Off to a good start with the hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, inserted into scenes from several of the Oscar nominees, on an Inception theme. The writing is funny and their performances sparkle – but mostly, the writing is funny. Best gag: Morgan Freeman narrating Alec Baldwin’s dream. Then Franco and Hathaway opened up with a decent opening banter poking fun at themselves as tools to attract a young
Tag: Dicky Eklund
Melissa Leo is, without question, an unrecognizable wonder as Alice Ward in The Fighter – a teased and acid-washed Lowell, Mass. version of the Spartan mother in a film performance that promises all kinds of honors in the coming year.
Known to fans for recurring TV roles on Homicide Life on the Street and Treme and her astonishing lead role in the film Frozen River, Leo completes my own recent triumvirate of women actors (joining Patricia Clarkson http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-doyle-palmer-/patricia-clarkson—a-sta_b_716692.html and Amy Ryan
who are so fiercely intelligent that you have that “oh good, she’s in this” feeling when you see them on screen.
She says, however, that’s not so.
“It’s my biggest secret,” she told me in a recent interview, ” I’m a smart cookie but I have a low intelligence.” She went on to explain that she didn’t complete 8th grade and finally received a GED from the state of Vermont with the “lowest possible passing grade” in math, which she got by drawing random patterns into the answer sheet. She says that’s why she loved playing Detective Kay Howard on Homicide. “Being intellectual is my delight in a character…I have other capabilities – the other kind of intelligence that’s been discovered in more recent years, what’s now called EQ.” Which I guess makes her an emotional genius.
She’s more confident about her acting ability. “You hold your own,” she says, when asked about working with co-stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Mark Wahlberg. “I suppose I can understand getting intimidated or anxious working with greatness but I love it…. it’s that thing when acting is not necessarily what’s going on between people, you’re actually believing what you’re doing is real.”
Playing the real-life mother of boxers Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward (along with seven of the most entertaining daughters in cinematic history) was a first for Leo, “I’ve never played a living, breathing person before,” she says. “And I did not waltz into the role.” Between painstaking efforts to match the iconic ’80s clothes, hairstyle and makeup along with extensive research and spending time with Alice Ward, she finally made the transformation – people thought she was Alice. “I realized I could do it and believed it when I walked out of the trailer there and the whole freaking town of Lowell believed it.”
Leo admires Ward and says the portrayal in the film doesn’t do justice to this mother’s devotion to her sons. “She dressed in white when she went to the fights because it would show up on TV,” says Leo, “Bless her heart, she wanted to make something out of those boys and it’s a mean-ass game. I admire her so much.”
Her take on how Alice handles her son’s meth addiction is singularly tolerant. “Show me the human who is without addiction in the world today,” she says, “It’s so beautiful how David (director David O. Russell) depicts Dicky’s problem with meth and does not judge it. Alice understands better than anybody why the boy would go smoke meth – he’s from a long line of Irish…she’s upset with him because he’s keeping it from her. She can’t have a family if that kid is sneaking on her.”
Boxing was also new to Leo.”I don’t watch sports at all. I have all sorts of feelings about fanaticism and sports, but boxing? I learned it’s truly a heroic sport full of skill and strategy. There’s a serious level of usury in that industry – I whine about it in acting but those guys kill and have been killed on purpose.”
She’s a big fan of the real Dicky Eklund. “With all the abuse to his body, he’s one of the most inspiring and charismatic cats I’ve ever met,” she says and calls Christian Bale, who channels Eckland in a similarly amped and admirable performance, “a perfect match as a genius, a dedicated actor and a beautiful human being.”
Leo, who has a 23-year-old son, Jack, from a relationship with actor John Heard, says her own maternal instincts were incidental to the role in The Fighter. “Jack is my life – he’s the best thing I ever did but I’m very careful I don’t use him the way I use other experiences in my life. I have the experience of being a mother to fold into the mix, but far more important is who the mother is that the script writer wrote.”
Reviews consistently praise Leo’s standout performance and her recent Golden Globe nomination may finally bring A-list celebrity to, as one critic put it, “One of American’s most under-rated character actresses”
Leo is skeptical about that. “I was at my mother’s nursing home today and one of the nurse’s there asked ‘what do you think about being famous’ and I had to tell her I’m not really famous…when I’m at the airport I walk right by the paparazzi when they’re looking for celebrities.”
She adds, however, that, “Fame can get you work and the more fame the more interesting the work. But I’m grateful that I’m not having that shape me now. I’m too old to get shaped.”
Something we are all grateful for.
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David O. Russell is on the phone, eager to talk about The Fighter, a movie whose unexpected dash to the top is not all that dissimilar from the story it tells.
Which means that Russell and his cast – Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo – find themselves thrust into the year-end awards race. Dark horses in November, the film and Russell – along with Adams, Bale and Leo – suddenly are considered Oscar contenders, having won critics’ awards and multiple nominations for the Golden Globes.
“The fact that people are connecting to it is what means the most to us,” Russell, 52, says.
Set in the early 1990s in the depressed town of Lowell, Mass., The Fighter tells the true story of a pair of brothers: “Irish” Micky Ward (Wahlberg), a boxer with potential but only a so-so record, and Dicky Eklund (Bale), his brother, a former boxer who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard and who now serves as Micky’s trainer. But Dicky and Micky’s mother, Alice (Leo), have fumbled Micky’s career management – and the fact that Dicky is a crack addict, something no one in the family wants to address, isn’t helping.
In real life, Eklund was the subject of an HBO documentary on the dire effects of the crack epidemic of the early 1990s, a fact that brought shame to the town of Lowell. It’s an element of Russell’s film as well, in which Bale’s hot-wired Dicky believes the film crew is making a movie about his comeback.
“Dicky was the most famous thing about Lowell for a long time,” Russell says. “The town was known for Bette Davis, Ed McMahon, Jack Kerouac – and then Dicky. The town had a scar from that HBO film. Now it’s got ‘The Fighter.’
“The family was the pride of Lowell until the HBO thing. Then people said, ‘You’re killing us.’ Now we’re able to follow the story in a fuller circle.”
When Russell took over The Fighter, he reworked the script. While the story had certain elements of the boxing genre, Russell knew he could move beyond clichs to find something deeper.
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I’m not a boxing fan and have rarely looked at or listened to fights. I’ve never understood the fascination in watching grown men pummel themselves to a bloody pulp and sometimes death. However, when it’s part of a good story my heart races as I join the cheering crowds and root for my champion to bash the other guy’s head and slam his fists into the opponent’s chest until he collapses to the floor.
That’s how I felt encountering Rocky many years ago, and the experience was matched at an industry screening of The Fighter at the Directors Guild last night. The scenarios are a bit different in that The Fighter, directed by David O. Russell, is based on a true story, and it is that element which makes this a cut above. More so, the fact that I’d never heard of the main character, Micky Ward, a lightweight welterweight boxer from the Boston area, played terrifically by Mark Wahlberg, and so I had no idea whether he’d win the climactic fight. After all, Rocky didn’t the first time around so I won’t spoil the outcome for those of you who have yet to see the film.
Though The Fighter has been nominated for a number of awards in the first series of competitions this year, the heavy money seems to be on The Social Network and The King’s Speech. I’ve not yet seen the latter, but I have viewed The Social Network, and while I found it intriguing and quite interesting in many parts, to my mind it doesn’t match the non-stopping tempo and tension of The Fighter. Nor is the dialogue as good. Aaron Sorkin is overrated in my book and was so on NBC’s The West Wing, where, as in his screenplay, he wrote deft and extraordinarily articulate speeches that for the most part don’t ring true as something a real person would say.
An example I would cite is the oft-shown clip wherein Facebook tycoon Mark Zuckerberg’s character rips apart the Winklevoss twins who sue him for stealing their idea, and then Zuckerberg condescendingly dismisses their lawyer who tries to pin him down in a deposition. His unflinching command of language without the appearance of any thought seemed about as realistic as trying to write a script straight on without stopping to cross something out or do any editing at all.
By contrast, the frenetic style of The Fighter with a screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, story by Tamasy, Johnson and Keith Dorrington is so authentic in its depiction of the main struggle — not the boxing bouts, but the internecine struggles and often open warfare among the members of Micky Ward’s immediate family.
And this is where the movie soars, chiefly and from the beginning with the performance of Christian Bale as Micky’s older brother, Dicky Eklund, an incredibly annoying and thoughtless washed up drug addict of a fighter who has been serving as Micky’s trainer. Matching Bale in his brilliant interactions is the wonderful Melissa Leo, so moving in her Oscar-nominated performance in 2008′s Frozen River. Leo plays Bale and Wahlberg’s mother, Alice Ward, who believe it or not is also Micky’s chain smoking boxing manager. Her vile personality and poor mothering skills to Micky, Dickey and her seven (that’s right, seven) daughters takes the word dysfunctional to new depths.
It’s hard to imagine that Christian Bale and Melissa Leo will not get Oscar nominations for their roles here, because their riveting portrayals counterpointed by Mark Wahlberg’s much too reasonable and overly (in my book) loyal attention to his family, are all Academy Award worthy. Especially Christian Bale, a former child actor in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, who has slowly emerged in the past twenty-three years through a series of interesting character roles into a magnetic star who commands the screen as Batman, yet can lose a lot of weight and tone down his handsome looks to play a pathetic loser, who nonetheless fascinates us whenever he’s on the screen.
Plus, you’ve gotta remember the guy’s from the U.K. and rarely plays one anymore, so convincingly does he suck us into his working class New England world.
Other winning performances are delivered by Amy Adams as Micky Ward’s girlfriend, Charlene, and Jack McGee as Micky’s long suffering father, George, forever hounded and humiliated by his wife Alice.
With a few more films to see I won’t yet commit that The Fighter is at the top of the heap this year, but it’s one of the best with towering performances. Trust me, you won’t fall asleep.
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