17 December 2010

The Fighter

Fighting For Everything

I love boxing movies. I love Christian Bale movies. I liked The Fighter. When a movie gets four acting nominations from the Golden Globes, along with Best Picture and Director, I expected a great film. The Fighter was a really good movie, but something just seemed off to make it great. I really can’t put my finger on it. My only thought was that it struggled with what story they were trying to tell. Dicky’s? Micky’s? Lowell’s?

The Fighter, directed by David O. Russell, follows Dicky Eklund and his younger brother Micky Ward. Christian Bale’s performance as the crack addicted, once promising boxer, Dicky, was something to see. It was his best role since The Machinist. Bale just immerses himself in his roles, and it shows. Wahlberg plays Micky Ward. He was not as electrifying as he was in The Departed, but he was still great. The movie opens with a documentary crew following Dicky as he is on his road to a comeback, or so Dicky thinks. They are really there to show the effects of crack.

Dicky is the corner man and trainer for Micky. But, due to the crack addiction, Dicky is very unreliable. The other corner man and trainer is Mickey O’Keefe, the sheriff, who was played by O’Keefe himself. The movie opens with Dicky leading the documentary crew through the streets of Lowell, Pennsylvania. He is the local legend for knocking Sugar Ray Leonard down in boxing match. He is preparing for his supposed comeback. He is also training Micky for his next fight.

Before leaving for Las Vegas for the fight, Micky meets Charlene Fleming, played by the always beautiful Amy Adams. She is a bartender at the local tavern. Once in Vegas, Micky and Dicky are informed that the fighter they were preparing for had to pull out due to the flu. So, Alice and Dicky make the decision that Dicky will fight a replacement that is 20 pounds bigger. The fight is a disaster.

Upon his return, Micky and Charlene become a pair, and this drives a wedge into the awkward family dynamic. Charlene makes Micky question whether his brother and mother have his best interest in mind. His father, George, gets his a real manager after Dicky gets arrested. There are a few stipulations, no more Alice and no more Dicky.

With his new manager, Micky gets his boxing career back on track. He picks up a few wins, and then gets a real shot at a real fighter. Dicky gives advice that proves crucial to winning the fight. With that win, Dicky gets a title shot.


Now, we are over halfway through this movie, and there has been conflict throughout. Dicky and Micky have five sisters, all who hate Charlene. Alice hates the new manager since she was his old manager. George going against the family causes more strife. Dicky gets clean and finds out what the documentary crew was really filming while in jail. With the big title shot on the horizon, family and friends are torn and fighting. The final conflict becomes can Micky survive all this and still focus on the fight.

The Fighter’s climactic fight was for the title. What I found interesting was, “Irish” Micky is best remembered for his trilogy of fights against Arturo Gatti, two of which won Ring magazine’s fight of the year honor. These are not mentioned at all. I found that odd. Oh well, you can only tell so much. A similar thing was done with Michael Mann’s Ali.

One of the biggest problems this movie had was the feel and tone. Each actor was great in their respective role, but none of them really had any chemistry. Melissa Leo was amazing as Alice Ward, but she didn’t have a lot of chemistry with Christian Bale or Mark Wahlberg. Mark and Christian had enough to make it work. Amy Adams was good. She shined in her scenes where she was feuding with the sisters.

The writing was good. The direction was good. There was just something off. Like I said, I love boxing movies. Maybe I had too high expectations. I wanted to love The Fighter. The reviews are great. I would still give this a solid 8/10. But I was really hoping for a 10. Verdict: While it wasn’t what I was wanting it to be, it was still a solid movie with solid acting, directing, and writing. Worth the money, especially a matinee showing.

16 December 2010

True Grit

True to Grit

Well, after almost a two-week break, I made it to another movie. When I first heard that the Coen Brothers were going to be making a version of Charles Portis’s novel, True Grit, I went out and rented the book from the library. That was April of last year. I did not get around to watching Henry Hathaway’s 1969 version of the film starring none other than John Wayne in his only Oscar winning role until July of this year. So, I was prepared to go see this version. The Coens kept saying that they were going to be more faithful to the source material. I thought Hathaway’s as pretty faithful, other than Kim Darby (22) being a little too old to be Mattie (14).

When the first official press shot was released, I got excited. Then, the teaser hit. I was more excited. Following that, the full feature trailer premiered. You cannot go wrong with a Johnny Cash song in a trailer. The trailer looked amazing. So, off I went with high expectations. I took my co-worker with me. The last movie he saw in theaters was Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves from 1991. So, it had been a while. We saw it at a recently built theater. It was finished about 2 years ago. The poor guy had no idea what theaters are like now.

Anyway, True Grit opens with a voice over by Mattie, played by Hailee Steinfeld, telling what started her adventures that led her to meeting U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, played by Jeff Bridges and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, played by Matt Damon. Mattie, being only fourteen years old, has quite a head on her shoulders. She is shrewd businesswoman, hard negotiator, and will not take “no” for an answer. Mattie Ross finally convinces the drunken Marshall to let her accompany him and the Ranger. The trio head off into the Chickasaw Indian country in pursuit of Chaney, played by Josh Brolin. Chaney, who they find out has taken in with Luck Ned Pepper’s gang, killed Mattie’s father in cold blood.

