Review: The Big Short

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DIR: Adam McKay • WRI: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay • PRO: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Kevin J. Messick, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt • DOP: Barry Ackroyd • ED: Hank Corwin • DES: Clayton Hartley • MUS: Nicholas Britell • CAST: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt

Adam McKay, co-founder of Upright Citizens’ Brigade, SNL writer and director of Anchorman is now an Oscar nominee for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. His career in the world of comedy led to this recognition for a film that straddles between comedy, drama and at times documentary. The Big Short is an exploration of the American housing bubble building up to the 2008 Financial Crisis, brimming with the righteous anger of McKay’s liberal politics, as glimpsed even in his more light-hearted screenplays like The Other Guys or The Campaign. This is a turning point for his career now that his big heart and sense of humour meet the intellect necessary to have clarity in explaining the drier details of financial regulation to a general audience.

These details are not explained well at first. The narrator acknowledges that most people would have trouble keeping track and that the financial world’s trickery depends on impenetrable terminology to either bore people or deter them from challenging so-called authority on such matters. Techniques of documentary filmmaking such as stock footage and explanatory text are used to outline crucial details as is Ryan Gosling’s narration. Eventually, the filmmakers attempt an even more daring tactic in breaking the fourth wall with vignettes that address the audience directly. Celebrity cameos break down financial instruments through simplistic analogies. Characters stop scenes to tell the audience about historical inaccuracies in how events are being portrayed.

Ryan Gosling’s character not only narrates but addresses the camera. His character is a deceptive antagonist so giving him the role of audience guide is an innovation. He is luckily one of the few actors charming enough to pull off talking to camera and his taunting responses to the “energy” and “judgement” of the audience carries the same weight of an actor on-stage in the theatre.

These moments of breaking the fourth wall just about work. It’s a fun device that forms the essence of this film as a playful but unflinching statement on the Financial Crisis. This statement alone explains its success in Oscar nominations which also include Best Picture and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Christian Bale. Bale plays Michael Burry, a real-life hedge-fund manager who identified discrepancies in the American mortgage market in 2005. The “big short” of the title refers to the strategy he and the other main characters employ, to bet against the supposedly-unassailable housing market and make huge earnings once the property bubble bursts. Seeing them trying to convince their investors of the impending crash as they get closer and closer to being proven right, provides the dramatic tension of this film.

Bale comes across as a stereotype of autistic people bordering on Rain Man territory. Socially awkward, mathematically genius, eccentric, abrasive, sees something everyone else doesn’t. We’ve seen this kind of character before and it is far from the standout performance of this film. That recognition should go to Steve Carrell whose portrayal of another investment expert Mark Baum carries weight, vulnerability and great comic timing from his introduction onwards. When one struggles to follow the dialogue, his reactions will tell you what you need to know. Carrell disappears into the character, continuing his recent blossoming as a dramatic actor.

Aside from these two characters and Gosling’s unapologetic banker, the other story we follow features producer Brad Pitt starring as mentor to a start-up seeking to pull off the big short. Pitt doesn’t get much screen-time and for much of it he is silent in the background but he has the reliable screen presence to give his character weight as a mentor figure with the biggest social conscience of any character in the film.

It is somewhat muddled to jump between several unconnected protagonists especially when the ethics of these characters aren’t all that clear. Are they really doing enough to raise awareness that would avoid an economic crisis? If they’re literally betting on the collapse of the financial world, how are they “the good guys” if they stand to profit from it? How exactly were they “sticking it to The Man”? Admittedly, these are questions the characters openly struggle with but they don’t seem to arrive at any definitive conclusions. The Big Short also has a shortcoming that many films on the modern financial crisis have; it doesn’t articulate the voices of people worst-affected by the crisis and if they refer to these people at all, it is in simplistic terms.

On one level, it does seem to side with them by highlighting how much of the property bubble was fuelled by charlatans deliberately misleading poor people and immigrants. Ultimately, it defends poor people and immigrants, pointing the finger at corruption in the financial sector and the politicians who defend it (while having the gall to blame poor people and immigrants for the financial crisis). It even goes as far as suggesting the financial sector failed to predict the 2008 meltdown not because of negligence but deliberate fraud.

