Saturday, March 28, 2009

I NEED A SHOT OF TESTOTERONE STAT

Sarah and I sat on the couch tonight talking about the various qualms that any engaged couple has, I think. We talked about various dreams we'd had in the past weeks and the nervous twitters and the slow shedding of skins that is required if we're ever going to try to get inside someone else's skin. For my part, one of my struggles is, quite frankly, with domesticity.


Tonight, case in point. We spent the evening unpacking the latest wedding shower gifts, which included myself spending an hour putting various and sundry spices into a new spice rack container. While taking out the recycling, I stopped in the pale moonlight and seriously contemplated peeing in the corner of the yard for no other reason than it was night and it was possible. I mean, let's be honest: peeing in your own yard is an honest pleasure. It's a struggle, after being un-housebroken for 13 years, to be domesticated, to spend an evening putting up silverware and writing thank-you notes. But it's a fight worth having, I think, as I love this woman, and a certain level of domesticity is part of the deal.

Which leads to my review of The Secret Life of Bees. If tonight's agenda of stocking coriander seeds wasn't scintillating enough, last night was writing thank you notes (albeit, for some cool stuff, like a 12 cup French press and a griddle), and watching a chick flick with fiancee and fiancee's mom. I'll spare you the blow by blow, and sum up the plot in four sentences:

1) White girl runs away from abusive dad to hide out in Civil-Rights era small town with black family.

2) Girl learns value of cultural differences through bottling honey and hanging out with Queen Latifah and Alicia Keys.

3) Girl turns her back on father and becomes a writer.

4) Alicia Keys looks really good and way intimidating. No clue why this movie is called what it is.

Paste magazine, one of my favorite monthly reads, gave this film a 37% rating out of 100. If you're looking for estrogenal overload, this is it. As a pubescent Dakota Fanning tried to convince me that she was falling in love with a 17 year old dude, I could feel nostrils flaring. As Queen Latifah tried to convince me that she was really a matronly figure who believed in the Black Madonna, I felt my beard growing more prickly and resistant to feminine wiles. Again, I love Sarah Martin, and Barb is a great future mother-in-law, but next time, I'm renting Pineapple Express and going in the back room.

One-half racist old guy out of five.

I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS, AND I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW IT

Monday, March 16, 2009

SWEDEN TAKES THE GOLD MEDAL IN THE VAMPIRE FILM OLYMPICS


i watched a film yesterday that makes me regret any overly high praise i've given to films here in the past. i regret that high praise because, somehow, those comments might detract from the high praise i want to give to a film right now. if you've ever heard me say anything great and grand about a film, it was spoken at a time before i knew about LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. this is one of those rare films that changes the way you look at film altogether. such a thing happened with me and A TALE OF TWO SISTERS last spring. after watching the korean cinema revive an ancient korean fairy tale so subtly and poetically, i began looking at films differently from that point. perhaps i finally realized what films were capable of, and everything seemed to pale in comparison. that's how i feel about LET THE RIGHT ONE IN: it achieved something films rarely achieve, and so much will pale in comparison to it.

the story here is simple. oskar is a bright young lad who lives in south sweden. he likes rubics cubes and newspaper clippings. his parents are divorced, and his mother is overly protective. and oskar doesn't have the heart to tell her that all the scrapes and bruises he comes home with every day are from the school bullies. he makes up other excuses to hide the truth.

eli (pronounced ellie) moves in next door. eli walks out into snow in short sleeves and barefeet. she announces to oskar that they cannot be friends. when oskar asks eli if she feels cold standing out in the snow with so few clothes on, eli responds "i've forgotten how to feel cold." oskar is intrigued by his new neighbor. and, against eli's first declarations, the two become friends.

weird things start happening soon after oskar and eli meet, things that tip oskar off that his new friend may not be like anyone else. when eli finally reveals to oskar that she is a vampire, oskar has to decide what to do with their relationship. for a 12 year old lad who has no friends at school, losing eli is not an option. where their relationship takes them makes for one of the best film endings i've ever witnessed. 

