Displaying items by tag: The Avengers

Leva Bates – The Ultimate Mimic

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (2/26/13) – Most of us are familiar with the meaning of the word “mimic.” Basically, the act of mimicking is defined as mirroring, copying, or imitating in speech, expression, gesture, and even to go as far as taking on the appearance of someone or something else.

If you are a geek, like me, then the word mimic might hold a different meaning for you altogether. In popular role playing games, such as Final Fantasy, a mimic is a job class. A mimic can use every innate ability they have previously learned in the game during battle, making them quite a force to be reckoned with. Typically, it allows a character to copy an ally’s previous commands without using MP [magic power] or precious items from their inventory.

Mimics can also be your enemies in-game. These beasts will often take on the appearance of stationary objects, such as treasure chests, and once triggered, will make an unsuspecting adventurer sorry he or she ever got sidetracked by such a chance encounter. Usually, these unanticipated battles crop up when you least expect them and are less than prepared.

Actors are the mimics of the real world. We travel from place to place taking on different personalities, character traits, quirky ticks, vocal inflections, and a variety of outward appearances. Why do we do this? The answer may be different for each individual, but when you get right down to it, we love, not only to entertain others, but to entertain ourselves. Losing yourself in a character completely unlike yourself is a freeing experience that many never get the chance to enjoy. Once you start, you become somewhat addicted to the feeling of putting yourself on hold as you act out the lives of others. That bug bites you, and, from then on out, you are constantly chasing the adrenaline, relentlessly chasing that next role, taking it on, and making it yours.

Excitingly enough, former Madisonville resident Leva Bates is taking her real life job class, the mimic, to a whole new level.

For many years, I traveled around with my best friend Leva, and we entertained people from all over the United States, both on-stage and behind the scenes. One notable thing that we did together along the way was become trained stuntwomen. As life goes, friends become separated as they take on new opportunities, and for the last eight years Leva has been using those stunting skills we learned so many years ago to dominate the wrestling scene in Orlando, Florida.

Not only is Leva a pro-wrestler, but she is also a fulltime entertainer at Universal Studios Florida where she is contracted in their superstar parade as a dancing costume character. You might remember her as the angry chicken, Carlos, from the movie Hop. She performs as Sarah Connor in the Terminator 2 stunt show, and as Figurehead, a summoned demon, in Universal’s Sinbad stunt show. Busy as she is, Leva also finds time for outside gigs such as commercials and music videos. In fact, she recently scored a part in a music video for Rantham Stone.

“Rantham Stone is doing a Superman-themed music video, so of course they called me,” laughed Leva.

Why would the brothers from Rantham Stone associate Superman with Leva? We’ll get to that soon enough. First a little background on how she got into wrestling.

“I didn’t even know there were wrestling schools until somebody told me,” says Leva. “I was working at Universal Studios and they film TNA [Total Nonstop Action] Wrestling there. When I first moved to Orlando, I was there all the time to watch TNA, because I’ve always loved wrestling. You know this. I used to have Nitro parties at my house and you were always there. So I was like, ‘Alright, free wrestling. I’m going to go watch it.’”

“I ended up becoming friends with a lot of other guys who worked at Universal and were starting wrestling training. They wanted to know why I wasn’t going to school. I’m like, ‘Wait. There are wrestling schools? How am I just now finding out about this?'” laughs Leva.

Initially, Leva decided to visit FXE Wrestling School because she was interested in training to become a manager, but was quickly informed by her teachers that she wasn’t a manager; she was a wrestler.

“Becoming a part of FXE was a goal of mine,” explains Leva. “Originally, they had AJ Galant, Matt Bentley, and Devon Dudley teaching there. At one point, there was a slight split within the school. When Devon left to go do his school with his brother, Bubba Ray [The Dudley Boyz], I went with him. I’ve been with that school [Team 3D Academy] for five years now.”

Leva has a pretty impressive laundry list of wrestling credits to her name. She has been a part of Wrestlicious, Shimmer Women Athletes, Shine Wrestling, and TNA, just to name a few.

“I didTNA twice, technically three times; one of them was a dark match, which just means that it wasn’t on TV,” explains Leva. “I’ve been on national television twice with TNA. I did the $25,000 fan challenge with Awesome Kong. Basically, I was an audience member that got the heck beat out of her. I actually suffered a mild concussion during that match. That was my first real huge shot. That actually kind of catapulted me to get other bookings elsewhere. A few months ago, they called me back and they wanted me to be a part of a biker group called Aces & Eights. I was a 'plant' they had backstage, and I got to mace Hulk Hogan and Sting [Steve Borden] in the face. Needless to say, I probably won’t be back for a while,” laughs Leva. “I wrestled Isis [Lindsay Hayward] during my dark match with TNA. She is seven-feet-tall and I’m only five-foot-two, so that was interesting.”

What is really unique about Leva’s wrestling career is her dedication to embodying the ultimate mimic, which brings me back to my aforementioned question. Why would anyone associate Leva with Superman? Easy. She’s superhuman.

A longtime fan of comic books, Leva has taken her wrestling career to the next level by pulling off a multitude of characters and costumes that would leave any comic fanatic impressed. I thought it best to give our readers a rundown of different characters Leva portrays in the ring, why she has chosen them, and how she embodies them during a match. Surely, by breaking these down, you will be able to get to know Leva a little bit better and develop an appreciation for the work that goes into pulling this off.

Chun Li – “Chun Li is super popular and I’ve been wrestling as her since the beginning. Doing the Chun Li character has crossed over into ‘Leva world.’ The first time I ever wrestled as Chun Li, I was like, ‘I’ve got to do nothing but kicks. I have to kick the whole time.’ If you’ve ever played Street Fighter, then you know that that is what Chun Li does. [i.e. Spinning Bird Kick, Flurry Kick, etc.] I was like, ‘Well, I’ve got to do that.’ And now, I do that all the time. My kicks are way better than my clotheslines and my punches. I think that has to do with being a trained dancer and just pretending I always did karate when I was a child,” laughs Leva. “So Chun Li has actually kind of bled into my life. I get requests for Chun Li all the time. You know how they have Hadouken in Street Fighter? I actually do a move, and I do it as every character; I do chops, palm strikes, and a double palm strike at the end. I wind up, hit them really hard, and scream 'Hadouken!' when I do it. So that has bled into real life, too. A lot of times, I’ll pick up something or do something that is character-based and it will merge into my wrestling repertoire. I do that a lot.”

Luigi – “The first time I ever did Luigi [from Super Mario Bros] I was in Kentucky and I was wrestling a guy. It was an intergender match. It was the first time I ever wrestled a guy in the ring, and it was the first time I ever cross-dressed as well. I decided that if I was going to come out wrestling a guy, I wanted to look like a guy. So I came out with the mustache,” laughs Leva. “I was wrestling Jonathan Cruz, who at the time, was wrestling under the name Bendejo. So the match was Luigi vs Bendejo. It was a really funny match. The next time I brought Luigi out, was either last year or year before last. My tag partner [Allison Danger] and I came out as Mario and Luigi. It was a lot of fun. You know how Mario and Luigi go under blocks, use their fists, uppercut, and bust them? I did that. A girl landed on the turnbuckle and was lying across it so that her belly was exposed. I got under her and started doing that. I have actually taken that move and used it a couple of other times as other characters. But seriously, who is one of the most famous duos of all time? Mario and Luigi. Allison and I try to do that. We select the most famous duos we can think of for our matches. One time, during filming for Shimmer [Women Athletes] in Chicago, we came out as Elwood and Jake from The Blues Brothers. We definitely wanted to do that.”

