Saturday, May 7, 2011

Film Reviews-The Fighter, I Spit on Your Grave, A Shock to the System


The Fighter
This is a good biopic of Lowell MA based welterweight boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his boisterously dysfunctional and occasionally violent family. Micky's mother (and manager) Alice (Melissa Leo), a chain smoking tough lady, presides over this group.
Alice evidently prefers her older son, Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale) to Micky. Dickie is a washed up former boxer who for years has boasted to anyone within earshot of once knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard. Dickie, when he is not busy smoking crack or hanging with streetwalkers, is his half-brother's trainer and mentor. George Ward (Jack McGee), Micky's father, runs a roofing/road repair business and tries to avoid setting off his wife's quick temper. Ward's half-sisters, a coven of loud mouthed hard-bitten bleached blondes, often instigate and support their mother's tantrums and guilt trips. 
Wahlberg portrays a passive, almost gentle, Ward. He's got a huge heart inside the ring but not elsewhere. He knows that his career is offtrack. He's getting the wrong fights for low pay and losing too many of them. Enter Charlene (Amy Adams), a woman whose barfly demeanor, prickly attitude and revealing attire mask a sharp intelligence. Charlene is not a woman to back down from anyone, including Micky's fierce female relatives.
I have never known a crackhead but I have known people with substance abuse issues. The actors and director (David Russell) do a fine job depicting the impact this has on a family-the denial, enabling and co-dependency, the refusal to confront, the whole nine yards. Bale was believable as someone who rarely thinks past his next high. However when he is actually cogent, he is a great older brother who knows a lot about boxing.
Class is also an understated framework for this movie. These are hardworking people that perform physically debilitating jobs. There's some resentment of people with education or ambition. I would have liked to see the film delve a little more deeply into those issues. In some respects the women in this film mirror some of the stereotypical roles that black actresses complain about. They are mostly loud, verbally aggressive, strong women who don't take any s*** off anyone, including relatives. 
Ultimately, this film is about love's healing power. Charlene's love for Micky helps him to confront his family and take ownership of his career. The brothers' love for each other allow them to accept some ugly truths and move past them. Alice's affection for her sons makes her realize that both need attention and appreciation. This occurs organically, understatedly and sometimes violently, not in melodramatic weepy scenes of exposition. The boxing scenes are crisp and somewhat realistic. Unfortunately the movie doesn't depict the savage bouts that Ward had with Arturo Gatti but no film could really capture those. Leo and Bale won Oscars for their roles. This also had a nice little soundtrack.

I Spit on Your Grave(2010)
This is a remake of the 1978 film. Jennifer (Sarah Butler), a young author, visits the country to write. After some minor unpleasantness at the gas station with the local yokels she settles in at her cabin. But the Deliverance types haven't forgotten about her and they have some very unpleasant plans and even more vicious allies.
Jennifer is assaulted and then brutally gang-raped by many men, including two that she trusted. This is very hard to watch. Nasty ugly stuff. Afterwards, while they are debating where to murder her and dump her body she escapes but does so in a manner that her survival is uncertain.
Enough time passes so that the rapists are convinced she's dead. She's not dead. She becomes an avatar of vengeance who seeks to kill each of her rapists in a horrific manner that mirrors the particular method of violation. 
This film is not for everyone. There's not really any character development. Jennifer just reappears after a period of time and starts wreaking havoc. This story would have been more effective if we saw how she survived in the woods. Better yet, how does someone that was close to death, penniless and without clothes, plan and execute several intricate murders, some of which require not only great strength but also working familiarity with physics, machinery, mechanical engineering and chemistry. This film left me numb. If you're looking for the catharsis of a savage bloody revenge film this might be for you. This movie, like Funny Games, is an unpaid advertisement for always having a handgun nearby. Cause you just might need it someday. Again, the rape scenes are EXTREMELY disturbing and the revenge scenes even more so. The similar revenge remake , The Last House on the Left, was much better done and more realistic.

A Shock to the System
Was he your superior?
No. He was my boss.
This is an older film. It didn't really have an A-list cast but if you can find a copy it might be worth your time. Graham Marshall (Michael Caine) is an older ad exec who has been patiently waiting for the promotion that will make him local office chief. Graham is too much of a "nice guy" at work and home. He quietly suffers his materialistic nagging wife Leslie,(Swoosie Kurtz) who thinks his lack of drive/success embarrasses her and doesn't mind telling him so repeatedly. As far as she's concerned, Graham is useless around the house, useless at work, and useless in the bedroom. But this time, if only by process of elimination-most people his age are either cruising to retirement, running their own firms or far above him in the company hierarchy- Graham believes he has a chance to grab the ring.

It doesn't happen of course. Upper management thinks that the courtly Graham is nowhere near mean, aggressive or intelligent enough to take the top spot. So although the office gossip had Graham getting the position, the job goes to one of Graham's subordinates, the excellently unctuous Bob Benham (Peter Riegert), who immediately stops kissing Graham's behind and starts requiring humiliating displays of submission. Graham discovers that Bob wants to remove more and more authority from him, even as he pretends friendship with Graham. Graham's former friends treat him like he has the plague, all except for Stella (Elizabeth McGovern) a young attractive administrative assistant on whom Graham has a serious crush, although he lacks the guts to tell her this.
Coming home after a particularly bad day at the office, Graham is involved in a violent accident. Surprisingly Graham finds that he's not concerned about this. Armed with a new lack of ethics and a disturbingly accurate sense of what an accident should look like, Graham sets out to make some changes in his life and get the girl he wants. Caine carries this film and does a good job of it. His quiet desperation and gradual personality change are a wonder to watch. He does some voiceover that makes this a very sharp black comedy.
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