BATTLE OF THE SEXES review

I can’t claim to know anything about the the real events that this movie is portraying, but based on my dollar tree-worth of research, Billie Jean King, whose husband is famed talk-show host Larry King, is considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time. I’m guessing it’s no accident that she’s not considered one of the greatest “female” tennis players of all time, a testament to her talent, no doubt. Bobby Riggs was also a heavy-weight for his time and the two essentially get into a tennis match. Riggs taunts King into it, he was in his fifties, and she was almost thirty. Summed up, she won, but even that victory had its controversies, citing that it was King’s age that won the match.

As for the movie itself, yes, I’m looking forward to this one the most this week. I’m always down for a good feminist flick and who doesn’t love an ass-kicking woman humbling a sexist jack-off?

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Emma Stone (LA LA LAND [2016], THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN [2012], SUPERBAD [2007], and the upcoming CRUELLA [2018]), and Steve Carell (DESPICABLE ME 3 [2017], DATE NIGHT [2010], BRUCE ALMIGHTY [2003], and the upcoming MINECRAFT: THE MOVIE [2019]). In support, we have Bill Pullman (INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE [2016], SCARY MOVIE 4 [2006], CASPER [1995], and the upcoming THE EQUALIZER 2 [2018]), Elisabeth Shue (HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET [2012], PIRANHA 3D [2010], THE KARATE KID [1984], and the upcoming DEATH WISH [2017]), Sarah Silverman (THE BOOK OF HENRY [2017], THE MUPPETS [2011], THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY [1998], and the upcoming RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 [2018]), Natalie Morales (TV shows TROPHY WIFE [2013 – 2014] and PARKS AND REC [2009 – 2015]), and Alan Cummings (STRANGE MAGIC [2015], X2: X-MEN UNITED [2003], and GOLDENEYE [1995]).

Now for the crew. Co-directing, we have Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, both known for LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006) and a bunch of music videos. Penning the screenplay is Simon Beaufoy, known for EVEREST (2015), THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013), and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008). Composing the score is Nicholas Britell, known for MOONLIGHT (2016), A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS (2016), FREE STATE OF JONES (2016), and the upcoming OCEAN’S EIGHT (2018). Finally, the cinematographer is Linus Sandgren, known for LA LA LAND, THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014), PROMISED LAND (2013), and upcoming films FIRST MAN (2018) and THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS (2018).

Overall, I’m super stoked for this. I can’t wait.

This is my honest opinion of: BATTLE OF THE SEXES

(SUMMARY)

Set in 1973. Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) has just been marked as the most successful women’s tennis player in the world. However, despite the great strides that women have been making in the world of sports, the higher ups believe that men are more marketable, despite evidence suggesting that women are just as popular a draw. Repulsed by the lack of equality, she founded the Women’s Tennis Association with some other great female tennis players. Billy Jean’s success eventually catches the eye of former great tennis player Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), who is eager to join the bandwagon in proving that men are superior to women in sports and challenges Billy Jean to a Battle of the Sexes match.

(REVIEW)

I like it. I’m really happy I got to see this.

Okay, I think if there’s anything that should be mentioned is that this isn’t exactly a sports biopic. At least, not all the way through. Much of the marketing strictly revolves around the match between Billy Jean and Bobby. And while that is a central and integral element to the story, people should be aware that it gets pretty personal for both people. We’re shown how Bobby is an addicted gambler and shows his failing marriage to his wife. We’re also shown Billie Jean’s homosexual awakening and her affair with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). In fact, a lot of time is devoted to that and how it affected her marriage to Larry King (Austin Stowell). In fact, a lot of time is dedicated to this, which might throw a few people off wondering what this has to do with the famous tennis match. Truth is, probably not much. But that’s not to say that it’s not effective. Stone’s performance as a sexually confused Billy Jean is very engaging and perfectly acted. On the one hand, she’s utterly guilty with how it would affect her marriage to Larry, and due to the 70s, would give a bad name to her new organization. On the other hand, it’s a new side of herself that she wants to explore and understand better and despite her cheating on Larry, we want her to be happy. She’s a feminist, a supportive friend, an iron-clad determination, and an all-around down to Earth gal. There’s real stakes in this story and no matter what Billy Jean does, she’s sacrificing something for what she believes is the greater good.

