Tag Archives: Sebastian Stan

I, Tonya (2017, Craig Gillespie)

Despite the rather declarative I in the title, I, Tonya, Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding is not the protagonist of the film. Writer Steven Rogers avoids making her the protagonist as long as he can–really, until the third act–and instead splits it between Robbie and Sebastian Stan (as her husband). Allison Janney, as her mother, has a lot to do the first hour, not so much the second. So little, in fact, Janney–in the present-day interview clips (with the actors in old age makeup and a perplexing 4:3 aspect ratio despite, you know, digital video)–comments on how she’s not in the story much anymore.

The distance from Robbie (and Harding) lets I, Tonya get away with things like Robbie making fun of Nancy Kerrigan (played by Caitlin Carver, who literally has no audible dialogue other than moaning “why” over and over again after her assault, which the film plays for a laugh). Kerrigan, Harding (Robbie) opines, only got hit once. Harding had been constantly beaten first by Janney and then Stan her whole life until that point. What’s Kerrigan got to be so upset about. Ha. Funny.

Whether or not Harding actually made that statement–the script is based, in part, on interviews with Harding and the real-life Stan–is immaterial. Rogers and director Gillespie play it for a shock laugh. But I, Tonya is hardly sympathetic to Harding; Robbie will recount abuse in voiceover–or in scene; the characters occasionally break the fourth wall for effect–and then, next scene, I, Tonya will play her being assaulted for a laugh. Not so much with Stan, whose casual vicious abuse is presented utterly matter-of-fact, but with Janney. Janney’s abuse, physical and psychological, is always good for a chuckle.

Because I, Tonya wants the audience to laugh at its subjects. Bobby Cannavale, in the present day interview clips as a Hard Copy producer (the film doesn’t do anywhere near enough with explaining the Hard Copy coverage for people not somewhat familiar with the actual events), talks about how some of the participants–maybe the guys who actually attack Kerrigan–are the biggest boobs in a story made up entirely of boobs. I, Tonya, despite Harding’s participation, feels no differently about it.

Robbie’s Harding is terrorized and terrified, without an ounce of joy or even the capacity for it. The script’s got to follow a historical timeline–there’s accomplishment the first time Robbie gets away from abusive Stan, but then when she goes back to him, the movie skips ahead instead of examining. Robbie’s not just not the protagonist, she’s not even a good subject. You can’t get too many laughs out of it if you chart her descent into (apparent) alcoholism after returning to the abusive relationship.

Meanwhile, Stan’s a little bit closer to the protagonist. See, the ice-skating stuff–despite a solid performance by Julianne Nicholson as Robbie’s trainer (who simultaneously champions her for her ability and loathes her for being poor)–barely figures in. Robbie doesn’t get to essay accomplishment, just abuse, whether from Janney or Stan. Her character is completely defined by other people. Not much I in it.

But Stan. Until he starts hitting Robbie, he’s a cute boyfriend. Then he’s a scumbag one, but he’s always around in the story. Now, Stan is eight years older than Robbie, but the actual age difference was three years. Even though Stan’s performance is excellent, it might have worked better age appropriate. Because I, Tonya’s Stan is a different kind of creep than the real guy. Of course, they’re both playing characters far younger–starting at fifteen for Robbie–and, well, it’s not like the film’s going for verisimilitude. It’s going for laughs. Often really easy ones.

Like Paul Walter Hauser, as the guy who orchestrated the attack on Kerrigan and Stan’s buddy. Hauser’s great. Maybe the movie’s best performance. Because he doesn’t bring any glamour to the part. Janney, despite the makeup and the funny hair and all the affect, is still doing a movie star turn. Hauser’s just this schlub.

He also gets to be the butt of some of the film’s working class poverty jokes. Though there’s a truly stunning one in Robbie’s voice over where you wonder how craven Rogers and Gillespie have to be to spit on the real-life Harding to characterize her as such. And they’re far from gracious to the character–the film conveys Harding’s assertion she knew nothing about the attack and doesn’t directly contradict it… just strongly implies there are possible unknowns. It does the same for Stan. Hauser’s character–the real-life person having died ten years before the film–gets to be the film’s single premeditating villain.

