2.19.2018

BLACK PANTHER

While Marvel has done amazing work with their shared universe of superheroes, Black Panther brings them into a new area: nation building.  The movie has a mostly African-American cast for its fictional country of Wakanda -- and it works very well.

Things seem to be going well for T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman).  He's become the new ruler of Wakanda, even temporarily giving up his powers to battle a challenger in combat.  His "panther powers" include super strength, speed, reflexes, and healing; and he also has an incredibly tough super-suit.  His young sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is a tech genuis, working in all areas of the country's vibranium-powered technologies.  His ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) is a spy for the country but returns for his coronation.  And his bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira) is one of the nation's most powerful warriors.
Yet T'Challa is uncertain about keeping his country's amazing scientific advances to themselves and maintaining the illusion that they're a poor nation of farmers.  When Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) --a  terrorist with a mechanical arm who stole vibranium from Wakanda, killing many of its people in the process -- surfaces, T'Challa and his allies go to capture him.  But Klaue is working with Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a killer with a mysterious past whose plans would affect both Wakanda and the rest of the world.

Black Panther has plenty of what we've come to expect from Marvel movies -- super-powered folks slugging it out -- but there are also deeper issues, from loyalty to leaders who one disagrees with to isolationism being in opposition to altruism.  Chadwick Boseman brings a regal attitude to the role of T'Challa, making him both more heroic and more conflicted than the standard super hero.  Michael B. Jordan makes his killer sympathetic at times, and the rest of the cast manages both action and humor equally well.  Black Panther is a fine addition to the Marvel cinematic universe.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

2.10.2018

ALL THINGS MUST PASS: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOWER RECORDS

Growing up on Long Island, New York I was fortunate to be able to travel to the Tower Records store in Manhattan, and later to a much closer store near my home.  I spent plenty of money there -- and saw the store close and the shelves emptied in its last days.  All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records is a talking-heads documentary about the creation, success, and ultimate failure of what could be the most famous music store of all time.

All Things Must Pass spends most of its time on several people who had been with Tower Records from its early days in California in the 1960s -- especially its founder, Russ Solomon.  He had an easygoing way of running the store: People could wear what they wanted, treat the customers how they wanted, and even show up drunk or stoned, as long as they opened the store on time.  The people who stayed got promoted, and as the the stores expanded -- to the east coast, and internationally -- these people often moved on to run other stores.
We also hear from musicians -- Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Sir Elton John -- and David Geffen, all sharing their memories of how great the store was at a time when there was no Internet for music lovers to discover new sounds and connect with fellow fans.  And there's plenty of archival footage of the shoppers in the stores, flipping through actual records.
As for the history of the store, this documentary focuses on the early years and the final ones.  We know that the store was a hit with the hippie generation, and near the end the store suffered not only from Napster but other stores selling CDs, taking on lots of debt, and the failure of some of their expansion stores.  There's a definite bias against the mean, strict financial people closing the stores down that's a sharp contrast to the fun and freedom the employees enjoyed in the store's early days.

Despite the overwhelming positive attitude towards the store -- employees loved working there, musicians loved shopping and visiting there -- All Things Must Pass is a good look at how Tower Records became famous and successful -- and how it all came crashing down.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

1.29.2018

Ramones, ROCKET TO RUSSIA

The Ramones were masters of the punk rock movement in the 1970s, and Rocket to Russia -- their third album -- showcases not just their punk chops but their other talents as well.

Rocket to Russia has plenty of the Ramones' fast delivery (no song reaches three minutes) and and the anger and repetition familiar to punk.  There's the destruction of the family unit in "We're a Happy Family," the lack of interest in anything in "I Don't Care" ("I don't care about this world/I don't care about that girl"), the world of not having material goods in "I Can't Give You Anything," and support for the societal underdogs in "Cretin Hop" and "Sheena is a Punk Rocker."

