“Battle of the Sexes”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

You just can’t escape the timely relevance of the 1973 story that lies at the heart of “Battle of the Sexes,” a pro-feminism romp from filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. The true story of the historic tennis match between women’s #1 player Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and former men’s champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is an inspiring yet sobering wake-up call for all women and girls currently dealing with sexism in our society. 

Riggs, a hustler and overt misogynist, created a heated rivalry between the talented King. Their on court tug-of-war was such a captivating spectacle that their match became one of the most watched televised sports events of all time (with over 90 million viewers tuning in from around the world).

Carell embodies Riggs with a confident asshattery that somehow comes effortlessly, and most supporting roles are nothing more than throwaway parts (with the exception of Sarah Silverman as a chain smoking manager and Andrea Riseborough as a flirty hair dresser). Make no mistake, this is Stone’s show through and through. She is strong and subtle as King, physically transforming into an athlete yet creating a sympathetic emotional side to her real life character.

King was a staunch champion for gender equality and is one of the most heralded figures of the modern day women’s movement, and the film touches on some of her more personal battles as she internally wrestles with her sexuality. The film shines when it becomes a beautiful lesbian love story that was forbidden at the time (it’s truly unbelievable that LGBT folks are still having to fight to defend their human rights).

The film becomes a time capsule of 1970s sociology, a time where women were openly mocked for being lesser than their male counterparts. There are a few lines of shocking dialogue that was taken from actual historic footage, and it’ll make your blood boil that not only were women talked down to in the past, but the parallels to present day are equally alarming. (Political nerds can’t help but draw comparisons to last year’s Clinton / Trump election season).

“Battle of the Sexes” is far from a grand slam, however. Folks expecting a triumphant sports nail-biter will be disappointed, and those close-minded viewers unaware of Billie Jean’s sexuality may be shocked by a fairly tame love scene (for a PG-13 rating, at least). The film becomes bogged down in its final moments, insistent on presenting a historically accurate, play-by-play representation of the famous match. Even if you know the outcome of the match, you may find yourself cheering internally every time King scores. In between all the tennis action is a bland screenplay that’s packed with dumbed-down explanatory dialogue and long, half-hearted speeches. And just when we get a clever shot like a particularly effective scene on an escalator, the old reliable clichés of hand held shaky-cam work and shadowy mirror reflections take center stage yet again.

Still, this is a film worth seeing if only to serve as a reminder that this is a battle women and LGBT folks are still fighting today. King worked hard to tear down inequality and sexism, and women all over the world (and especially those in the world of sports) owe her. Ladies, we’ve come so far — too far — to allow our rights and social victories to continue to be pushed backward. Consider this your rousing warning to step into action.

“The Babysitter”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Juvenile horror films can be wildly fun (see “Hell Baby,” “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”), but “The Babysitter” feels like a wannabe outsider that’s desperately trying so hard to be kitschy and edgy that it becomes a lame vehicle whose sole purpose is to outdo other (and far better) movies in the horror-comedy genre. The film longs to be satirical and relevant but instead scales the heights of immaturity so much so that the entire thing feels like it’s the result of the imagination of two horny sixteen year old boys who’ve downed a case of Red Bull.

This blood splattered coming of age story follows Cole (Judah Lewis), a nerdy kid who is madly in love with his foxy high school babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving). Bee is super cool and super awesome and the duo have a special bond. When his parents head out for a romantic weekend, everything seems normal — until Cole watches as Bee and her friends (Bella Thorne, Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee) perform a satanic ritual in his living room.

What follows is a near-slapstick violence and gorefest of bloody kill after kill in an apparent send up of modern genre horror classics as Cole resorts to deadly traps to escape his house (think of it as a grisly version of “Home Alone”). Director McG packs on repeated irritating attempts at stylized splatter spoofs, but it quickly comes across as something more silly and geeky than sincere. And that’s okay: not everything has to have a deeper meaning.

This wild romp is outrageously absurd, but should be enjoyed by horror fans looking to shut off their brain for a couple of hours.

“The Babysitter” is an original film now exclusively streaming on Netflix.

“My Little Pony: The Movie”

LOUISA: 1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

There isn’t much to say about “My Little Pony: The Movie,” an innocuous, candy-colored feature length animated film with a saccharine message of friendship and anti-bullying. If you’re in the target audience for this one, then you already know it.

