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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Sully: Movie Man Jackson

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Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time. On January 15th, 2009, flight Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and his First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) have the unprecedented arrive mid-flight in the skies. Their plane completely fails electrically after a flock of birds comes into contact with the engines. This isn’t going to end well.

Miraculously, Sully, the pilot vet with over 40 years of experience, thinks on his feet and manages to land right in the middle of the Hudson river, with no casualties whatsoever. Despite his humility and claim to just be doing his job, he’s a hero and should be treated as such. Yet, everyone doesn’t see it that way. The National Transportation Safety Board maintains through diagnostics that there was enough power to return back to the airport, and aim to show that Sully was more reckless than heroic in those 208 seconds from system failure to water landing.

Sully - MovieholicHub.com - Watch Movie Trailers

Death, taxes, and Tom Hanks delivering in an adult biographical drama. These are the only certainties in our world. It is of little surprise that Sully is solid. But to yours truly, it is a surprise that Sully is very good. Just maybe not for the reasons one might not expect, at least for yours truly.

Instead of working with longtime collaborator Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks links up for the first time with director Clint Eastwood to tell the tale of one man’s duty to those around him. In Sully’s mind, he isn’t doing the heroic thing, he’s simply doing the dutiful thing and the right thing. It would have been really easy for the movie to come off as overly committed to romanticizing a man and painting him in an unbelievable soft and perfect light (a criticism many had with Eastwood’s last feature in American Sniper), but Eastwood commits to simplicity and a streamlined approach. Some may consider the flashbacks to the harrowing event a bit much; I found the piecewise flashbacks handled well with clarity (could have done without the military one, possibly). In a genre that can sometimes contain bloated screenplays and overlong runtimes, Sully is brisk and refreshing, clocking in at a tick over 90 minutes.

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Charles Barkley would love Sully. Why is he mentioned here? It was in February of 2015 that the “Sir Charles” went on a rant about how analytics were the result of people who had never played basketball using numbers to tell people how the game should be played and coached. Eastwood uses Sully to show the craziness of an overnight celebrity in the 21st century, but it ultimately is a story about man versus machine. No matter what the numbers or statistics may say or dictate, there is nothing like the human element which has to process a multitude of scenarios in real-time while actually being a human.

The finest aspects of Sully may be the technical ones, however. While at least half of the movie doesn’t “pop” in IMAX, the other half is pretty immersive, and as harrowing as one could imagine in that situation for all involved. But it is the little things that add to the immersion, like the establishing shots of the Hudson, or the interior of the aircraft. In particular, the sound is impeccable. A musical score is present, but nonexistent for the sequences in the plane. It’s a great artistic choice; hearing the malfunctions in the cockpit and the chant of “Brace brace brace! Heads down, stay down!” do more than any piece of music could do. This film’s sound design isn’t the type of feature that gets nominated in the respective award categories, but it should be.

What more is there to be said about Hanks at this point? His work is so effortless that it appears like he’s hardly trying. I think it is just the heightened quality level Hanks operates at. He forms one of the best, if not the best, bromances of 2016 sharing the skies with Aaron Eckhart, who provides a nice level of humor that does not undercut anything. Laura Linney adds a little to Sully’s character as his stressed-out wife. If there were somewhat of a substantial flaw with Sully, it would have to be its antagonists in the form of the NTSB officials. Their refusal to see anything past the data and what the flight simulations show (hard not to chuckle a bit at how much screentime those sims get during the end investigation) becomes sort of comical and eye-rolling by the film’s end.

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To call Sully extraordinary may be a reach, but seeing a hero’s tale handled so deftly and with such precision is great stuff. Eastwood flies pretty high with this one.

B+

Photo credits go to startribune.com, movieholichub.com, and directconversations.com.

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Wild: Movie Man Jackson

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“I’m lonelier in my real life than I am out here.”

The great outdoors is loaded with a lot of peril in every step, but it is also loaded with the potential for finding yourself in the process. Wild is the story of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), who goes on a three-month trek totaling over 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). At first glance, this may be self-indulgent, but it really isn’t.

There’s a reason for this journey. Cheryl has gone through much tumult through her life, and to wash away the sins of the past, she must go forward into the present. Only then will a future manifest itself.

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Hiking has never appealed to yours truly, but there is immense respect had on my end for those who have done it and do it on a consistent basis. With that said, Wild really isn’t a movie solely about hiking; in fact, it has very little to do with it it. It is featured, but only as a backdrop to the main story. I imagine if I ever did go hiking, my feelings on it would be like the ones I have towards Wild: Cool to do once and interspersed with pleasant moments, but sort of an average experience with no desire to undertake again.

Make no mistake, Wild, produced by Reese Witherspoon’s, is her vehicle and no one else’s. Her role as Cheryl Strayed is not a showy performance,  but it would likely be odd if it was. The performance is more of a low-key, unglamorous, and less-is-more one. Reese is able to bring her character’s naivete and self-doubt throughout. She doesn’t really get much of a chance to deliver that attention-capturing moment, but a big part of that may be due to the character she is playing. Still, she essentially carries the film from beginning to end, which is a challenging task, especially in the format that the story is told.

