Film Review: Natural Born Killers (1994)

Release Date: August 26th, 1994
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Richard Rutowski, Oliver Stone, David Veloz
Music by: various
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield, Edie McClurg, Russell Means, Evan Handler, Balthazar Getty, Steven Wright, Marshall Bell, O-Lan Jones, Mark Harmon (uncredited), Adrien Brody (uncredited), Arliss Howard (uncredited), Ashley Judd (Director’s Cut), Rachel Ticotin (Director’s Cut), Denis Leary (Director’s Cut), Bret Hart (Director’s Cut)

Alcor Films, New Regency Productions, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes (theatrical), 122 minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Once upon a time, a woman was picking up firewood. She came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow. She took the snake home and nursed it back to health. One day the snake bit her on the cheek. As she lay dying, she asked the snake, “Why have you done this to me?” And the snake answered, “Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake.”” – Old Indian

Quentin Tarantino wrote the script for this film and sold it just like he sold the script for True Romance. At the time, he wasn’t an established filmmaker and he was initially trying to get money to make Reservoir Dogs. That money eventually came from a producer and he was able to obtain more for that film than just what he had selling some scripts for the bare minimum.

However, once this movie came out, Tarantino disowned it for various reasons and it’s been a pretty sore subject for him, ever since.

I’m not a big fan of it either, even though the vast majority of my friends in 1994 (and many today) seem to love this motion picture. Since I hadn’t watched it in at least fifteen years, I wanted to revisit it and try to look at it as objectively as possible, since I only remembered a few key scenes.

Overall, this isn’t a bad movie but it’s certainly not as good as many people have made it out to be. It’s kind of a mess, narratively. It has a broken, Tourette’s-like pace and it relies so much on wacky visuals that it looks more like a mish-mash of unrelated ’90s music videos trying to tell a coherent story.

I guess you could look at the film as being from the point-of-view of the two insane characters it features. So things may look wacky to them but that doesn’t mean that it can just be dismissed if it has more of a negative impact on the total package than a positive one.

I take Tarantino’s side in regards to him hating the sequence with Rodney Dangerfield. In that sequence, the movie turns into a sitcom with a laugh track. But it deals with the fact that Dangerfield’s character rapes his own daughter. It’s not edgy or cool, it’s actually quite distasteful and I say that as a guy that has loved exploitation movies since he was a kid. I know that it’s supposed to be unsettling but it makes the movie jump the shark and it never really comes back. Sadly, for the picture, this happens really early on.

The only sequence in the movie that I really liked was the one with the Native American. I also think it’s the most important scene in the film and ultimately, it leads to their arrest, after betraying the only figure in the story that potentially could’ve helped save them from themselves.

The film is really split into two very different hours. The first sees the characters meet, get married, go on a spree of murderous violence and come to the Native American that could’ve possibly given them a different path to walk in life. The second, sees these two in prison, now beloved by the violence-hungry media and with millions of fans that see them as some sort of fucked up folk heroes. With that, the television journalist that interviews them for his program, has a severely unhealthy obsession with them and ultimately joins their cause when a prison riot starts.

The movie was trying to paint a picture about the state of America and the media at the time. It was trying to show the media and the public’s obsession with violence and love of terrible people. While this is possibly true to some degree, the picture is so over the top with it that it’s not remotely believable. I grew up in this time, I was the most impressionable then too. I was a ’90s edge lord trying to say and do edgy, stupid shit because it’s what we did back then. And while many were fascinated by serial killers and violent crime, I still can’t believe that these characters would’ve been worshipped by millions. Sure, I could see some shitheads embracing them like the shitheads that embraced the Columbine shooters a few years later. However, these type of people are a very, very small minority in society and don’t necessarily reflect a widespread problem.