Having maintained a mostly light-hearted, adventurous tone throughout the film, the ending strikes a bleak note, reflecting on the lack of accountability since the crash. So little has changed in fact, that the epilogue notes many of the same policies that led to the crash are thriving once again. While this serves as a sobering wake-up call, it does not have the tone of a call-to-arms; more of a horror-movie ending where the bad guys win. The jarring nature of this ending contrasted with the semi-comedic tone of the film is deliberate. It simulates the experience of blissful ignorance as we march towards catastrophe oblivious to the dread.

This is a mostly enjoyable film with a sucker punch of a stark ending. It is also, given there’s already turbulence on the financial markets this year, a timely warning about the dangers of groupthink and systemic fraud. It condemns fraud as both unethical and impractical, since fraud is always discovered sooner or later. Yet its persistence in human culture is truly terrifying.

Jonathan Victory

15A
130 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Big Short is released 22nd January 2016

The Big Short – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

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DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian • PRO: Peter Chernin, Mohamed El Raie, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott, Jenno Topping • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Billy Rich • DES: Arthur Max • MUS: Alberto Iglesias • CAST: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley

Going purely by the high-octane trailers, you’d be forgiven for thinking Exodus: Gods and Kings was a non-stop action movie, where Moses becomes a sort of biblical Rambo. However, Ridley Scott seems to be going for a mix of his millennial opus Gladiator and Darren Aronofsky’s recent surrealist Noah, adding existential wandering and buckets of internal conflict to bring up the running time. This means that there is far less action than advertised, but tons of character development and time for reflection.

Christian Bale is, of course, intense and serious as he portrays the inner pain of Moses, even in the earlier scenes when he and Ramses fight on the same side. Joel Edgerton brings the evil Ramses to screen with dramatic flair, defying his father Seti’s (John Turtorro) wishes that he and Moses live as brothers, and works with his scheming mother Tuva (a criminally underused Sigourney Weaver) to ensure that power rests solely with himself. He defies Moses’ God, recently introduced to Moses himself by newfound brethren amongst the Hebrew slaves – including Ben Kingsley’s character, Nun, and Aaron Paul’s non-entity, Joshua. Eventually, God joins Moses in his fight, and brings the ten plagues down upon Egypt to try force Ramses to acknowledge his power, and release the slaves.

Scott clearly relished portraying the plagues, and they look amazing – watching an entire river run with blood, a wall of flies fill the sky all around, or a darkness descending that will take the firstborn sons of Egypt is every bit as frightening as it should be. These moments, though, are not enough to lift Exodus out of an overall feeling of tedium… and the movie feels every inch its 150-minute running time. An ending upon an ending, Ramses then pursues Moses into the waters of the Red Sea, at which point the movie simultaneously climaxes and begins to dwindle, unsure of how to finish this renowned tale.

This does not make for the sprawling epic Scott clearly imagined. While visually the movie is often stunning, with some beautifully choreographed fight scenes that are every bit as intense as the previews promised, it lags far too much in extensive side-stories, and tries to walk a very fine line between religious fervour and straightforward drama. It doesn’t always work, and while Bale admirably portrays a very human Moses, the character’s conversations with God are made with an attempt at ambiguity that just comes across heavy-handed. Yes, this is largely down to the source material – Moses leading the chosen people out of slavery and into the desert after a series of plagues convinces the Pharaoh to let them leave isn’t the most subtle of religious tales – but the screenplay works harder at appearing clever than ever actually saying anything new about an ancient legend.

Everything about the anticipation for Exodus screamed ‘epic’, but the delivery is more ‘daytime TV bible stories’ (with expensive CGI) than anything else, and unfortunately lacks any real heart that might lift it from banality.

Sarah Griffin

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
150 minutes.
Exodus: Gods and Kings
is released 26th December.

Exodus: Gods and Kings  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Out of the Furnace

out-of-the-furnace-christian-bale-zoe-saldana

Dir: Scott Cooper • Wri: Brad Ingelsby, Scott Cooper • Pro: Michael Costigan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Kavanaugh, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott • DOP: Masanobu Takayanagi ED: David Rosenbloom • MUS: Dickon Hinchliffe • DES: Thérèse DePrez • CAST: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana

Out of the Furnace feels slightly like an amalgamation of several recent American films that all share similarly negative portrayals of the heartland of the US. From Killing Them Softly there’s the setting of the film during Obama’s election, from The Place Beyond the Pines we have the almost classical/Greek-Tragedy story and from Winter’s Bone the vast, cold and oppressive emptiness of small-town America and its surrounding countryside which are filled with drugs and the twisted but more realistic vision of ‘The American Dream’. While it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as those three, it comes close.