Even the stuff with Bobby isn’t short-changed. We see a man who is a loving husband and father, just trying to find his way in the world post-tennis greatness, but sadly fell into gambling and can’t give it up. He lies to his wife Priscilla (Elizabeth Shue) about it, which deteriorates their marriage understandably, but believes himself to be changed when he gets back into tennis. He loves his family dearly, and even when he’s playing up the Chauvinist Pig persona in the media, you never really get the sense that he’s one-hundred percent sincere about it. He’s doing it for the publicity and sponsorships, so it’s hard to see him as the villain. Easy to root against, he’s an egotistical jack-off, but not so easy to hate.

The performances are really what holds the movie up. This is arguably my favorite live-action performance by Silverman, who is so much fun watch here, Pullman’s a delicious asshole, Shue is incredibly sympathetic as Rigg’s wife, it all carries the film incredibly well.

I suppose if I had any real complaints, it’s the numerous creative liberties that were taken. But to be clear, I’m only going off of what I’ve read off of Wikipedia, which has a nasty habit of getting facts wrong, so if anything I mention is either false or not entirely true because you read some book that Billie Jean wrote, feel free to comment. I’ll post the link below.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Sexes_(tennis)

First, the discrepancies. Billie Jean and Marilyn didn’t meet in 1973 as depicted in the film, they met in 1971. And unless “secretary” has an incredibly generalized definition, Marilyn wasn’t a hairdresser, she was Billie Jean’s personal secretary. During the match itself, Billie Jean was getting her ass handed to her early on, but the film depicted it as pretty even split.

Now, here’s my issues with these. While I can’t claim to know how long Billie Jean’s affair was with Marilyn, maybe it lasted a very brief amount of time, maybe it lasted from ’71 to ’73 throughout the Battle of the Sexes match, but it seems strange that they threw it in like that. If it didn’t last two years, then this relationship was used as an excuse to throw in more sympathy for the lesbian community. Not that this is bad, of course, Billie Jean was a champion of women’s rights, but the subject matter in itself does a fine job of that, promoting fair and equal pay for women in sports. Who’s not down for that? Adding a lesbian sideplot almost seems contrived. But then again, this is a biopic of Billie Jean’s life and her affair with Marilyn is a part of her life, and I think the writer was trying to make this movie a little more all-encompassing of her life. After all, a two year separation from the real events and the events depicted in the film really isn’t that big of a deal, especially since the film does place an importance on their relationship, which was a big deal in Billie Jean’s life.

But seriously, why is she a hairdresser and not a secretary? Isn’t that distinction kind of necessary? If Marilyn was Billy Jean’s secretary, the relationship might have felt a little more organic instead of a single encounter in a hair salon. Having her as a secretary, depending on how long they’d known each other before the affair and how long they’d known each other in general, would have shown that there was history and chemistry, which would create that sexual tension and just make more sense. A one off encounter in a hair salon just seems a little too “love at first sight” to me, and making it lesbians doesn’t make it okay. I have a problem with it even it when it involves heterosexual people. Gays don’t get a free pass in this.

Swinging back around to Billy Jean’s personal life, she did had an abortion in 1971. If gay rights are a hot button topic in 2017, despite the legal advances that have been made in recent years, then you sure as shit better believe that abortion is a hot button topic as well, which remains just as controversial today as it’s ever been. . Why wasn’t this something added to the movie? I have my theories. One, if they did add it, they risk both making the movie longer and more unfocused. Or two, they made a choice. Talk about a subject matter that lights fires under countless asses, or showcase Emma Stone making out with a chick. Well… sex does sell… and boom, we have this. I think a better, smarter writer could have used the abortion angle and made a really impactful film. But then again… maybe that’s why it wasn’t used because the writer wouldn’t have known what to say about it and or didn’t have anything smart to add, so it was decided to leave it out. Either way, it’s a shame.

And for the match itself, making it a little too even split at the beginning, wouldn’t it have been more dramatic to see Billy Jean losing while Bobby taunts her? And when she makes her comeback, that’s when Bobby takes his jacket off and stops his clowning around? I feel like it would have served the film much better, but what do I know?

To be fair, I can’t claim to know why these creative liberties were taken. Maybe Billie Jean herself requested certain elements not be included. But regardless, as much as I ragged on the liberties, it’s a solid film and I do recommend it. I don’t think it’s the must-see movie of the year or anything, but if you’re a fan of the cast, enjoy a good feminist movie, or even sports films, then this is worth your time.

