House Logo

The Wrestler (#110 of 7)

True/False Film Festival 2011: Fake It So Real

Comments Comments (...)

True/False Film Festival 2011: <em>Fake It So Real</em>
True/False Film Festival 2011: <em>Fake It So Real</em>

A surprisingly welcome respite from the shimmering hi-def images of most of this year’s True/False docs, the grainy, autumnal hues of Robert Greene’s Fake It So Real offer a nice counterpoint to the bleating that opens the film. Greene’s follow up to last year’s indelible, uncommonly gentle Kati with an I begins with a sequence of close-ups of minor-league professional wrestlers in roomy chokeholds and bogus pain.

As he did with Kati with an I (starring his half-sister), Greene shot most of Fake It So Real (co-starring his cousin) in just a week. It’s set in rural North Carolina, among a group of big-gunned, kindhearted wrestlers who put on biweekly shows in churches and grange halls. It is, in the wake of The Wrestler, almost too much of a no-brainer of an idea for a documentary, but there’s no drug abuse and there are no staple guns in this film. (In fact, the wrestlers pride themselves on being a family-friendly alternative to other leagues in the state.) Amid the chokehold montages and extended conversations of the cast discussing and tiptoeing around homophobia, Greene’s film is imbued with empathy.

The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan

Comments Comments (...)

The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan
The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan

Ed Howard: Jason, you ended the first half of our conversation about Darren Aronofsky by wondering both where the director would go next after his first four films and which Aronofsky would be represented in Black Swan, his fifth feature. Throughout that exchange, we mostly divided Aronofsky’s career in half, considering Pi and Requiem for a Dream as blunt, bleak rehearsals for the more fully realized explorations of thematically similar territory in The Fountain and The Wrestler. So I suppose it’s appropriate that for the first half of Black Swan, I found myself thinking I was watching another Requiem for a Dream, while the second half ventured into the richer, deeper territory of Aronofsky’s more recent career. It’s appropriate, too, that the film itself is so concerned with halving and doubling, with mirrors and doppelgangers, built as it is around a production of the ballet Swan Lake in which the dancer Nina (Natalie Portman) is asked to play the dual role of the Swan Queen and her dark rival, the titular Black Swan.

It’s a fascinating film, and especially so in the context of Aronofsky’s career, because it feels like such a consolidation of everything he’s been exploring and dealing with in his other work. I haven’t read any reviews of Black Swan yet, but I feel pretty confident predicting that at least a few of them will call it “The Wrestler in ballet slippers,” or something similar, and they will be more or less accurate. As in The Wrestler and his other films, Aronofsky is exploring his protagonist’s singleminded pursuit of her obsession, in this case Nina’s pursuit of dancing perfection. As in The Wrestler, Aronofsky is recycling familiar cinematic clichés, drawing on the backstage movie’s tropes of domineering mothers, neurotic stars, ambitious rivals, aging hasbeens, and predatory/sexual relationships between male directors and female performers. In working with these clichés, however, Aronofsky reinvests them with vitality and freshness through the raw intensity of his filmmaking.

Nina wants, desperately and obsessively, to be “perfect,” though the film itself eschews this purity for grime, chaos and fragmentation, mocking Nina’s desire to be perfect by running her through an increasingly harrowing gauntlet of real and imagined trials and terrors. Black Swan begins in methodical, observational realism and slowly morphs, like a woman becoming a swan, into a psychological horror film, a dizzying fever dream that haunts the audience and the central character alike. I’m still wrestling with this dense film, and I’m sure we’ll delve more into its substance and its connections to Aronofsky’s oeuvre throughout this conversation. But one thing I’m already sure of is that I can’t forget this film; it’s provocative and viscerally exciting and visually compelling. I haven’t totally resolved my feelings about this film or its effect on me, but I’m already sure that it has affected me.

The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part I

Comments Comments (...)

The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part I
The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part I

Jason Bellamy: I first learned of Darren Aronofsky in 1998 when I stumbled upon an episode of the CBS show 48 Hours, back before the series was obsessed with mysteries. The episode in question was called “Making It,” and it chronicled the lives of various people who were, or seemed to be, on the cusp of losing their anonymity. Among those featured were author Nicholas Sparks, actor Vin Diesel and Aronofsky. Sparks, at that point, had already transitioned from modest pharmaceutical salesman to bestselling author with The Notebook, and Diesel, by the time of the show’s airing, had already landed a role in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, which would become the most talked about film of that summer. Those men had, to one degree or another, “made it.” But Darren Aronofsky’s ascension seemed a little less certain. “Making It” documented Aronofsky’s efforts to sell his debut feature film Pi, the creation of which had been financed through the donations of family and friends, at that year’s Sundance Film Festival. And, sure enough, by the end of Sundance, and by the end of 48 Hours, Pi had a buyer. Aronofsky’s film was a success. But, at least in my mind, Aronofsky hadn’t quite made it. It’s one thing to find a studio willing to write a check to distribute a film that’s already in the can. It’s another thing to get that check ahead of time, to become a contracted filmmaker.

