Movie Review: “Hands of Stone”

Starring
Edgar Ramirez, Robert de Niro, Ana de Armas, Usher Raymond, Ruben Blades, Ellen Barkin, John Turturro
Director
Jonathan Jakubowicz

Most boxing fans know the name Roberto Duran, but for someone who’s widely regarded as one of the greatest fighters of all time (in addition to holding titles in four different weight classes, he’s the only person to beat Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime), Duran lacks the mainstream recognition of fellow boxers like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and even Leonard himself. Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz hopes to remedy that with his new film, “Hands of Stone,” but while it boasts a pair of solid performances from stars Edgar Ramirez and Robert De Niro, the true-life drama doesn’t offer anything different from the dozens of other boxing movies that came before it. “Hands of Stone” is your typical rise-and-fall redemption story, so aggressively mediocre that Jakubowicz would have been better off taking some risks and failing than to settle for this.

The film begins in 1971 with Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran (Ramirez) already on the rise. Despite his natural talent, however, Duran lacks the discipline required to succeed at the highest level, so his manager Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades) convinces legendary trainer Ray Arcel (De Niro) to turn him into a world champion. Arcel has been retired since being run out of boxing by the mafia nearly 20 years earlier, but he sees something in Duran that reignites his love of the sport and agrees to train him for free, a stipulation of his agreement with local gangster Frankie Carbo (John Turturro). Though the hotheaded and fervently nationalistic Duran is hesitant about working with an American trainer due to his experiences growing up in the U.S.-controlled Canal Zone, he ultimately learns to trust Arcel and builds a successful career over the next decade, culminating in a pair of fights with American sports icon Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) that would both make and break his career.

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Movie Review: “Dirty Grandpa”

Starring
Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Julianne Hough, Dermot Mulroney, Jason Mantzoukas
Director
Dan Mazer

Dan Mazer cut his teeth as a writer on “Da Ali G Show” and other Sacha Baron Cohen projects like “Borat” and “Brüno,” so it comes as no surprise that his directorial debut relies just as heavily on that brand of inappropriate comedy. Though “Dirty Grandpa” isn’t quite as nuanced as some of Cohen’s work, it has such a laissez faire attitude that you have to admire just how far it pushes the limit of what you can get away with in a studio comedy. The movie feels like it’s trying a little too hard at times, but thanks to some committed performances from Robert De Niro and Zac Efron, “Dirty Grandpa” isn’t nearly as unpleasant as its material warrants.

Efron stars as Jason Kelly, an uptight corporate lawyer who has allowed his father (Dermot Mulroney) to control his life ever since college, including the arrangement of his upcoming marriage to the beautiful but bossy Meredith (Julianne Hough). When Jason’s grandmother dies from cancer and his grandpa Dick (De Niro), whom he used to be close with as a kid, needs someone to drive him to his Florida vacation home as part of an annual tradition, Jason grudgingly volunteers. But as he soon discovers, Dick has ulterior motives for their road trip – namely, to get laid – and persuades Jason to take a detour through Daytona Beach to soak up the spring break festivities after they bump into one of his former classmates (Zoey Deutch) and her rowdy friends (Aubrey Plaza and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) along the way.

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Movie Review: “Joy”

Starring
Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Elisabeth Röhm, Édgar Ramírez, Virgina Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd
Director
David O. Russell

David O. Russell has developed a repertory of players akin to “American Horror Story” creator Ryan Murphy. Including Russell’s new film “Joy,” Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper have been in each of his last three films, while Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Elisabeth Rohm have been in two of his last four. Russell had some hiccups with actors early in his career (George Clooney and Lily Tomlin come to mind), so it’s nice to see that Russell has found the balance between the directorial process and ego management, and that is crucial to a director’s continued success. If you have a reputation for treating actors poorly, you will no longer have good actors auditioning for your films, or accepting your calls.

With “Joy,” Russell has a motherlode of talent ready to carry the weight, but his own script undercuts them. It begins with an “American Hustle”-style bolt of adrenaline, but it quickly shifts into ‘kick the shit out of Joy’ mode for the rest of the movie. Joy is dealt a terrible hand, and the movie’s message seems to be that that is why she became a success, that it was her awful family that gave her the drive to succeed. So for you parents out there who are encouraging their kids to think positive and believe in themselves, we’re all clearly doing it wrong. If you want your kids to be super-rich, you clearly have to raise them to be sociopaths.

