Darkest Hour: Movie Man Jackson

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. There’s nothing but difficulty in Great Britain circa 1940. Smack dab in the early part of World War II, the German forces are invading and ransacking their opposition, the pressure’s on England to fortify their national security. The populace (read: Parliament) doesn’t believe their current Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain is up to the task, so he is ousted.

In steps Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), not the first replacement choice but the second and possibly the only choice who can rally an European party of decision makers. He needs to, because most are advocating the white flag surrender to Hitler. But, Churchill, in all his intestinal fortitude, refuses to lay down. His words are going to have to be decisive to get Britain out of her Darkest Hour. 

There’s something honest about Darkest Hour. Not necessarily in its presentation of facts (far from a completely and unabashedly artistically licensed movie, but it’s definitely present), but what director Joe Wright’s (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) film is primed to do. What is that? Serve major awards prospects on a silver platter for one of the best actors today. And he’s eating.

Darkest Hour begins and ends with the work of Gary Oldman. Prosthetics and makeup sometimes have the wrong intended effect; instead of making a thespian more believable and lifelike in their famous figure portrayal, the figure ends up feeling artificial and even unintentionally comical. Costume designer and longtime Joe Wright collaborator Jacqueline Duran deserves a ton of credit, as does the general set cast for recreating the stuffiness and feel of these conference and war rooms on display. But Oldman never lets the getup overshadow his performance.

Occasionally called out for overacting in a couple of roles, Oldman finds a strong balance of power mixed with restrain. The Oscar clips are here, but honestly, the more quieter moments such as Churchill speaking with the President or coming to grips with his doubts resonate just as much, if not more so, than the big ones. He’s earned whatever accolades come his way. Providing sound support are Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI, Lily James as Elizabeth Layton, and Kristen Scott Thomas as Clemmie.

Light is used to great effect in Darkest Hour, creating this sort of sheen that matches most of the setting impeccably. There’s not much else that pops out; Wright’s directing here seems to take a background relegation its star and rightfully so. Anthony McCarten handles script duties. We see the struggles of Churchill galvanizing his party, and struggling with his feeling on whether he’s doing the right thing. Rinse, repeat. That’s the extent of it, really, but, it’s enough to get the film from point A to point B.

Without victory, there is no survival. That was also once said by Winston Churchill. Let’s tweak it to, “Without Gary Oldman, there is no Darkest Hour.

B-

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Call Me By Your Name: Movie Man Jackson

Nothing is as sweet as a peach, or your first love. The summer of 1983 brings Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) something he’s never felt before. Seventeen-year-old Elio lives in Italy with his parents, spending the days immersing himself into classical music. Each summer brings a different person into Elio’s home, because his father, Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) works as a professor and needs the help during the period to prep and research. The youngster has grown to accept this, even if it means giving up his room consistently.

But this summer is different. Twenty-four year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer) is the scholar this year, and a magnetism quickly draws Elio to him. And it doesn’t happen overnight, but it is a thing—a spark—that keeps on building and building, whether at the meal table, out for a swim, or biking along the countryside. Six weeks is a short amount of time, but in ways, it’s a lifetime.

Seeing Italy as the setting for a romance is nothing new. Outside of Paris, France, it’s pretty much the country of love. After viewing Call Me By Your Name, however, no romance has tapped into its environment more than director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash). The environment, as much as the masterful acting work, cements Call Me By Your Name as a requisite watch for not only romance lovers, but any film nuts.

For as great as the acting work is, Call Me By Your Name will be remembered for the locale. Filmed on location, there’s an immense level of warmth felt from the get-go and the opening titles. It’s natural and inviting; one can damn near feel the morning sun and the nighttime breeze in every respective scene. Alluring is the word, and Guadagnino’s intentionally distanced direction, along with a beautiful score and soundtrack by Sufjan Stevens, makes his film stand as an impressive production.

