September 20, 1973, at the Houston Astrodome, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs played a tennis match that meant a great deal to the 50 million U.S. spectators, 90 million across the globe. As Billie Jean said at this year's Telluride premiere of Battle of the Sexes, she felt she'd seriously hurt women's fight for equality if she lost.
We know she won in glorious fashion. What we don't know are the behind the scene crises that husband and wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris so intelligently illuminate in their multidimensional portraits of Billie Jean and Bobby. King, then 29 years old, and Riggs, 55, both tennis legends, embraced the moment, enjoying the circus while understanding its import. In fact, before this famous match, fighting for pay equity, Billie Jean and eight other top women tennis players defied the US Lawn Tennis Association, presided over by a chauvinistic Jack Kramer, and initiated the Virginia Slims Circuit.
In this milieu, it would have been temptingly easy to demonize the compulsive gambler Riggs. But he, like any good con man, has a charm and energy that complicates his sexist persona, and the film captures that. For her part, while King had steely determination on the court, she was adrift and confused at the time in terms of her sexual orientation. At Telluride, King elaborated, saying that tennis was her retreat, for when competing, everything else fell away and that was all she had to focus on.
In The Battle of the Sexes, from the art direction (and all the awful clothes) to the language to the film stock and even the old Fox movie logo--every detail expresses the '70s. In some ways, it looks so dated, and in others, it seems only superficial details have changed, holding up a mirror to today. That's one reason Faris and Dayton worked hard to get original Howard Cosell commentary, to show how important it still is to learn to respect women. And notably, King's supportive husband Larry, a prince of a guy, is never depicted as mean spirited.
As King, Emma Stone has her walk, verbal inflections, and spirit. Steve Carell is a marvelous chameleon who shape shifts through Bobby's moods. Providing superb support are Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, Bill Pullman, and Elisabeth Shue. Battle of the Sexes is a feat of terrific storytelling with important subject matter. At area cinemas.
Let's say you never imagined the results of one gun shot on a community or a couple or a culprit. Let's say you are woefully ignorant or willfully unlettered in the violent world around you. But, let's say, you want to learn, to pick up just a skosh of information about the consequences of violence.
Plus, you're open to experimental film. Then, Shot is for you. Or for social studies classes of 6th graders for whom clichés are still fresh and discussable. For you and them, Shot works.
A couple, Mark and Phoebe, are breaking up, kind of like the couple in the beginning of the recently released film Stronger. Miguel, a bullied boy, falls for the seduction of a gun to get back at his antagonists. In examining this possibility, Miguel shoots the gun into Mark's lung. Mark hits the ground, and Miguel hits the streets.
Director Jeremy Kagan records both male's reactions in real time. He splits the screen to show the victim stunned and lying on the ground as his nearly divorced wife screams for 9-1-1. In the other half the screen, Miguel tries to get rid of the gun, to get help from his mother and his priest, and to shed his guilt. In the other half the screen, Mark is prepped for surgery after a ride in an ambulance, complete with singing.
Then, Kagan moves these three lives forward by five months to a climactic end. Kagan's work goes all the way back to Heroes in 1977 and includes The Chosen. He has a point to make with "Shot" about the gun violence that kills 90 people a day in America.
The cast starts with Noah Wylie, very effective as Mark, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Miguel, also seen recently in Spiderman. Malcolm-Jamal Warner plays an amusing EMT, and St. Louisan Sarah Clarke plays a doctor. Shot is not sophisticated, but it is truthful, which is, after all, the basis of most clichés.
Home Again almost begs to be made fun of. It encourages the critic in everyone to have a field day with adjectives describing its mediocrity, with phrases applied like plasters to its clumsiness, with capital letters to proclaim its failure as an end-of-summer romantic comedy, known by the conflation "romcom."
Home Again""Home Again" almost begs to be made fun of. It encourages the critic in everyone to have a field day with adjectives describing its mediocrity, with phrases applied like plasters to its clumsiness, with capital letters to proclaim its failure as an end-of-summer romantic comedy, known by the conflation "romcom." should be called "Three Men and a MILF," the latter an acronym for "Mothers I'd like to [ahem] Fornicate." Alice recently removed to L.A. from N.Y.C. She's separated from an egoist and trying to make it as a designer while living in her filmmaker father's fabulous old house. The three young men are screenwriters and actors trying to make it in Hollywood. The quartet meets as Alice celebrates her 40th birthday, and, based on Alice's mother's nudging, the threesome ends up living in her guest house. They end up loving Alice, one of them intimately, and her kids and her life, the one she's still trying to get a handle on. Then her soon-to-be-ex shows up and farce ensues. Not good farce. Farce with a lot of pregnant pauses plus Johnny Mathes singing "Chances Are."
