I, TONYA (USA 2017) ***1/2

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I, Tonya Poster

2:24 |Trailer
Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.


Craig Gillespie


Steven Rogers (screenplay)

In 1994, the figure-skating world was shocked by the brutal attack on US medal hopeful Nancy Kerrigan.  The more shocking news was that the attack was allegedly conceived and executed by those close to — and perhaps including — rival figure skater Tonya Harding.  The film tells Tonya’s story and thus the title I, TONYA.

The story is revealed in tongue in cheek events with humour and irony while keeping to the main dramatic details.

Sad, funny but real this biopic of the infamous American figure Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) plays like a mockumentary as the film is bookended by interviews of the main characters 20 years after ‘the incident’.  The film then unfolds in chronological order with Tonya as a child brought to the skating rink as a skating prodigy by her mother who would often slap her around for not doing her best.  

‘The incident’ as described in those exact words in the film itself refers to the breaking of rival skater Nancy Kerrigan’s knee by Tonya’s ex-husband.  The question was whether she knew of the plot.  As the film explains she likely did not at the start, as it was all Jeff Gillooly’s (Sebastian Stan) idea but when she did get nailed for it, she was then banned from figure skating in any organization for life, a sentence in her own words, that was worst than prison.

Films have been often made of heroes and survivors, but it is seldom that one is made of white redneck trailer trash.  That is Tonya Harding.  But director Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers portray the skater as someone America loved to hate, but also paints her, despite her volatile and fierce personality someone vulnerable to her surroundings and acquaintances.  She is treated brutally (physically and emotionally) by both her two closest relatives, hers husband and mother (Allison Janney).

Director Gillespie remembers that I, TONYA is after all a film about the sport of figure skating.  The segments of skating have to be good and they are.  Compare the recent tennis film BATTLE OF THE SEXES which made the mistake of including no exciting matches in it.  Her triple axel at the 1991 championships is shown beautifully in slow motion.

Gillespie elicits some mighty fine performances from his cast most notably Robbie in the title role as well as Janney as her stern mother, LaVona.

The dialogue though in everyday words are at times so predictable, one can say the words just before the characters utter them.  In one scene, after LaVona after throwing a knife that sticks into her daughter’s arms utter the words: “Every family has its ups and downs.”   A comical line though the words are stolen from the play and film THE LION IN WINTER.  But there are some good lines in the script as when LaVona says (and really believes) that she sacrificed being a loving mother so that Tonya can grow up to become a fierce skater.

Though the film deals partly with the daughter/mother relationship, it shows for once that the relationship is a sour irreconcilable one.  Still the film finally gains the sympathy of the skater, that in her own words describes herself as the one America grew to hate.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXZQ5DfSAAc


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I, DANIEL BLAKE (USA 2016) ***** Top 10

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i_daniel_blake.jpgA middle aged carpenter who requires state welfare after suffering a heart attack is joined by a single mother in a similar scenario.

Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty (screenplay)
Stars: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy

Review by Gilbert Seah 

British director Ken Loach is one director that constantly makes films about the country’s social problems – be it child services (LADYBIRD, LADYBIRD), the working class (RIFF-RAFF) or growing up poor (KES his first and best feature film, SWEET SIXTEEN). In I, DANIEL BLAKE, his new film, the setting is Newcastle where the Geordies speak with their accent. The accent can be understood as the actors speak slow enough and enunciate clearly but the film still comes with English subtitles.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, who won this year’s BFTA Award for Best Actor for this performance) is caught in a rut. The government services are sending him in circles and he is out of patience and money. After Daniel suffers a heart attack, he is on the dole. But he is ‘sanctioned’ and has to show that he is applying for a job to keep his benefits. But he cannot really work because of his heart condition. It does not help that Daniel is not digital by default, i.e. he is not familiar with using the computer. While at one of these meetings, he meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother who has moved from London to Newcastle with her two children because she is finally given a flat to live in. The two poor souls become good friends – each helping each other out.

There is a nice tune in the film called “Sailing On” by Ronald Binge. The tune has a great significance as Daniel’s late wife used to tell him while sick with him looking after her: “All I want to do is sail away, with the wind at my back.” These words will have again special significance at the end of the film.

Unlike a lot of films about social problems, Loach’s film (written by Paul Laverty) shows that there are still good people around – even in government offices, particularly in the scene when one sympathetic officer, Ann (Kate Rutter) offers him, for the first time, decent and heart-felt advice.

The most important message of the film is uttered no less than by Daniel himself. “When you lose your self respect, you are done for.” But the film shows how difficult it is to keep this self-respect and honesty. His neighbour, a black nicknamed China (Kema Sikazwe), finally had it and starts selling sneakers mailed from China selling them at 80 quid while these same shoes are found sold in stores in the high street at more than double the price. Daniel frowns on China. The film shows easy money could come by like an opportunity knocking at ones door, though it may not be a good thing. Katie’s children are in dire need of essentials like food and shoes. She opts for the easy way out like shoplifting (though she does get caught) and later on more desperately as an escort. Daniel finds out. The confrontation scene between the two on the subject is deeply emotional and gut wrenching to watch.

Ken Loach shows that a film appearing so simple with no special effects, cheap theatrics, sugar coating or pretentious dramatics can turn out to be so moving and absorbing. I, DANIEL BLAKE is a great film. It took away the Palme d’Or this year at Cannes. Bring lots of Kleenex!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahWgxw9E_h4


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