“I, TONYA” (2017) Review

 

“I, TONYA” (2017) Review

Like others who had grown up in the mid-to-late 20th century, I remember the sports scandal that surrounded Olympic figure skaters, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. The media wallowed in the scandal on television screens, newspapers and magazines. It all culminated when both women participated in the 1994 Winter Olympics Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

Several months after the ’94 Olympic Games, NBC aired the 1994 television movie, “TONYA AND NANCY: THE INSIDE STORY”. Actually, the television movie appeared two months after the Lillehammer games. Did I see it? No. In fact, I did not even bother to watch the two skaters’ compete in the Olympic Games. I barely gave Harding or Kerrigan a thought through those years in which the scandal was mentioned or spoofed in a series of television episodes, movies, songs and documentaries. However, during the fall of 2017, I found myself watching the trailer for biopic about Harding called “I, TONYA”. The trailer seemed so intriguing and somewhat off-the-wall that for the first time in twenty-three years, I found myself intrigued by the subject and decided to watch it.

Directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers (one of the film’s co-producers), “I, TONYA” is basically a biography about Tonya Harding and her connection to the January 6, 1994 attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan. To be honest, Kerrigan played a supporting role – and not a very big one – in this biopic. This movie was all about Tonya. Starring Margot Robbie in the title role, “I, TONYA” followed Harding’s life from the age of four to the immediate aftermath of the Lillehammer Games. The movie was written a mockumentary style that featured fictional interviews of Harding and others who had a major role in her life:

*Ex-husband Jeff Gillooly
*LaVona Golden, Tonya’s husband
*Diane Rawlinson, Tonya’s first and last skating coach
*Shawn Eckhardt, Gillooly’s close friend and Tonya’s so-called bodyguard
*Martin Maddox, a fictional character who is basically a composite of many television producers that exploited the 1994 scandal

Ironically, Nancy Kerrigan is the only major character in this movie who was not interviewed. Perhaps Gillespie and Robbie, who served as one of the film’s other three producers, felt that the real Kerrigan would be offended at the thought of her cinematic counterpart being featured as a supporting character in a film about Harding. Judging from Kerrigan’s reaction to the movie, they were right. Another aspect of this film that I found surprising is that it was basically a biopic about Harding. The latter did not share top billing with her rival in this film, unlike the 1994 television film. It turns out that screenwriter/co-producer Steven Rogers found Harding’s personal life more complex and compelling. He also noticed that both Harding and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, had very conflicting accounts of what really happened with Kerrigan and realized this would make an interesting narrative for a film.

Was “I, TONYA” an interesting film? Well . . . yes. Yes, it was. But it had its flaws. Actually, I could only find one major flaw in the film’s narrative. For a film that allegedly was supposed to be about Harding from the viewpoints of several people, it seemed to me that aside from trainer Diane Rawlinson, only Harding’s point-of-view really seemed to matter. Or the one audiences were expected to take seriously. Most of Jeff Gillooly’s account of his relationship with Harding were portrayed with a grain of salt. At the same time, audiences were expected to accept his account of his relationship with Shawn Eckhardt as the real deal. This . . . contradiction seemed a bit hard to swallow at times. Look . . . I realize that Tonya Harding is at the center of this tale. But if one is going to utilize the narration of more than one character, all viewpoints should be equally judged on whether to take them seriously or not.

But you know what? I still found “I, TONYA” rather interesting. I also found it entertaining. One, screenwriter Steven Rogers and director Craig Gillespie took what could have been a basic Hollywood biopic and created what turned out to be one of the most original and somewhat bizarre film biographies I have ever seen, hands down. As I had earlier pointed out, Rogers and Gillespie utilized the “mockdocumentary” style to include scenes that feature interviews of the main characters. I thought this movie device was utilized with great wit, along with a dash of dark humor and great satisfaction for me. This was especially the case when both the screenwriter and director used it to break the “fourth wall” – a narrative device used when a character breaks away from the story to address the audience.

Many people have wondered why Rogers had focused his screenplay on Tonya Harding. Why not write a movie about both Harding and Nancy Kerrigan? Well . . . as I had earlier pointed out, such a story had already been told in that 1994 NBC television movie I had earlier mentioned. Rogers could have done a movie about Kerrigan and her family’s struggles to support her skating career. It probably would have been a very uplifiting film. But if one looks into Harding’s personal history . . . well, I might as well be frank . . . it is the stuff from which movie biopics are made. Between Harding’s contentious and abusive relationships with both her mother La Vona Golden and first husband Jeff Gillooly, her earthy and frank personality and her more aggressive and modern style of skating that led her to clash with the judges . . . I mean, honestly, can you really blame both Steven Rogers and Craig Gillespie for choosing to do a movie about her? I certainly cannot. Between the off-the-wall directorial style that Gillespie had utilized and Rogers’ sharp screenplay, is it any wonder that I found this movie so fascinating to watch?

