Tag Archives: Christian Bale

The Big Short (2015)

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Wasn’t sure what to expect from The Big Short, the true story of how a bunch of brokers and fund managers made billions from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Though I majored in finance for my business degree at university, I never really developed a passion for all the complex financial products, especially derivatives, and the last thing I wanted to see was a movie about the industry and how it works.

Dudes and dudettes, my concerns were misplaced. The Big Short turned out to be a highly entertaining and fascinating riot of a comedy that ranks up there as one of my most enjoyed movie experiences of the year. Apart from finally getting a clue about what actually happened in 2008, I laughed my butt off at the wicked and witty humour. And yet, amid all the fast-paced explanations and hilarity, the film doesn’t forget that millions of people lost their jobs and homes because of the greed  and incompetence of those who run our financial systems.

It’s difficult to balance jokes and paying respect to what is a massive tragedy for so many people, particularly one that’s still fresh in our memories, which is why full credit must go to director and co-writer Adam McKay. It’s even more impressive when you consider that McKay, an SNL alum, is the guy who previously gave us farcical comedies such as Anchorman, Talledega Nights and Step Brothers.

McKay steps up in a big way, using a clever and innovative storytelling methods that include breaking the fourth wall and getting seemingly random celebrities to explain complex financial concepts in layman’s terms. As you would expect, there are plenty of explanations in this film, though it’s always done in a fun way that’s relevant to that point in the plot. The pieces are always moving so it never feels like things are constantly starting and stopping. You may not understand the concepts completely, but most regular viewers should garner enough knowledge to get by. Despite all the financial jargon, I felt like I was watching an exciting heist film.

Of course, the A-list cast is another huge reason to see this film. Christian Bale, who got another Oscar nomination (Best Supporting Actor), portrays Dr Michael Burry, the only character to use his actual name for the movie and the guy who first discovered that it would only be a matter of time before the US housing market faces a complete collapse. To be honest, I don’t know if Bale deserves the nomination, for if it were up to me I’d probably give it to Steve Carrell, a hedge fund manager approached by Ryan Gosling’s slick bond salesman to invest in credit default swaps. Carrell steals the show a little bit in my opinion and is arguably even better than he was in Foxcatcher.

This trio of big names are backed up by a whole host of solid supporting actors. The most notable is Brad Pitt, who co-produced the film and plays a former banker with a pessimistic view of the system. He is flanked by two very impressive youngsters, John Magaro and Finn Wittrock, who plays a couple of up-and-coming hedge fund guys who started out in their garage. Others recognisable names like Rafe Spall, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei round out a spectacular ensemble cast that rivals Spotlight for most impressive of the year.

Earlier today I was just telling a friend — who thought the film might be boring — that The Big Short reminds me a little of The Wolf of Wall Street but without all the swearing and debauchery. I say that not just because both are about the corruption of the financial sector, but because of the rapid pace and machine-gun dialogue, the sharp wit, the light tone layered with dark themes, and the impeccable comedic timing. While I can’t quite compare my enjoyment of The Big Short to the epic levels of fun I had with The Wolf of Wall Street, I still consider it a smashing success, a delightful mix of learning and humour that deserves its reputation as one of the year’s top flicks.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

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Seriously, I don’t understand why Exodus: Gods and Kings only has a 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. OK, so it’s not Gladiator, but is Ridley Scott’s Bible epic still entertaining? Yes. Is it still engaging? At least half of it is. And is it epic? Absolutely.

For starters, you don’t need to know anything about the Bible to enjoy the film, though some knowledge won’t preclude you from having a good time either. I’ve heard the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt heaps of times and vaguely remember that Disney moviethough most of what’s remaining in my memory is in bits and pieces. In short, Moses (Christian Bale) is an Egyptian prince from 1300 BCE who “discovers” that he is actually Hebrew and, after an encounter with the famous burning bush, decides to call upon his “brother” Ramesses II (Joel Edgerton) to “let my people go” (he doesn’t say this in the movie, but it’s the only line I remember from The Prince of Egypt).

Ridley Scott does a solid job of keeping the movie as grounded as possible given the subject matter, reminding audiences of the superstitions of the time. The problem, of course, is that it’s only possible to keep a Bible story grounded to a certain extent. While Scott leaves open the door for the theory that Moses is just imagining all his encounters with God (Bale actually said he believes Moses was schizophrenic), there are aspects of the story that cannot work without the presence of a supernatural power. He finds semi-rational reasons for the plagues and a certain Red Sea incident, but those familiar with Exodus will know that God’s fingerprints can’t be erased from the tale.

The other enviable thing Scott does is that he — along with Bale and Edgerton — makes both Moses and Ramesses very human characters. Both actors are terrific. Moses rails against God throughout the film for his barbarism and cruelty, and his faith is anything but unshakable. Ramesses, on the other hand, is not a typical villain — he grows into one almost out of necessity, but you can see that he has a softer side, and that his refusal to let the Hebrew slaves go stems from economic concerns as much as ego. The title Gods and Kings is an apt one.

The film does have its weaknesses. First of all, at 150 minutes, it is far too long and didn’t need to be. There is a lengthy chunk in the middle of the film that sags, so much so I’d probably go as far as to call it dull. People who know the story well might find it disappointing that there aren’t more surprises, as the film appears to be going through the motions at times and does little to halt the plodding. It’s not until the final hour that the pace begins to pick up with the arrival of the plagues and the actual exodus, both of which are executed very well with eye-popping special effects. The spectacle of the final hour alone makes the film worth watching.

If you ask me why the film has done so poorly with critics, my guess is that it doesn’t follow the Bible close enough for the uber-religious folk, and yet it’s also not rational enough for non-religious people looking for a “realistic” depiction of the story. As a result, the movie straddles both markets and finds itself stuck in a no-win situation. Bale’s comments about Moses being one of the “most barbaric” people he’s ever read about sure didn’t help, and neither did criticisms of the all-white casting of the main cast (which was, let’s face it, necessary for the film to be financed in the first place).

Personally, I don’t really care one way or the other. I’m just glad this is a Bible film that delivers on the spectacular visuals and doesn’t ram its self-righteous message down throats without giving audiences an opportunity to think for themselves.

3.75 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part VIII

Why the heck not?

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

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I admit I didn’t know a whole lot about Nelson Mandela’s life outside of him ending apartheid in South Africa and his long prison term, which is why I was particularly interested drawn to Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, based on his autobiography.

I had previously seen Morgan Freeman (his Hollywood doppelganger) as Mandela in Invictusso I had my doubts when I discovered that in this film he’s portrayed by strapping British actor Idris Elba, best known as crime kingpin Stringer Bell in The Wire and more recently in Pacific Rim.

While I was wrong about the casting of Elba, who turned out to be magnificent in the role despite being four inches taller than the real Mandela at 6’4″, Long Walk to Freedom turned out to be a disappointment, more a telemovie than the definitive adaptation of the great man’s life.

The film essentially begins with a fully-grown Mandela who is already a lawyer in South Africa and beginning to gain a broader interest in fighting for the rights of his people. From there, the film is a fairly straightforward blow-bu-blow account of his life, from organising protests to his imprisonment and eventual release. None of it is poorly executed or lacks subtlety, but at the same time the pulse of the film is so flat that it had trouble sustaining my interest. There, I said it: I was bored.

Thought I haven’t compared Elba and a young Mandela side by side, I believe there is some resemblance, or at least the performance is so good that it made me believe there is one. Far from a glorified hero, Elba portrays Mandela as a complex, flawed man who cheated on his wife and neglected his family for his cause. It’s still a respectful portrayal because you ultimately come to see his growth as a leader and person, and the remarkable change he brought to the world through his inspiring resolve and perseverance.

Another aspect that pleased me was the portrayal of Mandela’s second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, played by Brit Naomi Harris. We usually only hear about Mandela’s greatness but here we also learn about what an amazing woman Madikizela-Mandela is and her significant contributions to the plight of her people and especially South African women.

