Film Review: The Elephant Man (1980)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1980 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch
Based on: The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Frederick Treves; The Elephant Man: A Study In Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Hannah Gordon, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Dexter Fletcher, Kenny Baker

Brooksfilms, Paramount Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!” – John Merrick

Few motion pictures are truly perfect. This is one of those few.

As far as I’m concerned, this is still the greatest thing that David Lynch has ever done. And while I like his visual style and artistic quirkiness, I’m not a big fan like many other film aficionados are.

That being said, this is his most normal picture. He doesn’t get overly bizarre and lost in trying to put his own dreams to celluloid. Here, he has a real story to tell and given a more defined framework, I think he excelled as a director with this movie above all of his others.

What’s strange about that, is that this is only his second feature film after the absolutely bonkers, shrill and disturbing nightmare known as Eraserhead.

The success of this film led to Lynch getting the offer to direct Return of the Jedi, which he turned down, as well as 1984’s Dune, which I like but ended up being such a bad experience for Lynch that he pretty much quit mainstream movies and went back to making bizarre, personal art films more akin to what he did with Eraserhead and his short films before that.

Anyway, this is a review of The Elephant Man and not a review of Lynch’s career.

I love that this was presented in black and white, as it gives it a truly timeless feel and it generates the same sort of aesthetic as many of the great classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s. It also has the same sort of cinematography, as it employs a chiaroscuro visual style with high contrast between light and shadow.

Given the film’s setting and the makeup of the title character, this visual style gives it a real majestic, classic cinematic feel that probably wouldn’t have been possible if this was released in color. It helps set the mood with the more horrific elements, while also giving the film a quality of old world naivete, which is important in allowing the audience to connect to the pure innocence of Merrick, the Elephant Man.

The picture is stupendously acted. Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt are absolute perfection in this and you really fall in love with both men through this incredibly emotional and very painful journey. But you also feel their emotion to the bone when the best parts of humanity find a way to outlast the worst parts. This is a film that is just as much about the darkness of humanity as it is about humanity’s light. That’s probably another reason why presenting this in black and white is so effective.

There are terrible human beings in this movie and frankly, it’s impossible to watch this and not be emotionally effected by that darkness. This is a really hard film to experience because of that but ultimately, a positive light does push the darkness back and while the ending is tragically sad, it’s also strangely satisfying knowing that the film’s subject left on his own terms in the only place he truly felt at home.

That being said, for me at least, this is one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had with a movie. It’s not something I can go back and watch often because it really does drain on your soul, even with the mostly positive outcome.

I have no idea what it is about this film that makes it a legitimate masterpiece. I think it’s simply a perfect storm of everything just working together, wonderfully.

The Elephant Man is truly cinematic magic in how it can give you both the worst of human nature and the best. It is an astounding, exhilarating and terrifying experience.

And again, it’s motion picture perfection.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: David Lynch’s earlier work, as well as other top notch period dramas of its era.

Documentary Review: Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal (2003)

Release Date: March 16th, 2003
Directed by: James P. Taylor Jr.
Written by: J.V. Martin
Music by: Mark Leggett
Cast: Peter Tomarken (presenter), various

Termite Art Productions, FremantleMedia, Game Show Network, 83 Minutes

Review:

“On May 19, 1984, a dubious kind of history was made. An unemployed ice cream truck driver took a major television network on a ride no one watching would ever forget.” – Peter Tomarken

I’ve known about this story for years but I didn’t know that a documentary was ever made about it. Apparently, the Game Show Network did just that in 2003 and it was also hosted by former Press Your Luck host, Peter Tomarken.

This also brought back the other two contestants from the famous duo of episodes that saw Michael Larson take the game show to the cleaners after memorizing the patterns on the board and using that knowledge and great timing to go on a legendary run unlike anything anyone had seen before it.

This documentary uses a mix of old game show footage, talking head interviews and dramatizations to tell the story of Michael Larson. It shows the viewer what was behind his motivation, how his obsession ruined personal relationships and how his life became a driven by greed.