What I found even more fascinating is that the movie put the screws to everyone – Harding’s mother, ex-husband, his friend Shawn Eckhardt, the men recruited to attack Kerrigan, the ice skating organizations (both national and international) and yes . . . even Harding herself. Whenever the script had the former ice skating making excuses for some of her questionable actions, it also revealed her excuses or comments as lies. But the most interesting moment occurred when Harding (as narrator) turned to the camera and made this comment about the media and the public’s reaction to her legal travails:

” It was like being abused all over again. Only this time it was by you. All of you. You’re all my attackers too.”

Now . . . one could dismiss this as petulant complaining from the leading character’s part. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not. But I could not help thinking there was a great deal of truth in those words. As much as the media and the public loves worshiping a celebrity, once the latter slips or make a mistake, both will bash or drag that celebrity through the mud for as long as they can. It almost seemed as if they revel in that celebrity’s misfortune. Like I said, Harding and those close to her were not the only ones skewered in this film.

In order to make a movie work, one needs a first-rate story, director and cast. “I, TONYA” was very lucky to have Steven Rogers and Craig Gillespie as its screenwriter and director. It was also blessed with a first-rate cast. The movie featured solid performances from the likes of Julianne Nicholson, Mckenna Grace, the very entertaining Bobby Cannavale, Bojana Novakovic and Caitlin Carver. However, the performances that really impressed me came from four people – Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Paul Walter Hauser and Allison Janney.

Paul Walter Hauser gave a very funny performance as the clueless Shawn Eckhardt, whose enthusiasm toward his role as Harding’s “bodyguard” may have led him to go too far. Sebastian Stan gave a very complex performance as Harding’s first husband, Jeff Gillooly. Stan portrayed his character with a combination of quiet charm and violent intensity. Frankly, he should have been nominated for his performance. The wonderful Allison Janney won both a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for her portrayal of Harding’s sharp-tongued and abrasive mother, La Vona Golden. I could never decide whether the character was funny or horrifying. But thanks to Janney’s performance, she was very interesting. Margot Robbie (who also served as one of the film’s producers) is the last actress I could see portraying Tonya Harding. If I must be blunt, she is taller and better looking than the Olympic skater. And yet . . . she gave one of the best performances of her career (so far) as the ambitious and aggressive Harding. I really admire how Robbie managed to convey so many aspects of the skater’s personality without being overwhelmed. She really earned her Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.

Aside from the story, the direction and performances, there were other aspects of “I, TONYA” that I admired. My mind was not particularly blown away by Nicolas Karakatsanis’ cinematography. But I thought his work served both the film’s story and setting rather well. I could also say the same about Jennifer Johnson’s costume designs, which more than an adequate job of serving both the film’s late 20th century setting and Harding’s historic skating costumes. I do not recall Peter Nashel’s score. But I must admit that I admire how he utilize well known tunes from the late 20th century throughout the film. The one technical aspect of “I, TONYA” that I truly admired was Tatiana S. Riegel’s editing. I thought she did a superb job in the way she shaped Harding’s tale from Gillespie’s narrators, fourth walls and sequences on the ice rink. For her work, Riegel earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Editing and won the American Cinema Editors Award for Best Edited Feature Film – Comedy or Musical.

I never thought I would find myself watching a movie about Olympic ice skater, Tonya Harding. Hell, I never thought I would end up enjoying it. Yet, I did enjoy “I, TONYA” very much. I thought it was one of the most bizarre and fascinating biopics I have ever seen. In fact, thanks to director Craig Gillespie, screenwriter Steven Rogers and a superb cast led by Margot Robbie, “I, TONYA” proved to be one of my favorite movies of 2017.

 

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“There’s no such thing as truth. It’s bullshit. Everyone has their own truth, and life just does whatever the fuck it wants.”

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“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: Top Five Favorite Season Three (2012) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Three (2012) of HBO’s “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”



“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON THREE (2012) EPISODES

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1. (3.11) “Two Imposters” – In this nail biting episode, Atlantic City political boss Enoch “Nucky” Thompson goes on the run, when nemesis “Gyp” Rossetti and his crew take over the city.; forcing Nucky to seek Albert “Chalky” White’s help. Following Rossetti’s takeover of the city, Gillian Darmody forces henchman Richard Harrow to leave her whorehouse.



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2. (3.09) “The Milkmaid’s Lot” – Wounded from the bombing of Babette’s in the previous episode, a feverish Nucky struggles to maintain control of his family and operations. Meanwhile, Margaret Thompson plots to runaway with her lover and Nucky’s henchman, Owen Sleater.



