Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Wrestler (Combo Blu-ray + DVD Steelbook Case) (Blu-ray)

The WrestlerI've been a wrestling fan since the '70s and it's one of those things that I have to hide from most people because they think it's a joke or they just don't understand what it's appeal is. Then came along "The Wrestler" and now my friends are asking me questions and taking interest in "the business". I saw the movie with some friends and family and we had some very spirited discussions afterward. They couldn't believe that these guys would, for example, mutilate themselves to have blood in matches (a practice called "blading" that's performed with a small piece of a razor blade), or that years spent in the ring will leave most wrestlers battered and even disabled thanks to the legit wear and tear that wrestling has on the body. Most people assume a wrestling ring is a trampoline, but it's actually like landing on concrete and over time there's a price to pay for taking bumps on such a hard surface for so many years. "The Wrestler" reveals all of these issues wrapped up in an enthralling and emotional motion picture you wont soon forget.

Life imitates art on several levels in "The Wrestler". For example, the movie shows the dark side of steroid abuse that has caused a laundry list of wrestler deaths in just the past 10 years (the pressures of the Monday Night War era claimed the lives of countless wrestlers). Well, during the first backstage wrestling scene, Mickey Rourke's character shakes hands with a wrestler that is huge and jacked to the gills. That wrestler died from heart failure a few weeks before the movie's release. Also, there is a scene where another huge and overly muscular wrestler sells several illegal muscle enhancers to Rourke's character. That wrestler was recently arrested for selling drugs. But the real story here, is how Mickey Rourke's character of Randy the Ram mirrors Mickey's life in many ways. Both are former stars, both have pushed their bodies to the limit in sports (Mickey revealed on the Charlie Rose show that he was forced to quit boxing because one more serious blow could've been it for him) and both want to get back in the spotlight. Thankfully, Mickey has achieved his goal of regaining the spotlight. As for Randy, that's a different story.

Randy the Ram, seems to be based on a combination of former wrestlers Lex Luger and Jake the Snake Roberts. Lex Luger's ailing body and rock bottom financial situation plus Jake's volatile relationship with his daughter were definite inspirations for screenwriter Robert Siegel. Mickey takes the experiences of Lex and Jake, along with his own and shapes a character that he was born to play. The part was originally written for Nicholas Cage, but I can't imagine anyone but Mickey Rourke playing this part. Mickey plays Randy with such heart and soul that he truly makes the audience feel for him. We feel his pain, we relate to his shortcomings and we cheer him on to find love and rebuild the relationship with his daughter. When Randy apologizes to his daughter for being on the road wrestling and not being there for her when she needed him, you feel it.

As a wrestling fan, one of the most powerful scenes takes place at the end when Marisa Tomei's character begs Randy not to wrestle just moments before the start of a match due to his heart condition and Randy tells her that he belongs out there. It's the only place he fits in, it's the only place he feels successful and loved. Randy's music then hits and a man who looked broken down and beaten just a second ago, busts thru that curtain and walks out as a superstar with the crowd eating out of his hand. It's a powerful scene that sums up why so many wrestlers find it so difficult to walk away from the business.

Don't let the fact that "The Wrestler" takes place in the world of professional wrestling keep you from seeing it. You don't need to be a fan to enjoy this movie. Wrestling is merely the backdrop for the drama taking place on the screen. Everyone puts in amazing performances. Rourke and Tomei deserve their Oscar nominations and Evan Rachel Wood nearly steals the movie. Just keep this in mind while watching it. Don't get too wrapped up in the drama, because after all, it is just a movie. And movies are just fake, scripted entertainment with predetermined outcomes.

Impressed by Mickey Rourke's Golden Globe winning speech, I decided to go see this movie.

Randy 'The Ram' Robinson fought the Ayatollah in Madison Square Garden back in the 80s, and still battles today. Ill met by fate, bruised and battered, his sinewy muscles scarred, his bones creaking in protest he still has the fight, and like a One Trick Pony he sticks to what he knows. It's a desperate life.

As you may recall in Raging Bull, Robert De Niro put on about 40 pounds to play fighter Jake La Motta as he got older, and he won an Oscar for his dedication to the role.

