Bleed for This

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Release: Friday, November 18, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Ben Younger; Angelo Pizzo; Pippa Bianco

Directed by: Ben Younger

Bleed for This is an intense title for an underwhelming boxing movie. Its hyperbolic nature suggests a scream-o/punk-rock band’s new single when really it’s meant to describe the mentality of one Vinny Pazienza, a boxer from Providence, Rhode Island who returned to the ring after being involved in a car crash that brought him within inches of total paralysis.

Ben Younger’s third directorial feature takes a rather subdued, psychological approach in retracing “The Pazmanian Devil”‘s remarkable return to the championship ring, a transformation that has been widely regarded as one of the most remarkable in all of sports history. It offers viewers the chance to share the headspace of a boxer who managed to hold world titles in three separate weight classes — one of an elite few who have ever managed to do so — all while making them acutely aware how heavily the odds were stacked against him in his mission to “come back from the dead.”

Going into a film with these sorts of things in mind, it’s difficult not to set expectations high. Plus, star Miles Teller has proven that his scintillating performance in 2014’s Whiplash wasn’t a fluke. He may not have been captivating us quite as intensely since but he continues to give the impression he’s turning a corner in his career, taking on characters more complex than your hard-partying teenage waster. Frustratingly, Younger sets about presenting Vinny’s miraculous story in a very workmanlike fashion, and while it is true many boxing films are genetically similar, the best of them know how to work within the confines and use tropes to their advantage. Bleed for This is unable to rise to that challenge by featuring a narrative that, rather than being complemented by a few clichés, ends up drowning in too many of them.

We first get an impression of the kind of theatrical, charismatic performer Vinny was in his prime in the opening scene, set in Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. Teller, who underwent extensive physical training and dieting to look the part — he dropped from 19% to 6% body fat — swaggers his way on to the scene, late for the weigh-in and nearly becoming disqualified for the next day’s match. He’s fun to watch from the get-go and one of the few aspects of the film that actually feels inspired. Throughout much of the picture Vinny’s flanked by his (many) fleeting girlfriends, a revolving door of Italian stunners — and his father Angelo (a very good Ciarán Hinds), whose level of emotional support is matched only by his blue-collar boorishness.

In the aftermath of another embarrassing ass-kicking and in spite of the consensus opinion that Vinny is washed-up, he begs to be put into another fight. He seeks the support of Kevin Rooney (thank goodness for Aaron Eckhart, who looks like he’s having some fun playing a really, really out-of-shape trainer), whose first appearance tells us everything we need to know about how his career has been trending. Kevin believes Vinny can succeed in a different group and the two set out to prepare for an upcoming light middleweight match, which turns out to be a victory. Things are now looking up for both parties. And then, of course, the accident — by all accounts a fairly tough thing to watch given that this really happened.

I don’t need to tell you what happens from circa the halfway mark onward because if you have seen just one boxing movie you already know. And even if you haven’t, you still already know. Bleed for This, like its star, wears its heart on its sleeve and in so doing advertises the Big Payoff in bright, flashing casino-style lights that are impossible to ignore. What we’re provided en route to Fight #3 (a.k.a. The Moment of Redemption, which always comes last and typically off the back of the fighter’s lowest moments) manifests as little more than tiresome filler material aimed at exposing that which made this athlete unique; that which drove him to the edge of potential destruction — had Vinny actually paralyzed himself in the process of training I hate to think of what would have happened to him then — and how his attitude more than anything helped him overcome.

On that note of positivity, Bleed for This isn’t totally without merit. Dramatically speaking it may be underachieving and formulaic, but the story’s not without heart and some compelling ‘twists.’ For one, it is refreshing to watch a boxer (read: any athlete protagonist) who doesn’t come completely undone at the seams when things do not go their way. When the darkness comes, there’s very little wallowing in self-pity, and that much can be appreciated even by non-sports fans. I mean, the guy returns to his work-out bench in his basement a mere five days after leaving the hospital having broken his neck, for crying out loud. And the screenplay, while far from original, impresses when it deals in specifics, such as the inherent difficulties of a boxer transitioning from a lighter weight class to a heavier one. (Fair warning: there’s also some pretty squirm-inducing stuff if you don’t like medical procedures, particularly when Vinny decides to forego anesthesia for the removal of the Halo, the apparatus that has been keeping his spine from breaking.)

