REVIEW: Battle of the Sexes

1 10 2017

Toronto International Film Festival

NOTE: Since I reviewed this film for a bigger outlet, I can’t really reprint the review in its entirety. From now on, when I’ve given a film a proper review elsewhere, I’ll use this space to expand upon certain elements that might not have made their way into the full review.

Battle of the Sexes

One aspect of “Battle of the Sexes” getting lost amidst the gendered 2016 election comparisons is the film’s queer storyline. It was important that Emma Stone’s Billie Jean King was a woman facing Steve Carell’s misogynist Bobby Riggs, but as the 1973 public did not know, it was important that she was a queer woman. King was living a lie to herself and her husband Larry (Austin Stowell) because the world was simply not ready to accept a prominent lesbian athlete. (It’s used against King by one of her pious teammates as blackmail, another sad reminder that not every woman abides by the tenets of feminism.)

As I wrote in my full review, “It’s important ‘Battle of the Sexes’ included Marilyn [King’s lover, played by Andrea Riseborough] – to reduce her role or eliminate her altogether would have been nothing short of erasure.” But while their love story might not function smoothly as a romantic subplot, it does open a window into the quiet dignity of a still very underground LGBT community. (Most notable among them is Alan Cumming as Cuthbert ‘Ted’ Tinling, the women’s costumer.) In particular, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris pick up on the incognito communication they use to keep each other safe and covered. These observations are perceptive, and they seem like just nice moments until a surprisingly walloping emotional coda that I dare not spoil consummates them into something more.

Also, Sarah Silverman should only play sleazy promoters/publicists moving forward. Between this and “Popstar,” she’s found her perfect type. B+

Read my full review on Slashfilm.

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REVIEW: Everest

16 09 2015

EverestTowards the end of the lengthy expository section of “Everest,” journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) asks the question on everyone’s mind: “Why Everest?”  The film recounts a harrowing climb under the tutelage of mountain guide Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), who leads a group that does not necessarily look a typical band of sport climbers.  Knowing what exactly motivates them to reach the planet’s highest peak is a reasonable thing for an audience to wonder.

In this one moment perfectly set up for characters to bare their souls – the writer makes for a reasonable excuse to pose such an inquiry – “Everest” pretty much whiffs.  When accomplished scripters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy cannot deliver on an obvious occasion to answer what deeper meaning this mountain has, it cannot help but disappoint.

So, in the absence of a satisfactory answer to Krakauer’s question, I would like to pose it myself – albeit with slightly different punctuation and inflection.  Why, “Everest?”

Why, “Everest,” must you include a maudlin, manipulative score that tells us exactly how to feel when we should feel it?  Granted, at least they got Dario Marianelli, so it sounds pretty.  But as I watched the film, my mind often drifted to thinking about how much more intense and visceral the experience would be with the score for “Gravity.”  Such impressionistic sounds and frightening dissonances could make the environment seem dauntingly alien.  The music meant to represent climbing the world’s tallest mountain should not resemble the score for any old drama.

Why, “Everest,” must you stubbornly insist on just portraying things that happen to people?  As Hall’s group summits, they face treacherous weather conditions that put their lives in peril.  But the snowstorm is just a snowstorm.  The film lacks any sort of overarching structure of conflict, like man vs. nature or man vs. man, to imbue the challenges with deeper meaning in the mold of “127 Hours.”  The struggles remain in the realm of the personal, not tapping some greater sense of collective fear.  It’s danger without any sense of dread for the audience.
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REVIEW: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

11 12 2012

Salmon FishingI could pound out reviews for movies I love or movies I hate like rapid fire.  I know what works and what doesn’t in those films – the only challenge is figuring out the frame.

For movies like “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” a pleasant but unremarkable little rom-com, writing a review is quite a bit tougher.  I just feel nothing but ambivalent towards the film, and I don’t feel the need to take a hard positive or negative approach.  In fact, it’s easiest to inch towards 400 words or so just dawdling and musing about the craft of reviewing film.

“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” exists – I can’t say that I would recommend it, but then again, I don’t hate it by any means.  None of it is bad, unless you consider not being very good to be a bad thing.  Lasse Hallstrom is content to make a movie totally by the books, not reaching for anything more or anything less.  There’s no disappointment that way, but there’s also no potential for greatness.

I suppose the romance between Ewan McGregor’s brilliant savant Fred Jones and Emily Blunt’s Harriet, a finance expert for a Sheikh in Yemen, is nice and pleasant.  No sparks fly, but it’s not as painful as Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams in “The Vow” or anything like that.

As they work together to achieve a bizarre fantasy, making it possible to fish for salmon in the scorching country of Yemen, I suppose there is a slight feeling of uplift and happiness.  But it doesn’t have the buoyancy of Hallstrom’s “The Cider House Rules,” and it doesn’t even come close to the transcendency of screenwriter Simon Beaufoy’s “Slumdog Millionaire.”

In other words, if you had to watch “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” there could be far worse things.  But you will forget it almost immediately.  In 10 years, if we still look at IMDb, I can imagine people will go, “OH! I remember that movie now,” when they look at the filmography of almost anyone involved with the film.  B-2stars