Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
As a fighter, Vinny Pazienza was no stranger to emergency rooms. The injury that almost ended his career didn’t happen in the ring, however, but as the result of a car accident. After sustaining a broken neck, doctors told him he might not walk and definitely would never fight again. Pazienza refused to give up and the result is the greatest comeback story in boxing history.
Bleed for This also represents a comeback for talented writer/director, Ben Younger. Once praised for the 2000 crime drama Boiler Room, Younger hasn’t made a film since 2005’s romantic comedy, Prime. With an intense performance by Miles Teller as Pazienza, Bleed for This enters the pantheon of great fight films. One of the best is, of course, Raging Bull, whose director, Martin Scorsese, is Younger’s executive producer.
In 1988, a day before a title match in Las Vegas, Vinny is in his hotel room, bound up in plastic wrap, pedaling furiously on a stationary bike, hoping to meet his weight requirement of 140 pounds. He shows up late for the weigh-in wearing nothing but a leopard print jock strap, and just makes the cut. Rather than rest, he stays up all night playing blackjack. It’s no surprise that he’s easily defeated.
Aaron Eckhart and Miles Teller
The boxing world quickly dumps losers and, with a string of three losses, Vinny struggles to find another match. His new trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), comes with baggage of his own; he was fired as Mike Tyson’s trainer after being arrested for a DUI. Eckhart, in a memorable supporting role, is virtually unrecognizable as the bald, pot-bellied trainer. Rooney hasn’t stopped drinking, but he still knows what it takes to win. Rather than battle to keep off the pounds, Rooney suggests that Vinny box at his more natural weight of 154, which means moving up two categories.
The strategy works and Vinny is once again winning and scheduled for a title match in Las Vegas. Fate, however, takes a cruel turn. A horrific head on collision leaves Vinny with a serious spinal injury. When Vinny wakes up surrounded by his concerned Italian family, he tries to make light of his situation. Reality begins to sink in and, vowing to fight again, he agrees to wear a medal device called a halo that is held in place with four screws actually drilled into the skull. Younger doesn’t spare us the sight of watching that gruesome operation.
Vinny spends his days lying alone in a hospital bed in his parents’ living room. (A girlfriend leaves in a huff after getting her hair caught in his medal device.) While his parents supported his boxing – his father Angelo (Ciarán Hinds), was literally in his corner for every fight – they don’t want him back in the ring. Vinny can’t see himself doing anything else and soon, joined by Rooney, is in the basement working out.
After three months, the halo is removed. This scene is more difficult to watch than the first since Vinny refuses anesthesia and screams with each screw that is removed. Back in the gym, he can’t find a sparing partner. No fighter wants to be the one to inflict what could be a killer blow. Once Vinny shows that he’s in shape, people begin to fall into line, including fight promoters Lou and Dan Duva (Ted Levine and Jordan Gelber) who know a good publicity “hook” when they see one. The fight they line up is a big one, with more than a million dollars for the winner.
Ciarán Hinds, Miles Teller, and Aaron Eckhart
There’s a buildup to that final fight scene and it doesn’t disappoint. Younger has said that the film was shot in three weeks on a shoestring budget, but it has the feel of a much larger film, thanks to all that expertly shot action in the ring. We hear and feel every blow that’s landed.
Vinny’s father attends the match and, despite saying he couldn’t be in his usual corner, eventually ends up in that spot cheering on his son. Meanwhile, the other relatives watch from home. Vinny’s mother, Louise (Katey Sagal), avoids the television and prays in an alcove before an altar crowded with statues of saints and burning candles. Vinny’s sister, Doreen (Amanda Clayton), watches with assorted relatives, bowls of popcorn on their laps. (All three actors playing members of the Pazienza family offer some comic relief with their zaniness without going over the top. Sagal is particularly effective as the ever-protective mother.) Kudos to set decorator Kim Leoleis for creating the type of overstuffed home environment that will resonate with many baby boomers, especially the Italian-American ones.
The film’s success rests with Teller, and he builds on his breakout performance as a drummer in Whiplash. As Vinny, he holds nothing back, whether inside or outside the ring. While the fight scenes are, at times, painful to watch, the scenes where he struggles with the halo, bumping against a car door, for example, may have you grabbing your own head.
Stay for the credits to see photos and interviews of Vinny Pazienza himself.
Bleed for This opens nationwide November 18, 2016.
Photos by Seacia Pavao courtesy of Open Road Films
“It’s been a long time that New York had news this good, especially with an airplane in it.”
We toss around the word “hero” a lot, but often that word describes ordinary people just doing their jobs with extraordinary results. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is one such person. On January 15, 2009, Sully was piloting a US Airways plane out of LaGuardia Airport when a flock of Canada Geese struck the Airbus A320. With both engines gone, Sully realized there was no hope of landing at either LaGuardia or Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. He made the decision to land the plane in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.
Scenes of the water rescue dominated the airwaves and newspapers all over New York and, indeed, the world. The event was declared “The Miracle on the Hudson.” Sully was hailed a hero by the media and he and his team even appeared on The David Letterman Show. One New York tavern named a drink in his honor. “The Sully, Grey Goose with a splash of water,” the bartender tells him. It’s one lighthearted moment in Clint Eastwood’s taut, tense, and terrific film starring Tom Hanks as Sully.
While the public was celebrating a new hero, things were darker behind the scenes. (The film is based on Highest Duty by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow.) The National Transportation Safety Board investigating the incident seemed determined to prove that Sully made the wrong decision. Facing the NTSB panel, Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), are told that computer simulations prove they had enough time to make it back to LaGuardia. The second engine still had thrust and would have supported the plane for the time it took to land on the ground, they say. “Not possible,” Sully tells them. Leaving the meeting, Sully tells Skiles, “I’ve delivered a million passengers over 40 years but in the end I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds.”
Not only would such a ruling by the NTSB turn the tide on public opinion, but would effectively end Sully’s career and cancel his pension. Sully has to stay in New York until the NTSB completes its investigation. While he wades through a sea of journalists whenever he leaves his hotel, his wife, Lorraine (Laura Linney), is essentially a prisoner in her home, the media camped out on her front lawn.
Sully maintains an authoritative presence in public, but in private he suffers flashbacks and has trouble sleeping. (In interviews, Sullenberger revealed that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for several weeks following the accident.) In the film, Sully’s nightmares find the plane crashing into buildings, exploding in flames, scenes that are sure to remind many of 9/11. Battling those sleepless nights, Sully takes to running, one evening finding himself across from the Intrepid Museum, staring at a fighter plane that he once piloted and reliving another moment when he had to bring down a disabled plane. (Sullenberger graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, holds a post graduate degree from Purdue, and was once a member of the Air Force’s aircraft accident investigation board.)
Hanks turns in a fine performance as Sullenberger, demonstrating a steely resolve while making what many would consider a foolhardy decision to land a jet on water. But he also allows us to see Sully behind the scenes, uncomfortable basking in the media’s glare while also having his decision second-guessed by government officials who have never flown a plane. Co-pilot Skiles (a great supporting performance by Eckhardt), never wavers in his support of Sully, even when confronted by the NTSB panel. For that government group, Eastwood has gathered actors who do unlikeable very, very well. Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan, and Anna Gunn as the NTSB investigators seem less willing to discover the truth and more eager to bring Sully down, whatever the cost.
While those confrontations are fascinating, the center of the film is, of course, the miracle itself. Eastwood has recreated the entire event with such realism that we can feel the terror the passengers felt when Sully ordered, “Brace for impact!” Soon after landing, the passengers find themselves standing on the plane’s wings or huddled in one of the inflated slides. And while Sully managed the impossible by landing the plane, those passengers might have perished in the Hudson’s frigid waters if first responders had not made it to the scene so quickly, taking the terrified survivors onto boats, rescuing two who fell into the water, and getting them needed medical care.
When the credits role, we see photos from the actual rescue. We also see a Sully himself in a short video greeting the survivors during a reunion, the reconstructed plane in the background. As splendid as Hanks is in the role, there’s nothing like seeing the hero himself embracing the people he saved with his experience and skill.
The Miracle on the Hudson remains one of New York City’s finest moments. During a time when we desperately need heroes, Sully reminds us that they walk among us.
It’s no secret 2016, is shaping up to be a very…ahem…exciting election season. Besides such issues of income inequality, the Supreme Court, reproductive justice, foreign policy, and so forth the increasingly dire news about global warming is weighing on many people’s minds-and makes Earth Day this year seem more weighted with symbolism than usual. Here are some more films that deal with environmental issues.
Erin Brockovich (2000) The biography of the real life Brockovich who successfully spearheaded a lawsuit against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company for polluting the water of Hinckley, California was a commercial and critical success that was nominated by the Academy for Best Picture, Best Director (Steven Soderberg) and won Julia Roberts the Oscar for Best Actress in the titular role of feisty single mom Erin. Albert Finney, Peter Coyote, Aaron Eckhart, all provide stellar performances as well.
Being Caribou (2005) Husband and wife team Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison spent five months following the migration of the Porcupine caribou herd. Allison an environmentalist and Heuer a wildlife biologist were weighing in on the Arctic Refuge Drilling controversy, by demonstrating how such drilling threatened the herd’s survival since their natural calving grounds are within the Refuge. Being Caribou won scores of awards including a Gemini Award and most popular Canadian film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Happy Feet (2006) Every emperor penguin sings a ‘heartsong’ to attract a mate, but when Memphis (Hugh Jackman) manages to drop the egg while his mate Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) is away their son Mumble (Elijah Wood) hatches without the gift of son. He can however, tap dance! While the main focus of this animated musical comedy is on Mumble’s struggle for acceptance, the driving catalyst is how over-fishing by man in the Antarctic waters has put the entire penguin colony at risk of starvation. Happy Feet won the BAFTA for Best Animated Film, the Saturn award for Best Animated Film, AND was the first Warner Brothers production to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Food Inc. (2008) This documentary directed by the Emmy nominated Robert Kenner examines the costs of industrial meat production and corporate farming in the U.S. It’s narrated by Michael Pollan author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Eric Schlosser author of Fast Food Nation. Interview subjects include food activists, former politicians, organic food executives and more. Food Inc. was nominated for both the Independent Spirit Award and the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Virunga (2014) Directed by Orlando von Einseidel, Virunga chronicles the fight to save the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from oil exploration. It primarilyfocuses on four figures: gorilla caregiver Andre Bauma; park warden Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo; chief warden Emmanuel de Merode; and French investigative journalist Melanie Gouby. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and after airing on Netflix it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.