An aging pro wrestler is forced to cut his career due to health reasons. The harsh reality of “normal” New Jersey existence slams into him like a speeding tractor trailer when he realizes that outside of the ring he is actually a complete fuck-up. Then he continues being a fuck-up.
The Wrestler is a Darren Aronofsky’s exploratory journey into the land of gritty, depressing realism. The director of Pi, Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain stays clear of his favored surreal mysteries, oneiric sequences and unreliable narration, and instead chooses to tell a very simple and linear story. He whips out a magnifying glass and tries to expose the ugliness and despair of the mundane, and ordinary life. And he pulls it off quite well.
The movie is actually painful to watch. Every shot, wallows in the lingering awkwardness of human interaction, every closeup is unfavorable, every dialog makes you cringe. But not because it is badly written, but because of the way the characters blunder their way through their dull, profoundly unhappy lives. It is like watching a man taking a leisure backstroke swim through a river of emotional anguish and mental excrement.
Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson - a has-been pro wrestler forced to retire due to a worsening heart condition. A brush with death, and brief hospitalization forces him to re-evaluate his life. He has no friends, no family and no prospects. Outside of the ring, he is a nobody - an uneducated, crude lonely old man who will probably die alone without anybody ever noticing.
He tries to pick up the pieces: he reconnects with his estranged daughter, he gets a shitty job and bonds with his favorite stripper. The movie documents this journey in a painstaking, detail. His little victories are quiet and subdued, glanced over without much celebration. But when he trips up, Aronofsky swoops in with a microscope to make sure you see every tiny element of Randy’s failure. The effect you watch one man’s profound struggle to actually live an ordinary life. At the very basic level, it is more or less a schadenfreude porn. A better one than any reality TV series train wreck could ever deliver. A spectacular train wreck, much more impressive than the one from that other movie.
Like all Aronofsky movies, The Wrestler is rather existential. It is a tragedy of a man with a one track mind. Randy’s main problem - the source of all his misfortune - is his inability to re-spec, and reinvent himself. He reminds me of an Eldar Exarch - singularly obsessed and doomed to walk the path of the warrior for the rest of his life. Randy’s mind is intensely focused, and absorbed with being a wrestler almost to exclusion of everything else. His self esteem, self image and feeling of self worth are inexplicably wrapped around and linked to his fading career. He has no hobbies, no interests, no social life. He lives for the ring. When he is bored he plays wrestling games on his SNES. When he is in a bar, he tells stories about his wrestling exploits. He is not a rounded person, nor an interesting one. He is like a human vuvuzela - an instrument capable of playing only a single note, albeit very loudly.
As a person with a wide myriad of waxing and waning interests, passions and callings I found it both fascinating and terrifying to watch. A glimpse into a strange and alien mind, I found hard to relate to, but easy to empathize with. I see this film as a cautionary tale of what happens when you overspecialize, and allow your path to define you as a person. It is a story of a man whose personality got tangled up in his work so completely that it derailed his entire life.
Both Rourke and Tomei deliver stellar performances. Aronofsky’s guides the viewers through this achingly real and painful experience with laser guided precision. He manages to get them to connect with a seemingly unsympathetic, brute, a dead beat parent and a single minded thug. Even if you can’t relate to Randy, even if you don’t think he is a good person, you end up rooting for him, as he muddles his way through his depressing life. Aronofsky manages to squeeze every drop of profundity out of the ugly and mundane.
Yes, the story is linear and predictable. Yes, it is not the most original subject matter. But sometimes it is all about how you tell the story, and not what is it about.
It is a violent, shocking ride through the dregs of the ordinary boring life of a man who lost his identity to an obsession with sport he can no longer participate in.
I love you, Beth Cooper
Class nerd, Paul Rust tries to score with popular cheerleader Hayden Panettiere. He fails. The only people getting fucked are those in the audience, as this confused teen comedy tries to forcefully ram it’s hackneyed message down their throats without any foreplay.
