Tuesday, October 31, 2017

30 STEPHEN KINGs, JUST IN TIME FOR HALLOWEEN πŸŽƒ


The Stephen King Renaissance is certainly upon us. Box office busting records, two new Netflix originals, TV series, announcements of upcoming Stephen King remakes or sequels or sidequels hitting the trades every day. Though I can't claim to be the most avid consumer of his books, I did enjoy the latest version of It enough to grab my bottle of Ripple and plop down on the Lazy-Boy to watch/re-watch 29 other King adaptations since late September-- 15 I'd already seen and 15 that were new to me. Here's how that ghoulish fool's errand turned out, with films ranked from Worst (#30) to Best (#1)...


30. GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990) – Ralph S. Singleton

A murky, muddled minimum wage downer with very few scares and a decent Brad Dourif cameo. For top-shelf rat horror, stick to Willard or Of Unknown Origin.


29. CARRIE (2013) – Kimberly Peirce

Peirce can be an interesting director, but the only thing this wildly unnecessary remake had to add to the classic De Palma original is updated bullying methods (i.e., Carrie's shower locker room hazing recorded on smart phones and uploaded to the web) and a comparatively generic visual palette. Moretz is fine as modern day Carrie but no match for Spacek's so pale she's nearly translucent victim turned telekenetic avenger.


28. NEEDFUL THINGS (1993) – Fraser C. Heston

The Devil comes to Castle Rock in the form of Max Von Sydow. Much antiquing and boredom ensues! This felt like a re-tread of the Salem's Lot story with minor fluctuations in plot and some fine actors slumming it (Ed Harris, Amanda Plummer, J.T. Walsh). Two minutes of Von Sydow playing chess with Death is spooky enough for me, thank you.


27. SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK (1991) – Tom McLoughlin

Undead greasers return from the grave to torment a teacher with anger issues (Tim Matheson) and remind him (over and over and over again) how they killed his kid brother. A made-for-TV movie based on a Stephen King short. "Sometimes They Need The Paycheck."


26. 1922 (2017) – Zak Hilditch

Caught this new Netflix King adaptation on the big screen at Fantastic Fest instead of streaming. Not sure the grander venue was necessary. Tom Jane and Molly Parker were solid. The cinematography was professional. The story...slight and completely forgettable. Something about poor folks doing bad things, maybe?


25. CAT'S EYE (1985) - Lewis Teague

The lesser of the two King anthology films I re-watched. The "Quitters, Inc." segment is still as effective in the vaping age, like a great '80s Twilight Zone episode. The other two segments just lay there like a lump of wet kitty litter. In other words, 33.333333% entertaining!


24. FIRESTARTER (1984) – Mark Lester

This movie should sue Stranger Things for serious copyright infringement (oh, how those telekinetic noses do bleed!). Some interesting plot developments, a lovely Tangerine Dream score, and solid David Keith-Heather Locklear pairing. But, man oh man, is young Drew Barrymore a whiny ear-sore. Someone should've torched her SAG card and sent her to bed with no supper.


23. THE LAWNMOWER MAN (1992) – Brett Leonard

Jeff Fahey playing a kindhearted groundskeeping moron certainly has its small pleasures. As does the quaint notion that early era virtual reality would be a game-changer for anything other than the gaming industry. But, as Fahey begins to smarten up Flowers for Algernon style and the movie gets ambition to say something grand about the modern world (I watched the director's cut), all the fun of the silly premise is sapped right out. If you're looking for legit scares, arrow key elsewhere. If you need a few good laughs, watch the first hour, then go cut the grass.


22. THE MANGLER (1995) – Tobe Hooper

Truth told, it's hard to make industrial laundering equipment scary. Hooper tries for a while, then mostly throws in the towel (zing!) opting for grim humor more along the lines of Texas Chainsaw 2 (which I adore). A fine diversion while folding linens, but definitely a lesser entry in the otherwise commendable Hooper filmography / King bibliography.


21. PET SEMATARY II (1992) – Mary Lambert

This sequel's technically a cheat as it's only based on a Stephen King premise with none of the original novel characters reappearing. But I loved the first film so much, I thought I'd make a return visit to that hallowed Indian burial ground with the ability to reanimate dead pet/human flesh. PSII isn't nearly as good as the original (obviously) and opts for a more somber tone (the soundtrack is lousy with bands on the cusp of grunge era pseudo-seriousness). But there are a few truly disturbing scenes, especially the opening sequence...a real "shocker." Not bad for sloppy seconds.


20. MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986) – Stephen King

Unlike the previous entry, this trucks gone amok thriller is ALL KING, not only based on and scripted by but also directed by (for better or worse) the horrormeister himself. Though the story loses steam and most of its menace about midway through, there are plenty of fun sight gags to be had (see above). If you think of Maximum Overdrive as an Emilio Estevez comedy rather than a horror flick, it's actually not that bad (better than Men At Work, at least). Plus, kudos to King for shoving every song in the AC/DC catalog into his lark of a movie, whether they work or not.


19. THE DARK HALF (1993) – George Romero

On the spectrum of Stephen King stories about writers battling inner (and frequently externalized) demons, this one falls somewhere in the middle. It's not The Shining good, but it's also not Secret Window bad. The setup has promise: A thriller writer's pseudonym comes to life after he buries the pen name in favor of writing more literary novels. As all good (i.e., bad) doppelgangers do, he begins tormenting his creator (i.e., himself). If it were more of a beguiling mystery how this mirrored being sprung to life, The Dark Half would've had me in its clutches for the duration. The problem is there's too much exposition toward the end (Tim Hutton's doppelganger is revealed to be the result of a childhood brain tumor with a twin inside or some such hokum). As any good writer or pseudonymous writer should know, this much explanation is a big non-no!


18. GERALD'S GAME (2017) – Mike Flanagan

Yes, Carla Gugino is great, and that wrist-ripping scene will go down as a watershed moment in the annals of gore. But, man, did King nuke his own ending. And Flanagan only made it worse with his slavish faithfulness. I'm sorry, but the Moonlight Man/bone collector/Twin Peaks giant doesn't belong in this movie. He belongs only in the Black or White Lodge. Take your pick.


17. 1408 (2007) – Mikael Hafstrom

Another fantastically chilling first hour hog-tied by a misguided ending and a painfully obvious End of Second Act misdirect. I'm not sure if the King source material is to blame (didn't read the short story) or the screenwriters/director here. Either way, this is one half of very solid horror movie.


16. SALEM'S LOT (1979) - Tobe Hooper

Some nice spooky atmosphere for a miniseries done in the pre-Prestige TV renaissance. Also, a great James Mason performance. Though Hooper nailed the suburban horror thing a few years later with the classic Poltergeist, Lot was a fine training ground for similar themes. Yes, the rubbery effects are dated, but I'm sure they'll remedy (or over-remedy) that in the inevitable post-It flood of Stephen King remakes.


15. SILVER BULLET (1985) – Dan Attias

Direction-wise, it's no American Werewolf, but the Stephen King script cleverly toys with some of the age-old lycanthrope tropes. Add to that more coked-up Gary Busey than you can shake a stick at, and you've got yourself a respectable beer and fried chicken midnight movie.


14. THE DEAD ZONE (1983) – David Cronenberg

Just because it's on the lower half of my Cronenberg Favorites list does not preclude it from landing on the top half of the Stephen King Adapts list. Saw this as a kid a long time ago before I was a Cronenberg fan and only had vague, unmemorable recollections, unlike protag Christopher Walken's crystal clear see-into-the-future flashes. Watching it again a few weeks ago, I dug it quite a bit more, though I still wish Dave had found a way to squeeze more signature body horror into King's plot. That said, political candidate Martin Sheen holding a baby in front of him to block an assassin's bullet is its own kind of body horror, one that I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see our current shitstick POTUS replicating if it ever came to that.


13. MISERY (1990) – Rob Reiner

Apart from the hobbling scene, Misery isn't that chock full of scares. Its pleasures derive from watching two great actors (Caan and Bates) duke it out psychologically in closed quarters. And let's not forget that prized oinker cameo.


