Friday, October 15, 2010

The Round-Up#37 (Bumper Edition)

Film Review: The Wrestler: Darren Aronofsky is a frustrating filmmaker. He has his good moments (Pi), his pretentious moments (Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain), and then there are the flashes of genius. The Wrestler is a work of art. It's a deceptively simple film, with a simple storyline: a has-been professional wrestler, played by a brilliant Mickey Rourke, tries to overcome his mid-life crisis and his money troubles by diving back into wrestling. But his life is a shambles: his daughter hates him, his heart is failing him, and his money is running out. The only thing he has going for him is his developing relationship with a middle-aged stripper (Marisa Tomei, in a career-best performance).

Don't let that lame synopsis give you the wrong idea. No, sir. This is a film that is powerfully touching, technically masterful, and, above all, tells a great story using the least amount of flash. Aronofsky, not known for his restraint, reins himself in, telling the aging wrestler's story with awe-inspiring restraint, using a docu-style to tell the story, never letting technique get in the way of the characters' journeys. But that doesn't mean that the film isn't visually stylish. Far from it. Aronofsky's minimalism is a style in itself: The bleached visuals, the primitive editing style, and the brilliant sound-design create a somber, naturalistic mood that befits the gritty tale.

But what makes the film what it is, a brilliant piece of filmmaking and a story wonderfully told, is Mickey Rourke. A charismatic, versatile actor, Rourke creates a character that is so real, so flawed, so memorable, that one wonders why the actor didn't win an Oscar for the role. This is a performance to be studied, a performance for the ages, a marvel of minimalism and craftsmanship.

With a brilliant script by Robert D. Siegel, masterful direction, a mesmerizing performance by Rourke, and a powerful ending, The Wrestler is not to be missed.

Book Review: Draculas by Jack Kilborn/J.A. Konrath, Blake Crouch, Jeff Strand and F. Paul Wilson: Take one soulless, dying millionaire who wants to be immortal, a recently discovered skull that might have belonged to Dracula himself, an infestation of vampirism in a secluded hospital, a gallery of memorable characters, a team of writers who are masters of their craft, and you get Draculas, one hell of a ride!

The plot, which is pure Kilborn/Konrath, is a one-trick pony, but the writing sure isn't. Konrath, Crouch, Strand and Wilson pull out all the stops here, delivering a book that only takes a couple of pages to get going and never looks back. This book has so much momentum that the reader never gets a chance to catch his/her breath. Jumping from one character's point-of-view to another, with no chapter stops, the novel's pace never lags. But, for me, what sets this novel apart, what makes it brilliant, is its sheer ebullience. Although it's nasty, ultra-violent, and, at times, stomach-churning and brutal, it is also very, very funny, in a super-twisted kind of way. This is a book that has an undead clown making balloon animals out of a victim's intestines, where vampire babies dangle by the umbilical cord from their mothers' open bellies, where heroes and children die; but it is also a book that makes time for characters to get untimely erections, exchange their favorite movie quotes, and which features a character that has an unhealthy relationship with his chainsaw and another who calls his gun Alice. So, yes, it's a funny book.

It's also a brutal book, with a relentless pace, and enough action, gore and grue to satisfy the most blood-thirsty reader. This is a no-holds-barred, go for the jugular (excuse the lame pun) kind of book, that does for vampires what Romero did for zombies: Make them scary again. These "draculas" aren't funny (well, most of the time they aren't), aren't handsome, and they sure don't want your love. They simply want to eat you alive with a mouth full of shark fangs. They are absolutely terrifying; creatures out of a black nightmare.

Also, Draculas is, without a doubt, one of the best, if not the best, action-horror novel I've ever read. The action sequences are brilliantly written, well-detailed, and nail-biting, which, considering the amount of talent involved, isn't surprising. What is surprising, however, is how tonally consistent this novel is. None of the four writers' voices gets to overpower the narrative, instead, this novel comes off as one well-oiled terror machine. But Konrath's penchant for locking his characters up with monsters and seeing what happens, definitely shines through. And the ending is pure Konrath: cynical and leaves you wanting more.

Hardcore horror, pitch-black humor, some of the best action/suspense sequences I've ever come across in a novel, vampires that scared the hell out of me, a cast of characters to die for, and one hell of an ending, make Draculas a modern classic. It is also the only novel I know of that features a character wielding an Amazon Kindle as a talisman. Unmissable.

* The book is available as an e-book at the Amazon Kindle Store.

Film Review: The Expendables: You've got to give Sylvester Stallone credit. The man sticks to his guns no matter what. The Expendables, co-written and directed by Stallone, is a film made by an aging action-hero who knows he's almost through; knows that they don't make films like this anymore, that "old-school" action movies are a dying breed, and that it takes someone with passion, balls, and experience to make them right. Well, The Expendables is an old-school action film done right, for better or worse.

Centering around a group of aging mercenaries who are hired to do the "jobs" that are too messy for Governments to take on officially, the film doesn't waste a single minute. From the explosive opening sequence, to a number of thrilling set-pieces, Stallone and co. deliver the goods. As a director, Stallone orchestrates some pretty hardcore sequences, where people get blown to bits, appendages are amputated, and holes are bored through bodies. The CGI is minimal, the sound-design loud, the editing smooth, and the characters all get to throw at least one one-liner each. And speaking of the cast, it's a dream come true. Just seeing old-schoolers like Mickey Rourke, Stallone, Dolph Lundgren together must be worth something. But it's Lundgren - who rarely appears in theatrical features anymore - who steals the show, with his portrayal of a drug-addicted, mentally unstable, washed-up warrior, who is both hero and villain.

Admirably, Stallone lets everyone have their moment, leaving the best lines for his mates. Overall, this is an extremely effective action movie, well-directed, and, strangely enough, one with heart. Although it's not high on intelligence or wit, it doesn't pretend to be. It knows exactly what it is: an old-school action flick, the kind they used to make back in the 80's; the kind that is almost extinct. Enjoy it for what it is and give respect where respect is due.

Extra! Tap, Tap (a.k.a Love Me To Death) by David Martin: This edition's Extra! selection is the novel, Tap, Tap by David Martin, a strange suspense novel that combines vampirism, erotica, serial killers, and a bizarre love story, to create a messy, flawed, but ultimately entertaining novel that is a dark, fast-read.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.

1 comment:

  1. If you don't own the Expendables on dvd or blu ray when it comes out, you are not a man!