Lucha Mexico


Blue Demon Jr. surveys his domain.

Blue Demon Jr. surveys his domain.

(2015) Documentary (Self-Released) Shocker, Jon Strongman Andersen, Fabian El Gitano, Blue Demon Jr., Julio Cesar Rivera, Tony Salazar, Kemonito, Arkangel, Ultimo Guerrero, Faby Apache, Sexy Star, Arkangel, Damian 666, Halloween, El Hijo del Pedro Aguayo, Gigante Bernard. Directed by Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz

Professional wrestling here in the United States is essentially an entertainment spectacle. While the participants involved are indeed athletes of the highest caliber, the matches are scripted and the outcomes pre-determined to a storyline that matches up good guys versus bad guys. The same is true in Mexico, where wrestling is known as lucha libre  but South of the Border it is something of a national mania.

For eons, wrestlers – called luchadores in Mexico – mainly plied their trade in two different establishments, the CMLL and the AAA. Many would wear masks that gave them a kind of superhero mystique, as if they were protecting a secret identity. As time went by, the masks became more and more a part of their identity; luchadores wear them often up to 18 hours a day. Some almost never take them off, feeling more comfortable in the mask than without.

And make no mistake, those masks are money makers for both of the wrestling federations; sales of masks for the fans are a very significant portion of the merchandising income for the CMLL, the AAA and the wrestlers themselves. The luchadores are very careful to market their image properly as this is part of what keeps them viable as draws to the organizations they work for.

&This documentary goes behind the masks and the marketing to a certain extent, trying to illustrate and explain the absolute obsession that the Mexican people have for wrestling and the luchadores. For many, it is an escape from the economic upheaval, the political corruption, the drug violence and the desperate poverty that is a part of Mexican daily life. In the world of lucha libre, good triumphs over evil (most of the time) and honor and virtue are lauded above deceit and avarice.

One thing that has caught the sport by surprise is the rise of the Rudos. Rudos are the wrestlers who generally are rule-breakers, although some use the term to describe any who wrestle without masks, or use brute force as their primary wrestling technique. Tecnicos, or technicians, tend to be high-flyers, and generally are the heroic who fight with honor and sportsmanship. Because of the corruption in Mexico, the people have begun to see those who refuse to play by the rules as more heroic than those who do, mainly because every day they see those who play by the rules tend to be the ones who support a corrupt system.

This has given rise to the Perros Del Mal, an organization that is roughly equivalent to the ECW in the United States. Their matches tend towards the extreme and here the Rudos worship is more pronounced. Founded by wrestler El Hijo del Pedro Aguayo, the PDM has taken off in popularity over the past five years and now rivals the established organizations for the imagination of the Mexican lucha fans.

The documentary, which was four years in the making, primarily focuses on Shocker, one of the most popular figures in the CMLL and Strongman, an American import in the same organization. Shocker comments on the loneliness of the luchador life and after suffering a severe knee injury that put him out of action for six months, saw him really having a hard time coming back to the level of competition he had been at previously. Strongman also suffers an elbow injury and is a devoted family man who lives in California, wrestling with a Japanese federation at the same time he labored for the CMLL, racking up the frequent flyer miles.

Injuries are a significant part of the wrestling game. Most wrestlers are injured at any given time, be it cracked ribs, fractured wrists, pulled muscles, and of course enough bruises to wallpaper a house. They gamely wrestle through the pain and perform in all sorts of venues, from the ancient but respected Arena Mexico in Mexico City to brand new sports palaces to tents at local ferias. They travel by bus, by plane and by personal car. They are often absent from families (if they have them) for weeks at a time.

The documentary has a good deal of information regarding the sport as it is performed in Mexico and the interviews are lively. We rarely see talking heads; people in this documentary are always in motion and always doing something, be it working out in the gym, walking down the street, signing autographs or preparing for their wrestling matches. The film is kinetic and colorful which makes it stand out among other documentaries. Even non-wrestling fans will find this entertaining and informative.

What the movie fails to do however is address corruption within the sport itself, of problems with wrestlers who are less well-known going unpaid by unscrupulous promoters who also sometimes abscond with the gate of a live show, or wrestlers being dropped by promotions after getting injured. It’s a vicious industry and we don’t get a sense of that, which may have been in order for the filmmakers to secure access to the stars of the CMLL and the AAA whose Blue Demon Jr. is, like many wrestlers in the sport, sons and grandsons of legendary stars of the sport.

