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by Bill Gibron

16 Apr 2009

In independent film, emotion is everything. Since budgets don’t allow for much visual flair, locational variance, or narrative diversity, movies of this nature must rely on people, their personalities, and the feelings that derive from same to get the message across. Most of the time, that’s all said cinema has to offer. Originally released as Rigged, but now renamed Fight Night, Jonathan Dillon’s feature film debut falls into a lot of the standard outsider traps. The cinematography is desaturated to the point of almost nonexistence, and the script (by Splinter scribe Ian Shorr) is so desperate to be a post-modern Million Dollar Baby that it practically exudes Eastwood’s sweat. But if you cast aside the obvious attempts at anti-mainstream grit and faux fictional realism, you find a surprisingly intelligent and heartfelt film. Too bad then that the boxing blocks the audience from really getting to know these marginal characters.

For Michael Dublin, the last few years have been a blur. Since leaving the employment of gangster fight promoter Clark Richter, he’s been trying to hustle matches in the highly illegal underground boxing scene. Unfortunately, his lack of ethics and smooth talk swagger gets him in more trouble that his pugilists can make up for. After a particularly pesky con, Dublin is saved by gritty, no nonsense gal Katherine Parker. Quick with her hands and lethal when need be, our huckster sees instant success. Indeed, within weeks, the newly named “Kid Vixen” is the talk of the lawless scarp circuit. Naturally, Richter is aware of the situation, and does whatever he can to preserve his power. But as Parker continues winning, the heavy can no longer ignore her potential. Dublin also sees dollar signs, but his ex-boss may be about to make an offer he can’t refuse…that is, if he wants to live.

Rigged/Fight Night is as schizophrenic as its two names suggest. One moment, we are watching a waif like young woman beat the ever loving snot out of some roided up Central Casting cliché. She even battles a meat puppet whose cowboy hat becomes an object of comedic personal pride. But then writer Shorr and direct Dillon drop all the backdoor Fight Club junk and actually let the characters talk. What comes out is so intriguing, so against everything else the movie wants to accomplish that you can’t help but be thrown off a little. For all their faults, their complete and utter cinematic contrivance and lack of real world authenticity, Dublin and Parker are interesting, especially when they stop talking shop and start talking…life. Had Rigged removed 10 or 15 minutes of the so-called action sequences and stuck with the story of a small town boy struggling to escape his past with the help of an equally alienated girl, we’d have something special. Instead, Dillon tries to have it both ways, and as a result, he undermines each,

Indeed, the fight scenes require a massive grain of suspension of disbelief seasoning. It’s not that Parker couldn’t contend with some of the beef sides she’s paired against. No, she’s so dominating, so Mike Tyson in her proposed talent that there’s no suspense in what transpires within the squared circle. It’s all choppy edited, thrash power musical scoring, and our duo walking away with fattened wallets. Even when her opponent is evenly matched (the aforementioned spit-kicker), she’s unbelievable - literally. Dublin also offers his own unique set of problems. He’s a fairly inept trickster, unable to get away with many of the scams we see him pull. It makes one wonder how he managed to survive this long, especially with the villainous reach of Richter being so overpowering. Indeed, this is one bad guy who has to be actually beaten…to be beaten.

Since the neo-noir dramatics don’t quite gel, it’s up to the more personal stuff to save Rigged/Fight Night, and it almost does. Indeed, thanks to Chad Ortis’ Tom Cruise take on Dublin and Rebecca Neienswander’s “is she or isn’t she” sexual ambiguity, we are willing to follow our leads through some fairly precarious plotpoints. There is an initial meeting where the two have a jailhouse talk that’s quite effective and a long road trip and eventual bus ride gives them other moments of meaningful conversation. Sadly, the film fails to find the same balance within the ancillary characters. Dublin’s mother is introduced and then almost immediately swept away, while an important woman with whom our hero has a history gets equally short shrift. Sadly, Parker’s past is all inference - talk without a face or performance to help us understand. Even an eventual homecoming is vague.

And then there is the look of this film. Cranking down the color to make everything bleak and monochromatic would definitely work had Dillon understood the first thing about black and white cinematics. Instead, this is a clear case of an almost homemade digital production getting its glare turned off to try and make something visually profound. It doesn’t work. The style by DP Hanuman Brown-Eagle announces itself so often that you get tired of the attention grabbing. Add in the less than effective subplots involving Richter, his link to Dublin, and their last act showdown and you can see where Rigged goes astray. Even with a name change, this is the kind of movie that gives other similarly mounted efforts a real case of the respectability heebie jeebies. You can just see the other filmmakers, desperate to get their dreams off the ground, looking at this overly ambitious attempt and more or less giving up.

