BLEED FOR THIS (2016)

November 17, 2016

bleed-for-this Greetings again from the darkness. You may be excused if you believe there have been enough boxing movies recently. Just last year, we saw Creed and Southpaw – both critically acclaimed and featured significant screen time inside the ropes. Writer/director Ben Younger returns with his first movie since 2005 (Prime) and teams up with screenwriter Angelo Pizzo to present the “based on a true story” of Rhode Island’s own Vinny Pazienza.

Mr. Pizzo is known for his work on inspirational sports films like Hoosiers, Rudy, The Game of Their Lives, and My All-American; so the fascinating and true story of Paz is right in his wheelhouse. See, The Pazmanian Devil (his nickname) was a terrific fighter, and is even more famous for his medically-defying comeback after a horrific car accident. The doctors doubted he would ever walk again, and offered Vinny no hope at all of ever fighting again.

Miles Teller (Whiplash, The Spectacular Now) plays Vinny Pazienza and obviously trained very hard to get in tip top shape. His boxing skills are well suited to the training sequences but must be creatively edited for the scenes in the ring. This is especially obvious when clips of the real Paz are inserted. Beyond that, Teller softens the overblown machismo of Pazienza and the boxing world. He captures the single-minded commitment of Pazienza, while making him a bit more likeable than the real man came off in interviews.

Aaron Eckhart is excellent as Pazienza’s (and Mike Tyson’s former) trainer, Kevin Rooney. It’s puzzling how Eckhart’s name ever came up for the role of a balding, pudgy, alcoholic who believes he’s been put out to pasture … but Eckhart and Teller together produce some wonderful scenes. Other support work comes from Ciaran Hinds and an underutilized Katey Sagal as Vinny’s dad and mom, and Ted Levine and Jordan Gelber as boxing promoters Lou and Dan Duva.

The comeback was as improbable as it was inspirational, and the decision to go with the Halo (metal brace that screws into the skull) over the neck fusion surgery could easily be categorized as foolish rather than courageous. But much of the story revolves around the internal make-up and competitive drive that made Vinny the man and the boxer that we see.

The film has more in common with The Fighter than either of the movies mentioned in the first paragraph, but it’s even more character study than boxing movie. This proud, driven, egotistical local from Providence held world titles at three different weight classes, refusing to be limited by the opinions of others. Rather than end with a classically Hollywood shot of victorious Paz celebrating in the ring, the film ends with an odd interview centered on his debate against the phrase “it’s not that easy”. It’s a stance that makes us question whether he ever learned the lessons of gamble vs risk. Mostly though, we marvel and agree that he’s a guy who deserves to be on a box of Wheaties.

watch the trailer:

 

 


WHIPLASH (2014)

October 26, 2014

whiplash Greetings again from the darkness. The pursuit of greatness is not always pretty. No matter if your dream is athletics, dancing, music or some other; you can be sure hard work and sacrifice will be part of your routine. You will likely have a mentor, teacher or coach whose job is to cultivate your skills while pushing you to new limits. This film questions whether the best approach is intimidation or society’s current preferred method of nurturing.

Miles Teller plays Andrew, a first year student at an elite Manhattan music conservatory. Andrew dreams of being a great jazz drummer in the vein of Buddy Rich. When offered a rare shot at the top jazz orchestra, Andrew quickly discovers the conductor is a breed unlike anything he has ever encountered. The best movie comparison I can offer for JK Simmons’ portrayal of Terence Fletcher is R Lee Ermey’s Drill Instructor in Full Metal Jacket. This is no warm-hearted Mr Holland’s Opus. Fletcher bullies, intimidates, humiliates and uses every imaginable form of verbal abuse to push his musicians, and especially young Andrew, to reach for greater heights.

Andrew and Fletcher go head to head through the entire movie, with Fletcher’s mental torment turning this into a psychological thriller … albeit with tremendous music. We witness Andrew shut out all pieces of a personal life, and even take on some of Fletcher’s less desirable traits. Andrew’s diner break-up with his girlfriend (Melissa Benoist) is much shorter, but just as cold as the infamous opening scene in The Social Network. At a small dinner party, Andrew loses some of the sweetness he inherited from his dad (Paul Reiser), and unloads some Fletcherisms on some unsuspecting family friends.

Writer/Director Damien Chazelle has turned his Sundance award-winning short film into a fascinatingly brutal message movie that begs for discussion and debate. The open-ended approach is brilliant, though I found myself initially upset at the missing clean wrap that Hollywood so often provides. What price greatness? Is comeuppance a reward? Are mentors cruel to be kind? For the past few years, I have been proclaiming that Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) is the next John Cusack. Perhaps that bar is too low. Teller just gets better with each film. His relentless energy draws us in, and we find ourselves in his corner … even though this time, he’s not the greatest guy himself. Still, as strong as Teller is, the film is owned by JK Simmons. Most think of him as the dad in Juno, or the ever-present insurance spokesman on TV, but he previously flashed his bad side as the white supremacist in “Oz“. Even that, doesn’t prepare us for Simmons’ powerhouse performance … just enough humanity to heighten his psychological torturing of musicians.

