BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017)
A great cast highlights this retelling of the epic “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973 during the height of the Women’s Liberation movement. It takes us on the journey leading up to the match, with up and coming female tennis player Billie Jean King fighting for equality within the pro tennis circuit and retired champ and gambler Bobby Riggs looking for a return to glory and a big payday.
Film is written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Little Miss Sunshine duo Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton and is perfectly cast, especially in regards to it’s leads. Stone and Carell play King and Riggs spot on with Carell really enjoying Riggs’ attempts to “put the show in chauvinism”. If the film falters a bit it’s that it’s first half leading up to the challenge is a bit drab. It focuses a lot on the married King’s affair with a female hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough) and her attempts to start her own tennis tournament with World Tennis Magazine founder, Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman). It is very heavy on melodrama and is a bit dreary at times. It picks up in the second half when King finally accepts Riggs’ challenge and the lead-up to the match becomes a media circus and a major event. The second half has the energy and spark, that the first half was lacking, though those early story elements are of importance to the overall tale. Even knowing how the actual event ended, it’s still a lot of fun to watch this great cast play it out and makes this film so worth seeing. Also stars Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming and Elisabeth Shue as Riggs’ wife Priscilla.
Birdman is a quirky and refreshingly off-beat comedy/drama from director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and appropriately stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, an actor trying to reignite his fading star. Riggan was once world famous for starring in the lead of the popular superhero franchise, Birdman. Now he’s entering his 60s and trying to validate himself and add some relevance back to his life by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway play. Obviously, what can go wrong, will go wrong and there are an eccentric group of characters…including his imaginary, costumed alter-ego…in the mix to add to Riggan’s troubles. Iñárritu has a very original style that fits the story so well. It’s filled with lengthy tracking shots following our characters from scene to scene and some delightfully surreal moments as well. The cast are all top notch, with Keaton giving one of his best performances and it definitely is his show. He is supported by the likes of Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough who are all excellent in their roles, too. But, in my humble opinion, it is Emma Stone who steals every scene she’s in with her best work to date as Riggan’s fresh out of rehab daughter. She is simply a powerhouse in some scenes and holds her own…and more…with the seasoned veterans. A flick worthy of it’s praise. The only negative I had was that the jazz drum score got on my nerves after awhile. Otherwise, a great little movie.
If you are a fan of WWII flicks and all the familiar trappings, then you’ll probably enjoy this. I found it to be kinda dull and any dramatic weight or intensity of the action is brought down by an overload of clichés. The story, written and directed by David Ayer, finds Staff Sergeant Don Collier (Brad Pitt) leading his tank crew deep into Germany in 1945 to clean up the last of the German military resistance…and not having an easy time of it. Ayer throws every cliché in the book from situations to stereotypical war movie characters and adds some Private Ryan style violence, but the effect is still that we’ve seen it all before, since the very first WWII movie was made. The film is well-directed and action well-staged, but it’s just too familiar to be interesting and takes very few risks to liven things up. If you like this kind of film, go for it. Otherwise it’s nothing you haven’t seen in countless other likewise movies. The solid cast also stars Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal and Logan Lerman as the stereotypical green newbie.
Oblivion is set in a not too distant future where fending off an alien invasion has left Earth ravaged and all but uninhabitable. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) also know as Tech 49 is left on the now evacuated planet with his communications officer and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), his job is to maintenance the armed drones that watch over and protect large floating machines that are turing sea water into fusion energy for use on the human race’s new home on the Saturn moon, Titan. But, despite having his memory wiped, Jack has dreams of a pre-war Earth and a mysterious and beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko). He finds himself drawn to the relics of the past earth though told to leave such thoughts behind by Victoria and his superiors in the massive command station that hoovers in orbit called The Tet. But, as the remaining alien forces know as ‘Scavs’ escalate their attacks on the drones and power stations, Jack continues to feel like something isn’t right. And as a ship crash lands on Earth carrying the very woman he dreams of and she and Jack are captured by the Scavs, Jack soon finds out that all is not what it seems and maybe he isn’t either. What I really liked about Writer/Director Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion is that it reminded me of the pre-Star Wars science fiction films of the 70s, when they were more story driven and less action oriented. And a lot of it’s story elements and visuals seem to draw from films like Silent Running and Omega Man and even more modern epics like Independence Day to name a few. Kosinski gives the film a leisurely pace as Jack slowly finds out more and more about the true nature of the world and life he thought he knew. There are some nice action scenes and these are well staged and move fast but, overall Kosinski wisely lets his story develop over the course of the film and we are along with Jack as he learns some hard to accept realities. The film has a beautiful visual style. I was not a fan of Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy but, it was a gorgeous looking film as is this. Sure the visuals seem to be inspired by past post-apocalyptic epics but, I still though the look and design was captivating. As for it’s minimal cast, Cruise is excellent as Jack. I feel Tom Cruise can be… well, Tom Cruise in a lot of his recent flicks but, here I saw and accepted him as Jack and he portrayed well the emotions of a man with a burning curiosity about things he’s told to accept as is and who finds his life may be a lie. Riseborough is fine as his partner in all respects. She seems sweet and she generally cares about Jack especially when his curiosity has him defy orders. Kurylenko is appropriately mysterious at first but, as the story progresses she meets the demands of the script. Rounding out the cast are Morgan Freeman and Game Of Throne’s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who are fine as other humans Jack encounters. The production is relatively flawless with a really cool score by French band M83. When all is said and done I enjoyed Oblivion. I didn’t feel like I had seen anything new or innovative, and it’s secrets are not hard to figure out beforehand. It seemed like a lot of influences from past films blended together… though, very well, I might add… but, ultimately nothing groundbreaking or too surprising. I could probably pick out a lot more films whose elements I recognized but, Kosinski and company have crafted an entertaining sci-fi flick that warmly harkened back to an age where spaceships and laser guns were there to enhance a story and were not the point of the story so, I ‘ll give them a bit of a break. In conclusion Oblivion is an entertaining and very well made film that may not be anything new but, was still a refreshing return to when science fiction was about the story and characters and not Transformers and superheroes.