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.

 

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.

Film Review: Hellish Spiders (1968)

Also known as: Arañas Infernales (original Spanish title), Cerebros diabolicos (alternate Spanish title), Blue Demon vs. the Hellish Spiders (alternate title)
Release Date: May 31st, 1968 (Mexico)
Directed by: Federico Curiel
Written by: Adolfo Torres Portillo, Luis Enrique Vergara
Music by: Jorge Perez
Cast: Blue Demon, Blanca Sanchez, Martha Elena Cervantes, Ramon Bugarini, Sergio Virel

Filmica Vergara S.A., 85 Minutes

Review:

I’m not a fluent Spanish speaker by any means but I took Spanish for two years in high school and Duolingo says I’m 41 percent fluent. Still, I have always loved lucha libre and lucha libre movies of the ’60s and ’70s. Blue Demon was always a favorite of mine, even though El Santo was pretty much the lucha king of Mexico. But since it has been a while since I’ve watched one of these crazy pictures, I figured I’d fire up a Blue Demon one.

Sure, I don’t understand most of the dialogue and these things don’t typically come with subtitles on YouTube, where you can find many of them, but it doesn’t take extreme proficiency in español to understand what’s happening in these movies.

You see, Blue Demon is a total badass. He rules the rings of Mexico and is basically a superhero in the minds of his fans. So when a race of alien spiders decide to take over the Earth, he rushes to action to stop their evil plan.

There are two big highlights in the film. The biggest though is during a lucha libre match when one of the luchadores “spiders out” in the ring like some sort of were-spider. His hand becomes a mutant spider fist that starts biting people and injecting them with venom for instant kills. The other highlight is the big finale that pits Blue Demon against the spider aliens in their webby lair.

The action isn’t great but the wrestling is fair. Also, the cinematography is pretty terrible, the effects are acceptable for the time and regardless of my language barrier, the acting left a lot to be desired. But Blue Demon still shined, which is really all that matters.

Lucha libre films aren’t good movies by any stretch of the imagination but they are at least ridiculous and entertaining, especially this older stuff.

Despite the below average rating, because I can’t give it anything higher and keep a straight face, I do like this picture. It’s a relic of a bygone era that was cooler than the one we live in now. Plus, it’s about a famous luchador fighting alien spiders! Seriously, what’s cooler than that?

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Blue Demon movies, as well as any other lucha libre films from the era.

 

Film Review: Racket Girls (1951)

Also known as: Blonde Pickup, Pin Down Girls, Wrestling Racket Girls
Release Date: 1951
Directed by: Robert C. Dertano
Written by: Robert C. Dertano
Cast: Peaches Page, Timothy Farrell, Clara Mortenson, Rita Martinez

Arena Productions, Screen Classics, 70 Minutes, 68 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“And don’t forget about me. I’m Joe.” – Joe the Jockey, “Hi, Joe. You’re cute.” – Peaches, “I get it – anything that is small is cute. Well, that’s me.” – Joe the Jockey, “Don’t you know? Good things come in small packages” – Peaches, “[openly staring at Peaches’ breasts] Not to my way of thinking.” – Joe the Jockey

This was put out by Screen Classics and producer George Weiss, the man that distributed the earliest Ed Wood films. Therefore, you know this is of a similar quality. Well, it is missing the charm of Wood, so without that, it’s just a really awful motion picture that was destined to be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Like many of Weiss’ productions, this was released multiple times, in multiple small markets with multiple titles. This wasn’t uncommon for crappy indie pictures back in the ’50s, especially those that feel like they are some sort of proto-grindhouse feature albeit lacking the sort of skin and violence those movies would shovel into run-down theaters during their peak in the ’70s.

The plot revolves around some lady wrestlers in the ’50s. There are some unconvincing mobster types that try to use the women’s wrestling federation as a cover for their illegal schemes. The crime boss is in over his head and has to evade meddling police and bigger mobsters that he owes money to. I guess this is technically film-noir but it’s as low as a noir can get and then, even lower.

And if you must watch a noir picture with some wrestling in it, might I suggest Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, which is actually a damn fine film and has real wrestling legend Stanislaus Zbyszko in a key role.

This film could be the worst wrestling themed film ever made and that’s saying a lot if you’ve ever seen Grunt!Ready to Rumble or No Holds Barred. I actually love No Holds Barred in spite of its awfulness. But really, this makes Grunt! look like Citizen Kane.

