Movie review: I, Tonya

Movie reviews

Hello!

Just in time for Winter Olympics 2018 in PyeongChang, I got a chance to see a biopic of a former Olympic figure skater. This is I, Tonya!

IMDb summary: Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.

Writing

I, Tonya was written by Steven Rogers – a writer of mostly romantic comedies and dramas. I thought that he did quite an excellent job with a new kind of story for him – a biographical black comedy. Of course, a lot of the appeal of the writing came from the peculiar and fascinating subject matter itself – Tonya Harding’s life. I really liked the structure of the film: the 4th wall breaking interviews + flashbacks. This type of structure didn’t make the movie feel choppy at all but added a layer of almost documentary-like authenticity. I also liked how the first’s part of the movie explored Tonya’s life prior to the event and only the second part focused on the event and its aftermath. By not making the whole movie about the incident with Nancy Kerrigan (who, btw, only showed up briefly – this picture was, truly, Tonya’s story and I’ve seen some supporters of Nancy complain about that online), the filmmakers really made this movie into a well-rounded biography of Tonya’s rather than just a retelling of a single event in her life. I also found the themes that the movie explored very interesting: the two major concepts that the picture looked at were family and sport – both of which intersected in Tonya Harding’s life.

Lately, ‘sport’ movies have been about so much more than just sport (like, Battle of the Sexes, in addition to I, Tonya). Gone are the days of basic inspirational sports movies of underdogs succeeding. Now, the underdogs don’t always win and the hurdles in their way are even higher and more complicated (less black and white too). Also, a recurring topic that I’ve noticed in the latest ‘sports’ movies was elitism in sport, which was explored here through the need of a ‘wholesome American family’ for a world-class skater and in Borg Vs. McEnroe through a need to come from a certain class (the higher the better) to be able to play tennis.

Looking for parallels with the other movies further, interestingly, Tonya Harding wasn’t the only real-life movie heroine this awards’ season who was told all her life that she wasn’t good enough (Molly from Molly’s Game was too). There is no question that her mother was a horrible and abusive parent. However, did that abuse really made Tonya tougher and a champion, as her mom asserted? I’d disagree, as it seems that Tonya went from one abusive family to create an abusive and dysfunctional family of her own. And yet, was she only a product of her upbringing and circumstances? Or whether some of it was completely on her? Was she inherently violent or did she learn violence? Either way, while the movie raised a lot of questions for me (as evident in this paragraph), it did provide me with one clear answer: Tonya deserved better. Also, I do believe that Tonya wasn’t to blame as much as she was blamed (she wasn’t completely blameless either). However, it seems that the skating world really could not past up an opportunity to avenge themselves not only for the incident but for her whole attitude towards them.

But, this is only my takeaway from the film. Other viewers might have understood the message differently and that’s okay because, as the movie itself stated at the very beginning: there are different versions of the truth. However, I do believe that there is a consensus among the viewers about who was the most despicable character in the film. If you didn’t think it was the bodyguard, then you really shouldn’t read this review further. I absolutely hated his character not only for his final actions that damned everyone else but just how he weaseled himself into that situation in the first place. He was truly an idiot, and that special kind of idiot, that, I’m sad to say, only seems to come in the US. Another very American aspect of the movie was the public’s reaction to the incident: Americans are a special nation who love to love celebrities as much as they love to hate them. Though it looks like this trend (of love and hate) is spreading to other parts of the world now too, mostly because of the social media.

Directing

Craig Gillespie (of The Finest Hours and Million Dollar Arm) directed I, Tonya and did a stellar job. He paced and edited the movie really well. The cinematography was great too – I loved how close and intimate the camera was during the skating sequences. The head replacement effect was noticeable in some of those sequences but not as much as to take the viewer out of the movie. The setting of the period was realized spot-on. The breaking of the 4th wall not only during the interview sequences but during the flashbacks was great too and fit the black comedy/’so crazy it has to be true’ tonne of the film. The picture was also incredibly funny but in that ‘I feel horrible for laughing’ kind of a way. I loved its irony and that satirical feeling.  The mirrored visuals in the ending, with Harding twirling on ice vs falling in a boxing, were amazing and quite sad as well.

