“Borg vs McEnroe” stars Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny, and Robert Emms. Released in Sweden on September 8, 2017, followed by a North American release on April 13, 2018, the film chronicles the fierce rivalry between Björn Borg and John McEnroe.
The film is directed by Janus Metz Pedersen, who also directed the 2010 documentary film, “Armadillo”. Tennis may not be for everyone, but it does have a few interesting stories to tell when it comes to some well-known tennis players. Many of you may not be familiar with this latest sports biopic, but I bet that some of you may know about the rivalry between Borg, a Swedish tennis player, and McEnroe, an American player with a huge attitude problem. The last time I’ve seen a tennis biopic was last year’s “Battle of the Sexes”, another film based on the rivalry between professional tennis players, which made me appreciate how Hollywood portrays the sport and the players themselves. I’ve only seen the trailer for this film at least once on Youtube, and seeing LaBeouf back in the acting business since his accidents outside of his career was the only reason why I was interested in checking it out. It didn’t appear at my closest cinema, so I had to use one of my streaming services to review this film. Thanks, Amazon Prime. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in to this bitter confrontation.
The story follows a structure that centers on Björn Borg (Gudnason) and John McEnroe (LaBeouf) and their journey to the final round of the 1980 Wimbledon Championships. Not only that, but it also shows a series of flashbacks to their earlier years of playing tennis. What this movie did right for me was that it showcased tennis as a mind game. There are plenty of stuff in tennis that will make players lose their gosh darn mind, on and off the court, and this film displayed it in the most marvelous way possible. Leading up to the final match between Borg and McEnroe, Janus Metz Pedersen was able to portray these players as flawed humans who have their share of issues involving emotion. It’s their internal struggles that were as invigorating as the final match itself mostly due to Metz Pedersen’s direction and Ronnie Sandahl’s sharp screenplay. Gudnason was one of the proper standouts in the film as Borg and LaBeouf was definitely a force to be reckoned with in his engaging portrayal of McEnroe. LaBeouf really nailed this character’s persona like it was nothing, which made me really happy that he’s starting to turn his acting career around. Skarsgård also turned in a very convincing performance as Borg’s coach, Lennart Bergelin. The film’s final act, which is the men’s singles final between Borg and McEnroe, may be one of the most intense and eye-catching scenes in sports biopic history. Its camera angles, the editing, and its use of tension were able to capture every set in solid detail, and I got to say, I was immediately engaged from the first set to the last. As for its flaws, I would say that the flashbacks involving McEnroe were having a hard time matching the same amount of emotion as the Borg flashbacks. Mostly because I was more interested in Borg’s internal struggle compared to my interest in McEnroe’s.
Overall, Like “Battle of the Sexes”, “Borg vs McEnroe” is a tennis biopic done right. It’s a fascinating and deep representation of how tennis affects the players mentally filled with strong performances, great direction, and an intense third act. I believe a lot of people could learn a thing or two from this film if they’re thinking about playing tennis. As for me, personally, I think that this is the best tennis film I’ve seen since…well, “Battle of the Sexes”. I would highly recommend it to those who like watching tennis and to those who are familiar with the rivalry between Borg and McEnroe.
“The Breadwinner” stars Saara Chaudry, Soma Bhatia, Noorin Gulamgaus, Kane Mahon, Laara Sadiq, Ali Badshah, and Shaista Latif. Released on November 17, 2017, the film is about a girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to support her family and rescue her father.
The film is directed by Nora Twomey, who co-directed The Secret of Kells with Tomm Moore, and it is based on the children’s novel of the same name by Deborah Ellis. Since its inception in 2008, GKIDS has been distributing well-crafted animated films that inspire movie-goers and critics alike. Not only that, but its films have also received numerous Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature, including the one that I’ll be looking at today. I have little to no experience with the films that are originally distributed by GKIDS, especially The Secret of Kells, but when I heard that this film is playing at my cinema, I figured that I would start that experience by checking this one out first before I get to the other new releases from last weekend. Long story short, I was extremely impressed at how it turned out.