We also get little context as to what about wrestling appeals to the Mexican soul, although that is discussed somewhat. It is a fascinating topic and I think would have served the film better if we had gotten the point of view of wrestling fans rather than just those involved with the industry. A little context and perspective might have made this a better movie.

Still, this is better than most documentaries I’ve seen this year, although the subject matter may be less urgent. This isn’t a movie that is going to change your life or alter your view of the world. It may just give you a further appreciation of the sport/entertainment/spectacle that is professional wrestling. While there are a lot of similarities of Mexican wrestling to the American version (i.e. storylines and character development), there are a lot of differences; there are more interactions between wrestlers and fans and the wrestlers themselves seem to be less egotistical and down-to-earth, even if they do spend an enormous time at the gym. I don’t know if Vince McMahon will be seeing this film, but he should; he might get a few ideas for his own promotion, the WWE. Even the most popular wrestling promotion in the world can learn something new, after all.

REASONS TO GO: Informative and appealing even to non-fans. Avoids talking heads syndrome.
REASONS TO STAY: Lacks context. Doesn’t address corruption in the sport.
FAMILY VALUES: Wrestling violence, some profanity and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Four of the people who appear in the film have since passed away, including two who died during filming (and whose passing is covered in the film).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/14/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beyond the Mat
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Spectre

Reversion (2015)


A lift is still a lift.

A lift is still a lift.

(2015) Science Fiction (Fluency) Aja Naomi King, Colm Feore, Gary Dourdan, Jeanette Samano, Lela Rochon, Amanda Plummer, David Clennon, Sachin Joab, Scott Bailey, Matthew Bellows, Chris Spinelli. Directed by Jose Nestor Marquez

Memory is a very subjective thing. It is shaded by our experiences and often by the need of our psyche for self-protection. It can be unreliable but it can also color our entire lives; what are we but the sum total of our memories?

Sophie Clé (King) is the head of the marketing team on the eve of the release of a revolutionary new device in the near future. Called the Oubli, it recalls and enhances our best memories so we can relive them over and over again, whenever we like. The device’s inventor is her father Jack (Feore), the CEO of the medical device company that is marketing the device. Sophie has been an early test subject, using the device to relive memories of her mother (Rochon) who has been dead for some time, having taken her own life when Sophie was a teen.

However, Sophie is kidnapped by Isa (Samano), who cuts an incision in her neck and informs Sophie that she has an implant in her brain. Isa has one of her own but the implant is degrading and when it finally shuts down, so will Isa; she desperately needs the codes to help stave off her own mortality. Sophie manages to escape but she’s shaken by the experience; her bodyguard/driver/confidante Ayden (Dourdan) becomes much more vigilant about her activities.

It turns out that Isa had reprogrammed Sophie’s implants so that the Oubli no longer works for her; instead, she finds unpleasant memories that she had forgotten beginning to bubble to the surface, Memories that make her suspect that her father may be up to something along with Dr. Ciespy (Clennon), the family physician. Isa may have some of the answers but even Ayden knows more than he’s telling her and the key to everything may reside in the hands of a bitter retired scientist (Plummer) who hides a monstrous secret.

This is kind of continuation and less of a sequel to a SyFy TV movie that aired last year called Isa (it’s available on most streaming services if you want to see it) that was also written and directed by Marquez – Samano, who starred in that film, returns to this one in a much reduced role. Like that film, Reversion has a compelling subject in terms of memory, its role in our lives and its ultimate unreliability. We remember what we choose to, after all.

Feore is a veteran character actor who often plays the role of sinister corporate types and essentially that’s what he is here, although his character seems more low-key than what we’re used to from movie villains. It is a credit to Feore that when he is showing fatherly concern for his daughter, he still manages to project an air that something’s not quite right which goes a long way in making the ending work.

King, best known for her work on the Shonda Rhimes TV potboiler How to Get Away With Murder has a very difficult task here and unfortunately she doesn’t pull it off. Sophie is a basically unlikable character, something of a spoiled princess and she throws a few tantrums here and there, and spends a lot of time whining. I am not sure whether it is just the way the character is written or King’s interpretation of it but I found it very hard to empathize with her throughout the movie and that’s crucial to making the movie work. I’m just not sold on her performance here to be blunt.

