Movie Review – The End of the Tour

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The End of the Tour (2015)
Written by Donald Margulies
Directed by James Ponsoldt

the end of the tour

Writer/journalist David Lipsky wakes up one morning to the news that David Foster Wallace killed himself. Wallace was a novelist who published Infinite Jest in 1996 and was a book that hit with tremendous impact on the literary world. Lipsky worked at Rolling Stone in the 90s and proposed going out to Central Illinois where he would follow the author on the last stop of his book tour. Lipsky arrives and finds Wallace to be a man not exactly comfortable with the fame his book has brought him. He seems very agreeable though considerably quiet and not having too many close friends, but lots of acquaintances. Over the course of a couple of days, Lipsky gets to know Wallace and probe into places the writer might not want to go.

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Movie Review – I, Tonya

I, Tonya (2017)
Written by Steven Rogers
Directed by Craig Gillespie

i tonya

Everyone has particular images and ideas when they hear the name “Tonya Harding.” In 1994 she was one of the most infamous people in the media. Her story has all the right hallmarks of the bizarre and tragic to make her the sort of person the news gobbles up. A figure skater from the “wrong side of the tracks” who didn’t mesh with the traditional prettiness of the skating establishment. Married to an abusive man who didn’t seem to have any direction in life. The two of them intermingled in a seeming conspiracy of the stupid to take out her rival for the Olympics, Nancy Kerrigan. Tonya maintained she had no idea what was going on, but husband Jeff Gillooly kept insisting she was aware. A sort of practice run for the O.J. Simpson media circus.

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Movie Review – The Battle of the Sexes

The Battle of the Sexes (2017)
Written by Simon Beaufoy
Directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris


It’s 1973 and Billie Jean King is the first female athlete to make $100,000. She is right in the midst of her reign as the queen of the court. On the flipside is Bobby Briggs, 55, a former tennis champion for a brief moment in the late 1930s/early 1940s. He is also a gambling addict but one who wins more often than loses. Briggs gets the idea to play into the women’s lib movement of the time and hype himself as the ultimate male chauvinist, all in a bid to put on the Battle of the Sexes. This match would pit Briggs against King and help fill his pockets with endorsement money as well as build attention for U.S. Tennis. Meanwhile, King is dealing a personal revelation that will shake her life and her career.

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Movie Review – Christine (2016)

Christine (2016, dir. Antonio Campos)


The story of Christine Chubbuck is fated to end in tragedy. To most people, she’s known for the stories of a video of her suicide. During the early morning on 1974, while delivering the news, Christine produced a gun from beneath her desk and announced that “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts,’ and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide.” She proceeded to pull the trigger and fire a bullet into her skull. Fourteen hours later she was pronounced dead at the age of 29. To the public who heard of this event the most looming question has always been, “Why?”

Antonio Campos’ dramatization of the last few months of Christine’s life begins in a way that might surprise someone who was only familiar with the story of her death. She is an energetic, passionate reporter struggling to tell positive human stories while up against a news media that is learning sensationalism corresponds to higher ratings. She isn’t willing to give up so easily and argue viciously with news director Mike. While she fights for principles on the news, Christine is also experiencing severe abdominal pains that she attributes to stress but seem to be something more serious.

Taking on the task of capturing who Christine was is actress Rebecca Hall. I’ve seen in some supporting roles in various films but never really felt very impressed. Apparently, she had just never been given an active enough role to show off her talents. Her absence from Best Actress nominations at any of the major awards is yet another sign that the mainstream awards are out of touch. It has been a very long time since I have seen a performance that so transformed an actor. Her voice, the way she moves, just watching her hands tense and grasp at objects, so encapsulates a real person. Christine’s pain is real, but even more surprising is her joy at producing stories about people. It’s hard not to get caught up in her passion as she takes the mundane and attempts to transform it into the remarkable.

Surrounding Hall’s central performance is a brilliant cast of supporting actors. Michael C. Hall plays George, the news station’s main anchor who shares the awkward flirtations of Christine. He could easily have been off as a pastiche of Ted Knight’s archetypal pompous newsman from Mary Tyler Moore, but a moment in the third act reveals a layer to the character I didn’t expect and changes the audience’s perception of him. The always great Maria Dizzia plays Jean, Christine’s best friend at the station and camerawoman. Jean sees Christine’s moments of breaking down and is deeply affected in the wake of her suicide. The final moments of the film choose to focus on Jean and they almost wordlessly convey the real emotions and reaction a friend would feel in the aftermath of such a tragic end. There is a numbness in her eyes and a deliberate effort to try and move past this. Tracy Letts plays the role of Mike, the film’s antagonist, who worries over the station’s dwindling ratings and aggressively pushes Christine to change her angle on the news. But even he is given brushstrokes of character development that reveal he does care about the station beyond just ratings.