My honest rating for BATTLE OF THE SEXES: 4/5

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THE BOOK OF HENRY review

What the hell is this movie?! The advertising for this flick is beyond misleading. Oh, as of this moment while I’m writing, I haven’t seen the movie, but… seriously! The trailer starts off like a gender-swap GIFTED (2017). The kid is a genius who handles the taxes of the house, his mom works as a server and plays video games, and… pretty sure the younger brother is just cute pandering. The boy meets a girl he likes at school and then things go dark. Like… schoolgirl’s step-father may be abusive, dark. Like… end the trailer with the mom holding a sniper rifle, dark.

And then one of the film’s poster looks like this!

the-book-of-henry-banner

There’s sniper rifles in this movie, kids! Be confused! Be very confused! But all that being said, I’m excited for this movie. It looks like it could be so insane that it’s entertaining.

Well, here’s a look at the cast. Starring, we have Jaeden Lieberher (MIDNIGHT SPECIAL [2016], ALOHA [2015], and ST. VINCENT [2014]), Naomi Watts (CHUCK [2017], the Divergent Series ALLEGIANT [2016], EASTERN PROMISES [2007], and the upcoming direct-to-TV Divergent Series ASCENDANT, due out… who knows when), Jacob Tremblay (SHUT IN [2016], ROOM [2015], THE SMURFS 2 [2013], and the upcoming THE PREDATOR [2018]), and Maddie Ziegler (1 episode of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, 1 episode of DROP DEAD DIVA, and the upcoming animated French-Canadian film LEAP! [2017]). In support, we have Sarah Silverman (POPSTAR [2016], A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST [2014], WRECK-IT RALPH [2012], and upcoming films BATTLE OF THE SEXES [2017] and Disney’s animated RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 [2018]), Dean Norris (FIST FIGHT [2017], SECRET IN THEIR EYES [2015], TV show BREAKING BAD, and the upcoming DEATH WISH [2017]), and Lee Pace (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY [2014], LINCOLN [2012], and TV show PUSHING DAISIES).

Now for the crew. Directing is Colin Trevorrow, known for JURASSIC WORLD (2015), SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012), and the upcoming as-of-yet-titled STAR WARS EPISODE IX (2019). Penning the screenplay is Gregg Hurwitz, known for 7 episodes of TV show V. Composing the score is the awesome Michael Giacchino, known for ROGUE ONE (2016), INSIDE OUT (2015), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (2011), and upcoming films SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is John Schwartzman, known for FIFTY SHADES DARKER (2017), THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012), THE GREEN HORNET (2011), and upcoming films FIFTY SHADES FREED (2018) and STAR WARS EPISODE IX.

Overall, yeah, kind of excited, but more curious to see just how weirdly bad this movie gets. I’m just hoping for some entertainment, not expecting a good story.

This is my honest opinion of: THE BOOK OF HENRY

(SUMMARY)

Eleven-year-old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is smart. Gifted. He lives with his loving single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) and his younger admiring brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay). Henry also has a crush on his neighor, Christina (Maddie Ziegler), whom he starts to believe is being abused by her police chief commissioner step-father Glenn (Dean Norris). However, his efforts to trying to save her are constantly thwarted due to Glenn’s status and his age. But as he starts to put an elaborate plan together to save Christina, things go horribly wrong for Henry.

(REVIEW)

Oh man, don’t hate me, y’all, but… I kinda like this movie. I hesitate to say it’s good, but I really like a lot that I saw. Yes yes, the tone is inconsistent as hell, but I barely care.

So yeah, the movie starts off about as… well it actually starts off pretty obnoxious. You have an intellectually gifted kid who’s only with his peers because he thinks it would help him develop more appropriately, yet when he’s supposed to talk to the class about what he wants his legacy to be and the other kids are doing what the assignment calls for, he gets so annoyingly dramatic and is all like, “I don’t put stock in legacy. It’s not about what we do. It’s about who we surround ourselves with. Our friends and family.” I winced in pain from that. But honestly, my problems with the movie end there.