I begin with that story because today, 12 years later, Aronofsky has certainly “made it,” and yet he remains somewhat anonymous and/or indistinct. Perhaps his upcoming film, Black Swan, which we’ll cover in the second part of this conversation, will change that. But at the moment I wonder if Aronofsky’s name means anything to the average moviegoer, the kind of person who makes it to the theater about four times a year, perhaps to see a pair of blockbusters and a pair of Best Picture nominees. Between Pi and Black Swan, Aronofsky has directed just three films—Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Fountain (2006) and The Wrestler (2008)—so perhaps it’s Aronofsky’s modest output that keeps him somewhat overlooked. Or maybe Aronofsky’s films, though far from inaccessible or alienating, aren’t mainstream enough to make him a household name. (X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2 might change that.) But I suspect that the main reason Aronofsky isn’t better known among average moviegoers is due to his lack of a specific reputation or legend among film buffs. Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain and The Wrestler are each, to some degree or another, controversial films, but Aronofsky himself isn’t a polarizing figure. His name doesn’t spark an immediate opinion among cinephiles in the fashion of Christopher Nolan, M. Night Shyamalan or Alfonso Cuarón, to name some filmmakers who have been releasing movies for roughly the same amount of time.

Gone Away, Come Back: Mickey Rourke

Comments Comments (...)

Gone Away, Come Back: Mickey Rourke
Gone Away, Come Back: Mickey Rourke

It hasn’t been easy for Mickey Rourke fans over the last 15 years. He’s given us much cause for complaint, and even despair. He has forced us to defend the indefensible, and say things to our scornful friends along the lines of, “I think there’s a lot to like in Exit In Red.” I have grasped at straws, I have seen terrible straight-to-video movies and soft-core porn, I even suffered through the abysmal Another 9 1/2 Weeks which actually caused me pain because of how tired and defeated he seemed. I have stuck up for him in the face of dwindling evidence of his genius, but I am not a fair-weather fan. Fifteen years of badness is difficult to withstand. His early promise was such that it galvanized an entire generation of young actors, making them want to do better, push harder, take more risks, and then, it felt like overnight, he left us. Where did he go? The details are coming out now, and much was obvious at the time as well. He flamed out publicly. He got involved in a crazy-making tabloid-frenzy marriage. He hated acting, became bored with it, so went back to being a boxer (his first love). Then followed the strange (and tragic, to me) morphing of his face into something unrecognizable. He had multiple operations on his face due to his boxing, but I think there was a little lip-and-cheek-plumping action going on before that. Something happened to him in the early 90s, and you can see it unfold if you watch his films in chronological order. It made me really sad at the time.

Short Cuts: Australia, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, & More!

Comments Comments (...)

Short Cuts: <em>Australia</em>, <em>Frost/Nixon</em>, <em>The Reader</em>, & More!
Short Cuts: <em>Australia</em>, <em>Frost/Nixon</em>, <em>The Reader</em>, & More!

Australia (Baz Luhrmann). For about a minute or so, Australia promises to be some psychedelic version of The New World, but emotion is quickly subsumed by Baz Luhrmann’s effusive style. The Wizard of Oz is referenced throughout, sometimes charmingly, but it’s Gone with the Wind that Luhrmann’s most interested in, grossly amplifying the 1939 classic’s worst tendencies (and little of what makes it special): Luhrmann desperately announces his conviction to the displacement of half-white, half-aboriginal children, but his way of celebrating the spirituality of Australia’s aboriginal people is by depicting them as, you know, magical negroes. And the horseshit doesn’t end there. Maybe Luhrmann was pooped by the time he filmed Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman’s reunion, but the way he botches their sightlines is just one example of how uncommitted he is to making their stone-cold romance seem credible. Are we supposed to think their affections for one another is rooted in anything deeper than that really gross harlequin-romance shot of Jackman flashing Kidman his pubes?

Toronto International Film Festival 2008: The Wrestler, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, & Tokyo Sonata

Comments Comments (...)

Toronto International Film Festival 2008: <em>The Wrestler</em>, <em>Zack and Miri Make a Porno</em>, & <em>Tokyo Sonata</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2008: <em>The Wrestler</em>, <em>Zack and Miri Make a Porno</em>, & <em>Tokyo Sonata</em>

The Wrestler: What was Darren Aronofsky doing futzing with The Fountain’s abstruse mysticism when, on the evidence of this no-frills crowd-pleaser, he really should have been working on Rocky Balboa? In his least gimmicky film yet, Aronofsky ditches his usual skittery stylistics in favor of a relaxed atmosphere of seediness and a comeback-kid performance from Mickey Rourke. As a blond-maned, broken-down holdover from the ’80s WrestleMania craze, Rourke still seems to be buried under the steroidal latex of the comic-book Caliban he played in Sin City. The dissolute face and body are Rourke’s, however, and the actor seems to draw on his own experiences as an ex-palooka to give his character the dignity of a wounded old lion. A bum ticker forces the protagonist to take stock of his life, but of course there are a few body slams still left in him. The communal side of small-time wrestlers is disarmingly etched, though the ringside clashes, as befits the director of Requiem for a Dream, remain baroque visions of corporeal abuse.