Documentary Review: Hoop Dreams (1994)

Release Date: January, 1994 (Sundance)
Directed by: Steve James
Written by: Steve James, Frederick Marx
Music by: Ben Sidran
Cast: William Gates, Arthur Agee, various

KTCA Minneapolis, Kartemquin Films, Fine Line Features, 170 Minutes

Review:

“That’s why when somebody say, “when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me”, and that stuff. Well, I should’ve said to them, “if I don’t make it, don’t you forget about me.”” – William Gates

Hoop Dreams was filmed over years, following two Chicago area high school basketball players that were trying to achieve their dream of someday playing in the NBA.

This was also pretty influential on how sports documentaries were made and presented going forward. This had a very direct, intimate approach and the time that it took to film these boys’ lives is pretty remarkable and impressive. If anything, the filmmakers deserved an award just for their dedication on this story.

It’s a very long documentary, however, and with that, it drags in some points. Although, they had to take hundreds of hours of footage over four years and edit it down to just under three hours. Had this been made today, it probably would’ve been released as a documentary miniseries with multiple episodes.

I like the film quite a bit, though, even if I hadn’t seen it since the ’90s. It’s a passionate human story that has its fair share of heartbreak, success and perseverance.

Rating: 8/10

Retro Relapse: Making ‘May Madness’ A Thing

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2015.

May Madness! Or should it be June Madness? Or maybe May-to-June Madness, as it plays out in two different months? Well, it starts at the end of May and goes into the end of June, so most games are played in June.

Regardless of what to officially call it, I love the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament, which culminates into the College World Series. In fact, I love it in the same way that I love March Madness a.k.a. the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament (I like the Women’s one too and the NIT Tournament).

The thing is, every time March rolls around, people all over America print their brackets, fill them out and duke it out with their friends over who knows the sport best. Truthfully, most people only watch the sport during March Madness and really don’t know as much as they think they do. But that is the cool thing about it, playing some stupid bracket game sparks a lot of interest in college basketball: ratings soar and everyone is glued to the television come Final Four time. College baseball could certainly use a similar spark and people could use some good summertime fun.

The thing that makes March Madness so exciting is the insane amount of teams that are in the tournament. College baseball is similar in that there are 64 teams in their tournament (out of 298 Division I programs), the same amount as the basketball tournament before they expanded it to 68 just a few years ago (a change I still don’t get). Additionally, like the basketball tournament, the conference winners get automatic bids and the rest of the field is selected by an NCAA committee.

However, there are a few things that make the baseball tournament different than the basketball tournament.

In March Madness, the basketball teams play in a “one and done” scenario. You lose once, you’re out of the tournament and that’s it. In the baseball tournament, it is a bit more complicated although more interesting.

In college baseball, teams don’t find themselves in a “one and done” situation. They are divided into sixteen regional brackets with a double-elimination format. Regional champions then face each other in eight Super Regionals. The eight winners of those contests then go on to be the participants in the College World Series, which is essentially baseball’s version of basketball’s Final Four, except there are eight teams instead of four.

In the College World Series, teams are split into two groups of four and play a double-elimination format. When it gets down to the final four teams, they play in a best of three series in the semifinals and finals.

It is harder for the average Joe to follow but those of us who follow collegiate baseball, don’t find it that difficult and like the fact that it is a more complex playoff system. Although, it isn’t perfect and for the betterment of the sport, I’m not opposed to some changes to make it more accessible to the masses. Besides, with more accessibility comes more viewership and hopefully, a lot more excitement which will only better the sport of baseball at the collegiate level.

The “one and done” style of college basketball and the large number of participants is what makes it really unpredictable and exciting. Upsets happen on a pretty frequent basis but no one seems to have a problem with the system, as it is. Well, the vast majority of people, anyway.

College baseball could benefit from getting rid of the double-elimination format and go for a straight up 64 team bracket. However, to make it more balanced to what currently exists, I would propose making each round a best of three series, which would still require a double-elimination (or two-loss) scenario.

