Wednesday, December 8, 2021

One week in the life of Lucy and Ricky


   Writer/director Aaron Sorkin tries to add a chapter to show business history with Being the Ricardos,  a movie built around one apparently pivotal week in the life of the fabled sitcom, I Love Lucy
  For the most part, Being the Ricardos offers an insider's view of  preparation for the 37th episode in a series that regularly attracted 60 million viewers to CBS every Monday night.
   Casting Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, Sorkin follows several themes through a story that detours to provide a capsule review of Ball's Hollywood career. She never made it to A-list ranks and instead became one of the entertainment's great physical comics.
   So, about those themes: Ball is accused of being a Communist, the Ball-Arnaz marriage wobbles, and Arnaz fights the network over whether the show can continue with a pregnant Ball. 
   It may seem odd to younger audiences but during the 1950s, pregnancy couldn't be mentioned on TV, presumably because it might encourage thoughts about how this essential human condition came about.
   As for politics, the '50s preoccupation with Communism has been dealt with before with cases much more powerful than Ball's. In 1936, she checked a box saying that she was a member of the Communist party, evidently as a way of appreciating the left-wing grandfather who raised her. 
   None of its story lines prove powerful enough to carry the movie. Sorkin hasn't really made clear what he's trying to say -- other than to expose the gap between back-stage and on-camera realities and to tell us that making comedy is a serious business.
    Kidman doesn't seem like an ideal choice for playing Lucille Ball. When she's playing Ball, Kidman seems like ... well ... Kidman — with red hair, of course. 
   As Lucy, though, she perfectly captures the expressions, movements, and voice that made Ball a great comedian. It’s one hell of a feat. 
  Sorkin may have meant for us to fret about potential consequences of Ball's being tainted as a Red, to use the language of the day,  by Radio broadcaster Walter Winchell. 
   Would the papers get hold of the story and run with it? If they did, could the show survive? 
   I won't get into specifics about the way Sorkin resolves the question. All I'll say is that relief comes from an unexpected source and is presented as a triumph. Yippie. Lucy's off the hook.
   How about lamenting the red-bating hysteria that put her "on the hook" in the first place?
   Bardem makes a convicting Arnaz, a womanizing bandleader who found his way to stardom when Ball insisted he be part of her transition from radio to television. Arnaz proved a strong comic partner for Ball with a shrewd appreciation of how to use the show's success to pressure network executives into doing what he wanted.
   The secondary casting is quite good. J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda play William Frawley and Vivian Vance, the actors who portrayed the Ricardos' neighbors, Fred and Ethel Mertz. 
   Simmons captures Frawley's fondness for alcohol and wit and Vance makes a perfect second-fiddle to Ball, a woman who's not without her resentments about having to be subordinate to Lucy.
   As for the marriage: Arnaz's philandering hardly seems shocking.
   Tony Hale as Josh Oppenheimer, the show's executive producer, and Alia Shawkat, as the only woman writer on the show's staff, both have nice turns.
   To add authenticity and to take care of expository chores, Sorkin includes interviews with some of the show's writers and producers (all played by actors) as seen in their older, reflective years. The wise elders clue us about the reality of bygone days.
   It occurred to me that a truly revealing and far more intriguing movie could have been made about Frawley and Vance. In it, we might have seen Arnaz and Ball through the lens of those indispensable and often neglected performers: “supporting” actors. 
    But what do I know? 
    Being the Ricardos never convinced me that Sorkin's movie was more than a sporadically entertaining look at what amounts to ancient TV historyWithout either the comforts of nostalgia or the urgency of highly focused drama, I was left taking note of how often I could forget it was Kidman playing Lucille Ball and Bardem smacking the congas as Desi Arnaz. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Porn, bad luck and hypocrisy

 


