Wednesday, April 29, 2009

THE WRESTLER (now playing at home where the wrestling is behind closed doors)

I'll admit it. I wanted to see The Wrestler to feast my eyes upon Marisa Tomei in her role as a stripper as much as any other reason--those reasons being the buzz that it was an excellent film, and Mickey Rourke's Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Rourke is Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a professional wrestler of some note whose best days are behind him. Tomei is "Cassidy," an aging stripper whose friendship (and budding romance) with Randy progresses in halting fashion, as she second guesses herself all the way. Randy's wrestling gigs are few and far between. He gets locked out of his trailer for non-payment of rent, and has to supplement his income with a demeaning job behind a deli counter--where his flowing locks are reigned in by a hair net, and his patience is tried by fickle customers.

For everything he's been through, The Ram's mellow demeanor and sense of humor stay intact, for the most part, and this is why Rourke's performance was Oscar worthy--he played Randy as a gentle giant with a heart. The relationship (or non-relationship) with the wrestler's estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) is the subplot that's as bittersweet as they come.

True wrestling fans will not be disappointed with the action here. We know that pro wrestling is "fake" in that the moves are choregraphed and the outcome is predetermined, but the pounding physical punishment these guys endure is real. But I'd have preferred a little less ring action and a little more development of Tomei's character, which remains flat. We don't learn what motivates her or what she really wants out of life. HOWEVAH...there's something intriguing about an established star, who doesn't normally appear in the buff, putting it all out there for the sake of art. (Though the continuity of the film suffers when you have to keep pressing rewind on your remote, hitting pause, and zooming in to try to get the best view of her--but that's the cross we bear as red-blooded all American guys!)

While Randy's fate plays out in the way we might expect--given the events leading up to the final scene--Cassidy is more or less left hanging in the wind. In my view, she's the more tragic figure of the two. They've each plopped all of their eggs into one basket, but Randy LIVES for wrestling, so he doesn't care--he's going to put it all on the line for one last shot at glory. Whereas Cassidy, like many in her profession, feels that what she does is beneath her--it's not who she is. They all seem to have a plan (don't ask me how I know this) to put enough money together to get a fresh start doing something else, but it doesn't alway pan out that way. Cassidy's no spring chicken, and it appears she's been trading on her looks for some time. The desperation of "Where do I go from here?" is setting in.

As far as Marisa Tomei taking on this kind of role, I don't believe an actor is going to accept a part that he or she can't identify with in some way, and Tomei's dancing scenes prove that she can sleaze it up with the best of them. It must have been a relief to finally get that out of her system!

Ultimately, what The Wrestler is about is the hand that fate typically deals to those who are more adept at using their bodies than their minds.


Monday, April 27, 2009


Are you annoyed by the common practice of theatres' posted "show times" actually being the time when the commercials and other stuff you might not necessarily want to see begin, and the film really starts 15 minutes later?


Saturday, April 25, 2009

TRANSSIBERIAN (now playing at home where watching movies is good for your mental health--watching the news is not)

I dig trains. Started riding them around age seven. There is a romance (of the road) to train travel that no other mode of transportation can match, and you never know who you'll run into(speaking of romance) in the dining car. In Transsiberian, Woody Harrelson's character, Roy, loves trains and he knows a lot about them--knowledge that will prove essential to his and wife Jessie's survival on the Beijing to Moscow run in this engaging mystery/thriller.

Roy's kind of a good ole boy. Jessie's been around--trying to settle down now, but maybe she wasn't quite ready for it and their marriage is a bit shaky, like some of the hand-held camera shots in this film that we've come to accept since the days of NYPD Blue, when connoisseurs of the female form (such as myself) were too busy checking out the ubiquitous semi-nudity on the show to pay much attention to the fine points. (The hand-held camera is supposed to give the action more of a gritty feel, I guess--like when you discover there's dirt in your spinach when you're chewing it.)

