Film Review: Arena (1989)

Release Date: March 29th, 1989 (Germany)
Directed by: Peter Manoogian
Written by: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Camp, Claudia Christian, Marc Alaimo, Shari Shattuck

Empire Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, I could stay all night, folks, but I gotta go. A hand for the boys in the band, and remember, I hate your guts!” – Space Comic

Arena is such a bizarre and odd movie that I find it impossible not to love on some level.

A doofus Earthling living in space ends up being a fighter in an intergalactic arena that pits him against alien fighters like some sort of bad ’90s fighting game. But I guess this movie was ahead of its time, as it came out in 1989. It didn’t get an American release until 1991, however, and that release saw it go straight to video.

Produced by Irwin Yablans, who made some pretty shitty movies before this, Arena may be the best motion picture that he produced. It’s one of the few that I walked away from that I saw as a positive experience. Because Laserblast and Parasite were absolutely terrible. Fade to Black was decent though, if I’m being honest.

The vibe of the film feels like it is ten years out of date. The sets and the fashion style feel more like an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century than something from 1989. The special effects are also really outdated but this is a film with a scant budget and a lot of that money went into the actual creatures in this film.

While the alien warriors don’t look exceptional, they are still pretty decent. Their movement sucks and it makes the action look goofy as hell but I thought that the detail was good and this movie did a lot with what little it had. On that same token, this isn’t up to par for the era but I can’t wholly knock it. The filmmakers tried to make this work and they achieved more than what most people would have with limited resources.

For some, this will be a hard film to look at. For all, you can’t watch this and remotely take it seriously. But the film seems pretty self-aware and the actors ham it up quite well and seemed to really enjoy the project. Marc Alaimo, best known as the villainous Dukat from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, really steals the show in his scenes. Alaimo was a solid talent that was always fun as a villain. His performance her is no different.

I rented Arena a lot as a kid but I haven’t seen this since I was working at a video store in the ’90s. It was cool to revisit and it still puts a smile on my face.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Robot Jox, Eliminators, Crash and Burn, America 3000 and Hardware.

Film Review: Over the Top (1987)

Also known as: Meet Me Half Way (alternate title)
Release Date: February 12th, 1987 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Menahem Golan
Written by: Stirling Silliphant, Sylvester Stallone, Gary Conway, David Engelbach
Music by: Giorgio Moroder
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Robert Loggia, Susan Blakely, David Mendenhall, Rick Zumwalt, Terry Funk

Warner Bros., The Cannon Group Inc., 93 Minutes

Review:

“The world meets nobody halfway. When you want something, you gotta take it.” – Lincoln Hawk

Over the Top is one of Stallone’s worst films of the ’80s. Still, it’s amusing, enjoyable and has its heart in the right place.

So 11 years after he was a boxer in Rocky and 9 years after he was a wrestling manager in Paradise Alley, Sly moved into the next realm of badass masculine sports: arm wrestling.

Here, Stallone is a trucker/arm wrestler named Lincoln Hawk. The film starts with him going to a military school to pick up his son. His son doesn’t know him but Hawk was asked by the boy’s dying mother to pick him up and drive him home to be by her side before she passes on. Even though Hawk’s ex-wife hasn’t given his letters to his son, on her deathbed she realizes that it’s important for her son to connect with his estranged father. The relationship is rocky at first but eventually the two bond over driving big rigs and arm wrestling.

Robert Loggia is also in this as a sort of foil for Stallone but he really just cares about the well being of the child, his grandson.

This was a Cannon Film and was directed by Menahem Golan of the famous Golan-Globus duo. Stallone was given a hefty paycheck by Cannon to star in this film. He also got to rework the script and story to fit his style and personality.

Unlike Sly’s other manly sports movies, this one is pretty uneventful and slow. It’s like a poorer version of Rocky IV, where the story is very skeletal, the film is short and rushed from a narrative standpoint and then the last third is just the big final sporting event drawn out for a half hour.

The final act is full of insane overacting, bulging muscles, gallons of man sweat and a blaring soundtrack. But it’s ’80s action cheese perfection. Arm wrestling has never been as intense as it is in this motion picture. Hell, Stallone could’ve made a chess movie in the mid-’80s and it would’ve been a testosterone festival full of dudes dripping and screaming.

