The Fighter

Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in The Fighter

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

28 June

 

Mike Tyson bites Evander Holyfield’s ear, 1997

On this day in 1997, during a boxing match for the WBA Heavyweight Championship title, one of the fighters, “Iron” Mike Tyson, bit off a chunk of the ear of his opponent, Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield. The fight was a rematch, after Holyfield had knocked out Tyson in the 11th round seven months earlier, to take the title. Billed as “The Sound and the Fury”, the fight took place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, and right from the start Tyson was complaining to referee Mills Lane about Holyfield headbutting him, which he’d also complained about at their original match. Holyfield took the first two rounds, though head-butted Tyson halfway through the second (unintentionally, he said; the referee agreed). Tyson came out of his corner for the third round without a mouthguard and was ordered by Lane to put it in. He did so, but when Holyfield got him in a clinch, Tyson responded by biting off a chunk of his right ear and spitting it onto the ground. In spite of Holyfield’s protestations, the fight was resumed, whereupon Tyson bit Holyfield’s left ear. At the end of the round, Mills Lane spotted the bite mark to Holyfield’s left ear and disqualified Tyson.

 

 

 

The Fighter (2010, dir: David O Russell)

Who is the fighter in The Fighter? The obvious answer is Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) a dumb-as-toast boxer being coached towards a big fight by his brother Dicky (Christian Bale) who himself had a go in the ring before blowing out back in the 1980s. But watch “Irish” Micky – entirely passive, withdrawn, deferring to anybody who’s asking, in thrall to his mother and sisters, but especially to Dicky, a twitching ball of ADHD, rictus-mouthed, not a bad man but certainly someone you wouldn’t want to be around for too long. Bale won the Oscar for his performance, for supporting actor, which shows that the Academy fell for director David O Russell’s (and his screenwriters’) feint too. Because the fighter, obviously, is Dicky and the lead in this film is Bale, not Wahlberg. Everyone in the cast knows it. Including Wahlberg who not once makes a bid for glory or the spotlight in his beautifully controlled performance (in a fair world he would have won the supporting Oscar). In fact, in The Fighter, every single person is fighting, except for Micky, the actual pugilist, who is cossetted and primped, stroked like a Kobe bull, walked like the lump of meat he is up to the ring, where he finally does his bit of jabbing, is then led away, has his gloves delaced and returns to his life of dumb torpor.
Even Charlene (Amy Adams), the bright spark who wanders into Micky’s life and drives an emotional wedge into the family – she’s upset their careful schedules – has to fight for her man. And, in fighting for him, she wins the grudging respect of this dim-bulb family of hard knocks operating at the shitty end of the boxing game. This family is David O Russell’s great achievement – the Greek chorus of sisters who spend the early rounds of their bout with Charlene shouting “skank” at her. Melissa Leo as the mother, all leopard skin tops, bottle blonde hair, cigarettes and a mouth that could release seized wheelnuts. She’s quite brilliant (her Oscar entirely deserved).
How many boxing films have there been? People have been turning them out since the 1890s – two actors, lots of action, a winner and a loser, an easily controlled environment, you can see the attraction. And cheap. But David O Russell has come up with a new spin on the old formula, by pointing out that a man is only as good as his team. If the team fights for him, he stands a chance. If it doesn’t, he’s yesterday’s papers. Without that novel approach this would be just another boxing film – the Rocky training sequences, the “couldabeenacontenda” speeches, the dope on the rope finish. With it, it’s something entirely different. This is the film that atoned for I Heart Huckabees, Russell’s wacky flop of six years earlier. It marked his comeback – Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle followed – and proved he was something of a fighter himself.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Full of great performances: Bale, Wahlberg, Leo, Adams
  • A boxing movie with a difference
  • The punchy, funny screenplay
  • The distinctive cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let the Right One In, Her, Interstellar)

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

The Fighter – Watch it now at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Boogie Nights

Mark Wahlberg and Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

30 December

 

 