I love you, Beth Cooper is a 2009 Hayden Panettiere exposition device. A movie that was most likely created to give the young and then rising starlet an ample chance to prove herself as a leading lady. Of course the writers and directors didn’t want to take any chances so the titular Beth Cooper is essentially the same character as Claire Bennet from Heroes just without any super-human regenerative powers. This was probably a smart move, because while Hayden is drop-dead gorgeous and attention grabbing screen presence, she does not seem to have a great range as an actress.
Paul Rust plays Denis Cooverman, a geeky high school senior who secretly pines for Beth Cooper (Panettiere) the most popular girl in the school. Knowing that graduation is probably the last time he will see her, he uses his valedictorian speech to publicly proclaim his love to her. Beth is more flattered, intrigued and amused than she is embarrassed by this display of affection so she agrees to one date. Predictably, the dream date quickly turns into a nightmare.
Unsurprisingly to anyone but Denis, Beth turns out to be far from the picture perfect angel he imagined her to be. She is crude, reckless, emotionally unstable almost to the point of being unhinged and unpredictable. To make matters worse, she is dating a violent, abusive (borderline homicidal) military adrenaline junkie and coked who quickly finds out about the date, gathers a posse and is out for blood. Cue action driven hijinks, featuring copious amount of car related stunts.
The big special effect budget is actually something that baffles me because the movie did not really need it. In fact, it would probably be better if it did not have money to film cars repeatedly crashing into people’s living rooms. The high-budget physical comedy actually steals focus from the budding relationship between the two protagonists. Because they do seem to hit it off at some point - Denis actually grows to like the real Beth (daddy issues, insecurity, instability, reckless driving and all) and she sees him for more than some silly misguided nerd. But this plot line is never fully realized.
It’s like the director, Chris Columbus could not decide whether he wanted to make a crazy action comedy, a touching teen romance or something raunchy. In the end, he was left straddling all three, unable to somehow unify them into one coherent narrative.
The main story hook is lifted wholesale from a much better 90’s teen comedy Can’t Hardly Wait. Sadly, that movie’s charm and wit were not carried over. In fact, Can’t Hardly Wait seems remarkably more modern in it’s sensibilities despite being 11 years older. I love you, Beth Cooper really, really tries to channel 80’s teen movie vibe. In fact Columbus even got Alan Ruck to appear as the “cool dad” in a misguided attempt to either pay homage to or cash in on the Ferris Bueller nostalgia. In either case, the effect is probably completely lost on youngsters who grew up being mostly ignorant of Bueller (outside of the few memetic quotes still floating around), or jarring to those who actually remember it. The funny part is that while Columbus was courting 80’s with this film, he did not have the guts to make it a period piece. The movie is set in present times instead and as a result seems a bit detached from modern high school reality.
Near the end of the third act, Columbus decides to carpet bomb the audience with unexpected attempts at profundity. Denis finally has a real heart to heart conversation with Beth. She is concerned that her life has peaked in high school and that her best days are now behind her. It is almost eery to hear Hayden deliver these lines when you watch the movie in 2011, because she might as well be talking about her own career which peaked around 2009 and never really went anywhere from there.
Denzel Washington and Chris Pine stop a runaway train with the sheer power of their blue collar machismo.
Unstoppable is an entirely brain dead 2010 action thriller about a runaway train. It was loosely based on a true story, but it does not follow it. Instead it goes down the action movie cliche list, ticking down every single box.
A train, loaded to the brim with dangerous chemicals leaves the station with no one on board. Do to human errors and incompetence, it now careens out of control along the track like a mile long deadly missile.
Who is going to stop it averting the disaster? Trained professionals from the local emergency quick response teams specifically created to deal with such sticky situations? Hell no! The only people qualified to do this job are grizzled, unshaven blue collar dudes. The local police, emergency services, the national guard and countless governmental agencies that were alerted to the impending disaster couldn’t possibly handle this shit. This is a job for true American Heroes: beer drinking, football watching, working class men.
