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Showing posts from 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

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Tom Cruise does not disappoint and this sixth installment of the franchise was an exciting and adrenaline-powered action flick that carried on the story from the previous Rouge Nation which set a very high bar for the series. And like all MI films - especially ever since Simon Pegg was involved - wry comedy was peppered throughout to help elevate the mood and break the tension. However, the film ran too long at 147 minutes with scenes that dragged, that looked cool but really unnecessary, and an over-complicated plot that relied on contrivances, made little sense beyond the superficial, and - after six installments - plainly predictable despite the relentless numbers of twists.Superman's Henry Cavill was a wasted presence and Rebecca Ferguson's role more soundly reduced.

This time round, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie placed Cruise and co. mainly in Europe as they continued their international spy-games, and the cities they go to, in particular Paris, oozed their o…

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

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This was such a fun film! It definitely had flaws (lots!) and is nowhere as good as the 2008 film, and also lacked the insane energy and chemistry of the original cast, but it was such an irresistible, feel-good crowdpleaser. Great ABBA songs (though most of the big hits have already been used in the first film) with good actor-singers (Lilly James, Amanda Seyfried and Hugh Skinner), kitschy choreography, a touch of sappiness and rom-com hijinks, Cher!, Meryl!, and just a general feeling of happiness and that all is right in the world. Pure escapism entertainment. All these despite the very obvious cheap sets/production values, a lack of a real plot per se - more like a collection of vignettes stitched together for 114 minutes - and Cher just phoning it in and blatantly edited into the scenes (but god-damn it! It's Cher).

James and Seyfried were undeniably the lead in this outing. James held the screen with an effortless charm and she continued to ease her way into major stardom.…

RBG

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg aka The Notorious RBG is a fascinating person, and if you were already on her side this documentary will surely reinforce the positive opinions of her: a feminist, a liberal, a dissenter, an equal-rights hero, a survivor and a democrat. However, if you never did support her nomination and/or political believes, then RBG will also do nothing to change your mind. As well made, and as riveting, as Judge Ginsburg's life is made out to be, this documentary failed to give a balance view of her. It did not show what the republicans not like about her and whether they had grounds in their believes.

Nonetheless, this film also excelled in illuminating Judge Ginsburg's private life which helped to round her out as a person. The intimate look into her youth and her relationship with her husband was truly more fascinating than her political beliefs. And just for that insight, the upcoming Mimi Leder-directed Ginsburg biopic On The Basis of Sex (starring Felicity Jones…

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

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This film is not going to pass the Bechdel Test, but at least it had no illusion of doing so. Ultimately, this surprisingly topical sequel is a summer escapism that hung its allure on two brooding, macho leads speaking very little and doing very violent things. And if you go in not expecting anymore than that, then director Stefano Sollima and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski capably carried the mantel over from Dennis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins, respectively, to tell Taylor Sheridan's modern-western/mexican epic.

Sheridan, for all his faults in writing female characters, is a good writer for the male psyche and daftly managed to topically tie in the story with the current political mess. And the universe that he had created would not be out of place now as a prestige television series. Even the way the story is structured seemed suitable for an event series.

Josh Brolin continued his streak of playing tough strong men - see: Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War -  okie, maybe m…

Ocean's Eight

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This film ain't like the Steven Soderbergh/Clooney and Pitt franchise and it was not because of the ladies, but rather the execution. It lacked the fun - the joie de vivre - and the chemistry of the boys and the kinetic energy and mischievous style of Soderbergh and co. It seemed that the cast of this film was picked more for their diversity - white, black, asian, lesbian, british, american, australian - rather than their ability to be cohesive as an unit. Writer/Directory Gary Ross and co-writer Olivia Milch did a competent job but the heist lacked danger or even the risk of failure, and the eventual outcome was an exercise in motion rather than a stylish-executed caper.

Of all the stars, Anne Hatheway gets the biggest laughs followed by the brilliantly cookie Helena Bonham Cutter. Cate Blanchett looked effortlessly cool and chic but essentially was just phoning it in As for the ostensible lead actress Sandra Bullock, she oozed charm but lacked the affable spontaneity that made …

Hereditary

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A terrific horror movie in the vein of The Witch, It Followsand Babadook. A tense vibe throughout with writer/director Ari Aster focusing on mood, atmosphere and music to ratchet up the suspense and horror, and coupled with a phenomenal performance from Toni Collette and the two younger stars: the surprisingly emotional Alex Wolff and creepily innocent Milly Shapiro. Also, pleasantly, the story progressed unexpectedly with some really good unpredictable turns.

