Movie Review: Grudge Match (2013)

January 29, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

grudge-match-poster

Rocky vs Raging Bull — sounds like a great idea!

That’s pretty much all Grudge Match is — a good idea. About a thousand years ago, Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro were a couple of world champion light heavyweights who fought each other twice and handed the other their only loss. For some reason, the grudge match between the two fated rivals never eventuated, and the two boxers just went on with their separate lives, still hating each other. Now, in the present, both are old and miserable, but a chance encounter at a video game motion capture session sparks renewed interest in the long-overdue third fight.

The rest of the movie acts as a lead-up to the fight, as we watch Stallone and De Niro training and trying to get into shape. The personal story arc for Stallone is trying to mend his relationship with Kim Basinger (smoking hot for a 60 year old, by the way), who might have been the reason he pulled out of the grudge match all those years ago. For De Niro, it’s all about his estranged son, played by The Walking Dead alumnus Jon Bernthal (who could not be more different from his character in The Wolf of Wall Street). None of all this drama is horrible but it feels pretty boiler plate.

It’s not clear how old Stallone and De Niro’s characters are in the movie, but they can’t be too far off from their real-life ages of 67 and 70. Which means, of course, that the ludicrous match would never have been sanctioned in real life, and there’s no way anyone would be even remote interested in the bout. But I suppose that is the point of the movie — to create a fight so insane that it’s funny.

Well, except Grudge Matchdespite being labelled a comedy, is actually not very funny.

I sensed a lot of missed opportunities when watching this film, and kept wondering why it wasn’t funnier. There’s only so many old and fat jokes viewers can stand before it starts getting boring. I could almost picture the writers sitting in a room together brainstorming ideas, and chuckling to themselves because the jokes sound so good on paper. But when translated to the big screen, it all becomes obvious and cliched. And sadly, most of the mildly amusing sequences in the film were all shown in the trailers.

I think a part of the problem is this nagging desire to show that these old timers have “still got it” by making them look good. But that’s not funny! Watching people who think they’ve still got it making a complete fool of themselves is much funnier. Let’s face it, the idea is great, but it’s a farce, and a farcical movie might have worked better than a semi-serious one with a few obvious jokes thrown in. It’s pretty much a remake of Rocky Balboa (the most recent entry in the Rocky franchise), except instead of one old geezer you have two.

Speaking of old geezers, Stallone is looking great for a 67-year-old, but the problem is that he still can’t string together two coherent words together. And his character, Henry “Razor” Sharp, has zero personality. Kind of like Rocky, actually, except without the charisma. On the other hand, De Niro has a much jucier role as the playboy Bill “The Kid” McDonnen, and it seems like he’s enjoying it. He in no way resembles Jake Lamotta from Raging Bull, which is a shame because there’s tremendous spoof potential there.

The saving grace for the film is Alan Arkin, who plays Stallone’s old trainer. Arkin provides the best lines in the film, mostly one-liners, ensuring that Grudge Match is at least sporadically amusing rather than not funny at all (like the promoter played by Kevin Hart, who I actually like).

As for the fight itself, I guess it’s hard to expect too much from two 70-year-olds, no matter how fit they (or drugged up, in the case of one of them) may be. What surprised me was that the filmmakers decided to go down the completely serious route to try and make it a “proper” boxing match complete with unconvincing manufactured drama. The choreography of the fight was also just OK, much closer to the wild brawling style of Rocky than any of the more “realistic” boxing flicks of the last few years. One thing I will give the film credit for is having a proper resolution in the end and declaring a winner, rather than a cop-out ending like a draw or double KO.

With two big stars who have become Hollywood boxing royalty and an intriguing premise brimming with potential, Grudge Match could have been a ripper of a comedy if they really went for it. But in the end they chose to play it safe and the result is a decent albeit uninspiring effort that’s only marginally amusing and completely forgettable.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Argo (2012)

October 23, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Argo, Ben Affleck’s latest film, proves two things. One, he is still a mediocre actor. And two, he is developing into one heck of a director.

Following on from one of my favourite films from 2010, The Town, Affleck returns to the director’s chair for Argo, a film about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis where 52 Americans at the US Embassy in Tehran were held hostage by Islamist students and militants.

The movie itself centers on a fascinating but lesser-known aspect of a side story to the crisis in which US involvement was not declassified until 1997. Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA operative tasked with finding a way to bring back six Americans who escaped the embassy at the start of the crisis and took refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). At a time where the six Americans would likely be tortured and killed if discovered, Mendez concocted a plan that would have been unbelievable had it not been true: producing a fake sci-fi movie.

The timing was perfect, given Star Wars had taken off and Hollywood producers were scrambling to make rip-offs. But of course, if it were so easy to get them out the film would not be two hours long.

Argo doesn’t have much of that stuff you see in action films these days, but it’s still incredibly tense and exciting all the way through. The background and context to the crisis is swiftly and effectively dealt with at the beginning, and the initial scenes of the civil unrest expertly generate a genuine sense of terror and panic that lingers on for the rest of the film.

It could have been very easy for this film to become dull and stagnant, but Affleck sustains the tension through a series of well-crafted incidents and conversations, ensuring viewers never lost track of what was at stake and the imminent danger the Americans were in at all times. Needless to say, things were probably never that tense in real life, but that’s why this is a movie.

Credit has to go to Affleck for his brilliantly authentic recreation of 1979 Tehran, which as the end credits showed paid painstaking attention to detail. Everything from the architecture, the clothing and the hairstyles brought me back to those times, and I wasn’t even born then!

The performances from the all-star cast were solid. The ever-present Bryan Cranston (sorry, Heisenberg) was subtle as Jack O’Donnell, Mendez’s supervisor, and yet electrifying when he needed to be. Breaking Bad has already proven Cranston to be one of the greatest TV actors of all-time, and I hear maybe Argo has given him some Oscar buzz. John Goodman, who plays Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers, and Alan Arkin, who plays  director Lester Siegel, provide some of the more lighthearted moments and are both excellent.

As for the six US diplomats, the only actors I recognised were Tate Donovan (best known for being engaged to Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock) and Clea DuVall (whom I will always associate with The Faculty), but all of them were very good.

As it turned out, the weakest link was probably Affleck himself as Mendez. Apart from the lack of a physical resemblance (everyone else was pretty spot on), Affleck played Mendez with his usual “blank” face and unlayered line delivery. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh and perhaps the muted performance was intentional, but to be honest I never really felt as much for his character as I probably should have.

Overall, Argo is unquestionably compelling cinema and solidifies Affleck’s reputation as a director who knows how to craft impeccable dramas filled with thrills and style. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

4 stars out of 5

 
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