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Non-Review Review: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes is a well-produced and well-performed feel-good historical drama, one elevated by a strong sense of timeliness.

Battle of the Sexes is structurally a classic “historical buddy film”, a subgenre of the biopic that has become increasingly popular in recent years. The idea is to take a big historical event involving two important and opposed figures, and to build a narrative about that singular event following both characters on their collision course. Ron Howard is something of an expert with this particular biographical subgenre, having directed both Frost/Nixon and Rush, two very fine examples of the form.

Riggsed game.

Of course, there are plenty of films that still adopt the classic biopic format of documenting an extended portion of a single life. Recent films like The Founder or American Made come to mind, very traditional sweeping narratives that tended to pop up in awards nominations during the eighties and nineties. However, there is something to be said for the format of a tightly-focused two-hander, of a narrative built around two adversarial forces locked in some existential combat. It might look like sport, but it is always something more serious.

Battle of the Sexes is built around the historic tennis match played between Billie Jean King and Bobbie Riggs, but it is obviously about more than just a tennis match between a man and a woman. It evolves into a story about the symbolic weight of this match, of the culture that warps around it, of the dogma that it threatens to reinforce. Battle of the Sexes resonates surprisingly clearly, even more than thirty three years removed from its original context.

Causing quite a racket.

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Non-Review Review: Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher is exhausting.

Director Bennett Miller’s account of the relationship between billionaire John “Eagle” DuPont and the Schultz brothers is a draining experience. Beautiful performances, stunning cinematography and a minimalist script create an uncomfortable and looming sense of dread. Even those unfamiliar with the story DuPont’s sponsorship of the United States Olympic Wrestling Team cannot help but feel tragedy bearing down. Foxcatcher is a heartbreaking and harrowing piece of work, an affecting and unsettling tale of power, desperation and loneliness.

Wrestling with demons...

Wrestling with demons…

Foxcatcher is beautifully crafted. Every element of the production is carefully and meticulously put together. Steve Carell transforms himself to play the role of DuPont, assisted by superb make-up overseen by Bill Corso and his team. Every frame of the movie looks crisp, the blues and reds and yellows popping out of the screen; Greig Fraser’s cinematography effectively captures the starkness of the Pennsylvanian landscape across the seasons. Miller is comfortable enough to let Foxcatcher unfold at its own pace, never rushing.

The result is a compelling and grimly fascinating story, told elegantly. There are points when Foxcatcher perhaps seems a little too distant and clinical, but the three lead performances help to keep the film firmly grounded.

To catch a fox...

To catch a fox…

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Non-Review Review: Anchorman 2 – The Legend Continues

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is perhaps twenty minutes too long, and indulges in a little bit too much of the nostalgia common in comedy sequels during its final act, but it’s a movie with its heart in the right place. More message-driven than its direct predecessor, and much more of an ensemble piece, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is an enjoyable example of the sorts of cringe comedy that made the original such a cult classic. While it might not measure up perfectly, it ranks quite highly among the annals of comedy sequels.

Jumping for joy?

Jumping for joy?

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Non-Review Review: Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2 doesn’t quite have the same charm as Despicable Me. It’s not that there’s any aspect of the production that is noticeably weaker, it’s just that the original film had a much stronger hook. The story of a supervillain who adopts three young girls as a means to an end, only to find himself coming to care for those kids, might seem a bit cliché (okay, it might sound a lot cliché), but it worked because the film had a solid emotional core.

Despicable Me 2 doesn’t have the same emotional core or stakes. There are subplots and character development (with the sequel going to a lot of effort to make sure almost every returning character has something to do), but the stakes don’t seem quite as high. It’s stunningly well-animated, it’s consistently funny and the cast are as charming as ever, but it just feels a tiny bit shallower than the first film.

You're hot and you're cold...

You’re hot and you’re cold…

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Watch! New Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Trailer!

Comedy sequels are, as a rule, a dodgy proposition. After all, you generally assume that the first film – if was successful – had really mined the premise for all it was worth. There’s a tendency to turn comedy sequels into remakes starring the same cast, as there’s an understandable reluctance to meddle too heavily with a successful formula and cast. So I’ll admit that I am a little nervous about Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

Still, the trailer looks promising, and updating the characters to the eighties (complete with obligatory Journey soundtrack) could provide enough of a shake-up to keep things interesting. It helps that the original film has – I’d argue – one of the great comedy ensembles, and I trust Ferrell, Carrell, Rudd and Koechner to keep the sequel fresh. It looks worth a shot at least, and it certainly reminds me of what I liked so much about the original Anchorman without seeming like too much of a retread.

Check it out below.

Non-Review Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

I was really looking forward to this movie when I heard about it, Steve Carell and Jim Carey in the same movie? Excellent.

Burt Wonderstone’s (Steve Carell) interest in magic sparked as a young boy when he received a Rance Hollaway (Alan Arkin) magic set and began to share his magical tricks with Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). The duo, now established and respected as world renowned magicians, have been performing in Bally’s hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip for many of years, gaining money, fame and love. Over the years, their show, like their friendship, has become old and stale, and is threatened by street magician, Steve Gray (Jim Carey). Gray baffles his audiences via self-harm and endurance acts, quickly grabbing the attention of Bally’s owner, Doug Money (James Gandolfini). Money demands for the duo to update their act, and so Wonderstone and Hollaway are forced to rethink their performance, with the help of their assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde), and show they still have what it takes to rule the Las Vegas strip.

He's in a glass case of emotion...

He’s in a glass case of emotion…

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Despicable Me 2 Trailer

Universal Pictures Ireland just sent on this trailer for Despicable Me 2, the sequel to the very soldi animated film starring Steve Carrell. This time, Carrell is joined by Al Pacino, which I am actually quite excited about. There’s no denying Pacino’s contributions to modern cinema, but at this point in his career Pacino is at his best when he’s gloriously chewing down on the scenery. Given his voice can be downright bombastic (“HOOO-ah!”) at times, casting him as an over-the-top supervillain in an animated film seems pretty ideal.

The trailer doesn’t offer any hints to Pacino’s role. Instead, like the Ice Age trailers, it focuses more on the engaging supporting characters – “the minions.” I like the minions, if only because they lend themselves well to broad physical comedy, in a way this isn’t really all that challenging but is quite effective. The trailer doesn’t really offer anything new in that regard, but it’s still charming enough. Silly golf clothes are always funny, and Tubular Bells always brings a smile to my face. Check out the trailer below.