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Oscar Review: The Fighter

February 03, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

The Fighter is a supposedly classic boxer film in the vein of Rocky or Cinderella Man, set as so many films have been in the past decade in the outskirts of Boston, MA. Dicky Ecklund’s, as a has been boxer, (played by Christian Bale), only claim to fame is fighting Sugar Ray Leonard and then dropping out of the sport and into a life of drugs and crime, while his younger half-brother, Wahlberg’s “Irish” Micky Ward, hopes to become the next welterweight champion of the world. Trained by Bale, Wahlberg loses bout after bout through the family’s negativity towards him. His mother Alice, played by Melissa Leo, and his plethora of high-haired, poured into jeans sisters focus on Wahlberg’s downfalls rather than praising him when he does well. Half of the time Bale doesn’t even show up to spar with Wahlberg because he’s off in a crack house getting high with a forgettable ruffian group. His career’s on the skids, and frankly, I don’t see Wahlberg’s character caring enough about that.

The Fighter

The shift occurs when he meets Charlene, a bar maid played well by Amy Adams, and asks for a date. Leo, his manager, immediately becomes jealous as another woman steps into her son’s life –not so much because he’s her pride and joy, but because Charlene shows Micky that he can be great if he can get out from under the shadow of his has been boxer brother and overpowering manager mother. Adams realizes his career is on the rocks and his own family calls him a “stepping stone” boxer, or one that other boxers use and knock out, to better their own records on the way to fame. She immediately butts heads with Leo and tries to help Wahlberg find his true potential.

While ultimately he does find that potential and does win the championship, Wahlberg’s Ward doesn’t seem to really care. There’s no high emotion scene between him, Leo, and Bale, nor does he have a major falling out with Adams. (There’s a minor bout between them when Wahlberg reneges on his agreement to stop training with Bale, but he doesn’t convince the audience that he cares to win her back.)

What makes this a great film isn’t about overcoming adversity or even Bale’s Ecklund’s fight to get clean (it’s less of a challenge to get clean while incarcerated than on the streets of Massachusetts), and while a non-fiction bio pic won’t necessarily have grandiose unrealistic scenes, this film does have a great supporting cast. Adams perfectly plays the lost-in-the-city, never escaped through education, bar maid who falls in love. Leo’s Alice comes off as the over protective mother who ultimately loves her sons too much, and Bale. Well, Bale dropped weight for the role, and literally became Dicky Ecklund. Having already won the Globe and SAG Award, I wouldn’t want to be up against him for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this award’s season. Leo and Adams are boxing it out right up there, too, with their nominations for The Fighter’s Best Supporting Actress award.

This film will take home acting awards and maybe a few others albeit there are other films in the running who are more apt for Best Picture (from the safe Kings Speech to the critical favorite of Black Swan or the lovely The Kids Are All Right).

The Fighter’s title is a misnomer in that general audiences may consider this a boxing movie in which the star wins some, loses some, overcomes adversity, and then makes it big. But this film isn’t about that, nor do I think Wahlberg, playing Micky Ward, is even the title character in the film. In some ways all the major players are The Fighter.

Oscar Review: Black Swan

January 30, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

When I first heard of Black Swan, it wasn’t yet the critical sleeper hit of 2010. It was an Aronofsky, whose work, such as Requiem for a Dream and Pi, I respect very much. It wasn’t the sunniest direction nor was it for the widest of audiences but it was a style that set him squarely as one of the best contemporary directors working today. Then we added the double feature of Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis to the mix, and who can’t win? Portman’s been in the business more than half of her life and has been a favorite of mine from films like Garden State while Kunis’ Forgetting Sarah Marshall showed that she could work outside of Topher Grace’s basement on That 70’s Show.

Black Swan is a ballerina narrative that explores the true nature of the ballet. The mainstreamed version of this ballet explores light versus dark while focusing on the light, while Aronofsky’s version examines the true nature of the doppelganger and sinisterness of the black swan. In the film, Portman’s work over several years in the company landed her as primo ballerina edging out the aging ballerina played by Winona Ryder. Kunis is the most recent addition to the company from the west coast (think contemporary, edgy, passionate west coast versus traditional, structured east coast dancer). Portman immediately finds herself jealous of Kunis and is compared to her often by Vincent Cassel, the company’s director. The relationship between these two is dichotomous in that Portman’s perspective of their relationship is fleshed out albeit the audience is never truly sure what is fantastical and what is reality as their relationship develops throughout the narrative.

The play on the dual nature of this character is demonstrated by Aronofsky through his use of dance studio ballet mirrors and Portman’s Nina who shifts between black swan and white swan through the multiplicity and separation of reflective images in those mirrors. Even in the penultimate climax scenes, mirrors are effectively used to demonstrate how this will all end. And it will all end as Nina’s battle to be both the white swan and black swan on stage will quickly permeate her life off stage, and with that Aronofsky has created a critical favorite that continues to build momentum towards Oscar greatness.

(CC) Nathaniel R

Oscars: The Kids Are All Right

January 26, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

The best picture nomination, The Kids Are All Right, fell under the radar of many, while, for me, it caught my eye because it’s a classic story of love, relationships people have, the rites of passage.

Nic & Jules are just a normal couple working and living in a relatively nondescript California hillside city with their two children. Nic is a successful doctor who met Jules when she came into the emergency room one evening. They have what seems to be a normal relationship with their children, Joni and Laser, played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson respectively. Until Joni turns 18 years old and the younger Laser begins to pester her. See, Joni and Laser were born through artificial insemination from the same sperm donor; each Nic, played by Annette Benning, and Jules, played by Julianna Moore, birthed one of the two children. Laser, who is going through the throes of male adolescence in a house full of women, seeks out something more. He think that something could be filled in the form of his sperm donor, played well by Mark Ruffalo.

The Kids Are All Right by Suzanne Tenner

Joni, who is now 18, is convince to help Laser hunt down their “father”, Paul, who runs a co-op nearby, and is portrayed as Ruffalo usually is – a fun loving, dorking yet handsomely attractive man desirable by the women who surrounds themselves with him. This should not include Jules, but the true conflict occurs when suddenly Jules hops into bed Paul’s bed. This key narrative plot is the bane of my existence, since Nic and Jules seem happy. The subtle undercurrent of wanting more ripples through both Jules, who is shadowed in her trying to start a landscape design company by her more successful doctor partner and Laser who is becoming his own man without a male role model. While this idea of infidelity bothers me in what seemed to be a relatively loving relationship, and Ruffalo’s appeal isn’t convincing, I do think this ensemble cast of these three talented actors pulls off a well-acted film.

Maybe that subtle uncertainty is what makes this film the quintessential coming of age relationship film. Benning and Moore’s relationship is more than convincing (notwithstanding their awkward proclivities) while Joni’s carefree, smoothly coming into her own is a nonissue as she prepares to break out own her own. Although the 21st century’s ideals of “marriage” and relationships in nontraditional families is played smoothly and without awkward societal reasoning, it still bothers me, a heterosexual male, that Nic so easily cheats on her wife and her family, while my lesbian friends who saw this film agree that Nic’s actions are their own hidden fears that they’re not good enough for their own partners simply because they are not male.

Ruffalo usually plays Ruffalo and this film is nothing new, albeit Benning and Moore shift convincingly into their rules; Annette Benning deserves her nomination although she is up against a world of competitive talent in the likes of Natalie Portman, in the critical favorite Black Swan and new comer Jennifer Lawrence the protagonist from Winter’s Bone. While I fear the Best Picture nod will not go to this little film, Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg have a better chance of walking off with the Original Screenplay award given it’s already successes earlier in the award’s season.


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