Even if this had El Santo in it, it couldn’t have been salvaged. It’s an exceptionally shitty film to the point that I feel great distress over the poor film stock that had to have this movie burnt into its very soul. If Argentina can’t cry for Evita, they should shed those tears for the poor film stock that was permanently disfigured by Racket Girls.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this turd covered turkey is going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: Any other lowest common denominator schlock that was from this era and featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: Superargo and the Faceless Giants (1968)

Also known as: L’invincibile Superman (original), Superargo the Giant, The King of Criminals, Superargo (UK)
Release Date: January 26th, 1968 (Italy)
Directed by: Paolo Bianchini
Written by: Julio Buchs
Music by: Berto Pisano
Cast: Giovanni Cianfriglia, Guy Madison, Luisa Baratto

G. V. Cinematografica, Societa Europea Cinematografica, Izaro Films, 102 Minutes

Review:

This film is actually a sequel to an earlier Superargo film. I’ve been trying to track that one down to no avail. But since this one is readily available on a few streaming services, I figured that I’d check it out, as it’s a film that has been mentioned a lot in some of my circles over the years.

It is an Italian film that features a superhero detective similar to Batman. In fact, Superargo looks like a mixture of Batman and The Phantom. He is actually an ex-professional wrestler and he wears his wrestling costume because it gave him good luck in the ring. I guess it didn’t give him good luck though when the girl in the film was kidnapped while under his care.

The film is cheesy and over the top. It is colorful but not quite as colorful as an Italian giallo film. The action is pretty decent for what you can expect from an old school Italian action bonanza. But the film is so hokey that you kind of dismiss some of its faults. Really, it is exciting and has a lot of energy.

The movie is fairly nonsensical and strange but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an entertaining ride. It has a coolness about it and almost feels like the Italian version of the ’60s Batman show, as well as having strong similarities to those Mexican movies featuring the lucha libre legend El Santo.

Superargo and the Faceless Giants makes me wish I had access to the first film. However, when and if it does pop up somewhere I can check it out, I am much more motivated after having experienced this chapter in the two film series.

Documentary Review: Lipstick and Dynamite, Piss and Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling (2004)

Release Date: May 4th, 2004 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Directed by: Ruth Leitman
Music by: The Corn Sisters

Ruthless Films, Nightingale Company, 75 Minutes

Review:

*originally written in 2014.

I really enjoyed this documentary. It covered the history of women’s wrestling in America. It went into its origins, how it was perceived and the hardships that these women had to go through throughout the years.

The highlight of the film for me was that it gave an intimate look into the lives of several legends but most notably the Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young, two women who wrestled well into their final years; both passed away recently.

In it’s short running time, this documentary covered a lot. It allowed many of the women featured to tell stories that no one would have heard otherwise and it also allowed them to vent some frustrations with the wrestling business and some of the people within it.

Many women in the film were very critical of the fact that Moolah and Mae Young were still wrestling in their old age, as they felt it was disrespectful. I’m not exactly sure how and as a fan, I enjoyed seeing them still hang in the ring and put on a good show. I think between many of the female stars, there was a lot of professional jealousy that they never really got over or let go of.

The movie was well-structured and the director did a great job of bringing it all together and giving the audience a lot to digest and reflect on. Watching this made me realize how much I miss seeing the Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young pop up on television every now and again.

Rest in peace, ladies.

Documentary Review: Born to Controversy: The Roddy Piper Story (2006)

Release Date: March 3rd, 2006
Directed by: Vince McMahon

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), 88 Minutes

Review:

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was one of my favorite wrestlers of all-time. In the ’80s, he probably was my favorite but I also loved that dastardly “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. The thing that really made Piper eclipse the others though, was the fact that he was the star of They Live, which is still the greatest motion picture to ever feature a professional wrestler in the lead role. Sorry, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

This is one of dozens of WWE documentaries put out in the heyday of their DVD releases, most of which were met with great fanfare and always sold really well. Like most of the others, this was initially released with several extra discs featuring pivotal matches from the wrestler’s career. I happen to own the special exclusive addition that had an extra bonus disc featuring classic episodes of Piper’s Pit, Roddy’s popular talk show segment.

The documentary is chock-full of interviews with many of the people who knew Piper over the course of his career. There are interviews with his friends, rivals and other colleagues within the wrestling business. We also get to hear from John Carpenter on why he cast Piper in They Live and what it was like to work with him on the film.

The best part of this whole film is hearing Piper himself talk about his time in wrestling and about his life beforehand.

Born to Controversy: The Roddy Piper Story is one of the brightest spots in WWE’s long history of wrestler biography pieces. It features one of the most entertaining men in sports entertainment history and it flows nicely and covers all of the relevant stuff in Piper’s long and storied career.