Performance-wise, outside Hauser’s kickass supporting (practically bit) turn, Stan, Robbie, and Janney are all excellent. They’re all caricatures to some degree, though Stan gets to be super-likable in the interview sections, which is problematic. Especially since, initially, Robbie doesn’t. And even after Robbie gets to be more sympathetic, she never gets to be likable. The end credits of the film exemplify three of the film’s major fails. First, the real Tonya Harding–in Hard Copy footage perhaps–is immediately more likable and sympathetic than Robbie ever gets to be. Worse, than Robbie ever tries to be. A sincere smile wouldn’t hurt. Similarly, when the film shows Harding’s heavy metal skate recitals? It’s unimaginable why Robbie, as Harding, would make that creative choice. She’s utterly joyless. The real Harding, in footage, is clearly exuberant.

Final big fail? The skating. Director Gillespie uses a lot of digital help with the editing–so again, why does the film pretend contemporary cameras for the interviews would be 4:3, but whatever–so lots of digital help for editing. He gets these long, obviously digitally-aided shots–Tatiana S. Riegel’s editing is technically outstanding, regardless of content. He also uses digital help for the skating. Presumably to put Robbie’s face on a figure skater, but also to recreate Harding’s actual skating.

You’d think, given CGI technology, they would’ve been able to make that skating a tenth as impressive as Tonya Harding’s actual skating ability. They don’t. All the camerawork, all the digital help, all the editing… it’s nothing compared to the television footage of Harding skating during the end credits. I, Tonya’s Harding is as feckless about her skating as the film is about presenting her story. It would’ve been nice if the film didn’t do a constant, active disservice to itself just for some laughs.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Craig Gillespie; written by Steven Rogers; director of photography, Nicolas Karakatsanis; edited by Tatiana S. Riegel; music by Peter Nashel; production designer, Jade Healy; produced by Tom Ackerley, Margot Robbie, Rogers, Michael Sledd, and Bryan Unkeless; released by Neon.

Starring Margot Robbie (Tonya), Sebastian Stan (Jeff), Allison Janney (LaVona), Paul Walter Hauser (Shawn), Julianne Nicholson (Diane Rawlinson), Bojana Novakovic (Dody Teachman), and Bobby Cannavale (Martin Maddox).


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Captain America: Civil War (2016, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

I wasn’t aware it was possible, but go-to Marvel superhero movie composer Henry Jackman is actually getting worse as he does more of these movies. His score for Captain America: Civil War is laughable, which is too bad, because if the film hit the thematic beats Jackman failed to achieve? Well, it wouldn’t fix the script, but it would definitely make the film flow a bit better.

The film is two and a half hours of action scenes every ten minutes or so. Unless the action scene goes on for longer than ten minutes, in which case it screws up the rhythm of subsequent scenes. But directors Russo keep it on schedule. Their job is getting this train ride to its conclusion and they do it. Their action direction is a bunch of sped-up fight scenes and they’re usually pretty boring. The opening one, with its strong performances from the way too big cast, could’ve been amazing with better direction. And the big superhero showdown is awesome for the most part, only… it doesn’t make much narrative sense as far as keeping the players in motion.

But there’s a lot quite good about Civil War. They blow the chance to give Robert Downey Jr. an actual character to play here, but they get pretty close on occasion. His scenes opposite Tom Holland are fantastic and Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script does give Downey the opportunity for character development. The film just rejects it.

The real standout is Sebastian Stan, who never quite gets enough to do because there’s always another action scene for the Russo Brothers to get through–they have a really lame chase sequence, more is usually just more–but Stan is hypnotic. He also has great chemistry with ostensible lead Chris Evans (and Evans’s replacement sidekick, Anthony Mackie). Less action, more character; would’ve helped Civil War a lot. Especially since that way too big cast is often pretty good together.

Elizabeth Olsen is good, she and Paul Bettany are great together. Bettany’s got a bit of a crap part. So does Jeremy Renner, but Renner does get better material. Markus and McFeely–or maybe it was the Russo Brothers–seem to acknowledge they need to hit emotional beats and then they skip them. Paul Rudd’s fun, though his character’s pretty thinly written. William Hurt is embarrassing himself. Emily VanCamp gets the worst part in the movie. Seemingly intentionally.

