Archive for March, 2011

Yer a Bum Rock! Ya Coulda Been a Contender!

Posted in Review with tags , , on March 17, 2011 by JonH

(Cue somber music. Fade into a long shot of a rainy street with dirty water flowing into a gutter.)

There’s something potentially depressing about chasing your dreams – that is if you’re still chasing them well beyond any rational point where you should have begun down the path to something else.

Tempering your dreams with a smidge of reality might be the best course of action to avoid that problem. You know, an education, an open mind, some exposure to other interests, that sort of thing.

That’s not always easy to do though. The perception is that reality stultifies dreams, and a flaccid dream is so . . . so pedestrian.

Without being stifling, a small dose of reality as a contingency plan just means that at some point in life should you need to revisit where you want to be – other than where it is you thought you’d be in the first place (i.e. living the dream), you’ve got a back-up.

Robin Robinson (aka Randy the Ram, aka Robin Ramzinski) represents the anthithesis of someone with a back-up plan. The Ram is the main character from director Darren Aronofsky’s film The Wrestler. Expertly played by Mickey Rourke, he’s the epitome of a one trick pony. He lives in the past, revels in former glories, and is completely oblivious to the impact he has on other people’s lives.

Eerily similar to the guys from the docu(rocku)mentary Anvil, the Ram is a guy way past his prime who continues doing what he’s done in the past because it’s the only thing he knows. He’s absolutely conditioned by the elusive American Dream, and the rush that recognition gives him. Other than his part time job as a deli clerk working for an officious, porn-watching-prick-of-a-boss, he has nothing to fall back on, and this includes family and prospects for work.

After suffering a heart attack, Randy is told by his doctor never to wrestle again. He struggles with loneliness, a body that’s breaking down, and various addictions. This is one of Randy’s only true moments of reflection throughout the movie. He confides in the only person close to him, a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). She suggests that he talk with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).

Initially rebuffing his attempt to come back into her life, Stephanie begins to open up to the idea of reconciliation, and their relationship begins to show some growth. Inevitably, however, it’s disabled by Randy’s inability to grow out of the life he’s created for himself.

The Wrestler is about failed connections between individuals, and the superficial connections that take their place. Everything in the movie from the stark, somber surroundings of the city to the Ram’s life circumstances is depressing, but that’s good. The characters are raw; the situations are desperate, and ultimately, the movie conveys Randy’s day-to-day struggles in a very palpable way: you feel like you need to take a shower after watching this movie.

Watching the movie, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster and its discussion of the American dream, and how it’s thrust out to us as something easily acquired.

What frustrated me about the movie are the opportunities for emotional investment it fails to exploit.

I’m not ashamed to admit it, but sometimes watching a film ripe with the prospects of compassion, forgiveness, and genuine connection between people almost guarantees that I’ll be covering my sleeves in snot and eye juice, but this wasn’t one of those films, and that bugged me.

Ironically, watching Mickey Rourke play the role of the aged wrestler way past his prime as he struggles through relationships makes me feel better about my dreams of becoming a Pulitzer prize winner blogger. At least I’ve got my wife’s income to fall back on.

(Cue Rocky theme. Slow fade in of triumphant writer with arms held aloft after winning the Nobel Peace Prize – camera close up of a single tear flowing down the writer’s cheek. Pause. Fade out.)

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Battle: Los Angeles

Posted in Review with tags , on March 14, 2011 by JonH

At first blush, it’s easy to pan the sci-fi/war movie Battle: Los Angeles for its shortcomings, especially when compared to other movies of each genre. As far as science fiction goes, it’s not as unique as District 9, and it’s not as menacing as War of the Worlds. As far as war movies go, it’s not as intense as Hurt Locker, or as well shot as Blackhawk Down. Additionally, its characters are underdeveloped and cliché while the plot is episodic. (By that I mean we can look forward to sequels.) Despite these deficiencies Battle: Los Angeles does offer food for thought in terms of the global need for resources.

Rather than comprising insurgents, third-world warlords, or Nazis, Battle: Los Angeles follows Echo Company, a group of American marines led by nearly-retired Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, played by Aaron Eckhart, as they try and devise a way to defeat an extraterrestrial occupation force bent on colonizing the planet in an attempt to secure a very specific resource: water.

Water as a more highly sought after resource than oil becomes an interesting one when viewed in light of its metaphorical implications. In reality, water is obviously essential to our physical survival, and oil is the foundation of our economy. In Battle: Los Angeles the need for water is presented on two different levels, and as two separate metaphors.

The first is the water as oil metaphor. The aliens need water to fuel their ships, and we’re told in the movie that the Earth is unique in the galaxy as the only place where water exists in liquid form. For an alien race capable of space travel, it’s easier to acquire Earth’s water than say Jupiter’s moon Europa’s water with its surface of ice. In more terrestrial, and literal, terms, as far as procurement of a natural resource goes, this is like saying it’s easier to attain and control Iraqi or African oil than it would be to attain and control Alberta tar sands oil. Obviously, as is the case of American occupation forces in certain countries, it’s easier (one could argue wiser) to depose a third-world dictator than it is to overthrow a trading partner and close ally.

The movie also raises the notion of dwindling water supplies, and by association, the desire for various powers to control water supplies. We can get by without oil; however, we can’t get by without water. In the context of no water = no life, it could be argued that a global water shortage could lead to confrontation between countries and powers. In terms of the movie, if you think of the aliens as humans desperate to control water supplies the initial metaphor of water as fuel for machines takes on another level of abstraction as it becomes water as fuel for human machines.

Another interesting aspect of the film is the aliens using drones as a means to inflict casualties. There are obvious parallels to be drawn between that and the American military’s use of Predator and Reaper drones in their war against Al-qaeda and the Taliban; yet another, is the idea that they trace radio frequency communications as means to locating humans. Considering their ubiquity, we must have been easy to pick off.

However, in the end, the water metaphors can’t rescue Battle: Los Angeles from being too banal. The effects are good; the action unrelenting, but predictable; the acting unremarkable, and the music unmemorable. Maybe they’ll get it right with the sequel. If not, there’s always part three. If the movie makes enough money, which it probably will, I’m sure we can look forward to each of these.