Out on Friday November 24
Emma Stone and Steve Carell are pitch-perfect in a smart sports biopic. Matt Damon leads a social satire directed by George Clooney and penned by the Coens. Cate Blanchett takes on multiple forms in Julian Rosefeldt’s intellectual concept-movie.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Battle of the Sexes, Suburbicon, Daddy’s Home 2, Beach Rats, Brakes, Manifesto, The Big Heat, Hi-Lo Joe, Jane, In a Lonely Place, and Lost in Paris.
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Battle of the Sexes
In September 1973, 90 million TV viewers watched an extraordinary mixed-sex tennis match, as 55-year-old former US champ Bobby Riggs took on the young Billie Jean King, the US No. 1 woman player. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ slickly enjoyable, big-hearted dramedy makes their journey there as compelling as the match itself.
“Male chauvinist pig versus hairy-legged feminist” was Riggs’ rallying cry to the media. But the directors of Little Miss Sunshine dig deeper, discovering two outsiders battling easy stereotypes.
Billie Jean (Emma Stone), starting her own all-women Virginia Slims tour to escape the US Tennis Association, which pays men eight times more than women, is all about the work. Has-been hustler Riggs (a pitch-perfect Steve Carell) is a cash-hungry playboy. Determined to turn Billie Jean’s pitch for equality into his own big-money payday, Riggs’ assertion that she can’t beat him sets all of America buzzing.
Not your average sports movie, this unconventional biopic revels in the cultural battle as much as the tennis showdown. Simon Beaufoy’s wry script balances the on-court tensions and the off-court drama, giving them a warmly comic treatment. Lending poignancy to Riggs’ desperate stunts, it lets Carell flaunt his needy side, as well as some brazen bad-boy stunts. Berating his Gambler’s Anonymous meeting, he says, “You folks are here because you’re terrible at gambling.”
Wisecracking through matches and money-grabbing photoshoots, Carell is terrific. Where he’s a dead ringer for Riggs, Stone opts for emotional truth rather than impersonation. With touching intensity, she captures Billie Jean’s odd combination of tough sporting tenacity and girlish anxiety. Falling into her first lesbian affair with Andrea Riseborough’s hairdresser, she’s exquisitely vulnerable. Dayton and Faris draw their relationship with close-up delicacy, their first haircut together as intimate as a full-on love scene. And there’s real jeopardy, too – in the homophobic ’70s, King’s fling endangered the entire women’s tour, as well as her career and marriage.
Sharp-eyed about the era’s sexism, the film is nonetheless awash in ’70s kitsch without going the full Anchorman. It pulls off convincing tennis matches, too, using old-school TV high-up shots and tense close-ups.
Careful to slice rather than smash its feminist and LGBTQ politics at us, the film resonates with today’s battles over pay equality and closeted sports stars. But it’s a pacey, entertaining watch. Like the wily Riggs, it knows what the crowd wants.
THE VERDICT: Stone and Carell ace it in this smart biopic, stylishly recreating the champ-vs-clown clash of the tennis titans that electrified ’70s America.
Directors: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton; Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman; Theatrical release: November 24, 2017
Written by the Coen brothers in 1986, shortly after the release of their debut feature Blood Simple, the Suburbicon script languished in a drawer for 30 years before being salvaged by occasional collaborator George Clooney. Unfortunately, this cack-handed con-job-meets-social-satire plays like a Coen knock-off.
When a home invasion gone wrong leads to the death of his wife, family man Gardner Lodge’s (Matt Damon) seemingly idyllic life is thrown into disarray. But when Rose’s identical sister Margaret (Julianne Moore, pulling double duties) cosies up to Gardner, it quickly becomes clear something’s rotten in the state of Suburbicon…
It would be unfair to label Clooney’s crack at the Coens a complete failure. He nails the setting, the ’50s ’burbs proving the perfect backdrop for a familiar tale of best-laid plans. And the cast do sterling work – particularly Damon, surprisingly effective as a William H. Macy-esque weak man.
But Clooney doesn’t convey the mastery of tone that a Coen script requires, lurching between black comedy and serious murder mystery with all the grace of a wonky-wheeled supermarket trolley. Worse, a subplot about a black family moving into Suburbicon is reduced to background noise. At best its inclusion feels half-hearted, at worst woefully cynical.
