I, Tonya Will Kick Your Ass. Literally.

Sometimes it takes a true story to make the best movie of the year.  This is one of those times.  The first half absolutely soars.  Once the movie shifts to “the incident,” it gets a little off track and bogs down, but is redeemed by the end.

I, Tonya opens with the following blurb:

Based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly

Like a Michener account, and the disclaimer above speaks to this, there is a sense that is not necessarily the verbatim truth of everything exactly the way it happened — but boy it sure feels like it is.  It really puts you there — and it’s highly compelling.

Propelling I, Tonya is a glorious tour de force by Margot Robbie — clearly the best female performance of the year.  Allison Janney as her mother is utter perfection as well.  Both should be winning Oscars on March 4th — but sadly won’t.

With the Winter Olympics next month, the timing could not be better.  You’ll definitely come away with an understanding of the tricky triple axel that you didn’t have before.  And one final note: make sure to stay for the end credits.

Best of the year, but shy of a ‘perfect 9’.  8/10

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Film Brief: Jackie

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I am hardly a Jackie Kennedy scholar, but there seemed something a bit odd in Natalie Portman’s performance, something where I wasn’t sure if it was dead-on or off in a bizarre direction — one of my initial thoughts was, of all people, Marilyn Monroe.  And there was a certain detachment.  However, a brief look at Mrs. Kennedy’s White House tour (highlighted in the film) makes me think Natalie Portman might well have nailed it.

Jackie raises the obvious comparison to Sofia Coppola’s much superior Marie Antoinette.  Tragedy, we know, is in the offing.  I was severely disappointed by Jackie, but I admit the film held me, and that goes a long way.  I kept waiting for the film to reveal itself, to show me a door I had not previously known.  By the end of the film, that door was yet to be found.  6/10

Comparison Notes (Recommended): Frost/Nixon

Lion Does Not Roar

My opinion of Lion is colored by the 60 Minutes report on the story.  The CBS treatment was much tighter, obviously — filling in a 14-minute segment length.  The overly drawn-out film suffers in comparison to the concise and dynamic presentation by CBS.

A question that comes to mind about the evaluation of a film based on a true story that I am more or less familiar with ahead of time is “How can I fairly criticize this movie when the dramatic punch, especially as the film reaches towards its climax, has necessarily been diminished by my knowledge of the events herein?”  All I can answer is that I do my best to wash out preconceived ideas, and go with the flow of the film the best I can.  Knowing the outcome did not diminish my feelings toward the great Bernie (one day I’ll post on that one), Sully, Captain Phillips, The Theory of Everything, or last year’s best movie, The Walk.  You can click on my “true story” tag and look at other examples for yourself.

Back to Lion.  I enjoyed the first part, when our subject Saroo Brierley was a boy lost in India.  But the longer adult stage lost me — it’s the much less interesting part of the story, yet the film spends an inordinate amount of time on it.  Still, the performances and production values were good — I especially enjoyed Rooney Mara and the consummate Nicole Kidman.  So I offer a marginal recommendation, with a more vigorous advocacy instead for the 60 Minutes segment.  Unfortunately, there appears to be a subscription requirement for that.  6/10

Film Brief: Deepwater Horizon

Like Everest, Deepwater Horizon fails at the most most crucial point.  But at least Everest was an engaging picture.  I still don’t know what or how the explosion(s) occurred, and I don’t want to reverse-figure out the movie on Wikipedia.  A good documentary on the subject would have been infinitely better — so I guess I’ll wait for that on PBS.  I did like the parts that weren’t just a bunch of banging, and John Malkovich was perfection.  4/10

Comparison Notes (recommended): Captain Phillips, Sully, Gravity, Everest

Sully Forth!

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It’s a challenge to present a story that’s dramatic when the audience knows what happened, but that’s exactly what Clint Eastwood pulls off here.  Before looking into it I wrote next: “And a big part that success is that unless you followed the case closely, you don’t know what happened.”  But as I often do with “true story” films, I looked into the depiction of events in the film as compared to the facts, and it seems that Eastwood may have inserted his political views into the film; Wikipedia:

Stephen Cass, writing in the left-leaning UK paper The Guardian, declared that “In depicting government investigators as petty and clueless, the Hudson plane crash film trumpets a libertarian worldview at the expense of passenger safety”,[60] noting that “It’s not hard to see why this tack appealed to strident libertarian Eastwood”

If you are interested, and why wouldn’t you be, I recommend reading the entire section.  Based on Sullenberger’s statements, it might be that the film adhered to the actual events a little more than Cass asserts.  That is, the truth may lie somewhere in-between.