The film gets across a sense of alienation that is suffocating. Christine continually spirals further down, never giving up her sensibilities that she can find a way out of her problems. But at every turn something gets in her way, kicking the legs out from underneath her. By the time the film reaches its climactic moment it feel heartbreakingly that there was no other way this could have ended. In the larger context of the news media, everything she represented was going down the drain. Throughout the picture news reports about Nixon and Watergate can be heard. Even the opening has Christine shooting footage for her reel, alone on the set, pretending to interview the president. She points out the idea that you can’t really be paranoid if people are actually out to get you. And for Christine, everyone did seem to unintentionally be out to get her.

Movie Review – I Killed My Mother

I Killed My Mother (2009, dir. Xavier Dolan)


If you look up the many articles and interviews about Xavier Dolan, you will likely get a picture of an arrogant young artist. These would not be wrong, but I would challenge that this portrayal is negative particularly in cinema. Dolan represents a strong, re-interpretive Millennial energy that was inevitable in film. In the same way, the French New Wave and the iconoclastic American 1970s filmmakers made their mark in the form; Dolan is doing that same type of work. Does he indulge? Damn straight he does. But I challenge anyone to find a single auteur who doesn’t indulge constantly.

Dolan’s first feature, I Killed My Mother is the story of Hubert Minel (played by Dolan), a 16-year-old gay man, still closeted to his mother and who engages in the most vicious arguments and conflicts with this central caretaker. Dad stepped out when Hubert was seven and left Chantale, the mother (Anne Dorval) to raise the boy on her own. Hubert is two months into a relationship with a classmate and looking towards a career in the arts, encouraged by a supportive teacher (Suzanne Clément).

Dolan is a filmmaker influenced by the medium. No moment in I Killed My Mother is simply a moment; they are accented by flourishes of style from Goddard-like framing (off center and with both conversants in the frame), slow motion almost from a perfume ad, black and white confessional close-ups, and myriad of other touches that add emotion to a relatively typical story of parent-child conflict. He also knows the importance of establishing character through setting, as seen in the very opening close-ups of his mother’s tchotchke-filled home. We also learn volumes about her through her hairstyle, clothing, even the manner in which she eats breakfast. And all this if before she even has a modicum of dialogue.

While Dolan is the composer and conductor, Anne Dorval as Chantale is the star player. It would have been very easy for Chantale to slip in caricature, but Dorval does gritty work to keep the character faceted and obscured. In moments of high tension, she will begin to follow the same type of script I imagine all of us remember from our adolescence, which is underscored by Hubert calling her out on this same repetition. She shuts him down in the same manner that frustrated us all and drove many teenagers to those primal, guttural ARGHs! There is a moment near the end of the film where her role as a single mother is blamed as the reason why Hubert is struggling academically and exhibits such rebellious behavior. This is the moment where Dorval lets Chantale crack through the thickly layered makeup and sequined floral outfits. Chantale’s love for her son is beyond the question of outsiders, and she makes that known.

Dolan made I Killed My Mother at the age of 20 and has not tried to hide the fact that it is heavily biographical. He has stated that this is a film he couldn’t have waited decades to make, that it needed the raw emotion of being only steps away from adolescence. And he is completely right. A forty-something making the film in deep retrospect would have let nostalgia slip in between the cracks. There is no wistful memory manifesting falsified beauty here. Through the ugliness of this relationship, we see Beauty and Love. We don’t fight and scream with this level of fervor at people we hate, the type of anger glimpsed in the film born out of intense love and need. It is the attempt to communicate love but failing to do so because the language does not possess the vocabulary to do so.

Hubert states in one of his bathroom confessionals on camera that he doesn’t love his mother like a mother, but he loves her nonetheless. During a late night conversation, Hubert fueled by ecstasy and barging home full of elation to speak to Chantale; he states, “I love you. I am telling you this so that you won’t forget.” This is the moment where the nature of the relationship changes, not profoundly, but both characters redefine the bond. Hubert is no longer the dependent glimpsed in the Super 8 home movies at the old house by the lake. He is an individual coming into his own, intellect, a sexual being, a partner in a relationship, developing complex ideas and emotions. Chantale is reticent to accept that, but by the end of the film, they come to an unspoken understanding. Their relationship will never be what they both remember and wish it could be, something new will form and in that they will find a place for their love.