Documentary Review: Beyond the Mat (1999)

Release Date: October 22nd, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Barry W. Blaustein
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein
Music by: Nathan Barr
Cast: Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, New Jack, Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, Darren Drozdov, Jim Ross, Jim Cornette, Dennis Stamp, Tony Jones, Mike Modest, Roland Alexander, Dave Meltzer, Chyna, Spike Dudley, Koko B. Ware, Jesse Ventura

Universal Family and Home Entertainment, Imagine Entertainment, Lions Gate Films, 102 Minutes, 108 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I could never get over the fact that guys could beat the crap out of each other in the ring, and be friendly outside of it. Some of Terry’s most famous matches were against a man twenty years his junior: Mick Foley. Over the years, Mick and Terry had traveled the world, setting each other on fire, tossing each other into barbed wire. Yet outside the ring, they were truly at peace with one another.” – Barry W. Blaustein

Considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest wrestling documentary of all-time, it’s almost a crime that this wasn’t, at the very least, nominated for an Academy Award. Watching this all these years later, it still holds up and is damn compelling, top to bottom.

Beyond the Mat is intriguing on just about every level and every story featured in this documentary is well told, well presented and edited into the larger tapestry so neatly that I feel as if this would be a great watch even for those who aren’t all that interested in professional wrestling.

One of the most engaging things about it is that it really shows you the behind the scenes stuff from the WWF corporate offices, as well as what goes down backstage during a massive, flagship pay-per-view event. In this case, the film features the main event of the 1999 Royal Rumble, a brutal “I Quit” match between Mick Foley and The Rock.

That being said, it does feel like some parts of this documentary are heavily sensationalized, like the reactions of Foley’s wife and small kids during the Royal Rumble match. Of course the kids are going to cry when the mother is freaking out in an over the top way when she knows the cameras are on her. I’m not saying that it wasn’t a legitimate reaction but it was definitely captured and then sold to the audience as something much worse than it needed to be.

While it is obvious that this wanted to pull the wool over Vince McMahon’s eyes, initially, it’s fine in that it wanted to expose the darker sides of the business. Those darker sides exist, especially back then, and showing the underbelly beyond the lights and pageantry is why this probably did a lot more good than bad in how the business has evolved and tried to improve over the years since this came out.

Ultimately, this isn’t perfect but it’s damn entertaining.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other professional wrestling documentaries, most notably Wrestling With Shadows.

Film Review: House On Haunted Hill (1999)

Release Date: October 27th, 1999 (premiere)
Directed by: William Malone
Written by: Dick Beebe, Robb White
Based on: House On Haunted Hill by Robb White, William Castle
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Chris Kattan, Peter Gallagher, Bridgette Wilson, Max Perlich, Jeffrey Combs, Slavitza Jovan, Lisa Loeb, Peter Graves (cameo), Greg Nicotero (uncredited)

Dark Castle Entertainment, Warner Bros. Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Dr. Richard Benjamin Vannacutt. He out-butchered Bundy, made Manson look meek.” – Peter Graves

Man, it’s been a really long time since I’ve watched this but for some odd reason, it holds a special place in my dark heart. I’m not sure if it is due to when it came out and the effect of nostalgia or because I actually consider it to be better than the film it is a remake of, which almost feels sacrilegious to type because Vincent Price, that film’s star, is why I fell in love with horror to begin with.

Generally, I’m not a fan of remakes in the same way I’m not a fan of cover songs. I really feel as if these things should only exist if they can justify themselves by being better or at the very least, being an interesting new take on the source material they are borrowing from.

1999’s House On Haunted Hill is a really good example of a film that takes its inspiration from its predecessor and makes it something else without sacrificing what the original vision was. It’s not an easy task to achieve but Dark Castle really started out on a good foot with this, their first of a few classic horror remakes.

Ultimately, this takes the formula from William Castle’s classic haunted house tale and ups the ante in a way that is very ’90s. It’s more extreme, has a fair bit of good gore and it updates the concept into something contemporary for the time. It’s also more of a psychological horror film and goes places that the original one couldn’t. The scene in the hallucination chamber is well done and actually kind of terrifying, even for a horror aficionado like myself.

