Wrestling with destiny

If anything, The Wrestler is all about Mickey Rourke. The movie in itself isn’t all that, but it is Rourke’s acting that truly pins viewers to their seats.

The Wrestler is the story of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a professional wrestler from the 1980s. Randy is twenty years past his prime, his glory days are long gone. He wrestles in independent promotions barely making a living and at the same time; he works at a supermarket loading boxes. His estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), doesn’t want to be associated with him anymore. And the woman who is interested in him, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) realises that Randy’s life is spiraling into oblivion and the aged wrestler doesn’t want to stop himself.

In many ways, Randy and the actor that portrays him, Rourke, have much in common. Rourke’s career spiraled as uncontrollably as Randy’s. Both have achieved fame but have faced ignominy. Rourke achieved much success earlier on in his career with the portrayal of an arsonist in Body Heat. It was a role that garnered significant attention, despite his modest time onscreen.

Rourke also starred in Francis Ford Coppola’s follow-up to The Outsiders, the coming-of-age tale, Rumble Fish. He portrayed the mysterious older brother of Matt Dillon’s character, a role for which he was praised as a standout in a film that also featured such talents as Dennis Hopper, Vincent Spano, Diane Lane, Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn, Laurence Fishburne and Tom Waits. Rourke’s performance in the film The Pope of Greenwich Village alongside Daryl Hannah and Eric Roberts also caught the attention of critics. While the film was a box office flop during its initial release, it has become something of a minor cult hit.

In the mid-1980s, Rourke earned himself additional leading roles. His role alongside Kim Basinger in the controversial box-office hit 9½ Weeks helped him gain the “sex symbol” status. More successes would follow, particularly in films such as Angel Heart, Year of the Dragon, and Desperate Hours.

But Rourke was unstable. He has been known to walk off sets and not accept prominent roles: roles that have gone on to gain fame and awards. He turned down a number of high-profile acting roles, including Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop, Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs, Tom Cruise’s role in Rain Man, Nick Nolte’s part in 48 Hours, Christopher Lambert’s part in Highlander and a part in Platoon. He even turned down Quentin Tarantino who offered Rourke the part of Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction. Rourke declined, and the role eventually was offered to Matt Dillon then Sylvester Stallone, before Bruce Willis invested in the film and was given the part.

After this time, Rourke left acting all together. It was in the early 90s that Rourke pushed himself to an ultimate test: he entered the world of Professional Boxing. He struggled to an unbeaten status with one draw facing minor opponents. Though he never achieved national prominence he did suffer a number of injuries, including a broken nose, toe, ribs, a split tongue, and a compressed cheekbone. The actor was simply too old to box and thus in 1995 he returned to acting. He made string of low-budget films, but didn’t achieve the same status that he had from in his former years.

In 2005, Rourke would have another bout with destiny. Robert Rodriguez adapted Frank Miller’s epic graphic novel Sin City and Rourke was chosen to play the part of Marv. Ultimately it would be this role that secured his role in The Wrestler.

But when Rourke read the script, he realised that he had a lot in common with him. In a recent interview he spoke about the role and the script, “When I first read the script, I hated the character. I hated his guts, and I hated the side of him that was such a loser, the fact that he couldn’t be accountable, or couldn’t take care of his responsibilities. That’s how I was for many years before I went to therapy.”

Though the actor was committed and understood, it seems that both the writer and the director were on different pages. Darren Aronofsky directed the film with Robert D. Siegel (a writer on the Onion website) writing the script. Aronofsky has not had a decent film ever since his morbid and melancholy outgoing in Requiem for a Dream. The Fountain before this was described as a catastrophic failure, though gaining some fans amongst the DVD market.

Aronofsky’s direction makes it seem more like Rocky meets the obscure 1989 Hulk Hogan film, No Holds Barred. Often it seems like the director is eager to make the audience squirm out of discomfort, rather than actually tell a story. We all know that wrestling is fake and it uses tactics to make the audience jump from their seat and squirm, but Aronofsky seems to make things too real for comfort at times.

Siegel’s script is a riddled with clichés. The only good moments are with Randy and even those are carefully enacted by Rourke, whose subtle charm tells the story of the fallen wrestler. And critics have lauded Rourke’s performance, so much so that they are calling it the “resurrection” of his career.

