GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2 (2017) – Less of an Awesome Mix

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guardians2-poster

I loved the first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), and it instantly ranked as one of my favorite Marvel superhero movies.  As such, I was really looking forward to VOL. 2, and I fully expected to like it.

I did not.

As GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017) opens, old friends Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and newly born Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are busy saving the galaxy from bad guys, in particular taking on a giant monster in order to protect a civilization’s valuable commodity, batteries.  They’re also busy arguing with each other, and their banter is certainly one of the more enjoyable parts of the movie.

When Rocket steals some of the batteries they were supposed to be protecting, Queen Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) sends an armada of ships in hot pursuit to get the batteries back.  Our friendly neighborhood galaxy guardians are rescued by Ego (Kurt Russell) who claims to be Quill’s long-lost father.  He’s also all-powerful and invites Quill and his friends to his own personal planet which he made himself to show his son what a wonderful life he had been missing.

Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) has been shamed by his fellow traders because he had taken part in the buying and selling of children.  Yondu decides it’s time he makes amends, and he seeks out Quill, one of those former children.  And the Guardians will need his help because things are not what they seem with Quill’s dad, Ego.

The biggest problem I had with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 is its story.  The Guardians of the galaxy are a fun group of wise-cracking, in-fighting misfit superheroes, but in this movie their main adversary is Ego, and for most of the movie, they don’t even know he’s an adversary.  Instead, they spend most of their time dealing with Ayesha, who really isn’t that interesting a character.

Another subplot has Gamora contending with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), another story that isn’t all that interesting.  Then there’s the cutesiness of Baby Groot.  Now, I had fun watching Baby Groot, but I thought the film went overboard with all the cute stuff.

In short, I love the main characters, the guardians, and I still had fun watching them.  But they’re stuck in a story here that absolutely bored me.  And once more, as if it’s a mandatory part of the Marvel movie formula, there isn’t an intriguing or worthwhile villain to be found anywhere in the galaxy.

Chris Pratt returns as Star-Lord, and he’s as handsomely charming as ever, but he’s in this flat story with his dad Ego, and the character suffers for it.   Likewise, while I really enjoyed  Zoe Saldana as Gamora once again, she too is hindered by her main story, the ongoing rift with her sister Nebula.

Dave Bautista probably fares the best in his return as Drax, as he has some of the funnier lines in the film.  But in terms of action, Drax doesn’t do a whole lot.  Bradley Cooper is enjoyable again voicing Rocket, and then there’s Baby Groot.  I have no problems with Baby Groot, but if the main story of this one had been stronger, I wouldn’t have found the cutesiness here with Baby Groot so grating.

Probably my favorite performance in the whole movie belongs to Michael Rooker as Yondu, in the largest supporting role in the movie.  Yondu was in the first film as well, and the character is further developed this time around, and Rooker is more than up to the task of fleshing out this bright blue character.

Karen Gillan gets more screen time as Nebula as well, and a new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff) gets to enjoy some fine moments, mostly when interacting with Drax.

But the villains fall completely flat here.  I had been excited about Kurt Russell playing Ego in this movie, and there’s nothing wrong with Russell’s performance, but I found the character boring.  Likewise, Elizabeth Debicki did nothing for me as Ayesha.  The biggest knock on these villains is their agendas are dull.  Ayesha is just chasing down stolen batteries and looking for payback, and Ego is all about what his name implies.  All this evil power, and nothing to do with it.  What’s a villain to do?

Sylvester Stallone shows up for about five seconds as Stakar Ogord, in a role that’s clearly a set-up for a future movie.

James Gunn, who wrote and directed the first GUARDIANS movie, is back doing both here in the sequel.  He scores better behind the camera than at the keyboard.  I thought the film looked great.  I saw it in 2D, and it looked fine, although I wouldn’t have minded seeing it in 3D, but the times didn’t work out for me.  The visuals are eye-poppingly colorful and cinematic.

The action scenes are so-so.  While fun and lively, none of the action scenes here blew me away.  Some went on too long and made me yawn.

Again, the biggest knock on this one is its screenplay, by director James Gunn.  The story did nothing for me, and the villains were disappointing.  Ego has all this power and ability and he seems to know nothing about what to do with it.  Boring.

And the film’s theme, that they are more than friends, that they are family, has been done to death already and didn’t add anything fresh to this sequel.

As expected, the film does have another awesome mix as a soundtrack, so there are no complaints here.

Like other Marvel movies, there is an after credits scene. No, wait, that’s not quite accurate.  There are several after credit scenes, so you if you want to see them all, you have to wait till the very end of the movie.  That being said, to be honest, I didn’t like any of these after-credit scenes.  It’s a case where more doesn’t mean better, which is a nice microcosm of the entire movie.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 brings our entertaining squabbling guardians back to the big screen, and they are certainly fun to watch, but they’re stuck in a dull storyline that doesn’t do them justice.

The awesome mix volume 2 simply isn’t quite as awesome the second time around.

