Looking back on ‘Battle of the Sexes’ – based on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs – I realize that it is a true product of its time; from the 70’s-style version of the Fox Searchlight Pictures logo, and its fuzzy, yet dim, VHS cassette tape look, to its timely look at sexuality and equal rights. Everything about this biographical sports drama – directed by the husband-and-wife duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (‘Little Miss Sunshine’, ‘Ruby Sparks’) – was made to be put into a time capsule for the Academy to view nearly 45 years later, but not before letting the world view what was inside. It is a fascinating spectacle that manages to be entertaining, charming, and triumphant!
One cannot see ‘Battle of the Sexes’ and not feel a glimmer of Emma Stone’s toothy smile and determined nature in her turn as King; who was a champion tennis player, as well as an advocate for equal rights; (The role was played by Holly Hunter in Jane Anderson’s 2001 film ‘When Billie Beat Bobby’) the same could be said for Steve Carell’s portrayal of Riggs, (Portrayed by Ron Silver in ‘When Billie Beat Bobby’) where he yuks it up during practice sessions where he hits the balls with a frying pan while jokingly saying “I’m cooking!”, or by dressing up as Little Bo Peep, whose sheep are running rampant on the court. All this makes him more of an entertainer than the “male chauvinist pig” he claims to be. Both Stone and Carell are entertaining to watch. As King and Riggs, they are as immersed as you expect them to be. I expect both to get nominations in the acting categories for next year’s Oscars; and I would not be surprised if ‘Battle of the Sexes’ gets a shot at fitting in the ‘Best Picture’ category as well.
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In 1982, a filmmaker named Ridley Scott (‘Alien’, ‘Gladiator’, ‘The Martian’) took us to a world never before imagined by the human mind. In this world lied breathtaking sights, new and innovative technology, and ideas that would shape life as we know it for the future. No matter how many times this world has been revisited, it still manages to captivate all who visit it to this day, remaining a cultural phenomenon and an experience to witness; it was the world of ‘Blade Runner’! Now, 35 years later, Director Denis Villeneuve (‘Arrival’, ‘Sicario’) takes us back to that same world; only this time, almost everything has changed. The sights we saw have evolved into colorful giants of virtuality and 3-dimensional realism; and while some of the technology remained the same, the world itself has expanded into a bigger, fully realized city of danger and possibilities; The year is now 2049!
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I cannot guarantee that Netflix’s newest movie, ‘Gerald’s Game’ – based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel of the same name (and the third adaptation this year after ‘The Dark Tower’ and ‘It’) – is an easy watch; (as with most captivity thrillers) but if one were to get through a hodgepodge of ghostly visions, insanity, and a climax that I could describe as disturbingly and grotesquely unnerving for a film of its caliber, as I did, he or she will feel the epiphany of its themes in a way no horror movie has tried. Writer/Director Mike Flanagan (‘Oculus’, ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’) makes ‘Gerald’s Game’ play out like a Bob Ross painting; it may not seem like much in the beginning, but once near completion, the picture is clear, and the beauty can be fully realized. It is amazing how something so simple can make you see things differently when all is said and done.
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Just because ‘The LEGO Ninjago Movie’ looks like a legit ‘LEGO’ movie, does not mean it is spotless. (Or without its buffs and scratches.) While the style is an improvement over this year’s ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ (which felt more of an animated spoof than an actual movie in the ‘LEGO’ franchise.) to the point where it is equal to ‘The LEGO Movie’ itself, its humor and story line are a result of trying too hard to stand alone as an action comedy for family audiences. You could say that the ‘LEGO’ train has run out of steam and should stop there, (It could go until ‘LEGO Star Wars’, or ‘LEGO Indiana Jones’.) while I believe ‘Ninjago’ suffers from a disease I call “Same Year Syndrome”; this happens when two movies from the same animation studio get released the same year, only months apart, and only results when one or more films end up not living up to their potential. Pixar started suffering with the 2015 release of ‘The Good Dinosaur’, months after ‘Inside Out’, and may continue this year with ‘Coco’ (If it is not good); Last year, Illumination Studios released both ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ and ‘Sing!’, now ‘LEGO’ may be suffering the same fate. It is a shame, because I expected ‘Ninjago’ to be as funny as it was marketed to be.
