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Movie Review: I, Tonya

Official I Tonya Poster
All Images Courtesy of Cinetic Media PR

“America, they want someone to love; but they want someone to hate, too.” These words, concisely distilling the public’s obsession with celebrity scandal, are spoken by Tonya Harding, former Olympic figure skater and one-time champion competitor, in director Craig Gillespie’s outstanding new biopic, I, Tonya. For those who are late to the game; back in 1994, Harding found herself at the center of one of the most sensational scandals in sports history after being linked to a physical attack on her teammate Nancy Kerrigan shortly before the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. In the seemingly endless media circus that surrounded ‘the incident’ (as it is referred to in the film) and its far-reaching consequences, Tonya Harding became a walking punch line and arguably the most-hated woman in America. In the aftermath, she was sentenced by the court to probation, community service, ordered to pay a large fine, and forced to resign from the United States Figure Skating Association, effectively ending her career. Twenty three years later, I, Tonya gives Harding a compelling confessional with which to tell the whole sordid story, and it is a tale based on true events that’s as crazy as any absurdist, darkly comic fiction you could make up.

I Tonya Jeff and Tonya Young
Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) with Tonya as a Newly-Dating Couple.

With a tight script based on dialogue from recent interviews by the director with both Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, plus archived interviews, You Tube videos and meticulous research, I, Tonya traces Harding’s life and career from age 4 to 44.  Growing up in a broken home (her mother’s fifth child from her fourth marriage) Harding’s focused passion for skating took her out of her reality of incessant beratement by her stage-mother-from-hell, LaVona Golden (an astounding performance by Allison Janney) and transformed her into a disciplined athlete who didn’t take any shit from anybody. Performing in homemade costumes because she couldn’t afford to buy them, and constantly standing up for her right to compete and be judged on her ability despite not fitting the mold of a squeaky clean all-American girl, it’s exhilarating to watch her come up in the sport (Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition) while gaining a voyeuristic perspective on the circumstances that shaped her complicated character.

I Tonya Allison Janney
Allison Janney Steals Every Scene She’s in as Tonya’a Mother, LaVonna Golden

As Harding hones her craft and becomes an increasingly successful, award-winning competitor, her already volatile relationship with Gilooly becomes even more physically abusive, and the film’s depiction of domestic violence is very realistic, harrowing and difficult to watch. By the time Gilooly and his half-witted friend Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Hauser) begin brainstorming a plan that will ‘intimidate’ Olympic teammate Nancy Kerrigan, who is perceived as Harding’s stiffest competition for Olympic Gold, it is already too late to stop the downward spiral.

I Tonya Cast at Rink
Jeff, Tonya and her coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) first hear of the attack on Kerrigan

Despite the violence and serious subject matter, I Tonya is a wildly enjoyable ride, filled with many hilarious moments thanks to the absurdist situations and excellent comic timing from the top-shelf group of actors cast in this strange-but-true story. A well-curated film soundtrack can always advance the action and evoke keen emotions in ways that dialogue alone cannot, so it’s worth noting that, along with a terrific original score by Peter Nashel, I, Tonya makes brilliant use of popular radio hits of the era such as Cliff Richard’s “Devil Woman,” Hot Chocolate’s “Everyone’s a Winner,” Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ cover of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” sound tracking the film’s closing credits as they scroll over archival footage of  Tonya Harding skating in competition, which is unexpectedly quite moving.

Expect I, Tonya to garner a considerable number of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Robbie and Best Supporting Actress for Janney (at the very least), and Best Director.

Opening Nationally on Friday December 8th, 2017, The Worley Gig Gives I, Tonya Five out of Five Stars. Watch the Trailer Below:

Movie Review: Dan Stevens Stars in The Ticket

The Ticket Movie Poster

If you’re a fan of Dan Stevens from his tenure on the period drama series, Downton Abbey, not to mention (but you can see I am about to) his current roles in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the hit TV series Legion, you can get another fix of the wildly popular British actor in a new independent film, The Ticket. As the first American film directed by Ido Fluk (Never Too Late), The Ticket offers an intimate, engaging  and well-acted take on a familiar cautionary tale. James (Stevens) has been blind since childhood due to an inoperable pituitary tumor pressing on his optic nerve. Despite his blindness, he appears to enjoy a good life; being happily married to Sam (Malin Ackerman) and father to a 13 year-old son, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). James also works at a Real Estate firm making cold sales calls with a group of other blind employees that includes his close friend, Bob (Oliver Platt). There’s no reason to think that James‘ life isn’t as fulfilling and productive as a sighted person, until his circumstances change drastically.

