The Wrestler

I missed this first time round but watched it on DVD last night. Funnily enough, I watched Crazy Heart the night before and the two films felt very much of the same sentiment.

Sean Penn won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Harvey Milk in Milk which was a great performance but I think the Academy must have debated long and hard who give it to.  I think they made the wrong choice because although both Penn and Mickey Rourke actors carry their respective movies Penn’s portrayal was more of an impersonation; Rourke’s is a possession.

The story follows the fictional comeback years of a once great Wrestler (The Ram) who still has a loyal following and top billing, but in provincial events where the new generation are creating ever more bizarre wrestling characters with weirder and weirder means of entertaining their audiences.  A life time of substance abuse has rendered The Ram susceptible to too much exertion and it is when he faces the “Necro Butcher” and his unorthodox method of staple gunning (with permission of course) his opponents that it all gets too much for Rourke and he suffers a heart attack that needs a bypass to save his life.

The operation brings him briefly to his senses and so we enter act 2 in which he tries to rekindle love in his life for his 21 year old daughter (nicely played by Evan Rachel Wood) and his “tart with a heart” lap dancing on-off flame.

Marisa Tomie, who plays the part, is awesome and certainly deserved her Oscar nomination; sadly she too failed to convert.  But it’s all too much for both The Ram and his Beaus.  The lure of the ring finally gets him back with a hair raising finale in which he takes on his old enemy “The Ayatollah” in a  stage managed fiasco that simply breaks the heart.

This is a stunning character piece played by an actor who has made more comebacks than the character he lays.  But Rourke is godlike.  It is intensely reminiscent of De Nero’s performance in Raging Bull not just because of the subject matter but for the commitment that both men put into their job.  At 56 this was surely an even greater feat by Rourke than the then still young De Nero.  But the film is more than a testosterone laden gross out.  It’s a heartfelt and beautiful study of failure in life, in love and in everything except integrity.

Toy Story 3

I missed this on its theatrical release but had the very great pleasure of watching it on DVD at home last night.  There is talk that TS3 is a live contender for the overall movie Oscar and I wouldn’t argue with that, because alongside Monsters (which won’t win) The Kids are All Right, Let Me In  and Social Network this is amongst the last year’s best.

It’s one of the most engaging, laugh out loud funny and deeply moving movies I’ve seen in a long time.  It unashamedly goes for the heartstrings in the final act as Andy leaves home to go to his Freshman year at a US college.  And that’s what this film is all about, the loss of childhood and what that means to a young man as he comes of age.  It’s clear from the off that Andy has a degree of maturity that is not normal amongst late teenage boys.  He is a sensitive and thoughtful soul who really will be missed by both his Mum and his sister.  Dad is never seen, is this a modern day dysfunctional family or is he just always at work.  In this respect perhaps it is Andy that has assumed the role of Patriarch and hence his maturity.  It matters not because after the establishing of his departure and before the hugely emotional denouement we have a comedy classic full of slapstick, crazy chases and, unusually, a brilliant plot.  The script sizzles and the acting (by the usual humans – you know them all by now) is universally brilliant.  Having watched TS1 the day before I was impressed with the technical advances in the animation.  Pixar just keep getting better.  For instance human movement which was a bit out of sync in TS1 has been nailed in TS3.

Randy Newman has made the franchise his own with his bittersweet and mostly beautiful music. Perhaps the highlight in this installment is Buzz Lightyear’s fantastic Spanish rendition of “You’ve got a friend.”

The Kings Speech

Stammering, and other speech impediments are terrible afflictions that rarely elicit sympathy.  When can you last recall a movie or TV programme with a sympathetic stammerer or lisp?  Bet you can recall the opposite!  How about Life of Brian?  “Wewease the cwiminals”

And yet our world is full of stutterers, stammerers and lispers; some of whom have overcome their problems like Bruce Willis, Tiger Woods, Julia Roberts, James Stewart; the list is endless.

Nevertheless the subject has never made it to the big screen in a serious and sympathetic form, until now.

The King’s Speech is fundamentally a British feelgood movie about stammering.  It uses King George the 6th (Actually named Albert and Father of Queen Elizabeth) as the subject and sets the story against the background of a brewing and erupting Second World War.

Great Britain is facing dark days (reflected perhaps in the cinematography which is most certainly dark), King George the Fifth is on the throne but is falling into senility and his eldest son David (soon to briefly reign as King Edward the 8th)  is in the midst of a scandalous affair with, gosh, An American, in the form of double divorcee Wallace Simpson.  The Head of the Church of England is a role of the British monarch and that role does not allow the incumbent to marry a divorcee.  But David (Edward) wants to marry Wallace more than he wants to rule Brittania.  And so he abdicates leaving poor old stammering Prince Albert next in line.

Albert (played to Oscar contending levels of sustained excellence by Colin Firth) has been tackling his demons for years but has had absolutely no success and is fast becoming a recluse, albeit married to our dearly beloved Queen Mother (played with a twinkle by the ever dependable Helena Bonham Carter – surely a national treasure in the mould of Dame Judie Dench in the making).  He’s pretty much given up hope , but Queen Mum hasn’t and she finds and engages the services of a Harley St quack played to perfection by Geoffery Rush.

What follows is a story about the development of a relationship and the triumph of wills married to unorthodox practices.  It opens the doors to humour, pathos and a degree of tension.  How could our stammering Prince become a king fit enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with Churchill as Britain takes on the Gerries?

On some levels the film woks.  It feels nicely in period.  The acting is universally excellent (Derek Jacobi has a nice cameo as the Archbishop of Westminster) and the story is engaging enough.  The ending, which I shall not spoil for you here, although it is fairly obvious is by far the highlight of the movie and very moving indeed.

And yet…and yet.  It drags.  It feels slight.  It has no real message other than, perhaps, the Royalty are humans too.  My feeling is that this movie is a bit of a “the British are coming” industry love in.  It’s actually not that great.  A good (BBC) TV drama sure, but for all the hype it falls short.

Good but missable.