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Toronto, Day 5: Kiss Kiss, Slam Bang

Posted by Ty Burr  September 8, 2008 08:53 PM

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wrestler2.jpg

Finally, some deals are being made. Darren Aronofsky's Venice prizewinner "The Wrestler" screened last night and by early today had been picked up for US release by Fox Searchlight for a pretty reasonable $4 million. "Everlasting Moments," a very well-regarded period drama from Swedish director Jan Troell (old-school foreign film fans will remember his multi-Oscar nominated "The Emigrants" back in 1971), has been acquired by IFC, but the Aronofsky is the big get of the festival to date.

It deserves to be, even if it's really a glorified character study that represents the director's most conventional work to date (though compared to "Pi," "Requiem for a Dream," and "The Fountain," anything might look normal). The real draw here is the performance by Mickey Rourke (in photo above) as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a 1980s pro wrestling superstar (his long blonde locks echo Hulk Hogan's) who twenty years later is holding on by his fingernails.

The Ram lives in a trailer in New Jersey, does weekend bouts at foreign legion halls for rent money, works at a supermarket stacking boxes, and is loathed for many good reasons by his grown daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). He still sticks steroids into his butt, too, and is hung up on an aging stripper played by Marisa Tomei. Not a pretty picture but an increasingly moving one as the wrestler deals with dire health issues and a transfer to the deli counter. Rourke, unrecognizable from the skinny devil of his youth, locates the marblemouthed goodness and tragedy in the character, and the matches are hilariously fake-brutal -- the film reveals many tricks of the trade. The real wrestlers in supporting roles are good company too and, not surprisingly, decent actors. All in all, a fine movie, and so what if Wallace Beery played pretty much the same part in 1931's "The Champ"? He won an Oscar doing it, and what Rourke does here is worthy of awards as well. I never thought I'd type those words, but time and movies are funny things.

Other than that, my last day of screenings before handing the baton to Wesley wasn't very rewarding. In fact, "Management," starring Steve Zahn as a loserish small-town motel manager and Jennifer Aniston as the prim businesswoman he becomes obsessed with was much the worst movie I've seen at Toronto this year: a painfully "quirky" botch of dialogue, tone, and performance. It's more or less a failed Sundance film that somehow got away and washed up on the shores of Lake Ontario, and, as such, represents much that has gone wrong with the American indie scene in the last few years. It'll get a release on the strength of Aniston's name alone, but I don't know how long that can hold true if she keeps making movies like this.

The little Irish movie "Kisses" has some people feeling good, but I'm not one of them. A story about two kids (Kelly O'Neill and Shane Curry) who run away from their abusive family situations for a down-and-dirty magical realist 24 hours in Dublin, it's well acted but stylistically pat: the film's color scheme (it starts in black and white, slowly bleeds into color as the children gain their freedom, then reverts once more to monochrome as they return home) is an interesting idea that feels forced in practice. I never lost sight of the hand of director Lance Daly, and I should have.

My final screening, though, was a definite pick-me-up: Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Tokyo Sonata," in which a dysfunctional nuclear family undergoes fission and recombination in increasingly surreal ways. The film envisions a fallen Japan where an entire subclass exists of businessmen who've lost their jobs and haven't told their wives, where young men are so fed up they join the U.S. Army, where dutiful wives run away with desperate burglars, and where a young boy's dirty little secret turns out to be classical piano lessons. After the hamfisted romantic comedy of "Management" and the earnest over-direction of "Kisses" -- not to mention the parboiled married-man paranoia of "The Other Man," which I walked out of after 45 minutes -- the simple filmmaking mastery of "Sonata" felt like a reminder of lost pleasures. Added bonus: It finished off my Toronto 2008 with one of the lovelier versions of "Clair de Lune" I've heard.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

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