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: De Palma (2015)

Release Date: September 9th, 2015 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow
Cast: Brian De Palma

Empire Ward Pictures, A24, 110 Minutes

Review:

I watched three of Brian De Palma’s neo-noir thrillers two months back when I was celebrating the month of Noirvember. It was the first time that I had seen Dressed to Kill, Blow Out and Body Double and all three of them instantly became favorites of mine but in different ways. But they also inspired me to give this documentary about the man’s work a watch. And since this had been in my queue for a few years, I felt it was long overdue.

Sometimes documentaries about director’s careers can be bogged down by talking head interviews and choppily edited insight that the documentary director is using to make their point. However, this one just features Brian De Palma talking about his films and because of that, this was a spectacular filmmaking documentary.

To start, I like the vast majority of the man’s films, especially his work in the ’70s and ’80s. And what’s really awesome is that he spends a good amount of time talking about each film in his oeuvre: going through the behind the scenes details, the casting, the story ideas and the inspiration behind his work.

De Palma is a charismatic and interesting guy and having just him in this was a treat. Sure, I’d like to hear from some of the actors he worked with, as well as his peers, but I’m sure there will eventually be another De Palma documentary that allows others to discuss the man and his stellar work.

As far as I know, this is the only real comprehensive piece about De Palma’s whole career but this is a damn fine film that accomplishes what it set out to do, as it shined a light on some of the greatest motion pictures of all-time.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about other iconic filmmakers’ total bodies of work: Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures and Magician: The Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles.

Documentary Review: Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy (2004)

Also known as: Empire of Dreams (shortened title)
Release Date: September 12th, 2004
Directed by: Kevin Burns, Edith Becker
Written by: Ed Singer
Music by: John Williams
Cast: George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Warwick Davis, Frank Oz, Lawrence Kasdan, John Williams, Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie, Alan Ladd Jr., Irvin Kershner, Steven Spielberg, Walter Cronkite

Prometheus Entertainment, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, A&E, 151 Minutes, 120 Minutes (TV Edit)

Review:

“I think George likes people, I think George is a warm-hearted person, but… he’s a little impatient with the process of acting, of finding something. He thinks that something’s there. “It’s right there, I wrote it down. Do that”. You know, sometimes you can’t just “do that” and make it work.” – Harrison Ford

I can’t believe that it’s been fifteen years since this documentary came out. It was the selling point of getting me to buy the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD though, as I had already owned the movies several times over, in all their incarnations, but wanted to have this documentary to keep and rewatch over the years.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen it but it’s available on Prime Video, as well as Disney+ now.

Seeing this again sparked something in me that I hadn’t felt since Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005. It was that feeling of wonder, excitement and childlike awe. Disney is incapable of generating that sensation in me since they took over the Star Wars franchise and honestly, it’s mostly dead to me.

Empire of Dreams brought me back to where I was though from my childhood and into my twenties when I had a deep love for everything Star Wars. But most importantly, this showed me how much better the original movies were compared to Disney’s schlock and the shoddy prequels.

If Disney tried to make an Empire of Dreams followup about their new trilogy, would anyone care? Well, anyone with actual taste that was alive when the original Star Wars phenomenon was still alive and strong? I mean, how interesting would that documentary even be? And do you really even care about seeing any of the modern Star Wars actors and filmmakers talking about these new movies?

Empire of Dreams does a stupendous job of delving deep into the creation of one of the greatest film franchises of all-time. But seeing it with 2019 eyes, it more importantly shows you just how magical the Star Wars brand once was before Disney retrofitted it for an audience of wine moms and broke social justice warriors who can’t afford to buy the merch in the first place.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Star Wars trilogy and other Star Wars documentaries.

Book Review: ‘Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Vol. 1’ by Roy Thomas

Man, this was a really cool book to read. Any fan of the ’70s Marvel Conan the Barbarian comics should love this, as it gives deep insight into every one of the first 51 issues.

The best part, is all this insight is given by Roy Thomas, the man who wrote and managed the creation of each of these issues.

Each chapter in this book covers a single issue. Each chapter is also typically four-to-five pages, which really is a lot when looking at the bigger picture. In fact, I’m surprised that Roy Thomas was even able to remember so many details, even with the help of his own notes.

I mean, I’m in a field where I create art every day and even on the biggest brands I’ve designed, I can’t remember all the reasons why I made certain creative choices. And I’m a lot younger than Thomas and my work wasn’t done decades ago.

This is a fun and impressive read. It gives you Thomas’ point-of-view on the character, the mythos and how to stay as true as possible to Robert E. Howard’s vision when there isn’t enough material to use over a lengthy amount of time creating monthly Conan stories.

Also, this book is labeled as a “volume one”. So I guess there is more coming. I hope so, because this was so enjoyable. But I also hope that I don’t have to wait too long for “volume two”.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Roy Thomas’ historic run on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian.

Documentary Review: Tommaso Ciampa: Blackheart (2019)

Release Date: October 9th, 2019
Cast: Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Triple H

WWE Network, 29 Minutes

Review:

I like Tommaso Ciampa and was pretty bummed when he got hurt earlier this year and didn’t get to pass the torch to his best friend in a match that most assuredly would have been another classic between the two.

That being said, I’m now really glad that he’s back and doing his thing.

However, his injury and road to recovery were pretty tough things to deal with and roadblocks he had to overcome in order to get back to where he was before he had to leave.

This short documentary was made for the WWE Network and it focuses on Ciampa before surgery and how he is putting more focus into his family during his time off.

It’s a pretty good piece and it shows the man in a light that most people haven’t seen him in.

Overall, I thought it was actually too short and that there was a bigger story to tell.

Regardless, it’s worth checking out if you are a fan of the guy and want to see a peek at what he’s like beyond his character.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: WWE 365 and WWE 24.

Book Review: ‘King of Strong Style: 1980-2014’ by Shinsuke Nakamura & Jocelyne Allen (translator)

This popped up as a suggestion on my Kindle, which made me happy. I’ve been following Shinsuke Nakamura’s career for years.

Being a fan of puroresu a.k.a. Japanese professional wrestling, I’ve watched Nakamura in New Japan going back to his time as a rookie. He’s since become a legend and now he wrestles in the United States for the WWE, where he is underutilized, if I’m being honest. But Vince McMahon doesn’t seem to have a great track record with Japanese superstars. But I digress.

This book is presented as an interview. It’s a couple hundred pages long interview but it is still pretty interesting from start to finish, as Shinsuke Nakamura is a pretty interesting dude.

The first few chapters deal with Nakamura’s childhood and his love of professional wrestling, which was in opposition of his father’s love of baseball. But we also learn what his school life was like and how he was pretty athletic between playing basketball and excelling at amateur wrestling.

After that, Nakamura delves into his professional wrestling career in the years that he worked for New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

This is where the book really brings the meat and potatoes. Nakamura is pretty respectful of the other professionals around him but he still provides great stories and insight into one of the coolest wrestling promotions on the planet.

For those who like reading wrestling biographies, this one is pretty good and it is very different, as there aren’t a lot of biographies on Japanese puroresu stars in the United States.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other recent biographies by professional wrestlers and mixed martial artists.