Fox Searchlight parties with the stars of ‘Battle of the Sexes’ and ‘The Shape of Water’ Day 5 at the Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO — Fox Searchlight feted its latest offerings, including the Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs tale Battle of the Sexes, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, starring Tyrion Lannister (er, Peter Dinklage) with a swanky party Sunday night.

The studio held the party, a fixture here at the Toronto International Film Festival for more than 30 years, in the lobby of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, which was specially built for opera and ballet performances. In attendance: Octavia Spencer, Billie Jean King, Andy Serkis, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Sarah Silverman, Zachary Quinto, Natalie Morales, Michael Shannon, James McAvoy, Frances McDormand and Bill Pullman.

So nobody, basically.

I went with another writer who warned me not to eat dinner because the food would be great. And there’d be plenty of it, because if there’s nothing else reliable about Hollywood types, they don’t really eat. Journalists, on the other hand, are shameless that way. Studio parties are a curious mix of industry professionals, actors and writers, and mostly you’re trying to find a good way to butt into famous people’s conversations before you wander off to the bar or grab an hors d’œuvre from a caterer’s tray. Oh, and it’s also a good way to see how tall people are in real life. McAvoy, for instance, is quite short. The women, of course, are all skinnier than seems humanly possible, but you knew that.

Anyhow, both Battle of the Sexes and The Shape of Water are hot tickets here, and I managed to catch both on Monday.

Battle of the Sexes

Courtesy of TIFF

The script for Battle of the Sexes, written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, The Full Monty) can feel a bit obvious, a common occurrence in biopics where people’s lives get boiled down to their Wikipedia essentials. For example, we see Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), King’s WTA rival, in conversation with her husband about their suspicion that King is a closeted lesbian:

Barry Court (James McKay): Isn’t she ashamed?

Margaret Court: That’s exactly what she is. And her game’s gonna fall to pieces.

And then five minutes later, that’s exactly what happens, and King loses her title to Court.

The best part of Battle of the Sexes, which is directed by the Little Miss Sunshine team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, is the titular faceoff between King (Emma Stone) and Riggs (Steve Carell). Dayton and Faris have faithfully recreated the 1973 exhibition match, which took place in the Houston Astrodome, right down to the Vegas-style plumage and cabana boys, and Riggs’ ridiculous jacket plugging Sugar Daddy candy. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but Battle of the Sexes tends to exaggerate the size difference between Riggs and King. Carell’s Riggs is a bit hulking and over-the-hill, while Stone appears daintier than King in her prime.

But the big issue with Battle of the Sexes may just be how much territory it cedes to Riggs, or rather, Carell-as-Riggs, who frankly kinda steals the movie. Some of that is the nature of Riggs’ personality: He’s a clown with a gambling problem who, instead of fixing himself, charms everyone into abetting him.

He’s a troll, yes. But he’s a charismatic troll.

The other factor that doesn’t necessarily serve Stone, or King’s story for that matter, is that Battle of the Sexes offers little in the way of revelations about King. That’s certainly a challenge, considering that she’s been a public figure for 45 years, but it’s not impossible. One exception: When King finally beats Riggs, we see her alone in the locker room after the match, crying in relief. Pressure is a privilege, as King likes to say, but one way or another, it will extract its pound of flesh.

The Shape of Water

Courtesy of TIFF

What a great time to be anybody associated with The Shape of Water, the delightful, fantastical film from director Guillermo del Toro, which just recently won the Golden Lion award for best film at the Venice Film Festival.

The Shape of Water is, on its face, about a mute maid for the fictional Occom Aerospace Research Center named Eliza (Sally Hawkins) who, in 1962, falls in love with a sea creature that has the ability to heal people. The U.S. is in the midst of the space race and is searching for something, anything, to give it a leg up on the Russians. And in del Toro’s movie, the leg just happens to be attached to a sorta-human-sorta-reptilian-sorta-amphibian sea creature who’s worshipped as a god in the Amazon. An American Occom operative named Strickland (Shannon) has captured the creature and brought it to America, where he’s now holding it captive and torturing it with a cattle prod. Eliza works with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and eventually brings her and her best friend and neighbor, Giles (Richard Spencer), into a plan to save the creature, known simply as The Asset (Doug Jones).

