Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fabulous muscles: The Wrestler + Keelhaul

For my next trick, I will attempt to recap my weekend by drawing a perhaps-tenuous parallel between two disparate entertainments I took in.

First, The Wrestler. I feel as though this was one of those movies that I read way too much about before seeing it, so that as I was watching, I felt as if I'd already read like eight different interpretations of every scene. But who could've resisted all that fascinating hype and those picture-perfect profiles, such as this NYT Magazine one, comparing the travails of Randy "The Ram" to those of Mickey Rourke?

Anyway, it still hit me hard. I'll tell you one thing about this movie that I don't feel like I've read in any of the coverage. Simply: It's absolutely disgusting. Sometimes, the match scenes seem artificially pumped-up--especially in the sound-design dept., e.g., the sounds of the wrestlers slamming into the mat are almost comically loud--but most of the time, they're straight-up gruesome. As are the locker-room scenes, the strip-club scenes... hell, even the grocery-store scenes.

Robinson's oft-quoted line "I'm just a broken-down piece of meat" could basically be a plot summary for the film: It's a parade of overtaxed flesh and muscle, and at times, it's shockingly, even nauseatingly gory.

Rourke is pretty much unassailable: Even when the script teeters on the edge of extreme cheese, which it does once or twice, he's absolutely radiant with truth, either the depressing, bleak kind or the hugely heartwarming kind. There are these little moments of lighthearted comedy in the film that soar thanks to Rourke's charm. He doesn't have the looks anymore, but he's got an immense charisma and magnetism.

The supporting cast didn't entirely cut it for me, especially the hard-to-buy Evan Rachel Wood, who admittedly didn't have a terrible amount to work with scriptwise. Marisa Tomei was decent, though I feel like she plays this same character in every movie. One actor I really liked was the kid that plays Nintendo with Robinson in the now-famous video-game scene. But for all its dingy grossness--dig the awesomely dated wrestling halls, especially--this is a really heart-ful film. Its rawness has a point and isn't just gratuitous grody-ness. If you've been taken in by the trailer and the hype and all that, you'll feel a little like you're watching a highlight reel, but Rourke will still grab you in unexpected ways. Great stuff.


Speaking of raw and gritty, Keelhaul brought serious action to Union Pool last night. This Cleveland quartet plays some of the most anti-b.s. metal on the planet: heinously complex, but pulverizingly purposeful. It's just riffs--fat, churning, lumbering, soulful riffs.

There's been a constant theme running through the band's self-image of "We're old and fat and gross"--they're always grimacing and playing up an incompetent vibe in their press photos (see left), and last night from the stage bassist Aaron Dallison said something to just that effect: "We're old and ugly, but since you're the ones here watching us, there's something very wrong with you." A funny sort of over-the-hill bellyaching, but a bit disingenuous since they know they completely kick ass.

If the band doesn't really "perform" while playing live, or appear to be having a particular amount of fun, it does put forth an awesome sense of concentration. Guitarists Dana Ambrose and Chris Smith practically strangle their instruments, grimacing and bearing down insanely hard as they pick out these intricate grids of math-groove. Drummer Will Scharf, also of... the latter-day incarnation of the best band ever, stretches his face into maniacal grins, cruising all over the toms faster than Dave Lombardo. Like with Rourke's performance, seeing these guys live ain't pretty--they're really *working," not entertaining anyone--but it sure is a beautiful thing if you enjoy riff pulverization.

All new material was played. A new album is being recorded in BKLYN as I type this. I'm sure it will rule. An excellent antidote to the swarms of overly arty metal bands writhing around all over the place these days.


Speaking of antidotes and the like, Ethan Iverson's Wynton Marsalis exegesis over at Do the Math is astonishing. The man specializes in cleaning up after us sloppy professional journalists with his insanely thorough not to mention unfailingly FAIR investigations. Raise your hand if you've bitched about Wynton Marsalis without actually having heard much of his music. (Guilty.) Well, go over there and see how it's really done. Fair, fair, fair / Thorough, thorough, thorough. This guy is just a brilliant jazz defender, living by the soundest of journalistic mottos: *Always* go to the source.


Speaking about bitching instead of listening, I've occasionally been guilty of that with regards to Matthew Shipp. Hadn't really checked in w/ him in ages, but last night I dug out an awesome 2000 Shipp sesh, New Orbit, one of the earliest in Thirsty Ear's Blue Series and especially notable for the presence of Wadada Leo Smith. Virtuosic moodiness, and a record that might be more deserving of the oft-bandied-about tag "chamber jazz" than any other I can think of. Sumptuous, elegiac, even creepy, it's an awesome document.

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