Richard joins the hosts of NewsTalk 1010’s “The New Rush” with Scott MacArthur and guest host Deb Hutton, for a new segment called “Entertainment Court.” Each week Richard serves as the judge, Reshmi and Scott the jurors, and we render a verdict on the week’s biggest pop culture stories.
This week we ask, Should The Monkees be inducted to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame? Is the trademark squatter who scooped up the names Dunder Miflin, “Dillon Football” (as in Dillon, Texas from Friday Night Lights) and “Nostromo” (the ship from Alien) a copyright menace or a clever business person? What is more important, box office success or doing something different every time out?
From the perspective of an adult here’s how I would describe the new Robert Rodrigues film: “An exercise in extreme neo-noir aesthetics, the movie resembles a graphic novel sprung to life.”
Here’s how my fourteen-year-old self would express his thoughts on the same film: “WOW. Eva Green is naked. Did I mention she has no clothes?”
Neither description gets it wrong. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is the most heavily stylized movie of the year, maybe the century so far. Rodrigues and co-director Frank Miller (the comic book legend who created the original “Sin City” series in print) have created a dark vision of a shadowland known as Sin City, a corrupt place where crime is a way of life for both citizens and all femmes are fatale.
Four stories interweave. The thread that ties them together is Marv (played by noted Putin booster Mickey Rourke), a massive hulk of a man who aids Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) in his efforts to free his former flame Ava Lord (Eva Green) from her abusive husband. He also helps stripper Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) settle an old score with a corrupt senator (Powers Booth), the same man who savagely beat gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to teach him a lesson about power.
“Sin City” A Dame to Kill For” feels like it was made by someone with an eye for the aesthetics of noir but the interests of a 14-year-old boy. It’s an exercise in style over substance that will make your corneas tingle, tickle your prurient side and provide an experience that may be memorable (especially if you are a fourteen year boy) but not particularly rewarding.
These unendingly grim crime stories aren’t so much hard-boiled as they are over-baked. Rodrigues and Miller’s outlook is as bleak as the stark black-and-white palette they use to illustrate the movie. “Death is just like life in Sin City,” they say, hammering the point home that the only relief from the ennui many of these characters live with is a bullet to the head. The characters seem to welcome it. “He’ll eat you alive,” a bartender tells Johnny about the senator. “I’m a tough chew,” he replies, playing chicken with his life.
The directors try to distract from the cynical goings on with hyper-German Expressionist cinematography and the abovementioned Ms. Green’s wardrobe, or lack thereof, but no matter how much style or skin are exposed, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” remains a slickly styled exercise in pointlessness.
Spun is a wild ride, an ADD movie that seems to say, “If you don’t like what’s on screen right now, don’t worry it’ll change in the next ten seconds.” Director Jonas Akerlund, cut his teeth in the frenetic world of music video and it shows. Spun spins out of control from its opening minutes, shooting out images and plot points willy nilly. This makes Snatch look slow by comparison. If you can keep up with the pace, there is something here. Akerlund takes us deep inside the crystal meth culture, and it is an unnerving but hilarious journey. We meet a group of characters tied together by their association with one man, the crystal meth cook. We get a good sense of the lives of these characters, and even like some of them, no matter how addled they are by their addictions. What we see in Spun isn’t story driven as much as it simply a slice of life – a dirty, sped up slice of life. Good performances compliment the material, particularly from Mickey Rourke as the Cook, Jason Schwartzman as the likeable speed freak and John Leguizamo who sheds almost all his inhibitions in this role.
Second acts in Hollywood are rare. Once an actor is infected with the stink of failure it’s hard to wash off, particularly when the fall from grace is very public and seen by many people as well earned.
In 1985 Mickey Rourke was being called the new Brando; by 1995 Hollywood wasn’t calling at all. His career flameout rivaled that of other Tinsel Town wash outs like Orson Welles and John Gilbert, two legendary performers who blew their shot at screen immortality with a combination of ego and bad choices. Couple career suicide with a volatile reputation, an interlude as a professional boxer which caused neurological damage and forever altered his once matinee idols looks and you have a Hollywood Babylon story that looks doomed to end
poorly. And it almost did, after fifteen years without a lead role in a film Rourke was a write off, Hollywood’s forgotten man, until director Darren Aronofsky crafted a role for him that allowed him to face his demons in a very public way. Call it primal screen therapy if you like, but his achingly honest portrayal of burned out wrestler Randy the Ram may just earn him an Oscar nod.
