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Posts Tagged ‘Allison Janney’

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding

“I, TONYA” My rating: A- (Opens Jan. 5 at the Alamo Drafthouse, Town Center and Glenwood Arts)

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Everybody knows that spunky figure skater Tonya Harding was behind the plot to smash the knee of  her teammate and strongest competitor, Nancy Kerrigan. Right?

Well, maybe not. The astounding “I, Tonya” suggests that Harding  may not deserve her rap as the poster girl for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“Based on irony free, widely contradictory, totally true interviews” with the major participants (under the closing credits we see some of the actual news and police interview footage), this savage and breathtakingly entertaining black comedy from Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) is also a powerful dramatic and emotional experience, one that forces a total reassessment of the Harding/Kerrigan affair.

By the time it’s over you don’t know whether to laugh or weep.

Along the way it gives Aussie glamor girl Margot Robbie the opportunity to display world-class acting chops as Tonya, while cementing Allison Janney’s reputation as the cinema’s greatest bad mother (we’re talking a perf that leaves “Mommie Dearest” in the dust).

Steven Rogers’ screenplay (a huge step up from his usual stuff…”Hope Floats,” “Stepmom,” “Love the Coopers”) centers on a series of recreated interviews with the main characters, illustrating their memories with flashbacks.

The tone is set early on with Janney’s appearance as LaVona, the stage mother from hell. She’s like a human skull beneath a Beatles wig with an ever-smoldering cigarillo. In the present-day interview scenes she always has a parakeet on her shoulder.

LaVona is a foul-mouthed waitress and (mostly) single mother who motivated her little athlete with psychological and occasional physical abuse. (“She skated better when enraged.”) She practically crows at the memory of  Tonya wading out onto the rink for the first time and blowing away the privileged little girls who had been at it for years. (“Those bitches didn’t know what hit them.”)

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Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt

“THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN”  My rating: C 

112 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The Girl on the Train” is something of an anomaly — an otherwise mediocre film containing an Oscar-caliber performance.

That the award-worthy performance comes from Emily Blunt should surprise no one. This English actress has an uncanny ability to meld with diverse screen incarnations (she’s played Queen Victoria, a modern dancer, a futuristic kidkass Marine, an ethically compromised FBI agent). As Rachel — the alcoholic, anguished, out-of-control heroine of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel — Blunt is by turns painfully compelling and utterly alienating.

Too bad that the rest of Tate Taylor’s film is indifferent.

One could argue with some of the Hollywoodization at work here . The novel is set in Great Britain and its heroine is a slightly zaftig  sad sack who comes off like a tormented Bridget Jones. The film, on the other hand,  takes place in a bucolic suburb of New York City and Blunt can hardly be called overweight.

But that’s not the real problem. No, the film’s downfall is the screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, a hodgepodge of narrative feints that makes it almost impossible to relate to any of the characters and which leaves the cast members to emote to no good end while director Taylor (who had a vastly better film with “The Help”) must try to pave over the narrative hiccups and improbabilities with a slick visual style.

You can almost feel the desperation.

We first encounter Blunt’s Rachel on the commuter train that takes her to the city every day.  As the train passes the neighborhood where she used to live with her now-ex husband, Rachel is always on the lookout for the beautiful  young blonde woman who lives just a few doors down from her old home.

That would be Megan (Haley Bennett), who likes to lounge on her balcony (facing the train tracks) in her skimpy undies. Megan has a husband, Scott (Luke Evans, late of the “Hobbit” franchise), and frequently Rachel can see the couple passionately spooning through the windows or around a fire pit in the back yard.

In voiceover narration Rachel tells us that she has built a huge romantic fantasy around the couple. She doesn’t know them, but between slugs of vodka (she keeps the booze in one of those plastic sports-drink bottles), Rachel imagines herself part of their loving scenario.

Uh, have I mentioned that since her divorce Rachel has become a pathetic basket case?

Turns out that Megan is currently the nanny for Rachel’s ex, Tom (Justin Theroux), and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).  Poor needy Rachel is making life impossible for the couple, phoning at all hours of the day and night, and on one occasion sneaking into the house and walking out into the yard with their new baby. (Rachel and Tom couldn’t conceive, and this failure haunts her.)

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Eva Green

Eva Green

“MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN”  My rating: C 

127 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

Filmmaker Tim Burton’s latest is pretty much par for the course: Two hours of great art direction in search of a movie.

This adaptation of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” the first entry in the popular young adult series by novelist Ransom Riggs, might be classified as a goth version of the X-Men foundation story: Shunned children with supernatural powers are sheltered and trained in a special facility.

The main difference is that this story unfolds in semi-creepy Victorian circumstances that are right up Burton’s visual alley.

The film looks terrific — so dark and weird that even sunlit afternoons seem gloomy.

It’s got the ever-watchable Eva Green as the titular Miss Peregrine, a sort of witchy version of Mary Poppins who can transform herself into a falcon, and Terence Stamp as the occultist grandfather whose secrets launch the story.

What it hasn’t got is any sense of drama, forward motion or a central character interesting enough to warrant our attention.

Young Jake (Asa Butterfield) is a moderately miserable Florida teen (his clueless parents are portrayed by Chris O’Dowd and Kim Dickens, both wasted) who witnesses the death of his beloved grandfather under mysterious and alarming circumstances.

The child psychologist (Allison Janney) who subsequently treats the traumatized teen suggests that Jake go to Wales to confront the reality of Grandpa’s wild tales of the “peculiar children” who were his boyhood friends. Once Jake sees that it was all in the old man’s head, says the shrink, everything will be fine.

Or not.

Jake discovers that Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a rotting shell, flattened by a German bomb back in 1943. And then, magically, he finds himself transported back to the day of the disaster.

Not only is the school restored to its former gingerbread grandeur, but Jake meets Miss Peregrine and her oddly talented wards. Like the lighter-than-air girl (Ella Purnell) who must wear leaden boots lest she float away. Or the teen (Lauren McCrostie) who can start fires with her fingertips. (more…)

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way way Liam James“THE WAY, WAY BACK” My rating: B+ (Opening wide on July 19) 

103 minutes | MPAA rating:  PG-13

Coming-of-age-movies are a dime a dozen, and a plot outline of “The Way, Way Back” suggests just more of the same.

But five minutes into this first feature from the writing/directing team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (they wrote the screenplay for Alexander Payne’s marvelous “The Descendants”) you’ll realize that something special is at work. This movie is fall-over funny, emotionally resonant (without getting sticky) and astonishingly charitable toward a cast of characters who are, to put it mildly, majorly flawed.

Our  protagonist is Duncan (Liam James), a 14-year-old who appears to have no personality save for a bad case of sullenness. Duncan is stuck in the summer vacation from hell. His divorced and insecure mother Pam (Toni

Toni Collette, Steve Carell

Toni Collette, Steve Carell

Collette) has taken up with alpha-male car salesman Trent (Steve Carell in a straight role); now Duncan has been shanghaied into a summer at Trent’s beach house on Cape Cod.  Also on board is Trent’s high-schooler daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), who cannot mask her disdain for these interlopers.

Once installed on the shore Duncan can only observe with silent disgust the behavior of vacationing adults. Trent and Pam seem to party around the clock (after seeing this film you’ll think twice before drinking around your kids), acting like teenagers with Trent’s friend Kip (Rob Corddry) and his hot wife Joan (Amanda Peet).

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