There were scares peppered throughout but the best thing about this film was how untypical the scares came along. Aster smartly introduced the elements subtly and never bludgeoned the audience with scare jumps or quick cuts. He teases all the senses, making you doubt what you have seen and heard, and then when it hits you, the scene is over and you are left with a lingering doubt of fear. Brilliant.

Sure, the story itself per se was not the most original. It shared DNA with Rosemary's Baby and The Witch, but the execution w…

Ant-Man and The Wasp

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This film is unlike any other previous MCU films and that is a double-edged sword for the audiences, it was more of a straight-up action-comedy rather than an action-comedic superhero film. For one there was no clear villain and the characters that served as the main antagonists were so badly written and fleshed out that they were really just time-fillers for the A-plot.

Regardless, AM&TW was an enjoyable film albeit its predictability, lack of emotional complexity (or even plot-complexity) and absence of any conflict of worth. But where it succeed was in its actors - the effortless charisma and easy chemistry of both Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily - and the comedic chops of its supporting cast, especially Michael Peña, and Judy Greer, Bobby Canavale and Randall Park. It was fun watching the cast interact and that helped the 118 minutes move along.

Some of the action sequences by repeat director Peyton Reed were visually exciting and he definitely used 3D and VFX to good effect he…

Incredibles 2

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Pixar/Disney has another hit! A crowd-pleaser for all ages that was entertaining, funny, exciting and unrelenting in its pacing and action. However, writer/director Brad Bird apparently got lazy, the plotting was highly predictable and all sorts of tropes were thrown in with nary a sparked of originality. And it all led to a narrative that lacked the emotional weight that made the original such an insta-classic, but at least we some great action sequences/directing and Michael Giacchino’s best score in ages. 
As aforementioned, the story was highly unoriginal. Every beat of the story line was predictable and nothing was refreshing or given a new spin. That being said, most audience would still eat it up - especially the younger ones - but the laughs were not as big, there were not any standout lines/sequences and the emotional beats just seemed perfunctory and unearned. 
Some of the early action sequences were superbly directed by Bird and closely reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s fluid…

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom [IMAX/3D]

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The latest in this never-ending franchise, helmed by Spanish director J.A. Bayona, proved that a good director can always be let down by a hamfisted and over-ambitious script, and also by leads that lacked chemistry together. Christ Pratt is an enigmatic lead actor: he has the charisma but not the acting chops; Bryce Dallas Howard - this time with sensible footwear - has still not found another breakout role since her The Village days.

The first and third acts were good, with great action sequences and moments of gorgeous cinematography and imagery (by cinematographer Oscar Faura), but it was really the second act which was the film's Achilles' heel. Writers Collin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly were over-ambitious in their attempt to intellectualise the film/franchise, but the execution and outcome was ultimately one of caricature over-simplicity. The pseudo-philosophical approach into ethics and morality was briefly broached but never bravely explored which then left the ques…

Solo: A Star Wars Story

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An entertaining and fairly exciting ride albeit predictable. Ron Howard capably delivered a summer popcorn flick that paid service to the franchise but not necessarily adding much new fans. Nonetheless, it still had its share of moments especially whenever the familiar Star Wars theme play up or when Chewie and Han have a moment. After his star-making turn in the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, Alden Ehrenreich cements his leading man status here with an old-school, cinematic charisma and swagger that was highly reminiscent of a young Harrison Ford except for the annoyingly constant hands on hips/thumbs hooking pants, power-posing. 
The rest of the cast were all competent with Woody Harrelson again reprising the gruff, yet fatherly, mentor role (see: “Hunger Games”) and Emilia Clarke still coasting on her fame as Danaerys and trying to act beyond her emotional range (perhaps Ehrenreich’s much-buzzed about acting coach should have worked on Clarke too). Paul Bettany continued the Star War…

Deadpool 2

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For all its humour and meta self-referentials which entertained and brought the laughs, this Ryan Reynolds-fronted sequel lacked the spark of originality which made the first movie such a breath of fresh air in this superhero-saturated landscape. This was expected - and inevitable - with most sequels but this film really over-compensated its weak plot, lack of characterisation, and honestly, poor action sequences/CGI, with a constant barrage of sight gags and running jokes. It all got too thin and tiresome after the first act and glaringly too reliant on (or obsessed with?) Reynolds to the detrimental sidelining of proper storytelling (or movie spectacle). But, hey, at least they got Celine to help riff-off Bond.
The problem with non-Marvel produced Marvel franchises (especially Fox-produced ones) is that without Kevin Feige they do not understand, or know, what their fans (and fanboys and fangirls) want. Instead, they focused on the character without the respect to the complicated his…

