The Problem with Making a Movie About Vince McMahon

It was recently announced that the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Vincent Kennedy McMahon, could be portrayed by Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper in an upcoming biopic. As a lifelong wrestling fan, I think that Vince’s story is one that is suited to the big screen for obvious reasons. His story is that of the American Dream (and I don’t mean Dusty Rhodes), a working class guy who rose from nothing to create a corporate juggernaut. The man who laid waste to the old territorial system of wrestling promotions and monopolised the art into a billion dollar company that is floated on the New York Stock Exchange. A ruthless, cutthroat businessman who has been at the centre of scandal and controversy since the 1980s. But there is quite a large possibility that this film could be less There Will be Blood and more The Wolf of Wall Street, portraying Vince as a cool dude who just had a pretty wild journey.

The truth is that Vince McMahon has used his insurmountable position in the wrestling industry to fashion himself into a messianic figure. WWE’s propaganda machine will parade him around as a genius and a revolutionary, whilst conveniently glossing over his highly-publicised personal life. This is a man who has had to settle a litany of sexual assault cases out of court, has placed a gagging order on the ex-wife of one of his company’s top talents after she was beaten at the hands of said talent, and whose extramarital affairs are no secret to anyone. Vince is not a saint, he is an aggressive, controlling man with just as many enemies as friends. To provide some insight into the psyche of Vinny Mac, he once pitched a potential storyline to his real-life daughter, Stephanie McMahon (a long-running on-air character in WWE programming, as well as a behind-the-scenes executive), that would see her falling pregnant, with the father being a mystery. The resolution to this mystery? It would be revealed that the father was none other that Mr. McMahon himself. And when Stephanie put a hard veto on the idea, Vince then had the brilliant notion of pitching the father being her brother, Shane, also a WWE character and real-life member of the McMahon clan.

Now, can you really picture a movie being produced about the still-living billionaire delving into his twisted fantasies of incest without being slapped with a court case from WWE’s army of lawyers? Me neither. The WWE’s need to protect Vince so incessantly, despite most of his dirty laundry being out there for all to see, would influence the script of what could be a fascinating examination of someone who’s clearly not all there. All I can expect to see from this movie is a sanitised, WWE-approved romp that presents the Chairman of the Board as the most brilliant person since Jesus (did I mention that Vince and his son once wrestled Shawn Michaels and “God” in a tag team match once and won?). Even the casting tells you what this will be like; Bradley Cooper is a good-looking, talented, charming, and beloved celebrity who is nothing like the man he may be portraying. Vince has referred to himself in the past as a “genetic jackhammer” and clearly fancies himself as a stud. Now, I’m no prize myself, but Vince is flattering himself a lot if he sees a resemblance between himself and Cooper. And I can’t help but feel he’s playing a large part in the casting process.

This is the cynic in me talking, however, and I could possibly be writing off the production too soon. Cooper is only 42 years of age, so the film will likely cover Vince’s childhood through to his acquisition and expansion of his father’s wrestling promotion in his late 30s. Vince was physically abused by his stepfather growing up, living in a trailer park with no money or hope for a better life. That all changed when he met his biological father, Vince McMahon Sr. at 12 years old, and the seeds were planted for Vince to pursue a career as a wrestling promoter. It’s a fairly typical rags to riches Hollywood story, but there is certainly a real element of darkness to it. McMahon was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he worked his fingers to the bone to become a self-made billionaire. These are all details that could form a satisfying narrative, but purely telling the story of the rise and failing to acknowledge the sinister side of Vince is what I fear may happen.

I don’t claim to know Vince, nor do I know for certain what he’s truly like as a person, but the stories that are told about him haven’t come out of nowhere. Be it covering up a murder so one of his top earners could continue to wrestle, or burying rumours of one of his trainers molesting young recruits, it’s a yarn that reads like a Shakespearean tragedy as opposed to a Hollywood fairy tale. Knowing how protective Vince is of his image, the chances of this biopic exploring the horrors of the wrestling world and the part he may or may not have played in such are slim. I wouldn’t expect to see any kind of depiction of steroid-use, forcibly taking the territories of other promoters, or having a boat named “Sexy Bitch” (really) making its way into the final cut. I think what we can expect is a cliff notes version of the actual story, downplaying the negatives and giving us a Vince that is audience-friendly, as the real man is hardly a sympathetic figure.

Professional wrestling is rarely explored in cinema, and was at its best when shown for being the hell that it is in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. I doubt we’ll get anything that even approaches the honesty and candidness of that. This is going to be a case of us getting the movie we want, just not the movie Vince McMahon deserves.

Oh yeah, he’s also best friends with Donald Trump, just saying.

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The Public Perception of Film Critics is Ridiculous

Earlier this week, I found myself browsing the comments section of the link to the RottenTomatoes score of the new Baywatch movie and instantly regretted my decision. It still shocks me that despite RottenTomatoes existing since 1998, people still don’t understand how the site works. It is merely a collection of critical reviews that are then tallied into “Fresh” and “Rotten” scores, which provides an aggregate of what percentage of critics enjoyed the film. The 18% score for Baywatch did nothing but draw the ire of moviegoers, who lambasted the entire profession of film criticism. The usual barbs of film critics being “out of touch” and “only liking pretentious dramas” finally got to me, as I went on a mad tirade explaining how idiotic such assertions sounded. If the movie scores an 18%, then that means 18% of the critics that reviewed the film would recommend it (23 critics in total, in this case). So, if all film critics are such stuck up snobs, why is it that almost one fifth of them liked Baywatch? It’s almost as if they’re human beings with opinions of their own, perish the thought.

While there is just an element of failing to grasp the concept of RottenTomatoes at play here, the way in which general audiences choose to treat film critics demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of two things: 1. What purpose they serve and  2. Why they have to be as analytical as they are. First, I’d like to dispel the myth that film critics are magical gatekeepers to the fountain of film knowledge. They’re not old sages that hold some secret formula to understanding film on a level so deep that your brain will explode just thinking about it. A film critic is nothing more than another person with an opinion, an opinion that they are entitled to just like everybody else. The “Us Vs. Them” mentality that so many have towards film critics is problematic in that you’re essentially throwing an entire profession under the bus; a profession that has inspired many to look a little deeper into the films they enjoy and engage with them on a whole new level. The likes of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert weren’t elitists that dictated their opinions to the masses as if their word were gospel. They were national treasures who were beloved by millions, with a TV show that truly helped people to make a decision on what they wanted to see at the movies that week.

The hostility towards critics may very well stem from a form of bitterness. Many reviewers will have attended film school and engaged with the medium at an academic level, which will grant them with at least a slightly more informed opinion than your average film fan, like it or not. This doesn’t mean they’re better than you and it doesn’t stop you from enjoying the movies you like. Film critics can certainly enjoy a dumb blockbuster, if you don’t believe me, then look at the RottenTomatoes scores for Fast Five or Jurassic World. Most critics merely have a mentality of assessing what a film is trying to accomplish and whether or not it achieves that goal in a satisfying way. While film is completely subjective, if one has studied the language of film and is familiar with strong plot structure, writing, direction and the like, then I’m far more likely to listen to them over someone who just owns a lot of Blu-Rays.

This brings me onto the purpose a film critic serves, as apparently it’s a useless practice according to the people whose favourite films were savaged by someone that watches movies for a living. The fact of the matter is that for every one person that doesn’t listen to a film critic, there are multiple people who do. Just think about this logically, if nobody cared about what critics had to say, then the job wouldn’t exist. They provide a service to people who don’t consider themselves to be film savvy enough to research a movie for themselves. I work in a cinema and meet people every day who ask me what kind of reviews the film they’re going to see has received. The answer I give them often allows me to gauge what kind of expectations they then set for the film. In this exchange, I effectively become a middle man, offloading the product of a critical evaluation to a consumer, who is now more aware of what kind of a film they’re going to be watching. This is the kind of importance that a film critic serves.

But the most important thing to remember about how a critic’s opinion is formed is simple: It’s their job. A lot of people seem to forget that they have the freedom to see a movie and then say whatever they like about it without fear of repercussions. A film critic doesn’t have such a luxury. Their job is on the line every time they review a new release, they’re assessed by a superior just like everybody else. If a review is shoddily written or doesn’t provide an in-depth analysis, a critic surrenders themselves to the wrath of their editor. If a critic has established that a certain level of quality is to be expected from their work, then they stand to lose readers from a following that they have spent years of their life building up. These are people who have worked their way up the cutthroat world of journalism to get to where they are. They’ve most likely written for free on many occasions, or worked for peanuts as an unknown freelancer. Now, they find themselves in a position where their opinion is valued by thousands, if they screw up, they could be out of a job. If you don’t perform your job to an acceptable standard, then you know there’s a chance of being fired, a film critic is no different. Whether you agree with a review or not, insulting somebody’s craft is nothing short of plain disrespectful. They’re only trying to put food on the table, same as all of us, so please try to have a little perspective.

