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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Fighter

Oscars: What's next for the winners?

February 28, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Yourhighness They might have stood on the most prestigious stage in Hollywood on Sunday night. But this year’s Academy Award winners won’t necessarily be in Oscar mode when they next pop up on a movie screen.

Because they took jobs before the awards angel landed on their shoulders — or because they simply want to perform in  diverse roles — many of the winners will star in more commercial films than the ones that netted them their statuettes.

In April, Natalie Portman will appear in the (not exactly Oscar-like) stoner comedy “Your Highness" (and opposite Oscar co-host James Franco). Just a month later, she’ll star as a scientist in a Marvel superhero movie, "Thor," the new take on the Norse god. (She'll also appear in a supporting role in the independent drama “Hesher,” which is expected to get a limited release.)

After that? It could be a while before we see the pregnant actress on screen again; Portman said backstage at the Oscars on Sunday that she had no idea how impending motherhood would affect the roles she takes. “One of the exciting things about becoming pregnant is that I’m expecting a complete unknown,” she said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Candid quotes from the red carpet and beyond

Melissa Leo, the “Fighter” costar who provided the, er, most colorful moment of the Oscars during her acceptance speech for supporting actress, will next make more niche appearances on the big screen. She’ll play a gun-toting member of a homophobic cult in Kevin Smith’s “Red State,” which the filmmaker is self-distributing in October, and she’ll star in an independent golf dramedy titled “Seven Days in Utopia,” which does not yet have a theatrical distributor. (She also has a recurring role on HBO’s post-Katrina New Orleans-set series “Treme.”)

After years of romantic comedy roles leading up to his turn as George VI in “The King’s Speech,” lead actor winner Colin Firth is skewing a little bit more commercial than the film that landed him his statuette — but only a little bit.

The English actor will next be seen in the adaptation of John le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” a film he was shooting while promoting “The King’s Speech” this season. He plays a British intelligence officer (code name Tailor) suspected of being a Russian mole. The espionage drama, whose rights have just been acquired by Universal Pictures, does not yet have a release date.

 Firth this summer also aims to shoot Park Chan-Wook’s “Stoker,” a mystery drama that will put him in a film with another 2011 award-season personality, Nicole Kidman.

PHOTO GALLERY: Behind the scenes of the 2011 Academy Awards

And Christian Bale? He's spent the last part of his Oscar campaign in an artistically rigorous place: in China shooting a part as a heroic priest in the Asian period piece “The 13 Women of Nanjing." But blockbusters aren’t too far from the actor’s mind; Bale will reprise his superhero role in “The Dark Knight Rises,” which is scheduled for the summer of 2012.

“When I finish the movie in China,” he told reporters Sunday, “it’s straight to Batman. Much more Batman.”

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Natalie Portman, Danny McBride, center, and James Franco in "Your Highness." Credit: Universal


Oscars: Christian Bale gives best speech yet

February 27, 2011 |  6:43 pm

Yeah! I love it that Christian Bale won. One of those actors who is always provocative. Heartfelt, and a great shout-out to Micky Eklund, the recovering addict/boxer he played in "The Fighter." That he ended with a word for his wife, voice-breaking, best acceptance yet.

SAG and Globes had already weighed in saying he was the best. He's already created an incredible body of work, with "The Fighter" only the latest in what I hope will be a very long string.

--Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Christian Bale and his wife Sibi Blazic at the Oscars. Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP


Oscars: Melissa Leo wins supporting actress

February 27, 2011 |  6:05 pm

It was both poignant and heartening to see Kirk Douglas having a great time on stage, the stroke making the words a little tough, but the humor putting things over the top. Timing is everything, and he had it.

No surprise that Melissa Leo won. She's had a tidal wave lifting her into tonight, and the role was terrific. I loved her asking Douglas to pinch her. He obliged.

No one's going to debate this one. Emotion overtaking her, nice that we're getting our first bleep and real emotion.

Very cool.


