Finders Keepers (2015)

An unusual confrontation.

An unusual confrontation.

(2015) Documentary (The Orchard) John Wood, Shannon Whisnant, Peg Wood, Lisa Whisnant. Directed by Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel

They say that truth is stranger than fiction. In this case, they’d be absolutely right. I can’t imagine anyone no matter how imaginative they are could make this story up.

Shannon Whisnant, a North Carolina junk dealer, had just purchased the contents of an auctioned storage unit. In that storage unit was a barbecue smoker, which was the prize item he had seen in the unit when he bought it. He put all his new items into his truck and drove it home, wheeled the smoker into his front yard and opened it – and just about had a heart attack.

In the smoker was the mummified remains of a human leg. Whisnant of course did the right thing – he notified the police who confiscated the leg as evidence and having nowhere to store it, left it with the local funeral home. Eventually they tracked down the owner of the storage unit who had defaulted on his monthly rental fee; John Wood.

Once the scion of a well-to-do family in Maiden, North Carolina, he’d fallen on hard times. But not hard enough to make him a killer – no, the leg was his. He’d lost it in a plane crash in which his father had lost his life. He’d asked for the leg back from the hospital once it had been amputated, intending to create a memorial to his father using the skeletal remains of his own leg but couldn’t find anyone to remove the flesh from the limb. He’d thrown it in the smoker and forgotten about it.

He wanted the leg back, however, still intending to eventually create that monument. However, Shannon wasn’t willing to give it back. After all, he’d bought and paid for the contents of the storage unit, including the smoker – and including the leg that was in the smoker. You wouldn’t ask for the grill back from the smoker after all; he’d paid for it fair and square.

So why would Whisnant want a human leg? Fame, pure and simple. He saw it as an opportunity to put his name on the map. At first he saw it as kind of a tourist attraction and being a fair man, he discussed going in with Wood on the deal Wood balked and the two geared up for a fight in the courtroom.

Some of you may remember the story when it hit all the tabloids a few years ago, but maybe you didn’t hear the whole story; how Wood had become addicted to painkillers while recuperating from his amputation, how he graduated to harder drugs, how he had been thrown out by his mother Peg recognizing that she was enabling his decline towards an overdose; how he had become homeless and alone.

Nor may you have heard how Whisnant had grown up with an emotionally and physically abusive father, how he had tried to gain his dad’s approval and never gotten it. How he was always a decent sort whose only aim was to make people happy around him.

This peculiar “only in the South” might induce giggles from some. They may look at these two men as ignorant hillbilly sorts that confirm the stereotype of Southern rednecks. And yeah, there are a few things here that head down that trail a bit, but as the movie unspools, you begin to see beyond the ridiculous and into the human story that is at the heart of the matter.

Both Wood and Whisnant are wounded human beings, and maybe they’re not likely to be employed by NASA anytime soon, but they are no less worthy of respect and empathy. These are both men who have gone through hard times; Wood, who was in attendance at the opening night screening at the Enzian, described Whisnant as “the yin to my yang.” They aren’t friends, not by any stretch of the imagination; Whisnant, who always saw Wood as uppity, described him as being “born with a silver crack pipe in his mouth.” They are inevitably linked by Wood’s leg and likely always will be. Maybe there is some comfort to be had in that.

One thing that is admirable is that as the movie goes on, we see Wood’s recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. An appearance on the Judge Mathis show (which resulted in Wood keeping the leg but having to pay Whisnant $5,000 for it) led to Wood receiving treatment at one of the nation’s premiere rehab centers. Since them, Wood has been sober and drug-free for nearly eight years and has also since gotten married. As important, Wood has gained wisdom; he has reconciled with his family and is slowly working to building back their trust after years of breaking their hearts. He recognizes that it is a slow and ongoing process but worth his effort. He understands what is important now and has put much of the sickness that led to his drug addiction behind him.

That’s a big deal; not all of us have the will to make that kind of turn-around and you have to respect the story of someone who has. Still, you will probably giggle fairly regularly, as Wood jokes about his leg, or Whisnant consistently mistakes “perspire” for “transpire.” But this is, as Peg Wood puts it in the movie, a funny story with its roots in tragedy. Fortunately, it’s a tragedy that looks like it will have a happy ending.

