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Clichéd and contrived
I'll say this for Jake Gyllenhaal: I don't think any other currently working actor physically commits to a role as much as he does. He went from the spindly, underweight creep in 2014's "Nightcrawler" to a totally ripped boxer in 2015's "Southpaw." As far as physicality is concerned, Gyllenhaal is 100% believable as a boxer. Unfortunately, that's where the plausibility of this film pretty much begins and ends.
In a very short time span (even the supposed time frame within the movie), we see Gyllenhaal's Billy Hope go from undisputed world light heavyweight champion to losing literally all of his money and living in the projects. All this happens because another boxer mouths off to Billy at a charity event, which leads to fisticuffs and a gun going off that kills Billy's wife! The other boxer takes the gun from his crew member who fired it, but even though the police are en route and he's at the center of the incident, he is not caught with the gun and is never formally implicated.
From there it's a very quick slide downhill, as Billy loses his title and is even suspended from the sport, followed by further descent as he loses his daughter into state custody, and somehow losing every single thing he owns and even every last nickel. Even though he's a famous sports personality, overnight he goes from living in a mansion to living in the projects working as a janitor. Again, even in the movie's time frame this is all a matter of weeks.
He needs to train and he needs work, so he finds a dirty old gym and a tough, no-nonsense trainer. Meanwhile, the boxer at the center of the murder of Billy's wife is now the light heavyweight champion. After a single exhibition match, Billy is offered a chance at the title! If you're thinking this sounds familiar, yes it is, you've seen in 100 times. Do you wonder how it will end? No, you don't. You know how it will end.
"Southpaw" borrows from dozens of films -- from pretty much every sports movie ever, but most notably the "Rocky" movies (in particular "Rocky V," I think), "The Karate Kid" movies, "The Wrestler," and "The Champ," and no cliché is too clichéd for the filmmakers. Yes, there is even a training montage!
That's all a shame, too, because Billy Hope and his wife's shared background (both orphans) has the making for an interesting story, and there are some fine actors on hand, including Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, and Rachel McAdams. Unfortunately, McAdams is only allowed to be the standard boxer's wife nagging her husband to quit the sport or risk brain damage, before being unceremoniously killed off, while Whitaker is stuck playing a combination of Mr. Miyagi, Eddie Dupris and Mickey Goldmill.
Within these limitations, each actor has his moments, especially Gyllenhaal. In fact, there are several scenes that work well on their own, but on the whole the movie just doesn't add up to anything but another "champion becomes underdog and becomes champion again" film.
The Gunman (2015)
Wow, this movie was unexpectedly dull! With director Pierre Morel and actors Sean Penn, Javier Bardem and Ray Winstone on board, I expected a slam-dunk action/thriller. Morel's films to date -- "District B13," the first "Taken" and "From Paris with Love" have been have been fairly mindless yet fast-paced, entertaining popcorn flicks. This one just lumbers along like a poor man's "Bourne Identity" that never manages to get off the ground.
There are two big differences between this film and Morel's earlier efforts: Those films were written or co-written by Luc Besson, whose scripts are often borderline ridiculous (e.g. "Lucy") but almost always entertaining and full of snappy dialogue. Perhaps more importantly, the other films each clock in around 90 minutes, but this one plods on for nearly two hours! Even with the cliché-ridden script and phoned-in performances, a tighter edit might have provided some sense of momentum.
I'm not super-picky when it comes to action movies, but in this rare instance I actually lost all interest long before the final credits rolled. View at your own risk.
Star Trek (2009)
OK, so I have Nichelle Nichols' autograph, and a photo of me with James Doohan. I guess I was a Trekkie in my younger days -- but only for the original series, and I guess the films with the original crew, not the spin-offs. All the more reason I really wanted to like this film.
I don't even know where to begin. This film is a mess. It doesn't work for me as a popcorn movie, let alone as Star Trek. The plot is ridiculous and full of holes. (Black holes, get it?) Trekkies have always been able to forgive ridiculous plots (e.g. Star Trek movies three through six), as long as it meant we'd get to see Kirk and crew back in action. This so-called reboot is barely recognizable.
