Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!
AMC Theater, Chicago, 50th Annual Chicago Film Festival.
I’m in Chicago, getting ready to cover the Chicago Film Festival.
Today—a beautiful 80+ degree day, and probably the last of our Indian summer lovely weather—I took advantage of the great weather to dine outside on Wabash at a Mexican restaurant (Zapatista’s) and to view a Press Only screening of “Force Majeure,” which is rumored to be a front-runner for Oscar contention for Best Foreign Film this year.
The film was set in a ski lodge (and made by Norway, Sweden, Denmark and France). Suprisingly, most of the movie was in English, with fewer subtitles than anticipated. Since most young people in Sweden are brought up to speak both Swedish and English, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Watching all the skiing scenes in deep snow made me sad to think that our lovely warm Chicago weather has deserted us (temperatures dropped 20 to 30 degrees as evening came on tonight, Monday, September 29th.) Since we were just in Las Vegas where it was 90 to 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) (and, before that, in New Orleans, where it was similarly warm, but much more humid)), watching this tribute to winter was less-than-thrilling, if you prefer beaches and warm weather (as I do).
With October just one day away and November lurking in the wings (to be followed by December), I’m already feeling the chill. Can’t take another winter like last year. Going to have to get out of Dodge. Planning on doing that after the holidays, but first, must market the NEW “Christmas Cats” book, which is speeding its way toward me as I write this. I’ll be doing signings WITH the costumed cat at three bookstores in the Quad Cities and, in all likelihood, will be at Razzleberries in LeClaire during their winter festivities, at Freddy Fritters’ Dog Bakery during the Village of East Davenport Christmas Walk, and at the Four Seasons store in Geneseo during their big Christmas parade. Dates to be announced as I find them out (although I do know that I’ll be in South Park Mall on Dec. 6th at Book World.)
AMC Theater, Chicago, 50th Annual Chicago Film Festival.
Last year, the Christmas Cats Chase(d) Christmas Rats. This year, The Christmas Cats Encounter Bats. First-rate artwork from Gary McCluskey helps drive home the message that all life has value and should be respected. And, of course, going all the way back to the first book, illustrated by local East Moline artist Andy Weinert, we’re talking about The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats.The cats are always going to be wearing silly hats; it’s their fashion statement. And they’re always going to be helping other animals in need. (Next year, frogs or deer, I’m thinking). This year’s book will also include access to FREE coloring book pages on the dedicated website (www.TheXmasCats.com) and mazes and other fun stuff, with young readers invited to send in their ideas, also. Stay tuned for further developments.
But, back to the film festival.
The leading man from “Force Majeure” will be in town for interviews soon. The examination of a marriage under stress had a script that I could relate to. (The wife: “It’s so weird that you won’t admit what happened.” The husband: “I want us to share the same view. I want to put it all behind us.”) The temperature flashed on the screen (for the ski lodge) was – 22 degrees, Celsius. (This converts to -7.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The movie’s themes aside, the mere act of watching people skiing in deep, cold snow reminded me of why I have never had any desire to ski. Water ski, yes. Snow ski? Uh…no thank you.
The performances from leading lady Lisa Loven Kongslo as Ebba and Johanne Kuhnke of Sweden as Tomas were outstanding, as were those of their two children.
So, stay tuned for adventures from the 50th Anniversary of the Film Festival that is the oldest film festival in North America. It doesn’t officially kick off until October 9th.
The documentary “Undefeated” (not to be confused with the documentary about Sarah Palin) played the Chicago Film Festival, depicting the Manassas High School Tigers football team’s 2009 season, as they attempt to win the first playoff game in the 110-year history of the school.
The filmmakers, T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay, spent 9 months living in Memphis and soon learned that “There’s a story under every helmet,” as Coach Bill Courtney told them. Courtney began volunteering in 2004 and is quoted throughout the documentary, reminding this Iowa Hawkeye fan of the antics of Coach Bob Commings (Massillon, Ohio), who was immortalized in a John Irving novel as “Iowa Bob.” Commings called the Hawkeyes the “chosen children” and succeeded in winning some memorable games, but, ultimately, was unsuccessful in turning that program around and was fired. Coach Courtney, by contrast, announces he is quitting after the season to spend more time with his own family.
Daniel Lindsay (R) and T.J. Martin (L) at the Q&A for "Undefeated" in Chicago.
Before that, however, we learn a lot about the players on the Manassas Tigers team. Most successful of the lot is probably O.C. Brown, 6’ 3”, 315 pounds and fast. Mike Ray, volunteer coach, says, “That’s a big dude running that fast.” O.C. has some academic problems and, in a real-life plot that echoes “The Blind Side,” ends up moving in with an assistant coach and his family to make sure he remains eligible and is able to claim a college scholarship. After one report card period, the coach asks O.C., “How do you get a 90 in calculus and a 70 in keyboarding?” One memorable quote to the team, “If you will allow it, football will save your life.”
Another player highlighted in the film is troublemaker Chavis, who has one of the most emotional moments in the film as he turns his attitude around. Then there is “Money,” who suffers an injury to his ACL and must miss 8 to 12 weeks of playing time. He begins to miss school after he can no longer play, and Coach Courtney says, “Money is on the cusp of being lost.”
Director Daniel Lindsay takes questions from the audience following the screening of his football documentary "Undefeated" in Chicago.
Really, most of the team is on the cusp of being lost and the filmmakers, in interviews after the game, revealed how many stories they had to ignore to highlight those that are included. There was Jaquim Collins, who had been in 18 different foster homes in 4 years, a defensive lineman. He became too old to remain in the 19th home and was kicked out of the system. Said Director Lindsay, “It was heartbreaking not to be able to tell his story. But ultimately the sum is greater than its parts.”
Money, in the film, is shown looking at an X-ray of his injured interior ACL ligament and asks the doctor, “Is that my brain?” The filmmakers reported that Money was not thrilled that that scene remained in the documentary.
Director Lindsay said, “We just filmed a ton of scenes and then laid them out. None of it was scripted…We were going for a very intimate film. Bill’s trusting us made the kids trust us, but it was really surprising to us how quickly they forgot we were there. The camera became an extension of us.” However, reported the filmmaking duo, “Even 2 to 3 months later, they (the players) still didn’t get what we were doing. They’d ask, ‘So, who’s going to play me in the movie.’”
T.J. Martin, filmmaker, in Chicago.
The answer is that the Manassas Tigers played themselves, and the filmmakers did a very good job of being in the right place at the right time to capture moments in their 2009 season. As Lindsay said of one particularly moving scene involving Chavis (the troublemaker), “Oh, my God! Did that really just happen? We have a movie here!”
The film with plenty of exhortations like, “Please remember discipline. Please remember character, and let’s go kick their ass,” (Bill Courtney). As a former NFL player, invited to address the team by Coach Courtney, tells them, “It’s not where you start; it’s where you finish.”
