Review: Bleed For This

Ben Younger knows how to make a boxing movie.

And in Vinny Pazienza, a loud-mouth Rhode Islander known as ‘The Pazmanian Devil’, Younger has found an ideal subject. Who better to embody the boxing genre’s recurrent theme of ‘overcoming adversity with sheer determination’ than a fighter who returned to the ring – and won a title –  a mere thirteen months after a potentially career, and spine, crippling car accident. It’s the stuff of a screenwriter’s dreams.

But in bringing his story to the screen, Younger fails to inject it with any stylistic ingenuity. He merely slots a round peg into a round hole; signalling Paz’s party-going lifestyle, his managerial issues, introducing a new washed-up trainer who immediately makes the change needed to kickstart Paz’s flailing career, the resulting triumph, the unexpected accident, the naysayers, the baby steps as Paz tries to make his comeback and finally the comeback itself. Etcetera, etcetera.

The tropes and emotional beats are hit with such a consistency, it’s as if Younger is using a punchbag himself. And therein lies the disappointment. Is Bleed For This entertaining cinema? Undoubtedly. Is it a good film? Not especially.

It’s hard to believe that 2014’s Whiplash was the last good Miles Teller film we’ve seen. He’s has 8 dubious credits to his name since then, and Bleed For This barely escapes being the 9th. Teller is far and away the best thing in this film; and given good material he can make a strong showcase for being one of the most charismatic actors of his generation. He brings an intensity, a bravado and a likeability to Vinny that certainly makes him easy to root for. And who’s to argue with the physical transformation? The reveal of his ripped and shredded body, adorned in merely a pair of leopard print panties early on in the film is testament to Teller’s commitment. He might as well be shouting ‘TAKE ME SERIOUSLY’.

If you can tear your eyes away, there’s some ‘worthy-of-mention’ performances happening elsewhere. Predominantly in Aaron Eckhart’s corner, where he plays the boozy, bellied coach Kevin Rooney, newly ditched by none other than Mike Tyson. With this and the recently released Sully, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sturdier supporting actor than Eckhart. Meanwhile, Ciarán Hinds and Katey Sagal as Paz’s brash, flashy, Catholic parents somewhat overcook the accents and the era.

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There are a couple of moments that eschew affectation and speak to the inventiveness of which Younger is capable. Certainly the shot of Pazienza’s head-on car collision is depicted in a novel and sickeningly real way, whilst the energetic camerawork and evocative production design serve up a believably gritty view of working-class America. And if you come away remembering one thing from the movie it should be Willis Earl Beal’s track ‘Too Dry To Cry’ which injects the narrative with the perfect dose of soul and swagger.

It’s interesting to discover that Pazienza returned to the ring thirteen months after the accident and beat future WBC World Jr. Middleweight Champion Luis Santana via a 10-round decision. However the film chooses to depict his comeback fight as against Robert Duran. Perhaps because in the former he won via unanimous decision, where in this fight Paz won on the line via decision – making for a greater tension-filled finale. And yet strangely, Younger bleeds his film dry of tension. From the get-go his film establishes a tone where you simply expect Paz to pull through and that completely decimates any nerve-shredding, nail-biting impulses we might have. The only time you’ll be on the edge of your seat is when Paz is getting his metal halo removed and chooses to have the screws extracted without general anesthesia.

Bleed For This tries to have its cake and eat it too. By inserting real archival footage of Paz in the ring, it’s trying to convince us of its authenticity – and certainly with Raging Bull’s Martin Scorsese wearing the hat of executive-producer, there’s a whiff of someone that knows how to shoot a fight. But with a good amount creative liability, Younger has created an alphabet soup biopic, bobbing and weaving where he sees fit, but without ever landing a punch.

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The final scene rather serves as an explanation why. Younger’s film bows out not with the ‘we-all-saw-it-coming’ moment of blood-stained, hard-earned, sweat-drenched glory, but with a moment of pensive reflection. Pazienza is being interviewed, and is asked what was the biggest lie he was told. He replies: “It’s not that simple,” – alluding to the naysayers; his doctors, his family, the media, his coaching staff –  that repeatedly told him full recovery was impossible. Paz continues. “Actually, it is that simple.”