Where this would make May Madness more exciting than March Madness is that people filling out their brackets could have the option of picking the winner and the amount of games played – a good way to determine tiebreakers.

I’d also like to see the baseball Final Four expand to at least a best of five series: seven would be better.

I’m just a fan of college baseball and a fan of March Madness and think that the energy surrounding the NCAA Basketball Tournament could carry over to another great sport with a similar playoff system already in play. Besides, it’s not like you can do this with college football, which just started a playoff system that is only comprised of four teams. And I love NCAA hockey but they don’t have enough teams to have anything bigger than a sixteen team tournament.

College baseball is the only thing that could provide the world with a proper spin-off of the mega successful March Madness monster. Besides, what else is going on in sports this time of year? Football, hockey and basketball are in their off season and Major League Baseball is in the long drawn out middle of their regular season: gearing up for a joke of an All-Star Game.

Well, I guess I’ll watch the third and final game of the College World Series tonight and continue to dream of a sport that could grow much larger and potentially open the doors of bracketology pandemonium during the summer.

Comic Review: Godzilla vs. Barkley

Published: December, 1993
Written by: Mike Baron, Alan Smithee
Art by: Jeff Butler, Keith Aiken, James Sinclair, Dave Dorman (cover)
Based on: Godzilla by Toho Co. Ltd.

Dark Horse, 22 Pages

Review:

I have this weird obsession with collecting product tie-in comic books. This one is based off of the famous Godzilla vs. Charles Barkley Nike commercial.

Here we have a story that was penned by Alan Smithee, meaning that it was written by someone that didn’t want their real name on it. However, comic book great Mike Baron left his name in the credits, as he wrote the dialogue and did the fine tuning.

While this isn’t Baron’s best work, his humorous side comes out and it seems as if he enjoyed the project and made the best of it, giving us a pretty amusing tale with some charismatic characters, despite the ridiculous premise.

I thought that the art was also good. Charles Barkley’s likeness was captured well and the action panels of Barkley and Godzilla going head-to-head on the court were pretty dynamic and fun to look at.

The story is about a boy that’s given a special coin. The coin has magical properties that make Charles Barkley grow to kaiju size when he touches it. Frankly, this is all the plot that you really need because you don’t buy something like this for a compelling story, you just want to see these two behemoths throw down.

I’ve wanted this comic for awhile, so I’m glad that I finally got my hands on a copy. No buyer’s remorse here and I was pretty satisfied seeing my favorite monster go up against one of the greatest sports personalities of the last few decades.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other product tie-in comics, as well as all the other Godzilla comics put out by various publishers over the years.

Documentary Review: This Magic Moment (2016)

Release Date: April 14th, 2016
Directed by: Gentry Kirby, Erin Leyden
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, Chris Maxwel

ESPN Films, 101 Minutes

Review:

This Magic Moment was one of my most anticipated installments of ESPN’s 30 For 30 film series. It was a special story for me because I was there, in the Orlando area, when all of this stuff was going on. I was in the thick of it.

In fact, a friend of mine’s father had season tickets and I used to go to a lot of Magic games during the season that saw them go to the NBA Finals. It was certainly a magical time for that team and for Central Florida. Plus I was in the middle of my teenage years and basketball was one of the sports I played with a fury at that age.

Yeah, I have always been a Chicago Bulls fan but it was hard not getting swept up in the magic of the Magic when it was all happening in my neighborhood.

This is one of the best, if not the best, 30 For 30 documentaries focusing on the National Basketball Association. It is a hefty and deserving two hours. It covers everything from the formation of the Orlando Magic franchise, through the drafting of Shaq and Penny, their journey to the NBA Finals, their struggles and personal issues and closes out with Shaq leaving for the Los Angeles Lakers and Penny being traded to the Phoenix Suns – ending the dynasty that could have been.

The film benefits from the fact that everyone involved in this story was interviewed. From Shaq to Penny to their agents, coaches, team owners and other significant Magic players from that team, every interviewee was great and helped paint the picture of what happened and why. Looking back to that time, the media and egos created a lot of the issues that took the team down and it is now clear how it all fell apart. Before this film, it was all just a mystery wrapped in a lot of speculation.

