Best Movies of 2016

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La La Land (2016)Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in LA LA LAND (2016

 

Here’s a look at my picks for the Top 10 movies of 2016.  Of course, while I do see a lot of movies— 58 this year, and that’s just theatrical releases—  I’m not able to see every movie that comes out, and so this list is limited to only those movies I have seen.

We’ll start with #10 and count down to #1:

 

10. THE INFILTRATOR

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Excellent performance by Bryan Cranston powers this crime drama which tells the true story of how U. S. Customs Official Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) went undercover to take down a  Columbian drug lord.

 

9. THE JUNGLE BOOK

Loved this remake of Disney’s animated THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967), and I’m a huge fan of that original 1967 animated classic.  Special effects here were amazing, and I really liked how director Jon Favreau made this family friendly film a serious hard-hitting adventure.

 

8. DEADPOOL

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The role Ryan Reynolds has been waiting for.  Sure, this vulgar, violent tale isn’t for everybody, but the humor is spot-on.  My second favorite superhero movie of the year. Best part is it is so unlike other traditional superhero movies.

 

7. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

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My pick for the best superhero movie of 2016.  Plays much more like THE AVENGERS 2.5, rhis exciting tale pits Team Captain America vs. Team Iron Man, and the rift between these two friends comes off as real and believable, something that the similarly themed BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) failed miserably at.  The scenes with newcomer Tom Holland as Spider-Man are off-the-charts good.

 

6. EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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Hilarious comedy-drama starring Hailee Steinfeld as a seventeen year-old dealing with life as a teenager.  Things get complicated when her best friend starts dating her older brother.  Topnotch script and direction by writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig.

 

 

Now we get down to my picks for the Top 5 movies of 2016:

5. HANDS OF STONE

hands-of-stone

Critics panned this movie, but I absolutely loved this boxing pic about boxing champ Roberto Durant.  Edgar Ramirez  gives a spirited performance as Roberto Durant, and he’s supported by a fine cast which includes Robert De Niro, Ruben Blades, and Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray Leonard.  Excellent movie, much better than critics gave it credit for, although admittedly I am a sucker for boxing movies.

 

4. HELL OR HIGH WATER

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Easily could be my pick for the best movie of the year, this impeccably made crime drama follows a Texas crime spree by two brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) with an old Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) hot on their trail.  Features fantastic peformances by the three leads.  Jeff Bridges is amazing as always, and the same can be said of Ben Foster, and it’s also fun to see Chris Pine get to do a whole lot more than when he plays Captain Kirk in the rebooted STAR TREK movies.  Riveting direction by David Mackenzie, and a phenomenal thought-provoking script by one of my favorite screen writers working today, Taylor Sheridan.

 

3. SULLY

Easily the most efficient film of the year, SULLY, starring Tom Hanks, and directed by Clint Eastwood, clocks in at a brisk 96 minutes, and not a minute is wasted.  It tells the emotionally riveting true tale of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, aka “Sully,” and his decision to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.  It’s an amazing story because all the passengers on the plane survived, and the film makes things even more compelling as it follows the subsequent investigation by officials who questioned Sully’s decision to land in the water in the first place.  SULLY features another remarkable performance by Tom Hanks, and yet another superb directorial effort by Clint Eastwood.  Eastwood is 86 years old, and yet SULLY plays with as much energy, oomph, and emotion as if directed by someone half that age.  I left the theater incredibly impressed.

 

2. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

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This film could also have been my number one pick of the year.  MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a finely acted drama, led by two powerhouse performances by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, about a man Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) thrust into a life-changing situation as he finds himself having to care fo for his deceased brother’s sixteen year-old son.  His life in a shambles due to an earlier traumatic event, Lee knows he’s not the man for the job, but since there is no on else, he pushes himself to live up to his brother’s wishes and care for his nephew. Atmospheric direction by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, with a script that is as honest and believable as they come.

And now, for my pick for the Number 1 movie of 2016:

 

 

  1. LA LA LAND

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My pick for the Best Movie of 2016 also happened to be the last movie I saw in 2016, LA LA LAND.  What a fabulous way to end the calendar year!  LA LA LAND is an absolutely wonderful movie.