The documentary, which earned great praise from one audience member, in particular, who called it “the best football film I’ve ever seen” will open in February with distribution from the Weinstein Brothers. Said Coach Courtney at one point, “If they don’t win the game, they’re gonna’ win the fight. You gotta’ believe in yourselves. You can come back.”
Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin and Music Supervisor Sandy Wilson.
Sandy Wilson was Music Supervisor on the film, and should be singled out for praise, as well. All in all, with 70 young men on the team, there are some compelling and amazing stories of life in North Memphis and what it means to be resilient and never give up.
Gayland Williams ("Sheila") and Michael Bricker of "Natural Selection."
The first feature-length outing by Director/Writer Robbie Pickering, “Natural Selection,” played Chicago’s 47th International Film Festival on Sunday. It was a welcome change from the independent films and documentaries exploring suicide, murder and torture. I was delighted to find a movie about living life that had such a well-written script, such enjoyable humor and such good performances from all.
Everything in the film worked, from the cinematography (Steve Calitri, with editing by Michelle Tesoro) to the humor to the symbolism. Rachel Harris’ Linda White (Rachel played Melissa in 2009’s “The Hangover”) was one of the most skillful turns by an actress I’ve seen so far this year. Three actresses in the Chicago competition whose films screened could easily be Best Actress nominees, with Tilda Swinton (“We Have to Talk About Kevin”), Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”) and Rachel Harris in “Natural Selection” leading the list. (And never count Meryl Streep out, as she takes on “The Iron Lady”).
The plot of “Natural Selection” focuses on a character named Linda White, who is modeled on Robbie Pickering’s own mother whose real name is Linda White. In fact, the puffy jacket used in the film belonged to Director Pickering’s Mom. Production designer Michael Bricker and cast member Gayland Williams (Sheila) were present to answer questions after the movie screened and shared that detail, plus some behind-the-scenes about the motivation to make this particular film.
Bricker shared with the audience that Pickering wanted to make a film about how the weaker creatures in the forest survive. He was worried, at the time, about his mom’s being alone, as his stepfather, Bill (to whom the film is dedicated) had recently died. How do people who go through life trying to be “pleasers” and going along with the more dominant individuals among us fare?
The film opens with a Biblical quote: (Genesis 38: 9) “And God said to Onan, thou shalt not spill thy seed in vain.” Linda has been pronounced barren years earlier and is unable to give her husband, Abe, played by John Diehl (Detective Larry Zito on “Miami Vice” from 1984-1987) a child. Abe is deeply religious. For their entire 25-year marriage he has withheld sex from Linda because “God says it’s a sin to act on these desires if you aren’t making babies.” Instead, Abe traveled to the Vista Care Fertility Clinic where he deposited his sperm weekly while watching pornographic movies.
It is while making one of the deposits at the “bank” that Abe has a stroke and Linda learns the truth about how Abe has coped with his own sexuality all these years. In the opening scenes, however, Abe asks Linda to pray with him and it is pretty clear that Linda, whose libido is proven to be undeniably healthy, is just supposed to suck it up and do what Abe wants, once again seeking to please her man. Linda even says, “Whatever makes Abe happy makes me happy.” But does it, really? The film will examine that proposition; the viewer can judge for him or herself. One thing that Linda herself acknowledges is that she doesn’t like to be alone. She finds the presence of another person comforting, even if that other person is inflicting his will on her, like it or not. When on the road seeking Raymond Mansfield in Florida, Linda even attempts to call up the desk clerk at one of the motels she has checked in to, simply to talk to another human being. The lyrics of “Eleanor Rigby” would have sufficed for Linda’s plight, but, instead, we have Raymond saying of Linda, “The chick’s got so many holes, I guess it’s hard to keep them all shut.”
The next scene shows a man mowing grass. We learn a few moments later (in a scene derivative of “Raising Arizona”) that inside the grass bag is a prisoner escaping from Huntsville Prison. He forces his way out of the bag after the lawn mower is left untended and flees to an old colleague’s home: Raymond Mansfield’s ramshackle residence in Tampa, Florida. It is Raymond who is the biological son of Abe White (born of Abe’s sperm from the Vista Care Fertility Clinic) but Clyde Brisbee is the escapee guest in residence at Raymond’s pad when Linda arrives.
After Abe’s stroke, Linda discovered that Abe has a son somewhere in Florida, a son he has never met. The doctors tell her Abe is not going to make it, so Linda sets off to find his child. As the film’s log-line notes, “God help her!” When she comes to Raymond’s door, the young man is quite adamant about not wanting any “Jesus crap” from his clean-cut visitor. In fact, he insists that Linda pay him $20 for 5 minutes of talk time. Unkempt. Drug-using. Living in a pit. Linda says, “This place could use a woman’s touch.” Raymond responds, “So could my pecker but that ain’t happening, either.”
I was interested in the respective ages of the two leads. After all, Linda White of the film says she has been married to Abe for 25 years. Rachel Harris, who plays Linda, in real life was born in 1968. Matt O’Leary, a Chicago-born actor who has been working since age 13, was born in 1987. I have 2 children born those exact years, so Linda is supposed to be 19 years older than Abe’s “son,” (whom, we learn in the course of the movie, is not his son at all).
Raymond (Matt O’Leary) is not too keen on accompanying Linda on a cross-country trip to see Abe before he dies, but an unexpected visit from the police to his drug-riddled lair quickly changes his mind. Linda represents an opportunity to flee Tampa and avoid returning to Huntsville Prison. So, off the two-some go in the hatchback Linda has driven to Florida.
The car is symbolic of the relationship between Abe and Linda with lines like these: “A man gets used to a good old car and he misses it when it’s gone…I’m starting to think it was a piece of shit to begin with.” Later, when the car has been stolen (thanks to Raymond’s unsuccessful attempt to ditch Linda and strike off on his own in it) and Linda has returned home, the miraculously recovered Abe asks Linda if it wasn’t just a mistake losing the car.
Linda responds, “It was a mistake. Yes, it was. All of it.” Only, by then, seeing Abe through the eyes of pseudo-Raymond and others, she is realizing some hard truths about her marriage and Abe’s behavior throughout their 25 years together. She’s not really talking about the car at all.
Michael Bricker, Production Designer for "Natural Selection" awaits the screening of the film.
