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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Movie Review: “Last Vegas”

Starring
Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen
Director
Jon Turteltaub

Talk about being acutely aware of one’s demographics. “Last Vegas” takes the easy joke at nearly every opportunity, and it is exactly what makes the movie work. It’s a familiar story line with punched up dialogue (as well as a pair of killer visual gags), delivered by comedy masters. Where action movies are equated with popcorn, “Last Vegas” is comfort food. It’s not terribly good for you, but it sure tastes good.

Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman), and Sam (Kevin Kline) were best buds as kids in the ‘50s. The Flatbush Four, they called themselves. Life took them in various directions, and the latter three are living in a private hell for various reasons (death of a spouse, failing health, and boredom, respectively). One day, Billy calls them and tells them he’s finally getting married to the lovely 30-something Lisa (Brie Blair). The group decides to get together in Las Vegas to send Billy off in style, but old feelings between Paddy and Billy flare up immediately, and are only further complicated when they meet Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a lounge singer who ignites a similar rivalry to the one Billy and Paddy had when they were kids.

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Movie Review: “The Family”

Starring
Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diane Agron, John D’Leo, Tommy Lee Jones
Director
Luc Besson

Luc Besson is best known for his testosterone-fueled action thrillers, so the dark comedy “The Family” represents a major departure for the French-born multi-hyphenate. It’s also his first English-language film in over a decade, not counting the numerous action franchises (like “The Transporter” and “Taken”) that he helped shepherd as a writer/producer. Though many of Besson’s past movies have had shades of humor, this is the first one he’s helmed that could be described as a comedy. Adapted from Tonino Benacquista’s novel “Malavita” (renamed “Badfellas” for the English translation), “The Family” is a surprisingly funny fish-out-of-water tale that succeeds thanks to its excellent cast.

Robert De Niro stars as Giovanni Manzoni, a respected member of the New York mob who’s been in witness protection for the better part of the last decade after snitching on his mafia family. Unable to stay out of trouble wherever he goes, Giovanni is relocated to a small, quiet town in Normandy, France with his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their two kids, Belle (Diane Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo). But before they’ve even unpacked, the incognito Blake family doesn’t waste any time in reverting to their old ways. Maggie blows up the local supermarket after being treated poorly by the staff; Belle teaches some horny teenagers a lesson in how to treat a woman; and Warren sets up several rackets at school. When Giovanni’s old mafia don is tipped off to their location by pure chance, however, a team of hitmen is sent to Normandy to exact revenge on him and his family mob-style.

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An okay evening at Spike TV’s “Guys Choice” Awards

We’re fussy about Red Carpet events here at Bullz-Eye central. That’s largely because as a lone, online writer you’re pretty much at the mercy of the publicity gods in terms of who you’re going to meet up with and you never know who that’s going to be. One condition we have is that we get to see the show/movie/what-have-you in question so, if all else fails, we can write about that or at least get a bit of entertainment and free food. In this case, that was a good thing. Not because we didn’t get to talk to anybody interesting, but because Spike TV’s “Guys Choice” presentation, which premieres on the network at 9:00 Eastern/6:00 PDT Friday is not your usual award show.

Right down to the sexy female dancers who liven up the breaks and its highly distinctive award statue, “the Mantlers,” it’s easily the most laid back and honestly silly awards show I’ve seen. It’s also the only award show we know of which contains R-rated profanity in one of its award titles: the “Funniest Motherf*cker” award, this year being given to Jim Carrey. It’s safe the say the show was completely irreverent about everything, except for its commendable commitment to drawing attention to the bravery and sacrifices made by members of our armed forces.

Speaking of Jim Carrey, the famed comic provided a remarkable bit of comedy dealing with the always absolutely never hilarious topic of..oh, Lord, we’d better just leave it alone. You don’t want to know. Carrey himself made it clear that children and other sensitive people were better off not hearing the routine before proceeding with a shocking and explosively funny performance, abetted by the sensitive stylings of violinist Neil Hammond.

More traditionally edgy and hilarious at certain points, but a lot longer, was a marathon bit by faux canine Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, aka comic genius Robert Smigel. The latter merited a bad on-camera review from Sean Penn who between this show and his criticism of Ricky Gervais at Golden Globes, seems to be developing a side career as a real-time award show comedy critic.

Mila Kunis at the Spike Guy's Choice AwardsJustin Timberlake less controversially proved himself to be, once again, no comic slouch, while promoting the charms of the co-star of his next flick, “Friends with Benefits,” the beautiful and talented Mila Kunis. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards distinguished himself by simply being alive to pick up his award and being the innately humourous individual he is.

And so it went. I’ll have a few choice quotes from the show at the end of this piece. First, though, let’s talk about the folks we met on the Red Carpet.

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