–END—

 

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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THE HORROR JAR: Music by Jerry Goldsmith, Part 1

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Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, that column where we look at lists about movies, especially horror movies.  Today we look at genre movies scored by Jerry Goldsmith, and there are a lot of them.

Jerry-Goldsmith

Jerry Goldsmith

Looking back at Jerry Goldsmith’s career, it’s amazing to see just how many horror and science fiction films he wrote the music for, and how memorable these scores are.  There are so many, in fact, that I’ve divided this column into two parts.

Here’s a partial look at his prolific career, concentrating mostly on his genre credits:

BLACK PATCH (1957) –  Jerry  Goldsmith’s first film score, a western written by tough guy actor Leo Gordon.

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964) – provided the music for this taut nuclear war thriller directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Fredric March.  It’s DR. STRANGELOVE without the laughs.

THE SATAN BUG (1965)- Goldsmith’s first genre credit, the science fiction thriller about germ warfare

PLANET OF THE APES (1968) – This Jerry Goldsmith score remains one of my favorites.  The unusual music here really captures the feel of the Ape world and adds to the “madhouse!” emotions which Charlton Heston’s Taylor has to endure at the hands of his captors.  Classic.

THE ILLUSTRATED MAN (1969) – Science fiction film based on the short story collection of the same name by Ray Bradbury and starring Rod Steiger.

THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971) – Obscure horror film with Alan Alda as a pianist who finds his soul in the hands of a scheming satanist.

ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971)-  Goldsmith goes ape again as he scores the third film in the series, a creative flick in which apes Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) travel back in time to present day Los Angeles.

THE OTHER (1972) – classic 1970s horror movie scripted by Tom Tryon.

THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD – (1975) – 1970s horror flick starring Michael Sarrazin, Jennifer O’Neil, and Margot Kidder.

THE OMEN (1976)- the big one, probaly Goldsmith’s most powerful score, and the only one for which he won an Oscar.  Still a very scary movie today, and Goldsmith’s music is a major reason why.

Omen-poster

LOGAN’S RUN (1976) – classic science fiction film from the 1970s starring Michael York and Farrah Fawcett.

DAMNATION ALLEY (1977) – Much-hyped science fiction movie about survivors in a post-apocalyptic world starring George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent was a major flop upon its release, as it was completely overshadowed by another science fiction release that same year, a little film called STAR WARS (1977).

COMA (1978) – Horror thriller written and directed by Michael Crichton about sinister goings-on starring Genevieve Bujold and Michael Douglas.

CAPRICORN ONE (1978) – another major flop from the 1970s, this thriller about a fake space mission to Mars featured a strong cast which included Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson (remember when he was that likable former football star who went on to make movies?), Hal Holbrook, Karen Black, and Telly Savalas.

DAMIEN:  OMEN II (1978) – Goldsmith’s back at it again, composing yet another horrific score in this OMEN sequel that, while nowhere near as good as the original, remains highly entertaining today.  Starring William Holden and Lee Grant.

THE SWARM (1978)- One of the worst movies of the decade and certainly one of the worst “disaster” movies ever made.  This tale of a swarm of killer bees attacking the United States was directed by Irwin Allen who must have been punch drunk over the success of his previous hits THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) when he made this turkey.  With an “all-star” cast which included Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, and Richard Chamberlain, and many many unforturnate more.  It’s hard to believe that this storyline– deadly killer bees– used to be considered real and scary.  I can’t believe I actually saw this one at the movies!

THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978) – Excellent thriller about a Nazi hunter (Laurence Olivier) on the trail of a fanatical Nazi (Gregory Peck) with plans to resurrect the Third Reich.

MAGIC (1978)- The Anthony Hopkins horror classic about a ventriliouost and his evil dummy.  1978 was a busy year for Jerry Goldsmith, as MAGIC was the sixth film he scored that year!

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1979) – Period piece fun with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland robbing a train in Victorian England.  An underrated gem by writer/director Michael Crichton.

ALIEN (1979)- Goldsmith just keeps on rolling here with his chillingly effective score for this science fiction classic which launched the career of Sigourney Weaver.

STAR TREK:  THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) – Goldsmith’s score for the first STAR TREK movie is my personal favorite.  Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and the rest of the Enterprise crew hit the big screen for the first time with mixed results.  It’s highbrow science fiction to be sure, but it’s all so slow paced.  This one continues to grow on me over the years, but I loved Goldsmith’s music from the get-go.  Sure, his iconic new theme went on to become the main theme for STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, but that’s not what I love about this score.  It’s all rather dark and ominous, a powerful score that remains the finest music score in the STAR TREK universe.

star trek motion picture poster

THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981)- the final film in the OMEN trilogy, and by far the weakest, even with a young Sam Neill cast as the adult Damien.

OUTLAND (1981) – Interesting science fiction movie with Sean Connery playing a Marshall on a mining colony on Jupiter’s moon tangling with some baddies without help from its inhabitants.  It’s HIGH NOON (1951) in space.

POLTERGEIST (1982) – A big hit in 1982, I’ve never liked this horror vehicle by Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper.

FIRST BLOOD (1982) – provides the music for Sylvester Stallone’s first foray as Rambo.

PSYCHO II (1983) – provides yet another very effective music score in this long awaited sequel to the Alfred Hitchcock classic, once again starring Anthony Perkins as the twisted tormened Norman Bates.  It’s certainly not PSYCHO (1960) but this thriller by director Richard Franklin really isn’t all that bad.  Vera Miles also reprises her role from the original.

TWILIGHT ZONE:  THE MOVIE (1983) – Muddled big screen treatment of classic Rod Serling TV series, a real head-scratcher when you consider the talent involved – Joe Dante, John Landis, George Miller, and Steven Spielberg each directed a segment and yet this film still is a clunker.

And that’s all the time we have.  Tune in for Part 2 of THE HORROR JAR:  Jerry Goldsmith when we look at the second half of Goldsmith’s career.  Coming soon!

To be continued—.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AFTER MOVIES – LIST SOME TV SHOWS HE SCORED

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 MOVIE LISTS: The ROCKY Movies

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YOUR MOVIE LISTSROCKY Movies

 

By

 

Michael ArrudaRocky - poster

 

With the upcoming release of CREED (2015) on November 25, the latest movie to feature Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), here’s a look back at the ROCKY movies:

 

 

ROCKY (1976)

Directed by John G. Avildsen

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

Adrian:  Talia Shire

Paulie:  Burt Young

Apollo:  Carl Weathers

Mickey:  Burgess Meredith

Duke: Tony Burton

Music by Bill Conti

Running Time:  119 minutes

 

The original, the Oscar winner, the movie that made Sylvester Stallone a star.  While Stallone was nominated for two Academy Awards for ROCKY, for Best Actor and for Best Screenplay, he did not win either award.  Neither did Talia Shire for Best Actress.  However, John G. Avildsen won for Best Director, and ROCKY took home Best Picture honors.

 

 

 

ROCKY II (1979)

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

Adrian:  Talia Shire

Paulie:  Burt Young

Apollo:  Carl Weathers

Mickey:  Burgess Meredith

Duke: Tony Burton

Music by Bill Conti

Running Time:  119 Minutes

 

This is actually the first ROCKY movie I ever saw, and as such, it remains my personal favorite ROCKY film.

 

 

 

 

 

ROCKY III (1982)

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Stallone and Mr. T. square off in ROCKY III.

Stallone and Mr. T. square off in ROCKY III.

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

Adrian:  Talia Shire

Paulie:  Burt Young

Apollo:  Carl Weathers

Mickey:  Burgess Meredith

Duke: Tony Burton

Clubber Lang:  Mr. T

Thunderlips:  Hulk Hogan

Music by Bill Conti

Running Time:  99 minutes

 

The one with Mr. T.  It’s also the first ROCKY movie I saw at the movie theater.

 

 

 

ROCKY IV (1985)

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

Adrian:  Talia Shire

It's East vs. West, Lundgren vs. Stallone in ROCKY IV.

It’s East vs. West, Lundgren vs. Stallone in ROCKY IV.

Paulie:  Burt Young

Apollo:  Carl Weathers

Duke: Tony Burton

Drago:  Dolph Lundgren

Ludmilla:  Brigitte Nielsen

Music by Vince DiCola

Running Time:  91 minutes

 

I was hugely disappointed by this fourth ROCKY movie when it first came out, but I was clearly in the minority as ROCKY IV has the distinction of being the biggest money maker of the entire series.  Admittedly, this one has grown on me over the years.

 

 

 

ROCKY V (1990)

Directed by John G. Avildsen

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

Adrian:  Talia Shire

Paulie:  Burt Young

Duke: Tony Burton

Tommy “Machine” Gunn:  Tommy Morrison

Music by Bill Conti

Running Time:  104 minutes

 

 

The most forgettable of the ROCKY movies, and clearly the weakest film in the series.

 

 

ROCKY BALBOA (2006)

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky:  Sylvester Stallone

One final bout. The thrilling climactic match in ROCKY BALBOA (2006).

One final bout. The thrilling climactic match in ROCKY BALBOA (2006).

Paulie:  Burt Young

Duke: Tony Burton

Mason “The Line” Dixon:  Antonio Tarver

Marie:  Geraldine Hughes

Robert Balboa Jr.:  Milo Ventimiglia

Music by Bill Conti

Running Time:  102 minutes

 

An excellent movie, ROCKY BALBOA is one of the best in the series, as this tale of Rocky coming out of retirement for one last bout is actually pretty darn believable, and its climactic boxing match is compelling to boot.

 

 

 

 

CREED (2015)

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington

Adonis Johnson:  Michael B. Jordan

Rocky Balboa:  Sylvester Stallone

Bianca:  Tessa Thompson

Mary Ann Creed:  Phylicia Rashad

Music by Ludwig Goransson

Running Time:  132 minutes

 

This tale of Apollo Creed’s son will feature Rocky Balboa as the young boxer’s mentor.  Looking forward to it.

 

This will also be the first film in the series not written by Sylvester Stallone.

 

That’s it for now!

 

Thanks for reading.

 

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

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expendables 3 posterHere’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of THE EXPENDABLES 3, up now at cinemaknifefight.com, your place to read about movies, where you’ll find new movie content posted every day by L.L. Soares, myself, and a very talented staff of writers.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A heavily fortified movie theater, surrounded by armed guards, military vehicles, and tanks.  A helicopter lands out front, and MICHAEL ARRUDA steps from the copter followed by four young people, most likely in their twenties.  They approach the theater just as a man dressed in military fatigues steps from the building to confront them.)

DICTATOR:  Hey, Arruda, it’s about time you showed up.  But you’re a little late.  Your buddy L.L. SOARES is our prisoner.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You can have him.  I didn’t come for L.L. I came to see a movie.

DICTATOR: So did he, and look where that got him!  You’ll never get by me, Arruda!

MA:  We’ll see about that.  I’ve brought some help.

DICTATOR (looks at the young people behind MA):  Who are they?  Your kindergarten class?

MA:  Meet the new team.  The next generation of Cinema Knife Fighters.

(Camera pans quickly over the four young faces, just as a missile zooms in and explodes, reducing them to a puff of smoke.)

MA:  Or not.

You know, if the new team in today’s movie had met the same fate, I would have liked it better.

DICTATOR:  Huh?  Listen, Arruda, enough talking!  Take a look around you, at our defenses.  They’re impenetrable.

MA:  Really?  Because I have looked them over, and frankly, I’m not impressed.  In fact, I give your defenses 0 knives.

DICTATOR (huffs):  Really?  Are you kidding me?  Do you know how hard I worked on this?

MA:  It’s obviously all CGI.  Very fake looking.  Nobody you have with you has anything worthwhile to say.  Sorry, but it’s all very boring.

DICTATOR:  Dammit!  I need to find me a better writer!

MA:  And L.L. obviously made it inside, too, didn’t he?  Where is he?

DICTATOR:  He’s inside watching another movie. Damn you guys!  (Stomps off in a hissy fit.)

MA:  Okay, now that that’s over with, we can get on with today’s review.  Welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m Michael Arruda, and today I’m reviewing THE EXPENDABLES 3, the latest movie in Sylvester Stallone’s all-star action series.  I’m doing this one solo because my buddy L.L. Soares is inside this theater watching another movie which he’ll be reviewing for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT this weekend as well.

THE EXPENDABLES 3 is the third film in THE EXPENDABLES series, a series which chronicles the adventures of The Expendables, a group of ruthless soldiers and assassins who are called on by the U.S. government to handle its dirtiest jobs.

In this film, the leader of the group Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) discovers that his one-time friend-turned villain Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a man he thought he had killed, is still alive.  Ross wants Stonebanks dead, but he’s informed by his new operator Drummer (Harrison Ford) that they want Stonebanks alive to stand trial.

Seeing Stonebanks as a formidable opponent, Ross decides that his team is too old to handle him, and so he tells his team, which includes Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Doc (Wesley Snipes), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) that he’s retiring the group.  They balk at this of course, but Ross makes his intentions clear:  they’re done.

Ross then hooks up with an old friend Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) who he employs to help him find a new team, a group of younger fighters, in effect the next generation of The Expendables.  And so they compile a group of newbies which includes Thorn (Glen Powell), Mars (Victor Ortiz), Luna (Ronda Rousey), and Smilee (Kellan Lutz).

Seriously?  I found this plot point very difficult to believe.  Why in the world would Ross want to go to battle with these infants instead of Jason Statham and friends is beyond me?  There’s just no comparison, and calling these guys “old” based upon the way they look in the movie is ridiculous.  They still look as bad-ass as ever.

Anyway, Stonebanks quickly makes mincemeat out of this diaper-clad team, which means it’s up to Jason Statham and his buddies to help Stallone get his newbies out of this mess.  Of course, Stonebanks has an entire army at his disposal, and so even more help is needed, which is why Drummer also brings in Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Yin Yang (Jet Li) to help out.

Plus there’s Galgo (Antonio Banderas) who throughout the film has been desperate to join Ross’ team, and finally gets his chance when Ross needs all the help he can get.  This all leads to the testosterone filled conclusion where Ross and his Expendables battle Stonebanks and his entire army.

This might have been fun if it all wasn’t so stupid.

(MA enters the lobby of the movie theater, surrounded by all sorts of military action:  machine gun fire, grenade explosions, hand-to- hand combat.)

MA (looks at camera):  I guess it all fits in with the theme of today’s movie.  Excuse me while I order some popcorn.  (To cinema worker).  I’ll have a small popcorn with butter, please.

CINEMA WORKER:  Sure.  (As he turns to make popcorn, machine gun fire riddles the area, and he slumps to the ground.)

MA: Hmm.  I’ll just come back for that later.  Back to the review.

By far, THE EXPENDABLES 3 is the worst film in the series.  I liked the first THE EXPENDABLES (2010) well enough, and I really enjoyed the sequel THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012) which had a better plot and gave all the veteran action stars quality screen time with good action scenes and some memorable lines, and the climactic battle between Stallone and  Jean-Claude Van Damme was a keeper.  I really felt like I got my money’s worth.

