Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: I, Tonya

Best Picture Oscar winner “The Shape of Water,” “Justice League” and “Call Me By Your Name” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.  

It occurred to me toward the end of “I, Tonya,” when footage of O.J. Simpson is seen briefly on a television screen, that 1994 was a banner year for scandals. While O.J. may have been what occupied the summer of 1994, it’s Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding who reigned supreme over the first half of the year.

Harding is played in “I, Tonya” by Margot Robbie in a performance that garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and proved to everyone that she has the chops to do some very heavy dramatic lifting. I do hope she keeps playing Harley Quinn in the DC movies though. She’s perfect for the part and looks like she’s having a blast playing it—so I in turn have a blast watching it. There’s no reason she can’t mix the serious with the fun and do both exceptionally well.

Robbie is joined in the movie by Allison Janney, who recently picked up an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for playing Tonya’s abusive, resentful, chain-smoking mother LaVona. It’s easy to see why she won early on in the movie when she takes a three and a half year old Tonya (Maizie Smith) to an ice skating rink to show her off to skating coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson). LaVona cusses around the other children, smokes continuously, and is pushy to the point of belligerence. But Tonya has talent, even at that age, Rawlinson sees it, and so the story begins that will eventually lead us to “the incident.”

“The incident,” as I’m sure those old enough will remember, involves Tonya, her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), a fat doofus named Shawn (    Paul Walter Hauser)—who talks about working in the intelligence community yet has none of his own, and the unfortunate knee cap of Tonya’s fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). To say that the plan to clobber Nancy in the knee cap and put her out of commission for the Olympics was ill-conceived is far too kind. It was stupid. No other word, let’s call it what it is: stupid. Just watch the interview with Shawn recounting the incident (actual clips from the real interview with Shawn are shown at the end to show that the movie makers were not exaggerating his stupidity) and I’m sure you’ll find it hard to disagree.

What happens leading up to the incident, as well as the aftermath, is up for debate. The major players are all interviewed, and especially in the case of Tonya and Jeff, their stories are vastly different and contradictory. The movie has fun with these contradictions, the biggest one being abuse in their relationship. Tonya claims that she got smacked around all of the time by Jeff. Jeff claims to be meek and says he never hit her. He then goes so far as to claim that at one point she chased him with a shot gun and fired off a round. This scene is re-enacted with Tonya looking to the camera at the end and declaring, “This never happened.”

Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. It’s a classic case of he said/she said. The bigger question regarding “the incident” is what did Tonya know and when did she know it. Depending on whom you believe in terms of how the timeline of events unfolded, the final verdict on Tonya and her skating career is either completely reasonable and justified or it is an abominably harsh and unfair miscarriage of justice. The great thing about “I, Tonya” is that the point of view in it is not skewed. All angles are shown, and you can decide what you want to believe.

The style of “I, Tonya” is also noteworthy. It has a Scorsese-esque vibe to it that employs voice over narration, interviews, talking to the camera, and clever editing. It reminded me an awful lot, style-wise, of “The Big Short.” This is totally different subject matter, but the style works just as well. It’s especially powerful when things get serious, like when Tonya looks in the camera and says to the interviewer—and by extension, those watching—that they were her accusers too. It’s a powerful moment, very well delivered. It’s rare that a movie directly asks the audience to take a good look at themselves and be self-reflective about their own prejudices and predispositions. It’s interesting to note what you may have thought of Tonya Harding before watching this movie and compare that to what you think of her after. Buy it on Amazon: I, Tonya (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital).

Also New This Week

The Shape of Water

“The Shape of Water” is about a young mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who works as a janitor in a top secret government facility in 1962. One day an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) is brought in by a vulgar, mean-spirited government agent (Michael Shannon) to be studied by government scientists. Elisa and the creature form a bond and grow to love one another. She then finds out that the creature is marked for execution, so she gets her black co-worker (Octavia Spencer), gay best friend (Richard Jenkins), and a communist spy masquerading as a scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg) to help her set the creature free.

In spite of protestations to the contrary, the political agenda in this movie is very obvious and only the willfully ignorant can convince themselves otherwise. So, of course, the virtue signaling Hollywood community voted it as Best Picture. This is one of the reasons why middle America hates Hollywood.

Aside from the hate-filled agenda pushing, “The Shape of Water” has other issues. Namely, that as a movie, it is so-so at best. The plot is pretty obvious and offers no surprises. There are some callous, off-putting things that happen throughout the movie. Some of these, like the killing of an innocent guard who was just doing his duty, really made me not like the supposed “good guys” so much. Also, at one point the creature bites the head off of a cat. The moment itself is thankfully off screen, but we see the aftermath and it is most definitely not cool.