Jessie (Emily Mortimer) and Roy share quarters with a young couple--Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara). Tension builds because the Russian narc police are going to be shaking down train passengers at one of the upcoming stops (like the federales on the trains in Mexico do-but all they made me and my companion do was take off our shoes--thinking maybe they'd nab a couple of really STUPID gringos). When Abby hears about the impending drug search her expression gives her away and clues us in to what she and her companion might be up to.

From the get-go, it's evident that Carlos has an eye for Jessie. When Roy gets left behind
(drooling over old locomotives) at one of the stops, Carlos moves in on Jessie--who is too preoccupied worrying about Roy to notice it much at first. But there is something untamed (and wanton--even) in Jessie that is bubbling just beneath the surface, and Emily Mortimer brings that out in her character in a way that piques our interest bigtime in what might transpire between Carlos and Jessie.

What happens proves to be one of the film's major plot twists.

The wild card in all of this is Russian narcotics detective Grinko, (Ben Kingsley) who plays it close to the vest at first--but Grinko has all the conflicting good cop/bad cop traits within himself (played with cunning deceptiveness by Kingsley) and when the bad side emerges, Transsiberian becomes a harrowing thrill ride with unexpected twists and turns and a life or death struggle that will have you shouting, "GIT ME A BEER, MABEL!" cuz you won't want to leave your seat.

The cinematogrophy helps to establish a hypnotic mood with majestic aerial views of the train as it snakes along its icebound path. And the mesmerizing sound track by Alfonso De Vilallonga is one that I'd consider purchasing.

The only thing I'll deduct a few points for is the American muzak that plays over the train's PA system (somebody takes note of it when they finally shut it off). Guess you can't get away from it--even in Russia.


TIMMY'S TIDBITS: Woody Harrelson is a peace and environmental activist...he has dated Moon Unit Zappa. (I dated Betty from Pluto, but she's not famous).

Emily Mortimer doesn't like washing her hair, so she uses dry shampoo. (DRY shampoo? How do you "lather, rinse, repeat" with that?)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


The "I woke up and suddenly I was a different version of me" scenario has been done--probably best in Big with Tom Hanks--but after the magical transformation in that film , everything that proceeded from there was pretty much reality based. In 17 Again, Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron) is a high school basketball standout who gives up a promising sports career to be with his pregnant girlfriend and raise a family. Fast forward twenty years and the adult Mike (Matthew Perry) is on the outs with wife Scarlett, (Leslie Mann) and his communication with his now high school aged son and daughter leaves a lot to be desired.

Mike's "spirit guide" (a crusty janitor at his old high school) sees that Mike longs to change his circumstances and propels him back into his 17 year old body. Mike appears at the house of his old geeky/trekkie friend Ned (Thomas Lennon) who doesn't recognize him in his teenage body (even though Mike looks the same as he did when he really WAS 17) and immediately tries to KILL the young Mike. Most people would call 911 if they encountered an intruder, but Ned swings battle axe and assorted weaponry/memorabilia he has around the house in a wild drawn-out scene in which Mike is fighting for his life while trying to convice Ned of his true identity. This is where you say to yourself: This is totally cartoonish--and you feel a little disappointed (if you LIKE to have things portrayed in a reality based manner) and must then decide to just go along for the ride and laugh and enjoy whatever else follows. And what follows ARE a lot of laughs. (The teenage girls in the theatre were giggling and snickering and spitting up their soft drinks all the way through.)

Once Ned is convinced of Mike's identity, he decides to act as his old/young friend's father and enroll him back into school. Ned is smitten by the high school principal, Jane Masterson, (Melora Hardin) and that's the beginning of a cute subplot where Ned stalks Jane until she consents to go out with him. They eventually discover that they are both fantasy nerds and made for each other.

