Movie Review: “Bleed for This”

Starring
Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Ciarán Hinds, Katey Sagal, Ted Levine
Director
Ben Younger

Boxing movies tend to follow a very clear formula. If it’s an underdog story, it’s typically obvious what conflicts will arise and, whether won or not, there’s the catharsis that comes after the final boxing match. The newest entry in the subgenre, “Bleed for This,” checks a lot of boxes, but it isn’t without heart or a good, albeit familiar, story to tell. Writer/director Ben Younger’s film entertains with some immersive boxing scenes, a real sense of time and place, and some standout supporting performances.

The movie is based on the true story of Vinny “The Pazamanian Devil” Pazienza (Miles Teller), a boxer who didn’t believe in quitting and won three championships in three different weight classes. The story begins with the local Providence boxer having just gained some notoriety after winning two world title fights. At the beginning of the film, we see Vinny taking a beating from Roger Mayweather for the lightweight championship. His trainer Lou (Ted Levine) tells him he should throw in the towel and leave boxing forever. That’s something Vinny isn’t going to do, so Lou teams him up with fellow underdog Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), Mike Tyson’s former trainer. Rooney convinces Vinny to move up a weight class, and the gamble pays off in their first fight together. After a rousing victory and some hope, Vinny gets into a brutal car wreck, leaving him with a broken neck. The doctor tells him he’ll never box again, but Vinny doesn’t know how to do anything else. Boxing is his life, so with Kevin’s help and his family’s support, he trains hard enough to return to boxing in a year’s time to fight the biggest, and most dangerous, match of his career.

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Blu Tuesday: Game of Thrones and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Game of Thrones: The Complete Sixth Season”

WHAT: In the wake of Jon Snow’s murder, Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) tightens his grip on the North just as Cersei (Lena Headey) struggles to retain her power in King’s Landing. Meanwhile, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) plans her escape from Dothraki captivity, Arya (Maisie Williams) begins her apprenticeship at the House of White and Black, and Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) continues his training under the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow)… all while the threat of the White Walkers looms on the other side of the Wall.

WHY: The sixth season of “Game of Thrones” was undeniably the Year of the Woman, with characters like Cersei, Daenerys, Arya, Sansa, Yara and Brienne all emerging as genuine power players across the Seven Kingdoms. It’s also a season that, despite the dense and complex nature of its storytelling, really put the pedal to the floor as the show barrels towards its inevitable conclusion, inspiring the hashtag #EfficiencyisComing in the process. And this year was nothing if not efficient, even if it spent two whole episodes pretending that Jon Snow was permanently dead when everybody knew that wasn’t the case. Minor quibbles aside, Season Six is one of the best in the show’s history, boasting strong performances from Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (among many others) and top-notch episodes like “The Door” (RIP Hodor) and the Miguel Sapochnik-directed twofer “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter.” For a season that could have easily felt like the banal but necessary prelude to the much-anticipated climax, it doesn’t disappoint, delivering all the drama, political intrigue, action and comedy that “Game of Thrones” fans have come to expect.

EXTRAS: There’s a massive amount of bonus material, including cast and crew audio commentaries on every episode (and two each in the case of episodes 5, 9 and 10), a behind-the-scenes look at filming the Battle of the Bastards and creating Vaes Dothrak, featurettes on the mythology of Westeros and Ethos, deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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Movie Review: “Arrival”

Starring
Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Director
Denis Villeneuve

Canadian-born director Denis Villeneuve makes movies that block out the world. From the first to the last frame, his films keep you engaged and, more often than not, transfixed. Building on the success of past movies like “Prisoners” and “Sicario,” the director’s latest film, “Arrival,” is arguably the most emotional, thought-provoking and visceral experience he’s crafted yet.

Based on Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life,” “Arrival” is a grounded alien invasion tale that poses the question: If first contact was made, how would we communicate with extraterrestrials? That becomes a terrifying reality when mysterious ships begin to land around the world. It’s an unsettling day full of fear and paranoia, but some believe that the aliens may be a symbol of hope and not terror. To find out the aliens’ motivations, Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is brought in by the U.S. government to interpret their language and find a way to communicate. At the start of the film, Louise is tired and haunted by visions of her dead daughter, but with the world at stake, she’ll do everything she can to maintain peace between Earth and these beautiful and sparsely designed extraterrestrials, working with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to form a plan before China declares war on the visitors.

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Blu Tuesday: Sausage Party and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Sausage Party”

WHAT: The food at Shopwell’s supermarket has been raised to believe that going home with a customer is the greatest honor they can achieve. But when a horny sausage named Frank (Seth Rogen) is informed that the whole thing is a ruse, he embarks on an adventure to uncover the truth about humans and what really happens to food when it leaves the store.

WHY: “Sausage Party” isn’t a very subtle movie (the dialogue is laced with so much profanity that it feels like it was written by a bunch of prepubescent boys who just learned about swear words), but what the comedy lacks in maturity it makes up for with some clever commentary on faith, sexual temptation and the Palestine/Israel conflict. No, seriously. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to disguise the fact that the film is essentially a one-joke affair. Vulgar food puns and visual gags abound throughout its brisk 89-minute runtime, but apart from the movie’s villain (a literal juiced-up douche who sounds like a “Jersey Shore” reject) and the totally bonkers finale, most of them fall flat. Although “Sausage Party” feigns subversiveness on the surface, it’s actually quite formulaic underneath all that foul-mouthed depravity, and kind of boring too. Nevertheless, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg deserve enormous credit for convincing a major studio to release an R-rated film about talking food and religion, because despite the letdown, it’s so wonderfully stupid and strange that you have to see it at least once.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes featurettes on the voice cast and Alan Menken’s opening musical number, an interview with co-writers/producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg about the pitching process, alternate line readings, a gag reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Doctor Strange”

Starring
Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong
Director
Scott Derrickson

Like many of the filmmakers involved in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scott Derrickson (who’s best known for horror films like “Sinister”) may not seem like the obvious choice to direct a “Doctor Strange” movie. Then again, it’s pretty amazing that a film called “Doctor Strange” exists at all, because it’s arguably one of the weirder properties under the Marvel banner. That uniqueness ends up working in its favor, however, as Derrickson has basically made a psychedelic kung fu/fantasy movie that is without question the most visually stunning film that Marvel has ever produced. Joining the ranks of other B-list characters like Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy, “Doctor Strange” marries its inventive visuals with the usual superhero story beats to deliver the best solo origin movie since director Jon Favreau kicked off the MCU with “Iron Man.”

The two films have a lot in common, beginning with their titular characters. Like Tony Stark, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a bit of an egomaniac – a brilliant neurosurgeon whose own hubris leads to his downfall. After he’s injured in a near-fatal car accident that renders his hands unusable, Strange tries every surgery and experimental treatment available in an attempt to save his career. When traditional medicine fails him, the bitter and defeated Strange goes looking for a miracle cure in Nepal, where he’s introduced to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a powerful sorcerer who commands a mysterious order of warrior monks, including Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong), charged with protecting Earth from supernatural threats. Though Strange is skeptical at first, the Ancient One opens his mind to the infinite power and knowledge that the universe contains, ultimately taking him on as a student of the mystic arts. But after a former acolyte named Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) steals a forbidden ritual from the Ancient One and goes rogue, amassing his own army of zealots to bring about world destruction, Strange must put aside his selfishness to help stop him.

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