Movie review: Battle of the Sexes

Movie reviews

Good evening,

My BFI London Film Festival series of reviews (it opened with Breathe) continues with Battle of the Sexes – another potential awards contender for the year!

IMDb summary: The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

As a side note, before the actual review begins, I just wanted to tell you about a different tennis movie that already came out this year and left me pleasantly surprised. It’s Borg vs. McEnroe and I suggest you check it out! Onto Battle of the Sexes!

Writing

Battle of the Sexes was written by Simon Beaufoy (who is known for writing such movies as Slumdog Millionaire127 HoursSalmon Fishing in the YemenThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Everest) and the film’s script was inspired/based on real events.

Battle of the Sexes tackled/portrayed two big concepts – the LGBTQ+ identity and the feminism/women’s rights. Sadly, both of these thematical spheres are still highly controversial and not discussed enough (or if they are debated, then only really unproductively, with zero chances of reaching a consensus between the opposing sides). Some might say that both of these issues are more topical in today’s socio-political climate than they were in the 1970s.

The movie approached these topics head-on (feminism way more than the LGBTQ+ side) and had a strong overall message. Personally, I loved it, but then again, I am a woman, a feminist, and a liberal. The general audiences, full of individuals of different genders/ideologies/beliefs, might turn on this movie because of its strong message of social justice. There was one short scene in the movie, where Emma Stone’s character confronted a journalist and clearly declared that she was not fighting to be seen as better, she just wanted to be treated equally. I wanted that idea – one of equality – to be more overtly stated in the movie because I worry that a takeaway for some audience members might be the fact that women want to be on top, rather than by side with the other genders. It is a bummer that, for some, being pro-female ultimately translates into an anti-male stance and I would hate if the cinema-goers interpreted Battle of the Sexes in such a way.

Now, let’s discuss some aspects of the writing in more detail. I thought that the presentation of Steve Carell’s character was captivating: his personal background and problems very clearly affected his actions of the tennis court. The way his gambling addiction and his work – tennis – were combined was super interesting too. It was also fascinating to see how he embellished his toxic masculinity for the public eye. The whole commentary on tennis as an activity in the middle of the spectacle v sports dichotomy was brilliant. In addition, the conflicting position of Carell’s character’s wife, played by Elisabeth Shue, was just amazing to watch: she rooted for her husband because he was her love but she also seemed to be cheering for Billie Jean and her cause.

Lastly, Battle of the Sexes also toyed with the concept of the gentlemanliness/sexism line (where one ends and the other begins). It also showcased sport as the factor that triumphed any relationship in the character’s life. The picture also did a very good job of combining feminity with feminism (which are often presented as polar opposites, which they aren’t). Oh, and the jokes were good too!

Directing

Battle of the Sexes was directed by a duo of filmmakers – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – who are responsible for directing one of my all-time favorite pictures Little Miss Sunshine. They did a great job with this film and its nuances and layers. Battle of the Sexes was a great biographical drama, a good sports drama, and an amazing romantic drama. The extreme close-ups of the characters made the movie seem intimate, real, and raw. The 1970s setting was well-realized, from the retro logos to the colorful vintage tracksuits. The sequences of the actual tennis play were good too, the final one was especially intense. The body doubles were hardly noticeable, so props to the directors, the cinematographer, and the camera crew for cleverly shooting around them.

Acting

Emma Stone (Magic in the MoonlightIrrational Man) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Cafe Society) played the two lead roles. Both of these actors had quite similar careers – they started in comedy and then tried to transition to more serious roles, with varying levels of success. For Stone, this performance is her follow-up to the Oscar win for La La Land and a strong contender for at least a nomination this year. For Carrel, the involvement in Battle of the Sexes might bring him another nomination too. Emma was extremely lovable in the role and exuded both strength and relatable vulnerability. Steve was really good too – he looked exactly like the real person and also made the guy into a somewhat likable human being, even if he was sprouting nonsense most of the time.

The supporting cast was also really good. I loved Sarah Silverman as the bossy manager, she was perfectly cast. Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals) was brilliant as Billie Jean’s lover, while Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) brought a lot of heart to his role of Billie’s husband. Finally, I loved to hate Bill Pullman (ID: Resurgence) in his role and adored Elisabeth Shue in hers!

