Chuck (2017)


Liev Schreiber gets ready to take on the role of Chuck Wepner.

(2017) Sports Biography (IFC) Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Michael Rapaport, Jim Gaffigan, Pooch Hall, Jason Jones, Morgan Spector, Sadie Sink, Zina Wilde, Catherine Corcoran, Wass Stevens, Angela Marie Ray, Liz Celeste, Ivan Martin, Joe Starr, Jen Ponton, William Hill, Mark Borkowski, Marell Miniutti, Leslie Lyles, Megan Sikora. Directed by Phillippe Falardeau

 

America loves an underdog and perhaps there’s been no bigger underdog in U.S. boxing history than Chuck Wepner. A journeyman heavyweight in the 1970s based in Bayonne, New Jersey, he’d had a decent enough career, winning the Jersey State Heavyweight Championship but had never really fought any of the big dogs of the era – until 1975.

Wepner (Schreiber) has a certain amount of local fame as he is treated like he’d won the heavyweight championship of the world. Of course, admiration doesn’t put food on the table so he runs a liquor route to make ends meet. His wife Phyliss (Moss) endures the boxing in which he takes terrible beatings but Chuck tends to have a wandering eye – and the other body parts unfortunately wander as well. The marriage is most definitely sailing through rough waters and while Chuck is devoted to his daughter Kimberly (Sink) his ego tends to get in the way of making smart choices.

After Ali (Hall) wins the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman, his manager Don King invites Wepner to fight for the championship against Ali, then just a little past his prime. The match is expected to be a joke but Wepner gives Ali everything he can handle, coming just 18 seconds away from going the distance until Ali, angered that Wepner had knocked him down, pummeled him into a technical knockout. Still, Wepner became a folk hero.

A young out-of-work actor named Sylvester Stallone (Spector) sees the fight and is inspired to write a character based on Wepner – Stallone names him Rocky Balboa. The rest is history and although Wepner has nothing to do with the movie itself, he feels a sense of accomplishment when the movie wins multiple Oscars as if he had been responsible. He starts billing himself as “The Real Rocky.”

But all the accolades and adulation get Chuck’s ego spiraling out of control and he spends the Disco Decade in debauchery, doing drugs, drinking heavily and partying with women. Having had enough, Phyliss leaves him for good and Chuck sinks into a deep depression fueled by drugs and alcohol. Standing by him is his estranged brother John (Rapaport), his best friend (Gaffigan), his longtime manager (Perlman) and a barmaid named Linda (Watts) who is unimpressed with Chuck’s fame. Will it be enough to get him back on the straight and narrow?

Because the stories are so similar, the first part of the film comes off as kind of a Rocky Lite which may or may not be what the filmmakers intended. Then, in a sense, it all goes off the rails as Wepner gets lost in the trappings of fame, 70s style – discos, tons of drugs, tons of sex. It turns into a cautionary tale at that point which is diametrically different to the underdog story that it began as.

One of the things that really caught my attention is that Falardeau accomplishes either digitally or by using film stock the look of era movies which helps keep you right in the 70s. The trappings of the time – the truly obnoxious hair, the boxy cars, the outlandish clothes and the pulse of disco – further set the tone.

Schreiber of late has gotten notoriety for playing the Hollywood fixer Ray Donovan on Showtime and I can’t help but notice that while both Donovan and Wepner are violent men, Donovan is clever and street smart while Wepner is easily swayed by praise. Wepner has an ego which makes some sense since he came from a background in which his ego along with his body took a pounding. When everybody loves you, it’s hard not to love yourself.

While there is some humor to the movie it falls flat in that regard a little more often than I would have liked. The humor is a bit heavy-handed and the movie would have benefited from a lighter tone overall. As for the story, some of you might be aware of Wepner’s history but most people won’t; still, the story is a bit predictable even though it is based on Wepner’s life. Hollywood has had lots of Wepners in its history.

As boxing movies go, this one isn’t going to make any grand changes to the genre but it doesn’t disgrace itself either. It’s entertaining enough and for those who are wary of the big summer blockbusters that are taking up most of the screens in the local multiplex, this makes a very entertaining counter option.