I  loved the energy writer/director Damien Chazelle brings to this one.  The opening dance number on a gridlocked L.A. freeway dazzles, and the film never looks back.  Emma Stone gives the best performance of her career to date, imbuing her struggling actress character Mia with so much raw emotion and quirky pizzazz she’s one of the liveliest characters I’ve seen on screen in a long while. Ryan Gosling is just as good as jazz musician Sebastian in this uplifting almost magical musical which follows Mia and Sebastian through a romance in which they help each other achieve their artistic dreams before reality ultimately sets in, forcing them to make decisions which affect their future.  A remarkable movie and genuine crowd pleaser.

Hands down, LA LA LAND is the Best Movie I saw in 2016.

Okay, that about wraps things up for today.  Thanks for joining me in 2016, and here’s to another fine year of movies in 2017!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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HANDS OF STONE (2016) – A Knockout of a Movie That No One Is Noticing

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hands of stone

Edgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro, and Ruben Blades in HANDS OF STONE (2016).

 

HANDS OF STONE (2016), the new movie about welterweight boxing champion Roberto Duran, is one of those movies that I probably liked more than I should have.  It’s not really getting great reviews, and it’s receiving zero hype, but I loved it.  For me, everyhing about this movie worked.

Maybe that means I’m just a sucker for boxing movies.  Or perhaps it’s just a really good movie.

HANDS OF STONE is told from the perspective of legendary boxing trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro).  And if there’s one weakness to this movie, it’s that at times there’s a bit too much of Arcel’s voice-over narration, as it shows up in places where it’s not necessary, where standard dialogue and visual narrative would have sufficed.

And so we learn right from the get-go that Roberto Duran changed Ray Arcel’s life, as we hear it directly from Arcel’s mouth.  We meet Duran as a child in poverty-stricken Panama, and we see through his young eyes his disdain for the United States, which he views as an oppressor nation.  Amazingly, he convinces a local boxing trainer to train him, and so he’s boxing pretty much as a child.

We next see Duran (Edgar Ramirez) as a young man wooing the beautiful Felicidad Iglesias (Ana de Armas) who he’ll eventually marry.  Duran is introduced to the wealthiest man in Panama, businessman Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades), who in turn introduces Duran to trainer Ray Arcel, knowing that Arcel has what it takes to make Duran a champion.

But their union is not an easy one.  Duran wants no part of an American trainer, and while Ray clearly recognizes Duran’s talent, he’s prohibited by the mob from ever making money off boxing again.  Years earlier, Ray tried to convince mobster Frankie Carbo (John Turturro) to loosen his grip on boxing in New York City, so they could branch out into the television market.  Carbo said no, Ray went ahead anyway, and Carbo arranged to have Ray killed.  Ray survived, but he promised never again to make money off boxing, and in return, the mob let him live.

Ray solves his own personal problem by agreeing to train Duran for free, and Duran also changes his mind, setting the stage for a championship run.  Standing in their way is American superstar boxer Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond).  Duran sees beating Leonard as his chance not only to become champion but also to earn Panama the respect of the world and to humiliate the United States in the process.

And the more success Duran achieves, the more he’s swallowed up by big money boxing, falling victim to its lure in ways he never fell in the ring, even as aging Ray Arcel continually fights to protect him.

HANDS OF STONE tells a rousing story, one that I enjoyed a lot since I didn’t know much about Roberto Duran other than the results of his two championship fights with Sugar Ray Leonard.

The cast here is wonderful.  Edgar Ramirez shines in the lead role as Roberto Duran. He makes Duran a volatile force who is as undisciplined and hotheaded as he is talented. Indeed, some of the best parts of HANDS OF STONE aren’t the boxing sequences, which certainly are done very well, but the scenes between Ramirez and De Niro in the corners of the ring.  De Niro’s Ray Arcel is constantly fighting with Ramirez’s Duran trying to get him to follow his wisdom, which Duran often sees as limiting, as he just wants to let loose and pound his opponent.  Some of these verbal spars are more intense than the physical ones in the ring.

Likewise, Ramirez also shares powerful scenes with Ruben Blades’ Carlos Eleta.  And when the three of them are on screen together, watch out.  The verbal punches fly.

Ramirez captures the energy and charm of Duran and makes him watchable throughout.  I really enjoyed Ramirez in last year’s JOY (2015) where he played Joy’s (Jennifer Lawrence) husband, in a film that also paired him with Robert De Niro.  Ramirez also played the priest in the underwhelming horror movie DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014).  As much as I liked Ramirez in JOY, he’s even better here in HANDS OF STONE.

