*NEW* BATTLE OF THE SEXES REVIEW *NEW*

A sterling turn from Stone lifts this easygoing sports biopic from TV movie-land.

The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell).

The opening got straight to it. Clocking bonus points for shooting the opening credit sequences in all its 70s glory. Retro.

Stone was brilliant as King. You really felt for her as the world’s number one female tennis champion threw everything on the line to make a stand. She carried the film and, if anything, her Oscar was awarded for the wrong film.

It bumbled along at an easy going pace as King argued biology and tackled sexism. A simple request. Same stakes. Same prize money. As the women were only awarded an eighth of the mens’.

I’m not the biggest fan of Sarah Silverman BUT she delivered a decent turn as King’s long suffering agent. Doing her utmost to source an alternative tournament with no backing or money.

The risk King took. Jeopardising the chances of Grand Slam and Wimbledon for her cause. I couldn’t believe it.

I’m sure it was supposed to be a stark contrast watching King struggle to make ends meet while Riggs (Carrell) smoke, drank and gambled in the background.

BUT it felt like a waste of Carrell’s talents. Anyone could have played him. It was only at the 45 minute marker that the man had a little more meat to chew on. His outburst at a gamblers anonymous meeting spoke volumes: “You’re not here because you gamble. You’re here because you lost!”. Mental.

Carrell played the part well BUT I didn’t know what to make of Riggs. A washed up chauvinist? Or a player in every single aspect?

It felt like Riggs used the chauvinism angle as a mere ploy to antagonise his opponents and help ramp up the PR. By the end, I didn’t know whether the sports star was really that deluded or just desperate for one last pay out.

The ultimate irony being that Riggs was burning through his wife’s (A role that was a waste of Elisabeth Shue’s talents) inheritance to fund his expensive habits while she continued to make a living. Quietly observing from the side lines.

I was surprised at the star-studded cast involved; Bill Pullman, Andrea Riseborough, John C. McGinley and Alan Cumming. It was a shame that they didn’t really bring much to the fold.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Riseborough had good chemistry with Stone as King came to terms with her sexuality after falling for a hairdresser.

I was actually on tenterhooks when King’s husband unwittingly stumbled upon their union.

The only problem with BOTS was that in an attempt to focus on every aspect, it didn’t really provide much depth to the majority of the characters involved other than Riggs and King.

I couldn’t believe the PR up to this “Battle of the Sexes” match. I was baffled when the end credits showed the real life footage of the promotion (I thought the majority of it had been exaggerated for dramatic purposes).

The celebrity endorsements surprised me! Oh Lloyd Bridges, say it ain’t so!

Riggs wasted so much energy on showboating and mockery instead of on the actual match. I have to commend King for trying to change opinion and making a stance.

It was engaging enough BUT I expected (with the talent involved) this biopic to pack more of a punch. The social commentary still struck chords with the present. A shocking comparison by its own right.

BUT it was all rather tame. After all that build up, the BIG match was brushed over so quickly that the ending went out with a whimper rather than a bang.

Don’t get me wrong, I was still rooting for King. And surprisingly, I didn’t know the outcome of this historical game.

I was mortified at the change of tide during the match commentary as they realised Bobby was feeling the strain. I couldn’t believe after all those jibes and digs about King’s looks and build that they used Rigg’s age as an excuse when she was getting the better of him?!

Madness. Funny that wasn’t an issue when he beat Margaret Court in the same year. Hmmm . . .

If this biopic didn’t have such a talented cast at its disposal, I felt this premise may have gone straight on the box.

It certainly killed the time and entertained BUT will stand the test of time like the very much it focused on? Not so much.

A stand out performance from Stone does just enough to serve up a watchable drama.

3/5

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*NEW* LA LA LAND REVIEW *NEW*

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Over-hyped drivel.

Well, that’s what I thought I was going to say.

Overrated, maybe? But as much as I tried to resist the crazy hype train, I still couldn’t help but fall for this highly watchable and entertaining romp.

A jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) falls for an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) in Los Angeles.

The opening sequence did nothing to win me over. Despite director Damien Chazelle’s opening credit titles and Cinemascope capture mimicking the days of old; it was too much.

People jumping out of their cars, free-runners . . . free-running, the word ‘chaotic’ doesn’t come close. I couldn’t even hear the lyrics being sung.

All that was missing was a truck with some bongo players in the back . . . Oh, wait, no. There they are.

The soundtrack was a little disappointing. The first two or three songs were highly unmemorable.

Chazelle’s disorienting camera work and ever-growing ensembles combined with his incredibly mad and colourful palette felt like a shot of insulin being given to a caffeine addict. Overkill.

However . . .

I will admit. I’m not the biggest fan of Gosling and Stone. There’s just something about them that grate against me. The Help and The Nice Guys being exceptions.

BUT once the couple were finally brought to the fold, my grumbling was subdued.

Both caught up in their own testing life struggles from Mia’s awkward cringe-inducing auditions to Seb accomplishing his dreams of running a jazz bar.

The concept was hardly original. The focal point of the piece was just like any other musical. A love story.

BUT despite its predictable nature, Chazelle managed to cross exam a relationship from its crazy highs to its downbeat lows. All aided by fantastic chemistry between two brilliant leads and a good script.

I didn’t realise Gosling could play the piano. He was fantastic. City of Stars was probably the only song that I (annoyingly) can’t stop whistling. That blasted piano rift!

I thought the pair’s singing was very good. Considering they aren’t professionals, they sung very well. Stone’s rendition of Audition was excellent.

In all fairness, I would have been happier to watch more of their dancing. A Lovely Night was a bit of a weak song BUT with Justin Hurwitz’s score and the duo’s late night toe tapping dance in the dusk, I was entranced.

The whole thing had a slight air of Astaire and Rogers about it.

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That was until their beautifully shot ballroom dance in the Griffin Observatory. Dancing in the stars. Cheesy but a nice touch with a fitting nod to A Rebel Without A Cause.

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I knew the Whiplash director would sneak jazz into the mix. The only problem was that I’m NOT the biggest fan. I’m sure Seb would have a few choice words to say about that. For those who’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.

There were some good songs BUT it all felt a little samey to me and the pace was starting to test. If it wasn’t for Gosling’s (and Chazelle’s) enthusiasm, I would have found all the jazz trivia a little dull.

BUT I was engaged in the couple. We watched their romance blossom over the seasons as their paths crossed time and time again. Fate playing its little game.

Laughing as they inevitably fell in love and wincing as the strain of their busy lifestyles took its toll. We could all relate to moments that the pair experienced.

The epilogue was unexpected. Just when I thought I had the film pegged, Chazelle managed to surprise. And not even the Twitter references and endless memes spoiled what was a wonderfully captured and fitting swansong.

The set design, the layout, the choreography. Fantastic.

The hype may have hindered. From all the astounding comments you’d think people hadn’t seen a musical before?!

I’m not saying I’m the biggest musical fan. BUT I don’t hate them either. West Side Story, On The Town, Chicago, Singin’ In The Rain, Moulin Rouge are classics I could watch again and again (Bet you weren’t expecting me to name those titles).

As much as I enjoyed this, I wouldn’t rush to make a special trip to see it again.

La La Land certainly celebrated the much missed presence of an absent genre. I tried to compile a list of musicals in the last decade. Not many came to mind; Frozen, Sing Street (A must watch) and . . . shudder . . . High School Musical.

As much as I felt this may have been over-hyped by awards buzz, it was still an entertaining watch from two underrated actors.

Unless you’re completely anti-musical. If so then why you are here?

3.5/5 (Just)

*NEW* IRRATIONAL MAN REVIEW *NEW*


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Just like the protagonist. Strange, dark and all over the place.

A tormented philosophy professor (Joaquin Phoenix – Walk The Line) finds a will to live when he commits an existential act.