Linda has longed to make a trip to Morgan’s Key, where a person can be a universe of one. The snow globe representing it reminded me of the 1980 film “Resurrection” with Ellen Burstyn, Sam Shepard and Richard Farnsworth. In that film, a postcard of Machu Pichu took on symbolic significance. It represented that destination we all strive to reach in life, just as the postcards from Cool Hand Luke (Paul Newman) to his fellow prison inmates held that distinction in the days when people actually sent postcards and letters. That mythic place will make us whole and happy. In this movie, that place is Morgan’s Key, which Linda’s older sister Sheila (well-played with a flair for the bitchy and a broad Texas accent by Gayland Williams) has visited, but Linda has not. (Reminds of another great line of dialogue, spoken by Raymond to Linda: “Maybe we’ll catch a unicorn takin’a shit of lullabies.’”)
The film was shot in Smithville, Texas, also the location for “Hope Floats” and “The Tree of Life.” The small town (population 4,000) has its own film committee and, according to Production Designer Michael Bricker, couldn’t have been more accommodating. (Every hotel room contained a DVD of Sandra Bullock’s “Hope Floats” film, and the huge tree in Terence Malick’s “Tree of Life” is a Smithville landmark.)
Although first-time director Robbie Pickering studied film in New York and California, he lived in Texas and knew Smithville, which is near Austin. The film not only won big at SXSW, but also won an Audience Award in Athens, won 2 awards in Indianapolis, another in Kansas, and Director/Writer Pickering has been given a Sundance Award to allow him to make more films. This is good news for those of us who have been suffering through films on suicide, grisly murder(s) and all manner of human suffering. Another bit of good news is that Cinema Guild is going to distribute the film. Writer/Director Pickering was not present in Chicago because he was accepting an award in New York from the New York Friars.
In his place, Production Designer Bricker explained that his path to the film and career started when he studied at the University of Texas in Austin (near Smithville), earning a Master’s in Architecture. He applied to be an intern on a film. He was hired and promoted rapidly to the point that he was, first time out, the Production Manager on a film with 4 sets being built for the movie’s use. His plan for “Natural Selection” was to focus on decay and lifelessness, with “different versions of ‘not right,’ moving on to more colorful images later.”
Gayland Williams, who was also present at the Chicago screening, explained that she was the last Texas principal hired, as most of the actors and actresses were from Los Angeles. As Gayland said, “Sheila was not a real sympathetically written character.” Indeed, she was not. She was the older sister who gave her sister bad medical advice (a recurring theme, intentional or unintentional, is truly horrible medicaldiagnosis of major characters verging on malpractice). That advice changed her sister’s life.
Meanwhile, Sheila seems quite selfish in flaunting her healthy children before a woman who cannot bear children. She also seems aware that her husband, Peter, a minister, seems quite attracted to her pretty younger sister and takes every opportunity to squelch that. Peter was well played by Jon Gries. His own road trip to rescue Linda after her car is stolen is comical.
The only person missing on October 16th who could have made a trip back home and appeared in support of the film was the film’s leading man, Matt O’Leary, who plays Raymond White/Clyde Brisbee. O’Leary, a Chicago native, has been acting since age 13. I remember him as “the Brain” in “Brick,” a 2005 independent film sensation.
One last bit of praise for Izler Curt Schneider, whose work as Music Supervisor was spot-on. The film won for Best Score/Music at SXSW and was nominated for a World Soundtrack Award. In addition to Schneider’s original scoring, many of the songs were performed by the group Futurebirds.
See this film if it comes to a theater or video store near you. It will amuse and entertain and watch out for Robbie Pickering and crew in the future.
A conversation with actor John C. Reilly is like talking to an old friend. He comes across onscreen in films like “Cyrus” as such a good-hearted, ordinary, normal guy onscreen. After the conversation with Reilly, (which took place on Wednesday, October 12, 2011), the Chicago-born-and-bred DePaul graduate who grew up in the Marquette Park area of Chicago, the impression is that he is just as down-to-earth and nice off-screen as he is onscreen.
When asked what reminds him of Chicago, Reilly says his first impression from way-back-when is the color green, in the schools and neighborhood of his youth. The Marquette Park area was a rough neighborhood (“The old Chicago lumbering into the future”) where the interiors and exteriors of the Irish/Polish neighborhood under “Daley I” were always green in various shades. Reilly said, “Market Park was the only place that physically attacked the Reverend Martin Luther King, before he was assassinated. ..Market Park and Johannesburg had to be two of the most prejudiced places on the planet at that time.”
Reilly, born May 24, 1965, did not grow up a child of great privilege. His Irish father ran an industrial supply linen company and Reilly was one of six children born to his Lithuanian mother. He made his screen debut in Brian DePalma’s “Casualties of War” in 1989 and met his wife, Alison Dickey, an independent film producer whom he married in 1992, on that film. Thanks to the various Chicago programs provided for youth by the city of Chicago, he was able to participate in drama and improv classes beginning at age 8. Music was almost always involved. His later role in the musical “Chicago” would stem from those early experiences and Reilly was even Grammy-nominated for the song “Walk Hard,” which he wrote and performed in the comedy satire “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” In 2002, Reilly, a veteran of 50 films, was in 3 of the films nominated as Best Picture. He was also nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in the musical “Chicago.”
With John C. Reilly at the Chicago Film Festival.
At DePaul, early in his dramatic training, Reilly was cast as the male lead in “The Way of the World,” a Restoration-era comedy by William Congreve. He soon decided, “This is boring. Being the leading man is not all it’s cracked up to be.” His discovery that character actor parts were more interesting “informed a lot of my later parts.”
Asked about whether he felt he was “a spokesman for your generation,” Reilly said, “I never felt like a spokesman of my generation. I try to portray people who have layers of meaning that you can peel back and expose.”
Q: What was the most fun you ever had on a movie set?
A: “’Boogie Nights’ (1997) was the most fun. “The 1997 film where Reilly wrote and performed “Feel the Heat” and portrayed Reed Rothchild predates his partnership in comedies with Will Ferrell. (Of Ferrell, Reilly said, “Will’s America’s Sweetheart…what can I say?” He added that the two have an almost brotherly rapport and are trying to find the time to make a sequel to “Stepbrothers.”
In commenting on “Boogie Nights,” Reilly noted that large chunks of that Paul Thomas Anderson film were improvised. “Paul Anderson and I made 3 great movies together (“Hard Eight” in 1997; “Boogie Nights” in 1997; and “Magnolia” in 1999). “Paul Thomas Anderson has what a great director needs, which is (1) a great photographic eye (2) the ability to be good at motivating groups of people and (3) the ability to be really enthusiastic about the project.”
Actor John C. Reilly at the Chicago 47th International Film Festival.
When asked what actors or actresses he most wanted to work with, Reilly said that he has already worked with some of the best, including Meryl Streep and his current co-star, Tilda Swinton (“We Have to Talk About Kevin”). He suggested that he is more likely to select film projects based on directors with whom he wants to work, citing Terry Gilliam and the Coen Brothers as some on his “would like to work with” list.