That being said, there are three key things that make this remake a solid one.

The first is the ensemble cast. For a horror film with slightly more than a half dozen main players, we have an assemblage of some really good talent. Everyone sort of plays a typical horror archetype but they are all really good at it. I like everyone in this, top to bottom, regardless of whether or not they’re playing the innocent and good character thrown into a literal hell or they’re playing the evil, conniving bastard with some sort of dastardly trick up their sleeve.

Frankly, as good as everyone is in their roles, Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen steal every single scene they’re in. I can’t say that they outclass and out act every other actor here but they just rise to a different level and they seriously look like they are enjoying hamming it up in this twisted movie.

The second thing that makes this film work is the atmosphere. This isn’t the house from the original film. Instead, we’re trapped with these characters in a burned out art deco styled fortress of the 1930s, which was used as an insane asylum ran by an evil and sadistic doctor that used to butcher his patients.

Beyond that, the sets are incredible and the art direction in this film was magnificent. I really dig the lighting, the visual effects, the general cinematography and just about everything visual. The practical effects are great and even if the CGI feels dated now, it works for what this is and it doesn’t take you out of the picture like some of the CGI you’d see from this era. The Lovecraftian inspired blob of spirits is actually kind of cool and it works tremendously well with the tone of the film.

The third thing that works wonders is the score. The music is a great mix of a classic horror movie soundtrack and ’90s era industrial styled instrumentals. The film even features Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams”, which adds another level of dread and atmosphere to the already effective presentation of the picture.

I’d like to give credit to the director, William Malone. He managed this project well and I have to give credit where it’s due, especially since I don’t like the other films that I’ve seen of his: Creature, FeardotCom and Parasomnia. But maybe I will give those movies a re-watch soon, as it’s been a long time.

When this came out, it was a film that critics hated but I remember most people enjoying it. It’s got a ’90s campiness to it but it’s far from comedy and I’d say that it’s aged well. It’s certainly better than what the modern standard seems to be in the horror genre.

I think that I’ll revisit Dark Castle’s Thirteen Ghosts remake soon, as it has been a long time since I’ve seen it but I had a good experience with it, back in the day. I may also finally watch the sequel to this film. I heard it’s nowhere near as good but with this fresh in my mind, I’d like to take another trip to the haunted asylum.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Dark Castle remakes of classic horror films, as well as other late ’90s and early ’00s ghost movies.

Film Review: The Matrix (1999)

Release Date: March 24th, 1999 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano

Groucho II Film Partnership, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 136 Minutes

Review:

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” – Morpheus

I enjoyed The Matrix films back when they were coming out but I was never an immense fan of them, despite their cultural influence and how they were heavily ripped off for other action and sci-fi films from the early ’00s.

It’s actually been a long time since I’ve seen these, so most of the details have been lost to time and even though I remembered the gist of the story, I felt like I went into this with mostly fresh eyes.

This is the best film in the series or at least, it’s considered to be when looking at the critical and public opinion on this series. From my memory, I always liked this one the best and I’m assuming that the other two will still fall somewhere beneath this one when I revisit them over the next few weeks.

Overall, this film is pretty good in most aspects. However, there are some style choices that I don’t like, which actually bothered me back in the day too.

For starters, I’ve never been keen on the “bullet time” thing. I understand why certain moments were presented like this on screen but I always thought it was hokey looking in execution. Twenty years later, it looks dated and even more hokey. It’s also cliche but that’s really not this film’s fault as it was what brought that technique into the mainstream.

Also, I don’t like the movement during gunfights. The flipping off of walls with all limbs extended out is just going to make you a bigger target and for those who understand the physics of combat, it’s baffling and it shows off this film’s biggest weakness: style over substance (or practicality).

Plus, I don’t like how hard the film is trying to convince you that it is cool. Sure, it was cool in 1999 but the way coolness is achieved doesn’t quite work the same way in 2019. I’m not saying that the filmmakers should have predicted that because no one is an actual psychic but it dates the film.

I don’t like the use of filters in the movie either. The real world is shown in bluish hues while the Matrix itself is presented in a greenish tone. I understand the use of color to differentiate between the two spaces but it feels like the Wachowskis are trying to channel David Fincher and even though Fincher is a better director, I don’t like his overuse of color filters either.