Unfortunately, two stellar performances weren’t quite enough to elevate Long Walk to Freedom into a superior biopic. A less conventional approach would have been welcome to give the film more layers and nuance. As it stands,  it’s still a passable Mandela flick, just not a great one.

3 stars out of 5

Wolf Creek 2 (2013)

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Wolf Creek, released in 2005, was Australia capitalising on the torture porn era ushered in by the Saw and Hostel movies. I personally though it was overrated, but it did have a couple of things going for it: a very uniquely Australian villain played by John Jarratt, who is as amusing as he is terrifying, and the “based on a true story” tag thanks to Ivan Milat and the disappearance of British backpacker Peter Falconio — which highlight the dangers of the vast Australian outback.

So eight years later, we have the obligatory low-budget sequel, which brings back Jarratt as maniacal serial killer Mick Taylor and a bunch of poor foreigners waiting to be tortured and slaughtered.

The film starts off as camp as can be, with Mick taking on a couple of cookie-cutter dickhead cops. It doesn’t make much sense but at least it sets the stage for the carnage that is yet to come. A film like this is always bound to contain gratuitous and over-the-top violence. Wolf Creek 2 embraces its destiny and just goes for it.

There’s not much by way of plot or character development. Mick picks up a German couple (one of them’s played by an Aussie) and then a Pom (also played by an Aussie, Ryan Corr of TV’s Packed to the Rafters fame). Be prepared for a lot of screaming, a lot of stupidity, and loads of visceral, extreme acts of violence.

Surprisingly, it’s quite effective as a torture porn horror, with moments that will make you cringe and others that challenge you not to look away. The tension is there, even though it doesn’t feel real and some suspension of disbelief is mandatory.

The original actually had plenty of what I call “filler” moments, which made it a bore to sit through. But Wolf Creek 2 disposes all the formalities to give viewers what they want almost straight away. As a motion picture it’s much rougher around the edges, but in terms of pure entertainment value it arguably trumps its predecessor.

Wolf Creek 2 is B-grade rubbish, all the way down to its laughable and cliched ending, but it knows what it is and at least tries to have a good time on its way to the dumpster.

2.5 stars out of 5

Thanks for Sharing (2013)

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Thanks for Sharing is a comedy about three very different men with sex addiction. There’s Adam (Mark Ruffalo), a spunky single guy who has no problem attracting the ladies but wants to start dating again after five very difficult years of self-restraint. There’s Mike (a silver-haired Tim Robbins), a veteran who believes he has turned the corner and acts as a big brother-type to the others at their support group, but doesn’t give much support at home to his drug-addict son. And thirdly, there’s Neil (Josh Gad), a tubby, sweaty sexual deviant who has banned himself from the subway so he’ll stop rubbing himself up against random women.

This is more or less what I expect from a comedy-drama about sex addiction. There are amusing observations and situations the protagonists have to deal with, but also a much darker side to their impulses which inevitably become more serious as the film progresses. It’s not exactly lighthearted but it’s not depressing either. Shame this is not.

The tone of the film actually reminds me of another Mark Ruffalo film I saw last year, The Kids Are All Right, about same sex parenting. As a comedy, however, Thank for Sharing is not in the same class. The majority of the laughs come from the awkwardness of Josh Gad’s character, who shoulders the load in that department, while the arcs of Ruffalo and in particular Tim Robbins are more heavy duty.

In addition to the solid performances of the three male leads, the film also boasts an excellent supporting cast, with the standouts being Gwyneth Paltrow as Ruffalo’s love interest and Pink (as Alecia Moore, her real name) as a female sex addict who befriends Gad’s character. Patrick Fugit, who plays Tim Robbin’s son, is also fantastic, as their explosive relationship is perhaps the most emotional and compelling in the entire movie.

Thanks for Sharing is an interesting take on sex addiction as it offers three perspectives from three very different characters. It’s lightly amusing and the drama is well-executed, but perhaps because the focus is split in so many directions it lacks the depth required to be an exceptional film on the subject. I enjoyed it as much as a film like this can be enjoyed — that is, a solid DVD rental, but not much more than that.

