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Battle of the Sexes

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Battle of the Sexes

The significance of the 1973 Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs tennis match wasn’t as obvious then as it is now. Those of us who watched it back then thought of it as a joke crafted by Riggs to promote himself after the end of his tennis career. King understood perfectly that if she won, her victory would be a big step forward in equal treatment for women in pay and in attitude. Her victory was a landmark step even though four decades later, women are still fighting for equality.

Men earned as much as eight times what women did in professional tennis and were astonished when anyone suggested that was unfair. Billie Jean King believed that if she could beat Riggs in this match that was infused with serious intent along with comic foolery she could change the treatment of women.

Emma Stone and Steve Carell create King, Riggs, and the tone of their time with marvelous perception. Riggs had won Wimbledon three times and hated every minute of trying to live a normal life after tennis. Steve Carell captures the feisty guy who loved gambling and drinking. He decided to challenge the women’s champion, beat her, and confirm that women must stay where they belong and he would wrap it all up as comedy.

Emma Stone is terrific as she captures both the determination and the doubts King feels as she accepts Riggs’ challenge. She wants equality in pay and recognition for women, two goals ridiculed by men in tennis and business. Ninety million viewers watched her beat Riggs in three sets. At stake was the beginning of the Women’s Liberation movement of that era.

New poignancy is added to the story by revelation of their private lives. King was married to a kind, supportive man (Austin Stowell) when she met Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), an attentive hairdresser who became, against King’s better judgement, her lover. Riggs was married to Priscilla (Elizabeth Shue) a rich woman who supported him in the style he loved.

In a strong supporting cast, Natalie Morales creates Rosie Casals as a tough, outspoken ally for King’s decisions. Jessica McNamee gives us a nasty Margaret Court, and Bill Pullman creates a thoroughly unpleasant Jack Kramer who represents every man in the world who believes women belong in the kitchen and the bedroom. In a welcome addendum, we are given short, welcome statements about the turns their lives took after that match in 1973.

Though the battle starts with Riggs’ wrapping himself in a joke to recreate himself, the serious issues are all right there. Emma Stone is superb as she shows us the toll exacted on Billie Jean King as she made the world understand that women were about to emerge from the kitchen. We hear “Someday we will be free to be who we are and love who we love.” Forty some years later, that day has still not arrived. Jack Kramer would be pleased.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Battle of the Sexes
Word Count : 496
Running time : 2:01
Rating : PG-13
Date : October 1, 2017

 

Logan Lucky

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky is a heist movie that takes us to places loved by some and detested by others: bars, jails, and the NASCAR culture. Director Steven Soderbergh’s story about a collection of losers unfolds at a dizzyingly rapid pace – and without scene connections. If you can unravel the details, the movie is a wonder of action. You will see good acting, dozens of oddball sights, and now and then you will laugh.

At the outset we watch Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) as he is fired from his job at NASCAR for having a limp that might be blamed on the company. When Jimmy slams his helmet into a garbage bin as he leaves we know instantly that he is not either weak or easy to like. He heads for the bar where we meet his bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver) who delights us with the delicacy and grace of the ballet he has made of mixing drinks with his one arm. They will become the team for the heist.

Jimmy’s plan unfolds in the underground confusion of the sinkholes and money tubes beneath the NASCAR track building. He spies his fortune in the transparent tubes that deliver all the money from above. Following the instruction list posted in his bedroom –Ten Rules for Robbing a Bank – he begins by recruiting Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), a simple minded jail prisoner with a gift for odd solutions to problems when no tools are available. The team of robbers is assembled.

The rest of the movie unfolds at speed beyond an ordinary ability to grasp. While the standard NASCAR culture of Memorial Day, women, flags, and alcohol unfolds upstairs, Jimmy, Joe, Clyde, and their other recruits handle the underground assignments.

The action shifts without explanation between the jail and the above and below of the racetrack. We even see Jimmy’s small daughter singing in a competition. Neither gestures nor dialogue tell us what’s happening. Everything happens too fast and without explanation. The whole thing is saved, or at least almost saved, by the sight of the good actors who decided for whatever reason to take on a heist movie propelled by a bunch of oddball rejects.

As odd as it may sound after saying that, the action is wrapped in the improbable fun of a band of losers applying their wits to a thoroughly complex, obviously impossible heist plan. The fine cast creates a group of excessively dim pals who weave their way through their multiple mistakes right in sight of the uninterested brass who ignore them because they are unimportant. Their inspired use of limited resources generates welcome laughter.

Watch a straight faced comic performance by Dwight Yoakam as the prison warden and one of comic delicacy by Hilary Swank as a deeply curious detective. And enjoy watching Daniel Craig’s simple minded crook who is smart enough to know how to break out of jail and break back in again. Your call.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Logan Lucky
Word Count : 495
Running time : 1:52
Rating : PG-13
Date : September 3, 2017