Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Best Movie of 2008

Let's get two things out of the way immediately. First, in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 8:9 which says "Do not cause a brother or sister with a weaker conscience to stumble," I want to warn the reader that my favorite film of the year has a lot of nudity in it. Marisa Tomei plays Cassidy, a stripper and she shows everything. If you find that offensive, or if it will cause you to sin, then don't see the film. Second, as you probably know, Bruce Springsteen has a song in this film. Aptly named, "The Wrestler" plays over the credits. I am certain some will think I like this film because Springsteen is associated with it. However, that is not the case. It is just a coincidence that Springsteen happened to write a song for the film I think is the best film of the year. To prove this I want to point out that I didn't name PHILADELPHIA (1993), DEAD MAN WALKING (1995), JERRY MAGUIRE (1996), or LIMBO (1999) my favorite film of the year even though they all featured a very good Springsteen song.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, THE WRESTLER is my very favorite movie of 2008. I honestly like it more than any of the five films that were nominated for an Oscar in the Best Picture of the Year category by the Academy. Moreover, the film contains my three favorite performances of the year: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. Mickey Rourke is up for Best Actor for his portrayal of Randy "The Ram" Robinson. Marisa Tomei is up for Best Supporting Actress for playing Cassidy, an exotic dancer. I've often heard people say things like, "Man, Mickey Rourke is amazing, but the movie isn't." I don't get that because I feel an amazing performance is indeed the film. This is a fantastic film. It should have been up for Best Picture. Now, I'm not at all interested in the type of wrestling that is depicted in the film. However, I have to ask: When is the last time we've seen a film about wrestling like this? Probably never. That alone makes this an interesting film. At least it is not derivative.
director Darren Aronofsky crafted a film
that emotionally pinned me

I knew I would like this movie. The very first time I saw the trailer I actually teared up during the scene between Mickey Rourke's lead character and his daughter played by Evan Rachel Wood. Before seeing it I saw the trailer a few more times and I cried each time. Something struck a chord with me. I really shouldn't go into the scene's details too much in case you haven't seen the film, however they are out on the boardwalk and it's a killer. For me, there was no finer moment of acting on display in all of last year's films. The line of dialogue that laid me out is this line that Randy delivers to his daughter, Stephanie. She is played wonderfully by Evan Rachel Wood. Randy says this: "I'm an old broken down piece of meat and I'm alone. And I deserve to be alone. I just don't want you to hate me." Just think of the extent of this man's pain that he believes he deserves to be alone.
Randy "The Ram" Robinson & his daughter Stephanie
in my favorite sequence

Anyone who knows me well knows that most of my favorite movies have very broken characters in them. I find broken people compelling. This is a movie about very broken people. Cassidy, the striper played by Marisa Tomei is certainly broken. In a recent interview ("When their careers take off" L.A. Times 2/19/09) I read that Tomei talked to many exotic dancers before playing this role. The article said she discovered women who were, "disengaging intellectually and emotionally from their work." She said in part it was a mind-set "to not really know your own self really well." I think that is how she played Cassidy, as a tragic woman that doesn't want to know herself to well. I can relate to this because it has been one of the most painful things in my life to actually take the voyage of discovery to really know myself, to find out what is really wrong with me and to find out what I really truly desire in life. That journey always involves opening up to people and risking a lot. Tomei goes on to say, "It's not like they exposed themselves to me." What an ironic statement. People who are in the business of exposing themselves for a living, but actually unwilling to expose themselves emotionally for fear of the damage it would do. The actress sums up her character using the phrase, "non-exposure" and notes, "It's a painful place to be, with the mask." Indeed, wearing the mask ultimately doesn't bring us joy in life, but the mask becomes a protection that we are used to. For me this film is partially about that. Are we going to take our mask off and expose true selves to others? Will we allow ourselve to know and be know, to be loved, can we stand the pain of THAT?
Cassidy played by Marisa Tomei

It is not just Cassidy that is damaged in this film, Rourke's lead character, Randy "The Ram" Robinson, is even more dysfunctional.

