Film Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Wallace Langham, Fred Armisen, John C. McGinley

Decibel Films, Cloud Eight Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I’m the ladies number one. I’m the champ. Why would I lose?” – Bobby Riggs, “Because dinosaurs can’t play tennis.” – Billie Jean King

I wanted to see this in the theater last year but there were so many top notch indie movies coming out around the same time that this one got lost in the shuffle. It also didn’t help that it came and went in the cinemas near me pretty quickly. I think it was gone within two weeks.

Luckily, we live in a time where you can stream almost any movie in less than three months after it hits theaters. So when this popped up to rent, that’s what I did.

For the most part, this was entertaining and I cared about what was happening. The film felt like it was lacking some weight though. There wasn’t a lot of depth to it. It focused a lot of its time on Billie Jean King’s personal life in regards to her sexuality and that’s perfectly fine, as it may have really effected her game in the way that it did in this film but the actual “Battle of the Sexes” element seemed to be on the backburner through large portions of the film. It certainly didn’t feel like the real focal point until it happens on screen. Mostly this felt like two pictures pushed into one film without enough care and balance given to the script. Also, and I rarely say this, this is a film that would have benefited greatly with a longer running time.

I like both aspects of the story but things felt sacrificed on both ends, as this was a film that didn’t establish its identity well enough or at least given us both sides with more organic fluidity. It honestly feels like there was a half hour lobbed off of this movie late in post production. Like the studio decided that no one would sit through a 150 minute movie without superheroes blowing up cities.

Regardless of the disjointed narrative, the performances by Emma Stone and Steve Carell were great. Stone was absolutely believable as King, especially in showing her emotional struggle with her sexuality and with fighting for respect for women.

Carell’s take on Bobby Riggs reminded me a lot of his most famous character, Michael Scott from The Office. He didn’t play Riggs exactly like Scott but he had that same sort of presence where he was highly comedic and could still touch your heart dramatically in very subtle ways. He played Riggs with respect and didn’t just make him a sexist oppressor, which is so common in Hollywood movies these days. He was just as much a comedian as he was a tennis giant. And really, you’re sort of left wondering if Riggs was a genius and a hero in his own right because maybe, just maybe, he was trying to help women by being the chauvinist archetype that needed to be conquered. Granted, I don’t think he fixed the match, I just think that his anti-women stance was a show to create the perfect climate for the event to happen.

I also loved seeing Natalie Morales in this, as I’ve been a fan of hers since Parks & Recreation.

Furthermore, I adored Alan Cumming’s role, as he was an almost fatherly figure to King in regards to helping her accept her sexuality and reassuring her that she is going to be okay because times are changing and she’s a big part of that. It almost makes up for Cumming annoying the hell out of me as Boris in GoldenEye.

This film handles the issue of gender equality very well. Stone’s King sums it up best when she tells reporters that she isn’t doing this because she wants to show that women are better than men, she’s doing it for respect. That’s something that seems lost with the sentiment of a lot of modern feminists and social justice warriors. It’s about respect and coexisting for everyone’s benefit, not warring over who is better or trashing those who aren’t your gender.

At its core, this film was respectful to the historical figures it represented and to the culmination of their conflict. It’s also nice to know that everyone did go on to live happy lives and there was a real respect and appreciation between King and Riggs after the dust settled.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Sadly, there just aren’t a lot of good tennis movies. Almost none, actually. At least where tennis isn’t just a minor element. But for 2017 and for being a historical sports biopic, I’d put this with I, Tonya.

Film Review: Death Race 2050 (2017)

Release Date: January 9th, 2017 (Turkey premiere)
Directed by: G. J. Echternkamp
Written by: G. J. Echternkamp, Matt Yamashita
Based on: Death Race 2000 by Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Gunter Brown, Cindy Brown
Cast: Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey, Yancy Butler

Universal 1440 Entertainment, New Horizons Pictures, Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Europe, Asia, cancer; we kicked ’em all in the ass! The only thing that can kill an American is another American!” – The Chairman

There is a drastic difference of opinion on this film based off of critics and non-critics. The film has a 3.7 out of 10 on IMDb yet it has 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. According to Google, however, 55 percent of people have said they like this movie.

I think that the really low rating on IMDb is due to the fact that the average person doesn’t understand the context of this film and what it is supposed to be. Looking at it at face value with no knowledge of its lineage probably makes it too confusing, zany and bizarre to make a whole lot of sense. And I don’t think that this film should have to rely on knowledge of its source material to work, it should be able to stand on its own. But since I do know the source material very well, I see this much more positively than the average bear. I think that the professional critical consensus is high because the critics understand what this is.

