BLEED FOR THIS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, Sexuality/Nudity and some Accident Images

Directed by: Ben Younger

Written by: Ben Younger

Starring: Miles Teller, Katey Sagal, Aaron Eckhart, Ciaran Hinds, Sully Erna, Ted Levine, Peter Quillin & Edwin Rodriguez

I’m not a big fan of sports movie for the main reason that it seems like the same story being told over and over again. In the past two years, we’ve received four boxing movies in theaters. These being: CREED, SOUTHPAW, HANDS OF STONE and BLEED FOR THIS. This last title caught my interest purely for it being noted as one of the most incredible comebacks in sports history. Having read about Vinny Pazienza’s recovery, I was very excited to see it on the big screen. My excitement was further heightened by the casting of Miles Teller, who’s been carving out quite an acting career, in the role of Paz. I’m not a fan of sports movies, but BLEED FOR THIS is easily one of the best sports films that I’ve seen!

The year is 1988. Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) is a boxer who’s been on a downward spiral of three losses. In an effort to wash his hands of Vinny, his manager throws the cocky fighter into the hands of washed-up coach Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart). The two form a fast friendship and Vinny quickly rises through two weight classes. Shortly after celebrating a triumphant victory, Vinny ends up in a terrible car accident that leaves him with a broken neck. What follows is a lot of heartbreak as Vinny spends six months in a halo brace and is told by pretty much everyone that he’ll never be able to fight again. This is a comeback story though, so you can probably imagine what happens next. However, it’s a very inspirational and emotional story nonetheless.

The first thing that needs to be praised about BLEED FOR THIS is Miles Teller’s performance. Though he has put crappy acting into the DIVERGENT series, Teller shines when he’s given the right material. He wowed me in WHIPLASH and played a solid scumbag in WAR DOGS. In BLEED FOR THIS, he becomes Vinny Paz! He nails this guy’s distinct tough voice, his intimidating body language and the impressively ripped look of this champion boxer. It’s a fantastic performance that’s only further heightened by actual archive footage in the credits. This post-credits footage manages to further showcase how much Teller managed to capture Paz in his acting.

The supporting cast is stellar as well. Aaron Eckhart does a damn fine job as trainer Kevin Rooney. This is a deeply flawed character who tries his best to help Vinny, even when he doesn’t necessarily believe in what he’s doing. The chemistry between Eckhart and Teller brings a lot of genuine laughs and makes their emotional conversations appear completely believable. Another highlight is Ciaran Hinds as Vinny’s father, who experiences a whirlwind of emotions before and after his son’s life-threatening accident. Also, Ted Levine is perfectly scummy as Vinny’s selfish manager.

BLEED FOR THIS’s overall look and feel echoes the time period in which it’s set. There’s retro technology, stylish outfits and a great soundtrack. None of it seems remotely overbearing though, because the story stays focused on Vinny. The script wisely spends a solid chunk of time building up Vinny’s slow rise to a different kind of fame in the first 40 minutes and is so engaging that the viewer almost forgets what’s coming. As soon as Vinny steps into the car, my heart sank though and realized how much of an effect this movie was having on my emotional state. It had me by the feels and wasn’t letting me go anytime soon.

BLEED FOR THIS is all-out inspirational and not above a few cheesy clichés in telling the deeply motivational story about how someone accomplished the seemingly impossible. The final minutes leave a resonating message to take away. As I mentioned before, sports movies seem utterly repetitive to me and this is especially true of boxing movies. Yet, BLEED FOR THIS moved and captivated me from start to finish. The performances are top-notch from everyone. The visual style is great. The plot will hit you hard and take you for an emotional journey. It’s a fantastically uplifting sports film and an overall fantastic movie. If you’re at all interested in Vinny Pazienza’s story, then you’ll likely love BLEED FOR THIS!

Grade: A-

DESIERTO (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language

(Spanish with English subtitles)

Directed by: Jonas Cuaron

Written by: Jonas Cuaron & Mateo Garcia

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Catano & Marco Perez

DESIERTO is a film that you’ve probably already seen many times before and executed in far better ways. This is an old-fashioned formulaic thriller about man hunting man, but this time around it’s been injected with the backdrop of illegal immigration. There are a handful of positives to be found here. Director/writer Jonas Cuaron (son of Alfonso Cuaron) clearly has a knack for creating beautiful visuals and milks some thrills out of this rather thin plot. However, there is an equal amount of negatives that directly result from a threadbare script and cardboard cut-out characters.

Moises (Gael Garcia Bernal) is part of a group of Mexican migrants who are illegally making their way across the U.S. border. Their already treacherous journey through a harsh desert landscape (full of heat, snakes, and deadly terrain) becomes even more dangerous when Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) shows up to hunt illegal immigrants. Sam takes pride in his country. We know this because he drives a pick-up truck, wears a cowboy hat, and has an American flag. He’s also skilled with a sniper rifle. After Sam picks off most of the Mexicans, Moises and a few others find themselves being hunted by Sam and his tracking dog, which is named Tracker (in case you were confused about what kind of dog he was).

DESIERTO is basically THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME on the US/Mexico border. The film’s half-assed political commentary isn’t exactly subtle in showing the dangers that people face when crossing the border illegally and how certain folks treat them like animals. To be honest, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this exact scenario has occurred before…but to a less over-the-top extent. Despite its simple-to-a-fault premise, this thriller does occasionally manage to thrill with a few well-executed moments. One sequence of three migrants fleeing from Tracker is sure to get the viewer’s adrenaline pumping. The scenes in which Moises attempts to outsmart Sam, finding himself mere feet away from the killer, are effective too. Unfortunately, these bits make up about a third of this mostly tedious thriller.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is an accomplished actor and brings some much-needed intensity as the film’s sniper-wielding antagonist. There are many long moments with minimal dialogue as Sam pursues these migrants with his rifle again…and again…and again to the point where the movie just becomes boring. Still, Morgan is intimidating in brief spurts. One of the movie’s most disturbing bits is sure to upset dog-lovers everywhere…even though this particular dog is a bloodthirsty monster. The aftermath of this incident also allows Morgan’s villain to deliver the most believable emotion he gets in the entire film and I really liked Sam’s final scene.

DESIERTO’s biggest problem comes in that Moises and Adela (the two main characters) are woefully underdeveloped. The biggest insight we get into their lives comes from a brief clichéd conversation midway through the film. Other than that, this story sloppily sets up two obvious plot devices within the first five minutes of running time. These bits involve: a loud mechanical bear toy that keeps malfunctioning (and surely won’t bring any unwanted attention to a hiding spot) and Moises being a mechanic (which definitely won’t come in handy with Sam’s truck). If you watch this film’s trailer, you’ve already seen the entire movie. That’s not the trailer’s fault either, because there isn’t a whole lot to this 100% formulaic thriller.

DESIERTO is just the latest dull outing in a long line of man hunting man thrillers. It has a handful of tense scenes, but these moments don’t overshadow the film’s predictability and so-so storytelling. This film’s harsh setting isn’t even fresh because 2015’s just-as-bland BEYOND THE REACH already moved THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME into the desert. In the end, DESIERTO really isn’t worth your time. It’s not terrible and certainly isn’t good either. It’s just a middle-of-the-road thriller that attempts to inject not-so-subtle political commentary into an old-fashioned formula and botches the job through bland storytelling.

Grade: C