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By Sarah Payne
Red Sparrow – March 2nd – There’s a reason Jennifer Lawrence is the highest-paid actress in the world. She has a screen presence that can save a somewhat dull movie (like Passengers) and ground a somewhat unhinged movie (like Mother!). In Red Sparrow, Lawrence teams up The Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence to play a young Russian spy trained in the art of seduction. It’s based on a book written by Jason Matthews, a former CIA operative, who says, “it’s a mosaic of my personal experiences in the CIA and it’s got some very authentic cold war techniques.” Joel Ederton, another of my favorite actors from movies like The Gift and The Great Gatsby, also stars in the film.
Isle of Dogs – March 23rd – As a new mom and a movie lover, animated films are on my radar for the first time in about twenty years. We all know there’s no shortage of low budget nonsense when it comes to kids’ movies. But a stop motion film directed by indie darling Wes Anderson? Now you’ve got my attention. Isle of Dogs is the second animated film by Anderson (following 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox) and packed with amazing actors like Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Bryan Cranston, Live Schrieber, and Scarlett Johansson. Anderson first started talking about the film in 2016 at ARTE Cinema, where he shared the nostalgic influence for the film: “I really liked these TV Christmas specials in America … I always liked the creatures in the [Ray] Harryhausen-type films, but really these American Christmas specials were probably the thing that really made me want to do [Isle of Dogs].” The film is set in the future, on a fictional Japanese island where dogs have been banished due to canine flu. It sounds super quirky and super Anderson, so I’m in!
Phantom Thread – Last summer, Daniel Day-Lewis announced he was retiring from acting and that Phantom Thread would be his last film. In it, he plays Reynolds Woodcock, a meticulous and stubborn fashion designer in 1950s London who falls for Alma (played by Vicky Krieps), a woman who waits on him at a bed and breakfast. The previews for Phantom Thread might lead you to believe this is a passionate and sexy love story. While the plot centers on the relationship between Woodcock and Alma, it takes a very realistic stance on the ambivalence spouses feel towards each other in their daily routines. There are several hilarious scenes with Woodcock and Alma at the breakfast table, for example – irritating each other – that alone are worth the price of admission. Do you agree with the statement Phantom Thread is making about love, monogamy, and marriage? You’ll have to see it and decide for yourself.
I, Tonya – Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? Or, a story about a talented figure skater who grew up poor and ended up causing her competitor’s legs to get bashed in? I, Tonya is a documentary-style take on the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan controversy during the 1994 Olympics. If you take the story at face value, it’s pretty disturbing. But I, Tonya goes to great lengths to make the audience sympathetic to Tonya Harding (played by Margot Robbie), and even go so far as to root for her. After all, she grew up with a mother who hit her and married a husband who did the same. Allison Janney puts on such a good performance as Harding’s mother that she is barely recognizable. As an entertainment piece, I, Tonya knocks it out of the park. But it’s important to remember that the film changes many of the facts of what actually happened in 1994. For example, the film gives the impression that Harding had no idea her husband was going to harm Kerrigan. In reality, Harding changed her story several times. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend the article, “I, Nauseated,” in The Oregonian. It’s written by J.E. Vader, a former reporter for Sports Illustrated who wrote extensively about Harding in the 90s, and sets the record straight.