JANE MAYNE reviews

BATTLE OF THE SEXES. Directed by Jonathan DaytonValerie Faris with Emma Stone, Sarah SilvermanSteve Carell

The 1973 tennis match between self-confessed ‘male chauvinist pig’ Bobby Riggs versus what he dubbed ‘hairy legged feminist’ Billie Jean King attracted massive attention, and was viewed by an estimated 90 million people around the world. Men across the globe held their breath as bad-boy wisecracker Riggs set about to prove their unequivocal superiority.

King’s triumphant win here is considered a milestone in public acceptance of women’s tennis and both Stone and Carell’s replay of this epic clash of the titans is hugely entertaining. Stone brings a sensitivity to her role – both in relation to her budding same gender romance, as well as the controversial showdown. Stone did a lot of weightlifting and tennis to prep for the role and does a great job mirroring the tennis star.

As in present time, sports represents a microcosm of the society – and sexism and homophobia are pivotal points here (although not that much has changed!). The movie was designed to look like the 1970’s era, making Battle of the Sexes a fabulous replay of Riggs’ attempt to ‘put the show back into chauvinism’. SPECIAL FEATURES: Raw Footage: Billie Jean’s Grand Entrance, Reigniting the Rivalry, Billie Jean King: In Her own Words, Galleries

MOLLY’S GAME. Directed by Aaron Sorkin, with Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera and Kevin Costner.

Chastain always brings her A-game, and in this retelling of a true story about high-stakes poker hostess Molly Bloom she’s a total class act, weighting her performance with enough class, glam and intelligence to make her a thoroughly mesmerising character. Her pairing with an energised Elba (as New York lawyer) sees the duo bubbling with a chemistry that augments the glizt and tension of lavish poker rooms.

Just observing Bloom’s enterprising trajectory from failed wannabe Olympic skier (a freak accident ended that) to saucy hustler with profound smarts, makes her an incredible female empowerment story. Her journey from rebellious teen to queen of the underground poker game, who provided tables for the rich and famous, is told flashback style.

Chastain is perfect, potent, and simply formidable – in a soft, feminine kind of way. A stylish directorial debut from Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing).

VICTORIA & ABDUL. Directed by Stephen Frears, with Judi Dench and Ali Fazal.

Who knows how far this veers from the very flexible truth, but this wonderful vignette makes for a far more enjoyable watch than expected. One could say this is largely due to seasoned Dench as Queen Victoria, but it’s actually an ensemble effort enriched by Ali Fazal as Abdul Karim, a young prison clerk from India.

Politically speaking it’s a minefield about submission, class, royalty, religion and the like, and viewed with a critical eye this is obviously all hugely problematic – but hey this is Hollywood, and not unlike the framework for a worldwide movie industry based on fluffy misrepresentation. So if you’re happy to chug along and see this tale for what it is, Victoria & Abdul rewards with bonus points for which it scored well -such as it’s nomination for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling (90th Academy Awards), plus Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (75th Golden Globe Awards). Based on the book by Shrabani Basu’, this ‘biographical’ drama about an unlikely friendship becomes increasingly rewarding. 

WIND RIVER. Directed by Taylor Sheridan,  with Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner

The most memorable takeaway insight from this sombre crime drama is dispensed at final credit time. It states that no figures have ever been compiled for missing Native American women. And considering the high rate of rape and femicide globally – this is a scary heads-up in relation to the legions of locos out there looking for easy pickings with no comeback.

Wind River is set in the chilly Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming and follows US Fish & Wildlife tracker Cory Lambert as he assists finding the killer’s of a friend’s daughter. Rookie FBI agent Jane Banner is dispatched to the murder scene, but is out of her depth in the extreme winter conditions.

The harsh setting and cast delivers all round, but the investigation comes to a somewhat stubby ending. All the boxes are ticked for a taut murder mystery, but Wind River ultimately ends up being as remote as the location.

WS