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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Captain America: Civil War-Movie Man Jackson

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Bob Marley was quoted one day saying that “Your worst enemy could be your best friend, and your best friend your worst enemy.” The recent events of the Avengers are going to test that quote to the fullest. Anytime the Avengers protect and serve, they also seem to bring unintended, but significant, collateral damage. First in New York, then with the total collapse of the city in Sokovia, and now the situation in Nigeria that leads to multiple deaths of innocents. Many in the world now do not see the Avengers as superheroes, but vigilantes.

The powers that be determine that these superheroes need to be held accountable via the Sokavia Accords, a document that basically gives power to the government to ascertain when and where the Avengers should be deployed. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a proponent of the Accords, still feeling responsibility for many of the incidents. Joining him on his side is Vision (Paul Bettany), Rhody/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

Aligning with Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) on the side of freedom is Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd). The two viewpoints make a showdown all but a certainty. However, growing underneath the tension is an unforeseen threat, one who wants to make The Avengers pay for their past actions.

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As soon as Captain America: Civil War was announced back in late 2013 and everyone knew what the Civil War would consist of, everything that came before it has really been leading up to this film. And that is for bad and good. Bad, because in a way, other films that would normally be huge events on their own (i.e Avengers: Age of Ultron) kind of lacked the memorability and importance such a film should command. However, it is good because CA:CW is, more or less, what Age of Ultron should have been: Important, memorable, and extremely entertaining. And the build-up throughout that time is a big reason.

The latest entry to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe makes no concessions to those who haven’t followed along over the years. But with the box office returns being so high, most know all about these characters, so why should it? As stated, Marvel has been building to this moment for a while now, especially in the interactions between Stark and Rogers, and as such, it makes it much more easier to fall into the story and buy everything the writers tell us. Compare this to, say, Batman V Superman (it’s just too convenient not to!), where characters, their relationships and plot threads are thrown into one movie instead of allowing them to be gradually introduced to us.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s second superhero feature following The Winter Soldier is written about as well as one could generally hope, especially with the amount of characters making appearances. It isn’t all perfect. There are a few lulls, one in particular being right after the highest point of the movie. This definitely feels a full 136 minutes during the end. The main villain, even with sound motivation and a good performance by the talented Daniel Brühl, suffers simply because he isn’t all that interesting. It would have been nice to see more of Frank Grillo’s Crossbones, but at least he owns it while he’s on the screen.

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But, the lack of a compelling traditional villain isn’t felt as much in Civil War because the true opposition comes from within, obviously from the opposing viewpoints that Captain America and Iron Man support. It’s important to note that neither one, no matter what “team” you may be on, is all that vilified, though Iron Man has always been a guy who possessed heelish tendencies and as such, feels slightly like the bad guy. Both men have good reasons for carrying the ideologies they carry, and a cool extra layer exists under what side they support. Personality-wise, Rogers is as orderly and straight-laced as heroes come, compared to the brash and free-wheeling Stark. So, the fact that Captain America refuses the order and the government and Iron Man readily accepts it despite what their personalities would suggest is something yours truly found intriguing.

With 12 notable characters on the screen, one would think that some characters would naturally get the shaft. While some shine brighter than others, all have their moments, not just in action, but in non-physical interplay with one another, like Vision and Scarlet Witch (dropped accent and all), or Falcon and War Machine to name a few. Sometimes the interplay is emotional, sometimes it is funny, but in all cases, it adds to the characters, which in turn adds to the action.

Once again, though this time assisted by John Wick directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the Russo brothers film action as practical as they possibly can. A little shaky in a few spots, but overall it’s about on par with their work from Winter Soldier. Much like the first Avengers, which has the scene everyone remembers with the panning of our new superhero team, this one has that similar moment as well, setting up an action sequence that could stand as the best of the year when all is said and done.

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Captain America: Civil War achieves where Age of Ultron didn’t. It’s as big but more focused. It’s more emotionally satisfying. There are actual changes that should carry sizable ramifications. And above all, it’s more fun. If every movie in Phase 3 will be this good, in the words of Captain America, “I can do this all day.”

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to collider.com, comicbook.com, and forbes.com.

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The Bronze: Movie Man Jackson

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The Magnificent Seven, this is not. In 2004, Hope Annabelle Gregory (Melissa Rauch) became an American hero at the Summer Olympics by winning The Bronze medal in gymnastics. 12 years later, she is still living off of that fame in her hometown of Amherst, Ohio. As such, she refuses to get a job, is constant in emasculating her father (Gary Cole), and is just an overall nasty person.

Debt is piling up, and her father will not have it anymore. After something unfortunate happens to her old coach, Hope is offered an opportunity to coach the new up-and-comer gymnast, Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson), to a nationals appearance in Toronto, in hopes of putting her on the fast track to the Olympics. Complicating matters is the fact that she has to do this, because, otherwise, she misses out on a much needed $500,000. In addition, Maggie is also an Amherst native, and there’s the likelihood of her stealing Hope’s spotlight and status as the town darling. Will Hope sabotage the newcomer’s dreams, or will she take this seriously?

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I’m guessing there’s a reason that The Bronze wasn’t marketed too heavily. I can’t remember seeing one TV spot for it, and I imagine that the distribution rights shifting so many times couldn’t have been a help, either. Still, The Bronze fails mostly because of the one thing its supposed to make an audience (of one during this showing) do as a comedy: Laugh.

