Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris who are best known for the 2006 indie smash hit Little Miss Sunshine, Battle of the Sexes is a highly entertaining and inspirational film about the true story of the famed tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973. In one of her best performances to date, Academy Award-winning actress Emma Stone portrays the feminist and sports icon Billie Jean King who we first meet fighting for equal pay for female tennis players and eventually helps form the all-female Virginia Slims Circuit with the promoter Gladys Heldman, played by comedian Sarah Silverman. The impetus for breaking off from the major tours was the chauvinism showed by the male-dominated sports community best represented by former number one tennis player and legendary tennis commentator and promoter Jack Kramer, played by Bill Pullman. Along with the other star women, King, the reigning number one female player and winner of multiple Grand Slam titles, has success on the female circuit and is depicted as having fun yet healthy competition with the other players. Eventually, the self-proclaimed male chauvinist and perpetual showboating former number one tennis player Bobby Riggs, played by Steve Carell, tries to reclaim the spotlight by proposing to play a female tennis player. Already way past his prime at the age of 55, Riggs is finally able to woo the 29-year old Billie Jean King to participate in the so-called Battle of the Sexes at the height of the feminist movement. While dealing with the pressures of the cultural phenomenon that the match has become, King grapples with her sexual orientation while being married to a man and must push back on the pervasive sexism in society. During the tour, she begins a relationship with a carefree female hairdresser named Marilyn Barnett, played by Andrea Riseborough, who encourages King to embrace being a lesbian at a time when it was taboo. Despite the serious issues raised, the film is able to keep audiences entertained as a result of the buffoonery of Bobby Riggs who does anything to promote himself and has a playful back-and-forth with King until the tides shift during the actual match. The movie does an excellent job of building up the tension to the much-hyped exhibition between man and woman, which takes place in Houston at the Astrodome on September 20, 1973. I came away from the film feeling even more the unpleasant truth that sexism was so pervasive at that time, and that it was normal for male commentators to make clearly chauvinistic comments in public without much rebuke. Overall, I thought the filmmakers were expertly effective in portraying the trials and tribulations of such a trailblazing figure in American history as Billie Jean King, all the while keeping the audience fully engaged with moments of humor and levity.
Directed by Doug Liman who is best known for 2002’s The Bourne Identity and 2014’s The Edge of Tomorrow, American Made is an entertaining and thrilling drama loosely based on real events and stars Tom Cruise in one of his better performances from the past couple of years when he had a string of poorly received movies. The plot follows the unbelievable life story of Barry Seal, played by Cruise, who was a pilot recruited by the CIA in the 1970s and later worked for the Medellin Cartel led by Pablo Escobar as well flying secret American missions to support the anti-communist Contras hoping to overthrow several Central American socialist governments. We first meet Barry as a wild TWA pilot who lives in Baton Rouge with his beautiful wife and young children in the 1970s. One day, he is approached by the CIA operative Monty Schafer, played by Domhnall Gleeson, and asks Barry to work for the CIA to fly reconnaissance missions over Central America. Eventually, he is recruited to do increasingly dangerous and questionably legal activities for the CIA, including acting as a covert courier between the American government and General Manuel Noriega who would eventually become the authoritarian leader of Panama and delivering weapons and supplies to the rebel Contra militias who President Reagan secretly supported. However, as he is helping the American government, he finds himself flying cocaine out of Columbia to Louisiana for Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel and makes millions of dollars in the process. To help protect Barry, Monty sends him and his family to a small town in Arkansas named Mena where he can continue his operations out of a private airstrip. Although he is mostly shielded from arrest for drug trafficking because of his CIA connection, things begin to unravel after the arrival of his troubled brother-in-law JB. Towards the end of the movie when it takes place during the 1980s, the involvement with the CIA and particularly the Medellin Cartel ends poorly for Barry. Overall, I found it to be a fun and energetic movie that tells a hard to believe story that is somewhat based on reality, but I thought that the rest of the film’s pieces fell short of my expectations. It felt like a continuation of the hit Netflix TV series Narcos, which superbly dramatizes the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar as well as other Colombian drug cartels throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