“All we do is talk, talk, talk”. I should have known what to expect from an Allen flick. The guy loves to talk. After watching Irrational Man, I’ve finally accepted that I’m NOT the biggest Woody Allen fan. BUT at least it featured one of Phoenix’s best performances.

The mind numbing opening didn’t really build my hopes up with Phoenix’s troubled Abe waffling on about morality and aesthetics. I felt like I was sitting in a philosophical lecture. Yikes.

The premise was hardly original. A radical professor shakes up the quiet life of a high school academic achiever. The first act trundled along at an easygoing pace with the predictable and nauseating romance blossoming between Emma Stone (The Help) and Phoenix.

The pair had good chemistry BUT somehow Stone just grated against me. Her role nothing more than an audition to be the next Diane Keaton. Strong willed and independent in one frame. Annoying and a chatterbox, the next.

You couldn’t find a better choice for an irrational man than Joaquin Phoenix. He really did carry the piece. There were moments to be had as he tried to avoid the flirtatious advances of his work colleague (played brilliantly by Parker Posey – Superman Returns). He even churned out some quick witted one liners; referring to his own philosophical theories as “verbal masturbation”.

His path to destruction made for engaging viewing. A man truly on the brink. Teaching his students a lesson in existentialism with a loaded gun and a game of Russian roulette.

BUT it was all a little too slow and pretentious for my liking. Listening to Phoenix’s philosophical ramblings and watching Stone inevitably fall for him while bleating on to her long suffering boyfriend (Jamie Blackley – If I Stay) really did test me.

However, my interest was finally peaked when the film went in a completely different direction. A change in tone and Abe’s character transformed a typical Allen rom-com into a black comedy.

My griping was soon put on hold as Abe set out on a moral crusade to punish a judge after overhearing a custody battle conversation at a diner. Random, strange BUT intriguing.

A slow burning stake out unfolded as Abe contemplated seeking justice on the small town judge. The dark thoughts turning into actions as our irrational man tries to rationalize this insane situation and the aftermath that inevitably followed.

The only problem was that, despite this much needed change in pace and tone, it was all a little mismatched. Too light and easygoing to be taken seriously. And even when things finally took a darker turn with Abe’s crusade and demented new lease on life, the end result was flat and didn’t really deliver after all the promise.

I could appreciate the irony of it all BUT it was all over the place. A watchable mess. It didn’t help that the leads’ chemistry wasn’t strong enough for me to care by the finale. Shame.

A sterling turn from Phoenix and a strange premise did enough to keep me watching BUT I won’t be taking this class again any time soon.

2.5/5

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT REVIEW

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There’s a little bit of magic in the cast BUT apart from that the moonlight just revealed all the flaws with this dated affair, old sport.

Not my best summary.

Despite the age gap, Colin Firth and Emma Stone have good chemistry and make this easy going and predictable 20s flick more than watchable.

So what is it about? An illusionist (Firth) is brought in to help unmask a possible swindle with a young “spiritualist” (Stone). To make matters worse, he might be falling for her.

I will admit that I’m not the biggest Woody Allen fan. I really feel that his work is overrated.

That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed some of his films. I actually didn’t mind Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona. But did Woody Allen use my love for ScarJo against me?

Colin Firth was superb as the deluded egotist and illusionist Stanley.

His quick quips and sarcastic commentary certainly made him a monster cut from the same cloth as Blue Jasmine (Another Allen flick I enjoyed).

Allen and cinematographer Darius Khondji capture the look and feel of the 20s perfectly. Magic In the Moonlight is rich with that nostalgia for the classics.

It’s good to see Simon McBurney getting more screen time. I’ve been a fan of him for some time. His performance as the Arch Deacon in Rev being a particular highlight.

He sweeps into the scene with his sly grin and slithery charm in the form of an old university colleague, Howard Burkan.

Setting Stanley on his journey with a wager. A wager to try and expose Sophie the spiritualist as a fraud.

