News & Current Affairs

September 7, 2008

Venice wowed by Rourke comeback

Venice wowed by Rourke comeback

A new movie starring Mickey Rourke as a professional wrestler has received a rapturous response at the Venice Film Festival.

Mickey Rourke

Rourke’s performance is already being tipped for awards recognition

Actor, hellraiser and one-time professional boxer, Mickey Rourke has taken plenty of punches over the last 15 years.

But a film in which he plays an aging wrestler could put the ’80s heart-throb back on his feet.

In The Wrestler, the 51-year-old plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up fighter who is told another bout in the ring is likely to kill him.

Screening in competition at this year’s festival, it is directed by Darren Aronofsky of Requiem for a Dream fame.

According to Rourke, the filmmaker didn’t pull any punches. “He was brutally honest,”.

“He sat there and said, ‘You’re a great actor but you messed up your career and no one wants to hire you.’

‘Blessing’

“‘I have a film I want to do with you. But you have to listen to me, you must never disrespect me, you can’t go out every night – and I can’t pay you either.'”

Rourke got off to a promising start in acting in the 1980s with films like Diner, Angel Heart and the infamous Nine-and-a-Half Weeks.

Evan Rachel Wood and Mickey Rourke

The actor at the festival with co-star Evan Rachel Wood and a dog, Rocky

But he failed to live up to his potential and became better known for his off-camera activities. In the 1990s he briefly returned to his original career of boxing.

“I didn’t mind what Darren said about screwing up my career, because I did do that,” says Rourke. “I didn’t know how to get it together for a long time.”

A chance to return to the limelight came and went when Rourke turned down a part in Pulp Fiction.

In 2005, though, he gained rave reviews for his supporting role in dark comic-book saga Sin City.

The Wrestler, he says, is the next step on the comeback trail. “I’m thrilled about this movie. To me, it’s a blessing.

“I’ve been out of work for 15 years and I truly believe this movie will turn things around.”

His role as a scarred, pumped-up fighter with long blond tresses and a capacity for self-destruction has impressed the critics at Venice.

I realised Darren needed me to revisit some dark places where I didn’t want to go
Mickey Rourke

According to Variety, it is “a galvanising, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances.”

Rourke says his boxing background was no help for the intensive three months of training he had to do for the gruelling wrestling scenes.

“I didn’t have a lot of respect for wrestling,” he reveals. “I thought it was just entertainment.

“Then I found out these guys take 10 years to learn how to land on the floor without hurting themselves.

‘Pound of flesh’

“I just landed like a brick. My neck went, my back went and I spent more time in the doctor’s office than I ever did in six years of boxing.”

Even more painful was the realisation he would have to delve into his own past in order to bring “The Ram” to life.

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

The Wrestler sees Rourke playing a fighter who has seen better days

“What frightened me was I realised Darren needed me to revisit some dark places where I didn’t want to go,” he explains.

“I didn’t want to think about my ex-wife, or my family. But I knew he would want his pound of flesh and there was no way I could skirt round it.”

The actor even admits relief when the film was temporarily canceled. Now, though, he acknowledges he has been given a second chance.

“I didn’t realize it would take so long for me to patch things up,” he says. “But it’s not about raising hell and thumping my chest with me now.

“I don’t have another 15 years to sit on the bench. Hey, I have splinters in my ass from sitting on the bench for so long.”

The Wrestler will be released in the UK in 2009.

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August 25, 2008

Obama sets out to sell his vision

Obama sets out to sell his vision

Barack Obama has a hard act to follow at this convention: himself.

Barack Obama speaks in Wisconsin

Barack Obama faces a career-defining moment

Four years ago, when Democrats gathered for their national convention in Boston to nominate John Kerry, the then-US Senate candidate made a much-lauded, career-defining speech. His message of a unified America, coming from the mouth of a young, mixed-race politician, marked the effective launch of the history-making Obama phenomenon.

It also brings a level of expectation ahead of his speech on Thursday, which the last Democratic candidate, who went on to become president, did not have to face.

When nominee Bill Clinton spoke at the 1992 Convention in New York, it was four years after he had made a convention speech that was widely seen (including by Clinton, himself) as rather long-winded and boring.

He did not repeat his mistake. With his “I still believe in a place called Hope” speech, the Arkansas governor defined himself in a way that resonated with the country at large.

Weight of history

Barack Obama needs to do something similar. With opinion polls placing him in a tight race with Republican John McCain and suggesting that sections of the public still do not have a clear impression of who he is, his goal is to come out of the week having defined himself as someone whom Americans can feel comfortable about as a leader.

He needs to sell his vision, his experience and his unconventional background.

Pepsi Center, Denver

Mr Obama must unite the Democrats behind his campaign

He will be selling that vision of himself on an auspicious date: the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.

But, while that may add to the weight of history on his shoulders, the location of his speech represents a break with history.

Obama will not accept the nomination in the Convention Hall, but at the 70,000-seater Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos Football team. This will provide a unique spectacle, but it also presents a certain danger of perception for a candidate who – since securing the Democratic nomination in June – has faced accusations of being too presumptuous about his chances of winning the November election.

Clinton tensions

And while the 1992 Clinton experience offers him a something of a blueprint for success, the 2008 Clinton presence, on the other hand, presents him with potential pitfalls.

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton will be speaking at the Convention. Their performances – on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively – will be watched closely for signs of party disunity, that could harm not only Barack Obama’s chances, but those of Democrats running for Congress in November.

Despite a joint appearance with Senator Obama in Unity, New Hampshire earlier this summer, Hillary Clinton is still dogged by questions about her level of support for the man who narrowly beat her to the nomination. Many of her supporters are still unhappy about the manner of her defeat. There is also concern that she was not seriously considered for the position of running mate, which Senator Joe Biden has secured.

Bill Clinton, file picture

Observers will be closely watching Bill Clinton’s mood

By allowing Senator Clinton’s delegates to participate in a formal nominating roll call vote – recognising the historical nature of her campaign – the Obama team hopes to defuse some of the remaining tensions and shore up the support of the millions who voted for the former First Lady. Neither outcome is a foregone conclusion.

John McCain’s campaign is doing its mischievous best to stir things up: releasing an advert, showing Hillary Clinton asking some of the same questions about Barack Obama’s experience and judgment during the primary campaign which they are asking now.

But, perhaps, it is Bill Clinton’s speech that will be the most closely dissected; both for its words and for the body language of the man delivering it. By his silence, the former president has given the impression that he is still sulking about Obama’s victory over his wife.

Many Convention-goers will be looking for him to swallow his pride and give the sort of full-throated endorsement of the party’s nominee, that will sway Democrats flirting with John McCain, and help to repair some of the damage done to President Clinton’s own reputation during the primaries.

As he effectively hands over the role of party leader to a younger man, he can still play the role of party healer.

How to measure the success of this? The time-honoured tradition has been to look at the “convention bounce” – the boost in the opinion polls which a candidate gains from his moment engulfed in balloons and ticker tape. Bill Clinton, for example, got one in 1992 and never relinquished his lead over George H W Bush.

Time is not Barack Obama’s side, though. No sooner has the Democratic Convention finished, than the Republicans meet in St Paul, Minnesota.

So the onus is on Senator Obama to make the most of his time in the spotlight, before the spotlight quickly turns to his Republican rival, John McCain.

August 4, 2008

Superb Murray wins Masters title

Andy Murray won his first title at the elite Masters Series level with a stunning victory over world number three Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati.

Courtesy BBC

Murray repeated his defeat of the Serb at last week’s Toronto Masters, beating his fellow 21-year-old 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) in two hours and 23 minutes.

He needed six match points to seal victory after failing to serve out the match at the first attempt.

The win will see Murray ranked at a career high six in the world on Monday.

“It’s huge because to win these tournaments is tough nowadays,” said Murray afterwards.

“I’ve played five days in these conditions and had eight or nine matches in the last couple of weeks. But I’ve put in the physical work and it’s paid off.”

Djokovic enjoyed a fantastic win over world number one in waiting Rafael Nadal in the semis and went into the final with a 4-1 record against Murray.

I got very nervous and he was hitting the ball really big but I hung in well
Andy Murray

But that solitary win for the Scot came only nine days ago and was evidence of the significant leap he has made in recent months.

It was the Briton who started the better and he cranked up the pressure in game five, forcing a break point, before earning another chance two games later.

The Serb held him off but as the set progressed it seemed a matter of when, rather than if, Murray would force the break, all the while holding his own serve with ease.

Despite not being taken past 30 on serve the Scot still required a tie-break but he remained ice cool, breaking immediately and consolidating with a huge ace.

A couple of wild Djokovic forehand errors saw Murray reach the changeover at 5-1 and he wrapped up a commanding set when the Serb sent a backhand long.

Murray finally let his level slip at 1-1 in the second set and, after two crunching forehand winners saw off the immediate danger, he went long with a backhand on the third break point to hand Djokovic the lead.

It did not last long.

The Australian Open champion double-faulted on the first point of the following game and immediately handed back the break, looking suitably disgusted with himself.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport’s Piers Newbery

Murray stepped up a gear in game eight, moving to break point with a forehand winner and taking it when Djokovic netted a smash after some breathtaking scrambling from the Scot.

But with the title in his sights, Murray played his first edgy game of the day, throwing in two double-faults and missing four match points before Djokovic broke back.

It could have been a shattering blow for the Briton but he held on as the confidence flowed through Djokovic and managed to force a second tie-break.

Murray led 4-2 at the changeover after Djokovic double-faulted but was pegged back to 4-4, at which point the Scot won an epic rally with a fizzing backhand winner.

He finally earned a fifth match point with following another Djokovic double-fault but failed to make a return.

The sixth chance to seal victory came on his own serve and, finally, Murray secured a landmark win with a thumping volley.

“I got very nervous and he was hitting the ball really big but I hung in well,” said Murray.

“It was tough for both of us and there were a lot of long rallies. Your legs really burn out there and they were some of the hardest conditions of the year.

“But I stayed calm throughout and didn’t waste any energy – especially when I went behind in a couple of matches.

“In the past maybe I’d have let that get to me but now I’m playing top players on a regular basis and I’m better equipped.”

The Scot now heads to Beijing to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games before moving on to the US Open.

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