Battle Of The Sexes

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In 1973, Billie Jean King faced off against Bobby Riggs in a tennis match in Houston’s Astrodome. King was near the top of her game. Riggs was over the hill but still playing. The film story of their match (and events leading up to it) is a drama/comedy with a huge splash of 70’s nostalgia.

The main reason to see Battle of the Sexes is Steve Carell’s performance as Bobby Riggs. He’s hilarious but also a bit pitiful and tragic.

Emma Stone is strong as King, fighting hard to get attention for women’s tennis while resetting her sexual identity.

Battle of the Sexes is being sold as a movie about the tennis match and the boost the contest gave to women’s sports. Which it is.

But it is also King’s coming out story, which is not a prominent part of the film’s trailers and other marketing. Is Hollywood afraid to promote that aspect of the film? Brokeback Mountain was twelve years ago.

Husband/wife director duo Johnathan Dayton and Valerie Faris neatly weave audio and video from the actual ABC broadcast of the event with the hyperbolic commentary of Howard Cosell. The clothing and hairstyles of the era—and the presence of cigarettes—are accurately recreated by the movie’s design crews.

The film’s supporting cast includes: Andrea Riseborough as BJK’s partner Marilyn Barnett. Jessica McNamee as nasty King rival Margaret Court. Fred Armisen as Riggs’s supplier of vitamins and supplements. Sarah Silverman as a chainsmoking womens tennis promoter. Elizabeth Shue as Riggs wife. And Bill Pullman as former tennis great Jack Kramer.

Battle of the Sexes is not a typical melodramatic sports movie a la Rocky, Rudy, etc. There’s melodrama, yes, but also a good dose of fun, mainly from Carell.

Could any of today’s top female tennis players beat one of today’s top men’s players? Hard to say, but it’s doubtful. Maybe one could score a win against an old guy. Would America tune in to watch Serena versus McEnroe? Would you? Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Million Ways To Die In The West

A Million Ways To Die In The West is filled with moments of pure delight! Those moments are hilariously funny. Some moments are clever and inventive. Other moments are crude and cheap.

Unfortunately, AMWTDITW lacks cohesiveness as a movie. The plot is passable and provides a useful framework for Seth McFarlane to hang his moments on. But the script fails to get the rhythm necessary to keep the comedy moving at a good pace.

The problem is McFarlane. The man is mega-talented. He stars as sheep farmer Albert. He directs. And he is a co-writer of the film. But although he possesses arguably the best smirk in the business, he lacks the presence to prosper as a lead character on the big screen. (He may find ways to embellish that presence.)

As a director, he knows how to bring visual and verbal humor to a film while also telling a story. His 2012 film Ted works. A Million Ways delivers laughs and a story, but could have benefited from more judicious editing.

My favorite character in A Million Ways is Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), a dandy who runs a store that sells moustache-grooming supplies. He leads a wonderful musical number—written by Stephen Foster—about the importance of a man’s having a moustache. Foy later has a digestive system crisis that features low humor that leads to big laughs.

Anna (Charlize Theron) is the wife of gunslinger Clinch (Liam Neeson). Before Clinch shows up in the town of Old Stump, Anna has a platonic thing going with Albert who is heartbroken after being dumped by Louise (Amanda Seyfried). Louise has moved on the moustache man, Foy, amping up Albert’s dislike for the dandy.

The townsfolk also include Albert’s best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) whose girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman) refuses to engage in premarital sex, even though she is, by profession, a hooker.

The film has a few cool surprises, including cameo appearances. (There’s one bit that should NEVER have been included in a TV spot, but is. It’s huge spoiler.)

The soundtrack is classic. Joel McNeely brings an Aaron Copeland influence to many of his compositions. And Alan Jackson sings the closing theme song that has a classic feel.

A Million Ways To Die In The West, like Blazing Saddles, is a film that is likely to be enjoyed for decades. See it in the theater now and on TBS and TNT (with a cleaned-up dialogue version) in years to come.

 

 

 

 

Wreck-It Ralph

“Wreck-It Ralph” is big fun for gamers of all ages. Gen-Xers, Gen-Y, boomers & little kids will find much to love in this Pixar-like animated feature.

Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, is the guy who wrecks things in an arcade game called Fix-It Felix. After 30 years, he’s tired of being the bad guy. Felix, voiced by Jack McBrayer, is the one who gets all the love and, at the end of each successful play of the game, a medal.

Ralph wants a medal and seeks one in a neighboring game in the arcade called Hero’s Duty where he encounters Calhoun, a violent babe with a killer bod, voiced by Jane Lynch. Once he gets the medal he escapes to another game called Sugar Rush, where he meets up with an extremely cute kid, Vanellope, voiced by Sarah Silverman. This is where the film’s plot really takes off.

“Wreck-It Ralph” is inspired by and has references to most of the great video games of the last three decades. Some of the film’s elements call to mind “Monsters, Inc.” Ralph is similar to Sully from that 2001 Pixar classic. Vanellope is not unlike any the three “Powerpuff Girls,” a Cartoon Network hit series from a decade or so ago.

“Wreck-It Ralph” is almost a Pixar film. It looks like a Pixar film. Executive producer is Pixar’s John Lasseter. There’s a memorable short cartoon before the movie. The credits mention help from the “Pixar brain trust.” And, as with Pixar films, the credits contain a list of “production babies.” Really, the only thing that keeps it from being a Pixar film is the absence of the bouncing desk lamp.

As with most Pixar films, the performances of the voice actors are uniformly excellent. The four mentioned previously, along with Alan Tudyk as King Candy, form one of the best voice ensembles in recent memory.

Among my favorite visual jokes in the film: the cops in Sugar Rush (a world populated by sweet treats) are doughnuts.

“Wreck-It Ralph” is both nostalgic and fresh, at the same time. It gets the high score for this weekend.