Connect with us

Movie Reviews

I, Tonya

Published

on

Released: 23rd February 2018

Directed By: Craig Gillespie

Starring: Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan

Reviewed By: Van Connor

To most who remember the news coverage of the time, the story of Tonya Harding’s would-be “hit” on rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan feels like a one-note joke story of the nineties. If last year’s onslaught of O.J. Simpson material taught us anything though, it’s that there’s a surprising wealth of material to be found behind these stories, and it’s a wealth I, Tonya taps in vivaciously as a sort of updated answer to Gus van Sant’s To Die For.

Margot Robbie is, naturally, Tonya Harding – going full redneck as the iconic bad girl of US figure skating in a biopic that explores her sharp-edged relationship with abusive mother LaVonna (the superb Allison Janney) and the burgeoning romance with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastien Stan) that offers an all-too-brief escape. All of this domestic instability though serves as mere bedding for a professional life that sees Harding emerge as one of the defining talents of the sport, albeit in the face of elitism and a public that all too willingly buys into the trashy persona the media depicts for her – something that doesn’t help when those close to her decide to rig the competition in her favour by way of an attack on rival Kerrigan.

Undoubtedly the star vehicle Robbie’s been waiting for since her breakout turn in Wolf of Wall Street (a whopping four years ago now!), there’s a directorial energy here noticeably missing from helmer Craig Gillespie’s previous mainstream efforts in The Finest Hours and the best-forgotten Million Dollar Arm. The same can also be said for the otherwise decidedly fluff screenwriter Steven Rogers, who follows up on the laughably poor Christmas with the Coopers with something that has genuine substantive bite and satirical wit. With a director and screenwriter upping their game to such a degree then, it’s a sigh of relief that Robbie shows up ready to own this with all the rampant ferocity that made her one to watch in the first place.

As terrific as Robbie is though, she’s no match for the force of nature that is Allison Janney’s insidious LaVonna – a character that’ll effortlessly take her place in the pantheon of sinister cinema parents in years to come. Janney’s performance is built on toxicity and never waivers in how sublimely dark it’s willing to go within the mere inflection of a single line of dialogue. Try as he might, Sebastian Stan simply can’t keep up with either of his female co-stars, but that doesn’t stop him taking a damn fine shot at doing so, and, if nothing else, the Captain America star succeeds in humanising the walking punchline that is Jeff Gillooly in a manner you’d never have thought possible just two decades ago.

Ultimately, perhaps the smartest decision in crafting I, Tonya is that of leaning heavily into it’s meta-narrative on fame and American celebrity. A fourth wall-breaking acid-tongued dissection of an American crime story [sic], there’s fun and ferocity a plenty to be found in Robbie’s long-awaited and fully-fledged star vehicle. A confluence of top-of-their-game performers and career bests from both its writer and directors, don’t let this one skate by.

Keeper of Lola M. Bear. Film critic for Movie Marker, TalkRADIO, and others. Producer of podcasts. Skechers enthusiast and blazer aficionado. All opinions my own.

Movie Reviews

Bad Times at the El Royale ★★★★

Bad Times at the El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp.

Published

on

Director: Drew Goddard

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman

Released: 12th October 2018 (UK)

Bad Times at the El Royale has seemingly fallen foul of the particularly hectic October release schedule in the U.K. As Venom and A Star is Born dominate the box-office and with the London Film Festival in full swing, El Royale has not received the recognition it deserves.

Boasting an impressive cast, Bad Times at the El Royale follows seven strangers whose stories intertwine at the El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe. As each person’s agenda for being at the El Royale is revealed, tensions inevitably rises and the characters collide.

From the get-go, El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp. Director Drew Goddard, no stranger to managing madness following his debut A Cabin in the Woods, has crafted an immersive, intricately linked murder-mystery that feels like a grindhouse version of Cluedo. The violence is garish but necessary, the dialogue is short and snappy and the characters are most importantly, interesting. The hardest part of any film with so many moving parts, is making the audience actually bond with those involved. Goddard, who also wrote the screenplay, has nailed this – giving enough back-story for each, whilst holding enough back to keep us learning more.

Between Jeff Bridge’s bad-ass priest, Dakota Johnson’s kill-happy hippy and Chris Hemsworth’s dancing cult-leader, the wider cast have somehow managed to create a credible on-screen dynamic, despite the stark character contrasts. Cynthia Erivo’s soulful singer Darlene is the obvious standout and her interactions with Bridge’s Father Flynn provide some of the most film’s most satisfying scenes. Lewis Pullman’s unassuming concierge Miles is another strong performance deserving of a mention.

The film swaggers along accompanied by its killer soundtrack, which plays a crucial part in the films tonal change from chapter to chapter. It’s dark and violent, yet at times it’s engaging and even emotional. The sharp edits that mash-up the timeline don’t over-complicate the plot, but accentuate the frenzied feeling that Goddard is creating as we head towards the plot’s crescendo.