REASONS TO GO: The movie was shot to look like it was filmed in the 70s which enhances the sense of era.  Schreiber is appealing as Wepner in a Ray Donovan-esque way.
REASONS TO STAY: The filmmaker needed a lighter touch here. Overall the film is inoffensive but predictable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of profanity, plenty of drug use, some sexuality and nudity, a lot of boxing violence and a few bloody images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally titled The Bleeder in reference to Wepner’s boxing nickname “The Bayonne Bleeder.” Wepner claims the title changed due to it sounding like a horror film but it is also well-known that he detested the nickname.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/26/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ali
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Power Rangers

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The Night Before


Kickin' it, old school.

Kickin’ it, old school.

(2015) Holiday Comedy (Columbia) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon, Heléne Yorke, Ilana Glazer, Aaron Hill, Tracy Morgan, Darrie Lawrence, Nathan Fielder, James Franco, Miley Cyrus, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Baron Davis, Jason Jones, Jason Mantzoukas, Randall Park, Mindy Kaling, Lorraine Toussaint, Theodora Woolley. Directed by Jonathan Levine

The Holly and the Quill

Christmas traditions, established when we are young, can sometimes last a lifetime but some of those traditions, particularly of the sort that most wouldn’t consider Christmas-y have a tendency to die out as we mature. When we reach a time in our lives in which we’re making a turning point into adulthood, traditions of all sorts change.

That seems to be happening for a trio of friends who have gone out every Christmas Eve ever since the funeral of Ethan’s (Gordon-Levitt) parents in 2001 when they died in a tragic car accident. His good friends Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie) took Ethan out partying that night to get his mind off his grief, and it became a tradition of sorts; going to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, hanging out in their favorite karaoke bar (and doing a killer rendition of ”Christmas in Hollis”) and searching for the legendary Nutcracka Ball, the Holy Grail of Christmas parties in New York.

Being that this is a Seth Rogen movie, there are also copious amounts of drugs, supplied in this case by Isaac’s wife Betsy (Bell), a good Catholic girl who is days away from giving birth and wants to reward her husband for having been “her rock” throughout the pregnancy by allowing him to have a good time with his buddies, no questions asked.

All three of the boys are on the cusp of becoming men as they hit their thirties; Isaac about to be a dad, Chris – now a pro football player – having the best season of his career although it is suspiciously late in said career….well, that leaves Ethan who is still struggling with adulthood. His failure to commit has cost him his longtime girlfriend Diana (Caplan) whom he runs into at the karaoke bar, partying with her friend Sarah (Kaling). While serving canapés dressed as an elf at a hoity toity Manhattan party, he runs across tickets to the Ball – and knowing that this is their last hurrah, the three intend to send their traditions out with a big bang.

There are celebrity cameos galore, including Rogen’s bromance buddy James Franco, playing himself (and Sarah’s date) sending dick pics to Sarah which Isaac gets to see since the two accidentally switched phones; Michael Shannon plays Mr. Green, a mysterious drug dealer who might be a whole lot more than he seems; former Daily Show regular Jason Jones also shows up as a semi-inebriated Santa who appears at a particularly low point in the evening for Ethan.

The movie is surprisingly heartwarming, and while allusion to Christmas tales like A Christmas Carol and Die Hard abound, this is definitely a Rogen movie (his regular writing partner Evan Goldberg is one of the four writers on the project) although to be fair, Isaac is more of a supporting character to Ethan who is the focus here.

The chemistry between the three leads is solid and you can believe their friendship is strong. Levine wisely uses the comedy to serve the story rather than the other way around which most comedies these days seem to do; there are some genuinely funny moments as the night becomes more and more surreal (it’s also nice to hear Tracy Morgan narrating and make a late onscreen appearance). Of course, being a Seth Rogen movie (as we’ve mentioned) the drug humor tends to go a little bit over-the-top and those who think Cheech and Chong are vulgar are likely to find this one so as well.

The good news is that the performances here are solid and the likeability of Gordon-Levitt gives the movie a whole lot of cred since the characters on the surface aren’t terribly likable. Hanging out with the immature can make for a trying cinematic experience but fortunately the fact that all three of the actors here are so genuinely likable and charismatic saves the movie from being a drudge and actually elevates it into maybe not Christmas classic status, but certainly a movie that might generate some holiday traditions of its own.