Mickey Rourke does something no less astounding here, putting on huge bulk to assume the persona and convincing physique of a professional wrestler. It's the most amazing acting performance of the year. The lines between actor and character blur and disappear. The kind of pain you see on Randy's face cannot be pretended. It can only be relived from the actor's parallel experience, which is what makes Rourke's performance so compelling.

For female companionship, he goes to a local bar, where a fetching stripper played by Marisa Tomei, Academy Award winner for My Cousin Vinny, gives him a lap dance for a fee. He can barely make rent, yet he has priorities.

Marisa gives an incredibly authentic performance, and it's a welcome surprise see her take it off in the name of art. I applaud her courage in doing so. Her physique is simply amazing, and her body art is very intriguing.

Evan Rachel Wood plays his estranged daughter. Previously, she played the female lead part in Across The Universe, and already has a quite impressive filmography under her belt. Here she sports a different look, and gives a perfect performance.

Some of the wrestling sequences are truly outrageous, and not a little disturbing. Having cut my finger on a ham slicer early in life, seeing people operating ham slicers gives me the heebie jeebies. If you have a problem with the sight of blood, I caution you that there are some disturbing sequences in the movie.

The Academy's actor awards tend to go to actors in two types of role:

1.PsychopathNo Country for Old Men, The Usual Suspects, There Will Be Blood, Training Day, Silence of the Lambs.

2.Mentally Disabled, Social or Physical Handicap, overcomes great adversity or discriminationShine, As Good as It Gets, A Beautiful Mind, Ray, Scent of a Woman, Capote, Philadelphia, The Pianist, A Beautiful Life.

Randy definitely has a handicap, and last year was the year of the psychopath, with both Daniel Day Lewis, and Javier Bardem winning Oscar.

I hope you find this helpful.

Buy The Wrestler (Combo Blu-ray + DVD Steelbook Case) (Blu-ray) Now

Growing up in the 80s, Mickey Rourke was James Dean to me. His part was too small for me to notice him in BODY HEAT. The critics had caught a glimpse of him and his potential in that film. I knew that I was on to something watching him as the fast talking womanizing Baltimore con-artist Boogie, in Levinson's DINER. His honesty as an actor pierced my emotions, even though he was playing a character that was lying throughout the entire film. When I witnessed his serene and suicidally introspective portrayal of The Motorcycle Boy in Coppola's urban dreamscape of S.E. Hinton's teenage angst novel RUMBLE FISH, I knew that I had just witnessed The Rebirth of James Dean. When I saw his cool slowburning streetwise Italian dreamer, Charlie in THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLIAGE, I knew I had found a film actor I could idolize. I wore my hair like him. I tried to dress like him. I wanted to be him. Man, this was the COOLEST actor taking the coolest parts in Hollywood! Mickey was IT!

But, like Dean, it seemed that Mickey would metaphorically and almost literally crash and leave us with only three truly GREAT films. After a few briefly compelling performances in the 80s as the hardboiled Kowalski in Cimino's YEAR OF THE DRAGON, the lascivious John in 9 1/2 WEEKS, Harry Angel in ANGEL HEART, and the hilarious Henry Chinaski in BARFLY, Mickey's career dwindled into lesser leads, bit parts, and cameo roles. Mickey became "difficult" to work with. Mickey wanted to give up the studio politics and the collaborative involvement with a craft that he was, quite literally, born to do. And become what? A boxer? The owner of a hair salon? A biker? A thug? Then, Mickey lost himself for 14 years. In a reply to a ten year hiatus question backstage at The Golden Globes, Rourke said, "Let's get it right. Ten years sounds easy." Ultimately, he was alone. Mickey Rourke was forced to do some soul searching.

Into the 21st Century, no one noticed Mickey's hilarious turn as The Cook in SPUN. A wild and sardonically dark comedy about methamphetamine users. (The Cook watches and adores wrestling on TV while cooking up his dope. One wonders if this gave Aronofsky the idea to cast Rourke in THE WRESTLER?) His sad and tender moment at the end of that film was a revelation of things to come. The final monologue is a wonderful precursor to his character in THE WRESTLER. It broke my heart. Then, a new generation of fans and critics were talking about him again, after grabbing everyone's attention as disfigured Marv in Robert Rodriguez' comic book pastiche, SIN CITY. Sort of a throwback to Rourke's JOHNNY HANDSOME. The best thing about SIN CITY was Rourke's performance. It stood out like a sore thumb. Even over the special look of that film.

