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Review: The Wrestler, Before the Rains, Transporter 3, Empties and The Last Great Snail Chase

By April 8, 2009December 31st, 2013No Comments

The Wrestler posterI’d like to think of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler as a kind of grand meta­phor for America, a bank­rupt and exhausted old cul­ture, coast­ing to the fin­ish line on the fumes of former glor­ies, unable or unwill­ing to rein­vent itself des­pite every sig­nal telling it to change. In one, of sev­er­al, heart­break­ing scenes Mickey Rourke’s Randy “The Ram” takes his estranged daugh­ter to the aban­doned and derel­ict amuse­ments of Asbury Park where he hopes to rekindle memor­ies of hap­pi­er times but the moment of grace is short-lived. Of course, it may just be a film about a wrest­ler, I’ll give you that.

The Ram was a big star in the 80s when MTV and pro-wrestling col­lided, but now he lives in a trail­er and wrestles in school halls. And wrest­ling, too, has changed. It’s still show­busi­ness but now it’s degrad­ing and dehu­man­ising, the pub­lic bay­ing for even more blood and demand­ing ever great­er sacrifices.

A heart attack prompts Randy to retire and try and re-connect with his daugh­ter (Evan Rachel Wood) and maybe make some­thing new with lap-dancing Marisa Tomei but he gets an offer he can­’t refuse. There’s an inev­it­ab­il­ity about the con­clu­sion that is no less mov­ing for being totally pre­dict­able. Rourke is won­der­ful, rising above his car­toon­ish cur­rent per­sona to remind us why he was rated so highly nearly 30 years ago.

Before the Rains posterThere’s an annu­al film fest­iv­al in Kerala, south India, that I’ve always wanted to vis­it. Now, after watch­ing, Before the Rains I know there’s an extraordin­ary rich land­scape also try­ing to tempt me. Unfortunately, the film itself is a tep­id melo­drama that nev­er reaches the heights of the scenery or dir­ect­or Santosh Sivan’s own excel­lent photography.

Set in the wan­ing days of the Raj, plant­er Henry Moores (Linus Roache, son of Coronation Street’s Ken Barlow) is dig­ging a private road to open up more land for spice. The road must be com­pleted before the arrival of the Monsoon but the grow­ing polit­ic­al unrest down in the val­ley, and his affair with the beau­ti­ful ser­vant Sajani (Nandita Das), con­spire against him. Rahul Bose plays the mor­al centre of the film, ser­vant and engin­eer T.K. Neelan who finds him­self com­prom­ised when he tries to clean up Moores’ mess.

Transporter 3 posterTransporter 3 is a Transporter movie, big­ger and stu­pider, even, than the rest. My favour­ite B‑movie hero Jason Statham returns as the lantern-jawed Frank Martin, forced by an explod­ing brace­let (that looks like it came straight out of Blake’s 7) to drive an annoy­ing freckly girl to the Ukraine, chased by two sets of bad guys. Director Olivier Megaton tries every trick he can think of to keep us inter­ested but the lack of decent bones to hang his tricks off mean that it’s a los­ing battle. I don’t often say this, but “blah”.

Empties posterIf you remem­ber with fond­ness, as I do, a sweet little Czech movie from 1996 called Kolya (about an iras­cible old musi­cian who inher­its a cheeky five year old) you will be pleased to know that the father-son cre­at­ive team, Jan and Zdenek Sverák have come up with anoth­er sweet-natured win­ner with Empties. Zdenek, the fath­er, plays Josef – ready to retire from teach­ing but not from life. To his wife’s under­stand­able irrit­a­tion, he takes a series of jobs, end­ing up tak­ing empty beer bottle returns at the loc­al super­mar­ket. There he does his level best to inter­fere in the lives of every­one around him and find the time and energy for one last fling – an endeav­our in which he is thwarted at every turn.

Genial and witty, Empties is recom­men­ded if you like the kind of dry, obser­va­tion­al humour that seems to spring so effort­lessly from east­ern Europe.

The Last Great Snail Chase posterFinally, a pat on the back for a digit­al Wellington indie get­ting a couple of screen­ings at the Film Archive this week­end. The Last Great Snail Chase is a por­trait of Wellington twentyso­methings, flat­ting in Aro Valley, search­ing for some­thing to care about or for. Meanwhile, the sky is full of turtles and the world may be about to end.

I found myself won­der­ing what it would be like if dir­ect­or Edward Lynden-Bell’s digit­al whimsy was to mix with that oth­er brand of Aro Valley film-making, Greenhough and Walker’s hand­held ang­sty kitchen-sink stuff (I Think I’m Going, Kissy Kissy). That would be interesting.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 1 April, 2009.