The film focuses on the lives of Russell Baze (Bale); a well-meaning, steel-mill worker who is struggling to remain the poster-boy of good old-fashioned America, and his younger brother Rodney (Affleck); a young, impulsive veteran of Iraq increasingly losing control in a country that has nothing to offer and no use for him. Eventually their story crosses paths with the psychotic Harlan DeGroat (Harrelson); the organiser of an underground, bare-knuckle boxing ring. With the central motif of the gradual obsolescence of the steel-mill and simplistic vision of ‘better days’ that it represents, Out of the Furnace is an intentionally slow-burning examination of white masculinity and its place (or lack thereof) in modern America. In other words it’s essentially an updated version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but not set in Texas and with less Leatherface.

There aren’t many problems with Out of the Furnace to complain about and it’s a point in the film’s favour that it’s otherwise strong enough that these niggling issues stand out. The big issue is the cast. Probably one of the main draws of this film is going to be the ensemble put together for the film but it’s also slightly distracting in how it attempts to give them all something worthwhile to do. The biggest disappointment, personally speaking, is that Willem Dafoe is little more than an extended cameo in a role that really feels like anyone could have played. It’s always nice to see Dafoe in anything, but none of his trademark intensity gets a chance to shine. Harrelson suffers a related problem as in their attempts to make a memorable villain, the character is overdone and comes across as a one-dimensional psychotic from an exploitation film rather than the more muted drama he’s supposed to be in. It all stems from the same issue that in such a large, talented cast, it’s a struggle to make them all memorable. So, Willem Dafoe gets a quirky, impressively dreadful hairdo, Harrelson plays a psychotic (very effectively I might add) from a different genre, and Forest Whitaker (who only really shows up in the final act) has the most distracting, almost laughable gravel-voice since Bale’s own Batman.

However, the film really is Bale’s and Affleck’s show. Affleck especially stands out as the genuinely well-meaning younger brother who is slowly eroded by both the war in Iraq and his lack of opportunity at home. Bale meanwhile plays yet another character that constantly seems on the verge of falling into the abyss. Here however is where the film stands out. Nominally, this is a revenge story and aside from the fact that it takes a surprising amount of time to get to the actual avenging part of the narrative, it plays out very differently to how similar films tend to. The characters do go to the cops first. They do wait for the system to resolve the situation. It is only at the last possible moment, when there are no other options does Bale’s character actually take matters into his own hands.

Indeed, if you come to this looking for an action film you’ll be disappointed. This is an exploration of the modern American psyche and its values from the masculine perspective through and through, and a very interesting one at that. What’s refreshing is the emphasis the film places on Bale’s character’s conception of masculinity that doesn’t fall under either of the usual tropes; he’s neither idealistic at the cost of lacking the will to take affirmative action (as Whitaker’s character is) nor is he a time bomb of self-destructive aggression (as Affleck’s character is). Instead he stands on the threshold of what modern America is turning into and spends the film struggling to reconcile the conception of how he has lived (as seen through his aging, dying father) and how that may have to be adapted or abandoned to survive.

This is a genuinely interesting and well-made film that fits neatly into a current trend in American cinema (as mentioned earlier). It’s just a pity that it suffers slightly from its eccentricities with the cast which, while not necessarily taking away from the film, are definitely a mild distraction. Additionally it’s a little clunky structurally and occasionally lapses into over-played symbolism. One sequence quite late in the story features a rather blatant ‘return to the womb’ moment which, while visually interesting in its depiction and thematically consistent with what’s happening character-wise, comes off as a little cheesy and overdone.

These complaints are rather negligible in the grander scheme of things and don’t take away from this being a very worthy film. If a harsh, bloody and nihilistic examination of the American heartland in the vein of Winter’s Bone is your bag, look no further.

Richard Drumm

15A (See IFCO for details)
116  mins
Out of the Furnace is released on 31st January 2014

Out of the Furnace – Official Website

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Cinema Review: American Hustle

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

Dir: David O’Russell Wri: Eric Singer, David O. Russell Pro: Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon,Charles Roven, Richard Suckle  DOP: Linus Sandgren  ED: Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers DES: Judy Becker • MUS: Danny Elfman • CAST: Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper

American Hustle, David O Russell’s most entertaining film to date, joins cinema’s complement of classic con movies. It’s a tour de force that delivers on all levels.

Christian Bale and Amy Adams play two con artists who become embroiled in the attempts of FBI agent Bradley Cooper, in late 1970s post-Watergate America, to catch  bigger fish. A rollicking tale unfolds as Cooper sets his sights ever higher.

