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: Doctor Strange (2016)

Release Date: October 13th, 2016 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Based on: Doctor Strange by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 115 Minutes

doctor-strangeReview:

I kind of lost faith in Marvel Studios awhile ago. It has been some time since I’ve truly enjoyed a Marvel picture from the Disney side of things. Although, growing up, Doctor Strange was one of my favorite comic books because it was so different than the other Marvel titles. So there was a part of me that was somewhat excited to finally see Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme on the big screen.

I’m just going to put it out there, this was my favorite Marvel film after Guardians of the Galaxy. I guess the main reason was because it was so different, like Guardians, and it wasn’t a cookie cutter origin story like all the other Avengers’ first movies. Sure, it is an origin story but it isn’t bogged down in that and it moves past it pretty quickly. I think the film benefits from the passage of time being fairly ambiguous.

This is also one of the most visually stunning motion pictures I have ever seen on the big screen. It doesn’t have the enormous scale of Guardians of the Galaxy but the magical realms are just so interesting and vivid. Doctor Strange is definitely a movie that should be seen on the big screen.

Benedict Cumberbatch was pretty much perfect for the role of Dr. Stephen Strange. And since Strange was originally modeled after the great Vincent Price, maybe Cumberbatch could start a side gig of playing Price’s roles in remakes of some of his classics. Just a thought.

Mads Mikkelsen is an actor I always enjoy to see but I do feel like he was somewhat wasted in the film. And really, this is my only gripe with Doctor Strange. His character, the main villain of the story, just feels thin and should have been developed much more. He’s essentially just an evil force of nature who was a great student of the light that was tempted by the dark side. Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius is pretty much any Sith from Star Wars but a lot less interesting.

Some people have a problem with Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, who in the comics is an old Asian dude. I didn’t take issue with it and I thought she did a good job with the role. Was it accurate to the comics? No. But Baron Mordo also isn’t black but no one seems to care about that. Why? It really isn’t that important. The next thing these “purists” will do is start complaining that the new Ghostbusters are all ladies. Oh, wait…

Speaking of Mordo, Chiwetel Ejiofor served the role well. Although, I thought his slip into villainy was almost too quick and easy. He was the Ancient One’s second-in-command and he turned his back on the order because of stubbornness that he should have probably been able to get past if he was a master sorcerer with extreme discipline. He didn’t even take a second to process it or talk about it, he just walked away, offended and sad, ignoring his own advice throughout the entire film: “forget everything you think you know.”

In the end though, no one was as awesome as Wong.

Doctor Strange also boasts one of the most impressive and interesting scores in the Marvel film franchise.

The film also isn’t drawn out to eye-rolling lengths and is thankfully, just under two-hours. I swear, Captain America: Civil War felt like a four-part miniseries I was forced to watch in one sitting.

And there are a few other things I could talk about but I don’t want to spoil too much of the film, even though film reviews by their very nature are spoilers.

Doctor Strange is a well-acted and well-directed comic book movie. It flows really well and it is great eye candy. It is one of the best Marvel outings, ever. I hope the future films in the franchise take their cues from this film and from Guardians of the Galaxy because Marvel tends to give us their best when they aren’t following a specific formula.

Rating: 7.5/10