But there are parts in the script that even Rourke’s acting can’t help from oblivion. The subplot involving his daughter is unpersuasive, and the last few twists of his romance with Cassidy verges on the preposterous.

sThe only other good aspect of the movie is the soundtrack. The Boss himself, Brice Springsteen, provides a poignant song in the movie. This of course was no fluke, both Springsteen and Rourke are the best of friends, fans of each other’s work. So much so, that when Springsteen inquired about the actor’s current project he was given a script. Springsteen read it and immediately signed on to record the title single. Clint Mansell, who has produced music for all of Arofonsky’s previous films, provided the score here, and although it doesn’t deliver as Springsteen’s song does, it is heart-felt and emotes the struggles of the fallen wrestler.

The Wrester has gone on the win many crucial awards so far. The film won the Golden Lion Award at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. It was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards in 2008, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, which was won by Mickey Rourke. The Wrestler was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for Marisa Tomei, and won the award Best Original Song for The Wrestler composed by Bruce Springsteen.

The Wrestler isn’t one of the best pictures released last year, much like the title character it falters, stumbles at moments, but if there is any reason why you should watch it, that reason is Mickey Rourke.
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Ricardo Montalbán: Suave and Sophistication

He was the personification of suave sophistication in every role he played.

Both his infamous roles – the villainous Khan Noonien Singh from Star Trek and the welcoming Mr Roarke from Fantasy Island – carried themselves with grace and confidence. Such qualities came naturally to the Mexican-born American thespian who has had a remarkable seven-decade career in the entertainment business.

His mainstream movie career began when he was plucked from Mexico’s movie industry by MGM in the 1940s. His first role was that of a bullfighter, cast opposite Esther Williams. MGM quickly put him on contract and he would go on to appear along side many screen legends, including Clarke Gable, Lana Turner and Marlon Brando. Though he was working in Hollywood, he was often cast in stereotypical roles, as the Latin heartthrob or as one of the Asian characters.

Montalbán first on-screen leading role was in Border Incident, a 1949 film in which he starred alongside actor George Murphy. During the ’50s and ’60s he was one of only a handful of active Hispanic actors and Montalbán was proud to be one of them.

During the late ’60s, Montalbán appeared in the now classic episode of Star Trek, called Space Seed. In it, he portrayed the character of Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered human and some would say one of worthiest opponents of Captain James T. Kirk and perhaps even a worthy opponent to William Shatner, in terms of screen presence.

When major film roles dried up for him in the 1970s, he turned to stage and eventually TV, where he was familiar to millions as the mysterious host whose signature line, “Welcome to Fantasy Island,” opened the hit show Fantasy Island.

During this time, he also won an Emmy for his performance as Chief Satangkai in the 1978 television miniseries How the West Was Won. In the 1970s and 80s, Montalbán was also familiar to TV viewers as a commercial spokesman for car manufacturer Chrysler.

Montalbán also gave one of his best movie performances by revisiting the character of Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a follow-up to television episode of the series that also featured the character. The New Yorker magazine critic Pauline Kael said Montalbán’s performance as Khan “was the only validation he has ever had of his power to command the big screen.”

As time went on, his roles diversified, he played the evil tycoon in the 1988 comedy hit Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! and had a prominent role as the grandfather in Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.

He was widely respected for his efforts to create opportunities for Latinos. He even co-created the nonprofit Nosotros Foundation, to help improve the image and increase employment of Latinos in Hollywood. Though some critics say that this move hurt his image as a Latino, but Montalbán did not care.

While filming a scene for the 1951 film Across the Wide Missouri, Montalbán was reportedly thrown off a horse, knocked out, and walked on by another horse, leaving him with a spinal injury that troubled him for the rest of his life and grew more painful as he aged. In 1993, he underwent nine-and-a-half hours of spinal surgery, but it only made the pain worse. Montalbán continued to work, usually delivering his lines from a wheelchair.

Montalbán died on January 14, 2009 at his home in Los Angeles, California at the age of 88. The cause of death was not officially identified, although his son-in-law, Gilbert Smith, did say he died of “complications from advancing age.” He is survived by four children: Laura, Mark, Anita and Victor.

Patrick McGoohan: ‘l am not a number. l am a free man.’

His work influenced countless television shows, writers and actors. But it was the late ’60s television series The Prisoner (in which he starred and co-created) that captured the attention of audiences around the world.

McGoohan played the lead character in The Prisoner, known only as Number 6, this role struck such a remarkable chord with audiences that it has continued to reverberate in re-runs, festivals, university courses, doctoral theses and even a quarterly magazine: All this after just a 17-episode run of the show. The show’s legions of interpreters have perceived elements of the cold war, mob mentality, mind control and more in the show.

