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: Way of the Puck (2006)

Release Date: April 29th, 2006 (WorldFest Houston)
Directed by: Eric D. Anderson
Written by: Eric D. Anderson
Music by: Brian Hawlk, Santiago Step

Creative Ape, 81 Minutes

Review:

Way of the Puck is one of many documentaries to come out in the last decade or so that follows a very small segment of the nerd world. Like The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters or Special When Lit, this movie showcases a group of elite players in a competitive niche hobby. The focus of this documentary is air hockey.

The movie does a good job at following around the different characters and showing their personalities. It also paints an interesting picture of competitive air hockey. It even makes a decent argument about how air hockey should be considered a sport by those outside of its tiny inner circle.

The problem, with the film, like air hockey, is in the end, it just isn’t that interesting. Where the films mentioned earlier were about retro arcade games and pinball, it worked for those films because video games and pinball are more interesting subject matter than air hockey. Yes, air hockey is fun to a degree but there is a reason why, since the late ’70s, air hockey tables tend to remain vacant while dozens swarm around video game cabinets and pinball machines.

I can appreciate the love and passion of these die hard fans in this film but it isn’t enough to enlighten me or most people. It is a little known hobby and it had its peak decades ago. That doesn’t mean that it can’t survive and thrive within the minuscule segment of society that loves it. But more likely than not, it is a hobby that will die with these guys. But that’s okay. It wouldn’t be the first hobby to fall victim to a fast moving world and its own growing obscurity.

Way of the Puck is a very human film that at least gives these guys a platform to talk to the world. Their message will most likely fall on deaf ears for the most part. But if air hockey makes them happy, then it really should be all they need. If you can find peace and happiness painting portraits on Pop-Tarts, good for you. But don’t expect other people to follow suit.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and Special When Lit.

Documentary Review: Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker (2014)

Release Date: July 17th, 2014
Cast: Bob Uecker, Tom Berenger (narrator)

MLB Network, 60 Minutes

Review:

The MLB Network recently aired a short documentary about the life of Bob Uecker, as told by him and his friends and colleagues.

For those who don’t know, Bob is the funniest guy in the history of baseball. He wasn’t a great player but he went on to be a great broadcaster and had a good career beyond that, starring in films like Major League and the awesome ’80s sitcom Mr. Belevedere. As a kid, I also remember him showing up in the WWF (now WWE) to add a little flare to their broadcasting staff during Wrestlemania events. He was always funny and always entertaining.

The documentary pretty much interviews Mr. Uecker, Bob Costas, Al Michaels and others who have known Bob well over the years. It covers his baseball career, his broadcasting career and everything else. It even showcases his hilarious appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker is a nice little piece on a Hall of Famer and legend. It’s an intimate and fulfilling experience if you are a fan of this man. I am, so I enjoyed it greatly.

And since there isn’t a trailer available, enjoy one of Uecker’s Miller Lite commercials.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Battered Bastards of Baseball, No No: A Dockumentary, Ken Burn’s Baseball.

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.

Film Review: Hot to Trot (1988)

Release Date: August 26th, 1988
Directed by: Michael Dinner
Written by: Hugo Gilbert, Stephen Neigher, Charlie Peters, Andy Breckman (uncredited)
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Bobcat Goldthwait, John Candy (voice), Dabney Coleman, Virginia Madsen, Tim Kazurinsky, Mary Gross, Burgess Meredith (voice)

Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“[about the atrium in his new apartment] What is this a little yard?” – Fred B. Cheney

When Bobcat Goldthwait handed this script back to his agent, he wrote on the cover, “Why would I do this?” His agent returned the script after writing “$”. Needless to say, the script is terrible and the movie bombed but it was the most money that Goldthwait made at the time.

Many people will tell you that this is a terrible movie and it mostly is but it is a stupid movie with some solid comedy players and you don’t watch a film about the weirdest guy from Police Academy and a talking horse and expect to see Terms of Endearment.

Not only do you have Bobcat Goldthwait, who was a comedian I absolutely loved as a kid, but you get the voices of John Candy and Burgess Meredith playing horses, the always stupendous Dabney Coleman, Bobcat’s heterosexual life partner (at least in the ’80s) Ted Kazurinsky, as well as Virginia Madsen and a small part for Mary Gross.

The plot is about this dimwitted son of a rich woman who passes away. His stepfather (Coleman) is a slimy shyster that wants to weasel Bobcat out of his half of a lucrative financial firm. Bobcat also inherits a horse who goes on to give him amazing stock tips that makes Bobcat a superstar in his company. The majority of the plot deals with the rivalry between Bobcat and Coleman and ends with Bobcat playing a jockey, racing his John Candy voiced horse in a derby against Coleman’s prized steed for control of the company.

Yeah, the plot is friggin’ ludicrous but I still enjoy the picture because Bobcat and Coleman have always made me laugh, even in their dumbest moments. I also really love their scenes together which are accented by the absurdity of Coleman’s mouth prosthetic that gave him buckteeth throughout the entire film.

Originally, Elliot Gould was the voice of the horse but the test screenings went so poorly that the film was delayed for about a year and the horse’s lines were re-dubbed by John Candy who ad libbed his lines and ignored the script. Also, it’s worth noting that Bobcat’s role was originally intended for Joan Rivers and the script went through rewrites when Rivers turned the film down and Bobcat was cast.

Most people hate this movie. I just can’t. It’s completely asinine but I guess that’s what I like about it.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: The classic TV series Mister Ed, the Police Academy movies with Goldthwait and Kazurinsky in them and the John Candy films Armed and Dangerous and Who’s Harry Crumb?

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.