“Battle of the Sexes”

I’ve heard claims that Battle of the Sexes is an analogy for last year’s Trump-Clinton election. That’s not the case at all, though I can see both Emma Stone and Steve Carell playing Clinton and Trump in a future satire.

Women’s tennis champion Billie Jean King (Stone) is fed up with the gender wage gap and misogyny in the ATP. Washed up tennis player-turned-hustler Bobby Riggs (Carell) sees King’s crusade as a prophet for him and proposes a match dubbed “Battle of the Sexes.” King gladly accepts since Riggs continuously mocks women’s tennis.

Battle of the Sexes is a better-than-average biopic thanks to Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s (Little Miss Sunshine) direction and Stone and Carell’s performances. The film is filled with glossy 70’s visuals and some beautiful, expressive shots. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of witty dialogue and banter thanks to the terrific Simon Beaufoy’s (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) script.

Battle of the Sexes’s best aspect is its complex characters. This isn’t a black-and-white depiction of King versus Riggs, but quite the opposite. King plays for a cause, but has some flaws of her own in her love life. Riggs plays for attention and is clearly putting on a show to recapture his lost glory. Both Stone and Carell excel in capturing the emotions and complexity of their respective characters.

The film suffers from trying too hard at being Oscar bait on occasion. It’s quite obvious with Alan Cumming’s character’s closing line that the filmmakers are campaigning for the upcoming awards season. Also, like most biopics, we get closing captions in the end. It would be nice to see a biopic that defies this convention.

Still, I recommend Battle of the Sexes. It has spirit, humor, panache, and complexity.

Grade: A-

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“La La Land”

Director Damien Chazelle demonstrated his passion for jazz music in “Whiplash” two years ago, which was one of 2014’s best films. He further expresses his passion for both jazz and film in “La La Land,” which is the most passionate and energetic film of the year.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a self-righteous jazz musician. He wants to open his own club, but he doesn’t know where to begin. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress. She wants to make it big, but doesn’t have faith in herself. Of course they meet and a romance blossoms, but we’re also treated to rich dialogue and lively musical numbers.

There isn’t a single dull moment in “La La Land.” From the retro opening credits to the end montage, Chazelle is on fire with the musical numbers and emotional moments. The opening scene is a masterful tracking shot, choreographing dozens of extras on a freeway who perform “Another Day of Sun.”

Every shot in this film is perfect and shows off the glamorous side of Los Angeles (a city I find dirty). Chazelle cuts the film brilliantly to highlight Sebastian and Mia’s emotions. They’re an adorable pair with great chemistry, but their mutual insecurities are overbearing.

As the film goes on, the drama progresses and we see that there are consequences to the couple following their dreams. Chazelle is less cynical about passion in “La La Land” than he was in “Whiplash,” but he remains realistic. He’s stating that you should follow your dreams, but there will be challenges along the way.

His intimacy with “La La Land” never comes off pretentious, but rather an introduction. Sebastian introduces a jazz-hating Mia to the genre, turning her into a fan. I don’t like musicals and have little jazz knowledge, but I know after watching “La La Land,” I want to watch more musicals and listen to more jazz.

“La La Land” is magical, but I wouldn’t call it a feel-good movie. It’s bittersweet, but more on the sweet side.

Grade: A+