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Cinema-Scene.com
Volume 2, Number 12

This Week's Reviews:  Beyond the Mat, Romeo Must Die, Rear Window.

This Week's Omissions:  Gun Shy, Here on Earth, Walking Across Egypt, Whatever It Takes.



Beyond the Mat

(Dir: Barry W. Blaustein, Appearances by Barry W. Blaustein, Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Jake Roberts, Vince McMahon, Roland Alexander, Collette Foley, Dewey Foley, Noelle Foley, Brandy Smith, Paul Heyman, Tony Jones, Mike Modest, and Darren Drozdov)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

One thing that I have not really been into since my younger years is professional wrestling.  I know that it is all the rage now, but I have not watched any of it since I was 10 or so.  For that very reason I was not expecting to like Beyond the Mat, a film about the rise and fall of many pro wrestlers.  These are not the Hulk Hogan stories, tales of becoming a star and remaining one, this documentary is about the entirely depressing side.

Barry W. Blaustein tells at the beginning of his obsession with the sport, one that he considers to be one of the guiltiest of pleasures.  Blaustein goes home and watches the matches every night that they come on, and feels almost ashamed of it.  Yet he still cannot stop.

He remarks that his favorite was always Terry Funk, a wrestler that jumped from various circuits with his highly notable, near masochistic take for pain.  When Blaustein catches up with Funk, he is near retirement; in fact he is in the middle of planning what would probably be his final fight before a retirement match.  He has arthritis and runs the risk of losing a leg, but he fears an end to his career.  However battered he is, he cannot come to terms with an end, wrestling is his life.  All his family wants him to quit, and in a way he sees that he should, but there is not a real driving force driving him to leave.

Funk serves as the most time consuming of the four major stories.  The least time is spent with the up-and-coming wrestlers of the independent wrestling scene.  Blaustein looks at the Gestapo manager/trainers and their hopeful souls.  One of the men that Blaustein follows to the try-outs for the WWF, the nation's largest wrestling circuit, is notable for his ability to vomit on cue.

The most depressing of the three is the story of Jake "the Snake" Roberts, a wrestler that had a glory time in the eighties before falling prey to lack of athletic ability and drug addiction.  Roberts is tailed by Blaustein who wants more than anything to meet this lost soul.  One of the most painfully uncomfortable scenes this year was when Blaustein documents Robert's reunion with his estranged daughter after a five year absence, a reunion that leaves her with the need to bring some moral support.

But the most interesting of all the stories is that of a wrestler who is still in the spotlight.  Mick Foley has made a large fan base by taking all the pain imaginable -- it is no surprise that he and Terry Funk are good friends and occasional opponents in the ring.  The film mainly revolves around one particular fight for Foley, one on pay-per-view to take in a big financial gross.  His opponent, The Rock (Johnson), and he are interesting to watch planning this event.  Here are two guys standing around with beer cans in hand, planning out the beating of each other.

Foley is not the only one touched in this area of the film, his family is also pictured.  In fact, during the fight, Blaustein's camera is much more pointed on the reactions of Foley's wife and two children than on the fight itself.  And then the sheer terror in the eyes of these children as they see their father being sewn up after a large blow to the head.

Is this entertainment?  I don't know, I can see that this is just sheer showbiz.  The wrestlers are simply well-trained actors, fighting each other in the most confined of stages.  Blaustein does not want you to really think about this, most would agree that the only people seeing this documentary are wrestling fans, but what it does want you to think about is exactly what these people do.  Yes, they are paid well, have a nice image, but look at what happens to their lives; their families' lives.

Blaustein know what he's doing.  Like many great documentarians, Blaustein takes on a subject that he knows about, and never goes preachy on it.  When there is a question of the liability and use of the sport, Blaustein leaves the audience to decide; there is not a true answer in here.

The film is not perfect -- I couldn't care less about the up-and-coming wrestlers -- but it is sheer entertainment.  Just entertainment in that morally digressing, incredibly depressing way.