The pleasures are principally in the playing. Since Flirting with Disaster (1996), Russell has proved himself a master of ensemble movies. Here he brings together some of Hollywood’s hottest stars.

Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) won an Oscar in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, and here, playing Bale’s wife, she somehow manages to steal the film from its glittering cast. She sizzles with sexiness and garners some of the film’s biggest laughs, while conveying a vulnerability and desperation that make her Rosalyn a most memorable character.

Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) takes on a less complex role than he had opposite Lawrence in Silver Linings, but is no less impressive for it. His fast-talking fed becomes increasingly obsessed with his elaborate project, and Cooper convinces.

Christian Bale lost much weight in his Oscar-winning turn in Russell’s The Fighter.  In American Hustle, his balding grifter sports a beer belly and ’70s beard and moustache. His comb-over provides the film’s opening gags, while his fastidious grooming prefigures his character’s attention to detail in the art of the con, in making people believe what they want to believe.

Amy Adams, also Oscar-nominated for The Fighter, holds her own against Bale and Cooper, as her character’s affections appear to move from one to the other. Her character’s journey proves the most emotionally complex as she constantly hides her true feelings. It’s the kind of role that Adams excels in.

David O Russell may rank as one of the leading talents working in contemporary American cinema. American Hustle boasts an attractive cast and, as a caper, it should draw bigger audiences than his more serious recent efforts, tackling mental illness in Silver Linings Playbook and drug addiction in The Fighter. His approach resembles that of Alexander Payne, more literate than cinematic, relying on excellent writing and brilliant performances.

American Hustle features cracking dialogue, an enjoyable plot and great acting, but Russell’s handling is highly derivative. The film’s structure, with its use of voiceover narration and flashbacks, resembles that of GoodFellas, and Russell’s camerawork and jump cutting are also Scorsesian. Robert DeNiro has an effective cameo as Victor Tellegio, a mafioso, and even Jeremy Renner channels Joe Pesci’s hairstyle from GoodFellas. Francis Ford Coppola said his father used to have a good slogan, “Steal from the best,” and Russell appears to be following such advice in adopting a style that’s not his own.

Still, American Hustle ranks as one of the great con movies. The introduction – “some of this actually happened” – recalls the opening of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969):  “Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true.” Its director, George Roy Hill, later made The Sting (1973), which had a roguish charm that cheerily conned its audiences.  Martin Scorsese co-produced The Grifters (1990), with Anjelica Huston and John Cusack, in which Huston played an older female con artist who rethinks her life when her son suffers an injury in a small-scale scam. American Hustle successfully blends the darker elements of the later film with the eagerness to please and entertain that made the earlier film an Oscar success and a box office-smash, descriptions that Russell’s film may also steal.

American Hustle is a first class caper, but don’t let it con you into thinking that Russell has discovered his own original style.

John Moran

15A (See IFCO for details)

137  mins

American Hustle is released on 3rd January 2014

American Hustle – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Dark Knight Rises

10 bottles of talcum powder later

DIR: Christopher Nolan • WRI: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan • PRO: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven • DOP: Wally Pfister • ED: Lee Smith • Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy

Without a doubt the most anticipated movie since George Lucas decided to tell the story of Anakin Skywalker, The Dark Knight Rises seems to have two sets of distinct fans leading up to its release; there are those who are ignoring any and all publicity and reviews of the movie before they’ve seen it themselves, and there are those who are gobbling up any and every nugget of new information they can get their eyes on. And to those looking for spoilers, the only big one you’ll get here is this – Is The Dark Knight Rises better than The Dark Knight? No. But not for lack of trying. The primary reason it finishes second in Nolan’s trilogy is due to a giant Joker-shaped hole. Ledger’s villain in The Dark Knight elevated the movie around it, whereas the big bad in Rises cannot match his magnetic appeal.

After eight years of self-imposed exile in his mansion, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is still feeling the fallout of the death of the love of his life, with only his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) for company. However, a run-in with cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, much better in the role than expected) puts a renewed hop in his step. Before long he’s back at Wayne HQ, checking out Lucius Fox’s (Morgan Freeman) latest bat-inspired inventions, and also checking out new love interest / Wayne board-member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are following leads which walk them directly into the path of Bane (Tom Hardy, indecipherable about 20% of the time), who has some rather revolutionary plans for the future of Gotham. Pretty soon all of these story-strands hit a crossroads, and all hell breaks loose.