But of course, The Shape of Water is about so much more than rescuing a sea creature. It’s about highlighting the cruelty that results from a need to conquer, and the damage that can be done when good men do nothing. And it’s about the dangers of being so consumed with the past that the present passes you by. Still, The Shape of Water offers hope that hearts and minds can truly be changed for the better, even in the most stubborn of individuals.

As Strickland, Shannon basically embodies the worst qualities of a certain kind of man writ large: a priggish, entitled, mansplaining alpha male who seems to have swept in straight out of a Joseph Conrad novel.

Giles, on the other hand, is a committed advertising artist who refuses to acknowledge that modern times — and, in his case, photography — are passing him by. He’s consumed with watching Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Shirley Temple and Mr. Ed, and he insists on turning a blind eye to the violence being inflicted on civil rights activists in Alabama and Mississippi.

It’s easy to make much of the fact that Spencer is revisiting the role of maid in this film, and what’s more, playing one in an aeronautics facility, especially so soon after playing the enterprising Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures. But to reduce Spencer’s role in The Shape of Water simply to “the help” does a disservice both to Spencer’s artistry and the film’s message.

Eliza is literally voiceless, and at work, Zelda is often the one translating for her. In a touching moment after the film’s premiere Monday night, Spencer revealed that she has a brother who is deaf and mute. When they were growing up, he insisted that Spencer and the rest of their family speak rather than learn sign language, a decision Spencer says she regrets to this day.

Set off by an uplifting score by Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water will be one of fall’s most anticipated and highly treasured treats.

Hugh Freeze called other escort services and other news of the week The Week That Was August 14-18

Monday 08.14.17

Three days after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Donald Trump attacked a pharmaceutical CEO for standing against the Charlottesville attack. In 1995 news, an Oklahoma man was arrested for allegedly planning to blow up a building in Oklahoma City. A Georgia pastor denies that he offered on Instagram to perform anilingus on hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj. Former NFL tight end Jermichael Finley said national anthem protests by current players Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett are “more of marketing” and thinks they’re protesting for “a selfish reason.” In unrelated news, the Baltimore Ravens signed another quarterback not named Colin Kaepernick. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, conceivably talking about the U.S. government or the New York baseball franchise, said he would “watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees.” In celebration of quarterback Jay Cutler’s arrival in Miami, the San Diego State football team had to cancel practice because of a chickenpox outbreak in the team’s locker room.

Tuesday 08.15.17

The Alameda County (California) Sheriff’s Department retweeted the news conference of white supremacist Richard Spencer; the department said it was an accident. Trump retweeted a conspiracy theorist, a photo of a train running over a CNN logo and a man who called him a “fascist”; the president later un-retweeted the latter two tweets. Captain America, who is literally a Nazi, tweeted, “This is insane” in response to Trump’s news conference on Charlottesville. Train service in Chicago was stopped after a severed head and leg were found on the tracks; “F— no. I’m gonna Facebook Live this,” one frustrated passenger said in response to the delay. Taco Bell, a company not satisfied with ruining only tacos, is offering a breakfast taco that uses a fried egg as the shell. A history professor blamed tennis star Serena Williams for Trump’s presidency and the re-rise of white supremacy. Former NFL coach and Man Who Fights At Bars Rob Ryan does not agree with national anthem protests because Americans should “be proud of our country.” An Englishman who stole over $22,000 from a store was sentenced to three years in prison after police uncovered his résumé at the premises. In more international news, a kangaroo punched an Australian boy in the face.

Wednesday 08.16.17

A Wisconsin man shot himself in the heart with a nail gun and did not die: “Once I felt the nail in me, I was like, ‘Well I can’t pull that one out,’ ” the man told The Washington Post. The personal attorney for Trump, who is Jewish and the son of a Holocaust survivor, played the “I have a black friend” game while deflecting his client’s non-condemnation of neo-Nazis. Trump’s other attorney forwarded an email that praised Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy’s secession plan, and accused the Black Lives Matter movement of being “totally infiltrated by terrorist groups.” The family of Lee, without a hint of

irony, said the Confederate general “would never ever stand for that sort of violence” exhibited in Charlottesville. Former Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze, it turns out, called more than one escort service during his time at the school. Floyd Mayweather now has the opportunity to punch Conor McGregor in the face even quicker. The Chick-fil-A restaurant in the new Atlanta Falcons stadium will not be open on Sundays; the defending NFC champs have only one non-Sunday home game this season.

