Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Movie Review - Grudge Match

  I saw commercials for Grudge Match starring Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone during the Christmas shopping season promoting its Christmas Day opening and wanted to make sure to see it over the Christmas weekend but not because of the commercials. The reason was that I wasn’t sure there was going to be a second weekend for it in Marshalltown, Iowa. That was the mistake I made when I wanted to see the Stallone – Arnold Schwarzenegger movie ‘Escape Plan’ in October but the movie was gone after only one week and I didn’t want to make that mistake a second time in three months.

  The rest of the family had no desire to see what the commercials portrayed as a comic parody of ‘Old Rocky meets Old Raging Bull’ so I went the Friday after Christmas with my 80+ year old neighbor Don. Judging from the five other people in the movie theater for the 1pm matinee, the rest of America agreed with my family and had no desire to see this movie either. The movie was heavily promoted yet only made it to #11 on the opening Christmas weekend with a modest seven million dollar take but I won’t be crying for any of the investors since the movie has made it to a second week in Marshalltown and nudged it’s way to the #10 spot with almost 25 million dollars in box office sales. With a 40 million dollar production budget the film should be able to show a profit after foreign box office and DVD sales are factored in.

  Critic reviews of Grudge Match were worse than the box office numbers with a quick glance at the Rotten Tomatoes reviews finding descriptions like ‘wretched’, ‘an affront to the cinema gods’, and ‘stale and lifeless’. I still wanted to see the movie because I like Sylvester Stallone and to see him play a Rocky character (as if he can play any other character but Rocky) looked to be a fun couple of hours and I don’t know if I really want to take any advice (movie or otherwise) from someone who uses the phrase ‘affront to the cinema gods’ which sounds like something thought up while eating their morning quiche. While Stallone doesn’t have a lot of range as an actor and suffers in comparison to the Academy Award winner De Niro he does play his quiet, tough, monosyllabic characters to perfection and doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves for creating two of the iconic characters of the 20th century in Rocky and Rambo.

  Grudge Match stars Stallone as a quiet, tough, monosyllabic Rocky type boxer ‘Razor’ Sharp and De Niro as the wild-living, fast-talking, borderline crazy Jake LaMotta type boxer Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen, two boxing legends from Pittsburgh who split a pair of championship matches 30 years ago and were primed to settle the score once and for all when Sharp retired from boxing and went to work in a Pittsburgh shipyard. Sharp is finally driven by financial need to agree to the fight after 30 years but when a video of the aging fighters getting into a scrap while filming video game action shots goes viral the fight evolves from a small money club fight to a pay-per-view spectacle in a 20,000 seat arena. The Grudge in the Match comes from Stallone’s revelation that he quit on the third fight when he found out that his girlfriend/fiancée had an affair and a child with McDonnen.

  The movie had a lot of funny spots with most of the gags being jock-type humor with jock types getting punched in the groin and name gags at the expense of McDonnen’s illegitimate son who happens to be named BJ. Alan Arkin gets most of the funny lines as Stallone’s crotchety trainer ‘Lightning’ Conlon with Stallone and De Niro getting their share of laughs mostly by being put in situations that 50+ year old former boxers shouldn’t be in. Stallone does parody some of his famous Rocky scenes by downing a large glass of raw eggs and trying to punch a side of beef while De Niro's comedy comes from making one liners at the expense of his trainer and the fight promoter. The seven movie goers in the theatre laughed out loud several times during the movie and the part I found funniest was when Stallone and De Niro go to an Mixed Martial Arts event to promote the fight and start insulting the sport (‘We had a name for guys who kicked when the fought - Girls’) during their interview and get into a fistfight with an MMA fighter.

  Aside from the jokes, the movie has a serious side as Stallone has to deal with forgiving his grudge against his fiancée (played by a fairly well preserved Kim Basinger who conveniently shows up as a newly minted widow for the fight) for her betrayal of 30 years prior and De Niro tries to reconcile his hard living ways with his attempts to forge a relationship with his son and the grandson he never knew he had, but the storyline tended to be a plot device for the jokes and fight. This made the story telling disjointed with the rushed introductions of Arkin (who has to live with Stallone when he suddenly became unable to pay for his nursing home on his ship yard worker’s salary), Kevin Hart as the son of the promoter of the original two fights, and Kim Basinger as the love interest. It looked like Hart was meant to have a bigger role but disappeared from the move two thirds in as it likely became apparent to the film makers that Arkin provided more than enough comic relief.

