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30 for 30 reviews: No Crossover

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Allen Iverson is the perfect documentary object. He’s extremely divisive among basketball fans. And this documentary has talent behind the camera, Steve James of Hoop Dreams. But it falls flat.

The story told here is not Iverson’s professional basketball career, but rather that of an incident that happened way back when he was a high school phenom, a race-related incident that raised tensions extremely high in his (and James’) hometown of Hampton, Virginia. As the documentary tells it, the specifics of the incident are murky. There are numerous accounts of what happened, many of which contradict each other. The documentary may be correct that the truth is unknowable at this point, or it may be that there just needs to be more journalistic work to find out the truth. The documentary doesn’t do a solid job of convincing me that the first is truly the case.

This alone would not have been enough to sink the movie, but then the movie attempts to go into the social ramifications, but it again comes out wishy washy. It feels like the movie would have been significantly better if James had just taken a stance and gone with it. The evenhandedness that he tries to display comes across as shrugging indifference, and the movie suffers for it.

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Office Space

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Ahhh, yes, Office Space. It’s such an institution at this point that there’s barely an office drone in the world that hasn’t seen it. It’s maybe my fourth or fifth time seeing the movie, and it was particularly appropriate for me, given that I’ve moved back into the office lifestyle with a new job after three years as an independent contractor working from home.

What stuck out to me this time was the movie’s low production values. It’s very clear that there were only a handful of sets in this movie. Most of it appears to have been shot on-location in an actual office, which is genius. The camera, by necessity, has to get up close and personal with the actors in the office, which expertly mimics the paranoia and claustrophobia of working in a real office.

Of course, the best part of the movie is the writing, which is strong. The charm is still there, and even though the movie is starting to show its age, I definitely enjoyed it. Alas that I find myself back in the office world, for this movie once again has relevance to me.

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30 for 30 reviews: Straight Outta L.A.

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The worst thing about Straight Outta L.A. is that it is thoroughly unconvincing. This is a story that we’ve all heard before: local team moves away after not getting the stadium that it wants, die-hard fans are heartbroken. In fact, we’ve even heard this story in the 30 for 30 series already, in The Band that Wouldn’t Die. L.A. barely had the Raiders for 10 years, sandwiched in between the real city associated with the Raiders, Oakland.

This story does have celebrity draw in Ice Cube, and there’s some interesting examination of cultural overlap. Ice Cube talks about how important the Raiders gear was to the image of N.W.A., and that’s the most interesting part of the movie. The trouble is that he talks up the connection of N.W.A. and the Raiders, but it’s never convincing. As opposed to N.W.A. causing the boom in Raiders merchandise, or the Raiders giving a distinct attitude to the West Coast rap scene, I’m more convinced that we are talking about two paralell cultural institutions that really didn’t have much of anything to do with each other. They were there at the same time in the same place, but they didn’t really influence each other.

Overall, the movie rings pretty hollow. I just don’t buy it.

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30 for 30 reviews: Winning Time

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I watched Winning Time for the second time recently. This is one of the best of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, and it shows. It still doesn’t seem like it should be all that great, but the interviewer clearly has managed to draw out some great interviews from a wide selection of people. My earlier comments are mostly unchanged, so if you would like a more complete understanding of where I’m at, feel free to check my old review.

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30 for 30 reviews: The Band that Wouldn't Die

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More of the 30 for 30 reviews!  This one is about the Baltimore Colts' move to Indianapolis, and what it meant for the only marching band affiliated with an NFL team.

The first half is a sordid chronicle of just how ridiculous the move was.  There have been awful moves in the past (watch Sonicsgate for one other good example), but this one is definitely up there for worst move in history.  The owner, Irsay, told baldfaced lies to the media, and then left in the middle of the night in an unsuccessful effort to avoid media scrutiny.  If this was fiction, I would dismiss it as unbelievable dramatization.  As history, it blows my mind.

The second half of the film is devoted to the band, the one in the title of the film.  The Baltimore Colts had a marching band, as well as a fight song, a rare holdover from college football to the pros.  This part is a good, solid, unexceptional chronicle of some eccentric folks who kept the band going through thick and thin.  This part is definitely bordering on the documentary cliche of "Find some obsessive people, and show just how obsessive they are so that people can marvel at them."  The thing is, however, these people aren't quite obsessive enough to be truly interesting.  Because Baltimore ultimately got a franchise again, their story has catharsis at the end, and rather than seeming quixotic, the band seems justified in their determination.  This would have been a very different film 15 years ago.