Thursday 08.17.17

Trump, the creator of “Lyin’” Ted Cruz, “Little” Marco Rubio and “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, is slowly running out of insulting adjectives, calling the junior senator from Arizona “Flake” Jeff Flake. A New York man who carried a tiki torch in Charlottesville last weekend and once attended a Sharia law protest, told USA Today that “I’m not what they’re making me out to be.” Three birds, two with a feather-shedding disease, are involved in a polyamorous relationship. Face-painted Juggalos are ready to scrap with alt-right protesters. Trump condemned the attack in Barcelona within hours of it happening, and hours later he lost another business advisory council. As if it even matters, a Rutgers football reporter, who covers a team that lost 78-0 to Michigan last season, submitted a Freedom Of Information Act request for the Wolverines’ final roster. A neo-Nazi is mad because the internet made fun of him for crying about being issued an arrest warrant. Two days after LeBron James referred to Trump as the “so-called president,” Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, being blunt as usual, added, “We don’t f— with him.”

Friday 08.18.17

New Orleans Pelicans forward DeMarcus Cousins, known not to be a mincer of words, said, “Take all them m—–f—–s down” in response to questions about Confederate statues. Pelicans teammate Rajon Rondo, who is on his fifth team in four years and once reportedly told his coach to “f— off,” won an award for “best teammate.” Far-right radio host Alex Jones was called a “racist f—” by a helmet-wearing cyclist and had coffee thrown on him on the streets of Seattle; the video, of course, could have been staged. Trump lost yet another council. San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard smiled … twice. White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was either fired or resigned two weeks ago.

Daily Dose: 5/15/17 New Miss USA Kara McCullough shares thoughts on health care and feminism

The Morning Roast was down a member Sunday, but Domonique Foxworth and I carried on anyway, and if you were listening live you got to hear a story about me wearing a T-shirt on my head. Which, apparently, is crazy.

Charlottesville, Virginia, is the home of UVA. You know, the University of Virginia, that esteemed institution that was started by noted slave owner and founding father Thomas Jefferson. So when a group of white supremacists turned out to protest the removal of a Confederate statue with torches in tow, we can’t say we were particularly surprised. What isn’t helping their cause is that self-proclaimed neo-Nazi Richard Spencer was among them. The mayor of the town called the act horrific, but now you know why these monuments have to go.

The Miss USA Pageant had some highs and lows Sunday night. The high point was four women of color making the top five finalists. Then, when Miss District of Columbia won, she got on stage and decided to make some rather interesting comments. She expressed her views that health care should be a privilege in this country, which is wild because she’s a scientist working for the government. She also said that too many people are overplaying what feminism should be. All righty then. Kara McCullough joined Good Morning America to discuss her win.

Uber Pool can be quite the experience. Personally, I run just a little too hot to be dealing with people I don’t know in such a private space when I ride. I’d rather ride the bus or the train. And a recent situation in Washington shows exactly how things can get VERY awkward. Let’s be clear. If we’re in the back seat of a car and a white person starts dropping N-bombs while singing a song, one of us is getting out. And it’s not going to be me. That’s exactly what happened in one case, and it was the driver who put the offending parties out. Good for him.

We’re finally to that point where NBA jerseys are going to have more than just team logos on them. I don’t particularly mind this, but in American sporting culture it is not the norm, so the first few teams who get on board with this are probably going to deal with a fair amount of backlash. That team will be the Cleveland Cavaliers. They’ll be sporting the Goodyear tires logo somewhere on their tops, which is cool because the company was started in Akron, Ohio, the hometown of LeBron James, the greatest basketball player of all time. The history is cool too.

Free Food

Coffee Break: When it was first announced that Ta-Nehisi Coates would be penning a Black Panther comic book series, many black comic fans rejoiced. Coates’ touch on a famous brand felt like a perfect mix that was a long time coming. Alas, it’s now coming to an end, apparently because of poor sales figures. Bummer.

Snack Time: If you don’t want to get caught up in the nonsense that is marriage to another person, why bother? You can have your ceremony and eat it too, with a little something called “sologamy.” Don’t invite me, though.

Dessert: I’ll be hosting #TheRightTime for Bomani Jones on Monday from 4-7 p.m. EST. Make sure to tune in!