FlixChatter Review: Grudge Match

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De Niro and Stallone seems to have a new movie opening every month lately don’t they? Both are their 70s and still going strong, while most of their piers either doing TV shows or take a supporting role in other big films. For example, all of Harrison Ford’s films this year, he played a secondary character, not the lead.

In this new boxing comedy, De Niro and Stallone stars as rival boxers, you can say it’s Rocky vs. La Motta. The film starts out with a flashback of the boxers in their prime, Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) and Henry “Razor” Sharp are two of the best boxers in the world back in the early 80s. They’ve both fought one another and hate each other’s guts. After their last fight, which Sharp defeated McDonnen, Sharp decided to walk away from boxing. McDonnen wants a rematch but Sharp refuse to fight him again. BTW, these flashback scenes included another bad CGI effects of making the actors look younger, think of the “young” Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy, Hollywood should stop doing this because it looks weird and fake. Flash forward to present day, Sharp is now working at a factory in Pittsburg, he lives in a crappy house and doesn’t have any family, he just takes care of his trainer Lightning (Alan Arkin), who’s living in the home for the elders. McDonnen on the other hand, he’s more successful, he owns a bar and runs a couple of car dealerships in the city. He also still living like a bachelor, he drinks and sleeps with women more than half his age.

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One day the son of Sharp’s former promoter, Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), shows up at Sharp’s home and tells him he found a way for both of them to make big money. Dante’s not doing well either and wants to be a boxing promoter like his father. Apparently a video game company wants to create a new boxing game and wants Sharp’s to be part of it. Knowing he needs money to pay for the bills that he’s way behind on, he agreed. When he showed up at the video game company to have his body captured for the game, McDonnen was also invited to be part of the game. Of course since these two don’t like one another, they ended up throwing punches and a bunch of people recorded the fight and it went viral online. It received millions of views on YouTube and made the news on Sports Center. Taking advantage of their new found fame, Slate Jr. convinced both of them pick up their gloves and go in the ring for a rematch. After the announcement that these two aging boxers are going back to the ring made national news, Sharp’s ex-girlfriend, Sally Rose (Kim Basinger), shows up and wants to rekindle their relationship. But Sharp’s not interested in seeing her, she slept with McDonnen years ago and got pregnant. At the same time, a young man named B.J., (Jon Bernthal, Shane from The Walking Dead), showed up at a gym where McDonnen was training and tells McDodden that he’s his son. Since he’s never been a father, McDonnen didn’t really know how to act but B.J. told him he didn’t want anything from him, just wanted him to know that he exists.

I know the marketing for this movie made it look like it’s all about De Niro’s and Stallone’s character training for the big fight. But it’s really about the redemption for these two men who’ve made mistakes in their younger years and now they’re trying to right what they did wrong. Of course there are scenes of them training and getting ready for the rematch, there were some nods to their classic films Rocky and Raging Bull.

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I thought the performances by the actors were pretty good, De Niro looked like he had a blast playing the reckless fighter and Stallone was surprisingly effective in his role, yeah he’s pretty much playing Rocky again but he’s Rocky to many people so that’s fine by me. Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin provided the humor in the film, in fact I though Arkin stole every scenes he appeared in. Basinger did a good job of playing the “love interest” in the movie and Jon Burnthal was very good in his role. If he gets to do more films, he could be someone to watch out for, I know he’s done mostly TV work.

Director Peter Segal kept everything light, nothing was over the top and the pacing was good. I’m sure it wasn’t easy making a movie where there’s no villain and have people cheering for both of the leads. The final climatic fight scene was well staged, although De Niro looked way too out of shape but again he’s in his 70s so he did the best he could.

I don’t really have anything negative to say about this movie, it’s a heartwarming story that will entertain fans of the leads and you’ll have some good laughs. The movie never took itself too seriously and as long as you don’t go into it with huge expectations, you’ll have a good time.

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What do you think of Grudge Match and the pairing of Sly and De Niro?

Weekend Roundup and ARGO review

It’s been quite a hectic start to October for me, but it’s definitely going to be an exciting month with Twin Cities Film Fest just around the corner!

I skipped the cinema this weekend, but it looks like people just can’t get enough of bad ass Liam Neeson with his special set of skills. Taken 2 took in an astounding $50 million (apparently it’s not the third best October opening ever), which is sensational considering the dismal review. Now, even though I heard reports that Neeson won’t be back for Taken 3, the studio is likely to give him an offer he can’t refuse. I do hope he’s got the integrity to say no to that.

