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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)

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

E.coli-class-

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

ecoli-computer

IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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