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)


Award Winners

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader to Receive American Ingenuity Award

Smithsonian Magazine honors Documentary Now!

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During its inspirational 50th season, Documentary Now! earned our undying love and support. Now it’s earning awards, too. The show’s creators and stars, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, have won Smithsonian Magazine‘s American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts this year. Senator Al Franken will present the duo with the award in a ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 12th. No word on whether Blue Jean Committee will perform.

In addition to the award, Bill and Fred received another honor—the chance to get their mugs on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine‘s December issue. Looking good, guys. And for more Documentary Now!, check out the archives, music and full episodes.

Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine

That 70s Show James Franco

That '70s Franco

Watch James Franco’s Geriatric That ’70s Show Spoof

Catch That '70s Show Mondays & Tuesdays 6-11P on IFC.

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Ever wonder if Jackie, Kelso, Fez, Donna, Hyde, and Eric ever made it out of Red‘s basement? According to James Franco, those dumbasses definitely did not.

In a new episode of AOL’s “Making a Scene with James Franco,” the actor peered into the future of the gang from That ’70s Show to see what they’d be up to if the show actually continued into their 70s. Turns out they’re still sitting around the basement, sharing a joint, and listening to some of the Steve Miller Band’s greatest hits.

In the sketch, aptly called “That 70s ’70s Show,” Franco plays both a stoned, elderly Kelso as well as a nostril-hair heavy Eric Forman. The only member of the crew who has made it out of the basement is Donna, who has sadly passed away into a higher plane of existence (yes, it’s possible for them to get higher) leaving Eric to mourn the loss of his one true love.

For more That ’70s Show, find out who almost played Red Forman and more fun facts.


The Future Is Funny

The 10 Funniest Sci-Fi Comedies

Happy Back to the Future Day!

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Often covering heady concepts like philosophy and tragic social norms, science fiction is always in danger of being too dry and dour for its own good. However intelligent and astute the observations may be, if the themes don’t align with the tone, the end results could be a slog to watch. Sometimes we just want laughs to accompany aliens, time travel, and dystopian futures. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of sci-fi comedies that perfectly pair humor and futuristic wonder into a delightful package.

Here are 10 such sci-fi comedies that deserve a play when you need cheering up.

10. Repo Man

A staple in the cult film pantheon, Repo Man throws a punk-rocking Emilio Estevez into the bizarre world of car repossession set against a backdrop of a slightly-more-dystopian version of Los Angeles. Featuring veteran weirdo Harry Dean Stanton, a Chevy Malibu with aliens in the trunk, and a thumbnail philosophy centered around a hypothetical plate of shrimp, this midnight movie is a must-watch for those who are sick of boilerplate plotlines.

9. Night of the Comet

If you ever watched Valley Girl and thought it could use some zombies, then Night of the Comet is for you. This unfairly forgotten gem pits two mall-obsessed sisters against undead stockboys, bloodthirsty soldiers, and healthy teenage hormones in a post-apocalyptic land straight out of Omega Man. With tongue firmly in cheek, Night of the Comet is a fun and cheesy sci-fi comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

8. They Live

Written and directed by genre king John Carpenter, They Live is a hilariously over-the-top treatise against commercialism, government control, and religious zealotry. The movie stars the sadly late (and never-better) Roddy Piper as migrant worker Nada who finds a special pair of sunglasses that reveal a world choked with subliminal consumerist messages and humanoid aliens. It’s endlessly quotable with a ridiculous yet valid message and contains the best street fight ever captured on film.

7. Idiocracy

If you’ve read the comment section for an article on the Kardashians, energy drinks, or the state of our educational system, then you’re probably familiar with Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. Depicting a future where every American institution has crumbled due to wanton stupidity, average bloke Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) becomes an Einstein among the mentally challenged and humanity’s last hope for survival. Like Judge’s Office Space, Idiocracy achieved cult status after a mismanaged theatrical release. It was also oddly prescient.

6. Innerspace

Endless charm and eye-popping special effects rev this high-energy, high-concept Joe Dante sci-fi comedy. Basically a goofball version of Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace injects a minuscule bio-pod piloted by Dennis Quaid into a neurotic Martin Short and propels them into the dangerous scientific underworld of nanotechnology supremacy. Quaid and Short — along with Meg Ryan, Robert Picardo, and Kevin McCarthy — are fun personified in this rollicking, rewatchable classic.

5. Galaxy Quest

Unfairly derided as “Three Amigos in space,” Galaxy Quest is actually one of the most accurate depictions of sci-fi tropes and geek fandom ever produced. A thinly veiled satire of the original Star Trek series, the ensemble comedy tackles everything from fan conventions to space-based MacGuffins, but does so with an unmistakable love for the genre.

4. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Movie concepts don’t come any higher: A lovable pair of wannabe rock gods travel through time in a phone booth to assemble historical figures as a means to pass their history final and unite the planet through music. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are an effusive duo you can’t help but love, George Carlin as their time-guide Rufus is perfectly cast, and the moral message (“Be excellent to each other and party on, dudes!”) should be a real-world Golden Rule.

3. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

With a running time of 75 minutes and lacking a second “Mad” for loonier interplay, MST3K: The Movie is considered a lesser entry when compared to the television series. However, Mike and the Bots are in top form when mocking the sci-fi flick This Island Earth — Interocitor assembly and alien foreheads have never been richer for riffs — and any fan of the show would be remiss to skip the film.

2. Tie: Ghostbusters and Men in Black

It doesn’t get any more quotable than Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as the titular spectre-snatching quartet. At its core, this beloved treasure follows the hardships of a new fringe business as it tries to find a reliable customer base. But add supernatural elements, and Ghostbusters becomes a perfect blend of comedy, sci-fi (those proton packs wouldn’t be out of place on Star Trek) and the occult. Every line in every scene is a bona fide classic, rightfully earning the film its place among other worn-out VHS tapes in our collection. Meanwhile, Men in Black channels Ghostbusters with its mix of comedy, sci-fi and creepy creature-based bureaucracy.

1. Back to the Future

Arguably the best matchup in a comedy film, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are absolutely perfect in this 1985 favorite. Back to the Future features Fox as a time-traveling teen sent back 30 years whose existence is in jeopardy when his 17-year-old mother falls in love with him and his father is too shy and weak-willed to pursue her. Nominated for Best Original Screenplay and spending 11 weeks at number one in the box office, Back to the Future is the rare mix of audience appreciation and critical acclaim — not to mention comedy and sci-fi.

Benders Steve Schrippa 1920 x 640

Steve Schirripa on Benders

The 10 Funniest Sopranos Star Cameos

Catch Steve Schirripa on a brand-new Benders tonight at 10P on IFC.

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Over the years, the cast of The Sopranos has popped up in a variety of other shows and movies, always bringing some edge. It’s no surprise that even in comedies, Soprano cast cameos come with a lot of NSFW caveats. Even in kids movies, you can tell they’re fighting to keep the F-bombs from rolling. In honor of Steve “Bobby Bacala” Schirripa shaking down the guys on Benders this week, here are a few of the funniest cameos from The Sopranos cast.

10. Tony Sirico, Family Guy

Paulie Walnuts himself finally got to teach Stewie some respect, as the voice of the Griffin’s new dog on Family Guy.

9. Vincent Pastore, Pepsi Ad

Pastore acts like a big, well, pussycat when he comes face to face with a tough little girl in this spot for Pepsi from his Sopranos heyday.

8. Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Real Housewives of New Jersey Spoof

Sigler was perfectly cast in a Funny or Die spoof of the Bravo show that owes a lot to The Sopranos.

7. Michael Imperioli, The Office

Dwight Schrute finally received his black belt from a new sensei during the last season of The Office. And when you think karate, the first person that always comes to mind is Michael Imperioli.

6. Drea de Matteo, Conan

De Matteo proves even her insecurities can be funny, copping to a whopper of a lie to get out of a guest spot back during Conan’s late night days.

5. Joe Pantoliano, The Simpsons



Joey Pants and Michael Imperioli voiced gangsters in a 2006 episode that spoofed The Sopranos, The Godfather, and pretty much every other aspect of mafia culture.

4. Steven Schirripa, Benders

It’s hardly surprising that Schirripa turns up in comedies from time to time, after years spent on the standup circuit. You can catch him on this week’s brand-new Benders as a tough guy shaking down the Uncle Chubbys boys.

3. Edie Falco, 30 Rock

Falco played Celeste “C.C.” Cunningham, a liberal congresswoman with a dark secret. That secret being she’d fallen for the human avatar of everything she’d spent her life fighting against. But have you seen Jack Donaghy’s hair?

2. James Gandolfini, Letterman Top 10 List

The late, great Gandolfini didn’t make as many cameo appearances as his costars (he was too busy making movies), but he did appear on Letterman with the rest of the Sopranos cast for a fun Top 10 list. Naturally, he came out last to the biggest applause. Tony always gets the number one spot.

1. James Gandolfini Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico and Vincent Curatola, Nicky Deuce

Schirripa actually starred in this kid’s movie, and enlisted a slew of his old Sopranos friends to pop by and put a PG spin on their old act.

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