Meanwhile, the young Mike gets back on the basketball squad and discovers that the school bully, Stan, (Hunter Parrish) who also happens to be Mike's daughter's boyfriend, has been picking on his son. (You'd think that bully Stan would steer clear of terrorizing his girlfriend's brother just to stay in her good graces, but that's too much reality-based logic for this film.) Mike feels compelled to defend his son and discourage the relationship between his daughter and Stan, which adds to the comedic fun of this movie because nobody knows why he should care. There's more fun when teenage Mike (who has been renamed "Mark" by the way) interacts with the adult Mike's wife, Scarlett, who possesses enough visual acuity to pinch his cheeks and tell him how much he reminds her of her husband--who she is divorcing. Then, when his daughter develops a crush on him and wants to get cuddly, Mike does a squirming act that Houdini himself would be proud of! The young Mike's challenge is to get his kids back on track and somehow turn his wife's head around to where she'll change her mind about the breakup.

17 Again is a romp--just don't try to make much logical sense out of it.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

SEVEN POUNDS (now playing at home where your cat is joyfully digging his claws into your chest as you watch this movie)

One of the songs featured on the soundtrack of Seven Pounds is the old standard, "Feeling Good," from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. But contrary to what any of the pre-release hype for this film MAY have suggested, or what may be implied on the front and back covers
of the DVD case, this is NOT a feel-good movie! It's a bleak and disturbing film that raises serious questions about how far one human being should go to redeem himself for creating a devastating but unintentional screw-up. It also wants us to shed happy tears at the end and concur in lemming-like fashion that the end justifies the means.

Up front we witness Ben Thomas (Will Smith) calling 911 to report a suicide. It's his OWN, just before the fact. The rest of the film is a flashback, because if you start with the ending and proceed from there, it's a very short movie (my logic always astounds me). As we go along, we're given short glimpses of WHY he thinks his life is no longer worth living. Yes, he made a tragic mistake, but the script wants us to accept that ending one's life in response is a moral and noble thing to do because Ben has figured out a way to impact the lives of seven strangers, most of whom will benefit directly from his death. I guess he never considered how many people's lives he MIGHT have changed if he had just stuck around and lived a long life in devotion and service to his fellow man. But he's a little too warped for that.

When Ben begins a serendipitous romance with heart patient Emily Posa, (Rosario Dawson) you start to think maybe he'll change his mind--but we can't forget the scene at the beginning where's he's calling in his own self-inflicted demise--so the tension of this film lies in whether he might have a change of "heart" at the last minute.

There are three vegetarians in this flick: Emily, Emily's Great Dane, and a blind guy named Ezra, (Woody Harrelson) who also stands to benefit from Ben's earthly departure. It's not clear how the veg angle ties into anything, but none of them gets preachy about their lifestyle choices, and no one else is making a LOT of fun of them for having a conscience (as most movies do--created by carnivores, of course). Nobody was going to make fun of the dog, anyway-at least not to his face. There's some deliberately off-key piano plunking on the sound track--and it's not clear what that's supposed to represent either. But it was annoying.

Forget about the mentally unstable sense of of self-sacrifice this picture may send to kids--it's likely to have more impact on ADULTS, many of whom are on the verge of doing something really bizarre at any time. So if you want me to give this film a backhanded compliment--what Ben did was definitely better than shooting up a mall and taking innocent folks along with him on his way out.


TIMMY'S TIDBITS: In 2008, Rosario Dawson attended the national conventions of BOTH the Democratic and Republican parties (hmm...that could give one a severe aversion to BALLOONS!)

As a rapper, Will Smith has had a number of hits, including: "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" (love that jiggy pudding during the holidays).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Adventureland is about the purgatory where young people reside in the often rudderless space of summers off from school--a sort of poor man's American Graffiti for the 80's.

James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has been accepted at Columbia grad school, but his dad's been demoted at his job and is claiming poverty--which means that James will have to hang around and find a job to earn his own money for journalism school. He gets hired at Adventureland, a low budget amusement park where nobody is allowed to win the giant stuffed pandas because they only have a couple of them left.

James meets co-worker Em, (Emily) played by Kristen Stewart. They hit it off right away and begin something of an innocent romance. James is the sensitive type who treats girls with honor and respect--and remains a virgin--while the "dangerous" guys, who are sometimes married, do most of the scoring in the wonderful game that we know as love. That's where Mike Connell, (Ryan Reynolds) the hot looking--but married--maintenance guy at Adventureland comes in.