Robert De Niro is excellent as Ray Arcel.  It’s fun to see De Niro in a role that does not hide his age but actually makes him look older with a receding hairline and whispery white hair.  He also enjoys some of the best scenes in the movie, with riveting dialogue, as he teaches Duran his philosophy of boxing— always have a strategy and stick to it— and as he argues with Carlos Eleta.  Ray Arcel represents the pure side of boxing, the sport, while Eleta represents what Arcel sees as destroying boxing:  big money.

Ruben Blades, who plays Daniel Salazar, one of the best character on TV’s FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, is also very good as Carlos Eleta.  He brings Ray Arcel into Duran’s world not only to make Duran a champion but to give him some discipline, because Eleta is always fending off the youthful Duran who refuses to respect the rich businessman.

Ana de Armas, who we just saw in WAR DOGS (2016), is drop dead gorgeous and sexy as Duran’s wife Felicidad.  De Armas enjoys a more substantial role here in HANDS OF STONE than she had in WAR DOGS, a role that enables her to show more range and depth, and she doesn’t disappoint.

Singer Usher Raymond makes for a dashingly handsome Sugar Ray Leonard, and he displays the fleeting and fancy footwork of the boxing superstar with seeming ease.  John Turturro makes the most of his few scenes as mobster Frankie Carbo who in spite of their differences really respects and likes Ray Arcel and eventually helps him get the shunned Duran his comeback bout.  Reg E. Cathey, a talented character actor with tons of credits, recently seen as Cajun cook Freddy on the TV show HOUSE OF CARDS, plays Don King and enjoys some memorable moments in some key scenes as the legendary boxing promoter.

It was also nice to see Ellen Barkin play Ray’s wife Stephanie, in a performance that reminded me of Gena Rowlands back in the day.  And in a neat bit of casting, De Niro’s real life adopted daughter Drena De Niro plays Ray’s drug addicted daughter here.

HANDS OF STONE was written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz.  This is Jakubowicz’s first feature film, and it’s an impressive debut.  For my money, everything in this movie worked.

The fight sequences are well done, riveting and exciting.  The photography is lively and energetic, and the editing is quick and efficient.  The film is nearly two hours long, yet it flies by.

Even better than the fight scenes are the scenes of dialogue between Ramirez, De Niro, and Blades.  Jakubowicz also gives the movie an authentic Latin American feel, as well as capturing perfectly the time period of the 1970s and 1980s.

And Jakubowicz does a nice job with the controversial and perhaps signature moment of Duran’s career, where he infamously declared “No mas!” in the ring and walked away from boxing, words that to this day the real Duran swears he didn’t say, yet it’s what he’s most remembered for.

HANDS OF STONE is getting very little hype and meager critical recognition, which is a shame because it’s a rousing entertaining movie that tells the story of Roberto Duran, one of the most talented boxers ever to step into the boxing ring.

There’s no split decision here.  HANDS OF STONE is a clear knockout.

—END—

 

 

 

CREED (2015) Goes The Distance

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Movie Review:  CREED (2015)

By

Michael Arruda

Creed poster 2

 

Just when you thought Rocky Balboa was down for the count—.

That’s right.  Rocky Balboa, the iconic character played by Sylvester Stallone, is back in the movies again for what is essentially ROCKY VII, except this time he’s playing mentor and trainer to young Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) the son of his one-time opponent and later best friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

CREED (2015) opens with troubled teen Adonis Johnson getting in yet another fight.  This time, instead of being taken in by a foster family, he meets the wife Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) of his father Apollo Creed, who had an extramarital affair with Adonis’ mom and died before Adonis was born.  Mary Anne adopts Adonis and he’s raised in a healthy home and receives a decent education.

However, as an adult, Adonis can’t get boxing out of his system, so he quits his job and seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as a trainer.  Rocky isn’t interested, mostly because he doesn’t want to see Apollo’s son enter a boxing ring and endure the difficult life of a boxer.  But Adonis is persistent, and eventually Rocky relents and agrees to train Adonis.

Adonis trains hard, and through an odd series of events, finds himself with a shot at the boxing title.  When Rocky’s health fails, and he decides he’s lived a good life and has come to the end of the road, it’s Adonis who convinces Rocky not to mail it in, to fight for his life as he once fought for a title, adding that he needs Rocky and that Rocky’s life matters.