The humorless movie is nearly two hours long and features deflated, flat animation that feels more like a cheap and generic Saturday morning cartoon than something deserving of a theatrical release. There’s barely enough plot for a 10 minute short, but no matter: I couldn’t get engaged with the story because, let’s face facts, the ponies are just plain ugly.

The voice performances are much better than expected, with an amusing, cackling turn from Liev Schreiber as an evil henchman, Emily Blunt as the evil pony Tempest Shadow, and Kristin Chenoweth, who is the perfect choice for Princess Skystar, a coy, eager and overly excited, super annoying pony. If you already think listening to her speak is like hearing nails on a chalkboard, then this ear-piercing squeal of a performance will haunt your dreams for years to come.

There are some enjoyable original songs and cute musical numbers (being sung by creepy, doe-eyed, pastel colored ponies) that thankfully keep things moving along — until the whole thing turns into one giant commercial for a new single by popstar Sia.

Bored adults will most likely compare this romp of nightmarish merriment with an acid trip gone wrong. I simply don’t know why this movie exists.

 

“The Foreigner”

LOUISA:1.5 STARS MATT:1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

As a critic I try not to bring my personal baggage when I set out to review a film, but sometimes a movie just goes too far. With all the recent tragedies in the U.S. and abroad (including right here in my hometown of Las Vegas), I found nothing at all redeemable about “The Foreigner.”

The story, based on the novel “The Chinaman” by Stephen Leather, tells the story of Quan (Jackie Chan) who seeks revenge on the terrorists who killed his daughter in a bank bombing. The plot veers off into a ridiculous, dark, and disturbing territory rather than sticking to a straight cat-and-mouse game thriller formula a’la better movies like “Taken.” Instead of making an engaging revenge story, it becomes something that borders on distasteful.

Quan responds to the bombing with a string of horrifying intimidation techniques in an attempt to bully a high ranking government official Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) into disclosing the names of the bombers. The very first event that rubbed me the wrong way was how our supposed “hero” responds to a bombing with another….bombing. He threatens Hennessy’s staff and family members, makes more homemade bombs, burns down houses, fires automatic assault rifles, and even (temporarily) poisons the family dog. He becomes a terrorist himself, making for a most unpleasant film. Days later, I still feel crummy when I think about it.

The movie uncomfortably mirrors the horrors going on in the today’s world, albeit with a different enemy.

Movies as an art form are sometimes meant to challenge, inspire,  provoke, and disturb, but above all else they are meant to entertain. This one feels more like a stressful evening at home watching a terror attack unfold live on CNN than an enjoyable escape.

MATT SAYS:

“The Foreigner” is a deeply unpleasant movie. It begins with the bombing of a London bank that ends up killing a dozen innocent people and injuring scores more. And nothing that follows serves to lift the mood or make the film any more enjoyable as it unspools.

One of the innocents murdered in the bombing is the teenage daughter Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan), a Chinese immigrant with a “special set of skills” a la Liam Neeson. But unlike the prototypical Neeson revenge film, there isn’t much satisfaction to be had here in watching Minh get his revenge. The acts of terrorism touch a nerve (particularly with the recent events in Las Vegas) and the motivations behind the them a little too realistic.

The realism of “The Foreigner” is its greatest handicap. The acts of violence, the motivations of the people behind them, and the desire for justice are all a little too familiar. Unlike straight-up revenge thrillers like “John Wick” and “Taken,” “The Foreigner” hits a little too close to home to work. Avoid it.

“Blade Runner 2049”

LOUISA: 4.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I’m totally geeking out over “Blade Runner 2049,” one of those ‘you either love it or hate it’ science fiction films. I love art, I love movies, and I consider films an important form of aesthetic visual expression, and this one features the most disturbingly gorgeous, darkly lush, effective dystopian cinematography since 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It’s filled with an unparalleled artistry and is among one of the best looking movies ever to come out of Hollywood.

The story takes place thirty years after the events of the first film, with new blade runner and LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) hunting rogue replicants. Eventually he unearths a secret that leads him on a quest to find Deckard (Harrison Ford), in what becomes a gradual meditation on the loss of our humanity. The film’s nearly three hour run time is undeniably long for most audiences but it never feels sluggish or bloated. The story takes its time and does what a good sequel should: it builds upon the original story. This marks a satisfying return for fans of Ridley Scott’s landmark 1982 film, yet the new plot will not alienate newcomers.

