Molly’s Game (2017)

★★★★

Molly’s Game or The Movie Where Jessica Chastain Wears a Lot of Dresses is Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, and is where he has full control for the first time over everything. If you’ve seen anything written by Sorkin you know what you are in for. Incredibly fast and sharp dialogue in situations that otherwise would most likely be boring if done by anyone else. The best way to describe Molly’s Game is, the most Sorkin-esque film yet.

If not for Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba’s performance as well as Sorkin’s dialogue, direction, as well as speedy editing; this would have probably made this nearly two-and-a-half hour movie a slog to get through. The opening of Molly’s Game is both action-packed and and also metaphorical for the course her life took. The expectation that the movie would start out with poker, which is how most would expect that to be the subject that is tackled first. Instead, this provides background to Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) as a character showing her strict upbringing by her father (Kevin Costner), and her determination. Leading into what the future held for her after that one skiing accident. The surprising thing however, is that Aaron Sorkin did not even want to direct the film at first. As he said in his Q and A following the screening. He had picked directors with the producers and both the directors selected had turned down the movie multiple times, both insisting that he should be the one to direct. This is surprising to discover, because I could not really picture anyone more perfect for this movie and am glad that he turned out to be the one for the job.

Molly’s Game tries to set the record straight. Portraying Molly Bloom as an intellectual, brilliant, and independent woman. Who just happened to be a victim of circumstance. Painting the reports in the tabloids to be false. Using the movie as factual evidence supporting her. Never boring us, but keeping us interested until the very end.

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

★★★

Battle of the Sexes is a fun foray into the legendary 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The film, is an engaging retelling of the match that rides the line between a sports movie and biopic. Focusing on not just tennis but the personal lives of both players.

Steve Carell and Emma Stone provide two good performances as the tennis greats. Stone plays the role of the tennis superstar and women’s rights activist Billie Jean King as a brave, yet high-spirited person just looking for equality. Carell portrays the gambling addicted and self proclaimed “Chauvinist Pig” Bobby Riggs as an egotistical jokester just looking to have fun and gain attention from his antics. But, the chemistry of the two together is the best part of their performances. It is not overly serious and more fun and playful with a bit of a serious edge. You can tell that both of these characters do not hate each other but are just trying to win for their own competitive and political reasons. “Not overly serious” is actually a good way to describe this movie. It didn’t seem to fall into the traps and banality that some biopics make where it got too serious and dark. The film benefited from this tone and I’m happy they took this approach.

This biopic tries to really capture its 1970s aesthetic. From it’s use of the hand-drawn 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare to the meticulous amount of detail given to the the television broadcasts and the costume design, it helps immerse you in the era. I especially like the recreation of Riggs’ iconic “Sugar Daddy” outfit that he wore during his match against King. Other than Carell and Stone’s performances, the way Battle of the Sexes looks is unquestionably its strong suit.

Even though I enjoyed my time watching Battle of the Sexes, I don’t see myself  watching it again. It does a good job keeping things interesting and light-hearted but doesn’t necessarily offer anything that I would want to revisit. It feels quite textbook in its approach, not necessarily taking many artistic choices. Despite that, I am happy that I saw it and I would highly recommend it for mostly everyone to see. It doesn’t matter if you are a sports fan or not; as long as you enjoy an interesting tale, you will not be disappointed.

 

 

A Series of Down Endings: Losing in Film

The cliché of the underdog coming from behind and winning the “big game” has been repeated countless amounts of times. Air Bud (Smith, 1997) and numerous other films fall into this trap of giving viewers they ending they want rather than the one that is more grounded in reality. The Bad News Bears (Ritchie, 1976) is the motion picture that decides to deflect genre conventions and has the main characters lose their championship game, benefitting the film rather than making it disposable entertainment.

The plot of The Bad News Bears is already quite far fetched and, by having the Bears win at the end, it makes for an even more unlikely plot. A team of outcasts, who do not even know the mechanics of baseball should not be able to win the championship game let alone even make it to the playoffs. Once the Bears hit their stride, the continue to win and win, until the rug is pulled out under the audience’s feet when the Bears lose the championship game. Richard Linklater’s 2003 film School of Rock seems to mirror many of the plot devices used in The Bad News Bears. Dewey Finn (Jack Black) and his band made of middle school kids lose the battle of the bands at the end of the movie but grow from the experience just like Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) and his players do from losing their championship game. The importance of the characters losing in these films has more to do with how people evolve personally from losing which lasts a lifetime, rather than obtaining a trophy or cash prize, which is a temporary reward.

Beloved characters losing is something that is rarely ever seen even in horror movies, one character almost always survives. But when it does happen, it gives it a larger sense of importance, even reflective of our own real world.

I mean, that’s what life is, a series of down endings.” – Dante Hicks, Clerks