Documentary Review: The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

Release Date: January 20th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Chapman Way, Maclain Way
Music by: Brocker Wa

Netflix, 73 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a Netflix exclusive that just dropped this past weekend. It is the story of the short-lived Portland Mavericks minor league baseball franchise that was started and ran by Bing Russell, actor and father of Kurt Russell.

The Mavericks were pretty big in the ’70s. In fact, they were getting more press coverage than a lot of the major league teams. They also set some minor league attendance records during their existence. They were scruffy, tough and not your typical clean cut all-American team. They brought a hardened edge to baseball and a level of competition that not only surprised the City of Portland but also surprised the team.

This was a thoroughly entertaining, informative and enjoyable documentary. As a baseball fan that was born in the late ’70s, I’ve heard the stories of the Portland Mavericks but I wasn’t alive to witness it. This gave a lot of the stories I’ve heard, more insight and depth. It also added in a bunch of stuff I would’ve never known otherwise.

It was great seeing Kurt Russell and his mother adding their two cents to the documentary, as well as the interviews with all the old Mavericks and key people. The movie was well edited, well put together and seemed to fly by with ease. The short 73 minute running time may have something to do with that.

This is one of the better baseball documentaries that I’ve seen come out in the last few years. If you’re a fan of the sport, check it out. If you’ve got Netflix streaming, it’s free.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: No No: A Dockumentary and Ken Burns’ Baseball.

Documentary Review: Dust To Glory (2005)

Release Date: April 1st, 2005 (limited)
Directed by: Dana Brown
Written by: Dana Brown
Music by: Nathan Furst
Cast: Chad McQueen, Mario Andretti, Steve McQueen (archive footage)

BronWa Pictures, Dusted Productions, Gotham Group, 97 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I know that it’s been out for a while but I just watched the documentary film Dust To Glory, which is about the famous Baja 1000 off-road race. For those who don’t know, the race is world-renowned and has been a part of Baja’s culture since 1967.

The film was phenomenally shot and the action really never stopped apart from taking breaks to interview the several subjects of the film. The people and their stories were great and added a lot of depth and history to the majestic race.

The director is Dana Brown who is the son of famous documentary filmmaker Bruce Brown. The elder Brown was known for the films Endless Summer and its sequel, as well as On Any Sunday, which is a motorcycle racing documentary featuring Steve McQueen.

The younger brown does a good job living up to his dad’s reputation and ability to weave together a good story. Dust To Glory is a sort of spiritual successor to On Any Sunday.

Whether you are a fan of off-road racing or not, this film is very accessible and tells a story interesting enough to keep one hooked until the end. There wasn’t a stone left unturned in covering every possible aspect of this race and the people around it. If anything, the film made me want to travel to Mexico to participate or at the very least, go as a spectator and scream my lungs off.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: On Any Sunday and Love the Beast.

Documentary Review: Heroes Manufactured (2016)

Release Date: October, 2016
Directed by: Yaron Betan
Written by: Yaron Betan

Key West Video, KingSky Productions, White Night Studios, 90 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t know what to expect when I fired this up but I’ve been watching whatever free comic industry documentaries I’ve been able to dig up recently.

This is primarily about Canadian comic book creators and takes place at various comic conventions throughout Canada.

Mostly, this was an entertaining documentary about a scene I’m not intimately familiar with having grown up and primarily lived in Florida. I know some of the top Canadian creators and their titles but this delved a bit deeper and gave me some new stuff to check out.

This wasn’t too exciting though and doesn’t seem to have a cohesive narrative other than linking everything together with Canada as the running theme. However, we get a lot of time devoted to Stan Lee, who is a New Yorker, which means he’s not a Canadian. But I’ll watch Stan Lee in anything, so I’m not complaining.

Heroes Manufactured has a really high IMDb rating, which I found to be misleading as it certainly isn’t a documentary that should be anywhere near an 8.8.

It’s a good and informative little film though, if you want to know more about the Canadian comic book scene.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Comic Book Independents24 Hour Comic and The Image Revolution.

Documentary Review: Center of Attention – The Unreal Life of Derek Sanderson (2015)

Release Date: June, 2015
Narrated by: John Slattery

NBC Sports Films, 47 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Recently I read Derek Sanderson’s autobiography Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original. While reading it, I was wrapped up in his tale and thought it would be a great story for a documentary. Luckily for all of us, NBCSN agreed and made a one hour film about Sanderson, which premiered this week after a Stanley Cup Finals game.

The documentary interviewed friends, family, coaches and former teammates – most notably the legendary Bobby Orr. It went on to highlight his career and his trouble with drugs and alcohol. Granted, I felt that Sanderson’s story could’ve been more fleshed out and presented over two hours instead of one but NBCSN still did a great job of hitting all the highs and lows of a man that went from the top of his sport to rock bottom in life.

While Sanderson’s story, at face value, isn’t unique, it is the character that Derek Sanderson was that make’s his tale compelling. He was the king of cool, often times referred to as the “Joe Namath of Hockey”. He was, at one time, the highest paid athlete in the world. And where so many of these stories end in tragedy, Sanderson’s had a happy ending, as he overcame his problems, turned his life around and dedicated his remaining days to helping those with substance abuse issues.