Over the course of this documentary, we get to see both of the episodes in their entirety with unaired footage added back in. With that, it shows us, step-by-step, how Larson decoded the board and outwitted the show’s producers and ran away with the network’s money.

This was really damn intriguing for something made for television by a gimmick cable network. In fact, it was so well done and presented, I want to see if the Game Show Network has made other similar films based off of other scandals.

Still, no game show scandal was quite like this one. 

Rating: 6.5/10

Documentary Review: The Sheik (2014)

Release Date: April 26th, 2014 (Hot Docs International Documentary Festival – Canada)
Directed by: Igal Hecht
Written by: Jian Magen, Jake Neiman, Igal Hecht
Music by: Michael Hanson
Cast: Khosrow Vaziri “The Iron Sheik”, Mick Foley, Seth Green, Jack Black, Bret Hart, Jimmy Hart, Hulk Hogan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Bob Orton Sr., Bruce Pritchard, Jake Roberts, Jim Ross, Ron Simmons, Koko B. Ware, The Nasty Boys

Magen Boys Entertainment, Big Media, Chutzpa Productions, 95 Minutes

Review:

This film was one of the rare documentaries that I actually got to see in the theater. I think I saw it around 2016, as a small indie theater near me hosted a screening. I was pretty captivated by it and always wanted to watch it again. Since it’s been about five years, I figured I’d revisit it and review it.

I’ve reviewed several wrestler biographical documentaries but most of them don’t match the overall quality of this film. It actually looks like a budget went into it, as it’s really competently shot, edited and brings in some real heavy-hitters for the talking head interviews.

The great cast assembled in this could also be due to the film’s subject, Khosrow Vaziri a.k.a. The Iron Sheik, as he is legitimately a beloved legend who would influence not just many iconic wrestlers but also people from other fields within the larger entertainment sphere.

This film really delves into the Sheik’s backstory and the stuff about his early life is truly fascinating and impressive. It discusses his major accomplishments in the sport of amateur wrestling, why he left Iran for America and then how he adjusted to life in the States and a new career as a professional wrestler, once he moved to Minnesota and found Vern Gagne’s AWA (American Wrestling Association) territory.

We see Sheik come up through the ranks and then eventually make his way to the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) where he reached superstardom after winning the World Championship from Bob Backlund and then helped launch the career of Hulk Hogan, arguably the biggest star in professional wrestling history.

There is a dark side to this story too and that’s where the documentary becomes both compelling and heartbreaking. We see The Sheik struggle with drugs and alcohol and how it has a severely adverse effect on his family life and life in general. That’s not to say that this doesn’t have a happy ending but seeing Sheik at his worst is really difficult, especially for a long-time fan like myself.

This documentary tells a great story, though. While a lot of this may seem all too familiar with the biographical documentaries on other wrestling legends from The Sheik’s generation, this one just tells its story really well. Sheik has infectious charisma and it’s on full display, here, making this one of the best character pieces of its type.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other biographical wrestling documentaries. Many have been reviewed on this site, already.

Documentary Review: For the Love of Spock (2016)

Release Date: April 16th, 2016 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Directed by: Adam Nimoy
Music by: Nicholas Pike
Cast: Adam Nimoy, Leonard Nimoy (archive footage), Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Chris Pine, William Shatner, Mayim Bialik, Jim Parsons, Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto, J.J. Abrams, Jason Alexander, Catherine Hicks, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Nicholas Meyer, Julie Nimoy

455 Films, For The Love Of Spock Productions, 111 Minutes

Review:

“The review that Variety gave us when we first went on the air in September of 1966: “Star Trek won’t work.” [grins]” – Leonard Nimoy

This had been in my queue for quite awhile. I’m not sure why I hadn’t watched it until now but I’m glad that I finally did, as Leonard Nimoy is an actor that had a pretty profound effect on me, as a kid, and because he’s someone I greatly admire, as an adult.

This documentary went into production while Nimoy was still alive but he died early on in the process of making it. Because of that, this evolved into being about the man and his most famous character, Spock from Star Trek.