True Grit follows the original movie and book like you would expect. I enjoyed the movie. I loved it, actually. I tried very hard to not compare this to the original. I did a good job until the ending. Once the trio catches up with Ned and his gang, all I could see and hear was the original. Barry Pepper plays Ned Pepper, but it was more like Barry Pepper playing Robert Duvall playing Ned. The famous standoff scene just seemed a bit off in this “revisioning.” Jeff Bridges did a great job making Rooster his own, and not stepping on The Duke’s portrayal. But the “Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!” line just did not sound right. That one spot is the only one thing that grated on me for the entire film.

The western genre is a dying one. Over the last few years, the ones that have come out have been amazing. I just wish that the new generation of moviegoers would support them. Appaloosa was based on a series of books, but it did not set the box office on fire enough for its three sequels to get the coveted greenlight. 3:10 to Yuma was another remake of an old western. It just did not have John Wayne in it.

Make no mistake, True Grit was a great film. It is award worthy. The Coen brothers are incredible directors and gifted writers. Yet, for them to say this is more true to the novel confuses me. The script is almost line for line from the original. The direction is better, but I don’t know if I would say the film was much different. They did, however, have a darker tone. The dialog was a bit comical at times, which differed from the original. The acting is superb, though Jeff Bridges is hard to understand at times, as is Josh Brolin. Hailee Steinfeld stole the show. She was incredible. I could not believe that is actually fourteen. I would love to see her pick up a nomination like Haley Joel Osment and Abigail Breslin. The Coens could easily get a well deserved direction nomination, and possibly a writing one, too. I would be surprised to see Matt Damon get anything for his role.

Verdict: True Grit may not be an original film. It may be a dying genre. But it still stands tall as a great film of 2010. I urge you to see this movie. It is worth the money for sure.

Here is the famous scene I mentioned above:

02 December 2010

Faster

A Fast Way to Waste $$

Faster has one of the weirdest group of actors. It is movie actors in key roles surrounded by TV actors. The actors are Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thorton, Carla Cugino and even Tom Berenger and Mike Epps make quick cameos. After that, CBS Films robbed their own sets and sets from other stations. Michael Irby from The Unit, Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter, Magie Grace and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje from Lost, Xander Berkley from 24 and Moon Bloodgood from Day Break are the ones I recognized. I am sure there are more. George Tillman, Jr., whose best movie to date is Men of Honor, directs a script from Joe and Tony Gayton. This was their first collaborative effort. Both have made decent scripts on their own. The character names look like the casting call.

Let’s begin there. The Rock plays a character known as Driver. Billy Bob is Cop. Newcommer Oliver Jackson-Cohen plays Killer. This is no joke. Those are the names. These are the three “main” characters of Faster. Everyone else has small roles; most only one scene. But, a lot of them have names. Cugino plays Cop’s partner, Cicero. Maggie Grace plays Killer’s lover, Lily. But poor Jennifer Carpenter plays the ex-love of Driver, Woman. Terrible character names. Brutal in fact.

Now that I got that out of the way, let’s look at the plot. At its core, Faster has a creative story. It was just told terribly. It opens with Driver being let out of prison after serving 10 years for a bank heist. He goes on a killing spree/revenge terror to get the guys that killed his brother and left him for dead. If you watch the trailer, he see the movie, for the most part. Along the way, we find out that Driver was shot in the back of the head, but the BULLET BOUNCED AROUND THE INSIDE OF HIS SKULL AND CAME OUT HIS CHEEK. That was verbatim from Cicero. Seriously!?!?!? If you pay attention through the first fifteen minutes, you are given everything you need to put together the rest of the film. Sadly, I paid attention.

The plot holes in Faster are large enough for Driver to broadside slide his car through. Possible spoiler here: He kills everyone, but drives off into the sunset. His face is seen on a security camera when he kills the first guy. His face is all over the news, but he still walks right into a night club to kill someone else, walks through a hospital to finish someone, and can rent a hotel room with no one notices who he is. Let alone, where is going to go after killing everyone? He is a wanted man. His face is everywhere. The other I will quickly mention is that a good cop covering up a bad cop makes the good cop bad. The other plot hole gives away too much. Suffice it to say that Woman mentions something about age that doesn’t add up with Driver’s dead brother and his girlfriend. Oh well.

This movie was rated 'R.' I expect a little blood in my R-rated action movies. I expect some action in my action movies, too. What self-respecting R-rated action film goes to a strip club, and has no gratuitous nudity? Answer: Faster.

One other thing that I just cannot understand about this movie is the time wasted on the back story of Killer. None of it matters. He had polio/crippled as a child? He made his riches in the stock market? Who cares? Not me. It had nothing to do with the story.

Verdict: Rent Faster for the few action scenes that are separated by bad story and execution. I have a script that I am working on that is better than this drivel. I just have to find a way to get it into the right hands. I was disappointed for sure. I am just glad that the local theater has the Rush Hour Shows. For $4.00.