I guess I can look at the movie as more of a warning against these things because nothing in this film is presented in a way that should be taken literally. However, I think that Oliver Stone’s impression of the human race was extremely flawed and he was pretty fucking paranoid. In fact, by making this film, he contributed to that very problem, as it was something that the Columbine shooters looked at for inspiration. I’m not blaming Stone, though, as there’s no way he could’ve known this and he’s not responsible for the acts of other people.

Also, I’m not sure how much of this paranoia was due to Tarantino’s original story or how Stone interpreted it and pushed the envelope. But based off of how Tarantino felt about the finished film and specifically about the incestuous rape stuff, I’d have to lean towards Stone on this one.

Getting back to the television journalist, played by Robert Downey Jr., the moment that he so quickly flipped his switch to bonkers and joined the murderous duo in their prison escape, I mentally checked out, completely.

From that point on, it was hard to reel my brain back in and it jumped the shark a second time and even higher than the first. There should be a term for that. Maybe I’ll invent a new one in honor of Downey Jr.’s character and say they “pulled a Wayne Gale.”

Yeah, that probably won’t stick but whatever.

Anyway, I do think that the movie really is superbly acted from top-to-bottom. One person that I haven’t mentioned yet that really turned it up to eleven was Tommy Lee Jones. Fuck, he was intense in this movie and I believed his character, every step of the way. What a performance, man.

And with that, I have to tip my hat to Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Means, Tom Sizemore and even Rodney Dangerfield, who was exceptional in a sequence that was severely off-putting and cringe.

In the end, it’s the acting that really salvages the picture.

Rating: 5.75/10

Documentary Review: The British Bulldogs (1986)

Release Date: October 15th, 1986 (video)
Directed by: Vince McMahon
Written by: Steven B. Hecht, Vince McMahon
Cast: “Dynamite Kid” Tommy Billington, Davey Boy Smith, Lou Albano, Bret Hart, The Iron Sheik, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, various

World Wrestling Federation, Coliseum Video, 90 Minutes

Review:

I stumbled upon this on Peacock in the documentary section of their WWE content. I was pretty stoked to watch it, as The British Bulldogs were one of my all-time favorite tag teams and seeing a then-WWF documentary from 1986 seemed pretty cool.

Well, it’s not a documentary. While WWE become known for making great historical wrestling documentaries about past talent, this was produced before that era and thus, it’s a collection of Bulldogs matches with a few other segments mixed in.

This was still really neat to watch, though, as these guys were just solid f’n workers in the ring and they had an intensity that was kind of unmatched in the era until their greatest rivals came along, The Hart Foundation.

The content here is all enjoyable but it doesn’t feature their best stuff. This came out in the middle of their historic run, so WWF only had the first half of that run to pick matches from. There are some memorable matches thrown on this like their feud with The Dream Team (Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and Brutus Beefcake before he was “The Barber”).

Half of this is singles matches, though. And that’s fine, as both the Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy can work on their own. However, I was hoping for a lot of their iconic tag team championship matches. I was also hoping for a lot more of their feud with The Hart Foundation but this came out when that feud was really getting started.

Still, if you also love The Bulldogs, this is definitely worth checking out to see them win those titles and to see them both wrestle in their primes.

Rating: 7/10

Documentary Review: My Way: The Life and Legacy of Pat Patterson (2021)

Release Date: January 24th, 2021
Cast: Pat Patterson, Vince McMahon, Gerald Brisco, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, John Cena, Dwayne Johnson, various

WWE, 57 Minutes

Review:

Pat Patterson passed away last December and with his passing, the professional wrestling business lost a true legend and a guy that was very instrumental in how the business moved forward from the ’80s and into the modern era.

Not only was he a legend in the ring, he became Vince McMahon’s right hand when the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) became the dominant force in the industry.

Patterson helped shape the personalities and careers of several legendary wrestlers. He took guys like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and helped mold them into superstars.

