SLIFF 2008 Reviews from Day 10

December 10, 2008 at 5:02 pm | Posted in Brian Vacek, Movies, Review, SLIFF | 2 Comments

Day 10: Sunday 11/23 (Notes: This was the final day and my overall favorite.)

From Inside and The Wrestler

Title: From Inside
Director: John Bergin
Country: USA
Score: 10
Review:
Graphic novelist Bergin adapts his own nightmares into an animated feature film with a half-dozen crew members, Maya 3D software and a whole lot of patience. The result is one of the best movies at SLIFF, though it was largely tucked away in the same time slot of the buzz-generating “Waltz with Bashir.” Nevertheless, I was determined not to miss it after reading the synopsis (a destination-unknown train traveling through a surreal post-apocalyptic wasteland) and watching the trailer. I couldn’t help resonating powerfully with the film, though I am clearly more biased towards it than I expect others would be (I love trains, surrealism and post-apocalyptic landscapes. Also, my own student short, based on my nightmares, had a similar premise).

“From Inside” uses a combination of CG and hand-painted watercolors from Bergin’s graphic novel to illustrate the haunting locomotive voyage of pregnant girl. She doesn’t remember where her train comes from and neither she, nor the passengers nor even the engineers know where it is going. Outside the windows, a featureless landscape passes by. It is eventually overtaken by startling locations: a rusting bridge, a sea of blood, flooded ruins, a monumental refinery, an endless tunnel and more.

Our introverted protagonist provides narration in lieu of dialogue, keeping us in claustrophobic isolation from the other passengers. We spend our time in her dreams and private reveries instead of the roaming omniscient perspective audiences are used to. Her voice has an eerie, hypnotic quality that ties together the bleak, but imaginative, artwork. Though it completely eschews notions of hope and salvation, “From Inside’s” disturbing imagery and brooding score still reaches a spiritual crescendo that is profoundly moving.

After gushing to the sound designer afterwards, his wife gave my brother and me unofficial copies of the film. I’ll be watching it often. The From Inside website should have information on the official DVD when it becomes available.

Title: The Wrestler
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Country: USA
Score: 9.5
Review:
Aronofsky’s latest film may be his most mature, and it certainly managed to convince critics (it took the Golden Lion at Venice) of what cult audiences already know: that Aronofsky is one of the most important directors of the last ten years.

“The Wrestler” is Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a WWF-style professional wrestler 20 years past his prime. Sitting at a sparsely-attended merchandise signing, he notices that most of his peers have leg braces, wheelchairs and other evidence of their fading health. Randy isn’t immune either; his rigorous tanning and toning doesn’t disguise the fact that his body is breaking down. He wears a hearing aid and stuffs himself with drugs to sustain everything from fists and folding chairs to barbed wire and staple guns. Most threatening is his failing heart. Outside the ring his life is also a mess: he is frequently locked out of his trailer, works odd hours at a grocery store to make ends meet and has an estranged lesbian daughter who hates him.

Marisa Tomei plays Randy’s romantic interest, a stripper nearing retirement age. Far from being a simple plot device for their mutual redemption, her character has a life nearly as full of complications and contradictions. She definitely goes all-out in her role, giving Rourke a run for his money and one-upping her eyebrow-raising role in “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead” for sheer nudity. I’ve got more than a little bit of a crush on Tomei, and I can guarantee that anyone who shares that sentiment will go away happy.

Aronofsky’s approach is touchingly realistic, reminding me of the unsentimental humanism of the Dardenne brothers. Mickey Rourke gives a career performance as The Ram, not just looking the part perfectly, but imbuing the character with a likability that I would have thought impossible (as I hate wrestling). Randy is a throwback to the 80’s, a decade he desperately misses both for its culture of reveling in devil-may-care extremism and for his personal stardom. Yet Aronofsky manages to do a lot more than merely play on nostalgia (he wisely does without flashbacks) or to harp on how pathetic Randy is (I even sensed an affectionate tone at times), by making us care about a character we’d normally laugh at.

The film brings the boxing genre (I’m defining it loosely) into the present day. It leaves films like “Cinderella Man” and “Rocky Balboa” weeping in the locker room, revealing them to be mere has-beens compared to the freshness and defiance of this film. “The Wrestler” owes more to “Raging Bull” (1980), a film Aronofsky consciously references in one of his funniest scenes: a continuous tracking shot of Randy entering, not a stadium, but a deli. I imagine that Aronofsky can sit back for a while and just let the Oscars come pouring in.

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