Acting

Margot Robbie (Goodbye Christopher Robin, Tarzan, The Big Short), who has been steadily increasing her mainstream fanbase with every movie she has starred in, especially Suicide Squad, did an absolutely stellar job as the titular character. She not only acted in the film but also produced it. This role of hers reminded me of Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster, as both actresses got really de-glamourized in order to portray their respective characters. I also loved how Robbie was able to portray Tonya as a graceful dancer who wasn’t girly but rather more masculine. I thought that Robbie’s best scenes in the film (the ones that were definitely in her awards reel) were: 1)her just looking at the mirror before the 1994 Olympics and 2)her reaction to the sentence of the trial. Fun fact: the girl who played young Tonya was Mckenna Grace. In addition to playing the younger version of an actress who is Harley Quinn, she has also starred in Gifted alongside Captain America, a.k.a Chris Evans.

Allison Janney (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Girl on the Train) was also incredible in the film and is deservedly getting a lot of awards recognition for it. I wish that Sebastian Stan, who played Tonya’s husband, would have also gotten some awards nods because he too was excellent in the film. Stan has been steadily building quite a successful career for himself too, like Robbie, by starring in the supporting roles in smaller/awards films (The Martian, Logan Lucky) and by portraying a fan favorite character in a big franchise, a.k.a. Bucky in MCU (who was last seen in Civil War plus, a certain post-credits scene in a certain movie.

In short, I, Tonya was a great film with a fascinating subject matter and a stellar execution.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: I, Tonya trailer

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Movie review: The Finest Hours

Movie reviews

Good morning/day/evening!

Welcome to the first post-awards’ season movie review! On Saturday, I went to see not one but two films, which accidentally both starred Casey Affleck. So, let’s talk about one of them – The Finest Hours – a film that comes from the studio that I am most biased about.

IMDb summary: The Coast Guard makes a daring rescue attempt off the coast of Cape Cod after a pair of oil tankers are destroyed during a blizzard in 1952.

Films released in the time period between January and February are usually considered to be B level pictures and no one thinks that they can earn any money or be critically acclaimed (well, except Deadpool – that movie kinda broke all the stereotypes). So, going into the screening of The Finest Hours, I didn’t expect anything, thus, I was able to enjoy the film for what it was – a solid average motion picture. I mainly wanted to see this film because I am a fan of Chris Pine and because I do enjoy this genre of films – biographical dramas.

Disney

I have mentioned in the opening that Disney is the studio that I am most biased about. That’s because a lot of my favorite properties come from studios which belong to Disney: Pixar and Disney animation studios, Disney’s live-action fairytales division, Marvel Studios and Lucas Films. However, The Finest Hours was not made by any of these fan favorite sud-divisions/departments. It comes from Disney Motion Picture section, which doesn’t really have that good of a track record. One of their latest films was Tomorrowlandwhich I absolutely hated. So, The Finest Hours had to reach a very low bar of quality to be enjoyable. And, to my mind, it raised that bar a little bit higher, not a lot, but a tiny bit.

Writing

The screenplay for the film was written by a trio of scriptwriters: Eric Johnson, Scott Silver, and Paul Tamasy. The film was inspired and partly adapted from the book  The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue with 32 survivors in 1952 by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman. This trio of writers has previously worked on another biographical drama – David O. Russell’s The Fighter. While I did enjoy the story and a few aspects of the script, I had quite a lot of problems with it as well. Let’s go through them one by one.

  1. I didn’t like the fact the movie started with the love story and then did the tiniest time jump for no real reason. I also think that the film would constantly go off the rails when it would jump back to the love story plotline. The trailers promised the viewers a film about a ship rescue mission, and only like 35% of the film were about that mission. The rest 65% were full of forced love stories and unnecessary backstories.
  2. The film hinted a few times that the Coast Guard’s characters had a shared history – some unsuccessful mission in the past. However, this idea was never fully explained or explored. It only created unwanted tension in the group.
  3. The unwanted tension theme was also present in the group of sailors. The antagonism in that group just seemed repetitive. The film would have benefited if it would have explored the inner relations in one group, rather than having two groups with inside disagreements which are never analyzed.
  4. The two groups were not only similar in that they had inside problems but because their leaders were really similar. Both Affleck’s and Pine’s characters were quiet, calm and private. They could have been distinguished little more.
  5. At times, the film’s dialogue did not make much sense and seemed a tiny bit pointless. The whole plot also suffered from the same problem.
  6. The movie was really slow. It seemed like it was maybe building up to the epic rescue act, but the finale that the viewers got was very underwhelming. The deadline structure crumbled when the actual deadline was reached. Once again, the constant shifting between the land and the ship, with more focus paid to the land scenes, did not help the movie at all as well. I wanted the action to start but it basically never did. I also wanted to spend more time with the ship crew and to see (in detail), how they managed to keep the ship afloat.
  7. I also had a few problems with the rationality of the rescue mission. For one, why would you take an outsider on a really hard rescue mission even if he has volunteered?
  8. I do understand that a lot of the things that I penalize the movie for might just be the aspects of the actual real life events. However, since this film was not a documentary and was only based on real events, the filmmakers had the power (and the right and even maybe an obligation) to change the minor details of the story to make a better film.
  9. Lastly, the patriarchal/matriarchal undertones were not needed in the film like this. Or if they really wanted to include them, they should have explored that side storyline a bit more.