It was also great to see how Shaq and Penny feel now and how they share a sense of regret in that they never toughed it out and made it work. They both admit that they would have won several championships had the team stayed together. In the end, Shaq was a huge success regardless and Penny had a very promising career ruined by injury.

This Magic Moment is a phenomenal sports documentary of a fantastic time in the NBA, historically. The Magic of the mid-’90s were special but that may be hard to understand unless you were there. This documentary does a good job of recreating that magic time, however.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Other 30 For 30 documentaries on the NBA and ’90s basketball: Winning Time, No CrossoverThe Fab Five, Requiem for the Big East, Bad Boys and I Hate Christian Laettner.

Book Review: ‘When The Game Was Ours’ by Larry Bird & Earvin Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan

*Written in 2015.

I grew up in a pretty lucky time for a basketball fan. My introduction to the game was seeing the constant rivalry between Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson unfold nearly each and every postseason. It set the stage for what was the best era in professional basketball history, as next came Jordan, Pippen, Malone, Stockton, Barkley, Ewing, Robinson, Drexler and so many others. Bird and “Magic” gave us what was the start of the amazing era that took over the 1980s and culminated at the 1992 Olympic Games with the assembly of the first and greatest Dream Team.

These two guys changed the game and enhanced its spirit. They forced the game to get better and their competition to work harder. They were generals on the court but they were also model citizens and guys worthy of pointing to and saying, “Hey son, be like that guy.”

Anyway, this is a pretty awesome book. Whether you like one of these guys, both of these guys, none of these guys, or just the game.. or not.. it is still a pretty awesome book.

It tells the tales of both men from their point-of-view as they came up through high school, through college and into the NBA. It gives insight as to what each man thought about the other, every step of the way. In many ways, them opening up about their feelings and thoughts is pretty cool, especially since much of what they share with the reader, they hadn’t yet shared with each other.

There are great stories in here, legendary stories in fact.

The only downside is that I felt like the book suffered from being written by a third party. Not to say the writing wasn’t good, it was great. However, it would’ve been a much more intimate and better experience had Bird and Magic penned their own words for the majority of the book.

Regardless, this book, at least to me, was a stark reminder of how much class the National Basketball Association and its stars had. Something that has been missing league-wide since the end of that Dream Team era. This book also reminded me why basketball was my favorite sport as a young kid.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: My Life by Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Drive by Larry Bird.

Ranking All 30 Second Series Episodes of ESPN’s 30 For 30

*Written in 2015.

Luckily for us, ESPN decided to do another set of thirty films to expand this series. Now that this series has also reached 30 films and we got the soccer spin-off series, I’m hoping we get a third generation.

But for now, here are the 30 films of the second series ranked. And to be honest, all of these are really good.

1. Survive and Advance
2. Of Miracles and Men
3. Requiem for the Big East
4. Ghosts of Ole Miss
5. No Más
6. I Hate Christian Laettner
7. Big Shot
8. Bad Boys
9. You Don’t Know Bo
10. Benji
11. Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau
12. Brothers In Exile
13. The U Part 2
14. Bernie and Ernie
15. Free Spirits
16. Angry Sky
17. Rand University
18. This is What They Want
19. When the Garden was Eden
20. Sole Man
21. The Price of Gold
22. Brian and the Boz
23. The Day the Series Stopped
24. Slaying the Badger
25. Broke
26. 9.79*
27. There’s No Place Like Home
28. Playing for the Mob
29. Elway to Marino
30. Youngstown Boys

Ranking All 30 Original Episodes of ESPN’s 30 For 30

*Written in 2014.