Well technically, The Bronze is billed as a comedy-drama, and it is a bit of a surprise to see it played pretty straight. This is no Blades of Glory scenario where everything is ridiculous.  No, this is, for the most part, generally realistic. The story has been done before, and it’s certainly not completely original. But, the gymnastics backdrop does liven things a bit, and it kind of hits if only because stories exist just like Hope of athletes pushed too hard by family, having too much success too fast, and not knowing how to handle it once the world doesn’t care. However, the ending is a little too “perfect” for my tastes, in the sense that it goes out of its way to villainize a character who has completely valid reasons for doing what is done.

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But, The Bronze is still a comedy, or at least attempts to be. Yours truly has heard that this is more of a character study than a true laugh-fest (premiered at Sundance over a year ago), and while I can sort of see that, I would say that it is still pretty clear that co-writers Melissa Rauch and her husband, Winston, are aiming to deliver laughs through Melissa’s lead character. Unfortunately, her Hope character is one of the most unbearable leads seen in a comedy in quite some time. A combination of a grating voice, unfunny crude dialogue, and just flat out bad writing almost made for a recipe for me to walk out. The redemption arc just doesn’t feel earned, either. With the way the character is written, it is better as a supporting character, the “in doses” type, compared to one that is featured in the full movie.

Adding insult to injury is a completely shoehorned love story that comes out of leftfield about halfway through, and the actors in the middle of it struggle to make it work. Gary Cole, a man who over the years has been an asset to many comedies, is extremely underutilized here, though he does his best with bringing an emotional aspect to the father-daughter relationship. Perhaps the brightest spot of the film is Sebastian Stan, who plays a pretty good douchebag, yet is somehow more likable than Hope despite the writing telling the audience otherwise.

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Competent story-wise but absolutely uninteresting, devoid of laughter, and a chore to sit through on the lead character front, The Bronze isn’t deserving of any acclaim. Not even worth a nickel or copper medal.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to ustoday.com, letdrama.com, and sonyclassics.com.

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The Martian: Movie Man Jackson

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“Hi, I’m Mark Watney and I’m still alive… obviously.”

Space…never…cooperates. On a routine manned mission to the Red Planet, a violent storm forces a NASA crew to evacuate quickly. During the evacuation, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is separated from the rest of his crew as a result of a large piece of flying debris. The impact with which it strikes him with is believed to be fatal, and despite Commander Lewis’ (Jessica Chastain) desire to find Watney, her crew convinces her to come back to the evacuating ship.

Back on Earth, NASA is certain Watney is dead, and even announce so in a press conference. But back on Mars, he’s not exactly well, but alive. He’s becoming The Martian, using any and all of his brainpower to last long enough for the next manned mission to come to Mars. Will it work? Is it even worth the effort on NASA’s part? Can someone just find a wormhole to make things easier?

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Who says all movies in space have to be completely doom-ey and gloomy and overly heavy? Certainly not Ridley Scott. Look at The Martian and it is darn near impossible not to think about that other movie directed by Christopher Nolan. But, the two don’t really share much in common aside from NASA. Hell, The Martian hardly ever spends that much time in the actual entity of space! Whereas something like Interstellar was more rooted in the fear, resignation, and depressing aspects of the galaxy on more of a macro level, The Martian’s focus is micro, focusing on the individual and finding resolve and optimism in a trying scenario.

By no means does that mean that the movie is all happy-go-lucky. Space is still shown to be a dangerous place. But, it is also a place in where a person with a positive attitude can navigate through. By that analysis, The Martian should satisfy people who like science fiction with a little less pronounced focus on the science. The best phrase to describe it would be “audience friendly,” as stated in Mark Hobin’s review. In my opinion, it lacks a little bit of the unpredictable and thematic drama that some space exploration movies possess. Perhaps this is something that exists in the novel, but lost in translation on the silver screen.

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But, the real reason why Ridley Scott’s big screen adaptation of the novel works so well is the fact that there is so much fun to be had in simply watching Watney make due with anything and everything to make it another day, week, year, and years. Yours truly may be a prisoner of the recent moment, but it is hard to remember when was the last time a film had a character not only incredibly smart, but incredibly resourceful and heady.

Matt Damon does a great job of, while still being an amazingly intelligent guy, playing a man who really feel likes an everyman. He’s not brooding, but instead upbeat and hopeful. He experiences worry, but is never consumed by it. When he talks science, it is put in a way that the audience can understand, which makes him an easier guy to connect with. Though easy to see where his tale ultimately ends, it is the journey in getting there that is the real story.

Damon is clearly the sole focus and does most of the heavy lifting, but due to the mega-starpower cast assembled around him, he isn’t as alone as Watney is. Chiwetel Ejiofor can pretty much blend into any role at this point and make it notable, which he does here. Jeff Daniels starts out as a character who looks to be the basic “guy-in-a-suit” stock character, and in many respects he is, but his character is revealed to be pretty realistic and not as antagonistic as to be believed. Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Aksel Hennie, Sean Bean, and Donald Glover are all notable names that may have small parts, but add to the Watney story one way or another.

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Always one to be known for some directorial flair, Scott makes his imprint here once again. The first shots on Mars are extremely photorealistic, with lighting that looks as if it were shot on the Red Planet itself. Particularly, the climax is as dizzying (in a good way) as anything in recent memory. He gets a nice assist from composer Harry Gregson-Williams, whose score snaps perfectly into the movie during comedic moments and more serious moments, never being more than it needs to be.

The genre of science fiction almost in some ways feels a little like a misnomer for The Martian. There appears to be nothing too fictional about the science, as NASA had involvement on both the novel and the film. Strip away the setting, and this story is one that could be told across many genres, and it has. But that isn’t a negative by any means. In a genre that can be so devoid of hope  and optimism, it’s a pleasant welcome for this galaxy to have it.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to screenrant.com, maguzz.com, and mlive.com.

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