Posts Tagged ‘Austin Stowell’

The Virginia Slims

Battle of the Sexes

Directors: Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton

Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Elisabeth Shue, Alan Cumming, Bill Pullman, Eric Christian Olsen, Wallace Langham, Austin Stowell

Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks directing duo Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton take on the extremely pertinent subject of gender inequality in sports in their latest film, Battle of the Sexes, a highly entertaining cinematic recreation of a historic tennis match which took place between the brash egotist and compulsive gambler Bobby Riggs and tennis women’s superstar Billie Jean King at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas in 1973.

Oscar winner Emma Stone (La La Land) plays Billie Jean King a tennis champion at the top of her game who is married yet battling with her own sexuality as she meets the provocative Californian hairdresser Marilyn Barnett wonderfully played by Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals, Birdman).

Oscar nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) plays the exuberant Bobby Riggs, the fiftyish tennis pro and self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig who is having a last gasp at his youth and decides to provoke Billie Jean King into a publicity tennis matched aptly named Battle of the Sexes. Riggs who is a sports hustler and whose lavish career is supported by his wealthy wife Priscilla Riggs superbly played against type by Oscar nominee Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas).

Comedian Sarah Silverman stars as the outspoken Gladys Heldman who champions Billie Jean King and a collection of aspiring female tennis players to start their own female tennis match sponsored by Virginia slims cigarettes. This is in response to the chauvinism and unequal pay dispute between the women players and the exorbitant salaries that their male tennis players get which is almost ten times the amount.

The reason for this inequality, as sports commentator and organizer Jack Kramer played by Bill Pullman gives is that the tennis watching public love men’s tennis and that the male tennis players have ten times the stamina, strength and speed to sustain an exciting match unlike their less competitive female counterparts. Naturally this outdated mode of thinking has thankfully be reversed by the recent star power of such female tennis champions as Venus and Serena Williams.

Battle of the Sexes is a relevant film not only in terms of recent sexual harassment scandals which has rocked the Hollywood establishment but also in terms of LGTQ rights in sports, a controversial subject which has barely been explored in contemporary cinema.

As Billie Jean King’s husband Larry, played by Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies), says to her lover in one poignant scene, all that sponsorship of hotel rooms, flights and TV coverage would evaporate if King came out as a lesbian. Which she eventually did in the wake of the 1970’s queer rights campaign that activists like Harvey Milk and Cleve Jones fought for so vehemently, brilliantly illustrated in the Oscar winning Gus van Sant film Milk.

Battle of the Sexes is a thoroughly entertaining film about two tennis professionals who not only stake the reputations on a publicity tennis match. Battle of the Sexes is peppered with some flamboyant supporting roles including Sarah Silverman and Alan Cumming as Cuthbert Tinling whilst held together by exemplary performances by Stone and Carell.

Battle of the Sexes gets a film rating of 8 out of 10, featuring wonderful seventies tennis costumes by Costume Designer Mary Zophres capturing the zeitgeist of the decade, adding to a thoroughly slick and entertaining sports film.

The Standing Man

Bridge of Spies

bridge_of_spies

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Jesse Plemons, Austin Stowell, Sebastian Koch, Will Rogers, Billy Magnussen

The opening shot of Bridge of Spies features a suspected spy painting a self portrait of himself in a dingy Brooklyn flat, symbolic of a reflective look at the characters involved in the Cold War and the complicity of the two superpowers whose distrust of each other ripened over four subsequent decades.

Oscar Winner Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, Forest Gump) plays insurance lawyer turned defence attorney in the Steven Spielberg directed Cold War thriller, Bridge of Spies, which despite its length is an absorbing and fascinating film set amidst 1950’s paranoia, propaganda and old fashioned espionage.

With a script by the Coen brothers and Matt Charman, Bridge of Spies raises the profile of British actor Mark Rylance, Emmy nominated for his superb portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in the BBC series Wolf Hall, as suspected spy Rudolf Abel who is arrested in his Brooklyn apartment by American government agents for espionage.

Tom Hanks in one of his most likable performances to date since his brilliant turn in Captain Philips, plays James B. Donovan who at the request of his law firm is asked to give Abel a fair trial despite public opinion being considerably stacked against him. This is 1957 America, a country in the grip of McCarthyism and Cold War paranoia. The Russians are building a wall to divide Berlin in half and each super power is suspected of stockpiling a nuclear arsenal sufficient enough to repeat the horrors of Hiroshima, which ended World War II in 1945.

As the intricate narrative arc of Bridge of Spies unfolds, complete with period production design and gritty cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, it is apparent that Donovan realizes the potential of keeping Abel alive in case for whatever reason the Americans need to use him as a trade for one of their citizens that could potentially be captured behind enemy lines.

This prediction happens sooner than expected when an American pilot, sanctioned by the CIA, Francis Powers, played by Austin Stowell (Whiplash) is shot down and captured in Soviet territory and duly interrogated by the Russians about the spy plane he was flying. To add to the mix, as Berlin is being divided in half by the infamous wall, an American economics student Frederic Pryor played by Will Rogers is captured by the East Germans and who want to use him as a means for these two super powers to recognize the sovereignty of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) German Democratic Republic.

Oscar winning veteran director Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Munich and Saving Private Ryan) skilfully weaves a very complex espionage tale in which his two main leads Hanks and Rylance have sufficient screen time to paint a portrait of an unusual relationship between attorney and client surpassing the perceived notion of a lawyer defending a suspected spy.

This public conception of Abel’s guilt and Donovan’s sympathy towards his clients is brilliantly portrayed in an affecting scene on the New York subway where commuters all stare at Donovan with disdain after reading press coverage of the trial in the morning newspapers.

Bridge of Spies is an absorbing historical drama about the Cold War, yet at 141 minutes, the film could have been edited although Rylance and Hanks are terrific in their roles as Abel and Donovan. The supporting cast includes Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Jesse Plemons and Sebastian Koch. Highly recommended viewing for those that relish a vintage spy drama, something which is rarely seen in this digital age.

 

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