Reilly also mentioned that he was recently asked to appear in “Carnage,” which is based on the French play “God of Carnage” that recently ran in Chicago. (The play is a dark comedy about 2 couples who meet to discuss the schoolyard fight that caused one boy to hit the other boy and knock his tooth out.)“I tried not to wet my pants when Roman Polanski called and asked me to do a movie,” said the humble Reilly.
Reilly said, “When I’m reading a script, I ask, is this how people talk?”(in helping him make a decision about whether to do a part.) “All a character can really control is the part he plays. Film is so much a director’s medium. You have to really focus on your part. I’m looking for stuff that’s different from what I’ve done before. You have to be careful what parts you choose. If you aren’t, you might find that you’ve created a big crappy snowball at the end of your life…An actor needs to try his best, show up every day with his best intentions. “
Asked whether there are any movies he is less fond of, Reilly noted, “I’ve seen them all. I’ve returned to the scene of the crime. You don’t put 6 months in and then don’t go see it. You can learn from even the ones you’re disappointed in. “Refusing to name any less-than-stellar roles, Reilly said, “It’s a miracle when one of them works. I’m not gonna’ kick a dog that’s down.”
Q: “How do you receive scripts now?”
After noting that the usual agent-to-actor filter applies, he joked, “They come by carrier pigeon now. If they are too heavy for the carrier pigeon to carry, then I don’t do it.”
Reilly is in an intense new independent film directed by Lynne Ramsay entitled “We Have to Talk About Kevin.” Ramsay, a 1995 graduate of the UK’s Film and Television School, had not done a film for 7 years. Reilly was interested in doing a film with Ramsay, the female British-born director of “Ratcatcher” and “Morvern Callar”), and sought her out. He found that Ramsay, as a director, knew exactly what she was wanted on set and would often call it a wrap after the first take
John C. Reilly’s advice to other would-be actors? “Be there. Be present. Listen and be enthusiastic. Notice what is going on between ‘Action’ and ‘Cut.’”
Dennis Farina arriving at the 47th Chicago International Film Festival.
“The Last Rites of Joe May,” starring Dennis Farina opened the 47th Chicago International Film Festival, with most stars walking the red carpet for the accolades they and the film justly deserve. “The Last Days of Joe May” chronicles the final days of an aging con man, clinging to the perennial belief that he’s just one scam away from the big score. Gary Cole plays Lenny, his fence, a man Joe asks to hook him up in jump-starting his life of petty crime, talking to Lenny about “the old days,” when he was best friends with Lenny’s dad. (Cole’s characteristic cool serves his role well.)
It Came from the ‘70s
Of significance to me is the concept that the film reflects a yearning on the part of audiences for a return to character-driven films like those excellent films of the seventies, something I articulated in an entire book (It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now). “Moneyball’s” movers and shakers (Brad Pitt, et. al.) recently echoed that thought (Sports Illustrated, Sept. 26, 2011).
Seventies films often depicted a man clinging to a code of conduct, but facing a world that had changed around him. The anti-hero arose then: one man defying the establishment. [Writer/Director Joe Maggio admits to being a fan of the films of Vittorio DeSica (“The Bicycle Thief,” “Two Women”) and of “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” a Robert Mitchum movie.] The films of the seventies, when compared to CG-dominated fare of today, make you long for a return to telling a human story that touches the audience’s heart and doesn’t have to depend on an encroaching ice age, toys come to life, or asteroids destroying the earth (not to mention the “end of days” scenario of “2012.”)
Todd Brown of www.Twitchfilm.com reviewed “The Last Rites of Joe May” this way: “I’m just happy that someone out there still wants to make movies like this while there are still stars like Farina to feature within them. This man is a true American icon who deserves far more recognition than he gets, and this is the sort of role that fits him like a glove.” That opinion was shared by the enthusiastic Chicago audience Thursday night, who gave a round of applause to a controversial line in the film (Farino and Writer/Director Maggio debated it). Joe May calls the police station to give Jenny’s abusive policeman boyfriend, Stan Butchkowski (Steppenwolf Theater regular Ian Barford), this message after he puts Jenny in the hospital : “If I ever see his ugly, greasy, wife-beating face, I’m gonna’ rip his balls right out of their sacs and stuff them down his c********** throat.” The audience openly cheered, much as they cheered Eastwood in 1971’s “Dirty Harry” (“Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya’, punk?”).
As the story of Joe May opens, he is being released from the hospital after several weeks of treatment for pneumonia. He’s still not really a well man. Everyone thinks Joe’s dead. The apartment he lived in for 40 years has been rented to a young mother (Jamie Anne Allman) with a 7-year-old daughter; his belongings have been thrown out or given away, with the exception of his collection of vinyl opera records (Verdi, in particular); and his 1989 Cutlass has been sold for $75. (When Joe protests the sale of his car, the civil servant on duty says, “I’d say you got off easy. You had $250 of unpaid tickets and a $1,000 storage fee,” noting that the car was officially declared “abandoned” when Joe lingered in the hospital for weeks.) Joe’s net worth is exactly $443.56. He is irrevocably estranged from his only child, a son (Scotty) who screams at him to get out of his house saying, “There’s nothing to talk about. We don’t even know each other.”
When the young mother (Jenny, well played by Jamie Anne Allman), who works as a nurse, sees Joe homeless in the streets outside his old apartment and sleeping on a city bus and a public bench, she asks him if he would like to rent his old room for $100 a week. He agrees and moves back into his old place, but in a platonic fashion. His relationship with Jenny in the film is that of a father figure, not a lover. Farina said, “I think, for him, not becoming involved with Jenny represented a noble gesture.” Farina described discussions with Writer/Director Joe Maggio where they agreed that Farina’s old-world code wouldn’t find it acceptable for him to sleep with the young woman while her 7-year-old daughter was under the same roof.
Joe May’s Pigeons
Joe’s relationship with Jenny’s daughter, young Angelina (Meredith Droeger) develops around the pigeons Joe houses on the roof (a throwback to Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront.”) The pigeons are symbolic of many things and their fate is pivotal in the movie’s plot. (Joe tells Angelina, “I’ll always come back,” much as the pigeons do.) The pigeons were also one of the sticking points in relocating the film from Maggio’s original New York setting to Chicago. Said Farina, “My biggest concern, believe it or not, it’s a small thing, but I wasn’t aware of how many pigeon coops were in Chicago, because pigeon coops are normally associated with the East coast. That the only thing I’m concerned about…do we have pigeon coops? Though it’s illegal to have pigeon coops in Chicago, there are, indeed, a lot of them.” As a resident of Chicago, Farino said, “It’s the best big city in the world. Of course, I’m a little prejudiced, but I love it.”