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3. (3.12) “Margate Sands” – In this bloody finale, Richard Harrow takes matters into his own hands, as he attempts to get young Tommy Darmody out of Gillian’s whorehouse, now occupied by Rossetti’s men. Chalky White, Al Capone help Nucky engage in a bloody battle to regain control of Atlantic City on the latter’s behalf.



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4. (3.01) “Resolution” – Nucky, his family, friends and business colleagues bring in the New Year of 1923; while former Treasury agent Nelson Van Alden finds himself as a Chicago door-to-door salesman in this colorful season premiere.



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5. (3.07) “Sunday Best” – The Easter holiday is the scene of a family reunion between Nucky and Eli’s families. “Gyp” Rossetti spends a despondent holiday with his family, while Richard takes young Tommy to dine with Julia Sagorsky and her hostile father.

Controversial Finale: “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” (2.12) “To the Lost”

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CONTROVERSIAL FINALE: “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” (2.12) “To the Lost”

The Season Two finale of “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”(2.12) “To the Lost” has been viewed as an end of an era for a good number of the series’ viewers and television critics. It marked an event that left some fans satisfied and others in a state of anger and resentment. But one cannot deny that this event – along with a few others – allowed the series to enter a new phase for its third season. 

One of the changes that materialized in “To the Lost” turned out to be the marriage between Atlantic City’s re-installed political boss, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson and his Irish-born mistress, the widowed Margaret Schroeder. Although both harbored feelings for each other, their marriage obviously seemed like one of convenience. Margaret had received a summons from Federal prosecutor Esther Randolph as a possible witness against Nucky for her husband’s murder back in Season One. By “To the Lost”, Margaret had embraced religion as a reaction to her daughter becoming a victim of the polio outbreak. When Nucky learned about her summons, he asked her to marry him in order to prevent her from testifying against him and to avoid serving time in prison. Margaret agreed. But she had also hoped to convince Nucky to do the same – before and after the charges against him were dropped. To her disappointment, Nucky revealed no interest in embracing religion. Worse, he had signed over a piece of valuable property to Margaret, when he feared that the Federal government might confiscate his possessions.

When Margaret learned about the murder of Alderman James Neary – an enemy of Nucky’s – she immediately assumed he was behind the crime. As it turned out, she was wrong. Nucky’s former protégée, Jimmy Darmody, committed the deed with friend Richard Harrow’s help, in an effort to win the political boss’ forgiveness for his betrayal. However, Margaret went ahead and signed over Nucky’s land to the Catholic Church. The ironic aspect of Margaret’s reasoning behind her actions was that she harbored a secret of her own. In the season’s seventh episode, (2.07) “Peg of Old”, she had sex with Owen Sleater, Nucky’s new bodyguard. This happened at a time when Nucky was facing an assassination attempt arranged by Jimmy. Margaret eventually found the nerve to confess her infidelity to the local priest and to God. Margaret seemed willing to judge Nucky for his lies – real and imagined. Yet, she failed to find the courage to confess her sin of infidelity to Nucky.

Albert “Chalky” White, the unofficial leader of Atlantic City’s African-American community, had to endure numerous difficulties during Season Two. The Ku Klux Klan attacked his bootleg operation in the season’s premiere episode,(2.01) “21”, resulting in the deaths of several of his men. Chalky managed to kill one of the Klansmen during the attack. He ended up being charged with murder. Nucky’s attorney managed to get him out of jail on bail, but Chalky still faced a trial. This ended when Jimmy managed to get the State Attorney’s office to drop the murder charges. Jimmy, along with Richard’s help, attacked a Klan gathering at gunpoint, shot two men and demanded the men who had attacked Chalky’s warehouse in “21”. After delivering the men to Chalky and the latter’s new right-hand man, former jail cell nemesis Dunn Purnsley, Jimmy asked the former to contact Nucky on his behalf. This arrest would lead to the first of two meetings between Jimmy and Nucky and the former’s controversial death that ended Season Two.

Like many other fans of “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”, I had made the mistake of assuming that Nucky would eventually forgive Jimmy for his Season Two transgressions. After all, the Jimmy Darmody character was the second lead in the series. After watching “To the Lost”, I realize that I had been living in a fantasy. So had Jimmy. The deaths of his wife Angela and father, the Commodore, in (2.11) “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” had left him shaken to his core. I suspect this also led him to realize it would be in his best interest to seek forgiveness from Nucky. Jimmy engaged in a campaign to make up for his past transgressions – which included a murder attempt on Nucky. With Richard’s help, he nabbed the Klansmen who was responsible for the attack on Chalky’s bootlegging operation; set up both Alderman Jim Neary and Eli Thompson for election fraud, before faking Neary’s death as a suicide; and claimed that Eli was responsible for introducing the idea of a hit on Nucky. But all of this did not work. It was Richard who pointed out that no matter what Jimmy did, Nucky would never forgive him.

