Directed by the notoriously temperamental David O Russell (Three Kings, Spanking The Monkey) The Fighter (Momentum) is a biographical boxing drama that focuses on the life and times of struggling professional boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a disgraced former prize-fighter, now mired in crack addiction.
Ward is an Irish-American welterweight from a sprawling working class family in Lowell, Massachusetts. Mis-managed by his well-intentioned mother, Alice (Melissa Leo, Frozen River), and trained by his unreliable half-brother, Dicky -when he can tear himself away from his crack-house -Ward’s career is going nowhere fast.
Known on the local circuit as a ‘stepping-stone’ for aspirant boxers to defeat en route to the big-time, Ward is in danger of being overshadowed by the former glories of his older brother -whose solitary claim to fame involved knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard in a televised match several years earlier. Even worse, the delusional Dicky is now being filmed by a HBO film crew who are making a documentary about crack addiction –there are centers that treat crack addiction -despite convincing himself that the film is a prelude to his ‘comeback’.
Russell is well-known for attempting to unsettle his actors with extreme provocation -he had a fist-fight with mild-mannered George Clooney on the set of Three Kings, and got caught hurling obscenities at Lily Tomlin while shooting I Heart Huckabees -and it is frankly remarkable that he managed to make a movie with the combustible Christian Bale, who isn’t exactly a shrinking violet when it comes to expressing his on-set opinion. Although Bale has a propensity towards scenery-chewing in his Best Supporting Actor-winning turn, Wahlberg’s deadpan demeanour counterbalances Bale’s exuberance, and the duo prove to be a winning combination throughout. ‘Irish’ Micky Ward may have been a welterweight, but The Fighter is a heavyweight piece of movie-making that is every bit as good as the plaudits suggest. Highly recommended.
Ghosted (Revolver) is a gritty British prison movie in which aging lag Jack (John Lynch, In the Name of the Father) attempts to atone for his previous mistakes by protecting Paul (Martin Compston, The Disappearance of Alice Creed) -a naÃ¯ve young convict -from the advances of psychotic cellblock ‘Daddy’ Clay (Craig Parkinson, Misfits).
For all intents and purposes Jack is a model prisoner, keeping his head down and serving his time until he can be reunited with his wife. However, on the anniversary of his young son’s death, Jack’s wife abruptly ends their marriage, pushing the convict close to the brink. Seeking salvation, Jack commits himself to protecting the vulnerable Paul, a teenage arsonist thrown into a violent adult prison, at the mercy of hoodlums and predators like Clay.
While Ghosted’s underlying premise may not win too many prizes for originality, first-time director Craig Viveiros imbues the low-budget drama with enough fresh ideas to make it stand out from the crowd, and the self-assured narrative curve has enough tricks up its sleeve to keep viewers on their toes. Bleak and brutal, Ghosted is chock full of impressive performances -not least from the craggy Lynch and the increasingly impressive Parkinson. All in all, an impressively composed debut feature that simmers with tension and glowers with a level of menace rarely witnessed in Brit-flicks. Uncompromising stuff.
Siren (Matchbox Films) is the feature film debut from Canadian art director Andrew Hull, who sadly died before his movie saw release. The film follows arrogant playboy Ken (Eion Macken, Merlin) and his girlfriend Rachel (Anna Skellern, The Descent Part 2) as they embark on a sun-kissed sailing weekend off Tunisia’s Mediterranean coast, alongside Rachel’s old flame Marco (newcomer Anthony Jabre).
Tensions between the trio are already rife when Marco runs the boat aground trying to rescue a ragged castaway. After allowing the dishevelled man onboard he begins ranting incoherently and bleeding from his ears, dying soon thereafter. Concerned at the possible implications of three Brits being discovered with the corpse of a local man on their boat, the trio decide to take his body to a nearby island for a surreptitious burial -only to get far more than they bargained for.
On the island they discover another castaway, a beautiful but disturbed young woman named Silka (Tereza Srbova, Eastern Promises), whose reluctance to offer any clues as to her identity frustrates and intrigues the Brits in equal measure. It isn’t long before all three newcomers fall under Silka’s spell, and Ken and Marco’s growing sexual frustration manifests itself in the form of feverish hallucinations and extreme paranoia. As the tension reaches boiling point it becomes clear that Silka’s seduction techniques aren’t merely sexual, and there are sinister forces at work.
Visually striking -not least the film’s sultry opening sequence -Siren is a great idea, let down by a variety of curiously uncharismatic performances from the three leads (Srbova excepted). The hypnotic use of the LA indie band Warpaint’s song Elephants, as a recurring musical motif, is another neat touch, but Siren is too uneven to rank as essential viewing. Overall: an intriguing, provocative but ultimately flawed movie.
Season of the Witch (Momentum) is a mind-boggling historical thriller starring the inimitable Nicolas Cage as Behman von Bleiruck, a Teutonic Knight whose tormented conscience compels him to return home from the Crusades and renounce the bloodshed.
Unfortunately for Behman, his homeland has been decimated by the Black Death, and the intrepid warrior finds himself pressed back into active service by the church elders -led by Cardinal D’Ambroise (Christopher Lee). The grossly disfigured Cardinal is convinced that the plague is the work of a young girl (Claire Foy) -who is accused of being a witch -and commands Behman and his trusty sidekick Felson (Ron Perlman) to escort the sinister youngster to a remote monastery where the monks will perform an ancient ritual which will hopefully rid the country of her demonic curse.
With a supporting cast numbering B-movie veteran Perlman (Hellboy), Robert Sheehan (Misfits) and Stephen Graham (This Is England), Season of the Witch has top-drawer credentials, but its creaky script and stodgy plotting does the illustrious cast few favours, and it is easy to see why the script languished on the shelf for a decade. Like an unholy fusion of Robin Hood -Prince of Thieves and Babylon AD, Season of the Witch is far too clunky to take seriously.
In recent years Cage has lurched from dubious project to dubious project, notching up a trail of mis-fires such as Next, Bangkok Dangerous and Knowing -all of which sounded promising on paper, only to implode under the weight of Cage’s chronic tendency to overact. In essence, Season of Witch is merely another example of Cage’s bizarre teenager-like fascination with naff projects. If you are as drunk as Cage was during his recent arrest in New Orleans (Google the mug-shot for a cheap laugh), then Season of the Witch might hit the spot, otherwise it’s probably best to avoid it like the plague