Jeff Lynne born, 1947

On this day in 1947, Jeffrey Lynne was born in Birmingham, UK. Jeff was an early starter and by the age of 16 had formed a band in Birmingham, called first The Hellcats, then The Handicaps, and finally The Andicaps. By 18 he had learnt the rudiments of the studio recording process after buying a Bang & Olufsen BeoCord 2000 reel to reel tape machine, and joined a band called The Nightriders, who changed their name to The Idle Race. In 1970 he joined The Move, at the invitation of former Nightriders/Idle Race member Roy Wood. Together with guitarist/singer Wood, and drummer Bev Bevan, also of The Move, Lynne formed The Electric Light Orchestra, a rock/classical hybrid band designed to function in tandem with The Move. In fact the ELO almost immediately replaced The Move, both in the affections of the founders, and musically. Both Lynne and Wood were multi-instrumentalists adept at studio production and both saw themselves as frontmen. By 1972 – in a clear case of “too many chiefs” – Wood had left, leading to Lynne taking full creative control of ELO. Lynne tempered the rockier edge of the band over time, and ELO became a pop band with an increasingly complex studio sound. ELO became one of the most successful bands of the 1970s, though they were never regarded as cool by music papers such as the New Musical Express. During the 1980s the band’s popularity began to wane and Lynne moved into producing, including for George Harrison on his album Cloud Nine, much of which was co-written by Lynne. This led to the formation of The Traveling Wilburys, with Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. In the 1990s Lynne produced the Anthology albums for the surviving Beatles. Since then he has produced and written for Tom Jones, Aerosmith, Regina Spektor and Joe Walsh.

 

 

 

Boogie Nights (1997, dir: Paul Thomas Anderson)

Is Boogie Nights Paul Thomas Anderson’s best movie? Yes, he’s hit high notes since, with There Will Be Blood for instance, but Boogie Nights seems to have it all. And by “it all” I don’t just mean Heather Graham naked – at one point nearly every film seemed to feature Heather Graham naked. A souped-up version of his 1988 half-hour film The Dirk Diggler Story, it tells the story of the smalltown boy with a big asset in the trouser area, who becomes a porn star in its last golden age, when films were shot on real film, and had storylines. OK, so the storylines were as scant as Graham’s outfits but hey… Anderson conjures the period brilliantly and seems to make absolutely no wrong turns at all. Casting Mark Wahlberg, then still better known as Marky Marky of Calvin Klein underwear fame, was as brilliant as getting old Burt Reynolds to turn up and remind us what a real shit-eating grin looks like. Playing Jack Horner, Reynolds is folksy perfection as a porn producer who has borrowed half of Colonel Sanders’ finger-lickin’ shtick and gathered around him a surrogate family of performers, technicians, hangers-on, dealers, schemers, but not many friends. Boogie Nights is about the business of making porn, the production-line process of it, the people it sucks in and spits out, how the smart ones treat it as a job and how the dim ones are beguiled by it and ruined. Wahlberg, as Dirk Diggler, tightropes along that dividing line all the way through, surrounded by characters such as new best friend Reed (John C Reilly), sad-eyed assistant director Bill (William H Macy) and mother figure Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) who are all also negotiating the sticky path. The music of ELO fits the bill perfectly – bouncy, a touch of cheese – alongside a great clutch of poptastic tunes that dial us back to the late 1970s (Boney M, Andrew Gold, Hot Chocolate among them). Meanwhile Anderson’s camera also takes us back in time, in scenes that recall the roaming camera and complex long tracking shots of Robert Altman or Martin Scorsese. A film about the 1970s made in the style of the masters of the 1970s, with a big cast of well defined characters all with their own story arcs, that’s not easy. Following on from Hard Eight, PT Anderson’s mood piece about gamblers and other dwellers on the periphery, Boogie Nights announces the arrival in town of a new master.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Wahlberg’s breakthrough
  • Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film
  • A cast including Anderson regulars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Baker Hall, Alfred Molina
  • Robert Elswit’s cinematography

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Boogie Nights – at Amazon