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The Wrestler, another latecomer, is more of an actor’s movie and less of a director’s movie than the signature of Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) might lead you to expect. It was a stroke of fortune if not of genius for the filmmaker to cast Mickey Rourke in the title role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (né Robin Ramzinski), a Dodge Ram-driving, self-described “old broken-down piece of meat,” two decades past his prime, yet persisting in plying his trade at sparsely populated venues outside the glare of TV lights, dreaming of one last big payday at a twentieth-anniversary rematch with a Southern California car salesman formerly known as The Ayatollah. Rourke, monstrously bulked up since his stint of moonlighting as a professional prizefighter, has one of the most ravaged faces in the entire gallery of once beautiful leading men, somewhere between Jan-Michael Vincent and Francisco Rabal, and his noisy, labored breathing is excruciating. Where Eastwood in Gran Torino growls occasionally, Rourke wheezes continuously.

There’s an inherent sentimentality in the basic situation, and it’s not at all toughened through the by-the-numbers plotting around an attempted détente with his neglected lesbian daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), a clumsy courtship with an over-the-hill stripper (Marisa Tomei, carrying on in the before-it’s-too-late exhibitionistic mode of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, plus nipple rings and tattoos), a post-match heart attack, a bypass operation, an obvious and inevitable self-martyrdom. Aronofsky’s handheld camera follows Rourke around — often literally behind his back and over his shoulder, as in a Dardenne brothers art film — in ghoulish anticipation of a train wreck; follows him into the locker room to map out the matches with his fellow combatants (an amusing glimpse behind the scenes); follows him to the hair salon (for upkeep of his Eighties heavy-metal mop), to the tanning salon, to his drug dealer, to his degrading day job in the stock room of a grocery store. Best scene: reluctantly working behind the deli counter in direct contact with the customers, but really warming up to it. (Bad scene: flipping out behind the deli counter, specifically at the meat slicer.) The wrestling matches, natural dramatic climaxes, are crucibles for the actor and the character alike. Not to forget the spectator.

Waltz with Bashir looks to be this year’s, or rather last year’s, Persepolis, an anomalous animated feature, autobiographical in nature, which officially belongs to the foregoing year but which locally belongs to the following year. It’s premature to say that we will not get a finer animated film for the rest of this year, but not premature to say we didn’t get a finer one, Persepolis excepted, all of last year. The premise has Israeli documentarist Ari Folman delving into his repressed memories of the Lebanon War twenty years earlier, in particular his role as a foot soldier in a massacre at a Palestinian refugee camp. Drawn in a “realistic” comic-strip style, Judge Parker as opposed to Dick Tracy, and set in motion in what we could call a viscid as opposed to a fluid style, the animation makes a useful investigative tool for a probe of memory, dream, imagination, well suited to conveying a sense of unreality, a sense of remoteness, well suited, in other words, to fictionalizing the facts, cerebrally processing the data. It also helps smooth over the familiar talking-heads pitfall, generating illustration where none exists. And it offers an easy solution to depicting the twenty-year age differences between then and now. The last-minute switch to live-action archive footage is hair-raising.


And here’s the briefest reminder, for those who can stay up that late, that Walter Hill’s The Warriors will kick off a new midnight series at the Ken Cinema this Saturday, or technically Sunday.


Hardly had the ink dried on my write-off of Scott Marks than he moved back to town from L.A. after two months’ absence. One door closes and another door opens, sometimes the same door.

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Comments

Alias_Jabez_Goethe Jan. 7, 2009 @ 5:05 p.m.

It's probably wisest if I wait till I see them, before I comment on this weeks new S.D. releases..even though it's almost impossible for me to restrain my impulse to say it -- 'Gran Torino' is a movie that I have been waiting for longer than any other this past year, and I had a distinct sense a few months ago, that it would be better than the doomed-sounding 'Changeling'. It should be noted that both are written by inexperienced first-time screenwriters, whose careers are so far dominated by TV hackwork...even so. Even so, I felt pretty darn sure that this would be the interesting work, 'Changeling' the lumbering Prestige work. Gosh I hope you're right about this new Eastwood being a good'n, Duncan Shepherd; and Scott Marks is wrong (he who had the audacity to pan 'Gran Torino' based on the Screener that came in his mail). The world needs more critics of true integrity like Mr. Shepherd, and not only about the filmic (about every thing under the d--ned sun). And the world certainly needs more people like Shepherd's lamented mentor too, who understood that criticism was not a tearing-down of the creative world, but in fact an act of love upon it. At least when done properly! Alright, my kissup session to two of the last real film critics, it's over and out. One more thing: I'm still trying to find out if the Landmark "Midnight Madness" films are all on 35mm, and almost as important - if Walter Hill's great 'The Warriors' will be shown in it's original breezy cut, or the "fixed" version that impairs the editing rhythm with extraneous cartoon-transistion title cards, and curtails the ending shot.

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richinsd Jan. 7, 2009 @ 10:03 p.m.

Gran Torino from what I hear is Clint Eastwood's last acting movie. Time will tell on that one. This was an excellent movie. I won't tell you how it ends. Touching in more ways than one. In the Clint Eastwood style while trying a few different slants. The family next door is not the ideal family as far as Walt Kowalski (Clint's part) is concerned. But watch the movie and find out the procession of events that change all that. Pretty amazing. I know you will love it. Of course the Gran Torino is a flawless prop everyone loves including the audience.

Can't miss this one gang, it's a must see. 3 1/2 stars out of 4 is my take.

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Josh Board Jan. 7, 2009 @ 10:07 p.m.

The Eastwood movie will end with him trying to get his car out, as he was boxed in by neighbors. And, as a 70 year old driver, has trouble getting out of tight spots when it's parallel parking involved. So he goes on a rampage to get revenge on his neighbors.

Am I the only one that was disappointed with the Warriors? I guess the novelty value of it was okay. And the Joe Walsh song "In the City" most excellent.

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joeb Jan. 10, 2009 @ 2:42 p.m.

Although Mr. Sheperd's usage and grammar are usually flawless, I notice in this article a slight mis-step (by no means, a fatal one) when he refers to a "long-postponed trip to confessional."

A Catholic might refer to a "trip to confession", or less frequently, "a trip to the confessional," but the article is necessary here -- perhaps this was a type-setting error.

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M. E. Jan. 11, 2009 @ 3:17 p.m.

Yes, when putting the little metal letters into place, the typesetter must have omitted the word “the.”

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Josh Board Jan. 19, 2009 @ 12:56 a.m.

I think the missteps in this...were all done by Mr. Eastwood. That guy can really blow it sometimes. And, there were about 20 things wrong with this movie.

For a director that gets this much acclaim, that baffles me.

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