I, Tonya

Director: Craig Gillespie

Nominated for: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress; Best Editing

I, Tonya has a bit of a weird set-up – it’s kind of like a documentary while being a dramatisation of real events. As such it’s not filmed in the widescreen that we’ve become accustomed to as cinema goers. It also breaks the fourth wall with the characters speaking directly to the camera and thus the audience. As such it took a little bit of getting used to but then became normal.

3--lavona-golden-allison-janney-and-her-pet-bird-in-i-tonya-courtesy-of-neon_wide-3b46f2857bb49ba892b76a8240f8180d6c8e3b94-s900-c85Allison Janney is detestable as Tonya Hardy’s mother. She is the epitome of a ‘pageant mom’ – forever pushing their child into something that they probably don’t want to do. She’s acerbic, with a foul mouth and little to no compassion for anyone, especially not for Tonya. But then that’s exactly what makes her performance so powerful. Honestly there is nothing at all likeable about her – even when she deigns to show some emotion towards Tonya once things all go wrong.

I was pretty young when the whole Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan kerfuffle took place so I don’t really have any memory of it … this wasn’t helped by the fact that Winter Olympics isn’t really promoted all that well (emphasised by the recent Winter Olympics that I missed almost the entirety of because they weren’t advertised on the TV to any great extent.) It’s a remarkable story and one that seems laughable if I didn’t know that it was based on real events. Paul Walter Hauser, as the bumbling sidekick Shawn, is just delusional and not in one of those nice harmless sort of ways. Nope he is somewhat psychotic without realising he is and therefore actually the most dangerous character involved in the whole saga.

There’s a warning at the start of the film – you know when you get the ‘This film has been certified’ screen as the very beginning – that mentioned scenes of domestic abuse. They weren’t lying – Tonya and Jeff’s relationship was an abusive one and Gillespie didn’t shy away from showing that. The violence is so casual – one moment they’re talking and the next he’s smashing her head into the wall and she’s retaliating by kicking him in the balls. While I do not in any way condone domestic abuse of any kind I think that because it was a film the violence became more normalised within the context and at least Tonya was giving as good as she got and not just allowing herself to be beaten.

imageSebastian Stan is brilliant as Jeff – even if he is a fairly weak-willed character. He has no faith in himself and the fact that Tonya is successful is something he can’t quite wrap his head around leading to the deterioration of his behaviour. Margot Robbie is outstanding as Tonya Harding. Sure there were some iffy scenes where she was meant to be playing a 15-year-old but her performance means that these become easy to overlook. Honestly, there is something about her as an actress that really appeals to me. I will say though there were a couple of scenes where she did revert back to being Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad (David Ayer, 2016) but then I adore Harley so I didn’t mind that so much.

It’s a massively dysfunctional film. I found the sentence that Tonya received was far more extreme than any of the other participants in the whole saga and so unfair. They took away what made her … well, her. I guess you could argue that she was penalised for being a celebrity and punished much more harshly than the others. It’s a heartbreaking scene watching her beg the judge to go to jail rather than not be allowed to skate every again.

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Darkest Hour

Director: Joe Wright

Nominated for: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Hair and Makeup; Best Costume; Best Cinematography; Best Production Design

First off – I’m British and very proud of that fact. Darkest Hour is a brilliant film that made me so much prouder to be British – it’s about arguably one of the most recognisable  characters in British history so the expectation to be a good film was enormous. It more than lived up to those expectations!darkest hour

Darkest Hour actually deals with a tiny period of time within World War II, the lead up to  Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Dunkirk – but it is such a divisive period; it’s the turning point of the War. And I actually came out of the cinema having learnt something about the War – I never knew about the importance of the Calais garrison in the success of Dunkirk. But then that was a massive defeat and we didn’t necessarily want to remember that fact. However I feel that this does a disservice to all those men who gave the ultimate sacrifice when asked of them in order to save others.