But there's more going on with the album.  There's a loving feel to romantic ballads ("Locket Love"), teens hanging out ("Rockaway Beach") and the joy of dancing.  ("Do You Wanna Dance?")  There's also a wicked sense of humor in many of the songs, whether it's opening a song by shouting "LOBOTOMY!" ("Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em/that I got no cerebellum") , the fun little rhymes ("LSD, golly gee") or the pitch-perfect cover of "Surfin' Bird."

Detractors of the Ramones could say a lot of the songs sound awfully alike musically -- but there's plenty of variety to be found on Rocket to Russia.  All these years later, the album still remains tremendous fun.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

 

1.28.2018

PHANTOM THREAD

Sometimes a drama can be almost solely about a relationship, without external crises or events.  Phantom Thread, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is such a film.

In 1950s London, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, in what he says is his final film role) is a dressmaker to the wealthy, famous, and royal.  He has a close personal and business relationship with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), a demanding nature that upsets many women, a rigid lifestyle, and some issues relating to his late mother.
During a trip in the country, Reynolds meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a French waitress in a restaurant.  Reynolds is smitten with her -- but more about designing dresses for her than anything romantic of sexual.  Alma becomes a part of his life and household, initially as a muse and then as a source of change and frustration.
Phantom Thread is a subtle film.  There are few blow-ups or big happenings but rather the evolution of the relationship between Reynolds and Alma.  The two leads are terrific in their roles, with Day-Lewis making Reynolds both passionate and very difficult, while Vicky makes Alma both a regular person and someone not cowed by the strong personality of her man.  The end result is quite moving and very impressive.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

1.18.2018

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

It's back to the magic/cursed game Jumanji in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.  This movie has teens transported to a video game jungle -- in new bodies.

The movie starts in 1996, when some kids find the Jumanji board game and one says no one plays board games anymore, returning to his video game.  The game magically transforms into a game cartridge, and the boy disappears.

Jump to the present, and four teens have gotten detention.  Spencer (Alex Wolff) is a thoughtful student and nervous hypochondriac who got busted for writing papers for Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), a football player who used to be good friends with Spencer.  Bethany (Madison Iseman) is a high school popular beauty who couldn't stay off her iPhone.  And Martha (Morgan Turner) is a quiet thinker who speaks out against gym class.  While the four are stuck cleaning a room, they find the Jumanji game (now a video game console) and find themselves zapped into the world of the game.
The teens are now the video game characters, with their skills and weaknesses.  Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) is the muscular leader with no weaknesses.  Fridge (Kevin Hart) is a zoologist who's slower and weaker, plus he carries everyone's stuff in his backpack.  Bethany (Jack Black) is now a pudgy male -- but she still can't deal with not having a phone.  And Martha (Karen Gillan) is a beautiful martial artist in a skimpy outfit.  Their mission: Find the magic gem stolen by evil explorer Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale, who has little to do but look menacing) and return it to its place in a giant statue.  Each teen has three lives, and when they die they fall from the sky to continue the game.  NPCs show up, with limited reactions and often repeating the same lines over and over.  And the four run into Alex (Nick Jonas), the teenager who got sucked into the game back in 1996 and has been trying to get out ever since.
Despite enough cursing to get this movie a PG-13 rating, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle feels a lot like a kids' movie.  The teens start as strangers or former friends who grow to be good friends, and their characters' skills let them work together to complete the game.  A lot of the humor comes from the stars acting atypically (Dwayne Johnson constantly scared, Jack Black effeminately) or video game cliches brought to life, and the movie doesn't give any surprised or take any real chances.  This is a cute movie, but not terribly funny or exciting.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch

1.07.2018

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Given the flamboyant and grandiose nature of P.T. Barnum's circus, it makes perfect sense that The Greatest Showman, about his life and creation, is a musical.  And with impressive musical numbers, fine acting, and a compelling story, it works very well.

Phineas Barnum had a rough childhood as a dreamer and the poor son of a tailor -- and that didn't make his romantic interest in the upper-class Charity any easier.  As an adult, Phineas (Hugh Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) got married and had two little girls.  While they are poor and Phineas has trouble holding down a job, Phineas wants to give her and his family something more,
With a bit of fraud, Phineas opens up a shop of oddities, hoping to attract customers to seeing the unusual.  On his daughter's advice he changes the museum to a live show, advertising for the unusual and outcasts of society.  He gets quite a lot, from Tom Thumb and the singing bearded lady to acrobatic brother and sister Anne and W.D. Wheeler (Zendaya, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).  The show proves to be a popular hit, and now P.T. Barnum buys his family a huge mansion while acting as the host for the performances.  But the show generates controversy, from both the upper class (and a newspaper critic who thinks it's all trickery) and the lower class (who resent the so-called "freaks").
Barnum brings in playwright Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron) to expand the circus' appeal to the upper classes.  He's interested in Anne, though she's concerned about how they could be together when society frowns on mixed-race couples.  Meanwhile Barnum gets distracted from his circus by Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), an European opera singer who appeals to Barnum as a genuine talent (and possible threat to his marriage).  And the other issues haven't vanished either...

There is so much to enjoy about The Greatest Showman.  The musical numbers are catchy, visually stunning, and engaging, and they fit in perfectly with the story.  Hugh Jackman plays Barnum perfectly, as a grandiose promoter and dreamer who's fine bucking society but who gets tripped up by actual success.  Zac Efron and Zendaya provide both a romantic subplot and a look at the racism of the time, and the rest of the cast is terrific.  The Greatest Showman embodies the best of the musical spectacle.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

1.01.2018

X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time!

After Showtime's documentary on the greatest adult movies of all time, it makes sense that they'd follow it up with a documentary on the adult industry's biggest stars.  X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time! does better than the original documentary, as this one provides more structure and information.

Hosted by Mr. Skin, this documentary is a mix of talking heads (from the adult movie industry, plus Whoopi Goldberg, Rob Zombie, and Steven Soderbergh), and movie clips of the featured star.  Hosted by Mr. Skin, X-Rated 2 is divided into several sections, each with their reason for what makes their subjects the greatest: popularity, longevity in the industry, men (though males appeared in the other categories as well), colored/minority performers, alternative/kinky performers, dramatic actors, those who crossed over into mainstream/pop culture, and the two biggest stars of all time from porn.
In addition to the people commenting on the choices, each "greatest adult star" also appears, either interviewed for the documentary or in archival footage.  Most are positive about the work, though several are quite candid about the problems in the industry, such as when Misty Rain talks about how white actors get paid more than minority actors.  We get the years each performer appeared in adult films, and the clips of the stars are accompanies by the name of the feature.

Such a listing is fairly subjective, and there are plenty of stars who were left off that should have been here.  (For me, the big absence is Asia Carrera.)  This is acknowledged by Mr. Skin: "It's fair to say that the list is far from complete."  That said, X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time! is a fine documentary.  It makes a case for every person who made the list, it gives some good behind-the-scenes information, from the classic era to those still performing, and the simply providing the information on the stars and clips provides the curious with some movies to look for.  Best-of lists are tricky, but X-Rated 2: The Greatest Adult Stars of All Time! handles it quite well.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

12.31.2017

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE RETURN -- ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its sequel The Return are wonderfully goofy and funny comedies, and the numerous musical numbers between the movies are often delightful.  So, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return -- Original Soundtrack should be a thing of wonder.  However...

This album begins very well, with plenty of music from the new series.  There's the new opening theme song.  We get a rap about kaiju from around the world.  There's a commercial for a dinosaur barbecue restaurant.  ("Jingle!")  Mark Hamill even appears, as a barker for a spectacular circus that he has to describe because it's held in the dark.  This is all very good, with plenty of laugh-out-loud songs.

Next, though, are instrumental songs from the new series.  These may have been useful during the skits, but the instrumentals aren't really amusing on their own.  And these songs take up about a third of the album!

The last third of the Original Soundtrack are some popular songs from the original series.  These would be great -- except these are also instrumental songs!  (Mary Jo Pehl almost sneaks back, but...)  Since the humor comes from the lyrics, these songs tease funny classic hits and pulls the rug out from under us.  Instead of giving us classic jokes, the album plays a cruel joke on the listener here.

