Film Review: The Fighter (directed by David O. Russell)


I’m usually pretty cynical when it comes to “inspiring” movies, especially when they’re 1) based on a true story and 2) centered around some sort of professional sport.  Usually, these films turn out to be not so much inspiring as just insipid and predictable.  However, there is always an exception to any rule and this year, that exception is David O. Russell’s touching and exciting boxing film, The Fighter.

To put it mildly, professional athletics are not my thing.  I get bored with football and the squeaky shoes of basketball annoy me.  I did briefly get caught up in the world series this year but then the Rangers lost to the Giants and I pretty much swore never to allow my heart to be broken again.  Tennis would be tolerable if not for all the grunting.  I will occasionally watch a minute or two of golf but that’s just because I think golf courses are pretty.  However, boxing does hold a certain primal fascination for me.    Maybe it’s because I’ve seen far too many guys do the whole “Who you calling a bitch, bitch?” routine without ever throwing a punch (I swear, guys remind me of cats when they try to verbally spar, with all the hissing and staring) that it’s just undeniably exciting (in so many ways) to actually see two men actually punching each other until one is undeniably the winner.  However, boxing — as a sport — is still largely a mystery to me.  I don’t know who the current champion is nor do I know how or why he got to be the champion.  I can name a few boxers — Muhammad Ali (because everyone knows him), Mike Tyson (ditto), George Foreman (because we own one of his grills), Oscar De La Hoya (because he’s cute), and Lennox Lewis (because he was on the first season of The Celebrity Apprentice).

And now, thanks to The Fighter, I know of “Irish” Mickey Ward and his half-brother Dicky Eklund.

In the film, Mickey Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) is portrayed as being a well-meaning, blue-collar guy who lives in Lowell, Massachusetts (home of Jack Kerouac) and who makes a living as a “stepping stone,” a below-average boxer who is used by better boxers as just a “stepping stone” on their way to a bigger fight.  He is managed by his overbearing mother (Melissa Leo) and is trained by his half-brother, Dicky (Christian Bale).  Dicky used to be a pro-boxer himself but, as the film begins, he  is more interested in smoking crack than throwing punches.  Still, Dicky remains a local hero and his mother’s favorite and Mickey lives in his shadow.

After one final humiliating defeat in the ring, Ward decides to stop boxing and instead devotes his time to his new girlfriend, a bartender named Charlene (Amy Adams).  Dicky, meanwhile, ends up getting sent to prison.  With Dicky locked away, Mickey starts to come into his own as a person and a boxer and he eventually reenters the ring.  Eventually, he gets his chance at a championship fight.  However, at the same time, Dicky is released from prison and trying desperately to reenter Mickey’s life despite Charlene’s insistence that Mickey stay away from his loving but self-destructive family. 

By the film’s conclusion, the story has become less about Mickey Ward’s fights in the boxing ring and more about his own battle to find the confidence necessary to stop being dominated by the people around him and to live and take responsibility for his own life and his own future.  As undeniably exciting as all of the boxing is, it’s the film’s portrait of Mickey Ward as an essentially nice guy struggling to be independent that makes The Fighter such a moving film.

If you’ve read Sharon Waxman’s Rebels in the Backlot, then you might feel that know a bit about director David O. Russell.  Of the six directors profiled in that book, Russell came across the most negatively, a temperamental prima donna who was portrayed as being the type to accidentally make a great film.  Well, I don’t know if that portrait is an accurate one but The Fighter is no accident.  Russell directs this film with an energy and an attention to detail that puts so-called “nice guy” directors like Ed Zwick to shame.  For me, Russell is at his best in the film’s opening scenes where Mickey and Dicky strut through the streets of Lowell while Heavy’s How You Like Me Now plays in the background.  Not much happens in these scenes.  For the most part, Dicky just BSes with the locals while Mickey shyly watches.  But, in just a matter of minutes, Russell manages to tell us everything that we need to know about Mickey Ward, Dicky Eklund, and Lowell, Massachusetts.

Russell also gets four excellent performances from his lead actors.  Everyone already knows that Christian Bale is amazing in the role of Dicky.  Let’s be honest — we all know he would be even before this film opened.  He’s Christian Bale and Dicky Eklund is a great role.  So instead of repeating what you already know, I’m going to take some time to praise Bale’s co-stars, all three of whom give excellent performances.

As Mickey Ward, Mark Wahlberg once again proves that he’s one of the few leading men working today who can actually bring an air of authenticity to a blue-collar role.  At first, it seems like Wahlberg is going to be overshadowed by both Bale and Melissa Leo (much as Mickey was initially overshadowed by Dicky and his mother).  However, once Dicky has been sent to jail and the movie focuses on Mickey’s relationship with Charlene, you suddenly realize that Wahlberg really is the movie’s heart and soul.  It helps that he has a very real chemistry with Amy Adams.  There’s very few actors who can convince you that they’re falling in love on-screen but Wahlberg proves, in this film, that he’s one of them.