Hollywood seems to be in love with the romanticizing the Working Class Hero trope and Unstoppable is a perfect example of this. Sometimes it works very well, but in this instance it just seems forced and contrived.
Let me put it this way: the runaway problem could be resolved quickly and without fatalities by derailing it in sparsely populated area. Most rail companies have actual tools designed to do this in case of an emergency. And when these don’t work, and the train is heading toward a highly populated metropolis you can always stop it by blowing the tracks up. It might be costly, but its probably worth it if thousands of lives are at stake. But no one actually considers this an as an option.
Instead we get to witness a groans worthy parade of failed attempts to stop the rogue locomotive, that includes shooting guns at the emergency cutoff switch, and trying to lower an operator into the cab via a helicopter. Naturally all of these fail because the characters involved are not nearly gruff enough, and their collars are clearly not the right shade of blue.
Only after the two protagonists defy their evil, greedy boss and decide to stop the runaway by themselves things start looking up. After all this is the only proper way to be a hero: you must be a maverick and you must defy corrupt authority.
Perhaps the whole exercise wouldn’t be so bad if the perky, insubordinate heroes wouldn’t be such abominable walking, talking cliches. You have your old rail veteran, and a green rookie. At first they hate each other, but the crisis helps them to overcome their differences and become fast friends. The originality and freshness of this character design astounds me. After all, I have only seen this exact dynamic play out in every single other action movie out there.
The characters are shallow, and their back-stories seem tacked on. Each one gets a dysfunctional broken family unit torn apart by some barely explained bullshit conflict. Both wear their family issues it like a badge of honor. A badge that says “look at me, I’m totally a genuine real like person because I have marital problems.” But have no fear - their situation gets magically better just before the final credits via the power of contrived plot convenience and crappy writing.
Acting is fairly decent though. Denzel Washington is pretty much a veteran of these sort of movies. He could probably perform this role in his sleep, so even if he was phoning it in, we wouldn’t know. Chris pine keeps up with him for the most part, and their back and forward banter is somewhat… Annoying. I guess they were aiming for witty and relateable but I have more success relating to a box of tissues on my desk, than to the protagonists.
Director Tony Scott keeps the camera in motion, and cuts every 5 or 6 seconds to make sure the audience knows this is a fast paced action movie. He has clearly been taking cues from the Michael Bay school of making shitty movies. Fortunately, he manages to refrain from showing helicopters flying into the sunset. But seeing how there are copious amounts of news copter shots in the movie, I know he was tempted.
The movie is big, flashy and dumb. If you are smarter than a baked potato, you will be insulted by the plot contrivances and the superficiality of it’s characters. Watching Unstoppable is about as riveting as watching paint dry, and much, much less intellectually stimulating.
In short: it’s a train-wreck.
A man discovers that his best friend’s wife is having an affair and proceeds not to be funny for two fucking hours.
The Dilemma is a 2011 “comedy” starring Vince Vaughn, Kevin Smith, Jennifer Connely and Winona Ryder. I put the word comedy in quotations, because the movie is more or less the opposite of funny. It is a long, drawn out, boring attempt at producing some worthwhile situational jokes. A miserably failed attempt.
It is directed by Ron Howard, who actually has some decent films on his resume. He was at the wheel of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind so he is quite capable of making good character driven drama. However, he does not seem to have knack with comedy. His previous brush with the genre produced gems such as Cocoon, Splash an Willow (yes, in my opinion Willow is actually a tragicomedy of terrible, terrible decisions, chief of which was allowing George Lucas to write the script for it). To be honest, I have no clue why he is dabbling in the funny movies, since it is clearly not his strong suite.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying he can’t do comedy at all. After all he was the narrator in Arrested Development. He just doesn’t seem to be very good at directing it, or picking scripts that don’t suck.
