In Theaters

Getting ahead in life can be fraught with obstacles that keep us from moving forward. But, no matter how formidable these limitations may appear, they’re all meant to be overcome, provided we believe in the possibility. That can be challenging, especially when the barriers appear on multiple fronts, but it’s by no means impossible, as demonstrated by the new sports biopic, “Battle of the Sexes” (web site, trailer).

In September 1973, the nation’s attention (if not that of much of the world) was captivated with, of all things, a tennis match. But, in many ways, it was no ordinary tennis match; it was a contest with wide-ranging implications in the sports world and society at large – the Battle of the Sexes, featuring 55-year-old Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) squaring off against 29-year-old Billie Jean King (Emma Stone).

Tennis pros Billie Jean King (Emma Stone, left) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell, right) meet the media to promote their epic tennis match in the new sports biopic, “Battle of the Sexes.” Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon. © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

With both players having won championships at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the French Open, the talent was considerable on both sides of the net. However, Riggs, as a self-avowed male chauvinist, embodied the opinion held by many of the professional tennis world’s movers and shakers that women couldn’t compete with men when it came to skill on the court. Tennis promoters and commentators like former pro Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) contended that women weren’t as physically adept and, hence, not as interesting to watch. And this, they claimed, justified the smaller prizes paid to women in professional tournaments. So, when Riggs challenged King to a one-on-one match, she accepted if for no other reason than to prove him and his peers wrong.

“Battle of the Sexes” chronicles the events leading up to the big match, both from personal and professional standpoints. These back story items are crucial to the narrative, for they explain some of the motivations of the characters and spotlight the significance of the main event, both in the tennis world and further afield.

On the night of the big event, male chauvinist tennis pro Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell, left) gives opponent Billie Jean King (Emma Stone, right) the gift of a giant Sugar Daddy in the often-hilarious sports biopic, “Battle of the Sexes.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

For example, viewers witness Riggs’s struggle as a compulsive gambler, an addiction that frequently caused issues in his marriage to his wife, Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue), and that helped bring out the natural Barnum-esque huckster in him. Meanwhile, audiences are let in on King’s efforts to launch a professional women’s tennis tour – one free of the constraints dictated by the sport’s male-dominated hierarchy – with the assistance of Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), founder of World Tennis Magazine, and sponsored by Virginia Slims cigarettes, one of the first brands of smokes specifically marketed to women. In addition, the film also examines King’s personal struggles in accepting her emerging homosexuality through her clandestine involvement with her lover and hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), an incident that created tension in her marriage with her husband, Larry (Austin Stowell), and that sparked whispers among sponsors and fellow competitors, like Australian powerhouse Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee).

What’s more, the film also delves into the media spectacle that was the Battle of the Sexes, one of the first high-profile public events accorded such unrelenting hype and over-the-top promotion. In many ways, the match set the standard for similar events that would follow in the ensuing years – and that remain part of the media culture and fabric of society to this day.

Tennis pro Billie Jean King (Emma Stone, right) wrestles with her emerging homosexuality through an encounter with her hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough, left), in “Battle of the Sexes.” Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon. © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Most importantly, though, the film is an exercise in illustrating what it means to rise to one’s own greatness, to push through barriers and limitations that hold us back, as well as those facing similar circumstances. This is certainly true in the professional arena, as evidenced by King’s efforts to level the playing field in the world of women’s sports (not just tennis), but also to promote wider social acceptance of alternate lifestyles. Clearly this was an event about more than just a tennis match.

In many ways, the Battle of the Sexes served as a centerpiece event in the larger social changes that were taking place at the time. It served as a sort of lightning rod in which impassioned proponents on each side of the issues at stake sought to bring their hoped-for manifestations into being. The ceremony and spectacle associated with such considerations were created to draw the concerns in question into sharp focus for all to see – and to witness which side would come out the winner.