REASONS TO GO: Takes an unexpected turn. Oddball enough to keep your interest.
REASONS TO STAY: The pictures of the leg may be too stomach-turning for the sensitive.
FAMILY VALUES: Some gruesome images, drug references and a smattering of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Whisnant once appeared on an episode of The Jerry Springer Show.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/4/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 80/100.
BEYOND THEATERS: VOD (Check your local cable/satellite provider), iTunes, Amazon, Vudu
NEXT: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials




Love reunited in the sight of God, Man, Wolf and Hawk.

(1985) Romantic Fantasy (Warner Brothers) Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leo McKern, John Wood, Ken Hutchison, Alfred Molina, Giancarlo Prete, Loris Loddi, Alessandro Serra. Directed by Richard Donner

When you find your soul mate, you know it immediately. The greatest joy in life is to be in their presence. The greatest cruelty is to be separated from them.

Philippe Gaston (Broderick) – a.k.a. Philippe the Mouse – is a thief who has been imprisoned in the dungeons of Aquila for his crimes. Resourceful and desperate, he escapes through the sewers and is chased through the countryside by the vicious and cruel Captain of the Guards (Hutchison). Just when it appears he is going to go medieval on Philippe’s ass, he is saved by Captain Etienne Navarre (Hauer), the disgraced former Captain of the Guard.

Navarre takes an interest in Philippe not because of his sense of outrage at injustice but because of his accomplishment of escaping the dungeons of Aquila. Navarre has an interest in this because he means to kill the Bishop (Wood).

It turns out Navarre has an incredible secret. He fell in love with Isabeau d’Anjou (Pfeiffer), who the Bishop had his eye on. Unable to have her, he cursed the lovers; by day Navarre is a man but by night a wolf. Isabeau is a woman by night and a hawk by day. They cannot see each other, touch each other – but they are constantly at each other’s side. They are in love but they can never be together. That’s why Navarre wishes to kill the Bishop.

However, Imperius (McKern), the friar who was responsible for the Bishop finding out about Navarre’s romance with Isabeau, believes he’s found a way to break the curse – Isabeau and Navarre must stand before the Bishop as man and woman. Impossible, no? No because there’s a solar eclipse coming in which day and night combine. But how to get there with the Bishop’s guards arrayed against them and a vicious bounty hunter (Molina) on their trail?

This is one of my favorite romantic movies of all time. Richard Donner was on a streak of great movies at the time, including Superman: The Movie and The Goonies. He shot most of the movie in Italy and Spain, utilizing the great cinematographer Vittorio Storaro to shoot beautiful mist-filled vistas that lend an air of otherworldliness to the fantasy but also romance as well.

Pfeiffer was at her most beautiful and her most radiant here, and her chemistry with the dashing Hauer (just off his appearance in Blade Runner) is astounding, even though they’re only in two scenes together. The first, where they are both changing forms as dawn breaks, is absolutely heartbreaking and one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever.

Broderick is the glue that holds the movie together. He’s not just the comic belief, but he’s also the moral center. His conversations with God are hilarious and his relationship with the main characters keeps the movie flowing, particularly with Navarre and Imperius. When I first saw this back in the day, the criticism was that Broderick was a bit out of place in the medieval timeframe, coming off as more of a New York street hustler and in many ways that’s valid, but it nonetheless works in my humble opinion.

Wood also does one of the best villain turns of the 80s, snake-like and self-righteous but with a slimy underbelly of corruption and lust. He’s a fine character actor who had several pretty good roles (and I believe is active to this day) but none ever made the kind of splash as this one did, at least with me.

It’s a great movie with a tremendous premise. It’s not quite perfect – the Eric Woolfson/Alan Parsons score is simply wrong for the movie – but it’s pretty darn close. It’s wonderfully romantic, as close to a modern fairy tale – the filmmakers for many years claimed it’s based on an actual medieval legend but there’s little evidence of that. It’s perfect for cuddling up with your sweetie and imagining one another as a dashing knight and a beautiful damsel.

WHY RENT THIS: A wonderfully wicked curse and outstanding chemistry between Hauer and Pfeiffer. An energetic performance by Broderick and a deliciously evil turn by Wood.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The Alan Parsons-produced score is anachronistic and wholly improper for the film.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images and partial nudity. By and large acceptable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rutger Hauer was originally cast as Marquet, the evil captain of the guard and Kurt Russell was originally cast as Navarre, but when Russell dropped out three days before principal photography began, Hauer was given the role which is the one he wanted to begin with.


BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $18.4M on an unreported production budget; the movie reportedly broke even.


TOMORROW: Day 2 of Cinema365: From the Heart