Make no mistake.  CREED is a much better movie than a 7th film in a series.  It’s also a stand alone film, as Adonis’ character is strong enough to carry this movie on his own.  Rocky’s appearance is gravy.

That being said, the best part of CREED is the relationship between Rocky and Adonis.  The way their lives intertwine and how they are constantly there to pick each other up is the driving force of the movie.  When Rocky learns that he has cancer, and he looks around him and realizes all his loved ones and friends have passed on, it’s easy for him to feel that he’s led a good life and it’s time.  But it’s Adonis who gives him something to live for.

Likewise, when Adonis struggles to handle the pressure, and when he experiences doubt that he can live up to his deceased father’s name, even admitting that he’s fighting simply to prove that he wasn’t just a mistake, it’s Rocky who tells him that it is his time, that he can make his mark, and he can live up to his father’s name.

Sylvester Stallone can play Rocky Balboa in his sleep, but that doesn’t mean he’s cashing it in.  Stallone has created one of the more endearing and iconic characters in film history, and Rocky certainly hasn’t worn out his welcome.  It’s been fun to watch Rocky age through the years, and in CREED he definitely is in his golden years.  A funny bit comes when Rocky writes out instructions for Adonis, and Adonis simply takes a picture of the paper with his phone, and he tells Rocky he doesn’t need the notes because they’re saved on the cloud.

“The cloud?”  Rocky asks, as he looks to the sky.

Michael B. Jordan is also excellent as young Adonis Johnson.  Adonis is a complicated character.  He had a tough childhood, was rescued by his step-mom, but still couldn’t shake the desire to box, to be like his deceased dad.  And he goes through the film with a chip on his shoulder, but he’s not a jerk, as Jordan does a nice job keeping the character sympathetic.

Rounding out the acting performances is Tessa Thompson as Adonis’ girlfriend Bianca.  The beautiful Thompson makes Bianca a three-dimensional character who proves that she’s more than just a love interest in the film.  The relationship between Adonis and Bianca is reminiscent of the relationship between Rocky and Adrian (Talia Shire) in the original ROCKY (1976).

Likewise, in the training scenes, Rocky now has taken on the role of his original trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith).  In fact, many of the training exercises come right out of Mickey’s regimen, including the memorable chicken chasing scene.

Phylicia Rashad is decent as Adonis’ step-mom Mary Anne, although it’s really just a small role, and there’s not a lot of screen time for Rashad.

And if there’s one thing the Rocky movies have always got right, it’s the boxing scenes, and CREED is no exception.  Once more, there are some riveting boxing matches, including the exciting finale.  Sure, there is certainly a little bit of “been there, done that” but with six Rocky movies before this, that’s inevitable.

CREED is the first ROCKY movie not written by Sylvester Stallone.  The screenplay was written by director Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington, and it’s a good one.  It explores a later chapter in Rocky’s life while carving out the early plight of original character Adonis Johnson, and the way the two interact is both compelling and natural.  The two stories combine seamlessly

Coogler also directed, and his direction is strong throughout.  The boxing scenes are well done, as are the rousing training sequences.  More importantly, the tale of the two boxers, Rocky called out of retirement to be a trainer, and Adonis just starting his career, is engrossing and likable.

 CREED is a genuine crowd-pleaser.  It’s a worthy addition to the ROCKY saga, while also serving as a standalone film about newcomer Adonis Johnson, the son of Apollo Creed, fighting to make his mark in the boxing world, to prove that he’s worthy of the name Creed.

—END—

 

YOUR MOVIES LISTS: RUSSELL CROWE

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Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: Russell Crowe

By Michael Arruda

Last week I unleashed THE HORROR JAR, lists of odds and ends about horror movies. Today I present YOUR MOVIE LISTS, lists of odds and ends about non-horror movies.

Kicking things off is a list of notable Russell Crowe movies. With the release of Crowe’s latest movie NOAH (2014) in theaters this weekend, here is a partial list of some prior Russell Crowe films:

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) – Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger were the big names in this one when it came out in 1997, but it was Russell Crowe who generated all the buzz. The first time I saw Russell Crowe in a movie.

GLADIATOR (2000) – The biggie. The film that pretty much made Crowe a household name. His performance as Maximus is one of his best. Great supporting work by Oliver Reed, in what would be his final role.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001) – Crowe delivers a top-notch performance as John Nash in Ron Howard’s Oscar Winner for Best Picture. Crowe was nominated for Best Actor but lost out to Denzel Washington in TRAINING DAY.