In short, all the minuses of the writing are basically missed opportunities. Some plotlines should have been cut, then there would have been more time to explore the other, more interesting storylines. The action should have been focused a bit more and the characters should have gotten more development.

Now, on ]to the writing features that I liked. The idea of turning the cars’ headlights on was a nice one, although I kinda predicted it.I would have been really mad if they would not have done it since it was an obvious solution. I also enjoyed that they included a tiny snippet of a sailor song. Overall I did enjoy the ending of the film as well and the rescue mission, while way too short, was, at least, interesting.

Directing and Visuals

Craig Gillespie directed the film. I quite liked his previous movie – sports drama Million Dollar Arm (I have been watching a lot of sports movies lately). I enjoyed the slow motion water shots and the mobile frame in the ship sequences. I found it interesting how the filmmakers decided to structure some scenes in a way that the character who was talking was not in focus (just a blurry figure) and the listener was the one that the camera focused on. Plus, the ship’s CGI was really nice and real-looking. I also loved that they ended the film with the photos of the real-life rescue mission that this movie was trying to recreate. These historical photos during the credits just nicely tie the fictionalized story to the real one in these semi-documentary/semi-fictional films.

Acting

The movie had a huge cast and I think that all the supporting characters did a nice job. I especially liked when the fear could be seen in characters’/actors’ eyes during the intense situations in the close-up shots. Since the film had an extensive cast, I will only mention a few of the leads down bellow.

  • Chris Pine as Bernie. At first, it was quite weird seeing Pine in a role of a shy-ish and a bit socially awkward Bernie, as Pine usually plays very cool and confident characters (like in Star Trek or in all the films where he played a prince/a lord). He did a really nice job in this unusual (for him) role, so I think that this just proves that he has some range as an actor. I can’t wait to see him in the Wonder Woman movie.
  • Casey Affleck as Ray Sybert. The fact that Casey will always be known as Ben Affleck’s brother kinda irritates because he is a good actor and should be known for his own work. I liked him in this film as well as in the other film of his that I saw on Saturday – Triple 9 (review coming next).
  • Holliday Grainger as Miriam. Miriam was supposed to be this strong and independent female character. However, I don’t know if Granger’s portrayal was not that good or if the character was written this way in the script, but Miriam just came across as really annoying for the majority of the film. I really wanted to like her and support her as the strong female character (as I am a female movie fan), but just couldn’t. Her scenes made me cringe and she was one of the reasons why I wanted the movie to focus less on the land scenes and more on the ship’s scenes.
  • The familiar face of Keiynan Lonsdale, who plays Wally West on my current favorite TV show The Flash, popped on screen and pleasantly surprised me. I was happy seeing him getting more work. He also plays a supporting character in the Divergent series, so we will see also see him next month in the Allegiant.

To sum up, The Finest Hours was a promising film that never delivered as much as I wanted it to deliver. It has amazing performances and interesting visuals, while the script of the film was the part that let the whole feature down.

Rate: 3.65/5

Trailer: The Finest Hours trailer

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Movie review: Spotlight

Movie reviews

Hey Hey Hey!

Lately, I have been running out of ideas on how to greet you and on how to introduce the film that I am going to review. Basically, it’s another awards’ nominated movie, but one that I really really enjoyed. Let’s talk about Spotlight – another serious and slightly depressing motion picture.

IMDb summary: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Writing and Directing

The film was written and directed by Tom McCarthy. I haven’t seen any other film he has directed, but I did enjoy a few films that he has written scripts for. Mainly, Up and Million Dollar Arm. However, McCarthy was not the only one working on the film’s screenplay. The Fifth Estate’s scriptwriter Josh Singer was also credited for Spotlight. While I liked both Million Dollar Arm and The Fifth Estate from the writing standpoint, Spotlight’s story and plot completely blew me away.

