BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017) – Gender Equality and Same Sex Issues Just As Relevant Today

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Battle-of-the-Sexes-poster

BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017) is based on the true story of the historic tennis match in 1973 between Bobby Griggs and Billie Jean King, which at the time was billed as the “Battle of the Sexes.”

It’s a story that is every bit as relevant today as it was back then.

It’s 1973, and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is one of the top women tennis players in the world, but she and her fellow female tennis pros are only paid 1/8 the salary that the men’s tennis players are being paid.  When she confronts the head of the tennis association, Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), he tells her that equal pay will never happen because women tennis players are less popular than the men tennis players, an assertion she refutes by pointing out that ticket sales had been the same for both men and women players.  Even so, her request for equal pay is denied.

With the help of magazine publisher Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) the women pull out of Kramer’s tournament and set up their own, soon attracting a major sponsor with the Virginia Slims tobacco company.

Meanwhile, retired tennis pro Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) lives an eccentric life while being supported by his wealthy wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue).  He’s a compulsive gambler, and in spite of Priscilla’s entreaties, he can’t seem to kick the habit.  Riggs comes up with the idea of a tennis match between him and Billie Jean King, which he sees as a huge money-maker, but King refuses, not wanting to get involved with the flamboyant and unpredictable Riggs.

King is also struggling with her personal life, as she finds herself attracted to her hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough).  King is married, and she is confused by her feelings towards Marilyn.  When she loses a major match to Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), Court becomes the top-ranked women’s tennis player in the world.

Riggs then challenges Court, and in what became known as the “Mother’s Day Massacre” easily trounced Court and declared that his victory was positive proof that men were better than women.

Unable to stand on the sidelines any longer, King changes her mind and challenges Riggs in what would become one of the most hyped and most watch tennis matches of all time, the “Battle of the Sexes.”

I really enjoyed BATTLE OF THE SEXES.  The script by Simon Beaufoy , who also wrote SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008), covers a lot of ground, tackling gender equality, gay and lesbian relationships, compulsive gambling, sports, and through it all manages to keep a light and humorous tone.

Women not being paid as much as men remains relevant today, as does the stresses and tensions involving gay and lesbian relationships.  There’s a line in the film where wardrobe designer Ted Tinling (Alan Cumming), who’s gay, tells King that one day she’ll be able to love whoever she wants and not be afraid to tell people about it.  At the time, King knew that an admission of being a lesbian would pretty much ruin her tennis career.  And while that wouldn’t happen today, there is still a long way to go towards acceptance.

One of the funnier scenes in the film takes place at a gambler’s anonymous meeting, where Riggs tells his fellow gamblers that their problem isn’t that they gamble too much but that they lose, and what they really need to be doing with their time is not attending these meetings but learning how to win.

And the film does a nice job covering the actual event, the “Battle of the Sexes,” complete with real footage of then announcer Howard Cosell calling the match.  You really feel as if you have been transported back to 1973 during these scenes.

Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who also directed Steve Carell in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006) do a fine job here.  Again, the climactic match is expertly crafted, generating as much tension as any Sylvester Stallone bout in his ROCKY movies.

Emma Stone has followed her Oscar-winning performance in LA LA LAND (2016) with a very different but equally successful performance as Billie Jean King.  Stone is marvelous in this movie.  She captures King’s emotions, fears, and shows her grit and strength of character.  It’s a wonderful performance.  Stone is one of the most talented actors working today, and her work here only solidifies that ranking.  She’s clearly at the top of her game.

Steve Carell enjoys the liveliest scenes in the movie as Bobby Riggs, and he’s perfectly cast as the retired tennis pro.  Riggs was a tireless self-promoter, and all the crazy shenanigans he pulls to promote the “Battle of the Sexes” are captured brilliantly by Carell, who’s very funny here.  But, as he so often does, Carell goes deeper with the character, and we really feel for him, especially as he battles his gambling demons

It’s also made quite clear both by the script and by Carell’s performance that the male chauvinist comments he endlessly spewed out in the weeks leading up to the match were simply an act to promote the event.  In fact, in real life, he and King would become good friends.

If there’s one flaw the movie has it’s that it doesn’t do the best job developing its supporting characters.  We get to know some more than others.

Andrea Riseborough, for example, who plays King’s love interest Marilyn Barnett, doesn’t quite match the same intensity as Stone and Carell do here.  Part of this is the writing, which really doesn’t tell us a whole lot about Barnett.  We know very little about her, other than she and King generate sparks pretty much as soon as they see each other.  We also learn little about magazine publisher Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman).

On the other hand, Bill Pullman pretty much blew me away in his small role as Jack Kramer, the man who refused to pay King as much as the male tennis players.  Unlike Carell’s Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer’s sexism was not an act.  Pullman plays him perfectly. He doesn’t come off as a man who hates women or wants to put them down. He simply believes he’s right, and he is blind to the fact that his actions are putting women down. It’s one of Pullman’s best performances in a while.