Still, there is something inherently attractive about the relationship between our two leads. It’s not sexual - that is made clear many times. It’s also not professional, since only one party to the agreement holds up their end of the bargain. And it’s definitely not spiritual, since neither character has much of a soul. Indeed, the real allure of Rigged (or Fight Night - whatever you want to call it) is the growing connection between marginalized members of society’s fringe. We don’t quite root for Dublin and Parker as much as decide not to root against them and no matter who comes out of the woodwork to threaten their pact, there’s never a real fear that they won’t be there for each other. In a genre that relies on sentiment over most other motion picture possibilities, this movie makes a lot of decent decisions. It’s the ones that don’t work which ultimately threaten its entertainment viability.

by Rob Horning

16 Apr 2009

Some inchoate thoughts about paid and unpaid work. One of the primary obstacles to thinking about alternatives to capitalism is the idea of money as a primary motivator. In capitalism, with its liquid labor market, money comes to seem the sole means of legitimizing effort. If you get paid for it, the effort was valuable, socially necessary, useful. If you don’t, your effort was hobby work, leisure, relaxation, a distraction. With money serving as this legitimizing function at the level of individual psychology, it inevitably becomes important people to display their wealth as a means of signaling their professionalism—expensive suits, well polished shows, big watches. These aren’t mere vain ostentation, but a sign of competence and credibility, in the same way elaborate and stolid bank buildings are meant to signify stability. Thus, the barriers to professional advancement become material, and they become encrusted with cultural-capital issues of knowing what to buy, how to display it, how to attain it, and so on. Money then begins to seem like the purpose of productive activity, with the actual social product as a kind of byproduct. This may lead to irrational allocation of resources, that make, for example, the financial sector of the economy far larger in proportion to GDP than it has any business becoming.

by PopMatters Staff

16 Apr 2009

Moon, directed by Duncan Jones and starring Sam Rockwell, appeared at the recent Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca film festivals and now opens in limited release in New York and Los Angeles on June 12th.

Plot synopsis from Sony Pictures Classics:
It is the near future. Astronaut Sam Bell is living on the far side of the moon, completing a three-year contract with Lunar Industries to mine Earth’s primary source of energy, Helium-3. It is a lonely job, made harder by a broken satellite that allows no live communications home. Taped messages are all Sam can send and receive.
 
Thankfully, his time on the moon is nearly over, and Sam will be reunited with his wife, Tess, and their three-year-old daughter, Eve, in only a few short weeks. Suddenly, Sam’s health starts to deteriorate. Painful headaches, hallucinations and a lack of focus lead to an almost fatal accident on a routine drive on the moon in a lunar rover. While recuperating back at the base (with no memory of how he got there), Sam meets a younger, angrier version of himself, who claims to be there to fulfill the same three year contract Sam started all those years ago. 
 
Confined with what appears to be a clone of his earlier self, and with a “support crew” on its way to help put the base back into productive order, Sam is fighting the clock to discover what’s going on and where he fits into company plans.

by PopMatters Staff

16 Apr 2009

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
There were parts in Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories that really got to me, particularly dealing with plight of the overweight, asthmatic lawyer Theo, who could have easily become a caricature. The empathy and humanity that Atkinson shows Theo (imagine that, an ugly major character!) is well beyond the norm for most fiction, particularly mystery fiction. WALL-E also made me tear up at various points. The beginning is so cute and yet so sad. WALL-E‘s loneliness is palpable. Sure, it’s billed as a kid’s movie, but have you ever seen anything so desolate and bleak in your life?!

2. The fictional character most like you?
Hmmm…probably some buffoonish but lovable motormouth idiot out there. Falstaff? That Scottish guy from Four Weddings and a Funeral who died? Did I just give something away? Spoiler alert!

3. The greatest album, ever?
Oh man, this question is a tough one. I vacillate between any number of albums, including some usual suspects like Pet Sounds and Revolver and stuff, so I’m going to go oddball today and say that it’s Tindersticks’ second self-titled album, which, in its long running time, manages to incorporate spoken word, Serge Gainsbourg-style duets, distorted surf guitars, full orchestras, piano ballads, and a one-mic-recorded dirges without every getting boring once. It’s so overstuffed with dramatic gestures and ambition and well-executed bad ideas that it’s almost gaudy in its grandeur.

by L.B. Jeffries

16 Apr 2009

Konami’s recently announced decision to publish Atomic Game’s Six Days In Fallujah has been making the controversy rounds and for good reason: it aims to recreate one of the worst battles in the Iraq War. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal the creators explain, “We’re not trying to make social commentary. We’re not pro-war. We’re not trying to make people feel uncomfortable. We just want to bring a compelling entertainment experience. At the end of the day, it’s just a game.” The creators are interviewing marines, civilians, and insurgents who were involved with the battle to recreate it as closely as possible.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

In Motion: On the Emptiness of Progress

// Moving Pixels

"Nils Pihl calls it, "Newtonian engagement", that is, when "an engaged player will remain engaged until acted upon by an outside force". That's "progress".

READ the article