Posts Tagged ‘review’

Some movies are more difficult to review than others, and I, Tonya is one of them. On one hand, it is a humorous film, making good use of the of the fourth wall to tell a story, or stories – it embraces its differing points of view – about what is referred to as The Incident, the injuring of skater Nancy Kerrigan by people around Tonya Harding.

On the other hand, it’s a lot about the abuse Tonya (Oscar-nominee Margo Robbie) withstands, first at the hands of her never satisfied mother LaVona Fay Golden (probable Oscar winner Alison Janney), then by her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) in their odd love/hate relationship.

As someone who watched a LOT more figure skating in the day than he really cared about, I know it was also about how the girl from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks in Portland, OR never having the right “look”. Her skating was athletic – she was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition – but she lacked the grace, the elan that the skating community wanted to show.

I asked my local expert, my wife, what she thought of Robbie’s portrayal of Harding. She thought, and I concurred, that she captured the essence of Tonya, though she wasn’t as sinewy as the skater. We agreed, though, that the folks playing Tonya’s mom and husband, and especially Gilhooey’s lunkhead friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser), were spot on.

I continue to be amused by the fact that some people get up from the theater as soon as the credits begin rolling, even when those credits are paired with clips of the real people – Tonya, Jeff, LaVona, Shawn. Shawn really DID think he was a world-class international spy.

I liked the film because Tonya eventually overcame what was essentially a rigged system to become one of the best skaters in the world. She was turned into a national joke – the film Tonya points to a real David Letterman Top Ten – because of a ridiculous and ineptly executed plan not of her design. She was banned from participating in the only thing to do what she knew how to do, yet she survived.

I, Tonya speaks of the curse of celebrity, with the swarm of reporters camped outside her door for a time. A television infotainment reporter (Bobby Cannavale) admits how the medium sensationalized that narrative until the Next Big Thing came along.

And, as noted, I did love the storytelling device of the film. Tonya talks about all the specific difficult things she went through to train for the 1994 Olympics, and her coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) looks into the camera and says, “And she did!” I laughed aloud through much of the dark comedy.

My wife, who wanted to see the film more than I, enjoyed it less, because of all that Tonya went through, starting at age of four. Of course, we saw this at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany.

When my wife and I saw Phantom Thread at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany one Saturday afternoon in February, I was not quite sure what the title meant. Was it the secret messages that he sewn into each piece of apparel he makes? Maybe.

Or perhaps it’s the emotional push and pull of the three primary characters. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned dressmaker in 1950s London. The confirmed bachelor decides that his current girlfriend needs to be sent away because her capacity to inspire him has diminished.

Then he meets a somewhat awkward young woman Alma (Vicky Krieps) who he attempts to mold based on his needs. Buttering toast never sounded so loud. But she is more strong-willed than she appears at first.

His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), my favorite character, is his majordomo; almost everything runs through her, which was confusing/frustrating to Alma for a time.

The relationship between Reynolds and Alma operates on two speeds, great love and irritated indifference on his part, the latter tied to his fastidious creative process. Alma understands the latter but obviously prefers the former and does what she needs to foment it. It is, let’s say, a dysfunction romance.

The movie looks marvelous, with great use of color. Reynolds looks great, even when he ought not, and Alma is transformed. I liked it well enough to recommend, though it is at 130 minutes, a little slow, especially in the beginning. Its R rating is for the occasional F-word.

Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth movie, and his second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis, the first being There Will Be Blood (2007), which I did not see. I have seen Andersen’s Punch-Drunk Love (2002) and Boogie Nights (1997).

Whether or not this turns out to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film, he’s deserving of the Oscar nod here, though he will not win. I discovered that I saw him in several films – Gandhi (1984), A Room With a View (1985), and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) – before I really knew his name.

I watched his breakout role in My Left Foot (1989) for which he would win an Oscar. It’s likely I saw The Age of Innocence (1992) and In the Name of the Father (1993) at the Spectrum, but I never saw him again until Lincoln (2012).

The first movie my wife and I went to see after the Academy Award nominations were announced was The Shape of Water, which had 13 noms, including Best Picture. Right after we came out of the theater, I ran into a couple of friends of mine, and I utterly failed to describe what the heck this film was.

Was it magic realism? Maybe-ish. It is a cold war drama/civil rights metaphor/science fiction tale/love story. Yeah, right, that’s it. I asked my wife, and she said it was weird. That’s correct too.

Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who cannot speak, presumably because of whatever caused the scars on her throat, is employed as a janitor in a secret high-security government laboratory. She works with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer). They discover something they’re not supposed to know about.

There are a lot of things I liked about the movie. For instance, the relationship between Elisa and the amphibious entity (Doug Jones) who reminded me of the Creature from the Black Lagoon is lovely, especially early on, when they learn to communicate.