The sequel to the widely successful 2015 film Kingsman: The Secret Service from the director Matthew Vaughn, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a crowd-pleasing action spy comedy that like its predecessor has an irreverent twist and is brimming with comically over-the-top violence. It takes place a year after the original and follows Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, as a newly recruited member of the secret British intelligence agency known as Kingsman. Towards the beginning, he is still dealing with the loss of his mentor and fellow agent Galahad, played by Colin Firth, when the entire Kingsman organization is obliterated after missile strikes on its safehouses, including its London headquarters at a high-end tailor. Eggsy along with the only other surviving agent Merlin, played by Mark Strong, are confronted with a vengeful former recruit and a secretive criminal organization known as The Golden Circle. They must activate the so-called Doomsday protocol, which connects them with a similar secret American organization based out of a whiskey distillery in Kentucky called Statesman and led by Jeff Bridges’ character Champagne. Eggsy and Merlin must join forces with the very Western Statesman agents Whiskey, played by Channing Tatum, and Tequila, played by Pedro Pascal from the hit Netflix TV show Narcos, and are subsequently taken on a globe-trotting, shootout-filled mission to save millions. They are put into action after a previously unknown and extremely powerful drug trafficker named Poppy, played by Julianne Moore, has laced her illicit drugs with a deadly poison that will kill millions of drug users throughout the world unless the President of the United States agrees to legalize drugs at which point she will release the antidote. One of the more bizarre characters, Poppy is portrayed as ridiculously vicious and lives in a 1950s-themed headquarters in the jungles of Cambodia where she also has Elton John held captive. Eggsy learns that no one can be truly trusted and must also please and protect his beautiful girlfriend who happens to be the Crown Princess of Sweden during some particularly inappropriate missions. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining movie that contains some of the same elements of fun and thrills as the original, but, unfortunately, falls short of the first film’s originality and hilarity and is hampered by its bloated two and a half hour runtime.
Winner of the screenwriting award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Ingrid Goes West is a dark comedy that glimpses into the societal ills associated with the rise of social networking like Facebook and Instagram. Ingrid Thorburn, played by the terrific Aubrey Plaza, is a mentally disturbed young woman who just lost her mother and is put in a mental hospital after stalking somebody on Instagram that she falsely believes is her friend in real life. After being released from the mental hospital, she decides to change her life and moves to Los Angeles in hopes of a better life. However, she becomes obsessed with an Instagram star named Taylor Sloane, played by the brilliant young actress Elizabeth Olsen, and she forces her way into a friendship with Taylor under false pretenses. A perpetual liar who is fully engrossed with being liked by popular society, especially on Instagram, Ingrid does whatever she can to impress Taylor and her cool friends. At the same time, she develops a relationship with her young black landlord Dan Pinto, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. best known for his role as Ice Cube in 2015’s Straight Outta Compton. With the arrival of Taylor’s arrogant and obnoxious brother Nicky, Ingrid begins to lose favor with Taylor. Eventually, Ingrid’s sketchy past and questionable friendship with Taylor comes back to haunt Ingrid and possibly destroy her already fragile life. Overall, I found it to be an extremely incisive study of the problems perpetuated by the millennial generation oversaturated by social media and shows how today’s heightened societal pressures affect the mental well-being of individuals. In addition to its important social messages, the film itself can be highly entertaining and is especially well-crafted with excellent writing and acting performances.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a fairly formulaic action comedy that is full of over-the-top violence and rapid-fire comedic banter and whose main strength is the charisma of Ryan Reynolds and Sammy L. Jackson. Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a once top-rated head of a bodyguard firm, who finds himself scraping by with any bodyguard job he can get after one of his high-powered clients is assassinated on his watch. However, he is called into action by his ex-girlfriend Amelia Roussel, played by Élodie Yung, serving as an Interpol agent tasked with protecting the notorious hitman Darius Kincaid, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who is a key witness in a war crimes trial against fictional former Belarus dictator Vladislav Dukhovich, played by Gary Oldman. Amelia recruits Bryce to ensure that Kincaid makes it from his prison in England to the International Criminal Court at The Hague despite the fact that both men hate each other as they have been fighting against one another over the past several years. En route to the witness stand, Interpol agents are ambushed and Bryce becomes the personal bodyguard to Kincaid, and they both encounter many assassins hired by Dukhovich who are subsequently dispatched in hyper-violent bloody killing sequences. All the while, Reynolds’ and Jackson’s characters are engaged in quick-witted and profane banter, predominantly about how they despise one another. As a parallel storyline, Kincaid is willing to be a witness in order to free his imprisoned and equally violent wife Sonia, played by the beautiful Salma Hayek, and he secretly calls her in the Interpol detention center in Amsterdam. Things rapidly devolve as they get closer and closer to The Hague as they are faced with increasingly lethal forces and even bombings. However, through their shared ordeal, both men begin to develop a friendship and desperately want to remain alive and reunite with their love interests. Overall, I found the film to be entertaining as a Hollywood summer blockbuster, but it never really elevated above the action comedy genre despite the attempts by the talented actors who exude unique and funny personalities.