Not so with this installment.

First of all, there’s something very sloppy about the direction.  Director Patrick Hughes gives us a flat opening segment where Stallone and his team rescue Wesley Snipes from his imprisonment on a moving armored train.  The action here is sloppily handled.  The camera fails to get in close and seems to cover things from a distance, and it also cuts away from characters when they’re speaking, and so it was difficult to catch what people were saying.

Then, once the rescue is completed, it cuts to the main title THE EXPENDABLES 3, flashed on the screen for about a millisecond and then it’s back to the movie.  It was just a weird opening, a precursor for all that was going to follow.

Director Hughes also doesn’t give his action stars flashy or memorable first appearances.  Stallone is first seen in the opening segment flying a helicopter in loud surroundings in which you can’t hear what he’s saying.  I don’t think I understood anything Stallone said in this entire segment.  Schwarzenegger’s grand entrance has him casually strolling up behind Stallone in a hospital and speaking softly to him.  How’s that for compelling drama?

The screenplay by Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rotherberger, and Katrin Benedikt tells a mediocre story that doesn’t always makes sense, and features unimpressive dialogue and very little if any character development.  The story of Ross assembling a new team of youngsters to take on an old enemy makes little sense when his old team is still so menacing.

And while Mel Gibson does make for a decent villain, at least in terms of his performance, the character Gibson plays, Stonebanks, is never shown being villainous.  Why is he such a bad ass?  We hear characters like Ross and Drummer saying what a bad guy he is, but we never see him do anything.  What’s his agenda?  He sells arms to dictators and other undesirables, and we do see him do this in one scene, but do really we need The Expendables to take him out?

Just once, I’d like to see a plot worthy of The Expendables team.  These guys are supposed to be sent in to handle the jobs that the CIA and U.S. military want no part of, yet in all three films, we haven’t really seen them on these kinds of missions.

The dialogue is also subpar.  You’ve got Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Statham, Snipes, and Ford, guys who can really chew up the scenery, and yet there’s hardly a memorable line among them.

(Schwarzenegger enters the lobby and makes quick work of several enemy soldiers, cracking their heads and breaking their limbs with ease.)

SCHWARZENEGGER:  Next time silence your cell phones.  (to MA)  I work part-time as cinema security.  If you make noise in the theater, you answer to me.  (Checks his smart phone.)  Someone is texting in theater three.  I’ll be back.  (Exits)

MA:  That’s the Arnold I wanted to see.

Only Mel Gibson as the villain Stonebanks gets lines worthy of his pedigree, yet he has nothing much to do other than taunt Stallone and his buddies.  In fact, there are several scenes of Stonebanks buying art, walking up a staircase, entering a building, where that’s all he does.  I mean, these scenes don’t lead to anything else.  Stonebanks is a villain with too much time on his hands, and THE EXPENDABLES 3 is an action movie in need of a crisper script and tighter direction.

Now, if you’re like me, you see an EXPENDABLES movie because you want to see Stallone, Statham, Schwarzenegger and their friends on screen kicking butt and churning out one-liners.  You don’t see it because you want to watch a bunch of newbies take over.  I’m sorry, but I didn’t buy a ticket to THE EXPENDABLES:  THE NEXT GENERATON, and so I had little interest in scenes of Stallone compiling his new team, while his old team, Statham and company, sit home with nothing to do, and yes we actually see scenes of these guys at home twiddling their thumbs bored.  We don’t even get to see them try their hands at new jobs— I want to see Dolph Lundgren try to work in a department store, for example.  Realistically speaking, you’d think these guys would sign on with someone else.  I mean, Stallone’s Ross can’t be the only game in town.

And the newbies don’t have a chance. They’re each introduced in quick brief scenes, and then as the film goes on we hardly get to know them, which was fine with me since I didn’t care about them, but you know what?  I might have changed my mind had I actually gotten to know them and had the writing been better.

Sadly, THE EXPENDABLES 3 plays like the third film in a series, old and tired.

Speaking of which, one of the themes running through this movie is that Stallone and his buddies are getting too old for this sort of thing, and the sad part is in this movie some of them did look old.  For the first time in this series, I found it difficult to believe that Stallone and Schwarzenegger could do the things they were doing.  They looked a little long in the tooth.  Harrison Ford looked like he could barely walk.  In the film’s climax Ford is flying a helicopter performing all these stunts.  Yeah, right.  The only stunt he seemed capable of performing was crashing.

I like Sylvester Stallone, and when he’s on screen, I liked him here.  The trouble is the dialogue is so bad, that his character Ross just isn’t that enjoyable this time around.

Of the original team, Jason Statham fares the best, because he still looks the part, like he could single-handedly take out a mob of assassins, but his screen time is diminished here.

Like Stallone, Schwarzenegger begins to show his age in this movie, and his one-liners are pretty much nonexistent.  Looking even older than both Stallone and Schwarzenegger is Harrison Ford, who was filling in for Bruce Willis who left this movie over a contract dispute.  Ford plays a different character, but like Willis, he’s the guy who hires The Expendables.  I missed Willis’ shady persona.  Ford seemed like an aged Jack Ryan.

