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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Muhammad Ali

Chuck (2017)

Rocky who? Oh yeah, that guy.

Chuck Wepner (Liev Schrieber), for quite some time, had the life that any person would have wanted to live. He was an accomplished boxer, kicked a lot of people’s assess, had a wonderful wife (Elizabeth Moss), good kids, loyal friends and family, respect, a cool nickname (“the Bayonne Bleeder”), and oh yeah, went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali. In fact, he was so well-known that, believe it or not, Sylvester Stallone actually used his life and career as the inspiration for Rocky – a fact that, for a very long time, Chuck would continue to let everyone know about, regardless of if they asked or not. But after awhile, Chuck began to get too big of britches and, to go along with his insane drug-habit, he couldn’t stop screwing around with all the wrong people, other women included. Eventually, he loses his job, his wife, his legacy, and oh yeah, his family. So where does he go from there?

No really, where does he go from there?

Uh oh. Chucky go some ‘asplainin’ to do!

See, Chuck was advertised heavily as “the story of the guy who inspired the story of Rocky“, as if any of that really matters. It’s like when John Carter came out and the advertisements were all saying, “the story that inspired Star Wars and Avatar“, once again, as if any of that matters. Because even though the story may have inspired another one, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the adaptation of said story, isn’t conventional, or formulaic.

After all, we didn’t get Chuck before Rocky. The other way around, in fact. So because of that, Chuck comes off a bit like a run-of-the-mill, stationary biopic that hits all of the same beats and rhythymns that Rocky hit, but also feels a little overdone. Because instead of feeling like a movie, of its time, like Rocky did, Chuck goes the extra mile to put us in the place of the 70’s, where coke was everywhere, disco was constantly playing, and people dressed-up so super fly.

Does it kind of work?

Yeah.

It’s hard to have an issue with a movie that makes the energy and glitz of the 70’s so fun and infectious; if anything, it’s nice that they were able to get it all down so perfectly, without feeling like they were trying way too hard to recreate a period of time that they obviously didn’t have the budget for. Director Philippe Falardeau, while no doubt a very serious French director, also seems to be enjoying himself here, not allowing for the material to get too dark or serious, but just to the point where it matters. But for the most part, he’s having a good time and relishing in the period-setting and the details that all went along with it.

Does that help take away from the fact that Chuck is a little conventional and, well, as a result, slight? Not really. But it makes what could have been a very boring movie, turn out a lot more fun and entertaining. It’s still a formulaic boxing movie, about an underdog who had his shot at the big time, accomplished it, and then lost it all due to awful life decisions, but it’s an entertaining one, at that. So yeah, it helps.

All about the hair.

And yeah, it also helps that the ensemble is quite good here and clearly able to keep up with the times.

Liev Schreiber is perfect casting as Wepner, because he not just looks the role, but feels it. There’s something lovable about him, but also makes you realize that he’s a bit of flawed asshole who you can’t always trust, especially not with your wallet or wife, but can always still love, when the end of the day comes around. And that’s what matters for a story like this, about a guy like this, who definitely didn’t make perfect decisions, but was a good time to be around. He had his moment in the spotlight, made it last, and did what he could to keep the party going? Granted, he forgot about his wife, kids, bank-account, and plenty other responsibilities, but hey, who am I to judge?

Either way, Schreiber’s great in the role that he was, essentially, born to play. Everyone else is good from Elizabeth Moss as his annoyed, but strong wife, to Jim Gaffigan in a pretty silly role. But everyone’s good here; even the bit role with Naomi Watts, while feeling a little self-serving, still works because, believe it or not, her and Schreiber do have good chemistry.

See, not every couple has to have their own Gigli.

Maybe that’s why they’re broken-up now. Ugh. True love doesn’t last, people. So love the one you’re with and try to make it last.

That’s the moral of Chuck, right?

Consensus: Formulaic and run-of-the-mill, Chuck is a boxing-drama that doesn’t really break any new ground, but is fun, light, and well-acted enough to get by the conventions that usually keep movies down like this.

6.5 / 10

“Guys. Who’s Sly?”

Photos Courtesy of: IFC Films

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Malcolm X (1992)

MalcolmposterSometimes, one biopic will do.

At an early age, Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) faced racism almost everywhere he went. His family was terrorized by local KKK members, his family was broken up, and he was always told that he would never be allowed to practice law. So basically, Malcolm X, no matter how hard Malcolm tried, he was always brought down to the color of his skin. As Malcolm grew older, and the troubles he enduced became more frequent, he started to realize that the only person who was going to look after him was him and himself alone. That’s why, when he was put into the slammer for burglary, he found a new calling in life. Around this time in his life, Malcolm began to find faith and discover a new voice that was always inside of him, just waiting desperately to come out. Finally, it did. Problem was, many people didn’t like what he had to say; rather than being like MLK and promoting peaceful protests in order to gain the respect and gratitude of the white man, Malcolm was all about fighting back and giving white man the hell that they deserved. Many adored and praised Malcolm for this stance, however, many others didn’t. Eventually, the latter would ultimately change his life forever.