In The Wrestler Rourke plays an over-the-hill pro wrestler, a once famous athlete capable of filling Madison Square Gardens, now a raggedly collection of shin splits, aching bones and broken spirit. He ekes out a living doing small time matches in rec centers for the handful of die hards who remember his glory days, but the good times are a long distant memory. On his off hours he works part time in a grocery store and tries to court stripper Cassidy played by Marisa Tomei. When a heart attack sidelines his big chance—a rematch with his greatest rival on the twentieth anniversary of their MSG bout—he must face up to his decline and leave behind the only life he’s ever known. An attempt to reconnect with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) gives him little comfort and it seems he only has one chance at happiness—even if it kills him.
Sound depressing? Well it is, but it’s also a fascinating look at the
downside of fame which parallels Rourke’s own fall from grace. In the hands of another actor—Nicolas Cage was originally slated to play the part—Randy the Ram would be an interesting portrait of failure but Rourke brings a gravitas to the character that goes beyond mere characterization. His real life experience on fame’s downside gives him a unique perspective on Randy, allowing him to bring the shame of failed expectation to the forefront. When Randy is at his lowest point, living in reduced circumstances and making ends meet by working behind a deli counter, the shame of being recognized as a former hero, a fallen star, is a feeling Rourke has lived in real life and the scene in the film feels all the more real because of it.
The Wrestler doesn’t take the easy road. Aronofsky, best known for directing PI and Requiem for a Dream, is unflinching in his portrait of Randy and it can make for some uncomfortable viewing. We all know that wrestling is fake, but the toll—physical and emotional—it takes on its practitioners is very real.
The physical toll is easy to spot. Rourke’s face looks like he’s been beaten up by an angry plastic surgeon and his slouching walk belies years of extreme physical abuse both inside and outside of the ring. The emotional side of the film is just as powerful, but not painted in such broad strokes. Much of what Rourke does here is internal; the look on his face as he scans a sparsely attended autograph session, an ego buster of an event where he tries to hawk $5 photographs to a handful of former fans or a heartfelt speech to his daughter that relies on his fractured facial expressions as much as it does the words he’s saying. It’s all powerful stuff that takes us inside Randy’s fruitless search for honor, dignity and love.
The Wrestler, like so many of the Oscar movies released this year is a good film with an amazing central performance. Think Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married or the powerhouse trio of Amy Adams, Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt. They are all interesting-ish movies that are elevated by the acting. The Wrestler is a great film, but it wouldn’t approach the stellar heights it hits without Rourke.
I don’t know if this is the beginning of a comeback for him or not. There can’t be that many roles out there that can take advantage of the particular kind of pathos where art and real life collide, but The Wrestler should finally bring Rourke the kind of mainstream notice he deserves.
The great irony of good wrestling movies is that real, honest-to-God wrestlers rarely ever star in them. This week Mickey Rourke gives a tour-de-force performance in The Wrestler as Randy the Ram, an over-the-hill wrestler; a once famous athlete capable of packing Madison Square Gardens, now a raggedly collection of shin splits, aching bones and broken spirit that should earn him an Oscar nod. Aha, you say. Rourke used to be a boxer. Isn’t that the same thing? Well, according to director Darren Aronofsky not so much.
“It’s easy to think it was easy for Mickey to do this because of his experience in the ring but I think it was twice as hard because he had to unlearn everything,” he said. “In boxing the whole game is to hide your emotions and moves.
“When you do a punch in wrestling you want people in the bleachers to see it happening three minutes before it comes. So for Mickey to ham it up like that when he was taught to move as a boxer was a real challenge.”
Rourke is perfect for the role; his face looks like he’s been beaten up by an angry plastic surgeon, and his slouching walk belies years of extreme physical abuse. But not all actors to play wrestling’s “faces” and “heels” have been so well cast.
Flesh, a little known John Ford film from 1932, sees Wallace Beery — former silent movie and musical theater star — play a waiter-turned-wrestler who discovers his wife is having an affair. Even stranger casting than that was spindly Henry Winkler — The Fonz — as an unemployed actor who becomes a wrestling star (alongside Herve Villechaize) in the comedy The One and Only. Then there’s Blood & Guts a 1978 film which sees aging wrestler Danny O’Neil, played by William Smith, wear a silver 10 gallon top hat in the ring.
To get the real deal on wrestling check out Beyond the Mat, a documentary from comedy writer and wrestling fan Barry Blaustien. His behind the scenes look at the pro circuit and its stars works on an almost Shakespearean level, revealing the tragedy, rage, humor, violence, intrigue, hucksterism and real human stories of the sport.
It’s a movie that should be placed alongside Pumping Iron and When We Were Kings as movies that uncover the private side of sports entertainment. We all know wrestling is fake, but after seeing Beyond the Mat it seems a little more real.