3.25 stars out of 5

Out of the Furnace (2013)

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If gritty, brooding crime dramas is your thing, then Out of the Furnace is just the film for you.

Produced by Ridley Scott and Leo DiCaprio and directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart), the film stars chameleon Christian Bale as Russell Baze, a likable guy who seems to be on a friendly basis with everyone on both sides of the law. Like his dying father before him, Russell works at a steel mill in a small town and enjoys a steady relationship with his girlfriend, played by Zoe Saldana. Life for him would be stable if it weren’t for his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), an Iraq war veteran who has trouble coping with an uncertain future.

A tragic accident strikes, and Russell ends up incarcerated. In the meantime, Rodney becomes involved in the shady world of underground bare-knuckle fighting under the management of Willem Dafoe. Once Russell gets out (of the furnace, so to speak), he is immediately thrown into the proverbial fire when Rodney is linked up with violent hillbilly Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) and bites off more than he can chew.

At its heart, this is a film about family, regret and living with the consequences of one’s decisions. Some critics have been scathing about its masculinity and testosterone-filled violence, though personally I found it to be an intense, entertaining experience. The pace is a little too contemplative for my liking, but I liked the old-fashioned themes of redemption and thought the action was well-executed.

The biggest strength of the film still has to be the performances, which are sensational all round. Woody Harrelson, in particular, once again shows us what an underrated actor he is with a terrifying portrayal of a brutal redneck. The script does have a few holes in it, but I was hooked on the bleak tones, which reminded me a little of one of my favourite movies of 2011 (directed by Casey Affleck’s big brother), The Town. And like that film, this one turns a fairly run-of-the-mill plot into an engaging, engrossing drama with explosive sequences.

The result is a raw, in-your-face, uncompromising film that will probably divide viewers. It becomes more conventional as it progresses towards a painful, semi-ambiguous ending, and it does have the occasional clunky scene, though overall I thought it was awesome.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: American Hustle (2013)

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The highly anticipated American Hustle reunites acclaimed director David O’Russell (Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter) with the stars from his two previous films, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and Christian Bale and Amy Adams – and the result is arguably his best film yet.

Set in the late 1970s, the movie is very very loosely based on a true story, thus prompting the line “Some of this actually happened” at the beginning of the film. I don’t want to give the plot away, so I’ll just provide a basic premise by saying that Christian Bale and Amy Adams play a pair of low-level con men (or should that be con people?) who bite off a little more than they can chew when they team up with Bradley Cooper. Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s wife and Jeremy Renner plays a mayor. The brilliant cast is topped off by the likes of Louis CK, Michael Pena and Robert De Niro.

As the title suggests (it was originally titled American Bullshit), the film is all about scamming people in an era when people are a little more naïve and trusting than they are now. It’s technically an entertaining caper drama, but American Hustle is also one of the sharpest, wittiest and funniest black comedies of the year. Though they are very different movies, the offbeat tone of the film is similar to Silver Linings Playbook, so if you enjoyed that you’ll love this.

The wonderful characters are what make American Hustle such a pleasure to watch, and each of them stand out in their own way. The film is almost like an intertwining collection of fascinating character studies, and what’s more is that the chemistry between all of them is amazing — the way they play off each other, react to each other and talk to each other. Just rapid fire nuggets of gold all the way.

Christian Bale is his usual solid self, but again went the extra mile by piling on the pounds and shaving part of his head to make himself look like a fatty with an elaborate comb-over. He is the only man in Hollywood who can go from this:

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Empire of the Sun (1987)

To this:

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American Psycho (2000)

To this:

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The Machinist (2004)

To this:

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Batman Begins (2005)

 To this:

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The Fighter (2010)

To this:

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

And now to this:

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American Hustle (2013)

Bradley Cooper is as good as he was in Silver Linings Playbook, and I think Amy Adams has never been better. Of the three leads she is probably the one likeliest to win an Oscar.