 

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Call Me By Your Name is how methodically patient it plays out. Sure, at times it can be a little too slowly paced with nothing of real importance occurring, but nonetheless, unique to see a romance unfurl with the speed of a tortoise and still be compelling. And the unfurling occurs without real conflict. While it would have been nice to see some significant impediments to the budding union and some more meat on these character, this is not how the novel was written by author André Aciman. Not only is it cool to see a mostly intended vision (by most accounts) upheld, there’s a simple yet nice message that love can sort of exist separately as its own entity. Narrative-wise, this isn’t a groundbreaking romantic story, but it is still well-told.

What is groundbreaking happens to be the lead performance of Timothée Chalamet. He dives into the part with so much assuredness. His part is obviously not easy, not only due to the occasional explicitness, but for how he’s got to portray emotion while not being outwardly emotive. Not much more can be said about his work that hasn’t already been said. Not the forgotten-but-still-second-fiddle is Armie Hammer, equal parts mysterious, charismatic, and quirky. On their own, the work would still be great but probably a little empty.

Together, it’s electric seeing the opposite personalities recognize their key differences but being totally unable to stay away from one another. This is very much a two person movie, three if the setting is included (and it should be), though Michael Stuhlbarg, continuing his torrid streak of buzzworthy movies since 2015, chews some scenery and absolutely is in possession of the feature’s most emotionally resonant moment.

More than enough for technical aficionados or those who just love their romantic movies, Call Me By Your Name is a sweet and succulent viewing. Bite in.

B

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All the Money in the World: Movie Man Jackson

Does it really pay the cost to be the boss? Depends on who you’re dealing with. In 1973, the richest man in the world happens to be John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), amassing his immense fortune in oil. No kids of his own, but he has fourteen grandchildren, one of them being John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer). Getty the Third happens to be the elder’s favorite grandson, even seemingly considering the idea of giving the family business to the youngster in the event of his passing.

When you’re as rich as Getty, everyone knows, and will do anything to get a cut. Masked men take the grandson, and demand 17 million from the billionaire in exchange for his life. This angers and scares Gail (Michelle Williams), the mother of the kidnapped, who does not have the cash to pay ransom despite marrying into the family. Her pleads to Getty to pay are unsuccessful, as he deems the price too high. But wanting his grandson to return unharmed, he sends hired help in the form of Getty Oil and ex-CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to investigate, and more importantly—to negotiate—a cheaper figure before the youngest Getty is lost forever.

Slow down? Not in Ridley Scott’s lexicon. At the ripe age of 80, the director has had quite the busy 2017, producing Phoenix Forgotten, Blade Runner 2049, and Murder on the Orient Express, along with directing (and serving as a producer) Alien: Covenant and now his latest in All the Money in the World. Receiving initial heavy chatter for the late and extensive production changes, the final product stands as a wonderfully dark, “biographical” thriller.

Of course, the production changes and re-shoots are the story of All the Money in the World, an unfortunate result attributed to the sexual misconduct allegations of previous star Kevin Spacey. In his stead, Scott went ahead with Christopher Plummer in the John Paul Getty role, a move that feels pretty masterful and even an upgrade. There’s a significant level of gravitas, world weariness, and larger-than-life aspect that the 88-year-old Plummer brings to his scenes and dialogue—all without additional makeup or effects. His warped logic and stoic personality in the midst of disaster is special and troubling to watch. As good as Spacey can be, I’m not sure if he’d bring the same effect. Perhaps one day, we’ll see the cut or at least extended scenes that feature him to know for sure.

Let’s not forget Plummer’s leading co-stars, who also happened to be Spacey’s for a long time. Michelle Williams just continues to prove how much of a talent she is, her desperate mother serving essentially as what the audience sees and feels. Her steadfastness and firm moral center gives heart and relatability, making her an easy character to get behind in a world full of people looking to make an easy buck or save one. Some of her screen-time is shared with Mark Wahlberg, believable as a man who’s driven by duty to take the emotion out of everything but slowly turning to realize what is truly important.