  There is more than a little profanity and some suggestive sexual scenes - nothing that couldn’t be found on most prime time television shows but it is there. Aside from the obvious plot devices to get the characters together the movie is fast paced and the characters are well played enough to make for an engrossing and interesting movie with plenty of low brow humor and while I may not recommend spending $10 to see ‘Grudge Match’, the $6 matinee price (or a $1.50 Redbox pickup) was money well spend for a couple of hours of light hearted escape.

  Speaking of escapes, I managed to win three out of my four NFL predictions on wild card weekend and start the divisional playoff round at a healthy 190 mythical dollars to the plus side. After my prediction of the Colts beating the Chiefs went astray with the Chiefs ahead 31-10 at halftime, the Colts roared back to win the game 45-44 which didn’t help me since I bet the points line with the Colts giving 2 points instead of the money line. The Saints and Eagles combined for 50 points which was under the 56 as I predicted but it got way too close for comfort after a 7-6 halftime score. I thought the Bengals would win Sunday’s game but didn’t like the 3-1 money odds or giving 6.5 points so I took the Chargers getting the points and was rewarded when Bengals running back Giovanni Bernard coughed up the football in a tie game late in the first half and quarterback Andy Dalton gave the ball away three more times in the second half which led to the Chargers’ 27-10 win and the 49ers had just enough in the tank to beat the Packers with a last second field goal to not only win my money line bet but also cover the 2.5 point spread. My 3-1 mark in predictions could have been anywhere from 4-0 to 0-4 and I came away from the weekend with a renewed appreciation for the Las Vegas odds makers whose lines would make the winners think they were really on the ball, the losers thinking they were just one play away from being winners, and both winners and losers thinking that they will make a killing this week. With that said, here are my picks for this week’s playoff games using the odds at from the Yahoo odds page and NOT betting any real money on any of the games.

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
The Saints won a road playoff game for the first time in franchise history last week with their last second victory in Philadelphia while Seattle earned a week off for being the NFC top seed. When these two teams met last month on a Monday Night game in Seattle, the Seahawks won a lopsided 34-7 contest. While I think the game will be closer this time around, I don’t believe any amount of extra preparation by Saints coach Sean Payton will be able to get around the simple fact that the Seattle defense is perfectly built to shut down the Saints high powered passing game. I don’t want to give 7 and a half points so I will play the money line and bet $350 on the Seahawks to simply win the game to win $100.

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
I dislike all things Boston and that goes for the Patriots also but I have a soft spot and a healthy respect for New England coach Bill Belichick who was the defensive mastermind of the New York Giant's Super Bowl champions in 1986 and 1990. One of Belichick’s hall marks as a defensive coach is to be able to stymie offenses that are built around the passing game. If the officiating follows last week’s trend of not calling pass interference on marginal contact the Patriots will be able to keep the Colt’s offense under control. I’m concerned about the Patriots offense being able to cover the 7 and a half point spread so I’ll bet the money line and risk $325 on a Patriots victory to win $100.

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
It was only four weeks ago that the Chargers came into Denver and beat the Broncos 27-20 but I’m not putting too much stock in that game since it was on a Thursday night. When both teams only have three days to rest and prepare the results are more random then when the teams have an entire week between contests. I fully expect the Broncos to win this game but taking into consideration that two of the Broncos three lowest point totals came against the Chargers I will bet $110 on the Chargers to cover the 10 point spread and pocket $100 if I’m correct.

San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
Timing is everything and since the 49ers’ dramatic win over the Packers was the last game of an exciting playoff weekend have catapulted them to the status of the ‘hot’ team on the New York and Chicago sports stations I listen to and they have been installed as the lone road team to be a favorite this weekend over the home Carolina Panthers. I saw a team that barely defeated a flawed Green Bay Packer team and was almost undone by a number of errant throws by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. If I was picking a player to be the NFL MVP I would apologize to Peyton Manning and select Cam Newton of the Panthers who engineered multiple fourth quarter wins including last minute touchdown passes in victories over the Patriots, Dolphins, and Saints. Newton’s numbers aren’t the equal of Manning’ record setting statistics because the Panthers are a defense first team but he is clearly the leader of a team that went 12-4 this year. Newton doesn't have Manning's statistics, Tom Brady's Super Bowl resume, Aaron Roger's State Farm commercials, or Karpernick's style and tattoos, but he has put together a stellar season and I believe is poised to have a breakout playoff season. The Panthers had the same 12-4 record as the 49ers and beat the 49ers in San Francisco in November, yet the 49ers are a one point favorite. Since the one point can only get me a push if I play the points line, I’ll play the money line and play $100 to pick up $105 if the Panthers win.