Pro Wrestlers Talk About The Wrestler, on slashfilm

The Wrestler isn’t really about wrestling per se, it’s about Randy “the Ram” as a man and his inability to change… but you can’t really separate the two. Now some famous wrestlers chip in their thoughts about the film, in a series of interviews on slashfilm. The link to the full article with the interviews is at the bottom, here is a short clip of this excellent article.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog than you know my love for Fox Searchlight movies. But the love goes beyond their films — these guys know how to market an indie film (something I can’t say for Sony Pictures Classics). A couple weeks back we brought you some clips from Darren Aronofsky’s interview with Danny Boyle, which was a brilliant idea if I’ve ever heard one.

Now Searchlight has returned with a five part roundtable interview with professional wrestlers Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Lex Luger, Diamond Dallas Page, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine talking about Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. What a great idea. You can watch all five of the videos after the jump. I hope they include these on the DVD. The Wrestler is now playing in a city near you.

5 Interview videos and more at the original article at slashfilm.

2008 Retrospective

Top ten lists suck. Movies can be so different, yet so enjoyable, that it can be difficult to compare them against one another. For example, one of my favorite cinema experiences this year was Role Models, but is it really one of the top 10 movies of 2008? Then again, who the hell am I to think that this blog post is a monument in history, and by leaving out Frost/Nixon I’m upsetting the balance of the universe?

Here are the movies I enjoyed most in 2008. This means they can be the pinnacle of their own genre. That’s why something twee like Son of Rambow or brutal like Rambo can beat out The Curious Case of Benji’s Mean Buttin’.

10. The Fall
Probably the most gorgeous visuals of 2008, other than Wall-E. A injured stuntman (Lee Pace) tells tall tales to a little girl in the hospital, but not just to befriend her. The fantasies he constructs reminded me of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and the story itself is engaging enough to make it more than eye candy. A sleeper of the year.

9. Milk
Sure, Sean Penn’s performance is incredible. But let’s not give James Franco, Emil Hirsch and Josh Brolin short shrift! Even Diego Luna is good as a drama queen. But beyondf the acting, this is one of Gus Van Sant’s best- he brings us to ’70s San Francisco as deftly as David Fincher did in Zodiac, he captures the feel of the era and makes an engaging biopic out of a political life. And he doesn’t make any pointers to Prop 8 like another hamfisted director might (cough, Oliver Stone).

8. Rambo
Best pure action picture of 2008, one of the most bloody and brutal of the genre, and a fitting end to the John Rambo story (if it’s over). A return to the roots of First Blood and Stallone doing what he does best- staring and killing.


7. Son of Rambow
This is listed as a 2007 film in IMDb but it only got theatrical release in the U.S. this year. So I’m counting it. It’s a delightful childhood fantasy about kids making their own sequel to First Blood, back in the early 80s, in small town England. Great characters, great story. If you liked Big Fish but don’t like Tim Burton’s mopey goth bullshit, this is infused with that childlike sense of wonder, some emotional dashes of reality and no smarm, and none of Timboy’s hangups.

6. In Bruges
The dark comedy sleeper of the year, this is an utterly fantastic hit-man thriller comedy from Martin McDonagh. Colin Farrel redeems himself as an actor after S.W.A.T., and his eyebrows deserve the Academy Award. I warn you, the comedy is fiercely gallows-esque, but everything happens as it must. It’s on DVD, rent it now.

5. Happy-Go-Lucky
Mike Leigh’s newest is a character study at heart, with Poppy’s indefatigable cheer, her roomie Zoe’s unfazeable calm and driving instructor Scott’s fierce armor of seething rage. But we see through the chinks of that armor, and see something nailed down and in torment (thanks to Gerald Kersh for that great line). Sally Hawkins won the Globe for best comedic actress and hopefully she’ll get a nom at the Oscars, or Eddie Marsan will get supporting, but I think this film will be sadly overlooked. Don’t make that mistake yourself.

4. Slumdog Millionaire
It’s as good as everyone says it is. Go see it. It’s an uplifting experience, and an eye-opening look into Mumbai. Solid acting, and few subtitles if you care about that. Different, exuberant, and an emotional thrill ride. Danny Boyle’s best in years.

3. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan transcends the comic book genre with this excellent thriller that reminded me of the best of the Batman Animated Series remade for adults. Heath Ledger gave an incredible performance as we all know, but the secondary characters played by Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart and Michael Caine fill in the cracks in reality that form when we watch an eccentric billionaire dress up to fight an insane terrorist in clown make-up. The film is built more like a labyrinthine criminal takedown procedural by Michael Mann, and gripping throughout. I missed it in IMAX, to my enduring shame.

2. The Wrestler
The best drama of the year, and Mickey Rourke’s return to fame. Even if you don’t like wrestling, and think it’s stupid, this is a great movie and deserves you give it a shot. Aronofsky is one of the best directors working today.

1. Wall-E
The best film of 2008. First, it looks stunning- you don’t even know it’s CG until the little cockroach shows up. Secondly Wall-E may be a robot, but he’s one of the best characters this year; and his simple love story, set against the backdrop of a hilarious satire on the future of human expansion (pun intended) hits us smack in the gut to play our heartstrings like a certain Marx Brother on a harp in the middle of a terrific comedy. If you haven’t seen it, this isn’t “just” a kid’s film, it’s Brazil done by Chaplin, and one of the most refreshing science fiction stories in a good while.

Yet to see: Doubt, Choke, Good, Synecdoche, New York, Towelhead, W., Miracle at St. Anna, Australia, Waltz with Bashir, Encounters at the Edge of the World, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Shotgun Stories; I was gonna wait until I saw them all, but the Oscar noms come out tomorrow so I want this here first. Then I can make my predictions, and what I think deserves it- which are almost always at odds.


Documentary:

Standard Operating Procedure – The most important documentary of the year, about Abu Ghraib; Frost/Nixon for real, he gets confessions you won’t believe. No one wants to hear about Iraq anymore, but if you care about this country’s name being dragged in the mud, you should see this film so this doesn’t happen again.

Man on Wire – Excellent doc about Phillippe Petit, who tightroped between the Twin Towers.

Foreign Films:
Let the Right One In – Coming of age movie and vampire tale that throws away Anne Rice’s horrible influence on the genre, and makes us frightened of them again. Incredible.

Tell No One – Excellent thriller based on Harlan Coben’s novel, moved to Paris. The Fugitive with more thrills and twists.

Honorable Mentions (worth seeing):

The Reader
– fine performances in a somewhat overlong and convoluted telling of a strong story about guilt, shame, and the eagerness to go along that makes those who stand up even more extraordinary.

The Visitor – Emotionally powerful indie by the director of The Station Agent, about a withdrawn, widowed professor who gets attached to a couple he finds squatting in his New York apartment. A touching and heartfelt film that shouldn’t be overlooked; if a big name played the prof, this would be huge.

Religulous – Bill Maher shows us the religious who border on crazy and makes fun of them.

Defiance – A fine WW2 story we’ve not heard before. Old-fashioned good movie.

RocknRolla – Guy Ritchie does his thing again, good fun but takes a long time to warm up.

Rachel Getting Married – Fine drama by Jonathan Demme, Anne Hathaway gives an excellent performance, but it is a bit indulgent in the overlong wedding scenes.

Role Models – Funniest comedy of the year.

Iron Man – Probably the most fun I had in a theater. Great action, and Robert Downey Jr. embodies the part and makes Tony Stark his own. Gwyneth Paltrow is delightful as Pepper Potts and isn’t just arm candy. Jon Favreau did a great job directing, and I’m sad Terence Howard won’t be returning as War Machine. Hopefully the inevitable sequel will live up to this.

Gran Torino– Clint Eastwood’s performance will be remembered as one of his best, and it’s a solid story that gives us insight into a culture not many people know about.

Revolutionary Road – great acting, but this is American Beauty: The ’50s.

Frost/Nixon – Great performances but a bit sketchy inbetween the interview parts.

Be Kind Rewind – Overlooked cute and quirky comedy by Michel Gondry with Jack Black and Mos Def.