(Harrison Ford enters.)

FORD:  Did you just call me old?

MA:  I said you looked old in the movie.

FORD:  I ought to kick your ass.

MA:  I’d settle for an autograph.

FORD:  Autograph?  After you just insulted me in my own theater?

MA:  Your theater?  Are you working cinema security too?

FORD:  No, I run this place.  I’m the manager!

MA:  That’s a role I could see you playing.

FORD:  You call me old again I’m sending Schwarzenegger after you!

(Ford exits.)

MA:  I guess he’s getting sensitive in his old a— eh hem.  Moving right along.

Wesley Snipes isn’t bad, and he’s in a bunch of scenes, but like the rest of the cast he definitely would have benefitted from a better script.  Dolph Lundgren doesn’t need a good script as he just can stand there and look menacing, which he does again here to great effect.  Randy Couture also fares pretty well, but Terry Crews’ screen time is greatly reduced.  Kelsey Grammer lumbers through a throwaway role as Bonaparte, the man who assembles Stallone’s new team.

Mel Gibson gets the best lines in the movie, and he chews up the scenery as the main baddie, although sadly, he’s not given much to do other than get in Stallone’s face and tell him all the awful things he’s going to do to him.  But the thing is, when Gibson says all these menacing lines, he’s damned believable.  If only his character Stonebanks had been worthy of his performance.

Antonio Banderas as Galgo is supposed to be the comic relief in the movie.  The running gag is that no one wants Galgo on their team because he never stops talking, but this is hardly funny.  Banderas seems to be having a great time throughout, but it’s such a strange role, I just never got it.  It would have made more sense had the character been one of the newbies. Why would Ross be interested in an older agent who obviously couldn’t make it on a team when he was shunning his own proven team of veterans?  Banderas’ goofy personality just doesn’t fit in with the tone of the rest of the movie.

The newbies were so underdeveloped they’re hardly worth mentioning.  Kellan Lutz [from the TWILIGHT movies and THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (2014)] probably made the biggest impression as Smilee, the man who sees himself as Ross’ possible successor.  Glen Powell as Thorn and Victor Ortiz as Mars are pretty much interchangeable and they do very little.  Ronda Rousey stands out as Luna, since she’s the only woman on the team, and she’s certainly an eye full, but when even she doesn’t make much of an impression, that tells you how weak this movie is.

THE EXPENDABLES 3 also features a completely ludicrous third act.  When the cavalry arrives to rescue Stallone’s captured newbies, they find themselves taking on an entire army, which Mel Gibson’s Stonebanks has at his disposal.  And so we’re supposed to believe that this small group can outgun and outlast an army?  I don’t think so.

And unlike in THE EXPENDABLES 2 which featured a climactic bout between Stallone and Van Damme that was worth the price of admission on its own, the climactic showdown here between Stallone and Gibson is somewhat of a dud.  I expected much, much more.

This is also the first movie in the series to be rated PG-13, as the first two were rated R, which means people in this movie get to be shot, blown up, and beaten without shedding a single drop of blood.  Some may argue that this is a step up from fake looking CGI blood.

Yet, in spite of all these problems, it’s difficult for me to hate a movie featuring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Wesley Snipes, and so no I didn’t hate this one.  These guys can still entertain, even in a bad movie, and THE EXPENDABLES 3, sorry to say, is a bad movie.   It’s lifted by its star power, which is the only reason I’m giving this one more than one knife.

I give it a lackluster two knives.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m off to see another movie.

(A grenade lands at his feet.)

Or not.

(There is a huge explosion, and when the dust clears, MA is still standing there.)

MA: This is one time I’m happy about a fake looking CGI effect.

(MA exits into the movie theater.)

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

LIVE! FROM THE OSCARS!

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ellen-degeneres-to-hos-86th-annual-academy-awardsLive!  From the Oscars!

 

By

Michael Arruda

No, I’m not live at the Oscars, but I am writing this while I sit at home and watch the Oscars on TV, so it’s the next best thing!

Okay, here we go.  Here’s my coverage of the 86th Academy Awards hosted by Ellen DeGeneres on March 2, 2014.  So, if you missed it and would like to know how it all went down, or if you watched it and perhaps missed something, well, read on!

Let’s get started.

Okay, Ellen’s opening monologue, not bad.  She was entertaining and funny, as always.   However, as opening monologues go, it was low key and wasn’t anything memorable.

She did inform us that the theme of tonight’s Awards ceremony is heroes.  Hmm.  I wonder if Marvel’s The Avengers will show up?

Let’s get right to the Awards.  Anne Hathaway presents the Nominees for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and the winner is:  Jared Leto, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.  Leto just gave a terrific speech, one of the best Oscar speeches I’ve ever heard.  Seriously!  Very impressed.

