Tag Archives: Steve Carell

“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.

“Despicable Me 3”

LOUISA: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The ho-hum “Despicable Me 3” is trapped in its own world of “nots.” It’s not funny. It’s not touching. It’s not exciting. It’s not even remotely original. But at least it’s not unwatchable.

In this tired retread, Gru (Steve Carell) and his new wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are struggling with fighting evildoers and being parents to their trio of precocious adopted daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Nev Scharrel). A family secret is unearthed, revealing that Gru has a charming long-lost twin brother Dru (also voiced by Carell). As Gru struggles to keep his promise of no longer being a nefarious villain, his brother has other plans and recruits his twin for one last heist.

It’s not a terrible story, but nothing really happens. There’s so much that could’ve been done here, but the film and its characters deserve far more than what we’re given: a fanciful cartoon with greatly missed potential. There aren’t enough quality scenes with the minions either, and the filmmakers know that’s what most audiences want to see. There’s an ill advised bit where the little yellow men end up in jail, giving us an unfunny, pointless break in the film.

Come to think of it, there isn’t much that’s entertaining at all except for Trey Parker‘s character Balthazarr Bratt, a Bazooka gum loving, shoulder pad clad super villain trapped in the the 1980s. It’s a funny idea that eventually feels like nothing more than a method to elicit chuckles of familiarity from disinterested parents by showing him breakdancing to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” or blasting out the opening notes to Van Halen’s “Jump” on his weapon of choice: a handheld keyboard. Yes, this is the kind of story idea that sadly passes for creative originality these days.

As expected, the animation and voice talent are both wonderful and there’s a lot of visual noise to keep the easily distracted young ‘uns appeased. But the reality is that colorful animation can only carry a series so far, and this franchise is quickly running out of steam.

“Café Society”

LOUISA:  2.5 STARS MATT: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

As with many of the films in Woody Allen’s recent portfolio, “Café Society” is simply another predictable and forgettable notch on the director’s belt. The prolific filmmaker is still writing, directing and creating at 80 years old, but most of his work of late just isn’t original, fresh, nor strong enough to stand alone — it all tends to run together in a big jumble of monotony.

This sweet little romance story is set in Hollywood in the 1930s, where we meet the big time, name dropping studio honcho Phil Stern (Steve Carell) and his New York nephew, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg). Bobby has decided to flee the Bronx for la la land to get a job in the industry. He is suddenly smitten by his uncle’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), and a love affair blossoms against the backdrop of braggy well-heeled socialites, alluring movie stars, and charismatic yet unscrupulous gangsters.

A good portion of the movie is dully spent placing the audience as observers at fancy-schmancy Hollywood parties where we are forced to listen to vapid conversations from the wealthy elite (thankfully Parker Posey enjoyably chews the scenery as one of them). I’m not sure if we are supposed to like these people but I sure didn’t. I found not one character to be sympathetic, but maybe that’s the point. The film’s big surprise twist will also quickly be obvious to most viewers.

Allen has a true gift for eliciting understated yet satisfying performances from his talented actors and he keeps up his winning streak here. Stewart is the standout of course (although Blake Lively is radiant as Bobby’s wife), but I was very much surprised at how exceptional Corey Stoll is as Ben, Bobby’s gangster brother.

Anyone who is familiar with Allen’s filmography knows it goes without saying that the movie’s music is on point, the period costumes are lovely, and the production design is gorgeously (and I mean gorgeously) detailed. The film is well made yet it’s still mediocre.

Allen is mellowing out in his old age and is becoming more and more rambling and repetitive, and it’s reflected in his work. His originality wanes in this film. During the screening I kept having Woody déjà vu, internally asking myself ‘haven’t I seen this many, many times before?’ The answer is ‘yes,’ meaning that you could skip this film and not ever once fear that you’ve missed anything that’s truly worth watching.

MATT SAYS:

Star-crossed lovers Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) and Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) meet in 1930s Hollywood and fall in love. But Vonnie has a secret that may just tear them apart.

Director Woody Allen’s latest movie is a semi love-letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when agents were power brokers, the acting talent little more than set dressing, and studio chiefs like Louis B. Mayer ruled the roost. In this world, the Stern-Dorfman family is ruled by mega-agent and Phil Stern (Steve Carrell, in another strong effort that will be forgotten come awards season) and gangster Ben Dorfman (Corey Stoll). Bobby is the youngest of the lot and makes his way west from Brooklyn with dreams of landing a big, important job in Los Angeles. When he goes to work with his Uncle Phil, he meets Vonnie and the two hit it off. But will their newfound friendship and budding romance last?

Eisenberg is solid as Bobby, but other than Carrell, it is Stewart and Stoll that really shine. Listen to me, people: if you still think of Kristen Stewart as the mopey, one-note teen from the “Twilight” movies, then you’re missing out. She has done some fantastic work in recent years and, while “Café Society” may not be her best turn of those films, her performance is reliably good, as I’ve come to expect.

Over the past decade and a half, Woody Allen has been a bit hit-and-miss as a director, but lately he’s been doing a little bit better. The amazing “Blue Jasmine” and the very good “Irrational Man” have been tempered with disappointing efforts “Midnight in Paris” and “To Rome with Love.” “Café Society” is somewhere between the two: it’s better than the latter two but not as good as the former. It’s enjoyable enough, however, and at a characteristically short running time, it leaves you wanting for more. The story moves at the right pace, the dialogue is realistic, and the characters memorable.

Woody Allen fans will be pleased, as will anyone else seeking a respite from the mostly dull slate of current cinematic offerings.

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