I am of course biased about this, but I reckon Jennifer Lawrence absolutely stole the show. She is just magnificent, so natural, so delightful, so hilarious; a laugh a second and full of impact in every scene she’s in. Jeremy Renner delivers an understated but important performance, and Michael Pena’s comedic chops shine through despite few words. I was ready to call this the best ensemble cast of the year and I didn’t even know Robert De Niro and Louis CK were in it!

The film is arguably a little too long at 138 minutes, but the script is tight and the dialogue razor sharp. O’Russell’s direction is enthusiastic and vibrant and again, the performances are just ridiculous. I don’t doubt that it is the best ensemble cast of any film in 2013, and I expect a load of Oscar nominations coming the film’s way. The film has already garnered 7 Golden Globe nominations, with O’Russell’s direction and screenplay and the four leads all earning nods along with the film itself.

I don’t know if the film will win Best Picture or if it will go down as a borderline classic, but American Hustle is certainly one of the best films of the year. A pure joy to watch.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: It also has probably the best soundtrack of the year!

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Notwithstanding its less than ingenious title, The Dark Knight Rises is everything fans of Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy could have hoped for. It is every bit as satisfying as the finales for other film series in recent times, such as Return of the King and Harry Potter 7. For me, it is right up there with The Dark Knight, The Avengers and the first Ironman as the best superhero movie of all-time. It is without a doubt the most EPIC.

The Dark Knight Rises takes place 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight (which is fair enough when you consider that Batman Begins was released in 2005). Batman has not appeared inGotham city since he took the fall for the death of Harvey Dent/Two-Face in order to preserve the former district attorney’s pristine legacy, and Bruce Wayne has become a crippled recluse. But as Selina Kyle (Catwoman) says, “a storm is coming”, and we all know it won’t be long beforeWayne is forced to don his famous black suit once more. But will it be enough? (And trust me, this film will make you question it).

Christopher Nolan clearly went all out for The Dark Knight Rises. After the success of The Dark Knight, expectations sky-rocketed and the pressure was on to deliver in the concluding chapter. So Nolan and his brother Jonathan upped the ante on everything:

  • An intricate and ambitious plot that links all three films together and is loaded with back stories, emotional confrontations and twists and turns.
  • An enormous cast of characters, some old and some new, and many of whom have substantial roles and screen time.
  • One of the most physically imposing villains ever in Bane.
  • Fight scenes and battle sequences so mammoth in scale and intensity that it dwarfs anything and everything that has been done in the series.
  • Even the running time of 165 minutes sets a new record (Batman Begins was 140 minutes; The Dark Knight was 152 minutes).

So does bigger and longer necessarily mean better? Not always, but in this case the sheer epic-ness of the film certainly goes a long way in making up for its miscues. On the whole, The Dark Knight is probably still the most “complete” film of the series, but when placed in context, The Dark Knight Rises is arguably the most satisfying.

In my humble opinion, and I know it’s probably an unpopular one, Tom Hardy’s Bane is every bit as worthy of a villain as Heath Ledger’s Joker. For starters, Hardy’s physical transformation was astounding. It’s crazy to think that this was the same guy that I recently saw in This Means War. Even his physique in Warrior did not come close. The Joker was a mad dog, a psychopath, a switchblade that can cut you up in a lot of ways; Bane, by contrast, is calm, calculated, and a brutal physical specimen capable of tossing Batman around like a ragged doll. He’s a nuclear warhead.

The spectacular first scenes of the film introducing us to Bane set the tone so perfectly. It’s one of the most exciting sequences of the entire trilogy and reminded me a lot of the best Nolan’s Inception had to offer.

There are two other Inception cast members to make the jump to Gotham city. Marion Cotillard plays the lovely Miranda Tate, an executive of the Wayne Enterprises board who becomes the key to saving the company. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of my favourite actors and one of Hollywood’s most versatile (I mean, come on, Brick, 500 Days of Summer, Hesher and now this?), plays passionate young cop John Blake. He is the standout of the film, along with….

Anne Hathaway, who really surprised me as Selina Kyle, the master thief better known as Catwoman. I’ve always been a bit on the fence with Hathaway and felt she was a little overrated as an actress, but man, she nailed this one. Not just physically – the performance itself was brilliant, providing a much-needed exuberance and vitality to an otherwise intensely “dark” film.