Broadcast in 1968-69, The Prisoner tells the story of a nameless spy who resigns his position only to be kidnapped as he is about to walk away. He wakes up in the Village, a resort-like community that is actually a high-tech prison. He is dubbed Number 6 and often struggles with the camp authority figure, Number 2, who pressures him to say why he resigned. Number 2 was played by a different actor each time. A remake of the TV show has recently been filmed, with the US actor James Caviezel as Number Six, and Sir Ian McKellen as Number Two.

The Prisoner remains one of the most enigmatic and fascinating television series ever but McGoohan’s career was not limited to it. In fact, it ranged ranged from success on the stages of Londons West End to starring in a popular spy series called Secret Agent in the United States. It was however in the later stages of his life that he gained critical acclaim in motion pictures and other television shows. His portrayal of King Edward I in Mel Gibson’s 1995 film Braveheart was much talked about and he won Emmys as a guest star on Colombo in 1975 and 1990.

Colombos Peter Falk once described McGoohan, who also occasionally worked as a director and writer on the Columbo mysteries, as being “mesmerising” as an actor. “There are many very, very talented people in this business, but there are only a handful of genuinely original people,” Falk in 2004 during an interview. “I think Patrick McGoohan belongs in that small select group of truly original people.”

In 1977, he starred in the television series Rafferty as a retired Army doctor adjusting to civilian life. TV Critics and historians point out that this was probably the main inspiration for the current TV series, House M.D. McGoohan’s The Prisoner is also credited for giving inspiration to shows such as LOST, Heroes and 4400, shows which are multilayered and multifaceted.

McGoohan turned down an offer to be the big screen’s original James Bond, appeared in films such as The Three Lives of Thomasina, Mary, Queen of Scots, Silver Streak, Escape From Alcatraz, Scanners, Ice Station Zebra and Braveheart. He would usually play villains and almost menacingly so.

Patrick McGoohan, a two-time Emmy Award-winning actor, starring in television series, motion pictures and stage dramas, died on 13 January 2009 at St John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, following a brief illness
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Presenting The Chand Taara Orchestra

We’re sitting in an open-air restaurant, located in a secluded area of defence. Babar Shaikh, Glen John and Rizwan are positively brimming with excitement. They’ve just had their first show as the Chand Taara Orchestra at the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture’s (IVSAA) Alumni Show, and they’re looking forward to doing more. For each them, this journey into experimental music has been long in the making.

About a year ago, director musician Babar Shaikh was invited to play at a Spanish Film Festival. There he joined other world musicians as they played live improvisational music to silent animation movies being played on the screen. It would prove to be an experience that he wouldn’t forget anytime soon. His recent musical ventures include his own band Dusk, which continues to evolve to this day.

As he returned back to Pakistan from Spain, the first person Babar contacted was Rizwan. “Musically, whatever I’ve done, I’ve always involved Rizwan.” Their initial foray into music began with 1996’s Ganda Banda and the 3d Cats, along with Ahmad Chagla and Ali Alam (now associated with The Aunty Disco Project). Ganda Banda was perhaps a phenomenon of its time, achieving cult status to this day. “Post-GandaBanda, Rizwan and I were getting into a lot of world music,” recalls Babar. “It was also very simple, just complete raag-based songs,” adds Rizwan. But both agree it was the diversity of Ganda Banda that made it the success that it was.

Rizwan’s journey has been long and winded in music, “I’ve played different instruments and I started playing in a band in 1988. It was a rock ‘n’roll band, but at the same time, I was really interested in classical music. From rock, I progressed to psychedelic, then blues and reggae and ultimately, world music.” Regarding his input in the band, he said, “I don’t have a particular style in mind when I play, perhaps I mimic a style, but for me it’s just about playing diverse music.”

The commonality between Babar and Rizwan was not just diversity, but the diversity of world music. In 2002, the two musicians teamed up with Areeb Azhar and performed a few gigs. It would be Areeb’s diverse sound that would further solidify Babar’s and Rizwan’s journey towards where they are today. Then, upon Babar’s return from his experience with the Trans Orient Express, Glen John came into the picture. John, the son of revered musician S B John, has his own band Gurus Trilogy, met up with Babar and the two discussed possibilities of perhaps forming a band together. “This is something that I always wanted to do, something experimental, something that made me feel good inside, the kind of music that would appeal to me,” Glen said. “My own band – Gurus – does appeal to me, but it has a very commercial aspect to it and one needs to earn their bread and butter, but one also needs to satisfy their creative self.”

Both Babar and Glen agreed that whereas commercial music serves its purposes, it doesn’t satisfy them as musicians. Glen was immediately taken by the idea and possibilities from that meeting, but it wouldn’t be until the IVSAA invited Babar to perform at their first Alumni Show that the hard work would come to fruit. The three of them rehearsed together to establish the base of the Chand Taara Orchestra. “Initially, it was just Babar and me rehearsing,” remembers Glen, “I was so excited that I had worked on a few things even before Babar showed up for the rehearsal.”

“The thing that makes this work is the synergy,” Babar states, “It’s the fact that Glen had already worked out something before I joined him, and the fact that when Rizwan joined us afterwards, he brought in something new that added to the whole ambience of the band.” The purpose of the band wasn’t just to play guitar with a raag, a practice common amongst fusion bands, but to achieve a totally different kind of sound with the addition of other instruments, (particularly world instruments) such as a harmonica, electric tanpura, and an Arabic duff, to name a few. “It’s not your typical fusion,” adds Rizwan. And indeed it isn’t. The band’s strength is its diversity, whether it is Babar’s rock influences, Glen’s experience of classical music and Rizwan’s world music.

The result is a fresh sound of experimental fusion music, made in the spirit of making music with a purpose of more than just earning money. The band currently has one track, and at almost 25 minutes, it is a sheer display of love for music, if anything else. Again, for one to comprehend on such a track length, one has to understand the band’s motives and the fact that this isn’t a commercial venture. The track sways in with the electric tanpura and carries the listener along with it. One doesn’t even catch each of the instruments coming in, such is the subtly of the music. The guitar and bass blend in with the aura of the sound and the harmonica and duff – instead of sounding off beat or out of tune – create that perfect harmony to take the track onwards.

Already there is praise for them after their first show. They have been approached by fellow musicians to be a part of the proverbial orchestra. “That’s the general idea,” says Babar – and both Glen and Rizwan agree with him, “the three of us are the nucleus of the band but other musicians will come and add on their inputs according to our sound.”

At the end of it all, Babar sums up his own vision. “I read someplace that if a music listener goes back home from a concert and thinks, ‘wow that was a good gig, the guitar player was amazing, the drummer was amazing, etc’ – you really haven’t fulfilled your purpose as a band. But if that same listener says, ‘wow what a band’ then you’ve hit the mark.” The three of them agree in unison that whatever music they play, it should impart itself upon the listeners, touching their lives in some sort of way.

Surely then we can expect to hear more from this unique group as they continue their journey as the Chand Taara Orchestra.

Who wants to be a Slumdog Millionaire?

Jamal Malik is about to experience the biggest day of his life.

Based upon the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup, Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal, a young tea boy working in a call centre in Mumbai, desperately seeking his long lost love. Through his persistence he winds up crossing an underworld gang leader, gets caught by the police on suspicion of being a cheat, and ultimately is on the verge of winning 20 million rupees.

Director Danny Boyle once again shows off his ability to tell diverse stories filled to the brim with emotions. He startled audiences with Trainspotting in 1996, took them on an adventure on The Beach in 2000, and startled them in 28 Days Later in 2002. In 2007, Boyle opted for a science fiction story: Sunshine. But the story didn’t shine on audiences as Boyle hoped it would.

Hence, Boyle is back at doing what he does best: making small movies about real characters in real situations. And it doesn’t get much real than the story of Jamal Malik whose rags-to-riches story can almost be compared to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. But to properly tackle the fact that the story was Indian, Boyle chose his casting director, Loveleen Tandan, to be his co-director. A smart decision on the part of Boyle, as Tandan’s previous work on movies such as Brick Lane, Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake, to name a few, brought a wealth of experience for Boyle. Her experience impressed Boyle, who said, “Initially it was obvious how she helped us with the casting. We’d be trying to audition seven year olds in English, and it wasn’t working with them, and she said: “I’m horrified to tell you, Danny, but you should do it in Hindi.” I said: “Okay, we’ll do it in Hindi.” It was like a million times better straightaway.”

At first there was panic in the studio when Boyle began re-tooling 75 per cent of the film’s English dialogue into Hindi. Now that Boyle found the cultural connection with Tandan, he wanted the writer to find his own connection too.

