Archive for January, 2009

The Wrestler

January 26, 2009

Yesterday, the wife and I journeyed to Nashville to see “The Wrestler” on its opening weekend. While my review will be somewhat biased by the fact that I had to sit in the second row and proceeded to get more than a little motion sick (lots of hand-held cameras), I thought I’d provide some attempt at commentary. (I should give a spoiler alert here– don’t read if you don’t want to know).

Mickey Rourke stars as “Randy the Ram” Robinson, a washed-up former big shot pro wrestler. Randy now plays the small town circuit, slamming and bleeding for a modest sized room full of nostalgic fans, who remember who he was, rather than who he is. After one particularly gruesome match (and yes, this IS gruesome), Randy has a heart attack and is told that he can no longer wrestle.

In a search to find some meaning in his life, Randy tries to form a relationship with a stripper, Cassidy, played by Marisa Tomei. Cassidy alternates between letting the Ram into her off-stage persona a bit and pushing him back. On her advice, Randy tries to reconnect with his bitter daughter. He also gets a job working in a grocery store deli, dispensing meats, slaws and salads with a good-timing wise-cracking manner which makes Randy a lot more likeable than he otherwise is.

The other side of Randy comes through when, in a bar, a woman asks him if he “wants to party”. We next see him snort speed/coke/something and having sex with this woman in the bar’s bathroom. He blows off a scheduled dinner with his daughter when he oversleeps after his “partying”. Angered when a customer recognizes him, Randy slices up his hand at the deli and rips apart the store in an angry spree. In a last meeting with his daughter, she tearfully tells him, and rightly so, that he is a f*** up.

Randy decides to return for another wrestling match, a rematch from a 1985 bout which helped to make him a wrestling legend. Cassidy has a moment of clarity and leaves her strip club, running to the match, urging Randy not to wrestle because of his heart problems. Randy declines, enters the ring and makes a dramatic speech indicating that “you people [the fans] are my family” and that the only people who will tell him when to quit are the fans. He undertakes his bout. Toward the end, he begins having chest pains. He wheels to look one more time to see if Cassidy is still there and watching, but she is gone. Despite pleas from his opponent to end the match, Randy teeteringly climbs to the top rope, where he prepares to launch his signature move “The Ram Jam”, with tears in his eyes, as he knows that this will likely end his life. He launches the move and the screen goes black.

I can’t say I enjoyed The Wrestler, but I felt that it was a very well-made and worthwhile film. The reviews I read seem to see Randy the Ram as a hero, a man true to his art above all else. I didn’t see it that way. I saw Randy, in his daughter’s words, as a f*** up, a human caution case about the danger of falling in love with a false sense of celebrity. If Randy the Ram had put half the intensity and energy into his relationship with his daughter or his wise-cracking deli work that he did into wrestling, he would have survived, maybe, in a limited sense, even prospered. It is appropriate that Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” was commissioned for and ends this film. In “Devils and Dust”, The Boss asked “What if what you do to survive kills the things you love?” This time around, he seems to be asking “What if you spend all your love on a thing that kills you?”. There is a battered nobility to Randy the Ram, but more than that, there was just an abiding emptiness. The Wrestler is profound. I don’t know if I can recommend it to everyone. There is a lot of blood, there is a lot of bare breast, and there is a large void in this film where meaningful human relationship never fits for Randy the Ram. But that’s the point. And if you need to see it, I hope you do.

Joe

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Book #5

January 26, 2009

Starring Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davies

This book, admittedly a bit of a departure from my usual stuff, was a history of Sherlock Holmes in film and television. I was in my early teens when I read the Sherlock Holmes stories and saw Jeremy Brett starring as Holmes on Masterpiece Theatre. (Yes, clearly, my pre-teen to early teen years were a non-stop thrill ride, as I personally lowered the average age of the Masterpiece Theatre viewer by about a decade). This book talks about that series, but also discusses German Sherlock Holmes movies, silent Sherlock Holmes movies, even, God help us all, a recent movie where Rupert Everett played Sherlock Holmes. Brief mention was also given to at least two pornographic Sherlock Holmes movies. Yes, I’m not kidding.