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I have mixed feelings about movies that take liberties with true stories, but for the most part I’m more interested in seeing a good movie than worrying about how completely objective it is.  This isn’t a documentary, after all.  As I always pipe in my blog: story matters.  So give me a good one.

And Eastwood — whom I’ve called “a model of inconsistency” — delivers here.  Sully was not masterful in its execution (“mastery” is a high bar to pass for me), but the dramatic story worked well.  And something I wasn’t expecting: it touched me.  Not deeply to my very core, but nonetheless it touched me.

One more thing I learned during the end credits — which you’ll want to stick around for, as they feature footage of the real Sully: Eastwood composed the theme music.  Surprised me there — I didn’t know he was a musician too!  Say what you will about his ridiculous political involvements (the empty chair episode, e.g.), he is one of the most prolific entertainers of all time.  8/10

Comparison Notes (both recommended): Flight, Captain Phillips

VOD Log: Blue Caprice

A note on the BLOG.  I have not lost interest in the blog, but I’ve slowed down a lot in the first couple months of 2016 because there has been absolutely nothing in the theaters that interests me.  You’d think the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, which was well received by critics, would be hot on my list to go see.  It just isn’t.  I have no interest in it at all.  I’m not a big George Clooney fan (though I have nothing against him), and it seems like Clooney + Coen brothers = ‘bad movie.’

Deadpool, too, has been well received, but I just don’t want to see a lot of up-close crotch shots.  Got my dose of that in the previews.  Beyond those two there’s been little to motivate a trip to the cinema.  But this is the time of year typically Blue Caprice - posterblessed with some good indies, and The Witch [prior post] is at the top of that list.  So I’ve been watching more at home, namely a few movies and more Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul — a summary post will be coming on that subject.  First, to get it out of the way:

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Blue Caprice, on an absolute scale, is not a terrible movie.  But when you depict actual events, especially ones as well publicized as these, you’re held to another standard.  Not a standard that’s any more difficult to meet, mind you, just a standard that states that the actual events must be respected.  And boy is Blue Caprice full of disrespect.  It seems to deliberately ignore the most salient facts of the case.

Wikipedia:

Their crime spree began in February 2002 with murders and robberies in the states of Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Washington, which resulted in seven deaths and seven injuries, bringing the ten month shooting spree total to 17 deaths and 10 injuries

You might expect a filmed dramatization of these events to maybe tell that story — but with Blue Caprice, not so much.  From the movie you’d never know they were in any of those places other than Washington state.  A couple of the attacks are arbitrarily shown while most are not, even while other facts are misreported.  If the film had depicted the full rampage of devastation wrought by these two we’d have one helluva movie.

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The Beltway sniper attacks were a crime spree up there with Bonnie & Clyde.  This is not quiet meditation.  There can be quiet, meditative moments, but this is a tale of extreme, grisly, loud violence.  I appreciate that the film was focusing on the ‘father & son’ relationship.  But the explosive, fatal events that happened should not be treated as a mere tangent to your story.

This filmmaker decided to ignore the core story at hand in the name of showing off his artsy-fartsy filmmaking virtuosity.  What a wasted opportunity.  3/10

Film Brief: Spotlight

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The Rotten Tomatoes consensus:

Spotlight gracefully handles the lurid details of its fact-based story while resisting the temptation to lionize its heroes, resulting in a drama that honors the audience as well as its real-life subjects.

Film critics are journalists, and as such tend to be biased toward stories about journalists.  I concur with the Tomatoes consensus, but I wasn’t enthralled to the extent many critics were — this is not the best film of the year by a long shot.  Spotlight is very good, but it won’t pass the five-year’s test.  Or put it another way: recommended, definitely — but in no way must-see.  8/10

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