Documentary Review: Singer-Songwriter Michael Franti urges us to “Stay Human”

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On first glance, Michael Franti seems so relentless upbeat he might make your teeth hurt.

But he’s no Pollyanna.

The singer-songwriter, with a battered guitar — Mama Brown — that Willie Nelson would admire, is an activist whose R & B/reggae-flavored songbook that transcends his rap origins, says he wakes up thinking “the world is completely” screwed, just like the rest of us.

“The battle taking place today is between cynicism and optimism…I feel it in myself.”

An Oakland native of German-Irish-African-America/Native-American heritage, adopted as a baby, raised by a Finnish American couple, he could be excused for taking a more morose, Scandinavian pessimism as the posture he shows the world.

But he doesn’t.

As front-man for Michael Franti & Spearhead, he makes “socially conscious politically charged rap, reggae and acoustic music.” And he makes pop you can sing along to, tunes that have turned up in video games, on movie soundtracks. He’s toured with the likes of John Mayer and Stevie Wonder and played at Barak Obama’s inauguration and Bonnaroo.

His biggest hit is the lethally infectious, sing-along “Say Hey I Love You.” ”

Still, with all that success and an eco-resort (Soulshine) in Bali, he has his bad days. He questions his purpose, like any of us.

But he has these touchstones, people he’s found inspiring when his life needed inspiration.

“Stay Human,” which takes its title from one of his albums, is a documentary that has him traveling and interviewing those inspirations, and singing once he gets there. And what feels like a 50something pop star’s vanity project becomes — Dare I say it? — touching, as we meet the Atlanta couple who don’t let the husband’s ALS break their love, the natural childbirth evangelist in Bali, the a bamboo booster in Indonesia and two young South Africans overcoming poverty via education, and making a new future for themselves.

Robin Lim instills Franti with her belief that natural childbirth can reinforce “a child’s capacity to love and trust.” As she pitches in after a Philippine hurricane, a country where a huge portion of the population is pregnant, she declares “I want to live in a planet populated by people who were born gently.”

Franti, in dreadlocks and tattoos, driving a Tesla, is a veritable poster boy for progressive good intentions. He shows us his knee surgery and recovery and introduces us to Steve and Hope Dezember, Atlanta fans he met just as the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” was sweeping the land.

But Hope was contacting Franti because “Steve was living the REAL ‘ALS Challenge.'” He wanted to see a Spearheads show before he died.

As Franti gains a “Live your life to the fullest” perspective from them, we see him recording the moving ballad “Nobody Cries Alone.”

Arief Rabik is a surfing environmentalist and bamboo evangelist who is helping communities in his corner of Indonesia battle global deforestation by turning fast-growing bamboo into wood pulp that can be turned into planks and boards.

Rabik preaches that sustainability begins with “socially, having stability, then economic stability. Ecological stability follows.”

South African students Busisiwe Vasi and Sive Asinyo grow up in Port Elizabeth Township so poor that they live in a shantytown where a shared hose is the area’s only available water. But Ubuntu School encourages Busisiwe to avoid desperare shortcuts that trip up her peers and start her own business selling chicken, eventually finding her way to college.

Sive focuses on getting into college, too, and lifting his family out of a shared tiny shack.

Their stories, collectively “remind you of what it means to be your best, as a human being,” Franti says, who pulls out a guitar and sings with kids and adults wherever he goes. “Don’t you give up on me, and I won’t give up on you,” he sings, and you don’t.

He asks good questions, doesn’t overwhelm the film with his own story  and just oozes empathy and easygoing charm everywhere he goes.

Because he seems to fit in everywhere he goes.

“I want to make music that reminds me of the importance of the little things…that make us human,” he says. “Maybe our struggles are our greatest gifts. We are what we search for.”

It’s not a challenging documentary, and yes, “Stay Human” does have a touch of “write off my travels on my taxes/self-serving” promotion about it.

But heck, I’d vote for the guy. Or buy his “inspirational thoughts” calendar. I’m checking his tour schedule right after I hit “publish” here.

2half-star6

 

MPAA Rating: unrated, some profanity

Cast: Michael Franti & Spearhead, Robin Lim, Arief Rabik

Credits: Directed by Michael Franti. A Cinedigm release.

Running time: 1:34

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Netflixable? Noomi Rapace gets a dirty bodyguard’s job done in “Close”

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The best action pic you’re going to see this January isn’t on the big screen. Well, depending on the size of your TV, it could be.