Isle of Dogs

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Wes Anderson’s latest film is a The Little Prince-esque fable that will definitively entertain all ages. The young ones for its visual splendour and child-like allegorical storytelling of good triumphing over evil; for the adults, the visual allure of Anderson’s signature symmetry and colour-styling, and the dry, deadpan humour peppered throughout the vague, political satire. And of course we have one of Alexandre Desplat’s best score stringing the whole move along, and boy does he have fun with the Japanese influences. 
This was a Japanese dystopian derived from the mind of Anderson. It appeared typically how a non-native, familiar, yet still ultimately a stranger, visualises and imagines Japan to be. Is it offensive? Not really except for his decision to have a white, American to be the heroine. Must the radical be not from the society? Must she be the only one to see the truth? Maybe if it was not about Japan it would not have been so bad...say North Korea? Or Russia? There was no g…

Avengers: Infinity War [3D/Atmos]

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Well, that was...over. Avengers: Infinity War was a fun film but it was not necessarily the best film in the MCU. However, kudos to the Russo brothers for carrying it off and delivering a superhero / Marvel film that serviced the fans and was also a good summer/popcorn tentpole blockbuster. With such a large cast, they did actually manage to give the fan/crowd favourites the most screen time but yet not neglect the others.

Sure, they were a couple of scenes where logic fails (which was to be expected) and some moments that dragged on longer than necessary (inevitable with a 149 minutes runtime), however, one important aspect that A:IW had was an emotional weight that held the narrative together. The story had consequences. There was a cost and heroes do die, although the Russo brothers - and Kevin Feige - could have been more cruel and brutal, and also creatively braver. Maybe in the sequel.

Speaking of which, for once - and possibly due to the pending sequel - the MCU has developed …

Annihilation

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What a pity non-Americans do not get to watch Alex Garland’s follow-up to “Ex-Machina” on the big screen. But thankfully we have Netflix saving the day. Other than perhaps losing the sense of scope and sound design, “Annihilation” did translate rather well to the small screen. And, boy, fans of smart, intelligent sci-fi should watch this! 
This was definitely not “The Cloverfield Paradox”. “Annihilation” was definitely not dumbed down and was led by a quintet of smart, strong women/actress with nary a male in sight other than to play supporting, almost sexualised, roles. But at least, they cast Oscar Isaac, and his crazy-expressive eyes, who was great in his minimal scenes. 
If this film had the visual panache and style of Dennis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” (read: budget), coupled with a more emotional-centric (read: Hollywood-esque) script, than it might have been more acceptable in the mainstream and not been relegated to Netflix. 
Natalie Portman definitely had the depth and range to handl…

The Square

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Swedish director Ruben Östlund followed up his tour de force film “Force Majeure” with this biting - and Palme d’Or winning - social satire about classism, elitism, ageism, narcissism, prejudices, legacy, pretensions, disenfranchisement and bystander apathy. 
The biggest problem with the film is that Östlund tried to include too much into one, singular - albeit 150 mins long - film, such that at times the film felt like a string of vignettes or short films intermittently strung together by a thin thread of narrative. 
However, at least the film was anchored by Claes Bang’s strong and charismatic performance as a flawed protagonist, and many impactful visuals and moments. 
The dining room scene - where the image of the poster was taken from - was one of the most powerful scene to be seen on screen in a long time. Just those few minutes beautifully, and hauntingly, captured so many of the themes the film and problems with our society now. 
And then we also had scenes where Östlund basically…

A Quiet Place

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John Krasinski’s directorial debut had so much potential with its concept and Emily Blunt as the lead, but unfortunately the outcome was a moderately tensed monster-thriller/horror wannabe that was riddled with plot holes, contrivances and questions. Krasinski’s direction was amateurishly competent, the screenplay lacked intelligence and logic, and even the score failed to heighten the tension. 
The core concept was exciting, albeit not the most original, but if only more thought had gone into the plot. There were glimpses of what the film could have been. For one the opening prologue was effective in setting the story and it was a smart choice by Krasinski to begin in media res. Also, the middle of the second act could have taken a left turn but instead it was just a brief detour and then back into the expected and typical. What a pity. And annoyingly so.
Blunt was absolutely wasted and although the promotional materials put her front and centre, she was not and director/husband Krasin…

