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The Fighter (2010)

I have known about The Fighter for  some time now. It was originally supposed to be Darren Aronofsky next movie, but it kept getting delayed in the process. He did The Wrestler and felt that this movie would be too similar so he passed the baton to David O. Russell. It has got a lot of buzz this award season. It deserves it.

This is the true life story of Lowell, Massachusetts residents Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) circa 1993. Dicky has a HBO documentary crew follow him around for his comeback to the boxing ring where he shined as knocking out Sugar Ray Leonard, who appears as himself in the film.

Seeing that his time has passed, Dicky trains Mickey to make more goals than he ever did in his career. His decades long crack problem had him wasting away his body, hair, and mind. Their mother, Alice (Melissa Leo) is trying to keep the family together by acting as Mickey’s trainer. Dicky’s crack problem is hampering Mickey’s training and everybody sees that, except for Alice.

Mickey meets a feisty bartender after a night drinking named Charlene (Amy Adams). They begin to have a courtship when a fate steps in. Mickey would supposed to fight one opponent that is in his weight class, but his opponent caught the flu and will not be able to box. Another opponent steps up who is twenty pounds heavier than Mickey. (If you expect me to believe that Mark Wahlberg weighed 145 lbs, you are nuts. I am 160 lbs and I hit like a girl.) He takes the match so the family could get paid. He gets his ass handed to him.

Embarrassed by the loss, Mickey doesn’t want to talk to anybody in his life. Not until a rival manager would train Mickey in Las Vegas so he could have a chance to have a great career ahead of him. Mickey has a tough decision to make about choosing between his family and his career.

The movie overall was a very good exercise in establishing the dynamics between duty and pride, acceptance and being ostracized.

The story gets under your skin and wants warm your heart. It does has its faults. The main problem with this movie is the lead actor. Wahlberg has been training for this part for roughly five years and I was not rooting for him to succeed. He didn’t have the nuance, the charisma to make me be on his corner. Lastly, another down point is the fight sequences in the general were overly rehearsed. It did not feel like that they were hitting each other in the ring. It was like a choreographed dance.

Judgment: This movie is like a sucker punch to the gut.

Rating: ****1/2

Boogie Nights (1997)

You don’t know what I can do! You don’t know what I can do, what I’m gonna do, or what I’m gonna be! I’m good! I have good things and you don’t know about! I’m gonna be something! I am! And don’t fucking tell me I’m not!

— Dirk Diggler

Since Julianne Moore has been wisely picked as the next LAMB Acting School 101, I thought I would revisit some the movies that she has made that made us fall in love with her onscreen. First is the movie that nobody thought would get made because of the subject. Nobody has a made a Hollywood mainstream picture about porn before. Julianne was nominated from an Oscar for her supporting work as well as Burt Reynolds and director Paul Thomas Anderson for his script for Boogie Nights. This movie is still memorable to watch and it is not because of the last shot of the movie. Get your minds out of the gutter.

The movie borrows the life story of legendary porn star John Holmes and his involvement in the Wonderland murders in this movie to a certain point. Recast in the role of John Holmes is 17-year-old high school dropout, Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a down on his luck young man who is blessed with a tripod in his pants. He works for Maurice TT Rodriguez (Luis Guzmán) at his club, Hot Traxx as a bus boy.

Major porn director Jack Horner (Reynolds) spots Eddie and wants to put him in his upcoming movie that he is shooting soon. He considers the offer. Looking upon the coiled snake in his briefs, Eddie thinks that is his ticket out of his humdrum life in Torrance with his ice queen of a mother, (Johanna Gleason). Jack decides to thrown in a ringer with the willing mouth of Rollergirl (Heather Graham), which prompts him to further audition with Rollergirl in home he shares with motherly Amber Waves (Moore).

Decided to go under the tutelage of Horner, Eddie meets some of his co-workers like the man who tries to be hip, but fails miserably, Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), the black superstar, Becky Barnett (Nicole Ari Parker), the everyman, Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), Little Bill (William H. Macy) who has to keep tabs on his cheating wife (Nina Hartley), the cameraman Kurt Longjohn (Ricky Jay) and the sound guy that develops a crush on Eddie, Scotty J (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

The producer of Jack’s films, The Colonel (Robert Ridgely) asks Eddie to change his name into something that he is comfortable with. He decides on his name from a dream that he had, Dirk Diggler. On his first day on set, he is natural having sex in front of a room full of people with Amber. Dirk quickly becomes the number one male porn star in the business with the fancy clothes, polished cars and the awards. As is customary with stardom, what goes up must come down. This is all about Dirk’s tumultuous journey in the industry.

