Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen

Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy

121 mins. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity.

 

I’d been looking forward to Battle of the Sexes ever since I heard that Emma Stone (The Help, The Croods) would be playing Billie Jean King and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, Despicable Me 3) would be playing Bobby Riggs. The two performers worked so well together for their limited time in Crazy Stupid Love. In fact, Emma Stone also appeared in Birdman with Andrea Riseborough  and Superbad with Martha MacIsaac. She’s built quite the incredibly portfolio, but is Battle of the Sexes up to snuff?

Battle of the Sexes is more about Billie Jean King than her opponent. It covers her strained relationship with husband Larry (Austin Stowell, Whiplash, Colossal), her secret relationship with lover Marilyn (Riseborough) and her fight against Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman, Independence Day, The Equalizer) over women’s rights in professional tennis. But when she finds herself head-to-head with the showboating Riggs, a man who is about to lose his wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas, Chasing Mavericks) due to his lies and gambling addiction, she finds herself fighting for more than just bragging rights in this film from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks).

Battle of the Sexes is a classic character study and a great showcase for numerous incredible performances, led by Stone and Carell. Emma Stone disappears into her role, proving that she is one of the best actresses working in the business today. Her role as King isn’t imitation or caricature but rather a true interpretation by one artist of another. Steve Carell too is tough to spot in the charismatic Riggs, a feat for the performer who could’ve turned to other comedic performances to channel. Instead, his humor is met with a nuanced characterization of a man who understands what he is doing wrong yet cannot stop himself. It’s like he is watching a car accident, unable to turn away.

The screenplay comes from Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, Everest) and, for the most part, it is quite strong. I found the film dragging a bit in the second act, which could’ve been fixed easily in the editing bay or with a tightening of the script.

The director duo husband and wife that is Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have delivered a film that feels like a documentary. The style and tone is something that could’ve come straight out of 1973. An event like this could very easily have turned satirical or lampoonish, and the filmmakers ride the line very well.

Battle of the Sexes is Emma Stone’s movie, and that’s a really good thing. In fact, this could be the best she’s ever been. That doesn’t excuse her costar Carell from an amazing turn as the showboating aging tennis star, but it just proves the acting caliber of the stars. If you get the chance, check out Battle of the Sexes while it’s still in theaters. This is one to watch come awards season.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 25 – The Ring (2002)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

115 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, language and some drug references.

 

I don’t know if you remember (I sure didn’t), but fifteen years back, The Ring was one of the first big films to explore viral marketing. In fact, the first “trailer” for The Ring was just the cursed tape from the movie with no credits or title card. Viewers had to look online for insight or wait with anticipation for a month to find out what the hell was going on.

Seattle journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts, King Kong, TV’s Gypsy) is tasked with uncovering the truth involving her niece’s death. When her investigation brings her to an old shack and a strange videotape with disturbing images, she receives a phone call telling her she is going to die in seven days. Now, in a race against the clock, Rachel and ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson, Everest, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy) must find the origin of the tape and learn how to keep themselves alive as time slowly runs out.

The Ring is the first in a long string of Western remakes of Asian horror films, and it is arguably the best one. This writer has found that it isn’t really a classic of the genre, but director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, A Cure for Wellness) weaving an expertly crafted experience and Ehren Kruger (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ghost in the Shell) turning in a well-written albeit severely bloated screenplay, The Ring holds well.

I think, in addition to the gorgeously-striking visuals on the screen, Verbinski is blessed with a force of nature in lead actress Naomi Watts, who elevates this genre film with a nuanced, layered performance as Rachel. Rachel is flawed, instinctive, smart, and cunning.

My biggest frustration with the film is the ending. I think The Ring ends on a confusing and unexplained note. It doesn’t really tell you what’s going on, and if forces a lot of inference. There was a bookend of scenes with actor Chris Cooper that sounds like it would have helped here, but test audiences didn’t respond well to it, but I think that was a mistake.

The Ring is fine genre horror and very creepy when taking its PG-13 rating into consideration. It’s an entertaining but somewhat crowded narrative and its characters are interesting and engaging. Overall, it’s a staple for many even if I found its ending to be heavily flawed.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of F. Javier Gutierrez’s Rings, click here.

 

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Preliminary Visual Effects Shortlist Revealed!

 

On location in Jordan, Ridley Scott directs Matt Damon, in THE MARTIAN.

Hey everyone, the 88th Academy Awards list of films to be nominated for Best Visual Effects has been narrowed down to twenty for the Academy to officially nominate. Here they are:

 

Ant-Man

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Bridge of Spies

Chappie

Everest

Ex Machina

Furious Seven

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

In the Heart of the Sea

Jupiter Ascending

Jurassic World

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

The Revenant

Spectre

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Terminator Genisys

Tomorrowland

The Walk

 

interstellar2015a

What do you think? Me personally, I believe that the frontrunners here are obviously the soon-to-be-seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road, which I saw earlier this year and should almost guarantee a win for the perfect blending of practical effects and minor digital retouching.

What films do I expect to not see on the final ballot? Chappie, Everest, Terminator Genisys, and Tomorrowland as well as Furious Seven. They just won’t be able to convince the academy that they are worthy of the final five.

It also remains to be seen if the upcoming releases for In the Heart of the Sea and The Revenant will gain any recognition once the films bow later this month.

The process of selecting nominees is a larger one than most would know, as the list will be further thinned to 10 and then each finalist will be able to vie for the role one last time.

Many have pointed out the biggest films missing including Cinderella, Crimson Peak, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and San Andreas.

The most recent winners of the award are Interstellar, Gravity, and Life of Pi.

I don’t know about you, but I am marking my calendar for January 14th when we will get the final list of nominations and begin death-racing toward the February 28th-dated awards ceremony.

lifeofpi2012a

So kids, what do you think? Which films do you expect to see on the final ballot and what are some other films you saw from this year with impressive visual effects? Let me know!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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