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: History & Tradition: The Story of the National Wrestling Alliance (2012)

Release Date: August, 2012
Directed by: Michael Elliot
Cast: Bill Behrens, Jason Caley, Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk, Rob Kellum, Adam Pearce, Chance Prophet, Harley Race, Damien Wayne, various

Ellbow Productions, Highspots, … Minutes

Review:

I was kind of excited to watch History & Tradition: The Story of the National Wrestling Alliance because I’ve been a fan of the NWA my entire life and because I really enjoyed the recent documentaries I watched on Championship Wrestling From Florida and the one about Memphis wrestling called Memphis Heat.

Both of those other two documentaries were top notch but this one felt like it was a step down.

The main reason for that is due to this mostly being comprised of clips from various shoot interviews that were cut up and re-edited into this. Now many of the documentaries offered at Highspots are done in the same way but for whatever reason, this one felt more sporadic in how it told its stories and it just didn’t have enough material with the people that were there.

Granted, they had to work with what they had but I feel like this could’ve been a much better film had they got interviews that were specifically shot for this feature. Sometimes this spliced together stuff works and sometimes it misses its mark.

Now I can’t say that it entirely misses its mark, as there is still a lot here to take in and digest. It also delves into all the eras of the NWA that predate the current one.

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

 

Documentary Review: Forever Hardcore: The Documentary (2005)

Release Date: February 15th, 2005
Directed by: Jeremy Borash
Cast: Terry Funk, Konnan, Sabu, Shane Douglas, Francine, The Sandman, Tod Gordon, The Blue Meanie, Axl Rotten, Raven, Jerry Lynn, Joey Styles, Terry Taylor, Pitbull Gary Wolf, New Jack

Big Vision Entertainment, 128 Minutes

Review:

In concept, Forever Hardcore should be the better documentary than WWE’s The Rise and Fall of ECW.

Reason being, it doesn’t need to have the WWE slant on history, which all their documentaries have because for some reason, Vince McMahon likes to put his personal influence into everything his company commercially releases to the world.

However, this doesn’t live up to the hype that it had when it was coming out.

I definitely enjoy the interviews and insight of all the people involved but the editing and overall narrative felt choppy and disjointed.

Additionally, this didn’t get as many people as the WWE release and it didn’t really give a comprehensive history of the ECW promotion with the depth and detail of Rise and Fall. Plus, it wasn’t as organized in how it presented the story.

This is still a good companion piece to the better documentary, though. It gives different perspectives from people that the WWE didn’t bother to interview or those who chose not to participate in that one because of their own reasons and preferences.

The real highlight of this, for me at least, was Terry Funk. He sat out of WWE’s piece and saved his stories for this one. It was also cool hearing Sabu actually speak and give his two cents on the angles and history that he was directly involved in.

For die hard ECW fans, this is definitely worth checking out. For the casual fan, it probably won’t mean much.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: WWE’s documentary The Rise and Fall of ECW.

Documentary Review: Championship Wrestling From Florida: The Story of Wrestling In the Sunshine State (2019)

Release Date: June, 2019
Cast: most courtesy of archive footage: Dusty Rhodes, Mike Graham, Gerald Brisco, Austin Idol, Kevin Sullivan, Gary Hart, Steve Keirn, Brian Blair, Bob Armstrong, Terry Funk, Ron Bass, Ricky Steamboat, JJ Dillon, Superstar Billy Graham, Black Bart, various

Highspots, 95 Minutes

Review:

Growing up in Florida and not too far from Tampa and Miami, I actually went to see Championship Wrestling From Florida shows fairly often. Since my dad knew some people within the promotion, I got to experience what it was like backstage as a kid. That being said, I always had a soft spot for this wrestling organization from almost day one.

Knowing what I’ve known for years, it’s great to see that someone finally made a documentary about this, as it was a top territory, made superstars and was actually a bit ahead of its time in how it developed and presented its talent.

While this isn’t a WWE documentary, it is well produced so my hat goes off to Highspots and frankly, I’m glad I have a slew of other documentaries to watch from them now.

This dives pretty deep into the history of the promotion, as well as professional wrestling in the State of Florida. It also goes into the tragedy surrounding the Graham Family, who ran the business. But ultimately, it sheds a lot of light on how those behind this organization were trailblazers in a very different era of the professional wrestling business.

The documentary is mostly told through the words of the people who were there in talking head interviews. Some of these were newer interviews but a lot of the footage was taken from older shoot interviews, as some of the people featured, aren’t with us anymore.

I loved the hell out of this and I’m sure I will revisit it again in the future.

Also, if you buy the two-disc set on Highspots, you also get a bonus DVD with two and a half hours of matches and footage from Championship Wrestling From Florida.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling documentaries put out by Highspots and Ellbow Productions.

Documentary Review: Harley Race: The Greatest Wrestler On God’s Green Earth (2014)

Release Date: 2014
Cast: Harley Race, Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Jim Cornette, various

Ellbow Productions, Highspots, 112 Minutes

Review:

I’m not 100 percent sure on whether or not this came out in 2014 but that’s the earliest date I saw attached to a trailer with pre-order info. Also, it’s hard to get all the credit details, as this doesn’t even have an IMDb page or really anything more than just the title and running time.

Anyway, I got this, along with three other wrestling documentary/compilation box sets from Highspots. The shipping was lightning fast, which was great considering all the COVID-19 shenanigans. So while I’m mostly self-quarantining, Highspots’ quick turnaround was able to ensure that I wouldn’t be bored, at least for one weekend.