I so wanted to like Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return -- Original Soundtrack, and the first third of non-instrumental songs is great.  But the bizarre inclusion of so many instrumental songs on a comedy album really brings things down.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch

12.22.2017

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

The war between good and evil continues, between outer-space ships and persuasion and temptation, in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  This movie has its share of strengths, weaknesses, and some pretty substantial plot holes.

Following almost immediately from The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley) meets up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to be trained as a Jedi.  He wants nothing to do with training, wishing that the whole Jedi tradition would just vanish.  He agrees to teach her three lessons, though.
Meanwhile, it looks like the entire Rebellion has been reduced to three large ships, which are slowly being pursued and attacked by several Imperial Destroyers.  Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) scored a victory against them almost solo, but his free-wheeling ways earn him the ire of both General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).  Somehow the First Order has found a way to track the Rebellion ships through hyperspace, when those ships are running out of fuel.  So Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) head off on a secret mission to get a codebreaker so the Rebellion fleet can sneak away.
And what about Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)?  He's still being humiliated by Snoke (Andy Serkis) and prone to fits of rage.  He's also in telepathic connection with Rey, and each of them are trying to bring the other over to their way of thinking.
If it sounds like there's a lot going in The Last Jedi, there is -- and the movie spends 2 1/2 hours going over it all.  We have plenty of space battles, lightsaber battles, and alien races (including the Ewok-replacing cute Porgs).  And yet, the movie didn't seem to capture the magic of the original films like The Force Awakens did.  We get one spaceship able to destroy the enemy almost single-handed, a ship able to depart from and return to a fleet under siege with no problem, and Luke wanting nothing to do with the Jedi yet teaching and training his successor.  Some of the action scenes are good, and there are even some emotional moments, but there were numerous times later in the movie when I was very ready for things to wrap up, and they kept going and going...  The Last Jedi isn't a bad movie, but it's certainly flawed.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

12.06.2017

COCO

Pixar has often dealt with families in its movies -- but what happens when you toss in the afterlife as well?  Coco is an entertaining, visually stunning movie about family, dreams, skeletons, and lots and lots of music.

The Rivera family hates music.  This began when a man left his wife and daughter Coco to pursue a career as a musician.  His face was removed from family photos, his wife learned to survive by making shoes, and since then the family has been shoemakers -- and hated all things musical.

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is a young boy living with his family and his silent and still grandmother Coco.  He wants to be a musician, building his own guitar and worshiping the late superstar Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).  Miguel also feeds the stray dog Dante, who follows him around everywhere.  When Miguel's family finds out about his dream, they smash his guitar.  Miguel then believes his mysterious great-grandfather is Ernesto; and when Miguel goes to "borrow" Ernesto's guitar to compete in the talent show on Dia de los Muertos, Miguel (and Dante) wind up in the land of the deceased -- all of whom are skeletons.
Miguel's late relatives are upset because he knocked over the photo of his great-grandmother, preventing her from visiting her family.  He can be sent back with a wish from a relative -- but they add in that Miguel must give up music forever.  Miguel decides that his only change for returning and not losing his dreams is to get Ernesto to wish him back.  But Ernesto is very busy and hard to reach; and if Miguel doesn't return by sundown, he'll be trapped in the land of the dead forever.
While Miguel is pursued by his deceased relatives -- and their dragon-like spirit creature -- he gets help from an unusual source.  Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) keeps trying to scam his way back to the land of the living, hoping to see his daughter one more time before he is forgotten.  (Spirits who are forgotten in the land of the living turn to dust and blow away.)  He'll help Miguel meet Ernesto, if Miguel brings Hector's photo back to the land of the living.

Coco is a delightful movie.  There's a strong Mexican theme through the movie, from the spectacular visuals to the frequent musical numbers.  The skeletons quickly go from scary to familiar; and in a nice twist, the skeletal spirits are more frightened by the living boy in their midst.  The movie has a few twists and surprised, and there's plenty of both humor and action.  Check out Coco!

