Archive for January, 2018|Monthly archive page

‘I, Tonya’ skates into your heart

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2018 at 21:22

I tonya

In “I, Tonya”, Margo Robbie’s Tanya Harding calls us all out for being her Judas and Brutus. We are all her abusers, not just her mother, LaVona Golden, (Allison Janney) and her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). After seeing the film, it’s hard to argue with that assessment. 

During the Tonya Harding skating and legal trials, the media, the judges and the public (though Harding had some hardcore supporters) lined up against the uncultured, unvarnished Harding. That’s how the film plays the public reaction to Harding, and that’s how I remember what I saw in the media at the time. 

The film plays as a reverse Rocky. It’s the underdog, but not one we admire. She is the white trash heroine, the one the establishment hates and roots against. And with Robbie’s performance guiding the story, it’s nearly impossible to root against her. 

Harding is played as vulgar, crude, brutal and determined. If she had been a male football player, a boxer, or hockey player, the public would have loved it. She could have been the Dick Butkus, the Mike Tyson or Claude Lemieux of figure skating. But the U.S. Figure Skating Association wanted their athletes to be princesses, Disney creations that played soft classical songs or ballads and not heavy metal music for their routines, not a brutal athletic champion. Girls are to be pretty, polite, cultured and delicate while performing a triple axel. 

Harding was aware she was not that, that her athleticism was her best chance. But according to the film, that is exactly what kept her from having a chance at an Olympic metal. From what I know of the case, that plays true.   

Robbie as Harding embodies the Tonya spirit, and the rest of the cast is excellent. The mixture of triumph combined with sadness on her face when she wins is astonishing. Robbie’s ability to appear gravely hurt, defiant and shocked in rapid succession is amazing. Paul Walter Hauser earns extra credit for adroitly playing the paranoid perpetrator Shawn, Harding’s ‘body guard.’

Kudos to the editors and the writers for seamlessly mixing post “incident” interviews, Tonya’s coming of age story, and various elements in the timeline. The shooting is very natural, combining mock interviews, historical footage, reenactments and live action. It doesn’t slip up. As far as the special effects go, they were fine. I only once felt I could see during one spin on the ice that it wasn’t Robbie. And I had to look hard to see even that. 

The song selection from the eighties to nineties is excellent. They didn’t just choose the biggest hits. They chose songs that worked with the feeling at the time of the film, and not necessarily the plot elements. Not one song failed to make sense, though some were more spot on then others. “Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp brought home the loss and inevitable downfall of the skater and was the most touching entry. Not since Goodfellas have I heard such a good selection of well timed songs. 

The Oscar voters will judge ‘I, Tonya’ like Harding was judge: it’s too ugly for their awards. But don’t let that keep you from seeing the film, for like Harding, it’s dynamic, powerful and entertaining to watch. 

Rating: Pay Full Price
When I first heard someone was making this film about Tonya Harding, I thought, “how stupid.” It turns out I was the one who was stupid. 

Tex Shelters

Dunkirk is a mess of plots we don’t care about: but it looks great!

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2018 at 19:59


Dunkirk-A Review.

Dunkirk is a wonderful film to look at, however, it is at once too much and too little. There are too many cuts and too many subplots that it is easy to lose interest in what is happening. The cuts come quickly, which works with the air and action scenes, but holding longer on some shots would have allowed us to feel the gravity of the situation. By cutting quickly away, we don’t have time to feel the full impact of the drama. 

Inevitably, I found myself comparing Dunkirk to other WWII films. It holds up well, with two notable exceptions. First, the intensity and close contact action is not as impactful as the opening to “Saving Private Ryan.” However, the tension throughout the entirety of “Dunkirk” surpasses “Ryan,” which move aimlessly at times. I also think of the remarkable “Das Boot”, a film that made many sympathize, me included, with Nazis in a submarine. The tension in that German classic is at a level that “Dunkirk” doesn’t match, and “Das Boot” never relents until the ending. 

Moreover, in “Das Boot”, we get to know the captain well, how he cares about each man in his command and we see his fear. That makes the film more interesting for us. There is one setting in Das Boot, a submarine, and that’s all. The film’s limited scope increases the tension and our attachment to each character.

Moreover, not all the subplots in Dunkirk work well. A subplot involving a volunteer civilian ship-mate, George, is awkward and unnecessary. Certainly, Nolan wants us to empathize with all the British citizens who aided in the rescue. He also wants us to understand the “shell shock” (PTSD) that the soldiers go through. Both the bravery of the volunteers and suffering of the soldiers was clear throughout the film and a tacked on, haphazard conflict on a civilian boat was not well thought out. The scene is an insipid distraction from the core of the film. However, the depictions of shell shock in general were realistic and impactful.

There was also a scene featuring a beached vessel that added nothing to the story but another subplot to distract us from more interesting characters and plot lines. In this way, the film is reminiscent of disaster films from the 70s where each character faces life and death challenges and we briefly see what happens to each one of them. But we don’t need to see what happens to every character and every way the soldiers were stranded. All the plots and actions leave us too scattered to deeply care about any of them. 

The acting was surprisingly flat with two exceptions: Mark Rylance as a private ship captain Mr. Dawson and Tom Glynn-Carney who plays his son Peter. More about their story and bravery and less about the tacked on George would have improved this film. In fact, I would just kill the George character entirely. 

Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton was a waste of a great talent. His dialogue was a clumsy attempt to explain the gravity of the situation, but it added little that the battle footage didn’t already show us. Moreover, Branagh’s stares into space did nothing for the film. But damn, he does look good in that uniform. 

Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is overwrought and melodramatic. Much like John Williams in Schindler’s list, Zimmer wants to make sure we FEEL things. More subtlety would have served this film well. And the unnecessary sounds added to some of the battle scenes were annoying and distracting. The sounds of war: the machines, the engines, the bombs, the bullets, are compelling enough. There was no need to embellish them. I would suggest that Mr. Zimmer stick to pure actions films like “Inception” as I have suggested that Williams stick to actions films like “Jaws” and “Star Wars.” Serious dramas need less bravado and more nuance. 

There were some great directorial choices here as well. First, the lack of machoism is refreshing. While there is a lot of posturing and anger in the film, what clearly comes across is that many of the soldiers were rightfully scared or enduring as best they could. There was no John Wayne characters on the beeches, or in this case Benjamin Cumberbatch, proclaiming that the British were going to punch the Nazi’s in the nose. 

What was also lacking was a bigger feeling about war in general. Das Boot was also able to first, show us the futility of war and two, show us how the generals and admirals had no clue and made huge strategic mistakes. Little of that comes across in Dunkirk. It shows a great rescue but ignores that this operation was only required because the Allies underestimated Germany’s power and were outflank by the Nazi advance when they failed to anticipate a German Blitz through the Ardennes. The military strategists were so inept that the whole British army almost went balls up during the retreat. In Das Boot, the commanders of the operation are clearly held accountable.  

Another good directorial choice is not stereotyping the Germans as ‘evil.’ Certainly, the Nazi leadership was a humanity hating force of slaughter, but the film focused of the heroic British, French and other allies. 

The filming and shots were well chosen and placed. An award for cinematography could be granted for degree of difficulty alone. 

Rating: Matinee. 

What could have been one of the best war films in history is mired in a hash of plots and subplots with little to root for. Still, seeing it in 70 mm is a treat worth the viewing. 


Tex Shelters