Marquez has a bit of the artiste in him and there are some sequences that are fairly esoteric, especially early on, that don’t seem terribly germane but I will give him credit where credit is due – the ending of the film is absolutely the right one and endings as most veteran moviegoers will tell you are the hardest thing to nail. This one gets it right.

I think this is a very well-intentioned movie and as I said, there are some powerful concepts to explore here but the movie instead falls into the doldrums of following poor little rich girl Sophie through her travails and quite frankly I think that the movie bogs down because of it. I think that Marquez was torn between writing a thriller and a thought-provoking science fiction film, decided to do both and ended up doing a fair to middling job on both aspects. Something tells me that Marquez has much better films in him that we’ll hopefully see in the future. As for this one, it’s an okay film that could have been much more.

REASONS TO GO: Compelling concept. The right ending.
REASONS TO STAY: Sophie is too much of a princess to be sympathetic. A little bit too esoteric at times.
FAMILY VALUES: Some violence and a few disturbing images. Adult themes and a few adult words.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The word “Oubli” is based on the French word for forget.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/10/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Oldboy
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Everest

Brother’s Justice


Dax Shepard can't believe himself as an action star either.

Dax Shepard can’t believe himself as an action star either.

(2010) Mockumentary (Tribeca) Dax Shepard, Nate Tuck, Tom Arnold, Ashton Kutcher, Jon Favreau, Bradley Cooper, David Koechner, Seth Green, Michael Rosenbaum, Ryan Hansen, Jess Rowland, Steve Tisch, Andrew Panay, Greg Siegel, Josh Temple, James Feldman, Laura Labo, Jordan Morris, Chevonne Moore, Rome Shadanloo. Directed by David Palmer & Dax Shepard

I have to admit that there are times I’m not sure what a filmmaker is up to. Dax Shepard is a case in point here. This appears to be a satire on the moviemaking process, the culture of enabling star egos and of vanity projects in general. I mean, that seems to be the case. But I’m not 100% certain after seeing this.

Basically, it’s a mockumentary starring Shepard, who has appeared in dozens of movies as a comic actor in supporting roles (like the oafish boyfriend in Baby Mama) as well as on the acclaimed TV show Parenthood. Here, he’s made the decision that it would be more lucrative for him to be an action movie star rather than a comic actor mainly because the competition is less fierce. He writes a Chuck Norris-style movie complete with drug dealers, bikers, sibling warriors and a climactic fight going down a mountain.

His aim is to star in it himself, even though he has no action skills whatsoever. He goes into training in a dojo whose sensei is less sure of Shepard’s prospects (and abilities) than Shepard is himself. Shepard’s pal Nate Tuck is there as a producer and inevitably gets stuck with the tab for expenses Shepard is racking up.

Trying to see this turkey to the studios proves to be formidable but Shepard is undaunted. He approaches A-listers like Favreau and Cooper as well as Tom Arnold to help lend credibility to his movie. At last he realizes that he is going to have to do it himself.

There’s plenty of room for laughs here, but unfortunately there aren’t a lot of them. Part of the problem is that Shepard makes himself so unlikable, so egotistical and so out of touch with reality that you’re rooting for him to get his ass kicked. That can work in certain situations but not here and not now.

The cameos are basically the best part of the movie which is kind of a damning fact in and of itself. The bottom line here is that if you like Dax Shepard’s work, you’re going to love this. If you don’t – and I’m one of those who finds him more obnoxious than funny – than you’re not. And I didn’t.

WHY RENT THIS: Nifty cameos. Some nice satire on the Hollywood system.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If Shepard isn’t your cup of tea you’re really going to hate this one. Sometimes makes you feel more uncomfortable than amused.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of bad language and a few violent scenes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was an Audience Award winner at the 2010 Austin (TX) Film Festival.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Waiting for Guffman

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Fast & Furious 6

Ted


Ted

When W.C. Fields said never act with children or animals, he couldn’t possibly have had Ted in mind.

