‘I, Tonya’ (2017)

A Black Tragicomedy that needs to be seen to be believed.

This story is hard to believe. Having been too young to remember the actual ‘incident’ taking place I had only ever known about Tonya Harding vaguely as an Olympic scandal. The movie recounts the events leading up to and after the incident in which people linked to Tonya assisted her figure skating competition. These first person accounts told directly to camera are in many ways self serving which hilariously contrast with the ‘truthful’ images we are seeing. I lost count of how many times I threw my hands in the air in amazed exasperation of ‘are you kidding me?’ while watching the bad choices and sheer stupidity of the tragic characters that fill this unbelievable story: from Tonya herself, to her worst mother in the history of film, to her abusive boyfriend and his monumentality stupid friend. It is such an entertaining manic ride, building with a hysteria of crescendoing events that lead it the ultimate tragic end. I laughed many times and also shed a tear for Tonya. Despite the stupid things she did she was a victim of her terrible circumstances. And perhaps because of its strength in retelling this incredible story in such an entertaining way through self serving accounts, voice overs, direct address and unreliable narrators it does fall short of really getting into the character of Tonya beyond her reacting to her circumstances. The comedy, which is so strong, does inevitable make the story feel at times glib. At one point Tonya in her narration accuses us the viewers of being complicit in her situation like her abusers and yet in many ways that is exactly what the director serves up an entertaining yarn that serves up Tonya for ridicule and some sympathy. Despite falling short of a great biopic that truly captures the character of Tonya, in terms of pure entertainment the film is one of the funnest movie experiences of 2017. As riveting at the ridiculous unfolding story of the ‘incident’ is, the truly fascinating aspect of the film is Margot Robbie’s central manic performance and Alison Janney’s soon to be Oscar winning performance as the worst mother ever to be put on film. In the climatic scene where Tonya is about to compete at the Norway Winter Olympics, the physical and emotional contortions her face goes through as she is putting on make up is stunning. Alison Janney easily has the best lines in the script and as the mother gives context to the horror of Tonya’s upbringing creating a singularly horrifying human being at once hilarious, terrifying and heartbreaking. The film also cleverly touches on what America represents. To many America is all about winning, the land of the beauty pageants and sports stars. But as this film shows it’s not just winning that counts, it’s also presentation. With that great line America needs someone to hate just as much as they need someone to love. Misses the mark on a deeper understanding of Tonya but as pure rollicking entertainment you will surely have a blast on this wild weird rollercoaster of a movie. 8/10


I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

A terrifying and confronting journey into the American and Western psyche.

The entire film is structured around 30 pages the iconic intellectual James Baldwin had written of his unfinished manuscript ‘Remember This House’, chronicling the lives of three great African American figures who were all murdered over the course of the 1960s, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther KingJr and Malcolm X. Masterfully intertwining, excerpts of the manuscript read by Samuel L. Jackson, footage of speeches by James Baldwin, images of racially motivated violence and horror, with a number of clips from Classic Hollywood films. The experience or watch this film is akin to an assault on your preservatives, privileges and many of the narratives that surround race in America and more broadly the Western world. The film’s unrelenting power lies in the profound eloquent words of Baldwin that hit as both nuanced and incredibly relevant, and most particularly in the deconstruction of the American subconscious fear of the ‘other’. The most powerful section of the film inter spliced footage and a voice over from a 60’s US government film about the greatest of the American Dream with footage of unbelievable violence that has been perpetrated against the African American community. I cried. I soul searched. As an Australian I thought about my own blind privilege and the similar situation of our Indigenous population. If you are assuming this is another ‘issue’ documentary that explores the problems of race in America you would be mistaken. The film fundamentally alters the entire paradigm with which we have been talking and thinking about race itself. Fantasy, and narrative are revealed as more potent and powerful in shaping public perception and action than almost anything else. Hence the use of classic Hollywood movies, and television, the fiction of America and the West that has sunken deep into our collective subconscious. A great line Baldwin says is that the world is not white and never was, that the ‘negro’ was a construction of the white imagination, something we needed. This fantasy story that is etched in our minds keeps us numb and oblivious to reality. Great documentaries are not just about a person, time, place or issue they should ideally change our entire perception right here and now. The story isn’t over and is being played out today in the history of racism that is carried within each of us. Difficult the subject may be it is easy to watch due to the grace of the editing and the structure around the deaths of the 3 great Americans. This film is essential viewing. Who you are when you start this film will not be the same as when you finish it. 10/10

‘Interstellar’ (2014)

Interstellar 2014

Director: Chirstopher Nolan, Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Micheal Caine.