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Depression: My Own Personal Babadook

In 2014, Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut, The Babadook, made a significant impact on the horror genre. Garnering acclaim for its unique blend of a genuinely terrifying atmosphere and psychology, the film would go on to be one of the best-reviewed films of the year. The story of a widowed mother slowly losing her sanity to the monstrous title character and being haunted by visions of murdering her son is as much moving as it is horrific. The debate that has raged on about the film since its release has been around one question: Is The Babadook actually real? Within the context of the film’s narrative, there’s a deliberate ambiguity as to whether the family are truly being antagonised by a malevolent force, or if it’s all just a violent manifestation of the protagonist’s grief.

My answer to that question is a simple one, and that is of course The Babadook is real. I’m not talking about the monster itself, but the entire concept. The Babadook is more than a silver screen bad guy, he’s a very real entity that exists for the characters in the film and for all of us in real life. We are all haunted by Mr. Babadook, some of us a lot more than others. At the age of 16, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and admitted into a secure psychiatric unit, where I would live for two months. Five years later and it’s not gotten any easier. I’m ashamed of my depression, I don’t harp on about it on my Facebook and I don’t get into “Well, I’ve attempted suicide this many times” contests with people. Depression is something that I despise, and this is really the first time I’ve ever truly talked about it on a public forum.

Much like The Babadook, depression is an all-enveloping creature with no remorse or pity, it gets to you in the night, crawls along your ceiling and makes you fear for your life. The constant state of fear that I live in means I am almost always fatigued and possess little interest in actually connecting with other people. I don’t have any vices to use as a portal for briefly escaping this nightmare. I’ve never drank, smoked or done drugs, and I don’t believe that casual sex would be a healthy (or even obtainable) option for someone as emotionally unstable as myself. I have zero romantic fulfilment in my life, I can’t stand my job, and I manage to convince myself everyday that all of my friends actually hate me. It’s not a nice way to live, knowing that I am very much the victim in a horror movie in which I am the lead.

This mindset always leads back down the same path, and that is that suicide is the only option. Now, before you call the police and have them sent to my house, this is not a cry for help or a farewell message. I am not suicidal, because I have the awareness to recognise that the negativity in my brain stems from a genuine medical condition, to which killing myself is not a solution. The mother in The Babadook realises this in the film’s incredible finale, in which she tames the beast and traps it in the basement. This metaphor of allowing your feelings to live with you and keep them at bay is a universal truth. You can’t get rid of your demons, it isn’t possible, the effects of trauma will be with you forever. The fact that I know my life may not end via natural causes is not dramatic, it’s a factual statement. At this point, I’m almost certain that I will be the one to take my own life one day, which isn’t something I say lightly. It’s nothing more that a statistical probability, I do not need or want the pity of others.

The only joy I can squeeze out of life these days is through writing, and it’s something I’ve devoted the majority of my time to in the past year. After being unable to cope with the stress of university and dropping out of my undergraduate course, pursuing my dreams of composing words for a living was the only option. In truth, I have to either make it or break it, because I want to do the thing I love full-time, not lie in bed every morning trying to muster the strength to drag myself into my dead end job. Every shower, brushing of teeth and conversation I have throughout the day takes more effort than it should. In university, I went a whole six months without brushing my teeth because I resented everything around me. The walls of my student accommodation were closing in with me inside, The Babadook was there and chipping away at my ability to cope.

Trying to make sense of the world of content creation is an infinite source of stress, but one that is far more manageable than studying a course that did nothing to nurture my spirits, where I didn’t like a good 80% of the people I spent the day with. The seemingly never ending search to make a decent level of income off of the written word is a quest that I will always have hope of completing. And that’s the real crux of any horror movie, that there is always a sense of hope. The Babadook ends on a surprisingly heartwarming note in which the mother and her child have a happy life, with The Babadook living below, needing just enough attention to be acknowledged without being granted the power of full control. The idea that I can control my depression is one that I firmly believe most days, and when I don’t have that belief, I know that it will pass eventually. I should never pretend that my illness doesn’t exist, as that is where it draws its power from. To paraphrase Mr. Babadook himself, the more I deny him, the stronger he gets.

 

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