The Fighter – Review

The Fighter (2010)

Directed by David O. Russell. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams

This was an unexpected surprise! After seen the trailer for “The Fighter” I didn’t really think much of it. Then I saw that it was directed by David O. Russel and remembered how much I hated I Heart Huckabees. Oh dear, I thought to myself, this isn’t going to be a happy viewing… Oh, how I was wrong!!!

This is now probably in my top 10 film of the year (or even top 5 dare I say).

The trailer makes it look like another film about a boxer, filled with violence for the latest testosterone generation, yet this film is as much as boxing as the first Rocky was, actually even less. And just like that film (I’m sorry but the parallel is inevitable), it’s a story about an underdog, a rag-to-riches tale, a story about characters more than anything else.

At the centre of the action is the relationship between  two brothers: the boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale) who helped train him.

At this point I must confess my complete ignorance about any type of sports. So much so that I had never even head of Micky Ward so the whole turn of events was a complete surprise (including the ending).

The thing that will strike anyone watching the film is the acting of pretty much everybody in it.

Once again (as he had done for the Machinist in 2003) Christian Bale has lost a lot of weight reportedly by eating very little. He researched the part by taking notes on Eklund’s mannerisms and recording conversations for the character’s distinct accent. Apparently he even stayed in character throughout filming. Well, whatever he did, it really works. Bale transformed himself completely for this film and it’s hard to believe that he’s the same person behind the cape in Batman or even in Terminator: salvation.

And as an extra proof of how good Christian Bale is in the film, when during the end credits we are treated with some real footage of the real people in the film, we can be amazed by how similar his mannerism and accents are.

Because of the part itself, Bale is really the one who steals the show every time he’s on-screen, however Mark Wahlberg is also very good too in a much more understated act, which almost goes unnoticed. Never for a moment you doubt that he’s actually anything but a boxer (apparently he even had a boxing ring in his back garden during the making of this film).

But the big surprise for me was Melissa Leo who plays the mother in the film: a relatively unknown actress and yet a great force of nature in the Fighter.

The film is very nicely balanced, has a very good pace, a tight script and a nicely controlled and never showy direction. The only noticeable choice was the way they decided to film the few fight sequences in the film, by using video as opposed to film (or at least it look that way), by making the inter-cutting with the real footage seamless.

This is a beautiful movie which probably hasn’t got anything new that we haven’t seen before but it’s got a moving story that rings true at every step and will make you laugh, cry and cheer all the way to the last frame and it’s done with such simplicity and sincerity that it’s hard not to admire.

8.5/10


Tron: Legacy – Review

TRON: LEGACY (2010) 

Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Starring Jeff BridgesGarrett HedlundOlivia Wilde

Before I start trashing this film the way it really deserves, I should probably admit I was never a real fan of the original. It’s the kind of film that people always seemed to admire for its technical achievement, but even as a kid I never quite got into it. In fact, dare I say, I remember thinking it was all rather boring and overly complicated. Let’s just face it, most of the fun and the enjoyment in that first film was actually watching the video-games-like sequences (and yet even those, I remember thinking even at the time, were over-edited and I couldn’t quite enjoy them fully). The rest was pretty forgettable.
Of course, back in the 80s I probably had the video games, I had the little Mattel characters, and even a notebook for school with Tron written on it… but back then, the times were different and there wasn’t much to choose from for a boy of ten like me.

Anyway, it doesn’t look like I am the only one who thinks that, since the first TRON ranks pretty low on the internet movie database and rotten tomatoes gives it an unremarkable 68% (Most of which surely has got to do with the nostalgia factor). Hence the reason why it took them almost 30 years to make a sequel.

Having said all this, I can safely say that Tron Legacy manages to stay true to the original: it’s just as complicated and confusing in its “story”, the video-games-like sequences are just as messy and over-edited as the original and the special effects want to be absolutely amazing, but actually when you really look at them closely they’re not as successful as they’re trying to make you believe.

Much has been talked about the CGI wizardry that has allowed Jeff Bridges to look 30 years younger. Well, sadly, we are still a few years away to make that trick seamless. Even in Benjamin Button the effect on Brad Pitt young just about worked, but was still the least convincing of them all. Though it will probably look just about OK once the film comes out on a DVD (not so sure about the BluRay actually), certainly on the big screen, the effect on Jeff Bridges’ face doesn’t look quite right. Human skin has always been troublesome on GCI and this film proves it again. The result is a weird plastic feel that actually reduces his real facial expression. One of my readers said it made him look like “prince charming” from the Shrek movies, which I think it hits the nail right on the head!! Interestingly it seemed to work better in the scenes which were masked  and filtered through a TV screen (as if they were part of archive footage), which proves that even the makers were quite aware of the limitations.

The film is quite a visual feast for the eye, as special effects and production design fight for attention in every single frame of the film , but it’s all so hyper-real and over-blown that, to be honest, I found it hard to be swept away by any of it. I do recognize some of its value (which is why I am giving it 5 stars and not 2 stars), but all this visual extravaganza cannot make up for the lack of  any clear and interesting storytelling. And this is, at the end of the day, the most important factor in a film, any film, whether it’s an action piece or a drama, or a cartoon.: you’ve got to like the story! You’ve got to sympathize with the characters or at least be interested in them. In the case of Tron:Legacy  I was pretty confused all the way through (but sadly not in a “Inception” sort of confusion where, being confused is part of the fun. This was just confusing because it was badly told!).

I am not really sure who is this film for? Fans of the first one? Well, there are not too many out there.

Is it a film for kids? Don’t think so: they would certainly get lost in the mambo-jumbo story.

Is it a film for video-games lovers? Probably, though I can name hundreds of much more exciting games to play.

Is it a film for girls in love with Garrett Hedlund? Well, there’s plenty of him in here and he does an OK job with the material he’s given, but to be honest that’s not a good enough reason for watching this film.

Is it a film for geeks or special effects lovers? Well, I am one of those, and I can tell you that I wasn’t really taken by any it. It all may look slick and stylish and it’s all just an upgraded version of the previous film, with very little originality.

Even the action sequences seemed just a modern version of the previous ones, with some added 3D Fx. Ah yes, I was almost forgetting the 3D factor. Right at the beginning some weird caption tells you that some of the scenes are supposed to look 2D and that you should keep your 3D glasses on all the time. What it actually means is that the 3D only kicks in once the main characters enters the virtual world of video-games (quite a bad choice if you ask me, especially because it misses quite a few opportunities in the first part of the film to make the action a bit more exciting). Once we finally get to “virtual world” or cyber-word or whatever you wanna call it, after the first few minutes you’re in 3D you actually almost forget you’re watching it in 3D (I say almost because the headache that the 3D glasses give you is still there).  I was so surprised by how badly the 3D is used on this film. Even the flying sequences didn’t seem to draw me in  ( and those are notoriously good on 3D, see Avatar and even the awful Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole). Am I alone on this one? I usually love 3D… I seem to remember the motorbike sequences on the first Tron being a lot more exciting than in this (or is it because I was 10 at the time?).

On the acting side of things (and I am aware that one doesn’t really go and see Tron for the acting), Jeff Bridges in his older self (not the plastic young version) seems a little bit embarrassed to be in this film, in a mixture of the Dude and a Jedi knight… And talking about Star Wars, not only Jeff Bridges dresses like a Jedi and the special effects are sometimes reminiscent of the Attack of the Clones,  but even the main protagonist, Garrett Hedlund looks a bit like Hayden Christensen.And finally  Michael Sheen, is now the parody of himself and doesn’t seem to have any more regard for choosing whatever part in whatever film as long as he gets paid (well, who could blame him? I’d probably do the same).

So, to wrap it all up: the story is a mess, the script if basically riddled with clichés, bad lines and jokes that are so poorly timed and unfunny that in the screening where I was NOBODY laughed, and finally the visual effects are so unreal and overblown that they fail to amaze.

One the positive side, the soundtrack is awesome. Nothing new, of course, it sounds a lot like Batman, Inception and the Bourne films, but it’s still pretty good (though there was probably too much music throughout).

I was ready to love this one, we so need a new sci-fi film to take the crown, but I was really disappointed at this revamped TRON and actually even a bit bored. Sorry Disney

Made in Dagenham – Review

Made in Dagenham (2010) 

Directed by Nigel Cole. Starring Sally HawkinsBob HoskinsAndrea RiseboroughRosamund Pike

I’ve finally managed to catch up with this film after hearing only good reviews from esteemed journalists and friends. So let’s say my expectation were fairly high (which is always pretty dangerous). On the whole I was a bit disappointed by how average it all was.

To be fair, the story itself is the best thing: how a group of female workers at  the Ford Dagenham car plant decided to go on strike protesting against sexual discrimination and asking for equal pay. It’s not just interesting and quite gripping but it’s also unbelievably true… Even more unbelievable to think that all this was just 40 years ago. Unfortunately, the story itself, as you can see, can be told in about a sentence or two. So after a while the film actually drags a bit and plays out pretty much as expected, by numbers.

It is a typical British film in a way: its pace, its gritty locations, its gray colours, even weather itself is very British. Nothing wrong with that, of course, expect this is all really superficial. The direction is pretty nonexistent and misses all the right moments. So much so that the supposedly funny scenes are without laughter and the moments where you should feel something (maybe even cry) are so cold and contrived that you’ll end up feeling absolutely nothing.

The script pretty basic and actually quite weak in places. There are scenes in which characters reveal their true motives to each other, in the lamest and laziest way, with dialogue that  rings so annoyingly  untrue, even though it’s all supposed to be a real story: for example the scene where Bob Hoskins tells, out of the blue, that the reason why he wants to help out is because his difficult childhood, is really contrived! And then later on in the film, there’s a very similar moment in which Rosamund Pike (who at least is good with the little she’s been given) tells Sally Hawkins how she feels. My God, do people really talk like that?

It’s funny how they managed to make a true story seem to un-real!

Even Miranda Richardson‘s depiction as  the Secretary of State is so over the top that you almost wonder whether she’s even realized she’s not on a Harry Potter set anymore.

Almost every single character in this film is a two-dimensional caricature, purely functional to the story: they can all be described with one adjective each. Most of the men act as the baddies, as if they were performing to 5 years old children, in the most ludicrous way. Was that really the only way to make the women appear stronger in the film?

The only one who attempts to do something a little bit more interesting is Richard Schiff, but unfortunately there isn’t enough of him to make him an interesting character anyway.

Once again, the Bob Hoskins‘s character (A union shop steward) is a one-dimensional one too. The moment where he quotes Carl Marx, is just one of the several contrived moments in the script, aiming for an easy punch-line, but actually contributing to make it even more un-real . Are we really supposed to believe that a character like him, really knows Carl Marx by heart?

Not to mention all the silly subplot which, on paper should really make the characters more real, but in practice end up being “so what?” moments. For example, what’s all the business with that woman with the sick husband (and the suicide too!!)? How is that meant to fit into the story? Are we meant to feel something for her? Because if that’s the case, I didn’t really feel anything about it.

And what about all the stuff with the bullied son at the beginning? Why is that subplot even there at all?

But the most awkward element of them all is Sally Hawkins‘s performance as Rita O’Grady. She’s supposed to be the strong woman who says “enough is enough” (in fact you can even see the real person in some real footage used during the end credits) and yet for most first half of the film she’s constantly acting as an incredibly shy  woman. Her mannerism is just wrong for the type of person she’s supposed to be. How she lowers her eyes every time she needs to talk so someone, or her stuttering and feeble tone of voice whilst she should actually be the strong one. wasn’t Rita O’Grady the woman who managed to rally all the others and convince them to join her in a strike for the right of equal pay. Well, in this film I get no sense at all that she could be a leader…

It’s a real pity, because a story like that really deserved something a lot better than this film.

6/10

Mario Monicelli (1915 – 2010)

CIAO MARIO, the Last Italian Maestro

I don’t really want this blog to become the “dead people’s blog”, but I feel I should acknowledge  and pay respect to one of the last remaining legend of  Italian Cinema. Film writer and director Mario Monicelli committed suicide, jumping out of the window of a room in a hospital where he was receiving treatment for a terminal prostate cancer. He was 95. During his active life, he was always in control… And so he decided to be in control of his death too.

I was lucky enough to be able to see a lot of his work back in film school. Sadly most of his movies today are not available in their English subtitled versions, so either you speak Italian or you’ll need to find a way to download them somewhere on web (www.allsubs.org, www.opensubtitles.org for example), or just hope for a re-run in somewhere.

Monicelli wrote and directed over 70 films, but I decided to pick up 3 of them out of all the ones he directed. These are  in my view, the ones you should look out if you can catch them somewhere.

I soliti Ignoti (Persons Unknown. Aka “Bid Deal on Madonna Street”). Made in 1958, this is probably the first of the great heist movies of all time. So many directors got inspired by this film, including French director Louis Malle with Crackers in 1986, Woody Allen with Small Time Crooks, George Clooney with Welcome to Colliwood, and even Steve Soderbergh with  “Ocean’s 11”. (and possibly many many others).

It i s also considered the one that started the “commedia all’Italiana” genre drawing from the neo realism and driven by a strong screenplay.The genre rose to prominence in the ‘50s, giving notoriety to a long string of highly talented actors like Totò, Alberto Sordi, Vittorio Gassman, and Ugo Tognazzi, just to name a few.

This is also the first time in Italian comedy where we witness the death of a character. However this doesn’t take anything away from the fact that this is still one of the funniest Italian film ever made.

It is the fusion between drama and comedy that will become Monicelli’s trademark. The film was so succesful that 2 more sequels were made (in 1959 and in 1985). It also received an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film in 1958.

La grande guerra (The Great War). Made in 1959 and starring Alberto Sordi (in one of his best performances ever!) and Vittorio Gassman this is still considered among the masterpieces of Italian cinema. It won the Venice Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award. It perfectly encapsulate the type of cinema Monicelli was best at, mixing tragedy with comedy as it depicts the story of a group of Italians during the first World War using a style which is both realistic and yet at the same time romantic.

It is a wonderful film, very funny in places and incredibly moving at the same time. It’s the type of film that Roberto Benigni was certainly inspired by when he made “Life is Beautiful” (though his film was a lot more forced and contrived).

Amici Miei (My Friends). The film originally belonged to Pietro Germi who had written it and was going to direct it. But he fell ill the project was handed over to Monicelli who directed it and edited it. When the film was released in 1975, a year later Germi’s death, its opening credits rea: “A film by Pietro Germi”, Directed by Mario Monicelli.

Incidentally, two more sequels came after this one (the second one, also directed by Mario Monicelli, is just as good, or maybe even better than the first)

Still today these are is some of the most quoted films in Italy and it’s quite surprising that in an age of remakes and sequels, nobody has yet remade this one in English… Hey Hollywood, I’m giving you a tip!! This is a beautiful film about  friendship, seen (typically for a Monicelli film)  from a rather grittier and bleaker point of view. It tells the story of four middle-aged friends in Florence who organize together idle pranks (called zingarate, “gypsy shenanigans”) in a continuous strife to prolong childhood during the adult life. The plot is mostly composed by the elaborate practical jokes (some of them are truly memorable, especially in the second film) organized by the friends, including pretending to be mafia mobs committing “criminal acts” against a very annoying and not very likable old pensioner.


Leslie Nielsen (1926 – 2010)

Leslie Nielsen: Don’t Call Him Shirley

According to Wikipedia, over the span of his career, Nielsen appeared in over one hundred films and 1,500 television programs, and yet, despite appearing in many famous movies  (The “the Forbidden Plane” in 1956 and The Poseidon Adventure in 1972, just to mention a few), he’ll be remembered forever for his “second youth” when he started to show his perfect deadpan comedy skills. First, the supporting role in Airplane! (possibly one of the funniest film I’ve ever seen) and then of course, Lt. Frank Drebin the Naked Gun Series.

When it was suggested that his role in Airplane! was against type, Nielsen protested that he had “always been cast against type before,” and that comedy was what he always really wanted to do. And it clearly shows. Leslie Nielsen had the perfect comic timing and his deadpan deliveries in the mist of the most chaotic situations were impeccable.

And even if ins his later films he probably became a spoof-making machine and his movies degenerated into complete rubbish, we still love him for that child in him that never grew up and for the stomach aches he’s been giving us throughout the years just out of laughter.

EMPIRE MAGAZINE online run a tribute page with his best quotes, but my favourite is not from any movie in particular, but from the man himself  “Doing nothing is very hard to do…you never know when you’re finished”. So true.

He’ll be missed by all of those who grew up watching him, but his comic genius will remain forever for the future generations.

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