I, Tonya

You think you know, but you have no idea. Wasn’t that the slogan for an MTV show? I feel it’s incredibly appropriate here. I used to love watching the Olympics as a kid. Specifically gymnastics in the summer and figure skating in the winter. So I remember watching the Games in question at the heart of I, Tonya. I still remember how the results turned out, and of course I remember hearing about “the incident”. Except, I didn’t know the full story, did I?

So here’s how the movie went down. Screenwriter Steven Rogers set out to interview Tonya Harding and her now ex-husband Jeff Gillooly to find out what happened back in ’94. What he got were two very contradictory accounts, which is what drove the structure of this film. Going all the way back to Tonya’s childhood thru the ’94 Olympics, we have not one, but two unreliable narrators who are constantly interrupting and one upping each other (often breaking the fourth wall) to try and get their version of the story out. The result is absolutely bonkers.

I saw this at a Q&A with Robbie and some of the crew, and she stated that when she first read the script, she assumed it had to be fiction. That’s how crazy it was. But she was thrown by how specific some of the details were. When she found out that it was in fact a true story, she was hooked. And she does some of her career best work as this character. Those of us who were already familiar with Tonya prolly think of her as a psychotic villain. Robbie brings a vulnerability to her and makes her a sympathetic and full character, while still retaining that feist and fire she’s known for. I was truly impressed with the depth she brought to it.

However, the real gold medalist (and potentially gold Oscarist) for me is Allison Janney, who played Tonya’s mom. Scene stealing bitch, I loved her so much. There is such bite in every bit of dialog that she says, it’s something that just has to be witnessed. I’ve seen all the supporting actress frontrunners and this point, and she absolutely would have my vote.

The whole movie was such a 90’s flashback, and I loved every second of it. Throw in the unconventional narrative structure and the great cast and I was in a sequined heaven for two hours.

I, Tonya – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

I still remember the first time I saw the original Jumanji, back in fourth grade. It was the type of movie my parents would have banned at the time (it reminded them too much of a Ouija board, which was possibly the most demonic toy ever manufactured, or something). And in fact, they had initially discouraged me from seeing it. But a girl in my class who had few friends and didn’t get to do a lot of fun things had invited my Mom and I to go with her and her Mom to see this. Mom felt sorry for her, and said we could go. Mom didn’t like the movie (for previously mentioned reasons) but I loved it. I still love it to this day. The sense of adventure and magic and mystery and suspense is unparalleled in 90’s kids movies. Plus bonus Robin Williams.

The new Jumanji had me really excited. It seemed to be an appropriate update, one that pays homage to the original while modernizing it for today’s audience, and a logical progression of the story. Oh was I right about that!

So instead of a board game, now we’ve got an Atari-looking video game. Four kids (who are absolutely not friends) find the game while stuck in detention (do all kid adventures start in detention?) and when attempting to play they get sucked into the world of Jumanji. Their mission is to beat the game and escape before the game beats them and they can’t escape. In other words, in the jungle they must wait until the dice reads, oh no dice. Until we get the end credits screen on the game?

There was so much to love about this. There were some nice nods to the original (including a fond mention of Williams’ character), but it was mostly it’s own thing. And much of it was aimed at gamers. I’m a casual gamer, but enough so that I could recognize and appreciate the way stuff worked: the NPC’s, the cinematic, the map functionality. I loved it, particularly the way the NPC’s interacted with our leads.

Oh and I totally forgot one of the best parts (although if you’ve seen the trailer, you know this). The kids aren’t themselves in the game. Their avatars are played by Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan. In other words, we’ve got a semi-freaky Friday situation where these actors are actually playing teenagers. When this trick is done right, I’m a total sucker for it, and here it was done right. The Rock was basically playing to and against type simultaneously, which he pulled off and it was hilarious. Karen Gillan nailed the expressions that constantly reminded you that she wasn’t who she looked like. But the real winner of the game was Jack Black, whose corresponding teen was actually your bratty prom queen type girl. He had the voice, and the mannerisms, and really sold it that he was a 15 year old girl, obsessed with her phone and herself. Hart was the only one I had trouble buying, but it still worked.