To say any more of the plot would spoil some of the surprises Nolan has in store, but he sure takes his time getting there. The movie clocks in at 164 minutes, and aside from the opening Bond-esque mid-air plane hijacking, the opening hour is fairly light on action. There are a lot of characters to get through, a lot of plot to fall into place, a whole lot of call backs to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to reference. There is barely any room to breathe, the film is packed that tightly with events, and it can be very easy to get lost in the jumble of stories happening all at once.

But once Bane’s plan becomes clear, the movie shifts into high-gear. The final hour ramps up the tension with a ticking-clock element that should have most viewers right on the edge of their seats, and nobody dials the action sequences up to the epic levels quite like Nolan, and his scenes of destruction surpass anything in the series so far.

It’s very easy to lose the story of Batman in the midst of more interesting villains, and that certainly seemed the case with The Dark Knight, but Rises puts Wayne right back under the microscope, and Bale finds new depths of emotion with the character, making him more vulnerable and ultimately human than before. The massive cast are catered for extremely well for the final curtain call, with special shout outs to Caine’s Alfred for providing the emotional core for the trilogy, and a certain not-to-be-named-here someone who shows up for two scenes and almost steals the movie out from everyone.

If there is a big gripe (aside from plot-holes which could only be poked at properly following repeat viewings), it’s that Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin were ridiculed for being too light and frothy (as well as being, ye know, crap). But Nolan has gone too far the other way; The Dark Knight Rises is not a fun movie to watch. It is a heavy, fantastically cinematic emotional slog  to get through. Now, before the pitch-forks start getting sharpened, Nolan’s trilogy is still obviously a landmark in modern cinema and three of the greatest comic book movies ever made. But whoever takes up his mantle from here should remember that being a billionaire vigilante with bat-shaped cars and bikes and planes, along with hot women dressed in leather cat-suits dying to get into your bat-pants… there is SOME fun to be had there. Just a thought.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
164 mins

The Dark Knight Rises is released on 20th July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises – Official Website

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The Fighter

The Fighter

DIR: David O. Russell • WRI: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson • PRO: Dorothy Aufiero, David Hoberman, Ryan Kavanaugh, Todd Lieberman, Paul Tamasy, Mark Wahlberg • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Pamela Martin • DES: Judy Becker • CAST: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams

After any decent boxing match, we all like to analyse the performances. Funnily enough that’s what we do with films too. So when it’s a boxing film, better stand back…Because The Fighter comes out swinging, immediately clinching your attention with some heart-felt, energetic performances, before slugging you senseless with realistic, visceral bouts.

Roughly chronically the comeback of real life boxer Mickey Ward, Mark Wahlberg begins his portrayal as a fatigued pugilist, passing his prime and attempting to shake a string of losses and step out from the considerable shadow cast by his older brother, Dickey Eklund.

For any Marky Mark haters out there, take note: the man can act, and carries this film on sculpted shoulders, both metaphorical and literal. His almost bashful quietness betrays a vat of simmering emotion, like when you drop a coke can. A coke can of PASSION! He has help along the way with interesting direction via David O. Russell, who begins the feature as a documentary. Yet, shortly the camera pans, revealing the production crew as part of the arching narrative. This technique allows for the honesty and proximity of the documentary style, yet remains unhindered by its storytelling limitations.

Amy Adams, ever willing to exhibit her considerable acting chops, is more than on form as Mickey’s girlfriend. She shines as a support strut for the loveable fighter, coming to blows, both verbal and in one instance very physical, with his interfering mother and sisters. Also the exploration of their blossoming relationship seems fresh as the pair hook up within the first act. Unfortunately for Adams and Whalberg, if they wanted their acting to stand out, they shouldn’t have starred in a film with Christian Bale.

People seem to have forgotten about Christian Bale. Perhaps it’s due to his temper tantrum in the relatively bland Terminator Salvation? Or being overshadowed by Ledger’s iconic portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight? Either way, people seem to have forgotten that Bale is, without doubt, the finest actor working today. Watch The Fighter and you’ll recall. You may even feel compelled to write a letter of apology to the man for such oversight. Honestly, his performance as crack-riddled, fallen-from-glory, local pride Dickey Eklund, who once knocked down the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard, is a revelation. Perhaps ‘re-revelation’ is the more precise term, considering his astonishing physical and mental commitment to powerhouse roles in American Psycho, Empire of the Sun, The Machinist, Equilibrium, The Prestige and Rescue Dawn.