Em has some obvious self-worth issues and has had this ongoing sexual relationship with Connell. They often rendezvous in the basement of his mother's house to do their thing for the five or ten minutes he can break away from his wife. We can see that this makes Em feel dirty, but it's just the type of scenario that those with low self-esteem are sometimes drawn to.

But now, Em has James (he's got it bad for her) to provide for her emotional needs. It's great to have SOMEONE who adores you when you feel unworthy. (Then again, it's hard to guess how any of these characters REALLY feel because there's so much weed being smoked in this movie you might get a contact high just sitting in the theatre.) Em just hopes that James won't find out about Connell because she can't seem to break her addiction to the ALL PURPOSE handyman.

But you know that he will.

There are comedic moments in this flick--mostly centered around the quirkiness of the park itself. The clientele are on the lowbrow side--they chuck their trash anywhere but in the proper receptacle--and the owner deals with one agitated customer by wielding a baseball bat and shouting, JUST GIVE ME A REASON!

The games at Adventureland are rigged, like the derby hats glued to these dummy's heads so there's no way anyone hurling a baseball can knock them off. In the end, it's about taking what life throws at us and moving on--hopefully becoming a little wiser for the knock on the head.


TIMMY'S TIDBITS: Kristen Stewart first got noticed by a talent scout at a grade school Christmas play at the age of eight ( I played a TREE in "Jack and the Beanstalk." It wasn't too challenging...I just had to stand there with leaves in my hair).

Ryan Reynolds started an improv comedy group called "Yellow Snow" in his hometown of Vancouver. (No, Susie--it doesn't come from yellow clouds).

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Rose, (Amy Adams) who makes her living cleaning houses, and her quirky sister Norah (Emily Blunt) need to make more scratch--one of the reasons being that Rose's young son, Oscar, has to go to private school because he got kicked out of public school for licking the walls, licking the teachers, etc. The married guy Rose has known since high school days--and is currently having discreet sex with--is a cop, and he inspires the sisters to start their own lucrative crime scene clean-up service. It's a bloody job, but somebody's got to do it, and Norah and Rose make mopping up after murders and suicides as humorous as that sort of thing can be. Their Dad (Alan Arkin) raised the sisters on his own after their mother took her own life, so doing this kind of work brings up some emotional issues for them.

Just when you think the flick is going to go along like your run-of-the-mill dark comedy, something touching occurs. Rose comforts an elderly woman who's husband has just ended his life, and she begins to feel COMPASSION and EMPATHY for another person. This is the juncture where Sunshine Cleaning makes the unexpected leap forward into something altogether artistic and human.

Norah is an intriguing character in her own right. She scrambles up under a railroad trestle and plays chicken with the train that's thundering toward her. Another powerful scene. We observe that Norah is an adrenalin junkie--she just wants to FEEL something--probably due to the emotions she's repressed about her mother for so long.

The movie was produced by some of the same bunch that produced Little Miss Sunshine,
with Alan Arkin being the one holdover from that film, in which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. As the dad, he's a schemer and a dreamer, and those traits will figure into the ending of the picture-though his role here isn't large enough to garner a repeat of Oscar recognition.

Rose and Norah are looking for some closure, and as they move toward it, they get opportunities to gain some insight into themselves as well (such as Rose's true feelings about being good enough to be someone's sexual partner, but not good enough to be anyone's life partner).

The best films are the ones that can make you alternately (or simultaneously) laugh and cry,
and Sunshine Cleaning gets the job done.


TIMMY'S TIDBITS: Amy Adams once worked as a hostess at Hooters (guess she thought it was classier than working at that place called "Boobs." )

Back in the day, Alan Arkin was lead singer of the folk group, The Tarriers. He co-wrote Harry Belafonte's huge hit "The Banana Boat Song" (or "Day-O" for those of you who know the lyrics but don't pay any attention to the title).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


It's always refreshing to see a film with no explosions or cars being driven by maniacs and then, of course, exploding. The explosiveness here lies just below the surface, and some of these characters do eventually crash into one another.

