Monday, December 20, 2010


...but would that really be so bad?

Hola cinema fans and fanatics!

I did get to see The Fighter today, yes.  I posted said fact to my facebook profile and so many people quickly responded something to the effect of: Should I see it?  Or did I already see it when I saw Rocky?

My answer is this....THE FIGHTER is not ROCKY, but would that really be so bad?  Sly Stallone wrote and was nominated for Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen for Rocky.  He was also nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role....only the third person as of 1976 to do that, along with Orson Wells and Charlie Chaplin.  That's not such bad company, wouldn't you agree?

The original Rocky is as much a drama as it is a sports movie, although it usually only makes the best-of lists from the latter.  Keep in mind that Rocky is #213 on the IMDB top 250 and it sits quite high at 93% critical freshness on Rotten Tomatoes.  By all accounts, the original Rocky is a classic of American won 3 of the 10 Oscars it was nominated for, which did not include an acting win for Stallone (which as his career progressed, became less of a surprise - as a side note, the best acting win was a posthumous win for Peter Finch who was "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" in the Sidney Lumet directed classic, Network.

Furthermore, the Rocky name has been watered down through the years.  Most people associate Rocky with Rocky 2, 3, or 4...all enjoyable guilty pleasures, and fine popcorn film fodder, BUT, none of which came close to the original.  And through in Rocky 5, it just got sad.  If not for the respectable effort of the more recent Rocky Balboa, and even more so, Stallone's new found chops as an action writer/director with the latest Rambo and this year's The Expendables.  He has made action/adventure fun and gritty once again.

So the veracity of the originally Rocky is proven, but the question remains: Is The Fighter a Rocky carbon copy, or does it stand on its own?

I am here to tell you that it indisputably stands atop its own mountain.  It is a great film, much like Rocky, but much different than Rocky is in many ways.

Rocky was inspired by the classic fight between Chuck Wepner and Muhammed Ali.  Wepner was TKO'ed in the 15th round by Ali, but no one ever expected Wepner to go the distance.  That 1975 fight was the basis for Stallone's genius tale of the underdog making a run at the title.

The Fighter is the real deal.  It is the biographical sports drama film that looks at the lives of "Irish" Mickey Ward and is older brother, also a boxer, Dicky Eklund.  Ward is played by Mark Wahlberg in his finest role to date and Eklund is played by what appears to be a recently anorexic Christian Bale.  Not since THE MACHINIST has Bale been so gaunt and with The Dark Knight Rises on the near horizon, I am sure he is ordering double at McD's and BK until he brings the body fat back to a respectable crime fighting level.

This is a David O. Russell film.  Russell is a one of a kind director with a background worth learning.  Sharon Waxman wrote a book called Rebels on the Backlot, featuring Russell, Fincher, Tarantino, Soderburgh, P.T.A., and Spike Jonze.  Each director is covered in a no-holds-barred bio that highlights their rise to power as six of the most influential emerging directors of the 90's.  Find this book.  Read it.  It is worth a trip to the bookstore if you love movies and how those that make movies have come to be.

David O. Russell is a creative and truly visionary auteur and it shows in THE FIGHTER.

THE FIGHTER tells the tale of "Irish" Mickey Ward.  As we meet Mickey, he is coming off of his third in a row loss in the ring.  He is training with his big brother and hero, Dicky Eklund, who once went the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard and even knocked him down, while still losing the fight.  Dicky was known as the "Pride of Lowell"  and by "Lowell" I mean Lowell, MA, where most of this tale takes place.

I don't know if it is the type of camera used, the stock of film, or just some David O. Russell magic, but this film looks spectacular.  Blue collar Massachusetts was depicted with great skill and the viewer is literally transported back to the era that was the early 1990's, where our story begins (hairstyles and crappy cars included).  The visual appeal doesn't end at the sets, as the color tones and film grain look give this movie the absolute perfect look.

