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“The Fighter,” Reviewed

“The Fighter,” Reviewed (photo)

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You need two things to be a great boxer: technique and heart. Knowing how to throw a punch won’t get you very far if you also don’t know how to take one. Acting is the same way: all the technical proficiency in the world will get you nowhere if you can’t use it to move the audience.

Christian Bale is the rare kind of actor who has that Muhammad Ali-esque blend of technique and heart. His accents are impeccable and his ability to mold his body for a role, whether it’s gaining muscle for Batman or withering away to play a sickly insomniac in “The Machinist,” is remarkable. But all of the physical stuff is just the window dressing that enables him to connect with his characters on a deeper emotional level. To play washed up boxer Dickie Eklund in “The Fighter” Bale perfected a Boston accent, became a convincing physical trainer, and dropped a ton of weight again, but none of that is as impressive as the moment near the end of the film where he simply sits on a couch and fights back tears as he talks about how proud he is of his brother.

His brother — technically his half-brother, since they only share a mother — is “Irish” Micky Ward, played by Mark Wahlberg. Though Micky is a talented fighter in his own right, he’s lived his entire life in his older brother’s shadow and though “The Fighter” is ostensibly a biopic about Micky, Wahlberg spends the entire movie in Bale’s. Though Micky has the comeback, Dickie is the one who gets redemption. He’s the guy who faces his demons (drug addiction, self-pity) and becomes a stronger man. He’s the guy who has the film’s biggest confrontation with Micky’s tempestuous girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams). There’s a tension in “The Fighter” about who it’s ultimately about, Micky or Dickie, that would make other films feel sloppy or unfocused. But since that same tension defined the relationship between Dickie and Micky in real life, it only makes sense that it would also define the movie about that relationship.

The film is called “The Fighter” but it’s too bad there already was a “Cinderella Man” because that title would have worked better. Not only was Micky Ward’s life a cinderella story, his own family treated him less like a blood relative than a live-in employee. His mother and manager Alice (Melissa Leo) and his seven sisters count on Micky as the breadwinner, and there are times where they seem far more concerned about a fight purse than the health of their son and brother. When one of Micky’s opponents drops out of a match at the last second, the only available replacement is a man twenty pounds heavier than Micky. In boxing terms, that’s basically suicide. Micky doesn’t want to fight, but if he doesn’t, nobody gets paid. So he fights, or more accurately, he accepts a merciless beating.

Until a hokey third act reversal, Alice is portrayed by Leo as bit of a monster: a cold mooch who exploits her son’s talents while doting on his crackhead brother. And Micky’s shrill sisters are her squad of big-mouthed, big-haired yes men. Though “The Fighter” ultimately affirms the importance of the bond between Dickie and Micky, it also doesn’t shy away from the fact that Micky’s greatest enemy is his bloodsucking entourage. Which is interesting when you consider that Wahlberg is the executive producer and inspiration for the television series “Entourage,” a feel-good show about the pleasures of having a group of people you spend every day with and who depend on you for their livelihood. “The Fighter” plays at times like Wahlberg’s rejection of the values he celebrated in “Entourage.” I don’t know; maybe he’s gotten sick of buying cars for people or something.


The film was directed by David O. Russell, the man who made “I Heart Huckabees” and the brilliant Iraq war thriller “Three Kings.” He places most of his attention on Ward with his family, which is amusingly deranged in a way that reminded me a little of the family his earlier film “Flirting With Disaster.” Instead of stylizing Micky’s fights “Raging Bull”-style, Russell goes for naturalism: using TV cameras and setups to capture the big bouts, even employing the real HBO analysts who covered Ward’s matches in real life and having them recite the actual commentary they said the first time around. As a result, the boxing looks and sounds a lot like the real thing (the matches in the film are on YouTube if you want to compare) and I suspect that over time “The Fighter” will accrue a cult following among boxing aficionados as a rare film that got the sport they love right.

Like the Eklunds and Wards, “The Fighter” is a bit of a mess. It’s sloppy and it takes a while to get its act together. Once it does, though, it works, and the big fights between Micky and Alfonso Sanchez and Shea Neary send that tingle up your spine that you demand from any good inspirational sports movie. Still, “The Fighter” belongs to Bale, who will almost certainly get an Oscar nomination for his performance, and deservedly so. I would say he’s unforgettable as Dickie Eklund, but in this case, the opposite would be a bigger compliment. Most actors have baggage. They carry their great roles around with them throughout their careers. When we watch Harrison Ford, we’re always watching Indiana Jones and Han Solo too. But Bale somehow manages to make every performance feel like his debut. He slips so completely inside his characters, we lose the actor and see only the person he’s playing. Bale’s so good, and he’s always so good, that he’s totally forgettable.

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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.

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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.