A few lines from Springsteen's title song capture the essence of the lead character's brokenness:

"These things that have comforted me I drive away
This place that is my home I cannot stay
My only faith is in the broken bones and bruises I display"

I guess you either get those lyrics or you don't, but I get them because I have known people like that. I honestly feel that my own father is a little like that, pushing away, even subconsciously, the very things that would bring you the most joy. I love those lyrics more than I can explain. Those few lines sum up the entire film. This is a movie that is about people who are stuck in a rut of pushing away the very things that will ultimately bring them the most comfort and joy.

I could write a lot about this film, but actually Bruce Springsteen describes it best in a recent extended quote from a "making of" documentary (making of "Working on a Dream" VH1). In initially describing phone call that he got from Mickey Rourke, Springsteen goes on to describe his song that he wrote for the film which fit the character so well. He said this:

"It's basically a song that's sort of about being damaged and living on. Damage, what it does to somebody, the inability to get in. The inability to stand the things that nurture you. These things will give you a life, if you an stand them."

Springsteen goes on to say that he read the script and thought, "Okay, this is about somebody who doesn't have these capabilities, and instead you find your identity in the damage that's been done to you. You find your identity in your wounds, the places where you've been beat-up and you turn them into a medal and it's a very dangerous thing to do. We all wear these things we survived with some honor, but the honor is in: You wear those things, but also transcend them! This is somebody in search of that honor. He's living in search of that honor."

I agree with this assessment of the film. It is about a very sad character that ultimately doesn't find that honor which makes it a very sad film. However, it is a film that I love because it reminds me of what is important.
The amazing Mikey Rourke as Randy

The main character is tragic because he doesn't manage his life well. In the same interview, when discribing the character, Randy Robinson, Springsteen also says, "There is no part of yourself that you leave behind. You can't remove any part of yourself. You can only manage the different parts of yourself." Then he gives this metaphor for life. Here he is talking about only one person and how throughout life you never are far from your old selves, all you can do is put the healthiest self, the most wise self in the driver's seat. Springsteen says, "There's a car, it's filled with people: the 12 year old kid's in the back, so is the 22 year old, so is the 40 year old guy that likes to screw up, so is the 30 year old guy that wants to get his hands on the wheel and push the peddle to the metal and drive you into a tree, so all these people are in the car, that's okay, that's never gonna change, nobody's leaving. The doors are shut, locked, and sealed until you go into your box, but who's driving makes a really big difference!" 

You see, the problem with Randy The Ram in this film is he is never able to put the right guy in the driver's seat because he has let his brokenness define him. That is why as I watched the movie I was screaming inside, "No, no, noooooo, don't screw this up, don't let that person down, don't do this to yourself or you will be sorry." Unfortunately, if you know somebody like this character, you know what will happen, but the beauty of this film is taking the journey, watching real life unfold, reflecting upon the importance of rising above your ruts and the ability to invest in the things that will ultimately bring you the most happiness no matter how difficult they may be to obtain. When I think about THE WRESTLER, it makes me think, "Doah, are you going to manage yourself well enough to have an abundant life?" You see, Springsteen's seemingly strange "car full of people" quote makes perfect sense to me. Randy "The Ram" Robinson never allows the right guy in the drivers seat. This film reminds me that, yes, I have been hurt, I have been damaged, but all that old pain cannot define me. The hurt little boy, the drunk and numb 20 year old, the desperate 30 year old, those old Doahs need to take a back seat today because my healthy self, this self that can stand love and acceptance has now got control of the steering wheel.

For me, as is often the case, the emotional response that occurred within me is what makes THE WRESTLER my favorite film of last year.

