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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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.