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.

Documentary Review: Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015)

Release Date: May 16th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna
Written by: Gabriel Clarke
Music by: Jim Copperthwaite
Cast: Steve McQueen (archive footage), Chad McQueen, Neile Adams, Louise Edlind

Content Media, McQueen Racing, Pit Lane Productions, 102 Minutes

Review:

Le Mans is my favorite movie about auto racing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a classic with fantastic action and a true sense of realism unlike anything ever filmed on the subject before it. It feels like a documentary accented by the presence of Steve McQueen.

The story behind the film is more intriguing, however.

This was Steve McQueen’s dream project, as it focused on his biggest love: motorsports. More specifically, it focused on the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which is the biggest annual motorsports event in the world, which pits all the top auto manufacturers against each other with the best drivers in the world, gunning for bragging rights and world supremacy, at least until the following year.

McQueen was at the point in his career where he could be attached to anything and any studio would just write a check. However, due to creative problems, production issues, falling behind and the immense undertaking that this film became, the project turned into a nightmare for all involved. McQueen’s vision was his vision, whether or not the people brought on to help him realize it, understood what they were doing or not.

This documentary also analyzes McQueen’s personal life, its ups and downs and how all that played into his attitude and his handling of creating this dream. Le Mans was an arduous task that had to be finished but McQueen’s personal demons didn’t make it any easier.

In the end, the film got made, it didn’t do so well upon release but has grown to cult status among car and racing aficionados. It’s an amazing film for a lot of reasons and this documentary shows you why.

Plus, it’s always a treat to watch McQueen’s Le Mans footage. This also has a lot of behind the scenes stuff mixed in.

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.

Documentary Review: That Guy Dick Miller (2014)

Release Date: March 7th, 2014 (SXSW)
Directed by: Elijah Drenner
Music by: Jason Brandt
Cast: Dick Miller, Lainie Miller, Gilbert Adler, Allan Arkush, Julie Corman, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Fred Dekker, William Sadler, Robert Picardo, Ernest R. Dickerson, Corey Feldman, Robert Forster, Zach Galligan, Jonathan Haze, Jack Hill, Leonard Maltin, John Sayles, Mary Woronov

Autumn Rose Productions, End Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

If you don’t know who Dick Miller is or at least recognize his face, you were probably born after the year 2000. Even then, if you’ve ever watched a film before that time, you have most likely seen him at one point or a dozen.

Dick Miller was in everything from the 1950s through the 1990s. No, seriously, he was. Well, at least it seemed like he was in everything. The man has 180 credits to his name according to IMDb. Growing up in the ’80s, I saw him pop up a few times a year in the coolest movies of the time. The one that will always stand out the most for me was his part in Gremlins, which was the first time I remember seeing him. Every time I saw Mr. Miller after that was always a nice treat.

As I got older and went back and watched older films, especially when I found a love for Roger Corman’s pictures, I started to experience a younger and hip Dick Miller. He started his career in a lot of those early Roger Corman pictures and that association would serve him well, as all the young directors who rose to prominence, who were influenced by Corman, started hiring Miller for their films.

This documentary goes back and shows Miller’s early life, how he made the connection with Corman and how his career blossomed in unseen ways because of it. I love that it goes through his long history in films and interviews a lot of the people who were there alongside him. It also talks to the directors who hired him and have a love for his work.

Dick Miller is a guy that deserves some sort of lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the films he was a part of. He was a mainstay in Hollywood for decades and if he was in a movie it sort of legitimized it as cool. It didn’t matter when he got older either, as he took over the screen in his cameos in a lot of Joe Dante’s pictures.

That Guy Dick Miller is a pretty awesome documentary for fans who grew up watching this guy work. Even if you aren’t familiar with him, this is probably still enjoyable and will give you a solid appreciation for the man and the films he was a part of.

Documentary Review: Ken Burns Presents: The West (1996)

Release Date: September 15th, 1996 – September 22nd, 1996
Directed by: Steve Ives
Music by: Matthias Gohl

PBS, 537 Minutes (8 episodes)

Review:

Ken Burns makes the best documentaries for television, in my opinion. So his take on the Old West was pretty compelling, enjoyable and informative. Granted, he just produced this one and wasn’t a writer on it or the director.