As for the documentary, itself, it was a pretty engaging piece. But look, I’ve always loved the hell out of Harley Race ever since I met him as a kid and saw him in the ring, growing up in NWA country. So I might be somewhat biased but he’s an interesting guy that had a tremendous career in the professional wrestling business.

This documentary is also special in that a lot of it just features Harley talking about his life and career. Other greats also chime in like Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Jim Cornette and many more but the absolute highlight of this is hearing Harley talk about Harley in his own words.

This also covers a lot of ground but as I said, this guy had a legendary career that spanned decades and multiple federations.

I also found this refreshing in that it didn’t play like a big budget WWE style documentary with quick, careful edits and a sort of agenda behind it. This actually plays more like a Ken Burns style documentary in that it is slow but it’s also really informative and builds up a sort of romantic affinity for the wrestling business during the intriguing territory era.

Plus, this comes with a second disc full of matches and other moments.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on wrestling legends.

TV Review: Wrestling Gold (2001)

Original Run: April 24th, 2001 (DVD Box Set)
Cast: Jim Cornette, Dave Meltzer, Jerry Lawler, Randy Savage, Terry Funk, various

VCI Video, 5 Episodes, 105-130 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is a box set of five different DVD releases by VCI Video from 2001. I believe this is the full set of the DVDs that they put out. You can still get this on Amazon but I bought mine off of Jim Cornette’s website, as he still has some and he’ll actually sign them for you.

The five DVDs are all co-hosted by Jim Cornette and Dave Meltzer, as they give their two cents on each of the dozens of matches presented, providing historical context and a lot of the behind the scenes stories that led to certain matches.

Most of the original commentary tracks from these various matches are still there but sometimes Cornette and Meltzer have to fill in the blanks.

This collection doesn’t just focus on one territory from back in the day, it covers a lot of ground actually and showcases great matches, primarily from the early-to-mid ’80s.

There is a lot of stuff from Memphis and Texas on here and each match typically features one or more wrestlers that made it big in the WWF or NWA. This is packed full of wrestling stars, mostly in the early stages of their career. But this is also cool to see, as many of the larger guys or guys who got banged up, actually show you what they were capable of before their bodies started to suffer.

I was pretty ecstatic to get my hands on this, just because I love the territory days and seeing wrestlers before Vince McMahon got a hold of them. But I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d appreciate and cherish this collection.

For old school wrestling lovers, this is a must own! In fact, it inspired me to track down other collections and sets of old school territory matches from this era.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling compilations of the territories in the ’70s and ’80s.

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.

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: Paradise Alley (1978)

Release Date: September 22nd, 1978
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Conway, Anne Archer, Joe Spinell, Armand Assante, Lee Canalito, Terry Funk, Frank McRae, Joyce Ingalls, Tom Waits

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

This film has been in my Netflix queue forever. I saw that it was getting pulled down in a few days, so I decided I had to watch it now or never. Granted I saw this film before but that was on HBO when I was like six years-old. I think I saw it again once on TBS or TNT in the early 90s at three in the morning. Regardless, I remember holding it in a special place, as it was very similar to the tone and style of the original Rocky.

Set in 1946, in Hell’s Kitchen, the small part of Manhattan made most famous by the Daredevil comics. This film follows three brothers played by Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante – in his debut role and Lee Canalito. Canalito is a giant of a man and is pressured by his brothers to become a wrestler, after he upsets the town legend in an impromptu match to make a quick $100. Stallone’s Cosmo and Assante’s Lenny feud throughout the film over what each thinks is best for their wrestler brother.

The film also features Joe Spinell, who worked with Stallone in Rocky as the infamous character Gazzo. Pro-wrestler Terry Funk plays the head thug of the mobster and the final opponent in the film’s climactic battle. Frank McRae plays an aging yet lovable fighter, Anne Archer plays a love interest that creates a bit of a love triangle with Cosmo and Lenny. Kevin Conway plays Stitch the mobster; he is a favorite of mine and can be easily remembered as the announcer (or barker) that you heard throughout the outside fairground scenes in Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse.

There are cameos from many well-known professional wrestlers: “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Bob Roop, “Dirty” Dick Murdoch, Dory Funk Jr., Don Leo Jonathan, Don Kernodle, Gene Kiniski, Dennis Stamp, Ray Stevens, and Uliuli Fifita.

This film, like Rocky, features the music of Bill Conti. In fact, this film felt like it was trying pretty hard to recreate the magic of the first Rocky film. Maybe after it fell a bit short, its lack of success inspired Rocky II, which came out a year later.

Paradise Alley was written and directed by Stallone and as a first real directorial effort, it isn’t a bad film at all. He would go on to direct most of the Rocky sequels, as well as many other films after this.

While I enjoy this movie overall, it falls a bit flat in comparison to the Rocky franchise. It also doesn’t really represent professional wrestling accurately at all because even in 1946, it wasn’t a straight up sport. Furthermore, it employed wrestling moves that were more commonplace in the 1970s and 1980s. 1940s professional wrestling was a totally different experience than what was shown in this film. Despite that, the visuals and the way the matches were shot, was pretty damned awesome. Stallone experimented with style, substance and texture and achieved something marvelous to look at.

From a plot standpoint, the film is disjointed and at times, dysfunctional. The characters motivations seem to flip-flop on a whim and there seems to be an underlying rivalry between the two older brothers that is never really explored and never really that important to the overall narrative once you get to the end. Additionally, the end of the film, mainly, the way the wrestling match ends, is confusing. I guess they won and the brothers are now at peace and I’m not sure how the conflict was really resolved.

This is a film worth watching but if you don’t, you’ll probably be okay.

Rating: 6/10