[Movie Review] Beyond the Mat

Beyond the MatStarring: Mick Foley, Jake Roberts, Terry Funk, Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon
Director: Barry W Blaustein
Genre: Documentary
Cert: 15
Released: 1999

It’s a directorial debut for acclaimed writer Barry Blaustein (“Saturday Night Live”, “Coming to America”, “Boomerang”, “The Nutty Professor”), and it’s a subject matter close to his heart – professional wrestling.

Blaustein tells it from the off that he was a huge fan of wrestling as a child and still watches to this day. He also explains that while wrestling matches are pre-determined and major parts of a match are worked out between the wrestlers and the writers, the better wrestlers are the ones who can work together and put together a good match on the fly, calling spots during the action.

if his aim is to investigate what life is like for American wrestlers – hard-working professionals who are dismissed by many as nothing more than pumped-up stunt men – he may succeed in changing that view for a lot of people.

The main drive of his vision is to study some of the legends of the sport. Terry Funk, a 53-year old Texan with shot knees; Mick Foley, 33, minus half his left ear and a few front teeth; Jake Roberts, 40-something with a cocaine addiction and a dysfunctional family. He also spends some time with the industries revolutionary, Vince McMahon, and independent promoter, Paul Heyman.

The footage is incredible at times. Foley, a good man with a beautiful wife and young kids, balances his love for the sport with his love for his family. We see his kids crying, watching Daddy getting hit with a chair continuously. His wife, clearly unhappy with her husband’s career, knows that it is what he loves and reluctantly lets him get on with it, dropping hints that enough is enough from time to time.

Terry Funk has been wrestling 32 years. His knee needs to be totally replaced. He struggles to walk but still is able to perform admirably in the ring. His family all want him to retire and despite continuously doing so, he is always lured back to the sport.

Jake Roberts is by far the most intriguing of the three (and that’s saying something). Lauded during the documentary as one of the all-time greats by the likes of Vince McMahon and his head of talent recruitment Jim Ross, Roberts has sunk into a degrading life of drugs and alcohol. His relationship with his family is non-existent and he tells the disturbing tale of how his mother gave birth to him at thirteen after being raped by her mother’s boyfriend.

He also speaks of his loveless relationship with his father and describes his psychology-studying daughter (whom he is reunited with temporarily on camera) as a ‘freak’.

If ever there was evidence that wrestling is “real”, that was it. A stunning examination of a perceived “pretend” industry, “Beyond the Mat” should be seen by cynics. After seeing it, you’ll understand why you owed these men that much.

4star

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[Movie Review] Memento

MementoStarring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Stephen Toblowsky
Director: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Drama
Cert: 18
Released: 2000

Guy Pearce is now a far cry from being speedo wearing Mike, in the Australian TV soap, Neighbours where he spent 4 years until 1990. After huge success in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and “LA Confidential” on the big screen, the confident Aussie turns up in yet another non-mainstream flick, “Memento”.

Pearce plays Leonard, an afflicted young man on the search for his wife’s murderer. Unfortunately his affliction is a huge handicap – he suffers from short term memory loss, and is unable to create new memories therefore only having recollections for a few minutes at a time. He can get to the end of a conversation and forget how it started. To help himself, he relies on scribbled notes, a selection of polaroids and a series of tattoos which record the most important information to help him move his investigation on.

He is assisted by Teddy (Pantoliano – “The Matrix”, “Bound”, “US Marshals”, “The Fugitive”) and Natalie (Moss – “The Matrix”) whom Leonard must re-discover every time he meets them. But nothing is as it seems, and as the story unfolds, we discover more about Teddy and Natalie, and their possible alternative reasons for helping Leonard.

And that’s where the film comes into it’s own. In a unique and intriguing manner, the movie opens up at the end of the story and rewinds using a series of short scenes which help us to piece together the mystery. Imagine starting a video tape at the end, rewinding ten minutes and then watching the climax, before rewinding 20 minutes and watching until the point that you first started watching, before rewinding a further 20 mins, and so on. This might sound confusing, and it is. But this approach adds to the movie in no small way, as you end up as confused and disorientated as Leonard.

The focal point for Leonard (and as it turns out, for the direction of the storyline) is a simple tattoo that says “remember Sammy Jankis”. When Leonard worked as an insurance investigator before the “incident”, he investigated a case were a victim in a car crash (Stephen Toblowsky – “Groundhog Day”, “Wedlock”, “The Glimmer Man”) developed the same condition as Leonard now has. It is a puzzle as to why this is such an important memory, but it becomes clear as the smoke clears in the climax (which is of course actually the beginning of the story!).

The performances are nothing short of excellent. Pearce once again shows his potential to become an A-list actor like "Have you seen this boy?"fellow Aussie and “LA Confidential” star, Russell Crowe, by delivering a calculated and convincing performance in the lead role. An interesting observation is how Pearce’s character admits to Natalie that he cannot feel strong emotions as he can’t remember anything to be angry or worried about. While you might think that this makes Pearce’s character easier to play or one-dimensional, it does in fact bring a lot more mystery and intrigue to his character, and subsequently make you wonder what he really is like. Is he really the swanky, wealthy former insurance investigator, or is he perhaps a shadier character. If Leonard doesn’t know who he is, how are we supposed to?

Also delivering strong turns are Pantoliano and Moss. Moss is a relative newcomer who shot to stardom in Sci-Fi blockbuster, “The Matrix”, and her strong-headed character, Natalie, can be both sympathised with and loathed. Similarly Pantoliano, an experienced veteran, has a tricky job portraying the mysterious, Teddy, but carries it off with great success.

Normally when a storyline is directed as jagged as this one is, you’d be baying for the directors blood, but it is of course to the film’s credit that the story hops around as much as it does. Moving from the end to the beginning is maybe not an entirely unique idea, but the intricate way in which Christopher Nolan does this allows the story to develop with maximum interest and mystery.

That’s not to say the story is without it’s holes – in fact it may be fundamentally flawed. Although it is quite easy to follow as piece by piece unfolds, the final revelation actually leaves more questions than answers, and a mere 12 hours after I finished watching and I currently write, more questions reveal themselves all the time.

Overall, the dissatisfaction of the last 15 minutes is not enough to leave overall dissatisfaction. Maybe not a movie on a par with some of the years best but it will have people talking for some time in a similar way to how “The Usual Suspects” and “The Sixth Sense” did.

3halfstar