Documentary Review: Hillsborough (2014)

Release Date: April 15th, 2014
Directed by: Daniel Gordon
Music by: Tim Atack, Joel Beckerman
Narrated by: Ryan Van Ness III

ESPN Films, BBC, 121 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

Hillsborough is a film that kicked off a new series of 30 For 30 on ESPN. It is the first part in the Soccer Stories run, which were released over the last few months in order to build for the World Cup, which itself just started a few hours ago. I plan on reviewing the whole series in its complete form but since this part stands out as a film, where the other parts are half hour episodes, I felt it deserving of its own review.

This film told the story of the Hillsborough disaster, which happened on April 15th, 1989 in Sheffield, England. For those who don’t know, this tragedy happened during a game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and saw the death of 96 people who were crushed to death in the standing room only pens of the stadium. Following the tragedy, families of the victims have been seeking justice for decades but been denied it.

Hillsborough gives a pretty solid rundown of everything that happened leading up to the tragedy and everything that happened during and after, painting a very clear picture of what actually went down years after media spin and corruption tried to weave a different story.

The film was beautifully edited and presented, the interviews were conducted very well and I felt like the people involved, who had been victimized by this disaster were able to get some form of closure and peace by being able to be involved in this project while getting out their individual stories.

As a film, it was one of the best 30 For 30 chapters ever produced. It’s a definite must see for fans of the ongoing ESPN series or fans of real football (or soccer as we Americans call it).

Documentary Review: The Last Gladiators (2011)

Release Date: September 9th, 2011 (TIFF)
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Music by: David Kahne

Locomotion Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

I just recently came across a hockey documentary on Netflix’s streaming service called The Last Gladiators. The film was about some of the biggest goons in the NHL during the 80s. The film covered several players but primarily focused on Chris “Knuckles” Nilan, who mostly played for the Montreal Canadiens and won a Stanley Cup with them in 1986.

Nilan is one of the toughest guys to ever play the game and didn’t care if he was facing another tough guy or someone towering over him. He appeared to have no fear and was willing to scrap with anyone on the ice that got in his team’s way. He was a dominant enforcer and built up one hell of a reputation in an era where fighting wasn’t as controlled and stifled by the rules as it is now.

The director Alex Gibney, who won an Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side, does a pretty good job of painting a clear picture of hockey culture and the role of an enforcer that the uninitiated can follow. It starts like a highlight reel of classic fights while the backstory is laid out and finishes up with a tragic story that is still incomplete, leaving you with a sense of hope for the main attraction of the film, Chris Nilan.

I wouldn’t call this a great sports documentary but I would say that it was thoroughly engaging and did a proper job of showcasing goon culture respectfully. Especially in an era where more and more busybody know-it-all idiots are calling for a ban to fighting in hockey.

Film Review: Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017)

Release Date: March 17th, 2017 (Canada)
Directed by: Jay Baruchel
Written by: Jay Baruchel, Jesse Chabot
Music by: Trevor Morris
Cast: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Marc-André Grondin, Kim Coates, Liev Schreiber, Jonathan Cherry, Wyatt Russell, Elisha Cuthbert, T.J. Miller, Tyler Seguin, Michael Del Zotto, Brandon Prust, George Parros, Colton Orr, Georges Laraque

No Trace Camping, Caramel Film, Entertainment One, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Evolve. Or go extinct.” – Xavier LaFlamme

I’m a pretty big fan of the original Goon, which I consider to be the best hockey movie since Slap Shot. I am also a huge fan of hockey and the preseason for the NHL is already underway and I’m being overtaken by hockey fever. Living in the States, I wasn’t able to see this movie until now but at least it dropped just in time for the hockey season, which seems more fitting than it’s St. Patrick’s Day release in Canada.

Unfortunately, Goon: Last of the Enforcers isn’t quite Goon but I did enjoy it.

The one thing that the film is missing is the heart and spirit of the original. Ultimately, it feels like an unnecessary sequel even though I was personally looking forward to it because there is a certain magic between Seann William Scott’s Doug Glatt and Liev Schreiber’s Ross Rhea. I wanted to see these two interact one more time and despite this film not living up to the original, I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to one more go around after this.

Scott and Schreiber are just great as these characters. The rest of the cast is fun too but the film is powered by these two men and their rivalry turned to respect.

In this picture, a third goon shows up and has absolutely no respect for anything. Frankly, you just want to see this asshole get his just desserts. This new goon, played by Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt) is so good as a despicable character that you can’t not sort of admire his performance and his presence. The sky is the limit for this kid.

Doug’s teammates return and they are all just as funny as before but you seem to spend less time with them and more time on the drama of Doug trying to discover himself in a life after hockey with his now wife and coming child adding a sense of pressure and responsibility that he has a hard time balancing with his personal struggles.