Margot (Nicole Kidman) returns to her old stomping grounds ostensibly to attend the wedding of her estranged sister Pauline, (Jennifer Jason Leigh) though Margot's primary motivation may be to have another go at it with Dick, a former lover. Pauline's fiance, Malcolm, (Jack Black) is a quasi-musician with no ambition who brings to mind the quaint term "layabout boy." Margot has a nasty mouth , and speaks to people in a way that deletes the editing for sensitivity that most of us do when we're trying to be diplomatic. And while the sisters claim to be best friends, they snipe at each other in bitingly sarcastic ways that would make the casual observer think otherwise. (Though, in my experience, such behavior is not uncommon among female siblings who, at their core, really DO care for each other--it's just hard for them to get past the petty, childish resentments they've been carrying around with them since they were kids.)

At one point Margot climbs to the top of a tree to prove she's still got some of the old tomboy in her, but can't get back down on her own and has to be rescued--perhaps a metaphor for people who act impulsively without considering the possible consequences, which is what most of these characters do. Margot is married--though the relationship is on the rocks--but she dives back into a tryst with Dick, who is arrogant and insensitive to her feelings. Pauline is going to marry Malcolm basically because no one else asked her. Things come to a head when Margot and Pauline "have it out" in a deliciously caustic exchange where Margot reveals her true feelings about Malcolm.

Margot At The Wedding has the feel of a small independent production with some big stars. All three headliners gave me something I liked: Kidman has some poignant moments as a woman who is unsure of which way her life is headed; Jack Black is understatedly hilarious; and we get a couple of topless views of Jennifer (always good to see her again). But the true star of this picture is the quirky dialogue from writer/director Noah Baumbach with lines the the likes of: "I left a piece of skin in a movie theatre once so it could watch movies the rest of its life."

In the end, there's no accounting for who we love or why we love-- and Love itself is the most capricious entity of all in this wicked, offbeat comedy.


Thursday, April 2, 2009


Caleb, the young son of astrophysicist John Koestler, (Nicolas Cage) brings home a cryptic message from a time capsule that was buried 50 years ago by the students at his elementary school. The writings came from a spooky child named Lucinda, and as John sets about to decipher them, he realizes they are accurately predicting future disasters--right down to the exact date and location. This messes with John's head because he's something of an agnostic--favoring a random universe over the theory of determinism (that, man).It starts to REALLY mess with his head when the disasters start getting up close and personal.
John locates the deceased Lucinda's daughter, Diana, (Rose Byrne) who he HOPES to enlist as an ally in his quest to figure out what's going on before all hell breaks loose on the planet.

I haven't been too keen on Nicolas Cage ever since I saw him swallow a huge live cockroach in one of his earlier films. They might look ugly to US, but that roach was probably somebody's mother! There are certain disgustingly creepy things I wouldn't do for ANY amount of money, and it makes me wonder about those who have no such ethics. That aside, I'll give him credit here for an appropriately frenetic portrayal of a truly freaked out dude.

On the minus side, the film comes with the most intrusive, unsubtle, and overbearing soundtrack ever to assault these virgin ears. Even taking into account that it's a thriller, the music tries too hard and seemingly never stops. But I'm willing to mitigate my feelings about the soundtrack because the picture has great special effects and the ending BLEW ME AWAY!

Knowing is an ambitious film, the scope of which you'll have NO CLUE going in. It's like coming home expecting to get a burrito for dinner and being served a seven course meal instead.

NOTE: Remember when movie reviewers use to feed you just enough about the plot to whet your appetite? Well, today's bunch comes from the same school as my girlfriend when she tells me she's constipated...that's the school of TOO MUCH INFORMATION! The trend is to basically reveal EVERYTHING that happens in the film except the very ending. STAY AWAY FROM OTHER REVIEWS ABOUT THIS PICTURE...they will spoil it for you.

Just go and see it.