Wahlberg, somewhat shoddy bespectacled look and all, takes a little time to find a groove, like the movie and its script. Scott and screenwriter David Scarpa, adapting from John Pearson’s book, struggle to find a solid pace and even tone for the first 20 or so minutes, showing Getty’s rise to power and how things came to be in his immediate family before 1973. Most of it is necessary for the events later, but cleaner editing would have helped for the nonlinear storytelling to feel less rough around the edges. Once All the Money in the World starts going, however, the vice grip on the audience is never lost.

Ridley’s latest is less of a biography and more of a straight-up crime drama/thriller. On the former front, All the Money in the World is a little lacking if working with that belief; do not expect a ton of central character depth. Like recent films in Dunkirk and Detroit, this chooses to focus on a specific, singled out event in a person’s life opposed to an overarching look at a life/lives or a series of events. The focus on this tense, dark drama makes for a run-time that flies by, even at two hours and ten minutes. Scott’s razor sharp direction and mood-setting makes for a gripping experience.

Making lemonade out of lemons, or rather, turning nickels and dimes into dollars, All the Money in the World is likely to be remembered more for what it was more than what it is. Hopefully that changes over time.

A-

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The Post: Movie Man Jackson

Whether in a relationship, a job, or in matters of politics and America, power should never go unchecked. The Washington Post is in a little bit of a transitional period, led by publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of a major newspaper. Graham—as does lead editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks)—wants “The Post” to be more than a local newspaper. She doesn’t command much faith in her visions, mainly because she’s a woman in a man’s world.

Opportunity does knock, however, when secrets regarding the US Government’s stance on the Vietnam War are leaked initially via the New York Times by way of the “Pentagon Papers.” Government is none too happy about it, and chooses to shut down the story before it gets too in-depth. They’re threatening criminal action if anyone else decides to run with it, but this is something that the American populace needs to know. Commence the battle between free press and the government.

Officially ending the unofficial real-life heroic figure(s) trilogy that director Steven Spielberg has lent his talents to in recent years starting with 2012’s Lincoln and 2015’s Bridge of Spies is his latest in The Post. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: It is impossible to discuss or think about The Post without thinking about our current everyday bizarre political world, but it is the truth. Spielberg has made something that honors the past, but is more so focused on preventing the future.

A fast production schedule rarely benefits a movie, but with Spielberg overseeing just about everything, it’s not likely we’d be getting a better cut with additional prep time. But, it is still impressive at just how well The Post comes out, showing no signs of a rushed timeline. The standard of excellence we’ve become accustomed to from Steven is still present, displaying a tight and historically accurate-looking presentation that rarely feels stagy or fake. Longtime legendary collaborators in cinematographer Janusz Kamiński and composer John Williams assist to make The Post one of the year’s best, technically.

Hard to find any egregious faults with The Post, if any. It’s a good movie that fits right into the season, with a solid script that seems to be very rooted into reality penned by debut feature writer Liz Hannah. One can feel the passion she has for this story and the character that is Katharine Graham. But, watching The Post is more akin to viewing an important, yet dry, history lesson more so than a compelling silver screen feature, even with the obvious allusions to what’s going on now. One that is respected for the overall craftsmanship and message rather than possessing the ability to become enamored with what is on screen.

Having Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks pretty much makes a film good by default, and no surprise, they’re excellent here. The first ever on-screen pairing between two of the greatest to ever do it proves fruitful, with the duo occasionally sharing scenes in the same location. Streep sells the fear, yet determination of trying to brave a male-dominated workforce, and Hanks sells the brazen determination of an editor trying to get to the bottom of a story the world needs, sleep be damned. Going past the big named twosome, The Post is planted with maybe not big, but well-respected, cast members in Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson, Matthew Rhys, Tracy Letts, Alison Brie, and Bruce Greenfield who all blend in and chew scenery when needed.

Hot off the presses and fast-tracked ever since the results of that November 8th, 2016 day crystallized, The Post doubles as a timely historical piece and an obvious Oscar contender.

