Showing posts with label drama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label drama. Show all posts

Friday, July 12, 2019

Katie Says Goodbye (2016) Strives to Find Meaning Out Of Misery

Katie (Olivia Cooke) dreams of leaving her past behind to move to San Francisco and attend beauty school. While pulling double-shifts as a waitress where her tips are wasted by her alcoholic mother, the seventeen-year-old supplements her savings as a prostitute. As she reserves every dime she can for greener pastures, falling in love with an ex-convict Bruno (Christopher Abbott) spirals her life out of control.

Everyone in Katie Says Goodbye has to forge their way in a claustrophobic nowhere town in the middle of the desert. There’s little to do for its residents except serve travelers on the road, drink, have sex – either for fun or as a gig. Left to fend for themselves with the basic necessities, Katie makes the best of what she has always looking for the silver lining. A few glimpses at her day-to-day life of monotonous waitressing, and excitedly gleaming at passing trains offers no rhyme or reason as to why she remains abundantly hopeful, and yet the film lovingly sets up this infectious charm only to gradually deconstruct it.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Favourite (2018) Is Capable of Much Pleasantness

The Favourite movie review
With some directors, you never know what you’re going to get. As familiar as you may be with their past projects, they always manage to create something within their own style but also off the beaten track. Director Yorgos Lanthimos is easily one of those types of directors today. Every film he produces from The Lobster to The Killing of A Sacred Deer, Lanthimos stands out even from his own work. This is easily the biggest, perhaps the best way, to describe his latest film The Favourite.

Set in the early 18th century, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) relishes having Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) all to herself. And then, her cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) arrives on their castle's doorstep striving to make a name for herself by any means necessary. The two begin vying for the attention of the Queen as Britain braces itself for war against France.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

First Man (2018) Shoots for the Moon But Misses

First Man movie review
Universal Pictures
Most are probably familiar with Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission: the space race between the U.S. and Soviet Union, the "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" quote, the iconic photo of Neil's footprints on the moon. Here for First Man, director Damien Chazelle explores a deeper, not widely known story, behind one of humankind’s biggest achievements.

Following the death of their toddler Karen, Neil (Ryan Gosling) and his family gradually set a course for him through trial and error to chart the famous Apollo 11 mission. While working his way up as a pilot and surviving the Gemini missions to landing on the moon, Armstrong’s eyes are so strongly set on the stars to deal with his grief, his relationship with wife Janet (Claire Foy) and their two sons starts falling apart at the seams.

One can’t have a biopic about Neil Armstrong without the Apollo 11, and vice versa. To tackle such an elusive figure with monumental events, it’s a real balancing act for any director to want to tell both stories. There's no question that Chazelle wanted to explore Armstrong's side of the events. However in focusing the film almost entirely from his perspective, the overall journey to the moon leaves a lot to be desired. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

I, Tonya (2017) is Pure Gold

Photo Credit: Neon
For nearly twenty five years, the complicated rivalry between figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan took the world by storm. In 1994, obsessed news outlets and the public tried to call the shots of how Harding attacked her fellow competitor to stay on top. Now, this time solely focusing on the former, I, Tonya ambitiously sets at least one side of the story straight.

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was raised by her ruthless, narcissistic mother LaVona (Allison Janney) to be the best figure skater in the world. Determined and hard-working, she manages to become a U.S. Champion on her way to Olympic glory. Then her abusive husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan) and his lame-brain friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) clumsily attempt to out her biggest competitor Nancy Kerrigan by whacking her in the knee. The attack instigates a worldwide scandal spiraling Harding’s fall from grace.

Taking a page out of Tonya’s book to be unpredictable and unvarnished, director Craig Gillespie’s film is not your typical biopic. More of a tell-all from Tonya and her family’s perspectives, the movie plays with different sides of the story because there never is just one. The movie is narrated by the four main culprits involved throughout Harding's life - Harding, LaVona, Jeff, and Shawn. As they describe their versions of events, history isn't concerned with looking back and over-fictionalizing  what happened. Nope, this movie's all about letting the people directly involved have the final word.

Through a wicked ride of comedy and drama, Harding is painted differently than how we might remember her. If one is looking for a catfight on ice, the movie is going to disappoint. Harding's life leading up to the incident and afterwards is depicted in a no-holds-barred, flipping her reputation as the victimizer against Kerrigan and showing her own experiences as a victim of domestic abuse. Delving into the normalized abuse Tonya suffered by her mother growing up, and then her husband, Robbie as Harding often breaks the fourth wall in the middle of being attacked or insulted, describing to those watching what's going on, how she feels and why the cycle continued. It's not the most typical or sensitive way to display what she went through growing up, but it's pivotal in showing how desensitized Harding had become to these normalized cycles and how big of a hit her self-worth ultimately takes.

By pushing herself out of her dysfunctional family, Harding is a scrappy warrior. As the film dives into the absurd, letting you be a spectator to her downfall and addressing how the media portrayed her, its offbeat style also creates empathy for her; to understand the purpose of skating as her Achilles’ heel; how she gets her self-worth from skating, how her ambition is a refuge and curse. The movie is wildly successful in its ability to be heart-wrenching and uncommonly funny. But never it never entirely absolves Harding for what happened to Kerrigan, nor uses any of the film's violence for cheap laughs.

What ultimately carries I, Tonya is the cast lead by Margot Robbie. Playing Harding from fifteen to forty-seven years old, the native Australian completely throws herself into the role from the mid-western speech to the second-hand make-up and costumes. As an actress, and a vital producer to the film and ensuring the movie was sensitive yet candid, Robbie creates a palpable image of Harding - a white-trash underdog who’s unvarnished personality didn’t fit the golden ice princess image. The film’s style has a lot going on, and Robbie manages to ground the audacious portrayal into something believeable. With her, the supporting cast Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, and Paul Walter Hauser, morph what would be caricatures into real-life people that you really can't believe actually exist.

