A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, this film is much more than a skilful re-enactment. It's a witty and insightful exploration of the kind of person who chases sporting success and global fame, even when the odds are stacked against them. And it's sharply well-played by Emma Stone and Steve Carell, who bring out the humour and pathos in their characters and the rivalry between them.
In the early 1970s, Billie Jean (Stone) has finally had enough of being treated as a second-class member of the tennis world, since women win just an eighth of what male players get. But the head of the tennis association (Bill Pullman) refuses to budge, so Billie Jean and her publicist (Sarah Silverman) start their own rival ladies' league. Meanwhile, former champion Bobby (Carell) is noisily shouting down this women's movement, claiming he could beat any female player. And while Billie Jean tries to ignore him, she knows that there's only one way to shut him up for good.
Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) packs a lot into two hours, digging beneath the story to explore both of these players in their private lives. Billie Jean is questioning her marriage to Larry (Austin Stowell) as she falls for her hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough). And Bobby's gambling obsession is jeopardising his marriage to Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). The entire cast is terrific at bringing these people to life with scene-stealing quirks that keep the audience smiling. And both Stone and Carell skilfully reveal the resonant internal journeys King and Riggs are taking even as the situation becomes a full-on media circus.
Continue reading: Battle Of The Sexes Review
It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral through a series of adventures that left their friendship in tatters. And now the entire cast is back, as are director Danny Boyle, writer John Hodge and novelist Irvine Welsh. Since the characters have aged into middle-aged men now, the film has a very different kind of energy to it, mixing the visceral imagery with a knowing sense of nostalgia. And once again, it has a lot to say about the state of the world.
It's been two decades since Renton (Ewan McGregor) betrayed his mates. He's living in Amsterdam when a health scare forces him to think about heading back to Scotland to face the music. Spud (Ewen Bremner) hasn't held a grudge for one very good reason, but he's still a junkie and has been alienated from his wife (Shirley Henderson) and son. Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), aka Sick Boy, is furious but soon gets over it as he realises that maybe Renton can help him and his hooker cohort Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) finally open a brothel. On the other hand, the hotheaded Begbie (Robert Carlyle) won't be quite so forgiving. He has just escaped from prison, and his first thought is how to get even with Renton.
Hodge's script digs into the idea that these men have seen their hopes and dreams fade away, even though there's still a glimmer of desire left. And Boyle directs the film with the same spark of energy, spiralling through colourful cutaways, hilarious sight gags, wacky antics and pulsing music. It's an intriguingly grown-up variation on the first movie, and it still engulfs the audience with its sights, sounds and emotions. These are men who believe that their wasted youth has led them into an equally wasted adulthood. And there isn't much time left to make something of themselves.
Continue reading: T2 Trainspotting Review
Sidestepping arguments about accuracy, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle take an artistic, impressionistic approach to this biopic about the iconic Apple founder. Using a structure that would work perfectly on stage, the film tells his story through just three extended scenes. In the process, it reveals even more about human nature than it does about Steve Jobs or the tech business.
The first segment is set in 1984, as Steve (Michael Fassbender) is about to launch the game-changing Macintosh computer with cofounder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), marketing expert Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) and developer Andy Hertsfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg). As he organises the launch event to within an inch of its life, he's interrupted by his ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), but Steve still refuses to accept that her 5-year-old daughter is his. He also has an important conversation with the Apple chairman John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) just before going on-stage. This same scenario is repeated two more times, at the 1988 launch of NeXT and at the 1998 launch of the iMac, tracing Steve's fierce business acumen, complex interaction with his colleagues, and his evolving connection with his daughter.
Fassbender bravely never hedges his bets as Jobs, finding a tricky balance in an innovator who changed the world but never quite made sense of his personal or professional relationships. This is a man who is likeable and cruel at the same time, eliciting both laughter and gasps of horror from the audience. Fassbender's kinetic energy is hugely engaging, matched cleverly by Winslet's Hoffman, the only person with whom Jobs speaks about his own flaws. With both Rogen's generous Wozniak and Stuhlbarg's determined Hertzfeld, Jobs is much more dismissive, although there's respect under the surface. And its the literate banter with Daniels' thoughtful Sculley that gives the film its brainy kick, especially as it's so inventively written and directed to weave conversations right into flashbacks.
Continue reading: Steve Jobs Review
One of the finest biopics in recent memory, this drama manages to present someone as iconic as Martin Luther King Jr. as a normal man anyone can aspire to emulate. Anchored by an internalised performance from David Oyelowo, the film is skilfully directed by Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere) with a sharp attention to subtle details. And the script by newcomer Paul Webb draws the characters with such complexity that the film has provoked controversy from people who like their heroes untextured.