My favorite character was Giles (Richard Jenkins), Elisa’s neighbor, an artist who is even more isolated than she is, bemoaning aging as he watched old movies rather than the news. He has an interesting story arch.

What I didn’t much enjoy is the sadistic cartoon villainy of the facilities head, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), though he is involved in the one time I chuckled during the film. (“It’s teal.”)

There’s a sequence near the end, and I won’t describe it. But if I were sitting at home watching it on TV, I’d be screaming at the set, “Don’t do it!” And it plays out most predictably.

Also, there’s a scene where a black couple appears very briefly, designed to Make A Point. Ben Sachs of the Chicago Reader wrote: “The movie‘s worldview is as easy to like as the protagonist and her friends, but [director and co-writer Guillermo] del Toro lays it on so thick that there’s no room for counterargument or even independent thought.”

All good cinema manipulates the viewer, but I felt as though I could see the strings too obviously. I’m glad I saw The Shape of Water, I even recognize why it is so acclaimed, and I bought into the ending. But it was my least favorite of the five nominated films I’ve seen so far (3 Billboards, Lady Bird, The Post, Darkest Hour).


When Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) got tired of the lack of progress regarding the murder of her daughter, she commissions an ad company guy named Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) to put up Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That’s the movie my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany on the Sunday it was touted as Best Picture by the Screen Actors Guild.

Of course, the beloved chief of police William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is not happy to be called out in 20-foot letters, even on a back road. Besides, he has even a bit of an unrelated problem. But one of his officers, Jason Dixon (Oscar nominee Sam Rockwell), who still lives with his mama (Sandy Martin), is a hotheaded bigot who gets even more incensed.

Mildred’s ex, Charlie (John Hawkes) has been spending time with a 19-year old female named Penelope (Samara Weaving). Mildred’s son Robbie (Lucas Hedges, whose last three movies I’ve now seen) is coping with loss.

Three Billboards also stars Amanda Warren and Peter Dinklage.

Lots of people, obviously, really liked this movie and I’m one of them. I appreciated the development of the memorable and distinct characters, which shows that most of us are complicated beings. Occasionally the film is unexpectedly funny, and I laughed aloud more than once. Previous Oscar winner McDormand (Fargo) deserved her nomination, as do Rockwell and previous Oscar nominee Harrelson.

And some critics absolutely hated Three Billboards. A few thought the first part was great and it fell apart, by seemingly redeeming the worst character, which I don’t believe is what happened. Others found the film of little redeeming value, with a deus ex machina ending. What?

I’ve read that the wordplay from Martin McDonagh, who was also the director, was considered too glib and clever for its own good. And some just hate its politics: see, for instance, writer Ken Levine’s scalding take.

A couple other notes: there’s violence, but the murder is not shown, except in photos. In fact, the one time I turned away from the screen momentarily involved a scene practically out of Little Shop of Horrors.

It was a bit nerve-wracking occasionally, though. And if I didn’t realize this on my own, the woman sitting directly behind me let me know by telling her friend that she was so nervous she needed to ear more popcorn.

After the family got to see The Post at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany in January 2018, the Daughter asked, “What’s Watergate?” That’s because the end of the movie teases about yet another journalistic crusade for the Washington Post, running into federal governmental interference.

Except, the leads of the film realize, perhaps, more complicated. Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) notes wistfully at one point that his close relationship with John F. Kennedy might have had him pulling a few punches.

Publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) is even more socially involved with the powerful. Her father, Eugene Meyer, had passed the paper down to her husband Philip Graham. When Philip committed suicide in August 1963, sordid matter only peripherally addressed in the film, Kay became titular head of the paper.

Quite telling is one scene in which the men start talking politics, and the women, including Kay, go off to chat about other things. She was good friends with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), who supported her emotionally after Philip’s death.

The rival New York Times reported a blockbuster story about an extensive, confidential report written by Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) about the United States’ failed policy in the war in Vietnam. Moreover, officials such as McNamara KNEW it was likely an unwinnable conflict. The federal government got a judge to enjoin the Times from publishing more stories.

When the Washington paper, thanks to some sleuthing by Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), gets access to the reports dubbed the Pentagon Papers, is the DC paper bound by the Times’ legal constraints? And how will this affect the financial negotiations that Kay Graham is involved with?

The Post is a good solid film, directed by Steven Spielberg. It is unfair, though inevitable, to compare it with the Watergate-era film All the President’s Men, but one does. Jason Robards is a better Ben Bradlee than Hanks, which I have read Tom acknowledged. And it wasn’t as taut as Spotlight, the movie about the Catholic priest scandal in Boston.

Ultimately, the biggest arc takes place with Kay Graham, and a lot of that is Streep. I also loved Odenkirk.

Still, I got a little misty-eyed with joy when Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon) reads Supreme Justice Hugo Black’s opinion in the case. The movie has seemed very current, hitting on both the attack on the media and the role of women in the workplace. A must-see for a political junkie like me.

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