Showing posts with label emma stone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label emma stone. Show all posts

Monday, January 15, 2018

Battle of The Sexes (2017) Proves Equality Is Still Worth Fighting For

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Like athletes on the field laying it all on the line, sports movies have to have a certain finesse. They strive to capture the underdog versus the champions-that-can’t-be-beat, setting audiences on the sidelines to witness the push-and-pull of who deserves to win. Uplifting and compelling, directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s Battle of the Sexes is one of timeliest movies to come along, showcasing one of the biggest matches in tennis history and exploring the importance of perserverance.

In 1973, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) began a revolution for pay equality when she discovered herself and her fellow teammates weren’t getting paid as much as their male counterparts. Starting their own women’s tournament sparks an exhibition for Wimbledon Champion turned hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell) to make women's lib a laughingstock. Along the way, King discovers more than the power of her voice and talent on the court, but also an attraction towards a hairstylist Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) despite being married. King's defiance against playing by men's rules and Rigg's display of misogynistic showmanship kicks off a match for the ages.

In life, every day, we see how society splits up opportunities between genders, sexuality, religion, and race. There’s a hierarchy of respect that trickles down from those born with privilege or power and those without. Similar to A League of Their Own which reinforced female baseball players keeping America’s past-time alive during World War II, and Hidden Figures shining a light on women of color helping to send astronauts into space, Battle of the Sexes spotlights the making to one of tennis's biggest matches. Ignorance can be life and cinema's greatest villains, creating the tension here between Riggs's chauvinist exhibition and King feeling pressured to keep her attraction a secret and be a leader to women's rights. Their feud grows as we see them off the court, juggling drama to keep the story engaging and serving inspiration as a real game-changer now and in the future.

At the center of the movie is its leading cast. Having watched Emma Stone evolve between being a comedienne to dramatic star on the big screen, her performance here as King is one of her best so far. Beautifully mirroring her Oscars speech when she won Best Actress in La La Land, she hasn’t stopped growing as a performer and stepping out of her comfort zone, and that’s evident in how much she loses herself in this role. King is as vulnerable as she is strong-willed, allowing her to be scared of the second-hand homophobia and realizing her attraction to women, as well as being confident but doubtful of her ability to beat Riggs; to earn a victory for women at the time. Stone's main counterpart, Steve Carell as Riggs, is likable and funny, except for what he believes in. He's able to play a bigger-than-life personality to draw support in their match, but also ground down his personal issues like a floundering marriage and gambling addiction. He's not too over-the-top that his promotional escapades cashes in on the gender issues at the time. As much as King and Riggs are pitted against each other, the scripts engages in showing both of their strengths and weaknesses.

Considering the current climate of inequality, especially Hollywood right now, it’s bewildering that one of cinema’s better takes about a gay woman fighting to be respected has been widely ignored so far. A definite case can be made that the movie overlooks pivotal aspects of King's sexuality, but that longtime analysis of fact versus fiction is the same issue most biopics can't escape, and this one doesn't fare too badly. Some say the movie was too lighthearted and also contained too much plot, but for a two hour movie, it's the right length to see the main players' problems and saving most of the action for the big showdown. There's no missing the beats about who, what, when, why, and how the match between King and Riggs is set, and that's sometimes all a movie needs instead of stacking the deck so full it's hard to follow or heavy-handed.

Battle of the Sexes starts with King's stand for equal pay, and in the end her perseverance becomes about earning respect for herself and other female players; being treated as an equal is as important as being paid the same as our counterparts. As the years wore on, she became the first female athlete to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Honor, and continued to fight for gay rights and Title XI. Meanwhile, Riggs accepted his participation in the second-wave women's movement becoming good friends with King for the rest of his life. That said, as inspiring as King's resolve is, it's difficult for Battle of the Sexes to not feel a little dated because the fight for equality is ongoing. Sometimes in this age we want to keep history in the past because it shows us how little the needle has moved, but it's necessary to be reminded of how some defied the norm. That's how small stances ultimately turn into great achievements. And we need everyone to make it happen.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Battle of the Sexes?
What did you think?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Magic in The Moonlight (2014)

Photo Credit: Magic in the Moonlight / Sony Pictures Classics
Skeptic Englishman Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is the world's greatest illusionist, known for his transcendent work on stage as Chinese conjurer Wei Ling Soo. He knows all the tricks of this world and the next, which he is convinced doesn't exist.  An alluring American clairvoyant Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) and her mother charm their way into the heart of a rich matriarch wishing to make contact with her late husband. When a lifelong friend of Crawford offers an opportunity to debunk her talent, Crawford is eager to expose her as a fraud.