As expected there are some areas where a film with so much going on inevitably suffers. Jon Hamm’s Seymour is arguably the biggest victim of this, with his character perhaps not utilised as much as it could have been. The film also feels a little too fleshed out in parts, lingering on some of the less necessary aspects and leaving one or two plotlines unexplored as a result.

Bad Times at the El Royale really does feel like a Tarantino movie and that’s no mean feat, Goddard has taken his own style and applied tried and tested techniques to create a compelling, genuinely exciting movie and one that deserves to be enjoyed by a wider audience.

 

Continue Reading

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Arctic ★★★★

Published

on

Released: 5 December 2018

Directed by: Joe Penna

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir

Reviewed by: Lauren Tina Brady

An expanse of white as far as the eye can see, gently sloping mountains in the horizon, a polar bear pads silently across the snow, pausing briefly to gaze back at the watching man across the valley.

At first Arctic reads as a classic survival narrative; the basic man vs. nature conundrum. I’d recently seen The Mountain Between Us, which draws some very obvious similarities; plane crash, hostile snowy environment, a great expanse needing to be crossed for a chance of survival. However, unlike relying on the pairing of Kate Winslet and Idris Elba for context,  Arctic’s dialogue is bare. This is largely due to the fact that there is only the protagonist for the first third of the film, played by Mads Mikkelsen.

At first it appears to lull you into that false sense of security of knowing exactly how this works out; he sticks to a routine of catching fish, laying out black rocks spelling ‘help’ against the snow and signalling for nearby aircraft. However, crucially, we don’t know who he is. He speaks very little, in both Danish and English. He offers no information to help us piece together a backstory and remains an enigma throughout, which feels fresh. The character becomes more than a person; he becomes the flicker of hope for survival, the spectrum of emotions that occur in the darkest of hours.

There is plenty of drama to keep us on the edge of our seats; he has a chance of escape quite early on – a small helicopter has spotted him and attempts to make it’s way towards him in strong winds leading to a crash. There are two people on board; one is killed with the other, a woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir), who survives but is badly hurt and must be cared for. Suddenly the odds of both surviving are halved; the danger is intensified.

Here is a tale of endurance over survival. This is where Mikkelsen excels; he digs deep to portray every possible emotion through a gruelling and ice-cold journey. He is silent but his face says everything. I laughed in delight, I wept quietly. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing this role.

It’s a feat for Joe Penna, directing his feature film debut. See it for Mikkelsen, stay for the sensitive direction and the stunning cinematography.

Continue Reading

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Museum ★★★★

Published

on

Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Stars: Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Alfredo Castro

Released: London Film Festival 2018

It’s Christmas Day, 1985. College dropouts Juan Nunez and Benjamin Wilson are ready to pull off an audacious heist that will have authorities searching for professional art thieves for years. Based on a true story, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ film sees the duo attempt to steal 140 priceless artefacts from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, Museum explores the mindsets of two would be criminals with nothing to lose.

The tale is narrated by Wilson, played with subtle compassion by Leonardo Ortizgris. Wilson’s role is much like Nick’s in The Great Gatsby, an opinionated and somewhat loyally biased eye through which Juan is diluted. Played by Gael Garcia Bernal, Juan is the film’s focus, a Mexican Cool Hand Luke drifting through his young adulthood. In the hands of another actor, Juan may have come off as entitled, lazy even, but Bernal’s performance layers the character with sympathetic naivety and relatable desire. A perennially youthful, multifaceted actor, Bernal paints buckets of emotion into every micro-expression.

The crime takes place after Christmas dinner, a lively family affair that sees Juan alienated and berated. At first, the silence is reminiscent of the hanging scene from Mission: Impossible; the tension equally palpable. But soon the action changes, pared back to a static style similar to the panels of a comic book. It is a technique repeated throughout the film, the continuity broken up into freeze frames that are not quite motionless, still alive with a touch of movement. Reducing these scenes to a childlike fantasy, Ruizpalacios succeeds in creating the ultimate sense of idyllic, youthful adventure.

Something often ignored in heist films is the aftermath, when the thieves must deal with the fallout of their decisions. Museum’s second act focuses on this aspect, allowing the introduction of an English art dealer, played by the superb Simon Russell Beale. Uncertainty builds from the start of their meeting, as the camera endlessly pans until Juan’s misguided perceptions come crashing down around him. In a script littered with intelligence and comedy, it is a pleasant surprise to see the characters’ raw emotion become the focal point.

Ruizpalacios seems content to pose questions that hang wispily in the air, unanswered: questions of cultural ownership, of morality and greed. He is more interested in the character study at the heart of this story, of a man who commits a crime out of boredom, a sense of nihilism or a desire for adventure, or perhaps a little of all three. It is a fresh idea in a crowded genre, making for a film that is impressive but never quite brilliant, a wonderful adventure that doesn’t aim to blow minds. But does that matter? As Juan says and Wilson relays: “Why let the truth ruin a good story?”, a sentiment Ruizpalacios takes quite literally. Luckily for him, Museum is without a doubt a good story.

Continue Reading

Trending