The Crow – "Last weekend I was The Crow. I had tagged with another girl [Kimberly Whitehead] through another company called Shine Wrestling. Shine is filmed in Florida and aired once a month on iPayPerView. Well, this girl that I tagged with has been kind of losing her mind because she could never win a match. She’s like, ‘Maybe I should do tag wrestling. I’m a much better tag wrestler.’ Everyone told her 'No' except for me, because I’m a super hero and I help people,” laughs Leva. “So she and I tagged. When she got pinned, she blamed me. Even though I was like, ‘You’re a winner. You did fine.” I raised her hand and then walked away. Right after that, she attacked me. So I came back out as The Crow the next time we wrestled. It was her versus me. It became this huge feud. We even took it to Twitter. We were insulting each other on Twitter the entire two months between shows. So yeah, I came back as The Crow, it was pretty awesome. She wasn’t expecting it. I actually had my intro music changed for the match. I recently watched all the movies to get in the mindset. I do that a lot. If I’m doing a certain character I’ll watch movies or a TV show, just to get in the mindset. So I watched all of The Crow films. I think I skipped the fourth one, though. I tried, God bless,” laughs Leva. “I tried to give it a shot. I’m like, ‘God, it has David Boreanaz and Edward Furlong, this is going to be an awesome movie, a tease.’ Oh my God, anyway, I digress. Pull me back to the conversation. Ok, a line in the first movie, I just died, I had to use it. Eric Draven says, ‘Guess it's not a good day to be a bad guy, huh, Skank?’ I thought that was amazing so I used that in my intro. I usually come out to MC Chris’s ‘Geek’, which is appropriate. This time, my intro was the opening monologue from The Crow. ‘People once believed that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead, but sometimes something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can't rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring the soul back and put the wrong things right.’ Then you hear a crow cawing, and then you hear me laugh and say, ‘Guess it's not a good day to be a bad guy, huh, Skank?’ Then I came running in. BAM! That was really cool."

"The Crow is a lot darker than what I normally do. I use a lot of comedy in wrestling. The Crow is a lot darker, but he has his moments where he says his one-liners and stuff. So it’s not like I’ve completely lost who I am, but The Crow represents revenge, retribution, setting the wrong things right, and that is pretty much what was going on with this story line. She turned on me, her only friend, just so she could get the win. So I came back with a vengeance. I was avenging the fact that she murdered our friendship, our partnership. The story line is still going on because she and I brawled outside after the match was over. Now I’ve got to plan something else dark,” laughs Leva.

Joker – “I’ve actually done the Joker [from the Batman series] a couple times. The first time I ever did the Joker, and I’m a little, not embarrassed, but I’m a little like, ‘Oh Leva, that was a little much. That was a little too much,'” laughs Leva. “I usually use the Joker if I’m going to be the bad guy. He’s super popular. You can do more maniacal and terrible things as the Joker and it’s accepted. So the first time I came out as the Joker, I was wrestling at a comic book convention. I definitely wanted to do a comic book character, and I knew I was going to be the bad guy. Heath Ledger had passed away a few weeks prior. I came out as the Joker and I took a bottle of sleeping pills out to the middle of the ring. They were all Gobstoppers, but it was terrible. I have never gotten booed as bad as I did at that moment. But I did my job, even though I took it a little too far.”

“A couple months ago, I was booked for a match and they wanted me to be the Joker. They had seen my pictures, so they asked about it. I was getting my outfit together and I couldn’t find my 'bang gun.' I have a bang gun. You pull the trigger and the bang flag comes out. I couldn’t find it, so I’m like, ‘Crap. I want to do something crazy.’ I found caution tape just randomly laying around my house, because I have caution tape for some reason,” laughs Leva. “I came out and I wrapped the entire ring in caution tape. The ref was trying to take it down and I just keep wrapping. I wrapped the ref up in it. It was ridiculous.”

Harley Quinn – “I’ve done Harley Quinn [from the Batman series] a lot. I’ve always looked at Harley Quinn as me turned up to eleven, in a way. She’s hyper and very dexterous. I definitely do the cartwheels into splits as Harley Quinn when I’m her in the ring. I do that a lot in my own repertoire anyway, but I definitely pull that out and go to the eleventh level when I’m Harley. I crack jokes and act slightly maniacal, but not too maniacal, because she is a lovable character even though she is in love with a psychopath. Aren’t we all, though?” laughs Leva. “Harley is one of the characters that’s actually closest to me. Unfortunately, not that my love for her has waned, but I’ve realized, working at a comic book store off and on for the last six years [Bad Apple Comics and Mike’s Comics and Collectables], that everyone loves Harley Quinn. I never realized how big of a following she had. I would go to a convention, and the two most popular costumes were always Dr. Who, usually the eleventh doctor with the fez, and Harley Quinn. Harley is the most popular female costume at comic book conventions. I have five different versions of Harley Quinn for myself - just myself. You’ve got Arkham City and Arkham Asylum, which are the two video games she is in. And those are way different looks opposed to the comic book and the animated series. The animated series was actually where she was created by Paul Dini, FYI. Now, in The New 52, she looks a lot different. There are different artist’s renditions of her and different comic books have made her look differently. There are several different versions of her out there.”

Catwoman – “I wanted to do Catwoman for a long time. Catwoman is one of my favorites as well. She was one of the first comic books I owned. I bought Catwoman number one many moons ago at a Wal-Mart in the magazine section. I loved the Jim Balent version; the purple one. And then of course, I was obsessed with Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns. I used to role play that I was her with my friends. Recently, Dark Knight Rises came out and Catwoman was in it. It wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t my favorite, but Anne Hathaway was a hell of a lot better than Halle Berry -  a hell of a lot better. Catwoman is really big right now and I keep up with the trends. If something is popular I try to make it happen. I’m dying to do a Bane [DC Comics supervillain] one but you’ve got to find the right time for that, you know what I mean? You can’t just bust out as Bane for no rhyme or reason,” laughs Leva.

“Catwoman is another character that’s similar to Harley Quinn, just less hyper. I do a lot of ‘bendy stuff.’ There is a move I always like to do in my Catwoman outfit. It’s called a Muta Lock, which is named after Japanese wrestler, Keiji Mutoh. As Catwoman, I may dodge someone by doing the splits, and I always have the whip with me, so I’ll play around with the whip. I may not use it, because that would be cheating, but I always play with the ref and act like I’m going to whip him. I’m actually taking some stage combat classes on how to use the whip better, so I can actually do cool tricks with it. I do a lot of more dexterous, more flexible stuff as Catwoman. I do the same thing with Black Widow. I’ve done every Avenger. The Avengers is the quintessential comic book movie. That is how a comic book movie should be made and received.”