Hilarious, upsetting, disgusting, sympathetic and occasionally inspirational, Bale channels all the facets of the storied boxer expertly, and is a joy to watch, even if he’s doing nothing more taxing than asking a passer-by whether or not his dog is a Springer Spaniel.

Spoiler: It was.

Mercifully, Bale’s talents actually amplify the tale’s potency. Sensitive, intelligent direction couple with a cacophony of brutal fights, in and outside of the ring, spoken and otherwise, The Fighter is a boxing film that actually manages the fine balance between entertainment and resonance.

And, if that’s not your thing, dudes get hit in the face real hard and in slow motion. Yes!

Jack McGlynn

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Fighter
is released on 2nd February 2011

The Fighter – Official Website

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dmq0DtvpqSM[/youtube]

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The Fighter

Micky Ward (MARK WAHLBERG) and Charlene (AMY ADAMS) in THE FIGHTER

Director David O. Russell, and stars Amy Adams and Christian Bale talk about their film The Fighter, which is released in cinemas today.

Director David O. Russell

What is the movie about?
Bleach blonde mother with seven bleach blonde sisters who all form a gang, and they train two brothers, one who used to be a star locally, who’s become a criminal, the other who’s the younger brother who’s trained by the older brother and the mother who wants to rise up. The red headed bar tender who’s sexy comes in and everybody reacts to that big time, that’s Amy Adams, she comes in and says to the younger brother, you need a better way and he says ‘how can you say that about my family!’, and there’s the movie. To have all those people in ways that you see the mistakes they’re making, but you still love them, and can laugh at them but still have them break your heart, that’s to me the movie.

What made you want to make a movie based on this family?
The brothers, with this crazy dynamic of older brother, younger brother, and they are both fighters and they have this really crazy relationship, and the older brother almost seems to be the favourite of the mother, all that made me want to do it.

What do you make of the way the actors went about portraying their characters?
Every actor works differently you know, so it was really an honour and sort of very humbling to be able to work with this variety of actors. Mark is sort of more from the Spencer Tracy school, ‘acting’s good, don’t let them catch you doing it’, so he is going to do the subtle performance, that is the guy who’s the centre of the storm, who’s reacting to the storm and emotionally anchoring the movie. Spinning around him is the asteroid of Christian Bale, at the other end of the spectrum completely! He inhaled the character of Dicky, he lost 30 pounds, he shaved his head so he had a bald spot, put these horrible teeth in, and become this chaos maker who’s charming and talented and bedevilling. Then Amy Adams breaks type, she shows up to break type saying ‘you know I don’t want to be enchanted in this one, I want to be the girl who can throw a punch’, and that girl Charlene did throw a punch with the sisters and she did know how to stick up for herself and she helps Micky stick up for himself in his life, he needed a little help against all the odds in the family. Melissa Leo is the mother who always fought for the fact that listen I see how this movie is portraying me, as a little bit like the mother’s making all the bad mistakes but I also want to be the mother who loved all her children, nine children, which Mark comes from the same family, nine children, so Melissa fought for that, so that makes you love the characters, to me that’s what matters.

What did you think Mark brings to the role of Micky?
Mark trained for as many years to want to fight like Micky, and to look real is a huge accomplishment, but in addition to that, to be like what he is like in his own family, Mark Wahlberg is in his own family of nine children from a working class background, the one kind that had to deal with an older brother, Donny Wahlberg, who was the favourite of the mother and who was the first successful one, I mean the parallels are kind of amazing. So this is an even more intense version of that, where he came equipped knowing what it’s like to have this brother who’s your hero, who’s your ticket to the world who has to train you, in this case to fight, but who also is kind of being destructive and then tearing you down, so that’s what Mark brings to it.

How were the real Micky and Dicky involved in the movie?
Well if anyone is having a real story told about them, that’s going to be a little prickly isn’t it? You’re going to be a little concerned of how that’s being told and I wanted to always say we were always coming from a place of loving these characters. Which happened to be the truth, sometimes you have to tell people that and it’s not the truth. In this case it is the truth. I didn’t know how I would feel about the Wards and the Ecklands when I met them and I really love them so that enables me to tell an even better story. But the sisters will come up and say hey that girl’s not as pretty as me, why is she playing me. Dicky more than anybody had a lot of controversial stuff that he did that is in the movie. I said ‘it can’t be any worse than the documentary HBO did about you that made you the scandal of Lowell, so we’re only going to go up from there that I’m portraying you in a sympathetic light that shows you getting past that! So let’s not fixate on that!’ Micky of course loved the picture, I think Micky knew that he won a championship and he knew he was the one who came through it, and that Mark being sort of the godfather of the picture, I think Micky Ward knew he was in good hands.