However, Pat Patterson was also a gay man in an industry where that was very taboo in his day. It’s also an industry that is all about machismo and with that, Patterson kept his personal life very private. Those who were close to him, knew that he was gay but it was never publically stated by Patterson himself until really late in life when he felt like he didn’t have to hide it anymore.

All that being said, Patterson was an interesting but very layered guy. He was a sweet man, though. I met him briefly backstage at shows a few times and he was always a hell of a nice guy and always accommodating to the fans that got to be around him.

This WWE Network special did a pretty good job of capturing the man’s life even if it had what I consider a scant running time. But I did enjoy the fact that there was enough recorded material of Patterson for him to really tell you his story in his own words.

Rating: 7/10

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.

Book Review: ‘Don’t Call Me Fake: The Real Story of “Dr. D” David Schultz’ by David Schultz, John Cosper

To say that “Dr. D” David Schultz is one of the most interesting guys that ever worked in the wrestling business might be an understatement. He’s most famous for being infamous but he also got pushed out of the career he loved and became one of the most famous bounty hunters in the United States.

His most famous act, still to this day, was slapping 20/20‘s John Stossel back in December of 1984 at Madison Square Garden. It’s the incident that changed his life and set him on a different career path outside of professional wrestling.

Schultz is much more complex and a lot more interesting than just being the cantankerous heel that hit a reporter, though. He’s actually a pretty badass dude, legitimately.

He was known as one of the toughest wrestlers in the locker room and he would go on to have a great career as a bounty hunter where he actually used that job to try and help those on the wrong side of the law. Despite his legendary reputation as a heel, David Schultz has actually helped people turn their lives around, whether just checking up on them or helping them escape very bad people.

This book tells Schultz’s story in his own words and man, it’s compelling stuff and, hands down, one of the best wrestler biographies I have ever read.

The first half of the book covers Schultz’s youth and wrestling career while the second half takes you through his bounty hunting career. Even though I bought this for the wrestling stories, I found the bounty hunting stories to be much more intriguing and captivating. The guy has lived one hell of a life.

Don’t Call Me Fake is incredible and I don’t know why this hasn’t been made into a movie yet.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other biographies and historical books written about old school wrestling from the territory era.

Documentary Review: The Funks (2016)

Release Date: August 10th, 2016
Directed by: Michael Elliott
Cast: Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr., Ricky Steamboat, Gerald Brisco, Steve Corino, James J. Dillon, Stan Hansen, Bret Hart, The Blue Meanie, Jim Ross

EllBow Productions, 124 Minutes

Review:

I’m still working my way through a big stack of DVD documentaries I ordered when they were running COVID sales on Highspots. This one was the next one in the stack and it was made by EllBow Productions, whose wrestling documentaries have all been pretty good.

This one focuses on the Funk bros, Dory Jr. and Terry and their wrestling careers.

This starts off going through their early life, however. It talks about their upbringing and their father, who ran his own wrestling territory. It then goes into how the sons sort of took over the business but ultimately, started wrestling for other marquee promoters, becoming two of the biggest stars of their time.

The Funks also delves into their world title runs, their greatest rivalries, as well as their retirements (multiple for Terry), as well as Terry’s time in Japan.

Like many of these documentaries, this features several different wrestling personalities giving talking head interviews. These are clipped and edited in to provide a good, cohesive narrative.

Overall, the documentary flows well and it gives you a lot of good insight into these men’s lives inside and outside the ring.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling documentaries by EllBow Productions or released through Highspots.

 

Vids I Dig 273: Jim Cornette: The Montreal Screw Job – Deep Dive Omnibus

From Jim Cornette’s YouTube description: In the Spring of 2019, The Jim Cornette Experience featured a three-part Deep Dive looking at Jim’s role in the infamous Montreal double-cross between Bret Hart & Shawn Michaels. Presented here are all three parts, including Jim’s talk with Dave Meltzer & Jim’s look at the aftermath of Montreal: Jim Cornette’s Montreal Deep Dive Omnibus!

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.

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: 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.