Incredible Hulk – “The first Avenger I ever did was the Incredible Hulk. This was way before The Avengers movie came out. I think it might have been when Edward Norton’s movie [The Incredible Hulk] came out. The Hulk is the simplest costume of all the ones I’ve done. The only purple shorts I could find at the time were Miley Cyrus shorts. I crossed out the name Miley Cyrus and just put 'Hulk Smash!' over it. I had a white tank top ripped up with a green bra underneath it, and then I had on my Hulk gloves. It was super simple. I didn’t paint my skin green because you’re rolling around with someone else and I’d totally ruin their outfit, and gear, and the ring,” laughs Leva. “If I could get a professional to body paint me so it wouldn’t sweat off, then I would totally do it. But that takes a lot of time and money that shows don’t usually provide us.”

Wolverine – “I did Wolverine when The Wolverine movie came out. Actually, the Wolverine I did was a Logan [James “Logan” Howlett]. I had the wife beater shirt on, and he wears his jeans, so I wore a jean skirt. I put my hair in pigtails, but I did the Wolverine bangs and rolled them into my pigtails so I would have 'the Wolverine hair.' I even bought toy claws. Actually, when I went to go lock up the girl I was wrestling, I 'shnicked' out my claws. That was a really funny moment. That one was a lot of fun because he has a healing factor. So, I tried to play it up a little bit, the healing factor. He’s more virile, too, so I try to be a little bit more virile in the ring. The one moment I knew I wanted to do in the whole match was pull my claws out at the very beginning so the other girl would spazz out. It was a lot of fun.”

Captain America - "Captain America was a character I did early in my career. I was booked on a fourth of July show somewhere in Jacksonville, FL. They were calling me 'Leva the American Diva,' so I knew I had to do something all-American. What’s more all-American than Captain America? That was way before The Avengers came out, so that had nothing to do with the movie. That costume has actually gone through multiple changes. The first time I did it, I just had a blue sports bra and I had to actually buy a little tiny star and sew it on my self. As the years progressed, I found a better blue sports bra that actually had the star on it. It was way bigger and much nicer quality. As time goes, as I find better costume pieces, I add them to my collection. I actually have his head piece now, and I always use the shield. The last couple matches I wrestled as Captain America someone has always tried to take the shield from me. Then, when they try to hit me with it, I duck it, come back and use the shield against them. Last time I did Captain America, I was wrestling this girl. Her name was Marty Bell. Her family is from Dominican Republic. Her and I were wrestling in Florida, and there were a bunch of kids, not quite back-woodsy, but just country kids kind of. Marty was hitting me, trying to beat me up, and I’m like, ‘I will never give in to terrorism!’ No lie. There was a terrorist chant against her. ‘Terrorist! Terrorist! Terrorist!’ One of my all-time favorite wrestling moments,” laughs Leva.

Hawkeye – “Hawkeye was just one I really wanted to do myself because Hawkeye is one of my favorite characters from The Avengers. He’s got a little bit more attitude. He’s fun. I’ve only wrestled as him once. I came out with a toy bow and arrow. I had goodie bags made, and I shot them into the audience. I had a couple arrows that I shot at my opponent. I missed her, though. I’m actually not a bad shot because of our history with archery. [Oddly enough, Leva and I used to teach archery lessons together.] It’s funny that we even have a history with archery,” laughs Leva. “If I’d had the money to get a good bow, I would have hit her. I aimed for her forehead and it went right past her head. I was like, ‘Oh no! Crappy bow!’ I did it with Hawkeye and I did it with Rambo. When I get weapons like bows, I spray-paint them the colors they should be. I had my bow and arrows all purple to match my outfit as Hawkeye. For Rambo, I spray-painted them black."

Rambo – “It was Jonathan Cruz’s suggestion. He said, ‘I just want to see you come out as a tiny Rambo, just covered in weapons.’ So it was the first time I was ever at IndyGurlz in New Jersey. Costumes cost me a lot of money. For this match I needed to do something that wasn’t ridiculously expensive. I had a black tank top, army looking jeans, and I had them tucked into my wrestling boots, which looked very military. I spent a little bit of money on the weapons, and to make the weapons look a little better. I spray-painted the bow and arrows black, as I mentioned before, so that they looked more military. I had a water gun that I shot the audience with. I also shot the girl I was wrestling. I kept a knife in my teeth. I had a string of bullets across my chest. I mean, I seriously came out covered in weapons. It was hilarious,” laughs Leva. “The ref just looked at me like, ‘Seriously?’ It’s funny because there is a magazine called Pro Wrestling Insiders, and it is the main wrestling magazine out there for wrestlers. And, well, I’m in it as Rambo. They have a funny caption on it like, “Seems the ref missed a couple foreign objects there.’ I just wanted to play with weapons and be slightly psychotic. I took an arrow, licked it, and stabbed her in the head with it. It was pretty awesome.”

Iron Man - "I actually had gear specially made to be Iron Man. Have you seen the second movie [Iron Man 2] where he has the Tony Stark convention in the very beginning, and all the girls come out in tiny little shorts and tiny midriff shirts? They are red and yellow outfits and they have the little arc reactor symbol on the chest. The gloves they wear have the symbols that glow. Well, I had that outfit made,” laughs Leva. “They don’t actually glow, the circles, but it’s a reflective material, and when you are under the strong lights in the ring, it looks like they are glowing. That was one of the very few costumes that I actually went to a seamstress and had her make for me. A lot of the time I make them myself. Most of the time, I just piece stuff together that I pick up at the Goodwill or something. What is great about Iron Man? He’s Tony Frickin’ Stark! I’m made of iron, so I can take a licking and keep on ticking. That’s what’s awesome about Iron Man. What I liked about the movies that I kind of incorporated into him, is the fact that Tony Stark carries the arc reactor on him. I want to do a separate Tony Stark outfit, too, for that very reason. But I don’t think I could wrestle in that. I might die,” laughs Leva. “I needed my Iron Man costume to be done right, as well as my X-Men costume.”

X-Men – “I just saw X-Men: First Class and they all had that blue and yellow uniform. So, I wanted my own First Class uniform as well. However, I wanted mine to be more comic-booky. Theirs were made of Kevlar and dark colors. I wanted mine to be more like the comic book, which is bright yellow and bright blue, so I made mine all Spandex. If I get called for TNA, or another huge company that may not let me use something like Batman because the symbol is trademarked, I can use this costume. TNA can use it on TV because it doesn’t have any trademarks. It does have the X on the front, but the X is not trademarked. Anybody can use an X. With that costume, I can do different characters. I’ve done Cyclops with that costume. For that match it was really cool, because I got to work with a girl who is not known for doing any sort of comedy in her match at all. She’s a very serious, strong style wrestler. So the first three or four minutes of the match was me trying to get her to show me her super powers,” laughs Leva. “It was awesome. I psyched her out because I had on my visor. She tried to Hadouken me. That was cute," Leva quips. "I proceeded to protect myself with a force field. She kept chopping at my force field but couldn’t get through it until I accidentally turned it off. Then she chopped the crap out of me. Strong style is a lot of chopping. Ouch!”  