The book was an interesting read, and the different ways of adapting AC Doyle’s stories tell a lot more about the social mores of the particular time than it does about Sherlock himself. Not a bad book, but much like the last one, if you aren’t interested in the underlying subject, this probably wouldn’t change your mind.

Joe

Book #4 of the quest

January 19, 2009

4. I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski- by four random guys whose names I don’t remember

The fourth book of the quest for 50 in 2009 definitely qualifies as a little light reading. Four fans of The Big Lebowski pooled their collective minds and work ethics and created a book about all things Lebowski. The book includes interviews with most of the actors from the film, as well as most of the people who underwent the actual events which make up the plot (to the extent that there IS a linear plot) of the film. Also included is a dictionary of Lebowski-speak, a second by second commentary of the movies, information and photos of the various Lebowski Fests over the years.

Probably the best thing about the book is that it made me want to watch the movie again. Every time through Lebowski, I see something I didn’t see before. The movie flat out grows on me, and chances are either a) it grew on you too or b) you’ve never seen this movie and frankly don’t like the idea of it. This is understandable. It’s weird, it makes fairly little sense and is possibly the most profane movie I’ve ever seen (close call vs. Pulp Fiction). But it’s great anyway. Or maybe because of all of these things.

The book is fun. I dig it. I’m not saying it’s life altering or anything, but it’s a fun read and will likely inspire even more Lebowksi viewings. The Dude abides.

Joe

Also, I should note, one particular highlight of the book is that it informed me that in a televised version of the movie, John Goodman’s classic screaming rant where he screams “This is what happens when you (f. expletive) a stranger in the (a. expletive)” was instead rendered “This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps.” I have no idea what it means, but it scares me.

Book #3- Million Dollar Bash by Sid Griffin

January 16, 2009

No I haven’t forgotten the blog. Yes, I have been engaged in one of the busiest, craziest weeks ever– more on that later. But I’m back with another book I managed to squeeze in (and I’m working on two more currently).

3. Million Dollar Bash by Sid Griffin

This book is a chronicle of Bob Dylan and the Band’s semi-famous Basement Tapes. The 1967 Tapes gave birth to rock bootlegs two years later, when after Dylan failed to release them, various and sundry underground characters did. In 1975, they were finally bestowed on the world, admitted with many of the best songs missing entirely and (in my opinion) with way too many solo performances by The Band. Some will contend that the Tapes gave birth to the alt.country genre which I love so well.

I don’t know. Personally, I think that like all things Dylan, people get the reality and the image intertwined and have trouble separating the two. Don’t get me wrong, the Basement Tapes aren’t bad– probably ranking around 8-15 in the list of best Dylan albums (and yes, I have made such a list). But out of the Basement has come a whole school of rock criticism that wants to pin the Declaration of Independence, the Mayflower, birth control. Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again, et al, etc. on The Basement Tapes. If you want that, check out “The Old, Weird America” by Greil Marcus. It’s alternatingly deeply interesting and like wading a written river of bullcrap. I’ve never read a book that tries so hard to know something, anything.

On the other hand, Sid Griffin mostly avoids the hyperbole and the cliches. He is more a technincal student, devoting a chapter on the equipment used to record The Basement Tapes. His analysis of the recordings themselves is very proficient, interesting and readable.

Basically, this book was much more enjoyable than the Marcus book. It does not try anywhere near as hard, and does not seek to unlock the meaning of American consciousness or anything, but it’s just a good thorough history of the musicians and the recordings. Honestly, if you’ve never heard the album (either the somewhat lame released 1975 version or one of the many still circulating bootleg versions with about 80 other songs and alternate performances), you won’t care. If you did, you might like it. Kind of like the way I feel about the Basement Tapes really.

Joe

50 Books of 2009- #2 (and a great story)

January 6, 2009

My second book on the quest was inspired by the story it tells. While I recommend the book heartily, I want to tell the story first. Here it is, as best I can remember it, and get the details right.

