Riley Stearns’ new film ‘The Art of Self-Defense’ could be seen as untoward, almost depraved, because it’s so wicked. Don’t get me wrong with the words I’ve chosen to describe it. It’s wicked good! It tells the story of a thirty-five-year-old dog owner. I’ll stop there a moment. When you see the movie, you’ll see why I did. Read more
Life has become a balancing act for Adonis Creed. Between personal obligations and training for his next big fight, he is up against the challenge of his life. Facing an opponent with ties to his family’s past only intensifies his impending battle in the ring. Rocky Balboa is there by his side through it all and, together, Rocky and Adonis will confront their shared legacy, question what’s worth fighting for, and discover that nothing’s more important than family. Creed II is about going back to basics to rediscover what made you a champion in the first place, and remembering that, no matter where you go, you can’t escape your history.
Director: Steven Caple Jr.
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris, Andre Ward, Florian “The Big Nasty” Munteanu, Dolph Lundgren, Russell Hornsby
Writer: Sylvester Stallone
Producers: Irwin Winkler, Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Kevin King-Templeton, Sylvester Stallone
Executive Producers: Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, Guy Riedel
Distributor: MGM, Warner Bros. Pictures
Tonya Harding always wanted fame and wanted to be a household name but not from being a criminal. She wanted to be known for her skills on the ice. She wanted the world to know she could perform one of the most difficult jumps on a pair of ice skates ever. At the time, she was the only woman to be able to perform, the nearly impossible to land triple axel jump. Only a few people had been able to master it when she discovered she could. The jump is well described in the film by a proud Tonya.
This film is shown in more of ‘mockumentary’ style, such as ‘Best in Show’ and ‘Spinal Tap.’ It bounces back and forth between showing you Tonya’s life, characters talking about ‘the incident’ and about Tonya herself who was played with measured empathy by Margot Robbie. To be honest, by the end of the film, you want to stand up and applaud Tonya for having made it through childhood.
Her trash mouthed, chain-smoking mother, LaVona Golden, is played remarkably and frighteningly well by Allison Janney. She was always frigid and never lovingly supportive, but don’t say that to her face. She was never going to be the parent of the year so Lavona embraced the challenge fully to see how bad she could be… or so it seems in the film. She put tiny Tonya on an ice rink when she was only four years of age.
An abused child, Tonya tried her best to please her mother but never really could. Her coach knew she was too young but did accept the child, however, acceptance only went so far. Being that LaVona worked as a waitress and didn’t have much of an income, Tonya was never fully welcomed in the ice-skating circles, not by the other skaters and certainly not by the judges who prefer the girls look like princesses and not paupers when they’re on the ice. Try as she might to get people to like her and grade her on her talent, not on her wardrobe, they never did. This rejection was something that followed Tonya from day one through her last day on the ice in competition.
LaVona treated her daughter with as little kindness as possible so that she got used to it. Life wasn’t going to be easy and she didn’t want her daughter to be weak and unable to handle anything that came her way, so instead of giving her words of encouragement in a loving manner, she emotionally injured her with words that pained and hurt her. Listening to her convey her thoughts about Tonya was uncomfortably amusing and Janney made the situation almost laughable; that a mother would speak such things of her daughter was unfathomable. Watching her treat Tonya so horribly through the years, in the flashback scenes, was shocking but not really funny.
Instead of making her tough, it made Tonya bitter and sent her into the arms of the first man who would have her, Jeff Gillooly (Stan), who was mentally and physically abusive, which was exactly what Tonya knew. Theirs is a volatile relationship, with bigger downs than ups, but he supports her dreams, as much as a narcissist can. When he gets violent enough to make her leave, he always sweet talks her into going back.
I don’t want to give away exactly how we find out Jeff is involved in the incident and how involved Tonya is in taking skater Nancy Kerrigan out of the picture for the Olympics, in case you don’t know. I will say that actor Paul Walter Hauser’s, Shawn Eckhardt, has to be one of the biggest boobs in the history of film, and you’ll love his character.
Watching this all play out, Jeff and his goons complete incompetence and inability to keep a story straight, is well worth the purchase price, as is all of the acting and the CGI involved in creating the jumps. There’s not much you won’t like about the film.
It’s a tragic story presented as a comedy much like Tonya’s life itself. In the end, she didn’t like being famous. In the end, she was a punchline. The deck was always stacked against her… she never stood a chance.
*Stay at the end for some real footage.
The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.
Directed by: Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Jessica Mcnamee, Natalie Morales and Fred Armisen
Chuck is based on a true story. Interestingly enough the film is based on the man who Sylvester Stallone based his Award Winning film Rocky on and that is Chuck Wepner (Schreiber) of Bayonne, New Jersey, who was a humble yet moderately successful prizefighter… and liquor salesman. His nickname was the ‘Bayonne Bleeder.’ This came from his childhood and stuck with him because one thing he could do almost better than anyone was take a punch. It didn’t matter how many times a fighter hit him, he took it and kept coming back for more. He and his manager, Al Braverman (Perlman), had a ‘Never stop the fight!’ agreement. Wepner seemed also to be a self-centered narcissist, though he’d never see himself that way… putting himself above all others was his style and only when he needed help did he truly allow people into his life.
