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.