The cinematography is brilliant – it’s very clever. There are a lot of bird’s-eye shots. I particularly love the scene that moves seamlessly from a bombed out France into the face of a dead soldier – bit morbid I know but it’s actually rather beautifully shot. Darkest Hour seems to share a similar colour scheme to The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010). And that wasn’t the only comparison I drew with The King’s Speech – just like that film this one ends right at a really pivotal moment, the launch of Operation Dynamo, which I found quite unsatisfying. Luckily I had Dunkirk on my list of nominated films to watch. The moment you saw the little ships heading off to Dunkirk gave me literal goosebumps – there is something magical about knowing the incredible feat they manage to pull off!

Darkest Hour just highlighted how very lucky we were to have Churchill come into halifaxpower when he did. It could have been a very, very different outcome should Halifax have succeeded instead. Man, Halifax was a spineless little shit (excuse my French!!) there is nothing about him that endears him to me at all. He has read the whole situation completely wrong so thank goodness Churchill was there to set him straight! But then hindsight is a wonderful thing.

It’s always difficult to take well-known historical characters and do them justice. The hair and makeup in Darkest Hour is outstanding. While they may not have got King George VI’s voice right they certainly got the look right. The development of Churchill 171130_MOV_Ronald.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2and Bertie’s relationship is an interesting one that shows just how strained it was to begin with. Likewise the team managed to make Ronald Pickup look remarkably like Neville Chamberlain.

Kristin Scott Thomas is wonderful as Clemmie Churchill. You got the impression that she really was a rock to Churchill and provided him necessary boosts to confidence when everything rested on his shoulders. However, lead_960she doesn’t take any rubbish from him either. Gary Oldman is outstanding as Churchill – he’s one of those actors that completely embodies whichever character he is playing and this one is no different. It’s as if Churchill has come back to life on-screen. It must have been an incredibly lonely job especially given that he was trying to fight against almost everyone else in Parliament at an extremely pivotal time during the War. This leaves him very isolated and has been reflected in the cinematography with him often being framed by himself or being the only one in a certain type of lighting. darkest_hour

I was kind of hoping that Darkest Hour would do well at the BAFTAS because as much as I found this film amazing I have a feeling that the Americans just won’t get it in the same way. It’s not a part of their history – it’s not even a part of their war yet as they don’t enter WWII until almost a full year later in 1941 – so I don’t think that emotional connection will be there. So I was relying on BAFTAS to recognise it for the great British film it is – both  in terms of story and production … but that didn’t really happen thanks to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh) actually being considered a British movie due to its production. I also think this is one of, if not, the best performances I’ve ever seen Gary Oldman give and really believe it could be his year at the Oscars – but he is up against Daniel Day-Lewis and we all know how infatuated the Academy is with him and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pips Best Actor tonight.

 

The Post

Director: Steven Spielberg

Nominated for: Best Picture; Best Actress

My initial overwhelming impression of The Post is that the 1970s were really a very brown decade – everything is muted and kind of muddy. But then I actually paid attention to the film and that just morphed into the background. Despite there being a lack of jeopardy as The Washington Post is still going strong to this day it is still a very tense film and I did get goosebumps on a number of occasions.

I didn’t really know much about the historical events that are the driving force of The Post which is unusual for me as I’m fascinated with the Vietnam War so try to learn as much as I can about it. The study of the Vietnam War, and the events leading up to it, that was undertaken and forms the epicentre of this film was, as stated in the film, meant to be a historical piece of work that was read years after the war when there had been the chance to gain some perspective on it. I would argue that even 40+ years after the end of the Vietnam War there is still little chance to get any useful perspective as it was such a divisive war. I mean even Matthew Rhys’ character, Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower, says that “the first priority was to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat, which took up to 70% of the reasons for the U.S. escalation of the war.” There is still a sense of shame about Vietnam – people are still unwilling to talk about that war, especially their experiences.