Those of us who were around at the time these actual events played out will appreciate the authenticity of this well-crafted cinematic time capsule. “Battle of the Sexes” superbly re-creates one of the biggest sports and social spectacles in recent history, thanks to excellent performances by Stone and Carell – both of whom practically channel their characters – and masterful period piece production values that effectively capture the look and feel of its subject matter. Admittedly, the picture tends to drag slightly in the first 45 minutes, but, this shortcoming aside, the film otherwise delivers in every other regard. As directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have demonstrated in such previous works as “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) and “Ruby Sparks” (2012), they know how to pick good stories and tell them well on the big screen. Game, set, match.

In striking out on her own to create a women’s professional tennis tour, Wimbledon and U.S. Open champ Billie Jean King (Emma Stone, right) receives the backing of World Tennis Magazine founder Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman, left) in “Battle of the Sexes.” Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon. © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

When we set our sites on achieving a particular objective, it can be difficult to hold us back, especially if we’re hungry enough and back those passions with adequate belief support. However, if we waver in our enthusiasm and drive, or if we allow doubts or fears to creep into the mix, we can set ourselves up for disappointment. Yet, if we maintain our resolve and focus, there’s no telling what we can accomplish. Just ask Billie Jean King.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Restructuring Our Lives

Getting away from it all – even under less-than-ideal conditions – can sometimes work wonders, particularly if there’s much weighing us down. But what we do with such opportunities when they present themselves is most important. That’s very much the case for a pair of searching protagonists in the new, thought-provoking drama, “Columbus” (web site, trailer).

While on a national lecture tour, a renowned, aging, Korean-born architect collapses, falling into a coma. With no one to attend to his needs, his longtime aide, Eleanor (Parker Posey), springs into action, summoning the ailing icon’s son, Jin (John Cho), to come care for him. Having been estranged from his father for quite some time, Jin is far from enthused about being called upon now, given their unreconciled feelings and the fact that it will seriously impinge upon his job as a book translator. However, considering the expectations thrust upon him to be the dutiful son, he reluctantly makes the journey to join his father. The one saving grace in this, though, is that Jin must travel to a place of beauty and inspiration, the architectural mecca of Columbus, Indiana.

By all rights, Columbus might initially strike outsiders as little more than a nondescript Midwestern town, yet it is much more than what initially meets the eye. Located roughly halfway between Indianapolis and Louisville, Columbus has long been home to an array of innovative structures designed by some of the world’s leading architects, such as Eero Saarinen. And that attribute is what has made this community more than just another easily overlooked stop on the interstate. It also explains the reason behind Jin’s father’s visit.

With his father unresponsive, Jin’s vigil soon turns into an extended visit, one that leaves him with plenty of free time on his hands. One afternoon, while strolling in the gardens of the bed and breakfast where he’s staying, he meets one of the locals, Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a recent high school graduate who works at the local library. They strike up a conversation and quickly discover that they share somewhat similar circumstances. Just as Jin is caring for his father, Casey is doing the same for her mother, Maria (Michelle Forbes), a recovering meth addict.

Through their times and dialogues together, Jin and Casey address a number of topics of mutual interest, sharing views and serving as sounding boards for one another. And they do so, ironically enough, while touring the local architectural sites, contemplative venues that give them perfect environments for collecting their thoughts. Jin, for example, vents much of the long-simmering resentment he’s been harboring toward his father and the rigid ways of his culture. Casey, meanwhile, quietly expresses the frustration she’s been experiencing in looking after Maria, especially since doing so has caused her to set aside her own dreams of becoming an architect, a talent at which she seems extremely well suited.

As their conversations play out, Jin and Casey have an opportunity to cover a variety of subjects, including life, love, art, healing, forgiveness, personal growth and human relations, to name a few. Their talks give them much to think about, both in terms of where they are and where they wish to go in their lives. The question is, of course, will they heed their own revelations and insights?