i'm not sure i can recommend this film highly enough. and i'm not even sure what about the film i wish to recommend. the story is bold and unique. the acting is flawless, especially from such young actors. and the filmmaking feels careful and deliberate. put that altogether and you have a film that soars on every single level. 

by the way, i have anticipated this film for several months after seeing it receive a 100% ranking on rottentomatoes. it's had a little time to decline to 97% since then, but, still, a 100% ranking is rarer than rare. it like never happens. and then to see that this 100% film was a vampire movie intrigued me even more. usually, i do not trust the reviews. these folks look for things in film that do not interest me. however, this time the reviews and i are in total agreement. 

i give LET THE RIGHT ONE IN five panicked house cats out of five. push this film to the top of your netflix. run to the blockbuster today. shucks, drive over to my place tonight. you'll be thanking me you did. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

BORN TO SUFFER, BORN TO DIE

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

To discuss what I take to be the most profound message of The Wrestler, I'll bring in another one of my all-time favorites, Rocky IV. I've spent a lot of time over the last week sitting on couches and doing mindless work with various movies in the background, including Rocky I-IV. The repetition that runs through III and IV is pretty amazing, and audacious: the same closing scene in all of them, the same precursor to the main event (a key character dying). But that's neither here nor there.

Rocky IV centers on two stories: the nihilism and suffering of Apollo Creed, and the triumphant suffering of Rocky Balboa. Rocky does what he always does, which is to take a beating in order to overcome the bad guy, to prove to himself that he's not scared, that he's not a bum. But Apollo Creed's reasons are a little darker. Beyond the money or the prestige, Apollo recognizes that he is, at his core, a fighter, and that, "when you're in the ring, the people love you, but as soon as you're gone, they forget all about you." In other words, for Apollo to be Apollo--for Apollo to exist, he must be the one fighting and the one suffering. There is no Apollo that is not a suffering Apollo.

And so, as Creed enters the ring one last time to take on Ivan Drago, it's with no small sense of irony. Creed dances and shakes his way into the ring against a superior opponent, backed by James Brown and a glowing appreciation of America, knowing full well that this is not the real Apollo--the one who plays for the crowds and dances and smiles. The real Apollo is the one that the crowd can scarcely watch--the one about to suffer and be killed.

Rocky, by contrast, holds his suffering at a distance. He views fighting as something he's good at, something he does to prove to himself that he can. In other words, he suffers not because it is who he is, but because through the suffering in the ring, Rocky knows that he doesn't need it, and can walk away from it.
**

Enter The Wrestler. The Wrestler is the movie that would be made if Apollo Creed were the star of the Rocky films. The film tells the story of two figures, Randy "the Ram" Robinson and Cassidy, two figures who make their living with their bodies, but whose bodies are failing them. Randy is twenty years past his prime, still wrestling on the weekends in a succession of bloodier and bloodier matches that do little but batter his body and prolong his disgrace and agony.

But ironically, it is only int he ring that Randy finds his life. After a heart attack and doctor's orders to never wrestle again, Randy reunites with his long-lost nemesis for one more main event. This is complicated by his blossoming relationship with Cassidy, who comes to him to return his affections, just as Randy is about to walk down the ramp one more time. In the face of true love, Randy hears the yawning crowds and declares, "The only place I get hurt is out there. The world don't give a shit about me."

And much like Creed, Randy walks out to Guns N' Roses in a moment of total irony: the crowd sing his praises so long as he spills his blood and sacrifices himself. As Randy makes his grand speech to the crowd, he looks up to the runway and sees that Cassidy is not waiting. There is no grand reunion; there is no second chance. During the fight, Randy feels his heart grab, and keeps going, climbing the turnbuckle to the crowd's applause, and jumps off into silence as the movie ends.

Whereas in Rocky, suffering is kept at a distance, something a person can hold at arms' length or engage in for other reasons, in The Wrestler, there is no illusion that suffering is part of the deal, not to be avoided. They know that what they are doing will kill them, that in the end, their lives are lived only as suffering ones, those devoured by the crowd. For The Wrestler, there is no happy ending: Cassidy is Rocky, holding suffering at a distance, while Apollo gets the center stage at last, dying as he has lived--a demonstration that in order to gain everything that one loves, one has to lose it all.