The rest of the returning cast was also stellar. I can’t believe I haven’t even mentioned Christian Bale yet. There’s isn’t much to say except that he’ll likely go down in history as the best Batman ever. Not bad for a guy who has also been Patrick Bateman, John Connor, Dicky Eklund and The Machinist.

Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman; plus a few cameos from the big names from the two earlier films (sadly, of course, except Heath Ledger) – that is a ridiculous cast, and it amazes me that it never felt like they would overshadow or be a distraction to the film.

The only obvious weak links in the cast are two dudes I ordinarily love: Matthew Modine’s deputy police chief, who was responsible for much of the film’s clunky dialogue and lack of subtlety (I still love him; I mean, come on: Full Metal Jacket, Birdy, Married to the Mob, Memphis Belle, Pacific Heights), and Aussie Ben Mendelsohn, who was somewhat awkward and over-the-top as Wayne’s corrupt business rival.

I have a few other relatively minor complaints. After watching The Dark Knight Rises I went back and rewatched the first two films in the trilogy, and realized that they employed a lot more humour – something that was sorely missing in The Dark Knight Rises. The other thing I noticed was that Batman had more cool gadgets and made better use of his utility belt in the earlier films – in this one all the attention was on the Batplane.

If you really want to get picky, I suppose there were parts in the second act that felt plodding, but the same probably could be said for all three films in the series. All is forgotten by the time the epic third act rolls around in any case.

By the way, many of the plot points don’t make a whole lot of sense if you really think about it. But hey, this is a superhero movie about a guy dressed up as a bat, so suspension of disbelief should have been a prerequisite. And I’m sick of people trying to read into and getting caught up in the film’s supposed political and societal messages – why can’t people just enjoy a Batman movie for what it is? Please, no more September 11 analogies.

The Dark Knight Rises is far from perfect, but it’s one of those films where I just went, “stuff this, I just want to enjoy it.” Strictly speaking, it’s probably not a 5-star film, but what the heck.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: I wouldn’t recommend it if you haven’t seen the movie yet, but if you have, check out this awesome featurette.

10 Movies That Make Men Want to Work Out

I say this with an unblemished record of heterosexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Have you ever watched a movie that made you want to go work out afterwards?

I have.  Well, I’ve never actually gone out and done it, but real men would have.

What I have noticed is that these films usually feature men who were either previously unknown to mainstream audiences and/or have undergone amazing physical transformations.  For example, Arnie or Stallone films rarely have that ‘Wow’ factor because they’ve always looked that way, and in any case from my research it seems looking ‘cut’ is generally preferred to looking ‘buffed’.  Anyway, it’s no surprise that the Internets is filled with guides on how to transform your body to replicate the following movie stars.

Without further ado, these are what I think are the 10 films that have inspired more meatheads than any other.

(click on ‘more’ to read on)

Continue reading 10 Movies That Make Men Want to Work Out

Movie Review: The Fighter (2010)

[Apologies for the massive influx of movie reviews but I’ve just got too many lined up — it’s the award season anyway, so why not?]

I saw an advanced screening of The Fighter a few weeks ago but haven’t had a chance to review it.  Just as well, because I’ve allowed the film to sink in, allowing me to make up my mind that this is one of the greatest boxing movies ever.

I am quite well-acquainted with “Irish” Micky Ward, a professional boxer from Massachussets best known for his three epic brawls with the late Arturo Gatti, including a ridiculous round 9 in their first fight that has been called ‘The Round of the Century”.  However, I didn’t know a whole lot about Ward’s background, and I knew almost nothing about his half-brother and fellow former pro boxer, Dicky Eklund, who once fought the great Sugar Ray Leonard.

As with most boxing films, The Fighter is a bit of an underdog story — and it’s one heck of an underdog story.  Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) comes from a crazy ‘white trash’ family, with a drug addict brother Dicky (Christian Bale) who serves as his trainer and a controlling mother (Melissa Leo) as his manager.  He’s what you might consider a journeyman boxer — someone with tremendous heart but not particularly gifted in the ring.  The film follows a familiar trajectory as Ward goes from a down-and-out boxer to a rising star, but most of the drama revolves around Ward’s relationship with his family as well as the new girl in his life, barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams), who threatens to tear his family apart.

