All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

BEYOND THE MAT






This documentary by Barry Blaustein is like a love letter to
professional wrestling, and particularly to Vince McMahon and
the World Wrestling Federation. Soft, repetitive to a fault,
and narrated by its maker in tones of wistful awe that seem
totally inappropriate to its subject, “Beyond the Mat” tells
very little that’s consequential and not much we didn’t already
know, apart from the fact that Mr. Blaustein, a comedy writer
who’s worked for “Saturday Night Live” and co-scripted several
Eddie Murphy films, looks upon the “sport” that’s entranced
him since childhood without a hint of ironic detachment. That’s
pretty amazing, given the awful press the WWF has received of
late.

The picture is structured as a tale of three wrestlers–
retiring veteran Terry Funk, exhuberant family man Mick Foley,
and tormented over-the-hill legend Jake Roberts. Footage of
the three, and interviews with them, are intercut throughout,
and Blaustein tries to piece it all together in a vague
chronological scheme, with the bits linked by his adoring
narration. The wrestlers seem like interesting characters:
Funk resembles a good-natured version of Pat Buchanan and
Foley a chubbier, bearded version of Richard Masur (whose
voice he even shares), while Roberts, a crack addict troubled
by his strained family ties, exudes a remarkable mixture of
pride and self-loathing. All are (perhaps surprisingly)
articulate fellows, and the picture certainly humanizes them.

But Blaustein’s treatment never goes much beyond the obvious,
and his portrayal of the business itself has all the earmarks
of an “approved” recitation. “Beyond the Mat” also needs
stronger editing than that provided by Jeff Werner, who allows
many sequences to ramble on far too long and failed to impose
impose a guiding thread on the episodic material.

“Beyond the Mat” was clearly a labor of love for Blaustein, but
it’s unlikely many viewers will respond to it with similar
affection.

GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI






I’ve never been much enamoured of the films of Jim Jarmusch,
which have always seemed to me both precious and pretentious–
the 1995 debacle “Dead Man,” with its funereal pacing and
pointless plotting, was a particular chore to sit through. But
his new effort comes as quite a delightful surprise, a
characteristically deliberate but singularly amusing shaggy-
dog tale about a martial arts expert steeped in the ethos of
the samurai, who, through pure chance, has become indebted to
Louie, a member of the old Mafia (John Tormey). Ghost Dog, as
the enigmatic guy calls himself, serves Louie as an anonymous
but very proficient hitman, until in one job he kills made man
Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow), leading the mob bosses to
demand that the assassin himself be rubbed out. This brings
the hero into open war with the whole organization, which
puts his contact Louie in a difficult situation.

Jarmusch’s picture includes some action (in which, it must be
admitted, Whitaker doesn’t come across as especially proficient),
but its strength lies not in the plot, which is frankly absurd
and uninteresting, but in the oddball characterizations and
unlikely relationships which the writer-director fashions
within it. Ghost Dog’s friendship with a Haitian ice-cream
salesman (Isaach de Bankole), for example, is both warm and
humorous, and the tie between him and Louie is equally
intriguing. The Mafia characters, moreover, are portrayed as
amusingly over-the-hill, and with pros like Cliff Gorman and
Henry Silva playing them, and making brilliant use of pauses,
silences and looks of gloomy incredulity in the process, they
come across as ridiculous icons of a bygone era.

Splendid work from character actors and occasional nuggets of
gemlike dialogue aren’t enough, of course, to make “Ghost Dog”
work completely. As is true of all Jarmusch’s pictures, the
direction is still flaccid, and there are times when its
combination of gangster parody, eastern mysticism and laid-back
western irony seems merely affected.

But in this instance the eccentric creator’s efforts are
successful more often than not. “Ghost Dog: The Way of the
Samurai” is a peculiar piece, to be sure, but here the
peculiarity seems fresh and amusing rather than forced and
tiresome. It’s far from a perfect picture, but if approached
with a degree of tolerance its deadpan humor should generate
quite a few smiles.