The point is, this is supposed to be cheap looking, insane, shoddy and really f’n weird. It is both a remake and an homage to the 1975 film Death Race 2000. This was made to be a more accurate remake to the original film than that awful Jason Statham movie was, which itself birthed some awful sequels.

I was initially unsure of what this was because going into it, I didn’t know whether or not it was a sequel, a remake or what. But it is a remake that is updated to take in some things that reflect how technology has evolved since the 1975 original. There are now VR experiences, camera drones, a drone car and a bunch of other new stuff. Still, this is as true to the original as you can get.

But maybe it is too true and that sort of hurts this film. It takes some liberties here and there but it is generally the same film and since it isn’t anywhere near as good as the cult classic Death Race 2000, it almost makes this film’s existence kind of pointless. I think it would have been better to actually just go with a straight up sequel.

I did like the cast for the most part. It is hard to replace the great cast of the original, which boasted the talents of David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Martin Kove and Mary Woronov. However, Manu Bennett played Frankenstein in this film and I loved him as Deathstroke on CW’s Arrow. Malcolm McDowell plays the Chairman, who is essentially the President. The rest of the cast is made up of virtual unknowns but Anessa Ramsey stole every scene she was in as Tammy the Terrorist. Additionally, I love, love, loved the character of Minerva, played by Folake Olowofoyeku.

Death Race 2050 was a good homage to Death Race 2000 and it was fun for fans of the original but without any knowledge of that 1975 film, I could see where this would just baffle and confuse people. It isn’t the type of film that works nowadays and the political and social commentary would just be over the heads of most.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and some of the modern grindhouse revival films: Turbo KidHobo with a ShotgunKung Fury, etc.

Documentary Review: 24 Hour Comic (2017)

Release Date: March 21st, 2017 (Fargo Film Festival)
Directed by: Milan Erceg
Written by: David Chelsea, Milan Erceg, Ryan Sage

Milan Ercep Doc Films, 71 Minutes

Review:

I have heard about these 24 hour comic challenges that happen all over the country. I never get anything cool like this near me because Southwest Florida is devoid of any culture whatsoever. Well, unless you’re into Paul Anka impersonators, shell art and mediocre paintings of the Naples Pier.

I was pretty interested in checking this out, as I used to be a comic book artist. Well, not professionally, but I did some books in my early teen years and actually started a company with some friends in middle school. We were featured in the newspaper once, as we were successfully selling our books to other kids and making some money: most of which I deposited into a bank called Street Fighter II: Champion Edition.

While this documentary does a decent job of showcasing what this challenge is, it was surprisingly dull. I mean, I enjoyed it enough but I’ll probably never want to watch it again or show it to anyone, unless they have an interest in this challenge.

Mostly, this documentary focuses on a few of the people doing the challenge and some of their backstory. I liked feeling a connection to some of the artists but I would have liked to have known more about the history of the challenge and maybe seen interviews with actual people working in the comic book industry and their two cents on these sort of events.

I liked the movie but that’s mainly because I made comics for some time and understand the process and the difficulty of the challenge. It’d be hard for me to recommend this to anyone that doesn’t have that sort of connection to the medium, however.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other documentaries about comic books.

Film Review: Justice League (2017)

Release Date: October 26th, 2017 (Beijing premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder
Based on: Characters from DC Comics
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Jesse Eisenberg (cameo), Joe Manganiello (cameo)

Access Entertainment, DC Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films, Warner Bros., 120 Minutes

Review:

“I miss the days whens one’s biggest concern is exploding wind-up penguins.” – Alfred Pennyworth

Pardon my French but this was fucking unwatchable.

How does a film with a $300 million dollar budget in 2017 look like absolute dog shit? I have a rule, if you have a massive budget, you need to look as good or better than the original Lord of the Rings trilogy because those movies are getting close to twenty years old and they still look pretty perfect. Is technology regressing? Are the digital artists just shit now? What the hell happened with this picture?

The best way to describe this film is “CGI shit storm”. It was like someone took a bunch of unfinished, random CGI pieces, threw them in a blender and pureed that shit for two hours.

Hell, this makes Suicide Squad look like a f’n masterpiece by comparison.

The absolute worst thing about this film isn’t even the Sharknado looking special effects, it is Ezra Miller’s Flash. He’s an annoying, unfunny douchebag that is supposed to be comedic relief but is about as effective as Jay Leno trying to use Dane Cook’s material. He’s your token eccentric weirdo millennial hipster that did the most un-Flash-like thing ever by showing up late to the kooky character pop culture party. We’ve seen the type, it sucked before and it sucks now.

