CREED 2 (2018) – Okay Sequel Derivative of Previous ROCKY movies

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CREED 2

CREED 2 (2018) is actually the sequel to two movies, CREED (2015) and ROCKY IV (1985). As such, it has a lot on its card, and to continue using boxing language, its undercard somewhat outperforms its main event.

The first CREED continued the story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as he trained Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of his former boxing opponent and eventual friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). While the movie’s title declared it was the story of Adonis Creed, it also featured Rocky Balboa prominently and certainly continued the ROCKY storyline. I enjoyed CREED quite a bit.

ROCKY IV found Rocky training his former opponent and newfound buddy Apollo Creed for a fight against a massive and very deadly Soviet boxer named Drago (Dolph Lundgren). In the fight, Apollo dies from his injuries, and since this was a Rocky movie, it’s up to Rocky Balboa to save the day and somehow defeat the monstrous Drago in the film’s climactic bout.

I was never a fan of ROCKY IV and enjoyed the first three ROCKY movies better. However, ROCKY IV is one of those movies that has grown in stature over the years and has actually aged pretty well. In fact, for many fans, ROCKY IV is the best of the series. While I don’t share that opinion, I certainly do enjoy it more now than I did when I first saw it at the theater in 1985.

In CREED 2,  Ivan Drago trains his son, the equally monstrous Viktor Drago (Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu) to become boxing champion, and they set their sights on a championship bout against Adonis Creed. Since Ivan Drago is the man who killed his father, Adonis naturally wants to accept the challenge and defeat Viktor Drago to restore honor to his father’s name.

Of course, Rocky is against this fight, as he feels guilty for not stopping the bout in which Apollo died. Adonis decides to pursue the match anyway without Rocky’s help. Predictably, Rocky is eventually pulled back into Adonis’ corner, helping to train the young fighter for the championship rumble.

Nothing that happens in CREED 2 is much of a surprise, and this certainly works against the movie. In spite of a lot of hype and box office success, it’s really just a by the numbers sequel providing nothing new or different from what we’ve already seen in previous ROCKY movies.

As I said, the undercard here outperforms the main event, or in movie terms, the subplots work better than the main plot.

I really enjoyed the Drago storyline. It was fun to see Dolph Lundgren reprising his signature role of Ivan Drago after all these years, and he still looks formidable enough to get back inside that boxing ring to take on Sylvester Stallone. ROCKY X, anyone? Seriously, though, Drago is training his son to win because when he lost that fight to Rocky all those years ago, he lost everything – honor, country, his wife.  He’s been living as an outcast in frigid Russia ever since. There is a lot on the line if his son can win.

As such, in spite of the fact that these guys are supposed to be the “villains” of the movie, I oftentimes found their story more sympathetic than Creed’s and Rocky’s, and I found myself wanting young Drago to win the fight. Furthermore, in spite of their He-Man toughness, there’s a chemistry on display here between the two actors which creates a father-son bond that really works, more so here than the chemistry between Adonis and Rocky.

The one scene between Rocky and Ivan Drago in which they meet for the first time since the fight is one of the movie’s finer moments. There should have been more of these scenes. There are not.

Likewise, as a Rocky fan, the Rocky scenes also worked for me. I continue to enjoy watching Rocky’s storyline play out, from his somber graveside visits to his deceased wife Adrian, to his wise mentorship of the fiery Adonis, to his angst over his estranged relationship with his adult son, I liked it all.  Sure, Stallone can play Rocky in his sleep, but he does it well. I’ve always liked Stallone and feel he has never really received the respect he deserves.

But the main plot, the one about Adonis, just didn’t work all that well for me, and in a movie called CREED 2, that’s not a good thing.

Since I enjoyed CREED so much, it’s not the characters at all, but simply the story. To me, the idea that Adonis would rush into a bout against Drago just didn’t resonate with me or feel all that authentic. He had just won the championship. Viktor Drago had won nothing. It certainly would have made sense for Adonis to defend his title a couple of times before setting up a fight with Viktor. Likewise, Viktor should have worked his way up to the title bout.

Plus, to me, both Dragos had more to gain and to lose than Adonis, and so their story was more interesting. Adonis was already champion. If he wins, sure he could claim a victory for his deceased father, but if he loses, he had already proven himself to be a champion fighter. Viktor Drago hadn’t proven anything yet, and if he loses, his fate is a return to icy Russia. In fact, the final shot of father and son Drago jogging under an ashen Russian sky is a depressing reminder of this fate.

I like Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed, but his storyline here just wasn’t as emotional or as locked in as the one told in the first CREED. And it goes beyond the boxing angle. I thought his relationship with both Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and his mother Mary Ann Creed (Phylicia Rashad) were rehashes of things we saw in the first movie. Adonis and Bianca marry here and have a baby, but I thought all of these scenes strangely fell flat. Perhaps it’s because they were so similar to scenes from earlier ROCKY movies.

And that’s the biggest knock I have against CREED 2. It’s so derivative from the other ROCKY movies, from dialogue about what it takes to be a fighter, to the personal relationships and the toll boxing takes on family members, to the training montages, to the boxing matches themselves. For me, the entire thing other than the Drago subplot was a bad case of “been there, done that.”

Director Steven Caple Jr. simply didn’t add any distinguishing attributes to make the movie stand on its own. The fight scenes are okay, but I’ve seen better, and the same can be said for the training montages. I also thought the pace slowed down about two-thirds of the way through. The first CREED, which was directed by Ryan Coogler, had an edge to it that this sequel simply doesn’t possess. Coogler of course also directed BLACK PANTHER (2018), a superior Marvel superhero movie, which also featured Michael B. Jordan, as one of Marvel’s better and more sympathetic movie villains, Erik Killmonger.

The screenplay to CREED 2 was written by Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor, and it largely goes through the motions.

As a ROCKY fan, it would be difficult for me not to enjoy CREED 2, and I did enjoy it, but I also recognize that it is sadly derivative of nearly every ROCKY movie which has come before it.

I judge this one a split decision.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

New in 2019! DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version coming soon!

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

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

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

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

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

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. 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 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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