In the beginning, Doug is beaten into retirement by his new rival. He takes on a normal life but wants to get back on the ice to prove that he’s still got it. In an homage to Rocky III, Doug seeks out his former rival, Ross Rhea, in an attempt to train himself for the possibility of a rematch with the man that put him on the shelf and usurped him as the king of hockey fisticuffs.

I liked the premise and seeing Doug and Ross work together and even become teammates, by the end of the film, was a cool evolution of their story. The film takes their mutual respect to a new level and that is much more interesting than Doug dealing with his insurance job and becoming a father.

Marc-André Grondin’s Xavier LaFlamme is also back but he takes a backseat and doesn’t have the screen time he had in Goon. I really like the LaFlamme character and thought he was sort of wasted here. The same goes for Jay Baruchel’s Patrick but Baruchel also directed this and probably thought that a cameo here and there was all he could tackle while helming this picture.

If you love Goon, you will probably like Goon: Last of the Enforcers. It doesn’t live up to its predecessor but you get to see these characters evolve into something more than where they were when we left off with the first film.

TV Review: WWE Breaking Ground (2015- )

Original Run: October 25th, 2015 – current
Created by: WWE
Directed by: Christopher Bavelles, Ronn Head
Narrated by: William Shatner
Cast: Matt Bloom, William Regal, Sara Amato, Triple H, Bayley, Mojo Rawley, Carmella, Robbie Brookside, Dana Brooke, Tyler Breeze, Nia Jax, Baron Corbin, Tino Sabbatelli, Apollo Crews, Jason Jordan, Chad Gable, Big Cass, Sami Zayn

3 Ball Entertainment, WWE, 30-43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Breaking Ground is a documentary reality show produced by WWE for their exclusive streaming service, the WWE Network. It showcases a lot of their talent in NXT, which is the WWE’s training ground and minor leagues, where wrestlers hone their skills in an effort to eventually make it up to the main roster.

The feel of this show is much more real and serious than their other attempts at reality television. It is also more fine tuned and comes off as completely authentic other than the manufactured drama of shows like Total DivasTotal BellasLegends’ House and even Tough Enough.

Narrated by William Shatner, the show has a sense of legitimacy and plays out much more professionally. He adds a certain level of gravitas and credence to the production that is missing in WWE’s other shows.

The story follows several NXT Superstars, as they work out daily in the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, FL. It also follows them as they perform for WWE’s NXT brand on television and on the road. It shows the trials and tribulations of each person featured and really covers all areas and aspects of the WWE training process, by incorporating talent at varying levels of development.

While this isn’t an amazing show and is pretty dry, most of the time, it should be interesting to those who are fans of the sports entertainment business at a deeper level than just watching Monday Night Raw or Smackdown on a weekly basis.

Documentary Review: I Hate Christian Laettner (2015)

Release Date: March 15th, 2015
Directed by: Rory Karpf
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, John Loeffler, Chris Maxwell, David Wolfert
Narrated by: Rob Lowe

First Row Films, ESPN Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2015.

ESPN’s 30 For 30 series of films is one of the greatest sports documentary series ever produced. It could be the absolute best but I’ll leave that open for debate.

The latest installment, I Hate Christian Laettner was one of the best films in the series.

For those who don’t know, Laettner played basketball for Duke University during their dynasty run in the early 90s. Duke, perceived as a school of privilege for mostly cocky white guys, was hated by pretty much any college basketball fan that didn’t actually go to school at Duke. Hell, they still receive a lot of disdain and hate from fans, even though they just won their 5th national title last night.

Anyway, Christian Laettner, the star of those early 90s Duke teams, was the focal point of the nation’s hatred. Whether just or unjust, he had to traverse through the sea of venom and perform at an elite level – a level that brought him two national championships, a spot on the original Dream Team and a high lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

This greatly edited film, narrated by Rob Lowe, shows who Christian Laettner truly is. He isn’t the caricature that people and the media manufactured in their minds and in print. It shows this whole story from the perspective of Laettner, his family, friends and his teammates. It paints a story of a kid (and later a man) who had to deal with a tremendous amount of unwarranted and unnecessary adversity. It showed how this affected the people around him. However, it also showed how he took all of it as fuel to burn: leading to tremendous success.

I think this film is more an examination of just how horrible people can be to one another. In a similar way to how Cubs fans treated Steve Bartman in 2003, college basketball fans of that era never really looked at the fact that this was another human being. Maybe that has to do with our celebrity obsessed culture and the way that regular people seem to have a disconnect with people sold to us as stars. Laettner, as the biggest star on the college basketball stage, was an easy target.

At the end of the day, Christian Laettner is a human being and people should just be more decent to one another. All he wanted to do was play ball and win. And truthfully, despite the hate, he had the last laugh and achieved many of his goals.

And he’s richer than most of us.

Film Review: The ‘Slap Shot’ Sequels (2002-2008)

Slap Shot (reviewed here) is one of the greatest comedies of all-time. It is also probably the greatest hockey movie of all-time. It certainly didn’t need sequels. But for some reason, twenty-five years later, we got Slap Shot 2 followed by Slap Shot 3. Here are my thoughts on those unnecessarily sequels.

Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice (2002):

Release Date: March 26th, 2002
Directed by: Steve Boyum
Written by: Broderick Miller
Based on: characters created by Nancy Dowd
Music by: John Frizzell
Cast: Stephen Baldwin, Gary Busey, Jessica Steen, Callum Keith Rennie, David Hemmings, David Paetkau, Jonathan Scarfe, Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson, David Hanson

Universal Pictures, 104 Minutes 

Review:

This film was a straight-to-video release, as it should have been. It also came out during the height of straight-to-video sequels of popular films. Historically, this formula led to a really shitty product. Straight-to-video movies were straight-to-video for a reason.

Somehow the Charlestown Chiefs still exist, without explanation, after they were sold and disbanded in the original Slap Shot, twenty-five years earlier. The Hanson Bros. still play on the team but other than them, these are all new characters.

The new cast is led by Stephen Baldwin, which should say a lot about the quality of this film. He’s never really been good in anything and it is no different here. He certainly can’t come close to filling the shoes of the legendary Paul Newman and it was a casting choice so poor, that the quality between Slap Shot and Slap Shot 2 is made very clear, just in watching the leads of the two films.

The only other noteworthy cast member is Gary Busey, who played an extreme right-wing television mogul who buys the Chiefs so that he can use them in a scripted hockey television show, where they are made to constantly lose and aren’t allowed to fight. The plot is bizarre and the idea of “family friendly” scripted hockey makes little sense in any situation. They try to sell it like the Harlem Globetrotters of hockey but the idea just doesn’t work and I’m not sure who would ever watch slapstick scripted hockey where the same team always wins. The Globetrotters are successful because of their skills displays and their storied legacy.

The Chiefs also have to wear different jerseys and different colors for the majority of the film, which doesn’t even make this movie feel connected to Slap Shot. The Hanson Bros., while featured a lot in the beginning, then disappear for the second half of the film until the very end.

All in all, it isn’t completely horrible. It was watchable enough for one viewing but I’ll never revisit it again.

The gay coach was fantastic, though. Actually, he was the best part of this whole film.

Slap Shot 3: The Junior League (2008):

Release Date: November 25th, 2008
Directed by: Richard Martin
Written by: Brad Riddell
Based on: characters created by Nancy Dowd
Music by: Terry Frewer
Cast: Greyston Holt, Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson, David Hanson, Lynda Boyd, Mark Messier, Doug Gilmour, Leslie Nielsen

Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes 

Review:

After the mess that was Slap Shot 2, they felt like they could milk the old cow one more time, thirty-one years after the original.

This film stars Leslie Nielsen but he’s barely in it. The Hanson Bros. are also back but they spend half the movie as peaceful zen monks who have sworn off their violent ways. Mark Messier shows up too, for some reason.

The plot revolves around a boys’ home that is ran by the boys, as the caretaker died or something. I don’t know if that was made clear in the film or not. Anyway, they have some plan to get good at hockey, beat the evil rival town junior team and somehow turn that into saving their town. The plot makes less sense than Slap Shot 2.

The Hanson Bros. eventually go back to normal but not until after they make the Junior Chiefs play hockey in zen-friendly kimonos. Yes, you read that right.

This is, quite simply, a pretty awful and boring movie. It is only worth watching for the Hanson Bros. material but there just isn’t enough of them to make it worthwhile and at the same time, they shouldn’t have to carry a film.

Documentary Review: Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006)

Release Date: May 19th, 2006 (UK)
Directed by: Paul Crowder, John Dower
Music by: Ric Markmann
Narrated by: Matt Dillon

Passion Pictures, Cactus Three, ESPN Original Entertainment, 97 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

I’ve reviewed a lot of soccer documentaries over the last week, in preparation for the World Cup, and this is my favorite film out of the bunch.

If you have ever wondered why soccer is not successful in America, up until recently anyway, this film shows you how it actually once rose to monstrous levels and how it fizzled out quickly. A big reason for the boom in popularity in the seventies was the New York Cosmos and the fact that they brought Pelé to America.

Once In A Lifetime follows several stories, all of which give a pretty solid history lesson on everything surrounding the New York Cosmos as well as the North American Soccer League (NASL). It paints a picture of how unknown of a sport soccer was in the United States before the Cosmos burst on the scene and how they quickly opened the floodgates, leading to an eventual World Cup in the States, as well as the formation of another, more successful professional soccer league, the MLS or Major League Soccer.

This film was well directed and the interviewees let it all out and never held back, which was pretty invigorating with these colorful characters. I only wish that Pelé had participated in the film, it would’ve added a level of royalty to the project. Additionally, Matt Dillon did a solid job as the narrator.

To all the real football fans, watch this documentary and eat it up… seriously. There is a lot here for a 97 minute film but it is all quality and entertaining. You can actually catch this on Netflix, right now.