And that seems to encapsulates the issue with Younger’s approach. It’s too cut and dry. Too damn obvious. Whilst the story itself is completely true and inspirational, Pazienza’s triumphant rehabilitation makes for a diluted and strangely cautious cinematic subject.

Review: Two Night Stand

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DIR: Max Nichols. Starring: Miles Teller, Analeigh Tipton, Jessica Szohr, Leven Rambin and Scott Mescudi.

Navigating the etiquette of a one-night stand can be a tricky business. Do you stay for awkward chitchat over toast and coffee out of politeness or the hope of round 2? Or make a dash for it at the first sign of daylight?

Such is the subject of Max Nichols’ debut film ‘Two Night Stand’, wherein two love-spurned New Yorkers meet for a no-strings hook-up, only for an untimely and unprecedented snowstorm to force them together. Cue awkward conversation.

Megan, (Analeigh Tipton, of Crazy, Stupid, Love and Warm Bodies fame) is a newly single, pre-med graduate in limbo. Unemployed, lacking ambition, and on the cusp of being “sexiled” by her loved up roommate (Jessica Szohr), she resorts to world of online dating to get her head back in the game. No sooner than she’s turned down two potentials, she meets Alec (Miles The Spectacular Now Teller) and arranges to meet at his Brooklyn apartment. Only once checking his closet is free of skeletons, of course. (I’ll forgive the lightning speed of this online meet-cute for the sake of narrative progression, but if Megan were in the real world, I would expect a lot more duds before a hopeful comes along).

Cut to the morning after and Megan attempts to tip-toe away from her casual encounter like a thief in the night. But the gods, or her “magic Grandma” have other plans in mind, causing a resentful Megan and Alec to spend more time than desirable in one another’s company. But as the snow builds, the ice between them melts away.

The film takes a while to get going, sifting through various stages of small-talk, gentle banter and snow-based escapades before getting to the heart of the plot. Once Megan and Alec decide to give each other a performance review to better help their next conquests, the chemistry between leads and the pace of the films, soars.

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For a super low-budget indie, with two leads and roughly one location, Two Night Stand does an admirable job of keeping viewers interest piqued and cajoling you round to rooting for this couple to make it work. Nichols makes smart use of the cramped space and screenwriter Mark Hammer throws enough obstacles down to keep the proverbial ball rolling.

Tipton’s performance varies between mediocre and adorable. She’s like a slightly less vivacious Zooey Deschanel and endows Megan with the same wide-eyed, quietly-spoken naiveté as seen in Crazy, Stupid, Love. However, she’s at her sweetest when describing to Alec what he can do to ensure she has a ‘spectacular’ time and you can understand the attraction.

Teller has proven he can do the charming, witty, unlikely love interest in the infinitely more outstanding The Spectacular Now, as well as the lesser-known 21 and Over and The Awkward Moment. As expected, he gives an intelligent performance, at once charismatic, and vulnerable. This won’t do anything special to cement his rising star status, but it certainly won’t harm it either.

The level of honestly and sensitivity regarding casual sex is also believable, if not completely refreshing.

(Women fake orgasms?! No?!) But among its other self-effacing virtues, are two relatively unglamorous leads with whom the everyman (or woman) can relate. Megan is currently fielding job offers, a.k.a. living in her pyjamas (a situation that sounds all too familiar), whilst Alec is biding his time by working in bank, because since when did we have to like our jobs? Equally appealing is the fact that both their parents are still married and they’re not scapegoating their love problems on messy divorces, broken homes or bat-shit crazy former lovers. These are just two young adults trying to figure life out and let their guards down.

The ending falls prey to slightly more hackneyed portrayals of relationships, as a plot twist sees Alec having to win Megan over. But even in its most saccharine, ‘been-there-done-that’ moments, Teller and Tipton make for an engaging pair, in a likeable story. It sure beats “sitting alone in the dark, texting”.

Verdict: A somewhat contrived, but confident and cute debut. Like the concept of casual sex itself, it’s nothing special, but will keep you occupied until something better comes along.