B

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Movie Man Jackson

There is no one-size-fits-all method for dealing with grief. But for Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), she would appear to be in the stages of anger/depression. It’s been roughly seven months since she lost her daughter, a victim of a rape murder. Believing that her town and the local law enforcement is doing nothing to solve the crime, she decides to bring heavy attention to the tragedy by buying Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that say blunt things like “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests”, and “How come, Chief Willoughby?

The salvo has been launched, rattling the debilitating-in-health the Chief (Woody Harrelson), and the anger-filled officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell). But instead of building awareness and inspiring action, Mildred’s actions seem to drive most, if not all, of the townsfolk against her. Is this case ever going to solved, or will in-town fighting prove to be a hindrance in cooperation?

This is nothing new, but every now and then there’s really a film that I can mull over for a while, re-watch again, and still struggle to gather how exactly I feel about it. The latest one to make yours truly feel this way is Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, both a drama and black comedy that maybe doesn’t coalesce as intended, but features some great cast work and overall unpredictability.

Though there’s a mystery aspect at play in the film with who killed Mildred’s daughter, that aspect is the least of writer/director McDonough’s (Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges) concerns; in fact, it only appears in earnest during the middle and the end. The effects of it on various individuals in Ebbing and how they deal with it are the core of TBOEM, whether by anger, apathy, sadness, or some combination. In short, what McDonagh has concocted here is a character study of sorts with two, arguably three, main characters. The level of enjoyment one garners from Three Billboards will likely come down to how much one enjoys spending time with these characters.

On the nobility side of things, these characters are, undoubtedly, the worst of the worst seen in the entire 2017 year. There’s something undoubtedly captivating, cool, and ballsy about this. Not to mention funny, as there are a few scenes and moments that register high on the dark humor scale. The characters’ general lack of civility can be humorous, but is also a bit of a double-edged sword, mainly later on in the movie.

As the movie transitions more into drama and full-on character redemption, it becomes hard to forget the nastiness that McDonagh wasted no time in going deep into at the beginning. A soliloquy in the form of letters do serve to give some solid context, but it doesn’t absolve all sins, making the arcs feel unearned. Above all, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri seems to struggle with wanting to be a realistic look at small-town Midwest life in the ups and downs in 2017 and an over-the-top dark romp, never completely balancing the two. The dialogue can be shocking, not in a “Wow, that was very mean” way, but in more of a “Would any sane person really talk like that?” way. A line in a flashback in which Mildred states that she hopes her daughter gets raped is a prime example. Instances like this and even the idea of an Australian beauty such as Abbie Cornish (in full Aussie natural accent!) being married to Harrison’s basic town sheriff in boonie Ebbing makes for an oddity that is neither funny nor purpose-serving to the story.

There are aforementioned issues, but a talented cast keeps things afloat. Supporting characters played by Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, and Abbie Cornish are more afterthoughts, though contribute steady performances. The movie belongs to Harrelson, Rockwell, and McDormand. At risk of being the forgotten man, Harrelson is truly the fulcrum of much of the movie, carrying it in a sense. But, it’s Rockwell and McDormand who are getting most of the praise and deserving so. Rockwell has a magnetic presence even when covered in complete dirt and slime, and McDormand carries a dogged persona from her talk to her walk and even the way her face seems to carry the same “tired with everything” feeling throughout. I’m totally underselling her work; she’s super impressive in this movie.

A game cast and some surprising moments make Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri at least worth a viewing stop in this boonie town. An extended stay? Depends on one’s tolerance for its inhabitants.

C+

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The Shape of Water: Movie Man Jackson

Love doesn’t have to be traditional. Working as a nighttime janitor in 1960’s Baltimore is Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who is mute. Her responsibility, along with best friend coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is to clean the urine, feces, and all other matter that is left behind in the Occam Aerospace Research Center. When she’s not working, she’s often making conversation and viewing musicals with her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins). Minus the cleaning part, it’s not a bad life, yet far from a memorable one.

That changes once Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings an Asset (Doug Jones) to the compound in the form of a mysterious amphibian monster that can supposedly help the United States get an advantage in the Cold War. After testing, no secrets are made about the asset being killed. He’s already abused and berated consistently. In between these abuse periods, Elisa begins to build a strong bond with the monster, and realizes that she must do whatever it takes to get him out of this facility.