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

11.22.2017

JUSTICE LEAGUE

The end of Batman v. Superman didn't just hint at the creation of the Justice League -- it showed us which DC characters would be part of it.  Justice League continues the story with a new threat, heroes coming together -- and one returning from the dead.

The movie starts with Batman (Ben Affleck) dealing with the chaos in the wake of the death of Superman (Henry Cavill).  Batman is looking into Parademons, insect-like creatures who feed on fear -- and who have been leaving a symbol of three squares in their wake.  It turns out that those creatures are soldiers for Steppenwolf (Claran Hinds), a giant alien with a powerful ax.  He wants to gather the three Mother Boxes, which together have the power to destroy the world.
Batman is putting together a team to stop Steppenwolf.  Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and the Flash (Ezra Miller) join immediately, but Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) are less willing to join the fight.  And there's a plan to use one of the Mother Boxes to bring Superman back from the dead...

Justice League was uneven.  The first half was a bit boring, from a general lack of action to the redundancy of having two reluctant heroes being pitched.  Things pick up in the second half, though, and once the League comes together it did have the feel and action of a good comic book.  The actors are good (though Ezra Miller won't replace Grant Gustin as the Flash in anyone's mind), but Steppenwolf was a bit generic as a villain.  So Justice League may not match Wonder Woman or most of the Marvel movies, but it's still a decent movie.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch

11.13.2017

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 vol. XXXIX

All good things must come to an end, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 vol. XXXIX is likely the last DVD collection of episodes from the original series.  (After this, it seems it'd be too expensive to get the rights to the rest of the movies being riffed.)  This collection wraps things up nicely for the series -- and has an interesting bonus for those of us who ordered it early.

MST3K XXXIX has three episodes, all from the Mike Nelson time of the show.  Girls Town is a black and white borderline-exploitation film with tough gals, teenagers in gangs, reform school nuns, and even a few musical numbers from crooners.  The Amazing Transparent Man is a blend of a crime movie and the invisible man.  And Diabolik is about a groovy criminal mastermind -- and the final episode of the original show.  While these aren't iconic episodes of MST3K, they all provide plenty of laughs.  Each disc also has extra features as well.

For something different, the fourth disc -- Satellite Dishes -- has just the host segments from several episodes, from the third season (when TV's Frank joined the show) up to Quest for the Delta Knights.  While it feels a bit strange watching the bits that would be around the movies without the actual movies, these demonstrate that MST3K had plenty of humor on its own, from musical numbers to Crow's evil dark specter twin (Timmy) to the early invention exchanges.

And folks who ordered this collection early got a bonus DVD: The Complete Poopie!  This has two different sets of bloopers, plus Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy segments trying to sell this collection during the Turkey Day Marathon.  And they're all funny -- especially as the folks on screen would keep going or crack jokes after they knew they flubbed their lines or part of the puppets or set fell apart.

I'll miss seeing new collections of the first Mystery Science Theater 3000 series (while hoping the new series gets released on DVD), but at least Mystery Science Theater 3000 XXXIX is a nice way to wrap up the releases from the series.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

11.04.2017

THOR: RAGNAROK

Who'd have guessed a movie with such strong apocalyptic themes would also have such a large amount of humor?   Thor: Ragnarok is one of the sillier movies in the Marvel cinematic universe, though there's plenty of action as well.

Things begin well enough for Thor (Chris Hemworth).  He slays the demon Surtur, who was foretold to have brought abour Ragnarok, the destruction of Asgard.   He exposes Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who had been pretending to be Odin, and the two brothers find the real Odin (Anthony Hopkins) on Earth.

That's when things start going bad.  Odin passes away, and with his death his previously unknown daughter Hela (Kate Blanchett) is released.  Hela is the Goddess of Death, and she is tremendously powerful: casually flinging weapons from her body, slaying Asgardian soldiers by the dozens, and even shattering Thor's hammer.  Her goal: conquer Asgard, then use the Rainbow Bridge to conquer the Nine Realms with her army of undead soldiers and giant wolf.


