Documentary Review: Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’ (2013)

Also known as: American Masters: Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’
Release Date: November 5th, 2013
Directed by: Bob Smeaton
Music by: Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Kramer (mixer)
Cast: Jimi Hendrix (archive footage)

Eagle Rock Entertainment, WNET Channel 13 New York, PBS, 90 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’ was actually an episode of PBS’ long-running television series American Masters. Even though this is a single episode of a show that has been on for decades, it is itself a film. In fact, it is one of the best biographical documentaries of a musician that I have seen in recent memory.

Obviously the film goes through the life of one of America’s greatest musicians of all-time, some would argue the best. This film has some pretty candid interviews however. Some of the most important and intimate are the old interviews with his father and the more modern ones with his sister, as well as other rock & roll gods and top rock music journalists.

The film gives a lot of insight into the personal life of Jimi, more so than other documentaries that I’ve seen on him. It extensively goes into his time in England, which was some of the coolest stuff in this documentary. The archive footage and performances of Hendrix were pretty amazing and should, from a cultural standpoint, be deemed priceless.

This PBS produced film is definitely worth the 90 minute playtime. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other American Masters documentaries.

Documentary Review: Red Army (2014)

Release Date: May 16th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabe Polsky
Written by: Gabe Polsky
Music by: Christophe Beck, Leo Birenberg
Cast: Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak, Scotty Bowman, Vladimir Pozner

Gabriel Polsky Productions, Sony Pictures Classics, 84 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Gabe Polsky and Werner Herzog, now regular collaborators, worked together on this documentary. Polsky directed and conducted the interviews, where Herzog produced it.

This film follows the story of the Soviet Union’s last great hockey team, as told through their point of view. It follows them through their early days as kids in the system, through international competition, the Olympics, political and social turmoil, as well as their journey to North America and the NHL.

The bulk of the story is told through the eyes of legendary player Viacheslav Fetisov. He is dynamic, charismatic and, at times, an abrasive cantankerous jerk. But he does seem to tell an honest story and expresses his feelings and his tale pretty thoroughly. He’s straightforward and comes with a no nonsense approach, other than poking fun at the director here and there.

The most important thing about this film, is how intimately it portrays these young players relationship with the Soviet Union’s sports system and the hardship and challenges they faced. It also displays their loyalty to their country and the pride they had for playing on the national team but it evolves into their inability to trust their coach and that same system, as it holds them prisoner and doesn’t allow for them to have lives.

Through the broken promises and mistreatment over the years, many of these players eventually left the crumbling Soviet Union for the greener pastures of the National Hockey League in the United States and Canada. It then follows their struggles in the NHL and how these Russians adapted and then changed the game at it’s highest professional level.

This is a thought provoking and fast-paced documentary. It has something for everyone, whether you are into sports, politics or both. Truthfully, it is one of the best hockey documentaries that I have seen in quite some time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Of Miracles and MenMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.

Documentary Review: A.K.A. Cassius Clay (1970)

Release Date: November 4th, 1970
Directed by: Jimmy Jacobs
Written by: Bernard Evslin
Music by: Teo Macero
Cast: Muhammad Ali, Cus D’Amato, Richard Kiley (narrator)

Sports of the Century, William Cayton Productions, United Artists, 79 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I wish there were more vintage boxing documentaries floating around Netflix.

A.K.A. Cassius Clay is a damned good documentary. It was made in 1970 and it follows Muhammad Ali while he was banned from boxing due to his refusal of being inducted into the United States Army due to religious beliefs. For those who don’t know, Ali was a member of the Nation of Islam, which at the time, was considered to be highly controversial. Luckily we’ve evolved since then.

The film gave an honest and sincere glimpse into the life of Muhammad Ali as he toured colleges, speaking to the youth about civil rights and other issues that were important to him at the time. Due to his exile from the ring, he wasn’t able to work and his speaking engagements at least allowed him to make money and pay his bills.

The film also goes into his boxing career and gives a lot of insight into the man and what made him tick. There’s lots of good interviews and intimate footage of the great Ali and those who he let into his inner circle. This is a compelling documentary that gives the viewer a sort of backstage pass to Ali’s life at a very interesting time. If you’re a boxing fan and/or an Ali fan, I can’t recommend this film enough.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: When We Were KingsTysonChampsUnforgivable Blackness and The Trials of Muhammad Ali.

Documentary Review: The Four Year Plan (2011)

Release Date: November 16th, 2011 (IDFA Festival – Netherlands)
Directed by: Mat Hodgson
Music by: Rob Lord

Ad Hoc Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

The Four Year Plan is another soccer documentary in a long series of soccer documentaries that I’ve been watching the last week or so. It follows the Queens Park Rangers (or QPR) as they are faced with relegation, new ownership and their fight to get promoted back into the Premier League.