Next up, Jim Carrey calls out Bruce Dern in the audience, since Dern’s up for an Oscar, and Carrey does a nice Bruce Dern impersonation, sufficiently intense and scary, bringing back memories of Dern’s early years.  Carrey next introduces a montage on animated movies showcasing animated heroes.  Nothing amazing.  Most of the film clips are from recent animated films.

The song “Happy” from DESPICABLE ME 2 is performed.

Catherine Martin wins for Best Costume Design for THE GREAT GATSBY.  This comes as no surprise, as GATSBY showcased some great costumes.  Martin is the wife of director Baz Luhrmann.  Who knew?

Make-up & Hair Styling- DALLAS BUYERS CLUB wins for Best Make-up & Hair Styling.

I hear Indiana Jones music.  Hey, look!  Here comes Harrison Ford.  Ford is on stage to introduce the first three nominees for Best Picture:  AMERICAN HUSTLE, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.

Wow, Ford looks exhausted.  He can barely read the cue cards.  It looks like he started partying early.

Channing Tatum introduces Awards that were awarded earlier.

Next up, it’s Matthew McConaughey and— Kim Novak?  Wow.  I haven’t seen Novak in a while.  Not since VERTIGO (1958).  Just kidding, of course, but really, it’s been a while.  McConaughey and Novak are presenting the Animation Awards.  Hate to say it, but Novak looks like she was animated in a Pixar movie.  Way too much plastic surgery. Very sad.  That’s how it looks, anyway.

Best Animated Short Film goes to MR. HUBLOT, and Best Animated Feature Film goes to Disney’s FROZEN, no doubt sending children who are still awake into an enthusiastic frenzy.  From what I hear, the kiddos are nuts about this movie.

Hey look!  There’s Bill Murray in the audience.  Good to see him.

Sally Field’s on stage paying tribute to everyday heroes.  Here comes a film montage.  Seriously, it’s a nice montage, featuring a lot of good movies, including 42 and THE UNTOUCHABLES.

Emma Watson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are on stage to present the Award for Best Visual Effects, and the Winner is: GRAVITY.  I definitely agree with this choice.  GRAVITY had phenomenal special effects.  It looked like it was shot on location- in space.

Time for a performance of “The Moon Song” from HER, one of the nominees for Best Original Song.

Okay, it’s 9:30.  We’re 60 minutes into the program, and so far, it’s been a rather plain uneventful show.

Kate Hudson and Jason Sudekis present the nominees for Best Live Action Short Film, and the winner is:  HELIUM.

THE LADY IN NUMBER 6: MUSIC SAVED MY LIFE wins Best Documentary Short.

Bradley Cooper presents the nominees for BEST DOCUMENTARY.  The winner is 20 FEET FROM STARDOM.

 

I’m yawning at this point and regretting my choice not to watch THE WALKING DEAD tonight.

Speaking of amazing TV shows, Kevin Spacey is in character as he makes some references to his Netflix TV show HOUSE OF CARDS before he presents the Governor’s Awards, which were already presented earlier.  Angela Lansbury, at 88 years old and returning to London Stage won one of the awards, Steve Martin won another, and Piero Tosi won for his costume designs.  The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award went to Angelina Jolie.

Best Foreign Language Film goes to Italy’s THE GREAT BEAUTY.

Tyler Perry introduces the next three Best Picture nominees, NEBRASKA, HER, and GRAVITY.

Brad Pitt introduces U2, as they’re on stage to perform “Ordinary Love” from MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM.  Wow.  A really riveting performance.  They got the crowd up on their feet and received a nice standing ovation.

Ellen – oh yeah!  I almost forgot she was hosting this thing— goofs around and takes a star-studded group photo for Twitter.  She wants to record the highest viewed tweet ever.  A pretty funny and playful bit.

Next up, it’s the Scientific and Technical awards.  Quick!  Time for a bathroom break!

Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, looking absolutely gorgeous in an amazing dress, present the nominees for Best Sound Mixing, and the winner is:  GRAVITY.  Another well-deserved win for GRAVITY.  The film had crisp sharp sound, and it also boasted an effective lack of sound, as it truly captured the silence in space.

Best Sound Editing goes to:  GRAVITY.  Hmm.  GRAVITY is starting to accumulate the awards.

Christoph Waltz presents the nominees for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and the winner is:  Lupita Nyong’o for 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Nice win for Nyong’o, and a nice speech as well.

Ellen’s goofing around again, as she asks her audience if they’re hungry, and when they say yes, she says she’s going to order pizza.  She then adds that “I don’t have any money.”   A funny gag.

Time to return to seriousness, as Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African American president of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, steps onto the stage for a serious speech about seriousness.  Seriously, the obligatory speech by the Academy president is no laughing matter.

Back to the awards.  GRAVITY wins Best Cinematography.  GRAVITY wins Best Film Editing.  GRAVITY continues to win big tonight.

Whoopi Goldberg takes the stage, and she’s there to honor THE WIZARD OF OZ, as back in 1939 Judy Garland won an Honorary Juvenile Oscar, and to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the award, we get to see a nice montage honoring THE WIZARD OF OZ as well as recognizing her three children, who are in the audience, including Liza Minelli.

