3 posts categorized "Sports Drama"

November 24, 2017

I, TONYA

I_tonyaCraig Gillespie, the Australian director behind the great magical realist film “Lars and the Real Girl” (from 2007) is destined to become a household name based on his work for this unforgettable film. “I, Tonya” is a beautifully crafted and executed brief biopic of Tonya Harding, an American figure skater made notorious by the same American media landscape that that gave rise to the presidential ascendancy of Donald Trump.

The film is as much a snapshot of American hypocrisies, and its ingrained ideology of cruelty, as it is a diligent portrayal of a gifted figure skater trapped by her impoverished social circumstances and abusive relations with the people closest to her — namely her mother and her husband.

With its convincing depictions of Margo Robbie [apparently] executing Harding’s signature triple axel in mind- blowing competition figure skating sequences, “I, Tonya” (written by screenwriter Steven Rogers) adopts a narrative style that flips between direct-to-camera confessionals and straight-ahead drama.

The subject matter is pitch dark but the film's tone frequently borders on slapstick. Robbie’s performance is an exercise in acting-chops virtuosity; she holds nothing back. Even when Robbie’s audacious portrayal turns her natural beauty into a monstrous visage, you can’t help but accept and respect Tonya Harding as a human being doing her best against impossible odds. An Oscar nomination most certainly looms for Robbie. 

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Intimidated, bullied, and ruthlessly punished by her self-promoting mother LaVona (brilliantly played by the ever-dependable Allison Janney), Tonya Harding is shown to have grown up indoctrinated by a white trash mentality synonymous with Donald Trump’s reckless approach to the world. Romantically following the first boy who pays her any attention brings a streak of bad luck when Tonya takes up with, and marries, Sebastian Stan’s Jeff Gillooly. Every bit as physically abusive as Tonya’s mother, Jeff Gillooly delivers love with his fists, and even with a gun, when he’s sufficiently frustrated. He doesn’t keep good company either, as evidenced by his best friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), a man clearly suffering from intellectual developmental disorder.

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This is not by any means a feel-good movie. Every beat of mental and physical anguish that Margot Robbie nails with her pitch-perfect portrayal of Tonya Harding, brings the audience to an intimate understanding of story misstated and mishandled by the media and by the judge who oversaw Harding’s case related to a brutal attack against fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan by Shane Stint (Ricky Russert).

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Even this film’s supporting roles are perfectly cast. Julianne Nicholson is wonderful as Harding’s skating coach Diane Rawlinson. For his part Bobby Cannavale does a lot with a little as a “Hard Copy” tabloid producer whose bent for exploitation runs as deep as TMZ’s Harvey Levin.     

Rated  R. 119 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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July 22, 2015

SOUTHPAW

Southpaw On the surface, Antoine Fuqua’s formulaic boxing drama seems to have a lot going for it. Fuqua, the director behind “Training Day” and “Brooklyn’s Finest” is famous for his gritty crime dramas. Casting the versatile Jake Gyllenhaal as the film’s athletic father figure Billy Hope, a nothing-to-lose boxer seeking redemption after the death of his wife, seems a surefire way to get audiences into theater seats.

Unfortunately, television-writer-turned-screenwriter Kurt Sutter’s cliché-riddled script is as malformed as it is unintentionally guffaw-inducing. Surprising news of a supporting character’s death hits the floor like a sweaty towel in one misconceived scene. It takes a few beats for the actors to massage the dialogue into something halfway convincing during the conversation that follows. You can see them compensating for an unearned dramatic shock that comes across as more funny than sad.

If you’ve seen its trailer, you know the whole story of “Southpaw.” Nonetheless, witnessing Gyllenhaal’s ever-bloodied boxing monster come to life is worth the price of admission. With a partially closed left eye, Gyllenhaal creates a thoroughly credible individual of confident, primal-minded masculinity. Billy is a masochistic fighter who needs to be hit hard enough (to bleed enough) to trigger the heightened level of anger he requires to beat his opponent. Billy “The Great” Hope is undefeated. The character is the main aspect Fuqua’s clunky sports drama has going for it. Boxing fans will eat it up. More discerning moviegoers will wince at the film’s malnourished storyline.

