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I’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.

There’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 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”.

If 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.

Finally, 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.