Red carpet photos

Live blogging: The Oscars

Oscar scorecard

--Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Melissa Leo arrives at the Oscars. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times


Around Town: Oscar hopefuls, Charlie Chaplin and fine French cinema

February 3, 2011 |  5:00 am


With the Academy Awards just 3 1/2 weeks away, the various nominees are making their last big push for the Oscar. Take "The Fighter" director David O. Russell. Friday at the Cinefamily's Silent Movie Theatre, Russell and Alexander Payne will do a Q&A after a screening of Russell's 1996 comedy "Flirting with Disaster." Afterward, Payne's film "Citizen Ruth" will screen. On Saturday, Russell will appear at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre for a screening of "The Fighter," which is nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture and director. Russell will discuss the film with actor Mark Wahlberg.

Meanwhile, writer-director Christopher Nolan, whose "Inception" is nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture and original screenplay, will be on hand at the Egyptian on Friday evening for a screening of his first film, the edgy innovative 2001 noir "Memento," starring Guy Pearce.

Late in the afternoon on Saturday at the Egyptian, the Cinematheque will offer a free Oscar music composing seminar featuring contemporary musicians and others who will talk about music in film. http://www.cinefamily.org; http://www.americancinematheque.com

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Are Americans ready for dramas again?

January 10, 2011 |  8:00 am

This weekend marked a milestone at the box office. No, not beause it was the first time someone paid to see Nicolas Cage as a witch-transporting Crusader. It was a weekend that saw the fourth independent drama in this season of serious movies pass the $30 million mark in domestic box office.

That may not seem like a hugely noteworthy event. But the last time it happened, the world was quite a different place.  It was January 2008, and a quartet of dramas  ("No Country for Old Men," "Atonement," "There Will Be Blood" and "The Great Debaters") all achieved that same watermark of mainstream success. A few months later, the financial crisis would take root and the world would go bleak, and Americans don't like to see dramas when the world goes bleak. The mark wouldn't be reached again until this weekend.

The movie that got this year's group over the hump, "The King's Speech," is continuing to show surprising strength even as it approaches two months in release. Two others of the fab four, "Black Swan" and "The Fighter," are doing even better, maintaining momentum as they push well into mainstream-hit territory. (The fourth, "Tyler Perry's "For Colored Girls," has all but finished its run at a decent but more niche place.)

All this doesn't count the blockbuster-level success of a pair of tough dramatic sells, "True Grit" and "The Social Network," which were made by studios but traffic in difficult subjects and embody an auteur spirit.

We've been hearing for years why audiences don't want to see dramas when the economy is bleak and wars are being fought -- namely, things are tough enough without us being reminded of more toughness at a movie theater. It's why studios have all but stopped making dramas, and even independent producers have spent the past few years talking a lot more about genre films. ("The Fighter" and "Black Swan' had to pare their budgets considerably even to get made as independents.)

And yet both of those movies have turned into bona fide hits, far outperforming supposedly more commercial bets like "Burlesque" and "Saw 3D." Is the no-drama rule finally being broken?

It would be easy to point to a (slightly) brighter financial picture as a reason we're embracing darker material. And there is a correlation between up economies and down movies (and vice versa), though it's not as direct as you'd think. During the Great Depression, for instance, people turned out in great numbers to see not uplifting movies but mob movies; in a time when people feel powerless, there's  gratification that comes from watching those taking matters into their own hands. Besides, given everything from a polarized electorate to the events in Tuscon over the weekend, it's not like these are days of rainbows and unicorns.

Some might say this year's movies are simply that strong, and strong movies can never be denied. But it's not as though "The Hurt Locker" -- another difficult movie, but one that few people came out to see last year -- was any slouch.

There may, however, be something more specific going on with these films. The three movies powering the trend deal with drug addiction, mental imbalance and the rise of Hitler. Not light subjects. But they also take place in worlds most of us don't have much  familiarity with. Unless you're an under-duress ballerina, a washed-up boxer or a speech-challenged duke, the content of these films won't hit very close to home. (Contrast these movies with "Rabbit Hole," a drama that deals with the far more relatable topic of death and family crisis; that film hasn't even reached $1 million in box office.)

There's also something weirdly triumphant about the dynamic trio -- all of them are, in their way, underdog stories, and give characters and audiences a happy ending  (yes, even "Swan," though exactly how happy is a matter of debate).

It may well be that, after a few years of saying no, we're finally ready for some drama. Or it may simply be that filmmakers have finally figured out a more palatable way to serve it to us.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: 'The King's Speech.' Credit: The Weinstein Company


'The Fighter' sisters, Round 2

December 21, 2010 |  6:24 pm

Quigg One woman we didn't spotlight in our look at the sisters from "The Fighter" today is Jill Quigg. We weren't able to track her down, and it turns out there's a reason for that -- Quigg was arrested in October and charged with breaking and entering, larceny and and wanton destruction of property. (She was since released and is awaiting a court date.)
Quigg, a native of Quincy, Mass., was literally plucked off the streets of her hometown and cast in "Gone Baby Gone," in which her manner of speaking served as a template for Amy Ryan's Boston accent. Quigg followed it up with another working-class Boston role, that of Donna Eklund Jaynes in "The Fighter." (No memorable lines to speak of, but she does throw a punch at Amy Adams' character.)

Quigg in the past has been in a rehab facility and has battled drug dependency, which offers an eerie echo to Christian Bale's crack-addicted Dicky Eklund.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jill Quigg, in a handout photo from the Quincy, Mass., police department.  Credit: Associated Press

Just who are the sisters in 'The Fighter'?

December 21, 2010 |  8:57 am


Almost everyone who's seen "The Fighter" has come out talking about "the sisters," the six (or is it seven?) big-haired, loud-talking, punch-throwing Irish American siblings to Mark Wahlberg's Micky Ward and Christian Bale's Dicky Eklund. They have nicknames as colorful as their hairstyles -- Tar, Pork, Beaver -- and, in the movie as in real life, are fiercely protective of their brothers while serving as a comedic Greek chorus.

But who in the name of Conan O'Brien are the women who play them?

Someone named O'Brien, for one, who -- oh yes -- also happens to be Conan O'Brien's real-life sister, Kate, as well as other fledgling actors as endearingly salt-of-the-earth as the people they portray.

While several of the performers live in Los Angeles and have some acting experience, the majority are small-town Massachusetts locals who came through the front door -- literally, by answering a casting call that sought "boxers, crack addicts and little Cambodian men," as Erica McDermott, who plays Tar, puts it.

They had hoped to land jobs as extras. But among the 3,000 people who showed up at the Lowell, Mass., casting call, they wound up with key roles in the film. "The casting director was going around the casting call saying, 'You're too pretty,' and 'You're too pretty.' So I got up in her face and said, 'You think I'm too pretty?' " said McDermott. And then, by way of explanation, she adds, "Because in my acting class they said you have to take a risk."

A stay-at-home mom who had been contemplating a return to a nursing career, McDermott's previous acting claim to fame, she says proudly, was a performance in a community theater production called "Mommylogues," which she took on after a few weeks of acting classes.

Her fellow "Fighter" sister,  Melissa McMeekin, wasn't much more experienced. She too went to the casting call on a lark --- "I was going to turn around when I saw how many people were there, but my Mom had to pee and she made me go inside" -- and was surprised that she was called back. Then she was called back again. And again. It culminated for her, as it did all the women, in a four-hour audition in which famously exacting  director David O. Russell had the finalists improvise their parts.

"I still didn't think I'd get it, but it was a chance to meet a big Hollywood director and how cool is that?" McMeekin said, adding that she drew from her own life in scenes like the one in which all the sisters crowd into the kitchen to express their opinions. "I come from a big Irish family, and you gotta get in there to get your words heard. I love my family. But, you know, they're big and Irish."

For Bianca Hunter, who plays Pork, the movie was a chance to revisit the acting career she barely had and had long forgotten. More than a decade before, Hunter had a few bit parts in some independent movies -- she holds a bizarre distinction in the history of cinema as the girl who simulated oral sex on Harvey Keitel's character in a famous scene from 1992's "Bad Lieutenant" -- but left behind acting in the late 1990s to raise her three children.

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Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: 'The Fighter'

December 15, 2010 |  4:30 pm

Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter With a brother and seven sisters like these, a bruiser of a mom and a girlfriend who doesn’t walk away from a smackdown, there’s a reason that Mark Wahlberg’s boxer, Micky Ward, is the quiet one.

Few words, it’s true, but what a force Wahlberg is in filmmaker David O. Russell’s excellent cut at fighting and family and fighting families in “The Fighter," which has turned into a serious contender in this year's award race.

The rounds in the ring are brutal, but the real action is outside. Christian Bale, as Micky’s older brother, a failed fighter turned crack addict; Melissa Leo as Micky’s tough manager first, mom second; the seven sisters chiming in like the harpies from hell, are technically all in Micky’s corner.

Leo is hard as the acrylic nails she’s sporting, and Bale is terrifyingly funny as a gaunt-twitchy Dicky who can never quite get beyond his tendency to hit below the belt, even with his own brother. Amy Adams is terrific playing against type as the tough chick in love with Micky, willing to face down the family.

But none of it would work without Wahlberg’s quiet center — he is the eye of this hurricane. With all those flailing fists around him, Wahlberg lands the one punch that makes the difference. It's a knockout.

— Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Mark Wahlberg plays Micky Ward in "The Fighter." Credit: Jojo Whilden.

Critical Mass: 'The Fighter'

December 10, 2010 |  5:04 pm


What would Oscar season be without a boxing movie? In 1976, there was "Rocky," a best picture winner. In 1980, there was "Raging Bull," which topped multiple critics' lists that year. In 2001, there was "Ali," a bit of a disappointment. But then in 2004, we got "Million Dollar Baby," which went on to win the award for best picture.

This year, we have "The Fighter," director David O. Russell's third collaboration with star Mark Wahlberg and the first time the director has made a film not based on his own script. And though those who have only seen the trailer may wail, "Another boxing movie?," the critics are nearly  unanimous in their assurances that this one is worth seeing.

Take The Times' own Kenneth Turan, for instance. His distaste for some of the colorful characters in the life of "Irish" Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) left him initially thinking this would be another turkey. But by the final bell his mind had been changed. He cautions would-be viewers, "the film is developing strong reasons for doing things this off-putting way but it makes for heavy going in the early days."

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Mark Wahlberg and David O. Russell's odd coupling

December 5, 2010 | 10:40 am

Forget Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. Mark Wahlberg and David O. Russell, the actor-director pair who will soon team up on (the apparently controversial) "Drake's Fortune," may be the oddest professional couple in show business.

Wahlberg is a former street kid, underwear model and teenybopper sensation. Russell is the quirky intellectual, the fussy auteur, the master of dark comedy. (And as Lily Tomlin could tell you, not always the smoothest handler of actors.)

Yet somehow Wahlberg and Russell have found alchemy. After teaming up on "I Heart Huckabees" and "Three Kings," they join forces for the third time in the upcoming underdog-boxer story "The Fighter," a movie that takes its cues from ring films such as "The Set-Up" and "Rocky" yet is also smart and nimble enough to know when to depart from them.

In a story in today's Los Angeles Times, we sit down with Wahlberg and Russell to talk about what it is that makes the two click. Among the reasons we observed: Wahlberg likes basking in Russell's haute-cinema glow, and the director appreciates the everyman cred that a Mark Wahlberg lends you. When the two were researching a scene in a prison, Wahlberg insisted that the two walk into the state penitentiary and talk to inmates about changing their lives even as those inmates taunted the actor and director from behind bars.

There's symbiosis in other ways: The actor, for instance, says he has helped Russell get over his self-confessed commitment issues. Wahlberg recalls that before they started shooting "Huckabees," Russell would "have four or five different ideas. And he'd call me and say, 'We're going to do this. No, wait, we're going to do that.' And I'd say to him, 'Let's go, dude. At this pace you're going to make six movies in your entire career.'"

The director says he's now getting over those commitment issues. "I feel that I see things much more clearly. I don't turn over an idea as I once would," he said, adding: "Ideas are not a problem for me. But I realize now you have to pick up one to throw down with."

Photo: David Russell, left, Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale on the set of "The Fighter." Credit: Jojo Wilden


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