THE VERDICT: The cast do decent work, but Clooney’s ersatz Fargo misses the mark. A Coen pastiche rather than the real deal.
Director: George Clooney; Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac; Theatrical release: November 24, 2017
Daddy’s Home 2
The smidge of goodwill earned by the first DH turns to coal in this festive sequel, which goes the Meet The Parents route of wheeling out more big-name elders (Mel Gibson, John Lithgow)… then Fockers things up with overplayed set-pieces and a rehash of Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg’s co-dad rivalry.
Vexingly, Ferrell flaunts his daft genius just enough to avert an entirely shite Christmas.
Director: Sean Anders; Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson; Theatrical release: November 22, 2017
Unemployed 19-year-old Frankie (Harris Dickinson) spends his summer days in Brooklyn hanging out with his buddies. But at night he logs on to gay hook-up sites to meet older men.
Written and directed by Eliza Hittman, this dreamily shot US indie is an insightful study of sexual repression and awakening, featuring a compelling lead performance from Brit newcomer Dickinson.
Director: Eliza Hittman; Starring: Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge; Theatrical release: November 24, 2017
There’s more accident than design to this debut comedy from Mercedes Grower, a patchwork of meet-cutes and messy break-ups that shows us the latter before backtracking to the former.
Filmed over four years, it’s essentially nine shorts spliced together, with a few star names (Julia Davis, Noel Fielding) and an air of lovelorn melancholy. The odd chuckle of recognition helps paper over technical deficiencies.
Director: Mercedes Grower; Starring: Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt, Julia Davis; Theatrical release: November 24, 2017
A staggering tour de force from Cate Blanchett anchors Julian Rosefeldt’s intellectual concept-movie. Deploying a wide range of accents and characters, from punk rocker to schoolteacher, Blanchett treats us to pronouncements echoing down the ages.
Marx, Tristan Tzara, André Breton, Werner Herzog; Constructivism, Dadaism, Futurism… on it goes. Impressive, sure, but ultimately stultifying.
Director: Julian Rosefeldt; Starring: Cate Blanchett; Theatrical release: November 24, 2017
The Big Heat
Between car bombs and cruel burns, Fritz Lang’s 1953 thriller is noir played lean, tough and keen. As in M, the stench of corruption overwhelms as homely dick Glenn Ford’s ‘suicide’ investigation compromises him.
Extremes of light/shade are tight-focused in ace turns from a malignant Lee Marvin and vivacious Gloria Grahame, while Lang’s direction kicks hard: just like a shot of hot, black coffee.
Director: Fritz Lang; Starring: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando; Theatrical release: November 24, 2017
Joe (Matthew Stathers) and Elly (Lizzie Philips) are in love, but their relationship is complicated by Joe’s moods. James Kermack’s feature debut is a well-intentioned study of depression, undone by pitching itself as both serious drama and whimsical comedy.
The former element is laborious, the latter insufferably laddish. Joe on a high is so crass and irritating that his lows come as something of a relief.
Director: James Kermack; Starring: Gethin Anthony, Tom Bateman, Joe Dixon; Theatrical release: November 24, 2017
The life and work of British primatologist Jane Goodall would make a fascinating subject for a documentary even without the reams of previously unseen footage of her interacting with chimps in Tanzania that director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture) had at his disposal.
With it comes admission into a stunning world of majesty and savagery; shame about the overbearing Philip Glass score.
Director: Brett Morgen; Starring: Jane Goodall; Theatrical release: November 24, 2017
In a Lonely Place
Decades before Harvey Weinstein, Nicholas Ray exposed Hollywood’s abusive nature in a still-startling film-about-film noir.
After Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) provides an alibi for murder suspect – and washed-up screenwriter – Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), they fall in love… only for Laurel to discover Dixon is manipulative in life and art. A volatile Bogart drops the charm to deliver perhaps his finest performance.
Director: Nicholas Ray; Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy; Theatrical release: November 24, 2017
Lost in Paris
From multi-talented Belgian/Canadian duo Dominique Abel and his partner Fiona Gordon comes a slice of light-hearted whimsy.
Gordon’s a Canadian librarian who receives a plea for help from aged Aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva) in Paris; she arrives to find Martha’s vanished, but a rascally down-and-out (Abel) is unavoidable. Think Jacques Tati crossed with Laurel and Hardy.
Directors: Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon; Starring: Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Emmanuelle Riva; Theatrical release: November 24, 2017