In regards to the story, I have issues with that as well.

I guess my biggest gripe about it was the plot device where the Oracle told characters specific information about prophecies and whatnot and then later you find out she lied and it’s just brushed off with the line, “She told you what you needed to hear.” And why does this film have prophecies anyway? And where is the Oracle getting her info? And why does there need to be a “One”? It’s all kind of derivative, even by 1999.

Also, why does Agent Smith so badly want out of the Matrix? Why does he have emotions? He’s just a computer program, right? He should just follow programming without philosophizing about it. And can’t the Matrix fix his programming if it’s broken? Why does he care that the world within the Matrix is gross? How did he develop feelings and a personality? Why does he have such a grudge? Is all of this explained later because I don’t remember? Either way, it’s sloppy storytelling.

But all this criticism aside, I still like this movie. It’s hard to quantify why with all this baggage I just dumped on the floor but I think a lot of it has to do with the cast, their chemistry and how their performances propel the film forward. Also, if you don’t overthink it and just watch it as mindless entertainment, it is still a fun film with a lot of action and cool moments.

Some of the CGI looks bad in 2019 but this is still full of some incredible shots. That exploding helicopter scene still looks f’n fantastic.

It’s also best to ignore the limitations of technology for the time when this came out. Considering that everything in this film had to be done over hard wires, makes me wonder why this advanced artificial intelligence that wants to enslave humans weren’t using Wi-Fi. I mean, humans were using it pretty regularly less than a decade later. So in the year 2199 (or thereabouts) the evil robots hadn’t yet found a way to work around the hard wire problem? But again, the Wachowskis aren’t psychics.

Anyway, just ignore all the crap I just said in the previous 873 words and go into this film mindless with the intent of just enjoying some solid escapism from your own personal Matrix.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1999 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment, Donnie Wahlberg, Mischa Barton, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo)

Hollywood Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, The Kennedy/Marshall Company, 107 Minutes

Review:

“I want to tell you my secret now.” – Cole Sear

For those that don’t remember the world in 1999, The Sixth Sense scared about as many people as Y2K.

This is a creepy film that penetrated the subconscious of its audience and went on to make its director, M. Night Shyamalan, one of Hollywood’s new “it boys” at the time.

I haven’t seen this since it was in the theater but being that this is its twentieth anniversary, I wanted to revisit it.

It’s not as good as I remembered it and for a long time, I considered it Shyamalan’s second best film after Unbreakable. It is still a much better than decent picture but it is sort of ruined by knowing the twist. However, it was also sort of diminished by knowing young Cole’s secret thanks to the marketing of the film in 1999.

Seeing this now, it is eerie from start to finish but the fact that you were clued in to the fact that Cole can “see dead people” before ever seeing the film, really takes away from that reveal. Plus, you go through half of this film before you actually see a ghost on screen. The first half of the film, had you not known the secret, could have been interpreted as Cole having severe mental issues.

Cole’s secret isn’t the big plot twist though, that comes at the end when it is revealed that Bruce Willis’ Crowe has been dead since the opening scene. I remember being in the theater and hearing everyone gasp when this was spelled out to the audience. That caught me by surprise, as I detected the twist pretty early on and just assumed the audience was supposed to know this all along. There were just too many hints that spelled it out for me before it had to be audibly stated and confirmed by the characters.

I think that the film is effective in how it creates atmosphere and makes you connect to its characters. The thing is, this feels more like a solid pilot for a show than a self contained story within a single film. I think that maybe this should have been a film series or at least found a way to be ongoing on television or books even. I left this film wanting to see Cole do good work in bringing tortured souls some peace.

This film did a nice job of sort of legitimizing horror and making it a bit more mainstream at the time. But the following decade wouldn’t be too kind to the genre, anyway. And this isn’t so much horror at its core, as it just happens to be a solid drama about a child psychiatrist and his very troubled patient. There just happens to be dead people in the story.

My biggest mark against the film is that it is really drawn out and moves at a snail’s pace until dead people start showing up about 50 minutes into the movie. I do like slow builds and suspense but the first half of this movie could have been whittled down.