   It's doubtful you'll see a wilder film this year than Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. If you have an aversion to hard-core sex scenes, you don't want to watch this movie -- or at least you'll want to skip the movie's opening.
   Romanian director Radu Jude begins his film with what looks like a poorly made bit of kinky explicit porn. We have no idea where the film is going or whether this bit of sexual play is the film. Once the  sequence ends, the woman (Katia Pascariu) from those initial images is seen traversing the streets of Bucharest.
   Jude offers an unguided tour of a city in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic. The woman -- her name is Emilia -- walks purposefully but we don't know what's in store for her. The film creates a sense of mystery but it's easy to look past Emilia for glimpses of Bucharest's street life.
    Emilia remains the main character, but she’s sharing screen time with Bucharest, a place where we learn movie theaters aren't exactly thriving and oddballs can be found, as well as typical urban frustrations.
   Emilia hardly looks like the kind of woman we'd expect to see in a porn film, and that raises one of Jude's essential questions: Is sexual behavior, when viewed, inevitably pornographic or, maybe, just an example of the gap between public and private behavior?
  And how do we regard the early scenes when we learn that the participants were husband and wife who produced a video that accidentally went viral?
   The film's second part is more abstract and, for me, less successful. Jude mixes war footage, literary bits, and scenes from the violent Romanian past in a collage-like fashion that bemuses as much as it clarifies. Questions of moral complicity arise, and it's clear that Jude isn't interested in producing a celebratory ode to human behavior.
   In the final act, Emilia reaches her's and the film's destination. It turns out that she's a history teacher who’s been summoned to her school because of the video. Parents are outraged.
    An obvious question arises: Should she be dismissed from the school for behavior that some of the parents regard as scandalous?
   An animated discussion reveals the views, prejudices, and blind spots of the various participants. In the end, it's these positions that interest Jude more than any sexual gymnastics.
   A variety of themes are put on bold display: from hypocrisy to political oppression to bigotry to antisemitism to privacy rights and more.
   No one makes a film like Bad Luck Banging expecting to speak to the multiplex crowd. But if you're looking for adventurous cinema with a penchant for seriocomic overstatement, have at it.

             

Monday, December 6, 2021

Spielberg makes a fresh 'West Side Story'


   Come on, admit it. When you first heard that Steven Spielberg was making another film of the landmark musical West Side Story, you probably thought it might become a classic case of a director being badly mismatched with the material. 
  But that’s selling Spielberg short. As a friend and fellow critic said, the man knows how to make movies.
  Updated to better emphasize the material’s Puerto Rican ethnicity, the movie also gives its Romeo/Juliet love story an urban renewal context. Poor whites and Puerto Ricans are being driven from their West Side Manhattan neighborhood to make way for Lincoln Center.
  Moreover, Spielberg fills the movie with young faces. Tony, played by Ansel Elgort with Brandoesque seasoning, is a young man just out of prison. He, of course, falls for Maria (Rachel Zegler), and the two share some of the best moments American musical theater has produced, notably Tonight, Tonight.
   Ariana DeBose brings spitfire urgency to the role of Anita, lover of Bernardo (David Alvarez), leader of the Sharks, the gang rivals of the Jets, the group Tony founded with his lifelong pal Riff (Mike Faist). 
  Rita Moreno, who played the role of Anita in the 1961 movie, appears in a newly created role. She's Valentina, widow of the man who owned the neighborhood drug store and a devoted adult in Tony’s life. She offers Tony a job and shelter upon his release from prison. (Prison for Tony is another new twist.)
  Moreno is given the key song, Somewhere, which may seem a bit odd but it connects Spielberg’s version to its predecessor. It's a song of mourning -- also a hope and a wish.
   High points include the dance at the gym and America, crisply rendered by an ensemble led by DeBose, who dominates every scene she’s in. 
   It should also be noted that Zegler's Maria is angelic than usual; she has a gritty quality and has been given moments of feminist assertion that add contemporary flavor. She insists that she’s going to think for herself.
  An odd quality pervades this West Side Story. The movie attempts to be grounded in urban reality but also inhabits a world totally its own — neither New York of the 1950s nor of today.
  Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski gives the movie a tightly defined atmosphere that’s accentuated by the often-piercing rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s score. We’re not really in New York. We’re in Cinemaland.
   Instead of an overture, the movie begins with the sound of whistling — notes recognizable as part of the score. It’s worth pointing out that the late Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for West Side Story, the best of which hold up to this day.
   When West Side Story bowed on Broadway in 1957, New York City was rife with gang violence. Serious publications were writing articles about wayward kids who were being dubbed juvenile delinquents. It’s no longer possible for the material to feel topical in the same way as it did when it debuted on Broadway.
   Spielberg’s attempts to acknowledge contemporary realities — with help from a screenplay by Tony Kushner — can feel a bit forced. 
   But the material has a heart that beats loudly for a love that never fully blossoms, even though in this version Maria and Tony are seen getting out of bed after a night of love. They’re allowed consummation before the tragedy peaks.
   And then there’s Leonard Bernstein’s music: glorious, assertive, full of color, and rippling with an undertow of anxiety. Thanks to both the New York Philharmonic and The Los Angeles Philharmonic for high voltage performances on the movie's soundtrack.
   Not everything clicks. The Officer Krupke number doesn’t land with the comic impact it needs and watching Elgort and Zegler negotiate the perils of a fire escape while singing Tonight probably overworks the idea of putting barriers between Tony and Maria.
    And while we're on the subject, Zegler makes a better Maria than Elgort, a Tony. For one thing, her voice is stronger than his.
   But overall Spielberg brings life, fresh faces, and visual dynamism to this version of West Side Story, and stories about love between people from antagonistic cultures have no expiration date.
    So, Spielberg’s West Side Story? There’s a place for it.*