Inside and outside the ring, The Fighter is intense, packed with emotion and turmoil, and ultimately inspirational and triumphant.  It does take some liberties with the truth, as most ‘based on a true story’ movies do, but for the most part it is a pretty realistic portrayal.  And since most of the characters in the film are still alive, the actors were able to study their real life counterparts closely, resulting in some amazing performances.  Mark Walhberg gives perhaps the best effort of his career with a low-key, nuanced performance that holds the movie together and allows his co-stars to shine — and man they really do shine.

Christian Bale was simply phenomenal and I believe will add to his Golden Globe win with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (and in doing so establish himself as one of the best actors of this generation — I mean, name one other actor that can play Patrick Bateman, Batman, The Machinist, John Connor and Dicky Eklund?).  Melissa Leo ousted Amy Adams for Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes, but I would not be surprised if either won at the Oscars.  Leo had the meatier role but Adams probably did more with what she was given as the feisty Charlene.  Both were outstanding.

As for the boxing?  Also some of the best, most realistic we’ve ever seen.  Part of that is because Wahlberg physically looked like a boxer, having trained for this role for several years to replicate not only Ward’s body but also his fighting style.  And apart from some real fight footage, director David O’Russell also did a fantastic job of imitating that slightly grainy TV feel and presentation, complete with authentic commentary.  Apparently a lot of the fight scenes were also punch-for-punch lifted from Ward’s real life bouts.  The action was therefore as close to real as we’ve ever seen on the big screen.

The only disappointment (not really a complaint) is that the film only followed Ward’s career up to a certain point in time, meaning that the epic Ward-Gatti trilogy become no more than a footnote.  A shame because it would have been fantastic to see them try and duplicate those amazing fights.  Perhaps we’ll have to wait for the Gatti biopic.

At the end of the day, in my humble opinion, The Fighter is better than Ali, better than Cinderella Man, better than The Hurricane, better than any of the Rocky movies (which were, let’s face it, not the greatest films).  I dare not throw Raging Bull into the equation because it’s considered an all-time great (regardless of genre) and Million Dollar Baby holds a special place in my heart — but The Fighter is the real deal.  Whether in terms of the boxing action or the drama or the performances, this one is right up there in the pantheon of boxing films.

4.5 stars out of 5!

The Fighter commences across Australia tomorrow


Movie Review: Public Enemies (2009)

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When my sister told me not to waste my money on Public Enemies (starring Johhny Depp and Christian Bale and directed by Michael Mann), calling it long and boring, I knew I had to go and watch it.  And I’m glad I did, because Public Enemies is an excellent movie.

The film centres around the true story of John Dillinger, back robber and public enemy no. 1 during the Great Depression.  Johnny Depp delivers a sensational performance in the lead role, full of quiet confidence and oozing the charisma that made Dillinger an iconic hero in the eyes of many.  You really have to hand it to Depp, who at 46 can still look cool with a dodgy 1930s haircut and a seedy mustache.  He makes Dillinger real and likable despite the fact that he’s really the bad guy.

On the other hand, Christan Bale puts in another low-key but steady performance as FBI agent Melvin Purvis, the man after Dillinger and the other bank robbers of the time.  You don’t really find out much about what Purvis is like as a person, but Bale does a solid job.

Academy Award winner Marion Collitard plays Dilinger’s girl, Billie Frechette.  About halfway through I thought the romance was the weakest part of the movie, but by the end I was convinced that it was an important and integral part of the film.  And Collitard really demonstrates her acting chops towards the end.

Those are the three lead characters, but I was shocked how many big names and familiar faces were in the cast.  Actors such as Billy Crudup, Giovanni Ribisi, David Wenham, Stephen Dorff, Channing Tatum, Leelee Sobieski, Emilie de Ravin, Lili Taylor and Shawn Hatosy pop in and out, but they all add to rather than distract from the film.  One the best casts I’ve seen in a major film.