12. IT (1990) – Tommy Lee Wallace

I had very low expectations for the original TV miniseries version of It when I cued it up a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised to have them largely overturned. Nostalgia had a lot do with it--"Hey, is that John Boy, Jack Tripper, and Judge Harry Stone all in the same movie?!"--but for a three-hour movie beholden to '90s network TV violence/obscenity/sexuality standards it still found some inventive ways around the limitations to deliver the killer clown goods. As much as I love Annette O'Toole as Adult Bev, still can't wait to see what Amy Adams (fingers crossed) does with the role in It Part 2.


11. CREEPSHOW (1982) – George Romero

The better of the two King anthologies I re-watched. "Something To Tide You Over" with Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson is the crown jewel, the Stephen King starrer about space moss is a hoot, and the E.G. Marshall one with the roaches is solid fun. The two others didn't really work for me, but, hey, three out of five is pretty good.


10. A RETURN TO SALEM'S LOT (1987) – Larry Cohen

This one's another cheat, as there's no direct Stephen King involvement, only a "loosely based on characters by" sequel approach. Newsflash: The looseness works. I enjoyed Return much more than the original Salem's Lot, but then I'm a sucker for churlish teens in Miami Vice threads cursing out adults and for Sam Fuller running around at age 75 with wooden stake in hand, throwing open caskets, and gutting sleeping vampires. And I DO MEAN running. Fuller jogs in almost every scene he appears in, often with a lit stogie. Someone should've reminded him to take it easy--he was only acting this time, not directing. I doubt if he would've listened.


9. THINNER (1996) – Tom Holland

This cautionary tale of a chubby corrupt lawyer cursed to lose pounds at an alarming rate gave me the body horror fix I was craving out of The Dead Zone but didn't get. It also delivered in full on my perennial Kari Wuhrer As Vindictive Gypsy craving. Big Fun!


8. SLEEPWALKERS (1992) – Mick Garris

Another '90s Stephen King adaptation that came and went without me noticing or caring back in the day, I was all prepped to dismiss or dislike it, probably both. I'm pleased to announce Sleepwalkers aroused the snoozing horror fan in me for 90 minutes and put the skeptic to rest. Much of it had to do with the intriguingly twisted mother-son relationship with Alice Krige and Brian Krause, kind of a gender-flipped Oedipal version of the one in Carrie. It probably didn't hurt that Twin Peaks era Madchen Amick also had a prominent role as the movie theatre candy counter girl who comes between them.


7. IT (2017) – Andy Muschietti

I won't lie. I saw this back at the tail end of September and have already forgotten much of it. I do remember thoroughly enjoying it while seated in the multiplex and rarely checking my watch. A rare feat for me and a movie that made a shit-ton of money. The general movie-going public and I don't usually see this eye to eye. But, hey, it prompted me to spend valuable time perusing 29 other King adaptations, so there must be something to it, right?


6. CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) – Fritz Kiersch

Lordy Lordy, don't make me choose between Isaac and Malachi. They are both creepy little corn-fed shits, and this movie is blessed to have them both.


5. CUJO (1983) - Lewis Teague

I'm pretty sure this ruthlessly efficient "when animals attack" thriller is what finally made me give in on the Dog vs. Cat family pet war raging in my household as a kid and agree to foster three mangy cats instead of one solid canine. I may regret that choice now but don't regret having my limbs still in tact and not having to spend two full days trapped in station wagon at the behest of a St. Bernard with bat rabies.


4. CHRISTINE (1983) – John Carpenter

Saw this one on VHS way back in the day, and it didn't make much of an impression. I chalk it up to me not being a gearhead and forsaking my Matchbox cars for action figures at the time. But watching it again many years later as a Carpenter fan, I now see the light (or twin headlights). How Carpenter manages to make a rolling hunk of tin not only horrifying but imbue it with a jealous personality is a thing of moviemaking beauty. It truly is "Jaws on Wheels."


3. CARRIE (1976) – Brian De Palma

Confession: The Carrie storyline never much resonated with me. It could have something to do with never being a) a teenage girl b) born in a strictly religious household or c) bullied to the point of being doused in pig's blood. But DePalma films what could have been a vaguely racy afterschool movie with such audacious visual panache that I am pulled into its hallucinatory spell time and time again. Even when he goes WAY over the top with the split-screens, it's all of a piece with King's histrionic source material.


