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.

Documentary Review: Of Miracles and Men (2015)

Release Date: February 8th, 2015
Directed by: Jonathan Hock
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, Chris Maxwell, Robert Miller

ESPN Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This was one on the more recent 30 For 30 films put out by ESPN.

This documentary covered the Soviet Union’s national hockey team during their dominant heyday and showed the famous “Miracle” game from their perspective, which provided a pretty unique take on the event.

Of Miracles and Men starts off by showing us how the Soviets developed their hockey game and the unorthodox approach to coaching that its founder had.

Unable to study the renowned Canadians, who made the sport famous, the Soviets taught themselves how to play from the ground up with no point of reference. Their coach analyzed everything he could outside of hockey and thought of ways to incorporate these things into the Soviet training routine. He took methods from dancing, weightlifting and other places. All of this showed how the Soviets developed such a refined style that was all their own at the time.

The documentary goes on to show the growth of hockey in the U.S.S.R. and how the nation developed immense pride for their athletes and the sport. All of which eventually lead to them playing some exhibition games against Canada.

While looked at as underdogs and not taken seriously, the Soviet team crushed Canada. And then they kept crushing Canada. And then they crushed everyone else, including the United States.

Where here, in America, we are told of the legend of the “Miracle” game from a very pro-American stance. This documentary shows the tale in a much more realistic light and provides the back story in a way that is more fleshed out than any version I’ve ever heard.

In the end, the Soviets weren’t so bloodthirsty about us, as we were of them. In fact, when they lost, they were more upset that they lost and weren’t looking at it as a failed attempt to topple America. In fact, they had toppled us quite a bit before this game and have toppled us after. Truthfully, the Soviets owned America historically. And today, the Russians still regularly kick our ass, even though we have amazing teams year after year.

An example one of the Soviet players gave in the film, is that this is like a fan of Sophia Loren who gets to kiss her. Years later he is still talking about the kiss. However, if you ask Loren about it, she probably doesn’t even remember it.

If anything, this film opens the viewers eyes to the propaganda machine.

In its simplest form, the “Miracle” game was a game played between really young athletes who just wanted to play the game because it was what they enjoyed doing. Athletes who were probably too young or focused on the game, to fully understand what was going on between these two countries politically.

In comparison to other 30 For 30 documentaries, this one fits in the upper echelon in terms of quality. The editing, interviews and narrative were fantastic. I just wish ESPN did more 30 For 30 films on hockey. I think this is only like the third one out of 60 plus films.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Red ArmyMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.

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

Documentary Review: Kicking It (2008)

Release Date: January, 2008 (Sundance)
Directed by: Susan Koch, Jeff Werner
Written by: Susan Koch
Music by: Barry Cole
Narrated by: Colin Farrell

Liberation Entertainment, ESPN, Netflix, 98 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

In my string of soccer films that I’ve been watching to curb my World Cup fever when the games are over at night, I came across Kicking It. This film is hosted and narrated by Colin Farrell and is about the Homeless World Cup.

For those who don’t know, the Homeless World Cup is like the regular World Cup, as it takes soccer teams from various nations and pits them against one another in a big tournament.

The difference is, this is street soccer and the players are homeless. This concept was created to help rehabilitate homeless people throughout the world and it has had much success. Many players kick drugs and alcohol, find a sense of self worth and belonging and go on to better their situations.

Kicking It follows several players from various countries on their quest to play in the Homeless World Cup in South Africa. It told some pretty powerful stories and had you cheering for all these people because you wanted them to succeed. Unfortunately, like the regular World Cup, only one team can win. The fact of the matter is that almost everyone who participated in the tournament walked away a winner regardless.

The film was inspirational and it helped remind the viewer that even when someone has fallen or done bad things, it doesn’t mean that they can’t redeem themselves and make their own quality life. That was the real message of the film and it came through with gusto.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The ESPN Soccer Stories documentary series.

Documentary Review: The Two Escobars (2010)

Release Date: June 22nd, 2010
Directed by: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Music by: Michael Furjanic

All Rise Films, ESPN Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

The Two Escobars is one of my favorite installments of the original run of ESPN’s 30 For 30 series. I actually ranked it number two on an older website I ran.

This documentary follows the lives of Colombian soccer legend Andrés Escobar and Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The men were not related by blood but were related in their pride of Colombia and their lifelong love of soccer.

Both rose up from nothing and became forces in Colombia; one gained power through creating a massive criminal empire, the other gained admiration through becoming one of the greatest soccer players in the world. Both men gained respect; one through fear and one through competition. With two powerful forces within the same borders, they had to cross paths. This film is about that fascinating story.

Production-wise, this was a great documentary and one of the best ESPN has released in their 36 year history. The story was well-constructed and like most of the 30 For 30 films, the editing and interviews were exceptional. While a lot of films in this series cover a multitude of topics and stories, this is far and away the best story the series has told after the Nelson Mandela/Rugby film The 16th Man.