Perhaps he assumed that Vaughn and James will just carry the movie for him. Unfortunately that does not happen. Vaughn has a brilliant delivery, but you have to feed him well written dialog, and direct him well to bring that out. If you like him from movies such as The Wedding Crashers, Dodge Ball or Old School you will be disappointing. The Dilemma gives him absolutely no good material to work with.
The plot revolves around two best friends and business partners scoring a deal of a lifetime with a huge mega corporation. James plays a brilliant automotive engineer whose invention will make both of them rich, if he can deliver a working prototype on a tight deadline. Vaughn is his fast talking friend, whose only skill is chatting up prospective clients. In other words he is a classic business school parasite making himself a career from latching onto and stealing the spotlight from his more talented, more successful but less socially capable buddy. Of course the movie tries to play it up like he has a vital role in the company and somehow earns his keep. Unfortunately you don’t see that - while James sweats bullets working on the prototype, Vaughn does everything but work. One day, while he is busy slacking off and tending to his personal affairs while he should be working, he spots his buddy’s wife having a steamy affair with some younger guy.
And therein lies the titular dilemma. Do you tell your best friend his wife is a cheating whore bag? Or do you not tell him, stalk his wife, break into her lovers’ apartment, get into a fistfight with him and keep digging yourself into a hole so deep you are probably not going to be able to climb out of it. Guess which of these two alternatives we get to see?
While watching a character make all the wrong decision, and make a sticky situation worse with his every move may sound amusing, the movie fails to deliver any laughs. In fact, the only time this movie made me chuckle was when Queen Latifah - the only token non-white person in the entire production - showed up on screen and immediately started talking “street” and making comments about “them white boys”. Her lines were not funny. I just couldn’t help but laugh at how cliche and unintentionally racist her character was made out to be.
If you happen to be a fan of Vince Vaughn, or Kevin James do yourself a favor and avoid this title like a plague. The Dilemma is so excruciatingly bad and unfunny that it will make your nipples bleed.
Adorable Emma Stone learns that whoring it up to the max is not only fun, but also profitable.
Easy A is a 2010 teen comedy,which continues the grand Hollywood tradition of 20 something actors pretend to be high school students. Because having real teenagers talk about sex would be inappropriate, right? So we make pretend.
Emma plays Olive, a shy, unpopular girl who tries to score cool points by lying about sleeping with a college guy. The news travel fast, and within the span of a single day she goes from virtual non-entity to a school wide infamous whore-bag. Instead of being emo about it, and inhaling six pints of Hagen Dazs (like teenage girls always seem to do in the movies) she decides to embrace this new reputation, and milk it for all the attention she can get. In the process she realizes she can actually turn her fake promiscuity into a profitable side business. In exchange for gifts and money, she has pretend-sex with all the dorks, geeks and social outcasts.
Apparently banging the biggest slut in school automatically makes you a cool dude, and is the ultimate defense against bullying. Especially if you happen to be gay. Easy A teaches us that paying a girl to say she has slept with you will automatically win you acceptance among the football jocks who used to beat you up, and will magically fix all your identity problems.
While the entire plot of the movie revolves around sex, no one is actually having any. It is made very clear that Olive is really a good girl and most definitely a virgin, and that any girl who isn’t one is properly demonized. After all, we wouldn’t want to have a teen comedy featuring a strong, sexually liberated female protagonist. That would be silly. And most definitely we wouldn’t want a movie like this to actually tackle the social issues surrounding the sexual double standard head on. No, we embrace the double standards and exploit the social stigma surrounding expression female sexuality for cheep laughs.
Olive quickly learns that exploring your sexuality, even if it’s make-believe, is completely wrong shameful and that it will totally ruin your life. At the end of the movie she is forced to back-pedal, take everything back and reveal she was a sweet and innocent virgin all along. After all, reputation amongst your peers is the most important thing in the world, especially for a High School senior who is going to fuck off to college in a few months.
