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AFI Fest 2010: “The Fighter,” Reviewed

AFI Fest 2010: “The Fighter,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 AFI Fest.

In his introduction to “The Fighter,” Mark Wahlberg mentioned no less than four times how hard he worked to get the film made, even telling the audience that he’d mow lawns and shovel shit for two hours for anyone who didn’t enjoy the film. In case that didn’t endear himself to those assembled for the secret screening at the Mann’s Chinese, he killed with the opening line, “I haven’t seen a crowd like this since I performed with the Funky Bunch.”

While one can see all four years of training onscreen in the biceps of Wahlberg’s Micky Ward, if there was one wish I had as I watched “The Fighter,” it would be that his third collaboration with “Three Kings” and “I Heart Huckabee’s” director David O. Russell was a little more funky. As it stands, wobbles and gives as good as it gets, “The Fighter” is a sturdy piece of entertainment that adds a wrinkle to the traditional underdog tale by having Ward’s greatest battles come from within his own family.

Nearly an hour passes between Ward’s first and second fights in the film, spent largely shaking off the pull of his domineering momager Alice (Melissa Leo) and his drug-addled half-brother Dickie (Christian Bale), who once was a promising boxer himself until he became addicted to drugs. It’s by design that Ward is marginalized by the two, whose plans for Micky’s career are selfishly devised and in some part meant to further Dickie’s flagging career, and though Ward is given some backbone by a local bartender he falls for (Amy Adams), it’s not surprising how often he says he wants to quit.

11102010_TheFighterWahlberg.jpgYet as far as the film is concerned, this seems to have an unfortunate trickle down effect on Wahlberg, who’s mostly passive as the dutiful son while his co-stars Leo and Bale run roughshod with thick Bawston accents and in Bale’s case, a live-wire energy that’s equally (and accurately) beguiling and maddening as a crack addict. Boxing fans might appreciate this particular dynamic since the real-life Ward was famous for his ability to do the rope-a-dope, a technique that’s hinted at during the film’s fight sequences, but it’s an odd requirement for Wahlberg outside the ring as the film’s lead where he can only wait out Leo and Bale as they chew the scenery. (Odder still, the one aspect of Ward’s character that isn’t unquestionably saintly — his relationship with the mother of his young daughter who despises him — is largely left unexplored.)

Typically, patience is a virtue in Russell’s films, where the gradual discomfort of long scenes give way to something authentic, and in fact, the film’s richest scene — a showdown in the Wards’ living room after Micky suggests he changes trainers from his brother to a Vegas professional that devolves into a personal attack on his new girlfriend — seems to have evolved out of his tried-and-true methods. However, “The Fighter” is the first film Russell isn’t credited with writing himself and it’s telling that the film is far more visually idiosyncratic than it is narratively. The collision of screenwriter Scott Silver’s strident dialogue against cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s wandering camera that has an Altman-esque desire to look around every corner results in a naturalistic-looking film that doesn’t entirely feel natural. Instead, it’s a rah-rah crowdpleaser defined most by the blaring horn section of the Dap Kings’ remix of The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now” after every one of Ward’s victories and the inclusion of a traditional training montage before Ward gets his shot at the title.

Certainly, that’s no reason to dismiss “The Fighter,” which hits all the beats a film like this should and rises above its station with strong performances from Bale, Leo and Adams, who is let loose to play against type and curse up a storm while still occasionally batting those wide eyes with a tinge of red around them. That should come as good news for Wahlberg since he won’t have to get out the lawnmower, but also don’t expect him to be pulling out an Oscar speech anytime soon, either.

“The Fighter” opens in limited release on December 10th before expanding on December 17th.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.