In a nutshell, Bleed for This would be more appropriately titled Determination: The Movie. That’s certainly more generic — laughable, even — but after my experience, that would be more faithful to the style and tone of this would-be heavy-hitter.

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Recommendation: Sensational true story isn’t done proper justice by a mediocre screenplay and a dearth of predictable elements. Good performances keep it just above totally forgettable. Fans of Miles Teller, boxing and sports movies in general will probably come to appreciate something about this film while others are probably going to need to keep on browsing for something else. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “I know exactly how to give up. You know what scares me, Kev? It’s that it’s so easy.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

London Has Fallen

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Release: Friday, March 4, 2016

[Netflix]

Written by: Creighton Rothenberger; Katrin Benedikt; Christian Gudegast; Chad St. John

Directed by: Babak Najafi

London Has Fallen was a theatrical release I happened to miss out on and I am glad for having saved that money. Buying a bag of crack cocaine (which is what I did) would have been a better use of that money (and it was).

Gerard Butler reprises his role as Mike Banning, and he’s still President Asher (Aaron Eckhart)’s body guard. The two have now become homies, and you know this because you see Banning jogging backwards alongside the Prez on one of their many morning runs in DC. That’s a skill that’ll come in handy! (Actually that’s not even really sarcasm; the two dudes end up running a LOT in this movie, although you’d have to believe they don’t engage in too much running in reverse — that wouldn’t be practical, unlike driving in reverse.) For director Babak Najafi, apparently this is character development.

Despite the privilege of sharing dude-bro-isms with his Commander-in-Chief, Banning is considering resigning so he can spend time with his wife, with whom he is expecting his first child. But the nursery will have to wait because the British Prime Minister has passed and President Asher and his security detail must attend the funeral in London. Many world leaders show up to pay their respects, but before they can many of them are riddled with bullets when Najafi decides to dispense with the bullshit.

Then the rest of the movie happens, which is, ironically, even more bullshit than the bullshit that came before. Need I address it? Are you really curious for more? Sigh. Alright, well here’s this:

Just when it looks like the good guys are about to get away from what appears to be a developing war zone in the heart of London — ground zero being Westminster Abbey — their chopper is shot down by some assholes on some rooftops because hey, they shouldn’t be able to get away THAT easily. And so ensues 90 minutes of Call of Duty, the map manifesting as a smoldering metropolis castrated of its most famous landmarks. Brainless action sequences follow as do some of the worst lines of dialogue exchanged between actors playing supposedly important characters, men and women of prestige. But that doesn’t stop members in the Situation Room chatting about being partial to the Kardashians (I’m not kidding) as they prepare for what they think is going to be another normal day.

The main objective of the terrorists is to get revenge on the guy who wiped out some notorious Middle Eastern crime lord’s family and they plan to record the assassination live so it can be on YouTube. (I’m also not kidding.) The main objective of the Americans is to kill every last man with dark hair, dark skin and thick beards. The script, penned by four different idiots, is so xenophobic it makes my skin crawl. Unlike in the previous outing, there is zero tension between Banning and the President so ultimately there is no reward in seeing Butler macho his way through another terrible movie. All we really get that’s new is watching Eckhart sling a gun around awkwardly for 30 minutes as circumstances become increasingly dire and as the baddies make communication with friends across the globe extremely difficult.

The story is atrocious but the film’s attitude is so much more cavalier. London Has Fallen doesn’t give a shit about England. It’s more about the greatness that is America than it is about the character and prestige of one of her longest standing allies. What’s more embarrassing is that the basic premise doesn’t even hold up logically: the terrorists claim they are retaliating after Asher ordered a drone strike on a Pakistani fortress two years prior, and yet they make an attempt to eliminate every single leader who happens to be present in London. I guess just for shits and giggles? Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman gets paid to breathe.

This is quite simply one of the most pathetic action movies I have ever seen and if you are looking for logic in a movie like London Has Fallen, I’m afraid you may have made some deeper errors. Indeed, standards have fallen and they have fallen pretty far mate.

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Recommendation: Terrible. And pointless. What’s next, Sydney Has Fallen?* Aside from a few fleeting moments of mindless, distracting action, and plus the fact I do like Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart (they’re easily the best part of this movie even though they both look like they were struggling to take this seriously), there’s absolutely nothing to recommend about London Has Fallen, a most unnecessary sequel made by a very xenophobic director that I’m not sure too many people asked for.