We start in 1930s New York City with an aging (about 60) bum named Michael Malloy. Malloy, in better days, had been a fireman, but it was the Depression and everybody was poor, which made Malloy drink, which made him an alcoholic, which made him a bum. Specifically, a bum without family or close friends. Malloy frequents a speakeasy (it’s Prohibition AND a Depression) run by a small-time hoodlum named Anthony Marino. It being the Depression, Marino is also poor. He wants some money and eventually hatches a scheme with a couple of cohorts. They will insure Michael Malloy’s life, kill him, and collect the money.

Somehow, they do insure Malloy. Next, Marino approaches him and explains that due to competition, he’s opening up credit to Malloy again. Malloy is overjoyed and they funnel booze into him, with hopes that he’ll drink himself to death. When he doesn’t, the gang decides to go for tougher measures. They start cutting his drinks with wood alcohol, which can induce blindness in small quantities and can kill in moderate quantities. This has no effect on Malloy. They eventually quit cutting, and just start feeding him wood alcohol. When this has no effect, they try horse linament and rat poison (according to some, not mentioned in the book). Nothing happens.

Someone realizes food might help. Marino takes a can of sardines, opens them and leaves them out to rot. They do. A “sandwich” of rotted sardines, carpet tacks, and metal shavings is made for Malloy. He eats it. No problems.

Realizing that food will not help, the gang encourages Malloy to drink himself senseless on another night. He does, then they take him to a public park. It’s 13 below zero, and they strip him of his shirt, pour five gallons of water on him and leave him. The next morning, Malloy is back in the speakeasy, none the worse for wear.

One of the gang knows a cab driver, whose help is enlisted. With a fall-down-drunk Malloy in tow, they travel to the edge of nowhere, and the driver runs over Malloy at 45 miles per hour. The gang runs off. They do not see Malloy for a few days. No hospitals do either. Confused, the gang finds another vagrant who looks like Malloy and runs him over too. He gets hospitalized for 55 days, which no one knows at this point. Of course, in the meanwhile, the real Malloy reappears, slightly injured, but none the worse for wear.

Finally, the gang gets Malloy to drink himself unconscious again, takes him to nearby room, and connects a tube to the gas line and runs it down Malloy’s throat. He finally dies. Another member of the gang, an undertaker, hastily has Malloy buried.

Of course, the gang bickers among themselves, talks too much, and generally ends up getting caught. Four of the five main conspirators are executed in the electric chair. The fifth is imprisoned for life.

2. On the House by Simon Read

This is the story that Simon Read tells. I really don’t know much else to say about it. The book isn’t particularly well written, but as far as I can tell, it’s the only book anybody ever wrote about the whole thing, so if you want to learn more about it, Simon Read pretty well cornered the market.

One can only hope that the Coen brothers have heard about this.

Joe

Books of 2009– #1

January 6, 2009

Yes, I’m continuing the list theme. I am trying to challenge myself to read 50 books in 2009. Which would also be a good excuse for 50 blog posts, and thus seemed to be killing two birds with one stone.

1. Boys Will Be Boys- Jeff Pearlman

Pearlman’s book is the story of the 1990s Dallas Cowboys. I bought the book (ok, I asked for the book for Christmas) on the promise of new and unheard stories of bizarre antisocial behavior. Pearlman delivered. He begins the book with All-Pro Wide Receiver Michael Irvin stabbing a teammate in the neck with barber scissors. Yes, you read that right. He also details Defensive End Charles Haley’s schitzophrentic behavior, including but not limited to, trying to beat up then-teammate Steve Young and then-coach George Seifert, urinating into then-teammate Tim Harris’s vehicle, and most amazingly, (how to say this in a PG rated blog), pleasuring himself while discussing the merits of teammates’ wives in team meetings.

In between, there was a lot of football. The book comes off as a cautionary tale on two levels: 1) NFL players, by and large, are horrible people and 2) It’s impossible to build a dynasty due to individual egos. The first point, while the specifics are shocking, was not a great surprise, and the second point is really what makes this book worthwhile, shock value aside. I enjoyed it very much, and was surprised at what a quick read it was. I’m not saying the book is a classic, but it’s a pleasurable read, and an interesting cautionary tale.

Joe