For the Love of Spock is also a passionate letter from a loving son to his father, which also involves a lot of the talented people that worked with Nimoy over decades.

I like that this spent a lot of time on Nimoy, the man, as well as the Spock character. It delves into his personal life, his history in showbiz and how he was instrumental in shaping not just his character but the mythos of Star Trek, as a whole.

This was well shot, superbly edited and it was nice seeing all of his living colleagues and friends talk about his life, work and contributions to one of the greatest science fiction franchises of all-time.

This documentary is nearly two hours but it flew by like a breeze. I was actually surprised when it started to wrap up, as I hadn’t realized how much time had passed.

All in all, this is a pretty solid film on a pretty solid and supremely talented man.

Rating: 7.5/10

Book Review: ‘Gentleman Ed Francis Presents 50th State Big Time Wrestling!’ by Edmund C. Francis, Larry Fleece

The Hawaii wrestling territory is one of the old school wrestling territories that I know the least about.

Growing up in Florida, I was way too far away to have any sort of access to it and in the pre-Internet era, it literally existed as an island to itself.

Granted, 50th State Big Time Wrestling did attract massive stars because it was run by the great Ed Francis and who wouldn’t want to get paid to ply their trade in an island paradise?

I always hear stories about how many bottles of beer and wine Andre the Giant drank but I really want to know how many Tiki drinks he put down while on the island.

This is basically a coffee table book, as it is formatted into a large, hardcover square. Then inside, it is packed full of pictures on every page that perfectly compliment the stories and tales within.

Ultimately, this made me appreciate something I would’ve loved had I known about it other than blurbs in wrestling magazines when I was a kid. 

For those with a wrestling book library, this definitely deserves to be added in. Plus, it was actually pretty inexpensive for its size and quality.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other books on the history of the old school territory wrestling business, as well as biographies on the personalities who lived it.

Film Review: Tombstone (1993)

Release Date: December 25th, 1993
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Written by: Kevin Jarre
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Michael Biehn, Powers Boothe, Robert John Burke, Dana Delany, Sam Elliott, Stephen Lang, Joanna Pacula, Bill Paxton, Jason Priestley, Michael Rooker, Jon Tenney, Billy Zane, Charlton Heston, Thomas Haden Church, Paula Malcomson, Lisa Collins, John Philbin, Harry Carey Jr., Billy Bob Thornton, Terry O’Quinn, Frank Stallone, Christopher Mitchum, Robert Mitchum (narrator)

Alphaville Films, Cinergi Pictures Entertainment, Hollywood Pictures, 130 Minutes, 134 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Take a good look at him, Ike… ’cause that’s how you’re gonna end up! The Cowboys are finished, you understand? I see a red sash, I kill the man wearin’ it! So run, you cur… run! Tell all the other curs the law’s comin’! You tell ’em I’m coming… and hell’s coming with me, you hear?… Hell’s coming with me!” – Wyatt Earp

I feel like an asshole because I haven’t seen this since it was first on VHS where I then watched it a half dozen times but then haven’t seen it since.

I knew that this was packed full of a lot of great manly men actors. However, I had forgotten how many were actually in this and some of them I wouldn’t have recognized back in the mid-’90s as they hadn’t fully blossomed by that point.

What’s really interesting about this pretty over-the-top, high octane western flick is that it is pretty accurate. Granted, some things were adapted from stories and legends that made the rounds after the events of the film but that’s due to there not being a whole lot of recorded history on the lives and extra context of some of these historical figures and frankly, that’s not too dissimilar from most historical pictures trying to be as factual as possible. Sometimes, there are only so many facts and you have to turn to the folklore to fill in the blanks.

This film was directed by George P. Cosmatos, a guy I will always appreciate because he helmed Rambo: First Blood, Part II and one of my favorite and grossly underrated action films, Cobra. He also directed Leviathan, which is an underwater Alien knockoff but it’s got a solid cast and is pretty entertaining, regardless.

