2 1/2 (out of 4)
Films that attempt to recreate history – as well as reassess it – are always going to stumble out of the gate. Molding real life to the narrative confines of cinema and the expectations of the average moviegoer almost always results in the simplification of the central issues. The significance meant to be immortalized can often be communicated through condescension, where the themes are made very black and white.
Battle of the Sexes already has the clearest of conflicts and most obvious of morality at its core, and the film manages to make the most of a story that doesn’t exactly gel to the formula for either biographical dramas or sports films. The film has a melancholy flavor amidst the brightness and kitschy whimsy of the 1970s, and this helps the husband and wife director duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris make an amiable, if far from fantastic, true life account of the highly publicized 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King. With only Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks to their name, Battle of the Sexes doesn't find the filmmaking pair maturing so much as finding a piece of history to fit their quirky comedy-drama chops.
Behind the camera, Linus Sandgren (recent Oscar winner for his work on La La Land) balances out the purposely faded color palette with handheld, documentary-like grain and absorbing wide shots that make negative space seem vast and daunting.
Emma Stone and Steve Carrell inhabit their respective sexes rather comfortably, and the script wisely doesn't paint Riggs as a villain. He's given less screen time than that of Stone's committed portrayal, but Carrell's own character feels human despite being a callous, self-declared chauvinist pig. And for once casting and make-up actually has our leads resembling the real-life figures very closely – when photos of the real Riggs and King appear after the film ends, we can appreciate the casting rather than groan at how loosely rendered this fabricated reality really was.
3 (out of 4)
Delivering just about everything you could want from a sequel of its ilk, The Golden Circle manages not to trip itself up with excessive seriousness and universe expansion, or get too caught up trying to top the original Kingsman's adrenaline-injected action.
To my great surprise, most of the 141 minute runtime is devoted to developing the key characters of Eggsy, (Taron Egerton) Harry (Colin Firth) and Merlin (Mark Strong) all while keeping an even pace of gadgetry, action spectacle and more than expected self-indulgence. If you didn’t care for The Secret Service, I can only imagine how sincerely you will loathe this film. But for those who rode high on Matthew Vaughn’s cheeky Bond-lite remix – bloodied and foulmouthed for our desensitized, meta-minded zeitgeist of now – The Golden Circle is a nourishing follow up with only faint symptoms of sequelitus.
What ultimately makes the new Kingsman great fun is that Matthew Vaughn takes his craft seriously even when his focus is terribly silly – he relishes in absurdity, meticulous stunt work and coy winks to the audience. But Vaughn's style churns with purpose, weaving an ambitious plot of end of the world crisis and topical politics through seamless match cuts and transitions. Even when Elton John's grating extended cameo – the movie's obvious weak spot – repeatedly threatens in to derail Kingsman's momentum, the brazen auteur smooths out many of the film's cracks and leaves you with a sense that the ridiculousness has still been thoroughly mapped out.
That said, I wish the script had a little more time for Champ (Jeff Bridges) and Tequila (Channing Tatum) of Statesman, as well as a few other fine expansions to the cast. But centering on our established heroes is a safe and well-played bet – crossing the border to Kentucky is more a footnote than a detour. Instead we get more of Julianne Moore's Poppy Adams, a marked improvement from the cartoonish lisp of Samuel L. Jackson's villain, and a larger role for Hanna Alström as Swedish Princess turned Eggsy's girlfriend.
Contrary to the repulsed reactions I was aware of before seeing it, Kingsman is far from being too over the top or ambitiously lengthy – had it gone for a few more gross outs beyond human burgers or gone numb with set pieces before the climax kicked in, I would understand the hate. But as it stands, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is fervently entertaining, richly populated and makes the idea of a third entry seem reasonable, if not entirely necessary.
2 1/2 (out of 4)
Boasting a well crafted, sickly tuned ambiance that functions far better than the story, mother! succeeds as raw nightmarish energy but less so as a potent film.
Its shocks are minimal, for the film is more divisive in its allegorical touches, symbolism, and pointed abstraction that all go skin deep as far as thematic depth is concerned. mother! only truly works as a visceral calling card to Jennifer Lawrence’s emotive skills, though she’s not perfect here or in general. The young Oscar winner locates the borders of her limits as a thespian and expands on them in this brutally draining role as, for all intents and purposes, mother nature herself.
Your brain will want to evaluate mother! at face value for the first hour, which plays fairly straight, but this soon becomes impossible as logic eventually falls to the wayside. The excessive finale makes way for Darren Aronofsky's adeptness at the essence of the horrendous that have defined his superior films like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, but his inconsistency in cryptic and obvious biblical references are far removed from actual meaning. For all it’s experimentation and bracing challenges to our conditioned expectations, mother! could never touch the powerful austerity of The Wrestler, the director's best to date.
So far out of left field that it could almost be read as a pitch black comedy, mother! would earn points outside of boldness and stylistic atmosphere if only there was something tangible to care about. The camera constantly sweeps past J Law, gliding around her every move, through toils and snares – but we never care for her or any other character because they're mostly just archetypes, another facet of the allusions Aronofsky never ceases to impose on his audience.
To keep it brief...