One of the things you should know about this film is that the story takes place in Afghanistan during the time where the country is being controlled by the Talibans. In the style of 2D animation, the film displays the lifestyle of the residents who are trying to survive under the Talibans’ rule, most notably Parvana, the main character, and her family. The film also includes a story-within-a-story that provides a different style of 2D animation and serves as a purpose to the film’s central plot. For an animated film like this, it can be a bit disturbing for the very young, but aside from that, it is a beautiful and invigorating tale about hope and bravery over evil and cruelty. It’s more than just about a girl dressing up as a boy, it’s about her single act of courage that is able to make a difference in the world filled with violence and fear, which is something that’s very important for people to learn. The filmmakers did an impressive job at recreating the real-life setting of Afghanistan and its lifestyle without going overboard with its depictions of violence while also keeping the story simple and thought-provoking for the older crowd. The animation was gorgeously filled with imagination and depth from its representation of Afghanistan to the story-within-a-story segments that felt like a pop-up storybook coming to life before my very own eyes. Of course, there were plenty of films with CGI animation that offer the same quality as 2D animation, but the way this film was handled in the style of the latter is something that truly brings out the spark in its soul in terms of its vibrant colors. The film’s animation proves that we need more 2D animated films like this in the near future.
Overall, with its superb storytelling and beautiful visuals, “The Breadwinner” is animation art at its finest. It’s the type of animated film that deals with mature themes, but also enchants with its eye-opening sceneries. Out of all of the animated films I’ve seen that are nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2017 Oscars, I would say that this is my second-favorite, with my top film still being Coco. If you’re a fan of animation or the other animated works from GKIDS, I would highly recommend this one. Definitely another huge win for traditional animation.
“Phantom Thread” stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps, and Richard Graham. Released on December 25, 2017, the film follows the romantic relationship between a dressmaker and a young waitress.
The film is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who also directed films such as Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and Inherent Vice. After studying the Oscar nominations more than a week ago, I immediately realized that I only saw eight out of nine Best Picture nominees. Quite an achievement if I do say so myself. The missing piece of the Best Picture puzzle that I’m looking at today is also Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film before his retirement from acting. The last film I saw that starred Day-Lewis was Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” way back in 2012. Other than that, I haven’t seen a whole lot of movies that involved the talented actor. With the Oscars premiering in a month, I decided to skip out on the new releases this weekend so that I can check out the last Best Picture nominee. Was it worth it?
The story is basically your ordinary love story filled with romance and stuff, but by the time it reaches the second half of the movie, it offers a couple of unexpected moments that prevented itself from being too simplistic. This approach might be a bit concerning for mainstream romance followers, but for the artistic followers, it’s a lovely portrait that defines the complications of one’s relationship with the other. One that is directed remarkably well by Anderson, who has an impressive knack at storytelling. Daniel Day-Lewis provided a subtle and genuine performance as Reynolds Woodcock, a fashion designer whose strict passion on dressmaking overshadows his feelings towards Alma (portrayed really well by Krieps), a waitress who is concerned about Woodcock’s personality. Lesley Manville also did a great job as Cyril Woodcock, Reynolds’ supportive sister. Like the film’s cinematography, the costume designs were very beautiful to look at. I’m no fashion judge, but if I were one, I would give these costumes a solid 10 out of 10 for the creativity and the presentation. Jonny Greenwood’s musical score was a huge delight from start to finish, providing a relaxing, fairy-tale-like tune that could rival the music from The Shape of Water at the Oscars. My only minor issue with the film, besides its inability to lure in a mainstream audience, was its slow pacing. It’s not as bad as the pacing in “Hostiles”, but for those who want a fast-paced love story that involves a man and a woman falling in love with each other, it can be a bit of a pain to sit through.
Overall, there’s nothing too special about “Phantom Thread” in terms of the romance genre. However, like the costumes, the film is woven together by its sheer beauty and its sense of marvel. Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted a beautifully-shot love story that’s filled with some impressive performances from the cast, its splendid costumes designs, and Jonny Greenwood’s musical score. If you’re a fan of Anderson’s other works and Daniel Day-Lewis in general, I would say that this film is definitely for you.
“I, Tonya” stars Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, and Bobby Cannavale. Released on December 8, 2017, the film chronicles the life of figure skater Tonya Harding.
The film is directed by Craig Gillespie, who also directed films such as Mr. Woodcock, Lars and the Real Girl, Million Dollar Arm, and The Finest Hours. While not a Best Picture nominee at the Oscars, the film earned some nominations for the two main actresses, Robbie and Janney, as well as for editing. This film sees Gillespie’s latest attempt at the biographical sports genre after directing Million Dollar Arm for Disney back in 2014. For those who don’t know, Tonya Harding is a former figure skater who was involved in an orchestrated attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan in January 1994. As a result, she was banned from the U.S. Figure Skating Association for life. A story worth telling on the big screen, ladies and gentlemen. I was born a month after the incident happened, so I didn’t remember that much about it until I found out about the film online. It is receiving plenty of praise from critics since its release, mostly due to the performances from Robbie and Janney. Now that I finally saw it for the first time, how does it stack up compared to Gillespie’s other works?