It’s all rather tame, easy going and delivers the odd chuckle as Stanley goes out of his way to upset the fools that celebrate this so-called spiritualist.

Hamish Linklater played the love struck and incredibly gullible Brice Catledge brilliantly.

Marcia Gay Harden (The Mist/Flubber) was a little flat. She has proven in the past that she can play a strong supporting role and play it well but her mother figure was highly unmemorable.

Eileen Atkins (Doc Martin) was very good as Stanley’s Aunt Vanessa. Providing a little more depth and understanding to her heavily armoured nephew.

BUT it’s all so predictable which makes it all a little drab.

The beautiful sunshine and the picturesque French coastline is still a sight to behold. Instantly making me want to go on holiday and distracting me from scribbling on my critical clipboard.

Firth delivers enough charisma to carry the film. Until he meets Sophie.

The spiritual sessions are entertaining enough as you sit there with Stanley trying to work out if it is a con or real.

The effects aren’t that bad either but this is essentially a theatrical piece.

The whole philosophical debates about the afterlife was interesting enough for twenty minutes and made for some fiery exchanges between the two leads.

BUT after a while, that’s all they do. Talk and bicker about life, death, love and beliefs.

I can see what Allen was trying to do but it just got a little irritating, long winded and a bit pretentious for me.

At first glance, I thought that only a friendship was going to blossom between the pair because of the steep age gap.

I don’t think it helped that Stone’s outfits made her look a little too young. I’m not sure whether that was Allen’s intention.

The change in tone as their relationship transforms to possibly something more came off a little uneven.

Stone and Firth did enough to make it believable. But if I’m honest, it wasn’t necessary and it made the final outcome so predictable and cheesy.

Stone is in very high demand and for the majority of her performance, I could see why. There were moments where her little spiritual tricks went on a bit and she did begin to get on my nerves.

She can’t dance. Well, jive anyway. Her improvised moves in a jazz club had me cringing.

The ending was very much like the classics. And that was the problem. The dated and corny moments we laugh at now with the oldies only added to their charm.

However, when you try and rekindle that in a modern reworking, it just doesn’t come off quite as well as you hope.

The final moments were very hammy. That charm coming off a little tacky. I tutted and shook my head. A guilty smile sneaking across my face for the attempt.

An easy going, charming little time filler with two stellar performances. Just don’t expect too much.

2.5/5

BIRDMAN REVIEW

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It didn’t make me fly for the exit. Strange, bizarre, funny and different. A breath of fresh air.

A promising start for a new year in film. Hopefully.

A somewhat slow opening did leave me a little anxious after the endless hype. So much so that two people left within 15 minutes!

BUT it was merely adjusting you to Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s (Babel) style and setting up the pieces.

Preparation for what would lie in store. A darkly comical acting tour de force as one man descends into madness.

So what is it about? A washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

At first glance, the washed up actor shaking off his superhero status and Michael Keaton probably hit home a little too well. BUT what a resurgent return from the Dark Knight. It is not as if he really left. Come on, he was in The Other Guys and Need for Speed (The less we say about that one, the better).

When Keaton’s character was first introduced, I felt he was drowned out by the rather animated and incredibly talented supporting cast. His performance didn’t seem to justify the hype. BUT by the end, oh boy, was I wrong! He was remarkable. A powerhouse performance. Vulnerable in one shot, volatile and violent the next.

The Broadway play setting was a perfect platform to unearth personal problems, dig up rivalries and delve into fractious relationships and affairs. The rehearsals may seem a little repetitive but as we delve more into each character’s issues and flaws, it brings a different dimension and take on that same bit of dialogue and scene. Expertly captured and cleverly written.

This all helped make this simple dark comedy drama turn into something so much more. Riggan has to deal with the stress of the play as well as his inner demon. Taking the form of an avarian comic book superhero with the voicing style of Beetlejuice. Brilliant.

