Wednesday, November 16, 2016

“Bleed For This” – Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new biographical drama, “Bleed For This”, starring Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart. 


Just as a promising prize fighter's career is taking off, his neck is broken in a near-fatal car accident – but will his physical rehabilitation allow him to return to the ring?


In November of 1988, Vinny Pazienza (Teller) loses his third straight fight and promoters think prospects for any future bouts are so dim they encourage him to retire.  Feeling he still has more boxing left, Vinny ignores them and instead hires Kevin (Eckhart) as his new trainer.  At this stage in their lives, they are made for each other; they are both seen as being washed-up – in Kevin’s case, his professional decline stems from alcohol abuse.  But both men feel as though they have something to prove to the world, so they engage in their new business relationship with a renewed sense of purpose. 

During th training sessions, Kevin notices Vinny is punching better when he maintains a higher weight, so he suggests that in his next fight, Vinny jump two weight classes; this is fine with Vinny, who always had a tremendous amount of trouble making the weight for his previous matches.  When his next fight is scheduled, it turns out to be for a title at the higher weight class; Vinny wins and now owns a championship belt.  With his boxing career now revived, Vinny is sitting on top of the world – but his celebration is short-lived when he winds up in a serious automobile accident that partially severs his spine. 

In the hospital, Vinny’s doctor encourages him to have spinal fusion surgery, but he opts for the other alternative:  attach a halo to stabilize his neck.  The device will have to remain intact for a period of six months – and after that, there’s no guarantee Vinny will ever walk again, so his boxing career, is effectively over.  Vinny disregards this; he asks Kevin to start training him again as part of his rehabilitation.  Once the halo is removed, Vinny resumes normal training for a return to the boxing ring; since this makes the news, promoters are easily able to secure yet another fight – but while Vinny is focused on winning, the real question is will he even survive?


Boxing fans will easily recognize the names here, but for those unfamiliar with the sport, it should be noted that this is based on a true story.  Given that, the screenplay is helped significantly by having a natural structure.  Despite this advantage, the film is somewhat self-defeating because of the way the story is laid out.  It lacks a visual timeline; we start in late 1988 and sequential events happen but we don’t know how far afterwards they occurred; this directly impacts on the end of the movie because we can’t quite know exactly how long it took him from the time of his accident until the time when he got back in the ring. 

We know the halo removal came six months after the accident, but how long was the accident after Vinny won the belt?  How long after the accident did he fight Duran?  If you’re a fight devotee, you probably already know the history.  However, for an audience new to this story, there’s a feeling something is missing.  Also, the end is problematic; it’s an interview where Vinny is supposedly saying something profound, but it simply falls flat.  There is no epilogue at the end of the movie; perhaps this is done because it’s become trite.  Ironically, this is one of those movies that actually would benefit from an epilogue because the viewer is left hanging as to what happened to Vinny afterwards. 

If there are any bright spots in “Bleed For This”, it is the performances by Teller and Eckhart.  For one thing, Teller did an extraordinary job of sculpting his physique into that of a boxer in such a way that it is somewhat vaguely reminiscent of what De Niro did in “Raging Bull” (perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that one of the film’s executive producers was Martin Scorsese).  As for Eckhart, he is unrecognizable as the trainer; he completely disappears into that role and you often forget who the actor is, which is quite a remarkable feat.   

Bleed for This (2016) on IMDb

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

“Allied”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new historical drama “Allied”, starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard and directed by Robert Zemeckis. 


During World War II, a military officer learns his wife may be a Nazi spy – but can he prove her innocence or will she have to suffer the consequences?


In 1942, Max (Pitt), an officer in the Canadian military, is dispatched to Nazi-occupied French Morocco on a dangerous mission:  to assassinate the German Ambassador stationed there.  Working undercover, he’s instructed to meet with Marianne (Cotillard), a member of The French Resistance, who will pose as his wife and work closely with him on this assignment.  When the time comes, they succeed in their operation, but now comes the hard part – they must escape.  Having developed a mutual attraction while preparing for this undertaking, they decide to flee to England, where they marry.

More than a year later, they are settled in London, happily married and with a daughter.  Their idyllic lifestyle is disrupted when Max is informed by his superiors that Marianne is suspected of being a spy; naturally, he vociferously denies the accusations, but when confronted with mounting evidence, he relents.  His wife will be tested in order to confirm their suspicions:  Max is provided with phony intelligence, which he will  leave out in the open.  The message will be tracked and if it in fact does get forwarded to The Nazis, then Marianne must be executed. 

Shaken, Max sets out to determine the truth for himself.  Is this some kind of tragic mistake?  Are his superiors merely testing his loyalty in order to decide whether or not he deserves a promotion?  Or is Marianne not who she has claimed to be all this time?  Their relationship suffers as he looks at her differently now.  As he investigates further, Max only becomes more confused because he’s getting conflicting information.  At this point, he realizes he must hatch a back-up plan:  If it does in fact turn out that Marianne is guilty, can Max smuggle the three of them out of the country?


Throughout his long and successful career, Robert Zemeckis has proved time and time again that he is a talented filmmaker; this is what makes his decision to direct “Allied” all the more puzzling.  In this movie, Zemeckis appears to have succumbed to the ultimate in narcissism – an attempt to remake the classic “Casablanca”.  In fact, that is arguably the most cringe-worthy aspect of the film – its attempt is so blatant that at times, you don’t know whether to feel insulted or to laugh at what may be some kind of perverse parody.  If the joke is on us, few may be laughing. 

Zemeckis is in no way subtle about his parallels between the two movies.  A woman with a foreign accent falls in love with an English-speaking man early in World War II (actually in Casablanca, no less!), then find their fateful relationship may culminate in the two of them being separated as the result of a noble act.  The final scene also takes place where airplanes are taking off and Pitt’s character is even provided his own version of Claude Rains.  When Hollywood runs out of ideas, they start recycling old ones – it’s just that they won’t always admit to doing so. 

Ultimately, it may be the case that “Allied” finds an audience and becomes somewhat successful.  Folks who like a tearjerker with an old-fashioned story might embrace this movie.  On the other hand, with the divorce between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie so much in the news recently, this film could get something of a lift – especially when you consider the rumors that Cotillard, Pitt’s co-star, is believed to have been the woman who assisted in breaking up their union as a result of having met Pitt during the shoot.  Somewhat fitting, considering Jolie was believed to have broken up Pitt’s relationship with Jennifer Aniston when the two shot “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”.  Et tu, Angelina?