*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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MINIONS MOVIE REVIEW

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Not as despicable as I thought but nowhere near as good either. I know. Whaaatttttt?

This Minion fan was left feeling a little blue. For all the promise and the crazy cast, this lazy offering did enough to keep things watchable for the little ‘uns but failed to really make a mark like its predecessor.

Minions Stuart, Kevin and Bob (all voiced by Pierre Coffin) are recruited by Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), a super-villain who, alongside her inventor husband Herb (Jon Hamm), hatches a plot to take over the world.

As soon as the Universal logo emerged and those funny little yellow buffoons started humming the theme, I could feel a guilty smile spread across my face.

The animation was brilliant. The pace zipped along. The minions had enough charm and silliness to keep things lively. However, my smile soon faded as the opening 15 minutes were exactly like the heavily flogged and overlong trailers. If you were lucky enough not to see them then it’s fun enough. BUT for me all the best bits were spoiled.

I honestly thought that Gru had made the little yellow money makers. But it turns out they had been on this Earth long before man. The only surprise that I got from the film. That and the fact this script got through editing.

We watch the Minions as they desperately search for the biggest, baddest villain to serve and somehow manage to eliminate them instead. I did laugh at the gang as they knock a T-Rex into a volcano, blow Napoleon Bonaparte out of the sky and wipe out Count Dracula after opening the curtains during the day to surprise him with a birthday cake.

Geoffrey Rush’s voiceover was entertaining. If anything I wished there was more of it BUT there were only so many times the man could pronounce the word, “BA-NA-NA!” in a funny way. Thankfully, all the heavily flogged bits were wrapped up in that opening act.

And things did take a more interesting turn when the Nelson family were introduced. Michael Keaton and Alison Janney were on fine form. To be honest, I wish the Minions had stuck with them. They were mental!

I liked how you were able to tell Kevin, Stuart and Bob apart. Each with their own unique personality. Not bad considering they all sound the flipping same with their helium induced broken English, Spanish and gobbledygook.

Sandra Bullock did her best to bring the notorious Scarlett Overkill to life but her lines were not nearly as funny or memorable enough. She fell short of Jason Segel’s villainous Vector (“Curse you tiny toilet!”) and wasn’t even half as crazy as Benjamin Bratt’s brutish El Macho.

She had the odd one liner, “What are your names? My knights in shining denim”. But as she blathered on about her crusade for the Queen’s Crown Jewels, I realized how much I missed Steve Carrell’s Gru.

I couldn’t believe Jon ‘Don Draper’ Hamm was voicing Scarlett’s hub Herb. Completely out of character and lapping it up. He did his best to steal the show as the dimwitted scientist.

The sixties soundtrack was rocking, man. The Who, The Kinks, The Doors, Jimmi Hendrix. Loved it.

The premise was a little weak with our heroes, I mean villains, tasked with stealing the Crown Jewels. Cue a lazy montage of the Minions minion-ing up London as they breeze through a number of landmarks; The House of Commons, The Tower of London, Trafalgar Square. One little landmark did get a laugh that I didn’t expect.

BUT there just wasn’t enough. The gag ratio was low. Don’t get me wrong. The little devils still delivered in parts. Stuart wearing a thong while bathing in a hot tub with two yellow fire hydrants got a chuckle and the song and dance number homage to Singin’ in the Rain’s ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ was brilliant.

I just felt that the writers went for lazy gimmicks. Resorting to old stereotypes for a quick titter. The whole British people with bad teeth and constantly drinking tea spiel has been done to death. I’m not just saying that as a Brit but come on! Really?

Not even the legendary Jennifer Saunders could save the day as Her Majesty. It was too OTT and just not funny. The bobbies on the beat running around with tea cups and shouting “Cor Blimey!” just infuriated me and the scene with the Beefeaters was just weird. No, seriously. It was a strange Full Monty-esque moment. Desperation?

The dark undertones were handled well. The macabre bumping off of “leaders” and the torture chamber scene luckily went over the little ‘uns heads. A joke involving Kevin and a noose may not have been the best thing for a kid’s film.

The Minions were always the funny scene stealers in the Despicable films but this movie proved that you can have too much of a good thing. And maybe that there was a reason why they were only minions.

It’s not all bad but it’s not that great. Disney and Pixar have proven time and time again that you can have films that appeal to everyone. This has enough for the little ‘uns but for the bigger kids (at heart) you may be left disappointed.

2.5/5

FOXCATCHER REVIEW

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Tough, slow and frustrating. I’d rather watch “What Did The Fox Say?” for two hours than endure this over-hyped ensemble piece again.

Watching this film made me feel like I had been in a wrestling match. Tired, achy, drained and frustrated.

When I first saw the trailers, I had high hopes. I went in ready to see a trio of talented actors take on what was potentially a game changer.

To be honest, it still was BUT the hype really did hinder!

So what’s it all about? The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont (Carrell) as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.

Channing Tatum was very good as Mark Schultz. It has been a strange but interesting transition for the actor. I remember watching Fighting and thinking to myself, “Why is everyone going on about this guy?” An inaudible accent. A slacker posture. Was he trying to do a really bad Stallone impression? Is this a joke?

BUT he has progressed so far from that. Appearing in a range of films from Side Effects to 22 Jump Street. And I have had to eat my words. The make-up and prosthetics certainly changed his face but Tatum embraces the character perfectly.

His posture. His caveman dragging of the heels. Little things that make a big difference.

You feel for Schultz as he attempts to escape from living in his brother’s shadow. Feeding off what little scraps his brother David gives him. Metaphorically, of course. Giving him school visits that he doesn’t want to do, etc.

The sparring sequence was a perfect example of the brewing tension between the two brothers. A simple training exercise soon becomes a full-on brawl. Subtly, slow burning but tense. I expected more of this.

Instead, I just got slow, slow, slow!

Mark Ruffalo was fantastic but I’ve always rated him as an actor and felt he had that versatility. There wasn’t enough of him and I can see why he has earned that Best Supporting nod. He lifts every scene he is in and works really well with Tatum.

Steve Carrell was fantastic. The prosthetic certainly added to his creepy demeanour but his performance made all the difference. I couldn’t believe it was him. His presence haunts every frame.

Carrell has certainly proved that he can adapt and adapt well. If Carrell can keep this up, it will be a while before he returns to the comedy circuit.

If Norman Bates was a multimillionaire wrestling coach, then you would have an accurate depiction of duPont. Desperately seeking fame from his wrestling team and recognition from his reclusive mother.

Vanessa Redgrave was good in the small part she had. Sienna Miller . . . well, she had the easiest gig going. Anyone could have played her to deliver the three unmemorable lines of dialogue.

I didn’t even realise until the end of the film that Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club) was DuPont’s bodyguard.

It really is a SLOW burner. If you have the patience then you may be rewarded. BUT for me, the reward just wasn’t enough for the 129 minute length.

I’m prepared to endure with a film but the journey should be worth it. I could feel my eyes wondering to the little hands on my watch.

The slow talking, the endless staring and fox catching montages. I can understand the point of the imagery and the commentary BUT it seemed to go on.

Tatum’s breakdown was an unexpected but brilliantly acted scene. The pent up aggression released on one poor hotel room.

To be honest, I was a little lost in what Bennett Miller was trying to do with Foxcatcher. In one instance it felt like he was trying to make a commentary on the decaying ideal of the American dream; greed, money and power.

BUT on the other hand, it seemed like an examination but on who? The paranoid mummy’s boy millionaire? The fame seeking wrestler? His profit driven brother?

Schultz’s descent into darkness was a mixed bag. Mind-numbingly droll in one instant, tense and strange the next. The hold that duPont held over him was creepy. His play thing. A new toy.

The impromptu wrestling sessions in the middle of the night. DuPont’s constant craving for appraisal. A relentlessly long scene in which duPont keeps making Schultz pronounce the same phrase over and over to get it right was a perfect example of his relentless ego BUT it also bored the hell out of me.

I got it in 10 seconds NOT 10 minutes! “Philanthropist, philateler and ornithologist, Philanthropist, philateler and ornithologist” again and again.

It didn’t help that the film was about wrestling. The fight sequences were okay BUT if they haven’t got The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin or a steel chair then it’s going to be a little flat (What?).

The last 20 minutes I did find myself more engaged as the tension mounted. A cat and mouse game for Schultz’s sanity finally turned the heat up on this slow cooker. The closing moments finally got my attention but was it too little, too late?

This could have been cut by 30-45 minutes and been just as effective for it. The finale may have been shocking and sombre viewing BUT it just wasn’t enough.

Miller was responsible for Capote. A film I felt was incredibly overhyped. Hoffmann was outstanding but the film itself just wavered along. Overlong and overhyped. (See where I’m going).

Bennett Miller certainly delivered a story of jealousy, paranoia and greed with some fantastic performances that justify their Oscar nominations BUT pace, tension and story felt like mere afterthoughts.

2.5/5

Take it away, Hercules!