DRAMAS “12 STRONG” AND “TONYA” ON FILM; “ALIENIST” ON TV

 

DRAMAS “12 STRONG” AND “TONYA” ON FILM; “ALIENIST” ON TV

A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley

 

12 STRONG (Rated R) Mere days after the infamous September 11 attack on American soil, the first soldiers of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces engaged in a covert incursion into the Taliban-held region of war-torn Afghanistan.

The story of 12 elite Green Berets who volunteered for a dangerous mission in the immediate aftermath of the horrific terrorist attack in order to strike the first blow in America’s response is the basis for the true story of “12 Strong.”

Under the leadership of Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) and Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon), the team had to convince Northern Alliance General Dostum (Navid Negahban) to join forces to fight the common enemy of Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies.

The events are based on Doug Stanton’s non-fiction book “Horse Soldiers,” the unique story of brave soldiers having to go into battle on horseback in the style of 18th century cavalry to scale the steep, mountainous terrain to help the Afghan allies.

“12 Strong,” packed with plenty of battle scenes befitting the war story, should leave the audience with an appreciation for the bravery of these soldiers who faced tremendous odds in the early days of the war on terror.

I, TONYA (Rated R) You may come away from watching “I, Tonya” with mixed emotions, ranging from bemusement with the criminal incompetence of white trash idiots to sadness about the desperate, lonely life of an aspiring championship skater.

Nearly a quarter-century later, Tonya Harding remains a punch line to the absurdity of knee-capping a skating opponent, in this case the now legendary Nancy Kerrigan, in some ridiculously quixotic quest to win an Olympic medal.

There’s little doubt that “I, Tonya” is a story told from the point of view of the subject. In a faux documentary style, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) recounts the ways her abusive mother (Allison Janney) guided her career path.

LaVona Golden, the mother from the deepest level of Dante’s Inferno, swears like a sailor on shore leave and spares no profanity-laced tirades that are outrageously funny about all matters of her daughter’s quest to become an iconic figure skater.

The abuse for Tonya, of course, continues with her poor choices in her personal life, namely falling for Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), a serial abuser and untalented, dimwitted fool with schemes so obtuse that he recruits cohorts with less intelligence than eggplants.

The black comedy element of this biopic is further advanced by the absolutely outlandish actions and thoughts of Harding’s so-called bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), a buffoon who absurdly claims to travel the world as an international terrorism consultant.

The comedy-drama “I, Tonya” may not burnish the image of a disgraced skater who would have you believe she knew nothing of the vicious attack on a rival, but it is certainly fascinating to watch this deep-dive into tabloid sleaze.

 

The Alienist S1 – 101

The TNT cable network is taking its own deep-dive into the underbelly of New York’s Gilded Age of 1896 in “The Alienist,” a ten-episode series about a psychologist acting in the capacity of what the modern world considers a “criminal profiler.”

The 19th century version of this professional is called an “alienist” because he treats mental disorders in people who have become, in the words of this program, “alienated from their own true natures.” In other words, people who belong in a mental ward, such as New York’s Bellevue hospital.

Into the role of profiler searching for a serial killer steps Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl), who is drawn into the bleak case of a particularly brutal murder, a young male prostitute found dead and dressed like a girl.

With the help of newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans), Dr. Kreizler makes the rounds of crime scenes. This duo also enlists the help of Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), the first female employee of the NYPD who aspires to do more than clerical work.

19th century Manhattan doesn’t look like an attractive place unless you are dining at Delmonico’s or attending a society ball. For the most part, “The Alienist” lurks in the dark corners of dank taverns and forbidding streets, where dead bodies turn up too easily.

An interesting historical link is found in the fact that the police commissioner is Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty), who would go on to better things in a relatively short time.

Anyone who watches the long-running CBS series “Blue Bloods” would notice that the office of NYPD Commissioner Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) prominently features a portrait of his famous Rough Rider predecessor.

A dark psychological thriller that might be just too gory for many tastes, “The Alienist” focuses a lot on atmosphere and mood. The seedy side of the big city is explored with its vast corruption and ubiquitous brothels.

At the winter TV press tour, director Jacob Verbruggen observed that the show creates “a visual time machine” that is “literally transporting the audience to the streets of Gilded Age New York.” The result could be intriguing or a turn-off.