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh who is best known for Ocean’s 11 and its sequels, Logan Lucky is a smart and highly entertaining heist movie very much similar to Ocean’s 11 except taking place in West Virginia and North Carolina where the protagonists hatch an elaborate plan to rob Charlotte Motor Speedway. Played by Channing Tatum, Jimmy Logan is a working-class construction worker living in a trailer in rural West Virginia who is laid off from his job at Charlotte Motor Speedway and learns that his daughter may move further away from him with her mother and his ex-wife who is married to a wealthy car dealer in West Virginia. Desperate for a better chance in life, he decides with his bartender and Iraq veteran brother Clyde, played by Adam Driver, to steal money from Charlotte Motor Speedway’s central vault that Jimmy knows about from his job excavating below the Speedway to repair sinkholes. Eventually, the Logan brothers recruit their beautiful sister Mellie and an explosives expert in prison named Joe Bang, hilariously played by a very southern Daniel Craig, in addition to Joe’s two idiot brothers. Like your typical heist movie, there is a montage of all of the characters being introduced and their preparations for the film’s climax of finally robbing the vault and, of course, not everything goes according to plan. Throughout the movie, there are several parallel plot lines, including Jimmy’s relationship with his ex-wife Bobbie Jo, played by Katie Holmes, and his beloved daughter who is preparing to enter a beauty pageant. To provide additional comic relief, we are introduced to the eccentric British character Max Chilblain, played by Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame, who is an obnoxious wealthy sponsor of one of the NASCAR drivers participating in the race during the heist and has a confrontation with the Logan brothers at Clyde’s bar. Initially, the actors’ highly exaggerated West Virginian accents seem to poke fun at the blue-collar people living in impoverished West Virginia and the South. However, going against the stereotype that they are uneducated and dimwitted Southerners, Jimmy and several of the other characters are proven to be smarter than they appear because they are able to pull off such an elaborate and well-thought-out scheme to steal from Charlotte Motor Speedway and many of the authorities are caught off guard. Overall, I found it to be one of the more enjoyable movies of the summer due to its laugh-out-loud humorous and sometimes preposterous scenes and joyride action sequences; it is sure to be a crowdpleaser, and I would highly recommend it.
Based on the true love story of the movie’s writers Kumail Nanjiani who is best known for the HBO comedy series Silicon Valley and his wife Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is a terrific fresh take on the romantic comedy genre that is full of so much humor and human emotion to be appealing to those who do not like conventional romantic comedies. Played by himself, Kumail is a struggling standup comedian living in Chicago who works part-time as an Uber driver and feels extreme pressure from his traditional Pakistani Muslim family to marry a Pakistani woman. However, he personally experiences the difficult cross-cultural divide between his traditional Muslim family and his desire to be a typical young American man. He begins a relationship with a young white woman named Emily, played by Zoe Kazan, after they meet at one of his standup routines. However, their blossoming romance starts to fall apart when Emily discovers that Kumail’s parents are forcing Pakistani women on him, and, therefore, their future together may never work. Following their tense breakup, Kumail receives an unexpected phone call that Emily is in the hospital and, as the only person there that knows her, makes the decision to allow the doctors to place her in a medically induced coma to prevent the spread of a mysterious and life-threatening infection. Soon after, Emily’s parents Terry, played by Ray Romano, and Beth, played by Holly Hunter, rush to the hospital and basically tell Kumail he is no longer needed despite possibly saving her life. He refuses to leave the hospital, and, initially, her parents are fairly hostile to him and constantly ask him why he is there since Emily already broke up with him. Over several hilarious encounters and heartfelt moments when there is a fear that Emily will not make it, Kumail develops a very close and heartwarming relationship with both Terry and Beth and come to understand each other’s cultures. At the same time, Kumail’s family becomes increasingly agitated with their inability to arrange a marriage for him. They even claim to disown him for finally admitting that he is in love with an American woman who is neither Muslim or has a Pakistani background. Overall, I found it to be one of the most enjoyable films that I have seen recently and is remarkable for being so funny and uplifting despite being about a young woman in a coma.