I Tonya


I, Tonya is an odd movie. It is a tale of America seen through the eyes of Tonya Harding and her family, and the various downfalls that occurred hereafter. If that seems like a trite way to put a bow on a movie, to summarize altogether, then it’s because this is a fragmented kind of film. Taking a different look at the life of Tonya Harding instead of just a simple dramatization of the incident with Nancy Kerrigan, this is a life story condensed into two hours. The director did a fantastic job in breaking up a rags-to-riches-to-rags story, and making the portrayal of Tonya Harding a reeling piece of work. At least, the concept of tackling on both this figure and traumatizing incident can work, to some varying degree.

However, before jumping into what doesn’t work, let me start off by saying all the performances of the main cast work great. Sebastian Stan as Tonya Harding’s husband is a wild departure, from the stoic manners of the Winter Soldier, to this manic, naive, abusive and controlling husband. He is a laugh riot that is so saddening to watch, he is a great encapsulation of a male that cannot keep himself straight, and tries to injure someone else, in this case Tonya, to keep himself feeling right. Allison Janney is fantastic as Tonya Harding’s mom, with a detached yet intense silence and disapproving stare always emanating from her performance. But, this is the Margot Robbie show, for good reason.

 Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding is a powerhouse performance, who has to juggle so many different aspects of Tonya Harding, that it must have been maddening to perform. From the young, rebellious Tonya Harding up to her ice skating highs, down to her conspiratorial “Get Nancy Kerrigan” lows. In between that are the “interviews” where Tonya (Margot Robbie in baggier clothes and harsher makeup), and explains the “American Dream” to the audience. It’s a great performance, and without her as the title character, the film would not work at all. Still, it’s not a great film. 

Why I’m being so reserved, and detached, from the film is that the film’s process and development does just that: it is a weirdly personal and detached style of film. From the get-go, instead of the usual autobiographical-style of following the character from birth to “death” aka the end of their careers. In this piece, however oddly it works, the dramatization of both this major figure skater and the events she was involved with are cut apart, not chronologically, but visually, via editing in different (dramatized) interviews/perspectives, the film backtracks, fast forwards, stays stuck, and then keeps on going. On first viewing, it’s a great rush, something unexpected in a “biographical” film about a controversial sports figure. But looked at closely, and the structure inhibits the film, keeping things chopped up weakens the pace of the film, and puts a dent in any emotional development for the characters/story. That is not to say there isn’t emotional moments, as Tonya putting on her game face after Nancy Kerrigan’s  knee has been attacked is fantastic film making. But the structure both differentiates the film and weakens it, unfortunately.

The most significant kind of thematic motif in this film is the infamy of media attention. This movie is focused on one ice skater’s story, is that of fame and the media loving to create highlighted further when Tonya’s ex-husband discovers that the media, who were camped out day after day for any gossip, have now moved on after Tonya’s verdict. A TV in the background signifies the newest celebrity infamy story that the media will salivate over: O.J. Simpson and the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.  This kind of understated moment is a great example of subtle film making, and if only there were more moments like this, or moments like Tonya Harding putting on her makeup before the biggest skating trial of her life, that would make this film a guaranteed classic. Unfortunately, it is not so, but it is still a decent watch. 

Movie Trailer

Transformers, or: How the Hype of something being Awful clouds the reality, aka Too long titles for movie reviews by Ismael Santos


So, this film indeed happened, only a few months at the time of this writing(October 2017), and I feel a strange need to put down some thoughts onto this.

For starters, of course the plot is all over the place, with fake-outs and odd “mythology” building, from Optimus Prime being turned “evil” and the planet of Cybertron hurtling  “Unicron” aka Earth, to there being twelve Transformers on Earth during the time of King Arthur, to Anthony Hopkins talking about Transformers as if it’s Shakespearean Theater Hour, and so on. This is a ridiculous movie, incomprehensible and visually assaulting the senses.The plot, of Optimus Prime as the “bad guy”, does not last long, and inevitably ends with him coming back to the Autobots side to fight some malevolent robot called Quintessa, who will show up alive for the sequel, as is expected.

And yet, it is not the worst film ever made. It is not even the worst Transformers film ever made. Transformers 1 was an odd film that didn’t make much sense and had horrible humor. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen was terrible. 3: Dark of the Moon was awful, and many thought that Shia Labeouf was the problem, that Megan Fox was the problem, that a change in players would be the thing to fix this franchise. Then, Age of Extinction and Marky Mark happened, and the same old, overdrawn, insensible kind of visual spectacle came and went.