From this point on, it’s a long series of character and relationship development that I honestly got really hooked by. Henry likes to make contraptions. He’s a somber kid, loves his mother and brother, fiercely loyal to them, and even has a cute battle-of-attitudes with Susan’s best friend and co-worker Sheila (Sarah Silverman). Susan is a single mom, but all the household responsibilities are taken over by Henry. He pays the bills, handles bonds, banking, all that stuff while she comfortably sits around playing video games. And for the record, Naomi Watts playing GEARS OF WAR (2006) is the greatest cinematic gift to the world since a bearded, witch-hunting, flaming-sword wielding Vin Diesel. She’s deeply loving toward her two sons and has a cute relationship with Christina, though I could have done without their complicated hand-shake. Peter is… well, okay, he’s the cute-pandering kid who’s there to be adorable, but even he has some character traits. He wants to be an inventor like Henry, even though this doesn’t really amount to anything later on in the movie, and loves spending time with Henry. I love these characters and their relationship toward one another. It’s cute and it’s engaging. I loved it.

And speaking of Watts, I thought she was SO GOOD in this movie! There’s not one moment where I didn’t believe her acting. Every scene, from the happy mother, to the emotional, to the grieving, to the bad-ass, I bought everything. Sure, there’s a lot of shit that was way too convenient, like Henry overhearing an illegal weapons transaction in a gun store where a shady man drops the name of a shady character and uses that later on in the story, but whatever, the pay off was fun, making the ending feel even more victorious and Watts knocks it out of the park for me. I laughed and cried with, and cheered for her as a woman who has to learn how to learn to find confidence in herself and learn to do things on her own. It’s a nice character arch. Of course, now that I’m typing this out, everything that I’m talking about is probably the very reason why this movie is getting such low ratings and negative reviews. What kind of mother lets her eleven-year-old son do all the important housework and she literally does nothing but drink and play video games? Well, if Susan was a more despicable character who forced Henry to do that work so she could be a lazy good-for-nothing and wasn’t a loving mother, this would be a much bigger problem for me. But since it’s Henry that put that responsibility on himself and she’s just going along with it, I can’t say that I agree with them if that’s where the criticism comes from. I would understand, but I don’t agree.

Some minor annoyances in the movie before I head into spoiler territory. As much as I enjoy Silverstone as an actress, and for all intents and purposes, she’s not bad in this, Sheila is a little too 80’s diner cliché for me. She has that nasal-y speech pattern that makes her sound like Fran Drescher, and because she’s youngish, attractive, and bustier, her boobs are out in the open, it’s a little too on the nose for my taste. Thankfully, I do enjoy the playful banter she has with Henry and how she does show that she cares about him later on, lending itself to a pretty tender and heartwarming scene… er… that is if you can ignore the VERY OBVIOUS BAD TOUCH moment. What the hell, Silverman?! You didn’t argue that shit?! Actually, there seems to be quite a few of those in this movie with adults being unnecessarily close to children, but I guess this isn’t a big deal since some of those moments are between a mother and her young children, but still… half an arm distance away, y’all.

It’s pretty hard to talk about the meat of the story without getting into spoiler territory, so that’s what the remainder of this review will be.

***SPOILERS***

 

 

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Wisely hidden from the trailers, Henry dies early on in the movie. This sort of comes out of nowhere and the tone shifts tremendously. The first quarter or third of the movie is all happy-peppy family togetherness, with hints of harsh drama, like why someone should or shouldn’t interfere in public abuse and Henry’s desperation to try and save Christina from Glenn (Dean Norris). But then suddenly, we get an eleven-year-old having a seizure, then immediately told that he has a tumor that’s going to kill him. And I was remarking on the sniper rifle thing and the happy family picture above. Yeah, we haven’t gotten to that point yet, and we’re already treated to a dead child. If this is also a contributing factor to the negativity toward the film, I get that too. It’s almost fairy-tale too happy at first and then the movie throws this at the audience. It would bother me more if the acting wasn’t so damn powerful.

 

Yeah, the acting in these few scenes is absolutely heartbreaking. When Henry deduces that he’s going to die, he’s absolutely paralyzed with fear and uncertainty. The way he requests to be left alone, you can’t help but get invested in the emotions, especially as he later tries to set everyone up after he passes. I know I’ve rambled about Watts a lot already, but I absolutely love her in this movie and a good performance should really be commented on when it warrants. You not only see that shock and uncertainty of how she’s possibly going to take care of herself and Peter, but the utter inner destruction of knowing that she’s saying a slow good-bye to him. Both Lieberher and Watts run through gauntlets of emotions and they’re absolutely fantastic together.

