DVD Tuesday: ‘The Wrestler’ & ‘Frost/Nixon’

by W. Andrew Powell

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

Two amazing, Oscar-nominated dramas make their debut on DVD this week: The Wrestler, featuring Mickey Rourke as an aging, down-on-his-luck star of the ring; and Ron Howard‘s film adaptation of the stage hit, Frost/Nixon. Also out this week, the biopic Notorious, Toronto Stories, Swing Vote, Smart People, and Into the Blue 2: The Reef.

The Wrestler
Mickey Rourke’s life has not been what you would call average, even for a famous actor. Throughout the 1980s he was one of the hottest stars in Hollywood, but that quickly fell apart thanks to a number of personal issues, followed by a short-lived boxing career.

For that reason, The Wrestler is a uniquely apt return to form for Rourke, as he plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a sad, and cornered man who only knows one thing in life, and that’s the attention of the masses when he’s wrestling. Working at a small grocery story just to pay the bills, Randy has a tough life, made worse by a rocky relationship with his daughter, as he tries to start a relationship with his dear friend Cassidy, played by Marisa Tomei.

Directed and produced by Darren Aronofsky, who is better known for his mind-bending films like Requiem for a Dream and Pi, this is a stand-out new style for the filmmaker, not to mention Rourke. Aronofsky has always shown a clever spark for drawing dynamic performances from his actors, and teamed with the talented cinematographer Maryse Alberti, The Wrestler feels more like a somber documentary than a fictional drama.

The film immerses you in the Ram’s story, drawing you in to every sad corner. Rourke plays the character beautifully, and with passion and true soul. At the same time though, knowing Rourke’s history, it’s also hard to watch The Wrestler without clearly see Rourke personally outlined by this tale. Rourke is an incredibly talented actor, but in this role, it’s almost impossible to separate the feelings for his character from the ones you have for the actor himself.

Peter Morgan’s famed Broadway production gets a Hollywood treatment in a film that, if anything, deserved even more attention as one of last year’s best films.

Directed by Oscar-winner Ron Howard, the story tells of the fateful interview between former U.S. President Richard Nixon, and British television personality David Frost.

In 1977, three years after he was removed from office, Nixon decided to allow an interview that would give him a chance to prove himself to Americans once more. In selecting Frost, the former president expected an easy victory on-camera, giving him the opportunity to come out looking like a good guy. However, Nixon hadn’t anticipated the battle of wits that would ensue, and Frost managed to outmanoeuvre the disgraced politician.

The process of bringing a stage production to film is never a sure one, but in the case of Frost/Nixon, the result is impressive. Part of that success is the work of Tony award winner Frank Langella as Nixon, and Michael Sheen as Frost, who each reprise their roles from the play.

For the uninitiated, Frost/Nixon might sound like a tough film to get into, but between the performances, and Howard’s direction, the result is an engaging re-enactment that goes beyond the politics. It’s a challenge of wills that plays out like a mental wrestling match, complete with onlookers, and the ultimate bragging rights for the victor.

Also available this week…

Jamal Woolard stars in this biopic as famed rapper Biggie Smalls, also known as the Notorious B.I.G.

Although the film features a strong supporting cast, it stumbles into a by-the-numbers screenplay that’s punctuated by B.I.G.’s hits. Feeling more like an extended rap video, Notorious seriously lacks any semblance of a decent, hard-hitting story, even though the man’s life could have been a true epic.

Toronto Stories
Under the direction of Sook-Yin Lee, Sudz Sutherland, David Weaver, and Aaron Woodley, Toronto Stories is an often charming collection of four stories, interwoven between a single story about a young, seemingly mute boy, lost in the city.

While it lacks an edge to really make the film powerful and cohesive, it is an enjoyable movie. In the end, it might have been better served, perhaps, to focus more on bringing these separate tales together, especially since it was Weaver’s wonderful “Lost Boys” chapter, starring Gil Bellows, opposite Toka Murphy and Lisa Ray, which ultimately impressed me the most for wrapping up the entire story.

Swing Vote
In the comedy Swing Vote, Kevin Costner stars as Bud Johnson, your average apathetic American who ends up with the only vote that matters in the election for the next President of the United States. With his daughter by his side, Bud must make the final choice for the entire country, while he also looks at his life and the loser he has become.

Smart People
Dennis Quaid stars as Lawrence Wetherhold in this dark comedy about a widowed, self-absorbed professor, who realizes he has to change his stripes and reconnect with his family before he will ever be able to become a success.

Complicating matters is the appearance of Lawrence’s loser brother, played by Thomas Haden Church. Other stars include Ellen Page as Lawrence’s daughter, Sarah Jessica Parker as the love interest, and Ashton Holmes.

Into the Blue 2: The Reef
And receiving surprisingly semi-favourable reviews, Into the Blue 2 is a direct to DVD sequel starring Audrina Patridge, Laura Vandervoort, and Chris Carmack as treasure hunters diving for Columbus’ lost wealth.

DVD Tuesday is a weekly syndicated column produced by The GATE for print and online, covering the latest new arrivals coming to home video.

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