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) – Crowe plays Captain Jack Aubrey in this rousing high seas adventure based upon the novels by Patrick O’Brian.

CINDERELLA MAN (2005) – Crowe again teams with director Ron Howard, once more with outstanding results, in this bio pic of boxer Jim Braddock.

3:10 TO YUMA (2007)- Crowe’s outlaw squares off against Christian Bale’s rancher in this exciting western which might be my favorite Russell Crowe movie. It’s certainly my favorite Russell Crowe performance. Ben Foster also delivers an exceptional supporting performance as Crowe’s psychotic right hand man Charlie Prince.

BODY OF LIES (2008) – Crowe plays a CIA agent who gives his operative on the ground (Leonardo Di Caprio) in the Middle East the runaround in this Ridley Scott directed thriller. The first time I was less than impressed with a Russell Crowe performance.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (2010) – Crowe plays John Brennan who takes the law into his own hands to prove that his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is innocent of a murder charge— but is she? A convoluted plot knocks this one down a few notches.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) – RZA’s stylish actioner lacks substance making this one a misfire. Crowe plays an assassin named Jack Knife. Crowe appears overweight and out of shape here.

LES MISERABLES (2012) – Crowe plays Javert opposite Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean in this film adaptation of the stage musical, which is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Crowe’s singing grates throughout, but when he’s not singing he’s very good as the policeman who won’t quit.

BROKEN CITY (2013) – Crowe is a crooked mayor who tangles with an ex-cop played by Mark Wahlberg in this mediocre thriller. For me, the fifth straight underwhelming Russell Crowe film.

MAN OF STEEL (2013) – Crowe breaks out of his slump by playing Superman’s father Jor-El. His performance is one of the best parts of this mixed bag of a superhero movie.

NOAH (2014) – Crowe plays Noah in this retelling of the famous Bible story, which emphasizes action and melodrama. Crowe really shines here as the man who builds an ark and against all odds saves humankind from God’s wrath.

And that brings us up to date.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

GRUDGE MATCH (2013) – A Surprising Winner

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grudge-match-posterHere’s my review of GRUDGE MATCH (2013) which appeared over the weekend at cinemaknifefight.com.

 

Don’t forget.  If you like to read about movies, be sure to check out cinemaknifefight.com.  Not only will you find reviews there by L.L. Soares and myself, but by a pool of very talented authors, including Nick Cato, Colleen Wanglund, Daniel Keohane, and Pete Dudar  to name just a few.  There are many more.  So, check us out!  You’ll be sure to have a good time.

 

As always, thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW:  GRUDGE MATCH (2013)

By Michael Arruda

 

Okay, so I knew going in that GRUDGE MATCH, the new comedy featuring Sylvester Stallone vs. Robert De Niro in the boxing ring, wasn’t going to be ROCKY (1976) vs. RAGING BULL (1980), but the good news is it’s not STOP!  OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (1992) vs. LITTLE FOCKERS (2010) either.

 

It plays more along the lines of GRUMPY OLD MEN (1993) Meets ROCKY.

 

In all honesty, as much as I enjoy both Stallone and De Niro, I dreaded seeing this one because I feared it would be awful.  It wasn’t.  It’s actually a pretty decent comedy, mostly because everyone involved takes its story of two has-been fighters who get one last shot at each other in the ring seriously.

 

Thirty years ago, boxing champs Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) split a pair of championship bouts, with each athlete winning one match.  Just before their scheduled rubber match, “Razor” abruptly retired from boxing, and the anticipated grudge match never happened.

 

It’s now thirty years later, in the present day, and Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), the son of their deceased promoter, is trying to drum up interest in a long delayed grudge match between the two.  Dante is nearly broke and desperate, which is why he is looking for anything to generate some income.   Billy is definitely interested, but Razor hates Billy and wants no part of it.

 

But Razor is also hurting for income and is about to lose his job due to layoffs, and so he agrees to appear in a video game featuring his likeness, under the condition that he doesn’t have to spend any time with Billy.  Of course, Billy shows up at the studio at the same time as Razor, and the two men go at each other, nearly destroying the studio.  Their melee is filmed by one of the staff there, and it goes viral on the internet.  Suddenly there’s an interest in the real deal, and the money becomes so good that no one involved can say no.