Alan Cumming is equally effective as Ted Tinling, the gay wardrobe designer who offers advice to King.  Likewise, Elisabeth Shue is very good as Riggs’ wife Priscilla.  She has a great line when she chastises her husband for his chauvinist talk when for years now she has been the one supporting him.  But she’s not a bitter woman, and even though she leaves Riggs for a time, later, when he’s alone, she’s the one who helps him pick up the pieces.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES is more than just a movie about a tennis match.  It’s a movie about gender inequality, about sexual self-awareness, about compulsive gambling, sports, and life in the early 1970s.

It’s also the story of two very different people, connected by a sport at two very different moments in their careers. At 55, Bobby Riggs was retired and acting like a one-man tennis version of The Harlem Globetrotters, while at 29, Billie Jean King was at the top of her game.

Riggs was a compulsive hustler and gambler who couldn’t control his outlandish lifestyle and so  decided to embrace it.  King was a voice for women’s rights, unintentionally at first, until after the Battle of the Sexes, when she would become a rallying cry for women’s equality and liberation.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES is entertaining, educational, and informative, and since the gender equality and gay and lesbian issues it touts are still relevant today, it’s an important movie as well.

—END—

 

 

 

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CREED (2015) Goes The Distance

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Movie Review:  CREED (2015)

By

Michael Arruda

Creed poster 2

 

Just when you thought Rocky Balboa was down for the count—.

That’s right.  Rocky Balboa, the iconic character played by Sylvester Stallone, is back in the movies again for what is essentially ROCKY VII, except this time he’s playing mentor and trainer to young Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) the son of his one-time opponent and later best friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

CREED (2015) opens with troubled teen Adonis Johnson getting in yet another fight.  This time, instead of being taken in by a foster family, he meets the wife Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) of his father Apollo Creed, who had an extramarital affair with Adonis’ mom and died before Adonis was born.  Mary Anne adopts Adonis and he’s raised in a healthy home and receives a decent education.

However, as an adult, Adonis can’t get boxing out of his system, so he quits his job and seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as a trainer.  Rocky isn’t interested, mostly because he doesn’t want to see Apollo’s son enter a boxing ring and endure the difficult life of a boxer.  But Adonis is persistent, and eventually Rocky relents and agrees to train Adonis.

Adonis trains hard, and through an odd series of events, finds himself with a shot at the boxing title.  When Rocky’s health fails, and he decides he’s lived a good life and has come to the end of the road, it’s Adonis who convinces Rocky not to mail it in, to fight for his life as he once fought for a title, adding that he needs Rocky and that Rocky’s life matters.

Make no mistake.  CREED is a much better movie than a 7th film in a series.  It’s also a stand alone film, as Adonis’ character is strong enough to carry this movie on his own.  Rocky’s appearance is gravy.

That being said, the best part of CREED is the relationship between Rocky and Adonis.  The way their lives intertwine and how they are constantly there to pick each other up is the driving force of the movie.  When Rocky learns that he has cancer, and he looks around him and realizes all his loved ones and friends have passed on, it’s easy for him to feel that he’s led a good life and it’s time.  But it’s Adonis who gives him something to live for.

Likewise, when Adonis struggles to handle the pressure, and when he experiences doubt that he can live up to his deceased father’s name, even admitting that he’s fighting simply to prove that he wasn’t just a mistake, it’s Rocky who tells him that it is his time, that he can make his mark, and he can live up to his father’s name.

Sylvester Stallone can play Rocky Balboa in his sleep, but that doesn’t mean he’s cashing it in.  Stallone has created one of the more endearing and iconic characters in film history, and Rocky certainly hasn’t worn out his welcome.  It’s been fun to watch Rocky age through the years, and in CREED he definitely is in his golden years.  A funny bit comes when Rocky writes out instructions for Adonis, and Adonis simply takes a picture of the paper with his phone, and he tells Rocky he doesn’t need the notes because they’re saved on the cloud.

“The cloud?”  Rocky asks, as he looks to the sky.

Michael B. Jordan is also excellent as young Adonis Johnson.  Adonis is a complicated character.  He had a tough childhood, was rescued by his step-mom, but still couldn’t shake the desire to box, to be like his deceased dad.  And he goes through the film with a chip on his shoulder, but he’s not a jerk, as Jordan does a nice job keeping the character sympathetic.

Rounding out the acting performances is Tessa Thompson as Adonis’ girlfriend Bianca.  The beautiful Thompson makes Bianca a three-dimensional character who proves that she’s more than just a love interest in the film.  The relationship between Adonis and Bianca is reminiscent of the relationship between Rocky and Adrian (Talia Shire) in the original ROCKY (1976).

Likewise, in the training scenes, Rocky now has taken on the role of his original trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith).  In fact, many of the training exercises come right out of Mickey’s regimen, including the memorable chicken chasing scene.

Phylicia Rashad is decent as Adonis’ step-mom Mary Anne, although it’s really just a small role, and there’s not a lot of screen time for Rashad.

And if there’s one thing the Rocky movies have always got right, it’s the boxing scenes, and CREED is no exception.  Once more, there are some riveting boxing matches, including the exciting finale.  Sure, there is certainly a little bit of “been there, done that” but with six Rocky movies before this, that’s inevitable.

