Monday, December 22, 2008


This weekend I saw Gran Torino, The Wrestler, and Man on Wire.

Gran Torino and The Wrestler are very very similar movies--both feature aging Hollywood icons (one elder statesman, one prodigal son) playing men long past their prime who confront death and dredge up old skills/abilities for one last big harrowing scene. Both stories are incredibly formulaic--they revel in formula, they roll around in it, they make no apologies. Both lead performances aren't performances, they're audience-pleasing caricatures. (And they are most pleasing.) Eastwood's face and Rourke's face are like the sides of mountains. The pleasure in these cases isn't in seeing people act. The pleasure is in watching their faces be faces. The permutations of Eastwood-face and Rourke-face are limited but quite mesmerizing. Actually what I've said is a little misleading. Eastwood has a face. Rourke has a slab of face.

What mostly differentiates the movies is style. Gran Torino is classical Hollywood cinema mode, shot-countershot, establishing shots, etc. The Wrestler is faux cinema verite, with grainy stock and handheld camera, attempting to capture the "grittiness" of strip clubs and crappy gyms where downmarket wrestling matches are held. It does feel "real."

That said, I liked Gran Torino a lot more. I admired The Wrestler but was mostly bored. (I would have preferred to see The Stripper, starring Marisa Tomei's supporting character.) Gran Torino doesn't feel "real" (the gangbangers seem like actors, the dialogue feels like dialogue) but it employs formula rules in a very effective way... formula rules function to get the audience emotionally invested in the story, that's IT, and that's exactly what happens here... but it turns out to be an insidious tactic, because while Eastwood does religiously follow the formula playbook until the very end, cranking up your anticipation, making you believe a certain thing is going to happen, making you look forward to violence--at the last moment, he pulls the rug right out. Punishes the audience for looking forward to violence. As I left the theater, it actually reminded me of Funny Games in the way it manipulates your desire to see brutality onscreen and then subverts that desire. It's not a confrontationally radical film in the way that Haneke's is--it brilliantly makes the subversion/punishment work as an audience-pleasing ending!--but it's radical all the same.

Man on Wire. Man on Wire is fucking lovely. It's the story of a narcissistic egomaniac who enlisted his friends and girlfriend to--for years--help him live out his dreams of tightrope-walking above places like Notre Dame and the World Trade Center. It's more suspenseful than just about anything I've seen all year. And honestly it is beautiful. It will cause grinning.


Also this weekend I saw a few seconds of that viral video of a murder that happened in the Ukraine. You may have heard of this too, but I hope you had better sense than me and didn't click on it. Apparently those kids are on trial now, and one can only hope they stay locked in jail for their entire lives.


Sabra Embury said...

Noah brought you up today in conversation so I thought I'd check you out.

"Formulaic"'s a good word for "the Wrestler." I used "contrived" when describing it myself, and "exposed lung" instead of "slab of face."

Aside from that--the movie had me cringing for the sake of poor subconscious imagery; it felt like I was watching an episode of Cops; and Marisa Tomei was way too toned to be believable as an over-the-hill-single-mom stripper.

Sympathy's one thing, with a main character from a trailer park addicted to pain killers trying to rebuild a relationship with an estranged lesbian daughter working a as butcher to keep from being evicted, but how much can indigestion can a person take with some theatrical cornucopia of lower socioeconomic trash entertainment elements--these plastic ingredients in a giant who gives-a-shit sandwich.

Sorry, it's just I know the movie's big in got a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes too. Bleh.

N A said...

The audience at the Sunshine theater applauded when the movie was over. But I was only thinking about how much pale fuzzy material from my sweater was rubbing off on my black coat and making it look like a puffy cat had slept on me. I wonder what Noah said about me. He probably said I stood him up in that bar. I was at the bar, Noah! Just at a different time.

Sabra Embury said...

What if you were in the Sunshine when I was in the Sunshine--just at different times...

Noah was excited to see you; he talked about it a lot and emailed you from my tramp computer and said things like: Nick Antosca's gonna be at Home Sweet Home tonight; he stayed with me and wanted to go to strip clubs...and then you sooo stood him up. Hmm. Hmmmm.

N A said...

That's actually pretty likely, since it was the only place it was playing for a while. Damn it, I wanted to see Noah too. I like tramp computers, I like all kinds of tramps but not all kinds of computers. I should have taken him to strip club last time, my ex and I were going to take him to the Penthouse club but I took him to MoMA instead.