Time for a commercial break.  Hey, there’s a really cool Godzilla – Snickers commercial.  It’s actually quite humorous, and even better, it includes quick plug for new GODZILLA movie coming out in May.

We return to the Awards to find Ellen DeGeneres dressed as Glenda the Good Witch from THE WIZARD OF OZ, which gets a good laugh from the audience.

Jennifer Gardner and Benedict Cumberbatch present the award for Best Production Design, and the winner is:  THE GREAT GATSBY.  Wow, GRAVITY didn’t win an award.  Glad GATSBY won, as it’s an incredibly visual movie.

Chris Evans – Captain America himself – introduces a montage of movie heroes.  A fun montage, full of popular movie heroes, including John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator (remember when he was a villain?), Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, to name a few, and plenty of superheroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers, and Superman from MAN OF STEEL, although I was disappointed that there were no clips of Christopher Reeve as Superman.

James Bond made it in twice, with the famous “I expect you to die!” scene from GOLDFINGER, featuring Sean Connery as Bond, and also a clip of the current James Bond, Daniel Craig.

A couple of horror movie heroes made it into the sequence, Roy Scheider from JAWS and Sigourney Weaver from ALIEN.

Glenn Close introduces the famous “In memoriam” montage, where the Academy remembers the artists who passed away in 2014.  Here is a partial list:  Karen Black, James Gandolfini, Paul Walker, Annette Funicello, Peter O’Toole, Ray Harryhausen—very glad Harryhausen was included here-, Sid Caesar, Roger Ebert, Shirley Temple, Joan Fontaine, Harold Ramis, Richard Matheson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The montage concludes with Bette Midler coming on stage and singing “Wind Beneath my Wings.” As you would expect, Midler received a standing ovation.

It’s now 11:00, which means the show has reached the 2 ½ hour mark, and so far there have been only a few major awards given out.  Let’s get this show moving already!

Ellen announces “We just crashed Twitter with our group photo!”  She’s overjoyed.

Goldie Hawn introduces the final three Best Picture nominees:  PHILOMENA, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Hawn looks almost as bad as Kim Novak, and by bad, I mean that she’s obviously had too much work done on her face.  I wish these actresses would just allow themselves to age naturally.  They would look so much better.  She looks like a victim in a mad scientist movie.  Very sad.

John Travolta – who’s actually looking pretty good here – introduces the song “Let it Go” from FROZEN.

Jamie Fox and Jessica Biel present the award for Best Original Score, and the winner is: — what a surprise!GRAVITY, music composed by Steven Price.

For Best Original Song, the winner is “Let it Go” from FROZEN.

Now it’s time for the homestretch, as it’s just the major awards left, which is good, because it’s 11:20 and I’m getting sleepy, and I have to get up at 5:30 tomorrow for work.

Ellen is now running through the audience to collect money for the pizza, which she has already handed out, and so we’ve seen celebrities like Harrison Ford eating take-out pizza at the Oscars.  Ellen gets money from Kevin Spacey and Brad Pitt, who she hits up for extra since he’s there for more than one movie.

Robert De Niro and Penelope Cruz present the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and the winner is:  12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Could this be the beginning of Big Awards Sweep for 12 YEARS?

And for Best Original Screenplay, the winner is:  HER, screenplay by Spike Jonze.

It has not been a good night for AMERICAN HUSTLE.  Just sayin.

Angelina Jolie & Sidney Poitier come out to announce the award for Best Director.  Jolie thanks Poitier for his groundbreaking work over the years, and says to him:  “We’re in your debt.”  And Poitier tells the audience, “Please keep up the wonderful work.”  Poitier looks old and frail, but at least he looks old and natural.

The winner for Best Director goes to Alfonso Cuaron for GRAVITY.   Wow.  This one surprised me.  I thought Steve McQueen would win for 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  This has turned out to be a really big night for GRAVITY.

Daniel Day Lewis presents the Best Actress Award, and the winner is:  Cate Blanchett for BLUE JASMINE – I didn’t see BLUE JASMINE, but I like Blanchett a lot, so I’m glad she won.  And even though both Sandra Bullock and Amy Adams were very good in their roles, I’ve seen them better in other movies.

Blanchett gives an energetic speech, making a nice plug for movies with women in the lead roles, and for movies about women, saying they are not just niches, that audiences really want to see these kinds of movies and more importantly that they make money.

Jennifer Lawrence, looking great tonight, presents the Best Actor award, and the winner is:  Matthew McConaughey for the DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.  This comes as no surprise.  Glad he won.

Will Smith presents the Award for Best Picture.  Nothing against Smith, but he’s the best you can get to present Best Picture?  How about Steven Spielberg?  Clint Eastwood?   Morgan Freeman?  Some other elder statesman or giant of the genre?  Anyway, the winner is:  12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Nice choice.

Well, as the show ends, it’s midnight- and with that, I can now go to bed.  A big night for GRAVITY as it wins 7 Awards, and AMERICAN HUSTLE ends up getting shut out.

Well, that’s all she wrote.  Good night everybody!

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—