Rated: R

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “I was wondering when you were gonna come out of the closet.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Sully

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Release: Friday, September 9, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Todd Komarnicki

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

The Miracle on the Hudson is a perfect fit for good ole Clint Eastwood’s fascination with heroism and how Americans celebrate heroes. The story of how a commercial airline pilot managed to improvise an emergency water landing in the Hudson River mere minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009 without sacrificing any lives in the process seemed, even at that time, primed for the big screen treatment. It was an event too unique to be left alone.

Sully turns out to be the movie anticipated. It’s confidently acted, noble in its pursuit of the truth, and just somber enough in its paralleling of this particular incident with the horrors that occurred on September 11, 2001. Tom Hanks, playing Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, once again proves he’s one of the best in the business when it comes to portraying decent, upstanding individuals with reputations to defend. The profile contrasts how his decision to land on an icy river instead of return to the airport was perceived by the public, who viewed the act as courageous and necessary, while internal investigations within the NTSB and the FAA sought out all the little details that could prove the difference between human error and legitimate equipment failure.

The film feels natural and self-contained, representing one of Eastwood‘s most focused and disciplined efforts in recent years. Very little goes to waste, be they measured doses of world-building — the mundanity of air travel from the perspectives of crew and passengers alike — or supporting roles fostering an atmosphere of relief and gratitude in the aftermath. Alongside Sully there is First Officer Jeff Skiles (a mustachioed Aaron Eckhart) who provides his unwavering support throughout. He doesn’t have nearly as much to do as his costar but Eckhart is nonetheless effective, as is embattled wife Lorraine Sullenberger (Laura Linney) who can only contact her husband through brief telephone calls amidst media chaos threatening to consume their private lives.

Eastwood’s dramatization of the crash itself is wisely restrained, with moments of peril scattered throughout a narrative that is more concerned with what happens next, specifically how the Captain is supposed to relay what actually happened to those who were not there in the cockpit. It’s a tale of almost two movies — that which occurs on the flight itself, which is staged extremely realistically (almost to a fault for nervous flyers I’m sure), and that which occurs on the ground in the investigation process. Much of Sully broods in a strange psychological state somewhere between reality and surreality, with Sullenberger unable to rid himself of vivid images of what could have happened while grappling with the notion of his instant celebrity. Those flashes of a nightmarish scenario here represent the more striking and unsettling visual parallels to 9/11. It tends to raise the hair on your arms.

In a film that prioritizes achievement over practicality, it’s perhaps not surprising that members of the NTSB — here represented by Mike O’Malley (Nickelodeon’s Global Guts, anyone?) as Charles Porter, Jamey Sheridan as Ben Edwards and Anna Gunn as Elizabeth Davis — are all fictional creations inserted for the purpose of having some sort of antagonistic presence. (Flocks of birds, apparently, only serve as villains when directed by Alfred Hitchcock.) Why Eastwood needed to vilify one group while heralding another is beyond me, and it is a major issue in a film that otherwise dedicates itself wholeheartedly to realism.

Barring Hollywood’s never ending desire to conflate actual, real-world drama with that which can be synthetically created for the sake of perpetuating traditional storytelling models, Sully manifests as a heartfelt “thank you” to an individual who will probably forever claim that all he did was his job.

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Recommendation: I have this feeling actual pilots or aspiring pilots will get a bigger kick out of the stresses endured by this flight crew. Lessons learned by the layperson: 1) being heralded a hero doesn’t always feel as such; 2) the NTSB, despite what Eastwood portrays them as for three-quarters of his film, isn’t really comprised of bloodthirsty, vindictive asses (see the enormously contrived ending scene); 3) New Yorkers are some damn resilient people. If there’s any real lesson to be taken away from Sully, it’s perhaps best summarized by one of the captain’s final reflections: he didn’t save all these people based on his actions alone. It was a real team effort, from the immediate response of Port Authority and NYPD officials, to the actions taken at Air Traffic Control, to the calmness of his entire flight crew and the bravery of the passengers themselves. A true crowd-pleaser. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “This is the Captain. Brace for impact.”  

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com