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Battle Of The Sexes #LFF2017

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Released: 24th November 2017

Directed By: Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Man versus woman. Or in the obnoxious words of Bobby Riggs. ‘Male chauvinist pig versus hairy legged feminist’. Riggs a frightful and outdated example of the misogyny that has plagued many a sport over the years. In this case tennis, which was only amplified by the harmful media representation.

In 1973, the world of tennis looked to serve an ace through the tenacious World Number One Billie Jean King, as she looked to use her dominance to drastically alter the oppressive and authoritative male minds, who refused to let the women’s game flourish.

Directed by Little Miss Sunshine duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. The main attraction of Battle Of The Sexes may be fleshed out in a formulaic fashion, but it’s the rousing exploration of gender politics and sexuality that will likely draw real cheers from its audience.

Riggs (Steve Carell) the fifty-five year old ex-champion turned serial hustler and gambler, living for ludicrous spectacle and trash-talking, only struggling to find the right act or words to win back his wife Priscilla (Elizabeth Shue).

King the twenty-nine year old powerhouse who underneath that tough exterior, cuts an indecisive figure wrestling with her feelings for hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) and maintaining her pristine public persona.

For all the talk of money scattered throughout its narrative, with King’s own all-female tennis association fighting to be on the same prize-winning level as their male counterparts, along with Riggs’ desperate need to pay off debts. Both deemed this once unlikely encounter, a grand opportunity to enrich their own lives and those around them, for wildly varying reasons.

Through its accomplished grainy aesthetic that truly captures the 1970’s period, directors Dayton and Faris wisely push the inner conflicts that consume these characters, to the forefront of its fantastic first hour. The notorious opinions of tennis rival Margaret Court who immediately questions Rigg’s relationships with women, alongside Bill Pullman’s harmful brand of lower-pay conservatism scattered throughout, aiding the emotional impact of the King/Barnett dynamic.

Fuelled further by the wavy locks of her handsome husband Larry (Austin Stowell), the modern-day parallels drawn of a gay sportsman or woman coming out at the top of their game, in fear of no sponsorship deals or a damaged reputation will undoubtedly resonate. The scenes Riseborough and Stone share really do simmer with tenderness and intimacy, as they look to navigate their loving relationship through tricky territory, emboldening the film’s cause.

With any engrossing tennis match however, faults do occasionally creep into the film’s game in the second half, as it fully embraces the wacky antics of Carell’s Riggs. Certain characterisations (Alan Cumming’s designer Ted and Sarah Silverman’s instrumental figure Gladys Heldman) feel little more than one-dimensional, with their dialogue that looks to inspire, ultimately lacking the subtlety or depth to underpin it.

Thankfully counterpointed by two engaging lead performances and whilst Steve Carell is on exuberant form as Bobby Riggs, this is inevitably Emma Stone’s film, superbly conveying the inner fragility and steely surface that drove Billie Jean King to such triumphs.

Perhaps a little too broad in its intentions to be a true sports great in the cinematic arena. Yet brimming with heart on and off the court. Battle Of The Sexes is a thoroughly entertaining crowd-pleaser.

Movie Reviews

Night School ★★★

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Night School is a mid-budget Kevin Hart comedy, with all of the requisite expectations and connotations that come with such a statement. Low-brow humour, witty racial commentary, pratfalls, and an awful lot of shouting all feature in spades, but something else quite unexpected crops up too; it’s not actually half bad.

The film follows as Teddy (Hart), a high-school dropout who never managed to finish his qualifications, is forced via a series of unfortunate mishaps to return to his old school to try and garner some life options before his new fiancé Lisa (a gorgeous Magalyn Echikunwoke, whom the film never fails to point out is vastly out of Hart’s league) discovers precisely how much of a screw-up he is. Along the way, he’ll come up against a former school-rival-turned-principal (Taran Killam, an SNL alum who gets a clever running gag featuring his ‘black voice’), a hard-nosed inspirational teacher (Tiffany Haddish), and a bevy of miscreants and misfits with whom he shares his twilight classes (a smorgasbord of top-notch character actors, including Rob Riggle, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Romany Malco, Fat Joe, and Al Madrigal).

It’s Hart’s show (he also produces) first and foremost, and your personal enjoyment of Night School will run entirely parallel to your individual tolerance for the pint-sized comedian’s particular brand of physical and fast-talking improvisational comedy. It’s broad humour, for sure, and you can see most punchlines coming a mile away, but the hit-ratio is in the black and there’s a confidence to the proceedings that carry the production with an easygoing charm.


Haddish, meanwhile, is currently experiencing her moment in Hollywood following her breakout performance in Girls Trip, but her inclusion here is nevertheless a welcome one. She brings a simple likability to what could have been a rather thankless, stern teacher role, and her comedic chemistry with Hart is – some moments aside, as the two do occasionally push each other into plain silliness – a genuine joy. She’s not in as much of the film as the trailers would have you believe, but what she lacks in screen-time she more than makes up for in screen presence (her early assertion that Hart must be some kind of “burnt leprechaun” is legitimately funny). 

Hart’s eventual classmates threaten at multiple points to turn the proceedings into an extended episode of Community, though that’s by no means a bad thing. The ensemble work well together, and Romany Malco’s Jay – a technophobic gangsta with a heart of gold – gets some of the flick’s biggest laughs.

Director Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother, Girls Trip) helms the picture with workmanlike grace, lingering on certain shots for slightly too long, but demonstrating a legitimate understanding of timing, build-up, and pay-off as regards to physical humour that’s otherwise rare and commendable in modern American mainstream comedies.

Night School does take a while to get going (it’s about forty-five minutes until Hart even considers going back to school, for one thing), and you’ll forget it in a fortnight, but it’s harmless comedic fare. If you’re off to the cinema anyway, you can do far worse.

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Featured Review

Climax ★★★★★

Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)

Directed By: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer

Reviewed By: Dion Wyn

Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.

Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.

Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?

Climax Still Movie Marker

Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.

Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and un-tameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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Movie Reviews

The Little Stranger ★★★★

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.

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Released: 21st September 2018

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill

Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.

Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.

From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.

The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.

The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain.  This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.

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