The film’s script and story is terrible. This is a hard film to follow, not because it is complicated but because it is a nonsensical mess that just feels like a two hour trailer and not an actual movie with some sort of a cohesive plot. In fact, it is hard to straighten out my thoughts and write much of a cohesive review because my brain is still spinning from the CGI puree. Anyway, I wrote better comic book stories when I was seven years-old and drunk.

Not a single character in this film is interesting in any way. Flash, again, sucks. Cyborg also sucks. Wonder Woman looked bored. Aquaman was token Momoa backed by CGI that defied the laws of physics in every way. Batman was boring. Superman was even more boring and his lovey dovey bullshit with Lois Lane trying to bring him back to normalcy was so cringe worthy it rivals the romance scenes between Padme and Anakin from Attack of the Clones. Yes, it was that fucking bad.

But hey, we get a cameo from Jesse Eisenluthor and Deathstroke. “Boo” for Luthor. “Hells Yeah!” for Deathstroke.

As far as the villain goes, didn’t Wonder Woman kill that same guy in her movie? Is every DC villain going to be some throwaway character no one cares about that resembles some ancient mythological god? That’s boring. And people think Marvel has a villain problem in their movies. I mean they do but DC makes Marvel’s faults look like strengths with how bad most of these movies have been.

I will never watch this film again and I have serious doubts that I’ll care for any other DC Comics movie for a very long time.

The only real positive about this film is that it wasn’t thirteen hours like Batman v. Superman. But really, it was still two hours too long.

Rating: 1.75/10
Pairs well with: Well, I guess the other really shitty DC Comics films, as of late.

Film Review: Darkest Hour (2017)

Release Date: September 1st, 2017 (Telluride)
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Music by: Dario Marianelli
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn

Perfect World Pictures, Working Title Films, Focus Features, 125 Minutes

Review:

“You can not reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.” – Winston Churchill

Now that there are nine or so films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, there is more competition and it opens the floor up to more films that may otherwise get snubbed. But on the flip side of that, sometimes there are pictures that work their way onto the ballot that shouldn’t be there. Actually, it’s pretty common now. Darkest Hour is one of those films.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it enough to leave with a positive opinion of the film but if a movie is nominated for Best Picture of the Year, it had better be pretty damn exceptional.

Darkest Hour boasts some incredible acting but to be brutally honest, even great acting can’t save a disjointed and oddly paced film. While I was pulled into Gary Oldman’s Churchill, as he dominated nearly every scene, the film just shifted around like loose marbles in a shoe box. I felt like a cat watching a laser pointer.

While the film has also been nominated for Best Cinematography, I didn’t like it at all. The picture was dark and smudgy. Maybe the projector was on the fritz in my theater but the trailers before the movie all looked normal. This was a film shot with boring colors in dark places with high contrast lighting. While that can be presented well, I felt like I was watching a big television event from a major network in the ’90s and not a major motion picture on the big screen in 2018. The presentation made it feel like a mid-’90s BBC docudrama.

The strength of the film is the performances by the actors, especially Oldman and Ben Mendelsohn, as the King. The two women, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James, also did fine work but were limited in their roles, as Churchill was always the film’s primary focal point. Another strength was the presentation of Churchill, as Oldman’s transformation looked seamless and perfect.

The film only covers the few weeks between Churchill’s rise to the role of Prime Minister to the moment where he decides whether he is going to go to war with the Nazis or negotiate a treaty. We all know how this ends but it’s how he came to his decision that is the gist of the film’s story. While parts of the film drag and should have been whittled down, the last twenty minutes or so were really solid.

Darkest Hour was a good movie but it lacked in a lot of areas that a Picture of the Year nominee shouldn’t. But the Academy is incredibly political and that could very well be the reason why this is getting major accolades.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Dunkirk, I mean… they happen at the same time and both films came out in the same year.

Film Review: I, Tonya (2017)

Release Date: September 8th, 2017 (TIFF)
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Written by: Steven Rogers
Music by: Peter Nashel
Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Mckenna Grace

LuckyChap Entertainment, Clubhouse Pictures, AI Film, Neon, 119 Minutes

Review:

“I mean, come on! What kind of friggin’ person bashes in their friend’s knee? Who would do that to a friend?” – Tonya Harding

I thought that the trailer for I, Tonya was really good and I wanted to see the film. The main thing I wondered about though, was how they were going to actually portray the events in the movie. Part of me felt like the film could have the effect of making Tonya Harding some sort of misunderstood cult hero or the victim. While the film does humanize her, as it should, and it also shows the abuse she dealt with throughout her life, I feel like it was pretty fair to the story, as no one other than Tonya and those around her, knew what actually happened in regards to the assault on Nancy Kerrigan.

