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« Open Thread | Main | TIFF: McDormand Dominates in "Three Billboards..." »

TIFF: "Kings" and "I, Tonya"

TIFF wraps up Sunday and since we'd like the last few pieces to be positive let's get some negativity out of the way. Here are two films which yours truly did not respond well to. One is certain to be trashed by critics and the other, though trashy, is being widely praised. But they're both bad.

Halle Berry is, at this very moment, dreaming of naked Daniel Craig. Same.

The biggest disappointment of the festival for this cinephile was Denis Gamze Erguven's sophomore effort. Kings is about a large foster family led by Halle Berry during the Rodney King trial / LA riots time period It is, quite frankly, a disaster. The most shameful mistake is the bizarre choice to cross-cut back and forth between a violent teenage tragedy and a slapstick comedy scene involving two movie stars MacGyvering their way out of police handcuffs in their underwear. (I am not making this up.) But beyond that there are numerous script problems including a romantic comedy like subplot featuring Daniel Craig as Halle Berry's British writer neighbor, who keeps saving the day which is an alarming script choice on every level for a movie ostensibly about race in America.

Though Halle Berry is constantly shown hugging and kissing her huge brood (good mom feels galore), she mostly actually leaves them at home alone without anything to eat. The eldest son (Lamar Johnson) is forced to care for them and they resort to stealing from grocery stores to feed themselves. There's so much neglect I was tempted to call Social Services myself!

"Sophomore slump" is a famous cliche for a reason but to go from the towering heights of an Oscar nominated debut (Mustang made our top ten list right here) to this is just mystifying. And since it is we have to ask why a French/Turkish director wanted to make a movie about race riots in 1990s America to begin with? I will be there for film three on the strength of Mustang (a movie that good buys you multiple chances) so let's hope film #2 was a  fluke.

Grade: D-

I, Tonya
Listen, I know it's bad form to claim other people's takes on movies are suspect but in this case I just can't help it. I'm convinced that I, Tonya generated acclaim at the festival because a mainstream trashy comedy with famous actors about a story everyone knows by heart is just not the kind of thing you see at film festivals. It's the ultimate counter-programming when you've seen 10 depressing art films in a row. 

If you don't want to wait till the movie comes out here's how to visualize it. First, remember everything you know about the Tonya Harding scandal. Subtract Nancy Kerrigan for the most part. Then imagine that story directed in the style of Drop Dead Gorgeous only with enough direct-to-camera mockumentary addresses to give Christopher Guest pause. Add in breaking the fourth wall even during the acted scenes. Make sure that whatever movie you're picturing is uglier to look at than you think. Add one broad mouth-breather performance right out of Napoleon Dynamite from an actor you don't know. Stir in famous people like Margot Robbie, Julianne Nicholson, and Allison Janney in silly wigs doing CHARACTERS. Put a bird on Allison Janney's shoulder for big laughs. Add Sebastian Stan with glued on facial hair. Now picture yourself laughing at domestic and child abuse jokes and then feeling guilty about it because the movie wants you to also take them seriously and think about the damage they do to psychological development.

Watch Tonya be a terrible person and then blame YOU, yes, you, direct to camera for judging her all those years ago and thinking she was a terrible person. Notice that the movie backs her up as if the media was the problem despite the fact that a competitor was violently assaulted. Oh, and every third scene put a stunt skater on ice and superimpose Margot Robbie's head one size too large (or small) on that body; spin her face around in the computer like she's Pazuzu.

But yes the movie is funny. And Margot Robbie is pretty good. And Allison Janney is both totally hilarious and actually scary so, in short, quite memorable. (Nobody is saying this in the Janney-praise party but Julianne Nicholson is great as the ramrod stiff skating coach, buried in so much winter clothing and frosty wig that it's like she's hiding from a bad movie, while still being excellent in it)

Grade: C/C-
Oscar Chances: Much to my surprise, yes. Margot Robbie is a longshot (but possible) in the crowded Best Actress race but Allison Janney could well be a slamdunk for a Supporting Actress nod given the love for her among actors and the very showy role.

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Reader Comments (22)

Halle Berry is overrated a black person who lives on seeing talented black actors in Hollywood it depresses me to say but jfc when was she in a good movie last? X-Men? Im not big on Margot Robbie. But Allison Janney is so underlooked and talented. A nom for her would be amazing.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterkris

But....I love Drop Dead Gorgeous!