 

And it’s here where that Silverman “bad touch” moment happens. They have a heart to heart and admit that they really do like each other and before she leaves, she plants a kiss on his lips. Yeah… it’s a little too ewie for me. Hell, I think Henry had the same reaction as I did because that kid’s eyes widen. I’m with you, kid. Ew.

 

So when Henry does die, he leaves behind a notebook that goes through every scenario he went through as he tried to call child protective services to save Christina, but utterly failed, going through why any official channels won’t work. And by the way, I’m declaring this a movie line, but when Peter reads Henry’s book, he runs down and hilariously shouts, “Mom! I think Henry wants us to kill Glenn!” Oh my god, I’m still laughing about that. God, I love Tremblay. Even when he’s given thin roles, he knows how to make them entertaining as hell.

 

Not all of the writing is good post-death scene. In fact, a couple of scenes are downright awkward. Susan is told to go home to grieve, but Sheila races after her and have a really weird and senseless conversation. It was such bizarre writing that I don’t actually remember what she was babbling about. Something about her car, or some shit. There’s also a somewhat inappropriate comedy moment when Peter’s at school with a lunch box full of unhealthy food, looking at it like he’s bored, and then says, “Anyone wanna trade from some fruit?” And then a crap ton of hands lay down fruit as they take his treats. Funny, but… this is barely ten minutes after Henry’s death scene. We’re still wrestling with the emotions of that. The comedy is really out of place here.

 

But these gripes don’t anchor the movie down too bad as it starts picking up again when Susan starts following Henry’s instructions, nabs herself a flawless plan to literally murder Glenn and get away with it. It’s so silly to see her taking directions from a recording, especially when Henry’s voice is commenting on things that he couldn’t possibly know would happen. But yet again, this would be a bigger problem if Watts wasn’t so damn hilarious as she discovers that she’s a pretty decent shot with a sniper rifle. Not that she ever utilizes it when she’s got Glenn in her sights, which… didn’t make much sense.

 

Yeah, after she drops off Christina and Peter at their school’s talent show, she’s off to try and kill Glenn. She’s out deep in the woods and you know what she does to lure him out? She makes whistling sounds through a walkie-talkie to which he follows the whistling to the designated place where she’s going to kill him. I say again, a sound that is coming from a walkie-talkie taped to a tree at least a quarter mile away in a forest… Glenn heard that whistling from within his enclosed house. It’s about as stupid and senseless as it sounds. In fact, this whole scene is pretty out there. Her arm knocks over a doohickey which does this thingy- basically, it makes a bunch of noise that she’s supposed to ignore as she snipes a child-abuser and said child abuser doesn’t hear that racket when he’s not that far away. Eventually, all that shizz opens up a collage of family photos that somehow means that Susan can’t pull the trigger. But I do like that when Glenn realizes what she’s up to moments later that he can’t fight against her determination and kills himself, eventually resulting in her adopting Christina at the end of the movie. And as anyone can tell you, I’m a sucker for adoption stories… even though that wasn’t the focus of the movie, it worked well enough for me. Sure, there’s probably a million ways around this situation for the guy. He is the police commissioner after all, and Susan’s a waitress at a diner who doesn’t know how to pay her own taxes. I can’t imagine a court case lasting long in her favor. But the fact that they decided, “Screw it, forced happy ending,” saves a little time and I liked this ending as is.

 

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, it’s not a perfect film. Far from it, actually. In fact, I hesitate to say that it’s even good, as most of the things that I love about the movie are likely the reasons why it’s not getting well received by critics and audiences. But I won’t lie. I love the acting. I love the family bonding. I love how even within dramatic shift in tones that shouldn’t work still managed to keep me both interested and emotionally invested. It’s hard for me to know how to recommend this movie and who might enjoy it. My highest recommendation is to watch the trailer and get a sense if this movie is for you. If you think it might be, play it safe and see it at a matinee screening, in case you don’t like it, you at least didn’t waste too much money. If you think it’s not for you, I can hardly argue and I see why it wouldn’t be. But as for me, I’m happy I saw this movie and do see myself revisiting it. Maybe not twice at the theaters, I certainly won’t own it on Blu-Ray, but if it was on Netflix or TV while I was channel surfing, I’d watch this again, definitely. Maybe it’s just a guilty pleasure, but it’s still a pleasure to watch it nonetheless.

My honest rating for THE BOOK OF HENRY: 4/5

book-of-henry-poster