Director Michael Mann has put together a stylish film which meticulously recreates the essence of the 1930s.  I don’t know how much of the film is fabricated, but it feels real – from the sets to the clothing and the cars and even the blazing guns.  The drama is engaging, the action is exciting, the chase is thrilling and the plot unpredictable.  At 2 hours and 23 minutes it is a pretty long film.  Personally I would have preferred it had they tightened some scenes to cut the running time by around 20 minutes, but overall it is a top notch film.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)

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I went to see Terminator Salvation with reasonable (albeit guarded) expectations, but the film absolutely exceeded them.  In my humble opinion, it’s the second best film (out of four) of the great Terminator franchise.  Bearing in mind that I thought Terminator 2: Judgment Day was one of the best action movies and sequels of all time, that’s a pretty big compliment for the new film directed by McG and starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington.

As per usual, I’ll keep plot details to an absolute minimum.  All that needs to be said is that the story revolves around a grown-up John Connor (Christian Bale, or Edward Furlong from T2 and Nick Stahl from T3).  If you’ve seen the previous 3 films or have a vague idea what they are about, then no further explanation is necessary.

However, you don’t need to have seen any of the previous Terminator films to appreciate this one.  It stands up well as an independent feature, and is significantly different in style to its predecessors.  It’s substantially more dark, grim and gritty, capturing the pessimistic mood of the world perfectly.  But when it comes to action sequences, of which Terminator Salvation has plenty, it doesn’t do too shabbily when judged under the high standards set by the franchise.

While I said the story revolves around John Connor, the movie really belongs to new character Markus Wright, played by Aussie Sam Worthington (who will be appearing in Avatar later this year and will play Perseus in the remake of Clash of the Titans).  Worthington is arguably the lead character of the film, and shares just as much as screen time as (if not more than) Bale – and he has the more interesting story.  This is the second time in a row Bale has been relegated to second fiddle despite being the supposed ‘lead character’ for a major film (the first, of course, is when Heath Ledger’s Joker upstaged his Batman in The Dark Knight).  Maybe that’s the real reason Bale went American Psycho on the set!

While Bale and Worthington hog most of the minutes, Anton Yelchin absolutely steals the show as a young Kyle Reese.  He is terrific in this role, and I have become a big fan.  Also solid is Moon Bloodgood, a Resistance soldier, and Jadagrace Berry, too cute for her own good.  Michael Ironside grunts his way through the film for his paycheck, but it is Bryce Dallas Howard that has the most thankless role as as Kate Connor.  She really got short changed.

When people hear a guy named McG directed the film (you may remember him from such films as Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), they cringe and refuse to give it a chance.  Poor guy, but that’s the nickname he was given from birth because too many relatives had the same names (real name: Joseph McGinty Nichol).  However, McG does a splendid job in Terminator Salvation, creating a realistic, believable world, keeping the action thrilling and dynamic (with creative camera angles and movements), while managing to add in some cool homages to the previous films.  I thought they were cool anyway.

The special effects were superb, but audiences don’t expect anything less than seamless these days.  Although there were some highly creative sequences, none of them were as iconic as those from T1 or T2.

I was surprised how relatively little fanfare accompanied the release of this movie, which was the first in the franchise without Governor Schwarzenegger in the lead.  I’m not sure if it was because I was hidden from the world during my studies, but to me, Terminator Salvation had none of the hype that surrounded the release of other recent major films such as Star Trek or Angels & Demons.  Of course, there was that infamous psychotic Christian Bale rant on set that made headlines all around the world, but I don’t believe it had anything to do with the unexpected low-keyness of it all.  Then again, that didn’t stop the early reviewers of the film from spoiling the many wonderful surprises in this underrated blockbuster (if you haven’t seen it yet, dear reader, then I hope you had more success than me in avoiding them).

Okay, now the verdict.  In my opinion, it’s better than a 4-star film, but not quite good enough to warrant 4.5 stars.  Hence, I will have to settle for 4.25 stars out of 5!