Movie Project #4: The Last Waltz [1978]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

The Last Waltz [1978]

The Last Waltz [1978]
Director: Martin Scorcese
Genre: Documentary/Music
Starring: The Band + friends
Running Time: 117 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is widely considered one of the greatest rock films of all time, if not the greatest.

Accolades: KCFCC Award for Best Documentary, 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes

“THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD!”

So says the opening screen of The Last Waltz, Martin Scorcese’s documentation of The Band’s final performance on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. Set in the majestic Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco (also the site of the group’s very first concert), the film shows a good chunk of the actual concert, interspersed with brief interludes and interviews with band members.

The Last Waltz [1978]

Going into The Last Waltz, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Band is one of those groups that were wildly important in the 60s and 70s, but they somehow managed to ride the line of anonymity (not unlike their generic band name). Ask the average person about The Band and they may remember or recognize “The Weight“, but that’s probably the extent of their knowledge. I know that for many years, that was all I knew from them.

No matter. This is a film that can be appreciated by music lovers of all kinds, whether fans of The Band or not. Their music stands the test of the time, and they are joined in their final concert by a number of familiar friends and well-known musicians. Just take a look at their list of special guests: Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Star, Ronnie Wood, Bobby Charles, The Staple Singers.

Yeah. Holy shit.

The Last Waltz [1978]

With such a wide variety of guests, naturally the music weaves in and out of different genres. Whether it’s blues, folk or just plain rock and roll, there’s something for everyone. Best of all, everyone on stage seems to be having the time of their life. There’s a sense of melancholy, to be sure, but most of the musicians are playing with a smile on their face.

Now, this being a Scorcese picture, this isn’t a typical concert film. Scorcese went all out and turned this into a full-scale studio production with seven 35mm cameras, even employing some pretty great cinematographers to operate them. Michael Chapman (Raging Bull), Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and László Kovács (Easy Rider) are just a few of those attached to the project. The final product turned out to be a visually stunning concert, with frequent transitions between closeups of the different musicians. Some have complained that Scorcese focused too heavily on band member Robbie Robertson, but there are some great shots of all involved.

The Last Waltz [1978]

At its most basic, The Last Waltz is an amazing snapshot of its time. Is there a better congregation of 70s rock figures than in this film? There are many fun moments and performances, but seeing everyone involved come back on stage to play together one more time may be the best of all. The DVD includes a bonus cut of an improvised jam session as well, which is just as fun.

If I were to have one complaint with the film, it would be that two of the song performances — “The Weight” with the Staple Singers and “Evangeline” with Emmylou Harris — were filmed on a sound stage, not at the actual concert. While these renditions are fantastic, it was odd to bounce between the two.

Regardless, this is a great film, and Scorcese is absolutely right that it must be played LOUD. This is a fun, breezy two hours, and by the end of it I felt like I had just witnessed one hell of a show.

9/10

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Documentary Mini-Reviews: Catching Hell, June 17, 1994, Indie Game: the Movie, Man on Wire

I got on a bit of a documentary kick this week. Here’s some quick reviews of what I watched:

30 for 30: Catching Hell [2011]
30 for 30: Catching Hell [2011]
Poor Steve Bartman. When the Chicago Cubs were on the brink of heading to the World Series in 2003, a fan reaching for a foul ball became the unfortunate and unnecessary scapegoat for the team’s spectacular demise. It’s amazing that everyone remembers Bartman — what with his black sweatshirt, headphones and blue Cubs cap — but most forget that the Cubs had plenty of chances to put the game away on their own accord. If we want scapegoats, why not blame Moises Alou for throwing a temper tantrum about the incident and damn near starting a riot? Or better yet, what about sure-handed shortstop Alex Gonzalez being charged with an error on what should have been an easy double play to end the inning? No, thanks largely in part to the media, Bartman was left to shoulder the blame. The poor guy received death threats in the days afterward, and he is still ridiculed to this day. To his credit, he has turned down countless offers to do interviews, commercials, etc. Although the film is a hard watch for Cubs and Red Sox fans (thanks to the Bill Buckner clips), it’s a great spotlight on just how desperate people are to blame others. 8/10

30 for 30: June 17, 1994 [2010]
30 for 30: June 17, 1994 [2010]
Do you remember June 17, 1994? If that date doesn’t ring a bell, I bet you will still remember some of the sporting events that happened that day. The New York Rangers were celebrating their first Stanley Cup in 54 years, across town the Knicks were battling the Houston Rockets in game six of the NBA Finals, the World Cup kicked off in Chicago, and Arnold Palmer played his last round of golf at the U.S. Open. Oh, and there was this little thing of O.J. Simpson being chased in a white Ford Bronco. I don’t know if there has ever been a more tumultuous day in sports history. This is a pretty unique documentary in that everything is presented via archive footage, making it appear that we are watching these events unfold in real-time. There is no voice-over narration, just the banter from announcers during the day. It’s an interesting time capsule of a day that anyone alive during that time certainly will not forget. 7.5/10

Indie Game: The Movie [2012]
Indie Game: The Movie [2012]
You don’t need to be a gamer to like this, but it certainly helps. Indie Game chronicles the paths taken by the indie video game developers behind Super Meat Boy, Fez and Braid. All of these games are operated by just one or two guys, and they have dedicated the last few years of their lives to creating and finally releasing their games. The film follows them through the creative process, going along with their highs (i.e. breaking sales expectations and reading glowing reviews) and their lows (debuting a game at an expo, only to have it be a bug-ridden disaster). While not all of these guys are entirely likable, it’s still an emotional ride, and it just shows the amount of dedication and hard work that is put into these titles. Quite frankly, this is one of the best movies I have seen all year, and there’s a good chance I will be doing a full write-up on it soon. 9/10

Man on Wire [2008]
Man on Wire [2008]
On August 7, 1974, a Frenchman named Philippe Petit set up a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and walked back and forth for a good hour before getting arrested. It was a batshit crazy idea, and even more remarkable that he did this without causing harm to himself or anyone else. Man on Wire presents the time leading up to this stunt much like a heist film — it jumps between time-frames while introducing everyone involved. It’s a well-made documentary, but it suffers from being forced to stretch out this one event into a 90 minute feature. By the time the incident actually happens, it’s anticlimactic. There are no videos of the tightrope walking, just stationary images, and nothing terribly exciting happens afterward. While a solid effort, I’m rather shocked that this has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 6/10

Have you seen any of these? What’s your take?

Movie Review: The Imposter [2012]

The Imposter [2012]

The Imposter [2012]
Director: Bart Layton
Genre: Documentary/Biography
Starring: Adam O’Brian, Frédéric Bourdin and Carey Gibson
Runtime: 99 minutes

In 1994, a 13-year-old boy named Nicholas Barclay left his San Antonio home to go play basketball. He never returned, eventually assumed to be dead.

In 1997, his family received a phone call from someone in Linares, Spain stating that Nicholas was there, shaken up but alive. How did Nicholas get overseas?

We know the answer to this question right away — this isn’t Nicholas at all. This is a 23-year-old Frenchman named Frédéric Bourdin, an imposter posing as the long-lost teenager. In an effort to appear believable, Bourdin goes to great lengths to cover-up his appearance. He wears a hoodie, ball cap and shades as often as possible, and his timid demeanor goes in line with someone who underwent a traumatic experience. He dyes his hair blond and acquires crude renditions of the same three tattoos Nicholas had. Somehow, remarkably so, the Barclays take in Bourdin, fully believing (or at least wanting to believe) that this is actually their missing family member.

The Imposter [2012]

If that sounds too crazy to be true, well, it gets even more ridiculous. I won’t get into explicit details because it truly helps to go into this movie without knowing much, but the film takes a total 180 about halfway through. All of a sudden, all of my preconceived notions about the people we were introduced to were thrown out the window. My emotions were turned inside and out, and I was left wondering just who to believe.

In order to figure out just what the hell happened in this bizarre true story, we hear from a variety of talking heads. Bourdin himself tells his side of the story, very bluntly stating that he wanted “love and affection” in his life, even if that meant stealing another person’s identity. He is an enigmatic character, one who has a strange type of charisma even as we learn of his despicable deed. We also hear from many members of the Barclay family, as they stumble over their words to try to explain how they let this stranger into their home. Surely they must have noticed that Nicholas’ eyes suddenly changed from baby blue to brown?

The Imposter [2012]

Interspersed with interview clips are home video shots (including Bourdin’s U.S. arrival into open arms) as well as re-enacted moments using actors. The transition between all three formats is flawless, particularly when dialogue remains perfectly in sync while switching amongst them. This is an expertly crafted documentary from seasoned TV veteran, Bart Layton.

The Imposter asks a lot of questions, and it is almost certainly the most ‘thrilling’ documentary I have ever seen. It’s damn near impossible to write a story like this, and it’s mind-boggling that this could have ever happened. As a case of “stranger than fiction”, this is simply unforgettable. Folks, this is easily one of the best films of the year and it is an absolute must-see.

9/10

Movie Review: Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop [2011]

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop [2011]

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop [2011]
Director: Rodman Flender
Genre: Documentary
Language: English
Country: USA

The year 2010 was an eventful one for Conan O’Brien. In January, he lost his dream job as the host of the Tonight Show. NBC paid him $45 million to hand over the reigns back to Jay Leno, with an added contract clause being that Conan could not appear on television or radio for six months. Having such an extended break was unfathomable for Sir Coco, so he decided to go on tour, humourously titled “The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour”. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a documentary about this 42-show binge where he performed for unanimously sold-out crowds.

It should be immediately apparent that this documentary will not appeal as much to non-Coco fans. Those who do not “get” Conan’s style of humor will find little of value here. Having said that, this is a fascinating portrait of the tenuous summer of a man on a mission. Conan clearly isn’t in this for the money; he is doing this tour for his fans, and for his absolute need to perform.

Conan O'Brien: Can't Stop [2011]

There are plenty of clips from his various shows, everything from his first concert in Eugene, Oregon to his appearance at Bonnaroo. I wish I had the chance to see him here in Chicago, and I am especially kicking myself for missing out after seeing this documentary. Much like Conan himself, his shows were all over the place, equal parts rock-and-roll, comedy and even reminiscent of a variety show with plenty of guest appearances (Eddie Vedder, Jack White and Jack MacBrayer all make cameos, to name a few).

However, the best parts of Can’t Stop are when the camera focuses on the backstage events and life on the road. This is where we learn the most about Conan the person. It is obvious that he is a genuinely funny and intelligent being, and he loves being the center of attention. He does a lot for his fans, although the toll of signing autographs and taking pictures clearly wears him down as the tour progresses. He is always friendly to those whom he meets, even though he would rather be relaxing with friends after an intense performance. Conan’s quick jabs at his writers and other personnel may make him come across as a bit of a dick at times, but I can’t help but feel that everyone would be on edge during a long tour like this, especially when his “off days” turn into impromptu secret shows.

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop [2011]

The documentary is full of laughs, but my personal favorite moment was watching Conan impatiently wait around backstage before his surprise appearance at his college’s 25th reunion. He is clearly restless and busts out his guitar to pass the time. This turns into an impromptu performance of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” complete with a stand-up bass and a flute. Yeah, it’s just as awesome as it sounds.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a great documentary, one that those onboard Team Coco will get maximum enjoyment out of. I could have done without some of director Rodman Flender’s jumpy edits, but for the most part he does a wonderful job taking us into the life of one of television’s funniest entertainers. Equal parts hilarious and dramatic, Can’t Stop is well worth seeing.

8/10

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]
Director: Dan Klores
Genre: Documentary/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

A couple of weeks ago Amazon had an awesome Father’s Day sale going on for the ESPN Films 30 for 30 Limited Edition Collector Set. Basically the set was on sale for 1/3 of the regular price, and it included all 30 documentaries as well as a vintage ESPN hat. It was a hell of a deal, and I couldn’t help but treat myself to it.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, 30 for 30 is a collection of 30 documentaries that aired on ESPN and its sister networks from 2009 to 2010. Sportswriter Bill Simmons came up with the idea to have a wide variety of filmmakers reflect on the sports stories/events/people that mattered to them, and had them create an hour long documentary about them. There are some pretty big names attached to the project, including Spike Jonze, NBA star Steve Nash and Steve James (“Hoop Dreams“), and the various films cover a number of different sports.

The first feature I decided to watch was Dan Klores’ “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks”, partly because I had heard nothing but good things about it, and also because I grew up watching 1990s NBA basketball. I remember the epic rivalries back then, including the Pacers vs. the Knicks. This is a rivalry that heated up and kicked into high gear during the two years Michael Jordan was on hiatus playing baseball. Without the Bulls dominating the league, there was a huge opportunity open for another team to take their place. Both Indiana and New York felt they could be the best, and they met in the playoffs both years.

While the documentary is entirely about the rivalry, it focuses heavily on Reggie Miller and the memorable moments involving him in their battles. These are truly classic moments from 90s basketball:

1) John Starks’ infamous headbutt and Miller’s dramatic overselling of it. Miller is a notorious trash talker and it grew to be too much for his New York arch rival, who attacked Reggie and got himself kicked out of the game. Looking back at the footage, it looked like teammates Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing were going to beat the shit out of Starks, and that’s a scary sight.

2) Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Diehard Knicks fan Spike Lee was sitting courtside and kept antagonizing Reggie as the Knicks were in control of the game. All of a sudden, something clicked with Miller and he went nuts and started draining shot after shot, eventually ending the game with 39 points (24 in the 4th quarter) and leading the Pacers to victory. Spike Lee was immediately chosen as the scapegoat for his team’s loss.

3) Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. One of the most incredible feats ever accomplished in NBA history. The Pacers were down by six points with 18.7 seconds left. Miller hits a 3, steals the inbound pass, dribbles back and hits another 3, then seals the game with two free throws. Eight points in nine seconds. It’s remarkable to see this, even to this day.

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

The documentary touches on all three of these classic moments, and includes some awesome rare footage including a lot of the trash talk between Miller and Lee. There are also details of other elements of the rivalry including the whole “Hicks vs. Knicks” region battle, and issues with racism. Klores really does a great job piecing everything together and getting input from all of those involved, even getting soundbites from Patrick Ewing and John Starks about their devastating last-second shot misses.

You don’t have to be a Knicks or Pacers fan to enjoy Winning Time. NBA fans will get the most out of this, but even non-fans can appreciate the story behind this rivalry. Hell, my girlfriend who can’t stand professional basketball even got a kick out of the little bit she saw. Winning Time is an excellent documentary that had me feeling nostalgic for the days of my youth. I can only hope that all of the 30 for 30 documentaries are even half this good.

9/10

Movie Review: Catfish [2010]

Catfish [2010]

Catfish [2010]
Directors: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Genre: Documentary
Language: English
Country: USA

Catfish is a documentary about a man who befriends a family on Facebook after their 8-year-old daughter sends him some paintings through the mail. At first he only remains in contact with the girl, but she slowly introduces him to the rest of her family including her mother, brother and her 19-year-old sister. The subject of the film, Nev Schulman, ends up becoming greatly attached to this family and eventually decides to make a surprise visit to their home in Ishpeming, Michigan, which is in the middle of nowhere in the Upper Peninsula.

I didn’t know much about Catfish going into it, other than the fact that a lot of people were pissed off about the trailer misrepresenting the actual movie. I didn’t watch the trailer until after the movie, but I can totally understand how this would upset people. The trailer makes the film out to be some kind of indie horror Blair Witch Project-type movie, which the documentary is anything but. There are definitely some suspenseful moments when Nev and his two filmmaker friends arrive in Ishpeming, but it’s more of a “what will they find” type of non-scary vibe. As long as you go into the movie with an open mind, you won’t have this problem.

The movie itself is very, very interesting. Unfortunately, I cannot go into too much detail at the risk of spoilers but let’s just say that the story takes an interesting twist in the second half of the film. Catfish starts off a little slow, but Nev and his friends are so likable that it is easy to keep interest as he continues to converse with all of the family members.

A lot of people are questioning whether this is a legitimate documentary or an elaborate hoax, but it honestly does not matter if it is real or not. This is a great story that really makes you think about the boundaries of online relationships. Catfish is an intriguing experiment that deserves the accolades it has been receiving. Just don’t go into it expecting a horror movie!

8/10

Hoop Dreams [1994] Movie Review

Hoop Dreams [1994]

Hoop Dreams [1994] 
Director: Steve James
Genre: Documentary/Drama/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

People always say to me, “when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me.” Well, I should’ve said back, “if I don’t make it to the NBA, don’t you forget about me.”
– William Gates

Hoop Dreams is a documentary about two Chicago inner-city African-American kids, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who eat, breathe and sleep basketball, and aspire someday to play in the NBA. The movie follows them through their high school years as they attempt to lead their teams to the championship all while keeping their heads above water academically.

Both students are recruited to the famous St. Joseph’s High School in Westchester, Illinois. These guys make the rough 90-minute commute every day because of the school’s reputation; after all, this is where Isiah Thomas played during his youth. An early scene shows Thomas visiting his alma mater, and it is fun to watch the kids sitting there in awe while listening to their hero. Both teens struggle with their new school at first — it takes some time to adjust to a racially diverse school considering their home neighborhoods (Cabrini-Green and West Garfield Park). When Agee struggles to play up to his potential at the school, he is dropped from the program without so much of a blink of an eye. All of a sudden Agee’s family is left with a large tuition bill that they cannot afford. This doesn’t happen to Gates. He becomes the star of his team and gets financial support from a wealthy old white lady, simply because he has been able to better utilize his talent on the court. These types of discrepancies are all too common, and Hoop Dreams brings attention to this light.

Perhaps what I loved most about this documentary is that it is wildly unpredictable. I didn’t know anything about either kid beforehand, so I had no idea what to expect. It’s easy to see in the beginning stages of the movie who is more likely to succeed, but there are always twists that can hamper anyone’s path to their dreams. Both teenagers have immense basketball talent, yet both fight hardships along their way.

Make no mistake: even though this movie is about basketball, it is so much more than that. This is a film that tackles important issues in American life, problems with racial and economic divisions, class and our educational system, not to mention the pursuit of the American Dream. This is a movie about families, and how important it is to stick together.

It should be noted that Hoop Dreams is a three hour film. There aren’t many movies of this length that have kept my interest throughout, but this is one of them. There is a lot of story to tell here, and it’s amazing that the filmmakers were able to cut down over 250 hours of footage into this picture. The extended length is never a burden, and it allows us to learn more about the families of both children. It is hard not to be intrigued by Curtis Gates, William’s older brother who was also a basketball stud but let his bad attitude and temperament ruin his once-promising career. It’s hard not to feel for the Agee family, as Arthur’s dad fights a difficult battle with drug addiction.

Hoop Dreams is a movie that I will soon not forget. Don’t let its extended running time and it’s blatant 90s look scare you — this is a masterpiece of a documentary that still resonates today.

10/10

Hoop Dreams Trailer from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.

Hoop Dreams [1994]

Hoop Dreams [1994]

Hoop Dreams [1994]
Directors: Steve James
Genre: Documentary/Drama/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

People always say to me, “when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me.” Well, I should’ve said back, “if I don’t make it to the NBA, don’t you forget about me.”
– William Gates

Hoop Dreams is a documentary about two Chicago inner-city African-American kids, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who eat, breathe and sleep basketball, and aspire someday to play in the NBA. The movie follows them through their high school years as they attempt to lead their teams to the championship all while keeping their heads above water academically.

Both students are recruited to the famous St. Joseph’s High School in Westchester, Illinois. These guys make the rough 90-minute commute every day because of the school’s reputation; after all, this is where Isiah Thomas played during his youth. An early scene shows Thomas visiting his alma mater, and it is fun to watch the kids sitting there in awe while listening to their hero. Both teens struggle with their new school at first — it takes some time to adjust to a racially diverse school considering their home neighborhoods (Cabrini-Green and West Garfield Park). When Agee struggles to play up to his potential at the school, he is dropped from the program without so much of a blink of an eye. All of a sudden Agee’s family is left with a large tuition bill that they cannot afford. This doesn’t happen to Gates. He becomes the star of his team and gets financial support from a wealthy old white lady, simply because he has been able to better utilize his talent on the court. These types of discrepancies are all too common, and Hoop Dreams brings attention to this light.

Perhaps what I loved most about this documentary is that it is wildly unpredictable. I didn’t know anything about either kid beforehand, so I had no idea what to expect. It’s easy to see in the beginning stages of the movie who is more likely to succeed, but there are always twists that can hamper anyone’s path to their dreams. Both teenagers have immense basketball talent, yet both fight hardships along their way.

Make no mistake: even though this movie is about basketball, it is so much more than that. This is a film that tackles important issues in American life, problems with racial and economic divisions, class and our educational system, not to mention the pursuit of the American Dream. This is a movie about families, and how important it is to stick together.

It should be noted that Hoop Dreams is a three hour film. There aren’t many movies of this length that have kept my interest throughout, but this is one of them. There is a lot of story to tell here, and it’s amazing that the filmmakers were able to cut down over 250 hours of footage into this picture. The extended length is never a burden, and it allows us to learn more about the families of both children. It is hard not to be interested in Curtis Gates, William’s older brother who was also a basketball stud but let his bad attitude and temperament ruin his once-promising career. It’s hard not to feel for the Agee family, as Arthur’s dad fights a difficult battle with drug addiction.

Hoop Dreams is a movie that I will soon not forget. Don’t let its extended running time and it’s blatant 90’s look scare you — this is a masterpiece of a documentary that still resonates today.

10/10

Hoop Dreams Trailer from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.

A Player To Be Named Later [2005]

A Player To Be Named Later [2005]

A Player To Be Named Later [2005]
Directors: Bart Stephens
Genre: Documentary/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

Today is one of the best days of the year for sports fans: Opening Day of baseball. In light of the new season, I perused Netflix’s Instant Watch for some baseball movies and found this little known documentary: A Player To Be Named Later. This 2005 film chronicles the 2001 season of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians. The movie revolves around five players:

Brad Tyler, a 32-year-old veteran who never got the call up to the majors. Near the end of his career he bounced around professional baseball, including a stint in Mexico.

Micah Franklin, another veteran hitter who played for a bunch of different teams over his career yet only had one brief stint in the big leagues (1997).

Kyle Peterson, a former first round draft pick who has struggled with serious injuries throughout his career.

Allen “Meat” Levrault, a pitcher who spent the majority of his 2001 season in Milwaukee with less than impressive results (6-10, 6.06 ERA). He played in 2003 for Florida, and then struggled in the minors for the rest of his career.

Marco Scutaro, a Venezuelan athlete who is the only one from this group still playing today. He is the current starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.

What makes this documentary so interesting is that it shows what life is like for these guys both on and off the field. None of them are guaranteed to make it to the big leagues; in fact, it is estimated that only 6% of minor leaguers actually get the callup at some point in their careers. Yet these guys still continue to pursue their dream against all odds.

Throughout the movie there are clips showing the players with their families, interviews with “super fans” of the team, and some interesting discussions with team personnel. All of these people share one common trait: the love of the game. Having said that, I’m not sure how much A Player To Be Named Later will appeal to non-baseball fans. For those who love the sport, however, this is a fascinating look into the lives of those who are so close, yet so far from the majors.

8/10

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [2009]

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [2009]

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [2009]
Director: Julien Nitzberg
Genre: Documentary
Language: English
Country: USA

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is a documentary about the infamous White family that lives in rural Boone County, West Virginia. The Whites are “famous” because of Jesco White, a member of the family who was the star of an old PBS documentary called “Dancing Outlaw” that showcased his tap dancing skills. This documentary was created to tell the story of the rest of the family.

The Whites are a colorful bunch who don’t give a shit about the law. They are drug abusers, harbringers of violence, frequent adulterers, occasional murderers, and just all-around hellraisers. Basically, they are just like a number of other redneck families in the United States. I have seen a lot of families just like the Whites; they really are a dime a dozen in certain rural areas. One of the local attorneys who was interviewed in the film said it best: there are far more important people who could use a documentary than these folk.

The film has some entertaining moments — an 85th birthday celebration for the matriarch of the family leads to a crazy coke-and-pills binge (which she is ashamed of), and listening to Jesco talk about his mental problems is unbelievable (apparently he is missing part of his brain due to 10+ years of gas huffing). There are other moments that are unbelievably pathetic, such as when one of the women gives birth to a child, snorts crushed-up pills immediately after, then wonders why her child is taken away by protective services. To her credit, the loss of her child finally pushed her into rehab, but you can’t help but feel that by moving back home she will undoubtedly fall into the same junkie habits she had before.

It really is a shame that director Julien Nitzberg decided to spend more time glorifying this family (he was also an associate producer on the aforementioned Dancing Outlaw documentary). I will give him credit for crafting a well-made film, but I just can’t help but feel there are more worthy subjects to document. If you have never been exposed to rural redneck/hillbilly folk like this, you will probably get more mileage out of Wild and Wonderful than me. For me, this was a mere reminder of just how many other families live like this in the U.S.

6/10