The director is Steve Ives, who presented The West in the same style and format as Ken Burns’ other documentaries. It is full of a lot to sink your teeth into and for a big fan of the Old West and American history, there is a lot in this epic series that a viewer might not know.

Like most of the documentaries with Burns’ name on them, this one is in multiple parts of one-to-two hour films. Each one focuses on a theme and a different era.

The interviews, the photos and all the other material used to piece this thing together are top notch.

One thing that is absolutely exceptional about this series is the music and that majestic opening theme.

If you have seen a Ken Burns documentary, you already know what to expect. If you haven’t seen one, strap in for a long, epic tale with more information and stories than should be able to fit in a 9 hour running time. Yes, there is that much here to digest.

Documentary Review: Happy People: A Year In the Taiga (2010)

Release Date: September, 2010 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Werner Herzog, Dmitry Vasyukov
Music by: Klaus Badelt
Narrated by: Werner Herzog

Studio Babelsberg, 90 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

Happy People: A Year In the Taiga is a documentary by Werner Herzog that follows the people living in the village of Bakhtia along the Yenisei River in the Siberian Taiga. It mostly focuses on trappers but follows others with different occupations that help contribute to the overall well-being of all the people within their small community. The documentary also gives some insight into the lives of the native Ket people from that region.

The film goes on to show a way of life that hasn’t changed in over a century. Other than having a few machines to make life a bit easier, the people of Bakhtia still exist in virtually the same way that they always have. It is a unique and simple way of life that is not only hard but extreme for those of us looking through our television sets. To those of us in the first world, it is something so foreign and seemingly archaic. But one can’t not respect the lives of these tough people, who really are the hardest and most badass beings on this planet.

While the footage was originally filmed by Dmitry Vasyukov for a television film he made. The footage was re-edited and narrated by Wener Herzog for this more fleshed out theatrical version.

This film was pretty great to watch. It was slow at times but it was never boring, as it gave one a direct and intimate view of these people. Their words and advice on life, through their experience living in such harsh conditions, was fascinating. It was a thoroughly engaging film that I was pulled into from the start.

Herzog’s narration was enjoyable. From his deadpan humor and his awesome German accent, he kept the scenes moving and helped weave this wonderful tale. Furthermore, his re-editing of the material was well done. This is now one of my favorite Herzog documentaries.

I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to watch some tough men doing tough shit, living in tough conditions against the odds. While this life is somewhat romanticized in the film, it did make me yearn for a simpler time when there was less materialism and life was pretty straightforward. Granted, I’d never want to have to weather these insane conditions.

Documentary Review: Lipstick and Dynamite, Piss and Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling (2004)

Release Date: May 4th, 2004 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Directed by: Ruth Leitman
Music by: The Corn Sisters

Ruthless Films, Nightingale Company, 75 Minutes

Review:

*originally written in 2014.

I really enjoyed this documentary. It covered the history of women’s wrestling in America. It went into its origins, how it was perceived and the hardships that these women had to go through throughout the years.

The highlight of the film for me was that it gave an intimate look into the lives of several legends but most notably the Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young, two women who wrestled well into their final years; both passed away recently.

In it’s short running time, this documentary covered a lot. It allowed many of the women featured to tell stories that no one would have heard otherwise and it also allowed them to vent some frustrations with the wrestling business and some of the people within it.

Many women in the film were very critical of the fact that Moolah and Mae Young were still wrestling in their old age, as they felt it was disrespectful. I’m not exactly sure how and as a fan, I enjoyed seeing them still hang in the ring and put on a good show. I think between many of the female stars, there was a lot of professional jealousy that they never really got over or let go of.

The movie was well-structured and the director did a great job of bringing it all together and giving the audience a lot to digest and reflect on. Watching this made me realize how much I miss seeing the Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young pop up on television every now and again.

Rest in peace, ladies.