In 1975 he was going to get his big break. He was given the chance to fight George Foreman but suddenly, Muhammed Ali beats Foreman and the fight is off. He’s crushed as his future depended on a match of this size. At what seemed like the final hour, his manager gets a call from promoter Don King. Since Chuck is a white fighter with stamina, King has the idea that he’d be ideal for a fight with Ali. Odds of Wepner winning are Forty to One.
Only someone like Chuck would love those odds. Then we’re in the ring where it’s a much different story. It’s a good match where Chuck admits to liking to ‘wear him down with my face.’ The crowd loses its mind for the butt kicking he’s taking, but he sends a surprised Ali (Pooch Hall) to the mat once and the crowd loves him even more. Chuck’s inner dialogue during the fight is insanely comical and shows how erratic his thinking was and how unstable his mind was at the time. If you don’t want to know the outcome, don’t read this part (skip to the next paragraph) but at the end of the fight, and much in the same way that Balboa ends his fight with Creed, he almost ‘Goes the Distance’ with Ali. Just nineteen seconds shy of making it the entire fight, the fight is called and it’s a technical win for Ali.
I enjoyed this film. The 70’s music and the styles are represented incredibly well; the overall look of the film itself shouts another time. The characters are great. Chuck shows you who he is before this fight and who he becomes after the fight… neither guy particularly pleasant but somehow still loveable. When he’s depressed he looks for women to make him feel better… which doesn’t go over well with his wife, Phyliss, played by Elisabeth Moss who should get recognized for this performance. She’s frightening as she approaches Chuck sitting with his latest conquest. Her performance is excellent. She has to hold the family together by herself because her husband, who desires to get knocked out for a living, can’t take the beating once it’s over. She alone is worth seeing this movie.
I really liked Chuck. It’s perfect for both men and women; not at all just a guy film, despite the subject matter. It’s interesting to learn that this boxer was the inspiration for Rocky and intriguing to watch him interact with Sly before the making of Rocky II. It’s also a fascinating look at the relationship between men and women. A quote by Chuck at the end of the film sums up his views flawlessly. ‘Sometimes life is like a movie… and sometimes, it’s better.’ He has enjoyed being Chuck as Rocky enjoyed being who he was. Winning or losing, it didn’t matter, as long as he was in the ring.
Director Jason Connery, son of actor Sean Connery, is usually in front of the camera. Appearing in over seventy films, he now has five directing credits to his name. Tommy’s Honour, a piece about the birth of the golf pro of today, is his latest achievement. Appearing in Film Festivals across the globe, the Phoenix Film Festival being one of them where it had the honour of closing the fest, it’s getting great buzz and as it’s now at a theatre near you, I must recommend you see it. It’s an engaging movie with history about the evolution of the professional golfer and in my opinion; you don’t have to be a fan of the game to enjoy the spirit within the movie. Interestingly enough, the players went from being paid employees, hired to play the game for rich men who bet on the winners, to then playing on their own terms… and it would not have been possible if not for Young Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden) who made it happen.
At the time Tommy was the best player, one that the members of the club St. Andrews for whom he played, could always count on. He, well aware of his skills and knowledge of the game, refused to continue to play and only take home a small percentage of his own winnings. Not appreciating how the men of St. Andrews have always treated his father Old Tom, (Peter Mullan), he rejects the idea of ending up like his dad, crawling around on the ground setting up Tees for men who only looked down at him. Tommy decides it’s time to redesign how players are seen and how the game is played and with one game he does just that. Shocking every man in the club, especially Alexander Boothby (Sam Neil), he makes some requests that the members deny, fearing that next Tommy will expect to be called a Gentleman and demand entrance through the sacred door.
Tom, greenskeeper at St. Andrews, who’s responsible for establishing many of the game’s rules as well as making their balls and clubs, is fine with his station in life. When Tommy suggests rising above it, he gets a little nervous. Being a much better course designer these days than player, Tom is no longer asked to play; therefore he can no longer bring home the extra money his family needs. Having his son around to help run things and support the family has always been the plan. What starts concerning Tom, even more, is that at the time Tommy decides to carve his own path in golf, he also meets a woman, Meg (Ophelia Lovibond), who he falls instantly in love. Now his parents worry that he, along with this woman they do not trust, will destroy his future… and theirs.
What accent heavy dialogue you can make out in Tommy’s Honour, (you’re likely to miss a few words here and there so it’s worth mentioning), will affect you. It’s a thought-provoking and compelling story. With the characters being set up so well, you root for Young Tommy right away and want him to achieve his goals and prosper. You also feel for his family but when Meg enters the scene that may start to turn. As previously mentioned, Tommy has never been encouraged to dream or to love but he does now. With what he has achieved and where he sees his future heading, he insists on being his own man, no matter who likes it or who doesn’t. Suddenly, a sports movie about Tommy planning to tour different courses collecting his winnings and forever changing the face of the game turns into a heavy drama. Be prepared when it does… that’s all I’ll say about that.
Ophelia Lovibond is fabulous as she faces Tommy’s unforgiving mother and Peter Mullan expresses Old Tom impressively through not only dialogue but his face, especially when he sees his actions has cost him so much. This is an incredible cast in a wonderful story. See it playing in Phoenix at the theatres listed below or at a theatre near you, today.