So, why is this film so badly reviewed compared to those other ones? In effect, not much has changed with all of the films, that they are nonsensical visual spectacles stretched to close to three hours running time, each time. However, while I could easily hate those films, and rage about the incompetence and cheap swindle that was being sold to movie-goers for years on end, this film is different.

First off, it’s not a great film. It’s not even a good film, a decent film, or a film worth much during a quick watch (by quick, I mean that something you put on the background while you do other things, like clean around the house or getting ready for the next day) ; it just isn’t a good film. What saves this from being immediately jettisoned for the sake of all cinema-goers is two words: Anthony Hopkins.

Hopkins shows up out of nowhere in the timeline of this film, on behalf of The Order of Witwiccans  of people ranging from George Washington and Frederick Douglass, to Sam Witwicky from the original trilogy, and yet he brings such an earnestness and commitment to the part that you can’t help but fall in love with the craziness his character represents. Really think about it, beyond the visual and camera tricks by Michael Bay, there is not much to pick apart in these films.  However, Anthony Hopkins, playing Sir Edmund Burton, just makes you more invested in this madness.

His rapport with his Transformer butler Cogman keeps the film rolling, in both comedy and odd moments, such as Cogman throwing Mark Wahlberg’s character out of an elevator by accident, to Anthony Hopkins rushing through a library, telling people to “move their fat asses” out of the way. This shouldn’t work, and yet it does.

That same level of earnestness quickly dies off whenever Hopkins is not on screen, even with the addition of new characters, in the form of a Hispanic girl named Izabella and a character called Vivian Wembly, a Professor at Oxford (to really show the audience the Britishness of this British character)-they are serviceable in their roles for the story, but they fall by the wayside along with Mark Wahlberg’s character (the awfully-named Cade  Yeager), they end up a part of the weirdest King Arthur myth of all time.

Yes, King Arthur shows up in this film, at the very beginning, along with Merlin the Wizard. This should be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, to show just how Michael Bay and Hasbro has given up on trying to make something remotely entertaining, let alone creatively satisfying: they just show a King Arthur/Merlin plot-line into this franchise’s history, to try and tie up loose ends from previous films while injecting some new mythology. This should fail, horribly.

But, starting off the movie with Merlin proclaiming to a hidden Transformer that he’s a charlatan, and then riding off on top of a Transformer-Dragon, with Twelve Transformer Knights in tow to turn the tide for King Arthur, was such an odd twisting of the original myth, that I couldn’t help but love it. Why not twist and turn an old English tale, showing human fallibility at the behest of gargantuan forces. That whole sense of twisting around conventions could have followed through into an interesting bit of film, but it’s a Transformers extravaganza, nothing more, and nothing less.

Crimson Peak: A (torn) Letter to Horror Fans by Daniel Molina


Crimson Peak is directed by Guillermo del Toro, is written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, and it stars Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Charlie Hunnam in a Gothic Romance film that is complicated by a creepy house that goes bump in the night and holds many secrets.

In the film, Edith Cushing, played by Wasikowska, plays a writer who is fascinated with the idea of using ghosts as a metaphor for the past. As she develops her manuscript and looks to send it for publication, she meets Thomas Sharpe, played by Hiddleston. He’s a charming engineer who can’t seem to sell his ideas to the right developers, and his plans to convince Edith’s father are unsuccessful. After admiring the young author’s work, they both strike a relationship that disturbs Lucille Sharpe, Thomas’ sister, played by Jessica Chastain, and this union sets all the characters down a path of moral corruption and emotional isolation. This happens much to the dismay of the young Dr. Alan McMichael, a friend of Edith’s, played by Charlie Hunnam, who advises Edith to proceed with caution when associating with the Sharpe siblings, and it’s in him where we find the weakest link in the film’s performances.

Charlie Hunnam found commercial success by playing Jax on Sons of Anarchy, but his acting abilities haven’t translated well to the big screen. His line delivery is stale and his face is wooden throughout the entire film, and this detracts from how important his character is in the grand scheme of things. Dr. Alan McMichael, to me, is perhaps the most interesting character in the entire film because of the detective role he assumes during the second act of the movie, and it’s a shame that Hunnam’s acting caliber is not up to par with what the character demanded. I could definitely see an actor like Garret Hedlund stepping up to the plate and delivering the performance that the role required. On the other hand, the standout performance was definitely Chastain’s. The film’s thrilling third act is evidence of this. Lucille Sharpe is reserved and mysterious, but her beauty attracts you even though you’re aware that something is not entirely psychologically right. Chastain’s Lucille is calm and collected, but she also shows us what a human being can become when entirely consumed by the existential darkness of longing and emotional repression.