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The rags-to-riches fighter met his similarly working-class wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) in an orphanage when they were kids. The now-wealthy couple lives in an enormous mansion with their precocious young daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Alas, a reckless gunshot puts an end to peaches and cream.

Billy’s tragedy-driven objective, of quickly maturing enough to raise his young daughter, takes a backseat to ruthless boxing matches filmed to resemble an HBO boxing presentation. Fuqua, a boxer himself, pulls out all the stops in filming the boxing action sequences. Dutch angles, slow-motion shots, subjective and objective points of view contribute to the energetic, if violent, spectacle. Fuqua’s boxing bouts are hardcore. Real punches fly and connect.

As screenwriting gurus would demand, Forest Whitaker is cast as boxing gym owner Tick Willis. Remember how in “Million Dollar Baby,” Clint Eastwood cast Morgan Freeman as his fellow coach? The same racial sidekick rule applies here.

Having almost been beaten by a fighter trained by Tick, Billy settles for working as a janitor in Tick’s dilapidated ghetto gym in exchange for personal training sessions. Fuqua includes peppy de rigueur training sequences complete with Gyllenhaal hitting the speed bag like a pro. Gym memberships will get a surge.

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Billy’s manager Jordan (the recently bankrupted 50 Cent) proves himself a two-faced sleaze when he requires that Billy get ready in six weeks for an obligatory revenge fight against the cartoonishly arrogant Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez). Naturally, the movie has to end with a championship bout of winner-take-all boxing.

Go see “Southpaw” for Jake Gyllenhaal’s riveting portrayal of a character made fascinating by things like the dropped-octave voice Gyllenhaal adopts for the part. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of most daring and accomplished actors in the business, and he makes this movie happen. 

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Rated R. 123 mins. (C+) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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September 17, 2013

RUSH

RushRon Howard’s fast-paced portrait of one of Formula One’s fiercest rivalries is a hyper-compartmentalized affair. Everything in Peter Morgan’s too-tightly-knit script occurs as one more bubble of narrative information equal to the last. The result is a moderately pleasing movie whose arc swerves more than it climbs and peaks. Only rarely does the story breathe. Morgan — the screenwriter on such winners as “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon” — never allows a single race to fully represent the battle of wits and jealousy between the rivals.

‘70s era racecar drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda present the kind of oil and water dichotomy that screenwriters fantasize about. Daniel Brühl (“Inglourious Basterds”) plays rich-kid-engineering-genius-turned-racer with a steely tenacity that all but eradicates Chris Hemsworth’s casual performance as the oversexed playboy racer James Hunt. Where Brühl’s performance bounces directly on top of every beat, Hemsworth plays his character out of time. The effect only works intermittently between flurries of Grand Prix racing sequences in different cities that are kept too brief for the audience to invest enough in their outcomes — which gratuitously appear in bold graphics across the screen, giving the movie a cartoonish quality.

Still, the movie has fleeting moments that connect. A scene where the woman (Alesandra Maria Lara) who will become Niki Lauda’s wife eggs him on to show off his driving skills in a borrowed car, makes an elegant segue to Lauda in mid-race at a Grand Prix. Another scene, in which James Hunt lies on his back holding a steering wheel while visualizing his upcoming race in Monaco, provides an exacting view inside the mindset of a Formula One racer.

Such moments elevate “Rush” out of kneejerk repetitiveness. Clever camerawork using small cameras attached to the racecars give glimpses of what it feels like to drive Formula One cars through S-curves at 170 miles per hour. If only the filmmakers had done more to connect the guts of the race sequences with the inner monologues of its dueling drivers, “Rush” might have been more than the passably entertaining ride that it is.

Rated R. 123 mins. (C+) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)



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