A Wrinkle in Time

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Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” was one of the earliest books I read, and together with Douglas Adams’ “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” formed my childhood - and continual adult - fascination with sci-fi, quantum physics, time travel, mysticism vs religion and ignited my obsession with sci-fi/fantasy series. With that in mind, and the fact that the last time I read the source material was at least 20 years ago, Ava DuVarney’s version of it had the broad themes of love, acceptance and family in its heart but unfortunately her execution lacked the wonder and vision (and even horror) of L’Engle’s richly-imagined world, and also lacking was the emotional bond between its younger (main) characters and the familial bond of the Murrays. 
DuVarney excelled in the smaller and more intimate moments, especially in the first act, but once the story moved on, she was clearly overwhelmed by the fantastical aspects of the story, and consequently the CGI challenge in building a world (for …

Love, Simon

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Objectively, the cultural and historical impact of this film is significant. However, cinematically this was a slightly above average teenage rom-com. Under Greg Berlanti’s direction this felt like a higher production value Berlanti/The CW TV-movie than his usual DCEU TV shows. 
There was no large difference between this and a standard rom-com other than the main character is gay and the central romance is a same sex one. But where it failed was its lack of connection between the protagonist and the supporting characters. No relationships were properly established to deepen the “twists and turns” of the narrative and when things happen, we the audience do not really care. Similarly, in a teenager-centric flick, the relationship with the parental units are crucial - no matter how brief their appearance are (see: Call Me By Your Name) - and unfortunately Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel were mainly present as cookie-cutter, liberal accessories. 
Nick Robinson did his best as Simon and did…

The Death of Stalin

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A black, political satire with a razor sharp intellect and wit that managed to straddle the line between all out absurdist farce and serious politico-social commentary. If you enjoy Armando Iannucci’s “Veep” and “The Thick of It” then you would definitely have a great time watching this which was pure Iannucci comedy led by an all star cast that delivered so many wicked laugh out loud moments. From sight gags to word plays, intentionally unintentional asides to broad comedy, and acerbically dry wit to bleakest of black humour, this film just delivered.  It truly was almost a laugh a minute...and it went on for 107 minutes, which was no mean feat for Iannucci and the writers. Every actor was spot on. It was also very smart of Iannucci to have the cast all speak in their native tongue for an all Russian narrative because it simultaneously separate the tragic truth of the reality and yet also highlight it; both making a commentary of the past and also the indifference of the present. I a…

BPM (120 Battements par minute)

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A Tragic Romantic (yes, both in caps) set against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic in early 90s France. And unlike the American (read: mostly Hollywood) interpretation of the subject, BPM was a less showy retelling of the brave actions of the ACT UP activists, mixed in with a dose of European sensibility and arthouse auteur-ness. However, of course it still did have it cliches and was an unabashed tear jerker, but at least the cliches served a purpose and the tears were well-earned. The film was long but it never really felt the full 140 minutes and director Robin Campillo has smartly intersected the film with breaks to give the audience brief breathers to reflect and ruminate and recollect. A superb cast all round and our two leads had great, palpable chemistry that felt honest and real, which was crucial to the inevitable - but yet still cathartic - climax. The music was apt throughout and the choice to close the credits with no accompaniment was apt. After that ending, it was more…

Ready Player One

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An absolutely fun and excitingly nostalgic film that was very apt for Easter with lots of great (80s) pop culture references and laugh out loud moments. Although thinner in complexity and character development then Ernest Cline’s brilliant source novel, Steven Spielberg’s vision was richly drawn and thrillingly executed...except for the slightly drawn out second act. However, Spielberg’s version of the OASIS was as exciting as one would imagined from the book and he would be one of the few living directors who could get all the rights of the 80s throwbacks and pop culture references and put it on to the big screen in a way that worked and spoke to the audience. And obviously things would have to be changed when translating from the page to the screen, and some things worked (that whole homage to “The Shining”...so bloody good!!!) and some did not (why is the villain really after them again?). Tye Sheridan was well-cast as our protagonist but Ben Mendelsohn and Lena Waithe stole the sh…

Tomb Raider

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Alicia Vikander is the only reason to watch this reboot although Vikander lacked the natural charisma and screen presence of her predecessor Angelina Jolie. In addition, Vikander's Lara Croft is a disappointment in this post-Wonder Woman era, with her Croft being a more reactive "heroine" rather than a pro-active, action star. This could have been an attempt by director, Roar Uthaung, and writers, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, to ground this video-game franchise in some sort of reality, however, there are better ways to write your central character, and the plot, without having to sacrifice realism. This origin story had a good, "grounded" first act, but the middle act was too dragged out with simple logic utterly abandoned, and ended with a short, Indiana Jones/The Mummy-esque fun third act and an epilogue that laid the groundwork for a - no surprise here - franchise. 

