Documentary Review: Andre the Giant (2018)

Release Date: April 10th, 2018
Directed by: Jason Hehir
Music by: Rudy Chung, Justin T. Feldman
Cast: Andre the Giant (archive footage), Hulk Hogan, Vince McMahon, Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Ric Flair, Jerry Lawler, Shane McMahon, Gene Okerlund, Pat Patterson, Tim White

Bill Simmons Media Group, HBO, WWE, 85 Minutes

Review:

I was anticipating this since I first heard about it’s production a while ago. Then, once I saw the trailer, I was really stoked.

I have seen a lot of documentaries about professional wrestling but they have mostly been the ones put out by WWE. Sure, those have great production values and even greater stories but I’m always skeptical about WWE releases due to their history of showing a lot of bias. Go back and look at their hit piece called The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior if you don’t believe me. In fact, WWE has sort of ignored that that film even exists after mending their relationship with the Ultimate Warrior and his family.

HBO put together and released this documentary on the legendary Andre Roussimoff a.k.a. Andre the Giant. So that alone puts it in higher regard than WWE’s own productions.

While it does follow his wrestling career, it was nice seeing some of the focus being put on his short acting career, as this documentary interviews those who worked on The Princess Bride with him: Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. It also showcases his childhood and his family but not as much as I would’ve liked.

Strangely, the film also features Hulk Hogan a lot. I get that they needed to foreshadow the importance of their epic WrestleMania III main event match but it seemed as if the Hogan material was distracting from Andre’s story. Granted, Andre was still the primary focus. Also, Hogan is a well known bullshitter that likes to present revisionist history. I had to kind of take what he was saying about his and Andre’s relationship with a grain of salt.

Negatives aside, this was still well done and it painted a picture of a man that was really a gentle giant. Sure, he would use his size to his advantage but ultimately, Andre was sort of a sweetheart that sadly suffered from a lot of physical, as well as emotional, pain.

But more than anything else, he was a man that was beloved by many.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The recent Ric Flair 30 For 30 documentary by ESPN.

 

Book Review: ‘Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living’ by Nick Offerman

You will most likely recognize Nick Offerman as the anti-government government worker, Ron Swanson from the fantastic show Parks & Recreation. The real man isn’t too far from living up to the awesomeness that is his fictional counterpart. Now while his political philosophy may not be as hardcore in real life, he is just as much a man’s man and a complete badass. He’s also a die hard Cubs fan, so there is that too.

This book is primarily autobiographical. Nick tells tales of his childhood, his life, his struggles and everything in-between. He spends a good deal of time talking about the men who helped shape him into who he is.

He also discusses his love of the Cubs, his love of woodworking and his sweet breakdancing skills. He covers his thoughts on diet and health, which is important coming from the man who on television only ever seems to eat turf & turf while pillaging through cigars and Scotch. He also goes into facial hair, which is just one of many things that he has earned expert status on.

The highpoint and best parts of the book, which are sprinkled throughout, are the times where he talks about his love for his wife, Megan Mullally. The book is almost a love letter to his wife and although it is somewhat mushy and sweet, it still comes off manly as fuck and is a good lesson to other men on how to treat and see their wives or girlfriends.

Finishing this book, I wasn’t left unsatisfied. I expected it to be a good primer on who Nick Offerman is and I was left with a lot more than that. There isn’t a chapter in this book that one can’t learn something from. Paddle Your Own Canoe is not just a well-written, educational and entertaining book, it is a valuable book.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Nick Offerman’s other books: Gumption and Good Clean Fun.

Book Review: ‘Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk’ by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain

I really don’t think that there is a better book on punk music.

Please Kill Me is pretty unique. It is a large book full of compelling and eye-opening stories told first hand by the artists and people who were there. It is a piece of work that delves deeper into the history of punk rock more than anything else I’ve ever encountered in any medium. It leaves no stone unturned and gives you more insight than you would ever expect.

Each chapter focuses on a specific subject or era in time throughout early punk’s history and it is told orally, albeit written down, by dozens upon dozens of those who were in the thick of this iconic cultural movement. The highlights for me were the bits told by or about Iggy Pop. Dude, was an even more interesting character than I had realized.

Whether you are into punk or not, this is still thoroughly enjoyable. If you are just a big fan of music in general or that period of time, this book is an eye-opener. The words and tales of those in this book are like a time machine, bringing the reader back to that exciting and innovative time. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Other books on the history of punk and rock music: Richard Hell’s I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean TrampMeet Me in the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman and Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad.

Film Review: Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Release Date: August 11th, 2015 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus
Music by: Joseph Trapanese, N.W.A.
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr.

Legendary Pictures, New Line Cinema, Cube Vision, Crucial Films, Broken Chair Flickz, Universal Pictures, 147 Minutes

Review:

“They want N.W.A, let’s give em N.W.A.” – Eazy-E

*Written in 2015.

I have been waiting for this film to come out since I first heard about its development a few years ago.

N.W.A. is a group that I listened to almost since their inception and they had a big influence over me as a kid. Sure, my parents didn’t like me listening to them when I was in middle school but I really didn’t care and record stores didn’t really police their sale of explicit products to minors in the early ’90s. Well, some stores did but I avoided those.

This film was pretty fantastic. In fact, I’m going to go on and say that this is my favorite film of the year thus far. It was, by far, F. Gary Gray’s finest work as a director. Being that he has been a long time collaborator with the men who were the subject of this film, made it feel real personal and he had legitimate insight into the relationships of these guys. Additionally, with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube consulting heavily on this film, we got one of the most accurate music biopics ever made. Granted, I’m sure they filtered in their own bias.

This, above all else, was a film about friendship – even more so than the history of N.W.A., Ruthless Records and Death Row. It showed five close friends coming up together and challenging a corrupt and oppressive system. It showed how they fought for freedom of speech and how they became the voice of a generation that was fed up – transcending their neighborhood and their race: effecting millions of people all over the world. Even when friendship dissolved, in the end, the love was still there and through all the bullshit and really bad blood, they were still brothers.

The acting was on point. Ice Cube was played by his real life son and he looked and sounded exactly like his father. In fact, most of the time, you only see him as Ice Cube and get lost in the performance. Pretty damn impressive for a kid who has never acted. Jason Mitchell was perfect as Eazy-E, Paul Giamatti was a great choice for Jerry Heller and Neil Brown Jr. truly felt like DJ Yella. Corey Hawkins was good as Dr. Dre but was the weakest of the main actors. Aldis Hodge was okay as MC Ren but I felt like Ren really got the shaft in this film, as he was just in it. He wasn’t shown as a character of significance and someone of Ren’s presence, which he has a hell of a presence, should have been featured more. This film makes MC Ren just seem like the odd man out of the group and maybe that is because he never found the individual success of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E.

Arabian Prince was completely shafted. He wasn’t even mentioned in the film. But if you remember the cover of the “Straight Outta Compton” album from 1988, there were six men in the photo. He was the sixth man, lost to history and forgotten. And I guess his role was so minimal, they really didn’t need to include him in the movie.

I did like how they featured the D.O.C., Warren G, Snoop Dogg, 2pac and mentioned Bone Thugs. I like how they tied in the Rodney King beating and the L.A. Riots, showing how N.W.A.’s music was almost prophetic without the film beating you over the head with it. The scene featuring the unity between the Bloods and Crips against the police was beautifully shot and executed.

Moving on, there are a few things I have to nitpick about with the film. For one, in 1986, Eazy-E is wearing a black White Sox cap. Well, the White Sox didn’t wear the black uniforms until 1991 or so. In another scene, which takes place in 1993, Eazy-E is using a cordless phone model that didn’t come out until around 2000. I know, because I owned that same phone. Also, 2pac was recording “All Eyez On Me” in the studio with Dr. Dre while Eazy-E was still alive in the film. Eazy died in early 1995 while “All Eyez On Me” was recorded late in 1995 and released in early 1996. There were a few other weird discrepancies but I’ll stop being an asshole.

Besides, the film’s narrative was strong. The movie told a great story and that is the most important thing.

While I do feel that the film shows both the good and bad of Eazy-E and Jerry Heller, I feel like this is through the eyes of Dre and Cube, which it is. I wish Eazy would’ve lived and would’ve been able to consult and flesh out his side of the story in the same way that Dre and Cube were able to do with the director. But to be fair, despite Eazy’s faults, he is still shown as a loveable yet tragic character and Dr. Dre and Ice Cube honored him for who he was.

The only big plot point that I felt was missing, was showcasing how heated the beef got between Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. For those that experienced it, it was a big deal at the time and from a fan’s perspective, the beef felt irreconcilable. Dre and Eazy both expressed regret about it in the film but it wasn’t shown or discussed in any sort of detail.

Also, the film jumps over the whole NWA & The Posse era.

I feel that it is also important to point out how funny this film is. It isn’t a comedy but there are so many great comedic moments throughout the picture. Yes, it is a serious film that has very dark moments for each character but their is a light-hardheartedness about this film that really showcases the soul of these men.

