April 13, 2010
 

Brokaw's New York Film Festival, Part 4.

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"Pandora And The Flying Dutchman" One important component of every NYFF is its keen commitment to preserving and restoring cinema treasures. The key artisan who has championed this work internationally is director Martin Scorsese, who's shown a shrewd commercial side with his American Express spots and his delightful new 10-minute branded entertainment caper for Freixenet's Reserva. This Friday (10/10) at Manhattan's Walter Reade Theatre, Marty will introduce the restoration of Albert Lewin's 1951 "Pandora." The Film Society saluted it in a 2005 retrospective, "Technicolor Dreaming," which showed off technicolor's deep, rich, ruddy hues in genre beauties like "Leave Her To Heaven" and "This Island Earth." Technicolor was phased out of film production in 1974, but no actress ever looked more beautiful in its process than Ava Gardner.

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"Pandora" is set in 1930 Esperanza, a Spanish coastal village, and is entwined with the legend of a sea captain whose ship founders in a storm. It's the myth of the undying 'flying Dutchman' who can come ashore every seven years to search for a woman willing to die for him. In this fabulist mix of fantasy and reality, Ava plays a nightclub singer who swims nude out to the anchored Dutchman's yacht. He's acted by James Mason, who's finishing a painting of Ava who he's never met. She becomes his Pandora. The ravishing color lensing of Jack Cardiff lifts "Pandora" above other romantic fantasies at the boundaries of noir, like "Portrait of Jennie" and "Scarlet Street" (both of which revolve around obsessed painters.) The restoration of "Pandora" is by George Eastman House, in cooperation with Douris Corporation.

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"The Wrestler" Mickey Rourke's towering, take-no-prisoners performance as Randy "The Ram" Robinson resonates with this writer's memories of professional wrestling in the early 1950s. Back then, the biggest draws were the most outlandish showmen--Wladek "Killer" Kowalski, Yukon Eric, Gorgeous George, and the 640-lb. Martin Levy who wrestled as The Blimp and simply embraced an opponent and fell on him. As a teenager watching these spectacles in arenas in Indianapolis, the nagging question was always whether the brutal, bloody displays were fixed. The midget tag-team bouts felt staged, but the hard stuff didn't. Kowalski, a 6'7" 280 lb. hulk who wrestled in black tee and tights, once broke three first-row chairs over the head and shoulders of six-time heavyweight champion Lou Thesz, before Thesz, blood streaming down his neck and back, decked The Killer with an airplane spin.

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Darron Aronofsky's Closing Night (this Sunday, 10/12), selection at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center is an affectionate, modern-day tribute to the athletes who carry on the tradition, and the hard ass, heavy metal Jersey crowds who cheer on their work. Aronofsky doesn't pussyfoot around--the soundtrack reverberates with Slaughter, Quiet Riot, Rat Attack, and plenty of singalong Guns N' Roses (Axl Rose is thanked in the credits). Rourke literally fits his role like a glove, having had a second career in the 90s as a respectable heavyweight boxer. Even though his bad boy unreliability has limited his recent film credits ("Sin City," "Man On Fire"), Mickey Rourke remains a dangerous, empathetic actor. You can't easily forget those scenes in "Barfly" in which he plays a Bukowski-styled brawler and drunk who takes on Frank Stallone in one savage alley fight after another. And so "The Wrestler "is Rourke's comeback film, the one in which he promised his director he'd do the work and clean up his act. The NYFF curators have made a bold, unconventional choice in closing the world's most closely watched film festival with this mayhem, but Rourke makes it all worthwhile in the role of his career.

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The aging "Ram" character is admired and even revered by his fellow ringmates. As in most niche businesses, all the players know each other, and the moves they make before a paying crowd are second nature. Ram and his buddies are built like Timex watches that take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. (When one lunatic starts working over The Ram's chest and back with an industrial stapler, we get to watch everyone's concern in the dressing room as the staples are gently extracted one by one from the Ram's body.) But the wrestler's heart finally almost does stop tickin' and he has bypass surgery, which slows him down. This allows "The Wrestler" to take a detour and become a conventional genre movie for a while, as Mickey finds a job building sandwiches at a deli, starts a relationship with a single- mom bar stripper (Marisa Tomei) and visits his estranged teen daughter (Evan Rachel Wood, pictured above with Rourke). Mickey yields Tomei and Wood the screen in their scenes, and both actresses respond with flair. This leads Ram to train for one last big match, and you can bet at least one of the women will be there to cheer him on. Does he win? Does his heart hold up? Aronofsky promised Rourke an Oscar nomination if the actor did everything he told him to do, and win-or-lose, live-or-die, Mickey has rammed through a performance that's Academy all the way.

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