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The work of Laura Dern here needs to be appreciated as well. Her screentime is not likely enough to build any buzz for awards, but the character she plays as Cheryl’s mother is an important one. For all intents and purposes, she becomes the tipping point for her daughter’s straying away from the woman she can and is expected to be. Each time she appears, her connection with her daughter is evident, which makes it easy to see why Reese’s character suffers when something bad happens. In these scenes, when it is just she and Reese, it can even be argued that she outshines her star counterpart. Others who appear here aren’t really worth mentioning, as most, especially the men, seem to only exist to either provide a danger element in spots.

The storytelling approach in Wild is different from most. Under the direction of Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club), he opts for more of a flashback approach. Little of the story is told is told by Cheryl in the present. Instead, people she encounters and just the difficult trip itself trigger those past events and give insight as to why she is doing this.

It isn’t a full blown narrative, as the storytelling is more seeing her internal thoughts compared to hearing her verbalize them. As she gets deeper into her plight, more and more flashbacks are used. It is an interesting method, but it does become tiresome. Because they are deployed so often, the movie lacks fluidity and as a result actually makes it feel longer than it is.

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The terrain that Cheryl navigates isn’t necessarily the focus as alluded to, but it still serves as something pretty to look it. Vallen does a good job at utilizing those occasional wide camera shots that truly establish the detail of what the main character has to traverse. It is a nice reminder that though the journey is a largely mental one, the physical aspect still plays a formidable role. While it may lack fluidity in its story, the editing never suffers.

Wild may not be engrossing or truly fascinating, but it is a fairly uplifting and solidly told film of one woman and her desire—need—to undergo a arduous hiking trip to put herself back together and reclaim control of her life. The experience in the great outdoors wasn’t bad, but exposure to the wild is a trip yours truly will only make once.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to IMDB.com, moviefanatic.com, and wallpaperrich.com.

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The Theory of Everything: Movie Man Jackson

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“However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.”

A famous man by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger once said that “The mind always fails first, not the body.” For most that may be true, but for Stephen Hawking, it was sadly the inverse. The Theory of Everything introduces Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) as a young and brilliant physicist studying at Cambridge in the 1960’s. Though he is superbly brilliant, in many ways he’s just a normal graduate college kid, wanting to have fun and procrastinate here and there while juggling what the school expects from a mind like his.

His life completely changes one day when he meets Jane Wilde at a party, who eventually (quickly?) become inseparable and a married couple. But it isn’t all rosy. Shortly after meeting and spending time with Jane, Stephen’s body begins to weaken and in the hospital he is informed he has Lou Gehrig’s, along with a projected life expectancy of two more years. Losing everything is very likely–almost certain–but two things he isn’t projected to lose are his mind, and his unbreakable bond with Jane.

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Biographies have always been a mixed bag of sorts for yours truly. Usually, the ones exhibiting the featured person have more than enough life content to put into said biography, which is why the movie was greenlit in the first place. And yet, a good deal of them choose to funnel their focus to a specific period in the subject’s life. Though it makes sense, as an entire life is hard to put into a little over two hours, it is a bummer when other life-contributing moments are left out. This is how I would describe The Theory of Everything. It is a perfectly neat and functional film, aided by a very solid orchestral score, but it never really is more than a specific analysis  examination of the romance aspect of Hawking’s life .

No matter if one disagrees or agrees with Hawking’s beliefs, there is no doubt that the man possesses (still alive) an amazing intellect, and he truly is gifted even in his older age. Really, the biggest reason to see TToE are the superb performances of the leads, starting with Eddie Redmayne as the theoretical individual. From the first appearance to the last scene, Redmayne presents the audience with both a physical performance and an emotional performance.

As his characters’ words become fewer and far between, along with the weakening exterior state, the performance gets stronger and stronger. In a few points, he even brings some humor at times which is appreciated, though it doesn’t always fit in as nicely as director James Marsh and screenplay writer Anthony McCarten may have originally thought. Still, it will be a shock if Redmayne isn’t nominated for the big ones, as it is deserved work, and these types of roles are typically chosen by the well-known award committees.

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Assured to get a strong look as well for nominations is Felicity Jones, playing Hawking’s spouse and rock. At one point, her character remarks something to the effect of “not looking like a terribly strong person,” but her portrayal of Hawking’s first wife is a strong one, full of resolve, care, and sacrifice. She does possess a chemistry with Redmayne, but it isn’t sizzling, but it probably isn’t supposed to be either. Opposites often attract, and Jane and Stephen were a negative and a positive in scientific terms from a belief standpoint. They shouldn’t have worked, but love can often overcome all.

These two for all intents and purposes carry the movie, which itself is sort of standard and rote. That is to say that though these two put in praiseworthy and emotional acting, the script itself feels like it never really goes past this emotional, unfortunate aspect of Hawking’s situation and the relationship between he and his wife. Sure, it is sad and tough to watch, but after seeing Hawking struggle time and time again with his plight, a lack of care arose, effectively becoming desensitized to what was on screen.