In short, Battle of the Sexes was a great drama about equality, freedom, and fighting. Undoubtfully, it was well executed, but whether you will agree with its message, will entirely depend on who you are as a person.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Battle of the Sexes trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Swiss Army Man

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before the big 2017 releases start, let’s review a possible awards contender from last year. Today, I’m discussing one of the strangest film I’ve ever seen – Swiss Army Man.

IMDb summary: A hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.

  1. Swiss Army Man might be the most ‘indie’ (as in ‘out there’) independent picture ever. It was written and directed by a duo of filmmakers – Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. Swiss Army Man was also one of the most original experimental movies in 2016.
  2. At the center of Swiss Army Man, we find a bizarre combination of a depressing survival story mixed with disgusting and childish comic relief – fart jokes (next level fart jokes). Although this combo should not work, it somehow did. The jokes lightened up the tone, while the serious narrative made the jokes seem more legit.
  3. I also loved the film’s self-consciousness and the meta-reference to Jurassic Park (my all time favorite flick): ‘If you don’t know Jurassic Park, you don’t know s*it’. The play on the dichotomy of the diegetic and the non-diegetic sound was interesting and unique too. Basically, Swiss Army Man was a real ‘WTF’ film (that’s also the last line of the film) that was either stupid or brilliant.
  4. Danielle Radcliffe’s (HP, Kill Your Darlings, Now You See Me 2) performance as the farting corpse with superpowers was the only thing that everybody talked about in reference to this film, and I can see why. His acting in the picture was extraordinary: the ‘dead’ (literally) delivery of the dialogue and the look all worked and were equal parts realistic and believable and kooky and cartoonish.
  5. The other main character was played by Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine), who also did a magnificent job. He had a few different levels and layers to his performance and added a lot of relatability to the film.

In short, Swiss Army Man is not a film for the mainstream audiences and even cinephiles might find it too weird. And yet, whether you hate it or love it, this film is one to remember.

Rate: ?/5 (I have no idea how to rate this film in a numerical frame)

Trailer: Swiss Army Man trailer

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Movie review: The Big Short

Movie reviews

Hi!

This is another movie review of the Oscar season. I had a chance to see The Big Short, nominated for 5 Academy Awards, just before I left my home country, so this is another review, written in an airport, on my way to the UK. Hope you will enjoy it.

IMDb summary: Four denizens of the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.

Writing and Story

The Big Short’s script was written by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, who also directed the picture. The only film, created by Randolph, that I have seen is Love & Other Drugs – not that original romantic comedy. McKay has also mainly worked in the comedy business alongside Will Ferrell. And although I am not the biggest fan of comedies, I believe that the comedic background of both of these screenwriters helped them a lot, when tackling such a dry and boring issue as an economic crisis. The way they would explain complicated parts of the film by inserting a funny clip of famous people (Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, Richard Thaler and Anthony Bourdain) was a very interesting choice, however, it took me out of the film a few times, because the narrative cohesion disappeared. The constant breaking of the 4th wall also did not help the viewer to stay in the film’s world.

The film provided a very sarcastic critique of capitalism. All of the people represented in the movie were quite horrible, even our supposed ‘heroes’ of the story – the crisis was a very hypocritical business and that’s how it was presented in the film. Human vices like greediness and just a plain old stupidity were also portrayed. I also enjoyed the film’s idea that money never helps people but ruins them: money does not make the world go round, it destroys it. I strongly agree with this statement and was glad to see it depicted on screen. The only minus for me in the narrative was the fact that the film was very US based, while the actual aftermath of the crisis had a global reach. Only in a single scene has a character mentioned that some European countries are also crumbling because of the things that Americans did.

I also enjoyed how the narrative was organized and divided into 3 separate stories, all revolving around and building up to the same event. The event – the actual start of the economic crisis in 2008 – was a very depressing and unpleasant ending to the film and it kinda made me feel sick after watching the movie. So, despite the fact that this picture is really funny, this is not a Friday night type of a chill comedy. The part that angered me the most was the fact that rich people never had to pay as much as poor people. And that’s why we need to come up with a new way to organize economy because capitalism clashes with our human nature. And don’t think that by saying things which are against capitalism, I somehow believe in communism – I have lived in a post-communist society and it is not pretty. Basically,  I think we need a new and completely fresh ideology.