2. PET SEMATARY (1989) – Mary Lambert

Never has a horror movie been so narratively cavalier in its cruel mistreatment of small children, household pets and spinal meningitis victims, though the end credit PETA disclaimers might assure you otherwise. Pet Sematary freaked the crap out of me when I saw it in the theatre as a young teen, and it still wigs me out as a grown-ass adult. The gross-out end freeze frame is perfect, and the Ramones kick in just at the right moment. This is horror flick as punk rock jam, and it's a shame Mary Lambert didn't get a lot of big gigs after this other than the sequel. I just read there's a remake in the works (of course), and all I can say to that is...hey, Starry Eyes Dudes, tread lightly and heed Jud Crandall's warning: "Sometimes dead is better."


1. THE SHINING (1980) – Stanley Kubrick

Little Stevie can kvetch all he wants. Stanley's version is still King of all Kings.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!!! πŸŽƒπŸŽƒπŸŽƒπŸŽƒπŸŽƒπŸŽƒ

Friday, September 22, 2017

SUMMER ACTION CRAPTACULAR!!!


This summer, I had a hearty appetite for beer, fried chicken and exceptionally bad action movies from VHS's golden era. You know the type: big, loud, dumb, but also frequently lovable in that "so bad, they're good" kinda way, the clueless, salivating Labradors of '80s & '90s genre film. As you'll discover, I also had a strong aversion to writing lengthy blog reviews. Unfortunately, my summer "vacation" was already packed with work, and this little detour down the carbo-loaded, craptacular action highway was designed to be a diverting shut-off valve for my overheated brain. Please excuse the lapse in analysis. For the most part, none of these testosterone fests (and one week of unbridled estrogen!) could bear the weight of extended critical scrutiny anyway.

Instead, my patented Chicken Drumstick Rating System brazenly ranks the 50+ movies I watched from πŸ— to πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—. One drumstick means "don't bother...it's a turkey." Five drumsticks means it's the pinnacle of craptacular summer action fun, the Citizen Kane of '80s-'90s VHS bullet-head sleaze.

A bit of backstory: The hallowed Fried Chicken & Beer Movie tradition first began 20 years ago when me and two of my film school cronies smuggled a contraband bucket of KFC and several 40 ounce bottles of Olde English into a Times Square afternoon matinee of Con Air, the Nic Cage prison plane thriller where he looks (and sorta sounds) like Billy Ray Cyrus. During a rare quiet moment in the film (perhaps the "put the bunny back in the box" scene?), one of the guzzled 40 ounce bottles got loose and rolled (loudly) the entire length of the theatre only to land with an echoing smash at the base of the screen. And so a summer movie tradition was born. Good times!

Here's the scoop on all the crap action I ingested this June 20th to Sept 22nd, with occasional links to favorite scenes, trailers, and assorted YouTube riff-raff...

Week #1: Amir Shervan


Hollywood Cop (1987) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Young Rebels (1989) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Killing American Style (1990) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Samurai Cop (1991) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—

Week #2: Andy Sidaris



Malibu Express (1985) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Picasso Trigger (1988) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Savage Beach (1989) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Guns (1990) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Do or Die (1991) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Hard Hunted (1992) πŸ—πŸ—
Fit to Kill (1993) πŸ—πŸ—

Week #3: David A. Prior


Deadly Prey (1987) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Mankillers (1987) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Death Chase (1988) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Jungle Assault (1989) πŸ—πŸ—
Raw Justice (1994) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Felony (1995) πŸ—πŸ—

Week #4: Firstenberg / Glickenhaus


American Ninja (1985) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
American Ninja 2 (1987) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Avenging Force (1986) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
The Soldier (1982) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Shakedown (1988) πŸ—πŸ—
McBain (1991) πŸ—πŸ—

Week #5: Michael Bay / John Woo


Bad Boys (1995) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Bad Boys II (2003) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Hard Target (1993) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Broken Arrow (1996) πŸ—πŸ—1/2

Week #6: Burt Reynolds


Sharky's Machine (1981) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Stick (1985) πŸ—πŸ—
Heat (1986) πŸ—πŸ—
Malone (1987) πŸ—1/2

Week #7: Action Master Misfires 
(Mann, Frankenheimer, McTiernan, Hill)


L.A. Takedown (1989) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Dead-Bang (1989) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Last Action Hero (1993) zero
Another 48 Hours (1990) πŸ—1/2

