Tag Archives: steve carell

“Battle of the Sexes” a solid crowd pleaser

“Battle of the Sexes” details the 1973 tennis match between professionals Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). Dubbed as “man versus woman” as the feminist era was growing, the contest garnered national attention and illuminated feminist ideals in a changing world.

The film fully illustrates the personal lives of Billie Jean and Bobby, showing how their relationships with the men and women around them influence their tennis-playing ability. For the married Billie Jean, will her budding lesbian relationship with Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) distract her and doom her chances? For Bobby, will the separation from his wife over his gambling addiction drive him to failure? For a film that is really all about the final 20 minutes, it does a good job of building the pressures up to that moment with filler that has purpose.

Carell and Stone are solid as Bobby and Billie Jean. Both have excelled in the past in these types of roles so it is no surprise to see Stone accentuate Billie’s determination and Carrel to highlight Bobby’s goofiness. As two of the premiere actors working today, they are at the top of their game.

The film mixes equal bits humor and drama. It is very much the type of movie you expect it to be. It doesn’t try to be flashy or wow your socks off. It just tells its story, imbued with a pertinent sense of feminism. You could maybe wish for a little bit more jazziness, but you can’t really ask for anything more.

Advertisements

‘Despicable Me 3’ is harmlessly forgettable

The premise of the “Despicable Me” franchise is fairly straightforward: A supervillain adopts three girls and learns how to be a father. That is the first film, and the story is told very well. The problem for the franchise is how do you build upon that concept in successive films. And the filmmakers don’t really have an answer to that conundrum.

“Despicable Me 3” features a returning Gru (Steve Carell) discovering that he has a long-lost brother, Dru (also Steve Carell). When the newest villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) appears on the scene, the two brothers work together to bring him down for different reasons. Also returning are Gru’s daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel) as well as Gru’s wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig).

The problem with the film is that it never endeavors to advance the characters in any meaningful way. Since Gru has become a father, he has never been tested internally. Dru is a pointless distraction to the supposed real heart of the franchise: Gru learning to be a father and part of a family.

With Lucy in the fold now, there are plenty of opportunities for storylines involving the family: Perhaps Margo is a teenager now and is tempted by the life of villainy her father aspired to and her mother despises. Maybe Edith gets into trouble at school and Gru has to help her confront her issues. Perhaps Agnes is kidnapped by an evil unicorn. The girls and their relationship with Gru are never really explored and that leaves Gru distant from the emotional stakes in the film. They should be at the heart of the story.

The minions, thankfully, are kept to a minimum in screentime and story purpose. After their awful standalone film, the filmmakers have realized that their appeal (what’s left of it) is best situated to short bursts (at least until their film has a sequel).

There are a few chuckles in the film, but nothing all that memorable, which can be said for everything as a whole. Balthazar adds some good bits and the film is lighthearted and endearing at moments, but the story and gags lack originality. This is the fourth go around for the franchise and things are stale. There are only so many minion jokes.

“Despicable Me 3” is by no means a terrible film. It’s just an unmemorable one. The filmmakers have worn out their original concept and don’t know where else to go with the franchise. In this case, perhaps that means moving on to a new story.

‘The Big Short’ aims to be the definitive film on the financial meltdown

Early in the writing process on “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, Stanley Kubrick and his team found themselves in a predicament. All their focus on creating a serious story about the threat of nuclear annihilation between the U.S. and the USSR was fruitless. The film was turning stale on the page. That’s when Kubrick realized that the story wasn’t working because it was so ridiculous. He turned the Cold War into a comedy and suddenly everything fell into place. That is why “The Big Short” seems so much stronger than other films that examine the financial meltdown of 2008. The situation behind the calamity is just so devilishly maniacal that at some point you just have to sit back and laugh.

Directed by Adam McKay and written by him and Charles Randolph, the film follows three storylines and multiple characters who foresee the upcoming housing market calamity and bet for it on Wall Street in order to accrue a huge profit when the economy does tank. Based off the book by Michael Lewis, as Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Mark Baum (Steve Carell), Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) begin to uncover just how dire the situation is, they begin to question their own ethics as they stand to profit off the misfortune of so many.

McKay, the director of comedies such as “Talladega Nights” (2006) and “Anchorman” (2004), might seem like an odd choice to helm such a project, but his instincts for comedy blend well the serious subject matter. The film is soaked in a comedic outrage over the situation and the possibility of it reoccurring. The breadth of such flagrant corruption is in its own way hysterical, something that more serious, similar fare such as “Margin Call” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” did not present.

Shot in a frenetic style and using comedic breaks of the fourth wall (the characters directly addressing the camera), the film feels very inclusive with the audience, almost as if we are there with them during the story, and the fact that we are watching the movie with our own background experiences of the financial meltdown fresh in our minds makes the film even more powerful.

With a strong script, powerful acting, tight editing and topical message, “The Big Short” is one of the best movies of the year. Though it lays its intentions on pretty thick near the conclusion, the overall structure, character development and humor mixed with drama make for a potent moviegoing experience.