My Left Foot (1989)

My Left Foot

Christy Brown (Daniel Day Lewis), feeling proud of stealing coal.

 

As someone who is a dominate right-handed person, I can’t imagine doing anything with just one foot, but the left foot by itself is unthinkable. Yet that is what Christy Brown had to do for his life. He did not live to see My Left Foot (he died in 1981), his story is still one that resonates today, not just because he had cerebral palsy, but because (like everyone) he had more than his fair share of character flaws.

That is not to say he wasn’t extraordinary. Born into a traditional (and large) Irish family in 1930s Dublin, we see the story of Brown in flashbacks as the grown up Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis) is at an event celebrating his memoir. He shares his book with a newly met Nurse, Mary (Ruth McCabe). At first, it is her eyes we see the life of Christy, but then we find ourselves seeing it thru his eyes.

It is beyond frustrating at first for the adolescent Christy (Hugh O’Conor). He has a caring family and siblings, though his father (Ray McAnally, who passed away after filming concluded) is not the best at showing his love. The one clear rock in Christy’s life is his mother (Brenda Fricker), as shown in the brilliant scene when he communicates with his first word, “Mother”.

As a young man, Christy learns the many things we all do: sports, first love, heart ache, and self discovery. A lot of this is also shown in Dr. Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw), who takes a huge interest in Christy and his art.

No review of this movie would be complete with out mention of the acting. Perhaps the only bad thing one could say about Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is that it overshadows that of Hugh O’ Conor’s. Both are extraordinary, making it seem like one performance instead of two. Still, this is the film that brought people’s attention to Day-Lewis (it won him his first of a record three Best Actor Oscars).

The film won another Oscar for Brenda Fricker as Best Supporting Actress, who is stellar. It is clear that, without her, Brown would never have been able to be fueled to do all he accomplished. Still, as is the case in every movie he has been in, Daniel Day-Lewis showed us for the first time (and many times after) why he is one of the greatest film actors we have ever had (and if you don’t believe me, just look at the making of this movie and how in character he was. He was carried around the set when the cameras were off).

Parents, the movie is rated R. There is one bit of nudity (young boys see a nude photo in a book, and talk about sex). The main aspect though is swearing. I would say High School and above (though some mature middle schoolers may be okay at seeing it).

Had Christy not been flawed as a human, I doubt the movie would work as well as it did. To put it bluntly, he is no Helen Keller. I would say he is prickly, but that is understating it. Still, My Left Foot is a true inspiration of what the human spirit can accomplish, and a great study in how moving a performance can be.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

 

I, Tonya (2017)

I, Tonya

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) in one of her few moments of true happiness…

There is one positive thing you can definitely say about Tonya Harding: She truly was a talented skater. She did things no woman had done before her, and was one who truly (at times) worked hard. It is too bad she made bad choices (one in particular) and had moment after moment of bad luck.

We have all heard of the story of how Harding asked her ex husband Jeff Gillooly to help do something with her rival (and roommate) Nancy Kerrigan. It resulted, of course, with a goon clubbing Kerrigan in the leg with a baton, taking her out of competition. What is unknown are the life events that led up to the incident, and that is what much of I, Tonya is about.

Director Craig Gillespie shoots the screenplay of Steven Rodgers in an almost “mockumentary” way. We get interviews on the side from Tonya (Margot Robbie) and her ex Jeff (Sebastian Stan), as well as Tonya’s mother LaVona (Allison Janney). We see how, as a child, the young Tonya (Mckenna Grace) is beyond tortured by her mother. All of the scenes with LaVona and her daughter (both as a child and adult) are played with more than just the icy venom we know a veteran thespian like Janney can deliver. Hers is one performance that will not be forgotten anytime soon (surely an Oscar nominated one). Her LaVona is the worst mom cinema has offered since 2009’s Precious. As she grows up, Tonya does seem to find a silver lining when she meets Jeff.  Sure, he is abusive, but they seem to make up shortly after (and then some).  While Sebastian Stan does hold his own, there is no doubt how spectacular Margot Robbie is. It will be very difficult for her to top this performance later on in her career.

One of the things that I admit surprised me the most was how smart the movie was. There is even some fourth wall breaking that occurs, and a certain character telling us they “know what we came for”. There is also some wonderful jabs at the early 90s as well, such as trying to have a phone call in private at your friend’s house.

Parents, the movie is rated R for good reason. There is a lot of swearing (the majority from Janney), one sex scene, and some nudity in a strip club. High School and above.

 

While some points do tend to drag on a bit, the film was still a refreshing piece of work, and one of the funniest I have seen all year. Whether it is factually correct or not, I am not sure, but it is to Robbie’s credit that you will be watching her, and not know if it is the real Harding or not.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

The Danish Girl (2015)

The Danish Girl

Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl”.

 

The Danish Girl is a well intentioned bio pic that delivers two great performances but does not seem to be anything beyond what we expected. Perhaps it is ironic that a movie about someone trying to do something new does not do something very new in itself.

That does not mean I did not like the movie. I just expected more of the tale of married couple Einar and Gerda Wegener, married artists in the 1920s. One day, Gerda’s (Alicia Vikander) friend Ulla (Amber Heard) is unable to pose for one of her paintings, so she recruits her husband Einar (Eddie Redmayne). Ulla surprises them, and names Einar “Lilly”. This eventually leads to Einar wanting to become one of the first known in the transgender community.

As shown in The Theory of Everything (which he recently won the Oscar for), Eddie Redmayne is proving he is one of the best actors of his generation. He delivers another fine performance here as Einar/Lilly. However, it was Alicia Viander I was most impressed with. Her Gerda is one of the most devoted wives in recent movie memory. The key is that she is not one to just sit back and let it all happen. She has a fire in her that says don’t mess with me, but also an inner gentleness that is evident if she wants to show it. It is clearly an Oscar nomination for both actors.

Parents, the R rating is justified. There is not much swearing and little violence (just in one scene) but there is a lot of nudity (not just in the art pieces).

In the end, I wish the film was not just another straight bio pic, and tried to be a little more (though I did enjoy the score by Desplat). Still, it is worth seeing for Redmayne and Vikander , both giving award worthy performances.

Overall: Three Stars ***