Catching up on the DVDs: ‘The Fighter,’ ‘Four Lions,’ and ‘127 Hours’

The Fighter

Since I have been busy and the site has been down the past two weeks, there is a lot more to be covered than  I am about to cover. But I promise to be more on top of it in the coming weeks. That includes my Breakouts column as well, and hopefully a new column or two… so, The Fighter.

I have never been an enormous fan of David O. Russell’s prior work; I found both Three Kings  and I Heart Huckabees to have  been films that looked better on paper than on the big screen. But before the release of the much hyped Mickey Ward flick, I checked out Russell’s origins as a filmmaker and discovered the phenomonal Spanking the Monkey. It immediately registered with me that here is a bold filmmaker that appears to have lost the drive that defined his initial effort. It looked like an unfortunate case of an indie hit director growing generic in the face of movie stars and studios. The Fighter didn’t come across as his saving grace from the trailers. But the trailers proved deceptive. What could have been a generic “aim for the Academy” blunder of true-story bullshit about a man winning against all odds (with boxing and crack involved to boot) turned out to be grounds for Russell to flare up behind the camera and breathe life into what otherwise might’ve been a stale film.

The story is of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Ward (Christian Bale), two brothers who both made it as professional boxers. Dicky, the older one, is down-and-out (and addicted to crack) when the film opens. Micky is desperately trying to make it into fights at his own weight-level. He is clearly more responsible than his brother, but not necessarily more intelligent. And Dicky, despite his shortcomings, is capable of being a good boxing coach. They are from the low ends of society and they live with their mother (Melissa Leo in her newly minted Oscar-winning role) and a mob of sisters. But their status in society is high. Everyone in their neighborhood views them as Gods as they walk down the street in the fantastic tracking shot that opens the film. Complications emerge when Micky starts dating a girl (Amy Adams) that the women of his family dislike.

This is not this year’s Blind Side. It tells a dark story of rivalry, poverty, hard drugs, and bad parenting. And it tells it as it is without the cleansing hollywood lense. This not a lifetime presentation. It is hard-to-watch, serious drama. Dicky is the source of most of this as he spends much of his time in a crackhouse. He has a young son with whom he is eventually separated when he is sent to jail. By now, all of you know that Christian Bale is the surprise tour-de-force of the film, so I won’t elaborate other than to give it my approval as well.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Wahlberg. I have always considered him to be one of the best working mainstream actors. And it is not that he has proven unworthy of my typical praise in this film, but his character is what keeps the film from being great. While it is a fascinating true story and though both Dicky and his mother compete for the viewer’s attention with wild eccentricity, the central protagonist is rather dull. The plain fact is that Micky Ward is not interesting enough to hold the film together. His world flies around him and he sits in quite indifference. This does not completely drag down the film. But it keeps it from going the extra mile.

The DVD is simplistic with only commentary and a single feature (that is rather uninformative). I also preferred the black and white, floating-head poster to the one they’ve opted with for the cover. I know some people like this image. But I don’t know. It feels… empty.

Overall, if you haven’t seen it, do just for the midway fight scene that Dicky listens to on the phone. I’m not sports guy myself, but that is an intense scene!

Four Lions

Sometimes you just don’t realize how far a joke can go. Sometimes humor can reach the point where the only safe reaction is to think “I can’t believe they actually went there!” Four Lions gets that far conceptually alone; individual moments of the film go even further. I am sure it has offended many and I’m sure that was the goal. But as for me, I loved it!

Four Lions is something like a sick combination between It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and This is Spinal Tap. It tells the story of an Islamic terrorist group in England that consists of four Pakistani Muslims and one British convert. The plot? After a neighbor sees their explosives they must move their equipment which sets off a series of events that leads them to target the London Marathon for their suicide bombing.

I do not care to elaborate in much more detail about the film suffice it to say that it is by far the funniest film of 2010 and includes such brilliant gags as trying to train crows to deliver bombs (you can imagine what happens), disguising oneself as a man riding an Ostrich, and accidentally blowing oneself up whilst tripping over a sheep. I quite literally did not stop laughing from first frame to last. Satire is a lost art in modern cinema that has been reinvigorated with one of the most controversial issues of today. Leave it to the brits to do comedy right!

The DVD is interesting in that the special features take the subject matter of the film rather seriosuly. There is the typical director and cast interview, but then there are also two features that deal with terrorism in a very raw manner. The first interviews a man convicted of being a terrorist in London; the second interviews American Islamic teenagers about their social relations. They feel almost out of place on the disc. But they are interesting. Perhaps for liability reasons…

The bottom line is that this is one of the great, underrated films of the last year. It deserves to be seen on a much larger scale than it is ever likely to. Do yourself a favor and see it!

127 Hours

One could certainly call Danny Boyle’s latest film, 127 Hours, the tackiest film of 2010. But it would be more accurate to call it the most creative or even innovative. It has two cinematographers who found every conceivable way to film the unfilmmable. And the creativity began even earlier than that. Boyle (taking his first screenwriting credit) and collaborator Simon Beaufoy find the essence of this basic morality by finding all the pieces of Aron Ralston. The story is simple on its surface level, man gets rock stuck on hand, cuts arm off. But it goes much deeper than that because it captures more than merely literal events. And the ideas behind the events make it one of the most powerful films of the past year.

Sorely snubbed for Best Cinematography (and oddly included for Best Adapted Screenplay), the film’s essential focus is on the visuals of beautiful Utah and dreamy hallucinations. Aron Ralston is our unfortunate protagonist who finds himself trapped between a rock a hard place (the title of his memoir) while hiking alone. The film is left to the narration and visual camcorder of recent Oscar host, James Franco who delivers the film with glorious charisma (that was oddly absent at the Oscar hosting performance).

I said the film is tacky, and indeed it is. Almost in a similar manner to 2009’s  500 Days of Summer, the film finds its greatest moments in finding visually clever ways to escape into Ralston’s head. Often images of the rocky clifface simply turn into memories. People walk in and out of his life, he interviews himself, he sees himself, he dreams of escape, and the camera shows from the water’s perspective, what it looks like to drink. Tacky. But clever and effective.

The expirience of seeing the film is about immersion. Getting dropped into the mindset of the rather optimistic Aron Ralston and sitting uncomfortably with him. I said in my original review that it was a rare film in which I appreciated the brevity. It was a film then new when to say goodbye, which is good because you can’t hold an audience in one place forever. But in repeat viewings, the creativity of how it goes about saying goodbye caught my attention. Apparently Boyle and Beaufoy struggled with this, actually shooting scenes where Ralston meets with various people in his life in reality. But none of this would’ve worked. They found something that did. They break the fourth wall so to speak. The real Ralston comes on screen and the film comes full circle to the opening credits, which shows athletic news footage.

I really loved this film, it broke my top ten and holds strong, if not quite so strong as the first viewing. The DVD is an unforunately bland release. However, with the blu-ray, special features are well-provided. It also is a film that translates well to hi-def with the digital filmmaking and double-cinematography. Although the film is worth viewing in either format.

Blu-Ray and Other Ventures

The releases in this category (considering how much I missed) are far to numerous to write about all-inclusively. So here is the sampling that I deem worthy of mention.  To begin, another one of my favorites from last year, Love and Other Drugs hit the shelves, although I have yet to take a look at its treatment. Faster (another generic addition to the Jason Statham collection) also came out, along with Jackass 3-D, Inside Job (the newly dubbed Best Documentary Oscar winner), and The Next Three Days.  The Cher musical Burlesque was trashy fun that didn’t offend me by its quality (as it did some) came out also. This week’s releases in include The Tourist, Yogi Bear, How Do You Know, and Skyline.

The best blu-ray additions appear to be Bambie, Our Hospitality, and Stand By Me. So there has been a bit of everything hitting the shelves this past month and the Oscar releases have started. It’s a good time to be buying DVDs.

FilmMisery Recommends:

The Oscar films are starting to hit the shelves. The past month has had plenty of great releases. Now is the time to be buying DVDs.

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  • Jose

    Four Lions sounds interesting, I’m definitely adding that to my list of movies to rent.

    Out of the other movies I’d definitely watch 127 Hours again (and it did receive an adaptive screenplay nomination) and as for Bambi, meh. Didn’t like it as a kid so I don’t think I’d like it know.

    Instead I went to the local Barnes & Nobles and got Pleasantville and the collector’s edition of Silence of the Lambs, which included a recipe book! How awesome was that!

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