Robin – “Robin is awesome. He is just happy-go-lucky and always so eager to be a part of everything. They make him very cheesy and I kind of play the cheesy super hero character with him. That’s a lot of fun. I got a cape and mask that I wear. It’s cute. I always carry a plushy Batman with me when I do a match as Robin. Robin is full of heart, so when you are that character you’re full of heart, eagerness, and hope. I do that with him. The other characters know they are awesome already. But he’s like, ‘Hey, what do I do now? Ok, lets go!’ He’s like the ultimate good guy. He doesn’t have a chip on his shoulders like a lot of characters do.”

Captain Jack Sparrow – “I did Captain Jack Sparrow. I’m pretty impressed with how I turned out actually,” laughs Leva. “I watched the movies and got the Johnny Deppness of it. It’s like Keith Richards or something. I came out with the hands, all confused, backwards like, ‘Oh, there is an audience here?’ So that was a lot of fun and it was perfect because I was wrestling a girl who is known as a Canadian ninja. What is a ninja’s mortal enemy? A pirate! Pirate versus ninjas. Everybody talks about pirates versus ninjas. It was my first time doing a huge public match for Shine on iPayPerView. I challenged her. I told her that if I won, our tag team would get to face her for the belt. It was an important match. So I came out like, ‘I’m going to be your ultimate, worst mortal enemy - a pirate.’ It was awesome. I was definitely sexy with my facial hair. I lost half of it as the match went on,” laughs Leva. “With Captain Jack Sparrow, he’s like a drunken master with his fighting style. The thing is, if you rewatch the first movie [Pirates of the Caribbean], it’s amazing how he swerves everyone, throws them off, and completely gets away just by interesting happenstances. They are like happy accidents, but not, because he’s completely calculated it. He’s totally like a drunken master. I incorporated a lot of that into the character. I looked like I was playing around. We did a little sword fight where she was ducking my sword, then I threw the sword at her and approached her as she was ducking. I was using things to throw her off her game. That’s the best thing to do when your Captain Jack, because he doesn’t go straight in like Rambo does for the fight. Jack is a little trickster. That is one of the best things about Captain Jack.”

Spiderman - "The first time Shine ever contacted me about doing a show, they wanted me to be me fun, comic-booky, and silly, but also badass at the same time. That was completely Spiderman to me. Plus, the new movie had just come out [The Amazing Spiderman]. The movie was pretty popular. It was really good compared to the last couple ones. I was really happy with that movie. So I actually ordered a Spiderman suit. It looks just like the ones at Universal [Studios], but it’s not. It’s made for me. Spiderman has heart, he’s fun, and he tries not to take everything too seriously, but he still tries to save the day. That’s what I think they wanted from me, and that’s what I gave them. I even had a web shooter. I shot my opponent a couple of times with the web shooter. It’s all about agility and dexterity, especially in wrestling. I’m considered one of the small ones. With a lot of my characters - except for the Hulk, which is just ridiculousness - I try to do something that is a little bit more nimble. Not all of them are, but most of the time you’ll see that I choose the agile characters that go with me. Anytime I play D&D [Dungeons & Dragons], I’m always a rouge or some sort of an arcane trickster. When I played Fable, I was always the ranged fighter. Every time I play a role playing game I’m some sort of rouge."

Dr. Who – “I’ve done the eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. Eleven is the newer, younger one. With Dr. Who, you use brains more than brawn. He’s more of a thinker than a fighter. Almost like a Captain Jack Sparrow, but less comicy. It’s all about using your brain and outsmarting your opponent. There is definitely an intelligence and wisdom bonus there, as opposed to strength and constitution,” laughs Leva. “I actually use more technical moves as the Doctor. I use a lot less brawling. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Dr. Who, but there are these weeping angel statues in one episode. When you look at them they are stationary. If you blink or turn your back, they creep up on you. Well I made that reference in a match once. I did that whole “Stop, don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead’ bit. It was pretty awesome.”

Cheshire Cat – “When you are the Cheshire Cat [from Alice in Wonderland], you use more chaos. I love using my tail. Smacking people with your tail is awesome. Pretending you’re a cat throws your opponent off,” laughs Leva. “If you sit there and start cleaning yourself, it’s going to throw your opponent off. That gives you an advantage. Any time you throw your opponent off, you definitely get some sort of an advantage there. That's especially true with Cheshire Cat. He’s giving you riddles. ‘Which way did she go? Does it really matter which way she goes? Woo hoo hoo! Shoot a smile!’ That was a lot of fun. A lot of times people are like, ‘Why are you a dog?’ You get really mad when someone calls you the wrong animal.”

The Punisher – “Punisher [a lethal Marvel Comics vigilante] is one of those rougher characters. As the Punisher, I came out with disappearing ink in my water gun and I sprayed the audience. It turned into water but they freaked out a little bit. Punisher is a little edgier than some of the other characters I do. He doesn’t necessarily follow the rules. He’s trying to get justice, but sometimes he ends up on the wrong side of the law because he may shoot somebody in the face instead of arrest them. I’m a little bit more edgy when I am Punisher because I’m punishing the wicked.”

Vincent Valentine Fan Girl – “During my very first match in front of a live audience, I came out as Vincent Valentine Fan Girl. Vincent Valentine was a character from Final Fantasy 7. He was the one with the really long hair and ragged red cloak. He was a rather sarcastic loner in the game. I came out with a black and red outfit, red goggles, and a red belt. I had my Vincent Valentine plushy [doll] with me. I wasn’t sure I could really come out as him. When you are first starting, you don’t know what your boundaries are. So you are basically testing the waters. I wear goggles a lot to accessorize my costumes to achieve that techno-punk look. Lately, I’ve started moving away from the goggles. I still use them, but now I’m doing more traditional cosplay. I’m actually looking like the character 100 percent, as opposed to just being inspired by the character. I have a lot of goggles. I have Space Invader goggles. They are one of my favorites even though I can't see through them," laughs Leva. " I’ll put them on for a match and the whole time it feels like I am going to trip and die."

Alice – “I did a Resident Evil match. The girl I wrestled was in a Jill Valentine outfit and I was Alice from the movie. It was basically a video game versus movie match. I actually came out in her exact outfit from the third movie [Resident Evil: Extinction]. She is a badass. Seriously, the match was an epic battle of two badasses. In the movie, Alice basically becomes superpowered because of the T-Virus. Everyone else turns into a zombie, but she becomes this super zombie hunter with superpowers. So I was in definite badass mode there. The girl I wrestled was Jill Valentine, and she had the spider on her chest that gave her powers. I even ripped off her spider at one point.”

Billy the Puppet – “I was Billy the Puppet from Saw once. It was dark and creepy. I have a huge fear of puppets, so this one has always creeped me out. I wanted to face my fears. I even drew his face on myself so that I looked just like a puppet. This was almost more about me facing my own fears. In Saw, you know how they are always putting people into traps and you must do certain things or you can’t get out? I would keep putting people in submission holds,” laughs Leva. “At one point, I was like, ‘The key to get out of this is in your belly,’ you know. I would say stuff like that. But I kept going back to the submissions. It was a much slower match but it was more methodical. I just kept putting my opponent into torture situations.”

Rick Grimes – “I was Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead once. I actually had a bunch of zombies planted out in the audience, and I was shooting them as I came out. The girl I was wrestling tried to take my gun. It didn’t work for her,” laughs Leva. “Basically, Rick is thrown into a situation where it's fight or die, and that’s the way I looked at that match. Fight or die. I totally didn’t die, so I totally won. But yeah, it’s like one of those ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations scenarios. You become extraordinary. So, I kind of looked at that aspect of it. What happens when you become extraordinary?”

Gandolf – “Apparently, I like to wrestle with facial hair,” laughs Leva. “I have wrestled as Gandolf. The latest Lord of the Rings movie, The Hobbit, had just come out, so I wanted to wrestle as Gandolf, because Gandolf is one of my favorite characters from the series. I came out with a full beard, of course. I made my cloak shorter so I could kick and run, but I tried to do magic tricks in the match as well. I told my opponent, ‘You shall not pass!’ and I think I might have hit her,” laughs Leva. “You might think a wizard wouldn’t be that much of a fighter, but if you watch the movie, he fights more than he casts spells. He’s a full blown, ‘I’ve got a sword in my hand and I’m going to stab someone right in the face,’ type fighter. So, he makes way more sense than a Dumbledore or a Harry Potter. I’ve actually done a student from Hogwart’s before, but I’ve never done a character from the series.”

Nick Fury - "I wrestled as Nick Fury shortly after The Avengers movie had come out. Nick Fury was the only character that I hadn’t done yet from that movie. He’s a badass that doesn’t have to be a badass, but he is when he wants to be. I wrestled with an eye patch and everything. That was kind of rough. My depth perception was a little off. Nick Fury is a Marvel Comics super-spy. He was the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a long time, which is a fictional Marvel Comics law-enforcement agency. While Nick Fury was in charge, S.H.I.E.L.D. became one of the world's most powerful organizations. He had access to everything. Like I said before, Nick Fury is a complete badass without even trying.”

Jedi – “I’ve been a Jedi [from the Star Wars series] before. Leva as a Jedi. I’ve also done Princess Leia during a different match. At the end of my Princess Leia match, they cheated and pinned me. Then they hired Darth Vadar to come out with a bunch of Storm Troopers and arrest me as Princess Leia. It was a huge production actually. R2D2 was there and everything," laughs Leva. "During my second Star Wars match, I came out as a Jedi, as I mentioned before. Why would I want to be a princess when I could be a badass Jedi with super powers, have the force on my side, and actually use the force in my match? Why wouldn’t I be a Jedi?”

Believe it or not, that is just a short list of characters Leva has assumed in the ring. Although I will be unable to list all the characters she's ever taken on, other honorable mentions are as follows: Marty McFly [Back to the Future film trilogy], Indiana Jones [Indiana Jones film series], Rocky [Rocky film series], Freddy Krueger [A Nightmare on Elm Street film series], Thing 1 & Thing 2 [Dr. Suess], Thor [The Avengers], Scarecrow [DC Comics supervillain], Jason Voorhees [Friday the 13th film series], and V [V for Vendetta].

So as you can see, Leva owns the title of a real life mimic and turns it up to eleven. She has always put one-hundred percent into anything she has ever done, and I tip my hat to her.

To Leva: Way to stay true to your geeky nature while embodying characteristic traits of every hero and antihero you've ever looked up to, and applying it to a career you truly love and bust your butt dominating.

With that being said, I use this final paragraph as an excuse to include a photo of Leva as Marty McFly [Back to the Future film trilogy], because it just wouldn't sit well with me to exclude it.

If you would like to keep up with Leva, you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or her official website.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Jessica Dockrey


Movie Mouth - Thoughts on 2012's Top Grossing Movies

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (1/29/13) - According to the-numbers.com, 2012’s top grossing movies are:

9. TED

If you compare this box office list with the year’s top ten best on Rotten Tomatoes or just about every movie critic out there, with the exception of SKYFALL, there’s no cross over. In other words, the gap between the movies that made money and those the critics name the best of the year seems to be getting wider year by year. Even more interesting is the fact that this year’s American box office is reportedly six percent higher than last year’s, coming in (according to ET.com) at a record breaking 10.8 billion dollars. The specific percentage and dollar amount shifts a bit according to where you look, but remains consistently up and over the last few years. With numbers like these, studios and distributors end the year happy and secure, with a clear model for what they believe will work to keep the upward trend climbing. This means the movies that will open on the big screens for the next few years will all be either franchise titles, super hero pics, CGI animated adventures (for the whole family), or the occasional foul-mouthed, but mainstream comedy (R rated). It’s easy to assume that movies outside the box, unique little films, regional films, or those that defy easy categorization, will have to jump through all kinds of hoops to get wide distribution. Those in charge are no longer looking to make just a measly profit; they’ll be working their marketing butts off to hit the billion dollar jackpot: a billion, we should note, is the new hundred million.

Since there are still a few of us out there who like all kinds of movies, this is not particularly good news. We may not be opposed to the big money titles - all those blockbusters and super hero pics that proliferate month by month, if they’re good and if they offer something special. But even if they are good, I get this uneasy feeling as I watch the trailers at my local cineplex that the six or seven movies “coming soon,” are really, in one form or another, the same.

The business of show has shifted in the last half a century, to the point that movies tend these days to be more about product than art. That does not mean these widely distributed products are necessarily artless or bad; it just means the entire cultural function of a film experience has changed. We seem to be moving further and further away from character driven, plot oriented pics that draw on human conflicts; I'm talking about narratives that engage and draw us in, surprise us. The emphasis, as we can see by the list above, is on spectacle and stories driven not by character or plot, but by special effects, or by plots with more and greater opportunities for special effects. Many times last year, we’ve flocked to see science fiction visions of war and destruction. The leveling of New York City in two of the top grossers takes us beyond the real tragedy of the Twin Towers and into an imagined spectacle of total apocalypse. Audiences love to watch things blow up. Last year’s top box office products, and many that did not make the top ten, have gone all out to give us what we crave. It seems like, ever since Roland Emmerich destroyed every major global landmark in his 2009 movie, 2012, all of his competitors have worked out brilliant digital effects that pick up where Emmerich left off- bigger, louder, better. We’ve gone a long way from flying saucers toppling the Washington Monument in 1956's EARTH VS. FLYING SAUCERS, a film that, at the time, was a low budget, exploitation pic for the drive-in crowd.

In other CGI blockbusters out this past year, along with giant wolves and a foul-mouthed teddy bear, we’ve seen alien spacecrafts blow United States battleships to hell and back, jet planes shattered on the horizon, real and futuristic car crashes, along with gravity defying transports, large and small, crippled on earth, in space, and, as in the top grossing movie of 2012, in the atmosphere of another dimension. And even though I can be impressed by this kind of spectacle, entertained while I watch it, and in some instances, amazed way beyond my expectations (as I was with MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS), I can’t help but feel, wolves and teddy bears aside, that after a while all these big blow out movies begin to look and feel like the exact same product, over and over again. I enjoy watching things blow up just like the next guy, but I sure don’t want to see things blow up all the time; I don’t want to see the same kind of movie every time I step foot into my local cineplex! I need - and I crave - variety. A certain amount of variation makes each kind of movie stand out, special in itself. How many Marvel Comic characters can one get enthusiastic over in the course of a year, much less over a period of a month, before they all seem the same - the same characters, same villains, and basically the same set up and pay-off? How many times in a year can I watch New York get trashed before trashing New York becomes old hat? Even in a film as brilliantly written and conceived by Joss Whedon as MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS, where three-fourths of the film holds us with some of the best dialogue scenes written in the past few years, the last thirty-five or so minutes of the movie is a CGI battle extravaganza that, in truth, makes this amazing well acted, super-human-character driven fantasy of a film seem like all the others that have come before it. Will the producers of MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS realize that Whedon’s dialogue and masterful direction of long dialogue scenes, and not the special effects, is why it raked in over a billion-and-a-half dollars worldwide? Whedon is signed to make the sequel; let’s see if he actually survives the development.

Obviously, the box office numbers indicate a steady stream of "the same thing over and over again" works. But if you look more closely, does it? Within the last few years, IMAX, with its increased ticket price, has become more prevalent in all markets. The box office figures may have gone up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the number of people going to the movies has increased. In fact, if you Google, “How many people watch movies in a theater?” you learn that the number is decreasing, year by year. So with the box office figures rising and the number of people actually seeing movies on the big screen dwindling, those of us who are curious about this kind of thing can’t help but wonder: where do these numbers take us? Any answer would be speculation. Even so, it’s safe to say with a degree of confidence that movies and their distribution in the United States are experiencing a shift in process, a period of unparalleled transition.

The overwhelming “product” mentality that dominates mainstream Hollywood means that the art of American film making no longer represents what it once did. In my mind, a certain credibility has been lost. In today’s market, the art of show must first traverse the ever increasing business side of development and production - and do so unscathed. That’s the only way a powerfully unique vision or even just a simple, good idea that’s different, will survive the bottom-line, marketing and demographic interests at stake. Movies that show in the cineplex are designed to open big and move on from there, with success or failure determined by three days of box office returns. There’s no room for experimentation or even reasonable innovation (unless it’s technical innovation) when the actual product costs between a hundred and three-hundred-million dollars to make and has been targeted to reach the pie-in-the-sky goal of a billion worldwide. This means that, over time, fewer movies will be released (in fact, have been released since the 1980s) ; fewer movies are made to be released in the cineplex each year; and, as a consequence, we’ve got fewer opportunities out there for the next generation of artists (and I use the word specifically) to learn the craft of film. The delicate balance between show and business will, year by year, become further dominated by a blockbuster mentality and, I think, there will be fewer genuine artists in the Hollywood system as a result. Artistic development will have to occur elsewhere, as it has been occurring lately in other countries, sometime in the independent arena, and in regionally conceived and shot features, made for limited groups of people, on minuscule to nonexistent budgets. With fewer surprises at the cineplex, it’s possible that fewer people will leave the comfort of their living room sofa to buy a cineplex ticket.

Even though I still quite enjoy seeing a movie in a theater, I find fewer reasons to do so. Because of my age and sensibility, I inevitably search out the variety I mentioned before. After an apocalypse, I often long for a smaller, character driven story. One where people do ordinary things, talk to each other, face conflicts that have nothing at all to do with intergalactic travel and super human strength. Or perhaps a thriller with something that’s genuinely unexpected in its plot, or with characters solving mysteries that, at their core, have something to do with real life. Comedies are nice, but these days iffy. A small, well acted, character oriented comedy with characters over 60, like the funny and moving HOPE SPRINGS with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, comes along usually once a year, or when Streep’s schedule permits it. Horror movies are great - I love horror movies - but rarely does one find a truly suspenseful horror movie that’s original and not a retread of Tobe Hooper’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or George Romero’s zombie trilogy, the two most important men today as far as horror movie formulas are concerned. (And yet, these two directors have never really been part of the mainstream; neither are lined up to direct anything in the near future, either). The worst, though, is the horror movie involving a group of baffling, beautiful young people who end up somewhere anyone of us would have avoided in the first place, getting picked off, one by one, in highly imaginative and completely unbelievable ways. Being over fifty, myself, stories with characters my age and older (and who look it) get a special consideration. A movie like that, with old people, is always a real shocker if the old ones actually have sex - and not off screen! Foreign movies of every type, genre, and tone, certainly; I’ve been watching subtitled movies since I was a kid. And finally, I search out movies by directors I’ve grown fond of or with actors I enjoy. I’m talking here about all the movies that, for whatever the reason, never get a chance to open at the local cineplex, (unless one lives in Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York). For these movies, I may have to wait a bit, but ultimately I find them, just a remote’s click away on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sony Streaming and on the astounding array of streaming opportunities where variety of every kind has been made available. When the weekend openers do not sufficiently arouse my curiosity or interest, I just click away. With the internet hooked up to my bluray player, and the bluray player connected to a very large, flat TV, which is connected to surround sound speakers positioned in my living room, I get the movies I don’t get in the theatre.

While I’m not here to criticize blockbuster movies, per se, or those with a billion dollar mindset, I am interested in the fact that the best movies of the year, those cited by critics around the world as the best, and those I personally enjoyed, have almost all been viewed on my flat screen TV. Some wide releases I missed because I didn’t get to the cineplex in time (within two weeks, it often seemed, if they don’t open big) to see them, but mostly because they were not given a wide release. It’s also interesting to me that this shift in the Hollywood distribution model has made a company like Netflix the standard barer for movies that, in another generation, would be hailed the best pictures of the year, along with the hard to find, hot B pics, all manner of foreign titles, and what we used to call art movies. These days, even new movies by top name directors, denied wide release, were finally available through Amazon and Sony Streaming. Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES, a vivid, sexy, violent crime flick, maybe one of the director’s best, and William Friedkin’s deliciously outrageous KILLER JOE, a jaw dropping family story about killing Mom for her life insurance money, make me long for a time in Hollywood history when controversy created word of mouth (old time lingo for “buzz”) and was therefore marketable.

A few movies:

SAVAGES is one of Oliver Stone’s best movies. A more straight forward, less preachy result than he often releases; this stylish, crackling, extremely violent crime thriller, two parts in-your-face exploitation movie, one part complex character drama, with social implication, of course, seamlessly mixed to carry viewers along it’s tense, suspenseful, often excruciating path to one of Stone’s most eye-popping conclusions, would have been a much talked about, controversial item fifteen or twenty years ago, I think. As these things go, its limited release puzzles because it far out-runs Stone’s last couple of super launched productions (the bizarre, ridiculous, homo-centric ALEXANDER and that unnecessary WALL STREET sequel). Some say it’s because of the violence, and others point out that the story makes heroes out of two very attractive, successful marijuana entrepreneurs. The intense violence does get to you, yes, but as violence goes, there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before in certain, widely distributed horror movies; and as far as the drug stuff is concerned, the film makes it clear that growing and selling exceptional weed does not automatically lead to a life of security and contentment. The only thing I can think of is the film, though full of great actors, and three Oscar names in the company (Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, and Salma Hayek), does not come propped up with a bankable headliner. Taylor Kitsch, the FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS stand out, leads Stone’s cast, and unfortunately for Kitsch and all involved, it’s not been a good year for the actor.