James‘ eyesight suddenly returns shortly after the film’s opening credits sequence, which plays out over a playful morning conversation with Sam as they lay in bed. Set against a dark screen that is occasionally punctuated by a brief mix of faded shadows and light, this montage is highly effective in putting the viewer inside James‘ world as a blind man. But by the time that James makes his way into the bathroom for his morning shower, he sees his adult reflection in the mirror for the first time. At this point, the plot of The Ticket might be described as Awakenings meets 99 Homes, as James becomes almost frantically driven to make up for opportunities lost due to his blindness, and get what he feels he deserves as a sighted man.

The Ticket James and Son
James bonds with his son (Skylar Gaertner) while swimming in one of the film’s best scenes

With his vision restored, James is no longer content to work the phones in the office, and makes a pitch to the firm’s executives to launch an ambitious but ethically dubious marketing campaign which Bob immediately sees as a scam. He also becomes increasing preoccupied with his appearance; preening over his hair and investing in tailored suits to fit in better with the professional group of his co-workers that he aspires to join. As he butts heads with Sam over his desire to branch out into new activities — she prefers to stay in their comfortable routine (going dancing at a social center frequented by blind people, which is where the two first met) — he also develops a wandering eye.

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Movie Review: Raw

Raw Movie Poster

If you enjoyed Netflix’s cannibal-themed comedy series, The Santa Clarita Diet, but just wish it featured more of the erotic sexual violence seen in the 2001 thriller Trouble Every Day, while also dishing up a plot that is more deeply-steeped in body horror, dark family secrets, and general fucked-up-edness, a new French horror film, Raw, may satisfy that craving. Raw, the debut feature film from director Julia Ducournau, tells the unconventional coming-of-age story of Justine, a pretty but sheltered teen who is starting her freshman year at veterinary college. Justine’s older sister, Alexia, also attends the school, and it is soon revealed that both of the girls’ parents are alumni as well. Continue reading Movie Review: Raw

Recommended Viewing: Author: The JT LeRoy Story

JT Leroy Story Movie Poster
All Images Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

If you enjoy the slow reveal of a real-life mystery that unfolds with greater intrigue and a higher ‘WTF’ factor than the most oblique, multi-layered David Fincher script, then Author: The JT LeRoy Story is your wet dream of a documentary film. Author is the true story of wunderkind picaresque novelist JT LeRoy and the elaborate machinations behind the facade that disguised the Literary Hoax of the Century. Because, despite being one of the most popular and critically lauded writers of an entire decade (1996 to 2006), JT LeRoy never existed: he was merely an elaborate persona created by author Laura Albert  to take credit for stories she wrote from the perspective of an emotionally and psychologically traumatize teenage boy.

Continue reading Recommended Viewing: Author: The JT LeRoy Story

Morrison Hotel Gallery Presents: D.A. Pennebaker – Bob Dylan Don’t Look Back

Don't Look Back Poster
All Event Photos By Gail

In 1965, Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker released his enduring documentary, Don’t Look Back, which follows a young Bob Dylan emerging into worldwide prominence as the singer/songwriter of his generation. Maybe you weren’t born yet, but I was. In celebration of the 50-year anniversary of this now-legendary film – one which brings together an already iconic artist and a filmmaker who was in the process of revolutionizing the documentary, Morrison Hotel Gallery is currently hosting Don’t Look Back, a collection of photos taken of Dylan by Pennebaker during filming.

Bob Dylan

The show is thoughtfully curated and produced by industry vet Joseph Baldassare – in conjunction with MHG – and has the distinction of being the first gallery exhibit of Pennebaker’s work.

Dylan with Lyric Cards

The show features original movie posters and 18 choice image stills from the film, printed from the enhanced negative. Pennebaker, now 90 years of age, was at the opening reception and he looked great. To this day, he remains a vital cultural force. He recently screened his newest documentary, Unlocking The Cage, at The Sundance Film Festival, which will air on HBO later this year

Dylan with Donovan
Bob Dylan with Singer/Songwriter Donovan

Dylan Limo

Pennebaker and Gang
Pennebaker (Far Left) with Gallery Owners Peter Blachley (to his Right) and Henry Diltz (Center) and Fans

Says Baldassare about the show, “This exhibition at Morrison Hotel Gallery is a celebration of the artistry of both D.A Pennebaker and Bob Dylan – two pioneers that have shaped the way we see, hear and think.”

D.A. Pennebaker’s Photos from Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back, will be on Exhibit Through June 14th, 2016 at Morrison Hotel Gallery, Located at 116 Prince Street in SoHo, NYC.

Bob Dylan Exhibit Signage