There were no memorable moments, action or CGI sequences, in this film unli…

Pacific Rim: Uprising [IMAX/3D]

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This was an entertaining, albeit highly silly, ridiculous and narratively incoherent, piece of fluff film that felt a lot more like a high-budget, Sunday morning entertainment à laThe Power Rangers or a live-action Voltron wannabe. It lacked the visceral action, visual panache, characters/actors chemistry and high-stakes value that made the original Guillermo del Toro film so memorable and, retrospectively, exciting (despite its also clunky plot). The over-pandering to the Chinese audience was also intrusively blatant and really affected the overall enjoyment. That is what you get when Wanda bought over Legendary.

The plot made sense in a very loose sort of way. This was one of those films where you just got to check your brains and logic and sensibility at the door, and just go with the flow. Take things as they come, accept the plot contrivances for what they are, and then it will be much more enjoyable. Don't question the logic. That is the simplest way to enjoy this film.

The…

Visages, Villages (Faces/Places)

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This Oscar-nominated documentary was a complex meditation on the people you meet, presented in a seemingly fun package. Everybody has a story and it is up to the individual to find it out. 

The concept of it was highly entertaining, pairing French New Wave auteur Agnes Varda with modern day artist/photograffeurJR, and essentially having them go on road trips. Interweaved between the main narrative, we learn a little bit more about the both of them. 

But at the same time. we also learnt about the immortal transience of art and memories, the role of art in the community and in the culture, and also the duality of both the artist and its subject. At times, the docu may seem meandering but each segment ultimately drove home the point that it is the people that maketh the art.

An entertaining, thoughtful and surprisingly touching exploration of humanity and friendship.

Lady Bird

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Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird was a sure-handed, touching, and sincere coming-of-age story anchored by strong performances from a luminous and naturally charismatic Saoirse Ronan and an emotionally powerfully yet restrained Laurie Metcalf. The authentically complex mother-daughter (parent-child) relationship portrayed by Metcalf and Ronan was the glue that held the narrative together, and kudos to Gerwig for so aptly capturing that in all its angsty mess. Lady Bird deserved all its nominations and hype, and - with all due respect to Alison Janney - Metcalf has been robbed thus far.

This film was a tremendous success for an almost first time director and although unlike other competitors - Dunkirk or The Shape of Water - it lacked technical complexity, Gerwig was absolutely successful in effectively telling a story. And one with a heart, no less. Gerwig’s pacing of the story was fantastic and although the narrative went along at a breezy pace, it never felt rushed and …

Black Panther [IMAX/3D]

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Black Panther was one of the most unique superhero film by Marvel. Was it the best? Not necessarily (that honour still belongs to The Avengers), but it definitely was unlike any other of the franchises in the MCU. Surprisingly, its closest cousin would be the first Thor film. Both films had a Shakespearan core amidst the political intrigue and a son learning how to lead. However, Ryan Coogler's Black Panther stood out - heads and shoulders above - from Kenneth Bragnah's Thor in that it was superhero feature that had decidedly minimum focus on the superhero power/features. Instead the strength of this film was its focus on truly well-defined characters anchored by strong performances of its actors, and its elegant dive into heavy themes of political and social responsibility, cultural identity and self vs country.

It definitely also helped that Black Panther did not look/feel/sound like a typical, cookie-cutter, MCU film. Coogler's directing filled the screen with a vibrant…

I, Tonya

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This was a problematic film. If you did not know who Tonya Harding was before, this film does nothing to better understand who she was; if you did know about Harding and the incident, then this film also does nothing to better understand why and how it happened. Go listen to the New York Times' The Daily podcast that featured an interview with her, you will learn so much more about her as a person and her motivations, and that will definitely increase your appreciation of what the film may had been trying to say.

You know a film has issues when the best things about it were, in order: the editing (those figure skating moments were top-notched, minus some odd-looking face replacement CGIs), the 80s soundtrack (with the likes of ZZ Top, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Fleetwood Mac), followed by Allison Janey and then Margot Robbie. The narration was haphazard, the tone and pacing were all over the place, characters, including Harding and her mum LaVona, were all broadly caricatured…