Documentary Review: The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA (2006)

Release Date: November 21st, 2006
Directed by: Kevin Dunn
Cast: Eric Bischoff, Nick Bockwinkle, Jim Brunzell, Greg Gagne, Verne Gagne, “Superstar” Billy Graham, Mike Graham, Bobby Heenan, Larry Hennig, Hulk Hogan, Jack Lanza, Jerry Lawler, Vince McMahon, Baron Von Raschke, Dusty Rhodes, Michael Hayes, Bob Windham

WWE, 109 Minutes

Review:

I was too young to experience the American Wrestling Association in its heyday. However, I was old enough to see how well its talent did on a larger, worldwide stage once Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation became a global phenomenon in the mid-’80s. A lot of the WWF’s success was built off of the talent that established themselves in Verne Gagne’s AWA.

Being produced by WWE, one might think that this has a slant to it and while that may be true to some degree, it features interviews with a ton of people from both sides of the conversation. Although, it does mostly feature talent that has worked for both, which makes this feel more honest.

Plus, this includes Verne Gagne and Greg Gagne talking about all the events that led to the fall of the AWA from their perspective. And I guess the coolest thing about this is that it lets Verne talk about it pretty candidly. Sadly, just a few years after this, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Vince McMahon gives his perspective too, which is interesting, especially coming off of all the tales that were told in this documentary.

I think the whole thing is a highpoint though, as it goes through the history of the AWA, discusses its biggest stars and ultimately, how they left and how they contributed to the wrestling business overall.

By the end of this, you leave with a clear understanding that the professional wrestling landscape would have been vastly different if not for the existence and the legacy of the American Wrestling Association.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other WWE historical documentaries.

 

Documentary Review: 350 Days (2018)

Also known as: 350 Days – Legends. Champions. Survivors (DVD title)
Release Date: July 12th, 2018
Directed by: Fulvio Cecere
Cast: Bret Hart, “Superstar” Billy Graham, Greg Valentine, Jimmy Snuka, James J. Dillon, Bill Eadie, Abdullah the Butcher, Ox Baker, Ted DiBiase, David “Gangrel” Heath, Marty Jannetty, Angelo Mosca, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, Lex Luger, Lanny Poffo, Wendi Richter, Larry Sharpe, George “The Animal” Steele

Happy Fish Productions, 108 Minutes

Review:

This was a pretty interesting documentary that focuses on a part of the wrestling business that I don’t think has been covered as the sole subject of a documentary before: the travel schedule.

The film lets a few dozen wrestlers discuss their travel schedules over the course of their careers and how it effected them physically, mentally and their lives inside and outside of the ring.

Each wrestler has their own story and almost everything here is pretty cool for fans of the business.

This is presented as talking head interviews edited into a quick paced narrative, keeping things flowing nicely and allowing each of the wrestlers’ stories to build off of one another’s.

I especially like hearing insight from Bret Hart, Lanny Poffo, Greg Valentine, Billy Graham, Wendi Richter and Ted DiBiase.

I don’t think that a lot of people that aren’t fans of the wrestling industry, know or understand how hard a professional wrestler’s schedule and travel can be. This does a good job of explaining it through personal stories.

This isn’t the greatest wrestling documentary out there, but it was still professionally shot, edited and presented and that sets it apart from some of the sloppy ones you may have seen.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent wrestling documentaries.

Documentary Review: Adrian Street: Imagine What I Could Do to You (2019)

Release Date: August 31st, 2019
Cast: Adrian Street, William Regal, Johnny Saint, Road Dogg

WWE Network, 21 Minutes

Review:

Adrian Street was a wrestler that was around during my most impressionable time and in an era where I grew to love that industry. However, I didn’t learn about the guy until later on, as he wasn’t featured on the few shows I had access to.

Still, the guy is a fucking legend and he may not have been the first wrestler to be kind of a dandy but he was the first to really push the bar sexually and thus, opened the doors for the others who weren’t afraid to add a certain level of flamboyant mystery and potential gayness to their character.

This short documentary was really fun to watch albeit way, way too short. I would’ve liked to have seen a whole retrospective on his career, as opposed to this Cliff Notes version that mostly just focused on the gimmick instead of the actual career and achievements the man had.

While he might not have been a WWE star, he made a massive impact that influenced a generation of wrestlers that would go on to influence another generation.

Without Adrian Street, there is no Goldust, no Adrian Adonis, no Billy & Chuck, no Kwee-Wee, etc. Street changed the wrestling landscape forever and made some things a lot less taboo, culturally, in an industry that was ruled by old men pushing tradition and alpha manliness.

I don’t feel like this documentary really makes that point as well as it could, had it been longer than twenty minutes.

Still, this is a good short documentary to check out because, if anything, it will just make you want to know more about the character and the man behind it.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other WWE Network documentaries.

Documentary Review: Holy Grail: The Search for WWE’s Most Infamous Lost Match (2019)

Release Date: May 13th, 2019
Cast: Bret Hart, Tom Magee, Sean Waltman, Chris Spradlin, T.J. Wilson, Harry Smith, Sam Roberts, Mary-Kate Anthony

WWE, 28 Minutes

Review:

I’ve been meaning to watch this ever since it came out last year but my queues in all my streaming services are rather large.