 

Razor trains with his former trainer Louis “Lightning” Conlon (Alan Arkin) who’s pretty much confined to a motorized wheel chair, while Billy trains with his estranged son B.J. (Jon Bernthal) who only recently learned the identity of his father.

 

B.J.’s mother Sally (Kim Basinger) is Razor’s former girlfriend and the reason why he left boxing all those years ago.  When Sally hurt him by pursuing Billy, Razor decided he’d take away the one thing that Billy wanted most, a rematch.

 

But nothing’s going to stop the fight this time around, and the story builds quite nicely to an unexpectedly riveting climax in the boxing ring.

 

GRUDGE MATCH isn’t going to win any awards for Best Screenplay, but the script by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman is funny.  Most of the jokes here work, and although the theme of the movie is that you’re never too old to take your best shot, the good news is that the humor doesn’t always come at the expense of the senior citizens in this one.  Sure, there are “old” jokes, but most of the comedy stems from Stallone’s hatred of De Niro, and De Niro’s misguided attempts at reconciling with his estranged son and young grandson.

 

There are a lot of other fine moments as well.  The scene, for example, where Stallone and De Niro are confronted by a mixed martial arts fighter is a keeper.

 

Sure, Stallone is playing a variation of his Rocky character, but he’s so good at this sort of thing, it’s difficult to complain.  And even for a man in his 60s, he still looks like he would be formidable in the boxing ring.

 

You need to suspend more disbelief in De Niro’s case, since he’s not built like a tank like Stallone, but De Niro more than makes up for this with a sharp comedic performance that is as biting as some of the jabs thrown in the ring.

 

Kim Basinger is still beautiful, even at 60, and she’s very good here.  Alan Arkin is hilarious in yet another role where he gets to be a wise cracking old man, and Kevin Hart has his share of comedic moments as Dante Slate, Jr.  But my favorite performance in this one probably belonged to Jon Bernthal as De Niro’s son B.J.

 

Bernthal, from TV’s THE WALKING DEAD and MOB CITY is in two movies opening this weekend, as he’s also in Martin Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.  He plays two completely different types of characters in these films, and he nails them both.  Here, as De Niro’s son B.J., he’s a decent hard working guy raising his young son, and he’s doing his best to reconcile with his estranged father, who doesn’t make it easy for him.  It’s a very sincere performance by Bernthal.

 

Director Peter Segal does a nice job at the helm.  Clocking in at 113 minutes, GRUDGE MATCH is rather long for a comedy, but the pacing is brisk, and this one doesn’t drag at all.  In fact, it actually gains momentum as it builds to the climactic bout between Stallone and De Niro, which believe it or not is actually pretty exciting.

 

Boxing matches have been done to death in the movies, but there’s enough freshness here to make the climactic match stand on its own.  First, there’s the novelty of seeing characters played by Stallone and De Niro face each other in the boxing ring.  It’s impossible not to think of Rocky Balboa vs. Jake La Motta.  I was really curious as to which character would win this bout.  And then there’s the dynamic between the two characters in this film, and the way it plays out is very satisfying.

 

I enjoyed De Niro here better than in his previous film, THE FAMILY (2013), although he’s not as memorable as he was in last year’s SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012).  De Niro has been busy this year, appearing in three other movies in 2013:  THE BIG WEDDING, KILLING SEASON, and LAST VEGAS.

 

Stallone has been just as busy.  I actually enjoyed GRUDGE MATCH a bit more than his previous effort, when he teamed up with Arnold Schwarzenegger in ESCAPE PLAN (2013).  However, I liked Stallone’s BULLET TO THE HEAD (2012) and THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012) better than this movie.

 

I feared that Stallone and De Niro would make fools of themselves in this film, but they don’t.  Surprisingly, GRUDGE MATCH was a very watchable comedy that kept the goofiness to a minimum, and by doing so, allowed its actors to generate some laughs by simply doing what they do best, creating characters who you can believe in and root for.

 

The bottom line is that GRUDGE MATCH delivers when it comes to producing laughs.  I laughed quite a bit during the movie and found it hard not to like a film that featured Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in the leads.

 

Helped by a solid supporting cast, Stallone and De Niro both come out on top, making GRUDGE MATCH a surprising winner.

 

I give it three knives.

 

—END—