Farina is the perfect choice to play Joe May. This film—after a lengthy career as a reliable character actor—fits him like “Rocky” fit Sylvester Stallone. As Farina admitted in an interview, “I can tell you, I’m 68, yeah—there are a lot of things going on that I just don’t understand. And it’s funny, I think maybe when you’re Joe May, your world just gets smaller and smaller and you keep gravitating to people who think like you, or are like you, because you don’t understand or can’t accept what else is going on in the world.” It’s the universal truth: “It’s hell to get old.” Or, as Bette Davis once put it, “Old age is not for sissies.” [Farino’s scenes with old friend Bill (Chelcie Ross) are great, especially one where he drops Angelina off with Bill at the assisted living facility and Bill gets the line, “Hurry up and say good-bye. Uncle Billy is freezing his nuts off.”]
Writer/Director Joe Maggio based Joe May’s character on his maternal grandfather, a short money hustler, and said, “Joe’s trouble isn’t that he fails to live up to his code; it’s that the world has changed to such a degree that, in obeying these rules, Joe is, in a sense, holding devalued currency.”
What code would that be?
Writer/Director Maggio: “You always pay your debts. You never let anyone know when you’re down and out and no matter how bad things get, you keep your shoes shined, your pants pressed and your hair trimmed. If you can’t afford to leave a tip, don’t go into the bar. You wait your turn, with patience and fortitude, because better days will come, eventually.” Joe’s character, in the film, tells his estranged son, who scoffs, “I just always felt there was something great waiting for me.”
At this point in his life, despite being down and out (“One day you’re on top of the world, and the next day you’re floating in the crapper.”) Joe is not ready to go gently into that good night. He plans to rage against the dying of the light, saying, “I still feel I have something to offer.” This is a universal theme that anyone over 50 can relate to.
After an altercation between Jenny and her violent boyfriend frightens Angelina, Joe reassures Angelina telling Angelina if her mother’s abusive cop boyfriend returns, “I’ve still got a few good moves left in me.” A scene on a city bus where Joe gets up to give his seat to a woman and is soon pushed into the senior seats by a young woman is telling.
Any number of Hollywood icons would have been good in this role in their day. Paul Newman comes to mind. Clint Eastwood a few roles back. But there are no actors working today who would have done the part more justice than Dennis Farina, and certainly none who could locate it as well in authentic Chicago neighborhoods in the dead of winter.
Farina’s convincing portrait of a man whose best friend Billy (excellently played by veteran character actor Chelcie Ross, co-star of “Hoosiers” with Gene Hackman) has hung it up and retired to an assisted living facility, is tinged with the sense of doom that Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman brought to their roles in “Midnight Cowboy.” Joe’s sense of being out-of-the-loop reminded me of the “Wall Street” sequel (“Money Never Sleeps”), when Michael Douglas’ character has lost touch with the present-day while in prison. The sub-plot where Angelina is temporarily MIA reminded me of Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-winning role as Otis “Bad” Blake in 2009’s “Crazy Heart,” when he (temporarily) lost girlfriend Maggie Gyllenhaal’s child.
“The Last Rites of Joe May” opens on video-on-demand on October 28, 2011 and will open November 4, 2011 at Quad Cinema in New York City and at the Gene Siskel Film Center November 24, 2011. It’s a heart-warming, satisfying film experience with a message that resonates.
During the Chicago Film Festival (Oct. 7-21) I had the opportunity to meet and greet several famous folk.
One was Guillermo del Toro, who was very sweet and sincere. Another was Ron Perlman, in town to give Guillermo an award. Then there was Forest Whitaker, Cecile DeFrance (the Belgian star of “Hereafter”), David Schwimmer, Alan Cumming and the assorted stars of “Trust,” a David Schwimmer-directed film. There was also Danny Boyle, the director of “Slumdog Millionaire ” and “127 Hours.”
Ron Perlman in the background and Guillermo del Toro on the Red Carpet at the Chicago Film Festival.
Director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire," "Trainspotting") after the premiere of "127 Hours."
Cecile DeFrance, female star of "Hereafter" and me, after the Chicago premiere of Clint Eastwood's new film.
Chicago critic Richard Roper and Cecile DeFrance, star of Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter."
Ed Burns, Director of "Nice Guy Johnny" and "The Brothers McMullen," hits the Red Carpet at the Chicago Film Festival.
Ed Burns at the Chicago Film Festival.
Guillermo del Toro onstage.
Lianna Liberato, who won as Best Actress for her part in "Trust" at the Chicago Film Festival.
Alan Cumming on the Red Carpet at the Chicago Film Festival.
Alan Cumming, who plays Eli Gold on "The Good Wife," gave interviews only to television.
David Schwimmer directed "Trust" at the Chicago Film Festival; he's better-known from his "Friends" role of yesteryear.
The World Premiere of a mobster film shot in Chicago by recent graduates of Chicago’s Columbia College premiered on Saturday, October 10, at the Chicago Film Festival.
The film features Frank Vincent, well known both for his work on television’s “The Sopranos” (31 episodes as Phil Leotardo) and for his work in the film “Goodfellas.” The 70-year-old Vincent plays Lou Marazano, a hit man for the Mob who, as the movie opens, has not actually gone on a “hit” since 1986. He is a dinosaur in the world of crime, but he takes one last job to bankroll himself and his daughter and grandson so that they can have a brighter future. Former “Sopranos” cast member Kathrine Narducci (Charmaine Bucco) plays Lorraine Lionello, Lou’s twenty-year romantic interest who always provides him with the alibis he needs.
The 6 young filmmakers behind the concept and the script met while students at Chicago’s Columbia college and began making short films together their freshman year. In fact, the group headed by Director Brian Caunter (age 26) and with a script whose first four drafts were written by John Mosher and Brian Caunter (later assisted by Andrew Dowd and Josh Staman) formed Beverly Ridge Productions. Their first production was a short film based on Ray Bradbury’s story “The Small Assassin,” but “Chicago Overcoat,” premiered on October 10th, is their first full-length feature film. In fact, the sextet even dedicated the film to their Columbia lighting teacher, Chris Burrett, who died recently at age 60. “It was Mr. Burrett who had to give us permission to take all the lighting equipment out to shoot sometimes, so it was nice to be able to salute him this way after the way he helped us,” explained Director Caunter.
The money to make the film was raised largely by Cinematographer Kevin Moss’ mother JoAnne Moss, who runs a real estate and investing firm in Chicago. With the $2 million budget, the group secured starring talent like Vincent, Mike Starr— (who played 45 episodes as Kenny Sandusky from 2000 to 2002 on television’s “Ed” and also was Detective Russ Millard in 2006’s “The Black Dahlia”)— and cameos by Armand Assante as a jailed Mob boss and Stacy Keach as a retired honest cop.