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEz

If it plays well and considering Margot is exactly their type, we might as well looking at her first Oscar nom.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

It's not a prestige movie and maybe that's why I can't wait for I, Tonya. That shot screams AWARDS to me. Is Janney the JK Simmons of the season? We'll see.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I'm getting SNOWPIERCER vibes from Janney in that pic.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Kings would look more realistic without Berry and her Hollywood wig n make up look,why not cast a black Actress who needs the exposure or would suit the part.I like Berry but what's happened to her career.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

If I, Tonya is a comedy - then yes Robbie has a chance of a nod in the Comedy/Musical category. As for Alison Janney - yes she is very much loved and respected by the Hollywood community - and she has NEVER been nominated for an Oscar. But I thought Michelle Pfeiffer or Michelle Williams were gonna win Best Supporting Actress next year?

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

Nat did you see The Wife some are saying Close could win.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Halle Berry is not overrated. Her Emmy and Oscar are justifiably sound. Berry is no different from other performers incapable of elevating sub par material. And her character's styling has as much to do with her team as it does with her director approving it.

Nathaniel you actually sold the Tonya movie as the modern camp classic we have all been waiting for.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

mark -- i wrote about the wife. just click on the TIFF label, there's a full review.

/3rtful -- as for selling it as a camp classic. rereading this you're right. Oops.

September 16, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@/3rtful- Her Oscar win was.....14 years ago? And well fair enough fair enough, but I dont know man, the best actors are the ones who CAN elevate a slipshod script and she certainly cant on a regular basis. Shes all right, nothing special. Although Ive never seen her in anything on TV so perhaps my point is moot til then.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterkris

It could be the first time i read a mostly negative review that actually makes me want to see the movie ... The last bit, about Janney and Nicholson, just put "I, Tonya" at the top of my "can't wait for it" list... Well, right behind "The Wife"...

Wouldn't it be super cool if all the Oscar voters were FilmExperience contributors, so we could have Close, Pfeiffer AND Janney nominated the same year, with two of them actually winning and not a 20-something actress ? I mean Larson and Stone are really nice but i miss a big overdue win ....

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClement_Paris

I want to see Tonya NOW

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I root for Halle but I had a feeling Kings would be...less than royal. I'm still really interested in I, Tonya, though. I think you having such a wildly different reaction from the others is actually making me want to see it more? The good notices for Robbie and Janney were expected, but when will the always dependable Julianne Nicholson get her due?

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Berry is not a very good actress... even her win for the Oscar was a fair to middling performance.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenternatalie

Sissy Spacek should have won that year. That's the way of the Oscars, though.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy

I'm still struggling to understand what happened with KINGS - that's how bad, readers.

September 16, 2017 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Was fairly indifferent to I TONYA myself, but this review convinces me this is a must see.

September 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

And re: I, TONYA - I had fun with it and flipped for Janney, but it was the film I kept forgetting I saw throughout the whole festival. I think it's pretty mainstream but I'll be surprised to see it be more than a Globes Comedy player - especially with such a small distributor that won't be able to fork out the dough for the big campaign it would surely need

September 16, 2017 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

I can never decide if Sissy or Nicole should have won in 2001.

I'm convinced that Janney will win the Oscar this year. (It feels like a performance that was made to win SAG.)

September 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Just a note: Sebastian Stan's facial hair was his own, not "glued on". He talked about having to walk around grocery stores irl looking like a creepazoid while he filmed.

(I guess it's really patchy lmao.)

October 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterM.

"I, Tonya" is a movie that worked for me because for all its comedic marketing and presentation, nothing about this story is funny. This is a film about class in America. It's about the America that made Jerry Springer and his guests momentarily famous and painfully watchable. It's only "funny" to people (like the audience I sat with in uptown Mpls) who came to laugh at poor people who made bad decisions left and right. It's "funny" for those that chose to set their compassion aside, or for those who ignore the greed displayed by people from all levels of economic and social status. Such as a media person that admits that they had Harding's wheels damaged and the truck towed just to get a photo of her. The media who paid for her ex to talk about the scandal while Harding is trying to win a medal. The judges who blatantly punished her for not meeting their standards of beauty and "representation" of the country, and ignored her economic plight.
The character of Shawn is pitiful, but is representative of people who will do just about anything to feel important, or powerful, for one time in their lives. (This was an interesting parallel to "Collossal" btw.) It's also about the varied definitions of "truth" in an era of "fake news". They allow contradicting perspectives and leave it for us to parse it all out. Because that's what life is, messy and contradictory. It's only funny if we think these people and issues are worth laughing at. And this was true of most of the audience I sat with that night. But when Robbie looked straight at us and said what she said, the whole theater was dead silent. It felt like they finally got the point of this movie: It's funny if we think it is, and it's not if we don't.

January 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKJ

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