Rather than doing a sustained impression of William Shatner's Kirk, Chris Pine appears to have opted instead for a sustained impression of Christian Slater. Never mind how Pine plays Kirk, the character hardly resembles the original anyway. Instead of James T. Kirk, the master tactician who lived and breathed Starfleet, but wasn't afraid to buck the system, we get James T. Kirk, the reckless a-hole who has issues with authority.
Then there is Spock. Instead of cool, logical, level-headed but still part human Spock, we get vindictive, whiny Spock -- who is having a hot affair with Lt. Uhura, who herself appears to be a descendant of Beyonce.
All of the remaining characters -- including the villain -- are written and played fairly one-dimensionally. The only characters that seem to come close to the originals are Scotty -- who is in the film all too briefly -- and Chekhov.
Yeah, I know, this is now "alternate universe" Star Trek, because Nero and "Spock Prime" went back in time and changed the past, present and future. That shouldn't mean everything has to suck.
Woe to Leonard Nimoy, for not being able to resist a little more Spock money. The producers obviously lured him into this film to give it some Trek credibility (Trekibility), but it doesn't help. Shatner should be glad he wasn't asked.
Well, I know I am going against the grain here. This film has done huge box office, so JJ Abrams and crew will make more of them. Let me save you the trouble of waiting, or traveling to the future to see them: They will also suck.
Death Sentence (2007)
Wow, what a waste of time
Good golly, this is one bad, bad movie. I must agree with one poster on the message boards: Sitting all the way through such a dumb movie leaves one feeling pretty stupid.
What's wrong with this movie? Well, when creating fiction, a good rule of thumb is to come up with some sympathetic characters -- at least the main character should be someone with whom the audience can empathize. The plot should also be plausible. Unfortunately, the main character in Death Sentence is a complete idiot, and the plot is so ridiculous I cannot even come up with an adequate metaphor.
If you are tempted to watch this movie, please allow me to save you some time with this short summary.
First, the main character, Nick Hume, (played by Kevin Bacon) almost runs out of gas with his oldest son in the car, and has to stop in a very bad part of town, an irresponsible oversight that directly leads to the death of his son. Then, rather than send his son's murderer to prison (where he could at least take some comfort in the fact that the murderer would spend the next five years or so being forcibly sodomized), he decides he's Charles Bronson and murders the guy instead.
Thus, Mr. Hume invites the wrath of the killer's brother and his drug-crazed gang of psychopaths, directly leading to the murder of his wife, and the critical injuring of his other son and himself -- because apparently the best thing to do when you know a gang is coming to kill you is to just stay home and wait it out. (Luckily, he and his son are only injured, because as lustful as this gang is for revenge, they only put one bullet in each family member, and don't bother to check if they are dead or not.) When he wakes up in the hospital, he does not cry for his dead wife or kick himself for being such reckless idiot. He spends a minute with his presumably dying son, then goes out the hospital window to finish what he started. Remarkably, the police do not think to look for him at his home, which is the first place he goes, and is also a crime scene. Neither do they try to call him on his mobile phone, which he is carrying, or look for his car, which he is driving.
Mr. Hume buys a bunch of guns, gives himself a very bad haircut for no apparent reason, and then sets about wasting the rest of the gang in a very graphic fashion, shooting like Jet Li -- pretty good for a stockbroker.
Critically, perhaps mortally, wounded, Mr. Hume goes home -- where the police finally figure out he might be -- sits down on his sofa and watches old home movies. The police tell him his son might pull through. The movie ends there, but we can assume in a final act of idiocy that Mr. Hume dies, thereby leaving his sole surviving son an orphan. Thanks, Dad.
In closing, I suggest that if you need to see a revenge movie, rent Death Wish instead.
Worthy topic -- awful movie
I happened to catch this on TV, and wanted to watch because I remembered the Spin magazine article upon which the movie is based. I was very disappointed. First, if James Belushi is the lead actor in a movie, it should be a sign that it's not exactly an A-list production. Gregory Hines was a world class dancer, but sadly not a great actor.