I had some interest in this, however, as I’m very aware of the history behind this “lost tape” of a non-televised match between Bret “Hitman” Hart and Tom Magee, a guy that the suits at the World Wrestling Federation thought was going to be the next Hulk Hogan.

Back in the ’90s and into the early ’00s, I was a wrestling tape trader. This match was sort of this legendary thing that many people in the tape trading community speculated over. Did it actually exist? Was it real? A hoax? Did the match actually take place? Why was it even filmed? Why wasn’t it televised? Why did it have commentary from Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan?

The tape does actually exist and this documentary is the story of how it was found while also explaining the significance of it and what the search for it meant to so many people. This also ends with the match itself, shown officially for the first time in history.

Having a once invested interest in this, I found the documentary to be pretty cool and fascinating. Especially, since it means that it’s now actually been acknowledged by the WWE and the men who were in the match. What’s even cooler is that Tom Magee appears in this now, all these years later, to give his two cents on the whole thing.

This is a short, quick documentary but it isn’t short on details and actually packs a lot more than I anticipated.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other short documentaries featured on the WWE Network.

Documentary Review: John Ford Goes to War (2002)

Release Date: 2002
Directed by: Tom Thurman
Written by: Tom Marksbury
Cast: John Ford (archive footage), John Wayne (archive footage), Kris Kristofferson (narrator), Peter Bogdanovich, Dan Ford, Leonard Maltin, Oliver Stone,

FBN Productions, Starz! Encore Entertainment, 56 Minutes

Review:

I fired this up on a rainy afternoon because I saw it on the Starz app and because I mostly like the films of John Ford.

It’s a fairly interesting documentary that delves into the man’s war experience and how it helped shape the pictures he would go on to make as one of Hollywood’s premier directors.

My only real issue with the documentary is that it is pretty slow and boring. The subject matter is engaging but the presentation almost puts you to sleep.

This was relatively short though, just being under an hour and it is worth checking out if you admire John Ford’s filmmaking style, especially in regards to his war pictures.

I wouldn’t call this a necessary TV documentary, even for fans of the man’s work. Honestly, it just makes me hope that someone will come along and make a more comprehensive and energetic film on the great director’s career.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Starz filmmaking documentaries.

 

Documentary Review: The History of Pinball (1997)

Release Date: 1997
Directed by: Mark Helms
Written by: Mark Helms
Music by: Michael Moss
Cast: Mark Helms (narrator), Joe Perry, Roger Sharpe, Slash, Frank Thomas

New Video Images, 59 Minutes

Review:

After revisiting the great pinball documentary Special When Lit, I wanted to know more about the history of pinball in its earliest days. While that film was good, it really just starts in the ’70s and talks about pinball in more recent years.

This made-for-TV documentary covers all that stuff that Special When Lit jumped over.

I really liked this a lot, as a fan of pinball, arcade games and historical Americana in general.

It goes way back and talks about the earliest European games that were predecessors to what pinball would become. It then brings the viewer through time, showing how these games evolved into modern pinball.

This also features a lot of interviews with experts on the subject and just about every talking head blurp was informative and helped paint a unique and cool story about the subject.

I also liked that there was so much footage of pinball machines from all eras.

For just 59 minutes, this is really comprehensive.

It’s well edited, covers a lot of ground and it’s pretty compelling for those who have a love for the game and for history.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about pinball and arcade games, many have been reviewed here already.

Documentary Review: Marvel 75 Years: From Pulp to Pop! (2014)

Release Date: November 4th, 2014
Music by: Lauren Pardini, Daniel Sternbaum
Cast: Axel Alonso, Hayley Atwell, Gerry Conway, Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Seth Green, Clark Gregg, Jimmy Kimmel, Stan Lee, Ralph Macchio, Todd McFarlane, Patton Oswalt, Nicole Perlman, Joe Quesada, Peter Sanderson, Jim Shooter, Kevin Smith, Jim Starlin, Emily VanCamp, Len Wein, Ming-Na Wen

ABC Studios, Disney, Marvel, 42 Minutes

Review:

I recently reviewed a short, made-for-TV documentary on Disney+ called Assembling a Universe. That one was a piece on how Disney and Marvel assembled a movie franchise based off of Marvel’s rich treasure trove of characters and stories.

This short documentary is kind of more of the same but it focuses mostly on the comic books themselves and how Marvel grew into what it is today.

Like the previous documentary, which came out earlier in the same year, this one is really just a marketing tool to try and get people to go see their movies. It’s made by Disney, Marvel and ABC, all of whom are essentially the same company, so this is made to sort of pimp themselves out.

Ultimately, this is an autobiographical puff piece. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things of value in it. It’s informative and gives you a good amount of info to start with for those interested in Marvel’s history but there are much better documentaries, books and magazine articles on the subject.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Assembling a Universe and Empire of Dreams.