Kung Fu Panda – One of Dreamworks best- a classic old kung fu movie done for kids with a great voice cast a funny script. Better than expected.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Very funny Apatow gang film with new guy to watch, Jason Segel.
The Bank Job – Solid British heist film.
Pineapple Express – Terence Malick makes a stoner action comedy.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno – Kevin Smith does Apatow; not his best but lots of laughs.
Tropic Thunder – Very funny, Robert Downey Jr.’s second hit of the year. Tom Cruise? yawn.
Quantum of Solace – Too short but a fine Bond film.
The Ruins – Survival horror in Yucatan; very effective.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army – Beautiful and strange; great comic book adaptation.
Get Smart – Solid movie version of the classic series.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay – Funnier than the original? Maybe.
Doomsday – Modern homage to postapocalyptica with Rhona Mitra as the new action heroine.
Where in the World is Osama bin Laden – Another good doc by Spurlock.
Young People Fucking – a very funny Canadian sex comedy about 3 couples and their sex lives.
The Wackness- Nice coming of age story about a pot dealer in 1994.
The Foot Fist Way – Danny McBride plays a small-town Tae Kwon Do instructor trying to get his idol to perform at his school. If you liked him in Hot Rod you’ll love this. It’s all cruel, sick humor, so it’s not for everyone.

Abominable Mentions (view at your own risk):

Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Aliens from Close Encounters – Need I say more?
The Crappening – I didn’t review this because so many had eviscerated it that I felt I couldn’t possibly add anything useful. It’s a heavy-handed ’50s sci-fi that isn’t very scary.
The Strangers – Dumb people get killed.
Get Smart’s Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control – Cash in or TV pilot. Yawn.
Death Race – Paul W.S. Anderson continues to make forgettable crap.

A New Year’s Toast to Mediocrity:
Burn After Reading – Fargo in D.C.
Slacker Uprising – A Private History of a Voting Campaign That Failed
The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor – Better than 2 not as good as 1
The Incredible Hulk – Everything but super-serum Blonsky is forgettable.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Forrest Gump 2
Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Woody coasting with a good cast.
Speed Racer – Longer than several seasons of the cartoon.

The Wrestler for real – Beyond the Mat

Jake “the Snake” Roberts. Anyone who watched wrestling remembers him- he didn’t just have a bag with a snake in it, he had charisma. If you loved The Wrestler, you owe it to yourself to dig up Beyond the Mat and watch Jake the Snake, with his crack addiction and estranged relationship with his daughter, which obviously was some inspiration for Rourke’s excellent performance.
Roberts is shown working smalltown gigs, getting high, getting confronted by his wounded daughter and continually fucking up, yet beneath it he’s sharp enough to be introspective, and eloquently discuss his own problems. About crack: “Speeds me up so fast I forget about my past. I don’t have to be responsible.” About his children: “I said I’d never treat my kids like my father treated me, and I look back 20 years and I did the exact same thing.” He was known for being one of the most psychologically sharp performers with the crowd, and then he disappeared into obscurity.
Counterpoint to Jake is Mick Foley, aka “Mankind,” a sort of circus geek hero in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre costume who takes falls and beatings that look deadly, yet seems to have a normal family relationship. Though I think it was insane if his kids were really watching him wrestle when The Rock was bashing his head in with a chair. Kids can’t understand that shit. But maybe it was clever editing- while it’s a solid documentary, you do wonder if everything is what it seems sometimes. After all, it’s wrestling- it’s a dangerous, strenuous performance, but it is a performance.