I went into the screening not expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised. The group has pulled a Clint Eastwood twist by exploiting the fact that their lead hit man is aging and considered a has-been by the younger generation. Yet Lou (Frank Vincent) is still quite cold-blooded when he has to be, and he feels he has it in him to make one last big score so that he can retire to Vegas and finance his daughter’s attempts to start over with her small son, far away from her ex-husband, a small-time hood and drug addict.
One of the most impressive things about the film is the cinematography by Kevin Moss, who uses Chicago’s breathtaking skyline to create a film noir feeling, shooting in locations that, as he said in the after-film Q&A “have never been put on film before.” Female co-star Katharine Narducci summed it up well when she said, “It is shot so beautifully. It is poetic. Absolutely stunning.”
The performances also held up. Vincent was well cast and the Director said, during the after-film Q&A, “We had Frank in mind when we were writing it. We had no other actors in mind. We always wanted Frank.”
Originally cast in the role of the tough cop Ralph Malone who tracks Lou (Frank Vincent) was Joe Mantegna, a Cicero native. Unfortunately, Mantegna had to drop out weeks before shooting was to begin, when he took a recurring role on CBS’s “Criminal Minds.” Enter Danny Goldring, a Chicago native who played the last clown killed in the opening bank heist sequence of “The Dark Knight.”
Goldring reminds of an even more mature version of Robert Redford, all craggy skin and gruff demeanor. He turns in a solid performance as the cop who won’t quit tracking the corrupt police pension scandal that ultimately reaches into the highest places. When murders suddenly start occurring again within the ranks of crime bosses who could implicate those in power and flowers are sent to the victims’ homes immediately after their deaths, (an M.O. not seen for 20 years or more), Ralph Malone (Danny Goldring) is convinced that “the flower killer” is back on the job—or someone who is doing a very good job as a copycat killer. Because he, too, is a veteran of the force, he remembers the first wave of “flower killings.”
Frank Vincent, the New Jersey native who plays the old pro Mafia hit man drew on his years as a drummer for Del Shannon and Paul Anka in the 60’s, when he met many real Mafiosi, to play this part and his other gangster characterizations. As he told Ed M. Kozlarski in an October 8 “Chicago Reader” interview: “They (Mafia) all have a way of looking at you, of intimidating you. They’re all evil. I can give a look or a stare that people read as evil.”
One of the best bits of dialogue occurs near the film’s climax, when Lou (Vincent) faces off against a mobster sent to kill him and seems to be in imminent danger of being fitted for the dreaded “Chicago Overcoat,” Prohibition era slang for a coffin. The armed and deadly opponent tells Lou, “I promise you an open casket. All you can give your family now is your dead body.” Lou (Frank Vincent) defiantly responds, “F*** that! I’m going to Vegas!” and opens fire with an antique Tommy gun that is just as effective now as it was in its prime, a metaphor for the three mob hits the aging gunman has just successfully executed.
As the Q&A ended, veteran character actor Mike Starr (the hefty bowling alley employee from television’s “Ed”, 2000-2002) said, “They (the young filmmakers) have such passion. They really have it together. You’re gonna’ be amazed. I told the other guys, ‘You’re not getting in to some amateur production. This is as good as it gets.”
The only question now is whether, in this depressed economy, the film can find a savvy distributor to help it recoup its $2 million budget. Todd Slater of the Los Angeles-based Huntsman Entertainment is shopping it, but, as Associate Producer Chris Charles said, “We’ve had a lot of offers from smaller companies but we’ve been waiting patiently for the right buyer. We want an offer we can’t refuse.”
The closing night of the Chicago Film Festival (Wednesday, October 29th) featured a tribute to Viggo Mortensen, whose film “Good” was screened after highlight clips of movies from Mortensen’s career were shown. The clips were great. I wish they had gone on forever. The love scene from 2005’s “A History of Violence” with Maria Bello on the staircase. (Hot! Hot! Hot!) The scene in “Hidalgo” with Mortensen turning his horse loose to join the herd. A memorable scene acting opposite Al Pacino in “Carlito’s Way.” A scene opposite Patricia Arquette in 1991’s “The Indian Runner” as Frankie. A death scene from “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”, where Mortensen played Aragon.
Mention was made of Mortensen’s upcoming role in “The Road,” the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s best-selling novel, and of his role in “Appaloosa” with Ed Harris. I longed for scenes from “Eastern Promises,” (remember the nude shower scene with the Russian Mafia?) which garnered him an Academy Award nomination. That was an extremely strong performance with the characteristic cool swagger that we know Mortensen can deliver so convincingly. His role this night in “Good” was not.
Mortensen, himself, took the podium (see picture) to accept his Hugo Award and commented, “I’m relieved to hear that this is not a life-time achievement award. I had some trepidation at first. I didn’t think I’d be put out to pasture just yet. I’m very grateful to still be around and employable.” Mortensen has just turned 50, yet looks and acts 10 years younger.
At the point that the film was to start, Mortensen welcomed co-star Jason Isaacs to the podium. Isaacs called Mortensen “a remarkable star” telling the audience how Mortensen brought him a stone from Auschwitz and visited Isaacs’ family to bond with him before they appeared onscreen as best friends John Halder and Maurice, his Jewish colleague. The Brazilian director Vicente Amorim also spoke, calling the film “a film very much like the choices we make every day in our everyday lives.” Previously, co-star Isaacs had said, “I felt it to be completely contemporary. Very, very beautifully subtle. (*I‘d say a little TOO subtle.) What is the right thing to do and how will I explain my actions to my children?”
Kidding around with the crowd before introducing Isaacs, Mortensen said, “He may sing a song or tell a joke. I’m not sure what he’ll do. He recently received a steroid injection for some undisclosed infection.” This seemed to amuse Viggo as he shared the odd anecdote. The guy’s an original and a little odd, from what I’ve read, and it came through onstage.
The program for the film festival showing of “Good” summarizes its plot this way: “Viggo Mortensen, in an extraordinary change-of-pace role as Professor John Halder. He plays a good, decent individual with family problems, a German literature professor in the 1930s. Halder explores his personal circumstances in a novel advocating compassionate euthanasia. When the book is unexpectedly enlisted by powerful political figures in support of government propaganda, Halder finds his career rising in an optimistic current of nationalism and prosperity. Yet, with Halder’s change in fortune, seemingly inconsequential decisions potentially jeopardize the people in his life with devastating effects.” The program further noted that the movie is based on the acclaimed play by C.P. Taylor.
It’s easy to understand that if the Nazis got hold of a book advocating euthanasia, they’d run with it to the limit and start offing half of those deemed less than perfect Aryan types. In fact, they did exactly this during World War II, as I remember from my trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., sweeping into hospitals and taking babies from their incubators, murdering the mentally defective, etc.
What is not easy to see is how Viggo’s somewhat wishy-washy character is as “good” as advertised in the title. He leaves his wife and two children to have an affair (and ultimately marry) a former student. This is “good?” Since when?