I saw a total of three films this week: ARGO (thanks to my buddy Ted for the advance screening tickets), and two great films from the early 90s: The Hunt for Red October and Point Break. Red October is the one Jack Ryan movie that has eluded me for some reason but it’s a fantastic political thriller, and despite being set mostly on a submarine, it’s not at all dull. From the comments on the Five for the Fifth post, seems like a lot of people like Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan and now I could see why.

I saw Point Break years ago and I’ve been wanting to rewatch it for some time. I finally bought the Blu-ray this weekend and I certainly have a new appreciation for the Kathryn Bigelow’s action thriller. The story is not ground-breaking but it’s more multi-layered than meets the eye. Full of high-octane action and the surfing and sky-diving scenes are quite spectacular, bummer that Hollywood is reportedly set to remake this cult classic! Anyway, I’m sort of crushing on Keanu Reeves all over again now, ahah.

Now on to the review of…

ARGO (2012)

At first glance you might think this has something to do with Jason and the Argonauts, but no, this one has nothing to do with Greek Mythology though there is a reference to that in the film. This Ben Affleck-directed political drama is loosely based on a true story, that is former CIA technical operations officer Tony Mendez’ account of the Iran hostage crisis of the late 70s.

The opening of the film starts out like a documentary, providing a pretty detailed background of why supporters of the Iranian Revolution are protesting outside of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Basically, the anti-Shah Iranians under Ayatollah Khomeini demanded for his return to Iran (he was undergoing cancer treatment in the US) for trial and execution.

For a film where the outcome is already known, Affleck did a great job in building up the suspense right from the get go. The whole sequence where the Iranians took over the embassy is quite gripping, and how the six of the consular employees were able to escape just in the nick of time and ended up taking refuge at the Canadian embassy.

Enter CIA officer Tony Mendez (Affleck) who’s tasked to get those six men out of the country. According to Wiki, Mendez’s work in the agency frequently dealt with forging foreign documents, creating disguises and handling other graphical work related to espionage. After exploring all the options that the agency considered — one of which includes a bike trek across 3000 miles of treacherous mountain conditions! — it’s clear that the utterly bizarre idea of smuggling them as a fake film crew was the only option!

ARGO is full of edge-of-your-seat scenes from start to finish. It doesn’t take long for the audience to realize just how high the stake is and how those escapees’ lives are in great danger, as they could be discovered at any moment. If found, they would suffer a much worse fate than the hostages, and Mendez saw that firsthand when he arrived in Iran and saw men being hung from cranes in public view!

Thankfully, Affleck peppered the taut suspense with dry humor and lighthearted moments, courtesy of the delightfully zany pairing of John Goodman and Alan Arkin as Oscar-winning make-up artist John Chambers and Hollywood producer Lester Siegel, respectively. The scenes in Hollywood as they’re working on coming up with the fake movie is such a much-needed relief from the tense situation happening in Iran. It’s a hoot to see both Chambers and Siegel working on a movie that doesn’t even exist, there’s even a fake reading and launch party to get the press to ‘sell’ the movie! In the CIA camp, there’s also Bryan Cranston as Mendez’s CIA boss in D.C. who’s always fun to watch.

This is Affleck’s third outing as director and now I can say he’s one of my favorite directors. I’d rate this as high as Gone, Baby, Gone and once again the 40-year-old Bostonian displayed his keen ability to not only cast excellent actors but drew the best performance from them in his films. Though his own acting here is good, I still think Affleck is much more skillful behind the camera. The lesser-known actors playing the hostages also did a good job in their roles, as well as Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador.

Final Thoughts: In a year chock full of movie superheroes, it’s nice to see a real-life story about a group of quiet heroes who took great risk to save others. Kudos for Affleck for creating an authentic and atmospheric film. ARGO is a thrilling and entertaining adventure that shifts brilliantly between three different locations—Washington D.C., Tehran and Hollywood—until it culminates in a nail-biting finale. Stay on during the credits as they show the photos of the real-life individuals depicted in the film, the casting manager did a good job in finding actors that resemble them. This is easily one of the best films of the year and surely will end up as my top 5 of 2012. At this point, it could even be a shoo-in for Best Picture Oscar nomination.

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What did you see this weekend? Anybody else seen ARGO? If so, do let me know what you think.