Joy (Lawrence) was encouraged at an early age by her grandmother (Diane Ladd) that she was meant to use her creativity to do greater things for her horribly broken family. She has a half-sister Peggy (Rohm) from her father Rudy’s (De Niro) first marriage, and by the time Joy married singer Tony Miranne (Edgar Ramirez), Rudy was on his third marriage, which of course ended in divorce. Now divorced herself with two kids, Tony living in the basement, and her mother (Virginia Madsen) watching soap operas nearly nonstop, Joy has yet to act on her promise, until a moment on the boat of Rudy’s new girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) gives Joy the idea of a lifetime: a mop that people can clean without touching the strands. Joy draws it up with the help of her daughter, and meets nothing but disapproval and resistance from the people who have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from her success.

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Movie Review: “The Intern”

Starring
Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Anders Holm, Rene Russo, Adam DeVine, Andrew Rannells, Christina Scherer
Director
Nancy Meyers

It’s a good thing that Nancy Meyers has so many friends in Hollywood, because if anyone else made a film as terrible as “It’s Complicated,” it likely would have ended their careers. The 2009 romantic comedy took Meyers’ brand of wish-fulfillment fantasy to gag-inducing levels, and Meyers addresses some of those criticisms with “The Intern,” a welcome departure from her typical fluff that forgoes the romance between its two leads in favor of something more genuine. Granted, the movie still looks like it came out of a Pottery Barn catalog, but thanks to some good performances from Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, it’s a relatively enjoyable workplace comedy that’s marred only by its bipolar script.

De Niro stars as Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old widower who’s quickly grown bored of retirement and is searching for something to help fill the void. When he applies for a senior internship program at a flourishing online fashion site, he’s assigned to be the personal intern to founder Jules Ostin (Hathaway), who in just 18 months has transformed a simple idea into a successful business, despite having no experience. Though her hands-on approach is admirable, the job has begun to consume her life, leaving little time to spend with her husband (Anders Holm) and daughter (JoJo Kushner). Jules is burnt out and clearly in over her head, but when the company’s investors suggest hiring a seasoned CEO to help steady the ship, she’s hesitant about handing over the keys to an outsider. Ben enters Jules’ life just when she needs it most, gradually breaking down her hard shell to become a mentor figure as she faces life-changing decisions in the office and at home.

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Movie Review: “Grudge Match”

Starring
Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin, Kevin Hart
Director
Peter Segal

Holiday week release schedules are about counterprogramming – hit your rivals where they ain’t. “They’re releasing an animated movie? Yes, well, we’re putting out an action flick.” “Hey, cool, that’s when we’re releasing our rom-com with that adorable actress who is actually hell on wheels behind the scenes.” The key is that every demographic is represented by at least one of the movies opening in wide release, and rarely is one demo targeted with such focus by more than one movie. But look at that, the boxing comedy “Grudge Match” and “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” are opening within a week of each other, and are vying for the same audience. (Yes, one skews older, but not that much older.) This is like the makers of “Kick-Ass” deciding to open against a Marvel movie. Who would do that?

And yet, Warners might be crazy like a fox here. The older demographics may not be sexy, but they draw well, and if my colleague Jason Zingale’s assessment of “Anchorman 2” is any indication, the movies are a draw in terms of quality. “Grudge Match” is funny, at times explosively so, but also uneven and flawed. They even do something that previously seemed impossible: they use Alan Arkin too much. Well, maybe not too much, but they don’t use him appropriately.

Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) were both light heavyweight contenders from Pittsburgh who couldn’t stand each other. They fought twice, with each knocking out the other (their only losses). Before they could schedule a third match to settle the score, Razor retired from boxing, much to the Kid’s dismay. Thirty years later, Dante (Kevin Hart), the son of Razor’s former promoter, convinces him to perform in motion capture gear for a video game that will feature him and the Kid. Against Razor’s wishes, the Kid shows up at the same time. The two scuffle, the video of the scuffle goes viral, and suddenly there is a demand for the two to have their long-overdue grudge match. Between Razor’s money issues and the Kid’s lust for victory, they agree, but there are several things complicating the fight besides their age, namely the woman they once shared (Kim Basinger) and her son B.J. (Jon Bernthal), who only recently discovered whom his father was.

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