This script was based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. Lots of people’s and companies’ names have been changed in the film, however, all of the characters are still based on real people and the overall film and book are inspired by real events, whose presence is still felt today to some extent.

Directing

At the beginning of the film, I thought that the cinematography and constant shifting of the camera and the focus were a bit amateurish as I am used to smooth panning of the camera. However, as the film went on, I realized that this type of filming was a creative choice. I cannot say that I liked it but I definitely respected this different type of filming.

Editing

Editing is not usually the part of the film, which I discuss, however, The Big Short’s editing was quite important to the overall film. Not only did the creators of this movie used inserts with celebrities, explaining difficult economic terms, they also over-saturated the film with montages of random everyday life clips, media coverage, and music videos. However, the opening montage (history recap) and the quotes, appearing on screen, were both nice finishing touches. The other montages were definitely a lot to take in and a bit crazy to watch but they helped the film to prove its main point. In short, the film was both an example of continuity and discontinuity editing. It had discontinuous inserts in the continuous narrative.

Acting

1st story:

  • Christian Bale as Dr. Michael Burry – a neurologist who has become the manager of the hedge fund Scion Capital. Bale hs always been an amazing actor, starring both in the mainstream films like The Dark Knight trilogy as well as awards contenders, like American Hustle. I also liked him in Exodus, despite the whole whitewashing scandal, but my favorite movie of his is Nolan’s The Prestige. He was also really good in the role of Burry – I liked his confident personality and over-the-top work aesthetic. Bale has a few movies coming out this year and he will also voice one of the characters in Serkis’s Jungle Book: Origins coming out in 2017.

2nd story:

  • Steve Carell as Mark Baum – a manager of Wall Street hedge fund FrontPoint Capital. Carell was also really great in the role, he was probably the nicest character in the whole film, because he actually felt bad for other people. The first time that I’ve seen Carell in a film was back in 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. He has also starred in one of my favorite comedies Crazy, Stupid, Love alongside his The Big Short co-star Ryan Gosling. Carell has had a few good years regarding the awards season – he was nominated for Foxcatcher last year – and this streak might continue, because he is starring in a Woody Allen’s film this year and Allen’s films tend to get recognition from the academy. 
  • Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett – a self-interested salesman at Deutsche Bank and the narrator of the film. Also, the most charming character of the film – Gosling did an amazing job and should have gotten more recognition for this role. I have recently watched a different film, starring Gosling, called Drive (my dad actually recommend it to me). He was really good in it and delivered a very nuanced performance. The Ides of March is also a great political drama with Gosling in a lead. I am also very interested in Gosling’s next project – La La Land – it’s a musical coming out this summer.

3rd story:

  • John Magaro as Charlie Geller and Finn Wittrock as Jamie Shipley – founders of Brownfield fund. They did a good job in the roles – I really liked the fact that they were new to this game and still were able to figure out the lie. I am not familiar with both of these actors’ work, although, I can tell you that Magaro has been in another awards’ contender Carol and Wittrock has starred in Noah and Unbroken (he will also be in the aforementioned La La Land).
  • Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert – Charlie and Jamie’s trader and mentor. Pitt was also one of the producers of the film and did an amazing job as always. He was one of the most humane characters, since he was an outsider of the system. I have recently seen Pitt in Jolie’s By The Sea. While I was quick to dismiss that film at first, it kinda grew on me, so I definitely recommend it.

All in all, while economics was the most boring subject for me at school and while I always skip economy news on TV or online, I had a great time watching The Big Short – it was a bit random and weird at times, but all the different pieces somehow all worked together. The narrative and the action were amazing. The directing and the editing – cool but not to my taste. The film definitely was a bit depressing, so keep that in mind when going to see it. I do not think that it will win any Academy Awards, but it certainly deserves the nominations it has received.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: The Big Short trailer

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