It’s “Close,” a Netflix kidnapping thriller starring Noomi Rapace as an utter badass “close protection” operative — a bodyguard — who takes her work seriously and takes down villains by the score.

Rapace has worn a physical competence about her in action roles since the very beginning of her career. Unlike Linda Hamilton, Zoe Saldana or Sigourney Weaver, the one and only “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” didn’t transform into a convincing kick-you-know-what and take names heroine. It’s been her brand from the get-go.

We meet “Sam,” her character in “Close” in a Middle East combat zone. The reporters she’s escorting are ambushed.

“SCREAM!” she yells at the woman (Olivia Jewson) trapped in the SUV with her.

Whimpering, “I, I, I...can’t!”

Sam smacks her. HARD. She screams. Damn right she does. The fact that the actress playing the reporter is the director’s sister just makes it Freudian and funny.

Sam may be combat competent, canny and cunning, but she chain smokes and drinks to fight off the shakes. She’s still wearing the cuts she got, shooting her way out of that mess, when she’s offered that next job.

“What happened to your face?”

“Work.”

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A rich heiress (Sophie Nélisse of “The Book Thief” and “Mean Dreams”) needs protection on a trip from London to Morocco, where her just-died-father raised her. He’s left her his phosphate company, one he took over while married to his second wife (Indira Varma of “Game of Thrones” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings”). As her family started Hassine Mining, she’s not happy about that.

Their Chinese competitor also might have ideas about the new club-hopping majority stockholder. And then there’s the fact that however western Morocco seems, it’s still a country as easily accessible for terrorists and criminals as it was back when Rick was running the Cafe Americain in “Casablanca.”

Sam has just a single outing to prove she’s the world’s toughest wingwoman/c—blocker in a club — “Who do you think you are? My Mom?” —  before they’re on a plane bound for the family “castle” in central Morocco (“Close” was filmed in and around Marrakesh and Casablanca).

“Welcome to my prison,” Zoe mutters. And when we see the hi-tech security systems there, we get it. Of course, Sam looks at all those cameras, those armored shutters that doors that seal when a threat is detected, and complains to the guy is charge (Akin Gazi) that there aren’t enough “boots on the ground.”

Later that night, she’s proven right.

Co-writer/director Vicky Jewson (a “Lady Godiva” film and “Born of War” are her major credits) cooks up some splendid precarious situations for Noomi the Badass to fight her way out of — starting with the breeched fortified house but including a dumpy hotel room, a crowded police van and eventually, the water-filled catch-tank of a Moroccan fishing boat.

The bad guys speak French and Arabic, and their plotting and threats are not translated. That’s always a smart play. We experience the unknown threat the way Sam does. Zoe? She grew up here. She speaks the languages.

The Swedish Rapace thrives in roles that call for action, toughness and vulnerability. She’s perfect in this part, where her forward motion and capacity for acting out violence drives the picture.

It’s not a particularly surprising thriller, but it is lean and bowstring-tight. And Rapace  absolutely sells it as plausible and herself as just the badass you want in your corner when the villains sneer and the bullets fly.

3stars2

MPAA Rating: unrated, violence  smoking, profanity

Cast: Noomi Rapace, Indira Varma, Sophie Nélisse, Eoin Macken, Akin Gazi

Credits: Directed by Vicky Jewson, script by Vicky Jewson and Rupert Whitaker A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:34

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Hollywood Reporter — “Only 20% of Americans can name last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner”

It’s true.

And it makes sense.

Because, you know, it wasn’t all that. 

But go ahead, and give the Oscar to “Roma.” Which nobody will watch/remember either.

 

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Preview, Its Mads M. vs. “Arctic” in this narrowly focused survival tale

A plane crash in the frozen north, an injured young woman in mortal peril, Mads Mikkelson is her lone hope in this Feb. 1. release.

I love films like this, one of my favorite genres. And as I’ve lived in Alaska, well.

But “Arctic” is a Bleecker Street release, which means what, film fans?

Nobody will see it.

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Movie Review: M. Night Can’t quite put the pieces back together for “Glass”

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It’s unclear how much forethought M. Night Shyamalan gave to tying his “Unbreakable” anti-heroes to the multi-personality psychopath of “Split.” And asking him is pointless, because filmmakers lie.

But the upshot of “Glass” is that parking James McAvoy‘s “Horde” of characters benign and lethal, young and old, male, female or uncertain, into an “Unbreakable” sequel about men living under “the delusion” that they’re actual superheroes with actual superpower, just lets McAVoy vamp the picture away from everybody else.

Including the director.

Shyamalan abandons the direction his movie “might” have taken — a promising pursuit of the serial kidnapper/killer on the loose in Philly (McAvoy) by clairvoyant and super-strong vigilante in a poncho The Overseer (Bruce Willis) — for the story that comes after that.

“Glass” turns into a semi-serious dissection of comic book tropes, themes, story beats and traditions, and a seriously dull and sometimes silly psychoanalysis thriller set in an insecure insane asylum overseen by touchy-feely optimist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson).

She’s the specialist in the “delusion” that some people apparently have, that they have special powers, that there have always been supernatural people like themselves. She wants to explain that away — logically.

“Comic books are not history,” she reminds one and all.

When the Horde of personalities that began life as Kevin (McAvoy) and the home security expert turned vigilante Dunn (Willis) are nabbed in mid-brawl, she has three subjects to study. Because the troublesome guy with the brittle bones called “First name ‘Mister, last name ‘Glass'”( Samuel L. Jackson) has long been in custody, and seems to be catatonic.

Raven Hill Mental Hospital has given over a wing to these three, and Dr. Staple has just a couple of days to make progress with the trio and her own reseach. No, we don’t know what’ll happen after that. But considering Glass wiped out everybody on a train save for Dunn 19 years ago (when “Unbreakable” came out) and Kevin/The Horde has been kidhapping and mutilating young women — save for Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) — it won’t be a slap on the wrist and “treatment.

One clever touch — the only thing that keeps Kevin/Hedwig/Patricia et al from turning into the monstrous mass of murderous muscle, able to climb walls and scamper across ceilings is a “hypnosis light.” It’s a strobe whose every flash disconnects whatever guise Kevin is in and prevents The Horde from slaughtering his way to freedom.

McAvoy gets to play an improv game, switching characters every time the strobe goes off — British or redneck, perpetually nine years old or perpetually their “queen bee,” Patricia.

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Fans may check into this to see these characters revived, see the return of Dunn’s son (Spencer Treat Clark) or figure out how kidnap victim and sole survivor of a slaughter Casey could be so darned forgiving and sympathetic to at least one or two of Kevin’s less murderous characters.

But for too much of the two hours-plus running time of “Glass” is spent in grim and action-starved simplistic mind-games in the hospital, and a limp noodle of an anti-climax or two that pass for an ending.

The terror, tension, suspense and puzzle-solving of “Split” are abandoned for remedial movie back-engineering two stories into a third.

Willis and Jackson get by on presence and reputation, and Paulson — despite her delightful riffing on comic books and comic book fans who treat them as literature and holy texts — isn’t given enough to play.

Shyamalan compensates for dialogue and situation shortcomings by filming everybody in lots of full-screen close-ups. This is IMPORTANT, those say. Right. Paulson and Taylor-Joy get the best of these.

It all makes for a somber and self-serious (Shyamalan’s Achilles Heel) popcorn pic that is easy enough to sit through even as its pointlessness grows with every act, and its final act underlines and admits it.

2stars1

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language.

Cast: James McAvoy, Sarah Paulson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anya Taylor-Joy and Bruce Willis

Credits: Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. A Universal release.

Running time: 2:09

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Preview –“Spider-Man: Far from Home”

This is the international trailer to Tom Holland’s latest turn as “Your friendly neighbhood Spider-Man.”

A villain returns, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives, with Zendaya, Marisa, Samuel L. Cobie and Favreau reprising their roles within “The Universe.” Director Jon Watts returns from the first Holland webslinger movie.

“Far from Home,” not to be confused with “Homecoming” or whatever, opens July 5 and will dominate the second half of the summer. Guaranteed.

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Movie Review: Jamie Lee Curtis and Tika Sumpter weigh what “An Acceptable Loss” might be

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“An Acceptable Risk” is “Scandal” with less sex and fewer fireworks. Almost no fireworks, to be honest.

It’s a somber, chatty political thriller about a guilt-ridden ex-National Security Advisor, her stalker and the government security apparatus she left behind, which doesn’t want her to leave it behind.

Writer-director Joe Chappelle, who has TV’s “Fringe,” “Chicago Fire” and “The Wire” among his credits, has turned out a tepid “Who is about to do what to whom?” tale of the low-heat, meek-payoff variety. It unfolds TV-series slowly and the third act “thrills” don’t merit that label, creating a film that’s more frustrating than exciting, and a lot less sensible and logical than it makes itself out to be.

Tika Sumpter of “The Old Man and the Gun,””Southside With You” and the “Ride Along” comedies is Libby Lamm, former advisor to a vice president, out of office for four years and still somebody who draws protests and angry shouts when she’s recognized in public.

She’s estranged from her mother, on distant terms with her newspaper editor father (Clarke Peters) and lives without email or any kind of phone.

“How do you communicate with the world?”

“Slowly.”

A decision she helped justify, in a Colin Powell sense (for those who have recently seen “Vice”) haunts her. So naturally, she turns up at a Chicago college — protesters screaming “Peace starts HERE” in tow — to teach “Understanding Contemporary Warfare.”

But she has a stalker, a swarthy, solitary young student (Ben Tavassoli of “Overlord”) who shadows the new teacher, spends a lot of time photographing and researching her, and whose roommate speaks for us all when he complains, “It’s just the sneaking around that weirds me out a little bit.”

What’s he up to?

As Libby copes with faculty parties where drunken academics scream “What you did was UNCONSCIONABLE!” she spends many a flashback going over, in her head, what put her here, the debates, dogma and doctrine that she absorbed from her former boss, bellicose Vice President Burke.

Chappelle has a “Halloween” film, “The Curse of Michael Myers,” also in his credits. And the fact that he didn’t have Jamie Lee Curtis at his disposal there must explain why he hands this movie over to her.

Curtis, as Burke, devours the flashbacks, lending a little of that chased-by-a-monster pluck and fierceness to her Hillary-meets-Dick Cheney veep — an unquestioning idealogue who doesn’t flinch from Big Decisions with Big Blowback.

“The stars, they are aligning,” V.P. Burke lectures. And if they don’t align, Libby, MAKE them align, she adds.

“Doesn’t it bother you that the idea of ‘American Expectionalism’ is an anachronism?”

She preaches a “total and absolute response” that will teach “these primeval bastards” and indeed “send the whole WORLD a message.”

This is an iron lady with a very clear idea of what “An Acceptable Loss” means.

You can guess what she did, using “smartest person in the room” Libby to buttress her arguments. Curtis is the jolt “An Acceptable Loss” needs. But there is entirely too little of her in it.

Instead, we’re treated to the slow simmer of Libby’s rising paranoia — that she’s being watched, that somebody is getting into her rental house. Yes, she’s packing heat. But she’s changing the locks, getting a safe to store her valuables and fending off an ex-lover/agent (Jeff Hephner) who approaches her with his “You’re either with us or against us” message from the administration.

Meanwhile, we’re spending a lot of time with her stalker. He’s testing her security, photographing her house as he circles it, probing for weaknesses. Next thing you know, out come the rubber gloves — breaking and entering time.

“An Acceptable Loss” makes a covenant with the viewer — go along with us, reason this out and pick up the clues about what happened and what was averted, who was responsible and what role Libby played in it.

Track her stalker as he invades her life, fret about what the government wants from a woman who screams “I served faithfully. I did everything I was asked to do — EVERYthing!”

But a comically far-fetched turn of events robs the film of the chance to ratchet up what little suspense it manages, and deflates the movie entirely.

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The Curtis scenes have a sort of lip-smacking equivocation about them, bringing to mind Hillary Clinton if she had all the Rumself/Cheney qualities (bluff, heartless and heedless of warnings) often attributed to her.

Sumpter is reduced to bystander in these scenes — cowed, passive. We want something more pro-active from her in the rest of the film, dealing with government threats, academic boors and Martin her stalker.

Chappelle doesn’t write that into her character, and Sumpter let him get away with it.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R, sex, profanity

Cast: Tika Sumpter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Tavassoli

Credits: Written and directed by Joe Chappelle.  An IFC release.

Running time: 1:42

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Next Screening? M. Night’s “Glass”

The earliest reviews have not been kind. This tying together of “Unbreakable” and “Split” into a trilogy, with McAvoy, Willis and the Laurence Olivier of his Age, Samuel L. (As in, “Anything for a buck, at this stage.”) here to do the heavy lifting.

My own valuation will be based not on the back-engineering it took to get these films to fit together, but on “Glass” as a stand-alone tale — with Willis leading the hunt for the escaped multi-personality psychopath played by McAvoy — and the performances.

“Glass” opens Friday.

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Critics Choice Awards — Do we now have our official “Oscar favorites” in every category?

The answer to that headline?

“Maybe.”

Alfonso Cuaron (above) is the best director favorite. And as “Best directors direct best pictures,” that makes “Roma” the best picture favorite.

But the Critics Choice Awards, handed out by the Broadcast Film Critics Association for decades now, have long been more concerned with “predicting the Oscars” than honoring the best work. It’s why they’ve broadened and broadened their categories (“Best Science Fiction/Horror Film, Best Action Film, Best Ensemble”) to the point that they toss this WIDE net over the Hollywood year, and then can say “SEE? We picked ‘Mission: Impossible: Fallout’ JUST LIKE the ACADEMY!”

They’ve taken on categories from the Golden Globes and SAG and found ways, this year, to honor “Roma” and “Fallout” and “A Quiet Place” that patronizing tripe “Crazy Rich Asians.”

It is to laugh.

But, for what it’s worth, they suggest “momentum” in several areas — not many of them encompassing “A Star is Born” or “Black Panther,” which have been all the rage on the interwebs this past week or so.

One sentiment I agree with that I am reading and hearing over and over again, “It’s WIDE OPEN this year.”

With Lady Gaga splitting best actress honors with Glenn Close, Close is almost certainly the Oscar favorite. The Academy is FAR larger in membership, and more diverse and younger than it has ever been. So Gaga has a shot. But Close, a screen legend, is now an even more likely Oscar winner — a Globe AND a Critics Choice Award, etc.

Christian Bale seems like a best actor lock for “Vice.” Mahershala Ali has best supporting actor in his tux pocket for “Green Book.”

Many pre-Oscar awards down the road, that’s how those look.

The brain trust that decided to campaign Olivia Colman as best actress and two Oscar winners — Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz — as competing supporting actresses in “The Favourite” are ensuring Colman has a shot at her award, but Stone and Weisz will split all the way down the line.

And that means Regina King, a fine actress who has been MUCH more interesting, varied and powerful in other films, is the supporting actress favorite for “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

The more disconcerting “Beale Street” robbery is that Spike Lee doesn’t seem to have a shot at an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “BlackKklansman.” Barry Jenkins seems the likely winner. 

Guilds will shift some of the ground under the Globes/Critics Choice winners. I’d like to think a better animated film that “Spider-Verse,” such as Wes Anderson’s delightful “Isle of Dogs,” has a shot, for instance.

“Roma” is but — wait for it — a dull looking “glib facisimile” of the classic black and white foreign films which it pays homage to. Fine for Netflix, but…

And I’ve said several times and will repeat it here, the night Oscar gives all its love to a Netflix movie, the game is up. Especially a Netflix foreign language film with no viable acting nominees, flatly shot and meandering but critically-adored because most critics didn’t see it on a big screen (I did.)

When the quite fine and risk taking “First Man” can only count on a shot at “best score,” when Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” has a shot at best original screenplay, and nothing else, when “Mary Poppins Returns” appears to have no shot at…anything…well.

Maybe the Globes and the Broadcast Critics got it Oscar “right,” and maybe they didn’t.

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Movie Review: Chuck Wepner, “The Brawler,” was the boxer who inspired “Rocky”

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It’s not a backhanded compliment to say Zach McGowan of “Black Sails,” “The Walking Dead” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is entirely too good-looking to play the boxer Chuck Wepner.

He doesn’t look like a mug, no hint of the beaten up and beaten down about him. There’s little that’s hulking about McGowan and his face hasn’t taken the punches Wepner’s did long before he became famous.

It’s a pity McGowan didn’t get a haircut and a hair-thinning, to at least make the effort to look like the working class inspiration for the “Rocky” movies in “The Brawler.” That’s kind of emblematic of McGowan’s take on boxing’s most famous loser, a guy who couldn’t win in the ring, and did his damnedest to lose out of it, too.

“The Brawler” is a poor excuse for a boxing picture and a middling screen biography, but it does manage a few saving graces.

Once we get past the boxing scenes — which are ineptly-staged, fought, photographed and edited — and stop rolling our eyes at the quick, superficial glances at Wepner’s out-of-the-ring life, and we learn to tune out the incessant voice-over narration (lazy filmmaking defined), we can limit our focus to a few good performances and some TV movie-level third act surprises that generally lift the picture out of the hole it digs itself into in its first hour.

Wepner was the unlikely bruiser, a 30something onetime Golden Gloves champ, an ex-Marine and “Great White Hope” who clawed his way into boxing’s top ten in the mid-70s despite taking several epic, bloody beatings along the way. In 1975, Mohammed Ali, almost as a joke but with an eye on the racial component of a fight that could make him even richer, picked Wepner as his next title challenger.

Wepner, like Rocky Balboa, the movie boxer inspired by him, didn’t win. But he hung tough, took his blows and delivered a few to the most popular heavyweight champion of his era.

“I never been knocked out. I’ve been cut. Never knocked out.”

Cue “Gonna fly now” if you want, because Sly Stallone (character actor Anthony Mangano, not bad) certainly did.

He’d done “collecting” for a mobster, and liquor deliveries. Wepner, “the toughest kid in Bayonne,” hung with a rough crowd — people who’d stuff guys, living or dead, into the trunks of cars or into the dryer at a local laundromat.

The Italian Stallion took the New Jersey Polish brawler unflatteringly nicknamed “The Bayonne Bleeder” and made him lovable, romantic, a mug with a soft side.

Wepner’s soft side was the women in his life. He was a married father of two who didn’t earn enough in the ring, “the only place in the world that made sense to me,” to train full-time.

“Why do you do it? You never win,” wife Phyllis (Taryn Manning of “Orange is the New Black,” a good choice) gripes after every loss.

But there’s love here, the nobility of struggle. It’s just that Chuck never listens to his trainer (Joe Pantoliano, perfect) who spends his entire time in his corner, trying to get him to learn defense. “Salute,” Braverman says, demonstrating. “Throw a punch, then bring the hand BACK” to protect your head — like a salute.

Wepner gets a fight with former champ and monstrous brawler Sonny Liston and bleeds all over the ring. One and all mutter in fear in revulsion at this.

“I hope his wife ain’t watchin’ this.”

Chuck, CHUCK! “How many fingers?”

“How many guesses do I get?”

He survived Liston and stuck around long enough to come into promoter Don King’s field of view, and Ali’s.

“The Brawler” gives us a passable Ali (Jerrod Paige, who also played Ali in a cameo in “American Gangster”), a rhyming, bantering charisma machine.

“You. Are. In. Trouble.”

We’re treated to a half-decent Howard Cosell (Jay Willick) and a dreadful Don King (He was more than just a wild haircut, folks.). The run-up to their fight gets more attention (a famous joint appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show”) than the fight itself, which is a blessing. As I said, the boxing stuff that veteran producer and director Ken Kushner stages here is almost laughably bad.

A stand-out moment, the famous “knock-down” in that fight. Wepner, crows to his trainer from a neutral corner as the count is administered to Ali, “Start the car, Al. We’re gonna be rich!”

The first hint of this “Stalloney Baloney” fellow turn up shortly thereafter. But “The Brawler quickly settles down to the rough and tumble “celebrity” life that followed for Wepner — rooting for “Rocky” at the Oscars, fighting wrestler Andre the Giant, brawling with a bear, cocaine and discos, screaming fights with the missus, who leaves, easy money that turns out to be not so easy and puts him in prison.

Through it all, McGowan’s Wepner keeps narrating — about his second wife (the luminous spitfire Amy Smart) “Linda. I swear she was sent from heaven.”

Time and again, people wonder if Wepner is “nervous” at this or that spotlight.

“You think I’m nervous? I get punched in the face for a living.”

That aptly sums up the man, who was probably never going to get a big-budget star vehicle movie about his life — a made for ESPN or Netflix drama, maybe.

But even a mug like Wepner deserved a more polished picture than this. Casting Burt Young may help your “The Real Rocky” bonafides, but there’s little else that suggests effort and expense that shows up on screen.

Granted, TV talk shows sets from the ’70s were notoriously cheesy, but the fake “Mike Douglas” one here looks like it was conceived and built by high schoolers who never consulted Youtube to see what the real thing looked like (a rights issue might partly explain that).

As for McGowan, if you can’t bear to cut your hair between TV seasons, if you’re too busy to train with a boxer for several weeks or more to make yourself pass for one in the ring, there’s nothing keeping you from just saying “No.”  Which might have been the smarter move here.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, profanity

Cast: Zach McGowan, Taryn Manning, Amy Smart, Joe Pantoliano, Burt Young

Credits:  script by Robert DiBella and Ken Kushner. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:35

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