instincts are correct, and says “Is it real or is it dope?” At the same time, Armstrong creates a cancer charity called Livestrong, where we see, in the film, him giving speeches to raise money for the charity.

Armstong wins not just one, not just two, not just three, but seven Tour de France championships in a row – the most ever wins in a Tour de France. In the meantime, Dr. Ferrari is arrested by the police for his illegal drug dealings. And Walsh finds a link between Ferrari and Armstrong that makes his case, and story, more credible. Fellow teammate Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons), who was part of Armstrong’s team and who doped as well, and who wins the Tour de France in 1995, has his blood tests come back positive for testosterone. He’s stripped of his title, and Armstrong doesn’t accept him into the next year’s team, which becomes the catalyst for Landis to confess about the Armstrong, and the rest of team’s dope usage. Meanwhile, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency starts investigating Armstrong. At press conferences, Armstrong vehemently denies doping. But almost everyone in the rooms knows he’s lying. And Eventually Betsy (former rider Frankie Andreu”s wife), and others seek out Walsh to tell him all they know about Armstrong. Insurer Bob Hamman (Dustin Hoffman) has been hearing rumors about Armstrong, and if the rumors are true, will save his company $5 million in payouts to Armstrong for his win. It’s 2009, and Armstrong wants to make a comeback, and Landis ask to be let back onto the team, but Armstrong says no because he got ‘caught’ which becomes the Lloyd’s catalyst for Landis to confess about the rest of team’s (and Armstrong’s) dope usage. Meanwhile, Armstrong takes third place, very bitter that the new star on his team, Alberto Contador, has beat him. And Finally, we see Armstrong, after all these years, and allegations, on the Oprah Winfrey show, in which he tells her, and us, that yes, he’s been doping on every tour that he’s won. And hence his downfall, not just from racing, but from everything. Sponsors drop him right and left and his career, and perhaps his life, is left in tatters.

‘The Program’ follows the meteoric rise and dramatic fall of one of the biggest celebrities in the world of sport. But somehow director Frears misses his mark. Frears, who brought us the fantastic ‘Philomena’ and ‘The Queen,’ – both movies about two determined, strong and powerful women, doesn’t quite know how to grasp the story of a man who is conflicted by his quest for winning versus his choice to dope. His Armstrong is a bit of a cartoon character, a man who seems more possessed and less determined. And the women in his life are non-existant. There is Armstrong’s 2008 marriage to Anna Hansen in the film, but there’s no introduction to his first wife Kristine (with whom he had three children), nor his 2003 relationship with singer Sheryl Crow, nor his 2007 relationship with designer Tory Burch. Foster is fine as Armstrong, if a bit too passionate and overwhelmed, while O’Dowd is his usual self, dramatic and comedic when needed. But screenwriter John Hodge appears to have taken Walsh’s timeline of what’s in the book line by line without creating any dramatic license to make the film a bit more lively. And while there is exciting footage of bike races (and actual footage from the Tour de France), it’s not enough to make ‘The Program’ worth a view as it does not present us with anything new about Armstrong.

The Program [DVD] [2016] (DVD)

Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Ben Foster, Chris O'Dowd, Lee Pace, Dustin Hoffman, Guillaume Canet
Rating: Suitable for 15 years and over

United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Dolby Digital 5.1 ), English ( Subtitles ), WIDESCREEN (2.35:1), SPECIAL FEATURES: Interactive Menu, Scene Access, SYNOPSIS: Ben Foster and Chris O'Dowd star in this sports drama about the Lance Armstrong doping scandal which was the subject of David Walsh's book 'Seven Deadly Sins'. Irish sports journalist David Walsh (O'Dowd) grows suspicious of professional cyclist Lance Armstrong (Foster)'s success, certain that he has been taking performance-enhancing drugs. As Walsh investigates, looking for evidence to prove his theory, Armstrong continues to deny his consumption of banned substances. The cast also includes Lee Pace, Dustin Hoffman and Guillaume Canet. ...The Program (2015)
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