Film Review: Southpaw (2015)

Release Date: June 15th, 2015 (Shanghai International Film Festival)
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Kurt Sutter
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Naomie Harris, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Oona Laurence, Rachel McAdams

Wanda Pictures, Riche Productions, Escape Artists, Fuqua Films, The Weinstein Company, 123 Minutes

Review:

“Your bitch isn’t here to save you now.” – Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar

*Written in 2015.

I heard great things about Southpaw before seeing it but I was skeptical. I haven’t been a huge fan of Antoine Fuqua’s work but I understand that many people are. I don’t think he makes bad films, they just don’t appeal to me for the most part. Also, this was written by Kurt Sutter, the creator of Sons of Anarchy and I am still recovering from going on that ride recently, which I didn’t find to be that enjoyable. Somehow, however, these two men’s styles blended together well and the result is a pretty good film.

Granted, Southpaw doesn’t come without flaws. I’ll talk about those first.

The film follows the same sort of formula as Sons of Anarchy where the main character is kind of a douchebag that does douchebaggy things. As the film moves on, you find yourself wondering if he can keep getting shittier. He does. In fact, he gets so shitty that it is hard to feel anything for the character of boxer Billy Pope other than disgust. Like Jax and his gang from Sons of Anarchy, I’m left watching some unlikable asshole that I don’t give a shit about. But unlike Sons of Anarchy, that perception changes.

I understand that you have to see the guy hit rock bottom in order to see him redeem himself but it was overkill and it made the first act of the film drag on and on. It was comparable to the immense destruction of Metropolis at the end of Man of Steel. The point could have been made without beating the audience over the head.

What brought this whole thing full circle was the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Pope. Because even though you get to the point of despising him, especially after his daughter is put into protective custody, he somehow turns it around and makes it work. There aren’t a lot of actors that could pull it off as seamlessly as Gyllenhaal did.

In addition to Gyllenhaal’s superb acting, we are treated to a fantastic performance by Oona Laurence, who plays his young daughter. Child actors in this day and age are typically dreadful; Laurence is the opposite. She played the role, brushing the cute bullshit aside, committed to it and gave us someone who truly felt like a child going through some personal turmoil. I really attribute her skill as a young actress for making this character shine. If it wasn’t for this performance, it might not have sold the redemption story as well. You cared about her, what she was feeling and you wanted to see her find peace even more so than Gyllenhaal’s Billy Pope.

Forest Whitaker sold this film too. His character Tick Wills was a great figure to play off of Billy and to challenge him and put him on the path of redemption. He was just badass, as he always is.

This is a pretty good movie, overall. It was shaky at first but it went to some really good places and ultimately, the end had you feeling pretty happy for Billy, his daughter and Tick. The tragedy part of the story was maybe too severe to try and come back from but this film pulled it off.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: CreedRocky Balboa, The Fighter and other modern boxing movies.

Film Review: Life (2017)

Release Date: March 18th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Music by: Jon Ekstrand
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Skydance Media, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Control, if you’re listening, and you probably are ’cause you’re creepy that way, can I just rant for a second about the micromanagement? We’re not blood-filled meat puppets. I come from a long line of plumbers that can fix a shower, but I can’t. Well, Hugh doesn’t shower anyway – he’s British. It’s not being critical, you’re just a very under-bathed nation; everybody knows it.” – Rory Adams

Man, oh man… where to begin with this thing?

First, this is one of about a zillion ripoffs of Alien. While I don’t have a problem with that, as some films have done great versions of the smart people trapped in space (or underwater, or in Antarctica, or wherever) with a killer monster, this one follows the majority of the clones and is a derivative piece of shit with selfish stupid scientists and a story that offers up nothing new to this overused subgenre of horror/sci-fi/thrillers.

I will say that this did effectively build some suspense in some areas but even then, you pretty much knew where this was going: everyone is fucked.

The only other real positive was the alien creature itself. It was cool looking in an era where alien species just aren’t memorable in film. It was also fairly unique in how it came to be and how it operated and moved but a visually cool alien doesn’t save a giant pile of dreck. Because as cool and different as the alien was, the picture, as a whole, was the exact opposite. It was a rehash of every bad cliche that’s awfulness was only enhanced by the sheer and utter stupidity of its “smart” characters.