I can definitely see The Post being a contender for Best Picture given the current political climate in America but then the question becomes should it win because it is making a political statement or should it be judged on the narrative and acting? I’m also not surprised that The Post has come out when it has – it’s very much a product of the time it was filmed in. If Donald Trump was a smart man (and there’s a lot of evidence that he really isn’t!) he would see The Post for the warning that it is. I mean the similarities with Richard Nixon are quite disturbing. Nixon’s response to this was to take the Press to court – something that had never been done before. He alienated the Press and paid for it with the abrupt ending of his Presidency – he massively underestimated the power of the press and that’s something that Trump is also doing. His response to unfavourable stories was to band certain media outlets from the White House. Here’s hoping he goes the same way as Tricky Dicky.

tom-hanks-the-postTom Hanks is once again stellar in his performance as Ben Bradlee. He’s made something of a career in playing still-living figures and he always does them brilliantly. Mind you I am a serious Tom Hanks fan – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Tom Hanks film that I have disliked. There’s just something intensely likeable about him.

Meryl Streep likewise is brilliant as Kay Graham and is worthy of yet another Oscars landscape-1510126909-meryl-streep-the-postnomination. She really comes into her own throughout the film. It’s great to watch her find her voice within such a male dominated field over the course of the film – another echo to the current situation as women are still having to fight to be heard within the film industry in particular.

The type setting room and print room for The Washington Post are amazing. They are such clever skills that have pretty much been lost due to the modernisation of the whole print process. As such you know that the people working those machines in the film are most likely real news boys thanks to the efficiency of their actions – there’s no way you can learn that in enough time to make it so smooth without having done it in a previous job.

I love that the film ends with Tricky Dicky’s imminent humiliation with the teaser of the Watergate Scandal straight after Graham says she never wants to be involved in something like the Pentagon Papers ever again.

Aileen Wuornos: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

Director: Nick Bloomfield & Joan Churchill

2003

“A project that began ten years earlier with Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer  (1993), Broomfield and Churchill’s follow-up is a powerful and profound statement against the death penalty, and raises disturbing questions of about executing the mentality incapacitated.”(899, Jason Wood, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Aileen WuornosAileen Wuornos is notorious for being one of America’s most infamous female serial killers, and has as such been subject of numerous film and television projects – most recently the inclusion of her character in American Horror Story: Hotel (2015, Brad Falchuck) Probably one of the most well-known portrayals of Wuornos is in Monster (2003, Patty Jenkins) which resulted in an Academy Award for Charlize Theron. I didn’t really know very much about Aileen Wuornos aside from the fact that she was a serial killer and I’d seen her ‘mug-shot’ but that was kind of all.

“Broomfield’s resulting film examines her wretched childhood, which was filled with unrelenting abuse and violence that continued into her years as a hitchhiking prostitute.” (899) Broomfield’s documentary opened up the story of Wuornos in a somewhat disturbing way. Now I don’t mean disturbing due to her crimes but more so because it shows a woman who is clearly in some sort of crisis, one that gets worse throughout the film. It does call into question the legal system of America and the death penalty, something that I have been increasingly interested in since watching Making a Murderer (2015, Moira Demos). Despite the fact that Wuornos’ mental health seems to be rapidly declining during the process of the filming there is something really quite compelling about the film. Her story fluctuates between protesting self-defence and cold-blooded murder with increasing inconsistencies so you are left with questions at the film’s conclusion. The film not only tackles the American justice system and the death penalty but also the subject of nature versus nurture. By examining her questionable childhood and all the travesties that were supposedly reaped upon her during her formative years Bloomfield is asking the audience to question whether Aileen would have ended up on death row if she had lived a different live – was she a product of her environment or was she always destined to become the woman she was at the end?

I did find the documentary became increasingly uncomfortable to watch as Wuornos becomes more and more unstable. By the final interview Bloomfield holds with her, Aileen is almost bug-eyed and accusing the prison guards of all sort of atrocities. It is difficult watching someone who is not quite in her right mind, especially when you know that not long after this she was executed. I was left asking questions about whether she should have been put to death when it is obvious that she is in crisis. Should she have been receiving treatment for a mental condition instead? It’s an interesting documentary even if it does leave an unpleasant taste in one’s mouth afterwards.

“A resolutely non-sensationalist work, Aileen Wuornos calls to account the travesties of the American justice system and provides a sympathetic insight into a deeply troubled soul.” (899)