But hey, it’s a comedy. Emma Stone is cute as a button, charming and seems to be having a blast doing funny faces for comic relief. She shows that she is perfectly capable of the role of leading lady. She also writes little whimsical chapter titles on notebook paper as she narrates the story. For shits and giggles I decided to emulate this, in my reaction shot for this review.
It also features Amanda Bynes as goody two-shoes christian-abstinence poster girl and an antagonist of sorts. Though her character is mostly used to take vicious jabs at the Christian youth. There doesn’t seem to be an anti-religious agenda there though. These jokes are mostly done as a balancing act. Olive gets more or less crucified for her pretend-promiscuity, but it would probably be very uncool if kids mistook this as promotion of chastity and wholesome values. And so, Bynes gets to play an intentionally annoying character that could be ridiculed not necessarily for her beliefs, but for her hypocrisy in relation to them. You know, for balance.
In the end, no one really learns anything. Olive manages to restore her reputation, and does not have to deal with the social stigma anymore. The Christian girl is more or less vindicated in her misguided campaign against whoring. The movie flirts with exploring social issues surrounding female sexuality and it’s expression but then quickly backs away and plays it safe.
The whole enterprise seems to be a vehicle to show Emma Stone prance around her room singing “I’ve got a pocket full of Sunshine”. And that is coincidentally the most enjoyable part of this whole movie.
Jailbait Ellen Page tortures a pedophile for an hour and forty five minutes, the movie. No seriously, you may think I’m joking but I’m not. That’s exactly what this movie is.
Hard Candy is a 2005 psychological thriller starring youthful Ellen Page and less youthful Patrick Willson and pretty much no one else. Its basically two people in a room talking. Oh, and dick torture.
Patrick Willson plays a shifty photographer, who manages to seduce a 14 year old girl in a chatroom. They meet in real life and he takes her home intending to do some good old fashioned molestation. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that the teenage Hayley is actually a dangerous vigilante, and she has her own agenda for the evening. She is like a pint sized Batman, with a penchant for genital mutilation.
Willson gets roofied, wakes up strapped to a chair, and his would-be victim turns all Chris Hansen on him trying to extract a confession of past crimes. When that does not work, she dons an apron, takes out surgical instruments, opens an anatomy textbook and sets out to perform a live castration without anesthesia.
Ellen Page is great, and her character is strong, confident, tightly wound ball of rage and malice. But you end up rooting for her because you can’t really root for the pedo, can you? So the main strength of the movie is the old switcharoo maneuver. The predator becomes the prey, and a tiny 14 year old girl outwits and takes down a grown man and making him cry and beg for mercy.
The movie really plays up the shock value of what is transpiring on screen. While the visuals are not graphic or gory the fear, pain and suffering is clearly channeled by the two excellent leads. Initially a lot is left unsaid, about Hayleys’ motivation and the way she found her victim. The audience is left wandering whether or not she will uncover evidence of the crimes she claims her victim committed, or if she is mistakenly torturing the wrong pervert (and if she is, is she still justified in doing so).
Despite very strong performance from both leads, and suspense filled atmosphere the film lacks depth. While initially the situation seems at least a bit ambiguous, the ending manages to remove all doubt, vindicate the protagonist, and utterly demonize the bad guy. The overall message is… “Don’t be a pedophile” I guess. The film touches upon a controversial, and loaded subject but fails to really explore it. It coasts on the shock value of sudden role reversal, and goes for the cheep thrills rather than deeper introspection. And as such, it is more an exploitation flick, rather than anything else. With respect to amount of physical pain seen on the screen, it is akin to watching Passion of the Christ, where the religious themes are replaced with extreme wang torture.
If you like Ellen Page, I should probably warn you that this movie is the ultimate boner killer. Sure, she is seductive, confident, cunning and coy but watching her perform a hostile testicle extraction is a definite turnoff. Unless of course you have a strange fetish for that, in which case you will probably enjoy yourself more than you reasonably should.
Hard Candy is rather shallow shock thriller. But you could do much worse. At least it has very well written dialogue, excellent acting and riveting, boner killing suspense.