From her rough childhood to the 1994 incident that ruined her skating career, the film depicts the harsh and heartbreaking events of Tonya Harding (Robbie), on and off the skating rink. This is one of those biographical films that immediately convinces people that life is not all sunshine and rainbows. It really wants you to know that Tonya’s life is a living nightmare that just won’t end. This is a near-perfect representation of that life that delivers a unique blend of drama and sarcasm. It’s not too depressing for the modern audience, but it’s not too mean-spirited either. Margot Robbie was a sight to behold as Tonya. I would even say that this is one of my favorite performances from her so far. She was able to channel a person that has been through a lot when she was growing up, especially her experience with her abusive mother, played by Janney. Speaking of which, I can definitely see why Janney won a few awards for her performance. She’s stern, cruel, and just plain unbearable in a more compelling way, almost similar to how Frances McDormand performed in Three Billboards. Sebastian Stan was also really good as Jeff Gillooly, but my God, he is just a butthole. It’s no wonder Tonya had a miserable life. She’s surrounded by a bunch of brainless imbeciles. Gillespie’s direction and the film’s soundtrack were also marvelous for embracing the film’s era as well as offering some bizarre and sarcastic moments without feeling forced or unnecessary.
Overall, “I, Tonya” is both offbeat and tragic. Two words that blend wonderfully together like peanut butter and jelly. Thanks to its strong performances from the cast, brilliant direction, and its high respect towards the subject matter, this is by far Greg Gillespie’s best work in his career as well as one of the most investing sports biopics of the decade, from my personal perspective. If you’re a fan of sports biopics or you just like Margot Robbie in general, it’s worth checking out if it’s playing at a theater near you.
“Hostiles” stars Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, and Ben Foster. Released on December 22, 2017, the film is about a U.S. Cavalry officer who journeys to return a Cheyenne war chief back home in Montana.
The film is directed by Scott Cooper, who also directed Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, and Black Mass. I was speculating on seeing this for a couple of reasons. One of those reasons is that it wasn’t nominated for anything at the Oscars. The other reason is my concern over its pacing since my experience with Cooper’s last film, Black Mass, was pretty slow despite my appreciation for it. From a marketing perspective, however, the film does look interesting because of its cast and its depiction of the 1800s. Since I had nothing better to do, I decided to check it out anyway to see whether or not it deserves some awards recognition.
Christian Bale leads the cast as Joseph J. Blocker, a captain who is ordered to perform one final job before his retirement. While far from his best performance, Bale did wonders in portraying a stern, yet vulnerable, man who has a troubled history with his escort, Yellow Hawk, who was played remarkably well by Wes Studi. Out of all of the performances that I experienced during the film, I would say that Rosamund Pike stood out the most as Rosalie Quaid. Rosalie is an emotionally scarred widow whose family was killed by a Comanche war party. The way Pike portrays Rosalie was pretty uneasy during a couple of moments, but it’s the type of uneasy that’s done in a more realistic and investing approach. If you’ve been following Scott Cooper’s filmography for quite some time, you’ll easily notice that the director likes to keep his stories nice and slow, and this film is no different. Whether you’re into slow-paced movies or not, the film offers plenty of slow-moving scenes that gives audiences more time to enjoy the sceneries that surround the characters. For me, the pacing in this film felt a bit uneven, especially during the conversations between the characters, so that can be a big turn-off for those who want a fast-paced action film. To its credit, Cooper did a really impressive job at showcasing the violent and depressing world in the 1800s in terms of the production design and the portrayal of the Native Americans. The cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi was also very pleasing to the eyes, especially the traveling sequences. Unfortunately, those technical achievements weren’t quite enough to help its storytelling reach its full potential. For a movie that has an accurate portrayal of the 1800s, it should’ve have a story that’s rich and full of emotion in terms of the characters and the dangers that they’re facing. I wasn’t really disappointed in it since it somewhat delivered what it offered in the marketing, but I thought there were plenty of moments that could’ve been handled a lot better.
Overall, “Hostiles” has a very small chance at impressing a lot of people due to its pacing, its average storytelling, and its disheartening concept. On a technical scale, it’s a beautifully-shot Western film that provides solid performances (mostly from Pike) and its impressive production design. Based on what I saw, I can understand the fact that it hasn’t gotten any recognition from the Academy since there were plenty of other award-potential films that were vastly superior in terms of storytelling. However, I felt bad that it didn’t join the other nominees for Best Cinematography or Best Production Design because those two things were my personal highlights of the film. It’s worth a watch for these technical achievements alone, either at a matinee price or as a rental, but if you’re not into slow and depressing films, feel free to skip this one.