Let’s play a game: would you rather be poked incessantly with sharp objects, or be forced to relive the eighth grade? You might need a minute to think it over. No one wants to be tortured, but eighth grade is a special kind of hell. It only lasts for one year; but what a socially awkward, puberty-riddled, emotionally agonizing year it is. Eighth grade blows, but now you can vicariously cringe your way through the gauntlet that is the last week of middle school for an earnest, 13-year old wallflower in director / writer Bo Burnham’s fantastic debut feature, Eighth Grade. He went back to eight grade, so you don’t have to.
If you’ve seen the two previous feature films by writer/director team Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, then you understand that these guys enjoy being meta. Both their 2013 breakout sci-fi flick, Resolution, and 2014’s body horror/romance, Spring include references to a common character (“Shitty Carl”) who is never seen onscreen, and the duo even appear together in one scene in Resolution. Impressively, their new film, The Endless, takes meta to a delightfully mind-bending level.
“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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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