Written by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty and Yasmin), there are drastic differences between the book and the movie, smartly made by the writer. Beaufoy traveled to India, befriended local filmmakers and even spent time with street children to get a feel of the story. There is also something interesting presented by Beaufoy – overlooked by the western media – is his attention to the persecution of Muslims in India. It’s only a small part of the story, but a vital one for Jamal’s character. And hence, even the writer connected to the culture.

Jamal is portrayed by British actor Dev Patel. Boyle considered hundreds of young male actors, although he found that Bollywood leads were generally “strong, handsome hero-types”, not conflicted and different, like Jamal. Boyle’s 17-year-old daughter showed him Patel, who at that time was starring in a British TV drama.

Jamal shares his screen time with renowned Indian actor Anil Kapoor, who portrays the host of the show Prem Kumar. Kapoor, aka Mr India, steals most the scenes he’s in with the young Patel. His devious intentions stand in the way of Jamal, who continues to look for his long lost love, Latika. Model Freida Pinto stars in her first theatrical role as Jamal’s love interest, Latika. Besides the conflict of the world, Jamal is shown to always be at odds with his brother, Salim, a role played by Madhur Mittal.

A special note should be given to the young actors, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, who played younger versions of Jamal and Salim. If it not for them, the entire build up of the story would be flawed from the start. Their performances, both innocent and naive, and cunning and malicious, show us a glimpse of what each character will be at the end of the movie.

And although this is British production of a movie set in India, Boyle acknowledged that the only way to achieve a proper authentic feel for the movie would be to have the proper music. Enter Indian music composer maestro A. R. Rahman. The composer planned the score over two months and completed it in two weeks. He stated he was aiming for “mixing modern India with the old India with the music, but that the film and soundtrack “isn’t about India or Indian culture. The story could happen anywhere.” Boyle hated sentiment and told Rahman not to “put a cello in the film”. Instead he imagined an “edgey” and “sharp” score. Rahman appreciated the director’s praise for Bollywood music, saying the director wanted “edgy, upfront” music that did not sound suppressed. Composing pieces to fit the images, he noted: “There’s not many cues in the film. Usually a big film has 130 cues. This had just seventeen or eighteen: the end credits, beginning credits.” And with each cue, Rahman captures the mood of the characters and the beats of the story. The soundtrack is perhaps the best score released in 2008 so much so, that Rahman received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score.

And that’s not the only Golden Globe nomination the movie has received, it has also been nominated for Best Motion Picture (Drama), Best Director (Danny Boyle) and Best Screenplay (Simon Beaufoy). But what is more impressive is the amount of awards the movie has won so far. Amongst the critics circle alone it has won a staggering 62 awards. Slumdog is not only a hit amongst the critics; it is a hit amongst the people too. It’s a simple story that has won hearts and amid a time of terror and hopelessness, provided a moment of hope for movie goers all around the world.

It's safe to say that Slumdog Millionaire is movie that you won’t forget anytime soon.
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Jett Travolta, the 16-year-old son of actor John Travolta was found dead, in the family’s home in the Bahamas. Travolta has said that he and his wife, actress Kelly Preston, are “heartbroken” over the death of their son. Both of them and their daughter, Ella, were present at the home when Jett died.

Jett had a developmental disability that his parents have linked to Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory disorder of the artery walls that most commonly occurs in young children and can lead to heart disease. In 2001, John Travolta revealed in a TV interview that his son had a near brush with death related to the condition. He went on to speak about how it changed the actor’s living practices. “I was obsessive about cleaning – his space being clean, so we constantly had the carpets cleaned. And I think, between him, the fumes and walking around, maybe picking up pieces or something, he got what is rarely a thing to deal with, but its Kawasaki syndrome.”

Dedicated Scientologists, Preston and Travolta credited a detoxification program from the writings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard with helping improve their son’s health. In past times Scientology has stirred controversy when clashing with the world of medicine – particularly with the world of psychology.

An autopsy on Jett Travolta will be performed Monday, family attorney Michael Ossi said last week. The boy hit his head after the seizure, but the exact cause of death is not known. He is scheduled to be buried in Florida. John Travolta gained fame in the 1970s, starring in Saturday Night Fever and Grease. His career got a boost in 1994 with his second Best Actor Oscar nomination, for his role in Pulp Fiction. Preston has numerous TV and movie credits, including a supporting role in 1996’s Jerry Maguire.