At first glance, Magic in the Moonlight is so easy to fall in love with. Crawford's dalliance and stern refusal of optimism or any suspension of disbelief is palpable. He makes us convinced there is always a master pulling the puppet strings of life. Baker's charm and magnetism allow us and Crawford to fall head over heels for her powers while simultaneously guessing if she is for real. Portrayed by Firth and Stone, they deliver a blossoming friendship that challenges each other's beliefs and grows into something more.

Their character's relationship is so much like the process of film-making and what a movie needs to be believable. Like the magician who rehearses his tricks to perfection, the director must successfully emote what is on the page into a production that is believable and successful. It takes a fair bit of open-mindedness on the audience to accept the invitation to fully escape from their own lives and follow the story that lies ahead. The exceptional cast, whimsical production, dreamy setting of 1930s France, and drool-worthy costumes makes it hard not to swoon.

Director Woody Allen's earlier work centered on relationships & life in Manhattan is a favorite among film fans more than his recent movies - though I'm not so conflicted about his study of love, lies, nostalgia, and deception by dipping into the past and jaunting to dreamy European destinations. From his recent filmography of the past few years, Midnight in Paris is one of my favorites of all time. Whimsical, light-hearted, and wonderfully cathartic, the cast and production weave a story about a Hollywood writer who escapes the present moment by indulging into the 1920s. Bringing back his love of France, history, and the idea of rationality versus fantasy, Magic in the Moonlight could've been a repeat successful story if it didn't seem so rushed.

Even though the effort of production and the intention of fantasy must condense together smoothly to pull off, the work behind the magic becomes more obvious than it should.  As believable as Firth is as the ultimate skeptic turned believer, at times he looks lost in terms of fitting into a scene. Stone becomes the more majestic presence turning in an intoxicating and charming performance. Primarily, Crawford's defiance of seeing is knowing, and vice versa gradually loses its luster towards the third act, where the script drags itself to the finish line rather than leaving us on an ethereal note.

On the note of the age difference between Firth and Stone, and the possibility of a brewing romance between them, there isn't anything to write home about. Their chemistry is light-hearted and doesn't detract from the story. What undermines the movie moreso than the debate of the leading stars' ages is how their relationship loses its ease; sometimes it feels like Crawford is talking himself into a relationship rather than letting his feelings form naturally. This is not the prized way - at least in my eyes - of winning any woman's affection. But, this is a Hollywood fantasy after all.

The questions that kept presenting itself to me though was: does a movie have to blow our socks off in order to be considered worth our time? Can we like something that is imperfect, and not brilliant, and not consider it a guilty pleasure, but just a movie with faults that we still like?  Reason versus love is how I'd describe my affair with Magic in the Moonlight. I felt I should dislike this movie because other reviewers did, even with agreed acknowledgement of its pros and cons. With the awareness of knowing the movie's shortcomings, I wondered in the grand scheme of how we bloggers rate films, if it was still okay to like something that isn't mind-blowing, and sorta rested on simple, brief examinations of two character's beliefs that didn't try to wow us with epiphanies or emotional catharsis.

Allen's latest film is not perfect. Its third act and script could have used polishing. What is redeeming about the movie is that the stars are worth their weight in gold. Firth pushes us to believe the universe and its grandeur is a menacing machine of hard work and tears, while Stone enchants us to dip our feet into the unknown. Even if somewhere along the way, the idea of the story falls a bit short, it's enjoyable for the most parts. Magic in the Moonlight could've used a bigger leap of faith into the unknown instead of clinging to the cliffs of logic.

Rating: ★★☆
Have you seen Magic in the Moonlight? What did you think?