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Romeo Must Die

(Dir: Andrzej Bartkowiak, Starring Jet Li, Aaliyah, Isaiah Washington, Russell Wong, Delroy Lindo, D.B. Wodside, Anthony Anderson, Jon Kit Lee, Edoardo Ballerini, and DMX)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

The Matrix + Replacement Killers + Romeo & Juliet ... how could you lose.  Well, evidently it is possible.  Romeo Must Die is not that visually sumptuous special effects extravaganza, that quick-eyed Hong Kong action cross-over, nor that beautiful tale of troubled lovers.  Instead Romeo Must Die is a pure successor to superior stories and films (for the record, when referring to a great Romeo & Juliet, I am not talking about the 1996 Baz Luhrmann fiasco).

Instead of those Capulets and Montegues, the film is about the division between the African Americans and the Asian Americans, waging a war.  Each father has lost a child and now they must come to some agreement before any of their other children die.  Meanwhile, two of the children, the recently escaped from prison Han Sing (Li) and Trish O'Day have begun a relationship, one that puts fear in the eyes of all those involved.

One thing that people always look for in the action films from those Hong Kong stars is the, well, action.  It is safe to say that this one has action that would make many a fan of the genre happy, but for most people it does not fit the bill.  Where Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat made cross overs with films that had interesting stories to go with the fights, Romeo Must Die, the major cross over for Jet Li (who did appear in a smaller role in Lethal Weapon 4), fails on all counts.  The drama is so long, so boring that most will wonder why it took so long to get to the climactic fight.  Then there is the action, which is actually nothing to write home about.  Special effects worked for the fake world of The Matrix, but here it is so out of place that plausibility is a sore thumb; sure you cannot see the strings, but you sure know that they're there.

All of the acting is poor with the exception of Delroy Lindo, a actor of giant proportions.  I, in a way, feel bad that Lindo is forced into such roles since rarely does he get the respect he deserves.  I'm sure that Li is a fine stunt performer, but there is little to make one think that her; so much relied on CGI that Woody Allen could have done the part.  At least then it might have been funny.


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Rear Window

(Dir: Alfred Hitchcock, Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, Wendell Corey, Judith Evelyn, Ross Bagdasarian, Georgine Darcy, Sara Berner, Frank Cady, Jesslyn Fax, Rand Harper, Irene Winston, and Havis Davenport)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Rear Window is one of those films that makes it to the occasional top ten lists of all time.  In my opinion, it is not Hitchcock's best film, but it does rank as one of his finest efforts, a fact that many would agree on.  It is films like Rear Window that placed Hitchcock on the map of fame.  Made a year before his television series began, Hitchcock was already a well liked director having made films that won Best Picture (Rebecca), as well as the occasional financial success (Notorious), but his last films, mostly dealing with more dramatic themes than the utter mortality of life, were financial and critical flops.  Few would ever come to the defense of Under Capricorn or Stage Fright. Before Rear Window, he had a success with Dial M For Murder, but his place was not fully remade yet.

But is was this little 1954 gem that revived his career and brought him to the fore where he could do television and become an icon, a giant of the macabre.  Once he proved that he could still make great films, as well as his ability to make three good films the following year (The Trouble with Harry, To Catch a Thief, and The Man Who Knew Too Much), Hitchcock was made into the latest star of the small screen, an image that brought him more fame than any director preceding him.

Rear Window is the second Hitchcock film to be fully restored and remastered by the incredible restoration team of Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, who brought Vertigo to all its glory a few years ago.  Admittedly, the Rear Window restoration is not as impressive as its predecessor, a film that flourished with bright colors that had dulled on prints over years.  So what makes Rear Window so important to see on this, its theatrical reissue?  Even if the film looks noticeably better and more defined, it is for sheer reason to see a master at work.  Hitchcock's tale of voyeuristic pleasure that leads to a murder investigation is one film that needs the big screen effect.  One of the effects Hitchcock and cinematographer Robert Burks strived for is that the film does not leave the confinement of Jimmy Stewart's bedroom window.  Here, with an audience, that claustrophobia is ever-present as the insidious Raymond Burr stares those evil eyes at the audience.


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Reviews by:
David Perry
2000, Cinema-Scene.com

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