14 posts categorized "Sports Drama"

November 24, 2017

I, TONYA

   Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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ColeSmithey.comCraig 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.

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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.

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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.

5 Stars ColeSmithey.com

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July 22, 2015

SOUTHPAW

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.ColeSmithey.comThis ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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ColeSmithey.com 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Rated R. 123 mins.

2 Stars

Cozy Cole

ColeSmithey.com

November 10, 2014

FOXCATCHER

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.ColeSmithey.comThis ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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Thanks a lot acorns!

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What’s Behind the Mask?
True-Crime Drama Shows the Underbelly of Blueblood America

ColeSmithey.comJohn Eleuthère du Pont‬’s transition from politically connected right wing patriarch of “America’s wealthiest family” to deranged murderer, via a self-appointed Olympic wrestling coach position, is the mysterious progression of Bennett Miller’s nuanced true-crime drama.

Look deeper into the film and you’ll find a sobering allegory for a ubiquitous sort of willfully ignorant, privileged, blueblood Republicans buying power in exchange for fleeting moments of futile glory. A machine gun fetishist with his own military tank on an 800-acre estate in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, John du Pont could be the Republican Party’s ideal poster boy. Like George W. Bush, du Pont also had a fondness for cocaine and serious daddy issues.

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A dialogue-free scene observes Olympic wrestling brothers Mark and David Schultz engaged in their daily physical activity of mano y mano wrestling practice in a dingy gym in an economically distressed U.S. town. Throughout the sequence, and the whole of the movie, Bennett Miller artfully uses film language to allow the audience to fill in the open spaces of the narrative form he creates. It’s as if the filmmaker leaves room for the viewer to stand inside the story.

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Mark (Channing Tatum) carries a heavy emotional burden that causes him to violently lash out at his brother David (Mark Ruffalo) in a temperamental way that reflects the intimate bond of siblings reliant on one another for their sole source of familial support. Some blood is spilled. No comment is made. Wrestling is a tough sport. David has a wife and kids, but Mark is a profoundly unhappy person. Channing Tatum juts out his lower jaw to display his vulnerable character’s troubled psychological state. Tatum’s acting range is tested in a demanding role that proves him capable of creating complex characters that belie his apparent beefcake persona.

After Mark gives a solemn paid-speech ($20) to a group of school kids about his recent 1984 Olympic wrestling win and the significance of the medal he proudly wears, a school staff member confuses him with his older brother David who also won Olympic Gold in ‘84. Mark’s status as an underachiever living in his brother’s shadow has not gone unnoticed by a certain wealthy exploiter with a strategy for hiring the Schultz brothers to head up a private wrestling program on his family’s Foxcatcher estate. Why does a wealthy dilettante care about having a lot of sweaty young guys in tight-fitting uniforms around him when his controlling mother (exquisitely played by Vanessa Redgrave) considers wrestling a “low” sport? John du Pont exerts that, “Coach is father. Coach is mentor. Coach has great power on an athlete’s life.”

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An unexpected call from du Pont interrupts Mark’s daily ramen meal, requesting a meeting for which Mark will be flown first-class to du Pont’s estate. Du Pont shrewdly lets Mark name his price ($25,000) to come live on Foxcatcher Farm to train in the estate’s spacious private wrestling gym in preparation for the upcoming 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Unable to convince his brother David to move his family to Du Pont’s estate to train together, Mark moves in to a well-appointed cottage on the du Pont grounds and begins to train under John du Pont’s dubious tutelage.

In the months that follow, du Pont manipulates Mark into a kept boy with frosted hair and a newly acquired addiction to cocaine. While no sexual overtures are made, a clear homoerotic tension exists in John’s “friendship” with Mark. Their odd relationship is made public during a political dinner in Washington D.C. where Mark publically acknowledges du Pont’s influence as a father in a speech written by du Pont. The intersection of mainstream Republican politics and John du Pont’s carefully orchestrated public relations campaign regarding his self-appointed place in the sports world, points out the ways in which American power glorifies and sustains itself. As Arthur Miller once stated, “Power is power because it doesn’t listen.”

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“Foxcatcher” presents a game-changing role for Steve Carell as John du Pont. With the assistance of master makeup designer Bill Corso, Carell’s face becomes unrecognizable. Beady setback eyes peer over a beak of a nose in a face that’s even more blood curdling than Mitch McConnell’s famously repulsive visage.

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Steve Carell fills the role so completely that you never for an instant question his character’s authenticity. The transformation is complete. More dramatic roles should open up to Steve Carell as one of Hollywood’s better-kept secrets. 

Over the course of 16 years, Bennett Miller has traversed the terrain of a rapturous documentary (“The Cruise”), an in-depth biopic character study (“Capote”), a big-budget sports biopic (“Moneyball”), and now a true-crime saga that draws together everything that made his previous films unique, a rigorous approach that provokes questions rather than gives pat answers. “Foxcatcher” is a movie that functions on multiple levels to observe how the American elite use and abuse power toward the destruction of everything it touches.

Rated R. 134 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

ColeSmithey.com

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