Kitsch’s career-making, staring role in Disney’s box office failure, JOHN CARTER, an entertaining special effects extravaganza that may have been too much like so many others last year to make an impression, had followed the disappointing box office for the actor’s other staring vehicle, BATTLESHIP, a rip-roaring war of the worlds pic that played an alien invasion like an old-timey, John Ford war movie. Perhaps the statistics, based on Kitsch’s mainstream, big money blockbuster disasters, made distributors feel it prudent to cut and run by the time Stone’s drug cartel thriller finally arrived. Though surely with a production budget that today is in the medium range (forty million), the gamble does not seem all that great. The film did, in fact, break even in the United States, and turned a profit world wide, even before DVD and cable is figured in. If that’s the case, we have a clear example of how the blockbuster mentality, motivated by business and not what Oliver Stone’s film actually offers, limits the chances for a smaller, edgier film in the high stakes market. A nice little profit is not worth the effort, even though the film is, to my mind, one of the year’s best.

Another distribution casualty, KILLER JOE, directed by the great William Friedkin went beyond edgy. With two key scenes that linger on stylized sex acts - both acts are, to put it mildly, rather confrontational - the film’s NC-17 rating probably ended up being more trouble to the producers than they thought this low budget (ten million dollars), independent feature was worth.

Based on a play by Tracy Letts, KILLER JOE begins with a character, beguilingly played by Emile Hirsch, putting a hit out on his Mother, for her life insurance money. This being a family story, Hirsch’s younger sister, older brother and wife, played by Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, and Gina Gershon, respectively, all are in on the plot to kill Mom. Since no one has a good word for the matriarch, the moral issue never really enters the group discussion. Mom is a b****; let’s kill her, get her money: she’s good for something, at least. They solicit a hit man, Killer Joe Cooper, a local cop, played by Matthew McConaughey, to do the job. Joe is ready to turn the scruffy, unreliable crew down, but takes one look at young, nubile Dottie (Juno Temple), and, in a rather ambiguous negotiation, agrees if little sister is part of the payment package.

Friedkin, who learned his craft directing live TV decades ago, is the kind of old-style director who plants his camera and lets the action play out before it. His approach to this material is so classical it appears, in conjunction to this highly flammable situation, so old it’s new. The camera doesn’t shake around, there are no quick, flashy cuts; with no “style” in the way we simply face what transpires. Since the characters never deal with the moral implications of their actions, it becomes the viewers’ job to sort out how we feel about it. The way Friedkin directs, there’s simply no way to avoid what’s going on. Though in truth, the film is not all that violent, the casual deception of murder and inappropriate sexual activity makes it seem terrifically extreme. And with an overall tone that is uncomfortably comic - Hirsch plays his role like he’s in a comedy, one does laugh at things ordinarily not considered funny - we are plunged into this dramatically distorted family conflict, playing along, and even rooting for characters that, in mainstream movies, would be the villains.

The show stopper, and no doubt the scene most responsible for the NC-17 rating, has to do with an act that resembles oral sex, only with a KFC fried chicken leg. It goes on for a very long time and is, in fact, the climax, so to speak, of the story. As there would be absolutely no way for the scene to be entirely cut (the way Friedkin has had to cut things in the past), the problem facing the producers, I would imagine, must have been insurmountable.

The scene itself begins with an uncomfortable confrontation (caustic, hardboiled dialogue) around the kitchen table, exposing double-dealing and sexual subterfuge. All hell breaks loose, with some old fashioned battering before we even get to the chicken leg business, which is, in context, a form of humiliating punishment in front of the family. It matters very little that everyone stays dressed and the action itself remains symbolic, the prolonged affect this scene has on one’s imagination is vivid and explicit, like a scene in a phonographic video. And though the action itself may be inappropriate, it is not an inappropriate conclusion to the film. From the word go this white trash jamboree has been whooping it up, screwing with our sense of things scared, profane, and absurd.

KILLER JOE is part of a new genre creeping in between the cracks lately; stories that no longer depicts good guys and bad guys, for, as things have progressed culturally, such categories have become interchangeable. Like Rob Zombie’s brilliant, in-your-face, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, among others, we have a corrupt policeman calling the shots, moving the story forward. Authority being corrupt, those who are not in power must survive accordingly. Instead of a farm’s soil stripped of its vitality, as in the classic play with similar ideas, TOBACCO ROAD, these films, and KILLER JOE in particular, depict our culture as having been stripped of its moral signposts. Animal power rules, and what vitality there is comes in the form of domination and control. This is a world where there’s no such thing as good or bad; everyone is bad, every choice corrupted in one way or another. This film makes mockery of the time honored notion of "The American Family," casually, though often bloodily, depicting ruthless behavior and sexual actions as power plays. As KILLER JOE progresses, we watch with a kind of spellbound disbelief, wondering just how far all this can go. We find out it can go further than we imagine, and certainly further than the MPAA will allow.

Friedkin, one of Hollywood’s elder statesmen, exhibits the tenacity of his younger (often referred to as “edgy”) colleagues, while at the same time, lording over them his lifetime of movie making experience. A more contemporary visual style employed by a younger director - even a good one - would have softened the film’s impact; fast cutting, shaky handheld visuals tend to draw attention to themselves and away from the action being depicted (as it did in THE HUNGER GAMES). With Friedkin, no, that is not what happens; he does not follow trends. He makes clear, precise choices, placing the camera where, moment by moment, it needs to be. We follow the action and, more importantly, the logic that motivates it. There’s no escape; what’s confrontational in the material remains confrontational in the doing of it. Watching how this highly experienced “old guy” launches into this highly risible but valid material, keeping the story clear, never missing a beat or a trick, balancing a tightrope tone that vacillates between horror and an acknowledged irony, allowing us to laugh at the most unexpected things, is, itself, the epitome of artistic vitality. Friedkin has not lost any of his power as a director; if anything, he’s gotten even better at it. Man, it’s exciting to watch a movie this well directed. On top of it all, the performances Friedkin gets from his top-notch cast, in particular, Matthew McConaughey, who holds entire stretches of the film on his strong and fearless shoulders, are all incredible.

Woody Allen went from Paris to Rome in last year’s TO ROME WITH LOVE, which actually preformed well in its limited US release; but performing well is not good enough. Allen’s character and dialogue-etched movies no longer justify a sweeping, big screen distribution. Even after the four Oscar nominations for the whimsical, enchanting fantasy, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, earning Allen his forth original screenplay win, the dye has been cast. Since Allen has obviously figured out how to keep making movies, year after year, regardless of box office or critical response, he could probably care less how we get to see his movie. Good thing too, for the kind of intimate, disarmingly intelligent mixture of high and low comedy (slipping slightly now and then into more painful areas), could never in a million years fulfill a studio’s criteria or withstand the development crunch that studio pics endure. Besides, comedy - as in mainstream Hollywood comedy - has become such an odd, catchall category lately, one shivers to think what we’ll be getting over the next couple of seasons since last year’s TED, the talking teddy bear fantasy, hit the jack pot. We might as well brace ourselves for a newly developed cycle of Seth MacFarlane creations and imitations to flood the market. (An interesting supposition, as MacFarlane is, himself, an imitation, it’s difficult to figure just what these imitations of an imitation will be? I wonder just how anyone will be able to top MacFarlane’s drunk-hooker-pooping-on-the-floor joke; but then, when it comes to s***, I’m sure there are plenty cruising the studio stalls, ready to produce whatever’s needed, if the price is right.)

With four unconnected story lines, and a huge cast that mingles Americans (and a few Allen regulars) with a splendid group of Italian actors, TO ROME WITH LOVE follows a formula that Allen seems to enjoy. He criss-crosses back and forth between various actions, connecting the whole piece with a sprinkling of thematic spices. Though often we know where certain things are going, Allen’s breezy, light-hearted intermingling of stories always keeps me interested, and my attention forward moving. Though you catch on now and then, you never really know where its all going to end up. Woody Allen has been writing and making movies for so long, we tend to take his enormous skill for granted. Here, in the first fifteen minutes, Allen off-handedly introduces the characters and their conflicts. With usually one simple shot and just a few lines of dialogue, he tells us everything we need to know, and makes us curious about what will happen next. Later, as the film veers off into a subdued kind of surrealism, the effect is effortlessly achieved.

In the film, Rome, more than a backdrop, is a place of inspiration and even a touch of pagan magic. Allen’s use of his location, vibrantly photographed by Darius Khondji, who captured Paris so splendidly in Allen’s last film, celebrates the city as an outsider or tourist would experience it. Rome, gloriously bathed in a golden light, is where the ancient and the new collide. In the resultant dust, expectation fills the air and the lungs, and, without rhyme or reason, what seems logical or even reasonable no longer matters in quite the same way. An absurd preoccupation with fame in one section of the city is juxtaposed, in another, where the artistic pleasures of the past are engaged and reinterpreted in the present. There’s an old love affair remembered and perhaps reenacted by young lovers; and in a similar vein, getting lost in the impenetrable maze of the city’s circles and narrow streets leads another to a reaffirmation of life, love, and the meaning of sex. As is always the case in a Woody Allen movie, these thematically connected vignettes come across as funny little moments with the hint of a question punctuating a moment’s transition, for at a very basic level, life, death, love, and sex are the same four concerns, shuffled in different combinations film after film, that Allen observes, and in his recent movies have become so breezy, so undramatic in the traditional sense of the word, that their very lightness of tone and technique has become, in itself, a philosophical stand. As it often happens in Allen’s best films, this lightness of tone has a cumulative effect. Usually toward the end, or at the very end, when what’s happening momentarily ignites a deeper response. It’s what I call the Woody Allen epiphany; the moment when we glimpse the vastness of time and space within his characters’ basic conflicts. I am often moved by Woody Allen’s little movie, INEXPLICABLY SO; which leads me to believe his work, often taken for granted, represents something unique and essential in the overall big picture. It certainly makes sense that a movie as delicately laid out, modestly presented, and light to the point of seeming to some trivial, would never attract the kind of distribution other louder, self-important, financially promising products get. I’m just glad that Allen has the discipline and desire to keep making them. And if the only way we get to see what he’s up to, is at home, on our big screen TVs, so be it.

In ARBITRAGE, Richard Gere plays a Wall Street, hedge fund superstar facing total personal and financial ruin. Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, the film is a somber, cagily-plotted character drama that never leaves its main character’s side. Gere’s charm has never been used to such an incredible advantage. Robert Miller, the man Gere plays, though complicated and morally compromised on every level, inspires confidence, even when the situation looks hopeless. In fact, the film is so well conceived, we unwittingly find ourselves wanting him to wiggle out of all the problems. This guy could have come off as a villain, but with Gere we glimpse a more complicated truth; as Gere plays him, Robert Miller’s an exemplary product of his environment, a salesman, a gambler, and, as it always must appear, a top-notch winner. For winning, as we know, is what Wall Street is all about. Winning means power to lead the crowd, to make the first and only pitch, and to live a life of seeming glamour and extraordinary ease. That kind of power is not easy to achieve, and is extremely difficult to maintain. It’s worth more than anything, more than any figure scribbled on a napkin in a five-star restaurant. It’s worth more than friendship and family, more even than the cash that balances the firm’s books at the end of every day. Jarecki’s script brilliantly describes what this world is all about; as the film’s opening moments roll by, we sense just what’s at stake. Even though one may be, on a particular level, repelled by Miller, on another, Jarecki’s plotting makes clear the weight of his success; we understand how some very bad decisions get made in that rarified air of high finance.

This is a great role for Gere. He’s called upon to be sincerely charming, while, almost simultaneously, revealing the edge of crisis that motivates all that transpires in the film. Now in his early 60s, Gere can still carry off the leading man parts. Those signs of age, though apparent, have deepened the emotional weight and range in his acting. Physically, he’s less jittery, certainly less mannered; he’s achieved the kind of economy in his playing that is partly the result of age, but has more to do with a level of confidence that has matured along with everything else. He’s like the mature Cary Grant, who, at roughly the same age as Gere, played opposite a very young Audrey Hepburn in CHARADE. We believed that pairing because, in a similar way, Cary Grant’s charismatic charm balanced that weird, difficult to define thing called sex appeal. Grant’s sex appeal seemed at the time ageless; he played it with a casual charm and grace, maintaining a high movie star persona in roles that would not challenge him in that regard (and retired before age and all the rest caught up with him). But unlike Grant, Gere, though I’m sure concerned about the way he looks on camera, has never been skittish about challenging roles, or even characters that are unsympathetic. One of Gere’s most spectacular performances was as a bad-guy, corrupt cop in Mike Figgis‘ 1990 classic, INTERNAL AFFAIRS. Gere took the role and didn’t hedge his bets. The guy in that movie is evil to the core; Gere played him that way, without a safety net. In ARBITRAGE, Gere uses his charm and good looks to mask the complications boiling just beneath the surface. And the film doesn’t cheat to keep our empathy focused. Jarecki makes us share the character’s most despicable decisions, and it works. Gere’s performance is a sight to behold. As the central figure of the film, he carries the whole movie. Watching it makes you nervous the way a good, tight noir mystery is supposed to make you nervous. ARBITRAGE is a richly layered, emotionally complicated, suspense filled movie. Easily one of last year’s best. Why it got such a limited release in the United States is a mystery I can’t begin to unravel.

To be continued...

Nick Faust is a local actor and director who has done it all. He has worked on theatre and film projects all over the world. The Sugg Street Post is happy to have Nick contributing in-depth movie reviews and will continue to share them with our readers.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Nick Faust

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