A big hand goes to the screenwriter Steve Rogers in balancing Harding as both a victim and victimizer; she was a bystander to her husband’s crime and also complicit in it. The film covers a lot of ground like class in America, the value of a person’s image over their talent, and a woman determined to break free. His writing bends and curves all over the place but never jumps the tracks.

Interestingly, as the movie focuses on Tonya more than Kerrigan, a lot of critics wonder what the latter thinks - especially since Harding serves as a producer and I, Tonya’s has been collecting accolades in Hollywood. It’s easy: she’s moved on and living her life. Even though the movie does not glorify and limits showing Kerrigan’s perspective, much of the social commentary about her  comes across as a projection of long-overdue sympathy. Considering that the movie explores society's judgement on them both, it's interesting to look back and see them both treated like a sideshow in this major circus; Kerrigan also became a salacious scandal, soon not living up to critic's expectations, with her attack being made into parodies and getting called out her on her own mistreatment to other skaters. It makes me wonder if we’ve moved beyond a place in cinema to explore people who are flawed and don't live on an imaginary pedestal that everyone is perfect; or that maybe the expectation for the movie was to pit two women against each other in a superficial feud.

I, Tonya is not a straight-forward investigation of ‘Who dun it’, trying to cleverly re-imagine who is the real culprit of attacking Kerrigan. The movie’s a true-crime soap opera, digging into a scandal that divided the world, the dark underground of figure skating, and a woman picking herself up from her bootstraps skates. The story swerves in-between being funny, dysfunctional, and dark, but as crazy as it gets, it never loses sight of Robbie as the star or the Harding as the story; it's pure gold.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen I, Tonya? What did you think?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash movie review
Photo Credit: Whiplash / Sony Pictures Classics 
At the end of 2014 as I was making my Best and Worst of list, a void lingered that I was missing something great; memorable; different; an experience I thought would come with seeing Interstellar  or Gone Girl . Often, no matter how many great or good movies we see over the course of the year, sometimes what we truly count on are the experiences; a movie that makes you remember who you were with, what you were doing, how you felt when something shocked or excited or made your pulse race.

Of course not every movie is going to be a visceral experience, which is cool because they all can't make you feel emotionally cathartic walking out of a theatre on cloud nine or give you something heavy to ponder about for the rest of the day...but when a year doesn't have a marker; a movie that really stands out from the crowd, watching movies for pleasure and for blogging can feel a little bit empty and glib.

Part of me truly wishes I had seen Whiplash last year, even if it only officially ended two weeks ago. Because I don't know what will compare for the rest of 2015.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mud (2013)

Photo Credit: Mud / Lionsgate / Roadside Entertainment
Two young kids in their motor boat voyage out to an abandoned island on the Mississippi River. Thinking it'll be a day of wandering exploration, it's quite a welcoming surprise to Ellis (one of the two boys) when they meet a lean dirty straggler. He has a few cracked teeth, been living in a dilapidated boat, and owns nothing but the shirt on his back and a glock. His name is Mud.

The mysterious presence around him is what makes us itching to know more about why he is a lone wolf on deserted land. After persistent probing, when Mud finally unveils a passionate confession about murdering a man who had beaten up the woman he loves, Juniper, the intrigue doesn't dissipate. Played by Matthew McConaughey, he pours out the truth with such heartache, you can't help but take him at his word.

But we hear different perspectives of who Mud is. The boys help Mud make connections to his family and Juniper back on the homeland while helping him rebuild a boat for an escape. His father declares that his son is a foolish soul who misplaced his ambitions in life - not just love - to a woman who never cared about him at all. Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who walks the fine line of settling for Mud and wanting to escape his adoration (or even obsession), says that he is a born liar; one that tells fibs to make himself out to be something he's not. While we may not fully trust Mud, we rely on what he reveals to Ellis to be the truth - for what its worth.

The clock is ticking down. State troopers are setting up roadblocks and plastering his wanted photo all over town. And, the relatives of Mud's victim are ruthlessly searching for him as well - not even stopping at berating Juniper and Ellis in a dirty motel room in a palpable verbal beatdown. Though the story doesn't excuse the violent actions of the bounty hunters nor Mud, there isn't one character who is a true villain. Nobody carries a specific antagonist persona because everyone has something worth fighting for.

In many ways Ellis is a younger version of Mud. When his parents announce their separation, he relies on Mud's faith to Juniper to believe love exists. He's a young boy who is experiencing his first romance to an older teen Mary Pearl, who isn't exactly his other half Like Mud, he only knows the definite feeling of love in his bones. Their physical representation of devotion is swinging in on a vine and flailing their fists in protection against meddlers. They believe this might encourage their feelings to be reciprocated. It can't be controlled and hearts are trampled along the way.

Through the relationships of father and his son, a mother and son, a man and a woman, love and its limitations is weaved by how each character has their own way of protecting one another. Experience and time brings its own expression through different avenues of reciprocation. Sometimes it means standing true to the ones you love, and loving someone enough to leave them behind and go your own route.

The biggest impression Mud left with me was that it's a slow-churning movie about trust. The deep south is a culture of your word being your bond, and the movies' characters and story reflects that. Mud and Ellis' faith and companionship is what the film relies on. Every performance from Matthew McConaughey as Mud to Ray McKinnon as Ellis' father Senior carries the film to its palpable intrigue. And the test of love binds them all together from friends, lovers to children and parents. Director Jeff Nichols' complex story keeps you riding its waves from beginning to end.

Rating: ★★★