While it doesn’t delve too deep into wrestling’s inner secrets about heels, faces, and “kayfabe” carnie chicanery, and some of it is a definite puff piece, you get a look at what these performers endure, and how shabbily they are often treated. So what’s kayfabe? Well, it’s carnie talk, probably fractured pig latin for fake, ake-fay, the theater part of the performance. The long feuds, wrestlers who turn from good guys (faces) to bad guys (heels) and turn on their friends, bringing the “cheap heat” or angering the crowd by trash talking to them.
You actually get a bit more background in The Wrestler, when you see the Ram and his opponents laying out a thin plot before they go into the ring. For example, The Rock appears but never breaks character. He’s the heel against Mankind, who does some stunts that are pretty damn impressive. There’s a cage fight where he ends up on top of the cage, what looks like 15 feet above the ring, and falls through, onto his back. There’s only so much you can do to break your fall, and this wasn’t a mattress he landed on. Even if it was planned, it was risky. Barbed wire around the ring, and other extreme props- much like the staple gun from The Wrestler– make you wonder how far they go to entertain the crowd.
Vince McMahon himself not only appears as the CEO, interviewing a young wrestler who can vomit on cue and wants to perform as Puke, but ends up in the ring himself. Since he angered a lot of the fans with his decisions, why not make them pay to see him get beat up? It was a brilliant bit of showmanship, the ultimate con. But he was really getting stomped, even if it was pulled. You’ve got to give him credit for that. That’s the heart of professional wrestling, playing to the crowd, putting on an acrobatic show of battle, and making it look good. And it takes a terrible physical toll, as you can imagine.

There’s a lot more to this documentary- director Barry Blaustein, who writes a lot of Eddie Murphy movies like The Nutty Professor- begins with his love of pro wrestling, and we get many small interviews and profiles of people from Jesse Ventura to Chyna, who they mention got her chin shaved to look more feminine. If you read Something Awful’s review of her porn debut, the chin is just the beginning. You also get to see some young wrestlers trying to get a break, but the only older one you see is Jake the Snake- which is telling. Either they got out, and want to be remembered in their prime, or they’re just not around anymore.
Someday they’ll be treated like running backs, but for now they’ll suffer for our entertainment until like Randy the Ram, they’re just broken down pieces of meat. Some can retire, or move to acting- where doing your own stunts is much less risky- but not everyone is so lucky. For every Mick Foley and Dwayne Johnson, there’s a half-dozen Jake the Snakes, working the ring until they can’t anymore.

Filming Locations in The Wrestler

My stepfather recognized some of the locations in The Wrestler- notably Cheeques, the strip club Cassidy works in. The “butt cheeks” door logo is real, and behind the bar is the railroad bridge seen in the background when Randy makes a call from a payphone. The payphone doesn’t really exist, and the inside of Cheeques is a different strip bar. Not to mention that you can’t show boobies and have alcohol in a Jersey bar, only juice joints can have nudity.

Anyway, thanks to Swisschardo for sharing the photos here. When it comes to strip clubs, he’s our “man on the street.” Satin Dolls (The Bada-Bing in the Sopranos) is no longer the coolest strip joint in Jersey, now it’s Cheeques.

The Wrestler

After Slumdog Millionaire, I didn’t think I’d see a more emotionally engaging film this year. But The Wrestler tops it, slams it, and does the Ram Jam on its face in that regard. Mickey Rourke is back, Darren Aronofsky has made another classic, and this is the one time where I saw a big man cry, and I could not be the bigger man who laughs at that man. Because I was touched. I’d forgotten it was Mickey Rourke, and thought I was seeing Randy “The Ram” Robinson.

The Ram was a wrestling superstar in the ’80s, when it was at its biggest. I was never a fan, but I watched anyway. It was inescapable. I remember Sergeant Slaughter, The Iron Sheik, guys dressed as ninjas, Jake the Snake, Andre the Giant, Rowdy Roddy Piper in his kilt, and of course Hulk Hogan. At the time there was great controversy over whether it was “real” or not, which seems quaint now. We were so naive about what happens off camera. Wrestling is theater- it’s not so much a competition. It’s a Face vs. a Heel, bashing their faces on turnbuckles and body slamming each other for our entertainment. That’s real enough- they don’t have to really hate each other, or really try to kill each other. Find a copy of Beyond the Mat and you’ll realize it’s as dangerous and “real” as being a linebacker. They aren’t trying to kill you, but you’re doing something that the human body was not meant to tolerate as often as you’re doing it.