*As West Side Story begins to be seen by audiences, you’ll read an increasing number of articles exploring questions of racism resulting from stereotyping of the Puerto Rican characters.
Spielberg and Kushner have made obvious attempts to stave off the criticism but it’s undeniably true that West Side Story has dated and potentially offensive elements. It’s also true that updating them or excising them entirely runs the risk of turning West Side Story into something it isn’t. 
One problem I've seen mentioned: The high-point America number paints a portrait of Puerto Rico as a place few would want to live. Manhattan, of course, is so much better. 
That's the argument, but it doesn't take into account the spirit of the song and the fierce presence of the singing and dancing ensemble that delivers it. It's possible to see the number as an expression of the determination of the Puerto Rican women as much as a dismissal of Puerto Rico -- which, of course, is part of America.
The detente — perhaps momentary — between Jets and Sharks at the end (together, they carry off Tony’s fallen body) and Maria’s accusatory cry (we all did it) seem more like fuzzy liberal bromides than a credible resolution of the conflict that animates much of the movie.
The movie may prompt discussion about the ways in which art can be viewed as time passes, views change, and new voices enter the discussion. The discussion should continue. I look forward to reading as much as I can by those with strong convictions about West Side Story should be shelved.
Time alters viewpoints and the “me” who watched West Side Story in 2021 is not the same as the “me” who was taken to the Broadway original in 1959. As for the 1961 movie, I was never a huge fan of a movie that cast Natalie Wood as Maria.

Friday, December 3, 2021

A vet battles alien microbes — and PTSD

 


Somewhere in Encounter, there's a good movie, but -- as the saying goes -- I'm not sure director Michael Pearce found it. Riz Ahmed plays a former Marine who has seen too much combat and decides that he must rescue his two sons (Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada) from being infected by an alien invasion that has arrived in the form of "non-terrestrial microbes." Ahmed's Malik snatches his two sons from their mother and stepfather and begins a road trip. Ahmed (Sound of Metal) engages as a man who either is a super-protective father or an emotionally damaged vet suffering from terrible PTSD. The young actors hold up their ends and Pearce offers up some impressive images. Octavia Spencer signs on as the parole officer for Ahmed's Malik. He'd been in jail for striking an officer and was dishonorably discharged from the surface. As the story progresses, we learn more about Malik's history. But the movie begins as a sci-fi thriller and morphs into something else, leaving it to us to find the proper point of view from which to see the movie's increasingly tense events. The most touching thing about Encounter involves watching two young people trying to figure out their father's strange behavior. Overall, though, a missed opportunity.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

A portrait of an aspiring filmmaker

 