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Amy Adams

What attracted you to playing the role of Charlene?
Well initially it was David O Russell, he sent me twenty pages of the script, they were sort of writing Charlene and kind of beefing her up a little bit and he asked if I’d be interested in playing Charlene. I mean how could I say no, first half it was David O. Russell who I’d met and really had a great time talking to, and then knowing it was Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo, I was the last one to come on out of that group and I’d love them all, I’d met them at different times of my life and I just was very excited! Charlene is a girl who has to work really hard in her life for what she has and has maybe made some mistakes, and when we meet her she’s kind of pulling herself back up and she meets Micky and sees in him something just so remarkable and so much potential and she sees his family just really pulling him down and she really wants to encourage him to be his own man and stand up and be the man she knows he can be.

How was it working with Mark Wahlberg?
You know I never felt the producer hand of Mark Wahlberg, I think because we worked so closely, our characters, most of my scenes were with him and very intimate scenes so, I never really felt that side. I mean the filming was a great experience and there was a lot of energy, a lot of love, a lot of passion, a lot of hard work and I could only think that that has to do with him being one of the producers as he really just put so much of him into the film, not only as a producer, as an actor, and being in Lowell, he knows that area, he put so much time into making everybody from that town feel a part of the movie. He did a great job. The Fighter is so much more than just a movie about boxing. It has a love story, it has family drama, because it’s true, its real life, it’s telling people the real story and in that there’s humour, there’s laughter and there’s tears and the boxing just adds an element of energy that make s you really excited when you watch the film.

What will people take away from this movie?
I think everyone’s going to feel something different but hopefully, they all had a really good time, and they walk away wanting to see it again. That’s what I keep hearing, is like ‘oh my gosh, I just want to go back and see it from the beginning!’ From the response that I’ve had, we’ve had some teenage girls see the film and just go crazy for it and then we’ve had young men. I just think, pretty much everybody. It’s probably not suitable for a really young audience, there’s some adult language, but aside from that I think everybody should go see the film.

Christian Bale

What was it like training with the real Micky and Dicky?
Just essential, you know, I mean Mark was always leagues ahead because he’d been training for this for so long anyway; he has his own boxing ring in his house. For me it just was a wonderful opportunity to hang out with Micky and Dicky, get to know them, get to understand their fighting styles to use it as a means of dropping the weight that I needed to lose in order to look like a welter weight and then a crack head. I just enjoyed it immensely, I enjoyed their company.

How did you transform to get into your role?
Same with anyone you know, you kind of start off and you go, ‘yeah I like this story’ and then you go ‘holy crap, how am going to do it, I’ve forgotten how to do this’. I never took any classes, I just go like ‘I better wing this one again and make it up!’ Slowly, you find ways brick by brick of building it up, and it feels like hard work and you feel like you’re going to fail everybody. Then eventually it’s just kind of happening and it’s slipping in, then you forget that you went through the hard work and you think it was all easy.

What are the main themes that emerge in The Fighter?
The Fighter is about brotherly love, it’s about loyalty, about family, family dysfunctions, the need to change, the pain of change, but ultimately, the triumph of people who love each other, managing to find a healthy way to unite and that they’re unstoppable at that point.

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Fighter
is released on 2nd February 2011

Read Jack McGlynn’s review here

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The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight

DIR: Christopher Nolan • WRI: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan • PROD: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas • DOP: Wally Pfister • ED: Lee Smith • DES: Nathan Crowley • CAST: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman

Batman, it has to be said, has had something of a difficult movie career. The ‘60s TV show, hilarious though it was, was the definition of the word camp and hardly a good fit for a masked vigilante. Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster boasted a darker take on the character, only to see it hijacked by Jack Nicholson’s scenery chewing Joker, while the sequel added two more villains, bizarre S&M styling and Christopher Walken. Meanwhile, Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever subtracted the darkness and added Robin, but the worst indignity was saved for 1997’s Batman and Robin, unquestionably the poorest comic book adaptation thus far (no mean feat) and a genuine contender for the worst film ever made.