Despite all the apparent flaws, I still tried my damnedest to enjoy this thing. For some reason, I love these “trapped in space with a killer” movies. To some degree, I was even playing this up in my head as better than it really was but all that washed away when I got to the ending, which was incredibly fucking predictable and executed so poorly that I actually audibly LOL’d. And quite boisterously, I might add.

Maybe it’s just my problem, but I’m so damn sick of movies with scientists and smart professionals that make incredibly poor decisions and are so worried about saving their own skin that they’ll put the entire human race in harm’s way. You signed up for the danger; you took on the responsibility of that danger when you brought an alien life form on board your space station. Now it wants to kill you. So fucking deal with it and don’t, in any way, allow it to get to Earth. Are there no heroes in movie science, anymore? You got a killer alien? Cool. Now you have to Ripley the fuck out of it! Or die. But you kill that son of a bitch in the process.

I’ve used a lot of f-bombs in this review, which I typically try to refrain from but fuck this piece of shit. My score for it is only as high as it is because the alien was cool and I wanted it to succeed in murdering all these dumb people.

So does this get run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Of course it does! The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).” You bet your sore ass this was hard to pass.

Film Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

Release Date: September 5th, 2014 (TIFF)
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Written by: Dan Gilroy
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Bold Films, Open Road Films, 117 Minutes

Review:

“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.” – Lou Bloom

Nightcrawler was a film that the critics loved. It was on several top ten lists at the end of 2014 and it even won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. I went into it with a lot of enthusiasm because it was a modern noir-esque picture that had high praise and accolades and starred Jake Gyllwnhall, an actor, who when he is on his A-game, is one of the best working today.

Sadly, I was severely underwhelmed by the movie. It wasn’t due to bad performances, bad direction or lackluster cinematography; all that stuff was good. I just couldn’t connect with the film in the one aspect that was the most highly regarded: the story.

There is no one in Nightcrawler that I care about. Even the Riz Ahmed character sells his soul despite his moral compass and his reservations about his job and how truly evil his boss is. Rene Russo started out strong and was somewhat admirable but ultimately, she sells her soul too. Everyone sells there soul. And the puppet master pulling all the strings is Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom.

The thing that makes the narrative hard to digest or connect with is that you just see Bloom on the surface. He’s a selfish, despicable, greedy madman that doesn’t care what horrible actions he has to take, as long as he is the best at what he does and he makes a lot of money. I can deal with a character like this but there needs to be some sort of context, something beneath what’s immediately apparent by his actions. He’s a reptilian human being and this film exists as a sort of satirical commentary on the media and nightcrawlers in general but it is missing a soul and some meaning.

Maybe this works for the Hollywood types living in L.A., as they witness these nightcrawler vultures taking over the streets at night, in an effort to be nightly news paparazzi, capturing violent crimes and carnage in an effort to generate ratings and revenue. To someone that doesn’t live in a big city, a little more narrative meat is needed. Maybe people in L.A. are just okay assuming that the people who do this job are blood thirsty jackals and that’s all the context they need for this story to work. Still, it’s rather one-dimensional.

To me, this is a film that fails to capture any sort of real emotional connection. Sure, you feel the tension in the heat of the moment when some big action sequence is going down or when you’re sitting in the bushes with Bloom, waiting for something bad to pop off. It’s just that everything between these moments doesn’t establish anything worthwhile.

Gyllenhaal played the part as best as he could but I feel like the script, despite winning the biggest of all film awards, wasn’t worthy of the performance. Gyllenhaal deserved more and he should have had the narrative to tell us more. He conveys what is on paper well but its like he doesn’t have all the material he needs to make the character truly live.

The film is still incredibly well acted, especially the scenes between Gyllenhaal and Russo, as well as Gyllenhaal and Ahmed. It also has some incredibly cinematography thanks to the eye and style of Robert Elswit, who also worked on There Will Be BloodMagnolia and dozens of other pictures.

I can’t completely trash the film due to its great technical execution and the talent of its cast. I just don’t feel like it is something I would ever want to watch again.