A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, this film is much more than a skilful re-enactment. It's a witty and insightful exploration of the kind of person who chases sporting success and global fame, even when the odds are stacked against them. And it's sharply well-played by Emma Stone and Steve Carell, who bring out the humour and pathos in their characters and the rivalry between them.
In the early 1970s, Billie Jean (Stone) has finally had enough of being treated as a second-class member of the tennis world, since women win just an eighth of what male players get. But the head of the tennis association (Bill Pullman) refuses to budge, so Billie Jean and her publicist (Sarah Silverman) start their own rival ladies' league. Meanwhile, former champion Bobby (Carell) is noisily shouting down this women's movement, claiming he could beat any female player. And while Billie Jean tries to ignore him, she knows that there's only one way to shut him up for good.
Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) packs a lot into two hours, digging beneath the story to explore both of these players in their private lives. Billie Jean is questioning her marriage to Larry (Austin Stowell) as she falls for her hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough). And Bobby's gambling obsession is jeopardising his marriage to Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). The entire cast is terrific at bringing these people to life with scene-stealing quirks that keep the audience smiling. And both Stone and Carell skilfully reveal the resonant internal journeys King and Riggs are taking even as the situation becomes a full-on media circus.
Continue reading: Battle Of The Sexes Review
With visually stunning imagery and a solid A-list cast, this film just about transcends its oddly uninvolving story. Based on true events, the scenes are harrowing and emotive, but spreading the story among an ensemble obscured by mountaineering gear and snowstorms makes it difficult to engage with anyone. And the plot-strands that do find emotional resonance feel like they've been manipulated.
In the early 1990s, companies began selling Everest expeditions to wealthy clients, and by the spring of 1996 there were 20 teams of climbers jostling for position on the slopes of the world's highest peak. Kiwi guide Rob (Jason Clarke) opts for a cautious approach with his team, which includes impatient Texan Beck (Josh Brolin), journalist Jon (Michael Kelly) and the nervous Doug (John Hawkes), who only just failed to reach the summit on his previous attempt. Rob's base camp manager Helen (Emily Watson) keeps everything running smoothly and, since the mountain is so overcrowded, Rob coordinates the climb with a rival guide (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his team. On the day of the final ascent, the skies are clear, but delays along the way and an approaching storm threaten the climbers.
Since the is a true story, it's clear from the start that some of these people won't make it home. And Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur lays on the emotion thickly, with an overly pushy-majestic score by Dario Marianelli and several sentimental phone calls home. Rob's wife is played by Keira Knightley, and you can almost hear the ominous chord when she reveals that she's pregnant. A bit subtler is Beck's interaction with his wife, played with insinuating bitterness by the always terrific Robin Wright. Meanwhile, Clarke's sensitive leader and Brolin's bullheaded alpha male contrast nicely with Gyllenhaal's cool dude, while Sam Worthington is almost lost in the shuffle as a friend who's climbing a neighbouring peak.
Continue reading: Everest Review
After 2012's The Hunger Games caught us off-guard with its subtle themes, this sequel more than lives up to the hype, dramatically expanding the scale of the action while letting the actors deepen their characters. It's a full-on action epic that cleverly retains author Suzanne Collins' narrative trick of telling the story through a flawed perspective. And it provides the needed push to give the whole saga real momentum.
We join our heroes not long after the last film ended: Katniss and Peeta (Lawrence and Hutcherson) are in trouble for challenging the authority of President Snow (Sutherland) and sowing the seeds of rebellion in the districts. Now they have to travel around the nation with their team - drunken mentor Haymitch (Harrelson), preening manager Effie (Banks), quietly subversive designer Cinna (Kravitz) - soothing ruffled feathers. But of course they only make things worse. So new Gamesmaker Plutarch (Hoffman) plots a way to force them back into the games with all of the past victors, so they can be wiped out for good. And Katniss is so busy worrying about protecting Peeta that she fails to remember who the true enemy is.
Screenwriters Beaufoy and deBruyn (aka Oscar-winner Michael Arndt) inventively maintain Katniss' narrow, inaccurate point-of-view right through the film, which keeps the audience wrong-footed all the way to the end. It's an exhilarating trick that makes the tour of the districts painfully dull and the return to the games utterly horrifying. It also gives Lawrence the chance to flex her own Oscar-winning chops, further tormenting us with her inability to choose between two good men: Peeta and Gale (Hemsworth), her pal back home. She certainly doesn't trust newcomers like the mouthy Johanna (Malone) or the too-hunky Finnick (Claflin).
Continue reading: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review
Fred (McGregor) is a UK government fishing expert assigned to help a wildly wealthy sheikh (Waked) create a fly-fishing site in the Yemen. Working with the sheikh's financial advisor Harriet (Blunt), Fred struggles to overcome his doubts about the scheme. But he's won over by the fact that the sheikh is both passionate about fishing and has enough cash to achieve the seemingly impossible. As Fred begins to fall for Harriet, he'll need to make a decision about his estranged wife (Stirling), while Harriet's special-services boyfriend (Mison) has gone missing in action.
Continue reading: Salmon Fishing In The Yemen Review
Well, with one cancer diagnosis and one death in the first 15 minutes, Blow Dry is hardly the feel-good romance you'd expect. Strikingly similar to The Big Tease, Blow Dry tells the story of a haircutting competition that descends on a small town in Britain. Celebrities (well, celebrity stylists) from around England arrive to compete, and the local boys get into the act as well. But while the drama unfolds with models and shears, another drama takes place among the locals -- largely involving various romances and a singular cancer victim.
Continue reading: Blow Dry Review
A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...
With visually stunning imagery and a solid A-list cast, this film just about transcends its...
After 2012's The Hunger Games caught us off-guard with its subtle themes, this sequel more...
The heavy hand of a screenwriter (or perhaps novelist) intrudes on an otherwise jaunty, engaging...