A Flawed Masterpeice, Giving Us The Moon While Reaching For the Stars

A few years ago I came across one of the best small budget television documentaries I have ever seen, called ‘Evacuate Earth’. Produced by National Geographic, ‘Evacuate Earth’ is a 1 an a half hour documentary which in an initially over-the-top drama way asks is it possible to evacuate earth and then with astounding detail and method goes through all the necessary components to successfully evacuate earth. Apart from some the corny re-enactment scenes, it remains the most fascinating science fiction documentary I have seen, a perfect marriage between imagination and science. After watching it for the first time, I remember thinking, if I were a director I would make a movie of ‘Evacuate Earth’. (you can watch the documentary here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpNO_HngUcI)

Whilst watching Christopher Nolan’s latest film ‘Interstellar’ I felt as though I was watching the movie version of the concept of ‘Evacuate Earth’. Although ‘Interstellar’ is in some ways more believable than ‘Evacuate Earth’, earth running out of food rather than a supernova coming to get us, and in other ways less believable, the solution of a worm-hole, it is not more understandable, which becomes problem number 1 in brining such a complex scientific concept to a movie-going-audience. The scenes which involve explanation of the complex science become some of the most cumbersome and flawed of the entire film. Lacking the freedom of a documentary, Nolan tries both to accurately explain the complicated science in a way that is understandable to the layman and short enough for a Hollywood film. In this regard the film fails on both counts becoming at times incomprehensible and boring. Nolan would have had a much easier time making a documentary rather than a feature film on the subject.

A feature film also needs an emotional connection to take the audience through. This is provided in the central arc relationship between Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain). The concepts of the film are dark and its execution is cold. In ‘Inception’ the love between Leonardo’s Dom and Marion Cotillard’s Mal is so believable and heart-felt that no matter how deep the story goes, as an audience our emotions are deeply tied up with their romance and we follow wherever Nolan may lead us. This is not the case in ‘Interstellar’ with scenes of intended emotional pull failing to truly pull you into the father daughter relationship. This leads the film to have a confused meandering middle section, saved in part by a better final act.

‘Interstellar’ is the latest victim of well intention movie over-reach. Simplicity is the refugee of the complex mind! Remember film is powerful simplicity. If you want to make a film about the Holocaust make a film about 1 man’s list, if you want to make a bio-pic about the Queen focus on 1 significant event in her life, if you want to make a great sci-fi take 1 concept and explore it in depth. Too many films these days try to cover too much in too short a period and end up covering less than if they had focused on 1 simple aspect with great detail and depth. You can say more with a well shot scene about something as simple as a door, than a 300 million 3 movie franchise.

‘Interstellar’s greatest strength, its sheer awe inspiring ambition becomes its greatest weakness. Nolan has always been the master of intellectual complex narration as seen in his great films ‘Memento’ and ‘Inception’. However the intellectual reach of the film undoubtedly comparable to one of the greatest films of all time Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ exceeds the capacity of the film. Where Kubrick’s film surpasses Nolan’s is its ability to not need excessive scientific documentary-like explanation and yet create its own majesty artistic mystery. Yet the sheer scale of ‘interstellar”s concepts and its shatteringly gorgeous visuals recover what the film lacks in composition and emotional pull. It aimed so high and comes so close to being a masterpiece which makes the final result both brilliant and disappointing.

A- 8/10

‘Iron Sky’ 2012


‘Iron Sky’ 2012,

Director: Timo Vuorensola, Stars: Juila Dietze, Peta Sergeeant and Udo Kier

Funnier In Theory Than In Practice

Iron Sky aka the ‘Nazi’s on the moon’ movie, is much funnier in theory than in practice. A bad movie that knows it’s bad and is still really, really, bad. Awareness of one’s own crappiness does not make one less crappy. ‘Iron Sky’ may have self consciously wanted to be awful, it certainly wanted to be funny, but ends up being only mildly funny bordering on outright lame, confused, boring, and really terrible. A perfect example of how a hilarious premise, a relatively large budget for a film of its kind (7.5 million), and impressive visuals, can be ruined by horrendous writing, poor acting, confused plot and lame jokes. I won’t even attempt to outline the plot because it would be a waste of time. You’ll get more laughs watching the trailer and thinking about Nazi’s on the moon/invading future earth, than actually seeing this terrible movie. A grand misadventure and missed opportunity. 2/10, C-, *1/2