Despite it’s flaws, this is still a movie that I have to fire up once in awhile. Stallone is always watchable, especially during the decade that was the peak of his career. Plus, all Cannon Films have something great about them. Golan and Globus just knew how to make movies that men (and boys in the ’80s) wanted to see.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Cannon Films action movies and mid-’80s Stallone pictures

Film Review: Master Ninja II (1984)

Also known as: The Master (as a TV series), The Ninja Master (original VHS movie release)
Release Date: 1984 (the original run of the TV series)
Directed by: various
Written by: Tom Sawyer, Michael Sloan, Susan Woollen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten, Sho Kosugi, George Lazenby, Crystal Bernard

Michael Sloan Productions, Viacom, CBS, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Sorry, I’m not allowed to serve you.” – nervous waitress

Well, Mystery Science Theater 3000 couldn’t just give us one Master Ninja, they had to give us two. They were actually going to do a third one in a later season but it got cut from the production schedule.

Like the previous “film” in this series, this is just two television episodes of the short-lived show The Master, edited together into feature length and sold as a movie.

As these things go, it is horribly paced and doesn’t work all that well. In fact, this has poorer execution than the first chapter in the series.

I think the first film worked better because it was the start of the series and it helped setup everything. It was a jumbled mess of a thing but it seemed more coherent than this one and it also had Demi Moore in it, just before she reached superstardom.

This one has Crystal Bernard and even adds George Lazenby, a former James Bond, to the mix but it’s pretty uninteresting and very mundane.

The high point of the film is the big action climax at the end but that’s still pretty damn mediocre. This show did pull off some solid stunts though, so there’s that. But when your big action sequence is punctuated by a van smashing through a dainty gate in slow motion, you might need to go back to the drawing board and up the octane.

The Master isn’t a great show but it plays better as single episodes, as opposed to trying to convince audiences with short attention spans that these are actual movies.

But hey, There’s some motocross in this one!

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Master Ninja I and The Master TV series.

Documentary Review: This Magic Moment (2016)

Release Date: April 14th, 2016
Directed by: Gentry Kirby, Erin Leyden
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, Chris Maxwel

ESPN Films, 101 Minutes

Review:

This Magic Moment was one of my most anticipated installments of ESPN’s 30 For 30 film series. It was a special story for me because I was there, in the Orlando area, when all of this stuff was going on. I was in the thick of it.

In fact, a friend of mine’s father had season tickets and I used to go to a lot of Magic games during the season that saw them go to the NBA Finals. It was certainly a magical time for that team and for Central Florida. Plus I was in the middle of my teenage years and basketball was one of the sports I played with a fury at that age.

Yeah, I have always been a Chicago Bulls fan but it was hard not getting swept up in the magic of the Magic when it was all happening in my neighborhood.

This is one of the best, if not the best, 30 For 30 documentaries focusing on the National Basketball Association. It is a hefty and deserving two hours. It covers everything from the formation of the Orlando Magic franchise, through the drafting of Shaq and Penny, their journey to the NBA Finals, their struggles and personal issues and closes out with Shaq leaving for the Los Angeles Lakers and Penny being traded to the Phoenix Suns – ending the dynasty that could have been.

The film benefits from the fact that everyone involved in this story was interviewed. From Shaq to Penny to their agents, coaches, team owners and other significant Magic players from that team, every interviewee was great and helped paint the picture of what happened and why. Looking back to that time, the media and egos created a lot of the issues that took the team down and it is now clear how it all fell apart. Before this film, it was all just a mystery wrapped in a lot of speculation.

It was also great to see how Shaq and Penny feel now and how they share a sense of regret in that they never toughed it out and made it work. They both admit that they would have won several championships had the team stayed together. In the end, Shaq was a huge success regardless and Penny had a very promising career ruined by injury.

This Magic Moment is a phenomenal sports documentary of a fantastic time in the NBA, historically. The Magic of the mid-’90s were special but that may be hard to understand unless you were there. This documentary does a good job of recreating that magic time, however.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Other 30 For 30 documentaries on the NBA and ’90s basketball: Winning Time, No CrossoverThe Fab Five, Requiem for the Big East, Bad Boys and I Hate Christian Laettner.

Documentary Review: Way of the Puck (2006)

Release Date: April 29th, 2006 (WorldFest Houston)
Directed by: Eric D. Anderson
Written by: Eric D. Anderson
Music by: Brian Hawlk, Santiago Step

Creative Ape, 81 Minutes

Review:

Way of the Puck is one of many documentaries to come out in the last decade or so that follows a very small segment of the nerd world. Like The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters or Special When Lit, this movie showcases a group of elite players in a competitive niche hobby. The focus of this documentary is air hockey.

The movie does a good job at following around the different characters and showing their personalities. It also paints an interesting picture of competitive air hockey. It even makes a decent argument about how air hockey should be considered a sport by those outside of its tiny inner circle.

