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Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Granger at the Movies: ‘Battle of the Sexes,’ ‘Brad’s Status,’ ‘The Lego Ninjago Movie’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow


“Battle of the Sexes” serves up the story behind the 1973 exhibition tennis match between 29 year-old Billie Jean King and 55-year-old Bobby Riggs, who bragged he could beat any woman player in the world.

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As reigning Wimbledon champion two years running, King (Emma Stone) was in her prime, while brash, gambling-addicted Riggs (Steve Carell) was Wimbledon’s champion back in 1939.

So with great fanfare on Sept. 30, King was carried, like Cleopatra on a chaise, into the Houston Astrodome by bare-chested guys, while Riggs, wearing a yellow Sugar Daddy jacket, arrived by rickshaw. At the net, King handed Riggs a squirming piglet, confirming his male chauvinist status.

Squaring off for the $100,000 prize, it was a milestone for the women’s liberation movement. At that time under the aegis of condescending Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), women on the tournament circuit earned far less than men. So King was determined to get respect and equal pay for female players.

Meanwhile, off the court, Billie Jean was experiencing a different dilemma: her sexual awakening. Although married to supportive Larry King (Austin Stowell), she was attracted to hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). While facing a palimony suit in 1981, King became the first famous athlete to come out as a lesbian.

Fresh from her Oscar-winning “La La Land,” Emma Stone added 15 pounds of muscle to her slim frame, nailing King’s competitive style, aided by her athletic stunt-double, NCAA’s Kaitlyn Christian. Supported by Steve Carell, who captures Riggs’ desperation, they’re a winning match.

Working from Simon Beaufoy’s subtle screenplay, husband-and-wife directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”) cleverly capture the tenor of the time, utilizing actual footage of Howard Cosell’s insidiously sexist commentary and offering glimpses of fashion designer Ted Tinling (Alan Cumming) and ‘World Tennis’ magazine founder Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman).

FYI: According to Forbes, Emma Stone is now the highest-paid actress in Hollywood.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Battle of the Sexes” aces an empowering 8, focusing on the social change that swept the country during the last quarter of the 20th century.

In “Brad’s Status,” writer/director Mike White tackles a particularly privileged midlife crisis as a neurotic father takes his talented 17-year-old son on a New England college tour.

Although he lives in a beautiful suburban home in Sacramento, California, with his loving, supportive wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer), angst-riddled Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) never stops whining and complaining.

An idealist, he’s opted to work in the nonprofit sector, which means he’s earned considerably less money than his Tufts University classmates.

There’s former White House press secretary-turned-author Craig (Michael Sheen), wealthy hedge-fund manager Jason (Luke Wilson), retired-in-Maui tech guru Billy (Jermaine Clement) and Hollywood director Nick (Mike White) whose $9 million mansion is on the cover of Architectural Digest.

“For them, the world isn’t a battlefield, it’s a playground,” Brad muses.

Now Brad’s visiting East Coast colleges with his son Troy (Austin Abrams), a musical prodigy with a good chance of being accepted at Harvard — if he’d not messed up the date for his admissions interview. Determined to rectify the snafu, Brad calls his influential classmates from whom he has felt estranged.

While he’s utterly convincing, Ben Stiller has played similar malcontent roles before — in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “While We’re Young” and “The Meyerowitz Stories.” But his totally self-absorbed Brad Sloan seems somewhat smarmy, given today’s ‘real world’ problems.

Eventually, Brad gets his comeuppance from Troy’s flutist friend Ananya (Shazi Raja) but not before this middle-aged creep imagines running off with bikini-clad Ananya and another nubile undergrad.

Filmmaker Mike White indulges in fantasies/inner monologues, narrated by Stiller. But it’s difficult to evoke sympathy for this resentful materialist. The more we know about him, the less we like him.

On the Granger Gauge, “Brad’s Status” is a sardonic 6, stuffed with deceptive sentimentality and self-pity.

Bookended by two live-action sequences featuring Jackie Chan as the Chinatown curio store narrator, “The Lego Ninjago Movie” delves once again into the world of plastic toys.

Indeed, it’s almost a duplicate of “The Lego Movie” (2014), redundantly utilizing a wise guru and a sought-after Ultimate Weapon that turns out to be common household object.

In the Asian island city of Ninjago, Lloyd (Dave Franco) is a high school student whose father is wicked, egomaniacal Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), making Lloyd an outcast with obvious daddy issues.

Riffing on the Luke Skywalker “Star Wars” mythology, it revives the combative good son/evil father concept — with Lloyd’s overprotective mother Koko (Olivia Munn) serving as the voice of reason.

Meanwhile, martial arts Master Wu (Jackie Chan) has been training a color-coded, elemental Ninja team to battle pompous, four-armed Warlord Garmadon, who happens to be his brother. And Lloyd, as the Green Dragon Ninja, secretly trains with them.

There’s the Red Fire Ninja Kai (Michael Pena), the Blue Lightning Ninja Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), the Black Water Ninja Nya (Abbi Jacobson), the half-human/half-robot White Ice Ninja Zane (Zach Woods), and the Black Earth Ninja Cole (Fred Armisen). They’re Power Ranger-like warriors.

Eventually, the Ninjas must team up with Garmadon to save their metropolis from annihilation by “Meowthra,” a giant house cat.

Utilizing a script filled with pop-culture puns and gags that have been cobbled together by a gang of screenwriters, directors Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan rely on Animal Logic animation — with original directors/screenwriters Phil Lord and Christopher Miller now taking producer credits.

FYI: Ninjago is pronounced two different ways. When referring to the fictional city, it’s nin-JAH-go. But when it’s used as a battle cry, it sounds like, “Go, Ninja, Go!”

On the Granger Gauge, “The Lego Ninjago Movie” is a frenetic 5, familiar family fare that becomes another brick-building commercial.


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(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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Posted 10/04/17 at 07:17 PM  Permalink



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