May 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Elizabeth Moss
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau (“The Good Lie”)
Written by: Jeff Feuerzeig (debut) and Jerry Stahl (“Bad Boys II”)

Even though its prominence and national interest has waned in favor of MMA in recent years, there seems to be an everlasting connection to the cinematic world and boxing. Perhaps it is because boxing has seen so many of its prominent figures rise and fall, which makes for a good narrative. Or, more likely, perhaps it is that “Rocky” set the bar for sports films so high that boxing films will always be timeless comparisons. It is fitting, perhaps, that the latest entry into the genre is a biopic of Chuck Wepner, the man who, allegedly, inspired Sylvester Stallone to write “Rocky.”

In 1975, boxer Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber) gets the opportunity of a life time: to fight the heavyweight champion of the World, Muhammed Ali. As a huge underdog, Wepner goes 15 rounds with Ali and is seconds away from going the distance. This performance turns Wepner into a local folk hero, and Wepner must do all he can to keep his family intact while turning down a path of drugs and women.

Without question, “Chuck” serves as a showcase for Schreiber who gives a fantastic performance. Wepner is a character who absorbs and loves the fame, as small scale as it is, but also has an acute awareness of the façade and showmanship that goes into it. Schreiber captures this quite well, especially in scenes where he must work his way through shame and guilt over his behavior. While the supporting cast is mostly good, nobody is on screen long enough to make much of a difference one way or another. Elizabeth Moss is probably the best of the bunch, and far-underutilized.

One of the more interesting aspects of “Chuck” is that the most formative event of Wepner’s life is a stepping stone to more story, rather than a climax. Wepner’s famous fight with Ali takes place relatively early on in the film with very little build up. It’s an admirable decision from screenwriters Jeff Feuerzeig and Jerry Stahl to not center the movie around that one big fight, as it may have come off as a biopic version of “Rocky.” Instead, it shows what happened in the wake, and the darker, self-destructive patterns of a man with very little self-control and the need to be admired.

That said, the movie still has some pretty generic moments. Once the debauchery starts, it’s no different than any other film where a person of prominence spirals into drugs, lets the fame get the best of them and alienates family. There’s some pretty good writing sprinkled throughout the film and the early parts of the film feature some true greatness. But “Chuck” punches itself out and staggers to the finish. Despite that, “Chuck” is still worth the price of admission for Schreiber’s excellent performance.

The Good Lie

October 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau (“Monsieur Lazhar”)
Written by: Margaret Nagle (debut)

As a tale of the events of the Second Sudanese War, “The Good Lie” is a narrative inspired by the true events of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Sudanese children who were displaced and forced from their homes during the Second Sudanese war. It’s a great opportunity to tell the harrowing story of an often-brutal journey, one that is seized and promptly released in favor of light family fare.

After traveling a thousand miles by foot, a group of Sudanese children escaping war find themselves at a refugee camp in Kenya. After spending more than a decade there, they are chosen via lottery to be sent off to live in the U.S. Separated from their group, the refugees must navigate American life while fighting to become reunited with a family member.

The film starts with a group of kids looking for shelter in Kenya after their Sudanese village is attacked and their families are killed. The conditions are harsh, with the children having to bear extreme heat, little to no food or water, and having to walk thousands of miles through dangerous occupied territories to stay safe. It is an incredibly effective portrayal of the conditions The Lost Boys had to face and among the best scenes in the film.

As the film moves into the adult versions of our surviving group, the film begins to table the more severe stories of hardship and turns to more typical story beats of assimilation. It is in these sections that “The Good Lie” begins to feel awfully familiar. It’s the same culture shock material that is familiar to anyone who has seen a film with people new to America: They marvel at McDonald’s and pizza. They are baffled by a telephone. They are unaware of basic social norms. It’s really hard to be amused by the same comedic ideas that have been around for years.

From a narrative and character perspective, “The Good Lie” opens a lot of storytelling threads, but fails to follow through with them. Motivations for coming to America are pushed to the side and potentially harmful lifestyle choices meet in a mild confrontation and are never spoken of again due to a screenplay that feels frequently underdeveloped.

Another major issue is that there are virtually no character arcs to speak of. Solid performances from actors who are real Sudanese refugees are often wasted by the stagnant nature of their character traits. Perhaps the biggest flaw of “The Good Lie” is Reese Witherspoon’s ill-fitting character Carrie, an employee agency counselor who attempts to assist the men in building a foundation for a new life in America. The character is extremely plain and makes no use of the Oscar winner’s talents and an actress. In fact, you could plug almost any other actress in the role and it would come out the same. Similar to the Sudanese characters, Carrie lacks any arc that connects her with the refugees. As she pops in and out of the film, increasingly wanting to provide more help, it never feels fully motivated or sincere.

Issues aside, “The Good Lie” is successful in earning a handful of its more moving moments, especially those between the Sudanese refugees and their family. As a theater experience, it’s easy to fall into its traps and find a sweet albeit unmemorable and glossy feel-good film of survival and strength. Look a little further, however, and the flaws begin to reveal themselves and “The Good Lie” looks more like a missed opportunity.