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.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno: It was only a matter of time before Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen worked together. Both have erected their careers on arrested adolescence and geek chic, and both cloak unexpectedly old-fashioned worldviews with a veneer of gutter-patter. While the cock n’ weed jokes of Rogen padrone Judd Apatow reinforce family values, Smith’s barrage of sex talk hides the desire to do a simple romantic comedy. It’s no surprise, then, that the film’s emotional apex, the years-in-the-making romp between platonic flatmates Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) in the middle of a makeshift porno set, is more lovable than raunchy. If the deed itself is sweet, leave it to Smith to fudge the foreplay and drag the afterglow. Fans of his patchy convenience-store humor and visual slovenliness will lap it up, though, despite close-ups of dangling ballsacks and a scatological money shot, the film is about as transgressive as the Tijuana donkey show from Clerks II. And is the whole adult-industry shtick a dig at archrival P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights? Either way, Orgazmo was funnier.
Tokyo Sonata: Famous for his J-horror modern classics (Cure, Pulse), Kiyoshi Kurosawa is better described as an architect of inexorably spiraling dread. This family drama is being hailed as a departure from earlier genre pictures, but the stark mood is less a break from than a continuation of Kurosawa’s view of the fragility of the world’s surface normalcy. (The mix of unsettling lighting and oft-comic digressions is fascinating: When a character is caught entering a house by hopping through a window, it’s like a Capra bit of business suddenly given Jacques Tourneur’s mise-en-scène.) The cracks behind the wallpaper start to show as a well-off executive is unceremoniously downsized and takes to numbly wandering the streets, too ashamed to face his family. Meanwhile, the mother feels like a nonentity, and the youngest son slides into apathy after his wish to learn to play the piano is refused. The extraordinary thing is the way Kurosawa systematically dismantles the fabrics of the nuclear family, only to put them back together in an ambivalent ending that would have Michael Haneke yanking on his beard in envy.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.