If you’re familiar with del Toro’s work, then you know that he considers himself a film fan before an auteur. Keeping this in mind, many nods to classic films and works of literature that are influential to his own work and to the cinema world are present throughout the film. Del Toro plays with shadows as was done in Nosferatu, he pays homage to two iconic scenes from the Shining and he uses a horror backdrop to present us with a romance that Charlotte Bronte could’ve scripted in her time. The amalgamation of these elements allow the audience to forgive a predictable narrative because the filmmakers are presenting an ode to the horror genre and are handling it with care.

Moving on to the technical aspects of the film, the directing and cinematography work in tandem to show images that create an atmosphere of suspense while also employing techniques that make the audience feel as if they’re watching an old film. For example, the lighting in many scenes is used in a way to mimic the classic lighting techniques that were used to make the faces of female actresses glow. Images that are mostly covered in smog and dark hues of blue for the night time contrast perfectly with the extravagant costume design that was done for the film. While showing settings that are decaying, bleak and dark, del Toro still manages to present it in a way that is appealing to the eyes. When it comes to the strongest aspect of the film, it is that the movie does not rely on needless jump scares that plague many horror films nowadays. Instead, it builds tension that effectively creates a suspenseful atmosphere, causing the audience’s eyes to remain glued to the screen while flinching at the eerie quietness of the scene. What’s interesting is that most of the scares don’t even come from “otherworldly” entities. Many of the scares are the result of the horrors that stem from flawed humans. All the characters are motivated to achieve certain goals, and it’s evident that they’re willing to go to any lengths in order to achieve them.

Overall, the film has good performances and a narrative that’s intriguing though predictable, but it doesn’t warrant the immediate trip to the cinema to view it. Although the film is in English, it definitely has Guillermo del Toro going back to his roots of his earlier Spanish horror films like the Devil’s Backbone and Cronos. Crimson Peak is made by a horror fan and serves as a love letter to all things horror, so a night in for any horror aficionado would definitely be a good time.

Looking for Love in all the Wrong Websites: A short analysis and review of Don Jon by Daniel Molina


Don Jon, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s directorial debut, places a twenty something year old Lothario in the center of a coming of age story, about a man’s sexual awakening and his journey from objectification to intimacy. Addicted to pornography and a chronic masturbator, Jon Martello is in pursuit of a sexual encounter that mimics that of the ones he sees performed in pornographic websites. He’s disappointed at the sex he has with the numerous women he takes home after a night in the club, because it’s not as grandiose as the sex that porn stars have. I say it’s a coming of age story, even though it’s not the likes of a John Hughes film, because Jon Martello has an adolescent fascination with what he thinks sex is about, and he ultimately learns to understand what sex really is and what it means.

Going into this film I had high hopes for what the film looked like it would be, because I think Joseph Gordon Levitt is a talented actor. Of course, when I heard the auteur was writing, directing, and starring in his own film, I was pretty excited to see how he would tackle the subject matter and what he had to say about contemporary relationships. After watching the film, I was on the fence with whether or not I truly liked the movie. I was disappointed, and it all comes down to the script.

The best way I can put it is by giving you the example of a professor telling a student that his essay had good ideas here and there, but that he didn’t elaborate on the little he had to make us care about what he had to say. In other words, it was more like the first draft rather than the polished final paper. On one end, several aspects of the film were underwhelming, but on the other, I enjoyed the theme of love and what it had to say about relationships in today’s society. I liked the message the film tried to convey, but I really loved the way it told it.

Jon Martello, early on in the beginning of the film, lets us know that he has certain priorities: his boys, Catholicism, working out, his women, and most importantly – his porn. He repeats this regiment on a daily basis: he works out at the gym to keep a hard body for the ladies; he hangs out with his boys at the club; he meets women there whom he ultimately takes back home and has unsatisfying sex with; he “punches the clown” to different porn videos where the porn actresses do everything he wishes his sexual partners would do to him; and finally, he goes to church the next morning and confesses everything he’s done to the father in the confession booth. At this point, this is the most intimate he’s ever been with someone, but the Father in the confession booth is a representation of us, the audience. He’s confessing his trials and tribulations to us through the father, and this may be why we never see the Father or have any knowledge of what he looks like. He’s placed us in a position of power, and we can choose to forgive him for his hedonistic behavior or judge him.