In closing, Straight Outta Compton is a spectacular film whether or not you even care about hip-hop. For those that do care about this group, it gives you an intimate look into their lives and shows how everything went down, as accurately as can be portrayed on film. And being that I am a person that lived through all of this and remember it from the perspective of a fan, it is impossible to not fall victim to nostalgia. But in that nostalgia, one walks away feeling more intimately connected to something that has been a part of your life for a long time. This was a film just as much about those of us who rode along with N.W.A. from 1988-1992, as it was about the band itself.

F. Gary Gray, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube truly have a piece of work to be proud of. Don’t take your family though, unless you want Little Jimmy yelling “Fuck the Police” as he walks out of the theater. Then again, I was once Little Jimmy and I turned out just fine.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any top tier music biopic, really. This is just as good as the best of them.

Documentary Review: Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name Is Paul Heyman (2014)

Release Date: August 5th, 2014
Directed by: Kevin Dunn

WWE, 121 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

WWE has done a great job over the years in making their own documentaries. They have covered a myriad of subjects and talent, especially since they hit the DVD market a decade and a half ago. Regardless of that, I was surprised to see them do a documentary on Paul Heyman. Not because Heyman isn’t an interesting subject, he most certainly is, but because of his turbulent history with the WWE has been legendary.

WWE was more than fair and really gave all sides of the story. I can’t say that there wasn’t an agenda, as there always is when the WWE produces their own material, but the fact that the bulk of the stories were told by Heyman himself, adds a level of credibility and honesty to the production, that would have otherwise been questionable.

This documentary tells Heyman’s life story and how he worked his way up the ranks and into the wrestling business, eventually becoming an enigma that changed the direction of the wrestling business forever, whether by creating a refreshing and edgy product to challenge the industry’s norms or through developing some of the biggest talents that the business has ever seen. Love him or hate him, Paul Heyman has contributed more to the wrestling business than most men.

I really enjoyed the documentary and I never get sick of seeing behind-the-scenes intimate coverage of ECW, my all-time favorite wrestling promotion. They spent a good amount of time on ECW and told the story from Heyman’s perspective, which hasn’t yet been done to this level and makes this a must-watch film for wrestling historians.

This is my favorite WWE production since the CM Punk documentary, a few years ago. While it isn’t about a wrestler and his epic battles, it is about a man that helped many of those wrestlers perfect their craft. Heyman is probably deserving of more respect and admiration than half of the legends who fought in the ring because what he brought was real significant change and a bold, new face to the business: changing it permanently.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: WWE’s ECW documentaries.

Documentary Review: Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics (2017- )

Release Date: November 12th, 2017 – current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: various

AMC, 6 Episodes (so far), 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Since Robert Kirkman can do whatever the hell he wants at AMC, considering that The Walking Dead is such a giant money generator, he gave us this show.

I’m pretty happy with the result though because there really hasn’t been a lot of comic book documentaries in the mainstream. This show serves to tell some of the most important stories in the long history of that industry.

Kirkman isn’t on screen for this series and each episode seems to be made by different people but generally, it all has a cohesive style and each episode is pretty interesting.

So far, there is just a single season comprised of six episodes. These episodes cover the formation of Marvel and the relationship of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the creation of Wonder Woman, the legal battles of the rights to Superman, how comic books responded to 9/11, the history of Milestone Comics and lastly, the history of Image Comics.

Each episode is pretty solid and provides a lot of information that even I didn’t know about, even though I’ve known about the gist of all these stories. My favorite episode was the one about Milestone Comics because it is a story that is really important and hasn’t been told yet.

I hope that the first season did well enough to make a second season possible. I really enjoyed the show, loved the format and thought that it was marvelously produced and executed on screen.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Some of the more recent documentaries on comic books: The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men.

Book Review: ‘My First Summer In the Sierra’ by John Muir

If you don’t know who John Muir is, you might not be American.

Wikipedia describes Muir as a “naturalist, author, and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States.” He was more than that however and in fact, he was instrumental in starting what became the National Parks system, which also led to state parks as well.

John Muir wrote a lot, especially about his experiences discovering new and uncharted wilderness. Being completely blown away, mesmerized and inspired by the Sierra Mountains and the Yosemite area, he wrote about that experience in this book.

The best way to describe his words is picturesque. It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words but Muir, having been immersed in the real wilderness of that region, gave us something more intimate than a simple picture and much more than a thousand words to describe the awe in his heart.

Referring to this book as “beautifully written” would be an understatement. Between his words and his sketches, Muir paints an epic landscape and gives us some of the most thoughtfully descriptive writing ever put to paper.

I haven’t read anywhere near enough of Muir’s work. This book has inspired me to delve deeper into his hefty catalog.

This book is a good place to start if you truly want to wrap yourself in Muir’s majestic words.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Other writings by John Muir