Battle of the Sexes (2017)


Game, set and match! This film is an ace of a biopic and extremely relevant with the current climate of the female/male divide. High flying 60s/70s tennis star Billie Jean King and women as a gender themselves rise up and show the grass should be as green on their side of the court as the men.

Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is a world class tennis talent but she and every other racket wielding sportswoman are subjected to taunts, digs and extremely less pay than the apparently better and more exciting male tennis players. King says no more, to important Lawn Tennis Association figure Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) and starts her own tournament. This bold journey leads her agreeing to a match with former champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) in the first Battle of the Sexes match.

The story telling is incredibly engaging and like with tennis we go back and forth between the two sides and see how this very, very different people live their lives and train for the big sporting event. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ writer Simon Beaufoy pens an assured telling of an important topic for empowerment and liberation. There are still great drop shots of comedy to be found along the way but he ensures the serious message of gender equality is at the forefront.

The way this film is delivered really works well in making you get excited for the big face off. I wasn’t expecting it to show much of any tennis playing of the match itself and thought it’d adapt Bobby and Billie’s stories leading up to this point but gladly there’s a lot of edge of the seat playing to be seen, you really see the styles of the two players come to a head and as someone who loves watching tennis, the last sequence is exhilarating, tense and beautiful all at the same time.

There is a set of interesting points with this sports story and a lot of them boil down to loves and politics. It’s not just a dramedy but a smartly told narrative that keeps a genuine interest in its subjects. On the softer side there is a forbidden fruit notion of love that ticks away, this secreted passion further adds to the dramatic relevance of the characters and their pre-match behaviours. One is a incessant gambling man-child and the other is a laser-focused achiever struggling with a new feeling in her life.

Stone serves up a careful and emotive performance as the courageous and capable Billie Jean King. You see past her period glasses and into her eyes and get an idea of the amazing and forward thinking woman she was and I’m sure still is. Carell smashes the movie in a role that continues his run of serious acting performances. It may not carry that chill of ‘Foxcatcher’ or the brains from ‘The Big Short’ but he utilises on his comedic background whilst still giving Bobby Riggs a worrying quality of chauvinistic pig-pigheadedness. Andrea Riseborough is a glowing presence in the life of King and she plays this more confident person with a free spirit in a believable and effortless manner.

It’s not a total grand slam of a bio drama as it hits the net with a couple of expected sporting drama cliches or predictable story moments, but these are mere tiny notes in a film that greatly balances pleasing humour and interesting gender politics with a leading duo of actors that are fantastic.



La La Land (2017)


Well, not for a long while have I been eagerly anticipating a movie like the release of this musical drama. Add on top the record-breaking Golden Globes haul then you have a very excited chap. For the most part this film delivers, it’s stylish, fun, heartfelt but I don’t agree with all the souped up hype it’s received.

After a minor amount of road-rage where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) cross paths, they end up bumping into each other again and again which leads to a romance through the year. As they try following their dreams in LA it becomes a harder challenge to keep the love alive.

I have to say that I absolutely adored the first half or so of this film. It harks back to that classic glitz and glamour of Hollywood old with a neat dose of a modern touch thanks to the musical and confident direction from Damien Chazelle. Just from the sweeping opening on a Los Angeles highway to the delicate changes in lighting, the songs and story begin with a bang.

It helps that we get brilliant performances and a clear chemistry between the two main characters but also the style adds a neat note to the song-sheet that is this feature. There’s times that it looks and sounds like a studio set production and you’d expect Fred Astaire to come tap dancing in. The writing by Chazelle, is for the most part a well handled story that lends a two-sided coin to the LA lifestyle but with an obvious landing on dreams to follow and achieve.

As I sat in my seat I found myself hooked and smiling along to a wonderful series of scenes but then annoyingly, there came a specific moment where I even felt myself disengaging and from then on, the writing becomes very generic and almost cliched. It drifts into a romantic plot you’d expect to find in every other manically churned out rom-com. This frustrated me because I was expecting it to keep going with the gleeful whizz of CinemaScope delight but instead…it wains.