   Among today's filmmakers, Paolo Sorrentino qualifies as an undisputed visual master. Sorrentino became best known in the U.S. when The Great Beauty splashed onto the festival circuit in 2013. 
  Sorrentino later directed two HBO offerings -- The Young Pope (2016) and The New Pope (2019) -- strangely alluring tales that mixed irreverence, calumny, eroticism, and something approaching genuine faith.
  Now comes Sorrentino's The Hand of God, a comic (for the most part) coming-of-age story about Fabietto (Filippo Scotti), a young soccer fan who longs for the day when the great Diego Maradona will play for the Naples’ hometown team, S.S.C. Napoli.
  Bucking the odds, meager Napoli snags Maradona but the story has less to do with soccer fanaticism than with Sorrentino's sharply drawn collection of characters.
  Fabietto has a crush on his sexually irresistible aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri). Patrizia understands and accepts the boy's fascination with her. She clearly lives on a more sensual plane than the rest of her family.
   Additional characters include Fabietto's genial father (Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo) and his mother (a terrific Teresa Saponagelo). Fabietto's brother Marino (Marlon Joubert) wants to be an actor. We suspect that he probably won't realize his dream. 
    The Hand of God has a robust, slightly ribald quality that can be taken as an homage to Federico Fellini's Amarcord. The story takes place at a time when Fellini was still king of Italian cinema and the great director is mentioned at various points. 
   There's a joyous sense of discovery about the movie's early scenes when even the weirdest characters prove endearingly comfortable in their own skins.
   The movie's opening boldly displays the strangeness that Sorrentino has made into something of a trademark. Patrizia encounters a character called The Little Monk, a cleric who bestows the gift of fertility on her 
   Baronessa Focale (Betty Pedrazzi) presents a sustained level of cynicism and disapproval but plays a surprising role in Fabietto's development. 
   No fair telling what happens, but Hand of God makes an extreme tonal shift after a key event subverts earlier comic qualities. That's probably what Sorrentino intended but, at least for me, it sometimes felt as if I were watching another film.
  Hand of God loses something when it turns into yet another artistic origins story, an arc that's too familiar and alas, a little indulgent: another kid aspiring to become a filmmaker. 
   Oh well, at least Fabietto wasn't aiming to become a writer, the career usually found in films about artistically ambitious adolescents.
   Reservations aside, I wouldn't totally dismiss The Hand of God. At its best, the movie is drenched in affection, the kind one feels for the eccentrics of characters who populated one's formati7ve years.  
 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

An Afghan refugee faces his past

 

  We’ve all read stories about refugees. We’ve seen pictures of desperate people crowded at borders, packed together on flimsy boats or otherwise risking their lives to reach places of health, safety, and opportunity. 
   Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to respond to pictures and numbers. Even individual accounts of refugees we might find in newspapers and magazines can too easily be set aside.
   Film, I think we agree, can have special power. 
   Perhaps that's why Flee earns a high rank in the canon of films about displaced refugees.
   Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen tells the real-life story of a boy who fled Afghanistan with his family, taking a circuitous root to safety that ultimately separated him from his mother, sisters, and brothers. He finally landed in Denmark.
    It happens that the young man is gay, an identity that’s not exactly welcomed in the boy's hometown of Kabul, especially during the mujahideen takeover that caused his family to flee during the 1980s.  
  Amin isn't the main character's real name, but Rasmussen wanted to protect the now-grown man’s identity, as well as the identities of  his family members.
  Oh, I almost forgot; the film is animated. That's significant, I think, because the story becomes more important than its style of presentation.
  Rasmussen uses both realistic and abstract animation, news footage, and dialogue from interviews with the “real” Amin, a long-time friend. The two met as teenagers in Denmark. 
   When you see Flee, it will be obvious why it would have been difficult for anyone to recreate a live-action version of a journey that involves numerous locations — from Kabul to Moscow to Denmark to the US. 
    Rasmussen also would have had to hire numerous actors to play Amin at various ages.
   Whatever reason for his choice, Rasmussen blends styles and ingredients more successfully than you might expect. And, as I said, it's the story that matters.
   Flee proves alternately heartbreaking and harrowing as it chronicles, loneliness, displacement, horrific traveling conditions, and Amin’s attempts to come to grips with a history he has kept from even his closest friends. 
   It's a history that carries a burden,  the great responsibility Amin feels to do something with his life based on sacrifices his family made on his behalf. He also lives with the fear that he will be snared and again deprived of a place to call "home."
   Amin frequently concocted lies to protect himself and maintain his refugee status.
   The end of the story might have been more developed but, at heart, Flee brings us close to the young Amin, his family and the nearly impossible choices they faced. 
   It also reminds us that people don’t flee their birthplaces unless they have compelling reasons for putting their lives in jeopardy—extreme hunger, oppression, horrific intolerance, and possibly even death. 
    More importantly, Flee inspires a bit of awe that Amin and his family remained bound by ties that had to withstand tests no one should have to endure. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Beatles up close and personal