The problem, with the film, like air hockey, is in the end, it just isn’t that interesting. Where the films mentioned earlier were about retro arcade games and pinball, it worked for those films because video games and pinball are more interesting subject matter than air hockey. Yes, air hockey is fun to a degree but there is a reason why, since the late ’70s, air hockey tables tend to remain vacant while dozens swarm around video game cabinets and pinball machines.

I can appreciate the love and passion of these die hard fans in this film but it isn’t enough to enlighten me or most people. It is a little known hobby and it had its peak decades ago. That doesn’t mean that it can’t survive and thrive within the minuscule segment of society that loves it. But more likely than not, it is a hobby that will die with these guys. But that’s okay. It wouldn’t be the first hobby to fall victim to a fast moving world and its own growing obscurity.

Way of the Puck is a very human film that at least gives these guys a platform to talk to the world. Their message will most likely fall on deaf ears for the most part. But if air hockey makes them happy, then it really should be all they need. If you can find peace and happiness painting portraits on Pop-Tarts, good for you. But don’t expect other people to follow suit.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and Special When Lit.

Documentary Review: Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker (2014)

Release Date: July 17th, 2014
Cast: Bob Uecker, Tom Berenger (narrator)

MLB Network, 60 Minutes

Review:

The MLB Network recently aired a short documentary about the life of Bob Uecker, as told by him and his friends and colleagues.

For those who don’t know, Bob is the funniest guy in the history of baseball. He wasn’t a great player but he went on to be a great broadcaster and had a good career beyond that, starring in films like Major League and the awesome ’80s sitcom Mr. Belevedere. As a kid, I also remember him showing up in the WWF (now WWE) to add a little flare to their broadcasting staff during Wrestlemania events. He was always funny and always entertaining.

The documentary pretty much interviews Mr. Uecker, Bob Costas, Al Michaels and others who have known Bob well over the years. It covers his baseball career, his broadcasting career and everything else. It even showcases his hilarious appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker is a nice little piece on a Hall of Famer and legend. It’s an intimate and fulfilling experience if you are a fan of this man. I am, so I enjoyed it greatly.

And since there isn’t a trailer available, enjoy one of Uecker’s Miller Lite commercials.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Battered Bastards of Baseball, No No: A Dockumentary, Ken Burn’s Baseball.

Documentary Review: Of Miracles and Men (2015)

Release Date: February 8th, 2015
Directed by: Jonathan Hock
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, Chris Maxwell, Robert Miller

ESPN Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This was one on the more recent 30 For 30 films put out by ESPN.

This documentary covered the Soviet Union’s national hockey team during their dominant heyday and showed the famous “Miracle” game from their perspective, which provided a pretty unique take on the event.

Of Miracles and Men starts off by showing us how the Soviets developed their hockey game and the unorthodox approach to coaching that its founder had.

Unable to study the renowned Canadians, who made the sport famous, the Soviets taught themselves how to play from the ground up with no point of reference. Their coach analyzed everything he could outside of hockey and thought of ways to incorporate these things into the Soviet training routine. He took methods from dancing, weightlifting and other places. All of this showed how the Soviets developed such a refined style that was all their own at the time.

The documentary goes on to show the growth of hockey in the U.S.S.R. and how the nation developed immense pride for their athletes and the sport. All of which eventually lead to them playing some exhibition games against Canada.

While looked at as underdogs and not taken seriously, the Soviet team crushed Canada. And then they kept crushing Canada. And then they crushed everyone else, including the United States.

Where here, in America, we are told of the legend of the “Miracle” game from a very pro-American stance. This documentary shows the tale in a much more realistic light and provides the back story in a way that is more fleshed out than any version I’ve ever heard.

In the end, the Soviets weren’t so bloodthirsty about us, as we were of them. In fact, when they lost, they were more upset that they lost and weren’t looking at it as a failed attempt to topple America. In fact, they had toppled us quite a bit before this game and have toppled us after. Truthfully, the Soviets owned America historically. And today, the Russians still regularly kick our ass, even though we have amazing teams year after year.

An example one of the Soviet players gave in the film, is that this is like a fan of Sophia Loren who gets to kiss her. Years later he is still talking about the kiss. However, if you ask Loren about it, she probably doesn’t even remember it.

If anything, this film opens the viewers eyes to the propaganda machine.

In its simplest form, the “Miracle” game was a game played between really young athletes who just wanted to play the game because it was what they enjoyed doing. Athletes who were probably too young or focused on the game, to fully understand what was going on between these two countries politically.

In comparison to other 30 For 30 documentaries, this one fits in the upper echelon in terms of quality. The editing, interviews and narrative were fantastic. I just wish ESPN did more 30 For 30 films on hockey. I think this is only like the third one out of 60 plus films.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Red ArmyMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.