Anyways, really fun, really funny, and an all around good time at the movies. All you could ask for right? Oh one more thing I could ask for, that has nothing to do with the movie itself. I saw Seth McFarlane in the concession line at the theater. Might have had a bit of an internal freakout as I stood 2 feet away from him. God, I love LA

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

The Shape of Water

Is there a director capable of more beautiful and haunting imagery than Guillermo Del Toro? If nothign else, you can always count on some truly gorgeous production design and imaginitive creations.

To simply describe The Shape of Water as an unconventional love story between a mute woman and a mysterious aquatic creature would do the film a disservice. Yes, on the surface, that’s what it is, but there’s so much more depth to it. It’s a story of friendship and acceptance and loyalty. And yes, one told with stunning visuals.

Every frame is beautiful. I’m calling Best Production Design at the Oscars now. But also beautiful is the acting. Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon (in full villanous glory), Richard Jenkins, all at the top of their games.

I’m coming up short on things to say about this film because, to be completely honest, something came up a little short for me. I’m not quite sure what, though. If you like your films on the artsy side, this is absolutely something you’ll appreciate, but mainstream audiences might find it a little cold.

The Shape of Water – \m/ \m/ \m/

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

My awesome buddy Matt got me into another SAG screening this week. I’m not sure if I would have seen this otherwise, unless it does get some of the Oscar nominations it’s competing for. Having seen this, yes, it deserves some awards love (but needs a big push from the studio), and oh yes am I glad I saw this.

Basically all I knew going in was that it was a May/December romance starring Annette Benning and Jamie Bell. What I did not know, was that she is real life actress Gloria Grahame, and this is a true story. The film is mostly just a portrait of their life together, and how her age and health impacted their relationship.

Those actors are phenomenal. Benning is just so effervescent, you can see why Bell’s Peter fell in love with her. She’s fierce and strong, and has such a drastic arc over the course of the film that permeates her every movement and emotion. And then Jamie, oh Jamie Bell. His eyes showed so much passion every time he looked at her. I’ve never seen a movie romance sold so completely, and it was all in his eyes.

The film was so beautifully put together. The lighting looked dreamlike, and there were these really creative transitions between scenes. I did have some trouble figuring out some of the timeline at first, but I eventually figured it out. I really do hope it gets the awards push it deserves.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Novitiate

Went into this fairly blind.  I knew it involved nuns and Melissa Leo and it looked fairly dark.  I went to Catholic school from Pre-K thru high school (being one of the few non-Catholics made that a bit tricky, but that’s a story for another time), so I’m very familiar with that world.  I’m not sure this is quite what I was hoping for though.

The story follows a young woman who enters a ridiculously strict convent and begins her training to become a nun. It’s the 60’s and the Second Vatican Council is meeting and will set new policies that will have sweeping effect on the church and the convent.

I think I expected more drama from within the convent itself, more psychological. The trailer seemed to suggest that perhaps the mother Superior was abusive and I thought it would be a more harrowing tale. It ended up being more straight forward, following the young woman’s journey at the convent. Her extreme faith may have put her in mental or physical danger, but it was mostly internal.

Because so much of this centered around a woman who was questioning her own faith and devotion, it raised a lot of the questions that I have in my own struggle with faith. I should have anticipated that, but was still caught a bit off guard by how much it sent my internal gears turning. I didn’t like the feeling it left me with. Yes, it’s a good thing for a film to challenge you, but that wasn’t what I wanted that day.

Novitiate – \m/ \m/ \n

The Disaster Artist

Actual conversation with my therapist (social anxiety), well paraphrased actual convversation
“You have to choose a conversation topic”
“All I really wanna talk about is seeing The Disaster Artist the other day and how amazing it was”
“Why did you like it so much?”
“It’s very much my style of movie. It’s got a different vibe to it, really funny and fascinating. [Some general talk about the film] And James Franco is amazing. [Some light gushing over James] I love how because he’s also a misunderstood artist he could really connect to Tommy Wiseau.”
“Do you think that maybe you like this movie because it’s a little different, like you? And that maybe you like James because you both identify as outsiders?”
“First off, have you seen the boy? That’s a big part of why he’s a favorite. Second, whoooooooaaaa. I had not made that connection before. Damn”
See, sometimes therapists have some fun insight.

