“A Wrinkle In Time”

Madeleine L’ Engle 1962 s sci-fi teen novel is put to the big screen with only some success.  Ava Du Vernay directs Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon in the tale that champions love of self, love of family, and love of humanity. These three celestial beings are a tad didactic and full of pep talks and positive and supportive voicings. “ Love is always there even if you can’t feel it” is pretty hope-filled. Given that the age of most viewers will be from second to sixth grade is a wrap, but subtlety would have won out, I think.

Our protagonist, Meg Murray, is played stunningly by Storm Reid. She will become a role model for many young girls, and it is cool to have the “mean girls” learn that they are the crazies.

Reading, science, and intelligence are trumpeted, which are good things. The philosophy of “ staying focused on the light when dark approaches” holds forth, too. Evil is acknowledged: centering oneself is a must. Fear turns to rage which, in turn, turns to violence. Imaginative warriors are needed. Models of great earth warriors are Einstein, Mandela, and Ghandi.

Charles Wallace (Meg’s younger , genius brother) and she must make a plan to rescue their father. They are given three gifts to aid them: a magnifying glass to see what is enfolded, the gift of your faults, and a command to stay together.

Aninated scenes are colorful and the cabbage ride being my favorite. The pre-teen love interest of Calvin will keep middle schoolers giggling. And “abandoned children” everywhere will toughen up. Enjoy the quotations and the credits given; and parents who want to “ shake hands with the universe”, remember to hold your children’s hands, too. Message heavy this film is.

“I, Tonya”

What a delightful surprise! The film’s trailers had left me cold , but “I, Tonya” may just turn out to be one of my favorites of 2017. Its title “I, Tonya” assuredly reflects “I, Claudius” in the plotting, scheming, and poisoning arena. More than a “mockumentary”, this superbly fresh film forces us to rethink our initial judgments on the event that banned Tonya Harding from ever again competing on ice.

Steven Rogers’ screenplay is pitch-perfect. And the same can be said of Craig Gillespie’s seamless directing. The tension build-up shows all the ways to disable people, making us as sympathetic to Harding as we were initially to her Olympic teammate, Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 when she was purposely kneecapped. We are all implicated in our talk show laughter at “trashy Tonya”, and while Tonya is never glamorized or completely exonerated in this film, she is shown as the abused, feisty underdog~the polar opposite of the reigning figure-skating elite.

Though five inches taller than Harding, Australian actress Margot Robbie captures the fiery swagger and spirit of a little girl with ice princess dreams. Robbie, herself an amateur ice hockey league skater, was helped by skating doubles Heidi Mungy and Anna Malkova. Visual effects and actual footage of Tonya’s routines also serve to bolster Robbie and celebrate the beauty of the sport.

The film does not move chronologically, but begins with interviews. Flashbacks serve emotional purpose. One by one, the principals tell their truth, or not.  Most alarming is Allison Janney’s portrayal of LaVona Golden, Tonya’s mother, for which she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress with Cruella De Vil flair.

Not since “Mommy Dearest” has a birth mother shown such villainous disregard for the well-being of her child. Yet, until the final coup-d-etat, she believes she is raising a strong, self-sufficient child with her “hair brush and knife throwing methods”. Her scathing admonition to Tonya contributes to her portrait as a rancorous bitch: “ You fuck dumb: you don’t marry dumb.” The irony is not lost coming from a women who has had six husbands. Tonya is the fifth child of husband number four.

On the ice at three and a half, Tonya (here Maizie Smith) proves her mettle and wins the coach who will drive her to be the first American woman skater ever to do the triple axel. The talented McKenna Grace has a few extraordinary scenes where she plays  the eight to twelve year-old Tonya. She will steal your heart as she did in “Gifted” (2017).

Robbie, while a standout and worthy of the Oscar here,  has an awkward time playing a fifteen year-old (as does Sebastian Stan as Tonya’s boyfriend, and soon to be husband, Jeff Gillooly. ) Putting braces on Robbie’s  teeth did not erase the years, or Robbie natural poise. And Jeff’s, “You Like food?” for a first date icebreaker seems forced. LaVona accompanies them to the diner, by the way.

Domestic violence, guns, and alcohol all play out with lawyers, restraining orders and reunions. The tone of “laugh til you cry” is modulated to have the viewers’ emotions roiled. It works big time. Director, cast and writer mesh to amazing effect.

Margot Robbie’s face is unforgettable as she applies her blush-like war paint before high-stepping it onto the ice. She is a powerhouse in purple.