The movie is playful with the bad porn dialogue the actors have to recite, but there is also some touching moments Rollergirl gets called out in during the exam, Amber trying to talk to her son or Dirk’s downward spiral were devastating to me.

I loved the performances from Mark Wahlberg’s first leading role in a film was beyond what I expected from a former pants-dropping rapper, Burt Reynolds was calm, cool and collected and of course, Julianne Moore looked like she was in 1970s with her fiery red hair, freckles on her porcelain skin and her demeanor as Amber Waves. It was her laid back presence that give her notice during the 1998 award show season.

Judgment: This is the best movie about the porn industry ever created.

Rating: ****1/2

The Lovely Bones (2009)

My name is Salmon, like the fish. First name, Susie. I was fourteen years old when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973. I wasn’t gone. I was alive in my own perfect world. But in my heart, I knew it wasn’t perfect. My murderer still haunted me. My father had the pieces but he couldn’t make them fit. I waited for justice but justice did not come.

— Susie Salmon

The Lovely Bones is based on the beloved 2002  book by Alice Sebold that has been receiving universally bad buzz since the award season have started. Director Peter Jackson tries to recapture the spirit of the book while incorporating his signature technological flair. The only reason that I saw this movie was the awards buzz surrounding Stanley Tucci. He is probably a bright spot in this hodgepodge of a movie.

The movie is told in perspective of a 14-year-old girl named Susie Salmon (Saiorse Ronan) who is a typical teenager growing up in Pennsylvania. She is full of life, hope, and dreams of being a wildlife photographer when she grows up. There is a British boy at school that is interested in her, Ray Singh (Reece Ritchie).

She doesn’t get along with her parents, Jack and Abigail (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz) when they have a petty fight about their shutterbug using all twenty-four rolls that gave it to her along with her camera for her birthday.

That fateful day December 6, 1973 would alter the course of their Norristown neighborhood forever. After school, Susie was walking across a cornfield when a neighbor living across the street from the Salmons, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) approaches her and lures her into a makeshift pit.

Her parents are worried for her when she didn’t come home. Jack canvasses the neighborhood with her picture. Abigail calls the police. Detective Len Fenerman (Michael Imperioli) investigates the case. Before there were pictures in the back of milk cartons or amber alerts, the police have a tough time finding Susie, but it’s too late for her.

What the adults don’t know is that “the weird girl” of the neighborhood, Ruth Conners (Carolyn Dando) runs into Susie bolting down the street after escaping from the pit. The unclear thing is that it was her ghost. Susie realizes that she is dead, but is stuck in a type of purgatory called “The In-Between.”

Realizing that Susie is not coming home, the family thrown in chaos when the days turned into months as George Harvey is not caught. He cleans up his tracks, because he is a seasoned serial killer. Thinking that Harvey is getting away with her murder, Susie decides to help her family to find the clues to bring her killer to justice.

This premise seemed very interesting. I have not read the book, but I read a synopsis of the book after I saw the movie. The timeline was condensed from a decade to a year. If Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens incorporated all of the elements from Alice Sebold’s book into the movie, it would have been a more sappy mess then it is.

The family dynamics seemed off with Jack obsessing over his bottle ships, the mother reading cookbooks, the grandmother (Susan Sarandon) wants to makeover the kids to take their mind of their murdered sister. What? I could not buy Wahlberg and Weisz as a married couple. I think they were miscast. The dialogue at times was very wooden and sometimes melodramatic.

The tone runs the gamut of intense drama to fantasy to comedic farce. Disjointed. It’s not cohesive as a narrative. I don’t think that Jackson was the right person to direct this movie. Perhaps somebody like Catherine Hardwicke could have handled the material better with Jackson’s team, WETA doing the stunning visuals.

The CGI effects in the movie were spectacular, but it feels like it was sensory overload at times. I thought that for the most part Saoirse Ronan gave a good performance as well as Stanley Tucci as the serial killer.

Judgment: There is a great revenge story hidden beneath a muddled adaptation under a bunch of bells and whistles.

Rating: **1/2

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The Departed (2006)


When I was growing up, they would say you could become cops or criminals. But what I’m saying is this. When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?

— Frank Costello

The winner of Best Pictures in 2006, The Departed won four Oscars including, Best Director for Martin Scorsese, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing. It currently at the time of this posting #52 of the Top 250 of all time on IMDB.