Before I get into the visuals (which indisputably form the film’s overall strength), it’s important to recognize the hallucinatory and airy electronic-tinged original score from collaborators Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, the flawless special effects and costumes, the steady and confident hand of uber talented director Denis Villeneuve, and the awards-worthy performances from both Ford and Gosling (which are among the very best of each man’s career). Gosling in particular is at the top of his game, bringing a painful nuance to a tortured, brooding, and lonely soul. He’s been served well by portraying quietly brutalized characters like this (see “Drive” and “Only God Forgives”), and his performance here is a true knockout.

Although the film hits a couple of speed bumps towards the end by relying on some clichéd film crutches like a seemingly endless fist fight and a classic “damsel in distress” scenario with a man handcuffed in dangerously fast rising water, the eye-popping visual splendor will take your breath away. I actually had to stop myself from audibly gasping at this complex, fully realized vision of the future.

First, if cinematographer Roger Deakins and production designer Dennis Gassner don’t sweep this year’s awards season for their magnificent work on this film, then there is no justice in Hollywood. The duo orchestrate scene after scene of haunting, dazzling images that are instantly iconic, from a neon wasteland to a dystopian future filled with rainy, murky skies. It’s first-rate intellectual and artistic sci-fi noir and even if you know nothing about the craft of cinematography, you’ll no doubt appreciate the handsome lighting, ingenious framing, and impeccable effects. ‘Astonishing’ is the most appropriate descriptor that immediately comes to mind.

This is high art, pure and simple, from an accomplished group of artists who are working at the top of their game. This one’s a real beauty and should be required viewing for everyone who has a passion for the language of cinema.

“Marshall”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The story of Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall’s early career is the focus of “Marshall,” a conventional biopic that’s mixed with a straightforward court procedural about a 1941 rape trial. The sensational case pitted Connecticut socialite Ellie Strubing (Kate Hudson) against her black chauffeur Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown).

The driver was represented by Marshall (Chadwick Boseman), a young NAACP attorney who later became a monumental figure in the civil rights era. During the trial, Marshall partnered with inexperienced Jewish lawyer Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad) and the pair faced bigotry from their opposing counsel (Dan Stevens) as well as disgust from the general public.

Boseman and Gad are a likeable enough pair, playing off each other like a cinematic odd couple, yet their ultimately forgettable performances rival Reginald Hudlin‘s uninspired direction. This is a traditional, by-the-numbers story that feels more like a stage play than a film; a movie that seems slightly undeserving of a theatrical release.

Not much about this project is exciting or compelling, but the best parts come when a couple of strong scenes convey what a naturally talented lawyer Marshall was, including an effective jury selection bit where the young lawyer’s ability to read people comes as a second nature. Although based on a true legal case, it doesn’t provide the most compelling introduction to Marshall (and the abrupt, cheerful conclusion is off-putting). The story only glosses over the surface of this man’s amazing life and his legal contributions to our country, which is briefly summed up in an all too tidy, tacked-on ending.

The elephant in the room here is the wildly inappropriate music choices and original score. It’s so out of place that it continuously detracts from the story. It starts with the odd opening with period swing music accompanying grim themes, and it goes downhill from there with repeatedly cheerful tunes or upbeat harmonies paired with heavy subject matter like scenes of rape and bigotry. The musical cues tell the audience to feel the exact opposite way of how they should, and I see no artistic reason for it. Thankfully the music makes much more sense in the second half of the film, where we get a deliberate piano score.

Comparisons to our current political climate regarding race relations are inevitable, and the film touches on how African-Americans have been disenfranchised by our legal system for decades. Still, it’s a bit of a joy to see a black history movie that’s not about the horrors of slavery and one where the stereotypical “white savior” doesn’t swoop in to save the day. Heck, it’s enjoyable if solely for the chance to see the legal system not fail a black man. Instead, the film is empowering and positive, with beautiful quotes like “the only way to get through a bigot’s door is to break it down.” I didn’t love the movie, but I certainly respect that message.

DVD Roundup: October

Want to know which movies we recommend and which movies you should skip? Here’s a handy review recap of movies that will be released for home viewing. Simply click on the film’s title to read our original reviews and to see the star rating for each movie. All films below have scheduled DVD release dates from June 1 – June 30, 2017.

Highly Recommended

 Worthy Rentals

 You Can Do Better

Skip It

“Brad’s Status”

LOUISA: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

A father (Ben Stiller) who feels like a failure takes his son (Austin Abrams) on a tour of colleges in “Brad’s Status,” a sad sack, mopey, first person narrative film that wallows in self pity and doubt. If you think this doesn’t sound like a fun night at the movies, you’d be correct. This whiny, unpleasant film has writer / director Mike White written all over it, and this project serves as a mirror of his persona.