CREED is the first ROCKY movie not written by Sylvester Stallone.  The screenplay was written by director Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington, and it’s a good one.  It explores a later chapter in Rocky’s life while carving out the early plight of original character Adonis Johnson, and the way the two interact is both compelling and natural.  The two stories combine seamlessly

Coogler also directed, and his direction is strong throughout.  The boxing scenes are well done, as are the rousing training sequences.  More importantly, the tale of the two boxers, Rocky called out of retirement to be a trainer, and Adonis just starting his career, is engrossing and likable.

 CREED is a genuine crowd-pleaser.  It’s a worthy addition to the ROCKY saga, while also serving as a standalone film about newcomer Adonis Johnson, the son of Apollo Creed, fighting to make his mark in the boxing world, to prove that he’s worthy of the name Creed.

—END—

 

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: The ROCKY Movies

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YOUR MOVIE LISTSROCKY Movies

 

By

 

Michael ArrudaRocky - poster

 

With the upcoming release of CREED (2015) on November 25, the latest movie to feature Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), here’s a look back at the ROCKY movies:

 

 

ROCKY (1976)

Directed by John G. Avildsen

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

Adrian:  Talia Shire

Paulie:  Burt Young

Apollo:  Carl Weathers

Mickey:  Burgess Meredith

Duke: Tony Burton

Music by Bill Conti

Running Time:  119 minutes

 

The original, the Oscar winner, the movie that made Sylvester Stallone a star.  While Stallone was nominated for two Academy Awards for ROCKY, for Best Actor and for Best Screenplay, he did not win either award.  Neither did Talia Shire for Best Actress.  However, John G. Avildsen won for Best Director, and ROCKY took home Best Picture honors.

 

 

 

ROCKY II (1979)

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

Adrian:  Talia Shire

Paulie:  Burt Young

Apollo:  Carl Weathers

Mickey:  Burgess Meredith

Duke: Tony Burton

Music by Bill Conti

Running Time:  119 Minutes

 

This is actually the first ROCKY movie I ever saw, and as such, it remains my personal favorite ROCKY film.

 

 

 

 

 

ROCKY III (1982)

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Stallone and Mr. T. square off in ROCKY III.

Stallone and Mr. T. square off in ROCKY III.

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

Adrian:  Talia Shire

Paulie:  Burt Young

Apollo:  Carl Weathers

Mickey:  Burgess Meredith

Duke: Tony Burton

Clubber Lang:  Mr. T

Thunderlips:  Hulk Hogan

Music by Bill Conti

Running Time:  99 minutes

 

The one with Mr. T.  It’s also the first ROCKY movie I saw at the movie theater.

 

 

 

ROCKY IV (1985)

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

Adrian:  Talia Shire

It's East vs. West, Lundgren vs. Stallone in ROCKY IV.

It’s East vs. West, Lundgren vs. Stallone in ROCKY IV.

Paulie:  Burt Young

Apollo:  Carl Weathers

Duke: Tony Burton

Drago:  Dolph Lundgren

Ludmilla:  Brigitte Nielsen

Music by Vince DiCola

Running Time:  91 minutes

 

I was hugely disappointed by this fourth ROCKY movie when it first came out, but I was clearly in the minority as ROCKY IV has the distinction of being the biggest money maker of the entire series.  Admittedly, this one has grown on me over the years.

 

 

 

ROCKY V (1990)

Directed by John G. Avildsen

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

Adrian:  Talia Shire

Paulie:  Burt Young

Duke: Tony Burton

Tommy “Machine” Gunn:  Tommy Morrison

Music by Bill Conti

Running Time:  104 minutes

 

 

The most forgettable of the ROCKY movies, and clearly the weakest film in the series.

 

 

ROCKY BALBOA (2006)

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

One final bout. The thrilling climactic match in ROCKY BALBOA (2006).

One final bout. The thrilling climactic match in ROCKY BALBOA (2006).

Paulie:  Burt Young

Duke: Tony Burton

Mason “The Line” Dixon:  Antonio Tarver

Marie:  Geraldine Hughes

Robert Balboa Jr.:  Milo Ventimiglia

Music by Bill Conti

Running Time:  102 minutes

 

An excellent movie, ROCKY BALBOA is one of the best in the series, as this tale of Rocky coming out of retirement for one last bout is actually pretty darn believable, and its climactic boxing match is compelling to boot.

 

 

 

 

CREED (2015)

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington

Adonis Johnson:  Michael B. Jordan

Rocky Balboa:  Sylvester Stallone

Bianca:  Tessa Thompson

Mary Ann Creed:  Phylicia Rashad

Music by Ludwig Goransson

Running Time:  132 minutes

 

This tale of Apollo Creed’s son will feature Rocky Balboa as the young boxer’s mentor.  Looking forward to it.

 

This will also be the first film in the series not written by Sylvester Stallone.

 

That’s it for now!

 

Thanks for reading.

 

—Michael