He was a leader.

He was a leader.

At three-hours-and-20-minutes, there’s a lot of ground that Spike Lee covers. Malcolm X is the kind of biopic that knows that it should be the only biopic ever made about Malcolm X, so in order to ensure that no others come out and try to tarnish said person’s legacy, it goes out of its way to focus on just about everything in Malcolm’s life, without leaving any gray areas whatsoever. In a way, you have to applaud for Lee going as far as he can possibly go.

At the same time, the movie’s pretty long.

There’s a good half-hour or more that I felt like could have been blocked-out of this movie and made it just nearly three hours. All of the early scenes concerning Delroy Lindo, as he good as he is, don’t really work in the latter-part of the flick; while it’s trying to show how Malcolm has changed and is willing to forgive those who he has wronged, it’s also, at the same time, feeling a bit unnecessary because, well, we get it. Malcolm X is a changed man and he wants to let the whole world know it.

That said, there’s a lot about Malcolm X that deserves to be seen, regardless of the small amount of filler that always seems to be around in Lee’s films. For one, it’s a powerful statement on the act of protesting. While Lee has been known to be awfully preachy with just about each and everyone of his flicks, here, he seems to genuinely sit back and just let the speeches, and film tell itself. Because Malcolm X was such a compelling presence no matter what he was doing, when you hear his famous speeches play-out here, and the sort of effect they have, it’s hard not to want to get up, scream, and shout along with him. It doesn’t matter what color, gender, or class your are – there’s something about Malcolm X that’s easy to relate to.

That general sense of telling the opposing side to, “f**k off”, is universal and it’s one of the main reasons why Malcolm X works so well. It not only gives X’s teachings more spotlight, but also likes to show us just exactly what he was fighting and yelling for; while maybe not all that much has changed, it still goes to show that somebody like him, who was way ahead of his time, wasn’t afraid of those he may piss-off or offend. While some people may say that X’s teachings were more than just pure “fighting words”, the fact remains: When Malcolm X did a speech, you sat down, listened and hung on to every word that he had to say.

There’s nothing more powerful than that.

And as Malcolm X, Denzel Washington is, in all honesty, a revelation. It’s actually no surprise to anyone, but throughout the near three-and-a-half-hours, Washington remains engaging, interesting and most of all, believable through it all. This is all the more special due to the fact that X himself, went through so many transformations over his 40 years of living that to have someone play all of these different sides and personas in an understandable manner, to where we can still believe it’s the same person, is definitely something to boast on and on about. That Al Pacino won the Oscar that year is totally beyond me, but hey, it’s the Oscars.

A lover.

A lover.

How am I not surprised?

Perhaps what surprised me most about Malcolm X was how Spike Lee doesn’t set out to fully lionize X, his words, or even the movement he was so desperately fighting for. While this could have been an easy praise-piece where, no matter what he did, Malcolm X was always in the right and never made a mistake, the movie shows that he did, like many other humans and civil rights activists, get stuck in some sticky situations that he couldn’t get out of. That not everyone around him is fully on-board with what he has to say or do, already shows that maybe, just maybe, X himself may have taken things a tad too far in some perspectives.

Some could make the argument that X himself needed to take that extra step, just to force the change to happen, but still, it makes you wonder. Malcolm X, above all else, is the biopic that gives us every shade to X’s character; he was a kind, warm-hearted man who loved his wife and family so much that he never wanted anything harmful to ever happen to them, but he was also a bit of a nasty, sometimes irresponsible man who let his emotions get the best of him. Was he human? Of course he was. Was her perfect? Hell no. Then again, that’s what made Malcolm X, the person, such an iconic figure to latch onto: He was a person trying so hard to see a change.

Sadly, it didn’t bode out so well and most of us are still stuck, trying to figure out what to do next.

Consensus: Though it is quite lengthy, Malcolm X is, at the same time, a necessary biopic that gives power to its figure’s voice, and also allows for Denzel Washington to give one of the best performances of his career and keep us intrigued practically the whole way through.

8.5 / 10

And yeah, a pretty solid speech-giver, too.

And yeah, a pretty solid speech-giver, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

I Am Ali (2014)

No Will Smith, no worries.

