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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Movie review: Despicable Me 3 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Illumination Entertainment has replaced DreamWorks as the other ‘it’ animation studio in Hollywood (first being the Disney/Pixar conglomerate). Let’s see whether their latest offering – Despicable Me 3 – is worthy of praise.

IMDb summary: Gru meets his long-lost charming, cheerful, and more successful twin brother Dru who wants to team up with him for one last criminal heist.

I, personally, really enjoyed the first two Despicable Me films (and other recent Illumination movies, like Sing and The Secret Life of Pets) but I vastly despised the Minions spinoff. I hoped that the minions’ meme would have died down by now but is still as strong as ever. Thus, the interest in this movie is, most likely, big. Minions have been definitely used more in the marketing than when advertising the previous pictures of the main series. While their role in the movie is smaller than I expected (thankfully), two of them actually appear on the screen first, a few seconds before Gru – the supposed star of the franchise.

Writing

The writing duo Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio wrote the third film in the Despicable Me series (they also penned the original and the first sequel). Overall, the script was a mixed bag of stuff. Story-wise, a lot of things were happening and multiple plotlines were being developed (with varying amounts of attention and screentime). The biggest ones were Gru’s and his brother’s story, the Mother-Daughter bonding idea, the new villain’s Baltazar’s plotline, and the Minion shenanigans (that had little to do with anything else in the movie). The daughter characters also had their small side quests (unicorn and engagement). While I don’t really think that all these lines necessarily worked together, I would at least like to compliment the scriptwriters for trying to do something with the story and the characters.

Speaking of the characters – I loved the new villain Baltazar. I loved his 80s look (shoulder pads!) and affinity for music and dance. He really reminded me of Baby from Baby Driver – stealing into the beat of the music similarly to driving into the beat of the music. I also loved his Guardians of the Galaxy-like dance-off idea. Agnes character – the most adorable of the daughters – was also delightful to watch and I very much enjoyed her ‘hunt’ for the unicorn (definitely more than everything related to the Minions).

Thematically, Despicable Me 3 tackled adult themes and paired them with childish humor. The grown-up characters were dealing with being fired and finding a new life path, while also coming to terms with failed dreams of their youth; they were attempting to reconnect with long lost siblings and were worrying about being good parents. Things, like gambling online, sexual innuendos, and baldness were also mentioned. On the completely opposite end of the spectrum was the film’s humor – it was mostly childish. The Minions comic relief side quest could have been cut out of the movie and nothing would have changed. The Minions were actually sort of replaced by pigs. The new brother character, who failed at being a villain, got annoying really quick too.

Lastly, one meta idea that I immensely enjoyed about Despicable Me 3 was the fact that the movie’s villain was attempting to take down Hollywood, while the film itself was very much a product of Hollywood. Oh, the sweet irony.

Directing

Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, who directed all the previous pictures of the series, helmed Despicable Me 3 and did an okay job. The animation was good, as it always is. The pacing was also fine and I liked the fact that the movie was quite short and not too overindulgent in itself. The score (by Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams) was catchy too. While the film was surely my least favorite in the franchise (it went downhill as so many series do), I think that the kids would definitely enjoy it. I wonder if they will attempt to continue the franchise – is the final scene of Dru teaming up with the Minions an indication that the next film might be Dru vs. Gru. And we all know that ‘versus’ stories are popular now.

Voice work

Steve Carell performed a double duty and voiced both Gru and Dru. I liked his work here as much as in the previous films and appreciated the subtle differences in the voices of the two brothers. Kristen Wiig was also good, while the co-creator of South-Park Trey Parker was a neat choice for a villain.

In short, Despicable Me 3 is a perfectly servicable kids’ movie that doesn’t offer anything too special but is, overall, entertaining, if one can stomach the Minions.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Despicable Me 3 trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Cafe Society

Movie reviews

Hello!

The newest Woody Allen picture that hopes to be an awards’ contender has reached theatres, so let’s discuss it!

IMDb summary: In the 1930s, a young Bronx native moves to Hollywood where he falls in love with the secretary of his powerful uncle, an agent to the stars. After returning to New York, he is swept up in the vibrant world of high society nightclub life.

  1. Woody Allen’s filmography is extensive and impressive. I’ve mostly familiar with his latest European adventure films (Match Point, Scoop, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in ParisYou Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, To Rome With Love and Magic in the Moonlight which I reviewed when it came out in 2014) as well as his latest features set in The States (Blue Jasmine and Irrational Man which I’ve also reviewed). I also really want to watch some of his older classics, starting with Manhattan and Annie Hall. Speaking about his newest picture – Cafe Society – it is a Woody Allen film to the bone. In addition, if Hail, Caesar! was The Coen brothers’ love letter to Hollywood, then Cafe Society is Allen’s homage to the Golden Age of the movie capital as well as a subtle critique of it.
  2. Like always, Allen wrote the script for the movie himself. Once again, he explored his signature ideas, like love and romance, and asked the existential questions. He also invited the viewers to think what would have happened if the characters made different life choices. Looking at the format of the narrative, the film didn’t have a linear story. The plot consisted of character moments/scenes, which were connected with/through narration (done by Allen himself). Since the picture was partially set in Hollywood, it made a lot of movie references, which I, as a cinephile, appreciated. Cafe Society was kinda an absurd comedy but not a dark one – it was full of light, heartfelt satire. It also had an artsy and a dreamy aura about it with a touch of charm.
  3. Woody Allen used his signature camera movements and filming techniques to create this feature. Together with the famous Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Allen crafted beautiful steady shots that allowed the viewer to calmly appreciate the gorgeous mise-en-scene. The back and forth over the shoulder shots and wipe and fade away transitions brought a classical Hollywood narrative film feeling to the picture, while the tracking shots added some movement and energy. The framing of the picture was neat as well – I loved how the characters moved in and out of the frame and how the filmmakers played with on-and-off-screen spaces. My favorite scene of Cafe Society was Kristen Stewart’s and Steve Carell’s characters’ confrontation with interruptions – it was crafted magnificently and was not only entertaining and funny but emotional and meaningful. Lastly, the movie had Allen’s signature warm color palette and the lovely and quirky upbeat soundtrack.
  4. The two leads were played by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. This was their 3rd movie together (the first two were Adventureland and American Ultra). The pair had a very subtle chemistry which worked really well in a film like this. I enjoyed seeing Eisenberg in his usual role of an awkward yet adorable guy and did enjoy how he portrayed the character’s transition and growth. While I like Eisenberg the most in the roles likes this one and in films like The Social Network and Now You See Me, I also want to see him trying something different. I actually do want to see what will he do with the character of Lex Luthor as BvS ending was promising. Kristen Stewart was also really good in the film, she probably played her most feminine role yet which was quite interesting to observe. I was used to Stewart playing a rebel of some sorts like in Still Alice or Camp X-Ray.
  5. The supporting cast of the film did a great job as well. I was quite surprised to see Steve Carell (The Big Short) in the film but he was really good – he even made me, as a viewer, empathetic towards a kinda creepy character. Blake Lively was amazing in her small role too – her dazzling look and almost regal and sophisticated yet still flirty demeanor fit the setting of old Hollywood perfectly. I’m finally seeing her movie The Shallows next week. Jeannie Berlin was super funny – I loved how blunt her character was. Corey Stoll (Ant-Man, Black Mass) was also great and added some grunge to the overall glamorous picture. Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect) was also great with her laughing-through-tears scene.

In short, Cafe Society was another great film by Woody Allen. It is a must watch for all the fans of the auteur and I would also recommend it to all the fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Cafe Society 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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