Friday, June 03, 2005

Cinderella Man

Cinderella Man (Director: Ron Howard)

CINDERELLA MAN has been nominated for 3 Oscars:

Best Supporting Actor: Paul Giamatti
Editing: Daniel P Hanley, Mike Hill
Makeup: David LeRoy Anderson, Lance Anderson

Practically all of Howard's resume is recognizable. His first small hit was Night Shift and then he hit it big with Splash and Cocoon. Then came Gung Ho, one of those comedies from the 80s that is still a popular culture icon. Then he took on a George Lucas story with Willow. Then came Parenthood, Backdraft, Far And Away, and The Paper. Howard's first real big-time classic came with Apollo 13 in 1995, and since then, he mired back into above-average or mediocre films like Ransom, Ed TV, The Grinch, and one of the most overrated films of all time that won him and his partner Brian Grazer an Oscar--A Beautiful Mind. Howard's last film was the lowly The Missing. Howard re-teams again with Mind writer Akiva Goldsman, who co-wrote the screenplay with Cliff Hollingsworth.

Cinderella Man is Ron Howard's best film since Apollo 13. When we've been stuck in the year that is 2005, a movie this well made not only stands out, but would stand out in any good year as well. As a boxing movie, it has the horrible task of following movies that have been acclaimed before it. Rocky, Raging Bull, and Million Dollar Baby have all won their rightful acclaim in this subgenre. This movie makes room.

This is based on the true story of Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe), a boxer pretty much given up for dead in the Depression era, a once-proud fighter who found himself fighting for practically pennies, to feed his family, before his right hand got broken and his fights became unwatchable. He gets stripped of his boxing license, and with work hard to come by, desperation slowly settles in as he tries to keep his marriage and family together. Braddock's manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti--once again, Oscar caliber) has a once-in-a-lifetime, lucky bout for the boxer when numerous contenders skip out on a fight with Corn Griffin (Art Binkowski), the undercard match to the championship fight between Primo Carnera (Matthew G. Taylor) and Max Baer (Craig Bierko). In a match no one believes will last 2 rounds for Braddock, the forgotten fighter destroys Griffin and sets into motion a number of fights that lead to the championship bout with Baer.

Maybe it's because these are based on real fights, or that boxing was a much better product back in these days, but the fights have a hell of a lot more dramatic sweep than any other boxing film I've ever seen, and yes, that includes Raging Bull--a movie that is completely excellent, so don't poke me with a hot stick or anything, it's just that Bull's fights are more bloodthirsty and brutal, and they are different. They are a visceral look into boxing that have been unmatched in honest destruction. The fights in Cinderella Man are those kind that are yes, brutal, but with more of a get-out-your-seat, chill-bump variety. The way Rocky and its sequels would get you would be to have Rocky getting pummeled, and then have some amazing comeback--well, these fights here don't resort to that kind of slow see-saw emotion, these are faster see-saws, with both fighters getting good licks at all times--they are tough fights to call and judge. Sure, there's moments where one has the advantage, but not so much that it insults the audience with its one-sidedness.

What makes these fights mean a little more, too, is Braddock's obvious devotion to his family (including wife Mae, played by Renee Zellweger), and that his fighting, his taking a beating, or delivering a beating, is what keeps his family alive. It also has that ray-of-hope underdog story that obviously lit up the Depression era. People got behind Braddock. Which brings up this point--it seems like most high profile boxing movies seem to be good for the most part (and we're not talking about Rocky V or anything here), and I think the reason is that boxing is as clear a protagonist/antagonist story as it gets. It's one man, fighting another, in a ring. And those people's personal lives depend on how they fare in that ring. Boxing, as an individual sport, makes for good cinema because it's one man--films don't usually get team sports right because I think it's damn near impossible to get a good chemistry between actors or make a believable underdog film involving those sports (hence, we have those lovable loser films with ragtag individuals that wouldn't have a chance in hell of ever winning, but films make them do so, and it's impossible to believe).

In any case, Russell Crowe, Paul Giamatti, and Renee Zellweger (who returns to non-annoying form) are all fabulous here, and if Giamatti doesn't get nominated this year, I may actually follow through with what is usually an empty promise and not watch the Oscars, especially since for the past two years they've been as boring and terrible as all the ones before it combined. Also, great character actor Bruce McGill shows up here as one of the early roadblocks to Braddock's comeback. If I had one negative to say about the film, it's the portrayal of Baer--I have no idea how he was in real life, but one-dimensional monster, I didn't buy. Craig Bierko is pretty cool though, despite his limited character.

Have I raved enough? Go watch this damn movie.


At 6/03/2005 09:57:00 AM, Blogger MaraJade said...

Wow. Sounds good. So, do all of you on this team work in a theater or just Chris?
I'm just wondering cuz there are always these great reviews up right away before I've even realized the movie was out yet.
So, do you all work in theaters?
(so, you're all astronauts. . . on some kind of star trek. . .)

At 6/03/2005 10:02:00 AM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

Well, Chris works at a theater. I used to (for 9 years or so). Chris and I actually worked at the same theater for a good while, and that is how we met.

Jonathan, from what I can tell, just watches a lot of movies...something I respect a great deal.

Every once in a while you'll see Chris post a review of something that won't come out for another month, because he gets to catch preview screenings and whatnot. I'm jealous.

As for the review, good one Chris... as usual. I expected this to be a good film, and I'm glad to hear it is.

I'm sort of on the fence with Howard, thinking that some of his films are great, and some are really average. But when he does it right...when he makes a good's usually REALLY good.

At 6/03/2005 11:34:00 AM, Blogger MaraJade said...

I'm jealous too. lol.
That was the best part of working at a video store (a job I sadly outgrew long ago). You got to see all the "screeners" before anyone else.
Well, thanks for the info. Random facts are always fun.

At 6/03/2005 12:16:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I am very glad to hear this is a good movie, and I am looking forward to seeing it. As for Marajade's query; I do not and unfortunately have never worked in a theater. I was a film reviewer in college, along with Chris, and have always gone to see a lot of movies. You can blame my Mom. Growing up, she use to take me to at least one every weekend; in the summer it was usually two or three. Thankfully, I've got a friend who owns a theater where I live, so I can see most of my movies for free.

At 6/03/2005 01:29:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Yeah, a sort of resolution this year was to see almost everything--at least every major release--something I've never done. Right now, I'm perfect. But it gets tough here and there. There's going to be some weeks where I won't get to certain ones until later, but I try, and I try, and I try, whoa I try...


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