Previous "Best Movie" posts:


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Memories, song, and my dad

Memories are funny things. Sometimes they come back out of nowhere and blindside you, so vivid, so real. That is what happened to me this afternoon. For me memories are extrinsically linked to music. That is to say that so many memories are jarred loose by music. So I was out on a 9-mile run and listening to my iPod and had selected Jimmy Buffett. The day was beautiful and I was in a grove and Buffett was singing:

 "Yeah, now, the sun goes slidin cross the water
sailboats they go searchin for the breeze
salt air it aint thin
it can stick right to your skin and make you feel fine
makes you feel fine . . . "
Grand memories of my dad, Grant Lynd, just flowed in. As real as the beautiful sun that was beating down upon me, as real and fantastic as the legs that were propelling me forward. Tears welled up from within me, fantastic tears of gratitude and love.
You see, one of the most vivid memories I have from my life are those of my early childhood and the weekends I spent with my father, Grant. These memories are both of his place on Ocean Avenue in Seal Beach as well as his condo on Barefoot Circle in Huntington Beach. All the memories have a soundtrack of good music, mostly Jimmy Buffett, Jackson Browne, and Bruce Springsteen. The lyrics I quoted above from Buffett are off his 1974 album, A-1-A. It is my favorite Buffett album. It is my dad's favorite too. I remember that album and specifically "Tin Cup Chalice" swirling through the wonderful breezy beach air and all the memories are good.
My dad had the best stereo system and always played music loud. I was always in awe of my father. Many of these memories stem from around the time I was 11 years old. That was 1980, the year my dad took me to my first Buffett concert. I remember everything. It was at the Universal Amphitheater. There was no roof on it then. It was Buffett's "Volcano" tour. I remember what he opened with, I remember what song he was playing midway through the show when I had to go to the bathroom and I didn't want to miss anything, I remember him closing the show with "Survive" and I remember being deeply moved by that song. I remember the shirt my dad bought me. My father has always been so generous. On concerts for me alone he must have spent enough money, to borrow a line from Buffett, to buy Miami. I remember the deep feeling of love and gratitude I had for my dad that night. My dad would take me to see Buffett literally every year after that for a decade. My dad was so fun! Those Buffett shows were a blast!
But today while I am running, I'm not thinking about Buffett. I'm thinking about Grant. I am thinking about being 10 years old and in that condo at the beach and how enamored I was with my father. He was always so handsome. I remember him working out as Buffett's music floated though the house, from sliding door to sliding door, and blowing out toward the Pacific. My dad would let me work-out with him. He taught me about weights, sets, and reps. During these memories, he was in the decade between his 30th and 40th years of age and I remember thinking how young he looked for his age. He was built. A good looking man.
Funny, I never thought about it much before today, but he was a runner. He subscribed to Runners World like I do now. I remember running past the harbor and down to the corner of PCH and Warner with him. I remember getting side stitches and not wanting to say anything about needing to stop because I didn't want to disappoint my hero. This memory is part of what brought me to tears of joy today.
I started thinking about all the things I have in common with my dad: I'm running now, we both love music, we've both seen Buffett more than 20 times, we both love the ocean, and so much more. I started thinking about all the good things he brought into my life. Love of music, yes, but so much more: love of history and a deep appreciation of education just to name two. He is a college graduate and he steered me that way. I remember how he taught me about bees. I think about how he took me surfing. I recall when he took me skydiving. I see our trips to Mexico in my mind. I am so grateful for Grant.
I'm still running and all these thoughts are flying through my head. In the short time it takes to listen to "Tin Cup Chalice" I've relived every good thing, and there are many, that my father ever did for me. I'm happy.
So the chorus comes around again, 
"And I wanna be there
I wanna go back down and die beside the sea there
With a tin cup for a chalice . . . ."
It all makes so much sense now. I kinda do wanna be there. But, I'm even more appreciative for where I am now! It's my daughter's 7th birthday today and I thank God for her. Part of these tears come not from being a son, but memories of seven years ago today when Chrisy delivered what she rightfully called "the best Valentine's gift ever!" I thank God for making me a dad four times over. I thank God for my father, truly, sincerely, thank God for Grant Lynd. I'm grateful that God gave me sons even though I didn't think I could be a good enough dad for them. I am though. I thank God that I am married and faithful. I thank God that it's Valentine's Day and he gave me Chrisy and we've been together for nearly 16 years.
This May my wife and I are even taking our boys to their first Jimmy Buffett concert. So, yea, I'm doing some things the same as my father did. I look to the sky. I throw my arms up. I'm alive. I feel whole. I am truly happy.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Best Picture Nominees 2008

