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: 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.

 

Documentary Review: The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior (2005)

Release Date: September 25th, 2005
Directed by: Kevin Dunn
Music by: Jim Johnston
Cast: Ultimate Warrior (archive footage), Vince McMahon, Triple H, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Eric Bischoff, Adam “Edge” Copeland, Ted DiBiase, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Chris Jericho, Jim Johnston, Jerry “The King” Lawler, Steve Lombardi, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Bruce Prichard, Sgt. Slaughter, Jim Ross

WWE, 90 Minutes

Review:

“He was probably too stupid to know where he was from! Either that, or someone paid him to keep it quiet. ‘Here’s 50 bucks, don’t say you’re from Pittsburg!'” – Bobby “The Brain” Heenan [on the Warrior hailing from “Parts Unknown”]

This was a controversial documentary from a pop-culture standpoint and it is one that the WWE sort of wishes they had never made because it’s sentiment doesn’t paint one of its most popular legends in a very positive light. But I guess Vince McMahon had thin skin and a bug up his ass in 2005, which suddenly went away around 2014 when he put the Ultimate Warrior in his Hall of Fame.

That being said, when you watch The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior, it actually isn’t that bad and it’s not as heavy on the bashing as one would expect based off of the historical hype surrounding it.

I did see this back in 2005 but I hadn’t really watched it since. Back then, most of the information and stories about the Ultimate Warrior were already public knowledge. What made this interesting, though, is that the stories were now told by several of his former peers, colleagues and bosses.

This is kind of a disjointed production, however, as it spends a lot of time building up the man and his career. It takes digs and soft jabs throughout but it does convey his impact on the wrestling world. In a way, this is one part career retrospective and one part tabloid.

The tabloid parts of the film surround the stories about controversy, scandal and the Ultimate Warrior just being a general douche to most people.

Was he a likable guy? Probably not. Did he do some stupid shit that was only done to serve his own ego and self-interest? Absolutely. But does he deserve the condemnation that this documentary tried so hard to manufacture? Probably not.

The thing is, this was made with a very clear agenda in mind. Hell, the agenda is in the title. So it’s kind of hard to take this too seriously, as the WWE has a track record of re-shaping history to suit Vince McMahon’s wishes. I’m not saying that people are outright lying but if you have 90 minutes of a dozen or more people sharing their worst experiences with someone, you can paint anyone out to look like a total piece of shit.

Still, this is mostly entertaining and it allowed some other legends to blow off some steam. However, it’s hardly a clear or accurate picture of who the Ultimate Warrior really was at his core.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other ’00s WWE documentaries.

*since a trailer is no longer available, here’s an insane Ultimate Warrior promo.

Book Review: ‘Under the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and Beyond’ by Jim Ross, Paul O’Brien

This book is really a continuation of Jim Ross’ first autobiography, Slobberknocker. This one picks up right where that one left off and it talks about Ross’ career from the early ’00s and onward, leading up to his recent job as the lead commentator for the new company, All Elite Wrestling.

The stories here are fantastic and Jim has a great memory, as he recalls the details and dialogues he had with all the great characters that were a part of his life in the wrestling business.

I especially like hearing his take on the angles where Vince McMahon used J.R. as a character in storylines and how that all played out behind the scenes, as he worked with Steve Austin, the Undertaker, Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole.

The book also really gives you J.R.’s perspective on his relationship with Vince McMahon, his leaving the company, multiple times, and how things went when he was negotiating with Dixie Carter of TNA, as well as his time working for New Japan.

If you have read the first book and loved it as much as I did, this is definitely something you need to pick up. Jim Ross comes off as honest, sincere and doesn’t really hold back. The guy is a legend in his industry and deservedly so.

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

Documentary Review: I Never Quit: The Magnum T.A. Story (2016)

Release Date: October 14th, 2016
Directed by: Michael Elliot
Cast: Magnum T.A., Bill Apter, Dave Meltzer, Jim Ross, Ricky Morton, Tully Blanchard, Nikita Koloff, George South, Jimmy Valiant, various

Highspots, Ellbow Productions, 92 Minutes

Review:

When I was a kid, just really getting into wrestling, Magnum T.A. was a pretty big f’n deal. I loved the guy regardless of my allegiance to the heels. I think a lot of that had to due with his association with Dusty Rhodes, one of the few babyfaces I gave a pass to, but Magnum was still a great talent and commanded attention when he spoke and when he fought in the ring.

This guy was a supernova of charisma and talent but sadly, a car crash ended his career before he even reached his peak.

I remember when I first heard about this tragedy and even though I was a little kid, it was a punch to the gut.

In later years, as I learned more about what other wrestlers thought about how great this guy would have been, it became a much sadder story, as the wrestling industry could’ve really used Magnum during one of its lowest eras, the early ’90s.

It was really nice seeing this documentary though, as I learned that the man has weathered the storm about as well as one could. He’s got a pretty positive and good outlook on life and the business he was once a huge part of. Frankly, he’s still involved in different ways and he makes appearances to this day.

But I really liked hearing his story from his own words, as well as the words of his closest peers and his mother. Ultimately, this made me appreciate Magnum T.A. more than I had before.

If you remember the guy or just have a love of old school wrestling, this is definitely worth looking at.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling documentaries put out by Highspots and Ellbow Productions.