I like the point of view that the film took, in that it was based off of the interviews and testimonials given by Harding, Jeff Gillooly and LaVona Golden. The film’s plot would often show events from the three main characters different interpretations. Tonya would tell her story, then her mom or Jeff would cut in to correct it or defend themselves. I liked the way the plot was structured and the quick cuts worked really well for that quick shifting narrative.

However, that worked to the picture’s detriment too. At least, at one point in the story.

You see, the film worked really well as just a straight up biopic for the first two-thirds or so. I was pretty engaged in the story and Tonya’s life before the Kerrigan incident. In fact, when it shifted to the incident, it pulled me away from a film I was enjoying to where I suddenly found myself knee deep in something else. I thought the film just threw itself into the incident without a better build up, as the vibe immediately felt different and it hit you out of nowhere but I guess that’s how it went down, as far as we know. It was like watching a really good story about a girl who wants to be an Olympic figure skater, overcoming all the odds, as the decks are stacked against her and then like a punch to the gut, you are reminded as to why this is a story in the first place. It just takes you out of your element.

Still, overall, the plot was well structured and the narrative curveball doesn’t do much to derail the film. It just felt like a major hiccup and then it was gone.

The performances in this movie are all fantastic. Allison Janney steals every scene that she is in and her Oscar nomination is well deserved. Margot Robbie was spectacular as Tonya and Sebastian Stan, who I am mostly familiar with as being the Winter Soldier, was the real surprise of the bunch, as he plays a character so far outside of what I’ve see from him. It’s like he went from a badass like John Wick to Kip from Napolean Dynamite. It’s a hell of a transformation from his most famous role.

I don’t think I, Tonya is anywhere near a Picture of the Year contender and it wasn’t nominated. However, the performances have been justly considered and Robbie and Janney are up for Oscars. I think Janney has a real shot but Robbie has much steeper competition in the Lead Actress category.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Its a pretty unique sports biopic, so it’s hard to say.

Film Review: Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Release Date: January 20th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Matt Spicer
Written by: David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer
Music by: Jonathan Sadoff, Nick Thorburn
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen, Pom Klementieff

Star Thrower Entertainment, 141 Entertainment, Mighty Engine, Neon, 97 Minutes

Review:

“…and also, no Batman talk!” – Ingrid, “What am I supposed to talk about? I don’t know these people!” – Dan, “Talk about something cool, like food or clothes or Joan Didion!” – Ingrid

I wanted to see this in the theater around mid-2017, when it came out. But it was only in my town for a cup of coffee and I was traveling for work at the time.

The film follows a young woman, Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), who obsesses over social media and stalks the girls she follows, trying to emulate them and essentially become them. The opening scene sees the final moments of her “relationship” with one of the people she follows. We then see her move on to Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), a girl who lives in California. Ingrid takes the inheritance from her mother’s death and moves to Cali, in an effort to become friends with Taylor and to emulate her cool, social media projected lifestyle.

The film’s cast is rounded out by O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays a lovable character who is an aspiring screenwriter and has an obsession with Batman, Wyatt Russell as Taylor’s disenchanted and withdrawn “artist” husband, Billy Magnussen as Taylor’s incredibly douchey brother and Pom Klementieff in a fairly small but important role, as she drives the initial wedge between Ingrid and Taylor.

I liked this film for a lot of reasons but mostly because of how good Aubrey Plaza was in it. She is able to convey loneliness and an obsessive need for belonging in such a sad and tragic way that you almost excuse her behavior and just want to help her. She’s not dissimilar from a lot of people out there who obsess over this new breed of celebrities: social media “influencers”.

Really, Ingrid just wants a friend and wants to feel like she is someone but completely misses out on the fact that social media is mainly just manufactured bullshit that people use to project their ideal persona. None of it is really genuine or real and the film doesn’t just examine Ingrid’s side of the equation, it also examines Taylor’s and who she really is. This is kind of a necessary movie for this day and age.

In the end, Ingrid actually has what she needs in the character of O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s Dan. He loves her, cares for her and treats her better than anyone else in the film and ultimately, even when she burns him, he doesn’t leave her side and is a good support system.

I do have a problem with the film though and that is in how it wraps up. The first 90 percent of the picture was really good. I just felt that maybe the writers didn’t know how to conclude the story after using this well-crafted tale to make their points. Ingrid’s actions just feel too predictable at the end and the final moment brings things full circle to a point where you know that Ingrid didn’t really learn the lessons she should have and she’s now attained the superficial and artificial online life she craved.

Despite an unsatisfying ending, the rest of the story was well paced and pieced together nicely. The film is accented by nice cinematography and really effective lighting. Plaza and Jackson were the real highlight of this movie and had spectacular chemistry.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other films where Aubrey Plaza is the focal point.