Week #8: Lethal Ladies


Silk (1986) πŸ—1/2
The Female Executioner (1986) πŸ—πŸ—
China O'Brien (1990) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Point of No Return (1992) πŸ—πŸ—
Barb Wire (1996) πŸ—πŸ—
Intent to Kill (1992) πŸ—πŸ—1/2

Week #9: Always Bet On Black


Number One With A Bullet (1987) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Action Jackson (1988) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Surviving the Game (1994) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Passenger 57 (1992) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Boiling Point (1993) πŸ—πŸ—
Money Train (1995) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—

Week #10: Before They Were Expendable 
(Chuck/Sly/JCVD/Dolph)


Invasion USA (1985) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
The Delta Force (1986) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Cliffhanger (1993) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
The Specialist (1994) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Sudden Death (1995) πŸ—πŸ—
Timecop (1994) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Universal Soldier (1992) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Red Scorpion (1988) πŸ—πŸ—1/2

Week #11: Would-Be Action Stars (Lamas, Thomas, Stamos, Kove, Bosworth, De Hart)


Gymkata (1985) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Never Too Young To Die (1986) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Steele Justice (1987) πŸ—πŸ—1/2
Snake Eater (1989) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Stone Cold (1991) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Road to Revenge (1993) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—

Week #12: Fried Chicken & Beer Movie 
20th Anniversary, Original Recipe


Con Air (1997) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—
Face/Off (1997) πŸ—πŸ—πŸ—1/2

Ugh, so bloated. Time to hit the crapper...

Monday, June 26, 2017

WRASTLIN' PICTURES

Wrestling's been good to me over the years. I've never stepped inside the squared circle as a formal competitor per se, but I will admit to watching and reenacting a whole bunch of WWF and WCW as a young Southern tot. Also, there's the Barton Fink connection. Any screenwriter worth their salt should have at least one Wallace Beery wrastlin' picture under their belt. In giddy anticipation of Netflix's new GLOW series, I sampled some of the non-Coen Bros wrestling flicks (male and female) I'd been meaning to get to over the course of the last few weeks. Here's how that particular bout panned out...


NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950) - Jules Dassin

Richard Widmark plays a desperate, degenerate con man trying to finesse his way to the top of a profitable London wrestling promotion. Though this film focuses more on the scheming done outside the ring, there is one prolonged bout between Polish wrestling legend Stanislaus Zbyszko (where WWF champ Larry Zbyszko got his name) and Cauliflower Alley Club founder Mike Mazurki, a match which ends in eventual death. Noir master Jules Dassin (Rififi, Topkapi) leaves the intricately plotted heists at home this go-round but doubles down on the bleak, bleak, bleak. If you like your wrestling depressing and your protagonists on the weaselly side (Widmark, sweating with opportunism even more than the brutes in the ring), this one may be for you. 


PARADISE ALLEY (1978) - Sylvester Stallone

Despite being a huge Stallone/Rocky/Rambo fan as a kid, I somehow managed to get through life never seeing his first directorial effort and only wrestling movie...unless you count the Hulk Hogan scenes in Rocky III and, yes, all the arm wrestling in Over The Top. Had I heard bad things? Maybe. Whatever the reason, it was unsound. Because--surprise of surprises--Paradise Alley is actually pretty good! Is it original Rocky good? No, not by a long shot. But it's definitely a few notches above Rocky V, maybe even Rocky Balboa

Stallone plays the fast-talking hustler in a trio of Hell's Kitchen brothers. Armand Assante is the jaded war veteran older bro, and Lee Canalito is the soft-spoken Brando-ish younger brute who Stallone pimps out as a babyface champ ("Kid Salami"). There are a few great scenes with Stallone and an organ grinder monkey and a brief appearance by Tom Waits as the indecipherable local piano man Mumbles (unfortunately Waits and the small simian don't get much shared screen time). There's also a well-lensed and choreographed end match where Kid Salami takes on WWF legend Terry Funk in a rain-drenched wrestling ring (lots of slo-mo splashing). So why did Paradise fail to make the splash that the Rockys did? I guess, post-Italian Stallion, audiences had trouble buying Stallone as a fast-talking anything. In casting himself as the brains and not the braun, he alienated the fan base he'd built overnight. Not to worry. He snagged them right back the next year with his second directorial jab...Rocky II.