REASONS TO GO: Really, really funny. Some nice performances by Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Shannon.
REASONS TO STAY: Overdoes the drug humor.
FAMILY VALUES: A ton of drug humor, lots of profanity, some graphic nudity and a good deal of sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and director Levine all worked together in the film 50/50.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/27/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Hot Tub Time Machine 2


The requisite non-drug user accidental drug ingestion sequence.

The requisite non-drug user accidental drug ingestion sequence.

(2015) Sci-Fi Comedy (Paramount/MGM) Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Adam Scott, Gillian Jacobs, Chevy Chase, Collette Wolfe, Bianca Haase, Jason Jones, Kumail Nanjiani, Kellee Stewart, Josh Heald, Gretchen Koerner, Lisa Loeb, Jessica Williams, Bruce Buffer, Mariana Paola Vicente, Adam Herschman, Kisha Sierra, Olivia Jordan. Directed by Steve Pink

Second chances don’t come easily or often. We generally have one shot at making the right choice. Being human, we don’t always make the right choice, which is where the need for second chances come in.

After having gone back in time and in the process changing their lives for the better, the three buddies are beginning to get a little, well, bored. Lou (Corddry) is a former metal God and tech mogul who’s search engine “Lougle” has slowly been losing market share and is in danger of going under, although Lou – hopelessly coked out, drunk and hooked on whatever drugs he can get his hands on – stays the blissfully ignorant course.

Nick (Robinson) has become one of the biggest recording artist/producers in the world using songs other people wrote – before they wrote them, such as the Lisa Loeb hit “Stay (I Missed You)” (the bespectacled singer makes a cameo as a cat wrangler who confides to Nick that every time she hears his version of the song she feels oddly violated). However, he continues to be somewhat henpecked by his wife Courtney (Stewart).

Jacob (Duke) is essentially Lou’s butler as well as his son and is headed down a similar road as Lou has taken. The relationship between the two continues to be strained.

Then at a party, a mysterious figure shoots Lou in the crotch. Jacob has somehow managed to secret the hot tub time machine in a hidden room in the house. Figuring out that someone had used the time machine in the future to come back and assassinate Lou, they head to the future to try and discover who – among many suspects – would want to murder Lou.

In 2025 they meet Adam (Scott), the son of their fourth member who has apparently disappeared into a dimension all his own. In an era where the loser of a high school classmate Gary Winkle (Jones) has become wealthy because Lou was a dick to him in 2015, where reality TV game shows include virtual anal rape, where smart cars can be homicidal, and where masturbation has gotten the ultimate high tech aid, the crew bumbles through trying to locate the man who shot Lou and stop him from carrying out the plan, leaving Lou to wink out of existence.

The first Hot Tub Time Machine was an example of a movie in which I had low expectations for and was pleasantly surprised; the sequel is an example of a movie in which I had high expectations for and was sadly disappointed. This is nowhere near as funny as the first movie and definitely suffers for the lack of John Cusack who was essentially the anchor of the first film. Corddry, Robinson and Duke were more or less supporting characters and now have to take center stage. Corddry, who was especially good in the first movie, really doesn’t have anywhere to go with his one-dimensional character other than performing the same kind of actions. It’s not as good the second time around.

There are some laughs to be sure, but the movie needs an anchor. A lead character who the action swirls around. Instead we have hear a selection of supporting characters waiting for a straight man. Having Adam Scott – a very talented comic actor – in the mix is a good move, but he doesn’t really have a story line and in the end is essentially another supporting character. Corddry is the ostensible lead but his character functions better on the outside.

I was hoping this would be hilarious (it was originally slated for a Christmas release) but it simply isn’t funny enough. It’s decently entertaining but little more which I suppose is fine for this time of year but definitely makes me yearn for a few months hence when we’ll start to see a better caliber of movie from the studios. For now, this will have to do.

REASONS TO GO: Some sly time travel movie in-jokes. Funny in places.
REASONS TO STAY: Not funny enough. Doesn’t really build on the first movie. Needed a lead character; more of a collection of supporting characters.
FAMILY VALUES: The humor is fairly crude throughout with plenty of sexual references. There’s also some graphic nudity, drug use and foul language as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: John Cusack, who starred in the first film, has said in interviews that he was never approached or received an offer to appear in this film; there are photographs of him that appear in one scene.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 13% positive reviews. Metacritic: 30/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Click
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Wish Me Away