We’re already coming up at a week since I’ve seen this movie, and it still makes me giddy and it’s still all I wanna talk about. There’s a non-zero chance I’m watching it again in a few days, and I’m actually really excited about it. I think we’ve got a new front runner for fave movie of the year.

Directed by and starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist is the story behind The Room, affectionately known as the best worst movie ever made. I really do need to do a write up on The Room sometime soon, but I do have a Stardust reaction. It starts with Tommy meeting Greg Sestero, the dude who would become his best friend and costar in film. James’ brother Dave plays Greg, giving them an amazing opportunity to share the screen together.

Acatually, a lot of James’ crew is in this movie. Dave’s got the biggest supporting part, but you’ve also got Seth Rogen, Randall Park, Judd Apatow, Allison Brie, and a whole bunch of other familiar faces in various roles. The whole thing is rather serendipitous. James has certainly faced a lot of criticism for his more artistic choices over the years, which is why he just gets Tommy Wiseau so well. They’ve both misunderstood artists, and James brings this depth and emotion to the role that I don’t know anyone else could have captured.

The Disaster Artist is just as bonkers as the Room, but with a different perspective. I laughed so hard, but I was also captivated by the story, and a few poignant moments even got some whimpers out of me. I can’t explain enough how much of a blast I had watching this. Oh and PSA, be sure and stay thru the end credits. There’s a nice surprise waiting for you! (And a great midcredits surprise too).

One last thing, I don’t think you need to have seen The Room to enjoy The Disaster Artist, but I still recommend that you do. Partly because then you really will get every reference (including some callback dialog that occurs outside of the film within the film) but also for the sheer enjoyment of seeing The Room. I have yet to make it to a midnight screening, but it is absolutely on my radar for the near future.

The Disaster Artist – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Coco

Is there any movie studio that is more consistent and reliable than Pixar? Sure, a couple of the sequels may have been off the mark, but those aside, Pixar movies are emotional experiences unparalleled in Hollywood. I had so much faith in Pixar and Coco that I didn’t even give my coworkers a voting option for the fortnightly movie excursion I organize. I made an executive decision and took us to Coco.

Before I talk about Coco, let’s talk about what happened before Coco: the controversial “short”, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. I love Olaf. I finally caught him at D-land a few days prior and geeked out so hard as we talked about sunshine and warm hugs. I actually did enjoy the short. I thought it was cute, and Josh Gad is all heart as always. HOWEVER, I do not believe that this was the appropriate venue for it. Not only was it way too long for a pre-movie appetizer, it had neither the spirit nor the quality of the shorts we’ve come to expect in this spot. Let’s be real, I wouldn’t have actually tried to catch this on TV as was its initially intended medium, but I woulda been happy to watch it as a DVD extra or YouTube clip.

Now Coco. A young boy in Mexico (Miguel, not Coco, but I’m not explaining that here) loves music more than anything. However, the art form has been banned in his family for generations, after his great great grandfather abandoned his family in order to pursue a career as a musician. He comes to believe that this mysterious patriarch may in fact be the greatest singer in his country’s history. I’ll skip some details, but he finds himself in the Land of the Dead on Dia de Los Muertos trying to find this man and gain his blessing in order to return to the land of the living.

As I said on Stardust, Pixar once again has outdone themselves with the animation. It was beyond gorgeous, and I don’t just say that because I love Dia de Los Muertos style imagery. And even though Dia de Los Muertos was never a part of my family’s traditions, there was plenty in the film that actually made me kinda homesick: the accents, the slang, mentions of tamales, the music. It was really beautiful seeing that culture presented on screen.

And yes, as expected, such an emotional story. A lot about family, but I also found it to be about the power of music. There was one particular scene that really got me, that started off with a touching familial moment, but it was when the music kicked in that I had to fight to hold back tears. So so beautiful, and it was the type of music I heard all around me growing up. I may have taken it for granted as not my style then, but now it brings back floods of memories. Even without that cultural connection, the film was rather moving. My coworkers and I sat in our seats thru the entire credits, hoping to compose ourselves so that we wouldn’t let each other see us crying.