BLOOD & GUTS (1978) - Paul Lynch

If you've ever thought to yourself, "Where is the wrestling version of Fat City I so long for?" or, better still, "Where is the Canuxploitation wrestling version of Fat City I so long for, ay?" then this movie may be the answer to your poutine-soaked dreams. Veteran tough guy William Smith (he of Cronenberg's Fast Company and the dude who went mano y mano with Eastwood in Any Which Way You Can) plays an aging low-rent circuit wrestler whose already shitty world goes even more to shit with the arrival of a new buff blonde upstart. Smith takes him under his wing in the ring, but his thanks for showing this whipper snapper the ropes? The ingrate sleeps with his girlfriend and starts taking all his gigs! As you might guess, alcohol consumption and angina diagnoses also factor heavily into Smith's misery. This one's not quite as polished as Aronofsky's take on similar material 30 years later, but it's a fine '70s "loser movie" all the same.


THE ONE AND ONLY (1978) - Carl Reiner

For those who prefer their '70s wrestling flicks lighter and with more HervΓ© Villechaize, don't worry, the director of The Jerk and The Man With Two Brains has your back. Henry Winkler plays a profoundly narcissistic stage actor named Andy Schmidt who browbeats his hometown Ohio girlfriend Mary (Kim Darby) into moving to NYC to pursue his big Broadway dreams. When Mary gets preggers and  Andy can't get a respectable acting gig, he turns to pro wrestling with a little help from fellow struggling actor and part-time dwarf wrestler Milton (Villechaize). After trying on a bunch of wrestling personas, Andy finally strikes gold with a Gorgeous George styled Lothario character. Winkler and HervΓ© make a fine comic tag-team, but this is definitely a lesser Reiner effort. It's more rom-com than slam-com, and there isn't much body work for WWE die-hards to chew on.


BELOW THE BELT (1980) - Robert Fowler

As the first ladies wrestling movie on my watch card, I really wanted to like this one. Sadly, the unbearable music montages (there are many) and the lackluster direction in stitching them together killed my enthusiasm within the first fifteen minutes. Regina Braff plays an NYC waitress whose bad experiences with deadbeat men propel her into the ring...to fight other women. The Honeymoon Killers' Shirley Stoler is on hand as a veteran grappler to offer sage advice, some bonding and a bit of a boost to Braff's otherwise sleepy lead performance. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to contend with my own Mid-Movie Snooze.


...ALL THE MARBLES (1981) - Robert Aldrich

This women's wrestling comedy with the unwieldy, ellipsis-laden title used to play on HBO all the time when I was a young lad. I caught bits and pieces on the sly when I could, but the R rating made it a tough sneak since it only came on later in the evening when the family TV was off-limits to impressionable eyes. Finally peeped in full, I'm pleased to report that it's a top-shelf women's wrestling picture. Peter Falk is great (as always) as Harry, the crusty manager of the California Dolls with a talent for living lean on the road and a yen for listening to Pagliacci cassettes in between. His chemistry with his two lady wrestlers is paternal but mostly in that Cool Older Dad sorta way. California Dolls Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon hold their own against the Cassavetes/Columbo pro and make for a solid, believable tag-team on the canvas. This was veteran director Aldrich's last film, and though it's lighter fare than a lot of his earlier classics (Kiss Me Deadly, The Dirty Dozen, etc.) he brings a master craftsman's hand to all the in-ring scenes. Definitely recommended for GLOW fans and wrestling aficionados in general.


MY BREAKFAST WITH BLASSIE (1983) - 
Linda Lautrec & Johnny Legend

Andy Kaufman's hour-long pro wrestling spin on My Dinner With Andre mostly involves him talking to wrestling legend Fred Blassie about personal hygiene habits, their shared reluctance to shake hands with fans, and Blassie's disturbing insistence on rubbing their pregnant waitress's belly for luck time and again. Kaufman doesn't wrestle any women in the Sambo's Diner where they meet for brunch in downtown L.A. But he does insult a table of ladies who ask for his autograph. He then cajoles the most attractive one for her phone number ("I'm a famous actor. I'm play Latka on Taxi. You should know me.") Though there's no actual wrestling involved, Kaufman and Blassie do nearly get vomited on by a weird restaurant patron (Bob Zmuda, in disguise). The barely suppressed joy on Kaufman's face watching this whole staged stunt unfold is worth the price of admission.