Playing Mickey’s mother and manager, Melissa Leo is alternatively touching and horrifying.  Whether she’s scolding Dicky for continually choosing drugs over family or accusing Charlene of being an “MTV girl,” Leo dominates every scene she’s in.  With this film, Welcome to the Riley’s, and Frozen River, Melissa Leo has quickly become one of my favorite actresses.

Finally, in the role of Charlene, Amy Adams is finally given a chance to show what she’s actually capable of when given an actual character to play.  I’ve always liked Amy Adams because she’s always come across as so genuinely sweet in almost every role she’s played.  Plus, we’re both redheads, we both wanted to be ballerinas, and we both briefly worked at the Gap when we were 18 (though not at the same time, obviously.  And not at the same Gap either).    Furthermore, before breaking into acting, Amy Adams was a Hooters girl and I once applied for a job at Hooters though my mom made me go back and withdraw my application an hour later.  Plus, Amy was born in Italy which is where I would have been born in an ideal world.  And, in an ideal world, I would have her nose as opposed to the one I got stuck with.  (Sorry, I love being a fourth Italian but I still have issues with my big, Italian nose…)

So, yes, Amy Adams is one of my favorite actresses which is why it pained me to see her give such an annoying performance in Julie and Julia last year.  I was worried that maybe all the sweetness had finally given way to self-parody.  However, much as the Fighter is about characters searching for redemption, the movie is also a redemption of sorts for Amy Adams.  Yes, Charlene is another sweet-and-nurturing-girlfriend role for Adams but she brings an unexpected edginess and a very genuine anger to her role.  Charlene may be a nurturer but she’s no doormat and, for me, there’s something very refreshing about seeing a strong, independent woman in a movie who is also still very feminine, nurturing, and unapologetically sexual.  As I previously stated, Wahlberg and Adams have a very real, very definite chemistry in this film and, as a result, this film about a very violent sport is one of the most genuinely romantic that I’ve seen in a long time.

One final note: On a personal level, this movie almost made me want to go out and find a boxer to date.  Why?  So I’ll have an excuse to get dressed up all sexy-like whenever he has a fight.  Seriously, I want that black dress that Charlene wears to all of Mickey’s fights.  It’s to die for.

20 Cinematic Moments That Will Define 2010 For Me


Every year, there’s a handful of film scenes that come to define the entire year for us.  At their best, these scenes can leave such an impression that they become a part of our shared history.  For some people (though not me), 2009 will always be the year of Avatar.  Meanwhile, for me (but not others), 2010 will always be the year I realized it was okay to admit how much I love to dance.  Listed below are 20 of the many film moments that I will remember whenever I look back on this current year.

20) Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield discover what really happened to all of their childhood artwork in Never Let Me Go.

Permeated with an atmosphere of nonstop melancholy, Never Let Me Go never quite found the audience is deserved but I think it’s one of the best films of 2010 and the scene mentioned above is one of the reasons why.

19) Scott Pilgrim says, “Oh cool, coins!” in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

And Lisa Marie suddenly realizes that she has fallen in love with a movie.

18) Keifer Sutherland says, “Tap that ass” in Twelve.

Truth be told, I don’t even remember what was happening on-screen.  I just remember Keifer, as the film’s narrator, saying “Tap that ass” in that sexy, nicotine-fueld growl of his and thinking to myself, “Well, okay…”

17) Jake Gyllenhaal chases down a bus full of dying old people in Love and Other Drugs.

Yes, the old people desperately need to get up to Canada so they can get their prescriptions filled but unfortunately for them, Anne Hathaway happens to be on the bus as well and Jake — apparently realizing that he’ll never get to see her breasts again if they break up — chases the bus down in his Porsche so he can reconcile with her.  And, of course, the old people are just so adorably excited at the idea of a 15-minute delay while these two deeply damaged characters stand outside and talk about their relationship.  I mean, fuck it — who cares about getting these people their medicine when there’s a disposable pop tune playing in the background and Jake wants to talk to his ex-girlfriend?  In so many ways, this scene represents everything I hate about mainstream filmmaking.

16) Joseph Gordon-Levitt flies through the corridors of a dream hotel in Inception.

Inception was a film full of amazing images but my personal favorite was perhaps the simplest — Joseph Gordon-Levitt (looking rather adorable in his dark suit) floating down those Argentoesque hallways while trying to figure out how to wake everyone up.

15) Jacki Weaver delivers the line of the year in Animal Kingdom.

“And you’ve done some bad things, sweetie.”

14)  John Hawkes “talks” his way out of a traffic stop in Winter’s Bone.

While Winter’s Bone should rightfully make Jennifer Lawrence a star, John Hawkes also contributed some of the film’s best moments.

13) Patrick Fabian slips a recipe into his sermon in The Last Exorcism.

Cast as a modern-day Marjoe Gortner in this underappreciated film, Fabian gives one of the best performances of the year, if not the best.