At the outset, we see Dicky being followed around by a documentary crew.  Dicky tells everyone that they are filming a story on his comeback, but given his gaunt, strung-out condition, something seems off with him.  Dicky's tale is intertwined with and plays a very close second to the primary through-story, concerning Mickey Ward's fall through the ranks before several life changing events provide him with a shot at redemption and a chance to do what his brother never could, make a run at the title.  Dicky trains Mickey and he does it badly, I might add, or so it would seem.  Whether Dickey and their family are helpful or hurtful is so very much the core theme in this movie and more importanly can Mickey create a balance between family and competent handlers, enough so that he might find success.  Yes, that Rocky-esque underdog story is happening as well, but this film is more a study of the people than of the boxing components that subtly lead the plot forward.  The catharsis will be deserved as you endure the destructive nature that these family members both suffer from and enact on one and other.

Very few films look this good, with such great casts, with such witty and real dialogue, with such competent direction.  The cast has Melissa Leo as the domineering head of household, presiding over Mickey and Dicky, and their seven sisters.  These seven sisters are hilarious and their banter mimics real life, which helps the humor hit home all the stronger.  Their early 90's hairstyles help add to the humor as well. 

The most relevant woman in this story is Charlene, played by the always lovely Amy Adams.  She becomes Mickey's girlfriend shortly after he meets her, and before long, she is factoring into how his career is being handled, which throws the rest of the family into turmoil.

Toss in brother Dicky's crack addition and the on-going pain he feels for being a has-been, he hits an all-time low at about the mid-point of the story that really spins our story for a loop.

The movie is really great, from all angles.  It is subtle, very subtle.  The story is as well told as the dialogue is on-target for "real-life" talk rather than Hollywood mumbo-jumbo.  The film maker had a bonus as this is a biography...Russell had access to both Eklund and Ward while making the film and they actually pop up with speaking roles in stingers during the credits.

So as the low-key, by gritty real plot pushes forward, an action movie this is not.  There is far less boxing in what many are calling a "boxing movie," but that is no accident.  You could take the boxing out of this and this movie would be just as great as it is, except maybe a little less cathartic as the final moments of this film will having you want to jump to your feet and cheer.  I felt compassion for the characters throughout the plot progression, but not until the end did I have that moment that started the waterworks.

What makes this movie great is everything!  You might think you are going to see Rocky 7, but instead you get something more on par with There Will Be Blood or No Country for Old plays very much like n an art film that a big budget blockbuster, but it is very appropriate for the mainstream audience.
That's what's funny.  Many of the films deemed "artsy" are very appropriate for a crowd much wider than their target audience.  I can't think of a single friend that wouldn't like this movie.

I think what I like the most about this film is that it is a complete film.  While this is true for the technical aspects of the film, it is especially true about the story itself.

You meet these brothers and their family at a fairy low point in their life and you follow it up to the pinnacle.  You leave with no questions, the whole story has been told and you become a completely satiated movie-goer in the process.

The character development is superb as we meet Amy Adams' Charlene, a University of Rhode Island high jumper who went to school on a full-ride, but dropped out and became a bartender.  Good thing for her, I guess, as she would have ever had the chance to meet her true love.

Mom (Alice Ward), played by the lively Melissa Leo, who blew us away in Frozen River.  Alice is a very complex parent figure as she clearly dotes more on Dicky, but probably because he needs her love more in his misguided attempt at redemption.  She grows from beginning to end, and to that effect, you see growth in them all.

Sgt. Mickey O'Keefe of the Lowell Police Department plays the other trainer to Mickey. Sgt. O'Keefe is played brilliantly by none other that Sgt. O'Keefe.  What a great movie and great payoff for taking that leap of faith.  But it was so deft a move, most likely because it is clear that O'Keefe cares greatly for Mickey.  It shows in O'Keefe's performance as it likely did in real life.

You must see this movie and the Reel Rhino gives is a very solid 4 of 5 horns!

What a great start to the holiday viewing season!  First TRON: Legacy and now this.  Up very soon will be True Grit and Black Swan.  Oh what a joyous time of year!  Nothing better than getting all those Oscar contenders at the big movie houses!  I am still shocked that my AMC didn't pick up 127 Hours!  I am sure it will get some love at AMC this year at their Academy Awards Best Picture Showcase.

I don't think I will make it to another movie until at least Christmas, so since I will probably miss the big holiday, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanuka, Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanzaa, and so on and so forth.

Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards All!

Till later,

The Reel Rhino

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