    I know rock aficionados who approach the Beatles with the kind of parsing skills one expects from Talmudic scholars. These are folks who steep themselves in analysis of the music, the books, and the lore — all things Beatles. 
    And why not? The Beatles were a pop-cultural phenomenon like no other and their music grew and developed in complexity as they became more accomplished and famous. 
    I leave that kind of analysis to rock critics and I look forward to reading what some of them have to say about Peter Jackson's documentary, The Beatles: Get Back. 
   For me,  Jackson has made the perfect movie for anyone who has ever wondered how it would feel to hang out with The Beatles during a recording session. Watch the film and you'll know.
  The nearly eight-hour documentary has been assembled  from 60 hours of footage shot in January of 1969 by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg for the documentary Let It Be, which was 81 minutes long and evidently hasn't been available since 1980.
   Beatles mavens feel free to chime in with more details.
  Jackson's version hints at the dissolution to come, notably George Harrison's discontent with how Paul and John, to a lesser extent, dominate the group's musical decisions. 
    At one point, George says he's leaving the band. 
    When, someone asks. 
     Now, says George as he walks out. (He does return.)
    Yoko Ono almost always can be seen sitting at John's side, even while the group is working. She's either ignored by the others or, at times, becomes the subject of conversation, none of it memorably vicious.
   Mostly, Jackson reveals the stop-start quality the creation process for songs originally meant to be part of a TV concert. They eventually were used in a rooftop concert staged at Apple’s London building, The Beatles' last public performance.
   During their sessions, The Beatles seem most alive when they're playing classic rock tunes -- Blue Suede Shoes, for example. They can sound like the most fantastic bar band imaginable, musicians who share the same fondness for rock and revel in the fun of playing it.
  At times, the movie is ... well ... boring, even a bit infuriating. You want the band to get on with it, to find the focus for their work which Paul acknowledges is missing.
  I'm guessing Jackson knew that he might tax some viewers' patience but he’s taking pains to clarify the difference between creation and performance -- one arduous, repetitive, and frustrating; the other, exhilarating.   
   Beatles enthusiasts will find much to chew over in Jackson's lengthy, fascinating three-part documentary — and I might even return for a second look.
   Several times I thought I’d give up on it. I couldn’t. It was, after all, The Beatles.
   The film is available for viewing on Disney+. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

'Licorice Pizza' is sliced thin

   
   Mostly known as a serious filmmaker, director Paul Thomas Anderson received major early notice for Boogie Nights, his immersion in the porn life. His most recent movie, Phantom Threads, was bracingly astringent. And then, of course, there's There Will Be Blood, no one's idea of a feel-good time at the movies.
    In Licorice Pizza, Anderson eases up, focusing on two characters who don’t often find their way into movies populated by teens. One of these characters is 25, more an emotional adolescent than a literal one.
   Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, portrays Gary, a former child actor who's becoming an obsessive entrepreneur at the age of 15. Alana Haim, a rock musician in her non-screen life, appears as a young woman who’s adrift. 
    Haim's Alana catches Gray's eye at his high school. She's working as a photographer's assistant during a yearbook photoshoot. Alana knows Gary's too young for her but, as the movie develops, the duo forms a tie neither can set aside.
     Neither Hoffman nor Haim is endowed with movie-ready looks or the kind of gleaming smiles found in toothpaste ads. 
    Rail thin, Haim becomes a walking exclamation point, fitting for a young Encino woman who has more attitude than ambition. 
   Set on the fringes of Hollywood, the movie includes encounters with celebrities along the edges of Los Angeles'  celebrity culture. At one point, Alana meets Jack Holden (Sean Penn), a movie star whose ego apparently rides on a singular accomplishment, an action-oriented war movie.
   Holden puts Alana under his spell before trying a daring, alcohol-fueled stunt involving a motorcycle, a golf course, and a barn fire. He's goaded into this foolishness by a wild-eyed movie director (Tom Waits).
   Gary’s entrepreneurial bent finds him cashing in on a trend by opening a waterbed store which achieves a bit of success. During a delivery — one that takes place during a devastating fuel crisis — Gary encounters Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), a hairdresser and producer.
   Looking like Warren Beatty’s understudy in the movie Shampoo, Cooper delivers the movie’s funniest performance. Peters stands as an angry, entitled slice of Hollywood ego.
    The visit to Peters' home also provides an opportunity for Anderson to stage a major set piece involving a delivery truck, reverse gear, and a diminishing supply of gasoline.
   Gary shows flair when it comes to sustaining a hustle. After waterbeds, he creates a pinball parlor. He’s like a Valley-bred Duddy Kravitz, the main character in director Ted Kotcheff’s 1974 adaptation of a Mordecai Richler novel, which I mention partly by way of reminding myself to rewatch that movie soon.
    Gary, by the way, lives with his mother (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), a low-level PR practitioner who plies her trade for Mikado, a Japanese restaurant run by a white businessman (John Michael Higgins) who speaks to his two successive Japanese wives in an offensively parodic accent. 
   The bit lands like a dropped dish in a quiet room.
    Like many movies about young people, Licorice Pizza's episodic approach can make it feel less than fully realized and only intermittently amusing.
     — Gary travels to New York to help promote a Lucille Ball-like movie called Under One Roof. He takes Alana as a chaperone because he’s underage and his mom is too busy to accompany him. Gary played one of 18 kids in the movie.
    — Alana takes a plunge into volunteerism as a worker for a local mayoral candidate and learns that idealism can disappoint.
    — Gary arranges a meeting between Alana and an agent (Harriet Sansom Harris),  an egregiously insensitive woman who evaluates prospective clients only in so far as they fit  stereotypes. 
   Licorice Pizza, by the way, derives from a chain of record stores popular in the area during the ‘70s. It's a fake-out of a title; no such stores appear in the movie. 
    I’m going on, I guess, so I might as well add an addendum to all of this: Anderson bends a well-worn genre in a movie notable for its idiosyncrasies and for giving Haim a showcase role she memorably inhabits.
    Take note: This is not a memory movie for Anderson, who was born in 1970. Gary reportedly is an avatar for Gary Goetzman, now a producer and co-founder of Tom Hanks's production company.
   Anderson remains an interesting director whose movies  usually merit attention. Licorice Pizza qualifies as a Paul Thomas Anderson movie that (thank goodness) doesn’t feel as if it's intended to be an artistic event.
    But as I watched, I couldn't develop much fondness for this portrait of life in the San Fernando Valley during the 1970s. 
   Maybe the movie is a bit of a waterbed itself; i.e., not as consequential as one might have hoped and, for all its eccentricities, still dedicated to the notion that youth remains endlessly worthy of exploration. 
   Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for more kid’s stuff.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Halle Berry's directorial debut is no knockout


Bruised, a movie about a down-and-out UFC fighter, marks Halle Berry's debut as a director. Not only did Berry direct but she also stars as Jackie Justice, a once-promising UFC fighter who has sworn never to participate in a cage fight again. Earning her keep as a maid, Jackie lives with her abusive boyfriend (Adan Canto), a jerk who wants to manage a ring comeback Jackie insists she doesn’t want to make.  A promoter named Immaculate (Shamier Anderson) and a big life change force Jackie to reconsider. Immaculate introduces Jackie to Buddhakan (Sheila Atim), a coach who meditates and helps get Jackie back on track. Jackie badly needs to find a better path because the son (Danny Boyd Jr.) she gave up at birth has re-entered her life. The emotionally damaged six-year-old doesn’t speak, a quality that doesn’t extend to Jackie’s bumptious mother (Adriane Lenox). Will Jackie salvage a career in the ring? Will she grow into her role as a mother even as she holds her own against Lady Killer, a character played by real-life UFC fighter Valentina Shevchenko?  Will the movie be floored by cliches? Despite a few unexpected twists, Bruised mostly works and overworks its way through formulaic elements. Berry’s convincing but the movie feels punched out before the second round.