You can’t feel much else other than contempt for Stiller’s unpleasant, wholly unlikable character, Brad. He ignores his optimistic, cheerfully devoted wife (Jenna Fischer), and feels grossly inadequate with his nice house and nice car and his comfortable middle class lifestyle.

Instead of enjoying and living life, Brad constantly compares himself to his more successful college friends, including a retired tech entrepreneur (Jemaine Clement), a powerful political pundit (Michael Sheen), a Hollywood big shot (White), and a hedge fund manager (Luke Wilson). As Brad imagines their glamorous lives, he fails to appreciate his own. This comes off as some privileged white guy whining about not having supermodel girlfriends and a mountain of money. He still doesn’t have enough and longs for more: more money, more women, more success.

Brad’s insecurity manifests as a mid-life pity party that begins when his son starts looking at colleges and making plans for his bright future. Brad whines — a lot — about the loss of promise, ambition, and limitless expectations that are a by-product of having your entire life ahead of you. He gripes about how meaningless his life is and how awful the world has become. Cynicism and resentment control his life.

White’s direction is straightforward and boring, and the screenplay relies on the overuse of voiceover as a crutch. Brad’s internal monologue is lazily conveyed through narration that gets insufferably irritating about five minutes in.

There’s nothing bittersweet about this story, it’s not funny, and it’s one of those films that makes you feel bad when you exit the theater.

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“American Made”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

It may be exasperating to repeatedly see 55 year old Tom Cruise trying to pass himself off as a thirty something man, but there’s something that’s undeniable about “American Made”: Cruise is the very definition of a movie star. His charisma elevates the material and is what makes this one worth watching.

The film is an exaggerated retelling of the incredible true story of Barry Seal (Cruise), a TWA pilot recruited by the CIA in the late 1970s to provide reconnaissance in Central America. Things go from crazy to even crazier as Seal finds himself in charge of one of the largest covert government operations in history, eventually becoming a drug runner for Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel, a DEA informant, and an illegal arms dealer for the United States. Over the years, he and his handler Schafer (a fantastic Domhnall Gleeson), become deeply imbedded in the Iran-Contra scandal.

There’s an intoxicating energy to this unbelievable story, as director Doug Liman plays fast and loose with the actual facts and events. There’s nothing groundbreaking in terms of story or craft, but Liman takes a complex story and makes it easy to understand as well as totally entertaining. This is a rapid paced, brisk retelling that’s not quite as skillfully directed as other American pop history films like “Argo,” but it’s still an engaging thrill ride.

Cruise has the right personality match for a cocky, carefree character, and his cavalier performance makes everything about it fun. You won’t get a complex history lesson about one of the wildest, most certifiably insane true stores in America’s history, but the facts are glossed over in a breezy, charming fashion that gives this one a fun edge thanks to Cruise’s movie star charisma.

“Flatliners”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I was a huge fan of the 1990s film “Flatliners” so of course I was skeptical about this reboot. The new version isn’t completely awful and stays relatively true to the source material, but it has some of the worst acting and most basic dialogue I’ve seen in a Hollywood thriller in years. At times the writing gets so laughable that it reaches near “Showgirls” proportions, making it a performance train wreck that is full of campy goodness.

Even worse is the amount of missed potential at play, with countless opportunities to improve on the original completely squandered. The story is the same and the premise is a good one, but nothing ever clicks. Five promising medical students attempt to solve the mystery of what happens to humans after death by killing and then reviving themselves. As each one visits the afterlife and creates their own near-death experience, the sins of their past manifest themselves as terrifying visions that begin to drive the young doctors crazy.

The film could’ve taken this premise and made a horrific thriller, but this is a tame PG-13 wannabe horror flick, It’s not going to terrify anyone save for a few startling jump scares.

Unintentionally funny is the phrase that immediately comes to mind, especially in relation to the performances (in particular the turns from Nina Dobrev and Kiersey Clemons). I laughed out loud when I watched the characters administer CPR — there was zero attempt to even try to make their movements look real and instead they just stood there moving their bodies with the silliest shakes. If George Clooney could do it on “E.R.,” then actors in a big budget movie should be able to make it look real.

Ellen Page and James Norton are better in their roles than they need to be, but nearly everything about this movie feels superficial and indifferent. It’s as if the movie is bored with itself.