He is wishy-washy again when his best friend, Maurice, begs him for help in fleeing the country as the Nazis become increasingly violent towards those German Jews who have remained. Ultimately, John Halder does, in fact, attempt to get a ticket for Maurice to flee to Paris, but his new wife ann turns Maurice in to the authorities when he comes to the house to pick it up (at a time when John is off doing Nazi things like burning cars and beating up residents. True, he seems characteristically baffled that he is in the midst of a rioting crowd scene, but that just reinforced my impression of this Viggo role as a Thurber character, a sort of neo-Nazi Walter Mitty, if you will. (And I’d like the Viggo back who was screwing on the staircase, thank you very much.)
The movie moves slowly and somewhat turgidly through the build-up to Halder’s ultimate realization that he has contributed to a great wrong being perpetrated upon the Jewish populace. There are unexplained bits, such as John’s suddenly hearing music at various points, which was both odd and puzzling. We expect the sub-plot involving his mother to have John forced to put her in a home where she will then face potential euthanisation by the Nazi hordes, but that doesn’t happen. What we don’t anticipate happening is for Viggo Mortensen, the epitome of cool, forceful performances, to give one where he seems to be emulating Mr. Rogers (of “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” fame). If that comparison seems “off”, perhaps one of Jimmy Stewart’s old roles with Viggo oozing befuddlement and seeming somewhat bewildered by everything that is happening to him and around him. Not the Viggo Mortensen audiences have come to know and love. Give me the Viggo of “Eastern Promises,” please. And hold the “Good.”
There are some exchanges that spell out the predicament facing Maurice, his Jewish friend. John (Viggo) tells his new wife Ann, “I never thought it would come to this,” and she (Jodie Whittaker) responds, “It’s not your fault. Any Jew with any sense left long ago.”
Personally, I enjoyed the exchange on a park bench between Maurice and John, where John explains that his elderly mother, who is failing mentally and physically, tried to commit suicide by overdosing on pills. Explains John, “Her memory is gone. Her dignity is gone. She can hardly breathe.” Maurice responds, “At least she isn’t Jewish.” [An amusing line in an otherwise dour and overly somber film.] It started with Maurice throwing a pound of cheesecake to the ground in a violent frenzy, so that was peculiar, too.
The John Wrathall screenplay, with location shooting in Budapest, Hungary, just does not gel in this adaptation. Everything that happens to John seems random. It’s as though he has stumbled into his own life and is bewildered by it, including his rise to prominence in the Reich. The scenes with his family, including a first wife who obsessively plays the piano at all times like a possessed weasel need more explanation. You want Viggo to say, “For God’s sake, quit pounding on the damned piano and come out here in the kitchen and help with dinner. Or, failing that, go see what my mother wants upstairs.” (Or, better yet, “Hey, honey, come here and join me on the staircase and I’ll savagely screw the living daylights out of you.”)
Halder’s ailing mother is constantly calling for him from the upstairs bedroom as the poor man is also attempting to chop vegetables for dinner, mind the kids and answer the doorbell. It almost comes off as a comic variation of Three Stooges material, as he is seen racing to answer the door, chopping the veggies foru goulash and taking care of his dotty Mom, while the first wife pounds away like some obsessive/compulsive nut job. All-in-all, the domestic scene looked a bit disheveled, true, but, if, as the dialogue has suggested in the movie up to this point, “You’ll do the right thing. You always do,” (his mother speaking), then why does John up and take a mistress and dump his loving family unit so suddenly? Seemed out-of-character and not what someone who “always does the right thing” would do.
Even more puzzling, why is the wife he leaves so compliant when she is dumped? The emotions the woman expresses are unlike any scorned wife I’ve ever met, and I don’t think it’s a 1930’s thing. Wife Number One and the two kids are abandoned for the younger fraulein and piano-woman is left to fend for herself after doing almost none of the housework or cooking or other domestic chores normally associated with the female of the species. Does she complain? Au contraire, mon frere.
In almost the very next scene, Wife Number One tells her philandering husband as they stroll through what may have been his mother’s funeral scene (it was unclear) how proud she and the abandoned children are of him. Hmmmmmm. Did not wash for me. Real life does not work that way, in my experience. More realistic if Wife Number One was calling Dr. John Halder a “schweinhund” and swearing a blue streak, methinks, but that’s in the world I live in.
John Halder, on the other hand, seems to inhabit his own version of reality, complete with an ostrich-like inability to see what is happening right before his very eyes, a very wishy-washy constitution, and a problem with spinelessness.
The end of the film also comes rather abruptly, as John attempts to find his now-deported friend Maurice in a concentration camp. A single tear runs down his cheek as he realizes what his book hath wrought. Then it ends. The screen goes black.
We filed out silently, wishing we could have another replay of those clips from Mortensen’s early films, which were very entertaining, absorbing and true-to-life. Unfortunately, the clumsily-titled “Good” may have had the intention of making a statement about how we all must stand up against injustice wherever we find it, but it did not translate well as directed by the Brazilian director shooting in Hungary, and even an actor as competent as Viggo Mortensen is only as good as his material.
Question #1:How long did it take to get the film made?A:“It took us 3 years to get the financing and 2 years to make.”
Question #2:Is Buck Howard like the real-life character of Kreskin upon which Buck is based? A:“The handshake thing is for real. I’ve actually never met Kreskin,” said Hanks. “I hear Malkovich’s portrayal is pretty amazing.”
Question #3:Do you think you’ll ever do more movies like (2002’s) “Orange County?” A:“I think I’ve pretty much done all I can in that genre.”
Question #4:Where did this story come from?A:“The Great Buck Howard…at least about the first 15 minutes of it…is all about the experiences of the writer/director Sean McGinly. He’s the one who worked for Kreskin.I just liked the story. I just think this is a really cool story and it is just a great little movie that can get a few laughs and tell a story.”
Question #5:How did you get all the people to do the cameos in the film?“Most of the cameos were written into the script. I have some mutual friends with Jon Stewart and Conen O’Brien.Martha Stewart was the one I was surprised to get, but all of them were petrified to have been performing with John Malkovich. I’ve actually thought it would be cool if John would dress up as Buck Howard and go back on the same shows to promote our film.We also got Ricky Jay (Gil Bellamy in the cast, as Howard’s manager), because he’s kind of a historian of magicians.He was too busy to consult, but he came in and said, in a matter of seconds, ‘This is about Kreskin, isn’t it?’”