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, however, changed that. Taking the examples set by Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, Nolan crafted a film based around story rather than set pieces, providing a smart, dark take on the character that matched the finest interpretations of Batman in any media. It was also, for once, a film that left you genuinely wanting a sequel as opposed to being told you want one. Flash forward three years later, and The Dark Knight arrives into a summer when the comic book movie has come of age, and the old guard of the blockbusters seems increasingly quaint (see the lukewarm reaction to the new Indiana Jones film). Additionally, the death of Heath Ledger has put it under even more intense pressure; his performance will no doubt be under intense scrutiny as tabloid hacks everywhere look for sinister undertones. Make no mistake about it; The Dark Knight comes with a lot of expectations, yet, astonishingly, it surpasses all of them.

Nolan’s film is not only the finest comic book film to date, but also ranks as one of the all time great sequels, alongside The Godfather: Part II and The Empire Strikes Back (both of which are a pretty good reference points for the ambition and quality present here). Smart, thrilling and satisfying in a way that few movies – let alone $180 million blockbusters – even come close to, The Dark Knight grabs hold of you from the opening scene and rarely lets up for its two and a half hour running time. Nolan sets out the rules in the virtuoso opening heist sequence – in short, there are none. This isn’t an origin story; the Joker arrives fully formed, setting the tone for both the character and the film – nihilistic and unpredictable. With the set up taken care of, The Dark Knight goes to the heart of the Batman mythology. Gotham city is in turmoil; while many are inspired by the caped crusader, the city’s criminals have raised their game and have formed a syndicate to reinforce their power. Enter Harvey Dent, the new district attorney determined to clean up the city by example. Dent is everything Batman can’t be: a hero with a face, an elected official willing to take on corruption. He also represents a chance for Bruce Wayne to hang up his cape. This, however, is made increasingly difficult by the arrival of the Joker, a self-professed ‘agent of chaos’, whose only aim is, as Michael Caine’s Alfred puts it, ‘to watch the world burn’.

Sounds serious? That’s the idea. While other comic book movies have revelled in self-reflexive irony, The Dark Knight is never less than one hundred percent committed to character and story. The result is a superbly crafted epic, one loaded with so much incident and suspense that there’s barely pause for breath. Crucial to this level of suspense is the character of the Joker. Ledger’s performance was always going to be the film’s highlight and his passing has only increased its power. His interpretation of the Joker is truly extraordinary: sometimes terrifying, sometimes hilarious, often at the same time (the ‘magic trick’ he performs early on is genius). A nihilist, he has no rules, no morals, and only sees hypocrisy in those that do. Nolan has made a truly terrifying creation, one that casts a shadow of menace across the entire picture, rather than simply dominating it whenever he shows up. Like its predecessor, The Dark Knight is an ensemble film and, unlike Burton’s movie, each character is given their own arc, from Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox to Gary Oldman’s Lieutenant Gordon.
Whereas Nolan seemed to struggle with the staging of action in the first film (it’s worth remembering that he had only made three films up to that point, most of them on a shoestring budget), here he choreographs his sequences with terrific skill. Police cars are thrown around, trucks flipped over and the lead character flies off of high buildings on several occasions yet not once is there a single noticeable use of CGI – yet another instance of the filmmakers doing their utmost to focus on storytelling rather than empty spectacle, providing a deeply involving experience as a result. This level of craftsmanship permeates the entire production, from the thrilling score (the Joker’s theme is unforgettable) to Wally Pfister’s stark cinematography, made all the more impressive as a handful of scenes have been shot on IMAX.

Then there’s the political subtext. Perhaps because genre movies have always been a good outlet for expressing contemporary fears, or perhaps because the crop of films dealing directly with Iraq have been so limp, The Dark Knight explores the current political climate better than any film to date. There are countless scenes and references that resonate: the Joker’s video messages to the news stations, burning buildings, Dent’s Obama-esque idealist, phone taps, and an overwhelming sense of a complicated morality twisted beyond all recognition by extraordinary circumstances. Batman is driven to dark, desperate measures that involve conspiracy and the invasion of privacy in order to fight an enemy with no fear of death or regard for innocent life. A film about heroes who do unheroic things in pursuit of justice, the moral ambiguity with which the characters are portrayed frees the film of any accusations of taking sides. Ultimately, you could spend hours discussing the various ideas inherent in the film, a fact that above all else marks this out as a truly unique and groundbreaking blockbuster. Set to be the biggest film of the year, The Dark Knight might just walk away with the title of the year’s best as well.

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