As is my tradition, I have finished viewing all five of the nominations for the Academy Award category, Best Motion Picture of the Year. This is in no way a prediction of who the Oscar will go to, but I would like to rank the five films in the order that I liked them.
Here is my ranking of favorite to least favorite:
1. THE READER--Stephen Daldry
5. FROST/NIXON--Ron Howard
For me, when I say "the order order in which I liked them," that is really synonymous with me saying, "the order in which they affected me." So, no, I don't think the Academy will give Best Picture to THE READER, but, of the five, it is the one that emotionally moved me the most.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Okay, fine, I'll say it . . .

Best halftime show ever!

Yep, I rewatched it again. Here is my official ranking of all halftime shows in history from greatest to worst:

1. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
2. U2
3. whatever . . . .

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Monday, February 02, 2009

My Halftime Show Post

So that image is how it all started last night at during the Super Bowl halftime show. The black and white image of the man himself, Bruce Springsteen, and the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, which played homage to the classic "Born to Run" album cover from 1975. I love the image. I loved last night's show!

Believe it or not, I wasn't sure if I was gonna post about the halftime show, mostly because people were expecting me to and I actually started to have thoughts like, "There are more important things to post. This is just fun, not really important." But, that's just it, it's FUN! That's what I saw up there for 13 minutes, pure fun!

Here's how it broke down:
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out - 4 minutes
Born to Run - 3 minutes, 40 seconds
Working on a Dream - 1 minute, 40 seconds
Glory Days - 3 minutes, 20 seconds

I was pleased, very pleased. If you were not familiar with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band before the halftime show you probably are thinking one of two choices:  (1) That was a great performance and I can see why Doah would like to experience that for a couple hours; (2) I don't get it.
As far as the latter, I've heard a few people complain about Bruce's schlock, that it was high on the "cheese factor" so to speak.  Here's the thing, that "cheese factor" thing you saw is what I like. If indeed that is "hokey," then hokey is what I've always liked!
Bruce is a showman. He's always been aware that he has a job to do, he needs to take us away on a journey of pure fun! He actually works to have everybody come along. He's always worked the crowd with fun stuff like, "Put the chicken fingers down . . . is there anybody ALIVE out there?" I adore that. Anybody could go out and just play the guitar and sing, but the man works the crowd and if you'll go along with him, you'll have the time of your life. So when he yells, "Is there any body alive out there?" I yell back, "Yea! I am! Fully!" When he says, "We're going have a rock 'n' roll baptism tonight!" I'm the first one in the water! That knee-sliding, back bending, piano jumping, joke-making, "preacher man" with exhortations, showman is what I've always enjoyed.
What I think we got was what I had hoped for: that he could somehow get something that actually felt like a real Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show and compress it into such a short time period. I think he did that. I think those of you who have not ever seen him live saw a really really mini version of an E Street Band show. Make no mistake about it either, those other guys up there with him matter. I do think you witnessed the power of the legendary E Street Band! Albeit, you'd never see fireworks or pyrotechnics at an E Street Band show, but you would see Mighty Max pounding those drums like his life depended on it! And, you would see Little Steven smiling and clowning around with his friend while they shared the mic.
So, what did I think of the halftime show? Two words: pure joy!