Death, taxes, and Guillermo del Toro melding polar opposite genres together into something unique. There’s dark fantasy, and then there’s del Toros’ dark fantasy, as seen in Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, and now, The Shape of Water, which takes del Toro’s love for the otherworldly and combining a love story to the likes we’ve probably never seen before. At the very. very least, it’s certainly unique and memorable.

In a cinema world often derided for the lack of auteurs as it pertains to directors, Guillermo is one of the few who makes his vision and creates art. Two well-worn inspirations in Beauty and the Beast and Creature from the Black Lagoon are evident, but even video games like Fallout and Bioshock and literature such as Stranger in a Strange Land appear to help build the 1960’s world showcased here.

Aesthetically, this Baltimore is a surreal-looking locale, coated perpetually in green and teal tint sharing similarities with many monster movies. But, the color symbolizes more in life, sickness, hope, inexperience, and—most importantly—love, all themes that The Shape of Water delves into. A high point tension-wise is a surprisingly tense and unpredictable heist scene. Something’s wrong with the major cinematography awards if Dan Laussen doesn’t get recognition for the cinematography that is present, and a score composed by Alexandre Desplat accentuates the fantastical production.

The Shape of Water is a spectacular production with a solid story and generally great execution, but it isn’t without pitfalls. The actual union feels a little rushed, and it is testament to the lead talent at hand that they sell the believability of it by film’s end. While the Cold War setting seems to initially hint at more integration into the plot, the tale could have easily been told in any other era with little impact. Lastly, it is fair to wonder if some additional subtlety by del Toro would have gone a long way towards garnering more intense emotion. There’s one scene that ends with the door closing, telling us all we need to know, and it’s well done. Other scenes come off as a little too self-indulgent, even cringey and/or corny, to the point that they drew me, personally, out of this world.

But, as much credit as the director and his technical team are deserving of, it is the cast and specifically the lead performers that sell what’s going on. Working backwards, supporting veteran castmates in Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg add a level of sophistication and gravitas despite their characters, save somewhat for Jenkins, being light on meat. Out of the supporting characters, Michael Shannon chews scenery from the moment he’s introduce as the simply pure evil and tunnel-vision focused Colonel. But of course, it’s Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins who come away as the talking points of The Shape of Water. Both hardly say any words but their non-verbals and chemistry is in full force, and the performance of Hawkins runs the gamut from loneliness to levity to pure bliss.

Save for a few odd-fitting moments, The Shape of Water takes its many genres and melds them into a fully formed fantasy and distinct view worth going into the deep for.

B

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Lady Bird: Movie Man Jackson

Lady Bird, sounds like a classic 1950’s jazz album. Spoiler: It’s not, but it is the nickname that Sacramento high school senior Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) wishes to go by. She’s the artistic, headstrong, and independent type. Her personality often gets her into clashes with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who only wants Christine to be the “best version of herself.”

Lady Bird wishes to go out to New York for college despite the financial struggles her family is experiencing, as she is convinced she needs to get away from sleepy Sacramento to thrive. Before it’s time to fly, she’ll find out that there are many, many more lessons for her to learn before leaving the California roost.

From Spider Man: Homecoming to Dope to Brooklyn to The Edge of Seventeen, the last few years have shown that there is always room for a well-told coming-of-age movie regardless of setting or even main genre. The latest in the subgenre comes from Greta Gerwig, known mainly for acting more so than directing at this point. In her first full directorial credit, she’s steered Lady Bird to 195 fresh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. If yours truly’s post were factored into it, I certainly wouldn’t break the streak. Lady Bird is deserving of its praise.