Coco – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Darkest Hour

Ah yes, the lavish movie that appears to be built around winning one actor their Oscar. There’s one every year. Usually a period piece. Darkest Hour fits that bill to a T.

Directed by Joe Wright, Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill in a film that follows his first days as Prime Minister of England during WWII. I’d heard it described as a sorta unofficial companion piece to Dunkirk earlier this year, and it’s true. You see that same story told from the other side, though it’s not the sole focus of the film.

I’m not particularly fond of period pieces or war films, at least not generally speaking. They hafta have something really special, and for me this didn’t quite do that. Oldman is fantastic, and he deserves the inevitable Oscar nomination (my heart is elsewhere for the win, but we’ll discuss much later). However, his performance only took me so far in enjoying the film. My lack of history knowledge had me lost in some of the details, and as a result, the impact of specific scenes and speeches didn’t quite work for me.

It was interesting seeing Wright’s approach to this film. (Also interesting was his Q&A after my screening.) I love him for his beautifully stylish films. This was far more subtle and subdued. I don’t think I would have appreciated that with another director. He did sneak in a few nice flourishes that felt very him that I very much enjoyed.

I also really liked the supporting cast. Kristen Scott Thomas was a powerhouse as the Mrs. Churchill, and I would have liked to see more involvement from her. Then there was Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI (who we saw played by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech). The size of his role was right for this film, but I’d love to see it expanded in a further piece. Lily James was a surprise for me. I don’t typically care for her, but as our sort of audience surrogate (being introduced into the world as we are), I liked her. She had a charisma and grace about her that was quite fitting.

Anyways, the long as short is that this might not be a film for the casual movie goer. However, it is one for Oscar enthusiasts and history buffs. We see a lot of those this time of year.

Darkest Hour – \m/ \m/ \m/

Roman J Israel, Esq

I don’t think I’ve once said the title of this movie right. I can’t wrap my head around it. Things I also can’t wrap my head around? This movie as a whole. I couldn’t get a good read on it from the trailer, but I figured Denzel’s the man so I’d give it a shot anyways. The film itself was just as unfocused..

Denzel is a lawyer in a small, two man law firm. When the other man falls ill, he soon finds himself out of a job. Things happen and then he’s working at a big time law firm, and he does some stuff of questionable ethics and I really don’t know what this is meant to be about.

Really, it was all over the place. I couldn’t keep the timelines straight. I couldn’t figure out his motivations. I couldn’t tell what the point of the whole thing was supposed to be. Denzel was acting as hard as he could, but it wasn’t enough to counter a weak screenplay and direction.

At least Collin Farrell is pretty.

Roman J Israel, Esq – \m/ \n

Wonder

Heh, so there’ve been multiple times in the past two weeks that I’ve forgotten all about this movie. That isn’t to say it was bad or I didn’t enjoy it. Quite the opposite really. It’s just that in such a rich movie season, this one got kinda lost.

Wonder is about a little boy, played by Jacob Tremblay, who has had a serious of medical issues that have ultimately resulted in some rather obvious facial disfigurement. Because of that, he’s been home-schooled all his life. But now that he’s about to start fifth grade, it’s decided that it’s time for him to go to public school and try to navigate the harsh world of junior high.

It sounds overly sappy, and it kinda was. But it was also effective. For me, it definitely triggered a lot of uncomfortable bullying memories. There was a point where the kids finally stood up against the bullies, and the audience burst into applause, and I nearly burst into tears. It stirred up so much for me.

The film doesn’t just focus on our wonderful boy. Some segments are told from the perspective of other characters. I really liked the storyline about the older sister, who often found herself ignored by the rest of her family that catered to her little brother. We don’t get that angle very often. Some of the other side stories felt a little incomplete though. I think it might have worked better if she was the only B story.

My favorite character tho was Daveed Diggs’ teacher. Yeah a lot of that is because I’m a Hamil-fan with a crush, but I love the charisma he brought, and I loved what his character stood for. I just wish we had more of him.

This was nice and heartwarming. I feel like it was well done, it just didn’t stick with me too long after.

Wonder – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n