Now, things have changed for Mr. Rourke. With the critical acclaim (for once they got it right) for this film, he is all over the talk show circuit recalling his loneliness, his mistakes, and episodes from his former life. Like a 12 stepper, Mickey now seems humble and apologetic. Thanking everyone for giving him the chance to once again become the serious actor he once was. (We should all thank them too.) He is no longer taking anything for granted. Everyone loves a humble winner. And God Bless him, Mickey Rourke is BACK! And his performance in THE WRESTLER is a WINNER!

The generous Mr. Darren Aronofsky has given Mickey Rourke the role of a lifetime with this film. Knowing Rourke's reputation for being next to impossible to work with, Aronofsky could not get the financing for this film when he first attached Mickey's name to the project, but promised Mickey an Oscar nomination if he would only listen to his direction and do everything he was told to do. Mickey kept his promise, and it appears that the masterly and prescient Aronofsky has kept his. THE WRESTLER was not written for Mickey Rourke, but was later tailored to fit him personally. The themes are semi-autobiographical.

The story is not complicated. Although, changed and improvised due to Rourke's involvement, the script, written by Robert Siegel, is reminiscent of a 20's or 30's bloody pulp fiction boxing story that could have been penned by the creator of Conan The Barbarian, the late Robert E. Howard. It is a simple pulp character study about a lonely beaten man who has been to the top of the mountain only to be brought back down again by the repercussions of his actions, and a savage career choice that has taken a brutal toll on his body from staged battles, steroid juice abuse, and a lot of 80's Hair Metal. (The biggest laugh in the film, comes from Rourke's line about Kurt Cobain and what he did to 80's Metal.) Filmed in a grainy Indy style with long loose tracking shots and circular handheld camera movements, it is a sad, gritty, brutal, and COMIC semi-documentary narrative told mostly from Randy "The Ram" Robinson's POV. Not every movie goer will appreciate the raw look of this film, the patchwork sequences, or the triumphantly open ending. True film lovers will.

The performances here are very brave indeed. Marisa Tomei is essential as Cassidy. She bares it all as a sweet, conflicted, past her prime stripper mom, unwilling to succumb to The Ram and his half desperate attention for her affections. Most 40 something actresses wished they looked this good, but might never agree to pole dance almost completely nude in a film about an aging wrestler. You will fall in love with her all over again in this film. Her Nomination for a Golden Boy is well deserved.

Unlike De Niro who donned 40 lbs of fat for his role as Jake LaMotta, Rourke bulked up approximately 40 lbs of muscle on top of his already commanding girth. Rourke is scarred, pimpled, pumped, and battered. His body and visage are roadmaps of world weariness and pain. One grim shot shows Rourke shooting steroids into his veiny, mottled, and scarred rearend. A selfless dedication and adherence to character. A fearless commitment by a great actor to shamelessly open himself up to his audience. Baring his wounded nakedness, as well as the internal wounds to his lonely psyche. And isn't this what we love about our greatest actors? This film IS Mickey Rourke. Body and Soul. This is an extremely giving performance. It is symbolic, commanding, sad, demanding, honest, demure, comic, tender, uplifting, and most of all, heartbreaking.

A broken man searches for acceptance, dignity, and redemption, but finds himself instead.

The same can be said about The Second Coming of Mickey Rourke. THIS IS A GREAT FILM! Just give this man his Oscar. I can only hope Mick gets his Harley back!

This is The Best Film of 2008.

Read Best Reviews of The Wrestler (Combo Blu-ray + DVD Steelbook Case) (Blu-ray) Here

The Wrestler marks Darren Aronofsky's growth as a film-maker from strange, science-fiction tinged films to films with emotional resonance in a real setting. I am a huge Aronofsky fan, loving Requiem for a Dream nearly as much as Pi, but I was underwhelmed by his last effort, The Fountain. His films are almost unbearably intense, most prominently shown in Requiem, but The Fountain abandoned his first two films' grittiness for a sleeker, polished story-line, exploring ambitious philosophical themes while failing to deliver on the emotional level. For a while, I was worried where Aronofsky's career would go, especially after seeing that he was helming a project called The Wrestler, which seemed to deviate from the subjects of his previous works.