This documentary is on Netflix (well it was when I originally reviewed this). I would beseech any sports documentary fan, especially soccer fans, to check this out.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any 30 For 30 focused on soccer a.k.a. proper football.

Documentary Review: Four Falls of Buffalo (2015)

Release Date: December 12th, 2015
Directed by: Ken Rodgers
Music by: Phil Hernandez, Chris Maxwell, David Robidoux
Narrated by: William Fichtner

ESPN Films, 100 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2016.

Four Falls of Buffalo is one of the more recent ESPN 30 For 30 films. I watched it on Netflix in preparation for Super Bowl 50, yesterday.

The documentary follows the journey of the Buffalo Bills of the early ’90s and their four consecutive Super Bowl losses.

It was a cool film, as it brought me right back to that era – the era where I first really fell in love with football. It certainly churned up a lot of nostalgia and a lot of those feelings I had as a middle school aged kid watching Buffalo get so far, only to fall short again and again.

It was nice, all these years later, seeing all the players and coaches accepting what fate dished out to them. They all came across as positive people that took their historic run in stride and understood that they were still one of the greatest teams of all-time, even if the big title eluded them.

Four Falls of Buffalo is one of the best NFL 30 For 30 films. It is exciting and it is pretty thorough in chronicling the bumpy four-year journey of the great Bills team of the early ’90s.

Plus, it is hard not to love and respect Jim Kelly and Marv Levy.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other 30 For 30 NFL films.

Documentary Review: ESPN 30 For 30 – Soccer Stories – Short Films (2014)

Release Date: April 22nd, 2014 – May 6th, 2014 (run of six short episodes)
Directed by: various
Music by: various
Narrated by: Ryan Van Ness III (4 episodes)

ESPN Films, 6 Episodes, 30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2014.

ESPN returned with their 30 For 30 series this year. This season was strictly about soccer and saw two feature films and six half hour episodes dedicated to the sport. The first feature film Hillsborough is reviewed here. The second film White, Blue and White will be reviewed after I see it. This review here is for the series of six half hour-long episodes that were wedged between the two feature length bookends.

I thought that this series was really well done and covered a diverse set of stories even though they were all from within the soccer world.

There was an episode about Diego Maradona’s performance at the 1986 World Cup, which showed the superstar from every angle on and off the field. There was an episode about the Chilean military coup in the early 1970s and how it affected their national soccer team in the World Cup in 1974. Another episode dealt with a terrorist attack in Northern Ireland on fans of the Irish national team, which lead to a ceasefire by both opposing paramilitary groups involved in the long term conflict. Mané Garrincha, Brazil’s legend was featured in an episode that focused on his legendary status as well as his struggles. Brett Ratner directed an episode about the Jules Rimet Trophy and how it has an insane story that involves Nazis, crime and going missing. The last episode of the six short stories was about goalie Moacir Barbosa and how he went from being a Brazilian soccer hero to a pariah after he allowed a game-winning goal by Uruguay. That goal won Uruguay the World Cup in 1950.

Every chapter of this series was great. All were well shot, well edited and the subjects interviewed were compelling in every episode. Each director in this series made an interesting film. The varying degree of subjects kept it fresh and engaging. The only complaint I have of this series, is that each episode would have benefited more if they were each at least an hour in length or more. They did feel a bit rushed and too condensed.

Rating: 8/10

Documentary Review: Hillsborough (2014)

Release Date: April 15th, 2014
Directed by: Daniel Gordon
Music by: Tim Atack, Joel Beckerman
Narrated by: Ryan Van Ness III

ESPN Films, BBC, 121 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

Hillsborough is a film that kicked off a new series of 30 For 30 on ESPN. It is the first part in the Soccer Stories run, which were released over the last few months in order to build for the World Cup, which itself just started a few hours ago. I plan on reviewing the whole series in its complete form but since this part stands out as a film, where the other parts are half hour episodes, I felt it deserving of its own review.

This film told the story of the Hillsborough disaster, which happened on April 15th, 1989 in Sheffield, England. For those who don’t know, this tragedy happened during a game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and saw the death of 96 people who were crushed to death in the standing room only pens of the stadium. Following the tragedy, families of the victims have been seeking justice for decades but been denied it.

Hillsborough gives a pretty solid rundown of everything that happened leading up to the tragedy and everything that happened during and after, painting a very clear picture of what actually went down years after media spin and corruption tried to weave a different story.

The film was beautifully edited and presented, the interviews were conducted very well and I felt like the people involved, who had been victimized by this disaster were able to get some form of closure and peace by being able to be involved in this project while getting out their individual stories.

As a film, it was one of the best 30 For 30 chapters ever produced. It’s a definite must see for fans of the ongoing ESPN series or fans of real football (or soccer as we Americans call it).

Rating: 8.25/10

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