Skip to main content

Sports

30 for 30 reviews: Jordan Rides the Bus

Posted in

Jordan Rides the Bus does something that I thought was impossible. It makes Michael Jordan’s brief, quixotic foray into baseball seem not hopeless, but rather noble.

The story is viewed through the lens of Jordan’s father’s death, and what it meant to the basketball superstar. The film posits the idea that the death is directly responsible for Jordan’s initial mid-career retirement from basketball, and subsequent entry into baseball. Jordan is shown explaining in an interview that he wanted to try baseball because it was what his dad wanted him to do.

I remember my thoughts at the time, being a slavishly devoted baseball fan, ran along the lines of “Why is he invading my sport?” Time and perspective have softened my view, but this movie dispelled the last of that feeling. Jordan was a media circus for minor league baseball, no doubt, but he was also an extremely talented athlete that hadn’t picked up a bat in years. His struggles were predictable, and he really did work hard to master his new trade. That he didn’t master it in slightly less than a year says more about how difficult the sport is, and less about how little Jordan respected it.

This is a great retrospective on a quirk in sports history, one which forces a new look on old preconceptions. That’s exactly what a documentary should do.

star star star star star star star no star no star no star

30 for 30 reviews: Small Potatoes

Posted in

The USFL predates my engagement with football, but I find it fascinating nonetheless. An upstart league that was at least moderately successful as a challenger to the NFL is certainly interesting, at least as interesting as the staid and well-established bureaucracy of the current-day NFL.

This documentary does a great job of making the story of the USFL easy to watch. It has a flowing style that makes you forget you’re watching a movie, and are really sucked into the story of the documentary, a rare thing.

The story does flatten a few things out, most notably the simplification of Donald Trump’s involvement. It’s no secret that he’s evil, and it’s no secret that he had a big role in the USFL’s demise, but putting its death solely on Trump is a bit more than I could swallow.

Oh, and Burt Reynolds has a gigantic stuffed bear with a teeny-tiny cowboy hat on it in the back of his den. My girlfriend is convinced that the movie is worth watching for that alone, and I just might agree with her.

star star star star star star star star no star no star

30 for 30 reviews: June 17th, 1994

Posted in

Yes, you read that title right. This documentary is actually named after a date, a date which probably means nothing to you. It certainly meant nothing to me until I read this film’s synopsis, which points out that, actually, there was quite a bit going on on June 17th, 1994, particularly in the sports world. Arnold Palmer was playing in his final tournament on the PGA tour. The Rangers had just won the Stanley cup. The NBA playoffs were occurring. And then O.J. Simpson started leading a cavalcade of cops on a tour of Los Angeles.

This film is almost pure retrospective. There’s very little narration, yet the film finds a solid voice without it. Nobody really knew what was going on with O.J., but they did know that it needed to be followed. Although the chase gets significant screen time in this film, the really interesting part is the media reaction to it. Everybody is trying to get on top of this non-story, while there are these much more compelling items going on.

As for the chase itself, only in L.A. Not only is the absurdity of it evident everywhere, but there are people standing over bridges trying to see, and people mobbing O.J.’s house. And the media circus has clearly begun. It’s truly disgusting, and is only the beginning of the long media immolation that was the O.J. trial. Still, this film makes it occur all over again, in all of it’s baffling splendor. I really don’t get why this event was such a big deal, but it certainly became a big deal when everybody decided it was a big deal, and reviewing that is fascinating in itself.

star star star star star star no star no star no star no star

30 for 30 reviews: No Crossover

Posted in

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.

star star star star star no star no star no star no star no star

30 for 30 reviews: Straight Outta L.A.

Posted in

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.

star star star star star no star no star no star no star no star

30 for 30 reviews: Winning Time

Posted in

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.

star star star star star star star star no star no star

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

Posted in

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.

star star star star star star no star no star no star no star

The Fighter: Contender and then some

Posted in

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.

star star star star star star star star no star no star

30 for 30 reviews: The U

Posted in

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.

star star star star star star no star no star no star no star

30 for 30 reviews: King's Ransom

Posted in

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.

star star star star star star no star no star no star no star
Syndicate content