Then there’s the relationship between Elisa and the creature. I felt no chemistry there at all, even after they were able to get together physically with each other. The movie takes the time to build the relationship, but never to the point where I felt it connected. Given that the crux of “The Shape of Water” is a love story, that’s a major problem.

Guillermo del Toro is a brilliant visionary director. He won an Oscar for directing this movie, but I say he got it for the wrong one, especially considering that a lot of the visual elements are re-purposed from his planned then nixed movie version of the 2007 video game “Bioshock.” As someone who has played that game multiple times and considers it an all-time personal favorite, I can see how a lot of the artistic decisions were derived from that game, right down to the teal (a color of some importance in this movie) hue of the water. Sure, that doesn’t detract from the fact that there are impressive-looking shots to behold in “The Shape of Water” that came from del Toro’s own vision, but they’re not entirely original either. Skip it.

Justice League

The band is finally together (except for the conspicuous absence of Green Lantern) for their first foray into saving the planet as Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Godot), Superman (Henry Cavill), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) team up to stop the ancient, evil Steppenwolf (voice of Ciarán Hinds) from unifying three boxes of power and turning Earth into a hellscape. The resulting movie, “Justice League,” is…okay.

This certainly isn’t a bad movie. Ezra Miller in particular is a standout as The Flash, bringing much needed levity into the overly serious proceedings. The action scenes are well put together, and I like the way each Justice League member’s power contributes to the overall team. There’s a moment that takes place in the tunnels under Gotham Harbor. A bridge is out and they must get across. How each member solves the problem and gets across perfectly showcases who they are and what they do.

While there are some good elements that prevent “Justice League” from being bad, there are some mediocre elements that prevent it from being great. Steppenwolf is a generic CGI villain with plans to conquer the world. In other words, he’s a villain pulled right off the shelf for comic book movies and isn’t terribly exciting. The dialogue gets a bit cringey at times as well, and serves a more functional purpose for the story than it does as a way to get to know the characters. This is a bummer especially for the new players to the movies like Aquaman and Cyborg, who both sport the same bad attitude posturing and not much else. Some differentiation between the two through dialogue and character exploration would have gone a long way.

So “Justice League” is not a total write-off, and there is hope for the future. Steppenwolf at one point mentions Darkseid, setting up an appearance by one of the biggest baddies of all time. Then there’s the after credits scene that sets up the Legion of Doom. There are two surprise appearances in that scene, which I will not spoil here. Rent it and see for yourself.

Call Me By Your Name

“Call Me By Your Name,” much like last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner “Moonlight,” is a coming of age story about a young man’s homosexual awakening. However, unlike “Moonlight,” which was very well plotted and engaged me in its main character from start to finish, “Call Me By Your Name” is a story in search of a plot.

This movie meanders way too much, and multiple scenes either take too long to get to the point or have no point at all. They’re just there, showing something that happened to our protagonist Elio (Timothée Chalamet) one day during the summer of 1983, in the Italian countryside, when he was 17 years old. The only scenes that really drive the story along are the ones between Elio and his father’s visiting American research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer). Their relationship and desire for each other is peeled back slowly (too slowly), and through those scenes there are some relatable moments. But that’s it. This movie feels long at two hours and 12 minutes, and it’s easy to get restless while waiting for something—anything!—to actually happen. When it finally does it’s anticlimactic—in more ways than one. Skip it.

The Disaster Artist

The subject matter of one of the best movies of 2017, “The Disaster Artist,” is the making of one of the most notoriously bad movies of all time, an ineptly made drama called “The Room.” In it, James Franco, overlooked by Oscar for an acting nomination for this movie in my opinion, plays director/star of “The Room” Tommy Wiseau, and his brother Dave Franco plays Wiseau’s friend/co-star Greg Sestero.

The real-life Wiseau is an enigmatic figure with a vaguely eastern European accent that’s hard to place. He claims to hail from New Orleans, but no one believes that. The bigger mystery is the source of all of his money. Apparently, his bank account is a bottomless pit. Must be nice.

“The Disaster Artist” really kicks into gear when portraying the filming of “The Room,” showing how out of his depth Wiseau really was as an actor and director. At least as producer he was good at keeping the project afloat financially and no one on the cast or crew had any issue getting paid. Wiseau may have taken himself a bit too seriously, but only from a mind of someone so serious could a movie so, dare I say it, disastrous, spring forth. “The Disaster Artist” does a great job at humanely—and sometimes hilariously—capturing every odd, awkward, fidget in your chair moment of making one of the worst movies of all time. Buy it on Amazon: The Disaster Artist [Blu-ray + DVD].

More New Releases: “Ferdinand,” animated tale about a gentle bull who is mistakenly chosen for bull fights in Madrid, starring the voice talent of John Cena, Kate McKinnon, and Gabriel Iglesias; and “Children of the Corn: Runaway,” the latest entry in the decades old horror movie franchise about a murderous child cult in the Midwest.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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