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.

Film Review: Darkest Hour (2017)

Release Date: September 1st, 2017 (Telluride)
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Music by: Dario Marianelli
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn

Perfect World Pictures, Working Title Films, Focus Features, 125 Minutes

Review:

“You can not reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.” – Winston Churchill

Now that there are nine or so films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, there is more competition and it opens the floor up to more films that may otherwise get snubbed. But on the flip side of that, sometimes there are pictures that work their way onto the ballot that shouldn’t be there. Actually, it’s pretty common now. Darkest Hour is one of those films.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it enough to leave with a positive opinion of the film but if a movie is nominated for Best Picture of the Year, it had better be pretty damn exceptional.

Darkest Hour boasts some incredible acting but to be brutally honest, even great acting can’t save a disjointed and oddly paced film. While I was pulled into Gary Oldman’s Churchill, as he dominated nearly every scene, the film just shifted around like loose marbles in a shoe box. I felt like a cat watching a laser pointer.

While the film has also been nominated for Best Cinematography, I didn’t like it at all. The picture was dark and smudgy. Maybe the projector was on the fritz in my theater but the trailers before the movie all looked normal. This was a film shot with boring colors in dark places with high contrast lighting. While that can be presented well, I felt like I was watching a big television event from a major network in the ’90s and not a major motion picture on the big screen in 2018. The presentation made it feel like a mid-’90s BBC docudrama.

The strength of the film is the performances by the actors, especially Oldman and Ben Mendelsohn, as the King. The two women, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James, also did fine work but were limited in their roles, as Churchill was always the film’s primary focal point. Another strength was the presentation of Churchill, as Oldman’s transformation looked seamless and perfect.

The film only covers the few weeks between Churchill’s rise to the role of Prime Minister to the moment where he decides whether he is going to go to war with the Nazis or negotiate a treaty. We all know how this ends but it’s how he came to his decision that is the gist of the film’s story. While parts of the film drag and should have been whittled down, the last twenty minutes or so were really solid.

Darkest Hour was a good movie but it lacked in a lot of areas that a Picture of the Year nominee shouldn’t. But the Academy is incredibly political and that could very well be the reason why this is getting major accolades.

Film Review: Miracle (2004)

Release Date: February 6th, 2004
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Written by: Eric Guggenheim
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich

Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 135 Minutes

Review:

“Great moments… are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw ’em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.” – Herb Brooks

*written in 2014.

Miracle is considered by many, if not most, to be the best hockey film ever made.

I don’t agree with the popular opinion, although it is a good film. The problem though, is that there is a real under-abundance of hockey movies. I mean, compared to baseball, football and even basketball pictures, hockey is really underutilized as a subject for sports films. While I would put this in probably the top two or three hockey movies of all-time, it would be hard to put it in a top ten including other sports.

While the subject matter of this film, the 1980 Winter Olympics and the United States’ beating of the unstoppable Soviet team during the Cold War, is compelling, it falls flat when comparing it to the bigger picture.

There are scenes in the film that are great. In fact, the acting is stellar. The problem is that it is just missing the magic you find in films like The Natural, Field of Dreams, Rudy and Hoosiers. While it has a bit of a magical feel at times, it never really pulls you in as emotionally as those other classic sports motion pictures.

Additionally, the pacing of this film is strange, as at times it drags and other times it flies by. There are also so many characters to get to know, that you really can’t get to know any of them all that well. The film suffers from not investing more time in just a few people; instead it gives you bits and pieces of many people. It plays like a television pilot overstuffed with too many characters from the start.

Miracle is a good film, despite the criticisms I have. It just isn’t the great movie that people believe it to be. At least, that’s how I see it.

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.

Film Review: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)

Release Date: January 12th, 2018 (Newseum premiere)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Jim Krieg
Based on: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn, Mike Mignola
Music by: Frederik Wiedmann
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, Anthony Head, Tara Strong, Bruce Timm, Kari Wuhrer

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 78 Minutes

Review:

“[faces the Ripper] Well, I won’t beg. And I won’t get hysterical. I won’t give you the satisfaction. Know this: I forgive you.” – Sister Leslie

I was a big fan of the old Gotham by Gaslight story, which came out when I was just really getting into Batman circa 1989. It was also the first Elseworlds Tale, which has become a big imprint under the DC Comics banner. Strangely, although this shares the title, the time frame and the villain, it is it’s own story and not an animated adaptation of the famous comic.

At first, I was caught off guard by the alterations and didn’t think I’d like the film but by the time it got to the end, I was digging it.

Reinventions aren’t necessarily a bad thing, sometimes they work quite well and with this film version of Gotham by Gaslight, it was cool going into familiar but really under explored territory in the DC mythos and seeing someone else give their own take on it. Had that take been bad, I’m sure I wouldn’t feel the same but the end result and the story were really good.

The one things that really stuck out for me was the animation. I wasn’t super keen on the character designs but when we got to those high octane action parts, this film really came alive. The big finale, which features a vacant World’s Fair setting and a massive burning Ferris wheel was spectacular. Also, the scenes where Batman was riding through the streets of Gotham on a steam powered motorcycle, looked fantastic.

Ultimately, this film didn’t blow my socks off but it was worth a watch. The animated DC stuff has been really good the last few years, especially the Batman movies. This one is a bit better than their recent average and it was a welcome change to just having another straight up, modern Batman adaptation.

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.