BODY SLAM (1986) - Hal Needham

Stuntman turned director Hal Needham brings his Cannonball Run approach to the world of professional wrestling. In a nutshell, pack your movie with as many stars  as possible and hope no one notices how dull it is. Roddy Piper, Captain Lou Albano, Ric Flair, The Samoans, Tanya Roberts (Sheena!), Billy Barty, Charles Nelson Reilly, to name a few.  The problem here is you don't have charming rake Burt Reynolds at the center of all the chaos. Who do you get instead? The A-Team's "Faceman" Dirk Benedict as a wheeler dealer rock promoter turned wrestling hack. His character falls somewhere between not sleazy enough to be interesting and not charming enough to be a leading man. The movie itself doubles as a feature-length promotion for the WWF and a less than memorable rock band named Kick. What?! You don't remember Kick?! Maybe this bitchin' track will refresh your memory.


NO HOLDS BARRED (1989) - Thomas J. Wright

If the wrestling scenes in Rocky III didn't slake your Hulkamaniac thirst, this agreeable goof of a movie arrived seven years later to wring every last nickel out of the walking/sweating/flexing '80s corporation known as Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea. Here Bollea plays "Rip Thomas," a thinly veiled version of his superstar Hulk Hogan WWF/WWE persona. Tiny Lister plays his in-ring nemesis Zeus, though the storyline is much more concerned with his feuds outside the squared circle with Vince McMahon stand-in Brell (Kurt Fuller). As a McMahon financed production, the wrestling scenes are solid, and most everything else that requires "legit acting" is unintentionally hilarious. There's a particularly amusing scene in which the Hulkster has to grieve at the bedside of his hospitalized brother, which reminded me of high school production of the Tom Cruise-Jason Robards scene in Magnolia. The Hulkster also gets a few meet-cute moments with love interest Joan Severance. One involves them platonically sharing a motel room bed and the Hulkster constructing a gentlemanly curtain to separate them. The whole time I couldn't help but wonder: How are they going to shoot around that obstruction for the sex tape?


LIPSTICK & DYNAMITE, PISS AND VINEGAR: 
THE FIRST LADIES OF WRESTLING (2004) - Ruth Leitman

Without a doubt the best women's wrestling doc I've seen. These feisty octogenarians are the real deal women who started it all, overcoming decades of sexism, domestic abuse, homophobia, racism (you name the cultural offense, they battled it) to stake their claim to the ring. GLOW might be fun, but this is the more sobering side of that same story. And, seriously, does any male wrestler come tougher than The Fabulous Moolah or Mae Young? Tell me, Stone Cold Steve Austin, when was the last time you gave birth to a human hand?


THE WRESTLER (2008) - Darren Aronofsky

It's almost been a decade. I was due for a re-watch. Still my favorite "real life" wrestling movie of all time. Mickey and Aronofsky bringing the pain (and the metal) like nobody else can.


GLOW: THE STORY OF THE GORGEOUS LADIES 
OF WRESTLING (2012) - Brett Whitcomb

As documentaries go, this one's a mini flyweight, but it's a nice primer for the Netflix series, if for nothing else than to gauge all the "dramatic license" storyline changes that were made. Emily "Mt. Fiji" Dole's story is the most touching, and it was interesting to learn that B-movie director and Pia Zadora spouse Matt Cimber was the dude who Marc Maron's character was based upon.


GLOW (2017) - Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch

Finally, the main event. How was Netflix's 10 episode take on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling? It's just as much fun as it should be, so much so that I binged all ten in the course of two days. Alison Brie plays nicely against type. Betty Gilpin is a true find (at least to me...I'd never heard of her previously). Brit chanteuse Kate Nash is the series' secret weapon. And, surprise, Marc Maron can actually act a little bit. I'm not sure how many seasons this thing can go before the premise develops ring rash, but, if it's anything like the first one, I'm good for at least one or two more bumps. Recommended for fans of wrestling, women's wrestling, and the fairer sex in general.