As for the newcomers to the brand? Well, Holland’s great. He’s playing the Marvel Studios (sorry, Walt Disney) version of Spider-Man. Can’t wait for his movie. Chadwick Boseman’s fine as the Black Panther. It really ought to be his movie, but there’s so much pretending it’s Evan’s. Instead, Boseman’s basically Boba Fett. Sort of literally. Villain Daniel Brühl gets a terrible part (though still better than VanCamp) and not much opportunity to act.

Rather weak cinematography from Trent Opaloch, but otherwise Civil War is a completely competent outing.

There’s a lot of potential to this film and the filmmakers didn’t go for any of it. Instead, they went for a bunch of mediocre action scenes, one heck of a superhero battle (proving having ten superheroes fight on the big screen is an accomplishment in itself) and a really weak ending.

Evans and Downey both look exhausted throughout the film. Evans doesn’t get the material he (and the film) deserves, while Downey rejects the material. But until the denouement, it’s perfectly fine stuff.

And Sebastian Stan is truly phenomenal.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the comic books by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Daniel Brühl (Zemo), Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson / Falcon), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff), Emily VanCamp (Sharon Carter), Don Cheadle (War Machine), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton), Paul Bettany (Vision), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang) and Tom Holland (The Amazing Spider-Man).


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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a bunch of great, thoughtful scenes and many excellent–and some just better than normal–performances but it doesn’t add up to much. Those fine scenes don’t have enough separation from the very hurried plot to resonate on their own. What should be subplots turn out to be nothing but texture scenes or, more cynically, ones to tie into later big plot developments.

Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo do an adequate job with the film. Some of the action, particularly in the first half, is good. The big finale goes from way too hurried for the scenes with sidekicks Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie to way too protracted with Chris Evans’s second big fight opposite Sebastian Stan. These scenes take place amid the film’s only enormous CGI sequence, which the directors don’t really know what to do with.

The acting is all good; even the weaker performances like Johansson’s are mostly all right. Evans and Mackie are fantastic. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely don’t have an honest relationship between any of the characters–Evans and Johansson, Evans and Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford–but the actors make it all work.

Though Redford does look a little lost. He doesn’t chew the scenery as much as the role requires.

Nice supporting work from Frank Grillo too.

The Winter Soldier stays engaging throughout–even during the bloated third act. The film’s already got the viewers invested in the characters.

It’s too bad though, it should’ve been better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Kevin Fiege; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Georges St-Pierre (Batroc), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).


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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, Joe Johnston)

I’m not sure where to start with Captain America. There are two obvious places. First is Chris Evans. His earnest performance is unlike any other superhero movie of the last few decades (because the character is fundamentally different). Second is Joe Johnston.

I think I’ll start with Johnston.

Captain America is very well-directed. Johnston manages a wide Panavision frame, lots of huge sets (maybe most obvious homage to the films of the thirties and forties) and a bunch of actors. But because he’s utilizing so much CG, either as backdrops or special effects… it lacks distinction. If I were unfamiliar with him as a director, this film would give me no insight other than him being able.

Back to Evans. Captain America’s a tough character because Evans has to sell being a good guy all the time, even before he’s Captain America (the frail CG version of Evans is the film’s most impressive visual effect, but his performance sells it), even when he’s out of costume. Evans is able to sell him wearing the outfit. Nothing else does.

The film’s the best of the Marvel Studios releases, but still has its problems. Hugo Weaving’s villain, while well-acted, isn’t interesting enough for all the screen time he gets. The Alan Silvestri score is mediocre at best.

Oddly, I think it’ll probably get better on repeat viewings, when one can appreciate it without anticipating it.

That statement made, it’s quite good even on the first viewing. And Stanley Tucci’s phenomenal.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Johnston; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Shelly Johnson; edited by Robert Dalva and Jeffrey Ford; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Sebastian Stan (James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes), Tommy Lee Jones (Colonel Phillips), Hugo Weaving (Johann Schmidt / Red Skull), Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark), Stanley Tucci (Dr. Abraham Erskine), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Neal McDonough (Timothy ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan), Derek Luke (Gabe Jones), Kenneth Choi (Jim Morita), JJ Feild (James Montgomery Falsworth), Bruno Ricci (Jacques Dernier) and Michael Brandon (Senator Brandt).


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