Remember when Mickey Rourke was one of the most compelling actors on the planet? Sure, one must go back more than two decades, but there was a time when his wry smile, knowing eyes and playful, sexually charged persona made Rourke both a cult figure — the French still adore him — and an actor of rare emotional depth and unpredictability.
Then came 9 1/2 Weeks, a film that played up his strengths (the simultaneous presence of the tough and the tender) and weaknesses (an overly indulgent, narcissistic need to rebel against the status quo) to a ludicrous degree. He was never the same thereafter, falling prey to the excesses that so often afflict actors of such acute sensitivity (see the life of Marlon Brando). Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly (1987), in which Rourke played cult novelist/poet/world-class drunkard Charles Bukowski, was probably the last good movie he made as a leading man.
Enter Darren Aronofsky — a filmmaker who knew how to harness Rourke’s underutilized talents and wounded psyche. (Read my interview with Aronofsky here). The Wrestler is essentially Rourke’s own life story, a beautifully rendered film that revives a once-vital cinematic force. But, as ever, will this singular actor’s restless spirit allow him to capitalize on a rare chance at movie-land redemption?
Elsewhere, a number of films from nearly every genre join The Wrestler in theaters this week, including an unlikely romance starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, the latest dramatic thriller from director Edward Zwick, a 3-D horror flick and the long-awaited big-screen reunion of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
Finally, the Esquire Theatre will host two screenings of Repo! The Genetic Opera on Sunday (9 p.m. and midnight). I wasn’t able to procure a screener, thus I’ll trust New York Times critic Nathan Lee, who writes that “Darren Lynn Bousman, the director of several Saw sequels, has devised an excruciating new torture with Repo! The Genetic Opera. Set about 50 years hence, this high-concept, tone-deaf musical imagines a dystopian society afflicted by widespread organ failure, biological black markets and spontaneous outbreaks of painfully monotonous Rock & Roll.” Bousman and actor/co-writer Terrance Zdunich will be on hand to introduce this naked attempt to craft a Rocky Horror for the 21st century. Tickets are $15. For those curious, here’s the trailer:
DEFIANCE — Director Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai) tells the true story — based on a book by Nechama Tec — of the Bielski brothers, who escaped the Holocaust by forming a Jewish partisan force, a displaced community that included civilian refugees, in the woods in what now is Belarus. Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber star as the brothers. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Steven Rosen (Rated R.) Grade: B-
HOTEL FOR DOGS — Nickelodeon Movies presents this family film about a pair of kids (Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin) who take care of stray dogs in a vacant house. The curious supporting cast includes Don Cheadle, Kevin Dillon and Lisa Kudrow. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG-13.) Not screened for review
LAST CHANCE HARVEY — The mere idea of love inspires clichés, but sometimes on screen a love story comes along that harnesses the innate truth upon which the whole tired edifice has been constructed. Writer/director Joel Hopkins (Jump Tomorrow) lays the simple framework of love discovered late in life over the course of a single emotional wreck of a weekend and fortifies his narrative with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson as his leads. Last Chance Harvey proves you should never assume that you won’t get what you deserve, whether that’s the great reward of love or a good and honest love story. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B
MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D — Pimping a tag line like, “Nothing says date movie like a 3D ride to hell,” is all you need to know about this new horror flick from director Patrick Lussier. Stars a host of B-movie and/or TV actors, including Jensen Ackles, Jamie King and Kerr Smith. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated R.) Not screened for review
NOTORIOUS — Soul Food director George Tillman Jr. helms this Hip Hop biopic based on the rise and untimely demise of Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G.), tracing his early days as a corner dealer to his relationship with Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke) and Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). Watching newcomer Jamal Woolard valiantly attempt to fill the big man’s shoes inspires sadness (at the loss) and a sense of being underwhelmed by the proceedings. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens
wide today.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: C
PAUL BART MALL COP — Hollywood hack deluxe Steve Carr (Are We Done Yet?, Daddy Day Care) directs this comedy from Adam Sandler’s lame-named production company Happy Madison about at bumbling mall cop (Kevin James) in suburban New Jersey. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated PG-13.) Not screened for review
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD — Director Sam Mendes’ latest, based on a 1961 novel by Richard Yates about a ruinously disaffected suburban couple in Eisenhower-era America, has a phenomenal performance by Kate Winslet and a very good one by Leonardo DiCaprio. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens today at the Esquire Theatre.) — Steven Rosen (Rated R.) Grade: B
THE WRESTLER — At first glance, this is not the most likely story for director Darren Aronofsky to tackle, especially after The Fountain, his beautifully trippy quest for love and eternity. But The Wrestler plays like a heady fusion of Rocky and Requiem for a Dream, and as icing on this bittersweet treat, there’s the too-plain comparisons between Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s narrative second chance and the redemption that has come to Mickey Rourke after years of wandering far off the Hollywood reservation. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: A-