I, Tonya

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

I, Tonya

I, Tonya is not a story about an ambitious mother driving her reluctant daughter. It is about the ambitious daughter who has loved skating since she first stepped on the ice when she was three years old. When her mother, Lavona (Allison Janney) sees that, she devotes her own manic, focused energy to propelling Tonya (Margot Robbie) all the way to the Olympics. In driving her daughter forward, this mother becomes a monster, but Tonya also wants that gold medal.

If we hadn’t watched the public side of all this unfold in the1984 Olympics, it would be impossible to believe either the personalities or the steps taken to ensure Tonya’s success. It is so violent at points that disbelieving laughter ripples through the audience. Did this really happen? Yes. Filling in the details is this movie’s gift to us.

Mother and daughter – labeled “white trash” within the skating community – resent deeply the judges insistence that champions come from “appropriate” backgrounds. They are defensive of who they are even though the reality is more one of behavior than class.

Off the ice, Tonya marries, leaves, and returns to Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), a stupid man with a consuming mean streak. As Tonya works her way up in the skating world, Jeff makes plans to write letters to Nancy Kerrigan – Tonya’s main competitor – to throw her off her performance in the upcoming games.

Jeff’s awful pal Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Houser) takes the plan up a notch by swatting Kerrigan’s leg with a sharp instrument. If you didn’t see the TV of those games, you may think this is overplayed. It isn’t. The villains are both dumb and mean and the mother is without honesty. Tonya herself, while not part of the planning, lets us know how she feels about her treatment by the judges.

Why would you want to go to a movie laced with cruelty, stupidity, and malicious acts? First, because every single actor does a genuinely good job. Margot Robbie is terrific as the accomplished, driven Tonya who is riven with resentment and anger at the culture of the skating world and at her own background. Julianne Nicholson (Diane Rawlinson) is good as the coach who stepped into this family mess.

Allison Janney creates a woman who embodies harsh selfishness and real life cruelty that equals anything I’ve seen on screen before. Hers is a blockbuster performance of a woman driven by resentment at her lot, ambition for her daughter, and a willingness to do immoral and illegal things to further her cause. She will do, and does, whatever it takes.

You will see guns, alcohol, ambition, crime, cruelty, and hatred all marshaled to get Tonya to the top. You will also see this true story come to life in some of the best performances of this year. And you may, as I did, leave the theater thinking of all the negatives rolling in Tonya’s head as she said, “I was loved for a minute.”

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : I, Tonya
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 2:24
Rating: R
Date: 14 January 2018

 

Darkest Hour

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Darkest Hour

When Winston Churchill became England’s Prime Minister in 1940, he was already an accomplished man. He had served his country in the Military during World War I and had received a Nobel Prize for literature. He ascended at a time of political chaos and controversy as his country watched Nazi Germany absorb Europe. It certainly was England’s Darkest Hour.

This movie brings that dark period to life under the hand of director Joe Wright and a cast of fine actors who literally drop us into the government chaos as England faced imminent attack on their own country after the fall of Europe. As the movie opens, we watch the superb actor Gary Oldman begin his portrait of the complicated Churchill who is wrestling with both the dissension in Parliament and his own unpopularity.

As Churchill works toward his ultimate refusal to surrender to Germany, we watch him explore his position and write it out with the help of his trusted typing assistant Elizabeth Layton. She is played by Lily James with beautiful serenity and depth that cover her own fears. The rest unfolds in the explosive atmosphere of the angry Parliament and in periodic appearances by Churchill’s wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) who knows exactly how to support her husband and prod him forward.

Director Wright and his cameramen roam the halls of power in the relative safety of the dark underground world beneath London. He focuses on the angry chaos of the decision makers – Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), and King George (Ben Mendelsohn). In answer to Churchill’s plea for help, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers the depressing message that America has signed neutrality agreements. In a strong scene, Churchill boards a subway to learn how British citizens are feeling about surrender vs. battle. They reinforce his instincts.

Atop this atmosphere, Gary Oldman is outstanding. With padding and jowls that make him thoroughly credible, Oldman has been fashioned into a genuine look-a-like for the prime minister, a stroke that allows viewers to sink thoroughly into the 1940 reality the movie is presenting. Oldman gives us all the twists and turns of Churchill’s unique self as he wrestles with the options under debate by his peers. This brings to life that narrow slice of history when England stood alone against Germany and paints the rise of Churchill as he takes on his opponents and ultimately sets the future course of England and Europe.

The historical time, the place, the story – all are beautifully done; but it is Gary Oldman who slips into that complicated time with a deeply thoughtful creation of one of history’s most crucial players. When he snarls, “You can’t reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth,” it says all that needs to be said of England’s dire situation. Director Wright is not afraid to allow long pauses as emphasis for complex and important statements. Or as Churchill’s opponent says, “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Darkest Hour
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 2:05
Rating: PG-13
Date: 7 January 2018