Currently browsing posts by Hannah Buchdahl.

Review: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes is okay, but far from the grand slam I was rooting for. I love the story, especially because it’s true: tennis great Billie Jean King agrees to play ex-champ and self-professed male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs in a high-profile televised event and kicks his butt, scoring a huge victory for the women’s rights movement in the 1970s. That’s not a spoiler. It’s a well-known fact in sports history. Unfortunately, without the dramatic climax that typically drives a sports drama, Battle of the Sexes is forced to look for bonus points off the court. They include: an exploration of Billie Jean’s sexual awakening as a lesbian and the strain that puts on her marriage; Bobby’s marital woes, childish antics and addiction to gambling; and, my favorite part of the film, Billie Jean’s willingness to take a stand for equal rights and social justice by, in part, organizing other players to break from the establishment and form the Women’s Tennis Association.

Review: Stronger

Stronger starts off strong, falters a bit in the middle, and regains its footing towards the end, making for an inconsistent though still compelling drama. The movie tells the true story of 27-year-old Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a regular guy who became a symbol of hope and inspiration following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Bauman was waiting at the finish line in a bid to cheer on – and win back – his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black) when the blast occurred. He lost both legs. Bauman is the guy being helped by a stranger in a cowboy hat in one of the most iconic photos from that day. Boston Strong personified. Stronger isn’t so much about the terrorist bombing or the manhunt that followed (Patriots Day covered that territory). It’s about Bauman’s struggle to recover, physically and emotionally, often in the uncomfortable glare of the public spotlight.

Review: Rebel in the Rye

I vaguely recall reading “The Catcher in the Rye” in High School. But I must not have been overly impressed with teen-angst icon Holden Caulfield because unlike characters in, say, “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Lord of the Flies,” Holden and his story failed to stick with me into my adult years. Perhaps that’s because the 1951 novel (that’s sold more than 65 million copies) was never adapted for film! At least now I understand why, thanks to the mildly intriguing biographical drama, Rebel in the Rye, about famously reclusive author J.D. Salinger who steadfastly refused to sell theatrical rights to his most famous work.

Review: Home Again

No harm, no foul. Sweet Home Alabama – um, I mean, Home Again, is light and fluffy, formulaic, predictable, enjoyable and forgettable. And it serves as a pleasant alternative at the box office for those who might prefer a mindless modern romantic comedy to a horror story about a creepy clown that terrorizes and kills kids (IT).

Review: IT

I get it now. The creepy clowns. The red balloons. The yellow slicker. The references to “You’ll float too.” All things I’d be privy to had I read “IT” (the Stephen King novel) or seen IT as a television mini-series in 1990. Alas, the big-screen adaptation of IT served as my introduction to IT, and I can honestly say — as a reluctant horror-moviegoer — IT is scary good, and probably scary great for ITs die-hard fans.

Quickie Reviews: I Do… Until I Don’t; Crown Heights; Polina

Nothing gets you pumped for the start of the Fall movie blitz quite like the final weeks of summer at the box office. Bring it on! I’m ready for Awards Season! But first… a quick look at the latest releases that are unlikely to gain much traction as families enjoy a final long weekend of togetherness before the days get shorter, kids return to school and commuter garages reach capacity by 8 a.m.

First up on the altar of sacrifice: I Do… Until I Don’t, an ensemble comedy from writer/director/actress Lake Bell (In a World) about marriage and commitment. Here’s the gist: a bitter documentarian from the BBC shows up in divorce-mecca Vero Beach, Florida to test and prove her theory that marriage should be a seven-year contract with the option to renew. She recruits three seemingly diverse couples to appear in her documentary. They include Alice and Noah (Bell and Ed Helms), a boring couple struggling to keep their window-blinds business afloat while also attempting to have a baby; Alice’s kooky sister Fanny (Amber Heard) and her peace-loving soulmate Zander (Wyatt Cenac) who claim to be happy in their forward-thinking ‘open relationship’; and Cybil and Harvey (Mary Steenburgen and Paul Reiser), an older couple going through a bit of a midlife crisis as their anniversary approaches.

Quickie Reviews: The Hitman’s Bodyguard; Logan Lucky; Patti Cake$

The Hitman’s Bodyguard falls into the bucket of mindless summer entertainment that offers a decent-enough cinematic escape for anyone willing to accept the movie for what it is and not over-analyze its foibles. Ryan Reynolds channels his Deadpool sarcasm to play Michael Bryce, a down-on-his-luck “protection agent” (i.e. bodyguard) who is called upon to safely transport his nemesis, notorious hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel “Snakes on a Plane” L. Jackson) to the Hague so he can testify against brutal East European dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). It’s a familiar formula: The clock is ticking. If the witness doesn’t get to the Hague before a 24-hour deadline, the evil dictator will surely walk free. Cue the overlong gun battles, myriad car and motorcycle chases, and outlandish boat escapes as Dukhovich’s cronies take aim at Bryce and Kincaid.

Quickie Reviews: The Glass Castle; Wind River; The Fencer; A Taxi Driver

I’m generally a fan of (or maybe a sucker for) movies based on real people and events, so that could be why I had a pretty good week at the movies with two mainstream dramas and two foreign films. First up: The Glass Castle, based on Jeannette Walls’s best-selling memoir about her unconventional upbringing and coming to terms with the complexities of her relationship with her dysfunctional parents and remarkably normal siblings. The film features a stellar cast that includes Brie Larson (Room), Chandler Head and Ella Anderson as Jeannette (through the years), Woody Harrelson as her fundamentally flawed but occasionally well-meaning father, and Naomi Watts as her eccentric artist mother. The parents are the types to define homelessness and squatting as a ‘lifestyle choice’. I haven’t read the book, but those around me who did seemed satisfied with the way the film played out. Others, however, (while still acknowledging the strong performances) criticized the movie for glamorizing or romanticizing what they saw as dangerous, irresponsible and often cruel parenting. I thought it walked the line fairly well, in much the same way as last year’s well-received indie Captain Fantastic.

Quickie Reviews: The Dark Tower; Brigsby Bear; Detroit; Step; An Inconvenient Sequel; Escapes

The Dark Tower. I’m not a Stephen King purist so I didn’t go into this movie with the same high expectations as those who’ve read the series of books that The Dark Tower is based on. Perhaps that’s why I liked it – not a lot, but enough to slot it into the “acceptable summer cinematic escape” category for the 12-and-up crowd. It’s an action adventure fantasy flick with a confounding plot that boils down to a physical and psychological battle between good (Idris Elba as gunslinger Roland) and evil (Matthew McConaughey as creepy Man in Black) across parallel universes.

Quickie Reviews: Atomic Blonde and Landline

Atomic Blonde is set against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989. As the Cold War appears to be nearing its end, the spy game is hot as ever. British MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to Berlin to retrieve a stolen list that threatens to expose the identity of all Western spies. It’s a familiar plot line in espionage thrillers, and in this case, the convoluted plot is a mere vehicle for launching a tangled web of deceit among Broughton’s contacts (including James McAvoy as embedded station chief David Percival) and triggering a whole lot of extended fight scenes. Lorraine’s weapons of choice include anything she can get her hands on – from guns and knives, to keys and high heels – all swung with lethal force. The film is like a hyper-violent Jason Bourne or Bond movie with a lead that happens to be a badass chick.