“I Was Loved For A Minute, Then I Was Hated. Then I Was Just A Punch Line…”
Based upon the controversial and compelling career of professional ice skater, Tonya Harding, Craig Gillespie’s (The Finest Hours) Oscar nominated biographical drama, I, Tonya, featuring Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) in arguably her most fleshed-out leading performance yet, takes an impressive shot at attempting to gel together a mix of Scorsese inspired storytelling with a Rocky-esque tale of sporting success, and with the aid of a rockabilly jukebox soundtrack and eye-catching performances all around, Gillespie’s latest is a rousing, crowd-pleasing success. Utilising the form of retrospective interviews with each of the key players to unravel the exposition as the narrative evolves, I, Tonya benefits from a lightning quick editing pace straight from the outset, beginning with a young Harding as she is nurtured and raised by the steely-eyed harshness of Allison Janney’s (The Girl on the Train) LaVona Fay Golden as she begins her love affair with the ice and swiftly moving to the fruition of the relationship between herself and Sebastian Stan’s (Captain America: Civil War) Jeff Gillooly, one which proves central to Harding’s journey through both successes and life-changing failures.
Whilst the interview format does make it easy for Gillespie to cross over every avenue possible in terms of storytelling gaps, the constant switch from past to present does ultimately jar the pace of the movie come the second half, one which is too not exactly helped by the decision to include the breaking of the fourth wall at times which personally never really seemed to work to the film’s advantage, yet where the movie does succeed is in Robbie’s wildly comical and full blooded performance, one which utilises the scripts attempts to balance her love for the sport with the shocking depiction of domestic issues from both Janney’s chain-smoking mother figure and Stan’s abusive and deluded on/off love, and one which through the aid of digital effects and stunt doubles means that the physicality of the skating scenes are brilliantly orchestrated. Of course, with Harding’s biggest association being that of a rather violent moment of utmost craziness, the concluding act of the movie ruffles together elements of jaw-dropping stupidity, laugh out loud comedy and heartbreaking finality, and whilst Gillespie’s movie doesn’t exactly hit the heights of Scorsese-inflicted film-making it so obviously attempts to emulate, I, Tonya is a highly satisfactory and ludicrous tale of a fundamentally interesting public figure.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Welcome to Jumanji!”
Despite the fact that the Robin Williams starring, 1995 adventure romp Jumanji was somewhat dismissed by many critics when first released despite it being a somewhat successful item at the box office, the cult status and underground following of the movie since has subversively led to both a re-examination of its’ qualities by many and as per the norm of many cinematic releases in the current climate, a unwarranted sequel. Directed by comedy staple, Jake Kasdan and featuring a script co-written by Chris McKenna, whose previous credits include the likes of The Lego Batman Movie and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a functional if rather predictable and laborious adventure romp which utilises the star power of its’ cast to shrug off the many, many weaknesses which encompass its’ existence, and whilst many will be swept up in the wisecracking humour and electric editing pace, Kasdan’s movie is the epitome of a release which can be crammed into the genre of “not exactly my cup of tea”.
With the titular gaming sensation transforming its’ form to keep up with the popular trends of the twenty first century, our leading four youthful heroes are sucked into the jungle of Jumanji where complete control of their gaming avatars forces them to play the game and defeat the threat of Bobby Cannavale’s power hungry, insect ridden villain. With Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan taking over for the majority of the movie therefore, the narrative mixes the absurd nature of our heroes’ surroundings with ongoing banter style comedic quips, most of which ironically do make an appearance in the film’s trailer, and although the chemistry between the leading quartet is undeniable, the film never really progresses from its’ opening gag, resulting in endless penis and body transformation jokes which do end up becoming increasingly grating amidst one of the most self-aggrandizing performances from Johnson ever in his on-screen career. With Cannavale’s pedigree as a villain well known after his turn on Boardwalk Empire, his character is ultimately completely wasted in favour of numerous CGI-ridden action, and whilst Kasdan and the crew are obviously having a superb time, the fun only resonates for a short spate of time, and for a film which runs on for two hours, well, you can do the math.
Overall Score: 4/10
DAN – With the release of Peyton Reed’s Ant Man this week, the mammoth of a machine that is Marvel continues to ever-grow and seemingly swallow everything in its’ path, regardless of the competition at hand. With Comic Con last week seemingly handing the hype trophy over to DC due in part to the explosion of Batman and TV related goodness, cast interviews and movie trailers, particularly that of the eagerly anticipated Suicide Squad, it seems obvious that DC are staging an attempt to sway the Marvel machine off its’ course for the time being even though they still hold the award for best comic-related movie ever in the form of The Dark Knight. So with DC winning the hype-race at Comic Con, Marvel have seemingly decided to take a seat back from the fire-fight for the time being and allow us to revel in the formation of a new Avenger in the form of Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, the incarcerated criminal who unwillingly undertakes the role of Ant Man under the guidance of Micheal Douglas’s Hank Pym, a retired former S.H.I.E.L.D agent who had once previously been the occupier of the famous Ant Man suit. Where before Marvel films have seemed to undertake a very similar, formulaic layout, Ant Man points more towards the spectrum of Guardians of the Galaxy, particularly in terms of its’ high comedic value, something of which makes Ant Man one of the most enjoyable Marvel entries so far, and ultimately concludes Phase Two of the MCU in a rather cool and collective fashion.
The entire reason for why Guardians of the Galaxy succeeded so well last year was the unexpected turn it took from the rather similar and over-used Marvel film blueprint for almost all entries in the MCU up to its’ release, with it combining a underlying comedic element and self-mockery to the fundamental questionable concept of a team of heroes that combined a tree and a talking raccoon. Add in a scorching soundtrack and a well-chosen cast, Guardians of the Galaxy truly was one of the highlights of last year, let alone in its’ own expandable universe, and Ant Man swiftly follows suit by once again being another Marvel related success which combines a huge riff of comedy, due in part to the influence of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish who left half-way through production, and a wonderful cast, strongly spearheaded by the one-two of both Rudd and Douglas. Compared to the spectacle of most MCU-related movies, it was actually quite refreshing to see Ant Man take more of a low-key approach, with the action only really taking place in the final act of the film after some interesting and highly enjoyable character development in the first two-thirds, with scenes in which the miniaturisation was used in a hugely comical manner being one of the many highlights of the film.
Other highlights of the film included Ant Man’s accidental meeting with a fully-formed Avenger and the way the film included Easter Eggs and references to the MCU, particularly its’ attempt to signify its’ move away from the Avengers with Pym’s statement of them being busy “toppling a city somewhere”, rather tongue-in-cheek at the destruction caused in Age of Ultron. Such levels of destruction thankfully cannot be attributed to Ant Man however with the biggest moment of chaos being caused by an enlargement of Thomas the Tank Engine in a scene with produced chuckles from the entire screening audience. In terms of the problems, Ant Man does seem to bear resemblance to Guardians a bit too much resulting in a lack of freshness from Marvel’s POV, particularly when the latter was only released last year, whilst the plot thread of the Quantum Realm seemed a bit too rushed and jack-hammered in to be truly interesting. All in all however, Ant Man succeeds in being a rather entertaining and much welcomed entry into the MCU, and in my opinion beats Age of Ultron for best Marvel film so far this year. Up next, Fantastic Four. What a time to be alive.
Dan’s Score: 8/10
PETE – Dan has hit the nail on the head. Ant-Man was another one of the MCU’s films that honestly looked a bit naff. The trailers were lacking and it felt like the whole movie was pretty much summed up within them, yet like Guardians of the Galaxy, it was a huge surprise. The journey of an ex-con turned superhero was fantastic. Instead of dropping you into a story with characters who know their powers, their limits and strengths, we actually see a someone become a hero who doesn’t have infinite wealth or training to begin with.
The story was great fun. Ant-Man always seemed a but dull to me but Marvel have the uncanny ability to create characters that are so likeable and fun that make me want to run down to the comic store and dig into the back catalogue for a little more. Now as I haven’t seen anything involving Ant-Man, I can only say that I enjoyed the portrayal I saw, whether it is accurate or not. Paul Rudd simply doesn’t age and I’m sure for many years to come we could see him playing this role because he was great fun. His comedic wrap sheet means that he can execute lines on a whim and be extremely convincing doing so. Its the character that he can embody. Yet, considering Ant-Man is supposed to have a master degree, we really don’t see much about this at all but hopefully we can see it in his next outing.
It makes me wonder how people become evil in the Marvel world. The claims of righteous acts aren’t enough to justify it for me. When you watch a massive city/town lifted into the sky and the Avengers destroying this giant threat, why would you honestly think that your squishy body has any sort of chance. The ending for said villain was rather quick and honestly it felt a little rushed. The sequence was fantastic fun but it was to short compared to the entirety of the movie but nevertheless, it isn’t the typical way we see Marvel villains go and is rather liberating to see it so.
Marvel are great when it comes to visuals but it does feel as if Ant-Man’s budget was a little smaller in the CGI department as all the backgrounds in the miniature scenes lacked fidelity as looked very fuzzy. As for the rest, the ants look awesome and the giant scenes tended to uphold the general trend set by Marvel. The music was on point and the action was explosive and funny all at once. Is it better than Guardians? No. Is it worth your time? Hell yes. Its great and I really can’t wait until he makes an appearance in other instalments and we get a lot more cameos. PS – That SHIELD cameo was pretty damn epic! 8/10!
Overall Score – 8/10
Back In The Saddle
The Godfather. Heat. Dog Day Afternoon. Scarface. Al Pacino has had one heck of a career wouldn’t you say? His portrayal as Micheal Corleone in The Godfather Trilogy is undeniably one of the greatest on-screen portrayals of a character I think I have ever seen where we witness the transformation of a reluctant war-hero in Part One to the all-out evil, if tragic, crime lord in Part Two. I could go on all day about Pacino’s filmography so far but for now it is time to concentrate on his latest offering, Danny Collins, a comedy/drama featuring Annette Bening (American Beauty), Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club) and Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire). With the recent Pacino offerings which have been let’s say, not exactly brilliant, I went into Danny Collins hoping it was a return to form and its’ fair to say, Pacino is back once again.
When aging rock-star Danny Collins (Pacino) receives a letter written to him by John Lennon in the early 1970’s, he decides to change his repetitive, drug-infused, cash-ridden lifestyle for the better and repair past mistakes which have haunted him for years including his son, Tom (Cannavale) of whom he has disregarded for the past 30 years. There is a line in Danny Collins in which the titular character states that he hasn’t written a song for forty years, and its’ here where the probably unintentional similarities between Pacino and his character begin with Pacino himself not being in a film of much merit for at least a decade, whilst the redemption the character of Collins desperately seeks during the course of the film can easily be attributed to Pacino also, with Danny Collins seemingly acting as sold ground for Pacino to return to some sort of form. And this he does with aplomb, with Pacino being undoubtedly the best thing in Danny Collins, so much so that every-time he appeared I felt like I could watch him for years.
Supported by Annette Bening and Christopher Plummer, Pacino propels Danny Collins into a charming and sweet comedy drama of which may have suffered if it failed to have the screen presence of someone like Pacino as its’ lead. Although the script may be pretty familiar territory with plot points being rather predictable, the sheer magnetism of Pacino makes Danny Collins into something better than I had originally expected. A return to form for Pacino? Most definitely. Seek it out.