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article imageReview: Sold out premiere of 'American Wrestler' in hometown Petaluma Special

By Jonathan Farrell     May 7, 2017 in Entertainment
Petaluma - The special premiere of "American Wrestler - The Wizard" at downtown Petaluma's Boulevard Cinema 14 last night was sold out. And for good reason, everyone likes a story of redemption and unexpected outcome when all seemed dim.
What makes the story even more appealing is that it is local and true.
Based on the early life of actor-producer Ali Afshar, "American Wrestler" has in it all the things that inspire people to not give up, especially with regards to The American Dream. While initial reviews for the movie point out flaws, to this reporter, who observed the audience, the movie is a crowd pleaser and does what it aimed to do: to get people to cheer.
Afshar admitted to the Washington Times that the storyline took some liberties and added a bit of the Hollywood touch. He said the focus on the American Dream was most important to him in telling the story.
Variety noted that "American Wrestler" was formulaic and the Hollywood Reporter said that the story line was a bit lackluster. Yet, it is clear to see the basic outline of the movie has personality.
Much of the setbacks as I see them have to do with the blurring of important details. For instance, the fact that Iran or ancient Persia has a tradition of wrestling that goes back thousands of years. It is mentioned but very little is given in the context of the movie to help bring that to life.
After the movie, I was surprised to learn that Ali and his uncle were not alone in being Iranian wrestlers in America. There were others. And here too, the movie could have given a bit more detail. Especially, in showing the happier times — the days when Iran was welcomed and in favor with America.
Afshar's character (referred to as Ali Johani in the movie) has more to reveal, especially about the conditions in Iran that made him want to come to America. Yes, it is mentioned but it is not highlighted at the points were it should be. Use of montage was minimal and some of that technique should have been used to tell more of the background of Ali and what he went through.
George Kosturos the actor who portrays Ali is very convincing as a refugee immigrant trying to fit in. I had the privilege of speaking with him briefly at the premiere on Friday. He is actually Greek, not Iranian. In the movie he is very convincing and captures the essence very well.
George s brother Tony Kosturos joined him at the premiere on Friday evening. It was a proud moment a...
George's brother Tony Kosturos joined him at the premiere on Friday evening. It was a proud moment and one shared by many who came to see the film.
One scene with John Voight (who plays the high school principal), Kosturos shows him the "key of paradise" pendent he was given by Iranian officials who had sent him to a mine field to clear the way for the more deserving soldiers who were more stronger and better than he. This was important and director Alex Ranarivelo made sure it was referenced to. Still to have a montage or subtle flashback scene to go with it would have helped the audience. Iran is more than what happened in 1979-1980 as The American Embassy was taken hostage by revolutionary-extremists.
The outsider versus the xenophobic locals is a simple plot. That was well directed. But to really appreciate why and how Ali got to where he is, something more was needed. The "paradise key" would have been the opportunity. The complexity of Iran as a nation and its deeply layered aspects of Persian culture is something seldom understood or examined by American cinema.
Ashfar mentioned to the Washington Times that he still experiences a prejudice and an ignorance about anything Middle Eastern not just on the subject of Iran. A movie such as this would help provide a better understanding and appreciation. And, hopefully in some ways it will, especially to a sold-out crowd like the one Friday night.
Determined Ali (portrayed by actor George Kosturos) finds a spot on the wrestling team. He works har...
Determined Ali (portrayed by actor George Kosturos) finds a spot on the wrestling team. He works hard to help bring his high school's wrestling team to the State Championships.
In the struggle with 'the bullies' there was no insight as to why the bullies in the story were the way they were. Only shown on screen was what they were at school. Nothing about their life at home or even what side of town they were from; very little indications of why they were the way they were except for a love of sports.
Dialogue is important but the audience must see the story unfold and have the chance to feel it. Film allows for details and subtlety that stage is not able to do.
There was plenty of news footage from the time period of 1979-1981 and that helped. But it only provided a superficial discussion. The contrast between Ali and the life in Petaluma was not sharp enough and explanations were not precise, especially when acted upon.
Ali's uncle (portrayed by Afshar himself) gives some explanation. But it falls apart when his emotions and actions go to extremes. This causes confusion in maintaining the point of reference for the audience and here another opportunity for detail and better understanding is lost. Even with that, "American Wrestler" is worth seeing and is memorable.
"The scenery of rural Petaluma and Sonoma County are luminous," said Kathy Ostram, a long-time resident of the area. She and her late husband Steve Ostram moved to Sonoma in 1982. She remembers the times quite well. "I wish they could have shown more of the town of Petaluma. But perhaps they were not able to do that because Petaluma, just like everywhere else has changed so much in the past 30 to 40 years; Petaluma today does not look like it did back then in 1980."
The LA Times in its review noted that "American Wrestler" has a potent timelessness to it. The movie continues to show at selected cities. For details visit "American Wrestler - The Wizard" page on Facebook.
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