As for Thor and Loki, they get lost in transit, winding up on a war-planet, where Thor is captured by the Asgardian warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and forced by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) to fight in gladiator-style combat.  Worse, the Grandmaster's champion is the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who liked being there and has no problem fighting his fellow Avenger.

Thor: Ragnarok is one of the lighter Marvel superhero movies, but it's still enjoyable.  There are numerous cameos from Marvel characters from the movies and comic books, plus humor coming from seemingly everywhere.  In addition, the cast is quite good, and Cate Blanchett makes a very menacing villain, fine with slaughtering anyone to get what she wants.  The action sequences are good (if very CGI-filled) and this ties into the overall Marvel cinematic universe without overdoing the connections.  This is far from the best superhero movie of 2017, but I enjoyed it.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

10.15.2017

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston led an interesting life, many elements from which can be found in his famous female superhero creation.  Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a biopic that explores Marston's relation ship with two important women -- and how it all led to Wonder Woman.

The movie opens in the 1940s, with William Mounton Marston (Luke Evans) being grilled on the salacious elements of his Wonder Woman comic book by Josette Frank (Connie Britton), a member of the morality police.  This is intercut with flashbacks to Marston's life.
In the 1920s, Marston was a professor at Harvard, teaching the then-new science of psychology and working on inventing the lie detector; he also teaches his students DISC theory, which includes dominance and submission elements and the idea that women would do better running the world than men.  He worked with his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), a blunt-spoken psychologist who's unhappy she's not being given the same degree as her male counterparts.

Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) is a student of Marston's who also becomes his research assistant.  She also inspires a tangle of emotions and desires between the three people, leading to the two main sections of the movie.  Early on, there's a question of what will happen, as everyone seems attracted to each other (though Olive has a fiancee).  Later in the movie, they adopt their "unconventional lifestyle" and deal with the consequences, both good and bad.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is an enjoyable look at some unusual people.  The movie is very pro-kink, as the intricate connection between the trio is more than just a man wanting to be with two women, but all of them having relationships with each other.  While not heavy-handed, the movie shows how experiences in Marston's life became part of Wonder Woman's world, from the lie detector becoming the lasso of truth to a BDSM demonstration (and prototype for Wonder Woman's costume).  The actors are all good, though Rebecca Hall has the most fun as the woman always ready with a quip or sarcasm.  Given the popularity of the recent Wonder Woman movie, this is an informative (and adults-only) look at how she came to be.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch


10.06.2017

BATTLE OF THE SEXES

There have been plenty of times through history when the differences between men and women have been determined by all sorts of competition.  Battle of the Sexes is a biopic depicting this direct clash on the tennis court in 1973.

The early 1970s were a great time for Billie Jean King (Emma Stone): She was the premiere women's tennis champion in America and, in fighting for equal rewards for female tennis players, founded her own all-female tennis league.  She also began an affair with Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), which Billie wanted to keep under wraps, both for fear of hurting her husband and for fear of losing her sponsors.

Meanwhile, 50-something Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) had his own issues.  A former tennis champion, he loves gambling and hustling, while chafing at working at an office job set up by his father-in-law.  His plan to return to competition and fame: Set up big tennis matches between him and female tennis players, with him taking on the role of a sexist villain.  ("I'm putting the show back in chauvinist.")  Billy turns him down, but when she's beaten by Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) who then gets trounced on the court by Bobby, Billie takes up his challenge for the dignity of female tennis players -- and women everywhere.
Battle of the Sexes is decent but uneven.  While Steve Carell is pretty much regulated to a self-involved clown,  Emma Stone is the focus of most of the movie as Billie, a woman being pulled in several directions -- champion, wife, lover, defender of womankind -- in the public eye.  While she's good in the role, the movie seems to spend far more time on her same-sex affair than on the tennis issues, making the big match seem almost like an afterthought.  Battle of the Sexes could have been a period piece, if it didn't let itself get so distracted.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch