ESPN’s “30 for 30” Series Rankings & Reviews: Part I

Before I get into this, I’d like to clarify one thing.  None of these documentaries were bad.  Not a single one.  Some of them might not be on a topic that is particularly interesting to you, but they are all at least fairly well done.  If you are a sports fan, I would recommend seeing each and every one.  With that said, let’s get started:

21.  “The House of Steinbrenner” directed by Barbara Kopple

The Good:  A fairly interesting look at the building of the new Yankee Stadium.  Some interesting issues were delved into, namely some fans losing their seats because of the reduction in stadium size and the skyrocketing ticket prices.

The Bad:  What I thought we were getting here, based on the title, was the story of how George Steinbrenner took the Yankees from a cellar-dwelling, stuck in the past franchise to a perennial juggernaut that not only won multiple World Series’, but generated incredible amounts of revenue.  That was the story I was expecting and I would have loved it.  Hearing about how much of a lunatic “Big Stein” was.  Firing Billy Martin.  Hiring Billy Martin.  Firing him again.  Hiring him again.  There was so much potential here and instead we got a snooze-fest about what happened to the concrete the was used at the old Yankee Stadium after it was blown up.

Bottom Line:  I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence that the only film on this list directed by a woman brings up the rear.  There was just so much potential here and the finished product was a shell of what it could have been.  I’d still give it a watch, especially if you are a Yankee fan, but don’t expect to be on the edge of your seat.

20.  “Silly Little Game” directed by Adam Kurland and Lucas Jansen

The Good:  If you play fantasy sports, this was pretty cool.  A very interesting look at how fantasy baseball got its start and how it was done back then.  This film really made you appreciate computers and the Internet when you see how they had to tally up their scores and statistics.

The Bad:  If you don’t play fantasy sports, this was probably pretty meaningless.  Still interesting, but I doubt it would catch your interest like a lot of the other films on this list.

Bottom Lime:  Fantasy players, definitely give this a watch.  A pretty interesting history and when you hear how often the inventors have actually won their leagues, you’ll feel a lot better about your own fantasy trophy case.  Again though, even if you’re not into fantasy sports, give it a watch.

19.  “Four Days in October” directed by Major League Baseball Productions

The Good:  A story about the first Major League team to come back from a 3-0 playoff series deficit would have been thrilling in and of itself.  When that team coming back is the Red Sox and the team choking is the Yankees, you’ve got yourself a blockbuster.  The story was very well told and I loved the interludes with Bill Simmons.  He really gives the viewer a great fan perspective on the tale.

The Bad:  This story is just so tainted by the steroid era that it’s almost hard to watch.  You find yourself wanting to cheer for a guy like David Ortiz, but then you remember he’s a pathetic juicer.  If you ignore the names on the back of the jerseys, it’s a great story.  But the fact that half of these guys were on some type of performance enhancing drug at the time really makes it hard to appreciate the story.

Bottom Line:  For the suspense and story alone it’s a good watch.  Even if you’re not a Yankee or Red Sox fan, you can appreciate an underdog coming back from a huge deficit to end a curse and do something that no team has ever done.  Still, it’s a little hard to swallow when these roiders are presented as heroes.  Watch it, but take the story with a grain of salt.

18.  “Muhammad and Larry” directed by Albert Maysles

The Good:  A look at the iconic Muhammad Ali during the time leading up to his 1980 title fight against his former sparring partner Larry Holmes.  It’s clear from the footage that Ali is a shell of his former self, now all bravado and no fight.  More and more throughout the film you can see that Ali should not have been fighting at this point and that this fight may have been a big reason why he is in his current physical and mental state.  Very interesting and a welcome deviation from the typical Ali story. 

The Bad:  Slow.  At times, unbearably slow.  Like most old boxing historians, the makers got bogged down in the tiniest details at certain points.  There was also very little about the actual fight.  They spent about 20 minutes at one point taking a look at the cabin in Pennsylvania that Ali used to train at.

Bottom Line:   Most Ali films and stories only portray him as the icon and champ we all envision him as.  But there was much more to his story and this was a big part of it.  It’s unfortunate now to look back and think that he might be in much better shape now if he had simply hung up his gloves before this fight.  Highly recommended to boxing fans, but anyone with even a passing interest in Ali would enjoy this.

17.  “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?” directed by Mike Tollin

The Good:  This was one of the stories I really didn’t remember much at all.  I had heard of the USFL (United States Football League), but didn’t really no the whole story.  Well it’s pretty fascinating, especially once you hear all of the eventual NFL stars that got their start here.  Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Doug Flutie, Herschel Walker, the list goes on and on.

The Bad:  Donald Trump was a big character in this story.  He owned one of the teams and, in the end, was the major reason the league collapsed.  However, the story seemed a little too focused on Trump in spots.  Towards the end, it almost seemed like the director had a personal vendetta against The Donald, which took away from the film a little in my opinion.

Bottom Line:  A very interesting story, especially if you were born before the late 70’s.  Very fitting that this was released so close to the NFL lockout.  Makes you wonder if another league could make a run at the supposedly bulletproof National Football League.  Highly recommended to any football fans, but most sports fans in general would enjoy this.

Next week: #’s 13 through 16

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One Response to ESPN’s “30 for 30” Series Rankings & Reviews: Part I

  1. kevinjfisher says:

    Really liked the Ali one. there’s one which I won’t reveal that I HATED that I would’ve put last.

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