In fact, all of the acting in this film is either flat or hammy, which can only be blamed on the director, who is this film's weakest link. Charles Carner seemed to be trying to ape Oliver Stone's "JFK" in portraying the alleged conspiracy to cover up the "real" child murderer(s), but without the benefit of a good script, an A-list cast or, it must be said, the talent. It just doesn't work.
It's a shame that such a worthy topic for a film did not get better treatment.
That '70s Show (1998)
Not very "70s"
I've tried to watch this show several times, but for a show called "That '70s Show," I don't find much apart from a few haircuts and the occasional reference to disco that actually evokes the '70s -- the decade in which I grew up. Of the episodes I have seen, most of the plots and jokes could be set in any time period. Take away the novelty of (supposedly) being set in the '70s, and the show is neither interesting nor funny.
If you're looking for a show that more successfully represents the experience of youth in America in the '70s, in my humble opinion you can do no better than "The Wonder Years."
Mad About You (1992)
A much better show than I ever expected
I never watched this show in its original run, because I thought it was a sappy "relationship" comedy. I have since caught it in syndication, and I am surprised at how good it is. It does have its sappy moments (like even the greatest sitcoms -- except "Seinfeld," which poked fun at this show at least once), but at the core of the show is an homage to all things Manhattan, and classic comedy heavily influenced by "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "I Love Lucy," and Sid Caesar. I have laughed out loud more to this show than I have to some of my other favorites.
The show does have its weaknesses and some annoying characters, but the comedy holds up anyway. If you have avoided this show until now, give it a try.
Team America: World Police (2004)
Brilliantly offensive to everyone
I never liked "South Park," so this movie did not interest me much when it came out. I happened to catch it on TV a few months ago, and I cannot remember the last time I laughed so much.
Many may also have avoided "Team America," due to a perception of it as being a low-brow, jingoistic, potty-mouthed frag-fest. True, it is a potty-mouthed frag-fest, which skewers Hollywood liberals, Muslims, France, and a certain North Korean dictator, but it is so much more.
Perhaps I am giving the film makers too much credit, but as I see it they also savage the "War on Terror," American machismo, conservatives, and Hollywood in general. Indeed, the film attacks mediocrity and shallowness, allowing almost no element of our popular culture to escape unscathed. (The awful film "Pearl Harbor" and its schlockmeister director Michael Bay -- also responsible for the craptastic "Armageddon" -- are brutalized in a particularly hilarious song.)
If you can handle some sick humor and haven't seen this movie yet, give it a try. If you are not laughing your head off by the end of the first scene, turn it off.
Bad dialog, bad acting, bad hairpieces. I never heard of this movie until it was on satellite this month, which is odd considering it's a Bruce Willis movie. Now I know why. Every cliché in the police/hostage drama book.
And the thing with Bruce Willis' family -- his wife and daughter are on screen for about two minutes, next time you see them they are hostages in the back of a van. Why should we care about characters who showed up only briefly before? Movie-making 101: Build the characters so the audience cares.
I used to think Bruce Willis could be pretty good in anything. This is the exception that proves the rule. Don't waste your time.
"Do not forget your dying king."
"JFK" is a remarkable accomplishment for director Oliver Stone, especially when you realize that his main protagonist, Jim Garrison, was in reality a total nut-case, not to mention a jerk. So Stone's first challenge was to create a likable and sane protagonist.
Stone was able to take elements of Garrison's book and the Clay Bertrand case, infuse it with tons of other information from other sources, and present the theory of a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy in a very engrossing and entertaining manner.
The editing and cinematography are dazzling, the casting is inspired, and the acting is superb -- even the wooden Kevin Costner is just right in the (extremely idealized) role of Jim Garrison. "JFK" stands up to repeated viewing. I recently watched for about the tenth time.
This film will have a deserved place in history, due to its impact on the public consciousness. When it came out, it reawakened the public debate over Kennedy's assassination. That is not a debate between conspiracy theorists and everyone else. In fact, there are a lot of regular folks from that generation, my parents included, who believe the complete truth has never been revealed.
"JFK" does not ultimately answer any questions. For all of the film's faults, it does succeed in raising a number of questions which to this day have gone unanswered.
One fine morning...