Lady Bird doesn’t breathe completely new life into the coming-of-age genre, but no movie really does in this subgenre. Still, it’s an extremely authentic and rooted portrait of growing up, seemingly inspired by Gerwig and her experiences growing up in Sacramento; the extent of what actually occurred and didn’t is a mystery. Doesn’t matter though, because, Gerwig’s writing is so honest and natural. Everything from the dialogue (possibly the most important thing in a coming-of-age: do the kids sound like kids?) to the traversing of high school and the many mines that are present each day. Gerwig imbues this familiar story with quirkiness and humor emphasized by the opening music by composer Jon Brion, but never forgets the heart, also punctuated by two beautiful end tracks.

Lady Bird isn’t a film one would necessarily think would be cinematic, but boy, it certainly is. The sleepiness and tucked away vibe of Sacramento, California serves as a perfect backdrop for this drama shot on location. Who knew that 2002 had such nostalgia and a real aesthetic to it? Going far beyond the timely Justin Timberlake “Cry Me a River” and other fitting musical songs (some were released around 2002 but all fit the style of the film) and fashion styles, the world Gerwig creates is very memory-evoking. Immersion may not be the right word, but Greta makes the viewer feel like they’re a fly on the wall watching all of this unfurl with the small but noticeable details.

Most teenagers are hard to get, bold one moment, afraid the next. Gerwing’s writing is great for her two lead characters, and her stars take advantage of it. No longer an up-and-comer, Saorise Ronan is simply one of the best thespians today. With Lady Bird, she’s allowed to be a lot more dynamic and proactive than, say, Brooklyn, another great movie and role albeit more reactive. Sometimes you love her for wanting to be so independent, sometimes you hate her for being so selfish.

But it’s always realistic, as is the mother of Lady Bird played by Roseanne alum Laurie Metcalf. Like Christine, Marion is far from a perfect individual, but one can see where she’s coming from. The clashing of mother-daughter is compelling and uncomfortable in a way not seen in a long time in cinema, and both should be on the short list for every major award circuit. Not to be forgotten are castmates Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Timothée Chalamet, Odeya Rush, and especially, Tracy Letts as the father on hard career luck having an equally hard time serving as the glue that holds the household together. His actual screentime may not be enough for serious consideration, but nonetheless, his time on the screen is moving.

As we fully descend into awards season with the recent announcement of the Golden Globes, Lady Bird certainly has a presence with four nominations. Safe bet that the rest of this season will find Lady Bird perched somewhere near the top.

A-

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The Man Who Invented Christmas: Movie Man Jackson

Charles Dickens. Renowned author, creator of Christmas as we know it. In 1842, Dickens (Dan Stevens) is riding high off his successes, gaining immense popularity across the world. Fast forward 18 months, however, and the author has fallen on hard financial times (get it?), with three flops that make people question whether Charles still has it.

Even Chuck questions whether he’s still got it, struggling through a bout of writer’s block. He only begins to break out of it by getting inspiration from those around him in London, including a miserly old man he sees at a funeral (Christopher Plummer). A Christmas Carol is born, and while Charles begins interacting with the book’s many characters in his imagination, he begins to see parallels between his fictional story and his life.

 

There are a few characters synonymous with the Christmas holiday. Christ, Rudolph, Frosty, and of course Jolly ol’ St. Nick are up there. But Scrooge and his story are as well. A Christmas Carol is a story as old as time, told many years over and over. The story of Charles Dickens is a lot less known, but this version of his classic serves to tell a little about his life while framing it in his classic. This combination makes for an unconventional and unique spin, but a spin that ends up pretty cold.

Directed by Bharat Nalljuri (MI-5), The Man Who Invented Christmas would feel at home on ABC Family—excuse me, Freeform now—rather than the silver screen. Nineteenth-century London is recreated beautifully through the costumes, lighting, and architecture. Still, the movie comes off more play-like than cinematic, though Dickens’ moments with his characters are entertaining. What Nalljuri does do well is capture how a writer can catch an idea out of thin air and go to town within seconds.

Fusing Dickens’ real-life story with his most famous creation sounds interesting in theory, until you figure out that Dickens’ story is kind of dull. OK, maybe dull is too negative, but seeing Charles’ family problems and using those to draw parallels does little from an emotional standpoint. Or maybe it’s the way the story flows between scenes, sometimes in a disjointed way that doesn’t appear to be intentional.

