Bird's Eye Film Reviews of the 2018 Oscar Runaways — Part 1

I, Tonya – Do the rich skate better?

The rock music glares, the judges are shocked with disbelief as a young girl skates indifferently, wearing an ugly self-sewn dress amidst a subtle concoction of steel and ice that echoed seamlessly with a thunderous crowd. No, this isn’t a wrestling match, much less so is it a rodeo show where a wild horse has run amok. It is the 1991 World Figure Skating Championships and Tonya Harding has just made history.

Despite her crude, impulsive “red neck” demeanour, she has risen above all odds to become the only American woman who successfully performed the famed ‘triple axel’ move. Even before the ‘Nancy Kerrigan’ incident, Tonya Harding was easily the most controversial character that ever graced the ice ring. Imagine how deprived we would be had Tonya simply “picked another sport”.

In 2017, biographical drama 'I, Tonya' illustrates a sympathetic insight into the life of one of figure skating’s most colourful characters. Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Tonya is both hauntingly beautiful and hysterically tragic. The film explores a life of abuse, low self-esteem and the crippling anchor of poverty. Robbie successfully balances the right amount of darkness and empathy in her performance, whilst also serving as a literary catalyst that compels to question whether figure skating has and will always remain a sport for privileged “Ice princesses”?


3 Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri – What happened to America?

“Don’t just sit down there and let her call you a fuck head Dixon…”

That line seems to summarise my impression of the film: the apathetic U.S. officer portrayed as nothing more than a sleeping giant overdosed on sleeping pills and cheap beer, callous to suffering of others. In the wake of a shattered America, '3 Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri' encourages us to disregard political correctness and reminds us how to express ourselves.

Frances McDormand plays a grieving mother, who in a desperate last-ditch gambit to force local Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) to find her teenage daughter’s murderer, posts a series of provocative billboard messages that serve as the catalyst for the films events.

Though the events depicted in the film are fictional, the story serves as a quaint metaphor for the current state of middle class Americans. Ebbing personifies a collective national psyche of disillusioned, dispirited, gun-toting, complacent red state dramatisation of America that feels so disenfranchised to the point that voting Donald Trump seems like the most sensible thing to do. Perhaps this Martin McDonaugh's (Director) way of sending a futile warning to the world, with billboards of his own?

McDormand’s performance is rivetingly passionate and brutally honest, earning her a well-deserved Oscar award for best actress. Her grief is subtle at times, and her strength pervasive and confronting; nonetheless, she plays both sides of a rich and conflicted character perfectly. Through her performance, we are graced with a visual poem, our own heartfelt billboards that compel us to take positive action while we can.


Blade Runner 2049 – More human than human?

Phillip K Dick wrote prophetically about the future, and many of his predictions were pragmatically depressing. In 1968, he wrote “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” a novel which was eventually adapted into a screenplay for 1982’s “Blade Runner”.

The film plays with themes of existentialism, the search for purpose and what defines a ‘soul.' One need not escape into a futuristic world filled with wandering Replicants or flashing animated billboards advertising “Coca-Cola” to see how eerily applicable these ideas were back when the film was released, and how their prominence still serve as contextual reminders of relevant universal social issues that transcend time.

The question whether artificially sentient beings possess empathy catalysed controversial debates as to what constituted our humanity, and simultaneously exposed the fragility of that abstract concept. In a world bombarded with fake news masquerading as wisdom and social media intruding as personal intimacy, it is not so hard to believe that our concept of a ‘soul’ may need to be revised.

Whether it is Harrison Ford’s portrayal of disillusionment and exile, or Officer K’s desperate quest to discover reality; I believe the film will transcend the tests of time with universally relevant themes. It is clear that I’m a fan of what began with Ridley Scott’s noir, cult classic Blade Runner. Even though the cinema may be empty or people may be, “Anxious to close,” here’s to the Socratic philosophers, the misunderstood or just anyone out there who’s seeking their own version of reality.


The Post – Viva La Liberty

“The press was designed in principle to serve the governed, not the governors”

I’ve just walked out of the theatre, with those words echoing in my mind, akin to a silent prayer that reminds the soul never to extinguish the spark of justice. That’s when I knew that I had just watched one of the most culturally relevant films of 2018.

Imagine a world where The Washington Post simply gave in to the 1971 court injunction and forfeited its place in society. The ‘New York Times’ probably would only live on in some old underfunded cultural museum. Perhaps in this alternate reality, the Watergate Scandal would never have occurred and we wouldn’t need to suffer Nixon’s incessant sweaty brows and moist nose because the David Frost interviews would forever dwell within the realm of myth. What then would we be left with? Would journalism be reduced to parrots on the payroll of insensitive leaders who tell them what to say, when and how to say it?

In a world plagued with fake news, overtly influential corporations and weak governments, there has never been a greater need for journalists to serve as “checks” on democracy. However, this dystopian reality we call our Facebook newsfeed traces its roots to the cultural epiphany that was the “Vietnam War.” The leak of the McNamara studies has always served as manifestos to modern day champions of truth like Snowden and Assange, and in many ways so does ‘The Post.’

‘The Post’ is Steven’s Spielberg’s latest entry into his historical drama multiverse and it is rivetingly brilliant. Watching the chemistry between Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks is like having a sip from the best Chardonnay Hollywood has to offer. At times, it almost seems like watching a cautious mother slowly ease in to the practicality and bravado of her tenacious son. It is also nice to see ‘Saul Goodman’ delve into his investigative journalism shoes with Bob Odenkirk’s charming performance.

For a change, Uncle Sam found himself anachronistically caught in someone else’s war, sweating profusely as his putrid body odour engulfed the bastions of liberty. It is nice to know that there once existed brave souls who valued their integrity and duty to the truth. Perhaps this film may inspire the next generation of journalists who will continue to write honestly and courageously.


The Disaster Artist – The best worst film ever made

Tommy Wiseau is many things. A laughing stock, a creepy ‘European’ malevolent figure with an equally elusive past that may never be exhumed. Or does he represent something innate and yet unwittingly brilliant? A form of genius we all wished we had the courage to uncover? I’ve just walked out of my second screening of James Franco’s biopic “The R…”, I mean “The Disaster Artist.” It is a heartwarming tale that truly is the “La La Land” of 2017, exploring the cliched from rags to riches, star struck heist genre with a refreshing twist. 

It outlines how writer, director, producer and actor Tommy Wiseau (played by the eccentric James Franco, who was a real “Hollywood actor” as Tommy would put it) spent over an estimated $6 million in order to fulfill his vision of creating the greatest drama since Tennessee William’s ‘A Streetcar named Desire.’ Anyone who considers themselves a filmaholic would have watched this alien, anachronistic work of ‘art’ religiously. “The Room” has been described as being made by an alien who has never seen a film, but has googled and learnt everything one should know about film making. It is so awkward and strange that its effort to maintain such a consistent tone of “trash” cinema is commendable. 

From sold out midnight screenings to explosions of plastic spoons thrown at Lisa, to say that this film has achieved cult like status is a severe understatement. Perhaps there is something strangely respectful about Tommy’s perseverance that we all can learn from? Instead of just whining and yelling into the sky how, “Everyone has betrayed ME!!”

James Franco’s directorial masterpiece revels and celebrates a man who despite overwhelming odds and belts tight enough to damage one’s crown jewels ten times over managed to succeed whilst ushering such immaculate joy to audiences worldwide. It is a film that celebrates a man who possessed such courage and self-belief to the point of ridicule, and in that sense, is a story worth watching.




Kit Lee