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Battle of the Sexes back on the court plus a few more VIFF picks for the weekend

There’s so much choice right now. All those film festival offerings plus Emma Stone and Steve Carell mixing it up on the tennis court, Ellen Page in a re-made near-death flick and Tom Cruise flying drugs in the Iran- Contra scandal. Notice, all three are backward-looking. Could it be just coincidence or something more?

These have just arrived:

Battle of the Sexes: 3 ½ stars

American  Made: --

Flatliners: --

VIFF: Indian Horse: 3

VIFF: Swallows and Amazons 4

VIFF: Still Night, Still Light: 3 ½

VIFF: Bitch:  2 ½

BATTLE OF THE SEXES: The media stunt and pop spectacle of 1973, the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King tennis showdown, is recreated properly, as a light entertainment.  That’s what the event was. It wasn’t a great milestone in women’s fight for equality, though it surely did spark talk along those lines among people who were new to the discussion.

It was a sideshow and this sparkling film brings it to us in that spirit. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the married couple who made Little Miss Sunshine, directed it from a script by Simon Beaufoy who also wrote Slumdog Millionaire and The Full Monty. All the qualities they showed there, exist here. The film is funny and rather than pound at the issues, it says them all subtly. Occasionally with clownish bombast but we’re invited to laugh at those scenes.


Steve Carell does the clowning as the faded tennis star Riggs with a gambling addiction and a need to get back into the limelight. He sees his chance when women’s lib enters the tennis world as Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) leads a group of female players to start their own tournament. Women had been  getting paid eight times less than men who were deemed more exciting to watch. “It’s just biology,” says Bill Pullman as a sport official. That’s not unlike what John McEnroe's been saying recently.

The film spends much of its time on Billie Jean’s growing attraction to her hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough) which becomes sexual. Those scenes are highly sensual and then comic when her husband arrives unannounced. But subtly again the film shows this as another way she’s evolving her life. (The real Billie Jean and a new woman, described as the love of her life, were consultants on the film).

And yes the tennis happens too, with a full Astrodome, Howard Cosell clips on TV and excellent camerawork pulling us in to the play. This movie is mainstream fun. (5th Avenue, International Village and suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5

And also now playing …

AMERICAN MADE: Busy Tom Cruise is back again with a based-on-fact story about a pilot in the 1980s recruited by the CIA in the infamous Iran-Contra scheme. Lots of flying action and not bad, I’m told. It previewed the same time as Battle of the Sexes. I chose it instead. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 

FLATLINERS: The 27-year-old film has been re-made, in Toronto with Ellen Page in the lead, but Sony brought it to town without previews. Wonder why? The plot is the same: five medical students bring on near-death experiences to figure out what happens after we die. Bad move, apparently. Keifer Sutherland is in both films. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway, suburban theatres)

VIFF FILMS:  The big events at the festival this weekend have to be OKJA, THE PARTY, THE SQUARE and maybe BREATHE.

South Korea’s Bong Joon-Ho will personally introduce and then talk about his big business satire OKJA on Sunday Night. BREATHE got a lot of attention but not such great reviews in Toronto. It’s the directing debut of Andy Serkis who’s best known for playing Gollum and one of those Apes.

THE PARTY is a black comedy from Britain with Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall and others making impolite conversation over dinner.

THE SQUARE, from Sweden,  is said to be a laugh out loud comedy about artists who try to be provocative. It’s had strong reviews.  

And here are some I have already seen …

INDIAN HORSE: You might hear a lot of criticism about this film. It’s about Canada’s residential school system and the impact it had—and continues to have—on the Indigenous children who were forced to go there. It’s based on the acclaimed novel by the late Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese and there’s no doubt that it’s good that we’re facing up to that shameful history.

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