Apparently, Kurt Russell was also pretty instrumental in the direction of this movie, as well. From what I’ve read, he was pretty much an uncredited co-director, as he felt really passionate about this movie and his role as the legendary Old West hero, Wyatt Earp. So it’s hard to fully give director credit to either Cosmatos or Russell but their combined effort turned out one of the greatest westerns ever made.

Beyond the direction, this film is also great because of its immense and uber talented cast.

Top-to-bottom, this film is full of stars but they all fit their roles to a friggin’ tee. They blend into this world and while you very much know who they all are, you don’t get lost in the sea of familiar faces because they’re all so good and so is the script.

I’ve got to say that the real standout for me was Michael Biehn, though. Man, he’s already one of my favorite actors of his era but he shines in this movie like he never has before. This truly elevated him and he showed up for work, ready to make Johnny Ringo one of the most iconic western movie villains of all-time. He succeeded at that, greatly. Re-watching this now also kind of pisses me off, as he never really reached the superstardom he probably deserved and he should’ve really moved on to bigger things after this.

I also loved the hell out of Powers Boothe in this and I’d say it’s one of his best performances too.

All in all, this is action packed, fast paced and has the right level of testosterone flowing through every scene. Well, except for maybe the romantic horse riding bit, which feels a tad out of place. But other than that, this is a pretty close to perfect masterpiece.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’90s westerns and films with just a bunch of badass dudes kicking the shit out of assholes.

Documentary Review: Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado (2020)

Also known as: Mucho mucho amor: La leyenda de Walter Mercado (Spanish title)
Release Date: January 24th, 2020 (Sundance)
Directed by: Cristina Costantini, Kareem Tabsch
Music by: Jeff Morrow
Cast: Walter Mercado, various

Muck Media, Key Rat, Topic Studios, Netflix, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Walter Mercado is a force of nature without beginnings and endings. He used to be a star, but now, Walter is a constellation.” – Walter Mercado

This was a pleasant surprise and a much more interesting and fun documentary than I had anticipated.

Full disclosure, I’ve always loved the hell out of Walter Mercado. While I don’t believe in astrology and am an atheist, he always seemed well-meaning and he also meant a lot to millions of people that felt uplifted by his woo woo messages of positivity.

As a teenager, I discovered him on television at one of my best friends’ houses. This Honduran family that I’d often times eat dinner with always had Walter on in the evening and even if I didn’t understand Spanish enough to know what he was saying in full detail, it was impossible not to be captivated by him.

What I never knew was his actual story between his early life, the genesis of his public persona and all the hardships he faced over the years. Watching this, I felt like I got to know Walter on a genuine level and I’ve got to say, all razzle dazzle aside, I really like the guy.

The best thing about this documentary is that it wasn’t made about Walter, it was made with his involvement and he stars in it, giving you a peek into his life now. He also tells his own stories, giving great first-person accounts of the key events in his life.

This also features interviews with people that have worked with Walter over the years and one guy that pretty much screwed him over and preyed on Walter’s good, trusting nature to steal the famous man’s name and “brand”.

For those who don’t know who Walter Mercado is, I still think that this would be a worthwhile documentary to check out, as he’s just an interesting person that lived an incredibly unique life and still has a lot to say to the world.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent pop culture biographical documentaries.

Documentary Review: The 24 Hour War (2016)

Release Date: 2016
Directed by: Nate Adams, Adam Carolla
Cast: various

Chassy Media, Netflix, 99 Minutes

Review:

Man, I really wanted to watch this as The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of my favorite sporting events of the year and the biggest motorsports thing that I care about.

However, this was pretty underwhelming even though it told a great story, which was the Le Mans rivalry that developed between Ferrari and Ford. Since there’s a very well-received and beloved drama film on this very subject, it’s not a true story short on excitement.

I think that the biggest problem with this documentary, though, was the editing. It wasn’t very good and it made this play like a disjointed clusterfuck at times. I don’t want to be too hard on it but it shifted gears in strange ways that left my brain feeling like a speed bag.

