Tag Archives: Emma Stone

Battle of the Sexes

4 Oct

Emma Stone and Steve Carrell square off in Battle of the Sexes

Courtesy Fox Searchlight

 

Battle of the Sexes is more than just an empowerment victory lap for women and others seeking equality. It’s also a heartfelt tale of two intimate love stories — with the least surprising of the two registering the more surprising result. Oh yeah, it’s also a fantastic time capsule resurrecting the early ’70s with aplomb and a sad reminder of just how deeply chauvinistic mainstream culture used to be (and still is). Take the venerated sportscaster Howard Cossell commenting in the preamble of the titular event (an ABC prime-time broadcast that was almost as big as the Super Bowl) that if tennis pro Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) lost her wire-rimmed glasses and bland bob, she might shock the world with movie star good looks. Did Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe ever get brought up for their appearance?

King by all rights was a trailblazer, the first female professional athlete to earn over $100K in a year and a reluctant feminist icon who sought more equal pay for female players who were paid “eight times” less than their male counterparts. Resolute and unwavering to pro tennis tour honcho Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) and his claim that men were the bigger draw, King quickly retorts that the women sell just as many tickets at the same price. Solid logic that gets brushed aside.

That’s when King and tennis promoter Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) decide to create their own tennis circuit (what becomes the Virginia Slims Circuit). Kramer initially can’t believe the bluff and goes on the offensive in the media saying the idea will fail when it begins to take root. Not onscreen much, Kramer becomes the film’s de facto villain, more so than Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell), the other half of the “battle,” who at age 55, an anointed tennis legend (Grand Slam winner, former No. 1 player, and tennis hall-of-famer) bored with life and addicted to gambling, reinvents himself by calling out King after her fiscal milestone. He’s a lover of the limelight and needs more than the bare-knuckle tennis matches he and his scotch-sipping cronies stage — with a handicap of course. In one deftly comical scene, Riggs has to hold a pair of Afghan dogs on leash while dodging a series of folding chair obstacles placed on his side of the court. For his troubles, he wins a Rolls Royce. Continue reading

La La Land

1 Dec
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) fall in love after bumping into one another in traffic

The last time I was bowled over by a musical was back in 2002 when Chicago cleaned up at the Academy Awards. Going from there to the leg shaking mastery of Fred Astaire, there’s not a lot in between. But now, from Damien Chazelle, the directorial wunderkind who made banging a drum such a vicious game of egos in Whiplash (2014), the increasingly rare genre gets a slick revisionist redress that takes bold chances and wins on most counts.

Not much can prepare you for what goes on in La La Land. The film begins with a somber traffic jam as the camera slowly pulls through the gully between inert cars. The feeling of gridlock dread is overpowering, much akin to Jean-Luc Godard’s new wave classic, Weekend (1967), but then, as it settles in through the car window of one calm young woman in a sheer yellow dress, she begins to sing a wistful song in a soft, low key. Two minutes later the highway is abuzz in dance and a choral number (a kick up your heels tune called “Another Day in the Sun”) in a long shot that’s more audacious than the opening of Robert Altman’s The Player (1992). It’s hard to believe but true. There are so many performers and stunts going on — the parkour guy gliding smoothly across the hoods of cars with a half-pike twist over the jersey barrier as he flies in and out of frame so seamlessly, you wonder how exhausted he was at the end of the shoot and how it’s humanly possible to maintain such a wide ‘oh happy day’ smile on his beaming face — that the degree of difficulty during the song is off the charts. The retake quotient must have been high, and the result is so astonishing, it seems impossible to top. Continue reading

Irrational Man

31 Jul

“Irrational Man,” the new movie from Woody Allen, is a hodgepodge of parts held together by an enigmatic protagonist – a swaggering nihilist who teaches philosophy and, despite a flabby, alcoholic paunch, invites much favor from attached women, even though he can’t get it up – and a finely nuanced performance by Joaquin Phoenix taking on that role. Phoenix’s Abe arrives to a small New England liberal arts institution (filmed in Rhode Island), where there is as much dread over Abe’s debauchery as there is awe over his revered mind and that one big book he published that made him a philosophical rock star.

073015i Irrational ManAbe gets himself into a love triangle faster than he can down a shot of bourbon or spout a lazy line about “mental masturbation.” On the faculty side he’s got Rita (Parker Posey, digging into the role nicely), semi-unhappily married and dreaming of wine and roses and dirty sex with a kindred miserable spirit. Rita’s counterbalanced by the fawnish Jill (Allen’s muse du jour, Emma Stone, so good in “Birdman” and proving that inclination correct here), a student with a jockish beau. Things go from mentor-student banter to inappropriate friendship even with clothes on. Abe, in all his louche self-loathing, has become the black hole of the campus. But then, near the nadir of his pontificating wretchedness, he finds an up.

Allen has been making movies for almost 50 years. The sardonic joys of “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall” and “Hannah and her Sisters” radiates across the decades, the self-deprecating nebbish new and relevant again in every generation. There’s no doubt to his genius, but recent years have seen change-ups in his works, some too hauntingly self-reflective or suggestive of refutations of public opinion of his media circus life behind closed doors (“Husbands and Wives”) and forays into Hitchcock (“Match Point”). His last truly great film was “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (before the whole fallout with longtime partner Mia Farrow), and while there have been flourishes of the unique and the old Woody (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Blue Jasmine”) there’s almost always a two off that seem unformed, and that the old Woody wouldn’t have done or developed more to a point. No matter – his output of a film a year is nothing less than impressive.

“Irrational Man” fuses the old quirky Allen – with sharp characters ensnared in the mundane and struggling to get out – with his more current predilection for Hitchcockian dabbling. It almost works, but in the denouement, stumbles (irrationally) and falls down the shaft of the absurd. If you don’t see it coming, it’s not because you weren’t paying attention, but because you were.