12) Chloe Grace Moretz saves Kick-Ass from the mafia in Kick-Ass.

As far as women kicking ass was concerned, 2010 was a good year.  Sure, the majority of cinematic female portraits were — as always — sexist to the extreme but there were a few rays of hope.  Angelina Jolie in Salt, Noomi Rapace in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo films, Mila Jovovich in Resident Evil — all were among the women who got to do something more than just look pretty while the boys saved the day.  Seeing as how I’m honoring Rapace further down the list, I’m going to allow Chloe Grace Moretz (in the role of Hit Girl) to serve as a stand-in here for every single woman who was allowed to kick a little ass in 2010.

11) Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg walks down the streets of Lowell at the beginning of The Fighter.

Seriously, this entire sequence — set to Heavy’s How You Like Me Now? (or “The Sock Monkey Song” as I call it) — could be a short film in itself.  Call it: “Men and why we love them.”

10) Colin Firth fearfully waits to give a speech at the start of The King’s Speech.

One look at Firth’s terrified eyes and I was in tears.  From that minute on, this unexpected gem of a film had me.

9) Jennifer Lawrence fishes for her dad’s hand in Winter’s Bone.

Southern gothic at its best!

8) James Franco is rescued by a purifying storm in 127 Hours.

Helpless and hopeless, Franco is suddenly freed by a sudden storm.  Both Franco and director Danny Boyle handle this scene with such skill that the audience finds itself just as saddened as Franco when it all turns out to be a hallucination.

7) Katie Jarvis dances in an abandoned apartment and finds a momentary glimmer of hope in Fish Tank.

Between this movie and Black Swan, 2010 was the year that reminded me of just how much I love to dance and why.  2010 is the year that I realized it was okay for me to love to dance again.

6) Andy gives away his toys at the end of Toy Story 3.

And Lisa Marie cries and cries.

5) Lisbeth Salander (played by Noomi Rapace) gives her abusive guardian a tattoo in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

For any and every girl who has ever been used, abused, hurt, spoken down to, insulted, manipulated, or betrayed by someone who claimed to only be looking after her best interests, this scene was truly cathartic.  When I say that Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth will be iconic, it’s largely because of scenes like this.  In that one scene, Lisbeth is established as a woman who will never be victimized and it gives hope any for those of us who don’t have dragon tattoos. 

4) Footage from Theirry’s completed “documentary” is revealed in Exit Through The Gift Shop.

And the audience is  suddenly forced to question just how much of anything they’ve seen is the truth.

3) The spinning top wobbles at the end of Inception.

Or does it?

2) Kathryn Bigelow becomes the first woman to win the Oscar for best director while her ex-husband glowers in silence.

I wasn’t a huge fan of The Hurt Locker but I still squealed with delight as Kathryn Bigelow accepted the award that should have gone to Sofia Coppola back in 2004.  Not only did Bigelow make history but she did it by beating her soulless jerk of an ex-husband, James Cameron.  And then she gave one of the best acceptance speeches in Oscar history, all the while looking about 20 years younger than she actually is.  In short, Kathryn Bigelow showed every Oscar winner — past, present, and future — exactly how it’s done.

1) The final fifteen minutes of Black Swan

In 15 minutes, Darren Aronofsky reminded me of how much I love ballet and audiences of why we love movies in the first place.

A Quickie From Lisa Marie: The Best Freakin’ Commercial Ever!


If you follow me on twitter then you can probably guess what I consider to be “the best freakin’ commercial ever.”  It premiered (in its full form) during the last Super Bowl and it made me smile whenever I saw it on come on TV.  It was a commercial that I loved so much that it took me a few times to realize it was actually selling something (a car, in this instance).  Up until then, I just thought the commercial was a showcase for Sockmonkey and his friend, the freaky little red thing.

I’m speaking, of course, of the Kia Sorrento “How You Like Me Now” ad campaign.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying you should buy a Kia and this commercial left me with absolutely no desire to trade in my beloved Chrysler Sebring convertible but it did inspire me to order sockmonkeys for myself, my older sister Erin, and my niece Shannon. 

As great as the song (How You Like Me Now, performed by Heavy) is and as much charisma as that little red monster thingee displays, Sockmonkey really is the star of the commercial.  Seriously, I might actually watch the Daily Show if they fired smug, aging badly, oddly devoted to Stephen Colbert, old Jon Stewart and replaced him with tattooed, fast-driving, water-skiing, mad dancing, fast driving Sockmonkey.

(Yes, I said fast driving twice!  Because that monkey really drives fast!  And, uhmm, not because — as some people claim — I have a five-second attention span…)

The last time I saw this commercial, my friend Jeff commented, “I bet that monkey gets a lot of tail.”

“Silly!” I replied, “He’s already got a tail!”

Later, I realized I may have misunderstood his meaning.

(True story)

But anyway, it’s a fun little commercial whether it makes you want to drive a Kia or not.  And, a definite plus, it’s not half as disturbing as those old Calvin Klein jean commercials.