1. The 16th Man
2. The Two Escobars
3. Muhammad and Larry
4. Little Big Men
5. Once Brothers
6. Straight Outta L.A.
7. Kings Ransom
8. Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?
9. Silly Little Game
10. Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks
11. June 17, 1994
12. Guru of Go
13. The U
14. Four Days In October
15. Pony Excess
16. Without Bias
17. Fernando Nation
18. One Night In Vegas
19. The Band That Wouldn’t Die
20. No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson
21. Marion Jones: Press Pause
22. Jordan Rides the Bus
23. The Best That Never Ways
24. The Birth of Big Air
25. Into the Wind
26. Unmatched
27. The Legend of Jimmy The Greek
28. Run Ricky Run
29. Tim Richmond: To the Limit
30. The House of Steinbrenner

Book Review: ‘To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever’ by Will Blythe

Every time March Madness rolls around, I want to read a good book on college basketball. Last year, I was treated to the wonderful Duke Sucks.

Being that that book was fantastic and that I am always down with a little Duke hate, I wanted to read something similar. So, I got a copy of this book, To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry.

Needless to say, this book wasn’t on the level for me. Everything that I absolutely loved about Duke Sucks seemed to be absent from this piece of work.

Instead of tons of facts about Duke and North Carolina and a lot of steady jabs, what I got was a guy’s biography that was all weaved together with the thread that represents his hatred of Duke. Yeah, everyone hates Duke but I want more of that and less of this guy’s personal journey and how Duke was always a cloud over his personal events that I don’t give a shit about.

I would say that Blythe is a more accomplished writer than the authors of Duke Sucks but his book pales in comparison to that other mighty magnum opus of Duke hatred. And while this is more of a comparison to that book than an actual straight up review, I have to analyze the two side-by-side in case someone wants to know which of the two books is the definitive masterpiece on Duke hatred. Well, it isn’t this one.

I wanted more of that “Fuck Duke!!!” sentiment and less “well that time I was interviewing Uma Thurman…” Bro, I don’t give a shit.

In all honesty, I got bored with this pretty quickly as the dude’s life was the subject more than the greatest rivalry in college hoops history.

But at least the book features a picture of Mike Krzyzewski looking like the demon spawn we all know he is.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The book Duke Sucks and the documentary I Hate Christian Laettner.

Documentary Review: I Hate Christian Laettner (2015)

Release Date: March 15th, 2015
Directed by: Rory Karpf
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, John Loeffler, Chris Maxwell, David Wolfert
Narrated by: Rob Lowe

First Row Films, ESPN Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2015.

ESPN’s 30 For 30 series of films is one of the greatest sports documentary series ever produced. It could be the absolute best but I’ll leave that open for debate.

The latest installment, I Hate Christian Laettner was one of the best films in the series.

For those who don’t know, Laettner played basketball for Duke University during their dynasty run in the early 90s. Duke, perceived as a school of privilege for mostly cocky white guys, was hated by pretty much any college basketball fan that didn’t actually go to school at Duke. Hell, they still receive a lot of disdain and hate from fans, even though they just won their 5th national title last night.

Anyway, Christian Laettner, the star of those early 90s Duke teams, was the focal point of the nation’s hatred. Whether just or unjust, he had to traverse through the sea of venom and perform at an elite level – a level that brought him two national championships, a spot on the original Dream Team and a high lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

This greatly edited film, narrated by Rob Lowe, shows who Christian Laettner truly is. He isn’t the caricature that people and the media manufactured in their minds and in print. It shows this whole story from the perspective of Laettner, his family, friends and his teammates. It paints a story of a kid (and later a man) who had to deal with a tremendous amount of unwarranted and unnecessary adversity. It showed how this affected the people around him. However, it also showed how he took all of it as fuel to burn: leading to tremendous success.

I think this film is more an examination of just how horrible people can be to one another. In a similar way to how Cubs fans treated Steve Bartman in 2003, college basketball fans of that era never really looked at the fact that this was another human being. Maybe that has to do with our celebrity obsessed culture and the way that regular people seem to have a disconnect with people sold to us as stars. Laettner, as the biggest star on the college basketball stage, was an easy target.

At the end of the day, Christian Laettner is a human being and people should just be more decent to one another. All he wanted to do was play ball and win. And truthfully, despite the hate, he had the last laugh and achieved many of his goals.

And he’s richer than most of us.

Rating: 8.25/10