Now that I think about it, I found myself wondering why Jimmy never considered the possibility that Nucky was not the forgiving type . . . until it was too late. Surely he must have remembered Nucky’s reaction when he and Al Capone had stolen Arnold Rothstein’s whiskey shipment in the series’ premiere, (1.01) “Boardwalk Empire”. Nucky had been so angry that he fired Jimmy as his driver and demanded that the World War I veteran pay $3,000 as compensation for committing the robbery in his town and without his consent. Jimmy was forced to flee from Atlantic City to Chicago, when a witness to the heist reappeared. And even though Nucky asked Jimmy to return to help him deal with his war against Rothstein, he remained angry over the heist. Now if Nucky was unable to completely forgive Jimmy for the whiskey heist in Season One; his chances of forgiving the younger man for an attempted murder seemed pretty moot. And no one – including myself – seemed to realize this.

I am not condoning Nucky’s murder of Jimmy. I believe that what he had done was wrong. But I must admit that I found some of the outraged reactions against the crime rather puzzling. Although some had expressed disappointment over Jimmy’s sanction of the murder attempt on Nucky in “Peg of Old”, the level of anger toward Jimmy seemed particularly mute in comparison to their anger toward Nucky for his actions in “To the Lost”. This same television season also saw the death of lead actor Sean Bean in another HBO series, “GAME OF THRONE”. Some had expressed surprise at the turn of events, but not anger.

Some fans might point out that it was Nucky’s younger brother and Atlantic City’s sheriff, the resentful Eli Thompson, who had initiated the idea of killing Nucky. Jimmy even told Nucky of Eli’s participation in the hit. I suspect that Nucky suspected that Jimmy had told the truth. But he had considered two things. One, Eli was his brother. And two, it was Jimmy who gave the final decision to have Nucky killed. In the end, even Eli failed to completely escape Nucky’s wrath. Although his life was spared, the political boss forced him to plead guilty to the corruption charges and face at least two years in prison (or less with parole). Something tells me that Eli’s career as Sheriff of Atlantic County had ended permanently.

Jimmy had also been wrong to order the hit on Nucky. Yet, the level of anger toward his act was barely minimal. Were these fans upset that Nucky had succeeded, where Jimmy had failed? Or was their anger due to the loss of the younger and good-looking Michael Pitt, who had NOT been the series’ lead? Because no one had expressed similar sentiments over the older Bean’s departure from “GAME OF THRONES”. Was this major outrage over Jimmy’s death had more to do with superficial preference than moral outrage? It is beginning to seem so to me.

I had enjoyed Michael Pitt’s portrayal of the troubled Jimmy Darmody, during his two-year stint on “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”. But unlike many other fans, I cannot accept the views of some that the series had jumped the shark with his character’s death. I refuse to claim that the series’ quality will remain the same, or get better or worse. I can only make that judgment after Series Three has aired. But the very talented Steve Buscemi remains at the lead as Enoch “Lucky” Thompson. And creator Terence Winter continues to guide the series. Considering the number of changes that marked“To the Lost”, I am curious to see how the story will continue.

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: Top Five Favorite Season Two (2011) Episodes

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Two (2011) of HBO’s “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”

 

“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON TWO (2011) EPISODES

1. (2.11) “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” – Following his wife Angela’s death, Jimmy Darmody recalls his school days at Princeton and a fateful visit from his mother, Gillian. Nucky stumbles across a discovery that ends Agent Van Alden’s career as a Federal lawman. And a confrontation between Jimmy and Gillian over Angela ends with the death of the Commodore.

2. (2.12) “To the Lost” – In this season finale, the Federal charges against Nucky are dropped after he weds Margaret. Van Alden flees Atlantic City for Cicero, Illinois. And Jimmy seeks to regain Nucky’s forgiveness, after his betrayal against the political boss falls apart.

3. (2.10) “Georgia Peaches” – While Jimmy deals with the workers’ strike and Nucky’s new supply of Irish whiskey, Philadelphia mobster Manny Horvitz seeks revenge for Jimmy’s failed attempt on his life.

4. (2.07) “Peg of Old” – Margaret visits her brother’s home in Brooklyn and makes a choice that endangers her relationship with Nucky. The latter’s life is in danger, when Jimmy sanctions a hit on his former mentor.

5. (2.04) “What Does the Bees Do?” – In this episode, Nucky fortifies his alliances with Arnold Rothstein and new bodyguard, Owen Sleater. The Commodore suffers a massive stroke and Chalky White faces problems with the black community and at home.