DID YOU READ

NYFF 2008: “The Wrestler.”

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10082008_thewrestler.jpgMickey Rourke is one magnificent wreck. “The Wrestler” holds off from giving you the full-frontal of his face for a while, as if he were the monster in a low-budget horror flick. When it does finally creep around, you see misplaced tautness, semi-mobile features, starlet lips, an overall impression of carved putty. One of the film’s visual jokes is that Rourke’s character, faded pro wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson, is a shambling but still formidable hunk of meat, but he’s aging in the style of a South Beach matron. It’s not just the too often overhauled mug — we follow as he gets the roots of his long, brittle hair (which he often keeps in a bun) bleached to cover the grey, as he bronzes himself against the colorless New Jersey winter in a tanning bed, as he puts on a pair of prim wire-frame glasses in order to read. Then he buys several hundred bucks worth of steroids and growth hormones from an amiable locker room dealer who he tells, with a wrenching capacity for denial, about his plans to “get big and strong.” Randy has only a rocky downhill slope ahead of him, but no one would ever tell him that — the guy’s got nothing but his past, a few lingering die-hard fans, and a friendship with a similarly past-her-prime stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), the only one to whom he can tell his only half-believed tales about how he’ll clamber back to the big leagues.

It’s a fantastic performance from Rourke, even as it’s all tangled up with everything we know about his own life and career. But it’s an even better performance from director Darren Aronofsky, who turns from “The Fountain,” a film I’d be the first to defend, but that feels like it was created in the isolation of the space bubble in which Future Hugh Jackman spent so much time meditating, to something unexpectedly funny, ready and rough and tumble that runs at a dozen clichés and tosses them over the ropes. Exotic dancer with a secret kid and a heart of gold? Estranged, embittered offspring? Down-on-his-luck athlete/entertainer with one last shot at grander things? Check, check and check, and “The Wrestler” reinvents these characters from scratch. Cassidy, whose name in the light of day is the more mundane Pam, turns out to be the perfect parallel to Randy, two decades past the average age for her own profession, and keeping him, her lone regular, at arm’s length out of habit and because she’s worried he’ll been turned off by the ordinariness of her life once she breaks character. Evan Rachel Wood is Stephanie, Randy’s grown-up, gothy daughter, who has plenty of justifications for wanting him out of her life, but who hasn’t quite sealed off the chinks in her armor.

And there’s Randy himself, plodding from his rented singlewide to his grocery store job to whatever community center or American Legion hall is host to that weekend’s bottom-tier wrestling event, the camera often bobbing a few feet behind his heavy shoulders in its semi-naturalistic way as he continues along in a lifestyle that’s killing him. It’s not that Randy doesn’t understand that his time has passed — he’s just refused to contemplate a life that doesn’t revolve around wrestling, though the places at which he does it keep getting smaller and shabbier, and fewer and fewer people show up. He’s still a big deal among the aspiring wrestling community, which “The Wrestler” treats with greatest affection — massive men in spandex, tattoos and piercings slapping each other on the back backstage, discussing in detail how to put on the best show (“Don’t work his head, man, everybody does that!”), applauding performances and commiserating over injuries. They’re all crowd-pleasers, heroic faces and glowering heels hamming it up, grappling, taking stage punches, throwing themselves onto the mat and leaping from the top ropes in mock battles of good and evil. And Randy’s willingness to keep suffering for his audience — beyond the wear and tear of the years, in one early match he deliberately cuts himself for dramatic effect, and in a later, more sadistic one, takes on an opponent who makes use of a staple gun, barbed wire and a broken sheet of glass — starts to seem like something noble. “The Wrestler”‘s greatest trick is that it’s not the story of redemption you thought it was at all, but rather one of a man embracing the lot he’s chosen, and insisting on performing his signature finishing move. It’s called the Ram Jam, and it, like this film, is something to see.

“The Wrestler” will open on December 19th. For more coverage of the New York Film Festival, click here.

[Photo: “The Wrestler,” Fox Searchlight, 2008]

+ “The Wrestler” (NYFF)
+ “The Wrestler” (Fox Searchlight)

Bourne

Bourne to Run

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bourne Movies

Catch The Bourne Ultimatum this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

You know his name, as the Super Bowl teaser for the upcoming summer blockbuster Jason Bourne reminded us. In this era of franchise films, that seems to be more than enough to get another entry in the now 15-year-old series greenlit. And gosh darn it if we aren’t into it. Before you catch The Bourne Ultimatum on IFC, here are some surprising facts about the Bourne movies that you may not know. And unlike Jason Bourne, try not to forget them.


10. Matt Damon was a long shot to play Jason Bourne.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Coming off of Good Will Hunting and The Legend of Bagger Vance, early ’00s Matt Damon didn’t exactly scream “ripped killing machine.” In fact, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and even Sylvester Stallone were all offered the part before it fell into the hands of the Boston boy made good. It was his enthusiasm for director Doug Liman’s more frenetic vision that ultimately helped land him the part.


9. Love interest Marie was almost played by Sarah Polley.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon wasn’t the only casting surprise. Franka Potente, of Run Lola Run fame, wasn’t the filmmaker’s first choice for the role or Marie in The Bourne Identity. In fact, Liman wanted his Go star Sarah Polley for the part, but she turned it down in favor of making indie movies back in Canada. A quick rewrite changed the character from American Marie Purcell to European Marie Helena Kreutz, and the rest is movie history.