It was hard to follow the narrative but I did enjoy the interviews within this. Although, that doesn’t save the film from its issues.

While this is probably more factually accurate than the dramatized motion picture, you’re probably better off just watching that. Plus, it boasts great performances from its A-list cast.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on Le Mans and motorsports in general.

Documentary Review: The Beales of Grey Gardens (2006)

Release Date: July 21st, 2006 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Maysles, Albert Maysles
Cast: Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale 

Maysles Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“[on Republicans] Who’s the party of special interest that always grinds down the little people? Who’s the party that doesn’t give a damn as long as they make millions to put in their bank? Who’s the party that scrounges around to find all the dirt they can and use it against their opponent to destroy the two party system that made America what it is today? Who’s the party that delivered a crooked president?” – Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale

I liked the original Grey Gardens documentary enough to check out this sequel, which came out roughly thirty years later.

This wasn’t a traditional sequel, as in it didn’t check back in on these women after the events of the first movie. This was, instead, a new documentary made with unused footage, which apparently, there was a lot of.

This could’ve been released years ago or added into the original film, making it a three hour affair, but it’s kind of neat seeing it resurface decades later. Why they waited that long or even did it at all is a mystery but I still enjoyed this for the most part.

However, I can also see why most of this wasn’t used in the original film. Although, the scene with the fire in the house probably should’ve been in the original, as it explains why there’s a big burnt hole in the wall of this once great coastal mansion.

I probably wouldn’t watch this over Grey Gardens, if you haven’t seen either. However, if you liked Grey Gardens, this is a good companion piece to it and it gives you more insight and context into the lives of this mother and daughter.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor and the biographical drama film that is based on these women, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.

Documentary Review: This Is Paris (2020)

Release Date: April 15th, 2020 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Directed by: Alexandra Dean
Written by: Alexandra Dean
Music by: Lara Meyerratken
Cast: Paris Hilton, Nicky Hilton Rothschild, Kyle Richards, Kathy Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Kris Jenner, Tessa Hilton

The Intellectual Property Corporation, YouTube Originals, 105 Minutes, 115 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

I kind of just watched this on a whim after checking out the trailer and while I didn’t have high expectations, it did exceed them and not only gave me an authentic and genuine understanding of who the real Paris Hilton is but it also goes to some dark places, examining some childhood trauma, which ties into what drove her to reach the levels she has.

For those who haven’t figured it out yet, the public persona of Paris is one that she manufactured. She’s not the hot airhead that the general public came to believe she is. In fact, she’s pretty intelligent and has created an empire around her brand: herself.

Sure, her family ties helped get her foot in the door with top notch fashion photographers and her family’s money allowed her to be a part of the socialite scene. However, it’s what she turned those opportunities into that are so impressive. And frankly, without the template she provided, there wouldn’t be others who followed in her footsteps and had their own success. Kim Kardashian, Paris’ former assistant and friend, immediately comes to mind.

This documentary allows you to see the world from Paris’ point-of-view while also displaying how the pressure of what she created has had an adverse effect on her mental health.

However, as the film goes deeper and deeper into her personal story, we learn about the one major horror story that traumatized her, greatly.

The second half of the documentary deals with Paris essentially being abducted by the officials of a school in Utah, which takes troubled kids in an effort to rehabilitate them. In reality, this school treats the kids like shit and actually makes them much worse than when they got there.

Paris and others from that school tell their stories and try to get the word out about the reality of places like it, as their school isn’t the only one that’s treating kids like adult prisoners in a maximum security facility.

I’ll be honest, I never had much of an opinion of Paris. But after seeing this, I’ve got tremendous respect for how she’s overcome the dark parts of her life and how she took an acorn and turned it into a lush, rich forest.

Overall, this was an engaging documentary that told a hell of a story in a fairly short amount of time. The film flew by and I didn’t realize that nearly two hours had passed when the credits started to roll.

It’s well edited, greatly presented and hopefully, enough people see it and places like the school where Paris was imprisoned are further exposed and scrutinized into oblivion.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent pop culture biographical documentaries.