TV Review: WWE Ruthless Aggression (2020)

Original Run: February 16th, 2020 – current
Cast: John Cena, Dave Bautista, Triple H, Ric Flair, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Vince McMahon, Jim Cornette

WWE, 4 Episodes (so far), 41-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the Attitude Era, WWE gave us the Ruthless Aggression Era. It’s never been considered as popular but it seems like some people have gotten nostalgic about it in recent years. Maybe that’s because the WWE has evolved into a pretty shitty product since the advent of the PG Era and has never really recovered. I’d say that has more to do with lack of real competition and Vince McMahon losing touch with pop culture, as he gets older, but still won’t give some control to other people who might steer the ship better.

That being said, I’m honestly not a big fan of the Ruthless Aggression Era, as it really started to be where my interest in WWE began its decline. That’s not a knock against guys like John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar or Dave Bautista, it just is what it is because even if these guys are great, they just didn’t have the same sort of electricity as The Rock, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho or even Triple H.

I still wanted to check out this weekly documentary series, however, because I typically dig stuff like this regardless of the era it features. Mainly, I like the wrestling business and industry, which is why I can actually stomach things like Total Divas in small doses.

For the most part, this is entertaining television but it does the same crap that most WWE produced pieces about WWE do: it tells a revisionist history because McMahon is always trying to control whatever narrative comes out of his company and he underestimates the intelligence of his longtime viewers and thinks that they don’t remember certain details.

I guess for modern fans who didn’t live through this era, this might come across as compelling, solid, documentary television. It’s certainly well produced, well edited and presented like a top notch production on par with some of the stuff ESPN puts out but it feels like WWE is trying to write a more colorful and interesting history than what reality actually is.

The Ruthless Aggression Era was a step down from the Attitude Era but it appears as if WWE wants to convince its modern audience that it saved a company in decline.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other WWE documentary television series.

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.

Book Review: ‘Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling’ by Jim Ross, Paul O’Brien, Scott E. Williams

Man, this was just a damn good read, through and through.

Good Ol’ JR tells us his life story from his youth, to his first gig in the wrestling business and through all the companies he worked for from the ’70s and up until the ’00s.

What makes this so good is that it is very much just Jim Ross talking in his own words. While there are co-authors on the book, these are Ross’ personal stories and they are told with that certain panache that is very much JR. Fans of the man’s work over the years probably understand what I mean by that.

While this is about his own personal journey through life and the wrestling business, it actually gets more intimate and more personal than I was expecting and as a longtime admirer of Jim Ross, it’s really neat getting this close to the guy, as he’s been front and center in my family’s living room for decades.

Everything in this book is interesting, as he had a full life and never seemed to live a dull chapter. But the fact of the matter is, Jim Ross came up with hard work and a burning desire to be a part of the business he fell in love with as a kid. He hustled and shoved his foot through the door with a certain youthful moxie that says a lot about his character and his drive. And ultimately, it paid off for Ross, as he has now spent decades in front of the camera and behind the scenes for massive companies.

I really liked the early sections of the book that dealt with how he eventually won over Cowboy Bill Watts and got to be an important part of Watts’ Mid-South empire. But honestly, the whole book is engaging as hell and sucks you in.

I really took my time with this book, more so than I normally do, as it hooked me early and kept my attention throughout. There isn’t really a low point and it just made me like and respect the man even more.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: JR’s upcoming book Under the Black Hat, as well as other wrestling biographies and books about the business side of things.

Documentary Review: Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998)

Release Date: December 20th, 1998
Directed by: Paul Jay
Written by: Paul Jay
Cast: Bret Hart, Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels, Stu Hart, Helen Hart, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Triple H, Brian Pillman, Blade Hart, Julie Hart, Diana Hart, Keith Hart, Tammy Sytch, Georgia Hart, Dave Meltzer, The Honky Tonk Man, Earl Hebner, Vince Russo, Mick Foley, Dustin Rhodes, Pat Patterson, Leon ‘Vader’ White, Ellie Hart, Alison Hart, Michael P.S. Hayes, Savio Vega, Harry Smith

High Road Productions, National Film Board of Canada (NFB), TVOntario, Vidmark/Trimark, 93 Minutes

Review:

Wrestling with Shadows is, hands down, one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen on any subject. Luckily for me, it’s on a subject I love: professional wrestling.

When this came out back in the late ’90s, it was a mega hit! Well, as much as it could be, as Vince McMahon used his influence to try and stop it from being seen. I remember that they did end up broadcasting it on A&E in 1999, which was the first time I saw it.

As a wrestling tape trader in the ’90s, this was one of those holy grail things that was being passed around, as well as the screener copies of 1999’s Beyond the Mat.

For those that don’t know, this was supposed to be a simple documentary about a year in Bret Hart’s life. What it ended up being is an intimate peek into one of the biggest scandals in professional wrestling history: The Montreal Screwjob.

The documentary is more intimate than most on the subject of professional wrestling. It truly delves into the personal lives of not just Bret Hart but the entire Hart Family. While Bret is certainly the focus, we get to hear from several family members and even see what family dinners looked like. We get an intimate look at the famous Hart Family Dungeon and even get to spend time with his parents, most notably his mother Helen. The Hart matriarch talks about how she truly feels about the wrestling business and how what was only supposed to be temporary became her family’s all-consuming legacy.

Beyond that, this starts to tell the story about how WWE owner Vince McMahon offered Bret Hart a twenty year contract worth a ton of money and how he decided he needed to renege on that deal and let Bret Hart leave for greener financial pastures with Ted Turner’s WCW, the company that was taking WWE to the woodshed at the time.

Eventually, this all leads to Vince lying to Bret and double-crossing him in front of the world.

The last twenty minutes or so of this documentary are damn compelling and it still holds up, twenty-three years after the incident.

Whether you give a crap about professional wrestling or not, this is still a fascinating documentary that started out as one thing and then evolved into something much, much more.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling documentaries but most notably Beyond the Mat and 350 Days.

Book Review: ‘Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishirō Honda’ by Peter H. Brothers

Not all books on kaiju motion pictures are considered equal. There are some good and some bad. This one, specifically focusing on the work of Ishirō Honda, is in the upper echelon, however.

I really enjoyed this, as it is well researched, covers a lot more ground with a lot more detail than I thought possible and it still finds room to include a lot of great photos.

For those unaware, Honda is the director of the original Godzilla film, as well as many of its sequels. He would also go on to be the number one tokusatsu (Japanese sci-fi) director at Toho, who were the top studio for those style of films.

This book covers Honda’s life and the bulk of his filmmaking career, looking at his kaiju films, as well as other sci-fi and horror pictures he did.

The book’s title is in reference to the atomic age that birthed kaiju cinema, as well as the mushroom men that starred in one of his greatest and most bonkers films, Matango a.k.a. Attack of the Mushroom People.

If you’re into Honda’s work or even just the genre he was the godfather of, this is certainly a worthwhile read.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other books on Toho Co. Ltd., Godzilla and kaiju film in general.

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.