To begin with, the saddest and the most shocking part was that the film is based on true events – these child abuse stories are a reality. The lies and the cover-ups are, sadly, real as well. And the film Spotlight treated these stories with the utter most respect and did a great job not only in bringing these narratives to the attention of the public once again, but in maybe even influencing further change in the system.

The film was thrilling without having any over-the-top action. The dialogue was superb: it gave enough exposition to let the viewer follow the story but also did not give too much away. The viewer followed the investigation step by step, the same way that team Spotlight little by little uncovered the truth. It also had very subtle character development – the audience knew just enough about the main characters in order to be compelled to follow them. And even if the filmmakers hadn’t given the viewer this knowledge about the characters, the film would still have worked, because it was a storytelling/narrative film and not a character movie.

I don’t really want to get much into the actual story, though. While it was interesting to watch on the screen, it also was scary and gave me goosebumps. I do not understand how someone could ever do something like this and how other people can just let it happen. But the again, people are known for turning a blind eye to terrible events that are happening near them. We tend to notice the flaws in strangers easily and quickly, but usually don’t want to admit that something wrong is happening near us.

One of my favorite parts of the film was Mark Ruffalo’s screaming monolog. Not only did the actor was amazing in his performance, but the words that he was saying/shouting were very well written and portrayed his emotional state (breaking down inside) accurately. I really liked that the film incorporated the idea that this type of work takes a toll on people and can turn their worlds upside down or make them crazy.

While reviewer Room, I mentioned that the way journalists were portrayed in that film reminded me, why I decided not to study journalism. However, Spotlight reminded me why I wanted to pursue the career in journalism in the first place. I really hope that there are still journalists like the Spotlight team in the real world, because, nowadays, even respected news sites and newspapers seem more like a cheap propaganda disguised as news reporting than the actual examples of journalism.

To touch upon a directing real quick: I think that McCarthy did a nice job. I was a bit to engrossed with the story and the amazing acting that I did not really look at directing that much. I gotta say – I really liked the juxtaposition of the story and its setting with the church being in the background of a lot of investigation/interview shots. I also think that the usage of a religious gospel – Silent Night- was really clever. Lastly, I liked the mise-en-scene of the Spotlight team’s office and the shots with all of the team members together but in their own spaces.

Acting

The film’s cast completely transformed into their characters – the Spotlight team. They were all unique and had a distinct way of talking and behaving but they all shared a common goal.

While watching Mark Ruffalo, I did not see Bruce Banner/The Hulk or Dylan Rhodes from Now You See Me or Dave Schultz from Foxcatcher. I saw an investigative reporter Michael Rezendes, trying his best to solve this puzzle and connect the dots. The only Ruffalo’s role that might be a bit similar to this one was when he played an inspector in David Fincher’s Zodiac – a really good but underrated film from 2007. I have always admired Ruffalo’s ability to be both a mainstream movie star and an awards contender. I can’t wait to see his future projects.

Michael Keaton starred as Walter “Robby” Robinson, while Rachel McAdams played Sacha Pfeiffer. I really liked their scenes together and the work relationships that their characters had. Keaton picked up an Academy Award for Birdman last year and while he didn’t get a nomination on his own this year, the whole ensemble cast has picked up quite a few smaller awards. Moreover, Spotlight has 6 Oscar nominations, even without Keaton being nominated. Rachel McAdams has already impressed me this year in Southpaw, but she just continues to blossom as an actress and I’m really happy that she finally was recognized by the Academy and received a nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Other Spotlight members were played by Liev Schreiber (as Marty Baron), John Slattery (as Ben Bradlee Jr.) and Brian d’Arcy James (as Matt Carroll). I have recently seen Schreiber in Pawn Sacrifice – a really interesting film about chess and mental health. I still have not seen Mad Men (I know, I’m a terrible person) , so I am not that familiar with Slattery’s work. Since Brian d’Arcy James is more of a stage actor, I, sadly, cannot comment on his previous work as well.

The film had a lot of additional characters of attorneys, survivors, and religious figures. The one that had the biggest impact on the story and the one that was portrayed by a very well know actor was an attorney Mitchell Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci. I swear Tucci can play anyone and he somehow manages to find time to star in a plethora of movies every year.

All in all, Spotlight is/was a film that one would not enjoy in a literal sense of the word just because of how difficult the subject matter of the film is. However, from a filmmaking standpoint, I believe that the movie was masterfully made – the writing was perfect and the acting from the whole cast was top-notch. The motion picture definitely requires the full attention of a viewer, so if you want to snack on some popcorn or check your phone during the screening, pick a different film. Bye!

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Spotlight trailer

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