The film enters Martin's story as he is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside his activist wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) in October 1964, just over a year after his soaring "I have a dream" speech. And a few months later, he's called to Selma, Alabama, to help blacks who are being denied the right to vote by racially motivated voter registration laws. Martin meets with President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), who has more pressing things on his political agenda, then heads to Selma to lead a march on the state capitol in Montgomery. But the peaceful protest is met with nightmarish violence, ordered by Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth). So as the protesters regroup and plan a second march, Martin heads back to Washington to challenge Johnson to set some new priorities.
Cleverly, the script just covers a few months, punctuated with a series of King's most rousing speeches. Since none of this is presented for its big inspirational value, it has a much stronger kick than we expect. The film's punchiest scenes are almost silent, as King struggles to knot his tie before an appearance or fails to find the words to confess his infidelities to his wife. Oyelowo is so transparent in the role that King emerges as an everyday man with a gift for oratory in the right place at the right time. But it's his steely desire to do the right thing that makes him inspirational. And how he reacts when he discovers the human cost of his actions.
Continue reading: Selma Review
Danny Boyle is obviously having a ball with this thriller, deploying every cinematic trick he can think of to throw the audience off the track. But sometimes too much of a good thing is annoying. And while this film holds our interest, it also reveals early on that we simply can't trust anything we see on-screen. So while it's expertly shot and edited, and the actors make the most of their shifty characters, it's not easy to just sit back and enjoy the show.
McAvoy stars as Simon, an auctioneer presiding over the sale of a £30 million Goya painting, which promptly goes missing after an elaborate heist. Simon suffers a head injury in the assault, and can't remember anything, which is a problem when it turns out that he was working with criminal mastermind Franck (Cassel). Now Franck and his goons (Sapani, Cross and Sheikh) want to know where the painting is, so they enlist hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Dawson) to help Simon recover his memory using a series of unconventional methods. But she wants her share of the cash.
Yes, the further they travel into Simon's mind, the stranger things get. McAvoy has little to do here but look dazed in between moments of lucidity that generally spark something horribly violent. Opposite his understated performance, Cassel can hardly help but be a lot flashier as a menacing charmer. And Dawson has a fierce presence as a woman who quickly takes control of every situation she's in. Although Dawson also has to contend with a couple of leery nude scenes that go further than what was strictly necessary.
Continue reading: Trance Review
In April 2003, adventure sportsman Aron Ralston (Franco) heads into Utah's Blue John Canyon for a day of hiking. He meets two girls (Mara and Tamblyn) along the way, and stops to show them a cool underwater lake. Then he heads on his own into a narrow slit in the earth where a bolder falls and pins his right arm against the wall. Unable to move, he spends the next five days pondering for the first time his own humanity and mortality. And after trying everything imaginable, he only has one option left.
Continue reading: 127 Hours Review
Quintus Dias (Fassbender) seems to be an unusually lucky centurion. Stationed in the nastiest outpost on the edge of the Roman Empire in Britain, he's the only survivor of a Pict attack by the vindictive Gorlacon (Thomsen). So he teams with General Virilus (West) and heads back into the hot zone. Again, the Picts launch a devastating attack. This time seven Romans survive, and it becomes a cat-and-mouse chase as mute huntress Etain (Kurylenko) tenaciously tracks Quintus and company across the Highlands. Can they make it back to safety in the south?
Continue reading: Centurion Review
David (Turgoose) is the mid-teen son of a Norfolk caravan park performer (Maudsley). To survive the boredom, he bonds perhaps too tightly with Emily (Grainger), daughter of the site's shop clerk (Lynch). As they dash across caravan roofs and hang out with security guard Steve (Spall), their life is pretty happy. But Emily's when mother decides to send her to live with her father (Sidi), David helps her hide in a seaside cave. Tension builds when a police detective (Mackintosh) starts investigating. And it gets worse when a secret is revealed.
Continue reading: The Scouting Book For Boys Review
After surviving the horrific encounter with a underground society of blind, naked carnivorous mutants, Sarah (Macdonald) is left dazed and amnesiac. But Appalachian sheriff Vaines (O'Herlihy) talks her into heading back into the cave to see if her friends are alive, taking his deputy Rios (Cummings) as well as a professional rescue team (Dallas, Skellern and Hodge). The question is whether they'll find survivors, and how long it'll take for them to become mutant food.
Continue reading: The Descent: Part 2 Review
On the other hand, few of Boyle's images are as instantly tasteless yet characteristic as a young Indian boy jumping into a swamp of feces in order to secure an autograph from Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan. The boy running around covered in excrement, some of which is his own, is young Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar). Moments after that presentation, Jamal and his older brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) become orphaned when their mother is murdered for being a Muslim. The two boys take up with another young orphan Latika (Rubina Ali) and join up under Maman, the Fagin of this revisionist Oliver Twist. Salim saves Jamal from being blinded by Maman and the duo make off in the night, leaving Latika to fend for herself.
Continue reading: Slumdog Millionaire Review
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