Still alive and kicking, when many thought he was on a quick trip to an early grave, Sanderson is a shining example of perseverance and a real man, who overcame adversity, conquered his demons and turned it all around for the better.

I hope NBCSN does more documateries like this, especially in the world of hockey. It was refreshing and engaging, especially when ESPN rarely showcases hockey stories in their great 30 For 30 documentary series.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Last GladiatorsKing’s Ransom and Big Shot.

Documentary Review: Comic Book Independents (2007)

Also known as: Independents
Release Date: July 21st, 2007
Directed by: Chris Brandt
Music by: Tana Rusitanonta

Bain Street Productions, 77 Minutes

Review:

This was an interesting little documentary.

Mainly, it just interviewed several comic book creators, about two dozen. It focused on what it takes for them to create, how they work and also discusses some philosophical stuff within the comic book industry.

This isn’t a documentary that gets too political or anything like that, which is good as the comic book industry has no gotten incredibly political the last few years. This really just lets the creators talk about themselves, their work and their process. There are some general questions proposed to all of the interviewed subjects but a good portion of this is dedicated to their own unique styles and viewpoints.

Still, this wasn’t a very engaging documentary. Informative, yes… but not engaging. I think that this is due to how things were edited and cut together in post production. The film jumps around more than it should and I get that it is trying to tie together the ideas of different creators in regards to the same subject but sometimes this felt like a collection of soundbites.

It just didn’t seem like it flowed organically or all that coherently. And while I love the subject matter, I was kind of bored watching this.

It’s not a total waste and is worth checking out if you have an interest in comics, especially from the creative side. I just wish that the finished product was more fluid and orderly.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other documentaries on the comic book industry: The Image RevolutionRobert Kirkman’s Secret History of ComicsSuperheroes: A Never-Ending BattleChris Claremont’s X-Men and 24 Hour Comic.

Documentary Review: Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (2013)

Original Run: October 8th, 2013 – October 15th, 2013
Directed by: Michael Kantor
Written by: Michael Kantor, Laurence Maslon, J. David Spurlock
Music by: Christopher Rife
Cast: Liev Schreiber (host), Mark Waid, Stan Lee, Adam West, Joe Quesada, Grant Morrision, Lynda Carter, Jeph Loeb, J. Michael Straczynski, Geoff Johns, Zack Snyder, Chris Claremont, Larry Hama, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Tim Daly

Ghost Light Films, National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, 3 Episodes, 55 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

A few years ago, PBS did this three part documentary series on the history of comic books. It was hosted by Liev Schreiber, which was really cool, and featured a ton of creators, as well as notable celebrities who have played some of the iconic comic book characters in television and film.

The history of comic books is incredibly vast. Narrowing down what to cover in three episodes, each of which ran just under an hour, couldn’t have been easy but the people behind this did a good job of focusing on the important stuff. I wish there was more time given to the challenges of the Comics Code Authority but that’s probably boring subject matter to most modern fans.

Superheroes spends a lot of time talking about the creation of Superman, Batman and the early heroes that would be at the forefront of DC Comics. They then spent some time talking about Stan Lee and his creations, which helped to put Marvel on the map. To my surprise, even though they didn’t spend much time on it, they covered some of the story that lead to the formation of Image Comics in the ’90s, which was the biggest thing in comic books during my most formative years as a comics fan.

I wish that this would have been bigger than it was. Three episodes just weren’t enough. This could have easily been one of those 10-part Ken Burns style documentaries with two hour episodes and they still wouldn’t have run out of material. I’m hoping that someone does do a comic industry documentary like that at some point; it’s long overdue.

But at least we live in a time where this wonderful medium isn’t considered low brow shit. It’s become a respected art form and format for storytelling. A lot of that has to do with the success of comic book movies the last few decades but at least fans don’t have to feel like they need to hide their fandom when out in public anymore.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics and recent comic book documentaries Chris Claremont’s X-Men and The Image Revolution.

 

Documentary Review: Ken Burns: The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009)

Release Date: September 27th, 2009 – October 2nd, 2009
Directed by: Ken Burns
Music by: various

PBS, 720 Minutes (6 episodes)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

After being enthralled by Ken Burns: Baseball, I will watch anything that this guy creates.

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea is a pretty inspiring piece of work and arguably a masterpiece. If you are familiar with Ken Burns’ directing style, you can expect more of the same. However, with the wonderful presentation, the fantastic narration and just the scope and beauty of the subject matter, this documentary is truly a sight to behold and an enchanting foray into almost endless and unfathomable beauty.

For a guy who likes the outdoors much more than the indoors, this motivated me to give an even bigger shit than I do now about conservation and the importance of our parks, not just National but all parks. It also put into perspective how amazing America is as far as natural wonders. In this country, we are literally sitting on a nature goldmine.

This series is broken into six episodes roughly two hours each, give or take a few minutes. Each part goes through different eras of the National Park System from the beginning up to modern times. Each part is thoroughly engaging and packed with more information than anyone could anticipate. Each part is also sprinkled with guest narrations from several recognizable voices, my favorite of all to pop up is Tom Hanks, who presented his lines majestically.

I love this documentary series. Ken Burns really outdid himself and PBS needs to always give him a platform to display his artistic and informative creations.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other Ken Burns documentary series.