Question #6:What was John Malkovich like to work with?A:“Malkovich was extremely friendly, very very funny, a pleasant surprise, because, obviously, you don’t always like the people you work with and people say, ‘That dude is supposed to be the weirdest man ever.” I asked John about his weekend one day. He said, ‘I woke up on Saturday. I read the paper, even though it’s all bullshit, but I read it, anyway.I hung around the house and went to the park and played in a pick-up game of basketball.’ Anywhere he is filming, John Malkovich will be taking part in a pick-up game of basketball. The thing that makes John such a great actor was his adding little touches like the Captain & Tennille and telling me, “Those flowers are expensive. Take the flowers.”
Question #7:What was it like working with your dad?A:A lot of fun. It was good. He makes it easier, more enjoyable because he’s so good at what he does.With Malkovich, as well, it was a trifecta, a sandwich of joy.”
Question #8:Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?” A:“If my team was in the play-offs in sports, then I often wanted to be whatever sport that was.I always enjoyed acting, though, and I always did it. It was not until I got to college that I realized I had to figure out what I wanted to do.I love what I do and actually there is nothing else I would really rather do. The truth is, I love what I do. I have genuine passion for it.” (*The younger Hanks had a production assistant job on “Apollo 13” and most recently had a story arc as Father John Gill on AMC’s “MadMen” televsion show, with Jon Hamm. He also starred in 2005’s “King Kong” as Preston, Jack Black’s assistant and in 2002’s “Orange County’ as Shaun Brumder, Jack Black’s scholarly brother. He had a role as 2nd Lt. Henry Jones in the television mini-series “Band of Brothers,” which his father helped produce, and had a small role in “That Thing You Do” in 1996, as a male page, a part which he got using a fake last name to avoid trading on his father’s fame.Colin Hanks also has a small part as Speechwriter #1 on Oliver Stone’s “W” out now.)
Question #9: What is your next project?A:“To be honest, I’m not working on a whole lot right now. I just had a story arc on “MadMen” and a bit part in “W.” I’m directing a documentary on Tower Records, which could take a while.”
Question #10:Do you have any other idols, other than your dad?A:“No, not really. I do like Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski.”
Question #11:What have you been doing while you have been in Chicago?”A:“Well, I just killed an hour in the bowling alley that’s attached to this place and I was hoping to go to a World Series game while here. I saw a BlackHawks game. I heard some good comedy at Second City. I ate a buffet at the John Hancock building (not so good). I saw some great art.”
Question #12:Did you visit any bars?A: I’m gonna’ plead the fifth on that one?Well, okay: Timmy O’Toole’s.
Question #13: What is your favorite Tom Hanks film?A: “I really can’t pick ‘a favorite,’ but I can tell you that I can’t watch ‘Philadelphia.’”
“The world don’t give a shit about me. You can lose everything that you love, and I’m not as pretty as I used to be, but I’m still standing and I’m the Ram. You people here are my family.” So says Mickey Rourke, roaring back to the big screen in Darren Aronofsky’s (“The Fountain”) low-budget film “The Wrestler” as Randy “the Ram” Robinson. The role was supposedly modeled on Randy “Macho Man” Savage, although Rourke gives credit elsewhere for his gritty portrait of a washed-up professional wrestler facing retirement due to a heart condition.
(www.chicagotribune.com). In an interview with Michael Phillips about this entry in the Chicago Film Festival which is receiving Oscar buzz for Rourke’s strong performance, Rourke said (October 12, p. 5): “My younger brother, Joe, back in the day in Venice Beach, we used to go lift weights at Gold’s Gym, which was the mecca of bodybuilding back then. And there was a guy named Magic. He had long blonde hair. He had two hearing aids and couldn’t hear a (expletive deleted) thing. He was a character, a biker dude who lived in a bus behind the gym. He wrestled on the side, and I based my character on this guy Magic more than on anybody else.”
Wherever the inspiration for his wrestler character, the character’s words ring true in Rourke’s career and life when he speaks lines like, “I just want to tell you: I’m the one who was supposed to make everything okay for everybody, but things didn’t work out. And I left. And now I’m an old broken-down piece of meat, and I’m alone, and I deserve to be alone. I just don’t want you to hate me.” That bit of dialogue is uttered in a touching scene with Evan Rachel Wood, who plays his estranged daughter. Their trip to a deserted, run-down amusement park/arcade previously visited in her youth is symbolic of “The Ram’s” broken-down status in his career and in his life.
Randy is struggling to connect with someone…anyone. He tries to romance a local stripper (Marisa Tomei, showing a lot of skin in her role). He tries to win back his daughter, who shouts at him, “There is no more fixing this. It is broke. Permanently.” The Ram is even reduced to waiting on customers wearing a nametag that says “Robin” and a hair net at a deli (Abraham and Charlotte Aronofsky have bit parts here).
Most critics are predicting an Oscar nomination for Rourke, who, in the Phillips interview, said, “For a while there in the dark years before “The Wrestler” I needed to get away, to just…I had too much crap going on in my life.” He adds, “I didn’t know it was going to take me 13 years, but what are you going to do? I was really bad for a long time, and it wasn’t anybody’s fault except mine. Change is hard, especially for a guy like me. And it’s not that I wanted to change. I had to change. And I’m very thankful now that I did.”
No young actors in this country in the early eighties were more promising than Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn. Acting class colleagues used to spread the word when either was going to do a scene, as all admired the duo’s intensity. Rourke was in “Heaven’s Gate” in 1980 (cited as one of the biggest financial failures of all time) and in “Diner” in 1982. He had a real run of films in the mid-to-late eighties, with “9 and ½ Weeks,” “Angel Heart”(1986) and “Barfly” (1987). Then he made the controversial “Wild Orchid” in 1990, a critically panned film that paired him with Carre Otis, a former model whom he would marry and, later, divorce in 1998.
The number of roles that Rourke supposedly rejected, which turned out to be big box office and bad career decisions, is legion. Rourke actually retired from the ring to box professionally from 1991 to 1995, a move that left him with a battered face that is almost unrecognizable when compared to his early acting years. Born in 1956, he was told he was too old to really be good when he resumed boxing, so he took beating after beating. His love of boxing began at age 12, when he won a bantamweight fight at 118 pounds.
For this latest film, Rourke trained with professional wrestler “Afa, the Wild Samoan,” and many other pro wrestlers are given credit at the end of the film, such as Brutus Beefcake and The Flesh Eaters. With an 80s soundtrack (guitars by Slash on the original music composed by Clint Mansell) and the line extolling the eighties with the sentiment “That Cobain pussy hadn’t come around and ruined it (rock and roll)” the low-budget look into the life of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Ramzinsky), who lives in a trailer and is nearing the end of his career, is depressingly realistic. It gives both Rourke and co-stars Evan Rachel Wood (as his daughter) and Marisa Tomei (as his stripper friend) meaty roles. The fight against “The Ayatollah” that climaxes the film is supposedly based on the WWF wrestler “The Iron Sheikh.” (www.FilmSchoolRejects and www.NYA.com).