One night while scouting the hottest women in the club, Jon’s eyes catch Barbara Sugarman, played by Scarlett Johansson. She’s the woman he’s been looking for all this time to have the fulfilling sexual encounter with. She’s the “dime” that seems to have been sculpted by the Greek Gods, but his eventual relationship with her only adds on to the confusion of what sex is. Everything appears to be perfect, aside from minor hints that the couple may not be a match made in Heaven, but his addiction to porn ends up separating them much to Jon’s surprise. Watching porn, in his eyes, isn’t a big deal. Everyone watches porn, and he can quit whenever he wants to. The only problem is that he can’t. The only fulfilling sex he has is with a computer, and that’s a problem.

Jon’s addiction to pornography is shown to be a vital part of the story in the trailer for the movie, but it’s briefly mentioned in spurts throughout the film, and is quickly forgotten after. The trailer is guilty of possibly misleading viewers, because we were led to believe the film would portray a young man’s relationship being destroyed by his addiction to masturbating and pornography, but Jon is really being destroyed by his failure to understand how to establish a relationship that’s not superficial with a woman.

Enter Esther, played by Julianne Moore. She’s a much older woman attending the same class that we see Jon attend after Barbara suggests that he go back to school. Julianne’s character teaches Jon to understand that sex is much more than the way it’s represented in pornographic films. It’s explained by her as a ceremonial act that sees the union of two people that care for each other and love each other unconditionally.

This is making love, and everything else is as vulgar as the word fucking. Barbara completely rejected Jon for his visiting pornographic sites instead of helping him cure his addiction to porn, whereas Esther’s character accepted him for being “like a junkie” and offered to guide him out of his dependency. This gives him confidence and raises the self esteem we never thought a Lothario like him would lack, and after she opens up to him about a serious incident in her life, we finally see Jon make love to a woman.We notice that he’s reached this understanding by his whimpering during sex, and we now know that he feels something. After having made love to Esther, we see Jon driving his car and listening to and rapping along with Mark Wahlberg’s Good Vibrations. We see a happier Jon that we haven’t seen throughout the film. He knows what making love feels like, but most importantly, he knows who he wants to make love to.

Don Jon is a flawed debut, but the film isn’t a total loss. The problems all lie in the script, because Levitt’s directing style is definitely unique with its snappy cuts in conjunction with the music chosen, and you can tell that a person who likes films is behind the camera in every scene. The most divisive aspects of the film, for me, were a mixture of missed opportunities and freshman mistakes that will hopefully be learned from for his next film.

The character of Jon came across as a caricature, and the lack of character development for him (and for all the characters, come to think of it) never really established him as a solid protagonist for me. Nonetheless, I was still interested in seeing how he would mature through the progression of the story. But this could likely be attributed to my interest in Levitt playing Jon as opposed to having an actual interest in the character.

Tony Danza’s involvement in the film is probably the biggest missed opportunity this film had, because he’s a charismatic actor that I was looking forward to seeing, but his role was nothing more than that of an annoying, and imbecile father that was just there to fill the role of Jon’s dad. He had awkward interactions with his son, and he added nothing to the story aside from a joke involving a conversation with his son about his ignorance concerning what TiVo is, and the joke falls flat. This was Danza’s moment to be used the correct way, and to be allowed to add that Danza flare that he had on Who’s the Boss? but sadly, this wasn’t the case.

Every character suffers from being annoying and despicable in their own way save for Esther’s character, somewhat, though I still have my gripe with her. The biggest problem with her role is that I didn’t find it believable that Jon would find a mate in a much older woman, and I believe that opens the door to the question of why can’t Jon find a connection between a woman his own age, but can find one in a motherly figure? Her character felt forced, manipulative even, in the way she opens up about a traumatizing incident to an emotionally vulnerable Jon and causes him to break and finally make love to her. This also makes me think of something that the characters have in common – all of them are willing to do whatever and say whatever it takes to sleep with the person they deem fit.

Did he make love to her out of pity? Did the traumatizing event really happen to her? The answers are ambiguous, and we don’t think about questioning them because she’s already been presented as the character that should receive the most sympathy from the viewers.

In conclusion, the film is anything but the romantic comedy it’s billed as. Don Jon is a dark humored character study that’s sometimes witty, charming, and it can be considered the fun spiritual companion to Steve McQueen’s Shame.

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