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 

Not Fade Away

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Release: 
Friday, December 21, 2012 (limited)

[Theater]

Forgive me for being a snob, but any movie that is complete with a definitive 60s soundtrack, setting, and thematic overtone; and is also named after a Buddy Holly classic, well that just has to be good. . . .right?

Wrong.

David Chase’s step into features, since his successful television drama The Sopranos concluded, proves that the transition is neither an easy one, nor a natural one. At least, not for some. I was not initially aware it was directed AND written by The Sopranos‘ creator going into the film, but that makes a lot more sense now why this picture was such a strange experience.

First of all, I want to try not to slam the movie too harshly. There were some excellent moments scattered throughout, and to agree with at least one other critic out there, its sense of time and how Chase captured people’s attitudes and the general culture of that era was flawless. Our frontmen actors revolve around the young John Magaro, who plays an eager, up-and-coming vocalist, Douglas; Jack Huston as bandmate Eugene; James Gandolfini as Douglas’ dad, Pat; and Bella Heathcote as Grace. All of them seemed to fit right into the times they were portraying. And, inexplicably, or maybe just out of ignorance toward the make-up department, the people cast into the film were convincingly ’60s-looking.’ I don’t know how else to describe the phenomenon, other than simply products of great casting. In short, its impossible to deny the film’s authenticity, at face value.

The feature tries to catalog the trials and tribulations of growing up in this era, using a young band’s aspirations to become ‘the next big thing’ as a marker for that progression. Douglas’s parents who are struggling to make ends meet don’t approve of the lifestyle their son has taken up. He is expected to either enroll in college or join the army. When neither thought entertains Douglas, he starts giving more and more of himself to his role in his own band, and the music scene in general.

That’s how most of the movie spends its time: submerged in these young adults’ passion for music, but even then we don’t really get a strong grasp on the inner workings of how bands get along. We get tastes, glimpses of potential deal signings, recording sessions, some fall-out amongst the members here and there, but overall the story comes across in scattered pieces, and we’re left to decipher what we can from it. Given the movie’s revolutionary source material, it’s a bit of a mix of frustration and disappointment that the movie struggles to be more original, more radical than it ends up being.

We’re not even talking bad acting here, either. The script and acting in tandem are nothing spectacular, mind you, but are not the source of the movie’s problems. A substantially weak plot is not really delivered upon and the cast seemed to know it. Most of Gandolfini’s lines are delivered with a record-low sounding sulky salt in his voice, as if he knew deep down what he was laying down wouldn’t even be enough. It all sounds a bit disastrous, but other than not really knowing which direction you’re going in next, and never coming to a point in which you’re confident things are going to work out alright (as things usually do in films — good ones and bad ones alike) there’s nothing truly ‘bad’ about Not Fade Away.

If its only crime is becoming a little muddled up in its own story telling (the ending scene is pretty bizarre as well), maybe we can just blame it on LSD.

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2-5Recommendation: Strange as it was, I would say go see this film. It’s a bit like Across The Universe — less successful and not as inspiring but just as romantic and idealistic. And the soundtrack, yes, is pretty good. That’s worth something.

Rated: R

Running Time: 112 mins.

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