I have not watched this movie in its entirety before last night. I tried to watch it one time a couple of months ago when it was on the cable. I was so annoyed by the overwhelming Bostonian accents that I shut it off. I don’t know why, but I have a hang up with the Bostonian accent. It bugs the hell out of me.

This movie was the American remake of the 2002 Hong Kong thriller, Infernal Affairs that I haven’t seen yet.

The plot revolves around two cadets, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). Costingan is recruited to go undercover by Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) to help take down crime boss, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).

Sullivan is secretly working for Costello who help raise him from when he was a little boy.

As the two men go deeper with “Who is the rat?” and “Who is the mole?”, revelations come out that lead to tragic consequences.

I have seen some of Martin Scorsese’s movies. I don’t think that this movie is his finest work. I have some issues with Jack Nicholson’s laughable characterization, the quick cuts, the convenient plot twists that I saw from mile away, the last shot of the film and numerous others.

I was bored during the first hour of this 2 1/2 hour opus. A whole bunch of talking that needed to trimmed are jettisoned all together. When the plot twist that happens at the hour mark, then I was invested in the film. It was uneven to me.

Judgment: If you want to see smart characters, a head shot extravaganza and Jack Nicholson’s hilarious performance, I would suggest this film.

Rating: ****

Shooter (2007)


Welcome to Tennessee, patron state of shootin’ stuff.

— Bob Lee Swagger

I read in an article after Mark Wahlberg got his first Oscar nomination for his role in The Departed, that he wanted to do movies of substance.

First there is the movie that I am reviewing; Shooter, then it was We Own the Night, The Happening and Max Payne. Not the best track record so far. I think he could make it up with the upcoming Peter Jackson adaptation of The Lovely Bones coming out in December.

Shooter is about an expert military marksman, Bob Lee Swagger (Wahlberg) who is abandoned in the middle of the mission in Ethiopia by his superior. In the process, his shooting partner in killed from unfriendly fire. Devasted, he retreats to the Rocky Mountains for three years until Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) recruits him to protect the president from an assassin’s bullet.

The day of the planned assassination attempt, Swagger is betrayed by the people that recruited him. He is shot by an overweight officer, Timmons (Alan C. Peterson) and he is blamed for killing an archbishop instead of the president.

Swagger staggers out into the street where he sees a rookie FBI agent, Nick Memphis (Michael Peña), who promptly steals Memphis’ gun and his dignity. A national manhunt is launched after him.

After the incident, Memphis believes that Swagger did not pull the trigger. He tries to prove his innocence.

This movie is cross between MacGuyver and The Kingdom. If you have seen those two properties, you will understand.

There are some things that I don’t understand. Why did Col. Johnson make Swagger the scapegoat in the first place? What does Africa had to do with it?

Judgment: If you want to turn off your brain to watch explosions, the smell of napalm, head shots aplenty, then this movie is for you.

Rating: ***1/2

The Happening (2008)

We’ve Sensed It. We’ve Seen the Signs. Now… It’s Happening.

I avoided this movie like the plague, because it was from M. Night Shyamalan. I have fallen out of love with him since The Village. It phsyically angered me about the “twist ending”. It was horseshit.

People were saying that this latest offering, The Happening was on par with Lady in the Water. No surprises there. It was so bad that it’s comical. It’s true.

If you want toknow, the action takes place in Central Park where strange “happenings” are occuring. People are killing themselves. The news spreads through various outlets about what is causing the rash of suicides. Caught in the middle are Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), Alma Moore (Zooey Deschanel), Julian (John Leguizamo) and Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) trying to escape.

The “Shyamalan twist” is shown on the first couple of minutes of the movie. It’s so stupid. It’s supposed to be nature fighting back against humanity. Whatever. I’m not saying what causes the happening, but it makes want to throw something about the screen.

The dialogue is atrocious. The acting is so wooden. Zooey Deschanel’s blank stares into the camera. Mark Wahlberg’s cadence is the same throughout the whole movie. What?

This was Shyamalan’s first “R” rated movie. Hopefully, his last. Why did Fox finance this movie? To fulfill Shyamalan’s contract with them? What was their thought process with this trainwreck of a movie? I want to people that greenlit this movie to be fired and releases the geniuses of Fox Searchlight. They know quality movies when they see one.

My judgment: If you want to see a waster talent and resources, watch this film. You will get a laugh from a “drama.”

My rating: *

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