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RHOADES REVIEW

'I, Tonya” is a hit from ice skating rink

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By Shirrel Rhoades
At the Movies

Saturday, December 9, 2017

I’ve never been a big follower of Olympics ice skating events, but back in 1994 the sport got my attention when figure skater Nancy Karrigan was attacked. A guy viciously whacked her in the right leg with a baton. Turns out, the assailant was the buddy of the ex-husband of Tonya Harding, Nancy’s main competitor in the winter Olympics.

Nancy’s leg wasn’t broken, but the injury forced her to withdraw from the national championship. Harding won that event. Nevertheless, both she and Kerrigan were selected for the 1994 Olympic team. Harding finished eighth, while Kerrigan won the silver medal.

Tonya Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, accepted a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony against Harding. Gillooly and three of his buddies served time in prison. Harding received three years probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $160,000 fine. She was also forced to resign from the United States Figure Skating Association and was banned for life from participating in the USFSA as either a skater or a coach.

This new movie -- “I, Tonya” -- is Tonya Harding’s story.

Margot Robbie (“Suicide Squad,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”) stars as the bad girl figure skater. Caitin Carver (“Rules Don’t Apply”) takes on the role of Nancy Karrigan. Sebastian Stan (“Captain America: Winter Soldier,” “Lucky Logan”) plays Jeff Gillooly. And Allison Janney (TV’s “West Wing,” “The Girl on the Train”) does exceptionally well as Tonya’s despicable mother.

Does the film excuse Tonya’s behavior? No, not really. Is this a “Mommy Dearest” story? Only partially. Does this paint Tonya as a victim of domestic abuse? Yes, but that’s no justification. Does “I, Tonya” help you understand this complex woman better? Indeed it does.

Margot Robbie will leave you feeling like you know Tonya Harding. The result is a combination of good acting and because the real Tonya Harding consulted on the film.

“The Shape of Water”

Is a creature feature

“The Shape of Water” is a new horror fantasy from Guillermo del Toro (“Hellboy,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”). Think of it as an updated version of “The Creature From the Black Lagoon.”

In it, Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) captures a humanoid creature in the rivers of South America. He takes this “asset” back to the Occam Aerospace Research Center in Baltimore for study.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works there as the night janitor. The mousy, mute woman decides to befriend this strange amphibious man (Doug Jones).

When General Hoyt (Nick Searcy) decides to harvest the creature’s body for scientific study, Elisa is very upset. She has grown close to the asset, feeding him hardboiled eggs and playing music for him. Determined to save her new friend, Elisa enlists the help of her neighbor (Richard Jenkins) and others in an escape plan.

Will the mute woman swim away with her amphibious man and live happily ever after? Or will Colonel Strickland carry out his orders and kill the creature? That’s the nexus of the plot.

The director sees “The Shape of Water” as a love story. “I was trying to talk about love in sort of an ideal way, but an adult way,” he says. “It’s not a romantic notion of love, only. It tries to have humor, which is a saving grace. And it is very much about invisible people coming together.”

Guillermo del Toro acknowledges the inspiration for his film: “It started when I was six and I was watching ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon.’ When the creature swam under Julie Adams, I fell in love with Julie Adams, and I identified with the creature. I was six, so I couldn't verbalize what I was feeling, but it was incredibly powerful. I was also overwhelmed by the beauty of the image.”

He adds, “What I felt when I watched the movie for the first time, I hoped they ended up together. And they didn’t. I felt, ‘Oh, gosh. If only they had a chance.’”

As for his version of the creature, he told his designers, “We are not doing a movie creature but a leading man. Let’s construct him as a beautiful work of art. Let’s not build him as a creature, but as something that looks precious. Something that, if you look at it the right way, you want it to live. You want it to exist in our world.”

Yes, this is a creature you will be rooting for.

Top Ten Worst

TV-based movies

Recently we looked at movies based on TV shows. There have been quite a few. Not all (in fact only a few) have made a successful transition. Rather than faithful renditions of a beloved television program, many tend to be parodies. That’s fine for skits on “Saturday Night Live.” And it worked well in reverse when, say, “The Carol Burnett Show” made fun of movies. But sometimes the remake misses the mark.

Here is my Top Ten list of movies based on TV shows that didn’t quite come off as winners.

10. “I Spy” (2002) -- Forget how you might feel about Bill Cosby these days, he was groundbreaking as a black actor starring in a TV show with Robert Culp. You’d have thought Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson would shine in the remake, but it fell flat for most fans.

9. “The Honeymooners” (2005) -- No matter how good your intent it’s dangerous to tamper with the original formula. Jackie Gleason and Art Carney had chemistry as two working-class slobs, but when the redo made the cast black it lost some of its familiarity. Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps couldn’t quite pull it off.

8. “Bewitched” (2005) -- Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York excelled in the “I Married a Witch” theme, and you would’ve thought Nicole Kidman and Will Farrell would have been the perfect on-screen embodiment. But somehow the magic fizzled.

7. “The Brady Bunch Movie” (1995) -- Robert Reed and Florence Henderson gave us a heartwarming rendition of two families coming together under one roof, but the marriage didn’t work as well when Gary Cole and Shelly Long tried it. “Marcia, Marcia!”

6. “The Beverley Hillbillies” (1993) -- Buddy Ebsen starred in the “fish out of water” story about a hillbilly who struck it rich, but Jim Varney (those “Ernest” movies) couldn’t fill ol’ Jed Clampett’s clodhoppers.

5. “21 Jump Street” (2012) -- The TV crime drama gave us a young Johnny Depp, but the comedic remake with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum had us laughing for the wrong reasons.

4. “Br ü no” (2009) -- The spinoff from Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Da Ali G Show” presented a flamboyant Austrian who invades the American fashion scene, but many thought he took the oh-so-gay humor much too far.

3. “The Dukes of Hazzard” (2005) -- Tom Wolpat and John Schneider had a good run as two fast-driving Southern boys who take on Boss Hogg, but Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott couldn’t replace that good ol’ boys charm with frat boy humor.

2. “The Flintstones” (1994) -- This live action version of the beloved cartoon show about a prehistoric family cast John Goodman and Rick Moranis as Fred and Barney. It laid a dinosaur egg.

1. “Baywatch” (2017) -- Dwayne Johnson had the muscles to replace David Hasselhoff as lifeguard Mitch Buchanan, but had trouble deciding whether the film was a comedy or crime drama.

Others TV shows that made it to the silver screen -- such as “Dragnet” and “Dark Shadows” -- changed the original premise but kinda pulled it off. We’ll give them passing marks for a good try.

srhoades@aol.com

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