I loved how Innaritu incorporated the “super real” fictional theatre scene into the real world. The meta-textual references were brilliant and really added to the film. The digs at the Avengers franchise and celebrities brought a little grin. The open criticisms in how people don’t want to watch films with long drawn out philosophical talking and how they want big, dumb, action packed blockbusters was spot on!

The cinematography was superb. Emmanuel Lubezki manipulated the camera work and editing to make it appear like one continuous long take. It certainly kept things moving but the 119 minute length did feel a little long at the tooth in parts.

I wonder if Keaton incorporated some of his own troubles into the film. In one of Riggan’s arguments with his “Birdman” alter ego who at this point harassing him to do another Birdman sequel, Riggan yells out, “That was 1992! Get over it!”Coincidentally, the year Batman Returns was released. Hmmm . . .

The supporting cast were fantastic. Consisting of the likes of the flirtatious Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion), the insecure Naomi Watts (The Impossible) and the snidey film critic hell bent on ruining Riggan’s opening night, Lindsay Duncan (About Time).

Once Emma Stone (The Help) was given the screen time, she was (to be expected) very good as Riggan’s drug addict daughter.

Amy Ryan (The Wire) was wasted in her small role. Not enough of her. She had good chemistry with Keaton and I felt more could have been made of the broken family dynamic. She didn’t even interact with Stone’s character at all. Merely popping in lulls after Riggan’s meltdowns.

Zach Galifinakis (The Hangover) played a much more subdued role to what I was used to. He actually got to do a spot of acting as well as delivering the laughs.

BUT the main scene stealer that rivalled Keaton through out the film was Edward Norton (American History X). His portrayal of Mike was fantastic. Egotistical with a penchant for some improvised method acting. Constantly seeking attention and out to undo Riggan’s work, undermining and offering “suggestions”. I couldn’t stop watching him. Scene stealing in almost every turn.

Without spoiling too much, Birdman does get a little random and bizarre in parts as you don’t know how many of Riggan’s encounters and altercations are actually happening.

The ending may split people. But for me I liked it. It was one of those that was open for interpretation. Something that appeared cut and dry but was it?

I mean, this is most definitely a mood piece. If you’re in the mood for something a little different, then I recommend it. BUT if not, then maybe steer clear.

It’s not without it’s imperfections; a questionable pace and a slow opening, along with some irritating drum music did dampen things (BUT only a little). Seriously the drumming got on my nerves. It worked as Riggan reached breaking point, the drumming getting faster and faster as it drew to it’s climax. BUT throughout, it was just racket.

However, once you get past that, it’s a cleverly written multi-layered dark comedy drama that is fantastically acted by an incredible cast. A good piece of film-making that for a moment restored my faith in films.

3.5/5

BUT the more I think about that ending. This may change to a 4. So watch this space.

 

THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 REVIEW

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The-Not-So-Amazing-And-Incredibly-Corny-Spiderman.

Stunning special effects and 3D trickery does not a good movie make.

Certainly made it watchable BUT with a gushy teen romance subplot dominating an overlong screen time, villains that hardly threatened or entertained and a plot that was nothing more than build up for another inevitable installment, you can’t help but question why they bothered rebooting it in the first place?

Now, I loved the Sam Raimi trilogy (well Spiderman 3 was watchable. Seen a lot worse. Let’s not forget Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, guys).

Tobey Maguire was an excellent Peter Parker (although he has been subject to some hilarious memes for his infamous face pulling).

When I heard there was going to be a reboot, I was baffled. Why? No need. Just carry on from Raimi and replace the cast if they want to leave. However, Marc Webb’s first installment was actually quite good. For an origin story, it did something that quite a few comic book adaptations don’t and that’s go back to the source material.

Andrew Garfield was a very likeable lead and a cooler, more laid back version of Maguire’s Parker. For its two hour-odd length, I could have happily watched more. My only qualm was that the villain was a little naff and the story was rushed. BUT I wanted to see more. And here we are . . .