At the end of the day, TToE is really more so a love story focused on hitting the right soft spots and presenting everyone in the best light, as opposed to delving more into the grit and less romanticized tinges of Hawking and his life story. Even from a timeline perspective, this is lacking in clarity. There is a general feel at the beginning and the end with where the movie is in Hawking’s life, but the middle portion has no definitive distinction, especially because Stephen and Jane never really appear to age that much.

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Even if this particular film decides to place too much focus on wringing every drop of emotion out of their characters in sacrifice of a more fulfilling script, The Theory of Everything can be appreciated for the work turned in by its leads. As such, its truest contribution to the Oscar race is that of a great exhibition of two talented leads who will continue to have bright futures.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to lyfstlmusic.com, sciencefiction.com, and theverge.com.

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Get On Up: Movie Man Jackson

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“As soon as you hear that groove, I know I got you.”

In music, there are artists, performers, and icons. Many in the business fit in the first two groups, but few ascend to icon status. James Brown was unequivocally one of these few people. Get On Up takes us into the story of James Brown (Chadwick Boseman), and it isn’t a particularly pleasant one. From early on in his life, Brown is presented with many obstacles, such as a lack of education, a volatile home situation, and a world that is still unfavorable to African-Americans, both subtlety and overtly.

But some are destined for greatness regardless of the impediments put in front of them, and James was one of those people. His unfortunate experiences did impact his life down the line in later years, but even in his twilight he was gifted. Quite simply, he was a truly super bad man with a crazy amount of soul.

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Back in the 90’s, my parents always used to play this James Brown cassette tape in the car (we had an old car). I didn’t know much about James Brown, but I knew that I loved his stuff. It wasn’t until I got into my preteen and teen years that I started realizing that so many of my favorite rap, R&B, and even rock tracks took lots of inspiration from Mr. Dynamite, whether legally through sample or otherwise. He was, and still is a big deal, and Get On Up does a wonderful job of driving home this point.

The movie is essentially a biography however of James Brown’s life, and it is here where it underwhelms. It takes a nonlinear progression of moments in Brown’s life, vibrating back and forth between years and even decades. Get On Up has no issues with jumping from the 80’s to the 40’s to the 60’s and back to the 40’s again, in different combinations nonetheless. This progression doesn’t completely mar the whole piece, but does sort of force the audience to “recalibrate” where the story is. For me at least, it sometimes took a minute or so to catch up on where the movie was.

And, since this is Brown’s life chronicle, it isn’t just about the music. But, the attention some of the personal moments get either do not receive enough time, or they are thrown in at the last moment. This is a little harder to describe without spoiling certain instances, but a few things just happen with little to no build. It may not have been a necessity for the movie to be linear, but perhaps a slightly more standard way of storytelling would have made for a more cohesive story.

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So with the disappointing story execution, what makes Get On Up groove? The answer is simple: Chadwick Boseman. He hasn’t been in a ton lately, but has put in very solid work playing Jackie Robinson in 42 and as draft hopeful Vontae Mack in Draft Day over the past year. I’m not going to claim that I know all of his work (most consists of TV appearances), but from what I have seen, this portrayal of Brown is easily his best to this point. From the swagger in his walk, to the mannerisms and inflections of spoken words, and the raw charisma exuded, Boseman is outstanding.

James Brown was a dynamic individual in all senses but especially on stage, only rivaled by Michael Jackson as a performer. Without missing a beat, Chadwick captures what Brown repeatedly brought daily and nightly on the grandstand. It is a completely flawless performance, and one where he never appears to be overwhelmed with the character. Though it may only be August, this is one of the stronger acting roles of the whole year. The only time where his performance stumbles are during the out of place fourth wall breakers speaking to the audience, and really, you can’t blame Boseman for their inclusion.

The movie is carried on the shoulders of Chadwick Boseman, but others also give adequate help. Nelsan Ellis plays Brown’s best friend and bandmate Bobby Byrd, and while the character obviously isn’t as bold as Brown, his performance is good as the literal and figurative support of Brown. Likewise, Dan Aykroyd doesn’t have a huge part, but plays an effective role as the sort of father James never truly had. Even people like Craig Robinson, Octavia Spencer (small role), and Jill Scott put their imprints in this one.

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Get on Up also serves as a mini-period piece as well, and director Tate Taylor does a great job of making the film feel like it is in the respective decade(s). But where he really excels happens to be during the many performance scenes. Different camera angles and perspectives are used, including James’, that of his background mates, and the audience. The energy during these scenes is so infectious, and next to Boseman, serve as a main reason to watch this movie. Those performance scenes work so wonderfully though because of the licensed music. Nothing in the film is covered or “original”, and it is all the better for it. If you don’t bob your head or tap your feet at least a few times, I don’t know what to tell you.

While the actual story may hit flat notes from time to time, Get On Up succeeds on the strength of a stellar Chadwick Boseman and the raw vibrancy it brings to the silver screen. It is a funky enough tribute to a man often known as “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”

Grade: B

Photo credits go to movienewsplus.com.

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