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What made ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ a fun movie were not just its action sequences or sense of humor, but its elements of both surprise and danger. Almost every moment kept you on your toes – making you wait for something to happen – only to provide a twist at each and every turn. Here, in ‘The Golden Circle’, every bit of surprise and sense of humor is traded in for a gleefully out-of-place story-line involving Julianne Moore playing a drug kingpin named Poppy, living in a hideout drenched in 50’s nostalgia, while grinding unsuspecting victims up as burgers as if she were Mrs. Lovett in ‘Sweeney Todd’, only the opposite. Cheerful and bubbly, but not actually creepy enough to pass as a good villain. Let’s take a look at Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine from ‘The Secret Service’. He was a ridiculous and clichéd spy movie villain with a cliched agenda, but one with an appeal to make him entertaining. I must mention that ‘The Secret Service’ was an action-comedy, which added to the fun.
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Not seeing much about Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Outsiders’; based on the novel by S.E. Hinton, I expected this movie to be a drama about friendship. Do not get me wrong, this movie focuses on the aspect between the two characters; Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) and Johnny (Ralph Macchio), but for the rest of the characters, they barely have any screen time to share with each other, except during a climactic fight scene with a rival gang. The titular characters belong to a gang called “The Greasers”, with their rivals being “The Socs” (pronounced “Soh-Chuz”). I never expected this movie to be about gangs as much as I expected people who did not belong in the society they were living in. This movie is another example of not to judge a book by its cover.
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I may not have watched enough high school TV dramas to know, but something about the Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’ makes it stand out above all else. It is not just the controversy, or its extreme popularity, I believe ’13 Reasons Why’ is the bravest show I have seen yet. Being that this is on Netflix, it manages to pull no punches when it comes to touchy subjects. Everything you see on this show feels too real, and may be enough to not just make you cry, but feel sick to your stomach. I received the same effect while watching, and must warn those not already on the bandwagon, that ’13 Reasons Why’ is not for the faint of heart, or the easily triggered. It is one of the saddest and most realistic depictions of high school this side of television. Creator Brian Yorkey and his crew of directors make sure that each episode leaves an impact on you, while keeping you on your toes for what happens next.
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Never has a movie experience shook me more than David Lowery’s ‘A Ghost Story’. After this existentialist tragedy of a film, I walked out speechless, even disturbed on an emotional level. I still have questions. “What has this road led up to?” “What is the point of its existence?” “Why did I witness Rooney Mara eat a pie for 10 minutes?”. What Lowery does with ‘A Ghost Story’ is an example of great, yet thought-provoking film-making. The film is supposed to be a journey on the meaning of life through the point of view of a ghost. It is a tedious experience that could turn some audiences away, while leaving others experiencing something unconventional.
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Being that we live in a time where best-selling books are adapted into two-part blockbusters (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay’, ‘The Hobbit’), there was no perfect time for Stephen King’s most popular horror novel ‘It’ to get the same treatment. Unlike other adaptations that want to bank off the successes of other two-parters in the past (They are slowly dying out, I swear!), ‘It’ has a good reason to be divided in half. Not only was Stephen King’s novel long, (I did not even have time to finish the book in high school near the end of my senior year) but it was the basis for a two-part miniseries starring Tim Curry as a devilish clown named Pennywise (Who is played here by Bill Skarsgard). If you have seen the original miniseries (which, I believe, many of you have), or have read the book, you can see that its story was made to be two movies. Whether or not you think so, this idea works and doesn’t make its audience tiresome. In fact, ‘It’ is one of the most consistently entertaining horror movies I’ve seen in years.
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If there is a lesson we should all take from ‘Detroit’, (A.K.A. Kathryn Bigelow’s newest attempt at an Oscar.) it would be the phrase “History repeats itself.” You see it in the news more than ever – reports of rioting, racial tension, and police brutality – whether it be as a trending topic on Facebook, on the newspapers delivered from city to city, or your television. This type of negativity is really hard to escape, but these are not new problems, they have become social issues for decades; causing the connection between racism and police matters to become debatable among those who hear the news. It happened in the 60’s, and it is still causing discussion now; which is why Bigelow decided to bring this true event to light.
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