An exhilarating (if mental) opener delving into Peter’s parents “accident”, and Spidey dealing with a crime spree, delivered high hopes. Cheesy, watchable and entertaining. BUT that soon spiralled into mediocrity.

Garfield and Stone had great chemistry and were a likeable couple in the first part. Inevitably their chemistry turned out to be more and they’re a real life couple. However, this time, the teen angst and will-they-won’t-they?-back story felt repetitive, tedious and incredibly cheesy. The sort of syrupy stuff you’d expect to see in a Twilight movie.

The way the movie was promoted, I expected something bigger, darker, badder. Bigger? Certainly. Darker? Hardly. The pair do their best and the chemistry was still very much on. BUT it felt because of the teen gossip, Webb allowed a little too much time on them. I mean we had all that will-they-won’t-they? stuff in the Raimi trilogy with Dunst and Maguire. Been there done that.

This was supposed to be a reboot. Doing something different. I know Parker’s torn loyalty between the woman he loves and saving the city was always going to be at the forefront. BUT it felt slapped together. Even the uneasy tension between Parker and Stacey’s dad (Dennis Leary) went nowhere. He just kept popping up, grimacing menacingly.

The visual effects, the set pieces and 3D were fantastic with bits flying out (steady now) all over the place. The camera work as Spidey swung around the New York cityscape was fantastic. However when some of the bigger battles commenced, the CGI got a little much and cartoony in places.

Webb reduced Peter and Aunt May’s relationship to nothing. A shame considering he had Sally Field in the role. Anyone could have played her.

The lovely Felicity Jones (Chalet Girl/Cemetery Junction) was reduced to playing a stocky, generic secretary. The same can be said for Colm Feore (The Borgias/The Chronicles of Riddick). He made more of an impression BUT a nothingy role nonetheless.

The villains, on the other hand, in the words of George Takei, “OH MY!!”

Jamie Foxx did his best with the material. His nerdy counterpart Max Dillon was incredibly weird. If anything he reminded me of Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma from Batman Forever. His obsession with Spiderman, after a brief life saving encounter, bordered on creepyville.

However, once he transformed into Electro  (Fantastic visuals by the way), he got better. But memorable? The best villain in Spiderman history? Hardly. He came off more like a demented electrolysed Mr Freeze with a sore throat.

Don’t get me wrong. The fight sequences were decent BUT the dialogue and exchanges left little to be desired.

Marton Csokas’ evil scientist came off more like a pantomine villain. Paul Giamatti? What the hell? Legend that he is. His part was incredibly irritating and OTT. A change from his usual roles but really? The money must have been good.

Fair play to Webb for reworking the Osbourns. BUT Chris Cooper was reduced to a passing cameo as Norman. I know we had the talented Willem Dafoe BUT I would have been happy to see his portrayal. At least the origin of the Green Goblin was different.

Dane DeHaan (Chronicle/Kill Your Darlings) wasn’t a bad Harry. He looked shady enough with his slimy grin and slick back hair. BUT even ol’ squinty eyed Franco did a more menacing job. Plus the Green Goblin? Really? Again? I suppose he was one of Spidey’s biggest adversaries.

My main problem was that Spiderman was rebooted for its silly, OTT, ridiculous third installment. BUT this very film did the exact same thing. Bar a redeeming closing act.

I’m fed up of films building up for another one. The film I’m watching should make me want to watch the next one.

Garfield was still a likeable Spiderman that delivered some cheeky one liners. BUT the quick-witted banter was very hit and miss. It was all a little tame (Spiderman light) until the finale. An unexpected twist gave me hope. But it wasn’t enough.

I fear this franchise is heading for Schumacher territory. This ship needs moving into Nolan/Raimi waters or I fear it will sink. Get some better baddies and this reboot might just prove it’s worth.

At its best, watchable guff with some decent visual set pieces. At its worst, overlong, schmaltzy and all done before and much better. This Spidey fan is reaching for his bug spray.

2.5 out of 5!