You should see this one for Simmons’ performance. Or see it for the up-and-coming Teller. Enjoy the terrific music, especially Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”. See it for the talking points about teachers, society and personal greatness. See it for any or all these reasons – just don’t tell director Damien Chazelle “good job“.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see JK Simmons in a likely contender for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar OR you have been waiting for someone to prove a drum solo can actually be worthy of your attention

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have no interest in exploring what is involved in attaining greatness, regardless of the talent or skill

watch the trailer:

 

 


THAT AWKWARD MOMENT (2014)

February 1, 2014

awkward Greetings again from the darkness. Writing about lousy movies is no fun, but if I can save even one person from wasting $10 and two hours on this garbage, it’s worth it. The only way this got the green light is because of the success of The Hangover movies, Sex and the City, and HBO’s “Girls“. The difference is that all of those projects had a sense of humor and style, while writer/director Tom Gormican somehow finds it creative to end numerous scenes with someone calling someone else either ‘a f***ing idiot’ or ‘an A-hole’.

Mr.Gormican’s only other listed credit is as Producer for the gross out Movie 43. Let’s just say he is now 0-for-2, and here’s hoping he never gets a shot at number 3. This is such a waste of a talented group of up and coming actors. Zac Efron loses whatever credibility he has built up since High School Musical by playing Jason the Jerk. OK, I added the Jerk part, but it’s true. Jason is best friends and co-worker with Daniel, played by Miles Teller, who was so good in The Spectacular Now. Daniel is a simple-minded misogynist with a razor sharp tongue. They are both friends with Mikey, a young doctor whose wife dumps him. Mikey is played by Michael B Jordan, a standout in last year’s Fruitvale Station. These twenty-somethings make a drunken pact to stay single and build their roster of casual sex partners, thereby avoiding the awkward moment of “So … where is this relationship headed?”

The guys live like frat boys, guzzling booze while spouting “jokes” on such thought-provoking topics as poop, penis, masturbation, homosexuality, and Viagra. To add even more insult to humanity, there are four female roles that could set back women’s advancement by 100 years … should anyone actually see this pile of junk. Imogene Poots, Jessica Lucas, Addison Timlin and MacKenzie Davis each play smart, beautiful women who somehow associate with these dunces. For the record, Jordan’s character is not as classless as the others, but guilt by association cannot be ignored.

Miles Teller still has the potential to be the next John Cusack, and Michael B. Jordan clearly has a future if he avoids projects like this, and Zac Efron will probably take his perfect face and go back to sweet romantic comedies. The four key actresses should all bounce back soon with far superior projects … movies that don’t denigrate men, women and movie soundtracks (it may be the worst since the 1980’s).

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are related to director Tom Gormican and he has promised you a role if somehow someone asks him to make another movie

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have an ounce of decency or even a minor reason to spend your days doing something worthwhile

watch the trailer … and then forget about this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE_bE_kswEw

 


THE SPECTACULAR NOW (2013)

August 16, 2013

spectacular1 Greetings again from the darkness. Coming-of-age teen dramas with a comedic flair that speak to that tumultuous period of life are rarely worthy of discussion. The exceptions hover film greatness: Rebel Without a Cause, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dazed and Confused, The Breakfast Club, and Say Anything … Along comes young director James Ponsoldt and his adaptation of Tim Tharp’s novel. While not perfect and falling just short of the level of those classics, it is nonetheless a welcome addition and quite interesting.

It’s tempting to call Sutter (played by up-and-comer Miles Teller) a happy-go-lucky kid. He’s the frat boy type – quick with a quip, smooth with the parents and girls, and the envy of the masses. However, that term would be misapplied to a kid who not only is never without his flask, but also gives them as gifts. He uses his wit and booze to dull spectacular2the pain of his aimless existence. We see his lackadaisical efforts at completing a college admission form, and it’s used as a plot device to track Sutter’s progression/maturation through the film.

Brie Larson is terrific as Sutter’s perfect match … right up until she decides that his philosophy of living in the now (even spectacularly) doesn’t leave hope for much of a future. After an extreme night of drinking and partying, Sutter gets awakened while laying in a neighbor’s front yard. Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) is bookworm Aimee Finicky, who recognizes the popular Sutter, even though he has no idea who she is. Slowly, the two connect on a level previously unknown to either … some good, some not so wise (just like real teenagers).

spectacular3 This couple of opposites learn much from each other, and soon enough, Sutter is confronting his long last father (Kyle Chandler). No real surprises what he discovers, but it’s a life lesson that must be learned. Sutter seeks more from his remaining family – a big sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who escaped the grind, and a workaholic mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) doing her best to provide hope for Sutter.

The script is co-written by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber who also wrote (500) Days of Summer. John Hughes and Cameron Crowe proved they could present teen dilemmas in an entertaining way, and this one follows the same structure. This is a dialogue-heavy story as Sutter and Aimee struggle alone and together to figure out life’s next steps.

I will say that for the first few minutes of the movie, I found Sutter to be the kind of guy that I would typically have no interest in. Tip of the cap to the filmmakers and Miles Teller for turning that around. It should also be noted that Shailene Woodley is so naturally affecting, that her character never comes across as anything but sincere. Given the state of today’s mainstream coming of age stories, this one definitely deserves a look and could gather some attention come awards time.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see a smart, mostly believable (Shailene Woodley would never go unnoticed in a high school) story about coming to terms with yourself at age 18 (we’ve all been there!)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: teen movies with raunchy comedy are the only teen movies you want to see (there seems to be an endless supply)

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDTBLSkUmYk