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Bill Ewald's take on pop culture.

Friday, June 24, 2011


“Inception,” out on DVD for quite a while now, must be seen in a movie theater or IMAX to experience all of its special effects. The movie is based on the idea of sharing dream space and accessing another person’s unconscious mind to manipulate the dream and eventually creating a dream within a dream within a dream. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a corporate spy who uses dreams to extract valuable information or implant misinformation. His dead wife is played by Marion Cotillard who is still “living” deep within the third dream. Despite all of this mumbo-jumbo, the two principal actors -- through their body language and facial expressions -- suggest a love story similar to the classic Greek myth Orphus and Euridice.

Added attraction: Cotillard won an Academy Award for her performance as French singer Edith Piaf in the 2007 film “La Vie en Rose,” where she performed Piaf’s songs. Piaf’s recording, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” is heard throughout “Inception” and during its credits.
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Natalie Portman deserves two Academy Awards for her performance in “Black Swan,” one for acting and the other for her dancing.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Robert DiNero and Jake LaMotta
OK, so who do you think is the toughest actor who played a fighter in a boxing movie?
Is it Mark Wahlberg who spent four years preparing his role as welterweight boxer Micky “Irish” Ward in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” recently released on DVD?
Or is it Robert DiNero who won an Academy Award playing Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull” directed by Martin Scorsese?
How about John Wayne or Victor McLauglin, who fought in “The Quiet Man”?
Kirk Douglas gave a realistic portrayal of a fictional fighter in “The Champion” directed by Mark Robson.
Or it could be Robert Ryan, who played a washed-up boxer in “The Set-up” directed by Robert Wise.

In “The Fighter,” Christian Bale won an Academy Award as Ward’s older brother Dicky Eklund, who was also a pretty good boxer until he succumbed to drugs.
Wahlberg liked Ward’s story because it was like a real-life “Rocky. Ward had an ups-and-downs boxing career, mostly downs until he scored an upset victory over She Neary in 2000 for the light welterweight title.
Reportedly, Wahlberg refused a stunt double and delivered and received real punches in some of the fight scenes. He even had a boxing ring built in his house for workouts during the last two years of his bodybuilding exercise regimen. Wahlberg said he admired the “Rocky” movies but wanted “The Fighter” to contain more realistic fight scenes.
Wahlberg hopes for a sequel with some of the original cast that would focus on Micky Ward’s last three battles with boxer Arturo Gatti (2002-2003), who later died mysteriously in Brazil.
Two of the fights were named Fight of the Year by Ring magazine and were compared to the Rocky Graziano-Tony Zale fights that took place 50 years earlier. Paul Newman played Graziano in the 1956 movie “Somebody Up there Likes Me” directed by Robert Wise.

In “Raging Bull,” LaMotta served as DiNero’s trainer, helping him get into shape for his perfomance. DiNero took to boxing naturally and had three fights, winning two of them as a middleweight. LaMotta rated DiNero as one of his (LaMotta’s) best middleweight boxers of all time.

The last 15 minutes or so of “The Quiet Man” involved a fakey, comical fight between John Wayne -- playing a former boxer who killed his last opponent in the ring -- and actor Victor McLauglin, a former 1920s heavyweight boxer who once fought champion Jack Johnson in a six-round exhibition bout. McLaughlin is probably the best qualified boxer in this bunch. He was 66 years old during the filming of “The Quiet Man” and looked like he could handle himself against the likes of Wayne.
McLauglin won the best supporting actor Academy Award as the nasty brother of Maureen O’Hara, who played Wayne’s proud wife in the movie directed by John Ford. McLauglan earned a living as wrestler and a boxer -- he was heavyweight champion of the British Army in 1918 -- before becoming a film actor.

Actor Kirk Douglas was also a wrestler in college and made money wrestling in carnivals before becoming an actor. He played the part of a selfish boxer in “The Champion,” who eventually ends up “punch drunk.”

Actor Robert Ryan posted a 5-0 record on his college boxing team and won a boxing championship in the Marines. In “The Set-up,” he plays an aging boxer who refuses to take a dive. The film, which covers a fight in real time, has some of the best boxing of any of these features.

The best actor-boxer who is still living, however, may be actor Mickey Rourke, who won his first fight at the age of 12 as a 118 pound bantamweight. Although he suffered a couple of concussions and many other injuries during his amateur career, he posted a 20-6 record. Last year, he was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor in “The Wrestler.”

Other worthwhile boxing movies are “Fat City” and “Cinderella Man.”

So, who’s the best boxer? Take your pick.