Battle of the Sexes

September 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough
Directed by
: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”)

With a story as relevant today as it was in 1973, it’s easy to see how a dramatic portrayal the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs could strike a chord and bring to the forefront the relevancy of the lack of equality between men and women in areas from respect, to wages, and how those battles are still being fought today. It’s a shame that the film has no interest in doing that.

In protest of the pay gap between men and women for tennis tournaments, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) breaks from the professional tennis association and forms her own tennis circuit that tours the country. Meanwhile, tennis hustler and former champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is struggling to pay off debts and deal with a gambling addiction. In an effort to drum up money and publicity, Riggs devises a plan: to take on King in a tennis match to determine the superior gender.

Though Stone and Carell are certainly good in the film, both suffer from a lack of well written characters. Carell’s Riggs is particularly one-dimensional and never fully feels like a fleshed out character. Instead, he seems like a desperate man who is either drunk or perpetually out of it, trying to drum up controversy for a big pay day. King, on the other hand, is subdued and struggling internally with her sexuality. It’s certainly an interesting take, and a complex story, yet it somehow feels out of place given the setting and early design of the film.

Rather than focusing on the pivotal Battle of the Sexes tennis match and the events that led up to it, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy chose to frame the movie through following a love-triangle of sorts, with King struggling to maintain her marriage with a man, while becoming involved with a woman. So much screen time is devoted to this plot line, that it’s almost easy to forget what movie you are watching. Stone and Andrea Riseborough are good here, but the film never really commits to this relationship hard enough to feel like a movie about King’s sexual awakening.

The biggest problem, however, is the way in which it treats the driving force behind the match itself, which is the attitude of Riggs and his persistent attitude that men are superior to women. By treating Riggs’ sexism as a publicity stunt to promote a tennis match, “Battle of the Sexes” severely undercuts any and all impact it makes as a statement of inequality. There is no context or worse, consequence, to any of his sexist statements or chauvinist attitudes and, subsequently, it all comes across as one big joke. It’s made even worse by having King partake in the publicity frenzy, having fun with Riggs and focused in her own world which makes her moment of catharsis completely unearned.

But beyond that, “Battles of the Sexes” is just a dull film that is more interested in telling a lustful love story than it is talking about equality, gender gaps or even tennis. The tone never sets in comfortably, leaving the film feeling disjointed and dispassionate. Worst of all, in a time where this story could draw a striking parallel to present day issues, it takes a route that virtually ensures that can’t be done. Ultimately, “Battle of the Sexes” feels like a missed opportunity.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

November 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“Water for Elephants”)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours”) and Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”)

Unless you’re an unbiased fan of the wildly popular adult-book series “The Hunger Games” written by Suzanne Collins, the sequel to the record-breaking 2012 original film won’t hold much emotional weight. Without a deeper investment in these characters, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” much like the latest “Thor” sequel, was only made for its most hardcore followers.

Exploring much loftier ideas than the first film, “Catching Fire” does give Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) a good enough reason to reprise a role she was born to play.  Lawrence, whose beauty never overshadows Katniss Everdeen’s heroic nature, once again stands apart from the movie script’s unoriginal ideas. The dystopian themes featured in this series might seem new to somebody who has never picked up a science fiction book written in at least the last century, but, unfortunately, “Catching Fire” doesn’t seem all that interested in breaking any new ground.

On what is called a “Victor’s Tour” (think of a TV reality-show tour for “American Idol” contestants), Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are traveling from district to district being touted as the winners of the 74th annual Hunger Games. Unhappy with the way those games unfolded (the duo is pronounced co-champions only after they threatened to kill themselves with poison berries), President Snow (Donald Sutherland) sees their win as a threat to the way his government functions.  If someone like Katniss can break the rules, what’s to stop others from revolting against the system?

Putting an end to Katniss’ revolutionary way of thinking couldn’t come at a better time with the 75th annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) about to begin. Established as an All-Star type of reality show, past winners of the Games, including Katniss and Peeta, are forced back into a new arena where they must once again fight to survive against other competitors. This time the to-the-death battle is headed by a new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who shares in President Snow’s thoughts that Katniss is a menace to the status quo.

Much like the first movie, “Catching Fire” takes quite a while to get to the action most mainstream moviegoers not familiar with the books might be most interested in. For a second movie in a franchise like this, there still seems to be a lot of set-up left to do before the last two films are shot back to back in the next couple of years. Unfortunately, much of that set-up is filled with lazy dialogue and plenty of underwritten secondary character that don’t matter much in the big picture. It’s surprising since the screenplay is penned by Oscar winners Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours”) and Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”).

