Month: January, 2018

I, Tonya

itonyaIt seems the perfect time for Tonya Harding’s story to finally surface onto the big screen.  In the current age of relativism, this personal truth of Harding’s life is to be taken at face value. Right from the opening credits I, Tonya makes clear its intentions as an “irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true” account of Tonya’s story. In fact, the truth may never be known, not by us at least. But in Tonya’s own words “there’s no such thing as truth. I mean it’s bullsh*t. Everyone has their own truth and life just does whatever the f*ck it wants.” … which perfectly sums up this film’s sassy tone.

Most will already know the events surrounding the infamous scandal of Olympic ice-skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.  But less is known about the events leading up to the incident.  Physically abused from a young age by her mother and later in life by her husband, Tonya’s rough start moulded her into a belligerent, naive, self-confessed redneck that didn’t give an inch. Her side of the story is presented through mockumentary-style interviews with the key players, including Tonya (Margot Robbie), her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and Harding’s mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney)—all who clarify events leading up to the “planned” kneecapping of rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. The incident made headlines around the world and defined the careers of the two Olympic ice-skaters.

Director Craig Gillespie’s (Lars and the Real Girl) visually charged approach is perfectly partnered with Steven Rogers’ punch-and-duck screenplay, resulting in a film that ebbs and flows effortlessly throughout. And although at times it relies too heavily on its emotive soundtrack, it packs enough kinetic wallop and alluring fourth-wall breaking (which at times includes us, the media frenzied public, complicit in her abuse), to keep you engaged.

It’s difficult to know how the real events behind closed doors actually played out, but one thing’s for sure; I, Tonya presents Harding’s “truth” as a feisty tale of dark humour and tragedy that proves to be an absorbing romp from start to finish.

Read the full review for the NZ Herald here.

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Downsizing

DOWNSIZINGWhat if you could be shrunken to a miniature version of yourself? It’s not the first time the concept has graced the silver screen and as you might expect, Downsizing ends up asking more questions than it answers. Nonetheless, in an interesting take on human reduction, Director Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) has taken this well-used idea and wrung out a surprisingly bleak look at the possibilities.

Matt Damon plays the disgruntled Paul Safranek, an Occupational Therapist who along with his wife (Kristen Wiig), are finding it increasingly difficult to get ahead financially. After much deliberation, they decide to undergo the irreversible procedure of “downsizing”—a new technology invented by Norwegian scientists in the hope of turning the tide of human consumption.

Interestingly, the film is more concerned with exploring the environmental and humanitarian impact of downsizing rather than having fun with the shrinking concept itself.  And although it has its playful moments, this is far less Honey I Shrunk the Kids and more High-Rise … well, ok maybe not that aggressively grim.  But it paints a nihilistic world where human society inexorably gravitates towards a life of pleasure to the detriment of the planet’s health—the new invention simply providing people with a further reason to live a life of hedonistic excess rather than using it as an opportunity to reverse the damage done.

Despite the film’s mildly depressing outlook, Safranek’s tale does ultimately deliver a positive message—one that encourages us to focus on individuals in need rather than the world’s forlorn situation. It is a noble message which unfortunately is muddied by Downsizing’s rather loose and disjointed delivery.  A mishmash of different genres renders the film an unsatisfying experience as it struggles to settle on a single tone.  It swings from romcom to sci-fi drama and then shifts gear into a soft disaster flick, creating a tonal disparity that separates rather than coalesces the film’s themes. It’s an interesting attempt at one of the more unique takes on the subject, but it simply tries to cram too much in.  Perhaps the film could have done with a bit of downsizing itself.

  

You can see my published reviews here.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

jumanjiThe body-swap gag has graced the silver screen many times over the years. The Hot Chick, The Change-Up, Freaky Friday, 13 going on 30—the list goes on and what is common to most are their tendency to be b-grade comedies.  Here, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle attempts a slightly different angle as it blends the body-swap trope with the 1996 Jumanji original.

Jumanji tells the tale of four high-school students and one fateful afternoon on school detention.  The four students occupy various extremes in their school’s social pecking order; the football jock, the “selfie” valley girl, the nerd, and the loner. The premise is ripe for some Breakfast Club styled soul searching and frat-boy high-jinx. Although that’s as far as Jumanji has in common with any John Hughes film, as here the four become entwined by the fickle finger of fate and a magical video game. Unwillingly sucked into game’s world, they come to terms with each occupying a fictional avatar quite different to their real self.  They must also work together to save Jumanji from the evil villain, Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). Plot, for the lack of a better word, is not this film’s strength as it navigates a very linear narrative in search of the next comedic moment … of which there are, thankfully, enough giggles to maintain a mild semblance of interest.

Kevin Hart offers his usual “go to” brand of loud and brash humour which has become a tired cliche since the days of Eddie Murphy.  Likewise, Jack Black and Dwayne Johnson operate well within their comfort zone and offer little more than their norm.  The big surprise being Karen Gillen (Guardians of the Galaxy), who steals the show. Externally she’s a kick-ass Lara Croft styled martial arts vixen. Internally, she’s a painfully shy loner who has to come to terms with what’s required of her—hilarious scenes involving Jack Black teaching her how to flirt are the film’s high point.

Putting the humour aside, Jumanji briefly touches on issues of adolescent identity, however, director Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher) seems uninterested in exploring the topic with any depth. Alas, Jumanji does feel a little lightweight and while my expectations for this film were fairly low, it somehow still managed to mildly disappoint.  If all you’re after is average adventure thinly draped over a collection of chuckles, then Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle will be a perfectly serviceable holiday block-bluster … but beyond that, it will fall out of your brain soon after you leave the theatre.

You can see my published reviews here.

The Post

thepostAnyone who lambasts the role of the media should see this film.  Sure, the media isn’t entirely squeaky clean, but there’s no denying its role in providing a level of accountability to organisations and crucial in the defence against corruption. As free press advocate and America’s first female newspaper publisher, Kay Graham, agonises “We have to be the check on their power. If we don’t hold them accountable, my God, who will?” The Post’s retelling of a time when the free press and the U.S. government clashed couldn’t be more topical in today’s media climate of fake news and media commodification.

The frailty of free speech is thrown under the spotlight as the film (the latest in Spielberg’s burgeoning catalogue of political dramas) relays the events leading up to the infamous Watergate scandal. Focussing on a tense few weeks during 1971, the film recalls The Washington Post’s anguish over whether to publish portions of the Pentagon Papers—a damning classified report chronicling America’s dubious involvement in South East Asia post World War II.  It was enough information to bring the U.S. government to its knees, but a couple of roadblocks were in their way. Most notably, The New York Times had already published some of the papers and had had the espionage act thrown back in their face. A fate The Washington Post could sorely afford given the unfortunate timing of their plans to float on the stock exchange.  Meryl Streep plays The Washington Post’s owner and publisher, Kay Graham, with editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) giving a street-level perspective.  The bastion of free speech relies on Graham’s fortitude of character and Streep convincingly wears the weight and anguish of her responsibility.

The film’s setup renders the first half a very dry affair.  So dry, you’ll be in need of drink rather than a toilet stop.  But the film’s weighty expositions are necessary to give credence to the sheer magnitude of what was at stake. The final stanza flows with more vigour and although it doesn’t offer the formulaic intrigue of a Grisham tale, The Post remains an important historical document that is confidently told by the hand of a master director and two of America’s finest actors.

Read the full review for the NZ Herald here.