The Wrestler gets everything right. Aronofsky trades high-minded philosophical themes for a more grounded, concrete narrative. He also reestablishes the inventive camera-work that made Pi and Requiem so aesthetically stunning, shooting almost the entire film on a hand-held camera. And, lastly and most refreshingly, he reinstates the violence and shock-value of his first films, escalating the wrestling scenes to cringe-inducing bouts of brutality and decadence. However, such violence is in aid of characterization--to show the hearts behind these men in the ring, to demonstrate the toll such entertainment may take on one's body, all in the service of a loyal, loving audience.

"The only place I get hurt is out there," says "The Ram" as he enters the ring towards the end of the film. Rourke, giving a breathtaking performance that should have EASILY triumphed at the Oscars (it's a travesty that he didn't win), provides us a window into the tortured soul of a man who's thrown his life away for the sake of his profession. No matter how much Ram deviates from our idealized vision of a hero, the audience never feels any animosity towards him; he screwed up, and he knows it, but he can't help it.

The mirrors to Rourke's life are easily seen, making the film into some manner of Greek tragedy rather than mere drama. It is Aronofsky's presence, and a wonderfully crafted script, that sets The Wrestler above other comback portraits like Rocky; the brutality is reminiscent of Raging Bull, and the style behind the film is a marvel in itself. The Ram is equated to Christian iconography, pointed out by Marisa Tomei's stripper, in that he suffers for humanity--not only is it an effective comparison, but it gives the film more depth than the average comeback piece. The buildup of sounds is used frequently as well, to great effect, to further the window in the life of the Ram.

The film is not for everyone; my sister refused to watch the wrestling scenes, because they are quite shocking. Some scenes are rather melodramatic, but effectively so, making the film a draining emotional experience (I went teary-eyed at least twice). But, it is a rewarding film if you have any interest in the craft, or wish to see the performance of a lifetime by Mickey Rourke.

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Synopsis: Robin Randzinski, though better known by his ring name Randy "The Ram" Robinson (played by Mickey Rourke), is an aging wrestler who went from selling out the Madison Square Garden in the late '80s to splitting time between wrestling at a semi-professional level and working as a butcher's assistant just to make a living. Living alone and close to poverty, he befriends a stripper named Pam, who herself is better known by her stage name Cassidy (Marisa Tomei.) After wrestling in a particularly brutal hardcore match, Randy suffers a heart attack and learns his body can no longer take the strain of competing as a wrestler, thanks in a large part due to years of drug abuse. With a new outlook on life, Randy realizes his biggest regret: Losing contract with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). He does what he can to adjust to normal life, but can Randy escape the self-destructive behaviors that got him to where he's at in the first place?

Mickey Rourke's portrayal of a faded wrestler was the largest reason why I was floored after I saw this film. I've met people who've wrestled semi-professionally and have seen wrestling documentaries such as Beyond The Mat, so I use my experiences with both as a yard stick in saying this. Rourke's performance was beyond remarkable in regards to authentic it felt. He put himself through what many others put themselves through on a regular basis to demonstrate the suffering these performers go through to maintain the sport and entertain it's fans. Rourke didn't just play the role in the film; he became Randy "The Ram" Robinson and you couldn't help but give your empathy toward his character, no matter how much of a screw up he was.

I also enjoyed Marisa Tomei's role in the film (and no, not just because of the nude scenes.) I've met women who, like wrestlers, have had to sell their body just so they can get by. She demonstrates the balance of having to use your sexuality to make a living while having to protect herself from both abuse and emotional attachment. Much like Rourke's character, she can't escape her stage persona simply because she isn't working; it's ingrained into who she is because of what she does.

In the end there were no fireworks, no glory, no spectacular situations for anyone to claim champions of. There's no Hulk Hogans or Stone Cold Steve Austins to excite thousands in attendance and millions watching at home. There are the gutsy up-and-coming semi-pro wrestlers trying to be the next star, over-the-hill semi-pro wrestlers trying to recapture who they used to be, and small venues jam packed with the hundreds of fanatic fans who'll keep coming as long as the door's open for them. The wrestling can be hard to watch but it's nothing that's overexaggerated; it's only what many do to themselves for the love of what they do and the entertainment of those who cheer for them.

This has managed to become one of my personal favorite movies. I recommend it to all.

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