The solitude of a small, quiet Midwestern town characterized by beautiful buildings, dynamic public artworks, elegant parks, magnificent gardens and lush landscapes provides a perfect setting to clear our heads to think things through. An introspective milieu like this thus enables us to implement needed adjustments in various areas of our lives, such as healing ourselves, repairing our relationships and taking steps to live up to our personal potential. Of course, to make this happen, there must be a willingness on our part to proceed with such tasks. If we remain close-minded, we’ll remain prisoners of our own self-imposed limitations, unable to see past the barriers that obscure the possibilities open to us.

As movies go, “Columbus” is a nearly perfect film in virtually every regard. This quiet, cerebral, cinematic meditation gives viewers much to think about, especially when facing life’s hard choices. The film’s exquisite, Kubrick-esque cinematography, ethereal, haunting score, and deft use of sound provide elegant wrapping for this sometimes-humorous, sometimes-heartbreaking, frequently mesmerizing tale. Don’t expect much action from this one; in fact, don’t be surprised if you often find yourself wondering where the story is going, given its often-cryptic dialogue. But sit back, let the film wash over you and take it all in – you’ll likely be very pleasantly surprised, especially by the award-worthy performance of John Cho, who demonstrates talents not seen in any of his previous roles.

Central Indiana may not be the first locale that comes to mind when we think of places to get away from it all. But, then, sometimes we might be pleasantly surprised with what comes out of the unexpected, be it in literal or figurative terms (or both). It’s with that in mind, then, that we should all consider going on explorations of our own to discover the Columbus within each of us – and the new world it represents.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

On the Radio This Week 

Join host Frankie Picasso and me this Thursday, September 28, at 1 pm ET for the next Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio. We’ll talk about several current film releases and other movie news. Tune in live or listen to the on-demand podcast for some lively movie talk!

The Best of Movies with Meaning – “How To Change the World”

Bringing about a new way of living on the planet probably seems like a daunting task, but, as a group of intrepid activists demonstrated in the 1970s, it’s far from impossible. Such is the scenario depicted in the engaging documentary “How To Change the World” (web site, trailer), now available on DVD.

In 1971, when the US government forged ahead with plans for underground nuclear testing on Alaska’s Amchitka Island, considerable outrage erupted, fueled in large part by counter-culture activists like Vancouver Sun newspaper columnist Bob Hunter. In fact, Hunter was so opposed to the tests that he and a ragtag group of fellow protestors chartered a fishing boat to sail to the remote location to bear witness to an event the Nixon administration would have rather kept quiet.

In addition to the weapons proliferation issue, the activists objected to the tests’ potential environmental impact, a consideration that took on greater importance in the wake of this initial protest. Their efforts thus gave birth to the organization known as Greenpeace, a name that embodied the twin initiatives of its mission and that has since become virtually synonymous with the environmental movement. Before long, the organization that was launched on a shoestring budget and lots of good intentions blossomed into a worldwide network of affiliated activists seeking to protest everything from Russian whaling operations to Canadian seal hunting, drawing attention to a variety of previously unknown atrocities.

As with virtually any new group, however, Greenpeace experienced its share of growing pains over everything from its mission statement to its organizational structure. Public relations victories were simultaneously accompanied by infighting, hurt feelings and monetary woes, all of which threatened to derail the progress Greenpeace had made. The severity of these issues became so intense, in fact, that the organization was facing implosion just as it was hitting its stride.

The organization’s remarkable journey from its rough-and-tumble beginnings to its tremendous growth and its determined efforts to survive is chronicled in remarkable detail in this excellent documentary. Through a superb compilation of archival footage and candid interviews with many of the principals who have been around since the organization’s beginnings, director Jerry Rothwell has assembled a quintessential history of a group that really has changed the world and its inhabitants’ environmental sensibilities. Regardless of what one thinks about Greenpeace, its impact has been undeniable, and “How To Change the World” shows how that all came to pass.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.