(2012) Comedy (Universal) Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Giovanni Ribisi, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Patrick Warburton, Jessica Barth, Laura Vandervoort, Sam J. Jones, Joel McHale, Matt Walsh, Norah Jones, Bill Smitrovich, Patrick Stewart (narrator), Tom Skerritt. Directed by Seth MacFarlane

 

Wishes can be tricky things. We may think we want something, but we rarely think through the consequences of actually getting it. We are so rarely prepared to get exactly what we want.

Young John Bennett is a lonely, outcast little boy in the suburbs of Boston. He’s so despised by the kids of his neighborhood that even the Jewish kids undergoing a beating from the other kids in the neighborhood don’t want him to join in. One Christmas he gets a Teddy Bear the size of a toddler, one who says “I love you” whenever you press the right button; well, the only button. John is enchanted. He loves his new friend – he just wishes that his new friend were real and would be his friend forever. Lo and behold, he gets his wish.

Of course, that takes the world by surprise. After all, who the hell gets their wishes to come true? Ted (MacFarlane) becomes a minor celebrity, appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (and cracking him up). But much like all celebrity, it fades – ask Corey Feldman and soon life turns back to normal for the kid and his living teddy bear.

Flash forward to 2012. John (Wahlberg) is 35 now, still living with Ted but also living with Lori Collins (Kunis), his super-hottie of a girlfriend. She’s a VP at a marketing firm; he works the counter at a rental car agency (I’d love to find out the story of how the two hooked up, but it’s not in this movie). They’ve been going together for four years and she’s ready to move on to the next step but John is in no hurry. Besides, he’s still spending as much time doing weed and drinking beer with Ted.

This doesn’t sit well with Lori who wants more of a boyfriend than an ambition-challenged slacker with a teddy bear. She’s had to fend off the advances of her boss (McHale) and defend him to all and sundry and at last it’s time for Ted to go. Reluctantly, John tells his bear to go and although Ted isn’t happy about it, he makes the best of it, getting a job at the local grocery store and banging the attractive check-out clerk Tami-Lynn (Barth) on the produce pile in the back for kickers.

Still, even that doesn’t seem to motivate John to grow up, blowing off an important event for Lori to go party with their idol Sam J. Jones – Flash Gordon himself, playing himself – at Ted’s new apartment. That night goes terribly wrong and Lori and John split up. John realizes how much he loves Lori and Ted realizes he’s gone too far. They’ll both do whatever it takes to save the relationship, but there’s a creepy dad named Donnie (Ribisi) trying to get Ted for his son – and he’ll do anything it takes to get the living teddy bear all to himself.

MacFarlane is best-known for creating “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show” among others. His humor tends to push the boundaries of television and given the lack of broadcast standards here, he goes whole hog for some of the most disgusting humor imaginable. If you ever wondered what “Family Guy” would look like on HBO, ponder no more. He even pulls out references to characters from the show – Ted’s go at a posh British accent sounds uncannily like Stewie and he snorts at one point “What do I sound like, Peter Griffith?” Well, as a matter of fact, no.

Wahlberg is a master at portraying a basically nice guy at heart with rough edges. John isn’t a bad guy, really – he’s just immature. The trouble is, he’s 35 and his girlfriend has no desire to be with an adolescent. She, understandably wants a man – and if you look like Mila Kunis as Lori does, you pretty much get what you want. And Lori does, sorta.

And that’s the beauty of the movie. Yeah, the plot is kinda generic but MacFarlane goes about it in a pretty roundabout way. He pushes the humor way way way over the line without missing a beat, and throws in a ton of pop culture references. He throws in some characters that are kind of outside of the box, a good deal of affectionate ribbing in the general direction of Boston and voila! A summer movie that may cure the summer comedy doldrums. For those who are really missing a Judd Apatow film or one of the Hangover movies, here is the movie to go see.

REASONS TO GO: One of the funniest comedies thus far this year. MacFarlane milks every joke for all its worth.

REASONS TO STAY: May make some feel like they’ve spent two hours in the gutter.

FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of crude content (albeit very funny) as well as plenty of foul language, not to mention a fair amount of drug use and plenty of smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While a variety of teddy bears were used for stand-ins on-set, Ted’s movements were performed by MacFarlane as motion capture.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/9/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100. The reviews are kinda mixed but more towards the positive side.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Harvey

TRASH TALK LOVERS: Few cities produce as many great trash talkers as Boston does and we get to see – and hear – some gems.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Big Stan