This film was done almost guerrilla style, as the cameras were left rolling seemingly at all times. We get looks into the locker room, the boardroom and every other realm that involves running and managing a soccer team. The footage was top quality and was edited together nicely, providing the viewer with an engaging story of failure turned to perseverance.

Giving good perspective into the business side of things is what I found most interesting in this film because there isn’t a lot that I have seen in my lifetime that shows the behind the scenes meetings of British soccer with so much transparency. I’m obviously aware that they didn’t show their most secret meetings and sessions but you still got to go deeper into this world than you would expect.

In the end, it was a good sports documentary that gave serious insight into the world of British soccer, which most Americans don’t have access to. The action parts of the film were also well presented and gave it a good balance between the sport and the business.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: One Night In Turin, Hillsborough, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos and ESPN’s 30 For 30: Soccer Stories series.

Documentary Review: The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

Release Date: January 20th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Chapman Way, Maclain Way
Music by: Brocker Wa

Netflix, 73 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a Netflix exclusive that just dropped this past weekend. It is the story of the short-lived Portland Mavericks minor league baseball franchise that was started and ran by Bing Russell, actor and father of Kurt Russell.

The Mavericks were pretty big in the ’70s. In fact, they were getting more press coverage than a lot of the major league teams. They also set some minor league attendance records during their existence. They were scruffy, tough and not your typical clean cut all-American team. They brought a hardened edge to baseball and a level of competition that not only surprised the City of Portland but also surprised the team.

This was a thoroughly entertaining, informative and enjoyable documentary. As a baseball fan that was born in the late ’70s, I’ve heard the stories of the Portland Mavericks but I wasn’t alive to witness it. This gave a lot of the stories I’ve heard, more insight and depth. It also added in a bunch of stuff I would’ve never known otherwise.

It was great seeing Kurt Russell and his mother adding their two cents to the documentary, as well as the interviews with all the old Mavericks and key people. The movie was well edited, well put together and seemed to fly by with ease. The short 73 minute running time may have something to do with that.

This is one of the better baseball documentaries that I’ve seen come out in the last few years. If you’re a fan of the sport, check it out. If you’ve got Netflix streaming, it’s free.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: No No: A Dockumentary and Ken Burns’ Baseball.

Documentary Review: Dust To Glory (2005)

Release Date: April 1st, 2005 (limited)
Directed by: Dana Brown
Written by: Dana Brown
Music by: Nathan Furst
Cast: Chad McQueen, Mario Andretti, Steve McQueen (archive footage)

BronWa Pictures, Dusted Productions, Gotham Group, 97 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I know that it’s been out for a while but I just watched the documentary film Dust To Glory, which is about the famous Baja 1000 off-road race. For those who don’t know, the race is world-renowned and has been a part of Baja’s culture since 1967.

The film was phenomenally shot and the action really never stopped apart from taking breaks to interview the several subjects of the film. The people and their stories were great and added a lot of depth and history to the majestic race.

The director is Dana Brown who is the son of famous documentary filmmaker Bruce Brown. The elder Brown was known for the films Endless Summer and its sequel, as well as On Any Sunday, which is a motorcycle racing documentary featuring Steve McQueen.

The younger brown does a good job living up to his dad’s reputation and ability to weave together a good story. Dust To Glory is a sort of spiritual successor to On Any Sunday.

Whether you are a fan of off-road racing or not, this film is very accessible and tells a story interesting enough to keep one hooked until the end. There wasn’t a stone left unturned in covering every possible aspect of this race and the people around it. If anything, the film made me want to travel to Mexico to participate or at the very least, go as a spectator and scream my lungs off.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: On Any Sunday and Love the Beast.

Documentary Review: Heroes Manufactured (2016)

Release Date: October, 2016
Directed by: Yaron Betan
Written by: Yaron Betan

Key West Video, KingSky Productions, White Night Studios, 90 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t know what to expect when I fired this up but I’ve been watching whatever free comic industry documentaries I’ve been able to dig up recently.

This is primarily about Canadian comic book creators and takes place at various comic conventions throughout Canada.

Mostly, this was an entertaining documentary about a scene I’m not intimately familiar with having grown up and primarily lived in Florida. I know some of the top Canadian creators and their titles but this delved a bit deeper and gave me some new stuff to check out.

This wasn’t too exciting though and doesn’t seem to have a cohesive narrative other than linking everything together with Canada as the running theme. However, we get a lot of time devoted to Stan Lee, who is a New Yorker, which means he’s not a Canadian. But I’ll watch Stan Lee in anything, so I’m not complaining.

Heroes Manufactured has a really high IMDb rating, which I found to be misleading as it certainly isn’t a documentary that should be anywhere near an 8.8.

It’s a good and informative little film though, if you want to know more about the Canadian comic book scene.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Comic Book Independents24 Hour Comic and The Image Revolution.