Playing the famous author is Dan Stevens. Stevens has no problem utilizing his natural charisma for a character that is rather dry despite every effort made by the script for him not to be. It’s a solid central performance, but doesn’t hold weight in the stocking like Christopher Plummer’s turn as Ebenezer Scrooge. Perfection ensues from the moment Plummer first appears as the miser, nailing every aspect from his physical appearance and disdain for niceties to his discovery of the true meaning of Christmas.

For those who want to see another side of the story that is The Christmas Carol that is more personal, The Man Who Invented Christmas is likely to be a interesting gift to unwrap. Others who rather just have Scrooge be the star would be best serve to catch one of the many adaptions that is not this one.

C

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I, Tonya: Movie Man Jackson

Why can’t it be just about the skating? If it were only about the skating, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) would probably end up as the best figure skater to ever do it. At the age of four she embarked on this career path, driven by her overbearing mother, LaVona Golden (Allison Janney). The talent is evident from the first time she shows her skills in an older age group. Eventually, she becomes the first woman to land a triple axel.

If it were only about the skating, Tonya’s story would be a happy one. But exposed to the constant abuse from LaVona and her first love Jeff (Sebastian Stan), the volatility of her situation places her down a tragic path of darkness, culminating with “the incident” against competitor Nancy Kerrigan that would come to define her life.

Sure, the world may have gotten the great ESPN 30 for 30 in The Price of Gold, but it is kind of surprising that it took almost a quarter-century for the infamous Tonya Harding incident to be captured onto the silver screen. Jordan years (that’s 23 for the non-sports fans out there) later, I, Tonya officially arrives in the awards season and winds up standing as very, very surprising film.

Sometimes tone and approach can be the most important factors as it pertains to how well a movie’s story is told and whether it resonates or not. Massive kudos must be given to director Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours, Fright Night 2011), writer/producer Steven Rogers, producers Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, Bryan Unkeless, and even Tonya Harding herself who serves as a consultant for the movie for nailing these two components. There’s an alternate universe where I, Tonya is super dry and told with a straight face. That recipe is likely a forgettable view.

Why? Because the preposterous life story of Tonya Harding—from 4 years old on to her celebrity boxing stint—is too unbelievable not to chuckle or even laugh hard at; it might as well be a fiction except it actually happened. The Office-like format in storytelling takes a little while to find a groove, and the fourth-wall breaking isn’t always smoothly deployed, but necessary to seeing how the main characters’ recollection of the events are not the same. However, using this method allows a more emotionally-affecting look into Ms. Harding herself. Seriously, I Tonya goes there to those dark, icy, and uncomfortable places. Gillespie and company do the right thing in straying away from painting Tonya as a complete victim, but rather, examining how one, even with immense talent, is rather hopeless to beat a self-fulfilling prophecy without a stable environment.

Some biographies—especially around awards season—are rather tepid, absent of any spirit or excitement. Not, I, Tonya. The characters, from major to minor, pop off the screen. A mid-80’s to early 90’s soundtrack envelopes the screen with electricity. Gillespie’s skating scenes are some of the more breathtaking sequences of the entire year, filmed with grace and elegance.This is never a dull watch.

The energy is obviously carried into the performances as well. As mentioned, even the bit players in Julianne Nicholson, McKenna Grace, Bobby Cannavale, and Paul Walter Hauser (a real scene-stealer midway through as Tonya’s bodyguard) make their imprint on the feature. But this film is anchored by its superstar trifecta in Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, and Allison Janney. Robbie is firmly a superstar who raises anything she’s in at this point, and her work as the troubled figure skater is her career-best, deftly switching between sadness, anger, and dark humor and remaining a character and not a caricature despite some embellishment. A moment midway through where Robbie asks a judge about what exactly they have against her and why it is not solely about skating is gut-wrenching.