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The Fighter: Contender and then some

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Sports movies are a passion of mine, and so I get excited when I hear good stuff about a new one coming out.  I see most of them eventually anyway, but good publicity gives me a glimmer of home that maybe this one won't suck.

The Fighter delivers on the good publicity.  Mark Wahlberg's bashfulness fits perfectly the understated champ, and Amy Adams is absolutely mesmerizing.  The low-scale anti-glitz of being an aspiring boxer is shown in all its stark hunger, like Rocky without the tired cliche.  This is one of the best sports movies out there, and worth watching without a doubt.

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30 for 30 reviews: The U

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Continuing with our 30 for 30 reviews, this one's on the University of Miami football team, which came out of nowhere in the 70s to start winning games and titles in the 80s and 90s.  It's starts out pretty rough, with some really bad orange and green overlays of a montage of scenes of Miami, but it settles down into a standard, but solid, documentary.  The football program has had its ups and downs, but definitely has some great characters and some wonderful moments.  In light of the recent scandals at the University of Miami, the film takes on a definite darker bent.

The film's a good entry in the series.  Not one of the best, but definitely on the good end of the spectrum.

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Revolver

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I don't think I saw a single revolver in Revolver.  Perhaps that's the point?  It doesn't take much to figure that the title is supposed to make the movie seem a little deeper than it is usually, but also that it's supposed to appeal to action movie fans because, duh, it's named after a gun.

The movie as a whole is trying just a little bit too hard to be deep.  It's really a silly little action movie, but it's trying to make a twist at the end by saying it's all in your head.  Everything is all in your head.  C'mon, really?

Not really worth watching, except for diehard Outkast or Guy Ritchie fans.

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30 for 30 reviews: King's Ransom

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King's Ransom is the very first 30 for 30 ever shown on TV, which means, of course, that I missed it when it was first broadcast.  An early adopter, I'm not.  The story behind King's Ransom is the contract talks between Wayne Gretzsky and the Edmonton Oilers, and the trade that resulted when those talks broke down that sent Gretzsky to the Los Angeles Kings.

And this is a story that is really fascinating.  Trades like this just don't happen.  Not only was Gretzsky the best hockey player in the NHL at that time, he was arguably the best athlete in his sport ever, he had just led his team to a championship, and he was traded in the prime of his career.  There was one comparable trade to this in history, ever, and that was the infamous Babe Ruth trade from the Red Sox to the Yankees, and that was in such a wildly different sports labor market that it's barely comparable.  This is like Jordan getting traded to the Spurs after leading the Bulls to two straight titles, or Peyton Manning getting traded to the Giants just after his Super Bowl victory.

The story has taken on more relevance as fans have begun to understand sports contracts and the labor market.  Fewer and fewer fans hold grudges when players end up leaving their teams for more money elsewhere.  Now, unlike in 1988, fans seem to understand that athletes deserve to get paid to the level that the market allows them to be paid.  The protests of the Edmonton fans, where they hang the owner in effigy, and crucify him in the media, seem truly misplaced and villainous in today's more enlightened sports media.

The film itself tells such a strong story that it's certainly worth watching.  It provides ample time to reflect on just how different our sports culture is now.

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30 for 30 reviews: Pony Excess

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Pony Excess tells a story I didn't already know, that of the corruption at Southern Methodist University's football program back in the 1980s.  They eventually ended up getting the "Death Penalty" under NCAA rules, when they caught caught so many times in quick succession that their program was deemed so corrupt that it needed to be shut down for a year.  The program was forced to shut down for a year, and chose to stay shut down for an additional year when they couldn't play any home games by NCAA sanctions.  This ruined the football program, and is still the harshest penalty ever given out for recruiting violations.

Everybody knows that Division I college football is corrupt. Everyone has heard the stories, including the recent stories at OSU and at Miami.  And everyone knows this corruption is not a new thing, but that it goes way, way back.  As an aside, you can check out one of the earliest allegations of corruption that I know of by reading Out of Their League by Dave Meggyesy (my review is here).  But I didn't realize how overt it could be until I saw this movie.  The blatant violations that some of these Texas schools were getting away with was just ridiculous.  Eric Dickerson got a gold sports car and no reporters followed up on this? 

The film is a little bit jumpy, and a little bit overeager to make quick cuts and dynamic shots, but the content is very strong.  I'm pretty jaded for tales of corruption in college football, and this was still salacious enough for me to have my jaw on the floor for the first half of the movie.

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