Koch on film


By Ed Koch

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (+)

If I had left the movie house after the first hour of this film, which runs almost 3 hours, I would have given it a minus. But I never, regardless the provocation, leave a theater before the lights go up. I’ll continue to watch a boring show hoping that something will happen to spark my interest, which occurred here.

The story from beginning to end is unusual. Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), who looks like an old man at birth, is raised by a black woman, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), an employee in a New Orleans nursing home. During the first hour of the movie the child’s age reverses, and as a young man he falls in love with Daisy (Cate Blanchett). Daisy ultimately leaves New Orleans to pursue a dancing career. Benjamin too moves away and has what I assume were meant to be great adventures. Most of them bored me silly.

When the romance between Benjamin and Daisy is resumed the story takes off and I was riveted to the screen. The couple has a daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond), when they are in their 40s, and a good portion of the movie then consists of Caroline reading Benjamin’s diary to her mother who is now dying. The readings correspond to what

Benjamin does with the second half of his life, during which time he grows younger and younger.

I was totally absorbed in the diary recitation and found it very inspirational. The acting of the entire cast is exceptional with special kudos to Henson. So, what began as a pig’s snout for me turned into a beautiful leather handbag. (Not, I know, the original adage.)

“The Wrestler” (-)

If judged on acting performances, this film deserves a plus. There is much more to a movie experience, however, than good acting. When I left the theater after seeing “The Wrestler,” I felt depressed and wondered why I had decided to see this picture. It was a wrenching experience.

Randy Robinson (Mickey Rourke), known in the wrestling world as the Ram, has been warned by his doctor to retire from the business due to a failing heart. Despite his doctor’s orders, he continues to wrestle because he needs an income and worries he would miss the camaraderie of the business. During the bouts we learn how the sport works and the accommodations made by the gladiators in the ring. At one point a wrestler used a real staple gun on another gladiator, at which time I covered by eyes with my fingers the way I did as a child when I first saw Boris Karloff in “Frankenstein.”

Two other principal characters in the movie are the Ram’s daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), from whom he is estranged, and Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) a barroom pole dancer who is pursued by the Ram seeking far more from her than an occasional lap dance. The performances of all three characters were affecting, but overall I found the film to be depressing.

After the show I attended Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as I have done for nearly 40 years. My good friends Terence Cardinal Cooke and John Cardinal O’Connor, both of whom are now deceased, invited me to attend in the past and Edward Cardinal Egan, the current head of the New York Archdiocese who is also a friend of mine, continues that hospitable tradition. My spirits were raised by the palpable devotion of the parishioners, and the pain of the disheartening film was soon assuaged.

HS said: “I rather liked the movie. These guys are really into their sport. The wrestlers are buddies, anxious not to hurt each other seriously but eager to put on a good show for the public. They usually stick to the script, with some improvising.

Weather-beaten middle-aged Rourke is a realistic Ram who endures poverty and abuse because wrestling is all he knows. For some people, the fix is politics: even if you are marginal, a has-been, a wannabe, or a bit player, you feel like you are part of something larger than yourself.”

“Pageant” (+)

Of all the theaters in Greenwich Village, Cinema Village has the most varied fare. This documentary, the subject of which is cross-dressing, is one of them.

Fifty-two men from each state in the country travel to Memphis to compete in the 34th annual Miss Gay America event. Dressed up as beautiful women they dance and lip sync to the lyrics of female singers, the most famous of course being Judy Garland. The film focuses on five men, all of whom are homosexual with the exception of one who is heterosexual. One of those interviewed is a heavy set man who describes himself as being unattractive. Despite his looks, he often finishes in the top ten because he clearly has talent. Watching them perform is a romp.

The contestants, who are supported by their families and friends, are interesting people who would, undoubtedly, be the center of attention at any dinner party. I saw one other such documentary years ago: the 1991 “Paris Is Burning.” While “Pageant” is interesting and fun, my memory is that the earlier film was even better.