Monday, January 24, 2011

The Fighter

One of my greatest joys in life is to go to a movie with fairly low expectations, and find myself totally engrossed in the film. I had a joyous day yesterday. I had heard that 'The Fighter' had great performances in it, but the film itself wasn't up to much. Most reviews have given it a 3 star grading. A Mark Wahlberg fan since 'Boogie Nights' (no, not for the last scene), I think he's a remarkably good actor, and totally admire his work ethic, and the fact that he could have spiralled down, instead choosing the harder road and has gone from strength to strength as an actor and producer. I also very much admire Christian Bale, though am more dubious as to his off screen character. He has the disciplined ability to physically inhabit the person he is portraying. I didn't have high hopes for the film though and absolutely detest boxing. It's the true story of Micky Ward (Wahlberg) who is a fighter in the shadow of his brother, local legend Dicky Eckland (Bale). Dicky is a legend in Lowell Massachusetts because he once fought, knocked down, but lost to Sugar Ray Leonard, although there seems to be some discrepancy as to whether Sugar Ray was punched out or slipped. Dicky has been riding the wave ever since. Dicky coaches Micky, and is mother is his manager (a claustraphobic matriarchal Melissa Leo). They do not always make the wisest choices for Micky, who is in a confidence crisis. Micky is aware of this, but is also bound by the love of his huge poor Catholic/ Boston/Irish family. Incidentally, why do Americans from Irish descent hundreds of years ago insist on calling themselves Irish? Anyway, the picture is even more clouded as Dicky is a crack addict and petty criminal who has been in and out of prison. He has the HBO cameras following him to document the toll this terrible drug takes on a person, which appeals to his showmanship character. Micky then meets Charlene, a down to earth bar tender (Amy Adams can do no wrong), and they fall in love. Charlene encourages Micky to seek alternative management, as the family is beginning to drag him down. It's a simple tale, but it's a really powerful one. The torment that Micky goes through is palpable. It really is heartbreaking, Dicky is an obviously talented athlete, with oodles of charm, but continues to choose the wrong path. Micky's family, a wall of indominatable sisters would make most men rung from the ring. It is clear that they all love each other very much, but are caught up in past hurts and their own narrow minded views. It is a real cracker of a film. I would recommend anyone to see it. Mark Wahlberg is outstanding as the quiet, yet powerful Micky and a selfless actor who lets Christian Bale shine as the gregarious and likeable junkie. Melissa Leo is brilliant as the overbearing Mother playing off against the quieter father, George, played by Jack McGee. Micky's actual trainer, Mickey O'Keefe, a Police Officer, plays himself, and is very good. The family dynamics are exaggerated, but ones that most of us who aren't siblingless orphans will recognise. The film has already scooped some Golden Globes, come Wednesday we will see whether it receives some much deserved Oscar nominations. THE FIGHTER: A knockout. 8.5/10

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Black Swan

Natalie Portman has already signalled this is a brilliantly acted film, by winning the Golden Globe award for best actor in a female role. She deserves it. Her portrayal of Nina Sayers, an emotionally fragile ballerina, desperately trying to prove she has the physical and emotional skill to play the lead in 'Swan Lake' whilst descending into her own hell is nothing short of mesmerising. It is painful to watch as she attempts to become a more sensual person, a part of her that she has locked away. Her attempts are thwarted by her overbearing stage Mum, (Barbara Hershey, oh what have you done to your face?) and possibly by the new, loose limbed -and moralled- Lily, a perfect Mila Kunis. As if that isn't bad enough, Nina also has to cope with a seductive svengali, Vincent Cassel who is repulsively attractive to her, and the figure of what she will inevitably become, the aging dancer Beth Macintyre (lines chewed up by Winona Ryder). In some ways, the theme is reminiscent of 'Shutter Island', but not as rich in depth or storytelling as that masterpiece. The film is extremely dramatic, a reminder of the productions of the 1950's although far more explicit, and I mean that in every sense of the word. As Nina loses her grip on reality, she suffers from visions of hideous self-harm and imagines she is, in fact, transforming into a swan. It's also a fascinating insight into the mysterious world of ballet and the dancers that are so dedicated to their art.

The ending is absolutely spectacular. It's very hard to believe that Natalie Portman is not a prima ballerina, she embodies the role, and the movements so beautifully. It's a film that's hard to watch, as was The Wrestler (also directed by Darren Aronofsky). There are very obvious comparisons between the black and white swan and the demons smothering Nina, and the implication of the mirrors everywhere is fairly self explanatory. It's a really thrilling and entertaining movie, just not first date material. In fact, don't go and see this movie with anyone that you don't know that well, you may end up feeling that you've also descended into your own personal hell. I have thought long and hard about this movie since my initial blog, and have decided to make the unprecedented step of downgrading my rating. I know, I really live life on the edge. It was an 8, but the more I think about it, it's only really worth a 7, I quite frankly can't see what all the fuss is about. BLACK SWAN: Duck down to your local movie theatre and have a gander. 7/10.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


This is Disney's 50th animated feature. It's a very traditional Disney film, which I love. There are no 'pop culture' references. No clever insinuations for adult audiences. Just good old-fashioned story telling and the film is all the better for it. It's the tale of Princess Rapunzel, gifted with magical healing hair, stolen from her Royal parents by a vain old woman who wants to stay young forever. Rapunzel is kept in the tower and emotionally blackmailed by her 'mother', until her yearning for adventure becomes too strong, and a roguish young man falls into her life, quite literally. The film then follows the usual pattern, towards, and I don't think I'm going to spoil anything here, a happy ending. There are lots of fun visual characters, the adorable chameleon, never far from Rapunzel's side, and the brilliant show stealing Maximus, a Royal Guard horse that thinks he's a dog. The rogue, 'Flynn Rider' is voiced by Zachary Levi, of 'Chuck' fame and the voice of Rapunzel is Mandy Moore, no hugely famous voice-overs, which again, is a good thing. The graphics are just beautiful. We went to the 2D version, I'm not a big fan of 3D. The only gripe I would have is the character of Flynn Rider. In every story before, when the leading man is a 'rogue' that is what he is. Aladdin was a really good guy, who just stole to eat, but nothing else, which made him a diamond in the rough. This guy is actually a thief, and stole from Rapunzel's parents no less, with no remorse. He still got the girl. A sign of the times maybe? At least they didn't give him earrings. Or a tattoo. This time. Overall, a lovely film, pretty good for littlies and older kids. Not in the same league as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, or The Little Mermaid, but some catchy tunes and a nice tale. RAPUNZEL: Go and see it, let your hair down. 6/10.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Morning Glory

Becky (darling Rachel McAdams) is a talkative workaholic who has always dreamed of working on morning tv. When she is unexpectededly fired as a producer, she is given the chance by Jerry (Jeff Goldblum, aging well baby) to become the executive producer of one of the less successful morning tv programmes. Underqualified and overambitious, she fires the reptilian male co-anchor on the first day. The network has no budget to pay for a new anchor. Becky's idol is Mike Pomeroy, a serious news anchorman. To her joy she finds not only is he on contract to the network, but there's a loophole in it which means he has to work on the show, or receive not a penny more. To quote the film, Mike is the "third worst person in the world". Needless to say Mike (Harrison Ford) is not thrilled to be working on a production that has zero gravitas, and a co-anchor diva who has been presenting the show for years. It is up to Becky to make it work, before the show is cancelled in favour of game show reruns.
I've been lucky to have seen two comedies recently that have been funny, intelligent and sweet, this is one and Love and Other Drugs was the first. It's a delightful film. Rachel McAdams is really likeable in a role that could have been irritating in a less accomplished actress' hands. Patrick Wilson is sweet as Becky's love interest. The co-anchor diva is played by, in my opinion, one of the most overrated actresses in the movies, Diane Keaton. Here, however, her overacting and generally predictable 'kookiness' works in her favour and she is a great character. Someone needs to tell old Annie Hall that just because somebody once told her that high waisted pants suited her, doesn't mean she has to wear them in every single movie. They don't suit her. They rarely suit anyone. Harrison Ford is just wonderful. He runs the usual gamut of facial expressions, grumpy and less grumpy. We see flashes of Indi and Jack Trainer (from Working Girl), he does comedy well and he knows how to make himself likeable against all odds. The relationship that forms between Mike and Becky is really touching, as are the relationships formed on the show from a super cast. MORNING GLORY: A wonderful way to start the day. 7/10