At this point, all that really matters is Katniss. A strong female character like her is rare in movies these days, and Lawrence does an impressive job at portraying her as someone we can all root for. In an age where the Disney princess culture reigns supreme among audiences, it’s nice to see that there’s a fictional character out there that girls (at least tweens) can stand behind. Sure, Katniss might get someone’s attention by shooting an arrow through their chest, but is that kind of PG-13 rated violence really any worse than Cinderella or Snow White or Sleeping Beauty or the Little Mermaid finding happiness only after they hook up with their Prince Charming? Just as long as Katniss stays a lot manlier than Peeta (and that damn Gale Hawthorne doesn’t get much screen time), a lot can be said about how “Catching Fire” and the rest of this series can pave the way for more of these roles to find a permanent place in Hollywood.

127 Hours

November 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara
Directed by: Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and Danny Boyle (debut)

If the only reason you’re questioning whether or not to see Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle’s newest film “127 Hours” is because of the graphic amputation scene supposedly causing audiences to pass out in their popcorn, that’s not a good enough reason to skip one of the best films of the year. Suck it up, skip the snack, and go on this stylish journey of survival and self-discovery as soon as possible.

“127 Hours” is based on the true story of adventurer Aron Ralston, who in 2003 gets his arm caught between a boulder and a canyon wall in Utah and lives to tell about it after he makes the brave decision to cut through his own limb to free himself.

Trapped in the crevice for more than five days, we watch as Aron (James Franco in the best performance of his career) uses the few tools he has to chip away at the rock pinning him down, conserves the little food and water he’s brought along into the isolated canyons, and slowly lose all hope as the days get longer and nights get colder.

Through compelling flashback scenes and others where Aron hallucinates, Boyle makes some remarkable directorial choices to help us understand exactly the situation Aron has found himself in. Unlike the film “Buried” where our main character spends 90 minutes literally laying in a coffin, Boyle takes audiences deeper than just the idea of how claustrophobic the experience is.

Boyle allows us to enter the mind of our protagonist and into the crevice itself. When he takes short drinks from his water bottle, we’re aware of just how much time he has left. When he holds a sincere conversation with himself or records a message on his camcorder, we become transfixed in Aron’s need to escape and his acceptance of his own mortality.

Franco captures this through an emotionally-charged performance that will surely earn him an Oscar nomination. It’s a role unlike anything we’ve ever seen him in before and one that will truly be labeled as career definining when all is said and done. “127 Hours” is a fascinating example of what an actor can do with a intense screenplay and so little room to maneuver.

As graphic as the final scene is, it is not gratuitous. By that time, you will be so invested in Aron the pain he feels during these excruciating moments will become all too real. Boyle doesn’t let up and the film is all the better for having a director bold enough to make those tough decisions.

Slumdog Millionaire

December 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Freida Pinto
Directed by: Danny Boyle (“Sunshine”)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (“The Full Monty”)

Deep from the slums of Mumbai, India, “Slumdog Millionaire” is a captivating story about life, love and predestination told in one of the most unique narratives of the year.

The film follows Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a poor orphan who has found himself only one question away from winning the grand prize of $20 million rupees on the Hindi version of the TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

Jamal, however, is not participating in the game show to win money. He is there for a more important reason – true love.  Jamal believes that the longer he manages to stay on the show, the more likely his long-lost love Latika (Freida Pinto) will see him.

But growing up in the slums with no education isn’t going to help Jamal answer the questions posed to him during the competition. Instead, he relies on fate to guide him through each query. The better Jamal does during the show, the more skeptical a police inspector (Irfan Khan) becomes. “What the hell can a slumdog possibly know?” he asks when they begin to interrogate Jamal and attempt to get him to confess to somehow cheating on the show.

But there is an inexplicable power helping Jamal through his quest to find Latika. As we watch him sit across from the show’s host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) answering questions, we begin to understand the profoundness of the event happening before our eyes through beautifully detailed flashbacks of Jamal and his brother Salim raising themselves after their mother is killed.

Each question Jamal is asked transports us to meaningful and sometimes tragic times in his life that he can’t shake from his mind. With those deep-seated memories, Jamal is hopeful fate will continue direct him until he is able to find the girl he has always loved.

British filmmaker Danny Boyle has created a powerful story about destiny and the ability of the human heart to continue to love despite life’s hardships. Shooting on location in Mumbai, Boyle encapsulates the ambiance and energy of the city through sweeping cinematography and one of the most stimulating soundtracks this year. Boyle has proven in the past that he can take on any type of genre (“28 Days Later,” “Sunshine”), and do it with enthusiasm. In “Millioniare,” the project at times seems bigger than the the players but Boyle is able to take control of all its components and deliver an authentic piece of filmmaking full of exhilaration.