Some of the blame for this flaccid film has to go to the cast. Jon Rudnitsky is the best of the three men, and Nat Wolf is passable, but Pico Alexander is just not ready for prime time. Michael Sheen must have had a mortgage payment due, and Witherspoon, who hasn't been very good since Election in 1999, phones in her lines from a flip phone. Lake Bell is steady as the termagant, but what is Candace Bergen doing here besides raising the level of professionalism?
Home Again tries to be a hurray for Hollywood, with the boy troika of filmmakers longing to make a good movie. This isn't it. Most of the blame goes to Hallie Myers-Shyer, who used the kiss-cam too often. Myers-Shyer wrote that one young man was happy to let the steam out of old Alice's kettle. Home Again never had any steam. Let it go. Just keep walking.
One of the better ways to grasp a tragedy, in this case the Boston Marathon bombings, is through the experiences of individual victims. On that April 15, 2013, Jeff Bauman went to the legendary race's finish line to root for his ex-girlfriend Erin. He had the misfortune of standing next to one of the two homemade bombs.
Bauman lost both his legs from the knees down. A man in a cowboy hat, captured in a photograph that became an iconic image representing strangers aiding the injured, helped save Jeff after tourniquets stopped his legs' hemorrhaging. Most of us know the story of Jeff's fight back through a multitude of challenges, psychologically as well as physically; and we can anticipate the film's trajectory.
What distinguishes Stronger is the care with which it presents Jeff's fight, including in the film physical therapists and hospital staff that actually worked with Bauman. We come to understand more fully the battles facing him, his family, and friends. But Jeff is not a Dudley Do Right angel without demons before and after his tragedy. In fact, one of the recurring motifs is "Just show up!" since Jeff didn't always do so, as Erin points out, leading to her breaking off their relationship in the film's first scene. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to restore a traumatized adult, and the Boston Strong pitch in through diverse activities, showing that attention, and even fame, brings its own trials.
As Bauman, Jake Gyllenhaal disappears into the role, giving an Oscar worthy performance, one of restraint that levels a much stronger impact than emotional excess would. Sentiment here is honest, earned and deeply moving. Miranda Richardson as Jeff's mother Patty and Tatiana Maslany as Erin communicate their own complex reactions. I wish Jeff's supportive friends had received more attention; they remain a bit too much Boston stereotypes (partying, cursing) and more sophisticated depictions would have enriched the loyalty they showed, despite their apparent need for education about the trauma's aftermath as well. Jeff faced a torrent of conflicting emotions he had to navigate.
Still, director David Gordon Green knows exactly where cinematographer Sean Bobbitt should put the camera; often an unusual, powerful perspective; for example, and notably, the scene when the dressings are removed from Jeff's knees. Green wisely saves the most horrific bombing images and the most clichéd triumphant ones until the end, leaving us with an upbeat finish but also a depth of knowledge about the difficult, zigzagging path to get there. At its core, Stronger thereby delivers a fine tribute to the human spirit. At area cinemas.
It's more than half-way through Viceroy's House, a historical look at the partition of India, before the word "oil" leaks out. The film explains so terribly much about then, 1947, as well as now, 2017. And it pays to watch this well-crafted look at that moment over there.
That summer, the temperature rose to 114º F in the shade in a country where almost half the babies died before they turned 5 and 92% of the population was illiterate. King George VI sent Lord Montbatten, known familiarly as "Dickie," to oversee the independence of India from colonial rule. His Lordship finds himself also called on to split the whole country with Muslims cast off to Pakistan. As Montbatten notes sadly, "New nations are rarely born in peace."
He hastens the deadline to make tearing off the bandage less painful and calls in Cyril Radcliffe to map the new countries. What he does not know, but history has recorded, is that Winston Churchill when he was prime minister had already described the lines of partition. Explaining the history is tough, and sometimes tedious enough, but scriptwriters Paul Berges and Moira Buffini, working with director Gurinda Chadha, added the sous text of a love story.
Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey and Gillian Anderson from The X Files, portray the Montbattens, and their every moment on screen, in voice or face, is worth noting. In fact, the whole supporting cast acquits itself well, including Simon Cowell, Michael Gambon, Om Puri (who died just this year), Manish Dayal, Huma Quereshi, and Denzil Smith. Gandhi, Churchill, and Nehru appear, too.
Chadha, whose grandmother was one of the millions involved in the mass exodus, directed the complicated history, adding real and imagined newsreels for credibility and foundation.