He floats like a butterfly. He stings like a bee. And guess what? Nobody is quite as beautiful or powerful as he. This is all according to him, mind you, which makes you wonder what all those around the notorious boxing legend Muhammad Ali have to say about him. And this is exactly what we get to see from his early days as Cassius Clay, where his brother remembers the times they’d spend together and goof around like little bros do. to when his first boxing-trainer that realized there was something special to this kid that needed to be worked with. Then, we get to see the various women he’s had in his life, whether they be his wives, his numerous girlfriends, or even his loving daughters. But it doesn’t stop there, as we also get to hear from the numerous Ali faced in his life, whether they be people he fought with in the ring, as well as outside. Either way, we get to hear everybody’s side of the many stories they have about Muhammad Ali, whether they be good, bad, or plain and simply, memorable.

Somebody definitely influenced Sean Penn's early days.

Somebody definitely influenced Sean Penn’s early days.

With these types of documentaries, you have to realize that while the subject in question may be respected, or adored, or hailed by many people out there, they’re still human beings. Meaning, that while they may have done some wonderful, sometimes beautiful things for certain others around them out there in the world, there’s still always a few faults they may have which, ultimately, prove to be their downfall or just add more to the character of who they are. In a way, having a fault doesn’t make these heroes any less great, it just makes them more human and can sometimes make them seem more human than ever before.

Problem is, writer/director Clare Lewins doesn’t seem all that interested in getting deeper and deeper into that subject’s side and would much rather just focus on the kind of miracle-worker he’d want to appear as being. Which, honestly, isn’t bad because there’s plenty of heartfelt, down-to-earth stories about the lovely things Ali did for these people speaking, but it all feels like this is more of a tribute to a person, rather than an actual biography of the person he was. And only making it worse is the fact that the movie sometimes flirts with this idea of digging further into this aspect of Ali, but then, once it realizes that it may get too serious or risky for the producers, it backs away, so as to not offend anyone involved with helping to make this movie a possibility.

It makes sense – it really does. But, when you make your movie out to be a biography about a man, from anyone but the man, there’s a feeling that everybody’s just a little too happy and cheery to talk about him, rather than actually discussing the person he was, or better yet, still is to this day. I’m not talking about giving Muhammad Ali a total hatchet job that makes him into something of a descendant of Satan, but much rather, a man who had his fair share of flaws, but ultimately, when he had to, he was the man he wanted to be. He treated mostly everybody around him with the same type of love and respect as he would wish upon himself, and hardly ever favorited one person over another.

He was a fair guy, who just had his problems is all. Meaning, he liked to bed a lot of women, regardless of his marriage-license at the current stage in time; he talked a little too much smack on his opponents; and better yet, he didn’t know when to just tune-out of smiling for the cameras and just be real for a second. These problems of Muhammad Ali, the person, are hinted at here in this piece, but very rarely do they get developed more than just a few lines from somebody, until it’s time to forget about them and move on. Not to say that I had it out for Ali in the first place, but when you have a biography of a person’s life, disguised as a documentary, you definitely want to make sure all sides of your stories are treated fairly and with a nearly-equal amount of detail.

I know it’s easier said then done, but trust me, folks, it can happen and I just wish it did here.

But, aside from the problems I had with this movie, I Am Ali still does a lot of things right and that’s mostly due to the fact that the interviews Lewins was able to get from all those involved, aren’t just well-done, but give us an almost complete picture of who this man was. We get to hear from his brother, his trainer, his numerous girlfriends/wives, his kids, his friends/confidantes his fans, and even some of the men he faced over the years. Most of these interviews bring out a lot about Ali that we most of us probably didn’t already know before and it’s nice to see and hear.

Holding your breath underwater for a long time always proves your manliness. Just ask David Blaine.

Holding your breath underwater for a long time always proves your manliness. Just ask David Blaine.

The most emotional bits and pieces of insight we get here come from Ali’s most famous daughter, Laila, who, surprisingly, doesn’t hold much back when talking about her father, their relationship together and exactly why she decided to follow in his foot-steps. It shows us that even though Ali was one of the most known names in the world, he still had time for his family, but most importantly, for his kids. He always wanted to be there for them and focus on them while they were growing up, even if he couldn’t physically be there to do so. It’s quite sweet really and brought something of a small tear to my eye.

Then, Laila takes it almost one step further when she begins to talk about the condition Muhammad is currently in today, still alive and all, but struggling with Parkinson’s. Not only did I feel like, had the movie decided to develop this reality a bit more, probably would have been the most emotional part, but for some reason, it doesn’t. It literally just leaves Laila there, tearing-up and ready to go on more, only to then fade to black and go onto the next interviews. It made the film seem almost incomplete and made me wonder why they decided to jump over this part of the story, acting as if it’s not even a reality and just a secret problem not too many people know about.

To me, it felt like the movie wanted to go deeper, but just didn’t. And that was a real shame.

Consensus: By creating a nearly-round picture of its subject, I Am Ali shows us the kind of effect that Muhammad Ali had on practically all those around him, whether they be negative or positive. Unfortunately though, it was mostly focusing on the later.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Yeah. We've all seen this before.

Yeah. We’ve all seen this before.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images