Julianne Nicholson plays the sensible coach, Diane Rawlinson. She is a foil to the sleazy and the irrational; yet, she demands that Tonya play the game for her second chance: drop the metallic blue nails and the unconventional music, spit out the gum, watch the foul-mouth tirades, and ease up on the cigarette smoking. Tonya’s asthma inhaler is often seen on the ice. A favorite close-up shot is of her skate blade slicing the butt of her tossed smoke.

The score is well-matched from “Dream a Little Dream of Me” to “Barracuda”. The last shots of the 2003 Tonya being punched in the boxing ring  are horrendous. When she states that “violence is what I knew anyway”, we get the irony. She had become a punching bag, spitting blood as blue-collar scrapper, and staring at us from the mat’s surface.

Gender, class and politics, all play a role in mirroring and satirizing a fallen star, her associates, and the expectations of the era.

Shawn Eckhardt, the “bodyguard” and delusional emasculated male, is another sad, damaged character. “None of my women get the last word.” , he chortles as he stuffs his caramel corn into his mouth. As the perpetrator of much of the racketeering, psychological warfare, and assault, actor Paul Walter Hauser eases naturally  into the role. Docu-drama never looked easier.

Bozos hanging out at “The Golden Buddha” at the stroke of midnight fuel the humor. One only wishes that virtual reality gaming might keep RL ( real life) safer for the next generation. With avatars there may be  less infiltrating in the real world. Shawn’s brags of being four steps ahead of the FBI. And Tonya mimics her own mockers as she smirks: “ a secret agent who lives with his parents”.  As the lyrics are sung “ How can you stop the sun from shining, how can a loser ever win”, viewers will think that the disgraced Tonya won with this movie. And we will think that we did, too: A must see.

“Get Out”

 Jordan Peele’s directional debut is both a race satire and a horror flick. It begins presumably with a interracial romance. Chris, played by Brit, Daniel Kaluuya, is profiled while  “suburb walking”. He is meeting girlfriend Rose ‘s family for the first time.  The Michael Abels’ musical score begins with “Run, Rabbit, Run”, and it uses this Noel Gay and Ralph Butler WWII song throughout the film. Our trepidation and Chris’s is set.

The script is well-written and the pacing is superb. We want this couple to work. Why Peele, who is the product of a mixed-marriage and himself married to a White woman, doesn’t let it is to underscore the film’s point that racism kills. I consoled my romantic self with the fact that I don’t like Allison Williams that much anyway. She comes across as tough and haunty, too sure of herself for her young age. Distrust the masses, and here distrust your partner. Her character never gives a clue to her true loyalties. Rose understands all the micro-aggressions thrown at her honey. They seem in love. We hope for an “us against the world” foray. A scene where a deer is killed as the car headlights glow presages another end. Chris’ eyes look like the dying deer’s.

Enter the parents. Neurosurgeon Dad, named powerfully as Dean Armatage, is played by Bradley Whitford. His souvenir showing and travel bragging is given the apt cliche:  ” It’s such a privilege to be able to experience another person’s culture.” His Frankenstein operations remind us of the genre.

Psychiatrist mother, named sweetly as Missy, is played by Catherine Keener. Oft type-cast as the hippie liberal, Keener here plays to type. Condescension is equated with liberals in this film, as is phoniness and worse. When Missy stirs her tea cup, Chris is hypnotized and sent ” to the sunken place”. A trauma from his past is used to disorientate him. Can he get out ? The black servant holdovers from Rose’s grandparents have not been able to. The groundskeeper, Walter, and the housekeeper, Georgina, and Rosy’s creepy, Kung Fu brother all add to the unease for photographer Chris. Photos, ironically, show him the way to run, and it is not into Rose’s arms.

One of the funniest and most loyal character is Rod, Chris’s TSA ( Transportation Security Administration) buddy, who house sits and walks Chris’s dog.  Rod ( Milton  “Lil Rel”  Howery  ) invokes auras of Jeffrey Daumer as he tells Chris, ” All I am doing is connecting the dots!” He interprets Chris’s retelling of the Armitage’s partygoers by yelling “sex slaves!” to tip Chris off.

The three phrases of ” brain surgery” and the violent antler pitchforking and strangling are brutal to watch. Here the film has a slasher quality. The violence is in overkill. Rod, again saves the downward spiral with his response to Chris’ ” How did you know?” ” I’m a fucking TSA !”  Being proud of your work is way better than some trophy bride, I hear.