Stan, who ironically was in a vastly movie with clear parallels to Tonya Harding in The Bronze, continues to cement himself as more than the Winter Soldier, and here’s to hoping his Marvel future doesn’t prevent him from doing more work like this. Janney is unrecognizable in her turn portraying Harding’s mother, ruthless, brow-beating, and foul-mouthed and the center of her daughter’s troubles and issues. Undoubtedly one of the definitive standout performances the 2017 calendar year.

What is truth? Jumbled, because everyone has their own version of it, according to the movie. But the truth is that with damn near flawless execution, a ton of energy, and top-notch performances, I, Tonya stands out as one of the more memorable biopics in recent memory.

A-

Photo credits go to vulture.com, usmagazine.com, teaser-trailer.com, and variety.com

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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I Love You, Daddy: Movie Man Jackson

Art imitates life. TV writer and producer Glen Topher (Louis C.K.) has amassed much fame and fortune during his career. This success has come with a cost to his personal life, losing relationships with his ex-wife, Aura (Helen Hunt), and his girlfriend, Maggie (Pamela Adlon). He shares an enabling relationship with his seventeen-year-old daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz), seemingly always getting what she wants by asking her daddy and following it up with “I love you, Daddy.”

Their relationship becomes turbulent with the arrival of legendary filmmaker Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich) onto the scene, who just so happens to be Glen’s idol. The pushing-70 Leslie immediately takes a liking to Glen’s daughter, naturally creeping out the father. Glen struggles with how to approach this, in addition to trying to overcome writer’s block for a new television show and navigating a partnership with the starlet Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne).

Nothing ever completely exists in a vacuum, be it art, food, technology, humans—or in this case—-thoughts on a film. I Love You, Daddy doesn’t so much arrive on the scene as it does get shooed to the back like a kid working backstage on a school play who accidentally is made visible. The accidentally visible, in this case, being screeners sent ahead of the storm. It is impossible to view this Louis CK-helmed flick without thinking about the sexual misconduct news and admission that involves CK (as well as a bevvy of other known figures). It leaves his film as a weirdly fascinating yet mostly disturbing viewing for mostly the wrong reasons.

Let’s get this out of the way, however. I Love You, Daddy features a guy who’s done horrific things, but it is still far from a horrific movie. There is some good here, beginning with the black-and-white styled employed by C.K., paying homage to works done by Woody Allen (Manhattan, particularly) and Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. While Louis’ editing as it pertains to telling a coherent story can be problematic at times, within scenes, his camera work can be quite good and steady accompanied by a old-school orchestral score. The cast featuring names like Byrne, Adlon, Moretz, Charlie Day, and Malkovich make for a solidly acted production with the writing for their characters that is given, with Byrne and Moretz turning in the best work and managing to hold interest.

Louis C.K. shot this film in secret, and after watching, easy to see why. “Art imitates life” has never felt as fitting as it does in I Love You, Daddy. This is not an exercise in subtly. In roughly 25 minutes of screentime, the viewer is subjected to 45 seconds of simulated masturbation, a “casting couch” scene that covers all the bases of power abuse from both sexes, and an open admission by a character calling another a pedophile. Finally, there’s the dialogue, which feels way too spot-on to be clever. Lines such as “He’s kind of gross, you know? But he’s hilarious,” and “I’m sorry to all women. I want all women to know I apologize for being me!” are akin to reading OJ Simpson’s If I Did It.

Which raises the ultimate question: Why was this film made? As a comedy, little is funny. As a drama, little is dramatic. Did we really need a movie representation of what 2017 is going to be known for? Thematically, there appears to be a desire on Louis C.K.’s part to make some pseudo-intellectual message about everyone being perverts in the world in one way or another. But, this holds no water, especially after the weak, tie-a-bow-on-it nice ending that leaves little resolved.

One can only surmise that Louis C.K. made I Love You, Daddy to serve as some sort of release therapy to himself that would be played across a national viewing audience that could potentially “understand” it. Some things aren’t meant to be understood, but taken at face value. I Love You, Daddy is one of those things.

C-

Photo credits go to vulture.com, rollingstone.com, en.wikipedia.org, and the malaymailonline.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson