The Fighter (PG-13) ★★★
As I stroll around cinemas in the last weeks of 2010, I can't help but feel a sense of disappointment in what I'm seeing. Take for example David O' Russell's Mickey Ward/boxing biopic The Fighter , it has undeniably great performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo as mother and brother of boxing legend Ward -played straightforwardly by Mark Whalberg- their performances are the heart and soul of an, otherwise, conventional narrative. The Fighter is NOT groundbreaking to say the least, which is a real letdown considering Russell's previous, visionary films. There's the ups, the downs, the final bout and the mandatory love story with a rural girl (an amazing Amy Adams). It all amounts to a predictably enjoyable but nevertheless disappointing film from people we expected much more from. However, Bale's Dickie Ward is the real deal. Whatever you've heard about him is all true. He's practically guaranteed a nomination if not a win at the upcoming Academy Awards. Getting the twitches, speech and mannerisms of his character in a dead on fashion, he create a haunting portrait of a junkie brought down by his own demons. If you think you've seen the best from Bale, wait until you 've seen this.
I also enjoyed Melissa Leo's gritty performance as Mickey's mother Alice Ward, a woman that can be seen as a kind of villainous figure but one who actually has much more to her than meets the eye. Here's a woman that believes in family first before anything else, which comes back to haunt her when she keeps on turning a blind eye with Dickie's drug addiction and constant visits to a crack house in a shady part of town. Alice believes he's Dickie is the right guy to train Mickey. Forget about the final bout or the constant cliches that sometimes appear in The Fighter, at its center, the best of the film is focused on its two most self destructive characters, Alice and Dickie. They are both played by fearless actors that brings out an intensity that can sometimes be lacking or forgotten in Whalberg's portrayal.
It is no surprise that Leo and Bale both grew up and started off in the independent film circuit before making Hollywood films, they are artists through and through and will likely get rewarded for their artistry come Oscar time. Just know that it's not the boxing stuff that resonates here, it's the family stuff. Russell know that the ties that bind are much more forceful, stinging and important than a punch in the boxing dream. Even when the film seems to focus a big chunk of its time on Ward's training and pre-boxing preparation, it's the humanity that breaks through and makes this a worthy watch this Holiday season. This might not be as ambitious as Russell's other films but it's got the best acting he's ever had the chance to direct.
As much as I thought Jane Campion's Holy Smoke was an ambitiously overwrought mess, it did feature an impeccable performance by Kate Winslet and proved once again that when she had curves- notice the past tense- she was smoking hot. An indelibly talented actress that doesn't mind going naked very once in a while. What more do you want?
I Love You Phillip Morris (R) ★★½
Jim Carrey has been a real enigma for many movie fans over the years. I dig both his comedic and dramatic roles with equal measure but fear that he's been on a downfall the past few years. What with stuff like The Majestic, The Number 23, Yes Man and Fun With Dick & Jane coming out the past 6 or so years, I'm skeptical at that the audacious actor we've come to like has all but vanished. Which brings me to I Love You Philip Morris, which is audacious and genuine Carrey. the kind of genuine that we've come to like from him, with none of the conventionality we've come to expect the last few years. Carrey's Steven Jay Russell is gay, dangerous and completely absurd- it's a showy role that does justice to the actor's talents and gives a certain kind of hope for more of these type of roles to come in the future.
Don't forget he was in some truly great films over the years (The Truman Show & Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind) films that have proven his ability to engage not just commercially but artistically also. Lately he's been bogged down in the commercial by focusing on clunky scripts that do not effectively show his range. His physical comedy used to have an incredibly vibrant freshness to it that he made what was supposed to be below average fare into real comic gold (Dumb And Dumber, The Mask & Ace Ventura). Philip Morris represents a Carrey actually excited about the material, it helps that directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa scripted the absurdy brilliant Bad Santa in 2003.
If he's a real highlight, the film itself is all over the place, going from one subplot to the next without the least bit of intention to slow down. Which is a problem. Ficarra and Requa have come up with some outrageous stuff here, which keeps things interesting, rolling along but messy. The film is a gay, prison love story on acid with a severe case of ADD. Jay falls for Phillip -a solid Ewan McGregor- in prison and they embark on a twisted relationship that has no trust and no boundaries in its ambitions. Jay is a greedy, manic depressive that is clearly messed up and confused about his own existence. I don't need to reveal more but to just say that this isn't a groundbreaker nor is it a great film, but it is an interesting companion piece to Carrey's own The Cable Guy, which also dealt with an obsessed individual on the brink of losing it and endangering the people around him.
David Fincher's The Social Network has been immensly praised the last few weeks by critics groups ranging from Boston, Los Angeles all the way to this week's -not very surprising- Best picture win over at the New York Film Critics Circle. Which begs to ask the question: Is it really the best picture of the year? Fincher aided by an amazingly layered Aaron Sorkin script has created a film that is as relevant as any other in 2010. It is not only about a social networking site -Facebook- that has completely changed the way the world thinks but it is also about university students that have taken control of businesses and settled themselves as 21st century entrepreneurs. The main protagonist in the film is Mark Zuckerberg -impeccably played by Jesse Eisenberg- the main creator of Facebook and a guy that is being sued by his former best friend Eduardo -an amazing Andrew Garfield- and the Winklevos', a set of muscled Harvard rowing twins that claim Mark has stolen their social netwoking idea.
This isn't a film that I would necessarily call entertainment for the masses but those willing to give it a chance and pay attention to the zip zap words of Sorkin's screenplay through and through will come out of this film feeling like their IQ was just raised up a notch. This is a film that demands its audiences attention in every word uttered and every gesture formed, it does not dumb down the viewer but instead trusts the viewers' intelligence in grasping its social, economical and political themes. This says a lot about the overall manner Fincher and Sorkin play along with the film's structure and -more importantly- editing. Add a marvelous soundtrack by The Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, which brings real depth and -dare I say- hipness to the surroundings. Reznor's sounds are not conventional, they come out at us like whiplash and enhance the overall mood of the film. This might be the best soundtrack of 2010.
Although I've always been a big admirer of director Fincher's work over the years, this film is far more low key than his usual exercises in style (Fight Club, The Game, Zodiac) However, what we have here is Fincher letting the screenplay talk and putting small but effectively realized touches to the film. If you ask me I prefer the former films mentioned in that they were more originally conceived and provocative, then again I don't think that's what Fincher and Sorkin are out for here. They let the material do the talking, they know that what they have here, the subject is incredibly interesting stuff that relates to everybody with a Facebook account or interested in the way communication has evolved over the past decade. Zuckerberg was the world's youngest billionaire and he did it in a way that had many puzzled by his unusual working methods.
The performers bring their A game. Eisenberg's Zuckerberg is not necessarily being judged by Sorkin but is left within our hands to judge. Is he really the backstabbing friend that Eduardo claims he is? Did he really steal The Winkelvus twins' idea? The film asks questions about what our rights are as human beings, when a simple idea can be consumed, stolen and then made into its own unique product. Andrew Garfield's Eduardo comes out as a revelation, he may in fact be the only true heroic figure in a film filled with greedy assholes. Hell, even Justin Timberlake gives a solid performance playing Napster founder and Zuckerberg confidant Sean Parker.
A film such as this one relies on characters more than plotting. The characters populating the film stay etched in your head way after the film is done, which is in fact the highest quality of the film. There is an almost irresistible vibe created, Fincher uses low lit cinematography to ehance the dreary atmosphere happening throughout. The hallways of Harvard feel cavernous and nightmarish, whereas the look and portrayal of University life is nothing short of condemning but truthful. Sorkin can sometimes seem to fly high, too high, with his own words and sometimes does not know what a limit is to his smart ass dialogue. It's a theme that has always followed him throughout his career, the pompous, almost too literate high brow writing style he is known for. however, It works here cause, well, the characters are pompous and full of themselves just like Sorkin. It's like a marriage made in heaven.
Here's a film that has been packaged and processed for the Oscars. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad film, it's just a very safe one. There's not much of a rebellious cry for originality and it is just a film that wants to entertain and touch as many viewers as possible. Nothing wrong with that I suppose but definitely not my cup of tea, if you know what I mean. Colin Firth is the titular king, he has a stutter that has been with him since his childhood and he decides to engage a speech therapist played by the very fine Geoffrey Rush. There's not many surprises that await the viewer in The King's Speech, just conventionality and British royal wisdom. The performances are above average, especially Firth, Rush and Helena Bonham Carter as the king's wife, in a non flashy but effectively realized performance. Suffice to say, I dug most of the scenes between Firth and Rush but felt like it was all too facile for these -let's face it- great actors. Come Oscar time you will hear their names but as good as the film is, it doesn't deserve any of the buzz it is getting in the press.
Enter The Void (NR) ★★★★
Gaspar Noe never seems to settle for a conventional narrative. His latest is called Enter The Void and runs at more than 160 minutes. It is long, flawed, repetitive but is also something I have never seen before in cinema and I do mean that as a good thing. If he shocked us all with a 10 minute rape scene in Irreversible, the shock is not as nasty here but he instead decides to resort to trippy psychedelia and images that represent an other worldly existence. His inspiration is clearly Kubrick, most notably the last 20 or so minutes of 2001 expanded into 2 hours. Although there is a story at hand here and a clear belief of an after life, Noe's interests vary from the connection of drugs to the after-life and the spirituality that comes in living above everything else.
Taking place in Japan, the film uses the colorful and surreal imagery of this country to tell the story of two Americans -brother and sister- that are literally lost in translation, but don't worry it isn't a sequel, there is no Bill Murray in Enter The Void, nor is there any Scarlett and her infamous butt. The brother, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) has turned into a junkie that is hooked on the drug DMT (the chemical your brain unleashes when you're dying) and his sister Linda has resorted to stripping for money- she also has a semi creepy affair with her Japanese manager. The brother gets shot and basically wanders around the entire film in an undisclosed life form going through flashbacks, present time and another dimension.
Talking about creepy, there's hints of Incest throughout the film although it never really is fully revealed, what that's all about? don't pay too much attention and just let filmmaker Noe transport you into a world of cinema you have never sene before. Suffice to say, I dug this film quite a bit because of its visionary reaches and the way Noe tried to bring a new way of expression to a cinematic medium that has all but failed in inventiveness the last few years. There's no shortage of originality here, although I felt completely drained by the time the film had ended. It's an experience that you will likely not forget, to say the least and I'm looking forward to his next twisted venture into surreality and cinematic boundaries.
127 Hours (R) ★★★½
I'm not one that has completely warmed up to Danny Boyle's stylistic flourishes over the years, however I don't deny the guy has talent. I dug Slumdog Millionaire for what it was, a preposterous but exciting movie-going exercise and I still think Trainspotting is his best film. 127 Hours, his latest exercise in stylistic overkill is a rather Jekkyl and Hyde type of film, it represents the best and worst of Boyle's mannerisms. However, here the good outweighs the bad. If you haven't read the news of late, it's based on Aron Ralston, a man that so it happens went hiking one day and ended up in a freakish fall that got his hand stuck underneath an immovable rock, even worse nobody knew he went out to hike, given his loner personality, thus he was left to fend off alone and find a way to get out of his rather astonishing situation. Supposedly, the only way to get out of there was by amputating his own arm, which is part of what makes this astonishing true story even more remarkable and -wait for it- touching.
I won't go into further detail, not that I need to considering the film is basically Ralston -impeccably played by James Franco- stuck in a cave, screaming for help and finding ways to survive. Because this is a Danny Boyle film , he brings overkill to what is in essence a story that should be simply told, considering the thinness of its dramatic surprises and momentum. Boyle gives us flashbacks to Ralston's youth and adolescence but he also showcases the hallucinations that end up happening in our main protagonists' head during his surreal, grueling experience. All of this leads to the amputation scene which is, needless to say, harrowing to watch and accentuated by a soundtrack filled with needled, spiky and uncomfortable sounds. The deliverance in the film's final moments is touching and uplifting, which gives this film a kind of crowd pleasing vibe to it, even after the graphic details of the amputation have already passed.
The film starts to run its course a bit in its mid section, by resorting to Raston's flashbacks and visionary hallucinations but when the amputation scene hits, you won't even know what hit you. It's tough to watch but also represents one of the most memorable scenes of any movie I have seen in 2010 ditto Franco's acting, he pulls a Tom Hanks here and is alone for close to 80% of the film, which is all the more remarkable considering he is stuck in the same setting and in the same standing position throughout the film. When he craves that last drop of water, we crave that last drop of water, when he stabs his arm, we feel it too. It's not an easy watch and although flawed in its stylistic excess, at times it had me hooked in its hero and the perpetually harrowing experience he must have had. But I found the writing lacking. There's really very little to the movie other than Franco's face and survival efforts. Very little depth/revelation. It is a stunt and one that Boyle admirably decides to overcome, giving his viewer every possible trick in the book. Don't get me wrong, 127 Hours is a good enough movie but there's only so much you can do with a one man story such as this one.
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