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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hands of Stone

Not this year's Creed...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

The true story of Roberto Duran, the middleweight boxing legend, and his often tumultuous relationship with his trainer, the no less legendary Ray Arcel.

What we thought

For a true story, it's rather odd that Hands of Stone suffers primarily for feeling like a not-entirely-successful amalgamation of a half dozen previous sports movies and biopics. It's a pity because it does have some strong performances from Edgar Ramirez, Ana De Armas, Robert De Niro and, most surprisingly, Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray Leonard, as well as more than its share of heartfelt good intentions.

To be specific, Hands of Stone basically plays like a bargain-bin Rocky knock off, with some of the recent Pele's real-world social-political concerns thrown in for good measure, but with the imminently likable Rocky Balboa replaced by a real-world figure who is only slightly more sympathetic than De Niro's own portrayal of Raging Bull's own real-life boxing legend, Jake LaMotta. The combination is unquestionably an uneasy one but, though it's roughly on the same level as Pele (though no where near as enjoyable, come to think of it) it's not even in the same galaxy as Raging Bull or any of the better Rocky films.

Raging Bull, for example, may force you to spend a couple of hours with a person that you'd normally cross continents to avoid but it is a masterclass in filmmaking with both De Niro and Scorsese arguably never bettering their work in that film. Here we get the the utterly unsympathetic athlete – though, to be fair, Duran mostly just comes across as an obnoxious punk as opposed to the truly hateful LaMotta – but Jonathan Jakubowicz's perfectly solid, workmanlike writing and directing is nowhere near notable enough to elevate the film beyond its awful protagonist. Similarly, Ramirez is a very good actor but he's still got a ways to go before he can stand up to De Niro in his prime.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Blair Witch


Look, I know this has been out for a few weeks but I still feel I need to get this off my chest as I truly have no earthly idea how this has gotten even remotely respectable reviews.

For all that we may look back at it now with cynicism (and, in my case, anger for starting off this whole "found footage") craze, the Blair Witch Project was a deserved phenomenon that offered something new and genuinely creepy in a period that was mostly known for the Scream-incited return of the slasher movie. Yes, the found footage gimmick had been around for years but who but the most hardcore of horror fans had even heard, say, of Cannibal Holocaust let alone actually seen it? The Blair Witch Project brought this technique to the masses and, by doing so, brought stark realism to the horror genre so successfully that there were apparently people at the time who didn't realise that the whole Blair Witch craze was pure fiction.

Fast forward seventeen years and the found-footage gimmick has been so overused by this point that it's hard not to long for the mid-90s schlock like I Know What You Did Last Summer over this increasingly irritating, nauseating and increasingly cheap (though more expensive-looking) device. Between the found footage schtick in horror and the similarly irritating over-reliance on shaky cam in action films, genre films have all too frequently used something that at its best can give a sense of realism to the ridiculous but is all too often just used as a lazy tool to cover up the fact that what's going on on-screen is neither frightening nor remotely exciting.

The action genre hit its shaky cam nadir early this year with the unspeakably awful Hardcore Henry, which was even more insufferable than watching someone else play a rubbish first-person-shooter for two hours - which, oddly, was precisely how the film actually played out. Now, with this very much belated and utterly unrequested sequel to the film that started it all, the final nail has been hammered into the coffin of found-footage horror films.