With that out of the way, it’s 20 years later and Randy the Ram now wrestles at Rec centers, goes home to his trailer, and plays with the neighborhood kids. He goes to a strip bar where he’s friendly with a dancer named Cassidy. She’s played by Marisa Tomei- looking more worn but just as sexy as she was in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and once again embodying a role so perfectly that you think she’s just another Jersey girl swinging from poles to make a buck. She wants to keep their relationship strictly business, but sees a sweetness under Ram’s grizzled exterior, and he’s not like the others; he uses his body as a piece of meat, so he doesn’t treat her like one. Let me say this, I think Tomei gets an unfair shake- it’s a meme that her Oscar for My Cousin Vinny is the “least deserved” one awarded, and I disagree completely. Comedy is hard. And not once in that movie do you look at her and say “ha, Marisa Tomei trying to be a foomatza broad.” It wasn’t until In the Bedroom that she got taken seriously again, and it’s good to see her getting good roles like this again.

They’re both performers- he works a crowd in the ring, she works the stage, the floor, the champagne room. But he sees in her the parent he never was. She has a 9 year old son, and her work is for him, her life revolves around him; while Randy has an estranged daughter named Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood, Across the Universe). After an injury in the ring, he seeks her out, and this is where the film builds its deepest emotional power. Randy has made a lot of mistakes in his life, and like Rourke himself, he wears the scars on his face. When he does track his daughter down, the film doesn’t play us for suckers. As anyone abandoned by a parent will know, there are wounds that won’t heal. But they make contact, fittingly at the ruins of Asbury Park, silhouetted against the sea in a shot similar to the dream sequences in Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. Some things are beyond forgiveness, and as in Gran Torino, not everyone can be redeemed; but Randy and his daughter come to an understanding that rings true.


Randy’s promoter wants him to do a 20-year anniversary rematch with The Ayatollah; the idea of playing to a real crowd, and capturing the glory of the old days is at the front of Randy’s mind, but he’s not sure his body can take it. He’s trying to put his life together, to have something more than playing Nintendo with neighborhood kids in his trailer, and paying Cassidy for her time. But the plot is not what makes the film engaging. Aronofsky films it with an almost documentarian feel, as we follow Randy through his life. Backstage, preparing with his fellow wrestlers, and even working at the local deli counter when money is thin. It never feels like a mere veneer of reality. Much has been made of Mickey Rourke actually performing his own stunts, and that certainly helped make the ring footage look as real as it does, but the director’s camera and choices had a lot to do with it as well. Mickey made The Ram, but Darren Aronofsky told the story like a master- by letting its characters speak for themselves.

There are a lot of choices that he made that helped the movie. Fighting for Mickey to get the part was only one of them. The movie is set in New Jersey, in Rahway, Elizabeth, Garfield. Industrial and blue collar neighborhoods. The classic Jersey decrepit railroad bridges are everywhere. There’s a scene at a payphone with an abandoned railroad tunnel behind it that sets the tone perfectly. Falling apart, like Randy. Asbury Park’s lost former glory. The soundtrack is all ’80s hair metal like Accept’s “Balls to the Wall” and the perfect choice of Guns ‘N Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” for Randy’s big bout. He and Cassidy talk about the music of the late ’80s and how it got swept away by grunge, and that G’nR song was hair metal going down in one last blaze of glory. The end title is by Springsteen and is one of his better recent ballads. There are other little touches; Randy drives Ram van, of course, has an action figure, and they even made a Nintendo wrestling game with him in it. It’s exactly the sort of relic one would have if you were a pro wrestler in the ’80s.

The wrestler cast is mostly, if not all, former and active pro wrestlers. You can’t fake that kind of body, and Rourke’s late-in-life boxing career helped make him perfect for the part. He’s been in the ring, and knows that unlike acting there are no second takes. He’s done the walk from backstage, knowing thousands of bloodthirsty fans are out there wanting to see you get punched in the face.

“The Man in the Arena”

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
–Teddy Roosevelt

The Wrestler is one of the year’s best films, and the best drama I have seen this year. If anything, Mickey Rourke’s performance is the most natural, courageous, and one where emotions are laid most bare. Let’s hope the Academy does the right thing, it would be great to have Mickey back. At the least, whether you like wrestling or not, go see this as one of the best movies of the year. A small story, of a has-been, finding out what he’s made for. I guarantee it won’t leave you unaffected.

5 Ram Jams out of 5
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