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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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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