In the end, this still does a good job of making a real human connection with its audience and it conjures up a thick sense of dread. But I can’t really call The Sixth Sense a classic, despite its cultural impact for the time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Film Review: Dead or Alive (1999)

Also known as: Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha (original title), D.O.A. (short title)
Release Date: November 5th, 1999 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Ichiro Ryu
Music by: Kōji Endō
Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Show Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi

Daiei Film, Toei Video, Excellent Film, 105 Minutes

Review:

“My father was a small-village cop in a town where nothing ever happened. He just hung around like a scarecrow, until he died. But like they say – even a scarecrow keeps away the sparrows.” – Detective Jojima

People often ask me, “Hey, did you see that new Takashi Miike film?!” And my usual response is, “No.” People that know that I’m a hardcore film aficionado just assume that I like everything weird and strange out there but Miike’s movies have never really resonated with me and this one is no different.

Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the film. I respect lots of things that aren’t my cup of tea because a person doesn’t have to like everything just for the fact that others see value in it or just because it has some sort of merit or special quality that makes it unique or influential.

I understand why Miike’s films resonate with some people, just as I understand why David Lynch is so beloved, even if most of his films don’t hit me in the same way. But I also know that directors with really strange oeuvres have die hard fans that love everything they do almost blindly. Miike fans are very much like that, especially ones in the Western Hemisphere.

Dead or Alive is beloved by many but I just see it as a knockoff of old school Japanese Yakuza and Hong Kong crime films with a bunch of crazy shit thrown into it to gross people out without a real reason for it to exist other than shock value.

Now I think that Riki Takeuchi and Show Aikawa gave good performances and they deserve the recognition they received in these sort of films but lots of capable actors give capable performances in movies beneath their talent level.

I guess the only way I can describe this is that it’s like Infernal Affairs or The Departed if they were made by Troma and with Japanese dialogue.

Like other Miike films, a bunch of crazy, nonsensical shit happens with really fucked up curveballs thrown at your head pretty violently. Here we get a girl fucking a dog, a stripper drowned in a kiddie pool of diarrhea, a man snorting a 30 foot line of cocaine and a big finale that doesn’t make you suspend disbelief, it just shows you that you’re an idiot for thinking that you could.

This is a movie for people who want to relish in super violent, gross shit. This is the cinematic equivalent to poop munching porn. People will argue for the artistic merit of this film and Miike’s creative choices but I’m sure there’s someone that gets paid to analyze psych ward hieroglyphics that a mental patient finger-painted with their own feces.

Yet, Miike is pretty good at making this feel like one long, overly surreal music video. So props on the editing, I guess. Except for the middle of the film where things slow down to a brutally boring crawl.

I don’t want to completely trash Miike because he is capable of making good movies but I just don’t understand how and why this became a beloved film.

Dead or Alive was actually my introduction to Miike around the turn of the century. It didn’t set a good precedent and I do think that it has made me biased against his later work but I do think that Audition was a good movie and Ichi the Killer certainly felt more refined and accented his style better.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Takashi Miike films that focus on crime or the Yakuza.

Film Review: Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999)

Also known as: Killing Mrs. Tingle (working title)
Release Date: August 11th, 1999 (premiere)
Directed by: Kevin Williamson
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Music by: John Frizzell
Cast: Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes, Jeffrey Tambor, Barry Watson, Marisa Coughlan, Liz Stauber, Molly Ringwald, Vivica A. Fox, Michael McKean, Lesley Ann Warren

Dimension Films, Konrad Pictures, Interscope Communications, Miramax Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, Mrs. Tingle, threats are a sign of weakness.” – Leigh Ann Watson

I wouldn’t call myself a Katie Holmes fan. Granted, I thought she was hot as hell when I was a teenager around the time she rose to fame but I wouldn’t say I was a fan of her acting work. Still, I’ve weirdly been watching a lot of old Katie Holmes films but that’s probably because they all seem to be on my Starz app and I’ve been on a late ’90s kick as of late.

Anyway, this film is far from great and is pretty dumb. It thinks it’s clever and it has a sort of pretentiousness to it but it just doesn’t connect in any sort of way that I can call it an intelligent film.

Frankly, I almost felt bad seeing Helen Mirren in this. She did look like she was having fun hamming it up in this but it is a movie that is far below her talent level. She was also the best thing about the picture but that wasn’t enough to make this salvageable.

You also get small roles for Molly Ringwald, Michael McKean and Jeffrey Tambor but they’re sort of overshadowed by the film’s humdrum mediocrity.

The premise is about a girl who is trying to be the valedictorian of her school because with it comes a hefty scholarship. Her teacher, Mrs. Tingle, is a jealous, cantankerous bitch that wants the girl to fail. One thing leads to another, everything escalates in an insane way that just doesn’t feel plausible and we end up with three teens holding Mrs. Tingle hostage in her own home with no real plan as to where any of this is going. It felt like the script had no idea either and the ending is anticlimactic, terrible and also pretty damn implausible.

Weirdly, the film still has a small teaspoon of charm. I’m not sure why but even if the storytelling mechanics don’t work, there are some good bits that really only work because of how committed Mirren is to the bit.

This isn’t a film worth hating or a film with liking. It wasn’t a terrible way to spend an hour and a half but it wasn’t a good one either. This is one of those films that is in a sort of limbo of indifference for me. But if you are a hardcore Mirren fan, it’s probably worth checking out just to see her.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Katie Holmes movies from the era: Disturbing BehaviorGo and The Gift. Also, The Faculty and Idle Hands.

Film Review: Idle Hands (1999)

Release Date: April 30th, 1999
Directed by: Rodman Flender
Written by: Terri Hughes, Ron Milbauer
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Devon Sawa, Seth Green, Elden Henson, Vivica A. Fox, Jessica Alba, Jack Noseworthy, Robert Englund (voice), Fred Willard, Connie Ray, Kelly Monaco, The Offspring

Licht/Mueller Film Corporation, Team Todd, TriStar Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“There is evil out there, and I’m gonna kick its ass!” – Debi

Idle Hands is a bizarre and fun movie.

It follows a stoner and his buds. The main stoner, played by Devon Sawa, who was a hot commodity circa 1999, has a possessed hand. His hand murders his parents very violently while he is asleep. The rest of the film sees him trying to control his hand, as it yanks him around like a rag doll while looking for more people to murder.

This isn’t a film that did well when it came out and critics weren’t kind to it. It is sort of a niche movie that found its audience once it hit video stores. I remember that it developed a cult following pretty quickly and when I was in my early twenties, this was on the TV at a lot of parties. And rightfully so, as it is unique, cool and has a certain charm to it.

I have always been a fan of horror, especially when it has a comedy element to it. This film has the right balance between its scares and its laughs. It is also pretty gory, which was still fairly normal in 1999 before the ’00s brought tame PG-13 horror.

Seth Green has played a lot of good characters, the best of them always seeming to be an extension of himself. Here, he plays maybe his best character as one of the stoner buds. After he dies, early in the film, he is basically a zombie pothead with a bottle lodged into his forehead. The other stoner, who walks around holding his decapitated head, was played by Elden Henson, who modern audiences will probably recognize as Foggy Nelson from the Daredevil series on Netflix.

Jessica Alba is also in this, as the apple of the stoner’s eye, and she’s never been more adorable. Most guys my age fell in love with her in the TV show Dark Angel but it was Idle Hands that got me crushin’ on her hard.

I also love that Fred Willard is in this, albeit briefly, as the father of Sawa’s character. He meets his violent demise pretty quickly in the film but Willard is enjoyable in everything. Here, he is a straitlaced dad that’s sick of his stoner son being a useless coach potato with no ambition.

This movie has really good style. I love the set design, the characters’ looks and the score is actually pretty damn good.

I love the opening theme by Graeme Revell, as it truly sets the tone of the picture. The rest of the film is accented by Revell’s score mixed with a lot of notable ’90s rock. The Offspring even play the school dance, where they cover The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated”.

Idle Hands is just a good time if you are into horror comedies with a good amount of gross out moments.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Disturbing BehaviorThe FacultyCan’t Hardly WaitBrainscan and Final Destination.