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Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs mug for the camera

The Battle of the Sexes

Telling the story of the hyperhyped tennis match between 55-year-old “male chauvinist pig” Bobby Riggs and the then reigning queen of tennis, Billie Jean King, this deceptively light documentary catches the casual and systemic sexism of the time, paints a warm, human picture of King and even has the grace to give the publicity hungry Riggs, now long dead, a decent screw. And the match really was hyped. If you were alive back then there is no way you won’t remember the furore when Riggs, who’d won Wimbledon in 1939 but had long since slipped into obscurity, came out of retirement to make a loud public announcement – the women’s game was feeble, … Read more
The "let's roll" moment from United 93

United 93

A reconstruction of what happened on 11 September 2001 to the fourth hijacked plane, which went down in Pennsylvania before getting to its target in Washington DC, probably the White House. It’s shot in a documentary-like shaky-cam style, has not a single recognisable face to hook onto and there’s a complete absence of heroic Hollywood dialogue. Writer/director Paul Greengrass lets events unfold in real time which, coupled with the knowledge of how things pan out, has the effect of making every otherwise mundane detail – stewardesses sharing a joke, businessmen working on their laptops – unbearably poignant. As we have already seen in The Bourne Supremacy, Greengrass is a master of dramatic irony … Read more
Rize

Rize

Fashion photographer and music-video director David LaChapelle’s documentary about Krumping, the brutally physical, adrenalised street dance movement in South Central LA which rose, in the aftermath of the 1992’s Rodney King riots, from the Clowning movement. Yes, clowning as in painting the face and putting on big baggy clothes. Think rap face-to-face showdowns, but instead of spinning rhymes they do the most ridiculously amazing dances with their body, the court of audience opinion more often than not deciding the winner. Both clowning and now krumping are a leftfield response to deprivation and the added blight of the gang culture and originally allowed those who do it to pass unmolested from one gang district … Read more
Ben Foster as Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand

The latest of the Marvel comics franchise is the most expensive film ever made but carries on just like the earlier two – lots of characters chasing too little plot. If you can call a po-faced allegory about society’s treatment of difference a plot. As ever Halle Berry looks nice, Hugh Jackman throws his chest out to good effect and Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen compete to see whose voice has the most actorly resonance. To flesh things out a bit more, the story hinges on a mutant called Leech, whose special power is the production of something – hormones, pheromones, slimy oozy stuff, call it what you will – which turns our … Read more
Samina Awan in Love + Hate

Love + Hate

My heart often sinks when “the movies” decide to do a story of love across the racial divide. Too often the result is melodrama overplaying relatively unimportant differences (like skin colour) while underplaying the ones that do matter (ie culture). See Ken Loach’s Ae Fond Kiss, for example. Or, from the other end of the spectrum, the buffoonery of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Director Dominic Savage’s Love + Hate manages to avoid these pitfalls. It’s a “nice Asian girl meets racist white boy” story set in a town in Northern England and is Romeo and Juliet on a shoestring. At the Asian end of the relationship there’s the male/female double standards in an … Read more
Bryan Greenberg and Uma Thurman in Prime

Prime

Uma Thurman’s had a strange career. In between wondrous hits like Baron Munchausen, Dangerous Liaisons, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill there have been total duds like… where do we start?… The Truth About Cats and Dogs, The Avengers and Be Cool, to pick just three from many. Prime falls definitely into the latter camp. It’s a toyboy rom-com with Uma Thurman (37) falling for Bryan Greenberg (23) and confiding all the bedroom secrets (“his penis is so beautiful, I just want to knit it a hat”) to her therapist, who unbeknown to Uma is the younger man’s mother. Writer/director is Ben Younger who was responsible for the intense money-man drama Boiler Room and … Read more
Jennifer Aniston as a French maid

Friends with Money

Having struggled to escape the long shadow of Friends, Jennifer Aniston ends up in a film with Friends in the title, playing the singleton with three married couples as chums. Nicole Holofcener’s follow-up to 2001’s Lovely & Amazing walks the same line – it’s a gentle comedy exploring human foibles. Then, families were the subject, here it’s rich people with first world problems, metrosexual tastes and lives obsessively focused on themselves. It is quite a cast – with Jennifer Aniston at its centre, playing the only one of this gang with no wealth and no love life, the only one who has to do shitty jobs for a living, including working as a … Read more
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the white knight star of Brick

Brick

Careful use of Spanish-flavoured old LA locations, low-slung camera angles and a devotion to hard-boiled dialogue, often maddeningly mumbled, make director Rian Johnson’s debut one of the most authentic nu-school noirs for some time. All the genre types are there – the honourable loner  (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the femme fatale (Nora Zehetner), the urbane crime lord (Lukas Haas), the thick-as-pigshit muscle (Noah Fleiss). The plot too is the real deal – brain-strainingly complicated and/or pointless, you’re never sure which. The twist is – there isn’t a person in the movie over high school age. Which serves to put a shiny new coat on the old genre. And shows that, if nothing else, Johnson knows … Read more
Jamie Foxx is Django, in Django Unchained

20 May 2013-05-20

Out in the UK this week Django Unchained (Sony, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD) If you could cross Gone with the Wind, Shaft, and A Fistful of Dollars, you might end up with something like Quentin Tarantino’s lavish entertainment starring Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx as unlikely amigos out to rescue a female slave (Kerry Washington) from plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio. Starting verbose and staying there – is there a single person in this film who won’t stop talking? – this playful, bloody and tense drama is at its funniest when it leaves Foxx and Waltz to interact. And it’s full of surprises. A fact which extends all the way down to casting decisions – such … Read more
Justin Rice, Andrew Bujalski and Rachel Clift in Mutual Appreciation

Mutual Appreciation

A micro-budget black-and-white indie drama, written and directed by one of its co-stars, Andrew Bujalski, who plays the college lecturer graciously helping out old school friend and budding rock musician Alan (Justin Rice) after he relocates to New York. Failing to commit, being vaguely rubbish, avoiding maturity, just sort of drifting about, that’s the over-riding atmosphere delivered by Bujalski’s bittersweet second film, after the highly influential Funny Ha Ha. His inspiration would appear to be the naturalism of early Jim Jarmusch, the awkwardness of Woody Allen, and Bujalski is keen on situations where what is not said is twice as powerful as what is. Embarrassment looms large too, inevitably, so anyone who’s ever … Read more
Jude Law in eXistenZ

eXistenZ

Combining two fields of interest of director David Cronenberg – the mediated-reality musings of Videodrome and the body horror of almost everything else he’s done – eXistenZ is about a video game designer dropping into the gamesworld she’s created, accompanied by a good-looking marketing trainee, to work out if it still all works after an assassination attempt on its creator. Jude Law is handsome and chiselled and pretty much perfect as the slightly blank computer-game virgin and Jennifer Jason Leigh also scores high as the programmer who’s developed a gaming environment so realistic that it makes real life look lacklustre. This parallel reality where industrial and organic coalesce (a gun that shoots human … Read more
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

TMNT

Can the sewer-dwelling Mutant Ninja Turtles dudes named after renaissance painters really still be teenagers? Just one of the many questions raised by the latest animated iteration of the once popular franchise that can trace its origins back to a comicbook spoof of the early 1980s. Foremost of those questions must be “Why?” Feeling a lot longer than its 87 minutes, TMNT is a franchise reboot that follows the familiar pattern – hence the “getting the gang back together” element which needs to be got out of the way before the real plot (a tech-industrial magnate, voiced by silky Patrick Stewart, wants to destroy the world) can be embarked on. The look is … Read more

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