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Posts Tagged ‘Ron Perlman’

Liev Schreiber as boxer Chuck Wepner

“CHUCK” My rating: B

98 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Watching a familiar actor utterly lose him/herself in a role is one of the deep pleasures of moviegoing.

Liev Schreiber makes that transformation in “Chuck.” But then so do Naomi Watts (a.k.a. Mrs. Schreiber), Elizabeth Moss, Ron Perlman and Jim Gaffigan.

The subject of director Philippe Falardeau’s bracing little film (the screenplay is credited to Jeff Feuerzeig, Jerry Stahl, Michael  Cristofer and Schreiber) is Chuck Wepner, the  New Jersey club fighter known affectionately/sardonically as the “Bayonne Bleeder” for his willingness to be beaten to a pulp.  (In fact, “Chuck’s” original title was “The Bleeder.” Wish they’d stuck with it.)

In 1975 the virtually unknown Wepner got a crack at taking away Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight belt in a bout conceived and advertised by promoter Don King as a blatant racial  confrontation.

Werner’s fight strategy was pretty simple: “I could’t hit  him. I figured I’d wear him down with my face.”

Wepner didn’t win, but he lasted for more than 14 bloody rounds against the world’s best, sending the champ to the mat once and losing by a TKO with only 19 seconds left in the fight.

Out in Hollywood a struggling actor named Sylvester Stallone was so inspired by Wepner’s David-and-Goliath story that he wrote a screenplay called “Rocky.”

“Chuck” isn’t really a boxing film. Rather, it is simultaneously a fact-based yarn about the ever-widening fallout from the Ali-Wepner fight and a character study of a Palooka whose a brief brush with fame went straight to his head.

Schreiber’s Chuck, who narrates his story, is by most accounts a pretty average guy. He worked as a nightclub bouncer and as a debt collector for a loan shark, though his heart wasn’t in it. (“I was never good at roughing guys up. Too nice.”)

His wife Phyllis (Moss) is the family breadwinner, thanks to her gig with the U.S. Post Office. Chuck shows his appreciation by writing heartfelt doggerel about her virtues.

Eventually an admirer lands Chuck a liquor distributorship.  It’s an OK living, but it provides way too many opportunities to hang around bars and pick up other women. (It also provides an opportunity for a soundtrack filled with disco hits.)

The Ali fight provides Chuck with bragging rights and celebrity status.  Once “Rocky” becomes an Oscar-winning phenomenon, everyone assumes he must have sold his story to the  movies for big bucks.  In fact, Chuck didn’t earn a cent off the film.

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Eddie Redmayne

Eddie Redmayne

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”  My rating: C

133 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

There’s some magic in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” but it’s all courtesy of the special effects and design departments.

Dramatically speaking, this attempt to expand the “Harry Potter” franchise is stillborn. Not even the usually screen-dominating Eddie Redmayne can give it a compelling head or heart.

Based on an original screenplay by “Potter” creator J.K. Rowling (who also produced this film),  “Fantastic Beasts…” is a prequel unfolding in the 1920s. This setting gives the set and costume designers plenty to play with, and their vision of Jazz Age New York City — and the parallel wizarding world that coexists with it — is rich and evocative.

Would that the same could be said for the story and characters.

Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, a British wizard who comes to the Big Apple with a small suitcase filled with fantastic creatures. Eventually we learn that he’s a sort of Marlon Perkins on a mission to preserve magical species on the verge of extinction. Much of the film consists of chase scenes in which Newt tries to recapture escapees from his luggage.

Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell

The first one, involving a platypus-like creature that gobbles up jewelry and precious metals, is mildly amusing. Things go downhill from there.

Newt finds that America’s wizarding world is in crisis. The Magical Congress of the U.S.A., the governing institution, has been fighting a losing battle to keep wizardry a secret from the Muggles (only the Yanks call them No-Mags…as in “no magic”). But their cover is being blown by the depredations of some sort of malevolent magical creature that is leveling entire blocks of Manhattan.

Newt’s guide through North American wizardry is Porpetina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a sort of bob-coiffed lady detective who has taken it upon herself to police these mysterious happenings.

And he unwittingly gets a sidekick, a roly poly and somewhat bumbling human named Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, who immediately begins stealing scenes from his Oscar-winning costar. In fact Fogler’s disbelieving No-Mag is the single best thing in the film, and his romance with Porpentina’s psychic sister  Queenie (Alison Sudol) provides the only charm and genuine emotion.

Something’s amiss when the second bananas eclipse the leads.

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Jeremy Irvine (at right in white T-shirt)

Jeremy Irvine (at right in white T-shirt)…there’s a riot goin’ on

“STONEWALL” My rating: C 

121 minutes | MPAA raitng: R

“Stonewall” wants to be the epic Gay Pride origin movie.

Hey, I want to be a big-league outfielder.

Scripted by playwright Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Roland Emmerich (who’s more at home with big-budget spectacles like “Stargate,” “Independence Day,” “The Patriot” and “Godzilla”), the film dramatizes the conditions that led to the Stonewall riots of 1969, regarded by many as the official beginning of the Gay Pride movement.

We meet apple-cheeked, corn-fed and very cute Danny (Jeremy Irvine) getting off the bus in the Big Apple in the spring of ’69. He heads straight for Christopher Street, where Danny is taken aback to see two men openly holding hands. He’s uncomfortable when he draws the attention of  the salacious Ray (Jonny Beauchamp), the long-haired, sashaying, very feminine leader of a group of young street hustlers.

But a young man needs friends in the big bad city, and Ray and  his fellow homeless sex workers (they sleep a dozen to a hotel room) are weirdly nurturing.  Plus, they introduce Danny to the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village dive run by the mob (Ron Perlman plays the manager) and catering exclusively to gays.

Make that gays and cops. A night at the Stonewall is likely to get you arrested and beaten up, given that police raids (not only was homosexuality illegal in 1969, but selling alcohol to gays was illegal, too) are a frequent occurrence.

But it’s at the Stonewall that Danny meets Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a somewhat older guy who between sexy slow dances tries to raise the newcomer’s political conscience about gay rights.

Periodically we get flashback’s to Danny’s life in small-town Indiana, where he is the son of a bullet-headed high school football coach.  When his affair with a fellow player is discovered, Danny is disowned by his family — except for his little sister (Joey King), who is as compassionate and open minded as everyone else is stupid and rigid — and heads off for the greener, more tolerant pastures of Manhattan.

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Ryan Gosling as The Driver

“DRIVE”  My rating: B- (Opens wide on Sept. 16)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There are parts of “Drive” that I absolutely loved.

There were others that made me shake my head in disbelief.

Talk about leaving a film with mixed feelings!

“Drive” cements my suspicion that Ryan Gosling is an absolutely great actor.

And it introduces to mainstream American audiences Nicolas Winding Refn, a Danish filmmaker of tremendous talent.

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