8. Director Doug Liman was obsessed with the Bourne books.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Liman had long been a fan of the Bourne book series. When Warner Bros.’ rights to the books lapsed in the late ’90s, Liman flew himself to author Robert Ludlum’s Montana home, mere days after earning his pilot’s license. The author was so impressed with his passion for the material, he sold the rights on the spot.


7. Liman’s father actually worked for the NSA.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Part of Liman’s fasciation with the Bourne series was that his own father played the same spy craft games portrayed in the books while working for the NSA. In fact, many of the Treadstone details were taken from his father’s own exploits, and Chris Cooper’s character, Alex Conklin, was based on Oliver Stone, whom Arthur Liman famously cross examined as chief counsel of the Iran-Contra hearings.


6. Tony Gilroy threw the novel’s story out while writing The Bourne Identity.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Despite being based on a hit book, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, coming off of The Devil’s Advocate, had no idea how to adapt it into a movie. He said the book was more concerned with people “running to airports” than character, and would need a complete rewrite. Director Doug Liman agreed, and Gilroy claims to have condensed the original novel into the first five minutes. Getting that out of the way, he then wrote his own story, based on a man who wakes up one day not remembering anything but how to kill.


5. Damon walked like a boxer to get into character.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Damon had never played a character like Bourne before, and was searching for a way to capture his physicality. Doug Liman told him to walk like a boxer to give Jason Bourne an edge. Damon took that to heart, training for six months in boxing, marital arts and firearms.


4. Damon broke an actor’s nose.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon’s training for the films is legendary, but mistakes still happen. While filming a scene for The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon hit actor Tim Griffin so hard, he shattered his nose. Apparently, the space the scene was filmed in was smaller than originally intended, throwing Damon off just enough to exert a real beat down.


3. James Bond visited The Bourne Legacy set.

Eon Productions

Eon Productions

Actor Daniel Craig stopped by the set of The Bourne Legacy to visit his wife, actress Rachel Weisz, who was starring in the movie. While having James Bond on a Bourne set must have been exciting, The Bourne Legacy was the only Bourne movie to not actually feature Jason Bourne, meaning our bets on who would kick whose ass would have to wait for another day.


2. The Bourne Identity was nearly a bomb (in the box office sense).

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

As reshoots began to pile up, and an all-out war between the studio and director Doug Liman spilled into the press, expectations were that The Bourne Identity was going to flop. Matt Damon told GQ that, “the word on Bourne was that it was supposed to be a turkey…It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”


1. Matt Damon wasn’t the first actor to play Bourne.

Warner Brothers Television

Warner Brothers Television

Aired on ABC in 1988, the TV movie adaptation of The Bourne Identity, while not exactly critically acclaimed, was a more faithful version of Ludlum’s book. Richard Chamberlain, of The Thorn Birds fame, played a much less ass-kicking spy, while “Charlie’s Angel” Jaclyn Smith played love interest Marie. If you like your Bourne movies heavy with poorly lit ’80s melodrama, this might just be the adaptation for you. Otherwise, you should catch The Bourne Ultimatum when it airs this month on IFC.

NYFF 2008: “The Class.”

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10012008_theclass.jpg“The Class,” Laurent Cantet’s very fine film about an academic year in a life of a teacher and his students at an inner city Parisian middle school, gets its structure and its strength from limitations. The camera doesn’t wander outside of the walls of the school; it seldom leaves the classroom, the only meaningful place of intersection between the worlds of François Marin, imperfect instructor, and his boisterously mixed bag of multicultural pupils. When a student departs for the day, or summer, or forever, he or she might as well be oceans away, news of homelife trickling back in through schoolmates or other teachers or, just as obtusely, from the parents in their rare pilgrimages to the building for state-of-things meetings. Marin isn’t going to make house calls or bail kids out of jail in the middle of the night or wrest crack pipes from their blackened fingers on street corners and haul them off for a stint of DIY rehab in his guest room. Teaching is his calling, but it’s also his job, and, like anyone else, he gets frustrated, tired, has off days and needs to sneak a secret cigarette in the emptied cafeteria.

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NYFF 2008: “Bullet in the Head.”

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10012008_bulletinthehead.jpgI hope someone out there is proclaiming Jaime Rosales’ “Bullet in the Head” a masterpiece of experimental filmmaking that forces you to reconsider narrative’s place and importance in film and such and such. There is something likable about its daring, and it’s exactly the kind of film that needs a vocal contrarian champion to stubbornly insist it’s the best thing ever. But that person is not me. “Bullet in the Head” is an 85-minute film shot in stalker-cam via long range lens. There’s no audible dialogue save a moment when the characters yell loud enough to reach even the theoretical onlooker with whom we share a POV: “Fucking cops!” — which is also when the film delivers on the violence promised in its title. Before that point, for a crawling almost-hour, we watch from afar as our main man (played by Ion Arretxe, the production designer on Rosales’ last feature, “Solitary Fragments”) chats in cafes, samples music in a store, buys a paper, goes to a party, picks up a woman with whom he spends the night, and goes on a drive to France with some friends.

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