It is almost saved as we get a short burst of style near the end showing a quick run of events. So yes I agree it’s a fantastically well made and enchanting film, it deserved 3 perhaps 4 of the Globes it picked up out of 7. This is obviously, as I realised as they were winning, a case of the voters loving films that celebrate America or the US saving the day -(note Argo winning Best Picture)

Song wise, ‘Another of Day of Sun’ is jolly, sun-drenched and a perfect, literally perfect way to start a film of this genre. ‘City of Stars’ is sung well and has a melancholy yet magical sound but I don’t see how that gets the attention when Stone’s ‘Audition’ song is better performed and has better lyrics. Though it’s naff for jazz and a typical Top 40’s track, John Legend’s performance of ‘Start a Fire’ works well in showcasing the path Seb is taking away from his dream.

I’m not a total grouch because I did enjoy the majority of the film, I just don’t feel it should have broke GG records and I hope the Oscars gives some variety because ‘La La Land’ does swerve into a nearly boring not great second half.


Birdman (2014)


Zany, arty, mad, poetic and thoughtful in design and structure, Birdman soars to extravagant heights in its exploration of fame and the media. One of the smoothest yet surreal showcases I’ve witnessed and absolutely superb because of it.

This film sees Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) trying to shed his superhero acting days of the Birdman series by directing, writing and starring in a Broadway play. ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ is having financial problems until supremo actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) comes along. Soon acting wars arise and the issue of celebrity and theatre take centre stage as Riggan uses apparent powers to be the respected talent he craves to be.

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, this tale has a crazy amount of flair and style. He displayed that unwinding criss cross of direction in the brilliant ‘Amores Perros’ and in this movie he lets the story play out through near full length unedited wonder. The film glides and floats through scenes making the whole story seem oddly smooth considering the madness centered in the plot. This fluid one shot appearance is perfect and as it winds around through the theatre it feels like a promenade performance, as if we the audience are following Riggan and his life, a theme key in the film as it explores culture and the obsession of fan followings.

The writing is smart and beautifully written in making the many exchanges feel real. The entire scripting team have conjured up a poignant yet absurd narrative and though there can be a lot of dialogue that some may get bored with, others will lap up the neat and well constructed study of celebrity and identity. The ending itself is one that you always wonder how it’ll play out and when the screen goes to black and the first credit appears, I at least felt happy in the clever and open ending.

Antonio Sanchez gifts this movie a heroic amount of tempo and charisma through repeated percussion. The drum beats really strike the speakers well and ramp up either tension or feelings of bewilderment as Riggan goes about his ever odder days. Having the drummer planted into the scenes is a nice out of body touch and breaks the fourth wall, it also adds to the way Riggan sees himself as powerful, a possible illusion to him believing the drummer is soundtracking his life.

The movie is genius in the design and content. As simple as a background billboard of Superman reflecting the hero-like stature of Riggan as he stands atop a building. Then there’s the fact of having two former superhero actors in the movie. One time Batman and Hulk squaring off against one another is fantastic, piled tremendously on top of this is Thomson’s story of George Clooney and a plane crash, a wink to another Batman alumni worrying Riggan’s mind. The near end in a hospital features neat mask imagery too.

It’s a mysterious film and it grandly details the desire of fame, recognition, plaudits and love. These are running themes that go alongside the main issue of media and especially concerning the artistry of the theatre. The whole critic vs performer debate is brilliant from both sides and added to all these other themes is the magnifying glass on audiences and their expectations. We crave action and fast moving plots as much as Riggan craves to be adored for something understated. The insane explosive, robotic bird, birdman journey that Thomson takes around New York is the brief action filled superhero-esque nonsense that so many want in movie releases.

Michael Keaton is a shoe in for an Academy Award, if not then it’s a terrible snub from the Oscar panel as his performance is mad, emotional, subtle then big and overall a fascinating character comes to life because of Keaton. The echoing voice over of Birdman is fantastic and every look Keaton gives breathes further life into Riggan, a high flying role deserving of every credit. Edward Norton is also insanely good, the jerky arrogant talent runs through every nuance and as he faces off against Keaton we get some of the best scenes in the film. Zach Galifianakis steps away from his usual shtick and gives comedic yet panicked sidekick material to producer Jake. Emma Stone is doe eyed and unhinged as Riggan’s daughter Sam, her pieces of dialogue about twitter, social media and the clawing of attention are powerfully spoken about and she acts as a brilliant opposite to Riggan.

Birdman is a technical triumph stuffed with dizzying spectacular performances. The smooth one take centre is wonderful, the plot is beautiful and mad and the look is stylish and haunting. This has to be seen to believed and in my thoughts, seen at least twice just to admire Keaton, Norton and the magical direction.